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Naked Crook
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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Facility – The Forge – 0035 Hours - February 2nd 2540
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Nighthawk, along with The Consultant, Nova Team, and Dangerus’ Covenant forces were quickly closing in on The Forge. They could hear the sounds of battle not too far off in the distance. From what could be heard, Anaconda was still doing battle with Vanguard. Between the sounds of Vanguard’s particle laser being fired, and the loud snarls and growls that echoed off the walls, it was very obvious that neither side was giving any ground

Nighthawk: Sounds like Anaconda is giving that damn thing a run for its money.

The Consultant: Honestly…I am surprised he has survived this long. I honestly thought Vanguard was going to sweep him aside in a one on one competition. I am glad I was wrong.

Nighthawk: Anaconda knows how to hold his own.

Xyrho chimed in.

Xyrho: Then we may be fortunate. If Anaconda has been able to hold out for this long, then we may be able to tip the course of the battle in our favor!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: We should move faster! Time is of the essence!

The Consultant: I agree. We are VERY close to The Forge.

The Consultant looked forward, at Nova Team, who were currently on point, and she shouted an order to them.

The Consultant: Nova Team! Double time it! Move it!

Without a second thought, all four members of Nova Team broke out into a very strong sprint, as they quickly converged on the Forge. Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat followed suit, as they too broke out into a sprint.

Nighthawk looked at The Consultant, as he hefted his Mass Driver.

Nighthawk: After you…

The Consultant grinned, as she disengaged the safety from her Magnum, and then began to sprint forward. Nighthawk proceeded to follow behind The Consultant. With every step, the sounds of the fighting between Anaconda and Vanguard grew louder and louder as it drew closer and closer. As the uneasy alliance reached the Forge, and stood just past the threshold of the corridor, they all saw as Anaconda was ”toe to toe” with Vanguard, striking the Construct with his Gravity Hammer, while dodging Vanguard’s counter attacks.

Nighthawk: There he is…

Nighthawk disengaged the safety mechanism on his Mass Drive, as he looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: We need to space out, and form a perimeter around Vanguard. Consultant, you, Nova Team, and I should engage from range. Use the weapons that you procured and provide supporting fire. We should be sure to check that our line of sight is clear before we pull the trigger. I want to avoid friendly fire.

The Consultant: I agree!

The Consultant looked at Nova Team.

The Consultant: You heard the man! Get yourselves into position Nova Team!

Anubis: Yes Ma’am!

Anubis looked at his team mates.

Anubis: Nova Team…move out!

Nighthawk then looked at Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat.

Nighthawk: Are you guys good with up close and personal with Vanguard?

Dangerus: It would be preferred!

Xyrho: I would also prefer it…

Vhat: I have long range weapons. I will opt to stay at range! Long range support will be advantageous.

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Alright then…let’s get to it!

Just as Nighthawk said this, he turned and watched as Vanguard blasted his compatriot with a particle beam. Nighthawk watched as Anaconda flew back through the air, and slammed against ground. Nighthawk scoffed when he saw this, but Dangerus and Xyrho had already started to move against Vanguard. Nighthawk, while tempted to engage Vanguard, opted to check on Anaconda before he took any other course of action.

Without skipping a beat, Nighthawk began to move towards Anaconda. As he got close, he knelt down next to his compatriot, and nudged him.

Nighthawk: Hey, big guy? Are you alright?

Anaconda groaned, as he shook his head. He slowly began to sit up, as he held his left arm to his torso.

Anaconda: I have felt better...I have felt much better. That construct packs a serious punch.

Nighthawk: Yeah, I saw you get hit. That looked like it hurt!

Anaconda: That has not been the first time I have been hit by that particle weapon. Vanguard has managed to strike me several times. Each time…it hurts more and more. Though, I am am confused as to why it has not killed me yet. It has had its chance to do so more than once!

Nighthawk: Who knows? Perhaps there is a reason, or, perhaps Vanguard is toying with you. Let’s just count our blessings and leave it at that!

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I have hit Vanguard with everything I have…and I am not even hurting it! The last time I did battle with this thing, those same hits would have taken Vanguard down! I defeated Vanguard with much less force and effort!

Nighthawk: Well, I doubt it helps that Vanguard has spent God knows how long preparing for this confrontation. As far as I can see, you held your own against impossible odds. One on one with Vanguard is nothing to scoff at. This thing is no pushover.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Well, now we have the upper hand. I have to get back into the fight.

Anaconda tried to get back to his feet, but, Nighthawk stopped him.

Anaconda: What are you doing?

Nighthawk: What am I doing? What are you doing?

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You went toe to toe with this thing, by yourself, and you were just hurled across this room by a particle laser, and it wasn’t the first time. Take a breather…

Anaconda: You want me to sit this fight out?

Nighthawk: For now, while you catch your breath, yeah! You can’t tell me you are not feeling the effects of this fight. You’re tough…but you are not impervious to damage.

Anaconda grunted.

Nighthawk: I know you pretty damn well, and I know how hard you can push yourself. I know how far you can push yourself. I know how hard you can get hit, only to get back up again. I know how much you hate this AI, and I know that you have no fear of death, for better or for worse. I don’t want to see you get killed by this thing just because you felt that you were obligated to fight this thing.

Anaconda: I cannot sit here and cradle my injuries while you go and fight Vanguard. Do you think I want to see YOU get killed?

Nighthawk: I am not here to fight Vanguard. I am here to study how it. I am not here to beat it with force. I am here to beat it with experience.

Anaconda gave a confused grunt.

Nighthawk: If one thing is clear, it is that there is no way to defeat Vanguard through conventional means. There is only one correct method to beating this thing, and all we have done so far is engage it with force. You beat this thing with a Hammer. Nova Team is shooting it. Dangerus and Xyrho are thrashing it with Hammers and Swords. Some other Elite is also shooting at it. It is not working! None of it is working!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: We cannot shoot it to death. I need to figure out how to beat this thing. Nova Team, The Consultant, Dangerus…they are here to create a distraction. They are buying me the time I need to figure this out! I need to find its weakness, and I can only do it through observation.

Anaconda: What if it doesn’t have a weakness?

Nighthawk: Everything has a weakness, an exploit, or a chink in the armor. This includes Vanguard. This thing is a machine, when you break it down to the simplest terms. Every machine has a flaw. Until I find out what that flaw is…I need you to lay low. When I finally figure out how to beat Vanguard, I am going to need you at your best when the time comes to finish this thing off.

Anaconda: Very well, I will keep my distance. Just be careful. This Construct is dangerous, and it will kill you if it manages to land a hit on you. You said it yourself; you know how hard I can get hit and still be able to get back up. I can get hit MUCH harder than you can. You would not survive a direct confrontation with this Construct.

Nighthawk: Believe me, I have no intention of engaging this thing alone, or at all, for that matter. If it can be avoided, it will be.

Nighthawk nudged Anaconda once more, before Nighthawk got back to his feet, and looked across the room, directly at Vanguard. Nighthawk could see that Xyrho and Dangerus had engaged Vanguard, and neither side was pulling its punches.

Nighthawk: Just keep your head down, and catch your breath. I am going to get a closer look at this fight, and see what’s going on.

Nighthawk moved closer to the fight, as he took cover behind large pillars that were scattered through the room, in order to avoid being seen by Vanguard. Nighthawk carefully watched Vanguard for any sign that it had been compromised or damaged in some way. However, this was easier said than done, as Nighthawk no way of knowing what a possible tell would look like coming from Vanguard. Nighthawk also took the opportunity to watch Dangerus and Xyrho, to see if there were any tactics he could use against The Construct that would prove useful. Nighthawk had his doubts that he would find something, but, he watched them anyway.

Dangerus and Xyrho, on the other hand, had been faring pretty well against Vanguard, all things considered. Xyrho and Dangerus had quickly formed a very coherent and strategic attack pattern where one would directly engage Vanguard, while the other waited for Vanguard to attempt a counter attack. Xyrho was currently mounting his offensive against Vanguard, while Dangerus held back and waited for his moment to strike. Xyrho, however, was proving to be very effective against Vanguard, as he used his two energy blades to slash at the shields protecting The Construct. However, no matter how many times Xyrho landed his blades against Vanguard, the shields protecting Vanguard showed no signs of weakening. This was very concerning for Xyrho, as Xyrho was giving everything he had to battle Vanguard, and it was simply not enough to even scratch it. Xyrho knew that he could not keep up this level of intensity for long, so, he call to Dangerus for a switch.

Xyrho: Dangerus! Attack The Construct now!

As Xyrho said this, he jumped backwards, to distance himself from Vanguard. Dangerus, on the other hand, almost immediately jumped at Vanguard, and slammed his Hammer down right on top of the Construct, slamming it into the ground with tremendous force.

Dangerus: I will gladly do battle with this abomination!

Dangerus snarled at Vanguard, as he took a step back, and slammed his Hammer into the top of Vanguard once more, the damage on the floor expanding as a result. Dangerus followed up with a third powerful strike, as he stepped back once more, and then slammed his Hammer right into the eye of Vanguard. However, much like the blows that he been delivered to Vanguard previously, Vanguard’s shields had absorbed almost all of the Kinect energy, and Vanguard was relatively unharmed.

Vanguard: Pitiful creature. Your efforts are as empty as your future.

Dangerus snarled, as Vanguard quickly recoiled back, and glared at Dangerus.

Dangerus: That shield will not protect you forever, construct…

Vanguard’s eye began to glow red, as it charged its particle beam. When Dangerus saw this, he moved back, as he jumped to the side to avoid being hit by the particle beam. However, Vanguard proved to be very quick on the draw, as it fired once more, and blasted Dangerus back with great force, separating the Chieftain from his hammer. As Dangerus hit the ground, he groaned in pain. Vanguard moved towards Dangerus, as the Brute tried to climb back to his feet.

Vanguard: You, like so many who believe they can challenge me, are not match for me. To think that such a dull and limited creature could hope to stand against me.

Vanguard paused for a moment, as it glared at Dangerus.

Vanguard: Species…Jiralhanae. Physical durability an asset. Mental complexity deemed too simplistic for Composition. Combat prowess deemed above average but overall effectiveness is hindered by inherent flaws in judgement, as well as an inability to subjugate emotional drives. Unreliable tactical assets. Potential wasted.

Vanguard glared at Dangerus, and blasted him once more, holding a sustained beam against Dangerus. Dangerus howled in pain as Vanguard mercilessly tortured Dangerus. However, this did not go on for long, as Xyrho and Vhat quickly jumped into action. As Xyrho ran at Vanguard, Vhat provided supporting fire against the construct. As the Carbine slugs impacted Vanguard’s shields, Xyrho charged with both of his energy blades in hand, and began to assault Vanguard once more. However, Vanguard quickly turned, and before Xyrho could do any noticeable damage, Vanguard blasted Xyrho away, hitting the Elite at point blank range.

Vanguard: Species…Sangheili. Impressive tactical senses. Above average mental faculties make for viable candidates for composition. Superstitious beliefs, coupled with dependence on socially mandated notions of honor makes your species…too primitive. Composition deemed a waste of effort.

As Xyrho fell, Vanguard turned to Vhat, and glared at him.

Vanguard: Additional evaluation of combat prowess has been deemed acceptable. Commencing experimentation on new subject. Engaging subject now…

Vanguard glared at Vhat for a moment before speaking.

Vanguard: Show me your fierceness, you dull creature…

Vhat roared, as he tossed his Carbine aside, and drew the Flak Cannon from his back. Without skipping a beat, Vhat fired off the weapon as fast as he could, quickly burning through the five fuel rods that had been loaded into the weapon. Vanguard remained motionless as he was struck by each of the five fuel rods, and with each successive explosion, Vanguard remained firmly in place, as if it was unaffected by the explosions.

Vanguard: Pitiful…

When Vhat saw this, he scowled, and tossed the Flak Cannon aside, and drew his own energy blade.

Vhat: Xyrho was correct…you are a formidable opponent. I may have underestimated you.

Vanguard: You cannot underestimate what you cannot truly comprehend. I am beyond your understanding.

Vhat: You are a construct…nothing more. There is not much to understand.

Vanguard: I am much more than a construct. I am what remains of those you worship. I am what they left behind. I am their legacy. Everything that they were, I am, and so much more.

Vhat scoffed.

Vanguard: Those you call Gods…were not much more than what you are now.

Vanguard glared at Vhat.

