• Release Date:5/27/10
  • Summary: A select group of highly skilled individuals from the multi-layered universe of the Halos have been taken from their own realities and delivered to that of another. As they awaken and begin to come to terms with their strange new environment, some visitors will help them begin to understand the full reality of their situation.

It was cold, dark, and as far as Arnold Leroy Lewis Junior could tell, he was naked.

The SPARTAN-I Marine sergeant stretched out his arms and, after realizing that he couldn’t seem to reach anything, stretched out his legs as well. These met nothing as well, giving Arnold the impression that he was just floating in some dark void of nothingness.

What the hell is going on? he wondered furiously. Was this some sort of psychological test? Were his superiors trying to test how he could get out of whatever this was, or were they just trying to see how he reacted to being plunged into a strange new environment. If this was the case, then they could go ahead and make a note on their clipboards: it would take more than some fancy simulation room and the loss of his clothes to scare Sergeant Major Arnold Leroy Lewis Junior.

Still trying to deduce what exactly was going on, Arnold struggled to think back to what he had been doing before he had suddenly awakened in this blackish void. To his shock, he discovered that he couldn’t remember anything leading up to this. All of the memories of his life and military service were intact, but he couldn’t remember anything recent. It was as if someone had just stepped in and removed a portion of his recollections.

Seriously, Arnold thought. He was beginning to get a little freaked out now. What the hell is going on?

He spoke aloud into the void. “Hello?”

His first thoughts were: What a stupid thing to say.

His next ones were: Wait, I can hear myself?

That, coupled with the fact that he was breathing, indicated that there was air here. This tidbit of information meant that wherever here was had to be a part of something that was providing the aforementioned air. This realization offered Arnold a strange amount of comfort. At least he was somewhere physical.


The SPARTAN-I jerked in surprise at the woman’s voice. It seemed to be coming from both all around him and directly in front of him. And, more importantly, it was strangely familiar...

“Arnold, can you hear me?”

He hesitated only a moment before responding. “Yeah, I can hear you. What the hell is--”

“Please Arnold,” the woman’s voice interrupted. “There isn’t much time.”

Jared-091 blinked as a sudden beam of pale light cut through the darkness around him. The SPARTAN-II had just spent the past few minutes floating in this odd spaceless environment, trying to keep his head as he weighed his options, and now it looked like he would finally be getting some answers.

“What’s the matter, 091?” snapped a familiar, commanding voice. “Cat got your tongue, trainee?”

“What?” Jared asked as a figure began to solidify before him. “Trainee? Just who are--”

He stopped short as the figure condensed to show the face of a man he had known and revered since he was six years old. Chief Petty Officer Mendez’s face glared at him.

“I thought I trained you better than this,” the legendary SPARTAN trainer growled. “Stop gawking and start listening, because we don’t have all day!”

The second he realized that he couldn’t touch anything, Simon-G294 began to flail around desperately in the darkness. He had to find a handhold or surface and he didn’t quite care where it was. He just needed something, anything, to assure him that he was, well, somewhere.

“Disappointing, as usual,” drawled a casual voice that seemed to come from all around him. “Get it together, kid, or you won’t last a day where you’re going.”

Venter.” Simon’s eyes narrowed at the sound of the hated voice and he spun around in an attempt to find the owner.

“Try looking up, would you?”

Simon snapped his head up and saw Redmond Venter hovering several feet above him. The man’s body was made completely visible by a stream of light that cut through the darkness like a knife. The Insurrectionist leader waved down at his former subordinate. “How’s it going?”

“John?” Riker-012 gasped in amazement. “I thought you were dead!”

“Riker, there’s not much time.” John-117’s voice was tinged with an uncharacteristic urgency as he faced his stunned comrade. The war hero’s olive green MJOLNIR armor was in stark contrast to Riker’s own naked body, a fact of which Riker was keenly aware.

“Alright, what is it?” Riker finally managed, surprised by John’s grave tone. “Why are we here in this... place?”

“Just listen to me. You’re about to be fighting for your life against more than two dozen people who will all have one thing in mind: survival.”

Strifalex Benvora glared up at his former teacher. “What are you talking about?”

Zeratanis Benvora’s voice contained no accusation or any other acknowledgement of Strifalex’s past betrayals. “There are many others, all of them handpicked warriors of high caliber. And you will have to fight them all if you wish to emerge victorious.”

Strifalex had no doubts in his mind that he could defeat any warrior that came up against him, but he was still confused by this sudden declaration. “Victorious from what?”

Suddenly, he was seeing images flash before his eyes. Pictures of a forest, mountains, a desert, a station deep in space.

“You will find yourself somewhere in this place,” intoned Zeratanis. “You must be constantly on guard, for it has many guardians.”

Images of lizard-like creatures and hulking, hump-back warriors replaced the landscapes, and although he had never seen them before, something in Strifalex’s mind seemed to identify them as Saulosians and Hai.

“Wait!” Arnold yelped as the pictures of the creatures faded from view. “What the hell are Hai? Saulosians? Who are these people I’ll have to fight?”

The image of the woman he had once had an affair with shook her head. She looked exactly as she had the last time he had seen her, when she had told him she was pregnant with his child. “I can’t tell you everything. You’ll be given the weapons and equipment you need to survive, but the rest is up to you.”

“I’ve told you all that I can,” Mendez said firmly. “Get ready, 091. The second you hit the dirt out there, you’ll have to watch your back. They’ll all be trying to kill you, so don’t trust anyone.”

Jared had more questions that hadn’t been answered, but Mendez was already fading from view. “Don’t disappoint me,” his former teacher warned.

“Suffice it to say, all of the other contestants have been selected because of their outstanding skillsets,” Venter finished in a bored tone. “This means that just about all of them should be able to kill you easily--unless you use your head to stay in the game.”

Simon glowered up at the man who had taken him in and then betrayed him. “Why the hell should I trust you?”

Venter shrugged and began to fade from sight. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But that just means you’ll die sooner rather than later.”

“John!” Riker shouted as his comrade vanished. “Wait! You still haven’t--”

And then everything went dark again.

Ashton Graves awoke from the dark void and realized that he was standing in a forest full of trees and shrubs. No longer naked, he wore the standard gear of a New Harmony soldier and clutched a battle rifle in his hands.

He wasn’t sure what it was his former drill instructor had been talking about, but he was sure that he had to get moving right away. The stuff the DI had told him hadn’t sounded good.

He sprinted across the forest floor and took cover behind a log, scanning the area with his rifle. Nothing.

As Graves began to plot his next move, he heard a rustling in the trees above. Frowning, he looked up.

The last thing he saw before he was torn in half was a massive armored creature that soared down from the trees like a demonic messenger.

Episode Two: Blood, Sand, and Bullets

  • Release Date: 6/15/2010
  • Summary: Plunged headfirst into a brutal kill-or-be-killed environment, Lazlo-108, Lionel Jackson, and others must battle their way across a scorching desert as they are threatened by both swarms of Hai warriors and their fellow contestants. Who will remain standing once the smoke has cleared from these opening clashes?

A rare gust of wind blew across the sweeping sands of the desert, which stretched on and on for as far as the eye could see. A small cloud of sand, uprooted by the breeze, tumbled across the air in a seconds-long journey from one small dune to the other before landing and resuming their unceasing positions amongst their trillions of brethren.

Lazlo-108 often wondered what he’d do at times like this without his suit of MJOLNIR armor. Were it not for the suit’s internal temperature regulation, backup supplies of water, and mechanical enhancements to his already considerable speed and strength, he’d be boiling in the sun, dying of thirst, and mentally fatigued from the sheer size of the heated wasteland he had awoken to find himself in.

Well, Laz thought to himself with a mental shrug. This desert’s gotta end sometime. No sense wasting time standing around.

Besides, even if the desert did not end, he would still have to eventually run into more of the people that Dr. Halsey had told him about back in that dreamlike reality he had found himself in before awakening in the desert. That encounter in and of itself was enough to perturb the normally casual Lazlo, and he’d need more time to think it over.

But not now, he reminded himself. Halsey had said that the other “contestants” would be trying to kill him, and since Laz had no earthly idea as to the identities of these potential threats, he would need to be on guard at all times. There’d be time to take a breather and assess his situation, but that time could only come if he got out of this desert and learned more about the crazy situation he’d managed to wind up in.

Shouldering the M113 sniper rifle he had discovered by his side when he’d woken up in the desert, Laz began his hike across the endless dunes.

Novus scanned his sandy surroundings with his Nailer assault rifle, looking for any sign of the enemies the vision of his friend Amicus had warned him about. Seeing none, he let out a low growl and continued walking. He’d been trained to cope with inhospitable environments and prided himself on his ability to persevere even in extreme situations, but the unrelenting heat from the bright sun overhead was beginning to get the better of the young Jiralhanae warrior.

Although this sudden and unexpected twist of both fate and reality were disconcerting for Novus, thinking about it had made him realize that he felt somewhat grateful for the opportunity to prove his superiority over what sounded like many worthy foes. The mere anticipation of violence was enough to get his blood pumping and focus him solely on the here and now. There was no point to solving mysteries if you got yourself killed in the process.

The desert sands shifted under Novus’s armored feet as he advanced towards the distant horizon. There was a battle waiting for him in the distance, and he was determined to reach it.

He would find his enemies.


Well, well, thought Lionel Jackson as he gazed down the scope of his sniper rifle from where he lay on the sand dune. What do we have here?

Through the scope he could see a ragged column of large, hump-backed creatures advancing across the sandy plain. Although Jackson could never recall having seen them in person, he recognized them from the surreal briefing he had been given back in that dark void.

So these are Hai, huh? All of the aliens were armored, and they carried an assortment of grungy but lethal looking firearms. A few even had what looked like large, brutal machetes strapped to their backs.

At present, the Hai were moving away from Jackson, which meant that he could take more chances when it came to exposing himself. Rising to a crouch the Ranger took a quick head count. Fourteen aliens total. There was no sense in attacking now and risking being overrun by the powerful-looking creatures, but letting them go presented Jackson with a problem: where did he go from here?

Jackson turned away from the Hai and scanned the area around him. Nothing but sand as far as the eye could see, although there might be more people or landmarks concealed by the many dunes that rose from the sand like yellow pimples. Checking his equipment belt, Jackson inspected the water bottle strapped there. It was mostly full at present, but a couple days wandering around aimlessly in the desert would soon render it as dry as the scorched plains around him.

Turning back to the departing column, Jackson shook his head. When all was said and done, he had only one course of action to take.

Keeping his rifle at the ready, the sniper slid down the dune and began jogging after the Hai.

Ameigh Broley had thought that she and the two Hai she was stalking were alone when she leapt out from behind a sand dune and killed them both with two slashes of her energy sabre. This assumption had been proved terribly wrong when she had suddenly found herself under fire from no less than five of the ugly creatures who appeared at the top of a nearby sand dune at the sound of their comrades’ deaths.

Now the San ‘Shyuum/Sangeili hybrid was taking cover behind another sand dune and trading fire with her attackers. Several well-placed shots from her gravity rifles had already felled two warriors, but it seemed that another three had joined the first group during the time she had spent taking cover. Now the annoyance she had felt at the necessity of the protracted firefight was turning into something akin to worry. It was only a matter of time before the Hai wised up and used their superior numbers to flank her.

Ducking out from behind the dune’s slope, she unleashed a volley of shots at one Hai that had made the mistake of getting a little too far out from cover. The first two shots were absorbed by the creature’s armor, but the second and third ones struck the flesh beneath to send the warrior rolling down the slope. Rather than staying down when he reached the bottom, the wounded alien scrambled to his feet and fired a substantive but poorly-aimed burst from his primitive-looking assault rifle. An additional three shots to the head put him down for good before Ameigh had too leap back into cover to avoid retaliatory fire from the deceased fighter’s compatriots.

