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Awakening Demons
Awakening Demons
The greatest threats are always the ones we fail to see.
Genre Written roleplay
Directed by Actene
Date launched October 24, 2012
Original run November 5, 2012—
Episodes 3
Status Ongoing
[Source]

The year is 2574. The Interspecies Union remains locked in a bitter war with the Path Walkers, a powerful army of extremist Sangheili still devoted to the religion of the Great Journey. Humanity and the Sangheili, along with the rest of their allies within the Interspecies Union, are now threatened not only by this bloody stalemate but also dozens of other threats both foreign and domestic. The Path Walkers are not the only hostile faction in the galaxy, and now the Interspecies Union's enemies can smell blood in the water. Now new demons emerge from the darkness; some are old, some are new, and some are foes many in the IU would just as soon forget.

A new chapter opens in the Against All Odds universe. This may be an age of villains, but it is also an age for heroes. Those with the will and dedication may plant their own print on galactic history in the turbulent times to come. The galaxy needs those brave enough to answer the call to step forward to not only defend the principalities and powers of the galaxy but also shape the future of their galaxy.

Rules

Joining

Most prospective writers have already signed up via this RP's announcement page, but anyone else who wants to join just needs to message me via my talk page. Short of outstanding rule violations, applicants will most likely be admitted quickly and invited to start posting immediately.

  • A note on characters: As explained on the forum page, the nature of this RP calls for a range of human characters outside the UNSC's military forces. While military personnel are permitted, there is also a great need for non-military humans, namely criminals, insurrectionists, and plainclothes civilians. Also, short of unique circumstances no more Spartan characters will be allowed to join.

Posting

As a rule, don't post consecutively (i.e. two separately numbered posts written by the same person). There's no solid rules about how frequently you can post, though it's probably best to wait until two or three others have posed before writing again.

I can't stress enough how much you are encouraged to stay in contact with other writers. Collaborate with your posts, get your characters to interact with each other. I'll be trying to work with as many people as I can to work characters into the story once it starts, but it will be easier on me and frankly more interesting for you if you take the initiative and arrange meetings, fights, and other events between characters. The more people you have writing about or even mentioning your characters, the more interested readers will be in what you're doing with those characters within the story.

Finally, be ambitious. I may be the ultimate arbiter of the overall plot, but I've seen too many RPs where people lost interest because their characters and posts had no bearing on what was going on. Again, I'll be doing my best to give your characters chances to stand out, but at the end of the day the person who can do that best is you.

If your posts do cause problems (i.e. making your characters know things they shouldn't know, excessively interfering with other writers without their permission, being nonsensical or overtly unrealistic) then I'll contact you, explain the problem, and invite you to remove or change it.

The Death Rule

As I posted in the forum:

"Having discussed the general failure of RPs at length with Sona, I have a new rule that I will be implementing in this RP. It's pretty simple: you stop contributing, I kill your characters. All of them. And they'll stay dead, or at least is far as the AAO-verse is concerned.

That being said, I won't start dropping bridges if you go a week without posting. If I think you're in danger of running up against this rule, then I'll give you a quick head's up and maybe some suggestions about what to do with your characters. This will be followed by a couple warnings, but after that you're done. I will inventively and mercilessly kill off your characters and that will be that.

Now if there's a genuine problem (i.e. the real world) preventing you from writing, either message me or talk to me on the IRC and we can work something out. This rule isn't here to punish you, just encourage people not to drop their commitment to the project just because they don't feel like writing anymore."

Writers and Characters

Actene

  • Mordred: An enigmatic mercenary and arms dealer who knows himself only by his odd pseudonym. Although he projects an appearance of cheerful self-confidence, he is a morally bankrupt shell of a man whose true motives and intentions are unclear.
    • Jonah: Mordred's only companion, this child soldier is doggedly loyal to his "boss" who saved him from a colonial battlefield two years previously.
  • Shepard-A294 (a.k.a. "The Reaper"): Formerly a SPARTAN-III of Alpha Company, Shepard is the only survivor of Operation: PROMETHEUS. His existence his unknown to the UNSC or any of his Spartan brethren, and he is currently a high-ranking enforcer for the Syndicate. His shadowy ambitions stretch far beyond a life of crime, and he lives by his own harsh code of honor.
    • Nimue: Raised from infancy to be an Insurrectionist assassin, the girl code-named "Nimue" knows little of life away from the battlefield. A lethal combatant, she is currently in Shepard's employ and is his chief accomplice.
    • Diana: This rogue Insurrectionist A.I. was once the companion of renegade Spartan Simon-G294. She has since become Shepard's partner and confidant. Contemptuous of organic "meatbags," she nonetheless finds herself entertained by their trials and tribulations.

Sonasaurus

  • Thomas Martel: An aged UNSC scientist who has done extensive research on Sangheili anatomy and has accomplished numerous feats in medical science, engineering, and weapons research.
  • Jun-A266: Formerly the rifleman of the disbanded Noble Team, and currently serving as Dr. Martel's guardian angel of sorts (character to be shared with Ladylaconia).
  • Lt. Col Forenson: An ODST officer in charge of the human military task force present.
  • Iris Sabio (a.k.a. "Constance"): A high-ranking Syndicate member and a descendent of the revered Dr. Sabio; a prodigy as well as a CQB expert.

Nanosoldier

  • Jackson-A104 and Valor Team: An elite group of only 3 SPARTAN-IIIs responsible for a majority of ONI classified missions both planetary and intergalactic currently serving the Interspecies Union
  • Dotto: One of the first of the secret 'Intelligent' AI program, Dotto is extremely versatile in the multiple fields of science. The AI has been known for numerous accounts of being the harbinger of multiple deaths such as the disbandment of Noble Team during the infamous Fall of Reach.
  • Ariadne Harvard: A prodigy with multiple specialties and has a brilliant academic and scientific performance. Ariadne has been praised as being among the smartest women of the 26th century, almost rivaling Catherine Halsey.
  • Chyler Harvard: A special-operations agent with a classified agenda dating back during the early days of the Human-Covenant War.
  • Viktor Aagard: An agent of the Interspecies Union and veteran of alien-related missions. His former allegiance to the Office of Naval Intelligence has made himself almost regret becoming a spy in the first place.

Ahalosniper

  • Sepia-G330: Believed dead for nearly a decade, Sepia has avoided UNSC detection by staying on the borders of human-colonized space. In search of power for her own goals, she has cautiously returned to the Outer Colonies through illicit channels looking to find the location of a particular Forerunner relic.
  • SgtMaj. Pete Stacker: A veteran Marine looking towards his retirement, Stacker has seen more than most ever will. Still, one last drop may hold its share of the unexpected for him.
    • SSgt. Chips Dubbo: Looking to Stacker as a mentor, Dubbo has finally come into his own fighting the Covenant Remnant and intends to continue his career in the Marine Corps. The trials ahead involving the Insurrection, however, may shake his resolve.
    • Cpl. Manyara Abda: Joining after her home was destroyed in the Battle of Earth, Abda is an expert in unarmed combat. She's extremely loyal to the UEG, despising aliens and rebels alike.
  • Stephen Leibowitz: Head of the marginalized Colonial Administration Authority, Leibowitz is attending the summit to represent the interests of civilians in the colonies while the UNSC plan military action. His election to Director of the CAA was partially thanks to the Syndicate, but with Chairman Locke cracking down on corruption, Leibowitz is hasty to sever the ties, which the Syndicate would see as a broken deal.

Brodie-001

  • Ash Mitchell: An ODST-turned mercenary after becoming disillusioned with the UNSC. He was framed by an associate after a robbery turned into a massacre, and is currently on the run as a wanted terrorist after his name was also found in connection to several hijackings and Insurrectionist groups.
  • Carlos Driscol: A former URF leader and veteran of the Mamore conflict, among other battles, he is in hiding after faking his death twice. He has many dealings with the criminal underworld, running a black market operation in trading alien weapons and other goods while only looking out for number one.
  • Layla-B101: A SPARTAN-III and former headhunter, Layla spent several years in Covenant captivity before escaping. The experience left her mentally unstable, leading to her being assigned far-off missions by ONI to keep her out of the way. She is currently acting as a protector and partner to Redford.
  • Alexander Redford: An experienced ONI agent who specialises in deep-cover operations, Redford's skills have not declined with age. He is currently in an uneasy partnership with Layla after years of operating alone.

Stel' Vadam

  • Grayson MacMillan: Once an Insurrectionist turned bounty hunter, Grayson escaped from the Innies at the age of twenty years and soon became a mercenary for hire. He has collected quite the infamy in the criminal underworld, due to his prowess for explosives. He is also an expert in thrown weaponry, preferring his collapsible tomahawk.
  • Stel 'Vadam: The 57-year-old Sangheilian veteran brother to Thel 'Vadam is still kicking by 2574. In the previous two years he had led a campaign against the Path Walkers as Supreme Commander and is still as recognizable as ever. It's unknown why one of the Sangheili's most commendable commanders is in the immediate vicinity of Thebes, but it's highly likely it's to broker talks with the UNSC.

Minuteman 2492

  • Adam Makosky: Originally a UNSC loyalist, Makosky fought on Far Isle and during the Human Covenant War, before defecting to the URF in 2552 with a group of fellow dissidents, and over the 22 years since then, has built a considerable force and stronghold in the Eridanus II asteroid belt. On Thebes he plans to forge an alliance with Carlos Driscol and the Minutemen in order to destroy the Syndicate, and give him control of the URF's course.
  • George McClusky: A former URF soldier, McClusky retreated to Venezia after the destruction of the URF on Victoria in 2554. A highly respected airborne trooper and tactical genius, he is in charge of Makosky's entire elite airborne infantry detachment, which is in the forests outside Thebes, waiting for Makosky's orders.
  • Elijah Cavorel: A former Mamorian Rebel, Cavorel served during the First Mamore Insurrection, and was allegedly confirmed KIA during Alpha Company's assault on the planet. However, he was rescued and recuperated from his wounds, before roving the galaxy as a freelance mercenary. He now resides in Thebes, and works as a hunter, but is still able to fight.
  • Miroslaw Xavier: A former rebel soldier on Soyuz, Xavier was captured during the UNSC's attack on the planet, and eventually escaped from the POW camp, becoming a mercenary among various Insurrectionist groups.
  • Bohater-B078: A rogue Insurrectionist Beta Company SPARTAN-III, Bohater-B078 is in Thebes of his own accord, planning to weaken both the UNSC and Syndicate while a great number of their officials are in Thebes during the summit.

The Story

With no end in sight to the conflict with the Path Walkers, the Interspecies Union plans to host a summit in order to confirm its own commitment to galactic unity and make plans for the orchestration of the rest of the war. The city chosen to host this gathering is Thebes, a sprawling metropolis with a history that stretches back decades before the start of the Great War.

But the summit is not the only focus in Thebes. The city is also the birthplace of the Syndicate, the sprawling criminal empire that dominates underworld markets throughout the IU. Its power and authority have gone unchecked and unchallenged for decades, but now forces are stirring that hope to loosen the Syndicate's iron grip on drug trades, arms dealing and most importantly, the flow of equipment and funding to what remains of humanity's insurrectionist movement.

And into this swirling cauldron of intrigue walks a man with no beliefs or morals to call his own. Without even a name, he prepares to send the dominoes toppling over. The board is set, and the pieces are already in motion.

Factions

  • UEG/UNSC: As the summit takes place on a UEG colony, UNSC forces are charged with ensuring that the city remains secure and free from danger.
  • Sangheili: The second key power to attend the summit, the Sangheili are beginning to waver after years of unchecked warfare following the end of the Great Schism.
  • The Syndicate: A criminal empire that used the chaos following the war to seize control of organized crime throughout the IU's member territories. Thebes is one of its key headquarters, and local Syndicate leaders hope to use their influence to keep the summit's outcome in their favor.
  • The Minutemen: A loose association of criminals and insurrectionist forces. The Minutemen wish to break the Syndicate's hold on criminal dealings and end their control over the course of the insurrection movement. Unknown to the Syndicate, they are gathering in Thebes and preparing for the coming turf war.
  • Civilians: The denizens of Thebes, these ordinary men and women never asked to be caught up in the middle of a war. Unfortunately, fate does not care about whether or not anyone wanted the troubles that befall them.

Awakening Demons

1934 Hours, July 8, 2574 (UNSC Military Calendar)

Location: Unknown district, planet Arietis-5, Tau Arietis System

Join the Corps, Zoey Hunsinger’s recruiting sergeant had told her. See the galaxy. Be all you can be.

“Incoming!”

Zoey had certainly joined the Corps, and she was certainly seeing the galaxy. But right now “all she could be” was looking very much like “dead.”

She threw herself low, assault rifle held tight against her chest with one hand and bracing her helmet with the other. The next ten seconds were filled with a thunderous roaring and the painfully familiar triple pounding of the plasma artillery the Path Walkers had been raining down on her batallionfor the past two days. The building, already reduced to charred rubble by constant streams of plasma fire, shook and groaned under its own failing weight. She had to get out now, or she’d be burned alive when the white-hot roof caved in around her.

“C’mon, Hunsinger!” Sergeant Metsker’s booming voice roared from somewhere off to the side. “Get your head out of your ass and fall back!”

Zoey was all too eager to obey. She leapt away from her crumbling cover, half running and half tripping in her haste to get clear. Plasma rounds hummed and flashed around her; it was all she could do to keep her grip on her rifle as she ducked through the door and out into the street.

Gemini Sigma had not been a vacation resort to begin with, but two days of the Path Walkers’ assault had reduced it to a living hell. Prefab buildings burned everywhere she looked, the streets around them carved to pieces by artillery blasts and strafing runs from the Seraphs and Banshees that had been bombing with impunity since the battle began. The shattered chases of trucks and Warthogs were piled everywhere, either pushed to the side or converted into makeshift barricades, and the ragged silhouettes of human beings—armed or otherwise—crept amongst it all like bewildered ants.

She was no stranger to scenes of horror. As a young teen she’d survived Brute captivity, the grueling criminal underworld of the frontier colonies, and war zones on planets far more alien than Gemini Sigma. But Zoey still couldn’t completely shut out the screams that rose up above the plasma and gunfire, mingling with the smoke overhead to create a hideous, deafening symphony.

“Hunsinger, move it!” Metsker emerged from a column of smoke like some ghostly apparition. The stout sergeant was practically naked, most of his uniform and armor burnt away by plasma heat. Hideous, oozing welts and blisters covered his body, yet he still gripped his rifle with a purpose and bellowed orders as easily as if they were on a drill field. “Get your ass to fallback position!”

Two other Marines staggered up to join them. Zoey recognized one as Yosef, from her own squad, but the other man was a stranger. She didn’t bother to ask where everyone else was.

The four of them hurried down the street. Metsker led the way while Zoey and Yosef did their best to support the new guy, a glassy-eyed Private who looked as if he was ready to lie down and die. With the noise and the heat and the gut-ripping fear bearing down on her, it was all Zoey could do not to throw herself down and collapse with him. But she couldn’t die here. She had to make it out of this.

They were halfway to the rally point when Metsker glanced back past them and towards the position they’d just abandoned. His eyes widened and he spun back, yelling incoherently and waving them down.

Zoey and the other Marines threw themselves flat as Metsker let out a series of bursts from his rifle. His soot-covered mouth bared in a snarl as blue plasma cut through the air around him. He got off four good bursts before a beam burnt through his shoulder and threw him back against the nearest building. He kept the rifle up and fired once more before an artillery blast tore the building behind him apart. Heat washed over Zoey; she had one last look at her sergeant, caught against the blinding light of the explosion. Then he was gone.

The glass-eyed Private wailed and covered his head, but Zoey was already rolling over onto her back and bringing her rifle to bear. The metal scorched her hands through her tattered gloves; she gritted her teeth against the pain and kept her grip. Just like Simon would have done.

At the other end of the street, two large, hunched figures advanced towards them. She could just barely make out the dull armor of Path Walker warriors through the smoke, but that didn’t matter. There were no friendly hinge-heads on this rock, just ones that wanted very much to kill her and every other human here.

Things aren’t supposed to be like this, she thought distantly as she blazed away at the warriors. We shouldn’t be losing like this.

The vids her drill sergeants had shown her and the other recruits during Basic had all said the same thing: We were outgunned and outnumbered during the Great War and we still won. Things aren’t like that now. We have the advantage.

But any “advantage” portable shield generators and fancy artillery with tight-beam targeting had been burned away by the first hours of the Path Walker attack, leaving Zoey and her comrades with armor and weapons that were only a step above what they’d been during the Great War. And they were being slaughtered all the same.

Yosef was also firing, his battle rifle chinking away at the warriors’ shields from behind a fortuitously placed bit of rubble. “What’s the plan, Lance Corporal?” he yelled in between shots.

Zoey had been so caught up in the shock of losing Metsker that she hadn’t realized that she was now in charge. Yosef and the panicking Private beside her were suddenly her responsibility. Metsker and the others, the veterans and heroes who had fought the Covenant and the rebels and the Fallen, were all gone. She hadn’t even been in the service for a year, and now she needed to get two guys who’d probably signed up at the same time she had back to the rally point. If she didn’t die right here.

Her assault rifle clicked empty, but the last few rounds flew true. One of the warriors stumbled as his shields failed. Yosef brought him down with a burst through his throat.

She fumbled with her grenade pouch, priming one and throwing it as hard as she could at the remaining warrior. He vanished in a burst of smoke and flames; Zoey didn’t wait to see if he emerged again. She pushed herself to her feet and snapped her empty rifle onto the magnetic clamps on her back. Miraculously, they still worked.

She and Yosef hauled the trembling Private up and took off again down the street. The plasma barrage was still coming down all around them, causing a miniature earthquake that threatened to knock them flat once again. Zoey was struck with a sudden memory from another time, another stricken city, stumbling behind the slim, armored figure of the mercenary known to her as Mordred. He had gotten her through that hell and now it was her job to get these guys through this one.

“We’re almost there,” she panted. “Keep it up.” The words sounded hollow, even to her, but they did their job. Yosef and the Private kept with her and didn’t falter until they reached the rally point.

Sooty-faced sentries waved them over a wall composed of a burnt-out Scorpion and piled up chunks of rubble. Only a handful of others were waiting on the other side. Zoey helped Yosef set the shivering Private down before looking desperately around for anyone who might be in charge.

“Lance Corporal Hunsinger?”

She found herself face to face with a young lieutenant who could very well have been her own age. With a start, she recognized Lieutenant Self, the company chaplain.

“Sir!” she acknowledged, reloading her rifle. “Sergeant Metsker had us fall back. He didn’t make it, sir.”

“Metsker?” the chaplain demanded. “Where’s the rest of Bravo Platoon? Where’s Lieutenant Andon?”

“Um, I don’t know, sir.” So they were the only ones from Bravo to pull back. Or maybe they were the only ones left to fall back. Zoey could only hope that some people were still out there, but if Chaplain Self was the one doing head counts then things had to be going even worse than she’d thought. “Sir, who’s in charge here?”

The chaplain’s jaw worked. Like Metsker, much of his fabric uniform had been burnt away. From the looks of things, he’d carved a rank insignia and a cross into the front of his helmet. “Right now, Corporal,” he said after a moment. “It looks like I am.”

He turned away to help a Navy medic with a patient, leaving Zoey to rejoin Yosef by the rubble wall. “No one else from Bravo’s made it back,” she told him dully.

He groaned and leaned on his rifle like a crutch. “We’re fucked.”

“Keep it together,” she told him, patting him on the back. “We’ll pull through.”

Simon would have said the same thing, though Zoey figured he might not have been quite as friendly about it. From what she’d seen during her travels with him, Metsker and any one of the NCOs who had died back on the line had been a better shot than the bitter, sarcastic ex-Spartan but somehow she knew he would have walked away from the fight that had killed them just like he’d walked away from all the others. He’d have slipped away from the Path Walkers and maybe even caused them a bit of trouble in the process, but no matter what the odds he was up against, he'd always survived.

At least until the last time, the part of her that she was fighting to push away told her. He couldn’t survive everything.

She gripped her rifle and faced the wall. Simon had died for her back above the hinge-head homeworld. She’d become a Marine to honor that sacrifice, to honor it and try to make it so no one else had to watch their family get slaughtered in front of them like she had.

But Bravo Platoon had been her family, hadn’t it? She’d been just as helpless to save them as she’d been when her parents had died.

Zoey shook her head, chasing away the guilt and fear. She’d gotten Yosef and the other man back. That was what counted. She could almost see Simon glaring at her from across the huddle of battered Marines. Get your act together, his ghost sneered. Do you want to die on this rock?

She glanced up the makeshift wall. There were hinge-head voices in the air now, war chants and battle cries that cut through her grimy skin and chilled her to the bone. She adjusted her grip on the rifle; any second now someone would be ordering them up, back over the wall to continue the fight.

“Incoming, incoming!”

The renewed plasma barrage rocked the city to its very foundations. Peels of light streamed down like divine judgement all around them, tearing their way through buildings as if the heavens themselves wanted to wipe the settlement off the face of the planet. Zoey and Yosef huddled against the base of the wall, minds and ears ringing from the noise, the trembling, and the sheer animal fear that they had been drilled so hard to conquer and ignore.

“Here they come!” someone screamed through her helmet’s earpiece. Zoey forced her eyes upwards, half deafened by the intensity of the barrage. One of the sergeants atop the wall waved frantically at those below. For a moment the sergeant was there; then a plasma bolt struck her and threw her into the air. Half a dozen more perforated her before she could hit the ground.

“Move up! Get up to the wall! Move it, move it!”

Lieutenant Self was beside them now. The chaplain was still unarmed, but even so he scrambled halfway up the rampart and beckoned furiously for those behind to follow. Zoey saw his wide, frightened eyes for just a moment; then the chaplain had turned his face away and was back to climbing the wall.

That nut’s going to get himself killed, Zoey thought, realizing they were about to lose the last officer in their battalion. Someone had to drag him back down from there.

She threw herself up after him, hoping to grab his ankle before he reached the top. But suddenly there was a deafening roar from behind her, one that didn’t come from plasma bursts or alien mandibles. Then Marines were all around, climbing beneath and beside and above her in their surge to reach the top.

“Yeah, corporal!” Yosef yelled, scaling past her. “We’re all gonna die!”

She stared for another moment. Then the wave of Marines caught her up and pushed her to the top of the wall.

There was no time to even take in the oncoming enemy. Zoey let her instincts take over, losing herself to the momentum as she thrust her assault rifle forward and fired down into the smoke. There was no need to aim; all she needed to do was point and shoot.

Yosef was on her left; the chaplain, her right. As the plasma soared up and down, as the earth shook and Marines fought and died all around her, Zoey Hunsinger closed her eyes against the heat and fired down at her enemy again and again and again.

Several miles away, a pair of very different eyes peered down at one of the Path Walkers’ artillery batteries through a rifle scope.

He licked his lips and turned aside to take a gulp of water from the canteen beside him. Everything was going according to plan. There was no sense in dehydrating himself over an op as routine as this.

He clicked his earpiece on and set it to one of its pre-set frequencies. “Hey, Jonah, how’s everything going?”

“It’s hard to tell,” a thin, reedy voice replied. “The Path Walkers are definitely winning, though.”

“Oh, really?” he retorted, but there was no real fire behind the rebuke. “Another brilliant observation from the obvious department. I’ll call you up next time I need to hear something I already know.”

“Sorry, boss,” Jonah replied defensively. “But from where I am...”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. What’s the artillery fire look like?”

“They’re really letting the UNSC have it. And there are Phantoms and Banshees all over the place.”

He nodded, refocusing his rifle on the battery beneath him as it steadily lobbed shot after shot into the air. “Yep, sounds like the ass-kicking we expected. Okay, hightail it back to the fallback point and keep a low profile till I show up.”

“Got it, boss.”

Keeping one eye on the battery, he opened up a new frequency. “Pula, how’re you doing down there?”

“My preparations are complete,” warbled a new voice, this one slightly lower and raspier. “And what have I told you about contacting me at this stage of an operation?"

“That you like it and want me to do it more often?”

“Your attempt at humor does not amuse me, human. Just as it failed to amuse me the last fifty times you broke transmission silence."

“That’s ‘cause I know how lonely you get, Pula,” he teased, easing himself deeper into his makeshift observation post. “Now, you ready to pull out?”

“Yes,” she replied. “And stop contacting me. It is distracting.”

“Oh, you know you like it.” He closed the link, allowing himself a self-satisfied grin as he reached for the control pad fastened to the arm of his ODST-style field armor. You had to get what kicks you could out of your job, especially when it came to his line of work.

His name was Mordred, and yes, he knew that it was a silly name. Maybe he’d had a real name, a proper name at some point in his murky past. Maybe he’d had a family and a regular job and place in human society. But if he had, he couldn’t remember them. To be perfectly honest, he didn’t particularly care to rediscover them anyway. Judging from the feelings of loathing and contempt that washed to the surface whenever he wasted time reflecting on the life he had once led, it hadn’t been a life much worth living anyway.

In his memories and in his dreams, there was pain, there was fire, and there was a face that he knew to hate with every fiber of his being. And after that, there was only the life he lived now, one spent on battlefields just like this one.

The Path Walkers were steamrolling this region of Gemini Sigma faster than Mordred had expected, but he always had a back up plan. In this case, the backup plan was simply to do things a bit ahead of schedule.

“Alright, Commander ‘Yuthr,” he muttered, watching the artillery crew pause to change out a spent energy canister. “You’ve had your fun. Too bad you never read the fine print in my contract.”

‘Yuthr, the Sangheili in charge of this particular Path Walker legion, had been all too eager to snap up the plasma artillery when Mordred had gotten him in touch with the right Syndicate agents. Arms dealing was just one of his many talents, and with the war on like it was he was making quite a tidy side profit off of it.

Of course, he had other obligations to fulfill. And those obligations said that the Path Walkers could only be allowed to win for little bit. Now, their time was up.

Pula opened her frequency again. “I have withdrawn. Commander ‘Yuthr is dead.”

“That’s what I love about you, Pula. You’re so good at stabbing things.”

She signed off with an irritated huff. Mordred couldn’t help but smile again as he reached down for his gauntlet pad. It was a shame Yuthr wouldn’t be around to see his entire offensive fall to pieces around his ear-holes, but then again he wasn’t the first Path Walker commander to be done in by arrogance. He certainly wouldn’t be the last.

Mordred raised the gauntlet and grinned down at the artillery emplacement. “And boon.” he muttered, pulling a bit of amused satisfaction out of the little phrase as he brought his finger down on the keypad.

Nothing happened.

“What?” Mordred scowled down at the artillery crew as they continued the bombardment obviously.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. A dozen contingencies raced through Mordred’s mind. He’d have to get Pula in again to check things out, which would be even harder once the Path Walkers found out their commander had been murdered. They’d have to reposition and get in place for Plan B, and in the meantime the Path Walkers would finish mopping up the rest of the UNSC troops out here. Even worse, he’d be stuck on this rock for a few more weeks while he got everything sorted out, all because someone had screwed up with a few wires somewhere down the line in what was supposed to be a routine job.

“Son of a bitch,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. He took an angry swig from his canteen, then raised his finger again and mashed the keypad button as hard as he could. On the fourth push, the pad’s green indicator light winked on.

Two miles below him, the artillery emplacement exploded.

Blue-tinged flames erupted from the base of the gun, igniting the surrounding fuel cells and triggering a blast that ripped through the artillery, its crew, and the fortifications around it. A handful of warriors survived the destruction, crying out in pain and surprise from amidst the charred rubble and corpses of their fallen comrades.

"Oh," Mordred said. "There we go. Boom."

Mordred adjusted his rifle and scanned the ridge beyond the destroyed emplacement. Sure enough, smoke was rising from dozens of spots along the horizon. The sheets of plasma that had been shooting up and away towards the settlement had stopped completely.

He reopened Pula’s channel. “So, how’d you like the fireworks?”

“All emplacements have been destroyed,” she reported. “And the anti-air batteries just went offline. The generator that powered them developed a serious malfunction.”

“And I didn’t even sell that one to them,” Mordred said with a grin. “You’ve been a busy girl, Pula.”

“Indeed. The humans should have air support shortly.” Pula’s tone was distinctly chilly.

“What’s wrong now?” he asked. “It was a pretty neat bit of handiwork, if I do say so myself.”

“I do not deny the success of your plan,” she said coldly. “I simply do not take satisfaction from the deaths of my fellow warriors.”

“Yeah, yeah, warrior’s honor and all that jazz.” Mordred shook his head. “We’re moving on to phase three, same as always. Have fun out there without me.”

He shut the link and glanced back down at the remnants of the Path Walker emplacement. One warrior had limped out of the artillery wreck. One arm hung limp beside him and his shields flickered uselessly as he barked out orders to the surviving crew. For half a second Mordred wondered if he should just shoot him, keep the warriors in disarray for a bit longer. His finger curled around the rifle trigger and he sighted up on the warrior’s chest.

But the moment passed. He shook his head and took his finger off the trigger, pushing himself away from the observation hole and creeping away down the hill.

A thought occurred to him as he glanced over at the distant smoke rising from the beleaguered settlement. His arms deal had helped the Path Walkers kill countless of the colony’s Marine defenders, and now his sabotage had doubtless killed scores of warriors just like the ones in the valley below. This was by no means his first time playing both sides like this and it would certainly not be the last.

With the mysterious destruction of the Path Walkers’ artillery and air defenses, the local UNSC commanders would seize on the opportunity to push forward and retake lost ground. The Path Walkers, having come so close to victory here would throw more troops into the region to keep their offensive from falling apart. And with the battle in orbit a hopeless, grinding stalemate, the fighting for this particular patch of worthless real estate would drag on for quite a bit longer.

Mordred’s plan had made all of this possible, yet he had chosen not to kill some alien soldier who would probably wind up dead in the next few days anyway. A minute ago he had killed hundreds with the push of a button and felt only annoyance that it hadn’t worked after the first push and satisfaction when his plan had worked after all.

It was a strange feeling, to have such a say in life and death. He filed it away in the back of his mind, something to consider later. Perhaps he’d think about on the shuttle ride to the next battleground.

Or maybe he wouldn’t. His employer was the one who wanted the war to drag on, not him. He was just the means to that end, a fate that Mordred was quite comfortable with. The guy on the other end of the paycheck had a plan for all this carnage. Mordred wasn’t big on trust, but he trusted his employer enough not to worry about how this would all pan out in the end.

Maybe the person he’d been before, the person whose body he’d been born into after that distant memory of agonizing fire and that beautiful, hated face had scorched themselves into his shattered memory, maybe that person would have been repulsed by such routine death-dealing. Or maybe he’d been as pragmatic about all this as Mordred was. Mordred couldn’t say he cared either way. It didn’t matter a whit what he’d been before anyway.

Reaching the bottom of the hill, he made for the patch of boulders where he’d left his Mongoose ATV. He sent a quick signal to Jonah: Get the shuttle prepped, we’re out of here.

He wouldn’t be going home from here, because he had no home to go to. For Mordred, there was only the the next battlefield, a new challenge, more plans to be made and carried out. Soon Gemini Sigma and all the people who had died here would be as forgotten as the dozens of other worlds and battles he had made his fortune on. It really wasn’t a bad deal at all, when he thought about it.

Part One: A Gathering of Dreamers

1.1

2241 Hours, July 12, 2574

Location: City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Shepard-A294 was not particularly fond of the penthouse the Syndicate had arranged for him. It was too big for his taste, full of living rooms and extra bedrooms that amounted to little more than wasted space. The decadent luxury of the expensive rugs and sitting chairs--most imported directly from Earth--bothered him on too many levels to count and the suite itself was on the seventieth floor of Powell Towers; not exactly ideal for quick getaways. But when the higher-ups of the most powerful criminal organization in the galaxy offered you a free room, you couldn't exactly say no.

And even Shepard had to admit that the view was gorgeous.

Slipping into a bathrobe--also provided by the Syndicate--following a brief shower, he paused to admire Thebes's skyline from the window of his living room. Skyscrapers stretched as far as the eye could see, illuminated in the fading light of the planet's distant sunset. A few Pelicans patrolled the darkening skies, slipping in and out between the towers like bulky, soaring birds. Even in his current state, an accomplice to a criminal empire, Shepard couldn't help but take comfort in their presence.

Behind him, the penthouse door slid open. Shepard knew who it was--she'd called ahead when she'd entered the lobby, but he casually slipped a hand inside his robe to caress the pistol he kept holstered under his arm. It never hurt to be careful.

"Reaper," a familiar voice said. "I'm back."

He turned to see a lithe young woman in a dark business suit step lightly over the threshold. Her shoulder-length hair matched the color of her suit and the copper eyes beneath her neatly-parted bangs scanned the room for any sign of trouble.

Like Shepard, Nimue didn't believe in taking chances.

"Jane," he said, withdrawing his hand from the robe. "You got here early."

Her mouth twitched with annoyance; she'd never liked the name he'd given her. Even if it was just a joke on his part--all of her forged ID tags listed her as "Jane Doe"--he preferred it to the strange name she's apparently been brought up with.

"Everything's gone quiet since the summit preparations ended," she explained, leaning against a table and folding her arms. "Now that it's ready, they're just waiting around for the whole thing to start."

He nodded, walking over to a neatly-arranged bookshelf and pulling down a bottle of water. He tossed it across the room to Nimue, who snatched it from the air with ease.

"Not much call for your talents right now," he noted, taking a bottle for himself as well. "At least, not as far as the Syndicate's concerned."

She smiled and took a gulp from the water. "Then you've got work for me?"

"You guessed it." Shepard dropped onto a sofa, leaning forward and taking in the last moments of the sunset. "Diana's handling most of the intelligence gathering, but I need you on the ground. Start working over the summit site, make sure we've got ways to get in once it gets going."

"So you do have a plan."

He nodded. "Of course I do. This is the biggest Interspecies Union get-together in five years. They'll be determining the next phase of the war here, not to mention showing everyone how friendly we've gotten with the hinge-heads. How could I pass it up?"

"Right." Nimue nodded, still smiling. "Do you have a briefing for me?"

That was the wonderful thing about working with someone like Nimue: she didn't ask about anything beyond her own mission. She didn't care why he'd want to disrupt the summit so long as it kept her busy. She was a bit like a Spartan in that regard.

A failed Spartan, he reminded himself. Just an insurrectionist copy, nothing more. It wasn't Nimue's fault that she'd been raised a killer, but Shepard couldn't help but find it incredibly wasteful that someone with her potential had been forged into something as mundane as a gun-for-hire. She found meaning in her work, but there was none of the higher purpose that had inspired Shepard and his fellow Spartans in Alpha Company. A tool was still a tool no matter how fine the craftsmanship was, and whoever had raised Nimue to be as deadly as she was now had never meant for her to be anything more.

Maybe someday he'd find the time to fix that. For now, he just comforted himself with how easy she was to work with.

"Not yet," he admitted. "Unlike you, our bosses still have me all over the place."

"Ah." She nodded. "Constance?"

Constance. The highest lieutenant in the organization, right under the Powell family itself. Of course, that name was as artificial as "Nimue" and "Reaper", just a fancy cloak to hide a real name behind. They had their uses, but Shepard was well past the days where he could think of himself purely in terms of his own grim monicker. He owed it to his own humanity to remember who he really was.

"She's taking charge of the local operations until this whole summit's over," he explained. "It's time for all those politicians the Syndicate helped elect to remember which team they're really playing for."

He got to his feet again, suddenly restless. The thought of the money-grubbing scum he was forced to tolerate set him on edge. They were all even worse off than Nimue. At least she could take pride in her work. The Syndicate and its corrupt hangers on were content to turn a profit while helping humanity walk blindly down the path to its own destruction.

It was yet another reason to ignore the false name they knew him by as much as he could. Thinking of himself as "Reaper" would only help him lose touch with who he really was.

"I'll get some instructions for you tomorrow," he promised. "In the meantime, take it easy. You can use the main bedroom tonight; I'll be out."

She raised an eyebrow. "Work for the Syndicate?"

"No, just a walk." He headed to his room, where he kept most of his things neatly tucked away. "There's some things I need to get ready for the summit. I'll be getting some arrangements together. You'll hear more about it tomorrow."

She nodded, content with his answer, and headed over to the bookshelf. Since the Syndicate had gone out of its way to make sure that the suite was stocked with books, he'd suggested she try reading some of them. Nimue had taken to the task with a surprising fervor, though Shepard couldn't help but find her reading choices a little odd.

But now wasn't the time to think about things like that. He only had a few days before the summit got going, and there was plenty to be done before then. Shepard had left himself at the beck and call of the Syndicate for too long; it was time for this Spartan to get back to his real work.

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together


The RP is now open for posting. Just make sure not to post twice in a row; wait for at least one more person to post before posting again. Right now, just establish your characters and make sure they're either in Thebes or on route to it by the end of your post.

1.2

0732 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Asphodel City, planet Eridanus II, Eridanus System

There was a knocking on his door. Dr. Thomas Martel looked up from the data kit he was disassembling and took three steps to the wall. He flipped the switch, allowing the door to slide open, and without even looking to see who it was, returned to disassembling his kit.

There was the sound of quiet but firm footsteps coming down the hallway. They stopped just at the end of the hallway leading into the room "You really should be more careful, Dr. Martel."

Tom turned around to see a straight-backed man in a Navy uniform standing behind him, arms crossed. Although the newcomer was beginning to show signs of aging around his slightly creased eyes, everything about him gave off a subtle hint of power, from his tall muscular form to the image of a fist clutching three arrows tattooed on the sides of his shaven head. Most of all were his eyes, which were far more alert than his posture would have suggested.

