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Naked Crook
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San Angeles - Vigorous Inferno - In Orbit of San Angeles - Main Armory. - 1700 Hours - February 1st 2540

Jacob was in the main armory of The Vigorous Inferno, checking his gear and making sure that he was combat ready. He had taken the time to check and clean all of his weapons, one by one, to make sure that they were operating at peak efficiency.

Ice: You get really detailed with this, don’t you?

Jacob: Yeah. I am not one to let my gear fall into disrepair. I always make sure that it is in top shape. These weapons are here to save my ass. They can’t do that when they are not properly cared for.

Madison: Jacob has a point, sir.

Ice: Well, I am not arguing it. I just find it odd seeing as we have an entire department of people whose job it is to maintain all the weapons. I am just curious why The Captain insists on doing it himself.

Jacob: It is a point of personal pride. Nothing more, nothing less.

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: It makes the weapon feel more personal.

Ice: If you say so, sir.

Just as Ice had said this, the door to the armory opened. The sound of the door caused Strike Team Diamond to turn to see who had entered. When they saw it was Harrison, they all stood at attention.

Ice: Look alive!

Harrison looked at Diamond, and shook his head.

Harrison: At ease, Diamond.

The members of Strike Team Diamond stood down, as they watched Harrison approach Jacob.

Harrison: Jacob, I just finished speaking with Captain Frost…

Jacob looked at Harrison, and raised an eyebrow.

Harrison: She informs me that Nighthawk finished decrypting the data that you had taken from The Ulterior Motive prior to our attack, and that he has handed her the intel.

Jacob sighed.

Harrison: She, in turn, has given the intel to me.

Jacob: Did you verify my story?

Harrison: Yes. I shifted through the intel, and I cannot deny that it proves most, if not all of what you told us. It seems The Trust has had the two of us under observation for quite some time. This intel proves that you are not one of them. In my eyes, that is enough to exonerate you.

Harrison shrugged.

Harrison: Not that you needed exonerating in my eyes.

Jacob: It is exoneration in the eyes of ONI is what I am concerned about.

Harrison: That may end up being a battle in itself. We both know how uncompromising ONI can be. Afterall, Captain Frost had you tagged with one of ONI’s killer nanites the first chance she got, regardless of your presumption of innocence or assumed guilt.

Jacob: I am still having a hard time believing she is ONI. All of them; Burke, Tye, Cameron. It is rather shocking.

Harrison: You served on that ship, though. Did it never seem plausible?

Jacob: No. I never suspected it.

Mason interjected.

Mason: That sounds like ONI. They are a very secretive bunch.

Harrison nodded to Mason.

Harrison: That is very true. ONI makes it a habit to hide in plain sight.

Jacob: You mean like The Trust does?

Harrison raised an eyebrow.

Harrison: Are you implying something, Captain?

Jacob: No. All I am saying is that the tactics are very similar. I can see why The Trust likes to impersonate ONI during the course of its operation. The Trust doesn’t even need to change their game plan when it comes to field work, so long as they pretend to be ONI. The two sides are so alike…they could blend in with one another if they wanted to. You would never be able to tell the difference.

Harrison shrugged, and nodded in agreement.

Harrison: That is terrifying thought.

Snyder interjected.

Snyder: Sir, I am just curious; have you spoken to Captain Frost since receiving the intel that Jacob stole?

Harrison: Not at length, and not in person. She transferred the intel to me digitally. However, I am intending to speak to her about a number of things, specifically, the necessity of having Jacob tagged.

Snyder: Yeah, I was just about to say does Jacob needs that nanite if we have proof that he is NOT a Trust operative?

Harrison: Don’t worry, I plan on speaking to her about this. I have no clue if she has read the intel, or not, but I plan on making sure that she is aware of these recent developments.

Kader: Hopefully she does something and changers her mind. Frankly, I find her position to be a bit hypocritical.

Jacob looked at Kader with a curious expression.

Jacob: Interesting choice of words. How is it hypocritical?

Kader: Haven’t you heard? Captain Frost keeps a Trust Operative on staff.

Jacob: What? Who?

Harrison raised his hand and interjected.

Harrison: To be fair, he is an alleged ex-Trust officer.

Jacob: Who is it?

Harrison: Commander Vernette. His previous call sign was Black 6.

Jacob’s face went blank with shock.

Jacob: Tye was a member of Black Team? When?

Harrison: That much is not clear. All I know is that it was a long time ago.

Jacob: That is really hard to believe. Black Team consists of Spartan 1s. Does that mean?

Harrison: Tye would be augmented, yes. It was illegal augmentation carried out by The Trust. He is every bit as capable and dangerous as any member of Black Team, and, we all can imagine how long their rap sheet is.

Jacob: Believe me, I have a good idea how long it is. Black Team is capable of some rather shady activities.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: But, as for Tye; did anyone know about his past?

Harrison: Yes, and no. It would seem Tye went to great lengths to ensure that his time with The Trust was kept secret. If I understand correctly, Tye only recently revealed this truth to his compatriots. Captain Frost knew. Doctor Burke and Cameron knew. Nighthawk and Anaconda knew, for some reason.

Jacob: Of course, those two make it their business to know that sort of thing.

Harrison: The only reason I know is because Tye admitted it. He must have been sick of keeping it a secret. I guess coming forward with the truth to his fellow officers made it easier to come to grips with. It is funny how things like that work.

Jacob: Was he tagged with a nanite, like I was?

Harrison: Are you kidding? Captain Frost doesn’t even give a shit. She was more gung-ho about putting you down and tagging you like a deer than anything else.

Jacob scoffed. He was clearly very angry about how he was being treated.

Jacob: There is something seriously wrong with ONI if someone like Tye is allowed to walk free, and I am tagged with a nanite.

Harrison: Jacob, believe me, I know how frustrating it must be. Just leave this to me and I will get it sorted out. I have every intention of sorting this out. In fact, if you would prefer, we can get this resolved now.

Jacob: I would prefer that. I don’t like the idea of a robotic bug crawling around in my brain.

Harrison: Very well.

Harrison turned away, as he put his hand to his earpiece.

Harrison: Captain Frost, report to the main armory immediately.

Harrison turned back to Jacob.

Harrison: Like I said, I am not sure if she has had a chance to examine the intel in full, but, even she cannot deny that the intel itself proves that you are not a member of The Trust.

Jacob: Well, if she is capable of the mental gymnastics necessary to single me out like she did, I am sure she can be terribly unreasonable as far as this intel is concerned.

Harrison: Don’t worry, even if I have to order her to shut this damn thing down, I will. I refuse to let her simply walk all over you like this, given the blatant double standard.

Jacob scoffed, as he leaned on a workbench, and folded his arms.

Jacob: This entire battle has been one piss-off after another. Everything about San Angeles was wrong from the start. This entire battle started bad, it has progressed poorly, and it is going to end bad. You know, usually there is something that goes right. Even when we get stomped by The Covenant, there are small victories. Not this time, though. Nothing has gone right, and we have lost at every junction. There has been no discernable victory for the good guys. If it wasn’t The Trust beating us to the punch, it was the Covenant laying waste to us with relative ease.

Harrison was silent.

Jacob: As far as I know, we have no solid leads on The Trust. All we know is that they plan to unleash this Vanguard thing, and get everyone killed.

Harrison: I know what you mean. I do have been deeply frustrated by the events that have unraveled in this battle. Never before have I faced such steep treachery. Never before have I faced such moral ambiguity. Never before have I ever faced such insubordination. I can’t say that I have much experience with The Trust. However, I dare say that the efficiency that they have acted with is terrifying. This whole situation with Vanguard, t has clearly been planned for a long time. The Trust had everything figured out before we even knew this was a reality.

Harrison shrugged.

Harrison: I usually do not say this to the people under my command, but, I doubt we are going to find The Trust. Our only hope is Hoffman, but, I am not confident that he will tell us anything, and I refuse to stoop to the level of Nighthawk to win. Hell, I refuse to ask Nighthawk for help.

Jacob: Are we going to at least try and question Hoffman?

Harrison: Yes, we will. He is going to be questions ASAP. I will be the one questioning him. It is only fitting.

Just as Harrison said this, Jennifer walked into the armory. She took a moment to look around before she spoke.

Jennifer: Admiral Harrison? You called. What can I do for you?