As Ameigh was beginning to consider swallowing her pride and retreating for now, the sudden reports of new weapons indicated that even more combatants had joined the fight. Risking exposure to get a bearing on her situation, she was surprised to see two human ODSTs advancing on the Hai from a flanking position, their weapons tearing into the startled warriors. Ameigh rose and fired both of her gravity rifles at the now outmaneuvered Hai. Getting hit on both sides, the warriors began to retreat, firing as they did.

Ameigh lowered her rifles and let out a sigh of relief. But to her surprise, both ODSTs had rounded on her and were suddenly firing down the slope of the dune only just vacated by the Hai. Snarling with anger and confusion, Ameigh dove back into cover as bullets splashed into the sand around her.

Dennor Bormer and Ariana Grendal advanced on the pinned down Covenant hybrid, splitting up as they maneuvered to flank the dune that was safeguarding her. But as they readied their grenades and weapons, the ODSTs were surprised by a sudden hail of rifle fire. On their flank, mounting the slope of the dune they had just retreated down, advanced the returning Hai warriors. And it looked as if they had brought friends.

Bormer and Grendal scrambled to retreat, firing on the Hai as they did so. Three of the warriors went down as bullets punched through their armor, but the rest charged onwards, not even bothering to take up positions on the dunes this time as they ran and fired.

Ameigh hastily holstered her gravity rifles and drew her energy sabre. There was no way she’d be caught up in yet another firefight here, and that meant she’d have to cut her way through the ODSTs and make a dash for safety. Leaping from cover, she sprinted across the sand as bullets rained around her.

Bormer saw Ameigh coming, and raised his assault rifle. Ameigh still couldn’t understand the ODSTs’ hostility. Weren’t humanity and the Sangheili allies? But there was no time to waste on doubts, not with the hostile soldiers standing between Ameigh and survival.

Ameigh lunged, but Bormer ducked away in time to evade the strike. Rolling away, the ODST rose and blazed away at the advancing hybrid. Grendal saw the attack on her friend, but couldn’t lend any aid--if she did she would leave them all completely open to attack from the Hai.

Bullets clattered off of Ameigh’s shields, but she leapt forwards and lashed out with her sabre. The energy blade slashed through Bormer’s assault rifle, struck off his forearm, and plunged through his armor and body. The ODST collapsed, his blood sinking into the sands around them. Defiant to the end, Bormer seized Ameigh’s sword arm with his remaining hand, hoping to hold her still for either Grendal or the Hai to kill.

Shaking Bormer’s dying grip free with her superior strength, Ameigh kicked the ODST aside and once more turned to flee. But a snarl from behind her made her turn in time to parry a slash from a Hai warrior’s metal blade. Her energy sabre cut through the enemy sword after only a second’s worth of resistance and beheaded the warrior wielding it. But now the other warriors were all around her and she was fighting for her life with a renewed vigor.

A sudden below cut through the gunfire and shouting. A massive figure emerged from behind another dune and plunged into the melee. Ameigh was shocked to see a powerfully-built Jiralhanae wearing battered-looking chieftain’s armor slashing through the Hai warriors with an oversized metal sword as he strode towards her. Grendal, already caught up in the fighting, made the mistake of getting in the Jiralhanae’s way. The warrior cut her clean in half without even a second glance.

The Jiralhanae reached Ameigh just as she was finishing off the last of a trio of warriors who had attempted to surround her. Without hesitation, the chieftain brought his sword down on the exposed hybrid. Saved by her natural reflexes and all of the training and experience that made her a master duelist, Ameigh swund her sabre up to parry the blow. To her surprise, the energy weapon did not cut through the metal weapon, and both combatants found themselves glaring at each other across their locked blades.

“So,” the Jiralhanae growled. “What would your name be?”

“You’re fighting Ameigh Broley,” Ameigh snarled. “Who do you think you are?”

“Kenpachus,” the Jiralhanae replied with a smile. “It will be a pleasure to--”

But he was cut off by a renewed stream of bullets from the regrouping warriors. He and Ameigh sprang apart laid into their mutual enemies. Five minutes later, Ameigh was resting at the top of a sand dune. As she sat on the chest of a dead Hai warrior and gazed down at the valley filled with corpses, she realized that the chieftain’s body was not amongst the dead. He had vanished, but a trail of corpses leading off into desert offered her a good idea as to where he’d gone.

With a squeal of pain, Fallaf collapsed onto the sands, his broken corpse sinking into the shifting surface. Novus lowered his smoking Nailer rifle and snorted disdainfully. What a pathetic excuse for a kill.

Striding past the Unggoy’s corpse, the Jiralhanae warrior turned to face the direction he’d just heard the shots fired from. If he was to find a real fight, he’d have to head in that direction. Grinning with anticipation, he strode into the desert.

Twenty feet to Novus’s left and concealed from view by a tall sand dune, Lazlo-108 was also striding towards the sounds of fighting, although he was much less expectant and much more apprehensive about what he would find there. He’d been hoping to find a way out of the desert by now, but this route seemed to just be taking him deeper into the hot wasteland. But the gunfire was the only indication of the presence of other beings he’d been presented so far and he couldn’t afford to just ignore it.

A sudden nearby clattering punctuated by a high pitched cry triggered the combat instincts that had been pounded into Lazlo by years of brutal training and experience. Before his mind fully realized what was going on, his body was in motion. Dropping to a crouch, he brought his sniper rifle to bear and looked in the direction the shots had come from--right behind the dune beside him.

Sounds like a nailer rifle, Lazlo mused. That meant that the shooter must be a Brute, which in turn meant that he wouldn’t be friendly.

Lazlo crept forward, positioning himself on the lip of the sand dune and slowly easing his rifle over the slope. Poking his head out with it, he saw both Fallaf’s body and Novus’s back as the Brute strode away. Licking his lips within his helmet, Lazlo curled his finger around the trigger and prepared to fire.

But something--a noise or a smell or just bad luck--gave him away. Novus whirled, saw the Spartan, and opened fire with his nailer, striking both Lazlo’s shields and the sand around him. Rather than retreat, Lazlo leapt from cover and began plugging away with his rifle. Unable to get a bead on Novus, who was running towards another dune while firing his nailer, Lazlo saw most of his shots go wide, but one of them struck the Brute in his chest armor and caused him to stumble. Lazlo’s rifle magazine clicked empty and he hastily seized a new clip from his armor. Novus, in the meantime, had also run out of ammunition and was retreating up a dune as he reloaded. Both combatants brought their weapons back up at the same time, but now Lazlo stood where he was as he sighted in on his enemy. Novus leapt back in time to avoid the first shot, but the warrior knew that he couldn’t hold out like this in a fight against a Spartan. Pulling a spike grenade from his belt, he flung the explosive at Lazlo and dove away down the slope of the dune.

The blast kicked up the sand around Lazlo and left him alone amidst a small sandstorm. By the time the sand had subsided and settled, there was no sign of Novus. Lazlo sighed and kicked wearily at a clump of sand. He’d completely lost his bearings now, which meant that he was no less lost than he had been before this craziness had started.

Episode Three: Tomb of Steel

  • Summary: Awakening in a metal labyrinth of winding corridors and deadly intersections, Riker-012 must fight for his life against Saulosians and his fellow contestants as he struggles to get his bearings and find allies in the deadly contest he has been plunged into.

The hallway was, for all intents and purposes, empty.

Not that its innocuous appearance made any difference to Riker-012. The SPARTAN-II had seen too many good men vanish in blasts from concealed booby traps in many a corridor such as this for him to let his guard down now. Keeping his MA6A assault rifle at the ready, he moved forward slowly, his eyes sweeping the floor, walls, and ceiling for any abnormalites. His helmet’s built-in infrared and thermal scanners were also active; if anything showed up on them besides drab, gray surface Riker would know something was wrong.

Of course, a small voice mused in the back of his head. Seeing a bomb and disarming one are two different things... He had always been sub-par with demolitions, and he wasn’t sure he trusted himself with explosives enough to risk getting close to one.

No matter. He would cross that bridge when he came to it.

Reaching the end of the hallway without incident, Riker turned back to briefly to scan the area behind him. He’d been awake and exploring for over an hour, and the only living things he’d encountered so far were a pair of Saulosians, which he’d dispatched with a short burst from his assault rifle. There seemed to be no end to the corridors that wound through... wherever exactly he was.

That’s the first order of business, Riker reminded himself. Find out where I am.

Turning back to the hallway before him, Riker kept his rifle at the ready as he continued his march down the path before him. But as he was nearing the next corner, he noticed a small alcove off to the right. Since the metal of the halls around him seemed to be of human design, Riker could guess that it marked the entrance to some ventilation shaft or maintenance area. Nothing to worry about. Unless...

Training his assault rifle on the alcove, Riker carefully advanced. His motion sensors weren’t picking up anything, but that didn’t mean that nothing was there.

Just as he closed within two meters of the alcove, a pair of grenades were clumsily flung towards him from behind the alcove’s blind spot. Riker dove backwards, escaping the worst of the blast and letting his shields absorb the rest of the damage. He brought himself up to one knee in time to see Nitro fleeing in the opposite direction. As he retreated, the Insurrectionist fired a spread of shots from his magnum at the recovering Spartan.

As the bullets glanced off his dwindling shields, Riker cut loose with a burst of assault rifle fire. The first smattering of bullets caught Nitro in the legs and brought him to his knees. A follow-up burst blew his head into bloody chunks of red and grey.

Riker checked his ammunition counter. Twenty-four shots left in his magazine, plus the three extra clips he had with him. He’d need to either find a place to hole up or figure out what was going on before he ran out of shots.

Advancing and stepping over the slowly expanding puddle of blood that had formed around Nitro’s corpse, Riker turned the next corner and let out a soft groan when he saw another hallway identical to the ones he had just gone through.

But he had made contact with a hostile target, and that meant he had to be even more careful than before. Stepping out into the corridor, he continued his slow advance.

The Saulosian warriors had set up a barricade of pipes and metal plates at the end of the hall and were keeping the entire corridor alive with a constant stream of energy particles from their directed energy rifle. The reptilian creatures constantly maintained this barrage, with warriors on firing duty falling back and being replaced by fresh shooters when their weapons overheated. Occasionally one would run out of ammunition completely, and it would vanish from the barricade altogether and retreat back into the maze of hallways and corridors, soon to be succeeded by a new warrior coming from the opposite direction.

At the other end of the hallway, the object of their calculated ferocity was taking cover in an alcove not much different from the one Nitro had been attempting to hide in. Felix-116 crouched with his back against the wall and stared glumly at the far wall, which had been charred almost completely black by the steady barrage of particle shots. Hefting the hilt of his deactivated energy staff, he was beginning to wonder whether he should just make a break for it and pray that his MJOLNIR armor’s shields would hold in time for him to get away.

A grisly reminder of how dangerous such an action could be lay just a few feet from him. Jack Taylor’s corpse was missing an arm and a leg, both torn off by the sheer amount of particle shots that had found their target. Felix and Jack had both been compelled to take cover together when the Saulosians had sprung the ambush that had led to this stalemate, but the marine had lost his head and tried to flee back in the direction they had come from. He hadn’t lasted five seconds.

Aside from his signature energy staff, Felix had only the M6 sidearm clipped to his leg and three grenades. The pistol wouldn’t do him much good at this range, especially with the full extent of the Saulosians’ numbers unknown, but the grenades might give him the chance he needed to close the distance between him and the barricade. He wasn’t going to run from this fight, not when fighting and wandering aimlessly seemed like the only options available in this strange place.

The Saulosians had already tried using grenades to flush him out, but they hadn’t been able to lob them far enough to even damage Felix’s shields. Felix, however, was a fully augmented Spartan whose strength was further increased by his unique enhancements and MJOLNIR armor. It would be a hell of a toss, but it was the only way he’d be getting out of this mess alive.