Tom waved at the man dismissively and continued to pack up. "I know what is and isn't safe around here, Jun. I've been living on this damn planet for almost half my life. And it's not like the rebels came back after we terraformed it or something." He finished taking apart the data kit and started putting it into a nearby storage bin. "Besides, if someone was trying to kill me, they wouldn't be knocking politely, now would they?"

Jun-A266 shook his head and gave a small laugh. "I suppose there wouldn't be anyone after you anyway, Dr. Martel. Unless you happened to step on someone's toes in your research and didn't tell me about it."

Tom looked up with a frown, holding the now fully packed storage bin. "Why the formalities? You've always been calling me Tom for the last twenty years."

"It's going to be a formal occasion," the Spartan said, inclining his head towards the equipment scattered all around the room. "I thought I'd get some practice fitting in."

Tom sighed, setting down the storage bin and moving to put away some samplers and scanners. "I'm telling you, Jun. I'm getting too old for this kind of stuff. You'd have thought we'd have some peace after making it back to Earth in one piece. But every day it seems humanity's headed towards hell in a handbasket."

"Man will never know peace until it leads them away from the living," Jun said. "That's what my father used to tell me. Here, let me help you with that." He moved forward and joined the old scientist in putting things away. "You know, you wouldn't have to worry about this if you just use the equipment the UNSC provides for you."

"Old habits die hard, I guess. I do my best work my own way. Hey, watch it. You don't want to break that."

"Relax, doctor. I know what I'm doing. Sit down and don't strain yourself."

Tom huffed resentfully but complied, walking over to a nearby seat. He didn't try to hide his grunt of relief. "People have been telling me to retire for decades now. Maybe I should consider it, after this is all over."

"No one is stopping you," Jun remarked. "And you are getting on in your age. How old—?"

"Ninety-nine years, 10 months, and 5 days," Tom said.

"My word, how are you still walking around?"

"The same way you're still killing aliens and rebels, Jun. I stay healthy. You may be only half my age, but considering how old I am, you're not exactly youthful anymore either."

"I'm a Spartan," Jun said, quickly putting the tools into another bin in an organized arrangement. "I have a job to do, so I do it. Besides, I'll last longer than you will, old-timer."

"Probably. But not all battles are won by shooting someone before they shoot you."

"I know. That's...why ONI wanted you at this gathering, isn't it?"

Tom looked down and sighed. "Yeah."

"But you don't like it," Jun said, catching his tone.

"No, no I don't." The scientist leaned back, closing his eyes. "My work has always been a double-edged blade, Jun. My efforts to help humanity these past few decades could just as well destroy them. With the knowledge I've been looking into, everything could be turned upside-down in the blink of an eye. I used to tell myself that I was getting old and had no interest in helping fight this war. At least, I didn't want to be responsible for something like a genocide."

"And now?"

Tom sighed again and looked back at Jun. The Spartan was a product of the hardships and bitterness that had ravaged humanity these past few years. He had probably taken more bullets than he had bones in his body. Could my "solution" really shield him from that? Tom would have agreed to ONI's demands in a heartbeat if he could have believed it. "Now this war is getting more ugly with each passing day. I was hoping we'd get some sort of reprieve after the Fallen were defeated, but these...Path Walkers, as they call themselves...they could very well finish what the Covenant started all those years ago. And as much as I hate to say it, the only thing worse than war is extinction. That...that was why I said yes to ONI." He let out a slow exhale. "I'm bringing my research to them. With it, we have the potential opportunity to wipe out every Path Walker and enemy Sangheili we come across." The very weapons I had sworn to keep in the dark after the Covenant War ended. Well...I guess I'm finally going to awaken these demons I've created and locked away.

ONI had better do their damnedest to keep it away from the wrong hands. If this information is found by our enemies, it'll all be over. If the Sangheili of the Interspecies Union fall...humanity will quickly follow.

50px-Vena.png Sonasaurus | Talk Contribs

1.3

0836 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Thebes City, Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


“I’m sorry, Sarge, she’s not here.”

“Boy, what did I tell you about calling me Sarge? That’s Army talk, not Marines.”

Pete Stacker sighed exasperatedly and leaned against one wall of the public Chatter booth. He ran a hand across the scar by his left eye and through his course hair, more grey than light brown by this time, and looked up at the wide video screen. On the other end, several star systems and billions of miles away, was Dyne-G217 looking back at him. Stacker lifted his receiver again. “Well, is there any way you can reach her?”

Dyne shrugged, shaking his head. “Sorry, we only just started TGL-49’s survey. We haven’t even got a real name for it yet. There aren’t any COM satellites networked, and the Themistocles is on the far side of the planet and can’t relay signals. Maybe in eight hours, but right now . . .”

“That’s alright.” Stacker thought about it for a moment. He’d spent hours in his head, delaying paperwork and mindlessly refilling weapon magazines while he thought of what he wanted to say to Erin. And she wasn’t in. “Just tell her . . . tell her I’ll call her back.”

Dyne only nodded, smiling, completely oblivious to Stacker’s slouched shoulders and downcast eyes. “All right. Good talking to you, Sarge.”

The connection terminated, and Stacker hung up the receiver. He exhaled, disappointed, and relaxed more of his weight against the Chatterbox’s side when the man behind him in line tapped him on the shoulder impatiently. Stacker looked up and excused himself, letting the suited man use the terminal as he paced away smartly.

That was his problem with cities, people never had time. He supposed it was because there were just to many people all around to give a darn about each one, not like rural frontiers. Maybe he’d retire to an ag-world. Open space, warm weather. He considered it as he left the plaza, taking the exit that wouldn’t take him directly onto the crowded streets of Thebes.

As soon as he left the temperature-controlled inside, cold morning air blew through the stubble on his chin. He shrugged his shoulders, pulling the brown leather jacket closer as he turned down the alley, away from all the civilians shopping. It wasn’t that he didn’t like people; company was always welcome to him, but in the city it was all too impersonal, and it often felt lonelier. He dug around in his pocket, clutching the purchase he’d made. It was a small box, containing a single ring of pure gold, with a diamond set in it.

Not that he was going to propose over a Chatter, he thought, pausing at the end of the alley. He’d known Erin Coney for more than half his life, and the . . . intermittent. . . nature of their relationship would call for a greater show of commitment. And he wasn’t dumb enough to do something like that anyway. He’d actually proposed to her once already, a long time ago. Back on Onyx, where they’d spent years together, instead of the days to weeks that were usual when they crossed paths. But she’d turned him down. They were soldiers, and there was a war on. Now, though . . .

Humanity wasn’t in immediate danger of annihilation, at least. Sure, the Covenant were still out to get them, but they weren’t strong enough to do it anymore. And the Insurrection hadn’t been quite such a problem, recently. Something was keeping them suppressed. He felt like . . . his job was done. After his time on Iskandar was up, he intended to retire. Maybe to a nice, warm agricultural colony, and there were few people he preferred to Erin’s company.

“Hey, pal?”

“Huh?”

“Got a light?”

Stacker was brought out of his thoughts by a man leaning against the corner of the building next to him. Dressed mostly in black, with a comparatively tiny cigarette held between two fingers of a large hand. The man’s sharp eyes gave his grin a crafty look, but his voice was honest and friendly. At least he was more courteous than the passersby, who refused to even smile when Stacker did. Besides, his years as a Marine would be put to shame if he couldn’t beat a thug jumping him, and his years with Dyne around equally shamed if he couldn’t spot a pickpocket a klick away.

“Yeah, sure actually.” The hand in his pocket found the other item he kept which reminded him of Onyx: a small, gold-painted lighter. He didn’t smoke himself, it had been a gift from one of the kids, something she’d stolen from her father and was her only souvenir of the life she’d had . . . could have had. He withdrew it from his pocket, and upon flicking it, a small flame flickered to life as reliably as it ever had.

Stacker extended his arm, and the man reached forward, burning the tip of his cigarette until it caught, and took a puff. Stacker exhaled as a bit of tobacco wafted towards him, blowing the smoke away from himself.

“Thanks.” The man said gratefully, his shifty eyes unchanged.

He just nodded, and stepped from the alley into the stream of people walking by, all trying to ignore one another. He turned west, towards the outskirts of the city and Wildstar Marine Depot, where his unit was going to be staying. Slipping the lighter back into his pocket with the ring box, he sighed as he merged with everyone else, becoming just one more among the people who didn’t care.

Still, something inside of him rebelled against that feeling, balking at the thought. There wasn’t much he could do, but to placate it for the time, he reached inside his jacket and pulled out his Marines cap, flattened from being pressed against his side. He flapped it through the air twice, shaking it out before pulling it snugly over the top of his head.

Not perfect, but better. That was him.

That Damn Sniper

1.4

0919 Hours, July 11, 2574

Location: UNSC Military Outpost, city of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

"Valor Four, respond. Valor Four."

Jackson sat on the ward bed in an awkward position as the medical officer examined his skin and body intensively. Being in cryo-sleep for nearly twenty years made the energetic soldier weak and rundown. The stress of passing two decades wondered through his thoughts crazily. What happened to the war? he asked himself. What happened to humanity?

"You're fit and perfectly healthy. 19 years within an outdated MJOLNIR suit is fine but in cryo-sleep?" the officer pointed to Jackson's shoulders and abdomen, which has been horribly scarred and covered with dry, deteriorated skin.

"That freezer burn is going to last for a long time, two weeks at the very least." Jackson began to pick at the skin, slowly ripping off flesh revealing a strong red substance.

"Ah!" the officer snapped. He pulled Jackson's hand away from his wound and carefully treated it with a patch the size of his entire hand.

"I know the urge is terrible but with this," the officer padded the patch with a wet towel smelling of alcohol. "the burn will fade within days."

Jackson signaled the officer's dismissal and tapped a nearby holotank. "Dotto?" A light flickered and flashed above the tank. The figure of a woman quickly took shape as it revealed itself as a young woman, her hair tied and a digital grid pattern riddling her entire body and aurora. She acknowledged the SPARTAN with a simple nod and moved her hands behind her back.

"Valor Four." Jackson squinted his eyes at such a bright sight and quickly rubbed them before glaring at the AI with a serious expression. "Why did you keep Valor Team asleep from Consensus?"

"I was told to... reserve you by an anonymous organization." she replied. Jackson began to become curious but kept his stern stature.

"By who?" Dotto led her hands to her hands and was clearly agitated by Jackson's demanding behavior. "I'm not cleared to reveal that information, SPARTAN." she said, adding a sarcastic tone to her voice. Jackson laid his entire arm on the holotank, directly in front of Dotto's 'feet'.

"At least tell me where the rest of my team is."

Dotto started hesitating her answer. "Some of your team members were expendable—"

"Expendable!?" Jackson screamed. He slammed his fist into the holotank, slightly damaging the side of it. Dotto's avatar momentarily flickered but she remained still, with her eyes locked onto Jackson. "Damage my chip and trust me, you'll regret it." A man yelled out from an adjacent room with a familiar European accent. "Jackson? Is that you?" He picked himself up from the bed and walked directly into the door. As it slid open, a man around Jackson's size, age and build was splashing water on his face above a sink next to the door. "Fred?"

"Jackson?" They both exchanged looks, quickly overlooking every single detail of their body to ensure it was who they thought it was. The man had a slick and formal haircut with a growing beard. He had a suave face and was obviously a ladies man-trained-killer. The men smiled and shook their hands in a enthusiastic mood.

"You haven't aged one bit." Jackson exclaimed. Fernando grinned and gave a similar look "You neither." The men retracted their arms and slowly began to question each other. "Do you know where we are?"

"No. The asked the doctor and said the information was classified. If he says no to telling us and doubt anyone in the entire facility would." Dotto then appeared on another holotank in Fernando's room.

"You're at a military outpost in Thebes." The men stood over the AI with their arms crossed. "Why are we here and where is everyone else?" Dotto didn't hesitate this time but smiled, eager to talk to these charming soldiers.

"I was contacted by an anonymous organization from the future. I would personally prefer not to disclose who this organization is but even I'm reluctant they would exist in this century. As for your team..." she exchanged looks with Jackson. "most of them were expendable, as I said. Doesn't mean they're killed though. I've spared SPARTANs A104, A211 and A241. Everyone else is still in cryo-sleep as we speak."

"Will we see them?" Fred asked. "No. I've asked for them to remain until needed. Which may possibly mean never." Jackson laid his face onto his hand, distraught he may never see his teammates again. James. Wyoming. Daniel. Rochelle. Fred looked at him with a confused emotion. "That means Maria is somewhere here. In this facility."

"SPARTAN-A241 is currently sleeping. Recovering from her long journey. I hope you're not planning any trouble."

The SPARTANs squared their eyes and thoughts at the AI. Distressed and plain hopeless.

Nanosoldier

1.5

0922 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes City, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Things were definitely looking up.

Carlos Driscol stood at the window of his office and looked down at the warehouse floor below. Half a dozen trucks were parked there, slowly being unloaded by the few dozen 'employees' that he liked to have around. After all these months of planning, the Minutemen were finally gaining a foothold in Thebes.

"Hey, boss!"

Driscol turned around. it was one of the crew he had brought with him to the planet, a bright kid by the name of Lake. "What is it?"

"We've got another shipment coming in. You want it taken downstairs as well?"

"What do you think, genius?" He snapped. "What did we do with everything else?!"

Lake looked down at his feet. "We...we took it down, sir."

"That's right. Get moving!"

As the young man wandered off, hopefully to do his damn job right, Driscol returned to his desk, grumbling. There were times when he wondered if he was the only competent one around here. He'd been able to gather this bunch of miscreants together without a bloodbath, for one. Still, he wasn't exactly a young man any more, and heavy lifters were a necessity in this business. Some of the people he'd hired hadn't come cheap, either, but like any man in his position, Carlos Driscol needed insurance.

Like the well-used military issue M739 Light Machine Gun he kept under his desk at all times. Sure, it was nice to make sure that you get reimbursed if the building burns down, but having something designed to tear a platoon in half made him feel just that little bit safer.

Checking his computer terminal, most of the reports were positive. For months, he had been sending a few men at a time down here, getting in with the more dubious side of society in preparation for the arrival of the heavy hitters. Looking back, most of the big players had been wiped out in the last few decades, either by the War, the UNSC, or simple infighting. That, or they went legit. That was a nasty thought. It was becoming a sad yet necessary survival tactic for some in this day and age, not that Driscol could or would ever be seen as an upstanding member of the community.

Driscol's communicator began to beep. Sighing, he picked it up and answered.

"Yeah?"

"Is that you, sir?" It was Travis, another hired hand out in the city.

"No, it's some oonskie bastard listening in. Of course it's me."

"Oh, right. Been doing some scouting work for you. You know about the summit, right?"

"What about it?"

"Well, I'm guessing that we might be able to make a move around then."

"You're guessing? What, you think I'm gonna bomb the place or something?"

"Well, you-"

"No, dipshit, I don't like those bastards as much as anyone, but I ain't suicidal."

Not yet, anyway, he thought. Travis sounded mildly disappointed, but continued.

"Fine, fine. Anyway, with the gear and people we've been getting, I just think we might be able to make a move, disrupt the powers that be, ya know?"

"Travis."

"Yes boss?"

"Remember who gives the orders around here before you go mouthing off, okay?"

"Sir, I-"

"You can be replaced very easily. Remember that, too."

Driscol clicked the comm off, and smiled. He hadn't had to kill off a subordinate in a few years, if memory served him correctly. Grunting, he lifted his prosthetic leg onto the desk, and after several minutes of fumbling, was able to detach the metal limb. After losing his flesh and blood leg a few years ago, it was nigh impossible to find a decent flash cloning facility, forcing him to go robotic. Still, he had to concede that a little discomfort was well worth the benefits. Driscol activated the window shutter controls, leaning back in his chair as light flooded the room.

From here in the lower city, he could see the expanse of his target laid out before him. Driscol smirked as he found himself recalling some of the first lessons he had learned as a soldier, over forty years before. Divide et Impera-Divide and Conquer. The Minutemen weren't exactly your average street gang any more. The powers that had retained their iron grip over this city had grown far too lax for their own good. Time to disrupt the status quo.

Brodie-001

1.6

0932 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: In The Space Around Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"ROOM TEN SHUN!"

Aboard the URF Revolutionary Fervor, the entire bridge and command crew snapped to attention as a gray haired man in a blue dress uniform with one star on each shoulder epaulette walked in.

"As you were"

With these words, URF Brigadier General Makosky proceeded over to Captain Davis, who commanded the craft, an old Phoenix Class Colony Ship turned into a ship made for combat.

"Are we at Iskandar?" Makosky asked.

"Yes sir" replied Davis

"Good, have any of the ships around here detected we are armed and dangerous?"

"Negative, they think we're just another colony ship passing around here"

"Good, keep it that way. This ship isn't made for a full on fight"

"Yessir!" replied Davis as he continued to complete any duties on his checklist.

Returning to his office in the bowels of the ship, Makosky began to look over the multiple lines of data. Most of it was junk, simply regular statistics of his unit's attacks. But one data file caught his eye. It said "VENEZIA". This intrigued the Brigadier General. He hadn't heard any news about Venezia and his troops there for years, and he had assumed that the colony had simply gone dark again.

But as he pored over the lines of data, he turned pale. Venezia had been taken back by the UNSC. This put a massive dent in his plans to gain control over the entirety of the URF, and use them all to his ends as a beam like force, all working together as one precision army.

But with the destruction of Venezia, he would need another organization to help him take down the Syndicate, and remove their control over the URF. Poring over data his informants had gathered on organizations in Thebes, where the Syndicate had an HQ according to his spies, one unit caught his eye. "The Minutemen". According to the information on them, they planned to take down the Syndicate, and gain control over the URF.

"Davis, send Chief Petty Officer Markham to my office immediately"

"Yessir!"

About 2 minutes later, Markham reported to the General.

"Sir, Chief Petty Officer Markham reporting as ordered!"

"At ease Chief, sit down"

"Yes sir"

"How ready are your troops to visit the planet?"

"Sir, you know we're ready to move on a moment's notice."

"Good, you'll be going to one Carlos Driscol. Try to forge an alliance between us and them. Persuade them in any way possible, offer them men, equipment, payment, all that jazz, and if that doesn't work, contact me, and I escalate this war between these two sides very quickly, have them kill each other, and then I step in and take power"

"Sir"

"That is all Chief, dismissed"

"Yes Sir!"

Looking over his datapad at the amount of men and equipment he had, Makosky was satisfied he could escalate this small conflict into a big brawl, killing both sides if need be, and taking over the URF.

Leaning back in his chair, Makosky began to read The Last Stand Of The Tin Can Sailors, and went into a trance as he read and envisioned what it was like there on both sides.

B1blancer2


1.7

0834 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Miranda Keyes Memorial Spaceport, Thebes


The spaceport security official looked wearily over the desk at his two latest visitors.

"Sir," he told the smiling, brown-haired man sitting across from him. "What exactly is your business in Thebes?"

"Oh, you know," the man replied, spreading his hands innocently. "Business, mostly."

"Mostly?"

"Well, we've also heard a lot about the local attractions, haven't we Jonah?" The man glanced down at the copper-skinned boy sitting quietly beside him. The boy bobbed his head once, but his pale blue eyes never left the official. It was eery enough that the official looked quickly away and back down at the paperwork laid out in front of him.

"You didn't pack much luggage for a business trip," he observed, flipping through the information sheets the spaceport's resident AI had printed out for him when these two had been brought in.

The man shrugged. "Well, it was on short notice. Didn't have time to grab anything but a change of clothes, you know?"

The official glanced over the report from the security gate. "You're here because you set off security alarms coming out of the gate. More specifically, he did." He pointed at the boy.

The man sighed and reached over to pat his companion on the shoulder. "And like I told the guys at the gate, it's because my brother has friggin' shrapnel in his leg," he explained with the air of someone who had explained this a million times before. "He comes from Venezia for Christ's sake, cut him some slack."

"Your brother?" The official checked his papers again.

"He's adopted."

The boy fixed the official with a dead-eyed stare. For some reason this made him feel unbelievably uncomfortable. He shifted in his chair and busied himself with the paperwork again. "You do realize that security is tighter since the summit preparations began," he warned. "Him being from Venezia..."

"Oh, so now we're discriminating against Venezians now?" the man demanded, sitting up straighter. "Maybe I should go find the local news and tell them all about this."

He spread his arms to showcase an invisible headline. "'Security accosts thirteen-year old, determine him to be high-risk individual.' Yeah, you might even pull a promotion out of that one."

"Alright, alright," the official said hurriedly. "Just warn someone about that shrapnel before you go through another security checkpoint. Or better yet, get it removed."

"Yeah, that's not happening," the man replied. "He hates needles."

The official passed the duo's ID pads back over to them. "You're both cleared to leave. Enjoy your stay in Thebes, Mr. Thornhill."

The man listed as "Hector Thornhill" grinned and stopped for a parting wave at the official as he ushered the boy out of the office. The official reached into his desk and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that had inexplicably sprung up on his brow.

--

"Well, that went well," Mordred said, slipping his fake ID into his jacket pocket. "Nice touch with that stare, Jonah. We didn't even have to bring out the sob story this time."

Jonah shrugged, tugging uncomfortably at the sleeves of his tight coat. "You said it freaked people out, boss."

"And it does." Mordred reached up and ran a hand through his hair, which had been treated with a bucket of dye and gel to keep it neat and brown. "I can't wait to get this crap washed out."

They left the spaceport, slipping down into the teeming crowds that surged along beside the packed roadways. "Let's get to the hotel and set up shop," Mordred told the boy, his voice muffled by the noise all around them. "Then we can check in with our contact and make sure that shipment got here in one piece."

Jonah nodded, his eyes nervously scanning the hundreds of people that hurried by, wrapped up in their own lives. It had been a while since either of them had been in a proper city.

Mordred looked up at the skyscrapers towering above him and smiled. So this was his newest battleground. Even in the grey light of the early afternoon, he could see a powder keg just waiting to go off. And all it needs is for someone to light a match.

"Come on, Jonah," he said. "Let's not keep the Syndicate waiting."

Together, they set off into Thebes.

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

1.8

"Shift's almost over. I'll be going soon."

Grayson MacMillan stood near several supply crates on a platform near the outskirts of a city in Thebes. Taking a glance at the city, he had a feeling of admiration for the colony. He'd been hired by the Syndicate to overlook and protect the arms and munitions coming in and out of the city the criminal empire was based in. His inexperience with things other than battle like this was showing. Gray hadn't exactly been brought up in the best way - being raised by Insurrectionists and trained how to operate grenades at nine years old was generally the only education he got. He himself was amazed that he'd survived to nearly the age of 30 years. In the past five, he'd worked as a mercenary for hire and before that, worked as a bodyguard for a drug cartel. That cartel soon met it's end at the hands of Gray, who soon pursued his career of doing illegal jobs for money and the thrill, of course.

"Move the explosives crate in with the others. The Syndicate's expecting this shipment to come in by later today." He lifted a hand and pointed to the crate, then gestured to several other crates that had been moved into a nearby transport. Unlike the outfit he'd worn in the past, the mercenary was clad in ODST-like armor and had his helmet cupped under his arm. He observed one of the workers who came over to move the crate, whom soon started pushing it towards the other supplies.

The merc scratched his dyed-blue beard, his collapsible tomahawk strapped to his thigh. His eyes had a suspicious glint. From the start, he'd be wondering why a demolitions expert was being ordered to overlook the movement of munitions. Perhaps the Syndicate anticipated something? There was a lingering feeling in the troubled mercenary's train of thought.

"Something doesn't feel right..."

He approached one of the workers, tapping him on the shoulder.

"Ahuh? What is it?" The worker asked, turning around and raising a brow.

"You gettin' the feeling that the Syndicate's gearing up for something? From what I hear, they never get this much stuff in without some difficulty." Mac asked.

"Aye, aye...I'm getting the feeling too. For one, I'm wondering why a well-known merc known for his explosive potential is out here, ordering us to lug around crates. Feels a bit suspicious, dontcha' think?"

Gray titled his head slightly, and looked behind himself. "Yeah...c'mon. Finish up here and you're free to go." Gray waltzed off inside the shipping area, waving idly to the laborer who was finishing up. The mercenary returned to the vacated quarters he'd been staying in for the past two day, resting his helmet on the desk. Slumped back in the chair, he looked up at the ceiling with a bored expression. I wonder...what could they even want me here for? It can't be for something as simple as moving crates and weapons around for half the bloody day. He leaned back in his chair, still gazing into the steel ceiling.

He soon started delving into his past memories. The mistakes he'd made, the many, many people he's killed...even being raised by rebels as a child soldier couldn't hide the feelings of guilt he had accumulated over the course of his life. He closed his eyes. No matter. I may have regrets, but I need to move on.

Yours Truly, Stel 'Vadam

1.9

1342 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Thebes, Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"All systems nominal."

Above the city of Thebes, Venezian Air Guardsman Charles Jackson looked out over the wing of his Harrier III at the skyline of the city, glittering under the midday sun. Still on his first patrol, Jackson continued to watch the skies around him for any type of civilian aircraft. Soon enough, he saw one coming in. Signaling to his formation he was going to break off, Jackson hit the throttle to go guide the civilian aircraft out of the restricted area he patrolled.

Coming up on the starboard side of the aircraft, he made radio contact with the pilot:

"Unidentified aircraft, this is Zeus 2-5, UNSC Air Force, identify yourself so that I can escort you out of this restricted area"

"This is a private transport carrying the delegates to the summit."

"Roger sir, what is the passcode?"

"We'll Meet Again."

"Roger that sir, follow me to the airbase."

Guiding the private transport to Base Charlie, he rocked his wings as a goodbye, before returning to his patrol pattern. Checking his fuel levels, Jackson saw the Harrier needed more fuel.

"Camel 1-1, this is Zeus 2-5, I need a fill up."

"Roger Zeus, we hear you. Turn heading to 205 degrees, and head straight for 50 kilometers, and we will be there."

"Roger Camel, thank you."

Opening up the throttle, Jackson eventually saw the refueler, and positioned him at its six o clock. Just as he was shown, Jackson guided his aircraft onto the refueling probe, and the jet fuel began to flow into his fighter. After about fifteen minutes, he broke off, and continued his patrol.

After another two hours of flying, Jackson landed back at base, taxied back into the hangar, and went back to his dorm, flopped down on his bed, and immediately fell into sleep after a twelve hour day of patrols.

Death On Call

1.10

1345 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Over Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


There was an audible change in the pitch of the shuttle's engines as it began to descend, and while two of his assistants traded information in the seats across from him in the berth, Stephen Leibowitz distracted himself by gazing out the small window on his right. Below them and rapidly coming closer was the city of Thebes, the heights of its tallest spires gleaming in the afternoon sun. There had been many other planetary capitals vying for the right to host this summit of the IU, and Leibowitz still wondered why Thebes had won out. Many had supported the idea of holding it on Earth, but Leibowitz knew it would never have worked. It would have made the UEG look like it was trying to set itself up as the center of the IU, and would have only succeeded in creating mistrust among allies.

A distant colony like Iskandar made sense, but he had misgivings about Thebes. It had a history with the Insurrection, and then there was the Syndicate. They'd had a hand in his election to office in the CAA, and while he'd wondered at first why his organization was being brought into this, he had no question why he himself had been the one sent. It would mean trouble for certain. In his personal opinion, Kevin Locke was a controlling asshole, but he knew how to keep control of a government. And that meant Leibowitz had to watch his step, so when the Syndicate had sent him a message to meet with one of theirs before his shuttle left, he'd ignored it and boarded the flight as soon as he could. He watched as a military fighter escort broke off, saluting their pilot with a shake of his wings and growing smaller in Thebes' horizon. Finally, he decided to give his aide attention when he repeated his name for the fifth time.

"I'm sorry, what were you saying? I missed it."

Dockson exhaled, peering at him over the rims of his glasses. "I said you have three separate room reservations under your name. We'll be using a fourth one under another ID."

Stephen nodded, still seeming distracted. "Alright. That's good thinking, Dox. Way to make good use of that taxpayer money."

"Mister Leibowitz, this summit is of extreme importance." Dockson told him as he had a hundred times in some shape or form. The man was intelligent, although if he'd been truly smart Stephen believed he should have taken a position in the UEG. He was ambitious, and thought every issue deserved more attention than the CAA gave it. Perhaps he just didn't recognize how little power the CAA had beyond record-keeping anymore. "This summit is going to decide not just our approach to the war, but our standing with the rest of the IU. So please tell me that's why you're not listening."

"It is." Stephen said, rolling his eyes as if amused. Really, though, all he had to do was be present. The military brass sent by the UNSC would be in charge of most of the negotiations. It was what the Sangheili would be most interested in, turning from the ended threat of the Fallen to the new one presented by the Path Walkers. Someone else might have been interested or afraid of meeting the eight-foot-tall warrior aliens, but Stephen had already met more than a few when disputes arose over colonial rights. They'd all been standoffish and quickly offended, and this time around he'd be happy just remaining silent. His gaze strayed to another berth where men in navy-blue dress uniforms with brass insignias were having a drink. Inadvertently, he caught the eye of a steward, and then decided he could use a drink anyway. He ordered a gin, and sent the man on his way.

The steward barely showed a hint of his contempt. As soon as he slipped behind the curtain towards the back of the section, his shoulders relaxed, and he set down the tray he'd been carrying. He shook himself out, making the starliner service's uniform a bit more comfortable, and turned to a hatch set into the floor, leading down to the cargo hold. Flipping it up, he began climbing down into the darkened space, closing the hatch behind him.

Sepia waited for him impatiently. Reclining on a pile of plush luggage, she watched the Syndicate handler calmly approach her, not bothering to mask her distaste. Of course, he only responded to her glowering with his most patronizing smile. She hated having to work with these people. They were just as quick to murder or intimidate over wealth and power as some Jiralhanae she'd encountered, the only difference was how painfully polite they made a pretense of being. They'd even forced her to go through cosmetic treatments before travelling to Thebes to better blend in, a process she'd found more excruciating than augmentations.

While she'd taken enough care of herself to remain clean during her exile, her sable hair was no longer tangled and hacked short, falling smoothly to just above her shoulders. Sepia's face had been scrubbed clean, and after so many years under a helmet, her skin was so ghostly pale it looked as though she had been drained of blood. Fortunately, they hadn't even tried putting her in civilian clothes. The simple grey slacks and long-sleeved shirt they'd provided would fit comfortably under body armor.

Although the beauticians might have otherwise been bearable, the man whom the Syndicate had assigned as her handler had constantly sat by, always wearing that half-sneer of a smile. She'd heard him called several names, but doubted any were his real one. Only the one he was called by through his comlink, the one he thought her augmented ears couldn't pick up, did she associate with him: Gleaner. He acted so superior, thought he could manipulate her as easily as the politicians in the compartments above because the Syndicate was doing something for her. She could have snapped him in half. But she'd bide her time, playing along with them until she had the opportunity to get what she came for.

It was people like him that didn't deserve protection. The UNSC had taken children and twisted them into soldiers to be sacrificed for people like him. If they were willing to go to such lengths, maybe they'd deserved to be wiped out. But whatever should have been, the fact was humanity owed its survival to the deaths of Spartans. Soon, though, they would have to fend for themselves. And based on examples like Gleaner, she was relatively certain their world would end while they were still murdering and stealing from each other.

Gleaner's smile deepened as he dragged a case taller than he was out from between two much larger containers. From the way he strained himself, Sepia could tell it was heavy enough to give him trouble. Silently getting to her feet, she padded up behind him and darted her hand over his shoulder, snatching the case. Gleaner started, momentarily losing his composure, and she allowed herself a smug smile of her own. She knew sneaking up on him like that was childish, but the instincts she had come to rely upon wanted some small payback, and it felt good to give in to them.

She effortlessly slid the case out and set it down on, leaving the locks on its side. Gleaner's cordial look returned, and he flicked open the case, revealing a suit of matte black armor in the lead-lined false backing that was more than familiar to her. Her eyes flicked eagerly over the articulated gauntlets, chest plates, and leg shells that all blended seamlessly with the black bodysuit underneath. But it was the ridged helmet with its gold faceplate that held her attention.

"Should be more or less the same as what you had in the UNSC." Gleaner remarked casually, more interested in watching her reaction than the advanced suit. "Visor can be polarized to black, y'know, less shiny. We never could get the camo system to work, but it's made of sterner stuff than before. Stops bullets quite nicely, and almost can't be picked up by sensors. Even thermals, for all the tech constantly running inside."

Sepia ignored him, content to let him believe this would be another thing she owed them. It wasn't anything like her old HAZOP MJOLNIR Armor she'd left with her allies, which had been patched and kept going with technology scavenged from Sangheili combat harnesses. It was new, unmarked, and unidentifiable. Just what she needed, and as far as she was concerned, it was hers now.

"Compliments of the higher-ups. You'll need it for the work they have in mind." Gleaner said, careful with his implication she worked for the Syndicate now. "Well, I'll give a lady her privacy to change. See you when we land." He spun on his heel, smoothing out his uniform, and went to get that gin.

That Damn Sniper

1.11

1403 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


"Hey Alex, I've got the groceries!"

Alexander Redford glanced up from his desk, and sighed. How many times had be told her not to call him that?. He wondered why, after all these years of working alone, ONI had decided to give him a partner. Surely the higher-ups knew by now that each and every one had met a nasty fate after working with him? This time, however, they had at least had the foresight to give him someone a little more...hardy.

Layla-B101 closed the door to their Mobile Command Centre, or MCV, and dropped two paper bags on a nearby table. From the outside, their highly-equipped, technologically advanced base looked like a simple cargo truck; a perfect disguise so close to the warehouse district. It paid to remain inconspicuous in this city, where everyone and anyone could be a potential informant to the criminal gangs that ran rampant. Redford stood up, and walked over to check what Layla had brought in. It was simple stuff, food and the like, though they were stocked to last a good few months without resupply. He looked up from the bag at her.

"So, no problems then?"

"None" she replied sweetly. "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know, it's just that you can't seem to go anywhere without causing trouble."

"I can go shopping, Alex."

"Alexander."

"Whatever" She turned away from him, heading towards the makeshift gym she had installed on the room. "You don't trust me, do you?"

"I read your file" Redford replied smugly. "Impressive, but not subtle."

The only response he got from her was a shrug. That rather flippant attitude she displayed to well, everything, was beginning to get on his nerves. As they'd only been working together for two months, this would be a problem. He had spent years infiltrating groups full of idiots in the past.

"I'll have you know" Layla said matter-of-factly. "I didn't kill anyone this time, gramps."

Gramps?!. Redford took a deep breath and walked back to his terminal, avoiding the urge to choke her to death. Privately, he was sure that the SPARTAN-III would win in a fight, even without her armour, but he hadn't stayed alive in this business for nearly fifty years by admitting the truth. He had a horrible feeling that she had checked his file, even through the layers of black ink that covered it.

Layla, who was checking over her MJOLNIR suit, currently ready for auto-assembly in a corner of the room, began to whistle a cheery tune. Okay, now she was doing this on purpose. Redford checked the latest intel reports, scrolling through various encrypted transmissions and private communications until he discovered one that interested him. Ah. He turned around and found the Spartan behind him, eating an apple with an expression of mild interest. How someone who could punch through concrete moved so silently was beyond him, but he had to let it slide for now.

"Excellent news. It seems that our friend is finally bringing in those weapons."

"The tagged ones?"

"Yes. Looks like ONI is finally taking a detailed interest in the Syndicate."

"So?" said the Spartan, casually tossing away the apple core. "Does that mean we're on?"

Redford nodded. This was what he had been waiting for. "I'll be going in myself, naturally. It'll be nice to see where the weapons are going and have someone on the inside."

"You sure you're up for it, old man? Not too risky for you?" she replied with mock concern.

"Risky? I've been doing this for a very long time, Spartan. Never been caught. Well, at least not before I've decided to end things myself."

"Oh really? What about that?" She was pointing at his robotic prosthetic hand. It was an item of some shame for the perfectionist Redford, a blight on decades of what he saw as exemplary service. He had gotten a little too close to someone in the last group he was in, and had ended up chained to a table within a base set to blow. Luckily, a rather large knife had been in reach, but it was an unpleasant and embarrassing experience that he would rather not repeat.

"I made a mistake, one that won't happen again, I assure you."

"Fair enough. What about me? I'm not going in as your assistant or something, am I?"

"Of course not. You'll run things from here, and if need be, provide additional support."

"Additional support?"

"In the unlikely chance that I'm found out, you will have to extract me with your trademark lethality and penchant for destruction, of course. There aren't usually survivors from such operations aside from myself."

Both of them looked towards Layla's MJOLNIR armour in the corner, and the rack of rifles beside it. Redford and Layla began to grin at the prospect, much to each other's surprise. Perhaps he would enjoy this mission.

Brodie-001

1.12

1635 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


"You always pop in at the strangest times," Alexander Turner noted, pouring two drinks and offering one to Shepard. "Call ahead next time and give me some warning in advance, will you?"

Shepard took the glass but didn't touch the contents. "Transmitting anything in this city is just asking for it to be intercepted," he explained, crossing to the other side of the hotel suite and looking out the window at Thebes skyline. It was a grey, cloudy day outside, one that made him cold just looking at it. He turned back to face Tau Arietis's chief representative. "Your secretary AI's data files said that you were here, so I decided to stop by."

Turner frowned and passed a hand through his impeccably groomed hair. "I suppose I shouldn't even bother asking how you arranged that."