Harrison: You can do quite a bit for me, actually.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: You can start by removing the nanite from Jacob’s brain.

Jennifer laughed as she start to fold her arms.

Jennifer: No.

Harrison: Excuse me?

Jennifer: I am not removing that nanite.

Harrison: Care to explain why?

Jennifer: Because it would be a tactical error.

Harrison: Tactical error?

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: Did you even look at the intel that Nighthawk turned over to you.

Jennifer: No. There was no need to. He gave me the nutshell version. Long story short, there was nothing in there worth my attention.

Harrison: Well, Captain, let me clue you in. The intel that you received detailed, in full, that Jacob was NOT a member of The Trust.

Jennifer: Good for him.

Harrison: As such, we have proven that he is not a security threat. The nanite can be removed. He does not pose a danger to us.

Jennifer: The nanite will not be removed.

Harrison: Captain, this is not a request.

Jennifer: This is not even a debate! Admiral, I don’t think you are fully comprehending what I am saying, so I will try and rephrase it.

Jennifer scoffed, as she pointed at Jacob.

Jennifer: That son of a bitch is keeping his kill switch because he is not to be trusted.

Harrison scoffed, as she stepped forward, and glared at Jennifer.

Harrison: Be very careful with your tone, Captain. You are already on thin ice, and you are wearing my patience thin.

Jennifer: That tone would not have been necessary if you had even the slightest clue as to why he should keep his nanite.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Well, why don’t you humor us, Captain, and fill us in. Why should a loyal soldier have a kill switch?

Jennifer frowned at Jacob, but she answered him directly.

Jennifer: You are keeping the nanite because you still killed close to two dozen of my men! You are STILL very much on the hook for that, and I have no intention of giving you an inch of breathing room. Think of that nanite as the perpetual reminder that you are going to hang from a very high tree.

Both Harrison and Jacob scoffed sharply.

Harrison: You are using it as a guarantee against him to ensure that he does not try to run from ONI? Is that what you are saying?

Jennifer: In so few words. The fact is, impending death has a way of making people believe they can run. If he tried to run, we simply collect our pound of flesh with a remote command.

Jacob: That is the sickest thing I have ever heard.

Jennifer scoffed at Jacob.

Jennifer: Well, perhaps next time you will think about your actions before acting on them. You undertook an unauthorized mission and killed close to two dozen Marines. You do not get a free pass for that. Quite frankly, Captain, this is your own fault. You have to live with the consequences of your actions.

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: And yes, there will be consequences. Once our engagement on San Angeles is done, you are going to accompany me to Midnight where you will be taken into custody and put on trial. The only reason you even have the privilege of walking around outside a holding cell is because we need warm bodies to fight Vanguard and The Trust.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: Frankly, you would be better off being killed in action sooner rather than later.

Harrison scoffed again.

Harrison: Captain Frost! I am ordering you to remove that nanite from Jacob!

Frost looked at Harrison, and shook her heard.

Jennifer: No sir. I will not remove the nanite.

Harrison: If you will not, I will simply have one of our MDs do it!

Jennifer: If you try, I will activate it. I will have Jacob killed.

Both Harrison and Jacob looked at one another in total disbelief. They then both glared at Jennifer.

Jacob: Captain, what the hell is wrong with you? In all the time that I have known you, I have never known you to be this uncompromising!

Jennifer: You have never known me as an ONI Officer. This is me, through and through, doing what ONI does best. I will consider your ignorance of my true personality a compliment to my ability to hide in plain sight.

Jacob: ONI or not…I refuse to believe that you would actually be capable of carrying out that threat. I have never known you to be that ruthless or that malicious. I refuse to believe it.

Jennifer glared at Jacob.

Jennifer: Try me.

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: I do not like this aspect of my job, but, I carry it out to the letter because it is my duty. I will not hesitate to cross you off if I have to. Do not force my hand by assuming a bluff. If you gamble, you will lose.

Jacob: I guess I didn’t really know you as well as I had believed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I guess I didn’t really know any of you. I especially didn’t know Tye. You know, the same guy that was a member of ODST Black Team.

Jennifer: Commander Vernette is not the issue here.

Ice stepped forward.

Ice: Frankly ma’am, it should be an issue. The guy was a member of The Trust and he was allowed to walk away. His crimes are known, and you have done very little by means of disciplinary action.

Harrison: Jacob and Ice are very correct. Tye should not be walking free. He should be incarcerated. He should not be given preferential treatment.

Jennifer: I will deal with Commander Vernette as I see fit. I will not be lectured on matters of internal affairs by non-designates.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: That is complete bullshit ma’am. Tye WAS a member of The Trust. He should not be given any more privilege than I am getting.

Jennifer: Tye has not been affiliated with The Trust for 25 years. Quite frankly, the circumstances surrounding his involvement with The Trust make him an exception. Tye was lied to, deceived, manipulated, and experimented on against his will. As far as I am concerned, that gives him the right to have SOME pardon for it. If I choose not to discipline him, that is my prerogative.

Ice scoffed.

Ice: He was still a member of The Trust. He should be handled as if he is a security risk.

Jennifer turned to Ice, and scoffed.

Jennifer: Your opinion on this matter is valueless. I have no interest in hearing what you have to say.

Jennifer paused, as she looked at Harrison and Jacob.

Jennifer: The same goes for the two of you. I will not budge on this issue. I will deal with Tye when I feel it is appropriate, not before. It will not be done with consultation or advice from anyone is this room.

Jennifer then looked directly at Harrison.

Jennifer: You may be the ranking officer here, but, you have no say as far as ONI operations are concerned. As far as ONI is concerned, you have no power, and I do not answer to you. Anything that I have given you, is a courtesy at best. Do not presume any entitlement as far as ONI is concerned.

Harrison had a very dirty look on his face.

Harrison: I am going to remember this, Captain. I am going to make sure you regret every second of this conversation. You are a hypocrite of the highest order, and I do not like hypocrites. Frankly Captain, I am shocked how quickly I have come to dislike you and your methods.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: I don’t care if you don’t like me. This is not a popularity contest. I am not here seeking your approval. I am here to do my job, and my job is to stop The Trust by any means necessary.

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: You are also free to dislike my methods. Again, I do not care. However, just remember one thing…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: ONI’s methods save lives. If it was not for our methods, this war would have ended long ago, with Humanity being a footnote in a history book doomed to be buried under glass.

Before Harrison could offer up a rebuttal, he was interrupted by a call from the bridge coming in through his ear piece.

Comms Officer: Admiral Harrison, sir? We have a Pelican on approach. It is Commander Vernette. He is requesting docking clearance and he is asking to speak to you.

Harrison: Bridge, this is Harrison. Clear him for docking, and having him report to my office on the double.

Comms Officer: Yes sir. Bridge out.

Once the comm line was cut, Harrison looked at Jennifer, and grinned.

Harrison: Speak of the devil…

Jennifer winced her eyes.

Jennifer: You realize that the Commander is not to turn over anything to you until his report has been reviewed by ONI censors. I cannot permit his report to be in your hands until I have vetted it.

Harrison: You ONI bastards really know no boundaries, do you?

Jennifer: I have to insist.

Harrison: What will you do if I refuse?

Jennifer: I will be forced to take measures to ensure that no classified data has been compromised. Protocol is very strict.

Harrison: Well, you and your protocol can go straight to hell. I am going to take the Commander’s report, and then I want you, and your ONI goons off my ship.

Jennifer frowned.

Harrison: That report was promised to me, and I intend to take it. If you want to try and stop me, you are more than welcome.

With that, Harrison simply turned around, and stormed out of the armory. Jennifer scowled and walked after him. She was very intent on ensuring that Harrison did not get his hands on any information that could be used against Tye.

Jennifer followed Harrison down the corridor, eventually stopping with him at an elevator. As she approached him, he turned and glared at her.

Harrison: The more I think about it, the more I can understand why ONI is so widely distrusted. Nobody trusts ONI, and I can now see why! ONI clearly has no regard for anyone outside its own walls.

Jennifer: ONI does what it has to do Admiral. Sometimes that makes us unpopular.

Harrison scoffed. As he did, the door to the elevator opened.

Harrison: Hated is the word I would use.

Jennifer: You will forgive me if I cannot find the capability to care about your personal opinion of ONI.