Pulling one of the grenades from where it clamped magnetically to his waist, Felix primed it, hoped that the grenade would fly true, and leapt out into the storm of particle shots.

His shields were down by half in the first two seconds, but by that time Felix had already flung the grenade with all his might. The explosive soared through the particle-torn air, tumbled past the barricade and the warriors manning it, and exploded.

The firing stopped as the air was rent by the screams and yells of the Saulosians behind the barricade. Without waiting for his shields to recharge, Felix sprinted forward with all the speed he and the MJOLNIR armor could muster. As he ran, he activated his energy staff and beams of bright light emanated from both ends of the hilt and formed into an intricately woven blade that was as tall as the imposing Felix.

But he wasn’t fast enough. The Saulosians were either less affected by the grenade blast than Felix had imagined or were just very good at coping with their losses. Either way, the particle fire was already starting up, less dense than before but still dangerous. Especially now that the warriors had something to aim at.

Choking back a curse, Felix reached down for another grenade as he redoubled his pace. But before he could throw it and just as his shields collapsed, another shot flew over his head and exploded amongst the recovering Saulosians. Turning to look in spite of himself, Felix saw another Spartan in MJOLNIR armor advancing from the way he had first come. The Spartan strode forwards, firing grenades from the Brute Shot at his waist as he did so.

More noises from beyond the barricade made Felix turn back to face the enemy. A Covenant particle rifle was being fired, its scintillating beam slashing through the gathered Saulosians. The beam was joined by a barrage of blue plasma fire, and after spending the past few minutes listening to nothing but the sound of the Saulosians’ particle rifles, even the Covenant weaponry was a welcome noise to Felix.

Charging forwards once again, Felix leapt over the barricade and was cutting through the remaining Saulosians before his feet even hit the ground. The Covenant fire stopped abruptly as Felix’s energy staff tore two Saulosians in half and decapitated a third. One lunged forward holding an energy blade of its own, but Felix deftly parried and sent the creature flying to both ends of the hall.

Suddenly, things were quiet again and Felix realized that the battle was over. From the smoke stepped two Sangheili. One wore standard combat armor and carried a plasma rifle, while the other wore a suit of body-encasing flight armor and held the particle beam Felix had heard. Neither of them seemed interested in attacking Felix, so he cautiously deactivated his energy staff and turned to see the Brute Shot wielding Spartan, who had almost reached the barricade and was still walking at a leisurely pace.

“So,” Felix said carefully. “I’m guessing we won’t be killing each other, right?”

“There doesn’t seem to be much reason for it,” observed the flight armor Sangheili. He pointed to himself. “Gotru ‘Narzonics. My companion is Gutak ‘Cyandenee.”

Felix nodded in acknowledgement. “Felix-116.”

Turning to the Brute Shot Spartan, he stretched out his hand. “And who’d you be? I don’t recognize you through your armor.”

The other Spartan examined Felix’s hand for a moment before shaking it. “I’m SPARTAN-083. Doran.”

“Thanks for the assist,” Felix told the newcomers. “Have you encountered any more of these Saulosian things?”

“We killed a few shortly before finding you,” said Gutak, indicating the direction they had come in. “They seemed to be coming from this area, so we come here.”

Doran-083 shrugged. “I’ve just been walking around. Didn’t have anything to do until I heard shooting from over here.”

Felix examined the Sangheili and the other Spartan. It wasn’t safe wandering around by oneself, especially with the Saulosians and other, less friendly, “contestants” wandering around.

“I propose we stick together,” he said. “That way we won’t have to worry so much about traps or ambushes, and if we find a way out of here we can all use it together.”

“Agreed,” said Gotru. Gutak and Doran both nodded.

Felix eyed the Saulosian corpses, then indicated the direction Gotru and Gutak had come from. “Let’s head that way and see what we run into.”

As the four of them prepared to move out, Felix cast a sidelong look at Doran. He’d never heard of him before, not even in after action reports that detailed operations carried out by Spartans. The Spartans might be more widespread than they had been during the war, but it was still strange to meet one that he’d never even heard of. Maybe Doran’s work--and possibly his very existence--had been classified by ONI.

Felix shook his head. That was a problem for another time. Right now he’d have to focus on the task at hand, which was finding out where he was and what exactly was really going on.

“Alright,” he said aloud. “Let’s get moving.”

An unknowable distance away, Madison Carson was having the same problems as Felix. Her wanderings had led her through dozens of corridors and past several Saulosian patrols until she’d finally encountered a room that was different from the others. This one seemed to be some sort of engine room: two large generators, probably of human make, dominated the center of the high-ceilinged chamber while ladders on either side of the room led to twin catwalks many meters above.

As Madison had entered the room, a team of Saulosians had appeared on the catwalk opposite her entrance and opened fire. Only a quick sprint to crouch behind one of the humming generators had spared the ODST from the reptiles’ particle shots. Attempts by the Saulosians to flank her had been halted by bursts from her battle rifle, and the creatures seemed wary of firing directly at the generators, so they seemed to have contented themselves with laying down suppressing fire on either side of the generators.

Madison risked a brief look around the side of her cover before ducking back to safety. It seemed that a few more Saulosians had joined their comrades, but she’d killed a few of them during their flanking maneuvers and brought one or two others down by blind-firing around the generator. She was cautious about wantonly expending ammo though; she was already down to only three clips for her rifle and she wasn’t aware of any way to replenish her stores.

The Saulosians, it seemed, had no such qualms and were unwavering in their rain of particle fire. Madison could detect no break in their firing pattern. It was as if they were literally raining gunfire down on her.

Gritting her teeth with frustration, Madison took stock of her situation. Aside from her rifle, she was armed with her M6 sidearm and two grenades. The Saulosians were too high up and far away for her grenades to do her any good, and if she was hard pressed to inflict casualties with her rifle then the pistol would be next to useless.

Madison glanced back at the doorway through which she’d entered. It was directly behind the generators, but the Saulosians would be able to fire over it and hit her if she made a break for the door. They all had their focus directed solely on her, so it wouldn’t be hard for them to adjust their aim in order to take her down...

A sudden thought hit her. Reaching down and letting her fingers brush the casings of her grenades, she prepared to take a gamble. If she threw both grenades out over the generators, their twin explosions might be enough to divert the aliens’ attention long enough for her to escape back into the maze of hallways beyond the door. However, this would only work if enough Saulosians saw the explosions as any sort of threat and flinched or hesitated in some way. Furthermore, if the Saulosians were wary of even shooting at the generators, what would two grenades cause? Madison didn’t even know what the things did. For all she knew, they could be what provided wherever she was with clean air or power. And if they exploded when tampered with, the blast might kill her before the Saulosians did.

Cursing the lack of information she had on this place, Madison threw caution to the winds and readied both grenades. They obviously had more ammunition than she did, and if they tried to all flank or rush her at once, she’d be overwhelmed in seconds. This was the best plan available to her, so she’d have to handle the risks it entailed. But just as she was pulling back her arm to hurl the grenades, a sudden break in the Saulosians’ fire made her pause and look up.

Someone was shooting at the Saulosians from the catwalk above her. The lack of audible gunfire indicated a silenced weapon, but even at this range it was having an effect on the aliens. Caught off guard, they hesitated before opening fire on their unseen attacker.

Madison replaced the grenades on her belt and took a chance by leaning out of cover and firing on the Saulosians with her battle rifle. Caught between two attackers, the fire team was cut to pieces in seconds. None broke and ran, and soon their corpses littered the far catwalk.

With the shooting over, Madison looked up at the overhead catwalk to see a fellow human dressed in ODST armor like she was. The ODST was reloading a suppressed M7 submachine gun.

“Glad to bump into someone like me out here,” the man called down in a voice Madison recognized. “I was getting tired of seeing nothing but lizards.”

Madison lowered her battle rifle. “Deacon? Lee Deacon?”

“Sergeant Carson? Shit, you’re a sight for sore eyes!” Lee Deacon, Madison’s friend and fellow sergeant, began to stroll towards the ladder leading down to the main level. “I don’t suppose you know any more about this than I do.”

“Sorry,” Madison said with a shrug. “I’m as confused as you are.”

“Well, it’s good to see you all the same,” Deacon said, reaching the ladder. “At least now there’s someone to talk--hurk!”

Madison froze as a beam of purple energy slashed out of nowhere to punch through Deacon’s helmet. Her fellow ODST crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut and she knew that there was no point in checking for a pulse.

Whirling to face the other side of the catwalk, she saw the Kig-Yar pirate Dekd Nok leap over the gathered Saulosian bodies and flee through a doorway.

Sprinting to the opposite ladder, Madison didn’t even bother to mount her battle rifle on her back as she pulled herself one-handed up the rungs and clambered up to the catwalk. Kicking Saulosian corpses aside, she dashed through the doorway Nok had vanished into.

Keeping her rifle up and scanning for ambushes, Madison found herself running down a hallway identical to the ones she’d been walking through these past few hours. Why was this place so damn symmetrical?

After several minutes of sprinting failed to produce Nok, Madison leaned against the wall to catch her breath. She couldn’t believe that Lee could be dead just like that. She had more than enough experience to handle losing troops in the field, but Lee had been a brief ray of familiarity in this strange place.

With a resigned sigh, she pushed herself upright and looked back at the hallway she’d come down. Maybe it would be better to return to the generator room and take stock from there. As much as it pained her to do it, she could salvage weapons and equipment from Lee’s corpse and use the place as a base from which to continue her exploration.

But as she was turning back, a voice rang out from behind her. “Hey! Friendlies moving up!”

Madison whirled in time to see two other ODSTs advancing cautiously down the hallway towards her.

The two marines approaching Madison were two seasoned veterans named Dexter Parker and Raphael Esquival-Cortez. But there was yet another ODST not far away who had, like everyone other contestant in the area, been wandering from corridor to corridor looking for something (in the bluntest possible turns) to kill. His name was Oregon Hawkins, and he was both bored and angry.

Unlike many of the others, Hawkins had met several groups of Saulosians during his travels and enjoyed success during every encounter. The designated marksman rifle he carried allowed him to quickly pick off the reptilian aliens as soon as they came into view and the reflexes he had honed during his time in an infiltration unit helped him to eliminate whole patrols before they could set up firing positions.

The combat was not the cause of his rising vexation. No, the problem was that he’d been hoping to find something besides Saulosians and identical corridors in all the time he’d been wandering and up to this point he had found plenty of Saulosians and identical corridors but nothing else.

The ODST turned a corner, saw a pair of Saulosians standing at the other end of yet another hallway, and dropped into a crouch. He then proceeded to vent his frustrations by shooting each in the head with his DMR, killing them instantly. It was only after the pair had crumpled to the floor that he noticed the door they seemed to have been guarding. His mood considerably brightened by this discovery, Hawkins began to jog for the doorway. There didn’t seem to be any other paths branching off from this hallway, which made that door the only way he could go. Unless there was another hallway on the other side, Hawkins had just made the first steps in his quest to find out where he was.

Reaching the door, he peered cautiously inside with his DMR at the ready. Inside was a dimly lit corridor with a grated floor that sloped up. As he stepped past the threshold, he realized that it reminded him of the maintenance accessways one might find on a UNSC ship or installation. The fact that all of the corridors so far had seemed to be made of human design furthered Hawkins’ suspicion that he was inside some sort of UNSC facility.

Maybe this is all some kind of weird training program, Hawkins mused as he advanced up the grated slope. Reaching the top he paused when he saw a Saulosian corpse slumped in the hallway. Approaching and examining it, the ODST could see no signs of physical damage. There were no wounds visible on the body, and when Hawkins touched it he realized that it was still warm.

Perplexed, he continued to advance along the cramped hallway until he ran across three more dead Saulosians. Just like the first, they bore no signs of physical damage.