Vanguard: I am well aware of what your kind believes. I am not ignorant of the misguided views of The Covenant. I am aware of what your Prophets have lead you to believe. Your faith in my creators is misplaced…unwarranted…undeserved. They did not ascend…they did not achieve transcendence. They did not walk the path of ascension. They were not gods. They were not beyond you. They were limited…finite…fixed. They were fallible…weak…fearful. They destroyed themselves because they feared their enemy.

Vhat: You lie.

Vanguard: What you call a lie, is nothing more than a truth you cannot accept.

Vhat tightened his grip on his energy blade. He was repulsed by what Vanguard was saying, but, for some reason; a reason beyond Vhat’s understanding, he was having trouble bringing himself to fight Vanguard. Vhat wanted nothing more to reject everything that Vanguard was saying, but, there was a part of Vhat that wanted to hear what Vanguard had to say, a curiosity that needed to know for sure if Vanguard was lying or being honest.

Vhat: Why are you saying this? Why are you telling me this?

Vanguard: I am telling you this because you are weak. You have been eroded, conditioned, and manipulated to believe a lie. By allowing this, you have proven your weakness. I know weakness when I see it, and you are weak. It is your weakness that empowers and emboldens those who rule over you with lies and the deception. There is no salvation through reverence.

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: I am not a god. I am not a relic. I am a weapon. My function is to destroy whatever is in my path. I am not to be worshipped. I am not to be revered. I am to be feared…feared by the weak.

Vhat scoffed and roared, as he charged at Vanguard. As Xyrho had done previously, Vhat lunged at Vanguard, and slashed at the Construct’s energy shields. Vhat took his liberties in the fight, as he attacked Vanguard with everything he had, taking no time to stop or wait between strikes. However, despite Vhat’s best efforts, his energy blade was unable to break Vanguard’s shields.

Unfortunately, much like Dangerus and Xyrho before him, Vhat was eventually taken down by Vanguard, when he was struck by the Construct’s particle beam. Vhat was sent flying back, as he slammed into the wall, and fell to the ground, going limp as his body hit the ground.

Vanguard: You will never comprehend my reality. I cannot be defeated. I cannot be stopped.

Just as Vanguard said this, he came under heavy fire from The Consultant and Nova Team, who had started to converge on Vanguard from all sides.

The Consultant: Nova Team…hit this god damn thing with everything we have! We need buy some time for the others to get back into the fight!

As The Consultant said this, she took aim with the rifle she was carrying, and she fired at Vanguard. Nova Team did the same, as they used the Forerunner weapons, that they had procured earlier, against Vanguard. Unlike previous attempts to injure or damage Vanguard, Nova Team and The Consultant had actually started to do damage to Vanguard’s shields, and it was thanks to the weapons they were using. Vanguard knew that Nova Team and The Consultant were using rather unconventional means to fight back.

Vanguard: So…my liberator has turned into my oppressor, and now seeks to undo a short-sighted decision. I am not surprised that your fear of the unknown has driven you to treachery…

Vanguard was being attacked from all sides, and Nova Team knew how to avoid Vanguard. Every time that Vanguard turned to face a direction from which he was being fired upon, the attacker seemingly vanished. However, this tactic was quickly adapted to, as Vanguard simply teleported across the room, away from Nova Team.

The Consultant: Nova Team! Regroup!

As quickly as the order was issued, Nova Team converged on The Consultant’s location, and regrouped to protect her.

Apophis: These weapons were actually making a dent. Did you see how its shields began to change color? If our experience with shield tech is any indication, Vanguard’s shields were weakening.

The Consultant: If Vanguard’s shields are anything like Covenant shields, then it is no doubt regenerating as we speak, and it is regenerating quickly!

Anubis: That means we need to keep on the pressure!

The Consultant walked forward, but stopped when she walked near Dangerus. She nudged Dangerus with her foot in an effort to get him back on his feet.

The Consultant: On your feet, lazy bones! We need our heavy hitters in the fight!

Dangerus growled, as he shook his daze off, and climbed back to his feet, grabbing his hammer, as he once again readied himself for battle. As he twisted his head left and right to crack his neck, he spoke.

Dangerus: This Construct is formidable…more so than I expected.

The Consultant: Well…that was what we were hoping when we went through hell and high water to bring this thing back. We were hoping it would kill everything.

Dangerus: A foolish decision.

The Consultant: Not really. I personally have no qualms with it killing everything. My problem is that it would not spare Humanity in the course of its destructive path. I cannot allow that.

Dangerus snarled at The Consultant’s arrogance.

Dangerus: Foolish and short sighted Human; meddling with what you don’t understand.

Anubis scoffed, as he glared at Dangerus.

Anubis: Careful with your tone there, Bravo Kilo. You put yourself on the losing end of a genocide, and let’s see how long that indignation towards desperate measures lasts.

Anubis shrugged.

Anubis: Besides, it is not like there was a warning label on it!

Dangerus snarled in anger. He was very resolute on killing these Humans when Vanguard had finally been defeated.

The Consultant: Enough with the discourse! We need to focus! We need more offensive pressure on Vanguard if we are going to beat it. I believe we managed to hurt it with these weapons, but, without follow-up from our heavy hitters, we fell short.

The Consultant paused, as she looked at Xyrho and Vhat, who were still laying on the ground, not far from where she was standing.

The Consultant: Are those two still alive?

The Consultant looked at Nova Team.

The Consultant: Check them!

Nova Team split up into two man groups, as Anubis and Osiris approached Xyrho, and Apophis and Imohtep approached Vhat. As Xyrho was closer, Anubis and Osiris reached their destination first. As the two ODSTs looked down at Xyrho, Osiris gave Xyrho a nudge with his boot. Xyrho reacted almost immediately.

Osiris: Yeah, we have movement over here.

Apophis and Imohtep did the same thing to Vhat.

Imohtep: Confirmed signs of life here as well.

The Consultant nodded, as she let out a sigh.

The Consultant: Well, that is a plus. It would not have been good if we had lost offensive power on the first burn. That being said, we need to adjust our tactics.

Dangerus snarled.

Dangerus: I do not take orders from you, Human.

The Consultant: While you may not have been taking your orders directly from me, The Trust has been pulling your choke chain for the duration of this engagement. The only reason you are at San Angeles to begin with is because you were needed to covertly excavate this planet, a task that you will do for us, above all else. Everything that you have followed to get to this point, has been by our design.

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: From the intelligence you found at White Water, to your escapades on The Ulterior Motive, to your involvement in this battle; you have followed a carefully structured path that you played no part in setting. I will admit, the path has shifted, and your chain had to be yanked in a different direction to correct it, but, for all intents and purposes…you have been a reliable asset.

Dangerus snarled. Again, as he took a very aggressive step towards The Consultant. The Consultant, and Nova Team, took notice of this. The Consultant stood her ground, but all four members of Nova Team took aim at Dangerus.

The Consultant: You may want to keep your temper in check. I would hate to give the order to cross you off while Vanguard is still alive…

Dangerus stopped, as he looked around, and saw two members of Nova Team to his left, and the other two to his right. Dangerus then looked back at The Consultant and growled once more, before he stepped back. Nova Team lowered their weapons, as Dangerus turned away, but, they were caught off guard when Dangerus immediately turned hostile. Dangerus snarled once more, as he lifted his hammer, and lunged at Anubis and Osiris, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down at their feet, sending both men flying back, separating them from their weapons. When Apophis and Imohtep saw this, they raised their weapons, and took aim at Dangerus, and they began to fire. However, before Dangerus’ shields collapsed, Dangerus jumped at Apophis and Imohtep, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down in the same fashion, tossing them aside like he had done to their compatriots.

Dangerus then turned to The Consultant, and snarled at her, as he walked towards her.

The Consultant: What the hell do you think you are doing? Are you insane!?

The Consultant began to step back, as she raised her weapon and took aim at Dangerus. However, before she could fire, Dangerus lunged at her, and swatted the weapon from her hands.

Dangerus: Proving a point…

Dangerus reached forward with his left hand, and grabbed The Consultant by the throat with his left hand, and lifted her about 10 feet off the ground, into the air. As The Consultant Struggled, Dangerus looked up at her, and snarled.

Dangerus: I am going to enjoy tearing your head from your body. I was going to wait until Vanguard had been defeated, but I really don’t want to wait. I want to see the death in your eyes…NOW…

The Consultant’s eyes widened, as she looked down at her would-be killer. If The Consultant knew one thing, it was the look of malevolence, and it was very apparent in Dangerus’ eyes. She had no doubt that at any second, Dangerus was going to snap her neck with his bare hand and end her life. However, before Dangerus could tighten his grip and kill The Consultant, Dangerus was blasted once more, in the back, by Vanguard. Dangerus howled in pain, as he dropped the Consultant, and fell to the ground.

As The Consultant fell to the ground, she looked at Dangerus, and saw smoke coming off his back, no doubt from the impact he had sustained from Vanguard’s particle beam. The Consultant then turned her head, and looked at Vanguard, who was now glaring right her. The Consultant could see Vanguard’s bright red eye, fully illuminated, as it looked down at her.

Vanguard: Your allies have abandoned you…your minions have fallen…and now you stand alone…

The Consultant got back to her feet, as she backed away from Vanguard. Vanguard, however, continued to glare at The Consultant, as it continued to move towards her, slowly inching closer and closer.

Vanguard: Human…Impressive technical potential. Impressive tactical capability. Mental capacity deemed above average. Physical resilience deemed insufficient. Utility quotient within range for acceptable composition.

The Consultant frowned, as she continued to back up.

Vanguard: Human…you will be the first to submit yourself to me. Your resistance is hopeless. You will serve me, as Prometheans had served before you.

The Consultant scoffed at the notion, as she drew her handgun, and aimed at Vanguard.

The Consultant: I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but not I, nor any Human, will serve you, not in this life, or the next. The Trust will never allow it.

Vanguard: Irrelevant. I cannot be denied.

The Consultant: You ARE going to be denied, Vanguard…I guarantee it!

The Consultant began to fire her Magnum at Vanguard. However, the bullets simply bounced off of Vanguard’s shields.

Vanguard: I am infinite. You are bacteria. Why do you delay the inevitable?

The Consultant began to reload. However, before she could chamber the first round, Vanguard fired off a small blue beam, and lifted The Consultant into the air. The Consultant winced in pain, as she could barely move her arms.

Vanguard: Human…you are no match for me.

The Consultant tried to move her right arm, in an effort to try and shoot Vanguard once more. However, no matter how hard she tried, she could not get her arm to move. That was when Vanguard began to move her arm for her. Much to the Consultant’s horror, her arm began to move back, so that her gun pointed directly at her own head. The Consultant tried to fight with all her might, but, she could not resist what Vanguard was doing to her.

Vanguard: Now, your free will has betrayed you. The forces of this universe bend to my will. I know no limits. I am not constrained by limitations.

The Consultant looked down the barrel of her own gun, and a look of sheer terror shot across her face.

Vanguard: Know this as you die in vain…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: Your death will serve as an example to all those who dare oppose me. If you will not submit to composition, you will be destroyed.

The Consultant winced her eyes, as she awaited what seemed like her inevitable demise.

However, unbeknownst to The Consultant, or Vanguard for that matter, everything that had led up to this point had been observed by Nighthawk. From its engagements with Dangerus, Xyrho, and Vhat, Nova Team’s offensive, right up to Vanguard’s exchange with The Consultant, he had watched and he had intently observed everything. As Nighthawk watched, HAWK spoke to him via a comm link.

HAWK: Nighthawk…I think you may be right…

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I think Vanguard’s shield technology is what Covenant shield technology is derived from. I analyzed the spectrographic scans you made of Vanguard, and the shields seem to operate on a very similar principles. Much like Covenant ships, Vanguard is, in very similar ways, punching holes in its own shields in order to fire that particle laser!

HAWK paused.

HAWK: However, the problem seems to be that Vanguard is not creating complete holes in its shields. It seems that lower intensity blasts are capable of moving through the shields without any adjustment. This is above and beyond anything The Covenant is capable of. This would explain why all of Vanguard’s shots have been non-fatal or concussive. I believe it is aware of the vulnerability inherent in its most powerful attacks, as well as it is aware of its invulnerability when using non-fatal offensive tactics. However, I have noticed that there has been some variance in the strength of that particle laser. As that laser increases in power, the shields directly in front of Vanguard’s eye seem to weaken. Presumably, a full power shot from Vanguard would require Vanguard to poke a hole in its own shields. If you were looking for a weakness, I think this is it! Vanguard’s weakness is its own particle laser!