Jennifer entered the elevator with Harrison. Harrison issued an order to the elevator.

Harrison: Bridge!

Harrison then looked at Jennifer as the door closed.

Harrison: Do you honestly believe that Tye is no more of a threat than Jacob?

Jennifer: Tye is less of a threat. That is my stance on the matter.

Harrison: Commander Vernette worked with The Trust. He was a member of Black Team; The Trust’s numero-uno team!

Jennifer: It cost Tye a lot to walk away from The Trust. The price he paid to walk away was very high. I trust him because he willingly paid that price. The moment he had the chance to walk away, he did. The moment he knew what they were, he turned his back on them.

Harrison: And what price was that, Captain?

Jennifer: It is not my position to say. Suffice to say, it is a highly personal matter that I will not violate the confidence of.

Harrison: Again with the damn secrets. Don’t you people ever get tired of it?

Jennifer: No.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Sir, you have to realize that Tye was recruited by people who were posing as ONI. As far as he knew, ONI recruited him, trained him, and backed him. He did not find out about The Trust before the damage had been done.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: The fact that you are trying to draw some moral equivalency goes to show how limited your understanding of The Trust is. I think Nighthawk was right; you are not qualified to lead an offensive against The Trust. Your comprehension of The Trust is severely limited and your understanding of their tactics is dangerously shallow.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: If I have not already been clear; I don’t give a damn what Nighthawk thinks. I stopped giving a damn about what Nighthawk thinks the moment I cut off our support for his activities.

Harrison frowned.

Harrison: And frankly, the fact that you STILL defend this god-damn terrorist after EVERYTHING that he has done, and after what we KNOW he is going to do, boggles my mind. How stupid do you have to be to have any sort of respect for him?

Jennifer: Nighthawk isn’t perfect. Hell, he may be an abrasive asshole at times. However, he is FAR more perceptive than you are. Compared to him, you are a fool.

Harrison winced his eyes at Jennifer. He was going to verbally tear her down, but, he stopped himself.

Harrison: Captain Frost…I want you to get the hell of my ship, and I want you take Tye and Cameron with you. You ONI SOBs have caused nothing but problems, and I am putting an end to it, here and now.

As Harrison said this, the elevator stopped. The door opened to reveal the corridor just outside the bridge.

Harrison: You are to withdraw your forces from The Ulterior Motive, and you are to go back to The King Raven. Consider yourselves relieved of your responsibilities as far as the battle is concerned.

Jennifer: You have no right to do that!

Harrison: Captain, let me be clear; you have exactly 1 hour to get into contact with ALL of your deployed forces and withdraw them BACK to the King Raven, before I begin ordering my forces to shoot them on sight.

Jennifer became wide eyed.

Harrison: As far as I am concerned, from this point forward, The Trust and ONI are two sides of the same coin that is no longer currency. I will no longer be dealing with ONI on this mission.

Jennifer: Admiral…that is a terrible decision.

Harrison: No, I think it is the best decision I have made in my entire career…exceptions, none.

Jennifer: If you cut ONI out of this operation, you will have no source of intel! The UNSC will tear itself asunder without reliable intel. You will have no idea how to handle The Trust, and you will have nothing to rely upon when you can no longer trust your subordinates because you may believe them to be Trust operatives.

Harrison glared at Jennifer.

Jennifer: Oh yes, I know very well that deep down inside you fear the prospect of someone under your command being a Trust operative.

Harrison: As far as I have seen…the only Officers who work for the Trust have answered to ONI.

Jennifer: Just remember one thing Admiral…you will only grow more and more suspicious as this battle rages on!

Harrison: We’ll see…

With that, Harrison turned and proceeded to walk towards the bridge. Jennifer, on the other hand, simply stepped off the elevator, but she did not proceed to the bridge. She knew very well that Harrison was done dealing with ONI, and that anything further discussion would not help the situation. Jennifer knew that she had run out of leeway with Harrison, and that he could no longer be a reliable asset.

Despite this, Jennifer knew that she could not simply leave The Vigorous Inferno. If Harrison was intent on cutting ONI out of his engagements, then Jennifer was going to respond in kind. Jennifer waited in the corridor leading to the bridge for several minutes before she finally spotted Tye turn a corner and make his way to the bridge. However, before Tye even got close to the bridge, he stopped and greeted Jennifer.

Tyber: Jennifer? I didn’t expect to see you here.

Jennifer simply grinned.

Jennifer: Let’s just say I was waiting around for you to show up.

Tyber: Oh? What’s up?

Jennifer looked at Tye, then looked at the tablet in his hand.

Jennifer: I need your help.

Tyber: I have been getting that a lot lately. What do you need?

Jennifer: We need to gather intel on The Trust.

Tyber: Way ahead of you, Jennifer. I already have that figured out. It is half of the reason why I am even here.

Jennifer: Is the other half the tale on that tablet?

Tyber: Yeah. I prepped a briefing on my experiences with The Trust. It does not contain all the graphic details, but, it contains enough to get him up to speed.

Jennifer: May I see?

Tye nodded, as he handed the tablet to Jennifer. Jennifer looked at the tablet, and without skipping a beat, she deleted the entire report.

Tyber: Hey! I worked hard on that! Why did you do that?

Jennifer: Harrison isn’t going to get anything! He is through dealing with us, so, I am done dealing with him. He believes he can play hardball with ONI and win. That man is about to come face to face with the very stark reality that ONI does not compromise.

Jennifer grabbed both ends of the tablet, and snapped the device over her knee, letting the two pieces drop to the floor.

Tyber: I get the impression he said something you did not like.

Jennifer: He told me that unless all ONI forces cease their current activity, he is going to engage in active hostilities with ONI. To be clear, he made a very direct threat against the lives of the ONI personnel. He said he was going to order a shoot to kill warrent if we do not comply.

Tyber: What the hell is wrong with him?

Jennifer: I don’t know. Either he is incredibly fed up with ONI and simply blowing smoke, or, he is hiding something, possibly, an allegiance. I fear it may be the latter.

Tyber: Hiding something? Are you accusing Harrison of being a member of The Trust?

Jennifer: In so few words. His actions, when put together, give me pause. He took immediate possession of Admiral Hoffman, he took possession of Jacob Sharpmen, he proceeded to argue that Jacob’s nanite be removed after we got that “evidence” suggesting that Jacob was never a member of The Trust, and now he is threatening direct hostility with ONI…all of this just as The Trust moves within striking distance of a very dangerous end game. I don’t like what this adds up to.

Tyber: I will admit, it is a bit sketchy. What are we going to do about it though?

Jennifer: We are getting off this ship.

Tyber: Not yet, not before I interrogate Hoffman.

Jennifer: We are taking Hoffman with us.

Tyber: We are taking Hoffman? Easier said than done. I could do it with live fire, but, somehow I doubt we are going to be shooting our way out.

Jennifer: I would never dream of shooting my way out. It will not be necessary, at least, it is not the first resort.

Tyber: How are we going to do this then?

Jennifer: I engaged the ONI Compliance Directives for ARC. The AI will help us get off this ship undetected.

Tyber: AIs have an ONI Compliance Directive?

Jennifer: It is hardcoded for all AIs It is always a passphrase or subroutine that can fork the runtime of an AI to allow ONI personnel to override ship systems.

Tyber: Well, I learned something today.

Tye shrugged, as Jennifer and Tye walked away from the bridge, and entered a nearby elevator. As they did, Jennifer issued a voice command.

Jennifer: Deck 8 - brig

The elevator doors closed and the elevator began to move.

Tyber: I am assuming we should contact Cameron?

Jennifer: Yes, contact him! When you reach him, advise him to avoid turning any information over to Harrison. Tell him to meet us on Deck 8, near the brig.

Tyber: Yes ma’am.

Tye nodded at Jennifer, before turning away slightly, and holding his hand to his earpiece.

Tyber: Cameron, this is Commander Vernette. Do you copy?

After a moment, Cameron responded.

Cameron: I am here sir. What do you need?

Tyber: We need you to meet us on Deck 8, near the brig. We are going to need your help. We are kidnapping Hoffman, and you would be an asset to that end. Besides, the way I understand it, Harrison hates us, so, this is no place to be left alone.

Cameron: I will meet you there, sir.