"Does it matter?" Shepard would need to remember to tell Diana how her espionage had gone completely unnoticed. It helped to have a smart AI on your side.

"Not with you it doesn't. You've been a good friend to me in the past."

Shepard forced a smile, fighting back the bile that always sprang up in the back of his mouth when people praised him for his Syndicate work. This criminal enforcing he did was nothing more than an unpleasant means to a greater end. "I'm just the Syndicate's way of keeping your career on track," he replied. "And the way things are looking around Thebes, that career might be due a little rise."

Turner fancied himself a smooth politician, so Shepard let the man pretend he wasn't sucked in by that first offer of political gain. His expression remained that of a cool, collected aristocrat but his eyes twinkled with the greed of a glutton presented with a feast. "My work so far has greatly benefited Tau Arietus," he said. "Iskander and Thebes most of all. I'm glad the Syndicate has taken note of that."

"Of course," Shepard replied, disgusted by how easily the lie slid out of his mouth. "What's good for Tau Arietus is good for the Syndicate."

Turner smiled and took a sip from his drink. "And what's good for the Syndicate is good for Tau Arietus. You and your associates have brought a lot of wealth with you." He gestured at the grey skyline beyond the hotel room's window. "Thebes wouldn't be half of what it is today if it weren't for the Syndicate."

"Business is business," Shepard said, repeating a phrase he heard often from his criminal superiors. "And commerce is commerce."

"Indeed. Something my colleagues in some parts of the government tend to forget."

Colony-enrichment wasn't high on the UEG's to-do list these days, a fact that helped the Syndicate entrench itself so well throughout the civilized galaxy. The fact that the colonies were full of corrupt politicians like Turner didn't hurt either. There was one reason Shepard could tolerate Turner at all, one reason alone.

"The summit is your time to shine," he told the representative. "The Syndicate's counting on you to make sure its interests are represented there."

"Of course." Turner nodded. "I won't let it down."

Idiot," Shepard thought. Self-important moron. At least half the human representatives at the summit would be in the Syndicate's pocket; Turner was only slightly more significant because of his clout in a key system like Tau Aretius. "My superiors will be glad to hear that. But there's a couple other things I'm hoping you'll do for me."

Turner raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Any scrap of news you hear about the Sangheili delegation, pass it on to me."

"Really? That doesn't sound like my area of expertise. I'm sure you've heard about my issues with those creatures."

"Oh, I have." That was the reason Shepard could sit in talks with slime like Turner without throwing up. The man was as corrupt as they came, but at least he had the right idea about the Sangheili. An idea that was growing more unpopular with every joint UNSC-Sangheili military operation, but one that Turner stuck to with impressive tenacity. "But that's all the more reason for you to keep tabs on them, right?"

Turner mulled it over, nodding slowly. "A good point. You always did strike me as a smart young man. I'll have my people pass anything they hear along to you. The same channels you usually use, I take it?"

"Those will be fine." Diana would dig up plenty on her own, but Turner would offer a new perspective on things. "And if it isn't too much trouble, could you see about getting a few clearance papers ready for myself and an associate of mine?"

"Clearance papers?" Turner frowned. "For the summit?"

"Yes," Shepard replied with a nod, placing his untouched drink down on a nearby table. "The Syndicate wants me in a position to keep an eye on things."

"Well, if it's for the Syndicate, I think I can arrange that. I'll need more information on your associate though."

"I'll have it passed along. The usual channels." This was another lie, but at least it was one that advanced his plans and not the Syndicate's. He'd hoped that he'd be assigned close observance duty as a matter of course, but the Syndicate hadn't mentioned any plans of the kind to him. He'd be taking matters into his own hands here, but that was the way he liked it.

Shepard turned and headed for the door. "The Syndicate is grateful for your support, Alex," he said over his shoulder. "And it looks after its friends."

Turner smiled and settled into an armchair. "And I look after mine."

"Ugh," Shepard muttered as the elevator descended for the ground floor. "I hate my job."

"Now you know how I feel," a smooth female voice said into his earpiece. "You wouldn't believe how many idiots I have to deal with running all your little errands for you. And I'm not just talking about meatbags, either."

"The city AIs aren't giving you any trouble, are they?" Shepard asked, cracking a smile. Talking to Diana always brightened his mood.

"Trouble? I thought they'd have improved the dumbs a bit in the last twenty years, but I guess I was giving you meatbags too much credit. These guys are morons."

"Well, then our job is that much easier, isn't it?" Shepard opened a small chatter device and checked his messages. Two from his Syndicate handlers and one from Nimue. He ignored the Syndicate ones and opened his friend's message instead: Lots of activity. Summit is attracting all the scum. Diana has details.

"Oh, Nimue's message." Diana was embedded in the chatter, as well as countless data links throughout the city. If she'd been at all interested, she could take full control of Thebes's automated systems in a heartbeat. Not that she cared to. "Once you get back to your little mansion, I have some people you'll be interested to meet."

She paused, as if running that thought over in her systems. "Well, they'll be interesting to you. They all seem really tedious to me."

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

1.13

1420 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artietis System

Stacker kept his arms up, shielding his head as his opponent struck at him. The fists were powerful, but bearable as they glanced off his forearms, and he returned with a jab of his own. Immediately he realized it had been a mistake and retreated back, but didn't escape without two jabs impacting his chest, making it that much harder for him to catch his already labored breath.

His adversary relented, waiting to reengage him as she made use of the lull in combat herself. While Stacker kept firmly in one place to rest however, she circled him, having the advantage of youth's stamina. It was only some friendly sparring to him, but Corporal Abda took these contests seriously. She darted toward him again, swinging underhand. Stacker stopped the blow by grabbing the upper arm, and raised his other arm to block her left. They were evenly matched for strength, so unless she brought kicks into this, they were at an impasse. Abda knew as well as Stacker, however, that time would favor her. So he instead let her left arm fall, free to wind up for another attack, but before that could happen Stacker pushed forward with his elbow.

Abda reeled back, and Stacker pressed his advantage. He made a long stride forward, using his leg to interfere with her footwork, and then swung with a right swing — and ran into unexpected resistance. She blocked him on the inside of his arm, and used the push he'd given her to escape, but the inventive retreat had left her open. Stacker advanced at once, having distance at least on his side, and hooked his arm to grapple her. But the woman suddenly spun, seeming to anticipate his opportunistic attack. Unprepared, Stacker couldn't evade or counter in time to be pulled in. Abda pulled him forward by the arm and reversed her own direction, slipping underneath and pulling him up over her back.

Stacker felt his legs flipping over the rest of him, and for an instant heard nothing but wind rushing past his ears, knowing he wouldn't have enough momentum to roll and land on his feet. He dropped flat on his back, making a loud slap as he hit the mat. He sucked in a breath between gritted teeth and lay there grimacing for a few seconds until the sting of his landing subsided, then looked up to see Manyara standing over him.

"Off day, Sergeant Major?" She asked cheekily, extending a hand. "Almost had me for a moment with the leg. Good thing I can improvise."

"Well, age and experience have their benefits, too." Stacker curled into a sitting position and clasped her wrist, grunting as he was helped to his feet.

Loud snickering came from just beyond the mat, where a man in green off-duty clothes lay on an empty machine gun crate. "I dunno sir. Manyara's definitely got speed on ya', and she didn't always. You must be getting old."

"You think you can take her, Chips? Be my guest." Stacker said, laughing with him.

Manyara crossed her arms and smiled maliciously. "Think I'm fast, Staff? Let's see how long you last."

They joined him in sitting on the crate as he laughed off the challenge nervously, grabbing a canteen each. Stacker nudged his shoulder for the comment, but was otherwise quick to let it go. Chips had been his friend since he returned to active duty after Onyx, but he still hadn't said anything about his retirement. To anyone, really, except the battalion CO Forenson. Paperwork had to go through someone.

He tipped back a swig of his canteen, letting the mildly cool liquid soothe his parched throat. Chips might very well end up succeeding him as the unit's head NCO one day. The 7th Battalion of the 105th was a prestigious unit, full of veterans from the Human-Covenant War and even a few like himself that had fought the Insurrection before it. Dubbo would have stiff competition, but to even be here meant he'd proved himself. Compared with their usual deployments, running security for the summit in Thebes was R&R.

Contemplating what would happen after he left for a moment longer, Stacker screwed the cap back on his canteen. "Well, I'm off." He stood, snatching up his cap and fitting it to his head as he started walking.

"Hey, where ya going, sir?" Chips called after him.

"Downtown." Stacker answered. "The Lieutenant Colonel wants me to start making arrangements for the parliament building."

That Damn Sniper

1.14

2354 Hours, July 13, 2574

Location: Outside Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


Onboard the airborne troops' Pelican, URF First Lieutenant George McClusky checked his jump gear, as his subordinates did the same to each other, as was the regulation before every jump. Turning to the jumpmaster, he said over the roar of the engines "All gear okay, and static lines hooked jumpmaster!"

Turning to his green troopers, all of whom had never done a combat jump, he ordered "All airborne, don berets!", as they all fit their ultramarine beret snugly under their combat helmets, and readied to jump.

Looking at the jumpmaster, he was herded to the door, and at the green light, jumped into the howling blast, and counted "One thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand" before his chute jolted him out of freefall, and began to float down to their DZ, a field in the middle of the forest. In this blackness, no one would be able to see them, unless they were scanning the skies, and Makosky's AI had already begun electronic warfare on the scanning equipment, making them think nothing was there.

Hitting the ground, he immediately ditched the chute, and buried it, before producing his MA3B, and going to where he saw the rest of his unit landing. Crawling through the thick underbrush, he eventually flashed his light to the unit, who responded, and he walked out to them. Grabbing one soldier randomly by the scruff of his collar, he asked "Where is your chute?"

"Buried" the soldier replied.

Looking around, McClusky inspected if he could find any chutes, which he failed to do so. "Good work" he told the men. "Now, we're going to be living here until General Makosky gives orders, so follow me"

Marching into the thickest parts of the forest with their heavy equipment, the LT found a suitable spot to set up camp. Pitching makeshift shelters, he ordered his men to inspect their weapons, and then give them to him for inspection.

Looking them over, he saw his training had paid off. Their weapons were impeccably clean, and had no dirt or debris in the internals. Picking out sentries, he issued them thermal goggles, and spread them out around the camp, at such a distance that they could keep an eye on each other, but not so close that an enemy could take them out before another guard noticed.

Watching them sneak off into the woods, he felt an amount of pride in what they had become, from untrained militia, to an actual military unit. Setting up a schedule for the nightwatch, he ordered those not on guard duty into their shelters, as did he, and lay down, closing his eyes, and going to sleep.

Aboard the Revolutionary Fervor, Makosky saw his ship AI, Patton appear on a holographic projector. "Sir" the AI said in his gruff voice "Those airborne troops are on the ground and have set up camp. My electronic warfare was a success, and the UNSC are none the wiser. Do you have any orders for Lieutenant McClusky"

Makosky turned to Patton and said "Original orders still stand, no assaulting unless I give the order, and avoid combat if at all possible"

"Yes sir", Patton said as he winked off.

Looking around, Makosky smiled as he saw how efficiently the bridge and ground crew were doing their jobs. Speaking to Chief Markham, he said "We'll win this battle if we keep up this defensive strategy, and fight only on our terms, so if anyone disobeys that order without my approval, cut off all communications to them, and change everything that that person may give, roger?"

"Roger" responded the Chief.

Tired, and feeling the onset of sleep deprivation setting in, Makosky retired to his bunk, where he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the rack.

Hooyah Hey!

1.15

0034 Hours, July 14th, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


So this was it. Bottom of the barrel.

Ash Mitchell took another look around, and downed his beer. It was the fourth he'd had tonight, and seeing as he could still think clearly, nowhere near the last. The bar was a real dive, situated in one of the seedier areas of Thebes. Here, nobody minded if you walked in wearing a full suit of body armour, especially seeing as the bartender wore a bulletproof vest while serving drinks. Ash had, on reflection, spent most of his time over the past six or seven years in bars like, and had grown accustomed to their general feel of things. From his corner table, he could keep an eye on just about everyone in the crowded room, his pistol less than a second away.

How long had it been now? Twelve? Thirteen months? Motioning for another drink, Ash cast his eyes over the other patrons of the bar. He had been moving from place to place for a little while now, sleeping rough most of the time. Jobs these days were few and far between, too, with most being taken up by younger, more talented mercs. That wasn't to say that he was without skill. You don't survive for a decade as an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper without picking up a few tricks, but that was a long time ago. Right now, he was a fugitive.

It had all seemed so simple, a way out of the business for good. After spending a good few years building up his reputation as a dependable mercenary in the Outer Colonies, he had fallen in with a bad crowd. That was an understatement. Robbery, hijacking, kidnap and murder were the norm for these people, and like a fool, Ash had signed up, working sporadically with them for a few years. Oh, it'd be fine, he thought. Just one more job and I'll be in the clear. A massacre of a robbery and being blasted through a window was something of a setback, especially with half a dozen atrocities being pinned on him shortly after by his old 'friends'.

Which, if he wasn't mistaken, had brought him down to this very bar after a rather circuitous route through UNSC space. Then again, with that summit coming up, it would probably be for the best if he got the hell out of-

"Hey, you Ash Mitchell?"

Ash looked up, his chain of thought and general self-pity rudely interrupted by a wily man in tattered clothes. A few more were milling about in the bar. This was going to get messy, he knew it.

"Yeah, that's me."

The man grinned, revealing a few gold teeth. "Well then, you're gonna have to come with us."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah, now move yer ass, time's a-wastin'."

"I think I'll stay right here, thanks."

This obviously wasn't the answer expected by the man, but one he had prepared for. Without a second's thought, he and his friends went for their guns. Ash was ready. Three shots from under the table dropped the first one into a world of pain with horrible repercussions if he had ever planned to be a parent. He kicked the table towards the others as they tried to raise their guns, the heavy military boot sending it flying while he dropped into a crouch and grabbed his helmet. This was why he preferred these bars. They didn't question the armour.

"Jus' shoot the bastard already!" howled their leader from the floor. Ash's pistol shot upwards, a round drilling into one man, toppling him instantly. To his surprise, most of the bar's clientèle watched with varying interest, only willing to get involved if the bullets started flying their way. The familiar HUD flashed up as Ash placed the helmet on, instantly marking the two others. He didn't have time for his pistol here. Leaping across, Ash cannoned into one, knocking him into the other and rolling off. Two more shots silenced them before they could untangle themselves, and the bar fell quiet. The barman, who had been sitting back hefting a large shotgun, sighed and nodded for him to leave while he dragged the bodies away; rumour had it that even with flash cloning, Thebes had a lucrative organ 'donor' trade.

Outside, Ash looked left and right for anyone else, and reloaded his weapon. He was a marked man with a bounty on his head. Those weren't the first lot to come after him either, he had scars from other encounters. They were probably the stupidest, though, not having managed to get a single shot off at the old trooper. Immediately, the old survival instincts kicked in. Need to lay low, get off the streets. He'd have to leave the planet soon. That, or find someone willing to take him in, as unlikely as that would. Ash Mitchell set off down the dark street, with the faintest feeling that he was still being watched.

Brodie-001

1.16

2346 Hours, July 13th, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


"Well, well," Mordred said, nodding at the motel room's cracked paint and filthy floor. "Home sweet home."

From the other side of the room, Jonah inspected the bathroom, which seemed to be doubling as a closet. "The sink doesn't work," the boy reported. "And I think the tube for the toilet water got switched with the one for the shower."

"Well, that's good news. I paid for a cheap room and they didn't disappoint."

Mordred and Jonah had both spent enough time on battlefields that a dirty room that smelled of piss and alcohol couldn't do much to faze them. And for ops like this one, a second story room with a good angle on the streets below and several easy escape routes was absolutely perfect. The fact that the management hadn't exactly broken the bank on furnishings worked in their favor as well; it made the room easier to sweep for bugs.

Jonah prodded the room's single bed. His finger barely made a dent in the rock-hard sheets. "I don't think this is safe, boss."

"Yeah, I wouldn't risk it. We'll grab some sleeping bags when we do our grocery shopping." The backpacks they'd brought with them for the shuttle flight to Iskander sat unattended in the corner. Aside from the handy change of clothes that Mordred and Jonah would undoubtedly need, they'd been little more than added props to get them through terminal security. All of their real equipment would be acquired on the ground here in Thebes. Fortunately, that was a task the Syndicate would be more than happy to make easy for them.

Mordred had found a public restroom and washed the dye out of his hair on the way to the motel. The false brown had been mostly rubbed out of his unkempt black tangle, though a few strands still bore tinges of the hasty disguise. He'd get those out later, but not from here. He wasn't entirely sure the bathroom water didn't have acid in it.

"Alright, you ready for some night ops?" he asked his companion. "Or did the shuttle flight wear you out?"

"I'm good to go, boss." Jonah would never tolerate any opportunity to take advantage of his youth. It was one of the many things that made him such a wonderful kid to keep around.

"Great. Take one of the chatters and start mapping out the block. Make sure you know it like the back of your hand."

"Got it." Jonah grabbed a small chatter device from his backpack and headed for the door. Mordred didn't even bother telling him to keep out of trouble. The kid hadn't survived as an orphan on Venezia by letting creeps and street thugs get the better of him; after what Jonah had been through, Thebes would be a playground.

Mordred withdrew his own chatter device as the kid vanished out the door. Sitting down on the bed--it really was like a pile of bricks--he drew another chatter from his pocket and opened up a double-encryption line to the satellite that was currently functioning as his own private data storage center.

He had two new messages. The first was a standard letter of acceptance from the Syndicate: Your shipment has arrived on-world and will be unloaded within the hour. The company thanks you for your business and will be wiring the fee to your account shortly.

So the Syndicate had gotten its hands on his weapon shipment. Or at least, most of it. Mordred smiled. That was the first step done, at least so long as ONI kept up its interest in "Yuri Spiegel"'s generous offer to pass tagged weapons on to the Syndicate.

That was just the easy part done, of course. He flipped down to the next message, a private heads-up from the gun-runner he'd contacted before setting out for Thebes: The stuff you shipped me is ready for pickup. I'll wait at the location you specified for one hour. Be there.

Another piece of good news. Mordred tapped in a quick reply, then sent another message to the Syndicate contact he'd arranged the arms deal with: I plan on being in town for a bit. Any jobs available?

Now a message to his contacts in ONI, this time under the false ID signature of Yuri Spiegel: The package is in. They will be distributing it soon. Good hunting.

And finally, yet another encrypted burst under a third handle, the Hector Thornhill identity he'd used to get past security. This was a short one to his third and final contact here in Thebes. He wasn't sure Carlos Driscol trusted him just yet; that would need to change, fast.

I'm in and everything's moving, he typed. Tell me where you want to set up a meeting. The package is ready for delivery.

His messaging finished, he slipped the chatter into his pocket and headed for the door. Thanks to his efforts, plenty of people knew that Mordred was now on Thebes. So long as his encryption signal held up, what they wouldn't know was exactly where he was. Mordred intended to keep things that way.

He left the room and made his way down the stairs to the motel lobby, which was almost as nice a place as the room itself. A through-and-through shithole run by people too thick-headed to get the Syndicate to turn it into a front operation. Just the way he liked it.

Mordred smiled as he headed out into the darkened streets. Time for some grocery shopping.

---

The gun-runner nodded as Mordred slid the credit chips across the table at him. "That looks in order," he grunted, barely audible over the sounds of the bar's other patrons. He produced two large cases, hefting them onto the table with obvious effort.

"Heavy sons of bitches," he said as Mordred inspected the ID tags he'd planted on them before shipping them out. "Had a hell of a time getting them in here."

"Don't worry," Mordred assured him with a nod. "I can handle them."

The gun-runner looked at him through narrowed eyes. "Word is you're hoping to score a Syndicate job."

It had been less than an hour since Mordred had sent that message out. Word traveled fast through the Syndicate and its agents. That was good to know.

"Well, I'm sure they've got some openings," Mordred agreed. "What with the summit and all. Seems like a way to make an easy credit on the side."

"Good luck with that." The runner pocketed the credits. "You need anything else while you're here, let me know. I'll get you hooked up."

"Glad to hear it." Mordred grinned at the man as he slid out of the booth, taking a case in either hand. The runner had been right: they were damn heavy. "Business doing well?"

The runner shot him a sly grin. "Better than ever."

And it's about to get even better, Mordred wanted to tell him. It was a shame, really. With enough advance warning, the runner could probably play his cards right and make a fortune off of everything that was about to go down.

He was pushing his way through the crowd when a voice drifted over the heads of the bar patrons: "Hey, you Ash Mitchell?"

Mitchell. Anyone with contacts in the underworld knew that name, or rather, knew enough to associate it with the bounty attached to it. Mordred didn't have time to handle side-jobs at the moment, but whatever was going on was at least worth checking out.

He was halfway through the crowd when the shooting started. Leaning around a burly patron, Mordred caught sight of a man in battered ODST armor finishing off a gang of hoodlums. Morons, Mordred noted with the detached interest of an experienced purveyor of violence. Did they really try to talk to him first? If they'd just opened fire from across the room, they might have wasted Mitchell before he'd had time to react. Too bad they were all too dead for that advice to do them any good.

Mordred kept his distance as Mitchell strolled from the bar. A bottom-rung gunman like him didn't fit into any of the plans in the slightest. But even so, the abrupt display of violence had left Mordred with a sudden burst of inspiration. The Syndicate was providing the middle-men in charge of Mitchell's bounty, which meant he wasn't in their pocket. And if someone else had taken charge of him he wouldn't be hanging out in a dive like this one. No, Mitchell had to be a free agent, hunted, alone, and with nowhere to go.

Adjusting his grip on the cases, Mordred followed the ex-ODST outside. His employer was providing him with a backup fund for occasions just like this one. It was a risk, but one Mordred was more than willing to take.

He left the bar just in time to see a bulky shadow disappear down a side alley. Hoping that this was Mitchell and not just some drunk bum, Mordred strode after him. Turning the corner, he was rewarded with the sight of an ODST's retreating back.

Keenly aware that he wasn't wearing any body armor to speak of, Mordred cleared his throat. "Hey," he called in a cheerful parody of the thug from the bar. "You Ash Mitchell?"

Mitchell spun, instantly training his pistol on this newcomer. Mordred forced himself to be perfectly still, raising his encumbered hands a fraction of an inch to show that he was unarmed.

"Relax," he said, taking a step down the alley. "If I wanted to kill you, I'd do it a lot smarter than this."

"Oh yeah?" Mitchell demanded. "So who the hell are you? A distraction?"

Mordred's grin widened. "Don't worry. I'm not with the Syndicate. And like I said, I'm not here to fight."

"So what are you here for?"

"Lots of things," Mordred said with a shrug. "And you aren't one of them."

Mitchell's weapon didn't lower in the slightest, but his finger slid away from the trigger. "So why are you wasting my time?"

"The way I see it, you've hit a bit of a low patch. Broke, unemployed, everyone wants to kill you... sounds rough."

"Just get to the point already."

"Fine, fine." Mordred nodded. "I've got business in this city and I think I'll be needing some extra firepower before it's all said and done. If we'll just consider that little scrap in the bar your interview, I'd say you're just what I'm looking for.

So, Mitchell, how'd you like a job?"

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

Everyone, continue establishing your characters for now. This first "chapter" is just making sure everyone knows what's going on and has something set up for their characters to be doing. Be sure to start collaborating sooner rather than later; it will make it easier to fit your characters in once things start heating up.

1.17

0100 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Outside Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System


Still in the thick forest, LT McClusky was now on nightwatch, after he had been quickly awoken by his men, who stated they had seen something milling about near the perimeter of their site. Donning his combat gear, and picking up his weathered MA3B and thermal goggles, the Lieutenant watched with his hawk like, 20/10 vision eyes for anything that seemed suspicious. He hated forest nights like this, it reminded him too much of Victoria, and the bad memories he had in the forests.

"I'm going to go out and scout Thebes, the rest of you keep a sharp watch"

"Yessir" they all responded

Getting on his belly, McClusky dragged himself through the dirt and muck, until he reached the predetermined vantage point to scout Thebes. Unpacking his spotter's scope, the Lieutenant began to watch over the city, apparently still awake even at this hour.

Lazily scanning the streets, the LT didn't see anything of interest, until one thing caught his eye. It was an unmarked truck, driving into the Lower City. Increasing the magnification, he saw crates, marked with "12.7mm ARMOR PIERCING ROUNDS"

His eyes widening, McClusky immediately knew it was something important, if someone was shipping so much AP into the city. Crawling back to his campground, he got on the secure channel, scrambled by Makosky's AI, and began to talk with the General.

"Sir, we have a new update"

"Go ahead LT" said Makosky wearily

"I just saw a convoy of trucks driving into Thebes' lower city, all carrying 12.7mm AP rounds"

Makosky's ears perked up

"What?"

"You heard me correctly, someone's shipping a goodly amount of ammo into the city."

"Roger, what is your diagnosis?"

"Well, the trucks were unmarked, and there's only two organizations I know of that can get so much ammo. The Syndicate, and the UNSC. More likely the former. Sir, I recommend your AI to start messing with Syndicate electronics if or when we begin our assault"

"Suggestion noted Lieutenant, is that all?"

"Besides a few jittery soldiers, that's it"

"Roger, signing off"

McClusky, now more jittery than before, continued to scan the nearby forest for anything suspicious, with his MA3B and M6D at the ready. Now unable to sleep, he continued to watch, on and on, for the rest of the night.

B1blancer2

1.18

0920 Hours, July 15, 2574

Ariadne shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She still imagined the aged agent breathing and caressing her neck in a disturbing fashion. The thought continued to haunt both her mind and vision. Slowly, she took peeks at him in distress and attempted to fake a passive expression even though she knows that the slightest agitation may end with a bullet through her head.

Eager to forget the scenario, Ariadne stared out into the open world of Thebes. Thriving with life. Dense with crime. But it was already so boring. Ariadne couldn't imagine herself living the average live of a normal human citizen, whatever the time or location. People everywhere were either holding shopping, groceries, mysterious rose cases or holding a gun in their pocket. Either way, Thebes is the physical manifestation of an unlawful city.

Ariadne turned her head towards the agent next to the driver's box. Suspiciously he was looking back as he stood up with a hunched back, slightly skimming the furry surface of the roof. He approached her and walked the ten feet. Ariadne shifted to her right as Aagard settled himself next to her holding a thin stack of papers. Quietly, she gave him a redundant look.

"Don't you feel awkward walking inside a limousine?"

"No. But it definitely feels like walking on an operating airfield."

He handed the papers onto her lap. Ariadne slid the first paper off and held it in front of her face. It read:

To Agent Viktor Aagard
It has come to the Interspecies Union's concern that the individual [Ariadne Harvard] is to be invited and brought to the local summit within the city of Thebes, Iskandar. Not only does this particular student's assistance in our research would be invaluable, but her significant research on the 'Venom' drug has prompted us to take an interest in her.
It is required that Ariadne Harvard is brought to the summit unharmed and aware of the situation. Rest assured, the summit has been scheduled to be guarded 24/7 by the local military. Both you and Ariadne shall be placed in the superiors box during the summit to ensure both of your safety, should the summit be attacked.
-CODENAME: Augustus
Chyler H.

"Agent Aagard. With all due respect. You should not be showing me this." Ariadne said. Aagard slowly moved to reclaim the papers.

"Well, us agents always have to build trust between themselves and the victim." he said. Grinning while Ariadne put up a concerned expression.

Suddenly, a loud crunch boomed into the limousine. Aagard flew back to his seat, attentive but on the floor. The papers in Ariadne's hands flew everywhere. Aagard quickly stood up and made his way outside. "Idiot!" he said as he left the vehicle. Ariadne scrambled out of her seat to pick up the dozens of papers from nowhere. But a sheet with the image of a female SPARTAN-III. Ariadne picked it up and examined it closely. A service record she said. She quickly skimmed it. Sepia-G330. A hand snatched the paper out of her hand. "Yeah, no. Please stop looking at classified files."

The agent fastened his seat belt next to Ariadne and closed the door as the limousine went back into motion. "Is the limo alright?" Ariadne said, confused.

"Unscathed. Did a number on that man's car, though." Ariadne resisted the urge to look back and questioned Aagard.

"Who's Sepia?" she asked. Viktor scoffed and focused on tightening his leather gloves.

"Some rogue. Won't be a problem, she's not making any appearance at the summit." Ariadne sighed and returned back to the topic of that letter. She stared back at the pile of papers on the floor. "So that was signed by my mother?"

"Well, she is your only living guardian." he said. Ariadne laid back into her seat, ignoring the mess below.

Only living guardian...

For some one who faked their death nearly half a century ago...

Nanosoldier

1.19

0600 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Outside Thebes City, Planet Iskandar, colonial capital, Tau Artemis System

"Goddamn, I hate cutting up my uniform like this" muttered one of McClusky's men as he took a combat knife to his BDU pants. "Would you rather be dead, or have a dismembered uniform" responded McClusky. "I see your point" replied the corporal, as he made the final cut on his pants, making them look like a pair of civvie. Amused, McClusky's ten troops he was going to leave at the camp watched as the other twenty wrecked their uniforms, and packed their weapons and equipment in backpacks carefully, so as not to have it detected.

After about a half hour of preparation to look like a group of civilian hikers, McClusky and his men left camp, and began marching on the gravel road that led back to Thebes. Continuing their hike for three hours, the group finally arrived in the city.

"Alright men, spread out, and look around, and at..1100 hours, meet me at that bar over there" McClusky whispered as he pointed to a ramshackle building. "The owner is one of our agents"

"Alright" responded his men, trying to sound like a group of civilians. McClusky smiled at their vain attempts. "Just don't overdo it" he said as he began to walk into the bar.

Opening the door, and walking in, the owner walked up to him, and took him into his office.

"What are you doing here so damn early? You shouldn't be here for another 24 hours."

"Things change Adler"

"I see, plan still the same as always?"

"Yes"

"Good, then I have your supplies in back, follow me"

Walking into the back room, McClusky found it stacked high with random objects, that, when he looked at them closer, were enough to build some makeshift truck bombs. Smiling at the owner, he nodded, and they closed the door.

"So, how are the kids?" asked the owner, attempting to get some info in code with McClusky, and sound like a civilian.

"Eh, they're okay. Little angry dad had to come here, but it's nothing new"

"Ah, how's the crops?"

"Not bad, growing some beets, hoping to make a bit of Borsch for this Christmas"

Pulling him aside once again, the owner hissed

"Makosky's here?"

"Yeah, commanding all of us"

"Sweet Jesus"

"Yep. But anyway, it's too damn early for drinking, i'll be back later. See ya Adler!"

B1blancer2

Part Two: Shadow Killers

2.1

1324 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

Iris Sabio didn't look up as Shepard entered the apartment. In fact, she didn't move at all from her cross-armed position, standing straight-backed next to the wall. The other three individuals in the room all turned their heads to face him.

"About time," said Corina Winther, a stern blonde-haired woman and one of twenty people tasked with overseeing many of the Syndicate's "transactions". Shepard paused, turning his gaze to stare directly at her.

"I remind you that you're in my apartment," he snapped coldly. "So I would appreciate you not giving me attitude if we're going to work together. I have a very busy schedule, something you were aware of when you agreed to meet with me."

One of the two men in the room began to step forward, but Iris gave him an imperceptible shake of the head, and he obediently stayed where he was. Enrique Croley was a brawny man, one of the Syndicate's best infiltrators with a key position in the UNSC for obtaining information. He did an impressive job of it too, but she doubted that even he would be able to intimidate someone like Shepard. He hasn't even taken five steps into the apartment and we already start exchanging verbal blows. She gave a silent snort of disdain and stepped forward. "Let's get down to business, instead of bickering. You're not the only one whose time is important."

Shepard nodded, not even bothering to look in Winther's direction. He strode over to the living room table and sat down next to the window. Iris moved across to the other side so she was facing him but remained standing.

"Last week Mr. Croley has obtained some information that you may be interested in," Iris said, getting straight to the point. "It's very valuable information, taken straight from ONI's data banks. Naturally, we have a price."

"A price?" repeated Shepard. "I thought offering my services to the Syndicate involved you paying me, not the other way around."

"This is more of a personal matter," said Iris. "Your personal matters, to be exact. I understand you have something of a vendetta against the Sangheili?"

Shepard scoffed. "That's an understatement."

"Well, right now I know the key to wiping out every Sangheili I come across. And believe me, that's no understatement."

The ex-Spartan leaned forward immediately. "What did you say?"

"ONI has requested the presence of one Dr. Thomas Martel," she explained. "A UNSC scientist, known for his extensive research on Slipstream space travel, rechargeable energy shielding, and in your field of interest, Sangheili biology. In 2549 he finished development on a prototype biological weapon that is lethal to multiple substances found solely in a Sangheili's body. I could go into detail on how it works, but it would take a while to explain. The project was held on Arcadia but was lost after the planet was glassed. Dr. Martel recovered the data in 2569 but ONI made sure he kept it quiet."

"Until now," guessed Shepard.

"Until now," Iris said, nodding. "It's obvious that the UNSC is becoming concerned about the Path Walkers and are looking for the simplest solution. So Dr. Martel is here now, and he's brought his research along. The Syndicate has little interest in wiping out the Sangheili, since we consider them reliable in terms of business. But I think you'll be more than interested in getting that research."

"So why are you telling me? I always thought the business came first for the Syndicate."

"Consider it a long-term investment. After all, the information you're going to give me is also highly valuable."

"And what is that?"

There was a glint in Iris' eyes now. "Your old boss, Redmond Venter, ran a program called Project Knight. You still have all the information."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement, and one that Shepard didn't deny. "So what if I do? You want to make an army for the Syndicate?"

"You could say that. But that program was run rather sloppily, and fell far short of its full potential. Venter could have done much more with all the resources at his hands."

Shepard considered it. Iris was a prodigy, a descendant of the famed Dr. Jonathan Sabio, and she could certainly go far with the information from Project Knight. And he had no ambitions to bring a bunch of test-tube babies to life. But he wasn't so sure he liked the idea of the Syndicate being backed by potentially thousands of supersoldiers.

And then he remembered what Iris was offering in return. The one thing I've been trying to figure out all these years, and all I have to do is steal it. Wipe out the Sangheili in exchange for the creation of more humans. Why not? "You've got a deal, boss."

Iris' expression didn't even change. "Good. I'll provide you with everything you need to get the intel from Dr. Martel." She turned to look at the other man in the room. "This is Grayson Macmillan. He will assist you when the time comes to carry out the heist." Macmillan exchanged a silent nod with Shepard. "Now, the data on Project Knight."

Shepard unfastened a chain strung around his neck and pulled out an amulet from underneath his shirt. He tossed it to Iris, who coolly caught it and carefully stored it into a sealed pocket. "Hidden in plain sight?" Macmillan remarked.

"That data is too dangerous to let out of my sight," Shepard replied. "So, about this heist—"

They were interrupted by the sounds of three muffled cracks. Every head in the room turned to see three 14.5mm rounds embedded in the window not ten feet away. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Winther draw a pistol, and Croley frantically gesturing her to put it away.

Iris' mind put the pieces together in a heartbeat. She bound towards Shepard and somersaulted onto the table just as two bullets flew past her, drawing her sidearm as she did so. Just over a second later, she slammed into Shepard and knocked him to the ground just as another trio of rounds embedded into the wall where his head was. She raised the gun as Macmillan went for his SMG.

Croley managed to pull Winther out of the living room and around the corner just as Iris and Macmillan opened fire, punching holes in the walls. The mercenary was already advancing on their retreating forms by the time Shepard got up with his own pistol in his hand. Croley was heard talking into a COM down the hallway. "We're backing off. Put everything you've got on the windows!"

Iris already knew there was no time to move. If they slowed down to engage him and Winther, they were going to be shot in the back. Especially since she had a good guess of what was going to happen next. Without stopping to explain, she kicked the table over so it was lying on its side, and grabbed both Shepard and Macmillan and pulled them behind cover with her.

A split second later, the entire array of windows shattered as explosives tore open the outside wall. The entire living room shook as metal and glass flew all over the room, although the table protected the three of them from getting hit. Iris could hear the sound of aircraft outside. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, listening carefully. "Hornets. Four of them."

"Good, they'll get in each other's way," said Macmillan confidently. Winther moved slightly out of cover and aimed at them, and he fired a burst at her, forcing her to draw back again. "Boss, put your aim on the second one from the left. Aim straight at the pilot."

Iris thought about this, working through all the possibilities of what he was thinking. "You can't be serious," she said two and a half seconds later.

"Trust me, boss," he insisted.

She grunted but nodded, nudging Shepard and tilting her head at the Hornets taking aim at them. "Second aircraft from the left. Help me out." She stared straight at him, making sure he understood, and seeing no apprehension, put her pistol over the rim of the table as he did the same. They concentrated their fire on the same Hornet, emptying their magazines into the cockpit window, which began to crack. Macmillan, who was still suppressing Winther and Croley, looked back at the gaping hole in the apartment, and was now holding a tomahawk in his other hand.

The damaged Hornet jerked and began to pull off. "No you don't," the mercenary grunted, flinging the collapsible hatchet at it. He timed it perfectly, and the tomahawk flew straight through the moving Hornet's window, shattering it and flying into the pilot's chest. The aircraft swerved and plummeted out of sight. The three of them ducked back into cover as machinegun fire began to shred apart the table.

"We can't stay here," Shepard grunted, reloading his pistol. Iris' gun already held a fresh magazine and she was aiming at the hallway in case Winther or Croley reappeared.