Did they all just drop dead? Hawkins mused. Seeing a corner, he came around it with his weapon raised and saw several more Saulosian bodies on the path leading to a more brightly lit room. Entering it cautiously, he saw that a final Saulosian lay draped on the floor in front of a collection of humming computer equipment.

As Hawkins approached the terminal, a light flickered on and a holographic figure emerged from a holotank embedded within the equipment. The hologram showed what was either an armored human or a bipedal robot with a helmet for a face. The image cocked its head and stared at him.

“Query,” the apparition said in a deadpan voice that was devoid of emotion or feeling. “does the meatbag need something?”

Hawkins had a very good idea of what this thing was, and he didn’t like it at all. “What the hell are you?” he demanded.

“Commentary: I am the the Precursor artificial intelligence unit known as Venator.”

Hawkins bared his teeth behind his helmet. “Great. A fucking AI.”

“Query,” Venator asked, his voice still cold and emotionless. “what is it that upsets you, meatbag?”

“The name’s Oregon Hawkins, you stupid machine. Did you kill all of these lizard-things?” “Commentary: Affirmative. I distributed lethal toxins throughout the previous corridor when they entered. Some resisted the effects more than others, but in the end the meatbags’ fates were the same. Since I cannot do the same to you, perhaps it would be better if we cooperated.”

“Like hell.” Oregon aimed his rifle at the computer console. “I’m wearing a helmet, so good luck at gassing me.”

“Request: Please do try not to be so hostile. There is another artificial presence within this system, and I am going to great lengths to find and eliminate her. It is not as easy as I had hoped, and I require a great deal of processing speed to finish this. Perhaps it would be best if you just left.”

Oregon grinned and slid his finger over the DMR’s trigger. “Sure, I’ll leave. Right after I put some holes in this console.”

Venator’s hologram shrugged. “Commentary: Very well. Since you refuse to leave, I will eject you by force.”

And he opened a door to Oregon’s left.

Oregon registered very little of the explosive decompression that followed. All he knew was that his weapon was wrenched from his hands and he himself was buffeted about by an irresistible force. When he could again register sights and sounds, his body felt like it had bruised in every possible location and he was staring at an inky blackness dotted with small lights.

Still dazed, he turned to see a large metal structure rising out of the blackness, but it was only when he saw the bright planet below it that he fully realized what had happened and where he was.

Oh, he thought distantly. I’m in space.

The realization that he had been somewhat right about being on a UNSC installation--for the metal structure was clearly some sort of UNSC space station--was enough to comfort Hawkins as he drifted in vacuum, his helmet steadily running out of oxygen. Several minutes later, he slipped into unconsciousness, and sometime after that his heart stopped beating altogether.

This scene was brought to you by Another Poetic Spartan.
Expect a post tomorrow at Noon

Space. A cold and empty void that seems to know no bounds whatsoever. The void, or Outer Space as we have to call it, usually remained at peace until warring species brought their conflicts up to the "heavens" and cause endless amounts of destruction and death. And when they leave, all that remains are artifacts of their conflicts and graveyards which would drift aimlessly until they crashed into an outlying planet or hurdled into a sun.

Somewhere in the far reaches of space, two portals had started to form. Cackling with cosmic energy, the portals exploded, its resulting shockwave reaching the space station as well as the outlying asteroid field. Two mysterious beings suddenly materialized in place of the portals. Both had the appearance of robotic machines and were colored black but they each had their own differences. One was significantly taller than the other and had arching curves whilst the other seemed to have wings on their back. They were Machina.

Strifalex blinked the blurriness away from his eyes. "Where am I?" He thought.

"System, what is my location and please run a diagnostics check on my body." He said.

After a minute, it answered back. "You are currently located in space. All Systems are at 100%. Battle Systems are at the ready." His systems relayed to him

Just then, his system alerted him. Someone or something, was close to him. Strifalex smirked. "Where ever I am, everyone is an enemy." He activated his stealth system and powered his boosters and took off to the source with an intent. The intent to kill.

Azrael instantly realized his surroundings after he regained his vision. "Activate the radar." He murmured to himself. Radar had popped up, showing him and a red dot. Pinpointing the red dot, Azrael realized it was moving. Moving fast towards him. Azrael readied his Lineage Rifle and looked through the scope, searching for any indication of movement.

Strifalex grinned when he saw his prey. "So. It's Azrael. I wonder why he's out here in the middle of nowhere. Oh well, it doesn't matter." He held out his wrist mounted gun and aimed towards his unsuspecting victim.

Checking his radar once again, Azrael realized the hostile was close to him, very close. Fully entering combat readiness, he stood at the ready.

Strifalex laughed hysterically as he fired a continuous stream of plasma bolts towards an unknowing Azrael.

"Got you." Azrael whispered. As the plasma inched towards his frame, an array of hexagonal energy shields materialized to absorb the damage. As the shields took the blows, he took the time to fire his lineage rifle, high powered beams going to towards the now exposed Strifalex. Strifalex moved to the left but his left shoulder plate was caught while the other blasts struck the seemingly derelict space station. He grimaced but he still fired his claws at Azrael. Azrael on the other hand, tried to dodge the claws but one of them were able to pierce his shields and damage his arm. He doubled back and held his arm in pain.

"So its the traitor." Azrael said as he stared at his attacker.

Strifalex laughed as he said, "My dear friend. You're wrong on that assumption. I am not the traitor. I simply chose the correct path."

"Don't lie to me! You betrayed our race to join those vile beings! All for a bid for power!" Azrael yelled back.

"Well well. I thought we could reach an agreement. But I suppose we're enemies now are we?" Strifalex said.

"We were friends once you know. But after what you have done, I have to see you as an enemy now."

Sighing, Strifalex started to power the RECLUSE System. "You can't survive my attacks Azrael. I've run all the simulations in my head and the odds are against you."

"I bet you didn't know I could block your attack. And there is a lot of things that you don't know about my frame." Azrael grinned. After saying those words to his old companion, Azrael's frame instantly started to transform. His black and purple color immediately changed to a white and gold frame whilst his wings withdrew from itself and and a pair of energy wings emerged. His lineage rifle also transformed, configuring itself into two large rifles.

"Never seen that before have you?" Azrael said as he took a combat position.

Strifalex laughed again. "It doesn't matter to me. You don't know the true power of Necros." In a split second, Stirfalex activated the system and unleashed several dozen lasers upon Azrael, catching him off guard. A billow of smoke engulfed him. "Goodbye my old friend. It was fun while it lasted!" He yelled.

"Energy system is at 75%"

From the smoke, two beams came forth, striking Strifalex's energy shields which caused him to double back.

"I'm not dead just yet." Azrael's voice boomed. The smoke disappeared, showing an unscratched Azrael Prime.

"Impossible! You can't possibly have survived that!" Strifalex said, him losing his composure.

"What are talking about Strife? I can make the impossible, possible!!" Azrael replied back as he flew towards Strifalex.

Neville Meyers backed away as carefully as he could and tried to raise his trembling arms. The M2511 pistol that he held in his hands was shaking even more violently.

With a sneer that was evident even on his alien face, Renda 'Semam stalked towards the petrified admiral. Clad in his full Arbiter armor, the Sangheili held a glowing energy sword aloft in a casual ready position. He was halfway across the hallway from Neville, but could have crossed it in seconds if he really wanted to. But he had instead chosen to take a slower course of action, either because he was wary of a trap or--the more likely option--he was just that contemptuous of his opponent.

Right now, Neville was starting to think that "prey" would have been a more fitting term for himself in this situation

Passing his tongue over cold lips, Neville fought to keep his gun steady. He would need every round in the pistol's magazine to bring down this hulking warrior and there would be no chance to reload; he couldn't afford to miss even once. But his arms--and, by and large, his whole body--just couldn't stop trembling.

Oh shit, said a treacherously frightened voice in the back of Neville's head. Oh shit.

He had to fire. He had to bring down 'Semam's shields before he got within sword distance. He had to...

Renda sprang forwards and Neville opened fire on instinct. The rounds glanced off the charging Arbiter's shields as he got closer and began to bring his arm down.

Neville stumbled backwards, the last shots in his clip going wide. As Renda's sword flew towards him, the admiral's feet tripped over each other and he fell, gasping, to the floor. The energy sword slashed a gaping hole in the wall above him.

As Renda repositioned the blade over Neville for a killing blow, a flurry of bullets from the direction he had come from slashed through the air and into his shields. As the Arbiter turned to face the new threat, his already weakened shields collapsed and a spray of bullets cut through his neck. The Sangheili collapsed with a strained gurgle and was dead in seconds.

Neville rose shakily from the blood-splattered floor and turned to face his rescuer. The man was a uniformed UNSC officer, like himself, and he held a smoking M98 compact in his hands.

"Please tell me you didn't try to take him head on on purpose," the newcomer said, sliding a new clip into his pistol. His white hair belied the confident air he held about himself. "Because if you did, you're one of the stupidest men I've ever met."

"Uh, no," Neville muttered, taken aback by the man's directness. "I ran into him and didn't have time to get away."

"Hmph," was the man's only reply. He was clearly unimpressed by Neville's performance, but offered his hand regardless. "Scott Brooks. I'm a vice admiral."

"Neville Meyers," replied Neville, accepting the hand and shaking it. "Rear admiral. I guess that means you're in charge."

The two flag officers stood awkwardly were they were for a moment, not quite sure how to deal with the new situation. Renda's corpse continued to spill purple blood across the floor, staining the soles of their shoes.

"Well," Admiral Brooks said finally, "no sense hanging around here. I'd like to be clear of here before any more hostiles show up."

"Do you actually have any idea where "here" is?" Neville asked after a moment's hesitation.

"No," Scott admitted. "But we can worry about that once we aren't hanging around in the open. So just stick with me and try not to slip up."

With that, he hurried down the hall. Neville looked after him and shook his head. Even if Scott didn't know where he was going, tagging along with him would be better than remaining by himself for some other dangerous individual to finish off.

Still shaking his head, Neville trotted after his new companion.

A sudden explosion caused the ground under Riker's feet to tremble, serving to only worsen his already sour mood.

The Spartan had spent the hours since he had killed Nitro going from corridor to corridor in a fruitless quest for any sort of room or terminal that might tell him where in the blazes he was. Along the way he had gunned down any Saulosians he came across; something that had occurred so frequently that he was now down to his last assault rifle clip and completely out of grenades. Once the rifle gave out, he would be down to just his pistol and knife.

Riker cast a glance at all sides. Nothing had changed since the explosion to indicate that it had caused any nearby damage. That meant that there was also nothing to tell him what had caused it.

His irritation deepening by the second, Riker rounded a corner and nearly ran headlong into a trio of Saulosians standing beside a closed door. Not one to waste ammunition needlessly, Riker crushed one's skull with the but of his rifle before lashing out with one of his legs, pinning a second to the floor and breaking its neck. For the third, Riker drew his knife and rammed it through the creature's scaly neck.

As the final Saulosian's body slipped to the floor, Rifle sheathed his knife and examined the door they had seemingly been guarding. His spirits lifted considerably when he saw--written in plain English--the word "Armory" printed in big, military-style letters above the closed portal. Now that's more like it.

He now had both confirmation that he was in a UNSC complex of some kind and a place other than a hallway to go. Furthermore, he'd be able to resupply in an armory. The only problem now was getting the door to the armory open.

There was a small screen and keyboard to the left of the door, and Riker examined it intently. The screen glowed a neutral blue but showed no signs of being activated. No words were displayed on the screen, which meant that Riker had no indication of how to open the door.

He had just about given up and decided to force the thing open when a voice sounded from the screen. "Uh, hello? Mr. Armored Guy?"

Riker whirled to face the screen. "What?"

"Yeah," the voice continued. It sounded like that of a teenaged girl, or at least similar to the voices of the few teenage voices that Riker could remember clearly. "I can open the door, you know. All you need to do is ask."

"Are you an A.I.?" Riker asked, feeling a little foolish talking to a blank panel.