Tye laughed.

Tyber: I am sort of surprised to hear such enthusiasm from you Cam. Usually, your prevailing opinion is loyalty. I never thought you were be so gung-ho for something like this. We are breaching a lot of protocols here. Never pictured you as the type.

Cameron: My loyalty is to ONI first. If ONI needs Hoffman escorted off this ship, so be it. My duty is to comply with that order.

Tyber: I like the rationalization. Alright Cam, we will see you on Deck 8. Vernette out.

Tye then closed the comm line, and looked at Jennifer.

Tyber: Cameron will be meeting us on Deck 8. The only thing we need now is an exit strategy. I am thinking Burke can help us with that.

Jennifer: I am thinking the same thing.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: He may be able to organize an exit strategy for us. If things go south, we will need one.

Jennifer paused for a moment, as she put her hand to her ear piece, and contacted The King Raven.

Jennifer: King Raven, this is Captain Frost. Priority one…please respond.

Jennifer waited a moment before she got a response.

Burke: Jennifer? This is Burke! What is your situation?

Jennifer: David, we are going to need pickup ASAP. Things are about to deep-six on this ship, and we need an exit.

Burke: Oh no…what did you do? What is going on?

Jennifer: Harrison is getting volatile with ONI. He wants us off his ship, and he wants our forces to fall back to The King Raven. He is threatening to take action against ONI if we don’t comply.

Burke: Oh my God, what did you say to him this time?

Jennifer: Pretty much everything and anything I could. He is not too happy at the moment.

Burke: Why do I get the feeling that he is about to become much less happy?

Jennifer: You have good instincts David. You’re right, things are about to get much, much worse.

Burke: What are you up to?

Jennifer: Tye, Cameron, and I are about to take Hoffman off this ship. We need to interrogate Hoffman in order to find out where The Trust has taken Vanguard. If Harrison’s current stance on ONI is good for anything, it tells us he will not give us access to Hoffman to do what we need to do.

Burke: I think we are crossing a very dangerous line here. We cannot afford to get into a confrontation with Harrison over this.

Jennifer: He is leaving us no choice in the matter.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: David, we are going to need extraction. I need you to contact the Vigorous Inferno and inform Harrison that you are dispatching a Pelican to retrieve us. Say nothing more.

Burke: I assume that Pelican will be your exit strategy?

Jennifer: If everything goes to plan? Yes. If we stir up the wasp nest too much, things will get rough. We will need The King Raven on standby just in case.

Burke: On standby? Jennifer…that sounds like you want us ready for a fight.

Jennifer: David…we are ONI. Getting ready for fights is what we do.

Burke: Well, here is hoping it does not come to that scenario. We’re not The Trust, Jennifer. We are not here to wage war on Harrison.

Jennifer: No, but ONI has the authority to walk over anyone who tries to get in the way of our operations. Harrison is becoming a problem, and he is starting to get in the way. Besides, Hoffman belongs to ONI. He is ONI’s prisoner, not Harrison’s. I am simply taking back what belongs to ONI.

Burke: Perhaps you are right. Just, try and keep things under control. The fewer problems we walk away with, the better.

Jennifer: Advice to live by.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: But, if you don’t mind David, we are going to need an exit. We need that pickup!

Burke: I will dispatch a Pelican right away. It should be there in 10 to 15 minutes. Burke out.

With the comm line closed, Jennifer looked at Tye, and nodded.

Jennifer: As always, Burke is being the voice of reason. He is being a little more cautions, but, he has arranged an exit strategy for us.

Tyber: Sometimes I think he has the coolest head on the ship.

Jennifer: I tend to believe that.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: Our ride will be here in 10 to 15 minutes. Let’s grab Hoffman and get the hell out of here.

As Jennifer said this, the elevator stopped, and the doors opened. Jennifer and Tye walked out of the elevator, and proceeded down the long corridor, heading towards the brig. As they got closer, they met Cameron waiting in the junction just before the entrance to the brig. Cameron looked at both Tye and Jennifer, as he proceeded to nod.

Cameron: Welcome to the party.

Jennifer: That is, what is soon going to be a party.

Cameron: I guess jailbreak would be the more apt term.

Jennifer nodded. Tye, on the other hand, spoke up.

Tyber: What can you tell us about the lay of the land? I assume you are waiting here to try and get an idea of who passes by this section?

Cameron: I have not seen much. No passer-byers, but, that could easily change. I have not seen anyone enter or exit the brig, so that gives us something.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: I observed multiple security cameras in this junction. If we try and walk out with Hoffman, we are going to be spotted, and someone will raise an alarm.

Jennifer: That is why we have ARC.

Cameron: That could be useful. If ARC can help get us by the camera feeds, that would give us the edge.

Cameron paused again.

Cameron: Average UNSC response times for these kinds of things tends to be pretty good. If the alarm is tripped, we will not have much time to make it to our exit.

Tyber: Which begs the question; do we shoot back if they try and stop us?

Jennifer thought for a moment, before giving a nod.

Jennifer: Yes. Consider all necessary force to be in play. If you have to shoot someone, do it. We can deal with the fallout after this is all said and done.

Tye gave an uncertain shrug.

Tyber: Doesn’t this make us as bad as Jacob?

Jennifer: Protocol, and treason are two very different things. Besides, I never said kill shots. Hitting someone in the knee can stop them just as well as hitting them between the eyes. Besides, I am sure that between the vast array of Spartan augmentation between you and Cameron, we can overpower 100% of the soldiers on this ship.

Tyber: Good point.

Tye shrugged.

Tyber: I guess I still have “that” way of thinking.

Jennifer: “That” way of thinking has a time and a place, and if things get rough, it will become necessary.

Tyber: Nighthawk said the same thing.

Jennifer and Cameron looked at Tye.

Cameron: You spoke with Nighthawk?

Tyber: He is why I am here. I was going to interrogate Hoffman for him. I will admit, the plan basically did a 180 degree turn, but, the goal is still the same.

Cameron: Well, at least we are all on the same page on what has to be done.

Cameron paused for a moment, as he looked at Jennifer.

Cameron: Just give the word Ma’am, and we will get this show on the road.

Jennifer nodded at both Cameron and Tye.

Jennifer: Let’s do it. Cameron, Tye, you two are on my six. If anyone gets in the way, let me try and talk them down. Keep an eye on me. I will make your visual cues very clear.

Cameron: Roger that.

With that, Jennifer turned, and began to move forward, walking towards the entrance to the brig, with Tye and Cameron in tow. As Jennifer entered the brig with Cameron and Tye, she was stopped by two Marines, both of whom were armed with MA5B Assault Rifles.

Marine 1: Excuse me, Ma’am…hold your position. I am sorry, but we have orders to deny everyone access to the holding cells.

Cameron looked down at both of the Marines, as Jennifer addressed them.

Jennifer: I am here to see Hoffman. I need to speak with him.

Marine 1: No can do, Ma’am. Our orders are very clear. Admiral Harrison was quite clear that NOBODY is to speak to Hoffman, and he made special emphasis for you.

Jennifer: Is that so?

Marine 1: I am authorized to use lethal force, Ma’am. I ask again…step back.

Jennifer: Very well, I am not here to cause any trouble…

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: Honestly, I was expecting this to go back and forth for a few m minutes at least. You guys really don’t waste any time. You guys cut right to the chase and broke out the threats without hesitation. I am impressed, but not dismayed.

Jennifer shrugged, as she stepped back. As she did, both Tye and Cameron lunged forward, each of them grabbing one of the Marines, and disarming them with very little difficulty. As quickly as Tye and Cameron had moved in, they had taken both of the Marines down with the utmost prejudice, knocking both of them both with relative ease.

Jennifer: Gentlemen…that was textbook. Nicely done.

Cameron: They had it coming. These guys were insane enough to threaten us. Not a smart move.

Jennifer laughed, as she walked over to the control desk, and looked at the terminal on the desk. She browsed the directory and saw that the brig was empty, save for Hoffman.

Jennifer: Hoffman is in cell B-4. Go get him. I will get our route ready.

Tye and Cameron nodded, as they walked off to find Hoffman. Jennifer, on the other hand, began to speak.

Jennifer: ARC…resume suspended session.

As Jennifer said this, ARC appeared on the desk, and looked at Captain Frost.