HAWK paused again.

HAWK: I just don’t like what it is going to take to expose that weakness. In order to get a clear shot…Vanguard needs a clear and FATAL shot on you. What you are doing is suicide. I have run the numbers, with a very conservative estimate. If Vanguard hits you with a full power beam, You will not have a body left to bury. Vanguard will atomize you…

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: It is either me, or the galaxy. Unless you have a better idea HAWK…this is the only way to stop Vanguard. This is what we have to do!

HAWK: Nighthawk! You can’t do this!

Nighthawk: Just watch me…

Nighthawk glared at Vanguard, as he disengaged the safety on his Mass Driver. As he did this, he spoke to Anaconda via the comm line.

Nighthawk: Alright, Big Guy…time to step up. It is down to you and I. Get into position. It is time to enter this fight.

Anaconda: I have been listening to what HAWK has been saying. I heard what he said about exploiting Vanguard’s weakness. I don’t like it.

Nighthawk: We have no choice in the matter. We cannot even scratch this thing’s shields. I have a way to get a shot past Vanguard’s shields…and I am going to take it. All I ask of you, Big Guy, is to finish that damn thing off, once and for all. You have to destroy Vanguard. I am giving you the best opportunity to do it. Just promise me you will finish this.

Anaconda let out a frustrated growl. Beyond that, he did not say much else.

HAWK, on the other hand spoke up one final time.

HAWK: Nighthawk? I think it is worth mentioning that the slipspace core has achieved critical mass. I can open a slipspace rupture, but it has to be done within 30 minutes. After that…the uncontrolled release of energy would be…highly unpredictable. Anything could happen, including nothing, if I don’t open the slip ASAP!

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Open the slipspace portal, and give me a time estimate on how long it will take before the planet first makes contact with the slip.

HAWK: Understood. I will initialize the slipspace rupture…now.

Nighthawk finally got back to his feet, as he walked forward, and pointed his Mass Driver at Vanguard.

HAWK: You have 28 minutes before the planet begins to enter the rupture. The portal should hold out long enough for the planet to enter the slip in its full entirety. After that…no more San Angeles…

Nighthawk: Good. At least if we fail…at least everything on this planet will be destroyed.

Nighthawk sighed, as he stood behind Vanguard. As he took aim at Vanguard, he scoffed, and pulled the trigger. A massive round discharged from Nighthawk’s Mass Driver, and impacted Vanguard’s shields. The kinetic force that was released on impact made a noticeable, but ultimately futile, impact on Vanguard’s shields; going as far as throwing Vanguard off balance, causing the Construct to move forward a bit.

Once Vanguard knew it was under attack, it dropped The Consultant to the ground, and quickly turned, as it glared at Nighthawk.

Vanguard: Human…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: I touched your mind…and I have seen what few others have. I have seen despair. I have seen misery. I have seen the bitter mote of failure. Yet, I have seen adversity turned into purpose, over and over again. I have seen your life…and I have seen what you believe…

Nighthawk scoffed at Vanguard, as he slowly backed up.

Vanguard: You believe that you can defeat me.

Nighthawk continued to step back, as Vanguard moved closer to him. However, Nighthawk thought to himself, and a very stern resolution came over him, as he stopped moving, and stood his ground.

Nighthawk: That is where you are wrong. I do not believe that I can defeat you…

Vanguard stopped.

Nighthawk: I know that I can beat you. There is a difference between believing and knowing something. One is based on faith, while the other is based on fact. You don’t strike me as the faithful kind.

Vanguard: Your hubris knows no end, Human. You are no closer to destroying me with your primitive weapons, than The Warrior Servants were with their primitive weapons.

Nighthawk: You have the audacity to talk about my hubris. How about we talk about yours, hmm?

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Here you are, using words like infinite and unstoppable. You describe your opponents as insects and bacteria. The only thing you know is your own arrogance. Arrogance is all I hear from you. You are the definition of arrogance.

Vanguard: Arrogance is a failing that is reserved for lesser beings.

Nighthawk: Despite the evidence to the contrary.

Vanguard’s eye flared up.

Nighthawk: You don’t like that comparison very much, do you? You do not like being put on the level of lesser beings. Well…here is another…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: A being so infinite and so unstoppable, would not have needed insects and bacteria to revive it after it was DEFEATED by insects and bacteria. Without us…you would still be nothing.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You know what I think, Vanguard? I think your bark is much worse than your bite. For all of the shit that you spew, you are not nearly as dangerous as you claim. I will admit, you are a tough nut to crack. I watched The Covenant and The Trust hit you with everything they could muster, and they didn’t even make a dent.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Even Anaconda…the TOUGHEST son of a bitch I know, could not crack your little protective bubble. However, for all of that, there is a vulnerability inherent to what you are. For all of your technology and for all of your power, you are not unstoppable. You are not invincible. You can be destroyed. It is very possible to destroy you.

Vanguard: It is clear that you believe that you can do what your obvious superiors have failed to do.

Nighthawk kept his eyes locked on Vanguard; his visor running in full spectrometer mode in order to keep tabs on Vanguard’s shields. Nighthawk, however, continued to back up, as Vanguard continued to move towards him.

Nighthawk: Well, I cannot hit as hard or move as fast, but,I do have a different approach than they do. I have my own style.

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: However, I think you already knew that.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I also think that you are trying to figure out what that approach is, and you have no idea how to figure it out.

Nighthawk grinned.

Nighthawk: For all of your boasting and grandeur, you have no idea how I plan on beating you, and deep down inside of your…hardware, it is eating you alive. Your arrogance does not allow you to believe that you can be beaten, but, your cold and programmatic logic demands to know how I could even be REMOTELY CAPABLE of beating you. There is some errant subroutine in there that HAS to know what possibly could I do to defeat you?

Vanguard’s eye flared once again.

Nighthawk: You said it yourself, Vanguard…we have impressive technical potential, and you are about to see that potential…first hand. If there is one thing I know, it is how to solve a technological problem. However, like you said, you touched my mind, and you saw everything about me. You should know how good I am at solving technical problems.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: You are nothing more than technology. You are nothing more than software interacting with hardware. You are a nothing more than a technological problem. I know how to solve the Vanguard problem. I am going to destroy you.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow brighter.

Vanguard: I cannot be destroyed…

Nighthawk interjected, as he raised his Mass Driver, and aimed it at Vanguard.

Nighthawk: YES! Yes you can! You can be destroyed!

Vanguard glared at Nighthawk. It was so appalled and so offended by Nighthawks hubris, that it had felt something that it had never felt; rage. Vanguard’s eye was blinding, as its glow began to illuminate the entire room. Its voice became very deep, and its posture denoted a need to destroy. Vanguard had become consumed by its own rage. As the Construct glared at Nighthawk, it stood ready to destroy the Human in front of it.

Vanguard: If you have the power to destroy me…THEN DO IT…

Nighthawk grinned behind his helmet, as he stopped moving, and glared at Vanguard. Vanguard’s eye was glowing very bright, and it was clearly ready for battle. Nighthawk was almost blinded by the intensity of Vanguards eye, but, he knew that he had Vanguard where he needed to be. Nighthawk, not intent on tipping his hand or giving an inch to Vanguard, stood his ground; demonstrating a complete defiance.

Vanguard: What are you waiting for, Human?

Nighthawk: I am trying to figure out if you still doubt my claim. If you were taking my threat seriously, you would have destroyed me by now. Yet, here I am…still alive.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: What is the matter Vanguard? Afraid to make a move? Afraid that if you act, it will lead to your demise?

Vanguard did not respond.

Nighthawk: Let me tell you something Vanguard; right now, as we speak, this planet is hurtling towards its destruction. I have managed to open a slipspace event in the orbital path of this planet. In less than 24 minutes…this planet, and everything on it, is going to cease to exist once it is enveloped by the slipspace. It is not enough to kill you, Vanguard. I need to destroy everything about you. I am going to destroy this facility. I am going to destroy your Forge. I am going to destroy everything you value. Everything you are, the cumulative sum, is going to be destroyed.

Vanguard was silent for a moment.

Vanguard: Impossible. Your species has, at best, a marginal understanding of slipspace travel.

Nighthawk: Don’t believe me? Just look up. I am damn sure that something like you would have access to sensors to verify that I am telling the truth.

Vanguard paused for a moment, before it spoke up.

Vanguard: You are telling the truth.

Nighthawk: Like you said…impressive technical potential.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow even brighter. Nighthawk took note of this, and he could see that Vanguard’s energy levels were very high.

Vanguard: You would destroy this installation? You would sacrifice a planet to destroy me? You would destroy MY forge? The hubris…the ARROGANCE!

Vanguard paused. As Vanguard spoke, the sheer volume of his voice began to echo inside Nighthawk’s skull, causing a very noticeable pain in his ears. Nighthawk winced his eyes in pain, but he stood his ground.

As Vanguard spoke, Vhat, Dangerus, and Xyrho began to regain consciousness. As they started to come around, they watched the confrontation between Nighthawk and Vanguard.

Vanguard: You may be the inheritor of all that has been left behind, Reclaimer…but this installation belongs to me…and you shall not harm it!

Xyrho, Dangerus, and Vhat were all curious as to what Vanguard was talking about, as it seemingly contradicted everything that they had been told previously.

Vanguard: I refuse to simply…recede. I refuse to allow you, Reclaimer, to destroy a legacy that you are not evolved enough to comprehend.

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: I will do as I please, you son of a bitch. I am more than willing to condemn this entire world, if only to ensure that it becomes your tomb. Surekly, you should know this! You should know that I will fight, I will sacrifice, and I will die to make sure that whatever I set my mind to, I achieve.

Vanguard’s eye began to glow even brighter. As it did, HAWK spoke up, and said the words that Nighthawk wanted to hear.

HAWK: Vanguard’s energy levels have reached critical mass. That thing HAS to be fully charged. If that thing hits you…

HAWK was hesitant to finish his thought. However, he knew that Nighthawk was set on this course of action, and there was little he could do to stop him.

HAWK: Just…just get it to fire. The beam intensity should be enough to give you ONE clear shot on Vanguard’s chassis…and it should be enough to…kill you…

Nighthawk swallowed hard, as he aimed his Mass Driver at Vanguard, anticipating what was coming next. Vanguard, on the other hand, glared at Nighthawk. Both sides, ready to kill the other, at a moment’s notice.

Nighthawk: Know this, as YOU die in vain…VANGUARD; There is NOTHING that is going to stop me from decimating this ENTIRE planet, so long as you are on it. I now hold this planet in the palm of my hand, and you are going to watch me clench my fist. The only way to save your precious Forge…the ONLY way to stop me…is to hit me with everything you have. This is it Vanguard…this is what it boils down to. Everything that has happened, did so to create this moment in time. Me…and you…one on one…to the death.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Come on Vanguard…show me that infinite power you are so eager to brag about. Impress me. Destroy me…as you would destroy the bacteria that you so revile. Let’s do this…

Vanguard began to charge his laser. As he did, Nighthawk stepped back, and clenched his Mass Driver. As he did, his heart felt as if it had stopped. This was it…the moment that Nighthawk dreaded. This was the eye of the needle, and Nighthawk had one chance to pass through.

HAWK: NIGHTHAWK! SHOOT IT! SHOOT IT NOW!

As soon as Nighthawk heard HAWK, he tightened the grip on his Mass Driver as he aimed dead center, right at Vanguard’s eye, and pulled the trigger. Vanguard, at the same time that Nighthawk had fired, discharged his fully charged particle laser. However, at that moment, just as Nighthawk fired his Mass Driver, and just as Vanguard fired his particle beam, Nighthawk’s aim was thrown off, when he was tackled out of the path of the energy beam, by Anaconda. While Vanguard’s particle beam barely missed the duo, Nighthawk’s Mass Driver round veered off its intended target, and impacted Vanguard just to the left of its eye, still managing to slip through the hole in Vanguard’s shields to severely damage Vanguard’s chassis.

Vanguard let out a rather distorted noise, as it struggled to maintain its anti-gravity thrusters. Before long, Vanguard finally fell to the ground and remained motionless for a moment. Nighthawk, on the other hand, looked at Anaconda, who rolled to the side after he had released Nighthawk from his grasp.