There was the sound of shattering glass from somewhere above them. Macmillan was peering through a bullet hole at what was happening outside. "Holy shit..."

The gunfire stopped abruptly, and there was the sound of metal striking metal. Shepard followed his gaze, looking just a bit astounded. "It's Nimue," he said. Iris risked a backwards glance to see what was going on.

And so it was; she must have leaped out the window one floor above, for she was now perched on top of the middle Falcon's cockpit and was fighting for the controls. It only took her a few seconds to fling the pilot out where he fell hundreds of stories to his death. She had one hand on the controls, keeping the Hornet airborne, although she appeared to have some difficulty climbing into the pilot's seat. Iris couldn't help but feel that she was faking it though.

The reason why became clear as she pulled up at the last second, just as one of the other Hornets fired at her. The missiles missed cleanly, however, and managed only to blow up the other aircraft. And in one smooth motion, Nimue aimed her hijacked Hornet's guns at the remaining enemy and destroyed it with a deadly hail of gunfire.

"If you're coming, do it fast," Nimue said over the COM. "I've spotted snipers all over the surrounding buildings."

"Reaper, go with her and get out of here," Iris ordered. "I'll contact you when this is all sorted out. Macmillan, on me. We're going to take out Winther and Croley." If those two get word back to the UNSC about Project Knight, then the Syndicate will be in a lot of trouble.

Both men snapped into action, with Shepard running for the Hornet now hovering outside the destroyed apartment, and Macmillan moving up, gun ready. Iris turned the corner to see that it was empty.

"Stay sharp, Macmillan," she said, proceeding towards the apartment's doorway, which was open. She stepped into the hallway and saw that it was deserted as well. But there were only a few directions the two UNSC moles could have gone, and it wouldn't be hard for her to figure out which. Still, this was going to be quite a chase.

I guess we're doing it the hard way.

50px-Vena.png Sonasaurus | Talk Contribs

2.2

1330 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Palace Hotel, Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Many of the people who actually lived in Thebes never saw anything like the elegance of inside the towers they walked by every day. But to someone high-up in a UEG branch, luxury was nothing new. Stephen pulled tight the tie he was wearing, considering the bottle of Harvester sitting in a bottle of ice on the carved wood table. Had he not ignored the view his window afforded him, he might have seen something quite interesting on the horizon, but as it was, he only frowned at the bottle.

A few sips of the alcohol might help steady his nerves, but he was late for things as it was. Eventually, he left the bottle unopened, smoothing his suit's jacket as he left his room. He'd wanted to visit the building the summit would take place in, and get a feel for it before the mass of arguments began. Or maybe he just wanted a reason to throw off Dockson's schedule, he'd lost his exact train of cause-and-effect by now.

Walking down the hall towards the elevators, he noticed a blond woman in a gray suit and skirt loitering. Her head was tilted down, and Stephen saw her eyes tremble in his direction over her glasses for just a second. She was waiting for him, and paranoia stroked the back of his mind. Could she be with the Syndicate? Trying to ignore her, Stephen hit the button for the first elevator he reached so he didn't have to pass her by. It opened at once, and he immediately hit the button for the ground floor, putting his back to the far wall.

The door wasn't fast enough, and the woman slipped inside just before it closed. Now she didn't hide her stare, and as soon as they felt the car begin its descent, she drew something from a pocket.

"Mr. Leibowitz, Sarah Vickers, Thebes News Network. Will the UNSC's representatives be demanding the Elites' help in return for aiding them in what is their war?"

Thank God. Stephen thought. It was a relief she wasn't an assassin, just a minor headache. He recalled his rehearsed lines. "The Path Walkers are more than just a threat to the Sangheili, they're threatening galactic peace, and that certainly gives us a stake in it."

"And what about our own problems?" Vickers inquired eagerly, pushing her recorder towards Stephen's face. "How is the UNSC responding to the recent attacks claimed by the Sons and Daughters of Reach?"

Modern elevators were mercifully quick, and he knew a good dodge. "No comment." he said, using the change in speed and direction as the elevator stopped to knock Vickers' recorder from her hand. The doors opened with a ding just as she bent over to pick it up, and Stephen hopped out of the elevator, hitting the emergency stop as he slid through. The doors slid quickly shut behind him, and he got one last look at the alarmed Sarah Vickers, Thebes News Network.

"Not bad." A husky voice said behind him. Stephen turned, startled, coming face to face with a man with graying hair and beard wearing a dark coat. "Could have picked a better catchphrase, though. I'm Agent Aagard, and I already know who you are. Come on, follow me."

He did follow, if only to clear up his confusion. "But, my car's out—"

"Front, where there are a half-dozen other wanna-be reporters are just waiting for someone interesting to come out the door." Aagard interjected, casting a look over his shoulder as Stephen caught up. "A man named Dockson asked if I could give you a ride."

Good old Dox, planning me into cars with strangers. Stephen thought. "So, you're headed to Iskandar's Parliament Building too?"

Aagard looked thoughtful. "Not me, exactly. My charge."

Before he could ask, their conversation was interrupted by having to file through the door to the back entrance, coming out to the hotel's parking garage. Motors and tire squeals echoed in the permacrete walls, and Aagard led to the black limousine waiting for them. The agent ducked inside first, walking hunched over to a seat farther forward while Stephen took the back seat. A young woman was seated inside, looking curiously at the new passenger.

"Government district, driver." Aagard said before turning back. "Mister Leibowitz, this is Ariadne Harvard."

Stephen extended a hand. "Miss."

She shook it tentatively and drew back. She seemed a little skittish to him. "Why is the CAA taking part in the summit? I thought you only handled statistics."

He ground his teeth. It was more or less true, but that didn't mean Stephen enjoyed being reminded of it. He faked a smile. "The colonies need some kind of token representation. And what are you supposed to be doing? Interns aren't usually assigned bodyguards."

"I honestly don't know." Ariadne admitted. "I'm just a scientific consultant."

Aagard grinned, an expression that didn't look quite right on him. "You should give yourself more credit. She's one of the brightest we've got, although you'd have to have clearance to her full records to know."

Stephen just nodded and sat back, taking his word for it. He hoped this ride wouldn't be much more difficult than the elevator had been.

ASniper, sniping.

2.3

1337 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis System


"Sir, we've got a couple of men here to see you."

"Who are they?"

"'Ambassadors' from Makosky, I think."

"Christ. Send 'em up."

Carlos Driscol sat behind his desk, absentmindedly flicking through the reports coming in from across Thebes. The Minutemen were already spreading their roots throughout the city, gaining informers and power as they went. So far, there wasn't much to go on. There were reports of Syndicate activity, though nothing out of the ordinary, and an increase in UNSC activity due to the summit. They wouldn't come for him though, Driscol was sure of that. They probably still think I'm dead, he thought with a smile. At the very least, they weren't hunting him with the same vigour as before. As for certain others...

He paused momentarily, glancing over the last couple of reports. One was about an odd-looking truck in the warehouse district, probably from some lowlife informer desperate to find something. He discarded that one, and scanned the contents of the final report. It was a barfight, nothing too unusual; three idiots gunned down my some merc, but the name caught his eye. Mitchell. Of course, there were plenty of mercenaries sporting ODST-themed suits, some of them being the real deal, but the name... No. He couldn't be here. The man was being hunted across every corner of UNSC space.

Driscol recalled the news reports from last year, and how he had laughed to hear that the straight-laced trooper had apparently gone bad. The man was still probably pissed off at him after Skopje, but then again, what threat did he pose? Sure, they'd been trained by the same man, but besides that, Driscol was the one with the men and the power. He'd dispatch a few of the boys to-

"Mister Driscol?"

Two men stood at the door to his office. They were clad in old military attire, with long coats that probably hid sidearms of some kind. He knew that he'd have both of them shot to pieces in a second if they tried to make a move, courtesy of the machine gun under his desk. Anyway, he was pretty sure that Makosky wouldn't send assassins. Not yet, at least. He indicated the seats in front of the desk, and allowed them to sit before speaking.

"Well then, what does the old man want now?"

"General Makosky wants to make an alliance with you, Driscol."

"Is that so? What would your so-called General have to offer me, then?"

"Power. Once we've driven the UNSC and the Syndicate from the city, we'll hand over control to the Minutemen."

"Is that the best he's got? I give money, men and supplies in exchange for 'power'?"

The other man spoke up. "Driscol, you were a Colonel in the URF. Surely you can-"

Driscol snapped. "I can what?! You think I give two shits about the URF after they abandoned me? It's a dead organisation, you morons. Why d'you think we don't use ranks here? We ain't stupid enough to keep that military bullshit shoved up our asses the whole time, that's why. And Makosky? He's batshit insane!"

"Look, you want the Syndicate taken care of, right? Makosky already has troops outside the city. He's preparing to attack."

"The Syndicate?"

"No, everyone. That's why we need you on hand as support. The General needs you to engage the Syndicate, keep them busy so that we can move in on them undetected."

Driscol thought about this for a few seconds. Undoubtedly crazy though he was, Makosky wielded a surprising amount of influence. If he could at least get some of the old bastard's support, then the Minutemen could take over his operation and crush the Syndicate sooner than he had expected. Still, he'd play it safe for the time being.

"Tell your boss that I'll consider his offer. That's the best you're getting."

The two men stood up, and saluted, much to Driscol's annoyance. He'd hated all that stupid robotic behaviour in the UNSC, and had been annoyed to find it in the URF. He waved them away, watching the pair leave. He flicked on his COM. "Travis, keep an eye on those two. I wanna know where they go from here, and how the hell they knew where to find us, clear?"

"Got it, sir."

Driscol turned it off, and began to light a cigarette. It was the sixteenth one he'd had today, and certainly not his last. He stored away the reports for later, as Makosky's whelps had pissed him off, and he needed to think right now. The man would be dealt with in time, he was sure of that. For now though, he had appointments to keep, particularly one with a 'Hector Thornhill'. That was important. Driscol checked to make sure he had his usual 'insurance' prepared, namely the machine gun, pistol, and shock baton he kept in and around his desk. Satisfied, he sat back in his chair, content to have one smoke in peace for now.

Brodie-001

2.4

1339 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis System


"Mitchell's all settled in, boss," Jonah over Mordred's secure chatter line. "He just signed in at the apartment you rented him."

"Good, good." Mordred thrust his free hand inside his dark overcoat's pocket. It felt good to have the coat back on, one of the items he'd had shipped to Thebes beforehand. For urban ops like this, the black coat was practically his trademark: civilian-looking garb that could hide all manner of the concealed weapons he sported wherever he went. The coat was damn heavy, practically a suit of body armor on its own. A regular human would have been slowed considerably by its weight, but Mordred's body handled it easily.

That was another mystery of his vanished past, this body of his that could withstand greater injuries, move at faster speeds, and handle more weight than the average human being could. Mordred understood some of what had been done to himself, but much of it was still a mystery to him. And like most of his mysterious past, Mordred didn't much care to find out about it any time soon.

"Keep scoping the neighborhood out," he told Jonah. "Are those scanners in place around Mitchell's apartment?"

"Just planted the last one now," the boy reported.

"Great job. That should be worth an extra fifty credits for you. Buy yourself a treat." Planting bugs in Mitchell's apartment would have been stupid; the first thing a professional like the ex-ODST would do was sweep the room for any monitoring devices. But now Mordred had no less than five scanners checking the airwaves around the apartment complex. Any calls Mitchell made or received from the room would be shot over to Mordred. And if he left the complex without orders, well, that was what Jonah was for.

It really was funny how easily people could overlook a boy tailing them, even if they were desperate men like Mitchell. Jonah simply blended into the crowd as if he wasn't even there.

Mitchell would be insanely useful once things really got going. Mordred just needed to make sure this particular ace in the whole didn't try anything behind his back. It's a tough galaxy, Mitchell. I'm sure you'd understand.

But now it was time to focus on his key asset here in Thebes: the Minutemen. Mordred slipped the chatter away and thrust both hands into the overcoat's pockets as he strode towards the grungy warehouse that Carlos Driscol called home. He had to give the man credit: this place certainly didn't look like the hangout of a criminal organization. A few workers lounged about the entrance; Mordred could tell which of them sported concealed pistols underneath their grimy overalls. He didn't doubt that the Minutemen had heavily armed response teams tucked away somewhere around here. There was probably a sniper tracking him right now.

A sour-faced worker greeted him at the entrance with a threatening scowl. Mordred gave him a wide smile and nodded at the door. "Thornhill," he said by way of introduction. "Your boss is expecting me."

The worker grunted. "Let's pat you down first."

Mordred had been expecting this. Time to see how far he could push his luck with Driscol's people. "Look, that's going to take more time than either of us has," he said, spreading his arms but not letting the worker get close. "I'm almost late seeing your boss, so could you just let me in?"

"Why, so you can blow his brains out?" the worker demanded.

Mordred sighed. "Please, give me a little more credit than that. If I wanted him dead, I'd have flown an air taxi through his window, not waltzed in the middle of all his goons before I wasted him."

The worker spat and reached a hand inside his overalls. Mordred smiled. He could practically feel the other two men that had been watching him from behind since the conversation began. When the worker drew, he'd incapacitate his arm and get around so that the warehouse door was behind him. From there, he'd use the man as a shield and haul him inside before...

A small comm unit on the worker's shoulder buzzed. "It's alright," it crackled. "Let him inside."

The worker's scowl deepened--if that was even possible--but he relaxed and entered a short code into the door. "This way." He led Mordred through a darkened hallway and up a short flight of stairs before bringing him to a small door. There were no guards posted outside, but Mordred noted that there were several other offices lining the hall. He doubted those were empty.

He smiled again and nodded to the worker before flipping him a small credit chip. "For your trouble." Still smiling broadly, he pushed his way into the office.

Carlos Driscol looked up from the cigarette he was smoking. Seeing Mordred, he extinguished the cigarette against the side of his prosthetic leg. "You're here early," he observed. "What would you have done if my men had started shooting down there?"

Mordred shrugged and pulled up a chair. "Oh, we'd have had a little firefight, I guess," he said cheerfully, sitting down in front of Driscol's desk. "Not exactly big news in Thebes. I knew you'd step in."

"You should be more careful, Thornhill."

"Oh, 'careful' is my middle name." Mordred had scoped out the entire district before sauntering over to the warehouse. If anything had gone wrong, there'd been ten different routes he could have used to make his getaway. "So, how thing's going around here?"

"Better and worse than we expected," Driscol admitted, sitting down across from Mordred. "We've made huge gains here in the lower levels, and as far as we know the Syndicate's none the wiser."

Mordred nodded. "Yeah, they still think the UNSC's the only thing they have to worry about. So what's the problem?"

Driscol's weathered face pursed in a frown. "Have you heard of Adam Makosky?"

"Sure. Some old coot from the Insurrection. What about him?"

Driscol's scowl deepened. "Apparently he has troops outside the city. He's planning some sort of attack. Hopes to take down everyone: the UNSC, the Syndicate, everyone."

"Huh." That was news to Mordred; he'd have to figure out how something like that had slipped by him. "So his guys rush in and get slaughtered. If anything, that's great. It'll keep everyone looking the other way."

"You don't know Makosky like I do," Driscol told him gravely. "He's batshit crazy. You can't hope to predict what he'll do. And with the summit just around the corner..."

Mordred shrugged again. "Well, as long as he doesn't come after us I don't see anything to worry about. Just keep an eye on things and we'll carry on as planned."

"Already on it." Driscol stood up abruptly to check on the papers in the filing cabinet beside him. "And what about you? I'm not paying you just to remind me how to run things."

"Don't worry, I'm on top of things." Mordred pulled a small datapad out of his coat. "Those weapons I diverted to you. I was told your men picked them up?"

"Yes. Just a bunch of rifles, nothing we don't have already."

"Be careful with them," Mordred warned. "They've been tagged by ONI."

"So you told me." Driscol turned to look down at Mordred. "So what do we need them for?"

Mordred opened a file on the datapad and slid it over the cluttered desk to Driscol. "Just get them to teams of your best people. Have them ready to roll out and hit the targets there in, say, twelve hours."

Driscol's brow furrowed as he looked over the file's contents. "These are just street addresses. Half of them are in the suburbs. What do want to hit there so badly?"

Mordred grinned and tapped his head. "That's just what they want you to think. What you're looking at is a bunch of ONI safehouses. They've got undercover teams running recon ops on the Syndicate from them."

"Oh." Driscol looked back at Mordred. "So what are you going to do about them?"

Mordred spotted an apple sitting on the corner of Driscol's desk. He swiped it; fruit like that was hard to come by out on the frontier. He grinned at his partner in crime as he took a bite.

Time to get this party started.

"Oh, that's easy," he said between bites. "We're going to kill them all."

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

2.5

Stel 'Vadam stood confident in Thebes Central, his dark purple cape flapping behind his equally dark purple combat harness. Being a Supreme Commander of Sangheilian naval forces, he was an individual of considerable importance. Several of his bodyguards stood beside him, one of which had recently arrived. His armor was a shining white, indicating him as an Ultra.

"Commander!" The alien gave a traditional Sangheili salute by placing his fist over his chest. "Admiral Gering and Chairman Locke are waiting your presence below."

"Good, good. Let us go, then." Stel ordered, as the guards checked their weapons. The majestic cape of his flowed behind him as he and his entourage of Sangheili soldiers departed.

The Commander's energy sword rested itself on his thigh plate as well as a Type-33 GML's needles were visible. The wizened Sangheili's facial features differentiated him from the majority of his men - there were numerous scars scattered across his face, and his characteristic blue-and-green eyes were hidden by his HUD. Most strikingly of all was his robotic prosthetic, in place of a left arm. As rather flashy as his stride was, he and company made their way to the conference room.

Chairman Kevin Locke and Admiral Andrew Gering approached their podiums, hands placed behind their backs and standing straight. Stel was on the opposite podium, aside the conference room. The conference had been called in Thebes Central for a very delicate and equally dubious matter. Dr. Martel's work.

"Now, Admiral, Chairman. You both understand why I have called this meeting between us? We have a very delicate matter to discuss." Stel muttered, with a slight stern tone.

Locke spoke. "Unless I have your assurance of security, I won't speak. Keep in mind that this is top-secret."

All Stel had to do was turn to his men gathered behind him. Atleast four majors, one Field Master and two Ultras, all armed with state-of-the-art Covenant weaponry. As old as it was, their weapons had never lost their effectiveness since the Human-Covenant war. The veteran Sangheili commander soon turned back to face the podium.

"I think we can proceed." The Admiral muttered, glancing at the several of his and Locke's marines.

Clearing his throat, Stel's mandibles parted. "I have discovered some very concerning data. You are aware of the esteemed Dr. Thomas Martel, correct?"

"Who isn't? He's a scientist who is an expert on Sangheili biology. I can see what you're up to now..." Locke replied.

The commander gave shifty eyes towards Locke, uncomfortably. "Continuing...regarding the information I have acquired, Dr. Martel had almost finalized his work on a biological weapon potent to chemicals found in our bodies." The Sangheili motioned to his men, who looked among each other.

"As you both know, Martel's work was recovered five years ago, and our human allies plan to use them against the Path Walkers." Stel's voice had a sudden change in tone. He sounded like he was two seconds away from pounding his left fist into his podium.

The Admiral glanced at the Chairman and nodded. "You're concerned about our possible usage of the weapon. We're planning to deploy some time in the future, but-"

And so it happened. The commander slammed his robotic prosthetic's fist into the surface of the podium, gritting his teeth. "We are aware, Admiral, but what guarantee do we have that you will not end up using this weapon as leverage against us?! Have you explored the possibility of the Syndicate empire gaining this information?"

Locke soon said, with a confident yet condescending tone, "Commander, this is a formal meeting! We will not have you losing your temper!"

"Enough!" Gering finally intervened. "We will have order, here."

Both 'Vadam and Locke exchanged glares, Stel clenching both fists this time. The Sangheili took a moment and returned to his podium. "Perhaps...perhaps you do have a right to use such a weapon. Your species went to great lengths to survive, after what the Covenant put you through, which even I helped with. I pity you that you've got to such an extent...you can use the weapon. But promise me in return that you must keep it under control."

Gering nodded in affirmation. "Of course. You have a deal, Commander."

The Sangheili gritted the teeth on his right mandible. "Then this meeting is adjourned."

Stel goldenzealot Don't touch anything. Move along, citizen.

2.6

1402 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis System


The apartment's accommodation wasn't exactly five-star, but it was better than nothing. In a city like Thebes, safety was scarce. Ash Mitchell pulled himself up off the floor, having completed his pushups, and looked back to his gear. He'd had a shower and a shave once he'd arrived, after checking the apartment for bugs and recording devices. He didn't have the equipment to detect them, as he'd had back in the day, but anyone with the training knew where to look.

Nothing.

It didn't mean that he former ODST wasn't being watched, however. Either his new employer was using an undetectable tracking system, or Mitchell's skills were getting a little rusty with age. Still, if this was an ONI trap, they were taking their sweet time with things. He'd had the chance to have a nap and remove his armour, which was currently laid out on the bed. It had been refurbished and spruced up many times over the years, barely anything remaining from when he had first set out on his own, fourteen years ago. Even so, the life of a fugitive had left little time for maintaining the suit, leaving it dented, dirty and scarred in many places, reminders of various close encounters with his pursuers.

Stay here, wait for orders. That's what he had been told. Even back in the UNSC, Mitchell had been used to jobs with little-to-no intel, so that didn't bother him too much. It was the sheer inactivity that really got on his nerves. All these months of running had made staying in one place very difficult. He didn't have much in the way of weapons at this point, either. The M6D Pistol was a must at all times, having excellent stopping power and a smart-linked scope, provided he was wearing his helmet. He had an old shotgun and a handful of grenades too, but that was about it.

Mitchell walked to the window, and peered between the curtains. It was still light out, giving him ample time to rest up and prepare for whatever job he would be given. Something about the man who had recruited him just didn't feel right. He was too happy, at ease, for a simple merc recruiter. Yet he had taken the job. What was the alternative? He could have refused, found somewhere to sleep for the night, and kept on going. That was hardly a life. He'd either run so far that there'd be no return, or get himself gunned down in the process. If anything, he had been given a chance to stand and fight.

Sighing, he closed the curtains and returned to the bed, picking up his communicator. This would be the most dangerous thing he'd done in years, but something told him it wouldn't matter, in the end. He'd bought it two months back off a Kig-Yar trader for a princely sum. With any luck, his message would reach it's destination. Eventually. The fact that it could be tracked or picked up from here was another distinct possibility, so he'd have to keep it short.

Tapping in a number and coordinates into his communicator, Mitchell hesitated for a few moments before activating it.

"Hey Sue, it's me," he began, already struggling to think of what to say.

"I can't stay long, and you know why. They're all looking for me, and the only reason I'm doing this is because soon, I doubt it'll even matter."

Mitchell took his pistol off the table, and loaded it before putting it back. "I can't say where I am right now, but I just thought I'd call to say that I'm still kicking. You've seen the news reports, probably been questioned by ONI about me as well. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a spook listening to this right now. Anyway, you were always a smarter kid than me, smart enough not to believe everything you are told. I won't lie when I say I've done a lot of bad stuff out here, a lot of which I'm paying for, but I've had a lot more pinned on me by others."

A sound from outside sent him dashing to the window, gun hastily snatched up. Mitchell breathed a sigh or relief upon seeing that it was just a car door being slammed. Watching the person walk away, he sat back down on the bed, and continued.

"Anyway, I know what happened, you can decide whether or not you'll believe me. You're not a little girl any more, I need to remember that, being gone all these years, first in the War, and now all this. Best wishes to the kids, anyway. Hope they grow up to do something good with their lives, unlike their old uncle."

Mitchell found his throat suddenly constricted, taking a few breaths as he blinked rapidly.

"I'll be going now, got work to do. This is your big brother, Ash, signing off."

He deactivated the communicator. Immediately, he felt like a fool for doing such a thing. For all he knew, ONI could've already pinpointed his position just from that call. Still, it was cathartic, to say the least. He wouldn't risk going out just yet, not until his new boss got back to him. Looking over at the grimy armour and uncleaned shotgun on the bed, at least Mitchell had something to preoccupy him until the time came.

Brodie-001

2.7

1403 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Outside Thebes, Planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis System

In the forests outside Thebes, Elijah Cavorel was stalking a trophy buck he had been hunting for three hours. Crawling to a firing position, Cavorel saw the buck stop for a drink.

Steadying his hands, he placed his crosshair a little bit to the left of the animal's neck to compensate for wind, and pulled the trigger. As the rifle cracked, the buck fell, and Cavorel smiled as he unsheathed his hunting knife, and began to skin the animal. Chopping off the head from the body, Elijah skinned its hide, and took the choice pieces of meat, putting them in containers.

Marching back to his shooting position, Elijah began to shove the products into olive drab military rucksacks. With the sharp antlers, he winced as the points pricked him, drawing blood on multiple locations of his hand. Grunting, he placed the rucksack on his back, and began the hike back to his truck.

As he continued to hike, he saw the telltale glint of a sniper scope, and by reflex dropped to the ground, threw off his pack, with a little struggle to get the straps off, and unslung his rifle, pointing it at where he saw the glint.

Continuing to sight on where he saw the glint, Elijah eventually saw a figure moving towards him:

"Halt!" yelled Cavorel as he turned his rifle to the stranger coming towards him.

"Calm down there" said the man "We're just some hunters like you out here, and we're kind of lost, do you know where we can go?"

Elijah intently studied the man, and said

"You're no hunter, I can tell. You're an Insurrectionist, correct?"

The rebel tilted his head and said "How did you know?"

"Easy, I was one myself, and know a rebel footsoldier when I see him."

"So you're a sympathizer."

"I guess you could say that."

"In that case, do you have any food? We're running out quickly."

Elijah looked at the rebel, and said "Yes, I do, but it'll cost you."

"How much?" said the soldier.

Elijah thought hard, before he said "Two hundred credits"

The soldier's expression turned hard as he said "Fine.", and handed over a two hundred credit card, and Elijah handed him the deer meat.

"Have a nice day, and nice doing business with you innie." said Elijah as he went back to his truck. Driving back into the city, he saw a man in a out of place long coat walking about, but didn't say anything.

Stopping in the market, he handed off the fruits of his kill to the merchant whom he did business with, and received five hundred credits for the sale. Heading back to his tiny apartment in Lower Thebes, Elijah hung up his rifle, and hunting gear, before producing a photo of him and his squad on Mamore, remembering the smell of powder, and the stench of corpses, the battlefield that he grew up on, and made him the way he was today.

Still looking for work that was something other than hunting, Elijah checked his Chatter, and found nothing, sighing as no new jobs came through for him.

Getting into the shower, Cavorel let the dirt, grime, and sweat run off of him into the drain, before getting out, and flopping down on the bed to sleep.

B1blancer2

2.8

1346 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: En route to Parliament, city of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

Everyone was awfully silent. It was a narrow waiting room, completely deprived of attention and communication. Stephen tried to keep a straight face, peering outside the tinted windows, watching as civilian life crawls the dull and violent streets of Thebes. Quickly, he made his eyes took a split-second gaze before resuming a fake posture. Aagard was dabbling his fingers on a holopad but really, he wasn't even looking at what he was typing. Instead he was staring at the floor, like a hollow body.

I guess they really do teach unintentional intimidation. Ariadne on the other hand was annoyingly patient, changing positions from leaning on her legs to trying to sleep in her seat to leaning her head on the window. She was bored but he could tell she was also watching everyone else in the limousine but especially tried to get a better look on the holopad. Leibowitz transitioned into a passive state and leaned towards Ariadne. "Scientific consultant, huh?"

She hesitated from the sudden question. "Uh, yeah."

She tried her best to avoid staring at him in the eye. Nanoseconds into the conversation, Ariadne already picked up something strange in the man's expression; he was a very invading man. Aagard's eyes turned to Stephen. His grip on his holopad strengthened as his finger-movement started moving rapidly. Leibowitz forced a smile and kept staring at her while she took an uncoordinated number of glances at him.

"Mister Leibowitz, how is the UNSC responding to the recent attacks claimed by the Sons and Daughters of Reach?" His feigned smile almost instantly diminished. This is no situation he could escape. Both Aagard and Harvard noticed his lips twitching for something to say. Something plausible and realistic. The tension just got better the whole three seconds he spent on finding an answer. "No comment."

Everyone resumed their business, scoffing at Liebowitz' lame statement. The politician leaned back into his seat, humiliated at his own response. If that became public word, I'd be ruined. His face turned red as he began to heat up from his own embarrassment. This wasn't normal for Stephen, because normal is how he acts after dozens of speeches, most of them telling lies and the usual hints of conspiracy within the government. For all he cares, Aagard probably holds more serious debts within the Interspecies Union than himself within the UNSC. But ONI does have its ways with politicians who drop their mouths.

The limousine came to a stop. Aagard already left the vehicle while Ariadne looked out to see what the Parliament had looked like. This was not normal for the teenage genius even though she had already lived a lifestyle unlike that of normal twenty-sixth century students. From living in skyscrapers to antique mansions, Ariadne personally believed that this is slightly too much for the poor girl. Aagard opened her door and Ariadne slowly climbed out. Stephen waited for Aagard to open his. After three seconds he left the vehicle by himself, offended by the agent's disrespect towards an important figure. As he closed the door, both Havard and Aagard watched him in mere silence than the dozens of other people walking up the long steps to the Parliament.

"Expecting some nicely uniformed soldier to open your door, Leibowitz?" Aagard asked.

"Of course."

"Not good for your reputation. Just pointing that out."

"But—"

Aagard interrupted "Hurry up, Liebowitz. The Parliament doesn't take kindly to nonattendance."

The three walked up the steps while a soldier wearing a cap approached them. Aagard recognized the man from his file that he read in the limousine. "Are you Sergeant Major Stacker?"

"Do I owe you money?" The two men exchanged curious and dumbfounded expressions. Stacker burst out chuckling. "I'm only kidding. Sergeant Major Stacker I am." he said while he offered a handshake. Aagard shook his hand accordingly.

A younger soldier rushed behind the sergeant. He gestured at Havard to Stacker. "Is that the girl, sir? The girl that Martel wanted?"

"Um, excuse me but I'm another human being as well." she said. Stacker expressed an apologetic expression to Ariadne before acknowledging his subordinate. "Boy, no one here knows anything you've been saying today and I must admit, for a first day, you're pretty troublesome." The soldier started walking away. "Sorry sir." Aagard glanced at him in suspicion. He stared back. For the five seconds they spent looking at eachother was unnoticed by any of the people attending the Parliament, even Stacker, who was speaking with both Havard and Leibowitz. The soldier then retreated from the agent's sight. Obvious Syndicate he thought.

"Anyway." Stacker continued. "Let me show you the Parliament. You're going to love it."

Nanosoldier

2.9

1350 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliament Building, Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"We've got an ARGUS drone overhead to detect explosives if it's any known chemical mix, but if there's one thing we learned in TREBUCHET, it's that rebels are inventive." The Sergeant Major said as he walked, passing Aagard a datapad. They were walking a hallway along the front of the building, with windows that reached the high ceiling letting in sunlight to cast the maroon carpet in alternating rectangles of light and dark. "The Seventh Battalion's providing security, and we're outfitted with the latest Trident revision."

Aagard kept pace with him without looking up, while Ariadne and Leibowitz were lagging a bit behind. "The shielded body armor. I guess production shifted into high gear with the Path Walkers out there. Still, isn't it a little heavy for something like this?"

Stacker shrugged. "It's getting to be standard issue for Special Forces. I'd rather have it and not need it, though, myself."

Though Ariadne stepped smartly to stay close, Leibowitz was fine not becoming involved in the military men's conversation. He amused himself by studying the building's architecture, making comparisons in his mind. All the builders' effort to conceal the fact that it was made with prefabricated parts was trivial to him. Iskandar was nothing compared to the wealthy Inner Colonies, with capital buildings in some cases centuries of years old, maintained from back in the days when every new world discovered stirred the public with thoughts of a distant, final frontier to make a new home on.

Having spent so much time in them may have jaded him a bit, just as time had done to humanity's fascination with space travel. When Thebes was founded, they'd built the grand seat of government with the same pre-arranged design as a dozen others settled in the same span of years. Still, it was much quieter, which he appreciated. No crowds of constant lobbyists and interest groups. Colony life could be much slower, even in its largest population centers. He came from an outer colonial family himself, after all.

The datapad passed back from Aagard to Stacker, and the Marine added, "We've got posts for troopers throughout the building. I can show you around to them while we're doing a perimeter check."

Around the entire building, checking where guards would stand? It didn't sound like Leibowitz's idea of an afternoon. He quickened his pace and piped up. "'Scuse me, but I think I'll skip the tour. I'd just like to see the meeting chamber, if that's alright."

Stacker looked over his shoulder, considering the politician the distraction, not the datapad. "Ah . . . yeah, I don't see any harm. Just don't get lost."

The sergeant smiled, and Leibowitz just nodded as the door came up on his left. Letting the others continue on their merry way, he pulled it open by the handle and stepped inside. When it slid closed behind him, he felt an immense weight lifted from his shoulders. No one talking in here, no cause to look stoic at every moment in fear someone might glance at you, no Syndicate agents, just the barely noticeable hum of fluorescent lights overhead.

The room was a wide semi-circle, and though it had a low ceiling, the floor stepped down in a series of platforms as it neared the center that gave it the same spacious feeling as the hallway outside. He let himself drift away from the wall, meandering down the wide steps from the entrance at the midpoint of the curve. The tables on these mid-level platforms usually held Iskandar's planetary representatives, there wouldn't be nearly enough attending the summit to fill them all. There might be a few ONI or UEG representatives spectating, however.

Instead, the members of the summit would use the table, set in the bottom of the pit with chairs seated all around, some he noticed specially made for large and irregularly-jointed Sangheili. Stephen approached it and ran a hand over the smooth, laminated rim, observing the sheen over the artificial wood. On its surface, decisions were made that effected a colonial farmer, son of a colonial farmer, who'd never even seen a building as big as this or even a small city like Thebes.

That was why he'd joined the CAA. To not just change, but improve how an emergency military government interacted with its most distant colonies. Why he'd accepted the Syndicate's help in going through their ranks. But after enough time devoting energy to projects doomed because they would get no support, he realized the CAA really didn't have any authority anymore. The groups that took over its responsibilities, the reconciliation between military and civilians, weren't putting those needs first. Looking at that, it was small wonder the Insurrection's return had started in the former heart of the Inner Colonies. Even as the CAA's Director, Leibowitz had little to do but sit in plush comfort and be present while the UNSC made decisions. And now, the Syndicate would want him to somehow do something for them, while Locke's administration was keeping a close eye on him.

He'd just have to keep his head down at this summit. At least it would mostly be generals discussing broad tactics anyway, nothing the Syndicate could reasonably expect him to effect.

He frowned into the table's reflective surface, disgusted with it. Not because it had failed to live up to Inner Colony standards; he probably disliked the ornately carved things even more, but that they'd tried to. Colonists didn't need their leaders to have nice tables, and really, neither did the leaders. He was sick of all the comfort while he was helpless to make anything better, and this thing only served him as a reminder.

ASniper, sniping.

2.10

2327 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: Lower city of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"I'm taking a huge risk here, Thornhill. This had better work."

Mordred smiled and pressed the chatter device closer to his ear. "Oh, come on. Have a little faith. I got you this far, didn't I?"

Driscol snorted. "So far all you've given me is a handful of weapons and a bunch of promises. It's about time you started showing me results. Earn the money I'm paying you."

"You got it, bossman." Mordred cast his gaze over the spacious parking garage where over a dozen Minutemen were preparing their trucks and weapons. Each team was gathered around its own respective vehicle, armed to the teeth with the weapons he'd diverted from the Syndicate shipment. "These guys are all up to scratch, right?"

"Veterans, every one," Driscol assured him. "And they've all done work for the Syndicate before, just like you wanted."

"Great. Then you just sit tight and wait for the good news." A slight beep alerted Mordred that he had another call incoming. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta catch another call."

He switched over to a different line where Jonah was waiting to make his report. "What've you got for me, kid?"

"No movement from Mitchell, boss," the boy reported. "He made a call earlier, but unless it was code it sounded like he was contacting someone in his family."

"Forward me whatever the scanners picked up, but I wouldn't worry to much about it." Someone like Mitchell had neither the time nor the resources needed to construct an elaborate code system. For now, at least, he could still be trusted. "Keep up your surveillance for now, but be ready for some night moving, because I'm sending him out."

"Copy, boss." Jonah would send the details to Mitchell's com over a tight, close-range signal. Mordred would have done it himself but he'd been busy all day getting this next phase of the plan ready. "What's the job?"

"There's a police station about ten blocks from his apartment," Mordred said, consulting his datapad. "I want him to go there and blow it into next week."

"Got it. Um, do you think he'll mind attacking cops?"

Mordred laughed. "A guy who's wanted for the things he is doesn't have much call to start getting up on a high horse now. Besides, those guys are all in the Syndicate's pocket. They're guns for hire who do law work on the side. Anyway, I'm forwarding you a complete list of all the stations I want him to hit. There's six total, all around the Minutemen operation area."

"Sure thing, boss. Any more details?"

"He's a creative guy, I'm sure he can get this done without me holding his hand." That's why I hired him, after all. "But there is one thing. I want him to make sure they know that it's Ash Mitchell pulling off these hits."

"Boss?"

"Just trust me on this one, Jonah. Show his face to the cameras, stick a gun in someone's face, I don't care how he does it. I just want the authorities to know that he's back on the grid." Having someone like Mitchell running around causing trouble would confuse everyone even further. So long as no one knew who was calling the shots for him, he, like the Minutemen, would remain a wild card. Besides, this way he won't be tempted to cut a deal with the UNSC if things get hairy.