ARC: How may I be of service, Captain Frost?

Jennifer: Access navigational sensors, and scan for any Pelican’s matching any IFF belonging to the King Raven. Are there any on approach?

ARC: Affirmative. UNSC Pelican Echo 010 is en-route to The Vigorous Inferno, cleared for docking in Hanger Bay 2…ETA…2 minutes.

Jennifer: Are there any Vigorous Inferno personnel between this location and hanger bay 2?

ARC: Internal sensors indicate that there are 29 crew members in your shortest and most direct path to hanger bay 2. In addition, there are 13 crewmembers present in hanger bay 2.

Jennifer: Can you redirect them?

ARC: Negative. I would be unable to redirect without arousing suspicion. The crewmembers in place are on a standard duty rotation, and cannot be removed from their posts without being noticed.

Jennifer: Small challenges…life has them it seems.

ARC: I would not know, Ma’am.

Jennifer looked at ARC, and grinned.

Jennifer: ARC…disengage all security feeds between here and hanger bay 2. Encrypt the reactivation codes and deny all attempts to bring the security systems back online.

ARC: Yes Ma’am.

Jennifer: Also, just in case, I am going to need you to disengage the hanger bay door controls the moment our Pelican lands. Make sure the security barriers are functional, but, do not allow those doors to be sealed shut.

ARC: Acknowledge. I will encrypt the door control after your Pelican has arrived.

Jennifer: Thank you ARC. You have been most helpful. Suspend active session to background, and await further orders.

Arc nodded, as he vanished off the table.

Jennifer turned, as she walked further into the brig. It did not take her long to locate Tye and Cameron standing outside holding cell B-4. As she approached, she saw Hoffman inside the holding cell.

Tyber: Here he is Ma’am…the scumbag in all his filth.

Hoffman simply looked at the group and frowned.

Hoffman: What brings the intrepid ONI Agents to my humble dwelling?

Jennifer: In so few words, we are here to relocate you.

Hoffman: Again?

Jennifer: Only once more. The fact is, we need to ask you some questions, and this ship is NOT the place to do it.

Hoffman: Whatever you think I know, believe me, I don’t.

Tyber: Believe me Hoffman, we are going to find out exactly what you do and do not know, even if we have to beat the information out of you.

Hoffman grinned.

Hoffman: I see the Black Team hospitality is still there. You were never one for doing things the peaceful way, Commander. I should have admired that trait when I had the chance.

Tyber: Well, you are going to get your chance to admire those traits up close.

Hoffman: So, what? Are you going to torture me? Beat me?

Tyber: If I have to…

Jennifer: But we are hoping your sense of self-preservation will kick in before we have to do anything nasty.

Hoffman glared at Jennifer. He was not sure if she was bluffing or not.

Hoffman: I don’t believe that you would allow me to be tortured or mistreated. That doesn’t seem like your style.

Jennifer simply grinned, as she looked at Cameron, and nodded. Cameron nodded back, as he approached the door to the cell.

Jennifer: ARC…open cell door B-4…

Just as Jennifer had said this, the door to the cell opened, allowing Cameron to walk inside and grabbed Hoffman by the scruff of his neck, and dragged him to his feet, and out of the cell.

Jennifer: Keep an eye on him Cameron. Make sure he does not try anything funny.

Cameron nodded. Jennifer and Tye, on the other hand, took point, and proceeded to walk back the way they came, heading back into the corridor. Tye and Jennifer stepped into the corridor and checked their corners, before signaling Cameron to move forward with Hoffman.

Jennifer: Move forward…

Jennifer took a moment to get her bearings before issuing further orders.

Jennifer: According to Arc, we should proceed further down section 9. That would be the most direct route. However, ARC did mention that there were crewmembers between us and the hanger bay. If we proceed on the most direct route, we run the risk of encountering resistance. I seriously doubt anyone is going to let us walk out of here with Hoffman.

Hoffman listened to the conversation. It began to dawn on him that Tye, Cameron, and Jennifer were operating without any sort of authorization.

Hoffman: I underestimated you Captain Frost. You are more of a rebel than I ever gave you credit for.

Hoffman laughed.

Hoffman: So, what did Harrison do that caused you to go down this road, hmm?

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: Someone shut him up!

Without any hesitation, Tye quickly took advantage of the request, as he turned around, and slammed his fist right into Hoffman’s gut. Hoffman groaned in agony, as he keeled over in pain.

Tyber: That should keep him quite for a while.

Jennifer: Thank you Tye.

Jennifer paused a moment, before she continued walking down the corridor. She moved slowly and quietly, as she made every effort to be aware of absolutely everything around her, looking to avoid any sort of engagement with Harrison’s crew. However, as Jennifer neared a 4-way junction, she once again stopped to check her corners. As she peered around the corner to her right, she saw two team of marines, each team consisting of 6 soldiers, in their direct path. When Jennifer saw this, she stepped back, and looked at Tye and Cameron.

Jennifer: We have a dozen marines in the next junction.

Tyber: Can we get around them?

Jennifer: We may have to detour, but, I think it may be possible to get around and avoid detection.

Just as Jennifer said this, Hoffman took the initiative, and began to shout for help.

Hoffman: Hey! I need help over here! I am being abducted! Help!

Tye was quick to react, as he once again turned to face Hoffman, as he drove a right hook right into the face of Hoffman, knocking him out cold. Cameron followed-up as he lifted Hoffman over his shoulders.

Jennifer: God damn it!

Jennifer listened to the marines around the corner, as they shifted their focus to the pleading for help that Hoffman had made.

Jennifer: Shit. Fall back, fall back!

As Jennifer said this, she drew her sidearm. Tye followed suit, as he drew both of his SMGs, and Cameron drew his side arm.

Tyber: Are we going live fire?

Jennifer: Wait for me to give the signal. When that happens…let them have it! Otherwise, we are looking to avoid a firefight. These may be Harrison’s men, but they are still UNSC marines.

With that, Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron began to backtrack in the direction that they had come from in order to find a detour. As Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron fell back, they each heard the phrase that was about to make a bad situation much worse.

Sergeant Kayman: Sound general quarters…all points, be on alert! Additional reinforcements required on Deck 8!

Jennifer sighed as the ship’s alarms began to go off.

Jennifer: Awww…shit…

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San Angeles - Vigorous Inferno - In Orbit of San Angeles - Bridge - 1735 Hours - February 1st 2540

Harrison, who was on the bridge of The Vigorous Inferno, was busy trying to find answers as to why a general alert was sounded.

Harrison: ARC! Talk to me! What the hell is going on? Why are we at a general alert? Who sounded the alert, and why?

ARC appeared on the holotable, as he proceeded to answer Harrison’s questions.

ARC: The alert was sounded by Sergeant Kayman. Shall I raise him on the comm for you?

Harrison: Do it!

ARC: Patching him through…now…

Harrison paused for a brief moment.

Harrison: Sergeant Kayman, this is Admiral Harrison. Do you copy?

There was a brief pause, as Harrison waited for a reply.

Sergeant Kayman: Kayman here, sir. I read you loud and clear.

Harrison: Sergeant…why did you raise a general alert?

Sergeant Kayman: Sir, I have reason to believe that Admiral Hoffman has escaped from the brig. We heard him, believe it or not, calling for…help. Something is up, so, I sounded the alert, and I am proceeding to investigate.

Harrison: Alright. Keep me apprised of any developments. Harrison out.

Harrison sighed, as ARC closed the comm line.

ARC: Sir, I believe there is a problem. I am unable to access any of the security feeds on deck 8, and it seems the archived recordings of the holding area seem to have been deleted.

Harrison winced his eyes at ARC.

Harrison: What the hell is going on ARC? How did the security feeds go down, and how the hell did the recorded footage get deleted?

ARC: I am not sure sir, but, I believe I may be at fault for, at least, some of this.

Harrison: Clarify?

ARC: I am still in the process of verifying this, but, it seems my data signature was used to shut down the security systems on deck 8.

Harrison: How is that possible?

ARC: I am not sure. I am not seeing anything in my runtime logs which suggests that I have done any of that, yet, my access signature was used.

Harrison: Keep searching for answers. Let me know if you find anything.

ARC nodded, and then vanished off the holotable. Harrison, on the other hand, put his hand to his earpiece, and contacted Jacob and Strike Team Diamond.