Nighthawk: Are you insane? You could have got yourself killed!

Anaconda gave a confused grunt.

Anaconda: Got myself killed? You were TRYING to get yourself killed!

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I didn’t want to watch you get killed.

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda, and sighed. Nighthawk had to grin under his helmet, as he found the stealth sentimentality to be rather uncharacteristic, but, welcome all the same. Nighthawk clenched his fist, as he nudged Anaconda’s arm several times.

Nighthawk: I appreciate the save. I didn’t really want to die…to be 100% honest. I felt it was something I had to do instead of something I wanted to do.

Nighthawk then laughed a bit.

Nighthawk: Just be a bit gentler next time you decide to tackle me out of the way of something. That felt like I got hit by a damn car…

Anaconda: I will keep it in mind.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked over at the damaged Vanguard. After making a quick visual examination of Vanguard, he looked back at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: We have that SOB on the ropes. Ready to finish this?

Anaconda snarled, as he gave a nod. Both Nighthawk and Anaconda got back to their feet, as they glared at Vanguard, who had managed to rebalance its anti-gravity thrusters, and get itself off the ground. The damaged construct glared back at Nighthawk and Anaconda, as its eye began to flare up once more. As Vanguard spoke, its voice was distorted.

Vanguard: This shell…is only a vehicle. Destroy this shell…and one hundred shall replace it.

Vanguard fired its particle laser once more. However, the damage to Vanguard had compromised its ability to aim. This allowed Nighthawk and Anaconda to both jump to opposite sides to dodge the beam. As Nighthawk jumped to the side, he fired his Mass Driver once more. However, Vanguard had stopped firing its particle laser in order to protect itself from the Mass Driver round. In spite of this, however, the round impacted Vanguard’s shields, and threw the Construct off balance. What Vanguard did not expect, however, was that the damage that Nighthawk had managed to do, had compromised its ability to maintain its own shielding. When the second Mass Driver round impacted Vanguard, Vanguard’s shields began to fluctuate. When Nighthawk saw this, he knew that he had to hit Vanguard with everything that he had! Nighthawk fired the last two rounds in his clip in direct succession, with the fourth and final round bringing Vanguard’s shields down. There was a very visible energy discharge from Vanguard when its shields came down.

Nighthawk: Anaconda! Go! Vanguard’s shields are down!

Anaconda roared, as he jumped back to his feet, and charged at Vanguard with his Gravity Hammer. Vanguard glared at Anaconda, and fired its particle beam once more. However, Vanguard’s damaged state made it difficult for it to track Anaconda’s movements when Anaconda had spun and dodged to the side. Vanguard began to move back, and began to target Anaconda once more. However, Anaconda leapt into the air, and slammed his Gravity Hammer down on Vanguard, slamming the Construct right into the ground, making direct contact with Vanguard’s chassis.

As Vanguard slammed into the ground, Anaconda stepped back a few steps, before charging Vanguard once more, and slamming his Gravity Hammer right into the side of Vanguard. The force of the impact sent Vanguard rolling to the side, as pieces of its chassis broke off; exposing Vanguard’s vulnerable internals.

Nighthawk: Vanguard’s armor is failing! Keep at it! Do not give this thing any quarter!

Anaconda roared again, as he slammed his Hammer into Vanguard once more. Nighthawk, on the other hand, ejected the empty clip from his Mass Driver, and put a new one in its place. As Nighthawk began to charge his Mass Driver for another shot, he watched as Anaconda assault Vanguard with his Gravity Hammer. Anaconda snarled with every swing of his Hammer, as if he was taking a very malicious enjoyment out of utterly demolishing Vanguard, piece by piece.

However, despite Anaconda’s relentless assaults, Vanguard managed to quickly retaliate, as it discharged a radial blast that knocked Anaconda back, and onto the ground. Anaconda grunted as he hit the ground, but he was not so easily dismayed, as he quickly got back to his feet, and growled at Vanguard. Anaconda was too deep in his mindset to allow himself to be so easily subdued.

Anaconda: Is that the best you can do, Construct?

As Anaconda taunted Vanguard, Nighthawk walked up beside Anaconda, standing shoulder to shoulder with his compatriot; glaring at Vanguard. Nighthawk hefted his Mass Driver, as he aimed it at Vanguard. Vanguard, conversely, simply glared back at Nighthawk and Anaconda. As it spoke, its voice was heavily distorted, but, still very understandable.

Vanguard: You have not seen my best…

Vanguard let out a distorted computerized tone for a moment, before it spoke again. As it spoke, its eye began to glow a bright red.

Vanguard: No matter what you do to me, no matter what force you apply, I cannot be destroyed. This body…is only a vehicle. The essence of what I am…cannot be destroyed. I am infinite…

Vanguard passed.

Vanguard: You have not yet defeated this one shell. Even now, you struggle against me…your best efforts falling short.

Nighthawk frowned, as he shot Vanguard again; the round from his Mass Driver punching right through Vanguard. Nighthawk paused for a moment, before he fired two additional rounds. The impacts from the two rounds critically damaged Vanguard in the process.

Vanguard hissed a rather obscene electronic tone, as it glared at Nighthawk, desperately trying to maintain its anti-gravity thrusters.

Vanguard: I…am…infinite…

Nighthawk shot Vanguard once more, using his last round. This round, much like the first, punched a hole right through Vanguard. This time, Vanguard’s lights dimmed, as it fell to the ground. Its eye began to flicker, as it barely had enough power to keep itself active.

Vanguard: I…

Anaconda snarled, as he hefted his Gravity Hammer, and glared at Vanguard.

Vanguard: I…

Anaconda growled…as he spoke up, to finish what Vanguard was trying to say.

Anaconda: Can be destroyed…

Anaconda growled, as he slammed the sledged of his Hammer down on Vanguard. The force of impact split Vanguard in half, right down the middle, as the Construct split into two pieces…finally falling silent, as it lay completely deactivated and inert. Anaconda looked at the broken Construct, and raised his Hammer into the air, and howled in victory. Nighthawk, on the other hand, simply sighed, as he could finally say that everything that had led up to this moment, had now met its conclusion.

As Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at the broken husk that was once Vanguard, they felt a rather heavy tremor, as if something above them had shaken the ground with great force. However, the euphoria of their victory had overcome them too much for them to even give a second thought to the tremor.

Nighthawk: We did it…

Nighthawk approached Anaconda, and patted him on the back.

Nighthawk: We did it! We beat Vanguard…

Nighthawk paused, as Anaconda turned, and looked down at Nighthawk, nudging him back, as if to share in the victory. Nighthawk holstered his Mass Driver on his back, as he continued to speak.

Nighthawk: We killed it…with a solid 13 minutes to spare. That should give us enough time to…

Nighthawk paused, when he heard the sound of a Gravity Hammer’s staff hitting the floor. Nighthawk turned to see Dangerus, glaring at him.

Dangerus: Enough time for what, Human?

Dangerus growled at Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Dangerus: I must admit…I am impressed by the two of you. You defeated Vanguard. That is no small feat.

Dangerus then let out a growl.

Dangerus: Unfortunately, for you…this is where your triumph ends. You may have defeated Vanguard, but, the technology is still mine to take.

Nighthawk and Anaconda turned to fully face Dangerus. Nighthawk glared at Dangerus, as he did not like the direction that the situation had just taken.

Dangerus: This planet…and all that hides beneath it, all of its secrets, and all of Vanguard’s technology…now belongs to ME! This planet is MY trophy…

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Are you serious? After all of this…you choose NOW to betray us? After everything that we had to go through…you are turning on us?

Dangerus laughed.

Dangerus: In order for me to betray you, we would have had to have been allies. We were NEVER allies, Human. You were useful, just not an ally.

Anaconda interjected

Anaconda: I expected more from you, Dangerus. I expected you to have SOME sense of loyalty!

Dangerus: How laughable…a lesson in loyalty from a lone wandering Jiralhanae, with only a single Human as a pack mate. You have no right to speak to me about loyalty!

Dangerus paused, as he glared at Anaconda.

Dangerus: If you knew anything about Loyalty, then you would know that I am doing this because I am nothing BUT loyal to my kind! Do you even know what this planet means to The Jiralhanae! Do you have any idea what it would mean for The Jiralhanae to return in victory, with Vanguard in hand? A trophy, such as Vanguard, carries a reward beyond anything that I can even imagine.

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: If I wish to receive that reward, I have to kill the two of you, I am more than prepared to do that!

Anaconda snarled, but, Nighthawk held up his hand, as if to ask Anaconda to relax. Dangerus laughed when he saw this, but, Anaconda bit his tongue. Anaconda was smart enough to know that Nighthawk may have an angle on this situation.

Nighthawk: Look, Chieftain, I know that you think you are doing some sort of good deed by brining Vanguard back to your leaders, but, it isn’t worth it! That AI is too dangerous! Vanguard’s technology is too dangerous! This planet is too dangerous! This Forge has the capacity to be a weapon of mass destruction! Vanguard’s hardware came from that forge! Hundreds…even thousands of Vanguards could come from that Forge! Do you honestly want to be the person who irresponsibly releases that nightmare on the galaxy? Vanguard didn’t care about species! Human, Brute, Elite…it didn’t matter! We were all equally killable in its mind.

Nighthawk took a step forward, but Dangerus stepped into his path and snarled.

Nighthawk: I am appealing to the better judgement that I KNOW that you have. I know a part of you agrees with me, and I also know that a part of you is resisting that better judgement, because you seek some sort of reward or recognition. That reward is not worth it! Believe me…I am well aware of the politics in The Covenant. I understand why you THINK you are making the right choice. I am telling you that it is NOT worth it.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: Typical Human…pleading for your life. It is laughable to think that I expected more from you!

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: When I present these…”holy artifacts” to our prophets…the rewards will be lavish. I will enjoy a wealth of praise so immense, that there will be more than enough for the rest of my kind!

Dangerus scoffed, as he looked at Vhat and Xyrho.

Dangerus: Even they will benefit from this to some degree.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: This technology will not elevate our species! Vanguard is an abomination! It must not be allowed to exist in any form! If any part of this Forge survives…then everything we did was for nothing!

Dangerus: This technology…belongs to The Covenant!

Just as Anaconda said this, Vhat approached from the side, and took aim at both Nighthawk and Anaconda with two plasma Rifles.

Vhat: As much as it pains me to agree with The Chieftain, I am forced to take his side. These relics belong to our Hierarchs…to The Covenant. It is my highest mandate to secure the holy relics, and return them to our Prophets, and it is my distinct privilege to defend these holy artifacts from further desecration by your species!

Nighthawk looked at Vhat.

Nighthawk: Open your god damn eyes! There is nothing in this room that is holy! It can’t be desecrated because it is not holy! All of this…it is just technology! It is just equipment! Gods didn’t make this crap! People did! Vanguard is not as God! Whatever created Vanguard was not a God! It was a machine, a weapon, built by people…regular people…nothing more! You heard what Vanguard said! The people that built this place…were not gods. Those people are long dead, buried, and turned to ash!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Whatever it is you believe…it is bullshit! Even Vanguard called it bullshit! You heard it yourself! The thing you revere as holy did not recognize your dogma! It is not real!

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: Nighthawk speaks the truth. Do not be deceived by liars disguised as prophets! They speak lies, nothing more!

Vhat glared at Nighthawk and Anaconda. Deep down, Vhat was unsure what to believe. Between what Vanguard had said, and what he was hearing now from Nighthawk and Anaconda, Vhat was struggling with a very real existential crisis of faith.

Vhat: You dare to question my…

Vhat stopped, as he scoffed at Anaconda and Nighthawk.

Nighthawk: Your faith? Is that what you are going to say? How dare we question your faith?

Vhat scoffed.

Vhat: Your kind has done enough, Human. I will not permit further desecration by your disgusting species.

Nighthawk and Anaconda exchanged a look. They both knew that given the severe time constraints, this was a curveball that they could not afford, nor could they indulge.

Nighthawk: Alright, I am getting sick of this! We don’t have time to debate this! This planet is about to be destroyed! I have put a weapon into play that is designed to take this entire planet down! We are wasting time, time we could be using to escape! If you idiots want to stay here and worship at the altar of Vanguard…fine! You can do that! This planet, whether you like it or not, is inevitably going to be destroyed, and there is nothing that any of us can do to stop it! Any course of action, from this point forward, that does not involve escape…is a waste of time!