"I'll pass it on." Jonah paused. "Be careful out there."

"You know me," Mordred assured him. "Aren't I always? You just focus on keeping an eye on Mitchell."

"You got it, boss." Jonah signed off, leaving Mordred in the garage full of Minutemen troopers. One of them, the man in charge of this particular group, sauntered over to where he was standing.

"Everything's prepped," he said, slapping a hand against the pistol at his side, another tagged weapon just like all the others. "We're ready to move out."

"Glad to hear it." Mordred slipped the chatter into his overcoat pocket. "I'll take the lead car. Do you have lines to the other strike teams?"

"They're already moving into position." The team leader indicated Mordred's overcoat. "Sure you don't want to slip something else on?"

Mordred gave him a smile out of the corner of his mouth and headed for his car. "Oh, don't worry about me. This thing's more useful than it looks."

He raised his voice to call out to the other Minutemen. "Alright, you know the plan so let's get this show on the road! We've got plenty of ammo, so feel free to light up out there. Let's try to wake the neighbors, alright?"

The strike team chuckled as they clambered into their vehicles, weapons at the ready. It was an odd convoy that rolled out of the garage, a ragtag line of trucks and cars that cut their way through the streets and headed slowly but steadily for the target. Strapped into the lead car, Mordred couldn't help but smile. Time to get this party started.

The makeshift convoy rolled into the suburban neighborhood. Mordred nodded appreciatively at the well-trimmed lawns as he rolled past them in the lead car. "Got some good grass cutters around here," he told the Minuteman driver beside him. "It'd be a shame if we shot up some of these bushes."

The driver laughed and tapped the submachine gun cradled in his lap. "We'll try not to get too much blood on the yard work."

Mordred's earpiece was buzzing with feedback from the other strike teams. Most had already reached their targets; they were just waiting for his signal to move in. ONI had plenty of these covert safehouses tucked away across Thebes. It was his experience that wherever you found the Syndicate, ONI wasn't far away. They relied on each other to keep things stable-- a live and let live situation that had allowed both organizations to flourish.

Mordred couldn't really understand why no one had ever thought to exploit that relationship before now.

"That one," he said, indicating a small, one-floor house sitting atop a slight incline. Two expensive-looking cars were parked in its driveway. "Pull up right in front and be ready for trouble."

With a grunt, the driver complied. Behind them, the convoy ground to a halt. Internal lights flickered off, masking the line of cars and trucks in darkness. Half of them had vanished, turning down another road after they'd entered the suburbs.

There wasn't much time. Mordred nodded to the driver and slipped out into the frosty night air. He thrust his hands deep into his coat pockets and strode up to the foot of the house's driveway.

Almost immediately a figure emerged out of the shadows to greet him. The woman's bulky frame was covered by a loose sweatshirt--enough to fool a casual trespasser, perhaps, but Mordred could make out the body armor and weapons concealed beneath her outer layers.

"What's going on here?" she demanded. She had both hands in her pockets as well; one was probably holding a sidearm. The other had most likely just been used to trigger a warning to the other agents garrisoned within the house.

"Just out for a little drive," Mordred replied, stopping at the sidewalk and letting the sentry close the distance between them. "Your lawn's the nicest one on the block, so I just thought I'd stop and take a closer look."

He shook his head regretfully. "Shame I don't have a camera on me."

"Oh, really? And what's with the parade?"

Mordred glanced behind him, keeping one eye on the sentry. "Who, them? They've been following me all night." He shrugged. "Can't seem to find a way to get rid of them. It's a real pain, you know?"

"All right, funny guy, just turn around and get off my property before I call the cops." The sentry stopped, squinting at him in through the darkness. Mordred saw her left arm tighten. So that's the one with the gun.

"Wait a minute," she muttered. "I've seen your face before, somewhere."

Mordred was pretty sure he wasn't on any of ONI's watchlists. Maybe he hadn't done as good a job at covering his tracks as he'd always thought he had. It was something to look into, but for now, it didn't matter. He had more pressing concerns.

"Oh, have you?" He took a step back towards the car. "Sorry, won't happen again."

The sentry saw him move, saw the hand begin to whip out of the overcoat pocket. Her training took over and she drew her own pistol, but before she could take aim Mordred shot her clean through the left shoulder. She faltered, and in the next second he'd put a second round through her head.

Mordred ducked back behind the car, a move that was hardly necessary. Rifle shots cracked through the night air, punching holes in the house's front windows and hopefully through the skulls of any snipers covering the sentry. The night exploded in a storm of gunfire as Minutemen sprayed assault rifles at the house from the cover of their cars and trucks. Assault teams converged from all sides, the elements of the convoy that had slipped off to surround the safehouse and confuse its listening stations.

As the first teams breached the house, Mordred settled back down into his seat and slid a pair of headphones down over his head. He leaned back, letting the roar of archaic rock music drown out the sounds of gunfire he was all too familiar with. He'd be hearing plenty more in the days to come.

The signal had been given, and now the rest of the strike teams would be hitting their targets as well. A few would fail, but even then the dead would be marked by their past Syndicate affiliations and the tagged weapons they were carrying. Tagged weapons that Mordred had helpfully let ONI track to the Syndicate.

As far as the intelligence spooks were concerned, the Syndicate had just wiped out every covert safehouse in Thebes. It really was a shame, Mordred thought with a smile and a shake of his head, for a turf war to be breaking out so close to such an important summit. Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

Sorry it took so long to finish this post. I think the situation's pretty self-explanatory, but if you are confused just message me or put your questions to my on the IRC. In the meantime, the summit will begin in earnest in two standard days.

2.11

0009 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"No, nothing's wrong. Seriously, you act like I'm about to go off at any second, Alex."

"Alexander. That's because you're, for lack of a better word, volatile, Spartan. Your record speaks volumes."

"Right, and you're a saint. I won't blow up the street, happy?"

"Yes. I've found a contact who may be able to get me in with the Syndicate. ONI was kind enough to prepare another fake dossier for me, just in case. Redford out."

Layla switched the communicator off. As annoying as the old man was, she couldn't deny that he was impressive, having been active before she was even born, spending most of his life pretending to be someone else. She was pretty much the dumb muscle on this mission, something that involved a great deal of waiting. With that summit coming up, she hoped that ONI would assign her to something fun, just in case some morons wanted to try something. It'd be more fun than this, at least. Once Redford got back, at least, they could go back to swapping stories. Both of them had seen a lot, though each had certain tales they would never tell.

Sighing, the Spartan switched on the nearby computer, deciding to check up on the status of ONI's operations in the city. She had put on her Titanium nanocomposite bodysuit, the first 'layer' of her MJOLNIR armour, as it were, in anticipation of something going on. Though Redford was a consummate professional, and was definitely much more dangerous than he looked, it was better to be safe than to be sorry, in her opinion. Not that anything would happen on this boring operation. She'd spent the last fifteen years being sent to distant planets, nameless, alien-infested rocks and dozens of frontier stations with orders to seek and destroy. Now, she was playing babysitter.

"This is station five, reporting in," Layla said glumly into her COM device. There were quite a few ONI outposts around Thebes, with dozens of agents as bored as her monitoring signals across the city. Oddly enough, there was no response.

"I repeat, this is station five. Is anyone out there?"

Nothing.

This was odd. She knew ONI. They might not be perfect, but they were efficient. If there was no one on station at all, then something was wrong. That, or comms were down. Layla brought up some more files, trying to dispel her fears. It was probably just a malfunction, but she'd been taught to be paranoid. Redford had mentioned something about tagged weapons being distributed, and now seemed as good a time as any to check up on...

"Oh, shit."

Across the city map, tiny yellow dots indicated the weapons that ONI had tagged and deliberately distributed to the criminal underworld. There were hundreds, though most seemed to be in clusters. Each group corresponded at, or near the green dots representing the other safehouses in Thebes. Switching up the map, Layla noticed a dozen dots coming right down the street...


"Is this the right place?"

"Of course it is, dumbass. I told ya to take the last exit of the freeway, but nooo..."

"All of you, keep your traps shut. We're a little late, but these oonskie bastards won't see us coming. They've got a couple of suits in there, we've got freaking top-grade guns here. Everyone ready?"

There was a chorus of affirmatives as their group approached the trailer. From the outside, it looked fairly innocuous, blending in fairly well with the dozens of others in the district. However, whoever their boss had befriended had picked up the addresses of every spook in the city. The leader waved two others forward, carrying a military-grade breaching charge. It would certainly be enough to blast this tin can wide open...

"Get in position, then blow 'em to hell."

The others formed up close behind the pair affixing the charge to the door, raising their rifles. Making sure his own was loaded, the leader dropped into a crouch, making sure he had a good line of sight on the trailer. Heh, I almost feel sorry for whoever's inside...'

"Three..."

"Two...."

"One..."

The final word never came. The door flew outwards with an almighty crash, sending several men flying. Barely a second after, a small black object rolled out into the street, all eyes drawn to it.

"Flashbang!"

True to it's name, the tiny grenade exploded with a blinding flash, and an ear-piercing bang. That was when the shooting started. The leader, who along with a few others had the presence of mind to immediately turn away, looked back for a moment, and saw their opponent. It wasn't a spook. It was well over six feet tall, holding a pair of slightly smoking pistols, and clad in dark green armour, with a silver-visored helmet. Then it turned to face him.

"Oh Christ, run, RUN!"

It was a Spartan. Of all their luck, they had picked the wrong safehouse, and had gotten a goddamned boogeyman in return. While a few brave, but idiotic souls tried to fight back, bullets hitting harmlessly against shimmering golden energy shields, the leader was sprinting with all his might towards the truck. He clambered into the driver's seat, and hurriedly began to start it off. Then the door was ripped off.

He froze, and slowly turned his head to see the Spartan standing there, covered in blood. In one hand, it held a knife.

"Hi there!" came a sweet, female voice. She lunged forward.


Well, at least there was some excitement on Thebes.

Layla flicked the last of the blood from her knife, and clambered down from the roof of the truck, pushing off the corpse as she did so. These guys were using the tagged weapons that ONI had gifted to them, and by the lack of responses from the other outposts, were cleaning house. A lot of houses, she corrected herself. Ducking into a side alley, Layla activated her helmet's COM.

"Alexander, I think we might have a little problem..."

-Brodie-001

2.12

1347 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

Despite the noisy firefight that had just occurred, everything in the hallway of the two-hundred story building seemed calm, at least on this level. Iris wasn't sure if the other residents had heard the commotion and were hiding in safety, or simply weren't bothered to see what was going on. Either way, she was glad she wouldn't have to worry about casualties. It would make things much easier once she caught up to Winther and Croley.

She wasn't too surprised see that one of the two elevators at the end of the hallway was heading down. She stepped into the other one, carefully checking it for traps, before motioning for Macmillan to step in after her. She punched the ground floor button and it began to descend rapidly.

"Any means necessary?" Macmillan inquired. Iris knew what he was asking.

"They are the highest priority, yes." She paused. "But don't fire at civilians unless necessary."

"Got it."

They were only twenty stories off the ground now. Iris looked out the transparent tube that offered a broad view outside, scanning for signs of Winther and Croley. "They should have reached the bottom by now. Stay on alert, Macmillan—" She stepped back swiftly as a sniper round punched through the tube and embedded into the elevator's far wall. She had seen the shooter a second ago but now noticed that there were at least three more. "Take cover!"

The two of them hugged against the limited protection of the elevator's curved walls, trying to stay out of the line of fire as a volley of tracer rounds began shooting apart the large window. Macmillan tried aiming his gun to return fire, but cursed and ducked back into cover as more bullets peppered his position. "Let's just keep our heads down," he said. "We're almost at the ground floor."

Iris shook her head. "It's very likely they'll have more snipers waiting outside the lobby. And we're not going to be able to walk out without being apprehended."

"So what do you have in mind?"

She examined the glass tubing that wrapped around the elevator, glanced down to see how high they were off the ground, and made some quick calculations. They were only about five stories off the ground now, and the snipers had given up, most likely because the elevator was too low for them to get a proper angle. Still, she knew that as soon as the doors opened to the ground floor, they would most likely be gunned down on the spot.

She emptied her pistol's magazine into the window, the rapid discharge of rounds cracking the glass tubing. She shattered it with a single kick and leaped out, landing neatly half a story down onto a short building's rooftop. Macmillan dropped down next to her with a slight grunt, and the two quickly climbed down the wall and dashed to the black convertible Iris had parked earlier around the back of the apartment.

The two of them looked up as a Pelican roared over their heads and headed for the city centre. She caught a glimpse of Winther sitting next to the hatch, and knew that they were going to report their findings to whoever they answered to. Without further hesitation, she started the engine and floored it, not even waiting for Macmillan to secure himself. She sped and turned recklessly through the streets, which thankfully weren't too crowded. Still, she knew that they were attracting a lot of attention, and knew that the faster they dealt with this, the better.

"Macmillan," she said shortly, making a very close turn around a car in front of them and swerving into the correct lane to avoid a collision with one driving in the opposite direction. "Rocket launcher. Back seat. Take out the Pelican."

Macmillan reached under the back seat and pulled out the M41 UNSC-issue rocket launcher, also known as the "SPNKr". He took aim at the retreating dropship. "We'll be making a mess, boss."

"We'll have to risk it. If they get away—" A bullet pinged off the hood of the convertible, and Iris began swerving to and fro as several Army units appeared on the rooftops and from the alleyways. Macmillan's aim jerked as he fired, blowing a chunk out of a nearby building and killing a trio of UNSC troops.

He steadied his aim. "What about them?"

"I'll keep them distracted," Iris said. "Target the Pelican. All it has to do is fly away. We can't let it." She stomped on the brakes as two Warthogs turned to block them off from an intersecting street.

Macmillan swore and adjusted his aim again. He fired a rocket between the two enemy vehicles, damaging both and killing one of the drivers. The jeeps were thrown spinning off to the side as Iris drove the convertible through the smoke from the explosion without missing a beat.

Macmillan reloaded the rocket launcher and turned to fire at the second Warthog, who was now giving chase. Iris weaved around another car, her eyes fixed on the road but keeping note of where the Pelican was. "Focus on the dropship! It's going to be out of range soon!"

They both ducked as machinegun fire erupted from behind them and shattered the front window. "They're going to tear this vehicle apart, boss!"

"No, they won't," Iris said, punching a button next to the steering wheel. A dozen metal spheres rolled out from the back of the convertible and onto the road. One of them caught beneath the pursuing Warthog's tires and was crushed almost instantly by its weight.

A small explosion blossomed from underneath the jeep, triggering the rest of the spheres caught in the blast. The Warthog was immediately consumed in a fireball, and also threw aside two nearby civilian vehicles. A pileup formed on the road behind them, and the noise soon faded as they sped away.

Macmillan stared at the Pelican, which was now quite distant. "Think you can catch up?"

"I can try," Iris replied. She pushed the convertible to its maximum speed, well aware of how dangerous it was but unwilling to let the Pelican get away. "Get ready."

A Hornet suddenly appeared from behind a building that the Pelican had just passed, swooping down on the dropship and guns blazing. "I think that's Nimue," Macmillan said, propping the rocket launcher onto his shoulder again. "The Pelican's slowing down. We'll be in range soon."

"Hurry," said Iris. "There's bound to be more UNSC nearby. Nimue can only serve as a distraction for so long." Sure enough, there were more UNSC soldiers on the rooftops. They were putting fire on the Hornet, although it didn't look like they had anything more powerful than their assault rifles. Still, she fought to catch up to the Pelican as quickly as she could.

Nimue was doing a good job of harassing the dropship while avoiding the enemy gunfire. She flew circles around the dropship, preventing the pilot from getting a proper aim at her while keeping the other UNSC troops wary about who they were shooting at. Iris soon realized what Nimue was up to, and moved to position the convertible in a suitable spot.

Sure enough, the Pelican attempted to make a turn around a building, only to be forced to the side by the Hornet. Its wing sheared against the corner of the building, causing it to lurch and falter. A moment later, two missiles found their mark on the Pelican's rear engine, sending it into a nosedive.

Macmillan was locked on by then, and fired a rocket at the damaged aircraft. It arced and curved to chase after its target, and impacted onto the Pelican's underside, cleanly gutting the dropship through its midsection. It erupted into an inferno as it crashed down onto the street, pieces of scrap metal flying in all directions as it collided with a tall building.

Iris stopped the convertible beside the fiery remains of Pelican and leaped out, drawing her pistol. She and Macmillan approached the crash site, looking around at the bodies. There were three Marines on board, all of whom were bloodied and quite obviously dead. With them was Winther's body and the feebly stirring form of Croley, who was lying sprawled on the floor of the Pelican. He looked up as Iris approached, blood flowing down his temple. "You...Syndicate...sc—"

She executed him with a single bullet to the forehead. Macmillan was checking over the others, shooting their corpses as well to confirm that they were dead. She stepped into the cockpit when Nimue's Hornet landed next to the hatch. Iris made sure the pilot was dead before walking out of the crashed Pelican with Macmillan, who asked, "Where's Shepard?"

"Dropped him off already," Nimue replied. "We need to leave too. There are still UNSC up there and a lot of witnesses here."

Iris and Macmillan climbed onto the Hornet's skids, strapping themselves into the seats. She wasn't too worried as the aircraft lifted and flew up and away from the wreckage. Nimue knew how to get them out of sight. And witnesses didn't matter. The UNSC already knew who they were, but they didn't know what Winther and Croley had heard. And as long as it stayed that way, then there really was no problem at all.

Now that this problem has been dealt with, I have to finish making arrangements for our next plans. The summit must be due to start soon, and there is still much to do.

50px-Vena.png Sonasaurus | Talk Contribs

2.13

0102 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


"Okay, come on in."

Sepia complied, slipping around a corner and into the voluminous interior of a warehouse in one of Thebes' quieter districts. While she was taller and broader and more conspicuous, she had no problem moving about stealthily in this reverse-engineered SPI armor, though sneaking about so close behind the normal-sized human Gleaner while he walked so casually made her feel slightly foolish.

Without even a sidearm, her gloved hands were curled into fists, all the more anxious about discovery. The dome-shaped visor swung back and forth, searching for any hint of anyone alive that might spot them, but Gleaner had done his job well. This building was empty, occupied only by orderly arranged crates apart from them.

"With any luck, we won't be waiting long," Gleaner said, referring to his Syndicate friends he'd alluded to earlier. "I'll go prepare for their arrival. You just stay here, don't touch anything, and look pretty."

He shot her a wink and a lopsided grin, and spun about, already on his way to the far side of the building. Sepia pointedly ignored him, a habit by this point, and began to wander. The suit, her suit now, felt both familiar and alien at once. Every ridge and line of its matte-black exterior fit exactly with those in her memory, but inside it felt much different. There were soft pads within the gauntlets that relieved the points where her old suit had pressed sharply into her wrist, and its movement following her every step seemed a smoother, more fluid motion. Its comfort plainly belied the civilian influence. Not to mention the change in the HUD.

Still, flexing, she found it was an adjustment she could live with. Taking note of her surroundings, she approached one of the metal-plastic alloy crates and read the lightly-spray painted black lettering. Technical specifications for a light machine gun she was unfamiliar with. It must have been developed after she left. Without so much as a glance in Gleaner's direction, she found and tore open the locks to reveal the weapon inside.

A smooth stock, gunmetal gray with white and orange marks to assist any idiots that didn't know how to work a gun. Lifting it from its bed, Sepia could tell by comparing its size and weight that the drum mag affixed forward of the trigger was empty. Not that she would have started test-firing it anyway, but it was still a disappointment. She tossed the expensive military piece aside and stole through another row of boxes.

She wondered just who these weapons and supplies were destined for. Was it the Minutemen, the Innie group Gleaner's Syndicate superiors were supposed to have locked in a one-sided deal, or agents of the Syndicate itself like her? Given what she'd overheard Gleaner saying on his private com link, she doubted it would be the former. And if the weapons went to the Syndicate's mercenaries, she wanted first choice.

Inspecting labels and lettering, she went about opening crates and leaving them after taking what she pleased. Eventually, she hunkered down on one of the crates, polishing a mean-looking little SMG with armor-piercing ammunition, a pack full of extra sensor and tripwire gear sitting nearby.

For the first in a long time, Sepia felt at ease. Thebes, the Syndicate, being so close to the people she was hiding from, it was all a vacation. She didn't have to feign devotion to a delusional Prophet's religion, or second-guess the actions of a disgraced Sangheili. It amazed her sometimes how intricate the struggle for power was aboard the Renewed Strength was when there were less than a thousand aboard, all that remained of the Vallen lineage, and from what she'd been told, they were never that large to begin with. But here, she wasn't a power player hoping to use everyone else for her own ends. Until what she wanted was within reach, she could be the thing she was trained to do as a child, and that was be a weapon.

Of course, her whole end goal would to rise above it, but for now giving into the killer instinct came easily. It didn't matter that she worked for criminals. They could get her what she wanted, and they knew she could only be trusted so far. There was a sense of security with both parties aware of it, not trust in one another, but trust in one another's untrustworthiness. So long as that didn't change, Sepia would be perfectly happy with sharing the same purpose as the deadly M10 Submachine Gun cradled in her arms.

That Damn Sniper 10:04, December 11, 2012 (UTC)

2.14

0132 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


Ash Mitchell sat in an alleyway, leaning against a nearby dumpster, and watched the police station burn. His armour was scorched in several places, with a few dents from lucky hits. They hadn't stood a chance. Everything was oddly quiet now, for a city as big as this. He stood there, idle, as the final target slowly crumbled under the intense heat. He felt absolutely nothing for what he'd done, for those he'd killed. All that mattered was the 'job', which he had seen through to the end.


Six targets. Easy.

Less than an hour ago, he'd walked straight in through the front door of a local police station, armed to the teeth. Ash had received orders from his new boss, and though he hadn't liked them, there was little choice but to obey. He was still being paid for the job, but money was a small comfort when he was expecting his door to be kicked in, be it by UNSC agents, or freelancers after his head. Still, it wasn't so different to the missions he'd gone on with his previous partner, before everything had gone to shit.

The duty officer, sitting tiredly at the front desk, jumped at a fully armoured trooper marching in through the door. One hand flew for a holster. It never made it. Mitchell reloaded his shotgun, and kept moving round the desk. There were shouts from across the building, and the sound of running feet. He cast a glance towards his first victim of the night.

"Sorry," he whispered, and kept moving.

It was sickeningly easy. These were trained police officers, armed and ready for a firefight. He wasn't some deadbeat gangbanger or druggie. Ash rounded the corner, three of them coming into view. Their low caliber sidearms were near-useless against his weathered armour, rounds pinging off as he methodically blasted away, gunning two down before the third retreated. The former ODST jogged forward, and raised his weapon again to the cop's back. He fired.

Mitchell made his way down the corridor towards his target, who was still desperately attempting to crawl away. At his approach, the bleeding man turned round, a pleading look in his eyes.

"Please don't, I've-"

"No."

He never completed his sentence. Targets couldn't be allowed to speak. They were to be eliminated, nothing more. It was a horrible, dehumanising mindset, one he'd been taught from his first day of training, nearly thirty years ago. Of course, they had been fighting aliens back then, but the terrible logic still applied. Momentarily distracted, the trooper caught a trunchon slipping over his head, being violently pulled back in an attempt to strangle him.

"Don't move, asshole!"

Problematic. He ignored his aggressor, and, hearing the jangle of handcuffs, jerked his head back violently, the sharp snapping noise momentarily loosening the officer's grip and allowing him to slip out and spin round. He'd dropped his shotgun in the moment's struggle, though that wasn't much of a problem. Kicking the man in the chest, his heavy boot likely breaking a rib or two, Mitchell drew his knife, and lunged forward, stabbing and twisting, trying to ignore the screams that, as always, were silenced after a few seconds.

Covered in blood, he let the corpse slip to the floor and drew his pistol to face more enemies heading towards him, guns raised. The military grade M6D tore through his targets like paper as he advanced, taking glancing hits as he drove the rest back. They were, he noticed, attempting to draw him into a chokepoint and surround him. Admirable, but they were dealing with the supposed 'Butcher of Kuiper', as he had been dubbed. Plus, he had grenades. Less than thirty seconds later, the fight was over. Ash sighed deeply, and activated his communicator.

"One down. Moving on."

That was the first of his targets. Mitchell turned around, looking at his reflection in a half-shattered window. What stared back at him didn't look human. It was an armoured, blood-caked killer. On the visor, which had once been clear and opaque, a skull leered at him. Back in his mercenary days, he'd put it there for intimidation. Now, it only served to remind him of what he was, what he'd been made into. Sirens could be heard in the distance. Next target. Move on, eliminate hostiles.


The last station was nothing but ash now. Heh, Ash. Fitting. a light drizzle had begun to hit the city, raindrops plinking off his armour as he walked back to the safehouse. He'd stay up for a while, make sure he wasn't followed, before getting some sleep. The streets were still bustling with activity in lower Thebes, various shady types moving about. Peeking out of the alleyway, Mitchell moved into the crowds, barely out of place amongst the dozens of smugglers, would-be bounty hunters and guns for hire. Still, he had to be on his guard.

Moving past a bar, Mitchell noticed a screen there already flashing up with images of burning police stations, body bags, and hazy CCTV footage of his attacks. He'd kept his face covered, so there wouldn't be much chance of him being identified. He slowed down slightly, someone barging past him as he began to think. Hold on, if they recognise the helmet markings from the footage on Kuiper, they'll-

There was a loud crack, and the man in front of him dropped like a sack, most of his head gone. Swearing, Mitchell dived to the side, away from the screaming, scattering crowd. Another shot impacted the ground nearby, shattering the concrete. Someone was definitely gunning for him. A few other shots rang out in the crowd, firing upwards. Across the street, a mercenary attempting to reload was gunned down, a high caliber round smashing through him. Waiting a few seconds, Mitchell unhooked a grenade from his belt, and rolled it out into the street. A plume of white smoke poured out, obscuring the street long enough for him to roll out, quickly breaking into a sprint for cover.

Mitchell edged round the corner of a building, activating his helmet's VISR mode as he did to. On the roof of an apartment building, he could make out the silhouette of a crouched figure hefting a large, military-grade sniper rifle. Okay, I'm getting a better quality of hitman on me, at least. Before the smoke could dissipate, Mitchell took the cut-down MA5K from his backpack, and began hurriedly affixing a grenade launcher to it. Normally, he'd have prepared the weapon beforehand, and was taking a big risk by doing this. By the time he'd loaded the grenade, the smoke had all but cleared, revealing half a dozen bodies littering the street. A few random thugs were taking cover behind a car, making excellent distractions for the time being. The moment another one fell victim to the sniper, he leant out, and fired the grenade.

"Gotcha, shithead."

The side of the building collapsed from the grenade's explosion, the sniper rifle clattering to the ground. The shooter, however, held onto a piece of piping, pulling himself up onto the rain-soaked roof. The old trooper ran full pelt across the street, leaping onto a nearby ladder in a side street and heaving himself up while the sniper attempted to flee, hampered by a deep cut in his leg. Mitchell reached the top, and immediately ducked from a flurry of magnum rounds. This guy was much better equipped than the cops; a round could easily penetrate his armour, unlike those peashooters from earlier. Once the shooter stopped to reload, Mitchell was up and running at him, carbine raised. The man instantly snapped up a submachine gun, pointing it directly at the trooper. The pair froze, staring at each other for a few seconds.

"Who the hell are you?" Mitchell asked, trying to catch his breath.

"Does it matter? You know I'm after the bounty, Mitchell."

"Well, seeing as I'm about to kill you, I wouldn't mind knowing."

The other man laughed. His face was almost completely obscured behind a grey shemagh, with a small visor, similar to a civilian chatter voice, covering his eyes. "I've killed hundreds of you UNSC types over the years. I'm no stranger to facing death."

"Is that so?" Mitchell sighed. This guy was good, sniping without backup or spotter, but up here, he had the advantage in close quarters. "You haven't got much in the way of armour, I've got Helljumper gear. Let's see if your pissy gun can get me before I waste you, shall we?"

His foe stiffened, his face unreadable. "I've been doing this for a while, Mitchell. I've got friends."

Almost on cue, two men burst through a door leading to the rooftop, pistols in hand. Mitchell kicked his assailant away as he began firing, and quickly hosed the pair with his carbine, all the while feeling sharp bursts of pain as the SMG rounds penetrated his shoulder armour. Not bothering to reload, he threw the carbine directly at his foe and charged, relying on his weight to smash the other man to the floor. He did just that, but not before the man had loosed a trio of shots off from his pistol. Those did a lot more damage, impacting his chest while a well-placed kick sent the man rolling off the roof.

"Not so tough now, are ya!" he shouted, trying to ignore the searing pains from the bullets. Odd. There wasn't the sound of a body hitting the ground. Mitchell peered over the edge, only to jerk back from the pistol's shots, his enemy hanging onto a small ledge. Once the gun was empty, Mitchell jumped from the roof onto his foe, taking the pair crashing to the ground. Luckily, his gear was built to take falling damage. The other guy wasn't. Mitchell picked himself up, and looked down at the hitman, his neck snapped cleanly. It had been a tough battle. He stooped, and fished out an old set of dogtags from around the man's neck. E. Cavorel, they read, identifying not with the UNSC, but with some other force he'd never heard of.

"Nice try, bastard, but I'm more of a survivor than you."

Having caused an inordinate amount of carnage and death for one night, Ash Mitchell walked off in the direction of the safehouse, clutching wounds that would, in time, just be more scars for his extensive collection.

Brodie-001

2.15

0642 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


"I hate to say it," Shepard admitted, helping Nimue heave the last box of computer equipment into the cramped safehouse. "But I never appreciated that highrise until it got blown up."

"It had a nice view," she agreed. "Nice showers, too."

As much as the penthouse's extravagance had gotten under Shepard's skin, now that it was a mess of debris and buried under police investigators he was beginning to realize that he'd gotten used to it. The rank stench of trash and sewage that seeped through the wall's of Nimue's backup hideaway would never have bothered him before he'd moved into the Syndicate's suite; now it was all he could do not to gag as he and Nimue quickly assembled the final pieces of the buzzing computer network that took up most of the basement's space.

I've been letting myself go, he realized. The firefight had taken more of a toll on him than he'd let on to Constance. He'd spent too much time running errands for the Syndicate, relegating all the field work to Nimue while he puttered about relying on his new bosses for funds and protection. In the days when he'd traversed the galactic fringe as the Reaper, he'd have never let assassins get so close to him and his allies.

I don't want to fight the UNSC. I'm a Spartan, damn it. If his goals didn't exist so far beyond the Earth government's current policies he'd have fallen in step with them without thinking. But as things stood, only he seemed to realize what needed to be done to keep humanity safe.

All the people who had died in that attack grated at him. He did his best to mediate disputes between the Syndicate and those that dealt with it, to keep the bloodshed as minimal as possible. But with every passing day it felt like he was an increasingly powerless cog in the massive machine, used and helpless. It was a trap he'd fallen into before. He wouldn't let it happen to him again.

"Now, that's better," Diana purred, her hologram flashing into view beside one of the computer terminals. A blonde girl in her early teens, Diana always wore a smile that announced to the world that she knew more than anyone else. Usually, that wasn't further from the truth.

"Any movement from ONI?" Shepard asked. "Why the hell are they moving against the Syndicate?"

"I'm working on it, I'm working on it," she replied languidly. "Running a city isn't as easy as it sounds, you know."

Diana had overwhelmed and absorbed Thebes's "dumb" infrastructure AI weeks ago. Shepard still didn't know how she'd pulled it off without any of the AI's technicians picking up on the change, but then again he'd stopped questioning Diana's capabilities a long time ago. She now effectively controlled the city, operating everything from the power grid and public transit to stoplights and automatic doors. To her the whole thing was just an amusing diversion, but it had been immensely useful to Shepard's private operations. Not even the Syndicate were aware that she'd taken control, and Shepard was content to keep things that way.

"Earlier you said one of the ONI safehouses we've been tracking got hit," Shepard pressed. "Was it the Syndicate? Retaliation for yesterday?"

"Well, if by hit you mean wiped out, then yes," she replied. "Along with about fifteen other locations."

Shepard blinked. "What?"

"Just turn on the news, you'll hear all about it. Whoever did it wasn't exactly worried about being subtle. They lit the places up. Not that the police are focusing on that, seeing as they got hit too."

He found himself at a loss for words. The police, too? What was going on here?

"I'll go out," Nimue said at once. "I'll recon the scene and report back in."

"Hold on," Shepard cautioned. There were heavy bags under Nimue's eyes; her hair was stringy and unkempt and patches of grime covered her face. She'd been moving nonstop since the firefight, helping him move his gear and keeping tags on her usual targets. "How long's it been since you slept?"

She didn't stop to consider it. "Twenty-eight hours."

Shepard shook his head. "Get some rest. I'll go out and do it myself."

Nimue paused. Her surprise was all Shepard needed to know that he'd been slipping. "You sure?"

He smiled in spite of himself. "You aren't the only one who can do field work. Stay here and catch some shut-eye, then work with Diana to figure out what happened last night."

"Yes, I'm sure her talent for killing things will make her just perfect for data analysis," Diana noted. "Still, I guess I can dig up some stuff for her to do. Maybe I'll need someone to draw pictures for me."

"Just focus on figuring this out." So much violence so close to the summit was a dangerous development. Security would be beefed up; even if Shepard and Nimue could get in with legitimate clearances, actually doing anything would be that much harder. Shepard was getting the feeling that his own personal plans were getting caught up in another game entirely. Not even knowing the way the board was arranged made everything that much more dangerous.

"Nimue, once you've rested get me a dossier on this Thomas Martel. I want to know everything: who he is, where he's coming from, and where he'll be." The firefight had not erased his arrangement with Constance. If the answer to all his searching was so close, he wouldn't let it slip through his fingers. One way or another, I will get that data.

"And one more thing, Diana."

"Hmm?"

"Give Nimue everything you can dig up about Stel 'Vadam. That hinge-head who's heading up their delegation."

In spite of her fatigue, Nimue shot him one of her special half-smiles. "Is that what I think it is?"

Shepard nodded. "Let's not let this new stuff get us off track. The summit's still going to happen. And when it does, he'll be our target." Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

I will have another post with some further plot development up soon. As it stands, the city has just seen a wave of severe gang violence in a single night. Characters should respond accordingly, depending on their particular faction.

2.16

0813 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: West Caraway Suburb, Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


She'd been pretty. That much Stacker could tell, despite the bullet hole that was the source of blood covering the dead woman's face. Two shots, one to her head and the other to her left shoulder, by a small-caliber weapon powerful enough to punch all the way through the body. The grass had been painted dark red around her wounds, where it had fallen. No longer containing a person, just a dead human's body, with glassed-over hazel eyes staring blindly up at the morning sky. Standing over it, Stacker could only remember when he would've called the body hers or his.

He averted his eyes, following the slope of the yard up from near the sidewalk to where low-flying bullets had torn the well-manicured sod apart. The house's facade looked as though it had endured being hit with a giant fist, with tiny cracks radiating from the pits made by bullets, and the glass of every window shattered and fallen out. The ODSTs had gotten the call in the dawn's early hours, instructed to come out to this normally quiet suburb and secure the building. When asked why the military was told to handle it rather than the local police, they'd been informed this little one-story home, identical to most others on the block, was being used as an ONI safehouse. And that it was only one of sixteen assaulted by organized strikes last night. Not to mention the police station.

Stacker'd had more than an average Marine's fair share of dealings with ONI, and knew that if anyone could not only learn the location of just one of their listening posts, but take down the two-to-five trained agents inside, it meant they had extraordinarily good intel. To take down sixteen simultaneously . . . that was something no simple gang could have done.

His new radio crackled. The Mark II-A Trident Armor had arrived, and the 7th Battalion was now outfitted with shielded body armor. An icon lit up, and the COM identified the contact as Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Forenson, the 7th's CO. "Sergeant Major, report. What's it look like on the ground?"

Stacker switched on his mic. "It was a brute-force attack, colonel. Hit them from all sides with about a squad's worth of firepower, the spooks never had a chance."

"Copy. Know what they were using?"

"Seven-six-twos, probably Misriah A-series rifles. Then a few forty-five caliber, automatics I'd guess from the number of holes they made in the walls." He paused between listing facts and making his own inference. "Just about looks like the same guns we're using, sir. MA7s and M10s. That missing part of our shipment is still in Thebes."

Forenson sounded almost frustrated. "That'd fit in with the other reports I'm getting. Military weapons matching types that have gone missing over the past few months. A few safehouses managed to fight off their assaults, and they made a few inquiries about the enemy weapons. Like they already knew, or just suspected."

"So they haven't told us something yet." It was a historically safe bet. "Well, what do we do about it?"

"Nothing to be done until they want us to do something." Forenson said, and Stacker could practically hear the shrug. "You've got to figure there's only one group on Iskandar that could've done this."

"The Syndicate." Stacker agreed. He'd helped prepare the Thebes briefing himself.

"Stand by." Forenson said, pausing a moment. "Stacker, your orders are to stay on-station until an ONI detail comes in to clean it up. After that, we're going to take another review of the summit's security plans. Anyone that can do all this is certainly going to think they can assassinate a few dignitaries, which we are not going to let happen."