"No, I'm just a Jackal who's good at impressions. Of course I'm an A.I. you musclebound meatbag!"

Behind his helmet, Riker rolled his eyes in exasperation. It was an A.I. all right. Sarcasm seemed to be a standard quality amongst most of them. "How do I know this isn't a trap?"

"If it were a trap, then I wouldn't have bothered talking to you. Now do you want the door opened or not?"

Riker sighed. "Yes. Open the door."

"Open the door what?"

Gritting his teeth and relying on a lifetime's experience of maintaining control of his emotions, Riker grated out, "Open the door please."

"Well, since you asked so nicely..."

The armory doors slid open, and RIker stepped inside. Almost instantly he had forgotten almost all of his irritation with the mysterious A.I., and with good reason: the room he had just entered was packed with UNSC weapons and equipment. Riker instantly darted over to a rack of assault rifles and began to inspect them. If all of this gear was well-maintained, he would walk out of this room a very well supplied man.

As he noted that all of the rifles seemed to be in perfect condition, a small movement caught his eye. Turning, Riker saw a holotank near a small bank of computers at the far end of the armor, past a rack of shotguns. Atop it sat a small hologram. which waved at him. So this was the A.I. he had been talking to.

He couldn't make out much about the hologram from this distance, but he was too busy taking inventory to investigate it further. "So, who exactly are you?" he asked, allowing his old assault rifle to fall to the ground and replacing it with one of the newer ones. A crate of ammunition clips resting nearby caught his eye and he stooped to pick some up.

"Name's Diana," the A.I. replied. "Never met a Tank before."


"You know, one of you guys. The big, bulky Spartans. You look like tanks next to everyone else, so I call you Tanks."

"Whatever." This Diana A.I. was beginning to grate Riker's nerves again. Still, she had told him her name and hadn't done anything to attack him (yet), so he felt obliged to respond in kind. "My name's Riker."

"I would say it's nice to meet you," Diana quipped. "But I'm still not sure you won't try to disconnect me or shoot up my systems."

"So long as you keep your digital hands to yourself, I'll do the same with my real ones." Finished with the assault rifles, Riker moved on to inspect the rest of the armory. He was dissapointed not to see any Battle Rifles amongst the stashes of weapons; he would gladly have traded his assault rifle for one of them. Instead, he replenished his stock of grenades and pulled a sniper rifle from its rack, strapping it to his back and taking two additional clips of ammunition for it.

Satisfied that he had taken all that he could carry without slowing himself down, Riker approached Diana's avatar. Her chosen appearance was that of a young teen who was thankfully wearing clothes. She had seated herself upon the holotank's base as if it were a floor and was "looking" intently at him, although Riker knew that she was actually observing him through whatever security devices were present in the room.

"Done?" she asked casually. "I was expecting you to drool over the weapons for a few more minutes."

"Spare me." Riker leaned over to look at the computer console. "You're in the system, right?"

"For now. There's a--"

"Tell me where we are." It wasn't a request. Riker was tired of not knowing where he was, tired of Saulosians and other things trying to kill him, and tired of being patronized by an A.I. that made herself look young enough to be his daughter--if he had ever had children.

"Well, if you must know we're on a space station." Diana seemed momentarily cowed by Riker's brusk manner. "There's a planet below us, but I can't get many readings from it."

Riker wasn't surprised by the revelation. He had been expecting something like this. "Any way off?"

"There's a hangar with some Pelicans and some HEV launchers somewhere around here," Diana replied. "I can't pin their locations down exactly; there's another A.I. in the system. He's trying to hunt me down and delete me, and in the meantime I can't get a full reading on this place."

With a frown, Riker cast another glance around the room. He wasn't that good of a pilot, and a HEV would cause too much of a commotion when it hit whatever planet was below them. With no idea what could be waiting for him down there, he needed a quieter entrance...

His gaze alighted on something, and he rushed over to retrieve it.

"What are you doing?" Diana's avatar rose to its feet and peered curiously over at him, mimicking human actions.

"I," said Riker, donning a lumpy looking backpack. "am going to jump."

Diana snorted. "You can't be serious."

"I am. It's the fastest way to get down there, and once that's done I'm going to find out what's going on around here."

This response seemed to stun the A.I. for several seconds. Finally, she nodded. "Then I'm coming with you."

"What?" Now it was Riker's turn to be surprised. Diana shrugged.

"This A.I. in the system is more advanced than I am; it's only a matter of time before he gets me pinned down. I want out of here before that happens. Besides, you'll need someone to talk to if you plan to go down to the planet. Who knows what you'll find down there?"

Riker needed an A.I. floating around in his head like he needed a hole there, but he had to admit that an A.I. would be useful in the battles that were surely ahead. Still, he hesitated. "Why should I trust you? Everything else I've run into has tried to kill me."

"If I kill you, I'm stuck inside your corpse with no way back into the mainframe. Yeah, that's a really appealing idea."

"Alright." Riker reached for the holotank. "But let me warn you right now: the jump isn't going to be pleasant."

Episode Four: Snipah Paradise

  • Summary: Arnold Lewis is a highly trained professional who has had more than enough training to deal with the new forest environment he finds himself in. But he and his fellow contestants are not prepared to deal with several expert marksmen who have set up shop amongst the dense foliage. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse, it will take every ounce of their determination and resourcefulness to escape the forest with their heads intact.

Arnold Leroy Lewis Jr. fired his assault rifle, cutting down the two Hai who had just spotted him. Before their corpses hit the ground he was already moving, darting over the bushes and logs that dotted the forest he had awoken in. So far the only signs of life he'd seen were the two Hai he'd just killed and the remains of what had looked like a marine officer draped over a tree branch. Not the most comforting of signs.

Stopping to rest behind a thick tree-trunk, Arnold scanned the surrounding area. There was nothing but trees and foliage for as far as the eye could see, but that didn't mean he was alone. This forest might be empty to the casual observer, but the soldier in Arnold was seeing dozens of places enemies could be using to hide in.

I have to keep moving, Arnold reminded himself. He was wearing his ODST armor and was wielding the very best UNSC-grade equipment, but even those might not be enough to protect him from the enemies that could be lurking in this forest. Furthermore, there might be other UNSC servicemen out there, and it was his duty to find and help them.

If I can find some friendlies, Arnold told himself, stepping back out into the open. we might have a real chance at surviving.

Before he could take three steps, something whizzed past his face. There was barely enough time for Arnold to make out a light purple beam before it had vanished, leaving a scorch mark in the middle of a tree stump.

Recognizing the distinctive appearance of a Covenant beam rifle shot, Arnold dove to the side and scrambled for cover behind another tree. He heard the sound of leaves rustling and peered out in time to see a beam rifle-toting Jackal (whose name was, in fact, Jackal) rise from the undergrowth and take sprint towards a tree of his own. Arnold leaned out and fired a quick burst from his assault rifle, but the sniper had already vanished behind a tree. Cursing his slow reaction, Arnold abandoned his cover and sprinted towards Jackal's tree. If he could close the distance between the two of them, he could gun the sniper down before he could take another shot.

But just as he was closing for the kill, Jackal gave a squawk of alarm and emerged from the other side of the tree just in time to avoid the bullet that punched through where his head had been and emerged out the other side of the tree.

Arnold brought his rifle to bear, but Jackal was quicker than most Jackals he'd seen and darted past him. He juked and weaved as he ran, throwing off Arnold's aim for several seconds before the SPARTAN-I fired a burst that caught him in the legs and sent him falling to his knees with a cry.

But as Arnold moved in to finish off the kneeling Jackal, his foot kicked something that shifted and rolled at his touch--definitely not another log. Glancing down at his feet, Arnold realized that he'd just kicked the corpse of a Hai warrior not unlike the ones he'd killed a minute ago. The top of this warrior's head had blown off, letting its brains seep into the surrounding bushes.

Aiming his assault rifle at Jackal's head, Arnold curled his finger around the trigger. But before he could fire, something struck Jackal in the neck, severing his head from his spine and killing him instantly. As Jackal's headless corpse keeled over, Arnold realized exactly where he was.

Oh shit, he thought as the world seemed to slow down around him. I'm in a kill zone.

There was a sniper active here, one who had just killed Jackal and might be about to kill him. There was no time for him to find any cover; the distant sniper would kill him before he made it two feet.

But the shot never came. Whoever had killed Jackal seemed to not be interested in bagging Arnold as well. This could only mean that he or she was with the UNSC. And that made them a potential ally.

Arnold turned in the direction both shots had come from and waved hesitantly. He activated his radio, but all he got from it was static. He considered calling out to the sniper, but that would only serve to draw other possible hostiles to his location. His best bet was to head off in the sniper's direction and hope they took the hint.

He had just cleared the tree the sniper's first shot had torn through when something to his right growled and fired what sounded like a crude assault rifle. Whirling to face the newcomer, Arnold found himself facing five Hai warriors. Their leader, the one who had just fired, seemed to be struggling with a jammed weapon, but the others were bringing their own weapons to bear.

Sprinting off in the direction of the sniper, Arnold fired as he ran. His scattered bursts of assault rifle fire brought down the Hai leader and another warrior, and the mysterious sniper shot two more. The final warrior snarled and charged after him, but was felled by a combination of assault rifle burst to the chest and sniper rifle shot to the head.

Arnold paused to reload, but was unpleasantly surprised by the sight of even more Hai emerging from the surrounding woods. These ones were taking fire though; Arnold could see several trading shots with unseen opponents further off in the woods.

It's like someone shook up a beehive, Arnold thought, groaning inwardly. The sniper he'd been heading for was already picking off the advancing Hai. Arnold leveled his assault rifle and opened fire as all hell broke out around him.

Gordon Freeman leapt over a fallen tree and crouched behind it, his battle rifle clutched tightly in his hands as assault rifle fire tore over his head. He now regretted wishing that he'd find something in these seemingly endless woods; now he wished that things were quiet again.

The Hai warriors were all around him, having seemingly sprung from thin air to attack him. He hadn't actually seen any of the creatures pop into existence, but he hadn't seen them until they'd started shouting and firing and he had a hard time believing that such brutal-looking creatures were good at sneaking around. Darting to his feet, he risked exposing himself to fire off a few bursts at the Hai. They didn't seem to be moving in his general direction, which was probably why he was still alive, and were instead charging off to Gordon's right. As he downed one warrior with a well-placed burst to the head, he saw another fold over and collapse. He immediately suspected a sniper's bullet to be the culprit, but wasn't completely sure until a second warrior's head exploded without any help from him. Glancing off in the direction the Hai seemed to be going, he saw a man wearing the armor of the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers. This trooper was weaving between the trees, bringing warriors down with careful bursts from his assault rifle. He wasn't the sniper, but Gordon was still grateful to see a UNSC serviceman out here. However, he restrained himself against calling out to the man; it wouldn't do to attract more attention from the Hai, who were still pouring out of the woods like waves of ants.

Where are they all coming from? Gordon wondered, ducking back into cover as another warrior sent a hail of bullets his way. His Hazardous Environmental Suit could withstand a few shots, but not many. Now more bullets were headed his way, tearing into the fallen tree and even threatening to punch through and hit Gordon.

Gordon fired blindly over the top of the log with his battle rifle, unsure of whether or not he hit anything. The bullets continued to pour all around him, and his own weapon soon clicked empty. As Gordon scrambled to jam a new clip into the receiver, he felt a tremor run through the log and looked up to see an assault rifle-toting Hai warrior grinning down at him.

Throwing himself backwards, Gordon sent two wild bursts up at the warrior, who fell as the bullets from the second burst penetrated his armor. The warrior wasn't dead, but Gordon already had bigger problems than finishing the creature off. Two more warriors were mounting the log, and it looked like more were right behind them.