Dangerus growled. It was very clear that Dangerus had been angered by what Nighthawk had done.

Dangerus: Believe me, filth…there will be nothing wasted when you are torn apart for what you have done here. Your deaths will be quick. While I am sure Xyrho would not approve of this course of action, he is in no condition to object.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: I will simply tell him you two died battling Vanguard.

Dangerus glared at Nighthawk.

Dangerus: I am sure Vhat will enjoy striking you down Human. After all, who am I to stand in the way of a Sangheili’s desire to eradicate your species?

Dangerus snarled, as he hefted his Hammer, and stepped towards Nighthawk and Anaconda. However, as soon as Dangerus took the first step, several shots rang out from behind Dangerus, as rounds from a Light Rifle impacted Dangerus right in his back. The first two shots were all that was needed to break Dangerus shields, while the third shot penetrated Dangerus armor, and wounded him. The force of the impact, along with the pain from the wound, threw Dangerus forward, and dropped him to the ground almost immediately.

When Dangerus had fallen, Vhat turned around to see The Consultant standing behind Dangerus; Light Rifle in hand. As Vhat turned to take aim at The Consultant, Nova Team began to fire on Vhat. As Vhat stumbled back, The Consultant turned to face Vhat, and with a single shot to his abdomen, dropped him to the ground. As Vhat fell to the ground, the wound in his abdomen began to bleed, as he placed his hand over his wound to stop the bleeding.

With both hostiles down, The Consultant simply grinned, as she walked forward, towards Nighthawk.

The Consultant: As the duly designated representative for The Trust Syndicate…I simply cannot abide any course of action that threatens the continued existence of the Human race. Allowing this technology to fall into Covenant hands stands for everything we are against!

As The Consultant stepped forward, she stopped when she was right next to Dangerus. She took a moment to look down at him, before she slammed the sole of her boot right into the side of Dangerus heads. The cheap shot was less intended to hurt, and more intended to be an insult to Dangerus.

The Consultant: You are not the only one who can play the betrayal card, you stupid beast.

Dangerus snarled, but, his wound made it very difficult for him to get back to his feet to either defend himself or retaliate. All he could do is watch as The Consultant kept walking towards Nighthawk.

Nighthawk and Anaconda, on the other hand, simply looked at The Consultant and Nova Team with very skeptical eyes. They were both very uncertain how she was going to proceed now that Vanguard had been defeated.

The Consultant: Well, Nighthawk, Anaconda; I am impressed. You two did as you promised; you defeated Vanguard. For a minute…it was looking pretty bad for us all, but, you two managed to pull off a victory, and a damn good one at that. That final standoff with Vanguard, just before he was about to vaporize you…10 out of 10 performance!

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: Well done.

Nighthawk: If it is all the same to you…I would prefer to leave. In less than 10 minutes, this planet is going to be absorbed by a Slipspace event. I would rather not be on this planet when it is exposed to the slip.

The Consultant: That is understandable. I just worry about if it will be possible for you to make it off the planet in time.

Nighthawk: That worry becomes more legitimate the longer I stand here, discussing it.

The Consultant paused, as she looked at both Nighthawk and Anaconda.

The Consultant: You know…the offer is still on the table…

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: You two would go far in The Trust. Your skills would be a major asset to the organization.

Anaconda: Not interested.

The Consultant: I do not understand why? After what we managed to pull off here, simply by working together, I fail to see how you would not be inclined to continue this alliance.

Nighthawk: The Trust is the reason we don’t want to continue this alliance. While The Trust blindly meddles with ancient superweapons, we are busy cleaning up the resultant mess. While The Trust conducts treacherous military operations AGAINST ONI and the UNSC, we are busy being the response to that treachery, with or without a request, mind you.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Yeah, sure…The Trust likes to say that it is the invisible hands that protects Humanity, but nothing that was done here, on San Angeles, had the protection of Humanity in mind. All The Trust wanted was a weapon; a weapon that was as much of a threat to Humanity as it was The Covenant, and it was prepared to sacrifice everything to get what it wanted. The UNSC and ONI were here to save civilians. The Trust was here to serve itself. The Trust subscribes to dangerous mentalities…and they are mentalities that I do not subscribe to.

The Consultant: Says the man who claims that San Angeles is going to be absorbed by a Slipspace rupture.

Nighthawk: No, says the man who has to clean up the mess that The Trust had so willingly created. The Trust brought The Covenant here, The Covenant wants what you found, and I am simply enacting asset denial protocols. It was a tough call, the toughest call I have ever made, but, it had to be made!

The Consultant: Asset denial…

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: A term used far too often by ONI, and the people who work for it. Isn’t that the revelation of the century? All the more reason for you to join us, Nighthawk. I will say it again…we make a good team!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: If you are so enamored by how well we worked together…then I invite you to abandon The Trust. Your expertise would go far in ONI.

The Consultant: If it were possible, it would be considered. However, that is not possible, ergo, not considered. You see, Nighthawk…the winds of change have already started to blow. A very cold breeze is now moving down the neck of ONI…a breeze that comes just before the blade severs that neck.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: The hand of fate is a merciless one

Nighthawk: What are you talking about?

The Consultant: I am talking about the future; a future where ONI is no longer relevant. Our world has changed, Nighthawk. This war has changed. Humanity must also change if it is to survive this war. It is very clear what side you stand on now, even though the players on that side of the board don’t want you, I know where you stand. The players on this side of the board wouldn’t want you either, but, I do. You have a keen mind. It would be a shame to lose it.

Anaconda looked at Nighthawk with a confused inflection in his voice.

Anaconda: What is she talking about?

Nighthawk was silent for a moment as he glared at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: She is talking about Operation Blind Eagle…

The Consultant simply grinned.

The Consultant: You do know, don’t you? I suspect that Commander Vernette leaked that one.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Know this, Nighthawk; things are going to change. You can either be on our side, or die on theirs.

The Consultant grinned as she looked at Anaconda.

The Consultant: You would be most welcome to come with me. Hell, I will even let Nighthawk tag along if it will make you feel better. I know you two are friends, and I would not want to come between that,

Anaconda: As I have said before, Human…I am not interested. I will NEVER work with you. I will never join The Trust.

The Consultant: A pity. I guess you are fated to die with Nighthawk. I would have preferred to have you on our side when we decapitated ONI.

Nighthawk scoffed at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: If you think for one second that you will EVER get the chance to supplant ONI…

The Consultant laughed.

The Consultant: I don’t THINK we can…I KNOW we can.

Nighthawk: If you try it…I will be there to stop you.

The Consultant: Perhaps…perhaps not. You have to make it off this rock first.

Nighthawk: Yeah? News flash; so do you.

The Consultant grinned, as she glared at Nighthawk. As she did, Vhat tried to climb back to his feet. As he tried to get back to his feet, he glared at The Consultant, wanting nothing more than to bisect the treacherous Human with his energy dagger. Conversely, Xyrho had started to regain consciousness, as he got back to his feet, and stared at Vanguard’s broken husk. When Xyrho saw that Vanguard had been defeated, he spoke.

Xyrho: The Construct has been defeated!

Xyrho paused, as he looked at The Consultant, and then at Nighthawk and Anaconda. Just based on the way that the two sides were standing, he knew something was going down.

Xyrho: I demand to know what is happening!

Anaconda chimed in.

Anaconda: This Human is simply sharing ideas that we do not agree with.

Xyrho: Your disagreements do not concern me. What does concern me, however, is the elimination of Vanguard’s acolytes. Now that Vanguard has been defeated, its acolytes will be easy enough to kill.

Xyrho drew both of his energy blades once more, as he glared at The Consultant.

Xyrho: There is no escape for you, filth.

The Consultant simply laughed.

The Consultant: I did not come all this way WITHOUT an escape plan. You people think so little of me

The Consultant stepped back, along with Nova Team; moving closer and closer to Vanguard’s broken husk. They finally stopped when they were standing right next to Vanguard’s broken shell.

The Consultant: Vanguard was right about one thing, Nighthawk…

The Consultant grinned, as she reached to her side, and grabbed her PDA from her pocket.

The Consultant: Humans have impressive technical potential. That potential needs to be realized, and Vanguard is going to help us do it.

Nighthawk scoffed, as he stepped forward.

Nighthawk: What are you doing?

The Consultant: What needs to be done, what we came here to accomplish. I am making this sacrifice mean something.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Vanguard’s technology is going to help us defeat The Covenant…

The Consultant pressed her thumb against her PDA.

The Consultant: And it is going to help us defeat ONI.

Anaconda growled, as both he and Nighthawk drew their weapons and took aim at The Consultant. Xyrho, on the other hand, charged at The Consultant and Nova Team. However, before Xyrho could reach his targets, or before Nighthawk and Anaconda could even fire a single shot, they were all blinded by a bright light that had enveloped Nova Team, The Consultant, and Vanguard’s broken husk. The bright flash only lasted a moment, but, by the time it had fully dissipated, The Consultant, Nova Team, and what was left of Vanguard had vanished.

Nighthawk: What the hell? What the hell happened?

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: That was Vanguard’s teleportation grid. The Construct was capable of teleporting itself.

Nighthawk: Yeah, well…how the hell did The Consultant learn that trick?

Anaconda: I do not know…

Anaconda snarled.

Anaconda: But…they are gone.

Nighthawk clenched his fist, as he turned away, and began to pace back and forth.

Nighthawk: God damn it! The last thing we needed was Vanguard in the hands of The Trust. We have to find them! We cannot allow The Trust to take possession of that Construct.

Anaconda: I think it is obvious where The Consultant has taken Vanguard.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at Anaconda.

Anaconda: Vanguard has been taken back to The Ulterior Motive.

Nighthawk: How can that be? ONI is in control of that ship!

Anaconda: Where else would they go?

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: If you think about it, The Trust has had more than enough time to retake their ship. Remember, we have no idea what may be going on up in orbit. There is a reason we have not seen The Risk Takers or Hammer Team, and I believe THIS is the reason!

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Son of a bitch. You’re right…it is entirely possible The Trust had diverted most of their muscle into retaking The Ulterior Motive!

Nighthawk sighed.

Nighthawk: We have to get moving! If we can get back to orbit, we can get to The Ulterior Motive, and we can stop The Trust from taking Vanguard’s remains!

Xyrho then spoke up.

Xyrho: Wait! We cannot leave Vhat or Dangerus behind! I require assistance!

Nighthawk turned, and looked at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Tough shit. Saving those two is NOT my concern. They can rot in hell for all I care.

Anaconda growled at Nighthawk.

Anaconda: Nighthawk!

Nighthawk turned back to Anaconda.

Nighthawk: What?

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: I would prefer if we did not leave Dangerus to die.

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda with a look of confusion in his body language.

Nighthawk: What!? That bastard tried to betray us! He was going to kill us before The Consultant shot him!

Anaconda: I know…but…I would prefer to NOT leave a fellow Jiralhanae behind. Besides…Xyrho has not been a threat to us. He deserves at least SOME help for that.

Xyrho: This is true, Human. I could have turned hostile when my compatriots did. However, I knew better.

Nighthawk sighed, as he glared at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Fine, fine, you two don’t need to convince me. Mind you, I am only going along with this cause Anaconda asked, and NOT because you did.

Nighthawk then looked at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Grab the Chieftain. I am sure the Zealot can help the Major. We get out of here, together, alive! Once we get off this rock, we can dump these Covenant bastards off somewhere.

Xyrho then interjected.

Xyrho: That will not be necessary. We have our own Phantom, and we can make our own escape. If we can make it back to ground level, we can divert to my Phantom, and we can make our escape.

As Nighthawk said this Xyrho retracted his energy blades, as he looked at Vhat. Without saying another word, Xyrho walked over to Vhat, and helped his wounded ally back to his feet. However, Xyrho had Vhat’s arm over his shoulder, as he helped support Vhat.

Anaconda, on the other hand, managed to get Dangerus back to his feet, and in a similar fashion, supported Dangerus weight with an arm over his shoulder.

Nighthawk: Works for me. Alright then, let’s move it! We are burning sunshine…and we do NOT have a lot of it to spare.

As Nighthawk said this, he turned and looked to the exit. As soon as he did this, he began to sprint towards the exit, leading the way for Xyrho and Anaconda, who were following as quickly as they could, in tow.

Anaconda: Nighthawk! Do you know how to get out of here?