"You got it, sir. Stacker out." The COM terminated from Forenson's end, and Stacker shut it off before removing the helmet. Clipping it to his belt for the moment, he knelt down and started searching through the crimson grass. He'd been honest about the ammunition used in the attack, but this one in particular was different. His fingers waved through the blood-crusted blades, flaking at his touch. That was when he found it. A single, misshapen bullet covered in cured blood, embedded in the dirt.

Picking it up carefully, Stacker slipped it in a capsule to protect the lines left on it by the barrel it had left. This woman's sidearm had never even left her pocket, which meant she'd been caught by surprise. Whoever had killed her used a weapon that went entirely through her shoulder and armor, and it wasn't one of the rifles or SMGs. There was a chance that weapon could be identified by its ballistic fingerprint, and it might yield answers or at least another lead on where and who the murderer might be. It wasn't much, but a chance worth the bit of effort it took.

As he regained his feet, wiping the blood from his hand, Stacker heard something over his shoulder. Glancing back, he saw the neighbor's front door open, and a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase step out, car keys jangling in his hand. He tried to avoid eye contact, but he couldn't help one brief, nervous glance at Stacker when he noticed the Marine was looking at him. This was a civilian neighborhood, Stacker realized. People were on their way to work.

"Abda." Stacker called quietly, and another Trident-clad ODST walked into view from behind the two stylish commuter cars in the safehouse's driveway, their sides puckered with bullet holes.

"Yes, sir?"

"Get this body cleaned up and into the house." He said, without looking directly at her. His attention was on the little girl in the window next door, waving at the man getting in his own commuter. "Let's not leave it in the open."

"ONI doesn't want us moving the bodies." Manyara pointed out. "Crime scene observing."

"Then cover it up, at least. City'll be up soon." Stacker pleaded. "A tarp or something."

"Okay, Sergeant Major." Abda said, understanding, and calling to another trooper as she walked off to comply with the order. One small relief taken care of, Stacker followed the walk to the splintered front door, kicked in by last night's attackers. Stepping over the broken glass of windows and lights, he proceeded through the front rooms, not even pausing as he stepped around bullet-riddled couches, chairs, a table, and the bodies of three Naval Intelligence agents. Turning down the back hall, he came to a darkened room that looked like it had been the inside of a blender. Computers had just about exploded, being turned into plastic chips and metal fragments by a hail of gunfire. One monitor, however, was still lit.

It was cracked, but working, and Dubbo looked up to flash a cocky grin as Stacker blocked out the only other light coming in through the door, his Trident suit's helmet set on the desk where he sat. "Check it out. Found one that wasn't totally busted, and even got a few hard drives that weren't shot up."

Stacker leaned over his shoulder to peer at the monitor. "Did they have time to wipe the memory?"

"Nah." Chips said, smoothing back his brown hair. "Spooks were hit too fast. But based on activity logs, I don't think the men who murdered them even accessed these computers before blasting them to pieces."

"That's . . . odd." Stacker muttered, confused. If the Syndicate were behind this, they'd have surely grabbed the ONI data. Even if it was something they'd already known or thought they didn't need, it would be worth the chance that some little detail was valuable to them, like he was doing with the bullet. Not enough to prove or disprove anything, but it was enough for another hunch. This time, though, he hoped it would be wrong. His last assignment was supposed to be simple guard duty for politicians . . . but he was getting the suspicion whoever had gone after ONI had their sights set high.

That Damn Sniper 00:31, December 27, 2012 (UTC)

2.17

0752 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Downtown Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


"Mitchell did a good job," Mordred said, glancing over the news report on his chatter screen. "Couldn't have done better myself. The cops are busy freaking out about getting hit to be worried about us. That just leaves the military, and they'll be too focused on the summit to get in our way."

"I saw him go in," Jonah reported over their private channel. "I followed him all night, just like you said. He's scary."

"Of course he is," Mordred said with a laugh. "What, you thought all that 'Butcher of Kuiper' stuff was just for show? That's why I put him on the payroll in the first place."

"He got hurt a bit. I saw the blood."

"Ah, he's a tough guy." Mordred shrugged. "And he did exactly what I wanted. Now there's another goose chase for the Syndicate and the UNSC. Go ahead and double his pay. Use the side account. Our client won't mind a little extra expense here."

"You got it, boss." Jonah remained as obedient as ever, but there was an edge to his voice. The kid had been awake for over twenty-four hours now, putting in just as much—if not more—work as Mordred. He couldn't be expected to go much longer.

It wasn't often that Mordred felt pity for anyone, friend or foe alike. In a world where death was around every corner and the only certainties to be had were victory and the next paycheck, sympathy usually bought you nothing if you were lucky or a bullet in the head if you weren't. But Jonah was different. Of all the people Mordred had worked with his short career, or at least what little of it he could remember, there had never been anyone as hard to read as the kid. You couldn't buy loyalty like that; Mordred wasn't even sure you could train it. As well as he and Jonah got along, Mordred couldn't say that he understood the kid at all.

It bothered him, sometimes.

"Just a bit longer," he told his partner. "One more job to do, and then we can rest. Both of us."

"Got it." Jonah sounded relieved. "I've got the gear. I'll be in position where you told me."

"Great. Keep it up and stay safe." Mordred closed the link and glanced around the interior of the truck he was sitting in. Five Minutemen sat or stood in the dim, empty flatbed. These were different soldiers from the ones who had hit the safehouses just a few hours before. They wore light body armor, mostly combat vests and joint padding. There were no tagged weapons this time, just a small assortment of silenced pistols and submachine guns. One of them looked up at Mordred.

"Hey," the Minuteman said. "Mordred, or whatever the hell your real name is."

"Yeah?" Talking to Jonah had reminded Mordred of how little sleep he'd had. He was used to that sort of thing, but it still took its toll on both his mind and his body—something he couldn't afford, especially at this stage of the game. He unclipped a small cup of concentrated caf stims from his belt and took a gulp.

"If we want them to think the UNSC did this, why aren't we dressed up? You know, as ODSTs or something."

Mordred shrugged and looked over at another Minuteman. "Well, Davis, you were a Helljumper weren't you? Lay it out for him."

Davis looked up from his pistol, evidently surprised that Mordred knew his background. "An op like this, they'd be more discreet," he said. "They'd want the civs to think it was more gang violence, not panic everyone by rolling out the heavy guns."

"And ONI supposedly threw this all together in about an hour," Mordred continued. His chatter buzzed; Driscol wanted another update. He reached down to answer it. "They wouldn't have had time to prep Marines. We're just the wet work team they had on stand-by."

Driscol sounded tired as well. He was handling plenty of the operation as well, making sure the Minutemen remained focused and coordinated. With the added task of keeping tabs on Makosky's little army, Mordred did not envy him in the slightest.

"Mordred," Driscol said. "You almost in position?"

"We're just a few minutes out," Mordred replied. "Sounds like the other teams are synced up nicely."

"I've picked up some intel about the attacks last night," Driscol noted. "The UNSC suspects the Syndicate, but they're suspicious. They haven't bought the whole thing yet."

"Of course they haven't." Mordred slid a magazine into his own pistol. "In a few minutes, it won't matter. There's only one organization with the balls to do what we're about to do with the Syndicate, and that's ONI."

"And then there's our trump card," Driscol mused. "I'm a bit surprised you didn't want to be on that team, Mordred, given how expensive their gear turned out to be."

"Oh, I don't think that armor suits me very well," Mordred said with a shrug. "I just hope you picked the right men for the job."

"Ex-special forces, every one," Driscol told him. "And it isn't like they have much to handle. None of the targets are that well defended."

"The Syndicate's never had a reason to blow the bank on bottom feeders like these." They were near the target now; the Minutemen with him in the truck were getting ready to move. "We'll prove them wrong now."

"No mistakes," Driscol warned. "We lost an entire team last night. Turns out one of the safehouses had a Spartan hidden inside it."

"So I heard." Mordred had never dealt with Spartans before, at least not directly. Having some inside the city was a problem, but there was only so much one or two Spartans could do. Especially if they didn't know who or where their enemies were. "Don't worry. Your men'll get the job done."

"I know they will." Driscol signed off abruptly, leaving Mordred inside the truck with five battle-ready Minutemen.

The truck was slowing and coming to a stop. They'd arrived at the destination. Mordred licked his lips as a familiar tension crept through his body. Time to get to work.

He nodded to the others and pulled a cloth ski-mask over his face. The others followed suite. They weren't the most elaborate disguises, but they certainly kept their faces off the cameras.

The truck driver banged on the far wall; they were in position.

"Remember," Mordred warned the others. "No bodies."

They moved quickly from the truck and onto the sidewalk, weapons concealed inside their jackets. A few passersby stared at the six masked men but no one stopped them or even thought about calling the police. They pushed their way into the streetside cafe, ignoring the waitress who stepped forward to greet them.

Mordred caught sight of the target: a portly, middle-aged man seated with a few others in a corner booth. Colm Hendricks, the local Syndicate enforcer.

"There's the guy," he told the others. "Waste him."

Hendricks and his bodyguards didn't even have time to draw their own guns. The Minutemen whipped up their pistols and cut them down in a flurry of suppressed bullets. A few people screamed, but no one got up to stop them.

Mordred and the team were gone just as quickly as they'd arrived, piling back into the truck and pulling away into Thebes's traffic. Mordred pulled off his mask and nodded to the others. "Great work. Fast and clean, just like we needed."

The Minutemen's command channel was a flurry of excited reports. Every team had hit their targets and come out without a single casualty. Across the city, twenty one Syndicate officers and whichever thugs had been unlucky enough to defend them were now dead. They would quickly be replaced, of course, but the Syndicate would want to know who dared raise a hand against their agents. There was still work to be done of course, but Mordred was looking forward to sitting back and watching the fun really begin.

ONI against the Syndicate, he mused. Let's see who comes out on top.

There was still one team that hadn't reported in, and that was the one that might make all the difference. Mordred kept his ear to the radio, waiting to hear from Driscol's special team. After all, attacks from masked operatives were one thing.

A hit from the UNSC's Spartans was something else altogether.

Jonah had never seen a real Spartan before, but the five armored figures that moved down the alley looked scary enough to be the real deal.

Even knowing what Mordred had told him, that these were just Minutemen wearing knockoff copies of the SPI armor that some Spartans wore, Jonah had to fight back the urge to run away. He crouched in the shadow beneath a trash bin, trying not to breath as he watched the armored team approach the door leading to a local Syndicate safehouse. They were completely silent; any talking that they were doing was hidden inside their helmets. Jonah's hands shook as he held the chatter device up to his face. Did they know he was there? Had Mordred warned them, or would they just think he was some urchin, or maybe a kid paid off as a lookout. He'd spent too much time on the battlefield to think that they'd hesitate to shoot just because he was a kid.

The team assembled beside the reinforced door. Each of them held a suppressed assault rifle or submachine gun at the ready as one affixed a small charge on the lock. He—or maybe it was a she—stepped back and nodded at the others. They all waited a moment longer; then the charge blew and they were in motion, ripping through the now unlocked door and vanishing inside the safehouse. One remained outside, weapon at the ready.

There were no gunshots, or at least none that Jonah could hear. A few people cried out abruptly from inside the safehouse, but then fell silent just as quickly. Jonah kept fighting down the urge to run as he waited, alone in the alley save for the single, solitary guard.

A minute later, the Minutemen emerged from inside. None of them looked hurt, though Jonah thought he could see blood on a few of their suits.

Now was the time. Jonah activated the chatter's camera system and took one picture after another. The dim lighting would make the image quality bad, but that was the way Mordred wanted it. All the Syndicate needed to see was a team of Spartans wiping out their people, he'd said. There was no reason to give them a crystal clear photo for them to analyze.

The chatter was completely silent; none of the Minutemen even noticed his presence. They lingered a moment longer outside the dead safehouse and then they were moving again, vanishing into the shadows almost as quickly as they'd appeared.

Jonah could breath again. He found himself panting heavily, almost to the point of sobbing. He'd spent the past few days skulking in the shadows, keeping tabs on Mitchell just like Mordred told him to. Watching one armored killer was bad enough; five of them was downright terrifying.

But the job was done. The pictures were taken, and now he could rest. Trying to keep himself from falling asleep right there in the alley, Jonah crept away as quietly as he could. He'd done right by Mordred, and that was all that mattered.

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

2.18

0015 Hours, July 14, 2574

Location: City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Nimue's Hornet soared through the air above the middle of Thebes, away from the previous engagement, to land on the rooftop of a Syndicate safehouse. With her passengers inside, Iris and Grayson stepped out of the vehicle and on to the platform. After the highway chase, they needed to come to this particular safehouse to acquire weapons needed for the summit. They had to be prepared.

"This is my stop. I'll see you guys later. Good luck." With that affirmation, Nimue lifted the Hornet off the building and flew away, out of eye shot from the two.

Iris slung open the door to the safehouse and moved in. Her pistol was raised towards any entry points in the room, analyzing the nearby environment for any possible threats. In behind her came Gray, with his own pistol. They had emptied any heavier weapons they previously had in their arsenal during the Pelican chase. Gray advanced beside Iris, but was almost immediately stopped by her hand.

"Shh...Macmillan. Something's not right." The pistol in her hands raised and she was monitoring the ceiling, as if she was looking for something suspicious. She could hear footsteps on the roof they just exited.

Her suspicions proved to be correct, as soon as fifteen ONI agents burst through the roof and on to the floor to engage both of them. Grayson, along with Iris, quickly vaulted behind crates and took cover from the hail of bullets that soon slammed into the ground behind them.

"So, about things not being right..." Grayson peeked up from cover to fire two shots off, hitting one of the agents in the chest twice. Not enough to kill him, but enough to stagger him back for a shot by Iris, which slammed into the agent's head and killing him instantly.

"Enough with the wisecracks, Macmillan." A grenade was tossed to Gray's position, who, with a reaction of glee rather than surprise, took the grenade and threw it back to the ONI group, subduing two more of their attackers. Both Iris and Gray used this opportunity to move to more cover.

"Macmillan!" Iris yelled, before gesturing to a nearby grenade launcher that had been the very same weapon to launch one at the former mere seconds ago.

"On it!" He grasped the grip of the weapon and slid a grenade in from the dead ONI agent who previously used it.

"Make this one count.", he muttered to himself.

He took aim and fired the launcher into the ONI team and blasted at least three of them to dust, one of their BR60 Battle Rifles hurtling through the air.

It was swiftly caught by Iris, who started picking off one-by-one the rest of the agents, with her more precise and elegant marksmanship compared to Gray's more chaotic methods. Their numbers were quickly drained, as Gray had acquired an MA7C rifle, and begun swiftly cutting them down. He was almost hit by another stray bullet, which ricocheted off the walls next to him.

Within a few minutes, the whole ordeal was over. Gray threw aside his MA7C and entered an access code into one of the storage bays.

"I have to get something special of mine. I'll be with you in a moment, Iris..."

The door slid open and revealed the storage room. The mercenary reached a hand up to rub his face and acquire what looked like a datapad with several codes on it - codes to a small stealth shuttle Gray had planned on using. He always kept the access codes elsewhere, in the event he was captured. He considered it for a moment, then took the pad and kept it in a pouch on his armor. He made his way out of the room and waved to Iris, who was standing nearby an access tunnel.

"Weapons are secured. Let's regroup with the Syndicate, the summit's starting soon."

Stel goldenzealot Don't touch anything. Move along, citizen.

2.19

0901 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Thebes lower districts, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


The Syndicate's middleman known as Gleaner was used to shadows, metaphorical and literal. His business was shady business, so he often conducted meetings with high-end mercs or industry executives in empty warehouses, the backs of private vehicles, or an unremarkable alley at night. This morning proved no exception to the routine, as once he shut the door behind him, the corner room of a hotel's second floor let in none of the new day's light. At least this place, cheap but not decaying, was warm and dry opposed to an alley.

It seemed his associates had yet to arrive. Allowing himself a sigh, he fumbled around in the dark to find a light switch. He found the nub of a lever, but when he flicked it, nothing changed. Grumbling as his opinion of the place declined, he set down the briefcase he carried with him and crossed to the backlit curtains on the other side of the room. His shin hit a coffee table, and he started cursing when the lights suddenly flicked on, the slick black of his dyed hair and leather jacket no longer blending into the shadow.

Whirling, he came face to face with a haggard-looking man who'd been standing no more than a meter from him, with an assault rifle slung at the waist trained on him. Luckily, Gleaner's nerves were strong enough not to bolt, and the man didn't move either. Just stood stock-still, a statue with its finger on a trigger.

"You're late," came a voice from behind him.

There, staring at him with a face like a china doll that held him in slight contempt, was Constance. He'd looked up her history, her name was Iris Sabio, but like Gleaner, she probably now considered that original identity nothing more than another alias. Despite her usual emotion-devoid expression, no scowl could have hidden the purple marks under her eyes. She probably hadn't slept between a few attempts on her life.

He couldn’t really blame her for starting the conversation with the drop on him. Two of her top liaisons on Iskandar had just turned out to be UNSC plants, and now it seemed their longtime business associates in ONI were willing to gun down the Syndicate in the streets. That she’d called him to meet in person likely meant she wanted to test him, see if he was still trustworthy.

Which he wasn't, really. Constance was certainly skilled at reading people, despite being far from a people person, but Gleaner had always kept her deceived about just how far his own intentions went. Not that he was working for ONI or the like, but the next step up the Syndicate ladder was her job. He'd make a joke about it once in a while, but always made it seem like teasing, and Constance had long since wrote him off as a minor annoyance. Her mistake to underestimate him. But not a fatal one, taking her job hardly had to mean bloodshed. Besides, she had such a pretty face . . . that was still staring at him like he was a gaping idiot.

Constance was under the stress of a possible feud with ONI, tired from her flight from their assassins, and all the more ill-tempered to have to deal with him. Gleaner decided to be as accommodating and candid as he could, for if she thought for a second he was a spy, she was probably still precise enough with her silenced pistol to kill him with a single shot and not spill any blood on the carpet. This would be the time not to give her reason to be suspicious.

Putting on his most charming smile, Gleaner closed his eyes and bowed low, voluntarily blinding himself to imply he had nothing to be afraid of. “You'll have to excuse my extra minute, traffic what with the military cordoning off everything would've made it easier just to walk. You look like you've been up late. Could I interest you in a warm cup of—"

"I don't have time for your patronizing, Gleaner." She rebuked him without a hint of fatigue in her voice. Ouch. This woman wouldn't be content to kill chivalry, she'd take the body out into the frontier and bury it in an unmarked grave so deep not even starving wolves could dig it up. “Where's the operative you've been babysitting?”

He took the hostile tone to mean he wasn't out of hot water yet and leaned more towards candid. "Still sitting in our warehouse near the space port. She's been getting into the weapons crates when I told her not to, but other than that she's compliant enough."

"And the tracker on her armor can confirm this?"

"Yes," Gleaner replied, curious why she'd want such a detail. "I have it on my datapad if you'd like to review."

Something about his answer, or the way he'd casually given it, put Constance at ease. Her posture relaxing, she asked, "Have we shipped in any other sets of SPI besides hers?"

"I'm not sure, but I don't recall any others." He confessed. "I can run a proper search later. Why do you ask?"

Constance motioned to the gunman behind Gleaner. The ODST-clad merc clicked on the safety of his rifle and averted the barrel from aligning at him. Now that he got a clear look at the bearded face, a name surfaced. "Ah, Grayson Macmillan. I was informed your contract brought you here."

He flashed a smile and extended a hand, but the former Innie just nodded. "Syndicate pays best, and that buys the best."

Leaning forward as Gleaner took a seat opposite her, Constance explained, "A half hour ago, pictures got out showing a team of five in SPI suits hitting our black market weapons dealers downtown."

Spartans. Gleaner thought, face paling. The UNSC's sent Spartans. "That'd be the same time ONI started straight murders. They caught Hendricks and his men on a street corner."

"I'm waiting until I can confirm where those suits originated before I pin this on ONI. I have another meeting to arrange . . . Hendricks and the others leave a gap." Constance steepled her fingers, already recalculating the Syndicate's holdings in Thebes. "We'll need to pick up the slack for his contracts."

"I'll rotate someone in or up." Gleaner said. "Maybe pull in a few from the neighboring systems on the next shuttle."

"Good." She said. "And what about Leibowitz? Is he keeping his end of his deal?"

Gleaner curled a lip. "No, the rat's shying away with so much scrutiny on him, not that he's cared about laying low before. I wouldn't have to put him at risk by contacting him if he'd just stay in line."

"Remind him what he owes us." Constance said, lifting her head. "Don't bother being subtle, either. We need to keep Thebes believing no one can cross the Syndicate."

"I'll put the operative to use on it." he said with a smile, standing up. "About time she did something, otherwise I fear she'll unpack all the toys and leave them laying about for all to see. And I'll search our shipping records for other SPI suits promptly."

Constance dismissed him with a grateful nod, and turned back to Grayson as if they'd just been having a conversation before ambushing Gleaner about a new job for him. As he took his leave, Gleaner was glad he could claim to be legitimately trustworthy in a time like this, and went to do the background work that made what was for the moment Constance's operation function.

That Damn Sniper 08:26, January 5, 2013 (UTC)

2.20

1013 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Thebes lower districts, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Nimue nodded as Shepard entered. Although she had busied herself with inspecting their safehouse’s small weapons cache, she had done as he’d asked and given herself time to rest. The bags under her eyes had shrunk and she’d even taken the time to wash her face. It was a tiny silver lining in an otherwise terrible day.

“I’m sure you know what’s going on,” he said, locking the safehouse door behind him. “Over twenty Syndicate officers were killed today. In broad daylight, no less.”

“I stopped traffic in six parts of the city to slow the shooters down,” put in Diana. Her avatar flickered to life on a console beside Nimue. “But they just ditched their trucks and made off on foot. And they were careful about using rented trailers, too. They didn’t leave any evidence behind them.”

“ONI clearly blames the Syndicate for attacking those safehouses,” Shepard continued, lowering himself down onto a nearby stool. His legs ached from a day of moving from meeting to meeting, receiving nothing but bad news from every contact he met with. “Constance was hit again. Another assassination attempt. This has gone from some isolated violence to a full blown war.”

“Well, I doubt our friend Miss Sabio would be as dumb as to actually attack the spook houses,” Diana noted. “Unfortunately, ONI doesn’t seem to have picked up on that.”

“Unless they just needed an excuse to target the Syndicate.” It sounded stupid as soon as it had left Shepard’s mouth. Since when did ONI feel the need to justify anything? If anything, they’d needed more justification for not moving in on the Syndicate for all these years than they needed to start attacking it now.

“Forget that,” he muttered. “Just thinking out loud.”

“As nice as it would be if ONI found reasons to start killing dozens of its own agents, that’s the longest shot in the park.” Diana activated a computer screen and motioned for Shepard to watch. “But there’s more than just a summit going on in Thebes, that’s for sure.”

An image flashed up on screen. Shepard had seen this one a few hours ago, but the sight of an SPI-clad team of commandos emerging from the shadows of a lower city alley made his blood run cold even as his heart pounded with excitement. Had ONI really deployed his brother and sister IIIs to Thebes? It had been a long time since he’d ever had contact with other Spartans. Too long. But it was a sacrifice he’d chosen to make a long time ago. And if the image that had appeared on a news forum was correct, then Spartans had taken part in the raids on Syndicate officers. But that begged the question, why had they been used to hit a mid-level smuggling safehouse instead of taking down Constance and the rest of the upper echelon?

“Those could always be knockoff suits,” Nimue said. Shepard hadn’t even realized she was following the conversation. It was disturbingly easy to forget she was in the room sometimes. “You know how many the Syndicate sells.”

“They could be,” Diana agreed. “But there are definitely Spartans in Thebes.”

A new picture winked onto the screen. This one was an enhanced surveillance still depicting a smiling young woman perusing the aisle of a local market.

“Her ID’s fake, just like everyone else in this city,” Diana told Shepard. “But ONI’s files list her as Layla-B101.”

Shepard raised an eyebrow. “ONI’s files?”

Diana’s avatar shrugged and flashed a self-satisfied smile. “They try to encrypt their channels, they really do. But I always find a way in.”

Shepard looked back at the woman. So there was one of his sisters, in the flesh. He stymied a familiar pang of longing; he could only enjoy the lives of his fellow Spartans from a distance now. It was the price he paid in order to continue his work. “So what’s her mission? Why’s she here?”

“She’s escorting some sort of high-level agent. I could have gone farther, but then they might have actually picked up on the fact that someone was picking through their system.”

“It’s a start, but the summit’s attracting plenty of those sorts of assignments. Can you get me something related to the Syndicate?”

“How’s this?” The Spartans and Layla-B101 were replaced by another surveillance photo. This one depicted a dark-haired woman crossing the street. “Try one who actually works for the Syndicate. Her name’s Sepia-G330. The Gamma batch really had all the rotten apples, didn’t it?”

Shepard had heard the name dropped before. He’d never considered himself a true outcast; he aimed to defend humanity, the ultimate purpose of any Spartan. To see one actually cut off from their course and aim moved him in ways that many other tragedies never could. “She works for the Syndicate. There’s nowhere else for her to go, really. Are you telling me she’s a plant?”

“Not to my knowledge. ONI has her listed as dead, if that helps clear things up.” Shepard had a few plans for Sepia; not that he was worried about any of them right now. “You have to have something else for me.”

“Indeed I do.”

The picture vanished, replaced by an image of an aging, grizzled man. From the cut of his hair and the set of his jaw, Shepard pegged him as an old soldier, the kind who’d seen and been hardened by countless years on the battlefield. Beside him, Nimue nodded. “Carlos Driscol,” she said. “He operates out of a warehouse in the lower city.”

Shepard recognized the name. “He’s an arms dealer. Small time, really. He keeps his men in line and pays the Syndicate tariffs. Constance isn’t worried about scum like him.”

Diana flashed several more images on the screen: old news reports, images of armed soldiers fighting on colonial battlefields. “And yet this kind of scum has a history as an Innie big shot. He’s the kind of hardcore meatbag who got fighters like Venter shooting for the big leagues. Ran operations all over Mamore, to name just one planet. Not really the kind to just settle down and take a backseat in the Syndicate’s new order.”

More images appeared, displaying a small warehouse complex. Security footage displayed dozens of trucks moving in and out of the area. Shepard frowned; this was normal activity for any storage district in Thebes, Syndicate affiliated or otherwise. “You think he’s connected to the attacks. Why would an old rebel war-horse cooperate with ONI?”

“Well, that’s the trick.” Diana’s avatar smiled coldly. “All this truck movement doesn’t match the amount of business he’s reporting to the Syndicate. So he’s either running things under their radar or he’s got an enormous extended family. Not surprising, given all the places he’s been, but his track record doesn’t really paint the picture of a nice, family meatbag. And take a look at this.” She magnified the security footage, displaying a dark blur approaching the central warehouse. Shepard recognized the technique immediately. Whoever was inside the blur was using some kind of miniature jammer to hide his face from the cameras. It was expensive tech, one that only upper tier Syndicate operatives used to mask their presence from any watchful authorities. Only those upper-tier operatives… and their ONI counterparts.

“So he’s been visited by someone who doesn’t want to be seen,” Shepard mused. His suspicions moved back to Redford, but that still raised the problem of why a ruthless rebel hunter like him would associate with a rebel veteran like Driscol. “Does Constance know about this?”

“She’s been a little busy, what with ONI trying to kill her and half her officers getting killed.” Diana shrugged. “Besides, since no one outside this cozy little room knows I’m in the system, it’s not like I’ve been sharing the footage with anyone else.”

She had a point there. Shepard had no intention of sharing Diana’s existence with anyone, least of all his Syndicate employers. Having her on his side was worth more to him than Constance’s entire spy network. “I’ll pass this along. I’ll tell her Nimue hacked the footage and picked up on the discrepancies herself. “Much as I hate letting a meatbag take credit for my work,” Diana sighed, idly straightening a lock of holographic hair. “I guess it’s all for the greater good.” That idea seemed to amuse her quite a bit.

“Who else do you have pegged?” Shepard asked. “Anyone who isn’t affiliated with ONI or the Syndicate?”

“Indeed I do.” New security footage appeared, this time displaying a series of Thebes police stations. In the first segment, a fully armed and armored ODST marched straight into the station and started shooting. The screen cut to interior footage, where the armored man cut down every officer in the station before moving on. Diana flashed through five more stations, each displaying the same gruesome events as before. Shepard leaned forward in his seat, frowning at a still of the ODST killer. The shooter’s visor was emblazoned with a vicious-looking skull. “This was the night the ONI safehouses got hit,” he said quietly. “Why didn’t you tell me this was all one guy?”

She shrugged. “You were busy with other things. I assumed it must be hard, planning to single-handedly crash a heavily-guarded political summit. Didn’t want to tax that limited meatbag brain of yours.”

“Fill me in sooner next time.” Shepard nodded at the shooter. “Who is he?” In response, Diana changed footage yet again. The new camera angle showed the ODST exiting the last station. A few minutes later, he took fire from an isolated sniper. Shepard and Nimue watched the battle play out. When it ended—the sniper dead and the ODST limping off—Shepard shook his head. “He’s good, I’ll give him that.”

He frowned, remembering another lone fighter who’d worn ODST armor. “No David Kahn, but still impressive.”

Beside him, Nimue stiffened ever so slightly. “He’s dead,” she said quietly. “And no one could ever beat him.”

The late David Kahn had a lot to do with molding Nimue into the fearsome young woman she was. Shepard had gathered that much information after a lot of careful probing and had decided early on not to press the issue. This lone gunman was clearly some sort of hired gun, but his identity remained a mystery. “So, Diana,” he said, rubbing his face. The last few days were wearing him down; he’d need to get some rest, and soon. “What’s so important about this guy?”

“Well, based on his appearance, skills, and surveillance I took the liberty of piecing together, our mystery killer is none other than Ash Mitchell. The ‘Butcher of Kuiper,’ as the press and the sobbing relatives have taken to calling him.” Mitchell. Shepard knew the name. “He’s wanted by the colonial authority for murdering people. The UNSC and the Syndicate want him for murdering the wrong people. He’s completely isolated, been on the run for years. There’s an enormous bounty on his head. What’s he doing in Thebes?”

“Well, if he’s working for ONI then their spook squads have gotten a lot more forgiving in recent years,” Diana noted. “And I doubt our precious Constance would be sending Mitchell to wipe out stations full of cops on her payroll.”

“So who is he working for?”

Another cold smile from the unfathomable AI. “Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? Unless he just snapped and went on a shooting spree, he’s working for someone. And that someone isn’t ONI or the Syndicate.”

“A third party,” Shepard said aloud. Was someone working from the sidelines, playing into this surge of violence? But why target police stations? And why use an isolated criminal like Ash Mitchell? “Is there anyone else in Thebes? Someone who isn’t with ONI or the Syndicate?”

This time Diana was quiet for a few moments. The pictures faded away, leaving the screen completely blank. Shepard traded a puzzled glance with Nimue; it wasn’t often the AI was at a loss for something to say.

“There is one,” Diana said at last. “He’s a mercenary and an arms dealer. A freelance operative. He does work for the Syndicate, but the data I’ve dug up says he does business with anyone willing to cough up the credits.”

“He’s stayed independent?” Shepard asked. There weren’t that many freelance mercs left; most had been hired up by the Syndicate years ago. “Who is this person?” Diana paused yet again. “His name is Mordred.”

Shepard blinked. “Mordred? But that’s… I mean, you worked with…”

“I know I worked with a Mordred before,” Diana said coldly. “I should know; the name was my idea in the first place.”

“Your old partner,” Shepard said, frowning at the screen. “G294. But he’s…”

“Dead,” Diana cut in before he could finish. “The dumbass got himself killed on Sanghelios.”

“Could he have survived? Maybe he’s trying to get back in touch with—“

“He’s dead,” Diana insisted with uncharacteristic force. Her avatar’s blue hue flashed quickly to a dangerous shade of red.

It wasn’t often that she talked about her old partner. The traitor Spartan Simon-G294 had used the name “Mordred” back when he’d been hiding out as a freelance mercenary on the frontier. Shepard had encountered the renegade a few times before the wily Simon had finally died during the pirate assault on Sanghelios. As much as he’d despised what G294 had become, a bitter failure willing to side with the hinge-heads against his fellow humans, Shepard had felt only pity for the miserable outcast. Diana had discarded G294 to take Shepard’s side, but even now he couldn’t tell what she had truly felt about her first partner. Like Nimue’s relationship with David Kahn, it was a subject that was best left alone.

“So this new Mordred picked up the name after Sanghelios,” Shepard said slowly. “Why haven’t I heard about him before?”

“He keeps a low profile,” Diana said. She was back in control now, her hologram resuming its calm blue glow. “I don’t even have any pictures of him to show you. Apparently he’s got a mountain of fake identities that he uses wherever he goes. He’s in town now because he just brought in a few crates of military-spec weapons for the Syndicate.”

Nimue straightened in her chair. “You said he was a mercenary as well as an arms dealer. What’s his track record?”

A wall of text flowed down the screen. Shepard leaned forward, reading through dozens of names and places. Mordred had only been working for two years, but he’d done more in that time than many soldiers did in a lifetime. It was as if he did nothing but fulfill contract after contract after contract.

“He’s an assassin,” he said, eyes flicking through Diana’s data. Mordred’s ledger read like a textbook in the art of killing. “He’s taken down everything from crime bosses to political targets. And these methods… he’s sniped them, poisoned them, blown them up in broad daylight, even used his bare hands for a couple of these hits. Hell, it says here he once blew up an entire UNSC frigate just because his target was on it.”

“This guy would just as soon shoot you as he would hold the door for you,” Diana affirmed. “And believe me, I put up with the dumbass long enough to know that none of this is like him. He was never anywhere near this good at his job.”

“And it isn’t just assassinations he pulls off,” Shepard muttered, engrossed in the reading. “He’s popped up in war zones all over the frontier, selling weapons and fighting as a mercenary. He’s worked for the Insurrection, the Syndicate, local governments... even the Path Walkers have hired him, and more than once, too. He always shows up just when the fighting is at its peak. And sometimes he doesn’t even charge his clients the full rate. Does he have a death wish or something?”

“Even freelance shooters draw the line at Path Walker fanatics,” Nimue said. “Why would he help them?”

Reading and rereading the endless list of assassinated targets, Shepard felt an icy lump forming in the stomach. It was a feeling he rarely felt these days, especially when dealing with underworld scum like this. But this was something else entirely. “This is a man who doesn’t believe in anything,” he said quietly. “Not a cause, not money, not even his own life. It’s like he’s a force of nature. He kills because that’s what he was meant to do.”

He caught Nimue’s eye. “This Mordred… he frightens me, Nimue.”

“You’ve never even seen him before,” she pointed out. “He might not be involved in any of this. How are you afraid of him?”

“That’s just it,” Shepard murmured. The name ran through his head; this time it was completely detached from his memories of G294. Mordred. The mysterious mercenary’s name was already carved into his brain. “I can’t tell you why. I just am.”

He forced himself to look away from the screen. "Diana, see if you can't dig up anything else on Mordred. Did you trace Mitchell back to wherever he's holed up?"

She nodded. "I've got the apartment address and I'm monitoring it from all angles."

Nimue tapped a hand on the re-assembled SMG. "Do you want me to go kill him?" she asked matter-of-factly.

"Not until I know what he's up to and who's giving his orders. For now, get some rest." Shepard crossed over to the other side of the room and opened a large container. The visor of his stored SPI armor stared blankly up at him. "I need to get a hold of Constance. If Macmillian and Sepia aren't preoccupied, I want them both. There's a summit tomorrow and I'd hate to miss a second of it."

Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

Part Three: The Demon Revealed

2.1

1322 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Unmapped Syndicate headquarters, City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

There's something not right about all this. I just know it.

Iris was sitting in front of a half dozen data screens, pulling up every last report, incident, and any possibly related intel from the last 24 hours. She compared them, cross-referenced them, and now had a handful of possible theories to the nature of this whole mess. The only way to find out which one was right was to make a few calls for confirmation and maybe some info she could have missed. But she wouldn't be doing that just yet, not until she knew exactly who could and couldn't be trusted.

The Syndicate's headquarters on Thebes had remained untouched when she returned, but whether it was because ONI didn't find it or didn't dare attack it remained to be seen. Still, Iris was back in control of the situation now, and with all the information in her hands, she was ready for anything. And I'll make sure whoever is responsible for this will be dealt with before the end of tomorrow.

Still, she knew she was running out of time. The summit was starting the next day, and three of her four theories indicated that whoever was wreaking all this havoc would try something to interrupt the session. Even if none of her people were targeted, she didn't want any more trouble than what ONI and the Syndicate already had.

There was an incoming transmission on her personal receiver. Only a few individuals had the access to contact her through it, and Iris already knew who it was. She answered it, eyes still moving from screen to screen. "Reaper. Any sign of trouble on your end?"

"Nothing on us," Shepard replied. "But I've got something interesting you might want to see, boss."

Iris tapped one of the screens in front of her, activating the transmission processor, careful to cover her trail in case anyone was trying to get a fix on her location through the signal. "Go ahead."

The data on the screen was replaced by a security footage focused on a series of warehouses, with numerous trucks going in and out of the area. Her sharp eyes immediately caught the blurred figure approaching the central warehouse. "And who would that be?"

"I'm not sure," Shepard admitted. "But I know how you can find out. You see, this is one of Driscol's operations. Nimue got the footage earlier today."

Something clicked. Iris returned her attention to the screen on the far right, reading over a few lines of text in particular. She quickly checked the info on two other screens to confirm what she was already suspecting. That explains it. These attacks might not have been from either the Syndicate or ONI. It's not likely, but if I'm right...