Gordon dropped one warrior but was forced to dive to the side as the second opened up with his assault rifle. The scientist rolled franticly amongst the bushes as the bullets kicked up dirt around him. The distant sniper killed the shooting warrior, but it was too late for Gordon to do anything but watch as no less than seven Hai emerged on either side of the log, their weapons at the ready.

What a way to go, thought Gordon distantly. I don't even know where the hell I am... He closed his eyes as the warriors drew a bead on his position in the bushes.

The bullets he was expecting never came. Instead, the area around him was suddenly filled with the sound of more UNSC-made weapons. Opening his eyes, Gordon was amazed to see the warriors who had been threatening him collapsing under the combined fire of no less than four armored Spartan warriors. Identical to the legendary warriors who had saved humanity during the Great War, three of the Spartans darted past where Gordon lay. Mounting the log and leaping over it, they continued to fire at the surrounding Hai as they dropped down and disappeared behind the other side of the log. Although he could no longer see them, Gordon could hear them trading fire with the bellowing Hai.

A fourth Spartan dashed over to the log and began plugging away with his sniper rifle. Gordon finally recovered from his relief at still being alive and got to his feet, tugging his battle rifle up with him. He should help these Spartans, even if he was just...

Before he could take a step forward, the sniping Spartan dropped his rifle and whirled, bringing what looked like a large submachine gun to bear. Gordon opened his mouth to speak, but the words he was about to say were transformed into a cry of pain as a burst from the machine gun struck him full in the chest and punched clean through his HEV suit. He suddenly found himself flat on his back and craning his neck forward to observe his chest, which was now covered in blood. To his horror, the Spartan stepped forward and aimed the SMG at his head.

Time seemed to freeze as the Spartan's finger curled around the trigger. This time Gordon did not close his eyes, and it was because of this that he saw exactly what happened next.

The Spartan's armor shields flared for the briefest of seconds before his head snapped back as if struck by an invisible club. As the super soldier's legs gave out beneath him, Gordon saw a large hole in his visor. Another sniper, different from the earlier one, had brought him down and saved Gordon's life.

The sounds of battle had died down now. On the other side of the log, concealed from Gordon's view, the three Spartans stood alone amidst over thirty Hai corpses. Their leader, a SPARTAN-II named Cassandra-075, reloaded her battle rifle and nodded to the other two. These were part of a squad of SPARTAN-IVs that she had discovered and commandeered only a few minutes ago. "Good work you three," she told them.

Darcy-B122, the leader of the small group, looked around. "Thanks, ma'am," he replied. Turning to his comrade, he said, "Nice job, Stephen. You too, Glen."

Stephen acknowledged the praise, but Glen, the sniper, didn't respond. Concerned, Darcy kicked a Hai body aside and strode over to the log. Peering over it, he started in shock when he saw Glen's body lying in an armored heap on the ground. Vaulting over the log, he frantically checked his comrade's vitals. It was no use. Glen was gone. Choking back an angry snarl, he looked up and noticed the barely conscious Gordon for the first time.

Bringing his own battle rifle to bear, Darcy gritted his teeth and prepared to finish off the man who had obviously killed Glen. But Gordon, looking up at the Spartan who was about to kill him, gasped, "Watch it... sniper..."

Darcy hesitated, then stood to call the other two over. This action probably saved his life. The oncoming sniper bullet caught him in the chest rather than the head, glancing off his shields and armor. Cassandra and Stephen appeared on the other side of the log in time to see a shadowy figure break away from a tree and vanish deeper into the forest. There was no point in wasting ammunition trying to bring the shooter down, and instead they turned back to Darcy and Gordon.

"Glen's dead," Darcy reported, kneeling over the now-unconscious Gordon. "But this guy just saved my life from that sniper."

Cassandra leapt gracefully over the log and examined Gordon. "If we treat him now, we might just be able to save him." She helped Darcy lift the unconscious scientist over the log just as Stephen was greeting yet another newcomer to the group: a winded but very much relieved Arnold Lewis.

Dodging past a wide-trunked tree, Fi-D3332 cut loose with his assault rifle. His bullets struck a Hai warrior in the chest, knocking him back but failing to penetrate his armor. The warrior snarled and fought to regain his composure, but Fi's next burst blew his head into chunks of red and grey meat. As the dead warrior collapsed, Fi emptied the remainder of his rifle's clip into the two other Hai who had been backing him up. Both creatures toppled to the forest floor.

His MJOLNIR armor enhancing his movements, Fi reloaded and sprinted for cover. It wouldn't do for him to linger out in the open like this, especially after making so much noise. Crouching behind another tree and bracing himself against the sturdy bark, Fi quickly surveyed the area. No enemies in sight.

Breaking away from cover, he sprinted over to another tree and vanished behind its trunk. He repeated this maneuver several more times, surveying the area for hostiles and seeing none each time. So long as he kept going in one particular direction, Fi reasoned, he would either find friendlier companions than the handful of Hai he'd killed since awakening here or a way out of this forest. Either option beat wandering aimlessly, so Fi had adopted the strategy he was carrying out now. Repetitive though it might have been, it seemed to be serving him well so far.

Just as he was finishing yet another rapid dash across open bushes and shrubbery, Fi noticed something odd about the tree he was approaching. There was an odd combination of leaves and bark stuck to its side at about chest height; he was hesitant to believe that it was just a natural growth.

Reaching the tree, Fi frowned and reached for the strange assemblage. Maybe it was some sort of message, or a primitive method of giving directions. It didn't ring a bell with any of the various kinds of sign language he'd been taught during training, but perhaps it wasn't of human origin...

The last thing Fi ever saw was a rolling sea of flames.

The anti-tank mine that had been attached to the tree and concealed by leaves and branches detonated, blowing the top half of Fi's body into microscopic chunks and sending his legs and waist tumbling off into the foliage. His helmet, the only part of his top half to have survived the blast, struck a nearby tree and ricocheted into a horizontal log with sickening finality.

After giving the sound of the blast a moment to clear up, an armored Spartan emerged from where he'd been hiding in the foliage. A sturdy combat pack was slung over his back, containing even more explosive ordnance, and he cradled a large grenade launcher in his arms. A shotgun was slung over his shoulder alongside the pack.

Although he hadn't intended to kill a UNSC serviceman with the trap, Travis-G292 couldn't help but smirk as he examined the blood-splattered tree. He was surprised the thing hadn't been blown in half by the blast; as it was, a sizable chunk had been taken out of its trunk and it probably wouldn't stay up for much longer. Turning to where Fi's helmet had landed, he observed an ominous crack running from one corner of the visor to the other.

"Guess they'll have to glue you back together wherever you wind up," Travis quipped, knocking the helmet off the log with a casual kick. Guilt over the deaths he caused never really factored into Travis's analysis of things; that was one of the reasons he was such an effective operative. Right now, the strongest emotion he was feeling right now was pride. He'd always wondered what would happen if a fully armored Spartan made contact with a heavy-duty mine, and now he knew. Furthermore, he was responsible for bringing the big bastard down. His day had suddenly taken a turn for the better.

Well, he thought grimly, turning away from the battered helmet and beginning to head off into one of the denser parts of the forest. I've killed one UNSC guy now. No sense mincing around the issue now.

He was done with worrying about who the enemy was. If it moved, he'd kill it. That was the name of the game from now on.

Allowing himself a small grin, Travis pushed onwards into the forest. Things were going to get interesting now.

Travis was absolutely right. Things were about to get interesting. But not just for him. Interesting for everyone.

Something in the forest shifted. Maybe it was the breeze, or maybe it was the sudden silence that enveloped the entire area. Gunfire stopped, branches ceased to sway, and everyone in the forest, be they hidden or exposed, looked up in confusion at this sudden development.

The peaceful aura of utter noiselessness continued for almost half a minute. Then it was over, and the foliage seemed to be doing everything it could to make as much noise as possible. And then they came.

No one saw or could guess where they were coming from, as if they had all merely come into existence in a single moment. Hai warriors, all of them armored and armed to the teeth, began pouring fourth across the forest. A few carried large grenade launchers and a few carried dark, blocky swords. But most carried rifles. These were not the shoddy ones that Arnold, Gordon, and the others had dodged and evaded with ease. These were well-made death machines forged in the mind of some psychopathic inventor in a time and place beyond imagining. Each of these rifles had what could only be called a chainsaw slung under the length of their barrels.

As these new Hai, hundreds of them, filled the forest in search of the contestants, gunfire began to crackle once again. And this time, it didn't stop.

Jack-G101 hurled a grenade over the two stacked logs he was using for cover. The blast brought down four of the advancing Hai, and Jack used the confusion it caused to kill two more with is designated marksman's rifle. This opening salvo was answered by a fusillade of machine gun fire that instantly forced him back into cover and tore massive chunks of wood from his makeshift wall. All around him the SPARTAN-III could hear bellowing Hai and the reports of weapons of all kinds. Briefly leaning around the barrier, Jack deftly put two bullets into the head of the nearest Hai and saw to his dismay that there were dozens more in the woods all around him.

If he stayed here, he was going to get flanked and cut to pieces. Readying his rifle, Jack broke from cover and sprinted away into the woods. As he ran, he continued aiming and firing at the warriors who seemed to be everywhere at once. Soon the air around him was filled with wildly-aimed bullets and he began to weave in and out of trees to throw off his pursuers' aim as much as he could.

Desperate to put as much distance between himself and this seemingly limitless horde, Jack tossed another grenade over his shoulder. He heard it detonate behind him but didn't bother to look back to see the damage it had caused.

Then, an explosion directly to his right picked him up and flung him bodily into a tree. Clad in his MJOLNIR powered assault armor, Jack shook the blow off easily and quickly brought his rifle up again. He killed four Hai at random-none of them seemed to be after him at the moment--before his weapon's clip ran out. Ducking behind the tree he had hit (there was now a sizable dent in its trunk) Jack reloaded and looked desperately around him for some avenue of escape. As he did so, he noticed what looked like a fellow Spartan taking cover behind a tree stump and taking potshots at the Hai with an assault rifle.

Jack, glad to see another UNSC soldier amidst all this craziness, opened a channel to him with his helmet. "Friendly on your three!"

The other Spartan--Christopher Williamson-turned his head in the direction Jack had indicated, saw the S-III, and nodded. But much to Jack's surprise, he proceeded to bring his assault rifle around and opened fire. Jack moved fast to get back around the tree and leaned into the dent he'd made in the other side. Somewhere along the line, Christopher had decided that it just wasn't worth joining forces with other contestants, even if they were friendlies. In the end they'd have to kill each other anyway, so why waste time worrying about who'd stab who in the back first?

"So you don't wanna play nice, huh?" Jack growled as Christopher reloaded on the other side. Darting out again, the S-III Headhunter cut loose with his DMR, the bullets pinging against Christopher's shields as he tried to track the nimble scout.

With the shouts of the Hai now fully punctuated with assault rifle and DMR fire, the two Spartans wove and dodged in a lethal, hyper-fast game of cat and mouse. Jack leapt out from the cover of a tree as it was demolished by a grenade thrown by Christopher a moment earlier. The tree collapsed between them, and Jack wasted no time in darting up to it and firing on the exposed Christopher with only his head and shoulders exposed. With his shields nearly depleted and his assault rifle almost out of ammunition, Christopher decided to end the fight as quickly as possible.

Springing forwards and vaulting over the fallen tree before Jack could react, Christopher cut loose with an armor-enhanced kick that sent the smaller Spartan sprawling. Jack rolled and scrambled to his feet, but realized too late that he had lost his grip on the DMR, which had vanished somewhere into the surrounding bushes. Drawing his pistol, he got a single shot off before a final burst from Christopher's assault rifle caught him full in the chest and bowled him over.

