|2338 Hours, August 9th, 2558
UNSC Penumbra, Joint Occupation Zone
"You're set to deploy in five. Get ready, Spartans."
As it neared the plasma-scarred derelict that had once been the Whiskey Courage, the UNSC Penumbra's stealth systems shimmered and dissipated. Its ventral launch bay slid open. As the air was sucked from the sealed chamber, five armoured figures tumbled out into space, activating thruster packs to adjust their trajectory as they hurtled towards the civilian vessel.
"This is Fireteam Scythe, closing in on target." Clayton-G045's spoke over the COM.
"Point of entry?" asked Jiang-G007.
"I'll take the port airlock with Ezra, you take starboard with Clarence. Ianto, take the bridge."
The SPARTAN-III's replied with affirmatives, slowing their descent towards the Whiskey Courage with short thruster bursts. Touching down on the hull as lightly as possible, they magnetised their boots and began the slow journey towards their insertion points. Two days ago, this ship - a civilian cargo hauler - had activated its distress beacon shortly before a forced jump to slipspace. While pirate attacks weren't uncommon on the frontier, the heavy military presence in the Joint Occupation Zone made this a particularly alarming case. After quickly pinpointing the missing ship's location, the UNSC had dispatched the five-man commando team to investigate.
"Boss," Ezra-G323's voice was barely above a whisper. "Sighted an unknown structure on the underside of the ship."
An image flashed up on the rest of the team's heads-ups displays, linking Ezra's helmet feed to them as he clambered beneath the ship. Clinging to the much larger vessel upside-down was what looked like a heavily-modified Type-56 Lich, its surface pocked with plasma burns and patched up in several places with heavy metal plates. A makeshift docking tube had been jammed into the Human vessel above.
"So we've got Covenant," said Clayton, weighing up his options. "Prepare to breach and clear."
Clinging to the prow of the ship, Ianto-G200 peered through the bridge's forward viewport. "Think there are any survivors?"
"Not likely. but keep a look out."
Within a minute, Fireteam Scythe had taken up position, setting up their breaching charges and readying their weapons. Based on schematics they had been given, the Whiskey Courage was a fairly spacious vessel, so covering it as quickly as possible would be imperative. Setting up a brief timer, Clayton clung to the exterior of the airlock and flipped the switch on his detonator. A trio of thumps reverberated across the hull, and the Spartans sprung forward with thruster-assisted leaps as air rushed past them.
"Gravity's out, keep your mag-boots on," he warned his team.
Sweeping his BR85 rifle around, Clayton caught a glimpse of a tall, lumbering figure at the end of the corridor, hefting a bladed weapon. He and Ezra opened fire simultaneously, loosing precise bursts of fire that tore through their distant assailant in moments.
"We've got Brutes!" Clarence-G022 yelled over TEAMCOM. "Slavers, most likely!"
The Spartans advanced quickly, two pairs advancing through corridors on adjacent sides of the vessel while Ianto secured the bridge and accessed the Whiskey Courage's data files. It soon became apparent to Fireteam Scythe that they had arrived too late. Moving through the ship and pushing their way past floating corpses, they found that the Jiralhanae pirates had evidently been preparing to leave when the Penumbra arrive in-system, having salvaged most of the ship and its crew already.
Backing up against a doorframe to avoid a hail of spikes, Ezra grunted in annoyance. "They're retreating!"
"Double-time it, Scythe!" Clayton landed a burst of fire that burst through a nearby pirate's helmet in a spray of dark blood, sending the corpse slowly spiralling backwards through the room. Using the microgravity to his advantage, the Spartan kicked off from a wall and hurtled through the door, grabbing the body to use as a shield as the Brute's ally raised his plasma rifle with a roar. As the dead alien soaked up several bolts, Clayton unholstered his M6H sidearm and opened fire. Though the Brute pirate's thick armour and hide shrugged off most of the shots, his focus on Clayton allowed Ezra to catch up, waiting until he was right behind his foe before shooting the Brute in the back. It let out a muffled bark of pain, then was still.
Jiang contacted them moments later. "We've reached the lower decks, boss. Bravo Kilos are gone."
"Copy that, Jiang," Clayton replied. "Team, we've got to-"
The deck below the Spartan's feet shuddered slightly as the Lich detached itself from the Whiskey Courage, followed by a rumbling as it fired a streak of plasma bolts towards the vessel. Though not enough to destroy the ship, it rocked slightly under the barrage and sparks flew from power panels nearby.
"Scythe Leader," the Commander of the UNSC Penumbra suddenly contacted Clayton over a private channel. "The enemy Lich made the jump to Slipspace before we could engage. Please return ASAP, we've got to contact the nearest fleet. We'll open the launch bay for your arrival."
"On our way. Clayton out."
Fireteam Scythe regrouped by one of the airlocks, checking the oxygen levels on their MJOLNIR suits and carrying armfuls of captured enemy materiel. While most was standard Covenant fair - Spikers, plasma grenades and the odd datapad, Ianto had pulled records of the attack from the ship's barely-functioning computer, showing a large, well-equipped Jiralhanae force boarding the ship and subduing or killing the crew within minutes. Most of the attackers - the ones Scythe had killed included - bore the same, unusual emblem daubed across their shoulderpads: a series of triangular shapes; some Brute clan symbol, by his reckoning. ONI's analysts would likely know what it meant. As far as the Spartans were concerned, today's work would just be a stepping stone to their next, hopefully more exciting deployment.