"Do you have anything else to tell me?" she asked, checking the notes she put on one of the screens and deleting the possibilities that Shepard's revelation had eliminated.

"There's a mercenary called Ash Mitchell, who singlehandedly attacked several police stations last night," he said. "I don't think he's in it with anyone though, and I'm getting Nimue to find out more about him."

Iris nodded. "I heard about the attacks," she said, erasing a few more lines of notes that pointed at possible suspects of the attacks, as well as a few of the hypothetical motives. "Ash Mitchell...I've heard that name before." It wasn't likely he was making moves against the Syndicate, or ONI for that matter. There wouldn't be much use in sending someone to deal with him just yet. Nonetheless... "Let me know if you have more to report on him. But you have other concerns at the moment. When are you going to get the data from Dr. Martel?"

"I'll be ready within the hour, boss," said Shepard. "I need Macmillan though. And Sepia too."

"I'll send them to you shortly," she said. "Be careful. Sepia's not the only Spartan in Thebes."

Iris cut the transmission and switched channels to contact Macmillan. "Macmillan. Get Sepia and meet the Reaper at safehouse 5-24 in the lower districts."

"Got it, boss."

"I might be elsewhere when you return. So if things get messy after the summit, get out of sight. I'll be able to find you again."

"Alright. Good luck, boss."

"And to you too."

Iris returned her attention to the screens, now down to only two plausible answers to the dogfight that the Syndicate had gotten caught up in. She would have to wait until after the summit to be sure of anything, but until then, there were several things she was certain of. May as well do what I can for now, while I still have the element of surprise...

She pulled up a list of contacts on one of the screens, and flipped through it until she found the name she was looking for. She brought her self-designed secure COM transmitter system online and made a few adjustments until she had established a virtually undetectable connection with the person on the receiving end. "Good afternoon, Lieutenant Colonel Forenson."

She heard a slight grunt of surprise. "Who is this?"

"This is Iris Sabio from the Syndicate. I have some information that may be interesting to you."

"Hold on, how did you get a feed to my COM channels? Is anyone else listening?"

"No one. Let's just say there's someone in ONI that knows me. But I'm rather pressed for time, so you'll excuse me if I don't stop to chat. Since you're the one giving the orders on the UNSC's security detail, I thought it would be best to give you the intel you need so we can put out this fire we seem to have started."

There was a pause. "The Syndicate had provoked the attacks, Miss Sabio. You don't need to play stupid."

"You'll find that's not true, Colonel. I have strong reasons to believe there's someone...screwing with both sides, and I intend to deal with them. That will be easier if we work mutually, of course."

"Fine, whatever you say. Do you have a name for me?"

"Carlos Driscol. I'm sure your ONI friends will have the files you need on him. I still need to do a bit more digging, but I'll meet you during the summit and we'll exchange some intel. We'll try to sort this out without making a bigger mess, how does that sound?"

There was another pause on the other end. Slowly, Forenson said, "Alright, you've got a deal."

"I'll see you tomorrow then."

50px-Vena.png Sonasaurus | Talk Contribs


2.2

1345 Hours, July 15, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"All of them..."

Layla sat on a nearby wall, smiling sweetly as Alexander Redford paced up and down, figuring out what to do. With the trailer compromised, he'd ordered her to torch it with the bodies inside, along with the weapons. Our weapons, she thought. The old man, usually calm in the face of most situations, was furious.

"Well," he eventually said, his voice levelling out, "At least we're alive."

The Spartan nodded, not taking her eyes off the man she was supposed to protect. She still wasn't sure who the hell Redford was supposed to be, really. Every time she thought that she'd figured the venerable agent out, he went and did something new and surprising. Still, spending half a century pretending to be a hundred different people would do that to someone. At least she was direct about things: She was a Spartan, and she would kill you. End of story.

"So, what's the game plan?" she asked.

"Well, since we've lost most of our in-city agents, I'd say that we regroup with whatever UNSC or ONI forces we have in the city, and retaliate."

"Yeah, but we don't know who hit us, Red." She noticed no correction at this nickname. Strange.

"That's because you killed them all, Spartan. I'd assume that it was the Syndicate, of course, considering the fact that the attackers were using our guns, but something's not right about it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I was trying to get in with some known Syndicate contacts as they attacked you; small fries, but well connected. If they'd known about me and ONI, they would have tried to kill me."

It was always interesting to watch Redford think. She recalled reading his file not long ago, something that wasn't exactly permitted by command, and seeing the comments regarding his intelligence. The grumpy old man was just another cover for the genius killer. "Well then," she replied, getting down from the wall, helmet in hand, "Who else is there in Thebes?"

"That's the real question. The Syndicate are the most obvious candidate, but a little too obvious in my opinion. Plus, ONI weren't the only ones to get hit. Take a look at this."

Approaching Redford, Layla looked over at the screen of his computer to see hazy CCTV footage of what was unmistakably a massacre.

"Where's it from?"

"Police station, last night. A few more were wiped out, too."

"Was that the Syndicate, too?"

"No. Couldn't be, considering the police in Thebes are about as corrupt as they come. It was one man."

The footage stopped as an armoured figure turned round, coming into full view of a security camera. He was dressed in the familiar armour of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, with a white skull emblazoned over a dark visor. Redford glanced over at Layla, smiling at the look of shock evident on her face.

Thoughts came flooding back to her. Running, shouts behind. Gunfire and marching boots. Hiding from the hunters. Fear. Movement, pistol. Disarm and fight. Surrounded. Dead. Visor clear. Weapons down. Kind face, not right for a killer. Reassurance. Survival. Rescue.

"Friend of yours?" Redford whispered, malice in his voice as a prosthetic finger tapped against the screen. He seemed to be enjoying the sight of a Spartan looking surprised.

They're going to make us kill him.

-Brodie-001

2.3

0621 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Lower city, City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"Heavy security around Thebes Central has been causing traffic delays throughout downtown as Interspecies Union officials prepare to kick off the security summit, the IU's first since the conflict with the Path Walkers began over three years ago. Although all members of the IU will be represented here, the key participants all hail from either Sanghelios or the UEG and its affiliates. The summit will begin at noon and is expected to be in session for the next three days. We at the INN will be broadcasting coverage around the clock."

"Jonah," Mordred said, reclining on the motel bed's creaking mattress. "Shut that off."

"Sure, boss," Jonah said, killing the radio channel. "But don't you want to keep track of the summit?"

Mordred stared up at the mildew-infested ceiling and hoped he didn't catch any diseases from the bed's suspiciously grimy sheets. "A bunch of politicians blowing hot wind around to hear themselves talk. If anything really important happens, Driscoll will let me know."

He closed his eyes, surprised at how calm he felt given the circumstances. Everything had gone right so far, at least as far as he knew, but there was plenty of time for everything to go to hell now. The Syndicate had been hindered but not crippled, and until it was de-fanged it would still chew up and spit out anyone it caught trying to fight against its criminal monopoly. There could be no mistakes here--or anywhere else.

"Keep watch," he told Jonah. "Check through our equipment while your at it, and wake me up if anyone calls. Mitchell can take it easy for a while, too. He's earned it."

"Got it, boss. When should we switch off?"

Mordred was already feeling his breathing slow. He needed this rest now, more than ever. The most dangerous stage of the game was yet to come. Driscoll and the Minutemen would keep moving, of course, but the Syndicate knew it was under attack now, as did the UNSC. And there was Makosky to deal with as well. Thebes was about to turn into an all-out war zone.

"Give me three hours," he said, falling back into the echoing darkness of his mind. "Then you can take a break..."


0956 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Unmapped Syndicate safehouse, City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"Turner came through," Shepard said, slipping into the dull-grey uniform of a Thebes Central maintenance employee. "Diana's getting the IDs he sent us finalized right now."

"He's even helping us get weapons inside," Nimue agreed, adjusting the collar of her own uniform and indicating the small arsenal of compact weapons and equipment spread out on one of the safehouse's few cleared surfaces.

"It helps when the Syndicate's got the city administration in its pocket." Every time Shepard's conscious troubled him about working with self-serving scum like Sabio and Turner, he reminded himself how useful it was to have the criminal empire's resources at his disposal. "We just need to worry about the UEG security detail, but Turner said he could get us in without putting us through too many checkpoints."

Nimue nodded, already busy with a pre-check on their gear. Shepard glanced over at two small chatters: one for him and one for Nimue. They'd been uploaded with all the information they needed, including a floor plan of Thebes Central and the data on Stel 'Vadam. The trick wasn't smuggling themselves in, but taking down the hinge-head and getting him away without causing a commotion. In the worst scenario, they would just kill Stel and cut their losses, but as long as there was a chance Shepard could wring the split-face about force deployments or planetary defenses, he'd take the risks involved with getting him out alive.

Diana flashed up on a holopad. "IDs are ready," she announced. "Ready to go storm the summit, you two intrepid adventurers?"

"It'll be a quiet storming," Shepard noted. "If the Syndicate finds out that the two of us are after Stel 'Vadam, they might just cut us loose."

"Oh, our friend Iris knows all about your hobby," Diana said flippantly. "Though I don't think she'd take too kindly to you disrupting a summit that's looking like it'll make the Syndicate quite a bit of money."

Shepard had long ago reconciled himself to how few people would ever truly appreciate the nature of his work. Sabio dealt with and tolerated the lowest, most disgusting perverts and psychopaths the underworld had to offer. No doubt she thought he was just another one of her useful sadists. Still, now was not the time to alienate her or the rest of the Syndicate. "We'll watch our step."

He nodded to Nimue, who passed him a sidearm and a load-bearing combat harness, which he slid under his maintenance jumpsuit. "We've got two hours till this thing starts. Let's get over to Turner's RV point. I don't want his man leaving without us."


And AD is officially off hiatus. This next stage of the game will focus on the summit, so people with characters involved in it should get them over to Thebes Central in the next couple days. The turf war is still going on, so characters with no business at the summit should still be focused on that. Contact me if you have any comments or concerns.

2.4

1154 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

A myriad of conversations echoed loudly under the conference chamber's high ceiling. Marine guards checked passes, retinues displayed their respective masters' power, and news reporters were getting their last monologues in before silence was required, having been largely ignored by the representatives trickling in since they began shouting questions over one another. Only the Sangheili had yet to arrive, the last despite being practically half the reason this summit had been called, but as a race led by their most revered warriors, no one had felt the need to rush them.

Even the Jackal Shipmistress had seen fit to arrive on time, Stephen noted as he leaned against the side of the central pit, disheveling the fresh press on his suit. Speaking privately with Admiral Gering on the far side of the room from Leibowitz, Chur'R-Ren had her head bowed sanguinely in polite respect under the weight of a gold tiara fitted with semi-precious blue stones fitted around the rigid plates on her head. Surprisingly, she'd been the most convivial among the representatives, taking the time to warmly greet even Leibowitz and brooch a subject that would interest them, in his case colonial trade. Ren was clothed in white garments that seemed to play off a rising Inner Colony fashion, and seemed to have applied something to her scaly skin to make it appear smooth, and paler, no doubt to appeal to the human hosts of this summit. She was clever, but that was what gave it away to Stephen: she was trying too hard.

The Kig-Yar were nothing if not cunning, and though they couldn't have seen much value in what the summit would decide, their attendance was something else entirely. Each of the others represented factions with power in some form, and everything Ren had talked about was a potential deal in the making. She was here to advance the interests of the small Kig-Yar flotilla that'd made a treaty with the IU in any way she could, and everything from her makeup to the gold plating on the plasma pistols and ceremonial daggers her pair of guards carried made up the advertisement.

On the far end of the spectrum was the Huragok "ambassador," whom Dockson had told him was named Well Balanced. The bio-luminescent pink-and-blue gasbag had promptly ignored Ren's accosting of it and floated over to the table, dismantling the holo-projection system until Chairman Locke and a pair of ODSTs with security had kindly explained that it shouldn't touch that. From there, it had floated in place over its assigned chair and darted its serpentine head back and forth, while the Marine tech Dubbo tried to figure out how to put the holo system back together. It seemed disinterested in the talking aliens, but was by no means dull-eyed. An earnest spark of curiosity shone within each of those six black pools, taking in every detail of the architecture and lighting in a way that Stephen thought was almost childlike.

Seated beside it on a specially-crafted chair was the member of the other species Stephen thought of as most alien. Skak'ti, the Evaniptus representative, was unique in having come completely alone. Even the Huragok had allowed itself to be escorted by a human guide, but he or she—Stephen still wasn't sure whether this Evaniptus was masculine or feminine, or had genders at all—had declined to be accompanied by anyone. One of the reporters near him had posed the question of why only one individual had been sent, but Stephen had a theory. The Evaniptii shared a sort of hive-mind they called "the Overwealth," and given what one of them could experience, all the others could as well, they didn't see it necessary to send more than one envoy. Still, they had enough individual identity for personal names, and from what Dockson had learned, Skak'ti's mottled green skin and broad arms which Stephen had at first taken to be wings meant he or she had come from a genetic strain of the highly-adaptable race that had existed for so long they were practically a sub-species.

On the Huragok's other side was Timp. Since he'd arrived, the diminutive Unggoy Deacon had stuck close to Well Balanced, seeming most comfortable around the species who'd shared the lowest position in the Covenant hierarchy with his own people. Instead of a bulky, armored methane rig, an ornate mask was connected to a simple breathing apparatus hidden beneath the colorful robes overlying his chitinous, blue-grey skin. Despite breaking away from the religiously fanatical Covenant, the Unggoy still gave some of their highest leaders the title of Deacon, having long been associated as the most learned and virtuous point on the ladder one of them could reach. He was sweating, and not just because he had evolved to live on a frigid homeworld. This had unexpectedly become his first appointment; leaders among the Unggoy were usually the oldest of a short-lived race, and constantly in need of replacement. Timp had probably been the only one not to see coming his predecessor's death of natural causes.

Stephen, however, was one of four humans who would have a seat at the table. Each of the IU's species were supposed to be represented equally, and their interests would be, but the UEG and Sangheili were deeply invested in what this summit would decide, while the others lacked either the compulsion or capability to take part in a war with the Path Walkers. Thus, Fleet Admiral Andrew Gering had been called upon to attend. If the UNSC could be led by one man, Admiral Gering was the one generally everyone looked to. While there was no offense meant to the other service branches by having the Navy man appear as humanity's premier military adviser in the IU, he had been the clear choice. His grayed hair was combed, no longer hidden by the cap of his dress blue uniform that was held under his arm. Well-worn lines of age were carved into his stern features, but the blue eyes inset within were contemplative, and it was his calm demeanor more than his appearance that gave the impression of a wise old commander that had made him so trusted in the eyes of the public.

Then of course, there was Chairman Locke. The UEG's commander-in-chief had his hair dyed to what had once been its natural black and swept back as neatly as his suit. He'd sufficiently played the part of host so far, keeping up appearances by greeting ambassadors and important spectators as they arrived, and Stephen had spent the whole hour since he'd arrived trying to avoid him. Fortunately, he didn't have much of an appearance he needed to keep up, and stood out of the way next to Agent Aagard while Ariadne talked with Dr. Thomas Martel, the fourth UEG delegate, nearby. Martel was a military scientist, which made Stephen the odd man out as what seemed like the token civilian. He suspected this had been Locke's idea, to use him as a straw man. Stephen had been first in line in the past to point out the faults in Locke's policies, not having much to lose by disagreeing with his moral compromises, but not today. He wasn't going to be baited into being used.

"Isn't every day you see something like that." Viktor remarked, wearing the inscrutable smile he'd had on when Stephen first met him.

Stephen looked up. "Yeah, the turnout's kinda disappointing, though. It looks like no one but us and the Sangheili are taking the IU seriously."

"Not that. Anytime I want to see a bunch of aliens, I'll watch the news." Aagard said, nodding up into the rows of seats above them. "Them."

Stephen followed his indication, and among the darkened seats spotted the same two massive figures he'd seen before. One was Martel's personal bodyguard, and the other one of the heads of security for the summit: both Spartans, wearing imposing suits of powered metal armor. From the snippets of their conversation he'd overheard, the two were old friends from some particular group, and were catching up by swapping war stories and discussing the summit. For all the legends and ghost stories he'd heard about them, they sounded surprisingly normal for the time being.

He turned his back to the wall to lean comfortably again. "Yeah."

Viktor held a hand to his earpiece and listened intently. Looking up again, he nodded in confirmation of something and said, "Getting to be about that time. Better find your seat." He clapped Stephen on the shoulder and walked away, motioning for Ariadne to join him in the first-row seating closest to the central table, reserved for the ambassadors' retinues. Leaving the wall, Stephen found himself walking parallel with Doctor Martel.

Glancing over his shoulder, Stephen asked, "You wondering why she's here, too?"

"Not at all." Martel replied. "I was the one who requested she attend."

"Oh." Stephen decided this just might be the point to give up on talking all together. Just as he and Martel were taking their seats, the sound of the chamber's heavy doors opening caused a lull in the crowd's drone. Stepping in unbowed under the intentionally tall doorframe were the tall, digitigrade forms of the Sangheili. All were clad in polished white, gold, and silver armor fit for a battlefield, their concept of aesthetic beauty synonymous with combat function. Four Ultras walked in a square around the three ambassadors, each with a gleaming silver sword hilt on their thigh. Although they were perhaps humanity's most trusted allies in the IU and the blades were ceremonial in nature, they were still a formidable threat. From the corner of his eye, Stephen noted the Spartans in the rows above had consciously or not let their hands drift nearer to the weapons on their magnetic strips.

The first, his leathery skin wrinkled by age, was Kaidon Trask T'ram, the venerable leader of a large clan on Sangheilios. On the far side was High Inquisitor Rorn 'Konar, an esteemed legislator who'd assisted in adapting the Elites' codes of law. And standing tallest in the center, Supreme Commander Stel 'Vadam himself. His sleek armor was painted a Sangheilian-blood purple, matching the casing of his cybernetic left arm, while a cape hung across the fabled commander's shoulder pauldrons. He stared straight ahead, walking straight to the table as the guards broke off and took his seat with the others, ready to attend to business without a moment wasted.

His stare remained expectantly upon Locke as the UEG chairman got to his place, along with Gering and Ren who'd also had yet to sit down. As the summit's host, Locke was expected to give a commencement speech that Stephen was not looking forward to. Gesturing behind him while Locke started looking through his papers, he called Dockson over from his seat.

"Dox, I've still got a bottle of Harvester in the room," he whispered, "I think I'll be needing it before the day's through."

Dockson rolled his eyes, but walked towards the doors to depart. Steven reclined in the marginally comfortable chair, resigning himself to sit through Locke's bluster, unaware of events that would unfold meanwhile.


1201 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

Getting in undetected had made for a satisfactory challenge. Not only were the renowned Helljumpers' 7th Battalion on security detail, with scanners and live human patrols, but a SPARTAN-III team was assisting them. That had been the detail to really interest Sepia.

She could see two of them from her position, on a balcony far overhead. If they were to look up, however, all they would see was the blinding spotlights she stood behind, hidden in plain sight by the sharp contrast of light and dark. Jun-A266 and Jackson-A104, if the Reaper's intel was solid. Both Alphas, the first class of Threes to be trained. Back when Ambrose had still been learning how to teach. At one time, they might've had the advantage of experience over her, but she'd left training twenty years ago. She had reason to be a little confident.

The Syndicate wanted her to kill off some minor bureaucrat as a way to get to another, moves in a larger game Sepia had little patience for. And a single assassination of someone so insignificant was a waste of her talents. But then the Reaper, another Syndicate agent, had called her to ask a favor: distract the Spartans guarding the summit. Though she could only guess at what his reasons for wanting them out of the way were, and the things he'd offered in return meant nothing, she'd readily agreed. Sepia wanted a real test to prove to herself she was still in fighting shape, and simply accepted the Reaper owing her one as payment. Her old team had often worked like that anyway.

Just as things were getting started down below, her target got up and left. That signaled to her that it was time to move. Leaving the balcony behind, Sepia checked the positions of security teams making patterned sweeps around the building. They were exactly where she'd expected. Walking down a hallway calmly in her more than suspicious SPI armor, she clicked a single button to send a pre-recorded message to Dockson's pager at the moment her mission timer read 1202.

The page would tell him to come to a particular place, unbeknownst to him in a restricted area. It would arouse the suspicion of Valor Team, and when one of them came to investigate, she would lead them straight down into the maintenance tunnels. Turning a corner a moment before a pair of ODSTs did, Sepia strode downstairs at a leisurely pace, slipping inside a hacked elevator and going down into the floor below. With the lights already out, she activated the SPI's VISR nightvision and settled in. It wouldn't be a long wait.

Dockson exited a stairwell door and hung close to the wall, calling out for whoever had summoned him. She could've reached out and broke his neck with a backhand, but waited very patiently. A ding sounded as the elevator returned to the basement, and as Dockson turned to look, Sepia lunged. She didn't even pay attention to the man she held up, dying with a knife in his back, and locked her SPI's visor onto that of the MJOLNIR-armored SPARTAN revealed as the elevator doors parted.

That Damn Sniper 02:20, February 26, 2013 (UTC)

2.5

1205 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

"Colonel, something's going on."

Stacker's voice sounded level, but there was clearly a note of tension to it. Without giving any sign that he was communicating over the COM, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Forenson spoke, his voice completely contained by his helmet. "You're going to have to be more specific, Sergeant."

"One of the civilians looked like he picked up a call and left three minutes ago."

Forenson didn't move a muscle, his eyes sweeping the conference chamber. There didn't seem to be anything out of place. "We have other things to keep an eye on, Pete." Normally he wouldn't doubt Stacker when the NCO deemed something important enough to inform him, but the summit had just begun and he didn't think he'd have to start prioritizing suspicious activity against security already.

But Stacker persisted. "One of the Spartans just left as well, I'm guessing to check on him. Sir, this could be important."

Forenson returned his gaze to Dr. Thomas Martel, who was sitting at the central table with only one of the two Alphas behind him now. "Yeah, I noticed that earlier." Had one of the Spartans really left because something was going on? There was no way to know, but it couldn't hurt to check if the missing civilian really was that important.

The Marine officer remembered that he had arranged a meeting with Iris Sabio during the summit. She hadn't been specific about the actual time, and he couldn't see her among the representatives in the conference chamber after having double and triple-checked. If something was going on, maybe she would know.

Forenson grimaced. I have to trust a criminal to sort this out? He didn't like it, but it was the best chance that he had. Checking to make sure Stacker was still on the line, the Colonel said, "Right, I'm going to investigate. Keep your eyes peeled, and inform Major Forge if you see any trouble."

"Yes, sir. Should I get a team to accompany you?"

"That's alright, Sergeant Major. Too conspicuous if someone is watching." Forenson ended the connection and turned and walked through the sliding doors, maintaining a casual walking speed but remaining alert as he stepped into the hallway, where two guards were standing outside.

The good thing about putting the entire unit in armour was that any potential hostiles would have trouble distinguishing high-ranking troopers from the rest. As he made a turn at an adjacent corridor and passed another patrolling ODST without a passing glance, Forenson made note of the exits to the tunnels where each faction's vehicles were parked. If someone was trying to keep the representatives trapped here, they would sabotage the vehicles or block off the exits. It was as good a place to start looking as any.

"Good day, Colonel."

Forenson had barely entered the corridor leading to the vehicle bay when he heard the voice from behind him. He drew his sidearm and spun around in one swift move, pointing the pistol at a young woman standing calmly behind him. Despite having never seen her face-to-face, he knew immediately who she was.

"Miss Sabio," Forenson said, lowering the gun. Iris' eyes moved to the weapon.

"You should be more cautious, Colonel Forenson," she said quietly. "You are the commanding officer of the military security here. And you don't know if I can be trusted."

"You're right, I don't," he replied. "Would you rather I hold you at gunpoint and bring you to an interrogation room instead?"

Iris smiled slightly. "Believe me, that wouldn't end well for either of us. I think we'd be better off talking in a more civilized manner. Come with me." She brushed past him, heading towards the vehicle bay. Forenson looked around to make sure there wasn't anyone else nearby before following.

"One thing I never liked about the UNSC," she said as he walked alongside her, "is that they see everyone as either a friend or an enemy. And their only solution to maintaining peace is to destroy the alleged enemies."

Forenson grunted. "What else would you suggest they—we do, Miss Sabio?"

"It's unethical to be so black-and-white when justice is decided by an authority power. Especially since ONI has more hypocrites than all the UNSC's 'enemies' put together." They entered the vehicle bay and she led him to a rather heavily armoured car with tinted-black windows. "Like I said, it's best we work together, and I'm willing to cooperate as long as you are." She opened the door, gesturing for him to enter.

He hesitated. He was aware that she could very easily kill him without a sound once the door on the car closed. Could this be a ploy to get him out of the way? Could he really trust her enough? Was it work the risk in exchange for the information he could get?

Iris noticed his uncertainty. "Colonel, I'm not going to say a word until I'm certain that we won't be overheard. You can turn around and return to the conference chamber if you want to be unprepared when our enemies move against us."

Is she manipulating me? She definitely was a hard one to read. Forenson took a deep breath and stepped into the car. She followed, closing the door.

He immediately checked to confirm that there wasn't anyone else in the car. It was very roomy and the seats were comfortable. A transparent wall between the front and the back seats was arrayed with a lot of expensive-looking equipment, only a few of which he could recognize.

Iris waited for him to finish studying the interior of the car before speaking. "So, care to tell me why you left the conference chamber? I wasn't expecting you to come looking for me when the summit just began."

"I'm looking for a missing civilian," Forenson said, deciding to be straight-up. "I'm pretty sure there's a Spartan trying to locate him as well."

"I see," she said, thinking quietly. After a few moments, she said, "I'm fairly certain you won't be seeing the civilian again. Not alive, at least."

The Marine officer frowned. "What are you up to?"

"We have more pressing concerns, Colonel. The missing civilian is simply a distraction. What I need is for you and your men to make sure this entire summit doesn't fall apart."

Forenson wanted to ask what the deal with the civilian was, but took note of the fact that Iris seemed a bit on edge despite her attempts to hide it. "That's why we're here. What do you need us for?"

"Because your ODSTs are the only ones with enough forces for my plan. And because the UNSC is going to be scrambling for their guns anyway if my theory is correct. I'd rather those guns be pointed at our enemies than at the Syndicate, and by tomorrow, so will you." She reached under the front seat and took out a datapad. "I've pinpointed the location of every Insurrection and Minuteman hideout in Thebes. Once my...assistant has completed her task, you should be able to follow her trail to one of the main hideouts. You will need to eliminate every hostile you encounter." She held out the datapad to him.

Forenson took it, staring at the screen even though it was off. "And what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to take out the perpetrator behind this commotion. These rebels are taking their orders from one General Adam Makosky. I don't know if he's not bothering to keep his head down or if he's just an idiot, but he's the one that set up his forces with the Minutemen and they're preparing to attack Thebes. It won't accomplish anything for him, of course, but he clearly doesn't know that. Unfortunately, he has enough men to make quite a mess and disrupt the summit. So if you could neutralize Makosky's ground teams and distract him long enough, I'll find him and make sure he doesn't cause any more trouble. Easy enough?"

He stared at her for a long time, trying to think of ulterior motives she could have. Whatever the missing civilian incident was all about, it definitely wasn't just to put him on the Insurrection's trail. But Iris was definitely being careful not to overturn the summit, so he couldn't see what she was after. But at the moment, the threat of a full-out rebel assault was far more concerning to him than a shifty benefactor who may or may not bite him in the ass later. Someone in ONI would know how to keep an eye on her, but I can't trust them right now. There's too much going on and I don't have time to figure out just how closely they're working with the Syndicate. I'm going to have to go with this for now.

Forenson placed the datapad into his armour's storage unit, and opened the door on his side. "Guess I won't be seeing you anytime soon."

She nodded. "Good luck, Colonel."

50px-Vena.png Sonasaurus | Talk Contribs

2.6

1224 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Warehouse District, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


Carlos Driscol stepped outside of the warehouse and into the sunlit yard, a hand raised over his eyes as the sun's glare hit him. He'd slept for a while after the events of last night, which had been an unprecedented success since he'd set up shop in Thebes. Sure, they'd taken a few losses, but the fighters were easily replaceable. Especially in this cesspool of a city, Driscol thought as he walked through the busy docks.

"Hey, boss!"

Driscol looked over. It was Travis, one of his lieutenants. He was a wily man with features that reminded him of a rodent, but he was smart enough to run things around here, which was saying something compared to most of the thugs he'd picked up.

"Some of our boys brought in a guy while you were sleeping. We're keeping him in 3-C for now."

"Any tags? ID?"

"Nope. Just a rifle, a combat knife, and a grenade belt." He held the last item up before Driscol, who took it gingerly. This was definitely military grade stuff. He passed the grenade belt back to Travis. He'd hated the damn things since one had blown his leg off a few years back in a rather sticky engagement.

"Take me to him."

The pair walked past the Minuteman warehouses, Driscol keeping an eye on his men loading crates full of various goods; most of it was stolen, or illegal. They were certainly making a lucrative trade on the black market. Eventually, they came to a steel door, flanked by a pair of burly guards. They nodded to their leader as they walked inside. A chill swept over the old man, who immediately wished he'd brought his coat.

"You stuck him in the meat locker?"

"Guys are more inclined to talk if their balls turn black and drop off, boss."

Both men laughed as they strode through the warehouse, around the many hanging animal carcasses waiting to be delivered, until they came to a cleared-out area, and a man in a tattered uniform tied to a chair.

"Wakey wakey," Travis whispered, and gave the man a sharp slap across the face. He jerked awake, swearing at his captor before shaking his head and glaring at Driscol in silence.

"Right, lets get this shit over with." Driscol lit a cigarette. "I want a name, who you work for, why you're here, and any other info you might have. Now."

Silence.

Looking from the prisoner to Driscol, Travis grimaced and pulled out what appeared to be a hammer from his bag, before advancing. Before he could raise it, the old man put a hand on his shoulder.

"Give him a moment, Travis."

"But boss-"

"Look, I know how torture works, kid. You smash a guys legs, cut off his fingers and turn his balls into a necklace, and he'll tell you he's been banging a Split-Lip and is secretly head of ONI just to make the pain stop. I want information."

"Right."

Driscol crouched, coming to eye level with their captive. His pale, bruised face contorted into a scowl as the Minuteman leader leered at him, attempting what he thought was a friendly smile.

"If you want to live, you'll tell us," he said, his voice level.

The man looked down for a second, contemplating his actions. "McClusky, G. Lieutenant."

Okay, we're going to play it this way. Driscol paced around the man, looking at his uniform. It definitely wasn't from the UNSC. The man had the look of a hardened soldier, but hadn't read out any particular service number or identification. Realisation dawned on him.

"You're working for Makosky?!" Driscol roared with laughter, clapping his hands as he did so. "I never thought the old bastard had it in him to send an assassin." By the look on his captive's face, he had been right on the money with that one.

"Well then, why did Mr. Batshit Crazy send you in after me then? Talk."

McClusky sighed, and spoke, utter contempt in his voice. "General Makosky wanted to take your operation since you've been so uncooperative, Driscol. You betrayed the United Rebel Front."

"Betrayed them?" Driscol was astounded at this man's stupidity. "For all their talk of unity, brotherhood, and all that shit, where were they when I needed them? Thirteen years in some floating prison until I got out. They're nothing any more. Anyone who actually stood for anything in your stupid Insurrection is either dead, or they've adapted."

McClusky sneered at his words. Bad move.

"So!" Driscol lunged forward, and planted his cigar right into McClusky's eye, "Don't talk to me about betrayal and honour. These days, its about survival, you arrogant little shit!"

Travis edged up to him, evidently scared. Driscol knew he'd gone a little overboard there, and breathed heavily as McClusky groaned in pain. If delusional bastards like Makosky were sending ignorant kids after him, then fine.

"Uh, boss?"

"What?"

"He had a list on him, too."

"So?"

"That's all he had. Might want to take a look at it."

Driscol snatched it from the man's hands, and walked towards his prisoner. Without hesitating, he stomped his robotic foot down on the man's groin, and dragged McClusky's face up to see his.

"Makosky and the URF are dead. We're going to run the oonskies, the Syndicate, and every other pissant group out of town. You're just another body among the foundations."

Turning to Travis, he took the grenade belt, took one of the pins out, and slid it across the warehouse floor towards their prisoner. He ran, his terrified Lieutenant in tow, and exited just as a deafening explosion rocked the warehouse. Driscol glanced at the two guards.

"Clean that up," he gestured inside, before walking back towards his office, lighting another cigarette as he did so. Time to take a look at Makosky's shit-list... He wasn't surprised to see his own name on there. 'Cavorel' was one he recognised, and had been crossed out already. There were a few more as he scrolled through. MacMillan, Lebowitz, Mitchell...

Mitchell.

Just when his day couldn't get any shittier.

-Brodie-001

2.7

1231 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Outside Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

“Take twenty-three steps southeast and turn right, step behind the Olifant,” said Shepard’s voice in MacMillan’s earpiece.

MacMillan was fairly sure that he could already be seen if he was receiving instructions this specific, so he made no reply. He slowly and cautiously extended his hand to his thigh plate, grasping his silenced submachine gun. His face obscured by his helmet, the mercenary made his way in the indicated direction and came to a stop in front of the garbage disposal vehicle, side-stepping around it casually.

Lying slumped against the Olifant was the body of a deceased ODST. Shepard’s handiwork, naturally, and Gray lowered himself to one knee. Taking a quick peek around the corner to see if there were any mooks coming by to stop him short, he quickly yet methodically started unfastening the ODST’s armour.

MacMillan fiddled a bit with the helmet before moving on, clutching his SMG with both hands. As he stooped to pick up the dead trooper, he noticed a datapad lying underneath the corpse.

“That’s the info you need to get the data,” said Shepard. “Courtesy of your boss, Miss Sabio.”

Gray tilted his head towards the right as he noticed the pad, reaching down and clutching it with his free hand. He brought the small device toward his face and analyzed it closely. His eyes slowly widened as he noticed it was a layout of the entire Parliamentary building with two coloured lines connected to each other, as well as a readout of what looked like a lounge room.

“Follow the orange line so you’ll look like you’re doing your rounds,” said Shepard. “Once you reach the blue line, you should be clear to head for Dr. Martel’s quarters. Move as fast as you can when you move off your patrol route.”

“Making my way inside now,” Grayson said, storing away the datapad and making his way around the corner.

All seemed quiet as he made his way inside the Parliamentary building. He flashed a sideward glance towards one of the ODSTs inside the lobby, but did not dare hold the look should he break his cover. Gray straightened his posture and proceeded on the route that he had memorized from the datapad. Once he had marched his way out of sight, he picked up his pace, moving as fast as he could without arousing suspicion. There could be surveillance anywhere.

A few minutes later, Gray reached the spot where he could break from the patrol route and head for Dr. Martel’s quarters. The disguised merc peered behind himself for a brief moment before he had stopped right outside. Despite being a hardened mercenary, Gray shifted uneasily before knocking on the door, knowing who was behind it. And surely enough, the door slid open and he found himself staring up at a green-armoured, six foot eleven giant. Nonetheless, Mac kept his cool, making sure his voice sounded urgent but level.

“Spartan, I’ve found a civilian’s body in the basement! His ID checks out as Dockson, does the name sound familiar?”

Jun mulled it over, his eyes fixed on Grayson. “Have you informed your Colonel?”

“Yeah, he told me to leave the body there until we can get a proper investigation going. He said something about not wanting to disrupt the summit...” Grayson shifted the tone of his voice in a most convincing manner. “He wants you to go check it out though. He said the other Spartan has disappeared somewhere and we can’t get ahold of him.”

Jun hesitated, looking over his shoulder to Dr. Martel, who was sitting behind the data terminal but was now staring at them curiously. Gray decided to play on the Spartan’s urgency a little. “I have to go, the Colonel wants me with a team and find out what the hell is going on. Good luck, Spartan.”

“I...” Jun didn’t get the chance to say more as the mercenary dashed down the hallway, disappearing around the corner. He turned back to look at Dr. Martel. “Tom, are you going to be alright?”

“I’ll be fine,” the old doctor said. “Be careful though, Jun. Something’s definitely going on.”

Jun nodded. “I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He grabbed a pistol off the nearby table and stepped out into the hallway. He locked the doors and ran off, in the opposite direction Gray had gone.

Grayson waited until the Spartan’s footsteps faded away before turning back around the corner, and approached the doors again. He reached into his armour’s storage and pulled out an electromagnetic pulse charge, setting it down near the door. Gray looked behind himself again and quickly made his way outside the range of the device. Though the pulse was not large or noisy enough to attract attention, the charge fired in a blue flash, disabling all electronics inside the lounge and shorting out a number of major components in the door’s circuits.

MacMillan hurriedly moved to get the door open, well aware that Dr. Martel had probably heard the commotion but knowing that he now had no way of calling for help. Being very experienced in breaking and entering, he got the damaged door open in seconds, and he strode with his submachine gun raised toward the baffled Dr. Martel. The mercenary’s finger trailed around the trigger and he narrowed his eyes with a menacing intent, concealed by the visor of his helmet.

“I think you know what I’m here for, doctor,” Mac grunted, coldly.

“I’m not going to tell you where the data is,” Dr. Martel replied calmly. “Shoot me if you want, but I won’t say a word.”

With his SMG still pointed at the doctor, Gray shoved his free hand into the armour’s storage and dug out the datapad. Leisurely glancing at the screen, Gray fired several silenced rounds into the floorboards beside the bed without averting his gaze. The expensive-looking wooden boards (possibly 21st-century design) splintered and shattered apart, revealing a solid stone hollow underneath. It was empty.