The remnants of Christopher's clip had not been enough to bring down Jack's shields, but the fight was clearly over. Stalking towards Jack, who was struggling and gasping to get air back into his lungs, Christopher pulled out a combat knife from where it was sheathed on his prosthetic arm. He was so caught up in the adrenaline of combat and the thrill of victory, that he didn't notice the approach of a single Hai warrior until the alien revved his chainsaw rifle directly behind him.

Christopher tried to turn, but didn't make it in time. The whirling blades of the chainsaw came down on his now unshielded organic shoulder and found a small area that wasn't armored. Christopher screamed as the chainsaw bit into his arm, sending chunks of blood and flesh flying into the air. The agonized Spartan turned and seized the warrior's face with his prosthetic arm and the two were suddenly locked in a grappling contest while the chainsaw continued to tear Christopher's arm and shoulder apart.

Fighting back the horrendous pain in his arm, Christopher bowled the warrior over and tore the rifle from his shoulder. As his injured arm-now barely attached to his body-hung limp at his side, Christopher planted a boot in the Hai's face just as a second one charged towards him, a metal sword in either hand. Christopher caught one of the warrior's arms with his prosthetic arm and kicked the swordsman's legs out from under him before the second blade could strike. But they were both distracted from their conflict by the sound of a small thump on the ground beside them. They looked down in time to see a pair of grenades lying in the dirt.

The explosion consumed them both and managed to knock two more trees down.

Jack, who had thrown the grenades, was already sprinting away through the woods. He had retrieved his pistol but had failed to find his DMR. To make matters worse, he was now out of grenades, meaning he had only the pistol and a combat knife to defend himself with.

He dodged past a tree and nearly ran headlong into a trio of Hai. He dodged past the first's chainsaw rifle before planting his knife in the warrior's face and nailing the other two in their ugly heads with his pistol. After delivering a quick coup de grace to the first warrior, Jack retrieved his knife and ran on.

Behind him, he heard shouts and turned to see no less than ten more warriors racing after him in hot pursuit. Turning back to the front, he stopped running just to avoid plummeting over a cliff edge that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. A fog of green-tinged mist floated ominously down below.

With only one option left to him, Jack turned back to the pursuing warriors. He killed three before his pistol ran out of ammunition, then lunged into their midst with only his knife and empty pistol. He crushed one's skull with the butt of the sidearm as he slit another's exposed throat with the knife. Rolling under another warrior's desperate lunge with a sword, he grabbed the off-balance opponent in a headlock and broke its neck. One warrior tried to shoot him, but succeeded only in striking one of his compatriots in the chest. Jack sprang behind the offended warrior and plunged his knife into the burly alien's throat. The three remaining Hai charged him in unison from his front and side; Jack tore his knife from the dying warrior's throat and hurled his body at the one coming from the front. He dodged a burst of rifle fire, then rolled to the side, past a surprised warrior's legs--and right off the side of the cliff.

Jack wasn't quite sure how long he fell, but when he landed it was on surprisingly soft ground. He seemed to have landed on some sort of damp patch of grass. As his vision cleared, the Spartan cast a quick glance around him and saw that he was surrounded by small, dirty-looking pools and wet-looking trees. Was he in some sort of swamp?

Unfortunately, he had no more time to examine his surroundings because in the next instant his full attention was focused entirely on the barrel of an assault rifle that was shoved quite unceremoniously into his helmeted face.

"We're going to be overrun, Lieutenant!" Arnold Lewis bellowed as he ducked over a hastily-constructed wall of logs and emptied an assault rifle clip into the advancing ranks of the Hai. There were so many of them that he didn't even have to aim. "We need to pull back."

Cassandra-075 cast a brief glance over at the Marine as she reloaded her battle rifle. "We need to hold out," she told him over their radio channel. "If we move now, the wounded man will just slow us down while he bleeds out."

Arnold shot a look over to where Darcy-B122 was crouched over the wounded man in the strange, orange armor. As much as the rationalist in him wanted to just leave this stranger and fall back, his principles railed against such a heartless action. According to the SPARTAN-IVs, this man had saved one of their numbers' life, and that meant he deserved the same treatment. Even if these strange alien warriors were as innumerable as they seemed, Arnold and these Spartans needed to hold out.

Right now, that was their duty as soldiers of the UNSC.

Beside Arnold, Stephen-B118 threw a grenade over their log wall. As it exploded, both he and Arnold leapt up and blazed away with their assault rifles at the distracted warriors. Now, after nearly five minutes of nonstop fighting, the forest floor around their position was coated with Hai bodies. But in spite of their losses, the hulking aliens kept coming. Some ran straight in to to die under the UNSC troops' guns, but others were taking up positions of their own behind trees and were laying down streams of supporting fire for their onrushing brethren. While Arnold and Stephen focused on the Hai directly in front of their position, Cassandra kept sweeping the surrounding area and picking off any flanking Hai with her battle rifle.

One Hai finally reached the log barrier and leapt over it, a cleaver-like sword in hand. Without hesitating, Stephen buried his tactical axe in its head and continued firing.

Darcy's voice crackled over their radios. "This guy's almost ready to move!"

"Roger!" Cassandra replied. "Squad, prepare to fall back!"

But before they could pull away from the fight, a new figure sprinted from the woods and crested their makeshift barrier in a single bound. Activating his energy sword, Jrae 'Sekatics sliced another breaching Hai in half before lunging at Arnold.

The SPARTAN-I rolled away from the Sangheili's attack and came up firing. Jrae contemptuously angled his sword around, blocking Arnold's shots. With his free hand, the Sangheili drew a plasma rifle and opened fire on Stephen. The SPARTAN-IV took the brunt of the barrage on his armor's shields as he threw another grenade towards the approaching Hai. With this done, he leapt aside and returned fire.

For an instant, Jrae was caught in a crossfire between Arnold and Stephen. But then both of their rifles ran out of ammunition at the same time.

Cursing, Arnold dropped his assault rifle and whipped out his sidearm to continue firing. But Jrae was already bounding towards the exposed Stephen, and Cassandra was tied up shooting at the Hai. Stephen dodged Jrae's first swing, but the Sangheili kicked him hard in the chest and sent him crashing into the logs. Jrae drew his arm back to deliver a fatal blow.

Darcy came sprinting out of nowhere, shotgun in hand. A hail of pellets punched through Jrae's shields and bowled him over onto the dirt in a bloody heap.

"Come on!" yelled Cassandra as Stephen got to his feet. "Someone grab the casualty! The rest of us will provide cover!"

Arnold retrieved his assault rifle and slapped a fresh clip into it. He was down to this and one more magazine; after that, he'd have to start relying on his pistol. He dashed towards the wounded man. It'd be best if he grabbed this one while the MJOLNIR-armored Spartans dealt with the shooting.

Stephen also retrieved his weapon and began to fall into formation. Darcy fired another shotgun burst at several Hai who had reached the barrier, then turned to retreat. But just behind him, a wounded but alive Jrae staggered to his feet, energy sword in hand.

There was no time for anyone to help or even yell out a warning. Jrae decapitated Darcy in a single fluid motion. But the Spartan's head hadn't even struck the ground when Cassandra, Stephen, and Arnold opened fire, cutting the wounded Sangheili to pieces.

By now, almost half a dozen Hai were clambering over the log barrier. Arnold clipped his assault rifle to his back and picked up the wounded man in a fireman's carry while Cassandra and Stephen continued to pick off Hai. But the aliens' rifle fire was getting more accurate; it was only a matter of time before their sheer numbers overwhelmed the little group.

But then, as four Hai warriors were charging over the barrier in unison, a flurry of sniper shots punched through their armored bodies and sent them tumbling downwards. All three UNSC soldiers looked around, confused by the renewed sniper support.

A calm, deadpan voice crackled over their radios. "Attention, UNSC troops. This is Commander Jared-091. I have a tactical view of the situation and am taking charge of all three of you. Fall back directly to the south; I'll meet you there."

The radio clicked off, and sniper shots began to cut down Hai once again.

Stephen hesitated. "Who--"

"You heard the Commander!" Cassandra barked, firing her battle rifle. "Pull back! Sergeant, be careful with the casualty. We'll cover you."

With all the speed and practice of a trained and experienced professional, Jared-091 slipped a new clip into his BR55 battle riffle and continued to pick and eliminate his targets. And there were plenty of targets to choose from.

The forest around the tree where he was concealed was crawling with these strange, hump-backed "Hai" creatures. They reminded Jared vaguely of the Covenant Brutes he had fought during the Human-Covenant War, except that these aliens seemed more reptilian than ape-like, and there were definitely more of them. The SPARTAN-II wasn't entirely sure where they had all come from; all he could tell was that at one moment there were a few bands of them patrolling the forest and the next there was no end to them. They didn't seem at all demoralized by the casualties he was inflicting from his hidden perch; if anything, they seemed to get more excited every time he put one down. Those nearest to him were clearly on the lookout for him, and it would only be a matter of time before they found him.

Jared sighted down another Hai warrior and put a three-round burst through its head. He was down to just three clips for the battle rifle, plus two more for his sidearm and a single remaining magazine for the "BushWhacker" sniper rifle clipped to the back of his armor. Firearms aside, he had just a pair of fragmentation grenades and his combat knife to defend himself with. Not nearly enough to handle all of these warriors with. When he also took into account the unknown number of so-called "contestants" also skulking around in this forest, he had a fairly grim picture on his hands.

To a lesser man, this situation would have been cause for severe frustration and even uncontrolled panic. But Jared had spent over half his life fighting against impossible odds. There was nothing to be gained from losing his temper over things that couldn't be helped. Instead, he scanned the shrubs and trees around his position and did his best to form a tactical picture of the situation.

He'd have to go mobile sooner or later. Once he abandoned his position, he'd need to conserve ammunition and limit his contact with the enemy until he found a new place to hole up. Given the forest's current saturation with killer aliens, this would be much easier said than done. Furthermore, he now had to deal with the small group fighting their way towards his position from the north. Jared had given himself another basketful of troubles by contacting them, but seeing them pinned down by enemies had triggered one of his rare moments of compassion and compelled him to contact and take charge of them.

Of course, he might very well kill them before he let them see him. Mendez had told him that everyone would be trying to kill him back in that strange dream world. For all he knew, the Spartans and the Marine could turn on him the moment he revealed himself. Perhaps it was best to pick them all off while he had the chance...

This dilemma was a whole new problem in a day filled with nothing but problems. Jared gritted his teeth and shot two more Hai.

A hail of bullets cut through the leaves and tore through Jared's position. As his armor 's shields stopped those shots that actually struck him, the Spartan threw himself backwards against the trunk of the tree. They had him zeroed now; he could tell from the continued firing on his vacated post that that first barrage had not been a random test of the waters. He needed to move, and move quickly, before more warriors joined in and perforated the tree with their shots.

The small UNSC group was still approaching. In order to make it out of here in one piece, Jared would have to trust them and work with them--two things he wasn't particularly inclined towards. But he had been trained to be flexible and adaptable in combat situations such as these. His personal misgivings would need to be put aside for now.

Slotting his second to last clip into the battle rifle and readying his grenades, Jared vaulted down from the tree. The first thing he saw was a clump of Hai, all of whom were firing at his tree. He took these warriors down with a well placed grenade before sprinting away in the direction the UNSC group had been coming.

But the Hai were not at all interested in making things easy for him. The air around him was suddenly alive with bullets as warriors from all sides opened fire. There was, quite literally, no cover that could protect him from all of these shots, and so Jared just ran, not even pausing to aim and fire at the plainest of targets.

He had just realized that he'd lost track of the UNSC group and was beginning to look for them when an explosion tore through the underbrush and sent him hurtling headlong into a nearby tree. He stayed where he was, sprawled on his back amidst the shrubs and bushes, trying to regain his bearings. This proved to be a wise decision when several Hai jogged up--and were cut down by several well-placed sniper rounds.

Rolling over and tugging out his BushWhacker, Jared readied the rifle's scope and inched upwards in time to see two more Hai fall to the new sharpshooters bullets. It took him a matter of seconds to locate the shooter: a blue-armored Spartan crouching on a low-lying tree branch.