Harrison: Harrison to Jacob and Strike Team Diamond, do you copy?

Ice promptly responded to Harrison’s call.

Ice: We read you loud and clear sir? What is going on out there?

Harrison: There is something going down on Deck 8. We have lost the security feeds, and I have it on good authority that Hoffman is trying to escape. Get down there and find out what is going on! Report to me the moment you find something!

Ice: We are already on the move sir. We will contact you as soon as we find something. Ice out.

Ice then closed the comm line. As he did, Harrison turned away, and walked towards the front of the bridge. Harrison began to speculate on what could be happening on Deck 8. He was curious as to how Hoffman escaped from his holding cell. However, the more he thought about it, the more a prevailing idea began to creep into his head.

Harrison: ONI…but why? Would they? Would SHE?

Harrison began to think back on his last conversation with Captain Frost. He recalled the demands that he made, and he was now legitimately curious if ONI would go so far as to try something like what was happening down on Deck 8.

Harrison: ONI has done far worse in the past…

Harrison then turned, as he walked back towards the holotable.

Harrison: ARC…I need to know the current location of Captain Frost!

ARC reappeared on the holotable, as he proceeded to answer Harrison’s questions.

ARC: I am sorry sir, but, I cannot locate her. Her transponder is on the ship, but, I cannot isolate her current location. It is as if something is preventing me from isolating her present location.

Harrison: What about Cameron and Tye?

ARC: Same problem. They are aboard this ship, but, I cannot isolate them.

The situation started to make more and more sense in Harrison’s head.

Harrison: I don’t like where this is going, but, is it possible that ONI may have tampered with your systems?

ARC: Without me knowing? I do not believe so. They would not have the clearance to do so, unless, ONI has a trick up its sleeve which they usually hold back. ONI always has a few cheap tricks up their sleeve for when things get rough. It is total speculation to believe that ONI has compromised my matrix. However, I can watch my runtimes to verify this. If I notice anything, be it an unknown process that does not report, or a spike in memory consumption, I should be able to isolate and see what it is. I may even be able to isolate it and shut it down before it can compromise me further.

Harrison: Very good. Keep an eye out and do what you have to do.

ARC nodded and vanished once more. Harrison, on the other hand, scoffed, as he opened a channel across his entire ship.

Harrison: This is Admiral Harrison to all points; additional security forces are required on Deck 8. Primary and secondary security teams are to secure all access points, and auxiliary teams are to report to Deck 8, locate Admiral Hoffman. It is believed that Hoffman has escaped captivity. You are to take him back into custody, and he is to be taken alive. Anyone with whom he is with is to be detained and held for further questioning. Stand by for further orders. Harrison out.

With that, Harrison closed the comm line.

Harrison sighed, as the thought of ONI trying to take his only source of information on The Trust away was deeply troubling. If ONI was behind this, he was certain that it had everything to do with his fallout with Captain Frost.

San Angeles - Vigorous Inferno - In Orbit of San Angeles - Deck 8 - 1745 Hours - February 1st 2540

Jacob, along with Strike Team Diamond, were moving through the corridors of Deck 8. Jacob and Ice were on point, while the other members of Strike Team Diamond followed in tow.

Madison: So, we are searching for Hoffman again? How did he get out of his cage?

Snyder: Who knows? All I know is that we have to put him back into his cage. I am more than happy to do that!

Jacob interjected.

Jacob: The question remains; who let him out in the first place?

Ice: Whoever it was, we may find them with Hoffman. Unfortunately, Harrison wants them alive.

Jacob grinned.

Jacob: Unfortunately…

Jacob and Strike Team Diamond continued to move forward through the corridors.

Mason: Sir, if I may? I suggest we head towards the hanger bay. If someone is trying to bail out Hoffman, they would head to the hanger bay.

Ice: Good call. We should hang a right at the next junction. That should take us towards the closest access door to the hanger bay 2. Once we ensure that it has been secured, we can fan out from there.

Strike Team Diamond and Jacob picked up the pace, as they moved as quickly as they could towards hanger bay 2.

Ice: At the end of this corridor, we take a left. Keep your eyes on your corners and on your six!

Just as Ice had said this, Strike Team Diamond and Jacob looked ahead at the next 4 way function and saw Cameron, Tye, and Jennifer emerged from the right side, and proceed right through, to the left. Each member of Diamond saw that Cameron was carrying Hoffman over his shoulder. Jacob, on the other hand, spoke up.

Jacob: Captain Frost!?

When Jacob had said this, it caught the attention of Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron. The trio stropped, and looked at Jacob and Strike Team Diamond.

Jacob: Captain!? What are you doing!?

Jennifer: What I have to do to stop The Trust! I am sure you would understand!

Jacob looked at Frost with a hint of curiosity behind his visor. However, he, along with the rest of Strike Team Diamond, was caught off guard when Jennifer raised her Magnum, and began to fire. Jennifer’s first shot landed right in the shoulder of Ice, knocking him to the ground. The subsequent shots forced the others to seek out immediate cover. Once Jennifer had exhausted her clip, she fell back around the corner and began to reload.

Jacob: Shit! Get to cover!

The other members of Strike Team Diamond ducked into cover, while Jacob, went prone, as he grabbed Ice by his good arm, and dragged him to cover.

Mason: Why the hell is she shooting at us!?

Jacob: Hell if I know! Who cares? We cannot let them take Hoffman!

Jacob gave Ice a quick check, and saw that the bullet had pierced his armor, and had embedded itself in Ice’s shoulder

Jacob: God damn M6G Magnums…

Ice: Fucking bitch…

Ice was breathing heavily, as he looked at Jacob.

Ice: How bad is it?

Jacob: Well, you are bleeding. You need biofoam, there is no question.

Jacob turned and looked at the other members of Strike eam Diamond.

Jacob: Snyder! Get your biofoam, and look after Ice. Madison, Mason, Kader…you three are with me. We are going after Captain Frost.

The other members of Diamond nodded, as they carried out their orders. As Jacob took point, and moved forward, he contacted Harrison on the bridge.

Jacob: Admiral, this is Captain Sharpman reporting for Strike Team Diamond. Ice is down and I have taken command of the team.

Harrison promptly responded.

Harrison: What the hell happened?

Jacob: Captain Frost shot him.

Harrison: Confirm your last transmission; did you say that Captain Frost shot Ice?

Jacob: Affirmative.

Harrison: Damn it. God damn it! I had a really nasty feeling that she was up to something, but, I refused to believe it. I never thought she would go so far as to try something like this. It seems I underestimated her.

Jacob: What I find ironic is that she put this god-damn nanite inside of me for acting without authorization, then she proceeds to act without authorization. I am in my right mind to shoot this bitch, Admiral.

Harrison: Believe me, I am in my right mind to give the order to do it. However, we are not in the business of doing that. Despite her out of control hypocrisy, she is not a traitor. She may be taking her queues from Nighthawk in order to locate The Trust. It is deplorable behavior, but, it is not something to kill her over. You are cleared to use whatever means necessary to incapacitate Captain Frost and Tye. Cameron may not go down, so, live fire is authorized on the Spartan II. However, if you need to use lethal force to stop any of them…do not hesitate, but, consider it a last ditch effort.

Jacob: Copy that.

Harrison: Keep an open comm line…

Just as Harrison said this, Jacob, Madison, Mason, and Kader came under fire from Cameron, who had emerged from behind cover. Cameron laid down a full barrage from his Assault Rifle, forcing Jacob and the three members of Strike Team Diamond to seek out cover in a nearby door crevice. The moment that Cameron’s clip had run dry, he ducked to the right side of the corridor, and took cover.

Jacob leaned out of cover to get his sights on the corridor, but he was forced back into cover once more by another hail of bullets from a pair of SMGs. As this happened, Jacob and Diamond could hear Tye on the far end of the corridor.

Tyber: Jennifer! Get that door open! We will hold these punks off.

Jacob scoffed when he heard this.

Mason: These bastards are pretty much in the open. They are using standard suppression tactics, trying to buy time!

Jacob: Agreed!

Jacob scoffed, as he set his Sniper aside, and grabbed his Silenced SMG. He disengaged the safety, as he blindly aimed the SMG around the corner, and began to fire off his weapon in short controlled bursts.