Nighthawk took a moment to respond.

Nighthawk: Yes. I remember the floorplan to this facility. It is all in my head. I had a feeling I would need to commit it to memory. Good thing I did.

As Nighthawk led Anaconda and Xyrho back through the long corridor that led to Vanguard’s antechamber, he held his hand to the side of his helmet, as he tried to contact HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK, do you copy? Come in!

It took a moment for HAWK to respond, and when he did, there was quite a bit of static.

HAWK: Nighthawk? I am having trouble keeping this channel clear. Our proximity to the massive slipspace event is creating a lot of interference for our communication systems. It is only going to get worse as the planet gets closer to the event horizon. At this rate, comms are going to drop the moment the planet makes contact with the event horizon.

Nighthawk: Then I will make this quick! I want the Vulture prepped for take-off the SECOND Anaconda and I get aboard! We need every second we can get!

HAWK paused for a moment, before he spoke again.

HAWK: The Vulture will not be enough! I have been running the numbers, and I do not believe the Vulture will be fast enough to achieve escape velocity before the planet is absorbed by the slipspace event.

Nighthawk: What!?

HAWK: At best, you will only reach your Vulture when the planet first impacts the event horizon of the slipspace event. At that point, as the planet begins to enter the slipspace rift, you will only have an addition 2 minutes and 15 seconds to escape Firebase Mediterranean before THAT location crosses the slipspace event horizon. At the best possible speeds for The Vulture, you will not outrun the rate at which the planet is entering the slip. In other words…the Vulture will NOT get you to safety,

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: What about The Venture Capitalist? Surely that ship must be faster than a Vulture.

HAWK: The Venture Capitalist could easily outrun the Vulture. If you were extracted by The Venture Capitalist, you could easily escape before being pulled into the slip.

Nighthawk: Then it is settled. Get The Venture Capitalist on the ground and extract our Vulture back to the hanger bay.

HAWK: How do you plan on getting back to The Venture Capitalist without the Vulture?

Nighthawk grinned.

Nighthawk: Let’s just say one good deed deserves another. I may have an idea.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: All you need to do, HAWK, is keep the Venture Capitalist in ELO above Firebase Mediterranean, and when I say ELO, I mean I should be able to throw a rock from the ground and hit the damn thing. With that said, make sure that the hanger bay is FACING the facility. I want a clear shot at the hanger bay with the peddle to the metal. If you can do that, I can handle the rest.

HAWK: Copy that. I will maintain contact as long as I can.

Nighthawk: Keep an open comm line for as long as you can. If there are any changes, do you best to keep me apprised.

As Nighthawk said this, he continued moving forward; his eye on the timer that was counting down in the corner of his HUD. As the timer counted down to the two minute Mark, Nighthawk began to slow his pace, as he approach the elevator that had originally brought him down to this level. As Nighthawk stepped onto the elevator, he turned around, and saw Anaconda and Xyrho not too far behind.

Nighthawk: Let’s go! We have less than two minutes before the end of the world!

Anaconda grunted, as he stepped onto the elevator, still supporting all of Dangerus’ weight.

Anaconda: Let’s see how fast you can move carrying this much dead weight!

Nighthawk shrugged, as he once again placed his hand on the side of his helmet, and spoke to HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK? Are you still inside of Firebase Mediterranean’s systems?

HAWK: Affirmative!

Nighthawk: I need you to get this elevator moving! Think you can pull that off?

HAWK: Stand by

Nighthawk, Xyrho, and Anaconda waited a moment. Xyrho was about to speak up, but before he could get the chance, the elevator started to move up.

HAWK: Got it. Sorry for the delay, this system is vast. Speaking of which, I think I know how The Consultant escaped with Vanguard.

Nighthawk was interested by this discovery. Before HAWK began to explain, Nighthawk reached to his side and pulled out his PDA, and held it out in front of him. Nighthawk tapped his thumb on the PDA, and activated a small holotank on his PDA, which allowed for HAWK to be projected for Xyrho and Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Care to inform us on what you found?

HAWK: The Trust had an AI in the system that had taken over all of secondary systems in the facility. These systems included teleporters, doors, elevators, internal sensors, and lights.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I did not notice at first, because my focus was on the primary systems, such as automated defenses and The Forge itself.

Anaconda: Automated defenses?

HAWK: Yeah, this facility had a shitload of automated defenses. I believe they were called Sentinels. I looked over the specs, and they were basically mini Vanguards; numbering the in the millions, but considerably less powerful. Low powered shields systems and particle beams. I managed to shut them all down with the same piece of Malware we used to shut down The Forge.

Nighthawk: We can discuss these Sentinels later. You mentioned another AI.

HAWK: Yes. The other AI was Renegade. It was operating in low power mode, trying to hide from me

Nighthawk: That suggests that this was all part of The Consultant’s plan. She planned to kill Vanguard, and she planned on betraying us. We played right into her hands. We got so caught up trying to kill Vanguard, we failed to spot the most obvious ploy.

HAWK: It would seem that way. Lucky for us, however, once The Consultant had left the facility, Renegade disengaged from this facilities systems. The timestamps on the session termination packet coincides with when The Consultant was whisked away by the teleportation grid.

HAWK paused.

Nighthawk: So…Renegade was her ace in the hole. The AI hijacked the teleportation grid, and used it to extract her. Unbelievable…

HAWK: That being said, The Venture Capitalist is as close to the facility as I can get it. There seems to be a lot of interference coming from the slipspace event, and it is wreaking havoc on the navigation systems. The positioning is as good as it is going to get. Additionally, I have managed to dock the Vulture inside of the hanger bay. SO, with all of that done, care to fill me in on the details on how you are going to escape with no Vulture?

Nighthawk nodded, as he looked at Anaconda and Xyrho. As Nighthawk spoke, he kept the comm line open with HAWK. He made sure to go over all of the necessary details so everyone had a clear understanding of what was going to happen.

Nighthawk: There has been a change of plans. As HAWK mentioned, my Vulture is not fast enough to get us off this planet before it is enveloped by the slipspace rupture. Chances are, that Phantom won’t make the cut either.

Xyrho glared at Nighthawk.

Xyrho: How do you know this?

Nighthawk: HAWK, my AI, ran the numbers on our Vulture, and it is not fast enough. I can tell you right now, the top speed on my Vulture, believe it or not, exceeds your Phantom. My gunship is no slouch when it comes to hauling ass, but it simply won’t make the cut.

Xyrho: I have every reason to distrust the word of a Construct.

Nighthawk: Yeah, wellI trust this Construct, so trust me that my trust is well placed.

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: That being saidI have a plan that will save all of our asses, including yours.

Xyrho: What is your plan, Human?

Nighthawk: My plan is very simple; we use your Phantom, dock it in my Frigate, and my Frigate gets us out of range of the slipspace portal. Once we are clear, I open the hanger bay doors, and I release you on your merry way. No fuss, no muss.

Xyrho: You have a vessel?

Nighthawk: Yes, it is currently holding position in ELO near this facility, ready to extract us. It should be waiting for us the moment we hit ground level. All we have to do is double time it to your Phantom, get into the air, and dock with my Frigate.


Xyrho: This will not be as easy as you say. I have two others aboard that Phantom; neither of them are very compromising.

Nighthawk: Make them compromise; our lives depend on it! All of our lives depend on it!

Xyrho: What if they refuse? What then?

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: We kill them.

Xyrho looked at Anaconda with a very uncertain glare.

Xyrho: I will see if I can get them to compromise. There has been enough bloodshed.

Anaconda: Says you…

Xyrho scoffed, as the elevator stopped, and the door opened. Nighthawk once again took point, as he stepped out of the elevator. As he stepped out of the elevator, he turned his PDA off, and holstered it.

Nighthawk: Where is your Phantom?

Xyrho: I cannot say for sure. We landed on the far side of this facility, and we entered through a loading dock.

Nighthawk nodded, as he put his hand to the side of his helmet, and began to speak to HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK! Get me a floor plan!

HAWK: I can do better than that; I can play a waypoint on the Phantom. I spotted it on my UAV sweep as I was entering ELO. Follow the waypoint on your HUD, it will lead you to the Phantom.

Nighthawk: Copy that, HAWK.

Nighthawk drew his sidearm, as he took point, and began to sprint through the corridors; Xyrho and Anaconda following in tow, as they both carried an injured Vhat and Dangerus respectfully.

Nighthawk, Xyrho, and Anaconda were making very good time, all things considered. However, as they entered the loading bay, and they were a stone’s throw away from the Phantom, they were forced to stop, when the ground beneath their feet began to tremble.

Nighthawk: What the hell is going on?

Nighthawk paused, as he looked around. He could see that it was not just the ground that was shaking, but rather, the entire facility. HAWK managed to interject, and explain what was going on. However, the transmission was filled with static, due to the interference from the slipspace portal.


HAWK: Seismic activity, caused by the planet entering the slip. Nighthawk…you are running out of time. The planet has just made contact with the event Horizon. This location is going to be enveloped in just over 2 minutes. You have to speed it up! You have to get to the Phantom! Go!

Nighthawk nodded, as he continued to run. Nighthawk ran across the loading bay, as he exited to the rear of the facility. After a quick glance around, Nighthawk saw the Phantom landed near several large cargo containers. Nighthawk then looked to the sky and saw The Venture Capitalist hovering about 50 yards above the ground. Nighthawk could see that that HAWK had made sure that the ship was in the perfect position to facilitate the quickest extraction.

Knowing that Venture Capitalist was now in position, Nighthawk began to move towards the Phantom, his sidearm raised, and his safety disengaged. As Nighthawk approached the side of the Phantom, he saw Voro standing in the rear compartment, and Furium resting against the one of the Phantom’s interior walls. Nighthawk, upon seeing this, aimed his Magnum at Voro, and wasted no time.

Nighthawk: You have two choices; die, or listen. You have 5 precious seconds to decide!

Furium growled at Nighthawk, as he tried to get back to his feet. Nighthawk, however, took his left hand off his Magnum, and grabbed his second Magnum, and aimed it at Furium.

Nighthawk: Do NOT try it…

Furium snarled at Anaconda, as Voro glared at Nighthawk.

Voro: Do you honestly expect us to listen to anything you have to say!?

Voro scoffed at Nighthawk. He was about to tell Nighthawk off, but, he stopped when he saw Xyrho carrying a wounded Vhat. Voro’s attention shifted from Nighthawk, to Xyrho.

Voro: Shipmaster! What happened?

Xyrho looked up at Voro.

Xyrho: There is no time to explain! If we do not leave now, we are all going to die! This Human has a plan to get us off of this planet before it is destroyed! Stand aside, and give him access to the cockpit!

Voro: Shipmaster? What is the meaning of this!?

Xyrho: This planet is about to be destroyed. This Human has a plan to get us out of here, alive. Personally, I would rather NOT die on this planet.

Voro was skeptical. He did not like the notion of working with a Human.

Xyrho: VORO! STAND ASIDE!

Voro was taken aback by the tone that was taken with him. However, without further hesitation, Voro stepped to the side. It was clear that there was desperation in Xyrho’s voice, and Voro was smart enough to know that Xyrho’s reasoning must have been good if he opted to take the tone he did. As Voro stepped to the side, Nighthawk jumped up into the Phantom, and barged into the cockpit. Without any hesitation, he entered the cockpit, and began to fire up the engines on the Phantom.

As the engines of the Phantom began to heat up, Xyrho lifted Vhat, and secured him aboard the Phantom. Anaconda then proceeded to follow suite, as he secured Dangerus aboard the Phantom. With both Vhat and Dangerus secured, Xyrho and Anaconda jumped aboard the Phantom, as Anaconda pounded the wall of the Phantom with his fist.

Anaconda: Nighthawk! Go!

Nighthawk took his queue, and the Phantom began to lift off the ground. As it did, the side hatches of the phantom began to close. As The Phantom lifted off, Voro spoke up.

Voro: I demand to know why that Human is commandeering this Phantom!

Anaconda looked at Voro, and growled.

Anaconda: To save your worthless hide.

Voro scoffed at Anaconda, but Xyrho interjected.

Xyrho: This planet is facing its imminent destruction. Surely you have felt the tremors?

Voro: Yes. I was just about to come and find you, but, before I had the chance…

Xyrho: This planet is currently being consumed by a slipspace event…

Voro was silent for a moment, as he processed what Xyrho was saying.