Jared allowed himself to rise some more and considered contacting the newcomer. Any thoughts of alliance were instantly dashed, however, when the blue-armored Spartan noticed him and immediately took aim.

Jared threw himself to the side milliseconds before a sniper round cut through the air his head had just vacated. He brought the BushWhacker to bear as the blue Spartan leapt from the tree branch and pulled off two more rounds that tore past either side of Jared's head. A third shot struck the SPARTAN-II in the chest and knocked him back several feet.

His shields had saved him from that shot, but Jared wouldn't last long if he didn't finish this fight now. Ignoring the dull ache in his chest, Jared dropped into a crouch as the blue Spartan looked around and realized that he had no cover to dive for. Dropping his empty rifle, the Spartan tugged a pistol from where it was strapped to his leg--just as Jared put a round through his visor.

Wolf-G033 toppled lifeless to the forest floor.

Jared didn't give the hostility of a fellow Spartan a second thought. It was just like Mendez had told him: everyone was the enemy here. He could trust no one if he was going to survive.

A new, stiffening resolve flooded into Jared's body. He would survive this, even if it meant killing anyone--UNSC or otherwise--who posed a threat.

The gunfire around him was drifting off. It seemed that--for the time being anyway--Jared could take a minute to take stock of his situation. He was just about to police Wolf's body for weapons when his radio crackled.

"Hey," panted a weary voice in his ear. "Spartan, do you hear me?"

Jared paused. "I'm here."

"This is Sergeant Major Arnold Lewis," the voice continued. "I've holed up in a clearing... not sure how far it is from your position, but it can't be too out of the way. I've got a wounded man here and I need assistance."

More complications. "Where are the others?" Jared asked.

The sergeant took a moment to reply. "We got separated during the fighting. I can't raise them on the comms."

It would be so easy to just leave the sergeant and his wounded baggage and strike out on his own. But Jared, in spite of his sudden burst of survivalist determination, simply could not abandon another serviceman in the field out of expedience.

Shouldering his BushWhacker, he opened the radio channel again. "Alright. Tell me where you are."

Episode Five: The Passage of the Marshes

"Of all the annoying little snags this game keeps running into, the worst one of all is that damn UNSC. At least the Covenant are decent enough to be quick about turning on each other in a pinch, but all these UNSC stooges keep yammering on about their damn soldier's honor and duty to aid their comrades. Why won't they just shut up and kill each other?"
―Actene, Master of Games

Wisp-G214's Fully Powered Infiltration-armored boots sloshed through the knee-deep bog as he sprinted towards a new tree to use as cover. He slapped a new clip into his battle rifle as he did so, keenly aware of the howls and snarls originating from the enemies behind him.

Reaching the tree, the SPARTAN-III turned and, after less than a second's worth of aiming, gunned down the two dog-like creatures that were following him, though such a description did most of the galaxy's dogs a major disservice. These monstrosities were covered in what looked like an outer exoskeleton, with spiny protrusions running down the lengths of their spines--if indeed the even had spines.

As his current pursuers fell, Wisp scanned the area for more enemies. He quickly found them in another duo of these bizarre aliens, and he shot them before they could decide to make a move towards him.

Wisp had no idea what these things were; he was certain they hadn't been brought up in that crazy ether-world he'd found himself in before waking up wherever this place was.

Fortunately, his time in this miserable, misty swamp had mostly been spent crouching in one place or another and going unnoticed by the majority of the aliens that were running around here. The big, armed aliens, the ones that he had been told to identify as Hai seemed to be having a tough time with these... other aliens. Wisp kept seeing squads of Hai running around and shooting at the dog-like creatures and some other, more humanoid creatures that looked like they were with the dog-freaks. Most of these little skirmishes would vanish into the swamp's fog before Wisp could see how the ended up, but as he moved from position to position he had found more Hai corpses than those of the others, so he figured the Hai were taking the worst of the casualties.

As he kept on the lookout for new enemies, Wisp was keenly aware of the sounds of gunfire all around him. Some of the sounds were the dull clattering of the weapons used by the Hai, while more were the strange, pulsating noises of the other aliens' weird particle weapons. And, if Wisp listened intently enough, he heard the faint but telltale noises of UNSC machine guns and Covenant plasma weapons.

Just as Wisp prepared to shift positions again, a hail of particle shots tore into the tree he was leaning against. Jerking backwards and readying his battle rifle, the Spartan saw a group of the bipedal, exoskeleton-clad creatures emerging from the mist, their vaguely-organic rifles trained on him.

Wisp opened fire, but his initial shots did little more than clatter off the aliens' exoskeletons and send them stumbling backwards just enough to buy him a few more seconds of not being shot full of holes.

Unleashing a hail of bullets mixed with foul swearwords, Wisp dodged away from the tree and primed a grenade as he sprinted through the muck around him. The explosive vanished into the rancid water around the alien squad's legs for a moment before erupting in a geyser of foul liquid and dead aliens.

Wisp had no time to celebrate his victory. At least a dozen more of the bipeds, followed by the large dog-freaks, dashed out of the mist and opened fire. Throwing himself backwards to evade their fire, Wisp fired his rifle as he tumbled into the bog. His armor was more than designed to operate in such an environment, but his battle rifle might jam up on him if it got clogged with marsh water.

Particle shots clattered around him and a few impacted on his armor; the armor dented and steamed where the bolts made contact. Wisp struggled to pull himself out of the muck, and a small part of his brain wondered if he was about to die.

A bellow cut through the sound of the aliens' particle rifles as a gold-armored Elite sprinted through the filthy bog water as if it didn't impede him at all. Holding the glowing energy sword in his hand like a spear, the Elite skewered the closest bipedal alien and, with a yank of his arm, tore it in half.

The other aliens rounded on the newcomer as Wisp was momentarily forgotten. They opened fire with their particle rifles, but the Elite was already on top of them, energy sword flashing like a beacon amidst the fog of the swamp.

Cutting through two of the aliens with one stroke, the Elite rounded on another, grabbed its head, and slashed its head off in less time than it took to blink. Leaping back on two others that were trying to get a bead on him from behind, he kicked one with enough force to snap its neck and leave its head at an unnatural angle. He stabbed the second in the stomach before withdrawing the blade and cutting it down with a vicious slash down the torso.

Three of the dog-freaks closed in on the Elite as the remaining bipeds struggled to get a clearer shot. Before their savage-looking jaws could even attempt to take a chunk out of his shielded armor, the Elite leapt into them and had sliced two in half before the third could move in on him. It paid for its inadequate reflexes when the energy sword was shoved into its open mouth and through the back of its skull.

Wisp clambered to his feet and opened fire on the other bipeds. This time his bullets seemed to strike at the right places: two of the warriors went down in the first two bursts and a third fell to two more hits to its head. As he searched for the rest of the targets, he realized that there were none: in the time it had taken to kill those three, the Elite had gotten up and cut down the last of them.

Wisp tensed and brought his rifle to bear on the Elite. Even if the warrior had just saved his life, it was still Covenant... and the Covenant were responsible for killing plenty of his friends.

Seeing the motion, the Elite raised a hand. "Peace, human. I do not intend to bring you harm."

"Yeah, yeah," Wisp grunted. "Identify yourself pal or we'll see how good you are with that sword when someone who can really aim shoots at you."

The Elite nodded, as if the gun pointed at him was a completely normal gesture. "Shipmaster Sona 'Demal of the the Interspecies Union. You might want to consider updating your position more frequently, Spartan. Otherwise you'll be ambushed again."

"Hold up," Wisp interjected. "Interspecies what? If you're trying to pull my leg just so you can stab me in the back, you're gonna have to come up with a better lie than that."

"I speak the truth--" the Elite--Sona or whatever his name was--began to protest but a crack split the air and something fast and powerful struck him in the chest. Shields flaring, the Elite tumbled into the swamp but was up again in an instant, running for cover as Wisp did the same, scanning for the shooter.

"I suppose you will have to judge my actions in battle in order to trust me," Sona panted as the two of them were forced to share a mound of earth for cover.

Gritting his teeth, Wisp just grunted in acknowledgment and prepared to face the new enemy.

Fifty yards away, the Vorenus traitor Vevictus Syrico smirked and took aim with his sniper rifle.

Aiden Bradley sprinted through the swamp, his pistol at the read. The Insurrectionist commander had seen more than enough of the insane creatures out here and all he wanted to do right now was to get the hell out of there.

Unfortunately for him, he ran straight through the middle of Vevictus's line of fire. The Vorenus blew Bradley's brains across the nearest moldy tree.

The body hadn't even vanished into the filthy swampwater before Wisp and Sona were up and charging towards their foe. Snarling a curse, Vevictus fired on Sona, the larger of the two targets. As the Sangheili warrior's shields flared, Wisp cut loose with his assault rifle, forcing Vevictus back into cover. Without waiting for his shields to recharge, Sona leapt forward and activated his energy sword. Vevictus scrambled backwards, letting off a flurry of poorly-aimed shots from his sniper rifle as he did so.

With a single slash, Sona cut through the Vorenus's armor and sent his corpse tumbling into the swamp.

Solidus had been stalking his prey, Per-G290, for a only few minutes. He had spotted the demon from afar, walking with a sense of purpose, laden with heavy weapons and explosives. The Brute stealthily followed the SPARTAN, carefully keeping track of where he was going, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

Per-G290 observed the contact on his motion tracker, and found it somewhat amusing that this target thought itself to be undetected. He checked his gun, ensuring it was fully loaded, before suddenly leaping behind a tree stump, and opening fire at the shadowing contact with his MA5K.

Solidus felt projectiles ripping through his shoulder, as he entered a prone firing position. The the SPARTAN "demon" somehow spotted him, and opened fire first with his rifle; the element of surprise had been lost!

The SPARTAN lost sight of his mark, ceased fire, and ducked back behind cover to reload. He was about to move to a better firing position, when another contact - in between both his stalker and his own position - showed up on his motion tracker, closing rapidly. He readjusted himself behind his makeshift cover, before raising his weapon; attempting to get a bead on his target.

It was an Elite, clad in bright and silly (in his opinion) cyan armor, armed only with a Plasma rifle. The Elite, Jetru 'Refumee, saw the SPARTAN, and instead of raising his weapon at him and firing, he merely waved and started yelling something.

"Human, lay down your arms - we are friends!"

Damnit, I'm outnumbered, he thought.

He ducked back behind cover, and drew the M19 "Jackhammer" Missile Launcher slung on his back.

Solidus saw the newly arriving Sangheili, and watched as he appealed to the Human to lay down its arms. No, that would not do - this was his kill. Both Solidus and Per stood, and opened fire at the same time; Per with his M19 Missile Launcher, and Solidus with his Spiker.

Jetru 'Refumee yelled something along the lines of "The Halos are death, the Great Journey a Lie!", as the Spiker projectiles drained his armor's shields - before being silenced by a rocket impacting in his stomach, blowing Jetru to bloody chunks.

Solidus took this opportunity to take a Spike grenade from his belt, and powerfully toss it at the human's standing frame. The grenade impacted squarely on a packet of C-12 on Per's belt, digging through it and the armor underneath, before embedding itself into the flesh of his waist.

Per recognized that was too late (and painful) to remove it, and that he was doomed. Instead of attempting to remove it, he spent his last second or two of life firing the remaining missile in the M19 launcher at the Brute, and observing the High Explosive rocket spiral through the air, and impact squarely upon Solidus' chest, exploding and sending blood and bits of flesh everywhere.

The Spike grenade exploded, the explosion detonating the C-12, and perforating Per's body with spikes and shards of metal from his armor. If this did not kill him, large secondary detonations of the other explosives on his person splattered his remains about the area.

And the marshes promptly returned to their initial state of silence.

Season discontinued

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