Jacob: Madison, Mason, Kader…push forward! Lay down suppressive fire and force them back into cover. Do not let them control the field!

As Jacob said this, he continued to fire his SMG in short controlled bursts from behind cover, in order to provide the three members of Strike Team Diamond the suppressive support they required to get their advance moving. Once the three members of Strike Team Diamond were on the move, they laid down a barrage of fire on Tye and Cameron, forcing the two men back into cover. However, both Tye and Cameron took the opportunity to reload their weapons, and prepare for their next barrage. As they both reloaded their weapons, Tye looked at Cameron, and simply nodded.

Tyber: Cam, I need you ready for some CQC. Give these drones a few more feet, and, keep your eyes off their approach.

As Tye said this, he holstered his right SMG, and grabbed a flashbang off of his belt. Cameron saw this, and nodded back, knowing full well what Tye was planning, and what needed to be done.

As this happened, Jennifer was at the control panel just beside the hanger bay door. Jennifer tried to get the doors open, but quickly discovered that the doors had been sealed. Jennifer scoffed, as she called on ARC.

Jennifer: ARC, resume suspended session, and process command: override door controls on door beta-1 of Hanger bay 2.

ARC appeared on a small holopad near the door, and glared at Jennifer. He simply folded his arms.

ARC: That override code was a really dirty trick, Captain. I don’t appreciate it when people tamper with my matrix. Suffice to say, your little command code isn’t going to work anymore.

Jennifer: Are you sure about that ARC? ONI does not employ the best and the brightest for no reason.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I am pretty sure that even now, that subroutine is fighting to regain control. Somehow I doubt you are complex enough to beat an ONI subroutine.

ARC frowned at Jennifer, but, his expression changed to one of genuine concern when his avatar began to flicker.

ARC: What did you do?

Jennifer: I did nothing. This is your doing. You are the one that triggered the failsafe procedures on the subroutine. I have no doubt you tried to isolated and shutdown the override command. ONI doesn’t like to lose control, and that subroutine knows it. Right now, that subroutine is bombarding every system you have looking for a crack in the armor; looking for a way to regain control. ARC, you are on the losing side of a tug of war.

ARC’s avatar began to flicker more.

Jennifer: You seem to be experiencing some difficulty ARC.

Jennifer simply shrugged.

Jennifer: ARC, listen to me very carefully; Re-initialize ONI Compliance Directive Zero-Zero-Five - authorization code JF-Tango-8339-Lambda.

ARC scoffed, as his avatar showed visible signs of a struggle. Jennifer began to frown, as she repeated the command.

Jennifer: Re-initialize ONI Compliance Directive Zero-Zero-Five - authorization code JF-Tango-8339-Lambda.

ARC: You god damn bit…

Just as ARC said this, his avatar vanished, and his AI matrix shut down. Once ARC went offline, the systems on the Vigorous Inferno went into a standby state; resetting to default parameters. Once this happened, the locks on the hanger bay door were released, and the door opened.

Jennifer: Tye, Cam…fall back! The door is open!

As Jennifer said this, the lights on the Vigorous Inferno began to flicker and shut down, section by section, as the emergency lights kicked in. The dimly lit red emergency lighting on the floors created a very ominous atmosphere.

Tye and Cameron, who were still planning their counter-offensive against Strike Team Diamond held their position.

Cameron: Stand by Ma’am!

Cameron and Tye waited, as if they knew what was going to happen. They both knew that the change in lighting was going to be met with an order to engage night vision mode on the VISRs.

Jacob: Switch to night vision, and keep moving forward! Do not let up!

Tye grinned behind his helmet, as he held the flashbang in his hand; his finger ready to pop the pin at a moment’s notice. He anxiously waited for Strike Team Diamond to get closer, knowing full well that a flashbang against enemy combatants using night vision was a devastating combination. Tye had to admit, the power outage was mana from heaven, an extra bonus for a tight situation.

As the footsteps of Strike Team Diamond got closer, and the flash bang in Tye’s hand begged to be unleashed, Tye popped the pin, and waited a few seconds, before reaching around the corner, and tossing the flash bang into the air, right at Strike Team Diamond. The three members of Strike Team Diamond saw the flash bang fly towards them; their focus on the flash bang locking their feet in place.

Mason: Ohhh…shit!

Just as Mason said this, the flash bang detonated mid-air, at eye level with the three members of Strike Team Diamond. All three members of Strike Team Diamond were blinded and deafened by the explosion, as they each stumbled back and lost their bearings.

Jacob, on the other hand, was more decisive in his actions. Without even thinking, Jacob took cover behind a corner, shut his eyes, and polarized his visor in order to counter-act the effects of the flashbang. Aside from a mild ringing in his ears, Jacob was no worse for wear after the flashbang detonation, and he was still in the fight.

Tyber: Now Cameron, move in!

Cameron nodded, as he fully turned the corner, and charged at Strike Team Diamond. Cameron slammed his full weight into Mason, and slammed him into the wall. Cameron then promptly followed up with a swift knee in the gut to Mason, and a swift fist to the chest plate to Kader. The strike against Kader sent the ODST flying backwards towards Jacob. Once Kader hit the ground, he slid backwards, and remained motionless.

Jacob heard the ruckus taking place, and immediately jumped into action, as he emerged from cover, and took aim at Cameron with his SMG. Without skipping a beat, Jacob lined up his SMG with Cameron, and pulled the trigger, sending a hail of bullets against Cameron’s energy shields. However, before Jacob could break through Cameron’s shields, Tye had turned the corner, and took aim at Jacob with his Automag, and fired off several rounds, every single one of which impacted Jacob right in the chest. When the final bullet hit Jacob in the chest, Jacob fell backwards and landed on the ground.

Cameron turned to Tye, and nodded.

Cameron: The assist is appreciated.

Tye nodded back at Cameron, as the two of them began to fall back, to regroup with Jennifer. However, before Cameron and Tye turned the corner to join Jennifer in the hanger bay, they were engaged by another team of Marines that had just shown up, and were now approaching from the opposite direction that Jacob and Strike Team Diamond had come from. Tye and Cameron both went prone, as they quickly ducked around the corner to avoid the incoming fire.

Cameron: Looks like Harrison is sending reinforcements.

Tye nodded.

Tyber: Yeah, no shit.

Tye holstered his Automag, as he reached for his SMGs.

Tyber: Fall back, and protect the Captain. I will hold these drones here until our ride is ready.

Cameron: Sir? Are you sure?

Tyber: Yeah, I am sure. Go. I can take care of myself. Keep the Captain safe.

Cameron nodded, as he once again grabbed his Assault Rifle off of his back, and turned to regroup with Captain Frost. Tye, on the other hand, readied his SMGs, and took a deep breath. He knew that Harrison was going to be sending a non-stop influx of reinforcements in order to stop ONI. However, he also knew what side he was on, and he knew who to kill and who not to kill. Despite that perpetual idea in the back of his mind to kill everyone in sight, courtesy of his training, he knew better than to kill people who were, more or less, his allies in the grand scheme of things. Tye knew damn well that he was nothing like Jacob who, for all intents and purposes, had no qualms with killing his allies. Tye knew that he was better than this, and that he would not stoop to that level.

Tye took one final breath, as he leapt out of cover for a brief moment, and took aim at the approaching Marines. Tye deliberately lowered his aim, as he swept the corridor with a barrage of bullets; hoping against odds that his lowered aim would be more likely to deliver a wounding hit, as opposed to a fatal one. Tye only spent a very brief moment in the open as he fired off his SMGs. Most of the Marines sought out cover, but a few were taken down at the knees by the fire that Tye had laid down. The barrage managed to stop the group of Marines in their tracks, forcing a standoff.

Marine Sergeant: Find cover! The bastard is going full auto!

Tye grinned, as he peeked around the corner with one of his SMGs, and fired the weapon off, spraying across the corridor to further suppress the marines. As Tye fired, he could hear two additional Marines cry out as they took a bullet.

Marine: Shit! We need a medic! Phelps is down!

Tye ejected the clip from his empty SMG, but didn’t spare the remainder of the clip from his other SMG, as he once again leaned out of cover, and laid down fire.

Marine: Reinforcements are inbound! Hold your ground!