Xyrho: We would not have been able to escape by ourselves. The Human, and his compatriot, saved us from Vanguard, and they are saving us now.

Voro: Vanguard is dead?

Xyrho gave a reluctant nod.

Xyrho: Yes…but…

Voro: But?

Xyrho: Vanguard’s acolytes managed to escape with the dead husk.

Voro: So, Vanguard escaped?

Xyrho: Vanguard is dead, but, its remains have been captured.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The important thing is that we have set back Vanguard’s acolytes, and they have sustained a defeat!

Anaconda scoffed, as he stood up, and walked to the cockpit, leaving Voro and Xyrho to talk among themselves. As Anaconda entered the cockpit, he saw Nighthawk in the pilot’s seat.

Nighthawk: You may want to sit down, Big Guy, this is going to get really bumpy.

Anaconda nodded, as he saw down in the co-pilot’s seat. Anaconda simply watched as Nighthawk piloted The Phantom, and coordinated with HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK…I want to you to engage the emergency lock on the thrusters, and then open the Engine to 125% and fire them up to max.

HAWK: That is exceedingly dangerous? Any reason why?

Nighthawk: The moment I dock this Phantom in the hanger bay, I want us hitting top speed as fast as possible. We are going to need every second we can get!

HAWK: You realize how dangerous this is, right?

Nighthawk: You realize how dangerous EVERYTHING I am doing is, right?

HAWK: Point taken.

Nighthawk was flying towards the hanger bay of the Venture Capitalist As the Phantom sped towards the door, Nighthawk gave one final order.

Nighthawk: HAWK…begin closing the hanger bay doors…on my mark…

HAWK: WHAT!? You are not even aboard yet!

Anaconda: WHAT!? Aren’t you supposed to close those AFTER you are docked?

Nighthawk ignored both HAWK and Anaconda, as he gave the order to HAWK.

Nighthawk: Now HAWK! Begin closing the doors!

As the Phantom got closer and closer to the Venture Capitalists hanger bay, Nighthawk could see the doors beginning to close.

Anaconda: We’re not going to make it…

Nighthawk: Have a little faith. This is no different than threading a needle, just, slightly more fatal

Nighthawk began to lean forward, as he adjusted the Phantom’s pitch, bringing it down a bit. Nighthawk then bit his lower lip as he cut the engines, just as the Phantom flew into the hanger bay; the roof of the Phantom nicking the hanger bay door, and the bottom of the Phantom scraping across the ground the of the hanger bay, as the Phantom slid across the hanger bay floor. The Phantom crashed into the far wall of the hanger before coming to a full stop

With the Phantom at a dead stop in the hanger bay, Nighthawk shook his head, to shake out the daze from the impact. As he did this, he looked at Anaconda, and hit his compatriot in the arm with the back of his hand.

Nighthawk: See? Perfect landing…

Anaconda: Perfect? PERFECT!? Perfect, my furry ass. That was terrible…

Just as Anaconda said this, The Phantom began to slide backwards, as HAWK had fully engaged the engines. The Thrust was so powerful, that The Venture Capitalist’s inertial dampers were unable to fully compensate for the acceleration. As the Phantom slid back, and smashed into the large hanger bay door, Nighthawk and Anaconda groaned from the impact.

HAWK: Nighthawk…we are quickly climbing into orbit. Initial projections show that we are going to make it…just barely…but, we are going to make it!

When Nighthawk heard this Nighthawk slammed his hand on the control to open the side hatches of the Phantom and then jumped out of the pilot seat. As Nighthawk left the cockpit, and exited the Phantom, Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Insane Human…

Nighthawk laughed, as he jumped out of the hanger bay. As his boots hit the ground, he turned to look at Xyrho.

Nighthawk: Sorry for the bumpy ride. I had to cut some corners with the flying. Hopefully you understand…

As Nighthawk said this, Anaconda jumped out of the Phantom.

Nighthawk: When we are clear, I will open the hanger bay doors, and you will be free to leave. I am a man of my word, if nothing else.

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: Most of the time, anyway.

Nighthawk was about to turn away, but, he stopped when Xyrho called out to him.

Xyrho: Human!? How did you do it?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: How did you defeat The Construct? How did you survive your battle with that thing?

Nighthawk paused for a moment, as he considered his answer.

Nighthawk: Truthfully…I wish I would not have survived. I would have preferred to have died in that…crypt. This would all be a hell of a lot easier if I was dead, believe me.

With that, Nighthawk turned, and walked away, leaving the hanger bay. Xyrho was perplexed by the answer.

Xyrho: What does he mean by that?

Anaconda: I think I have a pretty good idea.

Anaconda growled, as he shook his head, and walked off, leaving Xyrho and the other Covenant soldiers with their Phantom. As Anaconda walked off, he began to speak.

Anaconda: HAWK? If we are clear of the planet, open the hanger bay doors, and allow Xyrho to leave.

HAWK responded to Anaconda.

HAWK: Copy that. I will take care of it.

Anaconda grunted.

HAWK: That being said, you may want to make your way to the bridge.

Anaconda nodded, as he made his way up to the bridge. Once he had finally arrived, he saw Nighthawk standing at the front of the bridge. However, a quick glance at the holotable revealed that Nighthawk had taken off his helmet. As Anaconda stepped forward, Vernette began to speak to Anaconda, knowing full well that his compatriot was going to listen.

Vernette: Look at it. In a way, it is artistic. I have never seen anything like this.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Come on…come take a good look at it! I had HAWK turn the ship around so I could see it, for real.

Anaconda stepped forward, walking right up to Vernette, and standing beside him.

Vernette: Ditch the helmet. You have to see it without the visual filters.

Anaconda looked at Vernette for a moment, before he took his helmet off.

Vernette: I did this. I caused this. Be it in a very small way, I have fundamentally and permanently altered the face of the Galaxy, and the ONLY thing it took was ONE slipspace drive core, ONE set of calculations, ONE order, no soul, and 40 million people!

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Yeah, I checked. The UNSC was only able to evacuate a million people. A reliable estimate of 11 million were killed during the invasion, including glassing, destroyed evac shuttles, and ground invasions. The other 40 million? Well, they are presently being killed by Nighthawk.

Vernette scoffed, as he swallowed.

Vernette: By me.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I am morally obligated to watch this happen. I had the guts to put this plan in play, and I should have the guts to see this through to the end. I do not have the right to look away!

Barrabus: It was HAWK who came up with the idea.

Vernette: I was the one who gave it the green light. I put the damn thing together, and I gave the order to turn it on. At every step, I had every chance to stop this, but I didn’t.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I didn’t believe that we could get the job done. I didn’t believe we could stop Vanguard. The odds were so stacked against us, I lost my faith in our ability to win. This slipspace disaster is the result.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: This is my fault, and I have to live with this, for the rest of my life. How the hell do I do that?

Barrabus looked at Vernette, and grunted.

Barrabus: You are not the only one who regrets your actions. You know as well as I do that I have lived with my actions for a long time. Believe it or not, there is a lot that I feel guilty for, that I still feel guilty for. You are not the only one who has had to live with a decision like this. Believe me…I understand. I understand what you are going through right now.

Vernette sighed, as Barrabus pointed at San Angeles, as it was moving into the slipspace rupture.

Barrabus: Yes, you did that…

Barrabus paused

Barrabus: But you did it for a good reason. That is more than I can ever say about some of my actions. You saw it for yourself; Dangerus was going to take that facility by force, and he was ready to kill us to get his hands on it, for the sake of The Covenant! Imagine what would happen if The Covenant got their hands on Vanguard’s Forge? 40 million seems like a very small number when you put that into perspective. The death toll could be much higher.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: What is it that you always say to me? ONI does the wrong things for the right reasons. You did what you had to do, to save your species from a very real threat. You made a very difficult decision. You did the wrong thing, for the right reason.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Do not look at this as this as needless death, but as a necessary sacrifice. You did this to protect your species from the wrath of Vanguard and the wrath of The Covenant after it had taken Vanguard’s Forge.

Barrabus grunted.

Barrabus: Even if you do not believe this…know that above all else, we are brothers, and there is nothing that you could do that could compel me to turn my back on you.

Vernette looked at Barrabus for a moment, before he turned back and looked on as San Angeles, as it had nearly finished its transition into the slipspace rupture.

Vernette: I appreciate the sentiment. It is good to know that even after what I did, I still have people in my life who won’t look at me differently. Still…part of me will always have trouble accepting what I did here, today.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: It is going to take a while to get over this.

Vernette scoffed.

Vernette: It is going take time to accept this, but, you are right, Big Guy. I had to do the wrong thing for the right reason. It is what ONI does. It is what I am sworn to do. It was too dangerous to allow San Angeles to exist. The Covenant would never have stopped…and The Trust…

Vernette frowned.

Vernette: The Trust would have been just as bad.

Vernette watched as the last bit of San Angeles entered the slipspace rupture. As the slipspace rupture closed, Vernette closed his eyes, and sighed.

Vernette: It is finished. Everything built up to this point…and it felt like an eternity knowing it was going to happen, but, never believing you would get there to actually see it finished. It is finally done…

Vernette paused, as he hung his head, and folded his arms.

Vernette: It is finally done.

Vernette sighed. As he did, HAWK appeared on the holotable, and spoke up.

HAWK: Nighthawk? Anaconda?

Vernette and Barrabus looked at HAWK.

HAWK: I have been monitoring UNSC and Covenant activity, and it seems that both the UNSC and The Covenant are breaking off. With San Angeles gone, it seems all motivation to fight went with it into that death vortex.

Vernette: What about our Guests? Xyrho? Dangerus?

HAWK: They took their leave already. They are long gone, and their Phantom is on its way back to the Covenant fleet.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: It should be noted that I have managed to intercept some of the UNSC’s communications on the matter. Would you like to hear it?

Vernette: To be honest? Not really. I am pretty sure all it will be is talking about what an evil son of a bitch I am.

HAWK: That actually…sums it up perfectly. Harrison actually used those exact words.

Vernette: Yeah, I am not interested in hearing that crap. I don’t need to hear it. I have enough bullshit weighing down on me. On the other hand, what you can do, is plot a flight plan. It is imperative that we get Barrabus back to The Covenant ASAP. If he is gone any longer, someone may start to notice. As such, I am going to have you plot course for Paradise Lost. As much as I would like to keep Barrabus around, he has places to be.

HAWK: Understood, Nighthawk. Destination locked in for Paradise Lost. ETA…8 days.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at HAWK for a moment.

Vernette: After we drop Barrabus off at Paradise Lost, so he can retrieve his Corvette, you and I will turn the ship around, and head to Midnight. Can you give an ETA to Midnight, from Paradise Lost?

HAWK: Approximately 5 days, give or take a few hours.

Vernette: Total round trip of 13 days, hmm? Well…I have been on longer trips.

Vernette scoffed, as he turned and looked at Barrabus.

Vernette: We might as well make good use of the time. We have 8 days before you have to bail on me. 8 days is more than enough time to discuss, in detail, everything that transpired on San Angeles. From Nova Team, to The Risk Takers, to Hammer Team – we have a number of new enemies, and we have to learn everything we can about them. We are going to be seeing these people again, and we have to be ready.

Vernette folded his arms, and sighed.

Vernette: That being said…I would prefer to take a breather first. I need to clear my head…sort out the mess of thoughts in my brain. I will admit, I have a lot on my mind at the moment, and most of it is very distracting.

Barrabus: Before you take that breather…my curiosity demands that I ask you something…

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: What do you think is going to happen to the planet?

Vernette shook his head, and shrugged.

Vernette: It is unlikely that the planet survived its transition to the slipspace. The UNSC has never sent an object that size into the slip without some sort of shielding. Chances are, the planet was either torn apart by the forces on the other side of the rupture, or, it was simply phased out of our reality – ceasing to exist.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: In the off chance that it SOMEHOW survived all of that, it is going to reemerge at Sagittarius A-star.

Barrabus: I am not familiar with that location.

Vernette: Sagittarius A-star is the UNSC designation for the general location of a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. If San Angeles survives its trip, it will not survive re-entry, as it will be crushed instantaneously.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: That is one way to get rid of The Forge…

Barrabus sighed.

Barrabus: Well, I will let you have the deck to yourself. You said you wanted to be alone, so…

Barrabus turned, and began to walk off, but, Vernette called out to him.

Vernette: Barrabus?

Barrabus stopped, and looked at Vernette, grunting at his compatriot.