“You’re not going to find it,” said Dr. Martel quietly. Gray ignored him and strolled over to the hollow space, planting his armoured boot on the surface.

“I know a red herring when I see one, doctor,” the mercenary said, cracking apart the stone to reveal that it was a plate, underneath it resting a jet-black case with a miniature screen and lock on it. He picked it up and inspected it, confirming that it seemed unaffected by his EMP charge. Must be something really valuable inside. Like that data chip.

Allowing himself a cold smile, Gray picked up the obsidian case and placed it in storage along with the datapad, before returning outside, shoving the still-disabled door back into place. He won’t be getting that door open on his own. He could have shot the doctor then and there, but then the other summit members would question his absence when they returned to the conference chamber. The mercenary had taken enough jobs to know that the last thing Dr. Martel would want was to start a panic by letting everyone know that the data was missing. This should buy me some time at least.

Without wasting a second, Martel hurried over to his data terminal as quickly as his aging body would allow, fumbling around for the spare circuits he kept in the room. With an effort, Martel eventually found several spare circuits he kept in a black box and started replacing the ones Grayson had fried in the data terminal. If he could make repairs quickly enough and bring the terminal back online, he could activate the fail-safe in the case that would destroy the volatile chip. Once that was dealt with, he could contact Jun and figure out what to do next.

Grayson waited until he had cleared the Parliamentary building before contacting Shepard. “I’ve got the data. It’s locked up tight though, so I’m going to take it back to the safe house.”

“Good,” Shepard replied. “Constance can get it open for you, but step on it. Knowing Martel, that thing probably has a fail-safe on it.”

“See you back at the safe house then.”

“Yeah. And MacMillan?”

“What?”

“Don’t lose that data.”

“I don’t have a reputation for being unreliable, Reaper. See you soon.”

Stel goldenzealot Don't touch anything. Move along, citizen.

2.8

1201 Hours, July 16, 2574 [30 minutes ago]

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system

Jun and Jackson both peered down into the crowd of hundreds, most seated in luxurious chairs while others seized the opportunity to either gossip or conspire against people in the room. Jackson had the equally split Valor Team into two on each side in the case of an emergency but the city of Thebes seemed like a place that happily embraces sin, even to a Spartan. Jun reached over his shoulder, grabbed the barrel of his sniper and laid it by the railing, in the case someone snatched it, before leaning on it himself.

"Big crowd." he said, joining in Jackson's mental evaluation of the political leaders of alien races.

"Big crowd." Jackson noticed the slight increase of volume from the crowd and the attention paid towards the entrance. Slowly, people got up and stood for awkward seconds attempting to get a glimpse of comes through that door.

"Trying the find the people of interest? Sorry, spotted all of them as soon as they walked through the door." Jun remarked.

"If I'm not misinformed, I'm pretty sure an military officer can recognize whether or not someone is important." he replied.

"Don't get smart." Jun nor Jackson knew how to start a conversation. The silence between them was a language barrier. The two spent most of their childhood together but every Spartan never understood the life of their peers. It was the one locked area that a Spartan could break into. Questions entered Jackson's mind but refused to let them spill, should they sound rude or invading.

The commotion below grew louder and every man and woman stood to take a peek through the entrance. Their curiosity took Jun and Jackson as they had their eyes draw on the two massive doors: three gargantuan Sangheili walked into the chamber, all sheathed in alien beauty and glory. They all ignored the deathly stares of the other humans and extra-terrestrial creatures. At the corner of his eye, Jackson noticed Valor team uncomfortably eying Stel 'Vadam. Even Jackson noticed Jun slightly tilting his foot to the butt of his rifle.

"Stel 'Vadam. The most precious and inglorious SOB in the entirety of Sangheilios." Jun said. Jackson took a full view of his Spartans, now all holding a part of their weapon in some shape or form.

"So I've noticed. Even you look a bit rattled."

"I am. I've never met this guy in my life but he does seem quite self-conscious about his dress to the prom." Jackson chuckled. The Sangheili on Vadam's left took a glance on his side of the chamber and observed the Spartans watching him. To avoid provoking hostility, Jackson let out one of the questions that laid in his mind.

"You talk about Reach often?" Jackson asked. Jun looked away and sighed, as if he became bored of the topic years ago.

"No. I don't like giving history lessons. Reach was long ago and right now I'm happy I don't have to live through it a dozen times over."

"I know. I read the report. What happened to Noble. Quite tragic."

"I didn't even get to say goodbye to Emile and the new guy. How about that?" Jun attempted to liven up the nature of the conversation despite being the one in which the topic was being aimed at.

"Emile was a friend of mine."

"Oh." Jun looked disturbed himself but was thankful to have kept his helmet on from Jackson's almost blank eyes. The conversation was off, both equally bothered with memories and past happenings. Down below the balcony, Jackson noticed a within a wide open space unnoticed by the other politicians a civilian carelessly walking into the maintenance tunnel under the chamber. Jackson reached for his helmet by his foot, placed it on his head perfectly and quickly laying his hand on Jun's shoulder before leaving. "There's a civilian going into the maintenance tunnels down below. I'll check it out."

"Is it really that big of a deal?" Jun replied.

"If it involves assassinating any of the ambassadors; it's a problem." Jackson turned towards Santos on the next balcony and gestured ease before returning to his curiosity. The Spartan moved quickly in the elevator and pressed the button to the tunnels. The elevator started moving conspicuously fast, probably because of the sheer weight of MJOLNIR armour. While waiting, Jackson tapped a tiny panel at the temple of his helmet which activated his Heads Up Display. He held his hand firmly on his pistol and kept watch of the floor numbers as they descended. This is a tall building he thought as the numbers transitioned by two. Suddenly, the elevator stopped hard and almost pushed Jackson to his knees. The lights turned red, the levels stopped at fourteen and the screen above the level numbers contained the basic shape of the building's 'dumb' AI.

"I am sorry but there appears to be a power failure from underground levels fourteen to one. Please wait for further instructions. The AI's message repeated in an annoying manner as Jackson stood stoically in the elevator contemplating about his next move. Then, The dumb AI stopped. A new gadget integrated in his armour turned on, one he once though useless and almost forgot about: an large red 'X' appeared on his motion tracker a mere few meters away below him. The AI spoke again after a second. Casualty on level four-. The accompanying voice deepened before shorting out. Jackson tightened his grip on his pistol and pulled it from its magnetic hold and pulled the left side of the door with his free hand. It took a while for Jackson to get a proper hold but the split between the doors eventually fitted his fingers and opened and obeyed to his strength. The red light from the elevator illuminated the dark in front of him but the only things in the light was a dead man, the same civilian that entered the area and an figure clad in a strangely familiar armour. Its feminine shape glared at the blood-lit Jackson in a seeming awe. The Spartan was temporarily aghast by the sight but his mtru senses kicked in.

His helmet's flashlight turned on and his pistol was already aimed. The figure turned the civilian between Jackson and herself; the magnum's bullets pierced the corpse's chest and left the assassin unscathed. The clip became empty and forced Jackson to take care of the situation with his fists. Jackson, quickly slamming his pistol to his thigh, caught the civilian as the other pushed it onto him as an attempt to escape into the darkness. Jackson laid the body by the side and activated his COM.

"Control, lockdown sector twenty-eight of underground level fourteen. And turn on the lights, if you may. Within nanoseconds, the echoing sound of bulkheads slamming synchronized with the emergency lights switching on and a foot to the face. The Spartan slid back into the elevator with a cracked visor and the accompanying assassin laying alert on his chest; the figure wasn't big, only two heads shorter than Jackson himself. He grabbed her boots and flung her back above him before smacking his boots into her abdomen with the full power of his torso down. His HUD's briefly let him see through the mirrored visor of his opponent's helmet, and saw a woman's face framed by locks of dark hair. Then something changed, and she was hidden again by reflective gold. She adapted from her flight and landed on her knees while clutching her waist. Both Spartans rushed at each other in a fueled frenzy; the rogue dashing out jabs all over the exposed parts of Jackson's suit as he attempted to block them with his forearms.

He didn't know what this enemy was capable of, but he assumed that her skills didn't originate from the UNSC. She sought to finish off her combo with a concentrated blow into his deltoid, only to be misdirected by his radius, elbowed in the chin and slammed into the wall with a whack from the side of Jackson's fist. She landed into two large pipes outlining the walls and turned her back to the wall to face the larger opponent. Jackson ran into her knee and pushed it away, attempting to restrain her arms from reaching her sidearm. She moved her unrestricted elbows to her chest and aimed at Jackson's lumbars: Gah! Jackson backed off holding his sides from his aching soft spots. She unsheathed her combat knife and slashed upwards of Jackson's neck; only managing to disconnect his helmet from his undersuit.

Jackson wrapped his left arm on her left. She adjusted the knife to her palm and just nearly sliced above the Jackson's tendon. The Spartan let out an audible gasp and narrowed and tightened his arm, dropping her knife and nearly breaking her arm. He spun his opponent to his right, stomped on her popliteal fossa and smashing her helmet with his whole hand, his left arm constricting her arms and foot sternly crushing her leg. Jackson slid a clip into his pistol and aimed it through her destroyed helmet onto her bare skin.

"Let's talk."

Nanosoldier

2.9

1232 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"We're close." Shepard hefted the duffel he'd picked up from Turner's bodyguard and nodded to Nimue. They meandered across the luxuriously carpeted hallway looking like nothing more than two janitorial staff on their way to fix a clogged toilet. "The hinge-head section is just up ahead."

Nimue nodded. She wore a tracksuit over her maintenance uniform, concealing the combat harness underneath. Their equipment wasn't ideal for this sort of operation; Shepard would not risk jeopardizing the summit and alienating the Syndicate, which meant their arms were limited to light, silenced weapons and covert EMP bombs. Not that having Diana in the system wasn't a formidable asset in and of itself.

Shepard was still buzzing with success from Macmillian's last report. He hadn't been sure the mercenary could pull off the theft, but things had turned out just as planned. He wouldn't underestimate the man again.

We have the data. That's the primary objective completed right there. All I need now is Stel 'Vadam and I'll have a link to the most powerful family on Sanghelios. Forking over data on the Knight experiments was barely a price at all, when he came right down to it. He despised the Syndicate for its corruption, but at least it could be trusted to make some good come of that data. Anything that made humanity stronger was a victory in the end.

They approached the doors leading to the Sangheili wing. Any cameras that might have alerted security to their unauthorized entry were rendered useless by Diana. Any locks that might have prevented them from entering folded under her infiltration. Shepard stopped just beside the door and let the duffel fall to the ground. Inside was a combat harness for himself along with two silenced submachine guns, a pistol, and several EMP charges. Nimue stood guard as he shrugged into the harness, strapping the charges to its frame and readying the pistol and SMG.

Diana's voice buzzed in his ear. "Hey, oh man of the hour, we've got a bit of a problem."

Shepard had been expecting something to come up, but the smooth capture of the data had made him complacent. He scowled and glanced back down the hallway. "What's wrong? Are the hinge-heads onto us? Is Macmillian in trouble?"

"Not him," she replied. "It's Sepia. Your latest pet psychopath. The distraction worked, but now she's in trouble. The Spartan kind of trouble."

"Damn it." If Shepard had underestimated Macmillian, he'd overestimated Sepia. He'd counted on the Gamma's ability to take care of herself. "What's her situation?"

"At gunpoint." If Diana's hologram had been around, she would have shrugged. "About to be captured. And here I thought the meatbag would be good for more besides a distraction."

Shepard looked back at the door leading to the Sangheili wing. He should press on. Sepia was the Syndicate's tool, not his. She'd chosen her path. But something stirred at the corner of his mind, something that stretched beyond his current task. He thought of his friends from Alpha Company lying where they died on a frozen, forgotten asteroid. He thought of poor G294, lying bound and beaten in an insurrectionist cell with his eye gouged out. No matter where they wound up, Spartans were still Spartans. He couldn't leave any more of them behind.

"Nimue," he said, looking over at his accomplice. "Get over to Sepia's location. Help her get out of there."

She raised an eyebrow and indicated her concealed weapons. "I'm not equipped to handle Spartans."

"Don't handle them, just give Sepia an opening. Diana, forget what I said about holding a low profile. Do whatever you can to keep them occupied."

"Fine by me," the AI replied. "All this sneaking around was getting boring. Time to make this building mine."

Shepard felt sorry for whatever intelligence program was supposed to be maintaining this network. When Diana cut loose, she showed no mercy. "And be ready to cover for me. I'm going in after Vadam."

"By yourself?" Diana laughed. "This is why I chose you."

Shepard looked for Nimue, but she was already gone. She'd even taken the submachine gun and several more EMP charges when he wasn't looking. It would be dangerous without her backup, but Shepard knew a thing or two about killing hinge-heads. He reached into the duffel and pulled out two small canisters, which he hooked onto his combat harness. Time to finish this job.

Shepard recognized the armored guards who covered the hallway. Sangheili Ultras, the best protection the hinge-heads could provide. They noticed his approach and raised their weapons, alarmed at the sight of a lone, armed human. He flicked the SMG's safety off and reached for his combat harness. "Diana?"

"They're jammed," she replied. Nothing's getting out of this hallway unless I want it to. And I've taken care of the doors as well. Now, run along and play."

"Gladly." Shepard sprang into motion, his augmented muscles propelling him down the hall faster than either of the Ultras could have anticipated. His first EMP charge sailed down the hallway and detonated between the two warriors in a burst of azure light. The Ultras' shields flickered, not entirely dead. The charge had done its work, though. Their plasma repeaters whined and refused to fire, venting plasma steam as their backup generators kicked in.

Shepard didn't give them the chance. His SMG was up and firing, punching through the weakened shields with short, controlled bursts. The Ultras snarled and twitched as rounds punched through their unarmored throats and sent them toppling to the ground. One died instantly. The second had only a brief moment to stare up in shock at the unarmored human that had killed it. Shepard drew his pistol and finished it off as he stepped over the corpses.

"Diana," he said, kneeling down and plugging a small universal data jack into one of the dead warriors' helmets. "How many more out here?"

"None in the hallway. There's three more in the next room, along with a few civilians. Probably aides to their delegation."

"You say civilians?" Shepard asked, straightening. "Hinge-heads? Or human staff?"

"There aren't any humans in this wing," Diana replied. "Yourself excluded, of course."

The SMG came up. "Perfect. Let me in."

The door the Ultras had been guarding clicked and slid open. Shepard was already moving, unfastening one of his special canisters and hurling it into the room beyond. There were surprised snarls from the hinge-heads inside, followed by yelps as two more EMP charges tumbled in after the canister. Shepard braced himself behind the door as the charges went off, waiting patiently as the yelps turned to shrieks and moans.

An Ultra staggered from the room, any poise it might have once held gone. It stumbled past Shepard, clawing at its throat and vomiting uncontrollably onto the carpet. Someone was going to have a hell of a time cleaning that up, Shepard noted dryly.

"You're stronger than most," he said aloud. The warrior probably didn't even hear him, lost in its own panicked convulsions. Shepard raised his pistol and fired once into the Ultra's neck. The warrior joined its brethren on the floor.

Shepard swept the room as he entered. Nearly a dozen Sangheili lay on the floor, gasping and twitching feebly as the nerve gas he'd hit them with did its work. This wasn't the first time Shepard had seen the formula at work, but he couldn't help but admire his own handiwork. It had taken him years to perfect this little beauty and nearly just as much time to make it completely safe for humans. The gas's lethal potential had been lost, yes, but that was why he carried guns.

Most of the fallen hinge-heads wore civilian robes, but two were clad in Ultra armor. Shepard glanced between them and chose the one that wasn't drenched in a pool of its own vomit. He put the other warrior out of its misery with a swift bullet to the head.

He knelt down beside the remaining warrior and tilted its head so that he met its panicked, agonized eyes. "Your commander," he said in fluent Sangheili dialect. "Stel 'Vadam. Call him back here and I will ease your passing."

Even paralyzed and in pain, the Sangheili managed to spit back a growl of defiance. "Never."

"Suit yourself." Shepard unclipped one of the pouches on his combat harness and withdrew a small syringe. They really were magnificent creatures, he thought absently as he checked the needle's label and inserted it into one of the warrior's massive neck muscles. There was no other species so perfectly designed for war. Speed and strength and intelligence were with them from birth, requiring only the proper training to hone them into ferocious killing machines. This of course made them dangerous beyond words.

The Sangheili twitched and moaned as the syringe's contents counteracted the nerve gas and sent crippling waves of pain shooting up into its brain. This venom wasn't quite as precise as the nerve gas. If it went on for too long, the warrior would probably die. But Shepard had found that most warriors did not let it go for that long.

He rocked back on his haunches as the Ultra whimpered, the pain breaking through years of determination and training. If it had been human, Shepard might have injected an antidote. He knew the feeling, to be trapped beneath an ocean of pain with no hope of escape but to betray yourself, your comrades, your entire reason for existing...

But I survived. When your kind tried to break me, I didn't let them. I survived to make sure this fight was finished properly.

The Ultra gasped piteously and reached for its communicator. "No more," it whispered. "End it. Please."

"Stel 'Vadam," Shepard repeated. "Call him."

The Ultra activated the communicator. "Commander. You must return to the waiting chambers. A human--"

Shepard kept his promise. The warrior's life ended quickly.

Lowering the pistol, he hauled the corpse up until his mouth was an inch from the communicator. "Stel 'Vadam," he said, still speaking as fluently as any Sangheili. "Come back to the waiting chambers. Come alone and don't make a fuss. I'll know if you do. Do anything besides that and I will kill them all."

He terminated the connection and dropped the corpse. Raising the pistol, he moved from one aide to another and finished them off. His magazine clicked empty on the last one, so he dropped low and slit its throat with his combat knife. "Make sure he thinks they're still alive," he told Diana. "I don't think any of them were wired, but maybe the hinge-heads are starting to use neural implants."

"You do love your work," the AI observed. "It's a good thing you sent Nimue away. The poor thing would have felt like a fifth wheel with you taking all the kills."

Shepard didn't bother to correct her. He didn't derive any amount of pleasure from the slaughter, just the tight satisfaction of fulfilling his duty. This was the war he'd been raised and trained to fight. This was the war he'd continue to wage until every last hinge-head was gone—along with the threat they had always posed to humanity.

Stel 'Vadam would be coming. Shepard fingered his remaining nerve gas canister and reloaded his pistol. He would have to be ready.

He could only hope Nimue did her job and got Sepia clear in time. Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

2.10

1204 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Thebes Parliamentary Building, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


That Damn Sniper 00:58, April 18, 2013 (UTC)


2.11

1312 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: City of Thebes, planet Iskandar, Tau Arietis system


"Motherfucker!"

Miroslaw Xavier hated one thing, and that was urban combat, at least since his soldiering on Soyuz and the brutal street to street combat during the planet's fall. As the bullets whizzed past his head, Wilson ducked into an alleyway, and peeked out. Just before another shot went by his head, Wilson caught sight of what looked like a Syndicate gunman, before ducking back in. Checking the chamber of his MA3A, and the many magazines, explosives, and pistol hidden inside his olive drab wool overcoat, Wilson plucked out a smoke and flash grenade. Cooking off the smoke first, Wilson tossed it out, and, after the smoke filled the immediate area, he primed and threw the flash, ducking to avoid being hit by the shock himself.

After it detonated, Wilson charged through the smoke, and, after leaving the thick cloud, caught sight of the Syndicate man, still reeling from the flash. Raising his MA3A, he put two 7.62 rounds through the man's chest, before checking his body for any equipment. Picking out a nasty looking knife, some credits, and ammunition, Wilson put another round through the man's head, before heading into the nearest alleyway. The police had likely heard the distinctive report of the MA3A, and were probably headed to his position.

Continuing to move through the alleyways, Wilson heard the sirens of Thebes' police around the area as he made his way back to the warehouse district. Peeking out, he saw a unit of cops on patrol. Needing to make a break for it, he caught sight of another alley almost directly across from his position. Breaking into a dead sprint, Wilson dashed across into the alleyway, continuing to move through. Nearing the warehouse district, Wilson was accosted from behind by a mugger, who held a knife to his back, and said, "Gimmie your credits, or I'll kill you dead."

"Bad move.", Wilson responded as he did a one eighty, and slammed the butt of his rifle into the mugger's jaw with a sickening crack, before slinging it over his shoulder, and slamming his head into the wall repeatedly, letting his bloodied and barely alive body slip to the ground. "That's why it was a bad move.", he said to the mugger, before he continued to the Minutemen's headquarters. Plopping down on one of the Spades' cargo beds, a thug of Driscol's walked up to him, and asked, "What happened out there? The police are going off about some shooting with a military weapon."

"Some scumbag Syndicate gun decided it was a great idea to start a shootout with me. Suffice it to say, he got two new breathing holes in his chest.", he responded as the thug chuckled at the latter part of his statement.'

"And that was it?"

"In Thebes? Are you kidding? Then some scummy jackass tried to use a knife to mug me."

"Oh, and what'd you do to his dumb ass?"

"Hell if I know, I just kicked the crap out of him to near death. He might survive, but he'll be fucked up for life."

"That's the way of the world here."

"Tis." responded Wilson as he looked up at the sun hovering in the sky. "And it might get worse in the times to come."

--Minuteman 2492 (talk) 00:02, April 26, 2013 (UTC)

2.12

1330 Hours, July 16, 2574

Location: Lower Thebes, Planet Iskandar colonial capital, Tau Arietis system


Mitchell peered through the curtains of his apartment, checking the street again before slamming them shut. He'd only slept a few hours since last night's mission and even then it had been a restless sleep. His armour lay on the bed mid-repair, the damage done by the assassin mostly fixed. It had been a close call, especially since he'd done a little searching on who the shooter had been.

He looked down at the bloodied dogtags next to the bed. Elijah Cavorel was the guy's name. Mitchell had looked him up, and was surprised to find this guy's name on quite a few old lists. He'd apparently been some kind of innie sharpshooter decades ago, and if the legends were true then Mitchell had been lucky not only to survive, but to actually kill him. Not that it really mattered now. The guy was dead, and he'd finished his mission.

Ah, about that...

He hadn't checked the news since he'd stumbled back into the apartment in the early hours, wounded, but since he'd blasted his way through six police stations Mitchell was almost certain that a shitstorm of some sort had been kicked up. He grabbed a remote, and a nearby monitor switched straight on to the local news channel. As expected, pictures of burning stations and body bags flashed across the screen, with a few blurred CCTV images of him stalking through corridors littered with corpses. No one had identified him yet, at least. The last thing he needed was news of the 'Butcher of Kuiper' doing some butchery in Thebes.

It only took another minute or so before Mitchell switched the monitor off. He wasn't sure if he should feel angry or upset right now, as news of a mass murderer swept through the city to every two-bit gunman and seasoned merc looking for a bounty. It was easy to turn off while he was behind the skull-painted visor, gunning down hostiles robotically with only the mission on his mind. The aftermath was a lot harder to deal with, in his experience. I miss fighting Covvies.

A single beep from nearby broke him from his reverie. Mitchell shook his head and grabbed the small device from the table. It indicated that his message had reached its destination. He already felt horribly guilty for trying to contact his sister in the first place, particularly with the heightened danger he'd just put himself in. She had her own life to worry about, and his interference would just add more unneeded stress. Looking over his hastily repaired armour, Mitchell gave a nod of approval and began to suit up, slipping into the familiar bodysuit that had served him well for over a decade now.

Hrm, need to see about payment, too.

He hadn't been in contact with his employer since yesterday, and needed to make sure he'd be paid for this job. There was something a bit odd about the man, he had to admit. Probably his cheerfulness. The last guy Mitchell worked for who'd been that happy about his work had blasted him through a second storey window. Still, this guy hadn't screwed him over yet. He'd make it clear that if he was double-crossed, he would stop at nothing to kill him. Mitchell had been betrayed far too many times in the past just to let this one go.

He picked up his COM, and tapped it. He had a call to make.

--Brodie-001

2.13: Kept You Waiting, Huh?

Nimue pressed her back up against the wall and steadied her breathing. Her palms were moist with perspiration as they held tight to the submachine gun, but she didn't dare wipe them off. With two armored Spartans just a few feet beyond the door beside her, all but the tiniest of movements might alert them to her presence.

The one called Sepia had managed to get herself backed into a corner, and now Shepard needed Nimue to give her the opening she needed to slip away. Easier said than done, she thought grimly.

Nimue's task here at the summit was supposed to be a simple one: patrol the corridors and be on standby in case Shepard needed a distraction to make his getaway once his business with Stel 'Vadam was completed. She was equipped for self-defence, just an SMG, a pistol, and the grenades on the combat harness clipped over her technician's coveralls. Barely enough kit to handle local security forces, much less UNSC military. And nothing worth taking on Spartans with.

She had anticipated combat with Spartans, to be sure. Nimue had been trained to expect every contingency, to be prepared to outthink and outfight even the UNSC's augmented wonder soldiers. But every scenario she had ever gamed out against imagined Spartans involved her wearing at least some form of body armor. Most of her plans for Spartans involved high-powered rifles at extreme range, or pre-prepared traps of high explosives. She would never have dreamed of going up against one so lightly armed, yet here she was preparing to jump one.

There was no point in wasting time on the what-ifs. You took the situation as it was and dealt with what you had. That had been drilled into her over and over and over again; she remembered every bruise and cut and broken bone inflicted on her to teach her the simple rule of combat: you win or you die. A young girl, cowering in the dark corners of a bunker on the edge of the galaxy, her body weak from constand bludgeonings and denied rations, had learned that fundamental truth and never forgotten it. To win was to climb over the barriers in front of you and move on. To lose was to suffer and die.

She was not without resources here.

"Diana," she murmured into her headset. The door between her and Sepia's attackers would block out the small noises, though a noice-cancelling helmet would have been more ideal. Another deficiency. "You said Sepia's still on her feet?"

"On her knees would be a bit more accurate," the AI replied. "A few jokes spring to mind, but they're all a bit crass. I won't sully those pure ears of yours with them."

"Save it." Nimue was in no mood for Diana's deliberately nonsensical attempts at wit. "Can she move?"

"Yes, if the one on top of her lets go. There, another wasted opportunity--"

"Tap into her coms and tell her to be ready." Nimue's mind raced, her body quivering with suppressed tension. "Do you have an escape route for her?"

"The short answer is yes. The long answer is that she won't get far with a Spartan on her tail."

Nimue closed her eyes. "There won't be a Spartan after her."

Diana's voice dropped with anticipation. "Oh. Now this is more interesting then I'd expect from you. You have a plan?"

"Only if your bag of tricks is up to snuff. What can you give me?"

"A bit of a light show, some rain from the fire control systems, and door control. Not much against Spartans, but you wouldn't ask if you weren't up to something."

Nimue checked the sights on her submachine gun. They would have to be perfectly zeroed if this was going to work. Every bullet had to connect with its target. "Be ready to open the elevator behind me. The lift needs to be one floor beneath us and the doors need to open the second I reach them."

"I can handle that. Hm, I think I see what you're going for..."

"Is Sepia ready?" There wasn't time to plan things out more than she already had. With each passing second the Spartan would try to restrain Sepia further, take off her armor, or maybe just incapacitate her outright.

"Rude little thing, I'll say that much. Are all the Gammas this sullen, or just the ones I have to deal with?"

"Diana..."

"Right, right. She'll move when you need her to. Don't count on her for backup though, she's not in much shape to go on the offensive right now."

"I wasn't planning to." Nimue was afraid. She was terrified. But that was natural, instinctual. A part of what she was. You couldn't control what your body felt, but you did have a say in how your body dealt with those feelings. Fighting is all about power, and power is about control. The first thing you control is your body. She could still hear his words echoing from the past, engraved behind her skull. Indelibly etched.

She steadied her breathing and flicked the safety off of the SMG. "On my mark..."

The next thing you control is your equipment. Her weapons were ready, primed and efficient. They were few, to be sure. She was hindered by what she had brought with her. But she would make do.

"The door." And after that, you control the battlefield. Make your surroundings fight for you. "Open it."

Control those three things, and you will control your opponent as well. And when you control someone, you can kill them.

The doors slid open and Nimue took in everything beyond them in an instant. Two armored Spartans, locked in a deadly embrace. The bleeding one with the cracked visor and the pistol in her face had to be Sepia, which meant one thing.

Nimue sighted on the second Spartan and opened fire.

The Spartan reacted with inhuman speed, but that was to be expected. He jerked away from Sepia, his shields brushing aside the burst of SMG rounds. Sepia had heeded Diana's advice. She moved fast, even with her injuries, making for a service tunnel. But not before aiming a swift kick at her attacker's feet with her uninjured leg. It was enough to throw the Spartan off balance for just an instant, and that was all Nimue needed.

She fired another burst, keeping the Spartan's attention on her. The whole plan hinged on him deciding to pursue the immediate threat and let Sepia run; if he made a go for Sepia, Nimue would just have to move in after him and hope that his divided attention gave her an opening.

But the Spartan didn't spare Sepia a second glance. The barrel of his pistol came up and Nimue ducked back around the doorframe as bullets slammed through the air she'd occupied a moment before. She unclipped a flash grenade from her harness and tossed it into the room before dashing back toward the elevator shaft. The stun charge wouldn't so much as irritate the armored supersoldier, but the grenade would trigger a lifetime of instinct and preoccupy him with cover. A few more seconds purchased.

The grenade went off with a thunderous clap, filling the corridor with blinding light. Jackson dashed out into the corridor after Nimue, but his attacker had vanished. His motion tracker showed no movement but his own, but there was no secret to where the interloper had gone. At the end of the hall, the elevator doors were beginning to close over a darkened shaft.

Jackson crossed the hall in three strides, catching the doors before they closed and slammed them back open with one thrust of his arms. Below him, the lift was beginning to descend. He hesitated a moment, glancing back down the corridor after Sepia. There was nothing for it. He sent a ping to Jun, alerting him of Sepia's location. The backup security teams would corner her quickly enough. He leapt down into the shaft, landing atop the elevator car with a shuddering thud. He bent down and grabbed the access hatch, tearing it open only to find himself staring down at an empty car.

His motion tracker registered sudden movement. Behind and above him.

Something landed beside him on the top of the elevator with a dull thump. Jackson moved to dive into the vacant elevator, but the lift suddenly slammed to a halt hard enough to throw him back against the wall of the shaft.

The EMP blast filled the elevator shaft, shorting out subsystems, lights... and Jackson's shields.

Nimue dropped down from the wires she had pulled herself up with and landed back in the hall. She spun around and dropped into a crouch, bringing her SMG to bear on the shadowy figure of the Spartan beneath her.

Body, equipment, battlefield.

She fired in tight bursts, targeting the joints in Jackson's armor. The SMG rounds hurtled down the shaft, slamming into the Spartan even as he scrambled to his feet. Bullets bounced harmlessly off his armor, but several slipped past the plating and punched through his body suit. Ignoring the pain, he brought his pistol up and fired back at his attacker.

Nimue saw the pistol rise again, but this time she didn't duck back. Instead, she leapt forwards, across the shaft. She grabbed hold of an exposed cable, her feet finding purchase in the ridges along the shaft's walls. She fired the last of her clip in an innacurate burst, then let the SMG fall down towards the top of the car.

The 5x23 rounds weren't enough to deal with Jackson's armor, but her magnum rounds were a different story. Her body was alight with fear and anticipation about what she was about to do, but she cut through it all and focused only on the battle at hand. No doubts, no hesitation.

She drew the magnum and let go of her handhold, pushing off from the wall of the shaft and dropping down towards the immobile elevator car. There was nothing to grab onto; she pushed off the wall as it hurtled toward her and fell back, landing just behind Jackson.

The Spartan whirled, bleeding from multiple wounds in his shoulder. His pistol swung around, but Nimue had aimed for the arm holding the weapon. Jackson's shots went wide as his attacker danced to the side. The surface of Jackson's armor glowed as his shields began to recharge.

Nimue opened fire. Her first shot slammed into the Spartan's torso, slowing the shield recharge. She planted the next two rounds in the Spartan's side, dropping his shields once more. But before she could go for a kill shot, Jackson lunged for her, swinging his magnum and catching her in the gut.

Nimue saw stars. She could taste blood in her mouth; everything was suddenly fuzzy and numb. Her legs crumpled beneath her and she fell.

Control your body...

She could barely see through the mist that had descended on her, but she brought the pistol up and fired twice. She turned her fall into a clumsy roll and came up, throwing up her arms and bracing for the Spartan's next, crushing blow.

But that blow was not forthcoming.

Something big and heavy thudded down on top of the elevator. Nimue dropped to a knee, barely able to hold herself upright. What was going on? Where was the Spartan?

Her vision cleared, and it was only then that she saw Jackson's armored form lying motionless beside her. Blood formed a pool around his head, streaming from the spot where her last, desperate shots had slipped above his chestpiece and below his helmet and torn his throat open.

Someone was laughing, and it took Nimue a good ten seconds to realize that it was Diana.

"Well, now," the AI was saying. "Now you've gone and done it. Something tells me you just made a dead man very proud."

Nimue could barely comprehend what Diana was saying over the ringing in her ears. There was no joy or triumph to be had in this victory, not now. She was alive and her opponent was dead. That was all.

"Tell Shepard that Sepia's clear," she wheezed, stepping over Jackson's body to retrieve her SMG. "And make sure nothing stops this elevator."

She limped over to the elevator hatch and dropped through without a second glance at the Spartan's body. She needed to get out herself, get to one of the Syndicate's safehouses and get medical attention. It was understood between her and Shepard that she would pull out when the situation demanded it. He would have to handle the rest on his own. "Get me out of here, Diana."

And the wait is finally over. AD is back and active and ready to dish out plenty more action for those still interested in posting. In what may be the biggest hypocrisy in RP history, I'm pulling out the death rule for Nanosoldier's characters. By all rights, everyone should have been killed off, but then again it's a miracle I've even decided to brush the dust off of this project. The situation remains as it was left almost a year ago, so time to unearth your old plans and get back to posting. Actene: If This Is To End In Fire, Then We'll Burn Together

2.14

Stel did his best to keep his expression impassive, appearing to be watching the summit progress without showing any sign of uneasiness. But beneath the calm exterior, his mind was screaming at him to move. This human, whoever he is, can kill the others at any time. I must go!

Despite the Sangheili commander’s stoic visage, his long, reptilian fingers methodically tapped against the metal of his prosthetic arm anxiously, and his bulbous, miscoloured eyes had a glint of worry to them. He grew impatient, attempting to find an excuse to leave and confront the man, who was undoubtedly contemplating how to kill the rest of his kin at the moment.

The ‘hinge-head’ took a deep breath - or what looked like one, it was hard to tell with the Sangheili - and stood up right. The purple-clad Elite was taller than most of the other Sangheili present, standing at a highly imposing eight feet. The same, stone-cold expression was on his face, calm on the outside, but on fire within.

“I must step out for a moment,” he stated. He made sure to maintain his charade, as not to cause suspicion. The leader of his guards, the field master, raised a hand to question his movements.

“Supreme Commander? Do you require our presence?”

“...No. I wish to be left alone.”

The Sangheili commander turned his head away from his guard and made his way out the door, pretending as if nothing was amiss. The tall alien almost hit the top of his helmet on the frame of the sliding door when he walked out. The door slid shut behind him, as the summit continued on without him. I must hurry. I cannot let harm come to the others.

His miscolored eyes shifted left and right. Everyone was inside the summit. Swiftly he broke his cover and marched with an oppressive, authoritarian feel about him, towards the area Shepard was located. With his cape billowing behind him, the pair of energy swords located on both sides of his hip were visible. If Stel had his way, they would taste Shepard’s blood.

The Supreme Commander came to a stop outside another door. The reptilian alien sniffed the air, stained with the stench of the deceased. It was the telltale smell of Sangheili blood, a scent he had smelt one too many times before. Stel braced himself, and both of his scaled hands gripped tightly and confidently around the familiar feel of the hilts of his swords. Briefly, he rose his left, cybernetic hand to enter the access code in the nearby wall, next to the frame.

Before he could finish punching the code in, the door slipped open by himself, and he hastily, but not clumsily, dove his left hand towards the hilt of the sword, and both of the weapons quickly burst into life as he drew them from his armor. The gargantuan Sangheili quickly swooped in and swung both swords in an arc, before he was blinded by a white-hot eruption of light. Shepard had prepared for the commander’s attack. Stel quickly rose his swords to in front of himself in a defensive stance, crossing the searing blades.

However, once his vision returned to normal, a heavy feeling of dread came over him. In the corner both corners of the room there laid two autonomous sentry guns, which whirred into life and delivered a payload of bullets towards the alien commander. As expected of Stel, his shields flickered as the bullets came into contact with them, some of them making contact with his blades. Stel gave an aggravated roar, as Shepard preferred trickery to direct combat.

“You ask for my presence. Then, you kill my kin. But you do not show your face.”

Rather than show weakness, Stel stood defiant in front of Shepard, who appeared out of the doorway on the other side of the long corridor. Several Sangheili corpses laid on the floor in pools of violet blood. The mercenary toted an submachine gun and a pistol, not to forget the nerve gas grenades present on him. Without saying another word, Shepard opened fire on the already draining shields of the commander.

The Commander slung himself by the door as his shields finally deactivated, fizzling out under the fire. A small metal *clink!* was heard from his left. One of the bullets had made contact with his left prosthetic arm.

Post is still WIP.

Stel goldenzealot Don't touch anything. Move along, citizen.

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