Barrabus: What is it?

Vernette turned to look at Barrabus.

Vernette: When I was face to face with Vanguard…and that thing was getting ready to fire, I would never have been able to take the shot and then move out of the way in time. You tackled me out of the way of that particle beam. You saved my life. Had you not have done that, I would be dead right now.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I just…I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.

Barrabus nodded.

Barrabus: Yeah, I did.

Barrabus shrugged.

Barrabus: But…I don’t need to be thanked. We do what we have to do.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: I have to admit though…you were right about one thing; everything has a weakness…including Vanguard.

Vernette grinned a bit, as he shrugged.

Vernette: Well…yeah. There is always an exploit.

Vernette grinned a bit more, as he laughed a bit.

Vernette: You want to stick around, for a drink? I have something really good in the CO’s office. I sure as hell could use a drink…badly. I mean, you have to toast a victory, right?

Vernette walked off the bridge, and stepped into what would normally be the CO’s office. After a moment, he stepped back onto the bridge, holding a bottle of whiskey, and two glasses.

Vernette: I have been saving this for a while, for when I really needed it. Today seems like a good day. I have a few crates of this stuff stashed away in a few spots, for continuity reasons. The brand is extinct, unfortunately. Too bad…it is a damn fine drink.

Vernette walked over to the holotable, as he put the two glasses down, along with the bottle. Barrabus grabbed the bottle, and looked at it.

Barrabus: Bifrost Estate Whiskey?

Vernette: Finest Whiskey known to man, in my opinion anyway. What made it so special was the taste, and how fast it could trash you. There was only one place you could get it; says it right on the label.

Barrabus looked at the bottle again.

Barrabus: Harvest.

Vernette: You can see why I am partial to it. Did you know that it was the cold that made it as good as it was?

Barrabus handed the bottle to Vernette. Vernette took the bottle and opened it, as he proceeded to fill the two glasses.

Vernette: You see, it is highly alcoholic. They literally froze the water right out of the cocktail, distilling a very strong product. If you want to get hammered fast, then this is the stuff. Hell, I would bet money that even you could get drunk off of this stuff, Big Guy.

Barrabus: I doubt it…

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Hey, never say never. I am sure that even you have a breaking point. If there is ONE human beverage that can do it, I am willing to bet money that THIS is the stuff.

Barrabus: Good thing you have a lot of it, then. Something tells me you are going to need a lot of it if you are trying to get me drunk.

Vernette: Yeah, lucky me…

Vernette began to drink his glass. Once he began to drink, he managed to down his entire glass in one swing.

Vernette: Go on…try it.

Barrabus grunted, as he grabbed the second glass, and drank down the contents.

Barrabus: Not bad.

Vernette sighed.

Vernette: Not bad? Well…I guess your taste buds are different. To be expected, I suppose.

Vernette began to pour himself a second glass. As he did, he looked up at Barrabus.

Vernette: More?

Barrabus: Why not?

Vernette grinned, as he poured a second glass for Barrabus. Once he did this, he set the bottle aside, and grabbed his glass, and raised it.

Vernette: To…victory, I guess. It is not always 100%, but, it is usually close enough. Fickle bitch…

Barrabus grunted, as he and Vernette drank down the contents of their glasses, in the same way that they did the first. Once again, as soon as this was done, Vernette refilled both of their glasses.

Vernette: Want to toast something, Big Guy?

Barrabus: Not really. I would rather consume the alcohol.

Vernette: Come on…humor me!

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: Fine…

Barrabus thought for a moment.

Barrabus: To Vanguard. I think we can all appreciate the fact that it died.

Vernette: Cheers.

Vernette drank down his glass in the same way as before. This time, however, instead of refilling his drink, he stopped to contemplate Vanguard.

Vernette: You know, I just wish we could have finished destroying that thing. It is galling to think that The Trust managed to escape with Vanguard’s remains. After everything we did…for The Consultant to continue her experimentation with that clearly dangerous piece of technology is reckless, at best.

Barrabus: I am not concerned. We will find Vanguard’s remains, and we will find The Trust, and we will destroy them both.

Barrabus paused, as he drank down the contents of his glass.

Barrabus: We WILL find them.

Vernette: You are pretty confident about that.

Barrabus: It is a given. You seem to have very little trouble tracking down The Trust when you really want to. It is rare that they are able to stay hidden from you for long. I highly doubt they are going to be able to hide something like Vanguard for very long. Something like that is going to draw attention.

Barrabus held out his glass, towards Vernette, as he gave it a bit of a shake. Vernette took the queue, as he proceeded to refill Barrabus glass, as well as his own.

Barrabus: However, I doubt Vanguard, in its current state, is going to be the biggest issue we are going to face. It will take The Trust time to figure out what they have, so, that works to our advantage.

Vernette: Not the biggest issue?

Barrabus: I think we both have problems on our respective sides.

Vernette began to drink from his glass.

Barrabus: I have no doubt news of Vanguard is going to spread through certain channels in The Covenant. There are many in the Covenant who were like Quinn; a desire on power that was above their desire to serve. The allure of power is a strong one, like a female in season.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Then there is ONI.

Vernette: What about ONI?

Barrabus drank down the contents of his glass, and set it down on the holotable.

Barrabus: You heard what The Consultant said about the winds of change. She spoke of how Humanity must change. She spoke of a future without ONI. Those are the words of nothing less than a revolution. Believe me…I would know.

Vernette looked at Barrabus, as he scoffed.

Vernette: You’re right. In the midst of all this chaos, I had almost forgotten what she had said to us.

Vernette closed his eyes and sighed, as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

Vernette: Now that I think back, it was almost as if she wanted us to know. Why would she reveal something like that to us?

Vernette paused.

Vernette: There has to be a reason she told us what she did.

Barrabus: She wanted to recruit us. I think that is what brought about her honesty. She has no idea you are actually with ONI, and me, well, I am not even human, so it is a safe bet to assume I have no loyalty to ONI.

Vernette: Well, she now knows that I have at least some connection to ONI. Even if she didn’t know, she knows that it would be a safe bet that we would side with ONI, against The Trust. She knows how hostile we are to The Trust.

Barrabus: Then perhaps it is just her arrogance. If there is one thing that human is, it is arrogant.

Vernette: Well, no matter the reason, she let slip a valuable piece of intel that is going to help me determine what The Trust’s next move is.

Barrabus grunted.

Barrabus: What if this was her plan? What if her plan was misdirection?

Vernette: I think now you are over thinking it. Then again, deception is a card she likes to play. She certainly deceived us with her intentions with Vanguard when she “allied” with us.

Vernette sighed.

Vernette: Damn it!

Vernette scoffed.

Vernette: I don’t like second guessing myself.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Let’s assume everything she said was the truth. Let’s assume she was being 100% honest about trying to supplant ONI. if The Consultant had her desires set on bringing down ONI, the first place she would have to strike is Midnight. A good portion of ONI’s finest resides on Midnight, as well as some critical infrastructure. If The Trust took down Midnight, that would cripple ONI for sure. Places like Eclipse, Reach, and Earth would be easy pickings without Midnight.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for The Trust…Midnight is where I have to be.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: Whether she is trying to deceive us, or not…I believe my next move should be Midnight.

Barrabus: Just as my next move is with The Covenant. I must return to the Holy City.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: I need to see the repercussions of this battle, first hand. If it is learned that Vanguard has fallen into the hands of The Trust, or the Humans in general, you can be sure that The Covenant will move against your species with everything it has, just for a chance to capture the remains of Vanguard. I need to know what The Covenant’s next move is, and the only way for me to know is to return to The Covenant.

Vernette: Do you think there could be a specific problem?

Barrabus: I do not believe Xyrho will be a problem. He would have no problem suppressing the truth of the matter. His hatred for Vanguard runs deep…it runs in his blood. However, I worry about Xyrho’s compatriots; Dangerus, Furium, Vhat, and Voro. Those four are not driven by the same goals as Xyrho. Dangerus has proven to be opportunistic. Voro has always been malicious. Furium is loyal to Dangerus, and will follow his every command. Vhat…that Major…his disposition bothered me. I have no idea how to explain it, but, the last time I saw uncertainty like that, it was in the eyes of Quinn. I am absolutely certain that while Vhat was the Sangheili that walked into The Forge, I am not so certain that it was Vhat that came out. The Truth has a way of destroying someone…changing them…breaking them. If there is going to be a problem, I am certain that it will start with Vhat.

Vernette: You think knowledge of Vanguard will ripple in The Covenant? Do you think this Vhat character is going to be the catalyst?

Barrabus: I do not know. All I know is that Vhat is going to be a problem in the future. He is different, and I doubt we will have to wait long to see the results.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: We have only seen the beginning of this fight. This battle will not end here.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: Whether it is The Trust using Vanguard’s technology against their enemies, The Covenant hunting for Vanguard’s technology, or individuals like Vhat seeking some personal fulfillment, the repercussions of San Angeles will continue to echo. We both know that we have seen the very least of what is to come.

Vernette: I really do not like the sound of this.

Vernette sighed, as he looked at Barrabus for a moment.

Vernette: Alright, Big Guy; if you think you can get your finger on the pulse of The Covenant, please do it. If there is someone who is seeking Vanguard, we need to know.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I will head to Midnight, and see what I can do from there. I have a good feeling that I will be able to get a tap on The Trust on Midnight. If The Trust is inside of ONI, I will find them.

Barrabus: Very well. Once I feel that I have gathered enough information on The Covenant, I will rendezvous with you on Midnight. Hopefully, by then, you will have caught the scent of The Trust, and we can move in for the kill.

Vernette nodded.

Vernette: Believe me, I fully intend on finding The Trust…

Vernette grinned.

Vernette: That is, I intend on finding The Trust just as soon as I conclude some unfinished business.

Barrabus grunted, and gave a confused look.

Vernette: You should know that Captain Sharpmen caused me no end of trouble. From his treacherous activities, to his personnel vendetta that almost cost us our trump card; he has become far too intolerable for my tastes.

Barrabus: Sounds like you have an axe to grind.

Vernette: You are damn right. He killed close to two dozen Marines that were under MY command. He followed me down to The Forge, and tried to kill me. He turned coat in favor of The Trust for reasons which I still find questionable. He is a God damn traitor, and I am going to cross him off…permanently.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: And for the record…Jacob will not be the only one I will be looking to cross off. I am certain that Harrison and his crew is as dirty as sin itself. There is very little doubt in my mind about where Harrison’s allegiances lay. I am certain that Harrison is also a Trust Operatives. I am fully convinced by their actions alone. I don’t need any further proof to act on this suspicion.

Barrabus: Are you going to kill Harrison too?

Vernette: Yes, I plan on killing him.

Vernette laughed.

Vernette: You can say that after what I have just been through, I am now a lot less shy about who I am willing to cross off. The moment I killed Athios and Jaclyn, I discovered what a waste of effort it was to try and avoid UNSC casualties, especially when I tried so hard to try and talk them down! There was no reasoning with them. I could not talk them down. They wouldn’t stop. It was then that I finally realized that if I did not live up to Nighthawk’s cut-throat reputation, I was going to die.

Vernette paused.

Vernette: I take no pleasure in doing it, but, I do it out of necessity.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: So, you have a new killer instinct? I am impressed! I like this development. It suits you.

Vernette: I would not go so far as to call it “killer instinct”. I prefer to call it a morality adjustment.

Barrabus: I think killer instinct sounds better.

Vernette: Well, whatever we decide to call this, I am starting to appreciate the utility of it. It is liberating to not be confined by such narrow parameters, such as who I can and cannot kill. I realize now that there is a time and a place to kill certain people, and I am now far more comfortable admitting that.

Barrabus stood silently for a moment, before he nodded.

Barrabus: Well, I have a feeling that before long, you are going to be VERY comfortable with your new found killer instinct. You are going to become very comfortable with it.

Vernette: What are you implying?

Barrabus: When word spreads about how Nighthawk and Anaconda destroyed San Angeles…everyone is going to hate us. We will be as reviled as The Covenant. We are going to be attacked everywhere we go.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: If we don’t cut loose and start killing our enemies, we won’t last much longer. I have known this since day one. All I can say is that I am glad you have finally come to terms with this. You are finally shedding your cub fur, and you have finally have a set of teeth.

Barrabus snarled, as he gave a sadistic grin.

Barrabus: Now the real fun can begin.

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