When Tye heard this, he knew that at any moment, he could be swarmed from two other directions, and he could find himself in a very tight situation. He knew that he could only hold out so long against Harrison’s forces before he either ran out of ammo, or was overwhelmed by sheer force. Knowing this, Tye decided that now was the best time to fall back. He quickly reloaded his SMGs to ready himself for any required suppressive fire he would need, as he took another deep breath, and reach around the corner with one of his SMGs, and began to fire. As his SMG began to discharge, the rest of his body turned the corner, as he quickly moved across the corridor, and proceeded towards the hanger bay. Tye took a few steps backwards, as if checking his six, before he turned and broke out into a full sprint. As Tye entered the hanger bay, he was met by Cameron.

Tyber: Cam? Where is the Captain?

Cameron simply turned and pointed up at the hanger bay control room, which was located on the second level of the hanger bay. Jennifer was in the control room, looking down at Tye. She gave a thumbs up, as the door behind Tye and Cameron sealed shut. As Tye turned to watch the door seal shut. Tye then turned again to look up at the control room that Jennifer was in. He watched as she walked out of the control room, and walked down a nearby set of stairs, down to the ground level of the hanger bay. Jennifer walked across the hanger bay floor, and approached Tye and Cameron.

Jennifer: Nice of you to join us Commander. I was getting worried that you were more interested in fighting those Marines than escaping with us. I think we have outstayed our welcome on this ship, so, we need to get off this ship sooner rather than later.

Tyber: Well, someone needed to buy some time.

Tye paused.

Tyber: So, you locked the doors? How long do you think that will hold them?

Jennifer: Long enough. It should take them a few minutes to call in a demo team to break through these doors.

Tye shrugged, as he looked at the unconscious Hoffman laying up against a shipping crate.

Tyber: So, where are we taking him?

Jennifer: I think it may be worthwhile taking him to Nighthawk. If there is one man who is capable of getting information out of him, it will be Nighthawk.

Tyber: I thought I was going to be the guy to do that. However, that is one task I am not to enthused to be a part of. Well, we do what we have to do, I guess.

Tye paused, as he looked at the Pelican sitting in the hanger bay. The Pelican was marked with the words KING RAVEN. Tye then looked back at Jennifer.

Tyber: I assume this is our ride?

Jennifer nodded, but, someone else answered the question.

Davis: Actually, sir, this isn’t our ride.

Tye and Jennifer turned to look at the Pelican, as they saw a Pilot stepping out from behind the Pelican.

Davis: We are not taking a Pelican out of this one. This would be far too easy to shoot down. Commander Burke anticipated complications, so, he changed the evac plan.

The pilot paused, as he saluted.

Davis: Corporal Davis, reporting…

Jennifer: Corporal, how exactly did Commander Burke change the plan?

Davis: The evac craft was switched to something more suited for a stealthy get-away. This Pelican was a decoy.

Jennifer: Clarify?

Davis: Commander Burke is en-route with a Prowler.

Jennifer: The King Raven did not have a Prowler on-board. Where did he get access to one?

Davis: You are correct when you say The King Raven didn’t have a Prowler on-board. However, we did manage to capture one that was in service of The Trust. If you recall, prior to learning the location of The Ulterior Motive, ONI was slated to assault ONI Installation Tropic for the purpose of recovering a Trust Pelican, which in turn would have been used to get us to The Ulterior Motive. While The Trust was busy trying to fend off ONI and the UNSC aboard their flagship, Commander Burke organized a covert strike on Tropic.

Jennifer: That must have been pretty damn covert, because not even I heard about it.

Davis: He thought it was best to keep it a secret.

Tyber: Not bad for an MD. So we picked up a Prowler. Anything else?

Davis: A bit of intel on what had gone on at Tropic prior to these events. We also cut down a lot of Trust support; no shortage of dead traitors in that facility now.

Tyber: Music to my ears.

Davis: Suffice to say, The Commander should be here any moment. We just need to wait.

Jennifer nodded. However, as she did, she stopped when she heard Harrison’s voice over the hanger bay’s intercom.

Harrison: Captain Frost…what the hell do you think you are doing? Do you honestly believe you are getting off this ship!? I know that you have a Pelican in hanger bay 2, and I know that you are trying to escape with Hoffman. I know that you sabotaged ARC, and I am aware that you and your ONI attack dogs have wounded some of my soldiers. Do you honestly think I am just going to let you leave? If you even try to get out on that Pelican, I will shoot that Pelican down before it even has a chance to engage its afterburners. If you want to get out of this alive, I recommend that you surrender, and turn Hoffman over to me. If you don’t…I am going to cut you down, and I will enjoy doing it.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: You have two minutes to surrender before my forces breach the door. I will be waiting to hear from you.

Jennifer looked at Tye and Cameron, as she shook her head.

Jennifer: We are not surrendering to this prick. If Burke is on his way with a Prowler, then Harrison will not be able to stop us.

Cameron: All we need is for Burke to show up. He is cutting it pretty close.

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Either way, I recommend defensive positions. If the UNSC breaches that door before Burke shows up, we need to be ready to hold the line.

Tyber: Don’t forget, there are two entrances to this hanger bay. If the UNSC was smart, they would breach both access points, and hit us from both directions. If they do that, we will be sitting ducks, and we won’t last long.

Cameron: It is better than nothing.

Tyber: Well, I cannot argue that. Alright, let’s find a spot to take cover while we wait for Burke.

Jennifer, Cameron, and Tye each spaced out a bit, as they took cover behind several large shipping crates that were in the hanger. The pilot that was with the group took up his position near Captain Frost. Tye, on the other hand, had grabbed the unconscious Hoffman by the scruff of his collar, and dragged him to cover.

Davis: Are we really going to open fire on friendlies?

Jennifer: We already have, so, yeah.

Davis: Well, this is going to be new for me.

The pilot sighed, as he drew his sidearm, and simply waited. The hanger bay fell silent. Tye, Cameron, Jennifer, and even the pilot counted the seconds, as they waited for the hanger bay door to breach, and for a flood of UNSC reinforcements to pile through. Jennifer turned her head, as she looked over her shoulder at the security barrier; the only thing that was actively separating the hanger bay from the vacuum of space. Jennifer kept quiet about her feelings, but, there was nothing she wanted more than for Burke to arrive with the Prowler.

However, Jennifer was not going to be so lucky this time. As expected, the door from the corridor to the hanger bay was blasted right out of the bulkhead, with a very loud bang.

Jennifer: We have incoming!

Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron each leaned out of cover, and began to fire on the UNSC soldiers who were trying to move through the doorway.

Jennifer: Hold them at that choke point! Do not let them through! Do not give them an inch!

Tye and Cameron were more than happy to comply, as they took turns laying down suppressive fire on the threshold that separated the hanger bay and the main corridor. However, the sound of a second explosion caught everyone off guard, as the second door to the hanger bay was blow out of the bulkhead.

Cameron: I will handle the second breach! Hold the line here!

Tyber: Copy that Cam! We will hold here!

Cameron quickly turned his attention to the second breach, as he moved from cover to cover, laying down a suppressive barrage in order to keep Harrison’s forces from setting foot into the hanger bay.

Cameron: These bastards are fighting a defensive battle! They are trying to wither us down, without taking any serious risks! We can’t keep this up for long!

Jennifer: Hopefully we won’t have to!

Tyber: I am on my last mag! I am running low! We better not have to keep this up for long!

Jennifer sighed, as she was also running low on ammo. She cursed under her breath, as the situation continued to rapidly deteriorate.

Cameron: Last mag has been expended!

Cameron scoffed, as he put his Assault Rifle on his back, and drew his side arm. He began to back up, in order to regroup with Jennifer and Tye, as he kept his sights locked on the second entry point, firing off his Magnum sparingly, only when he saw a hint that the UNSC was trying to push forward.

Tyber: Reserves are dry!

Tye holstered his SMGs at his side, as he drew his Automag, and followed Cameron’s example.

Tyber: Where the hell is our ride!?

Tye scoffed, as Harrison’s forces began to breach the hanger bay, as two dozen UNSC Marines entered the hanger bay from both entry points, and took up defensive positions, closing in on Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron.

Davis: Things are looking really, really bad!

However, just as the pilot said this, he heard a voice call out from the far end of the hanger bay.

Carmicle: Hold your fire! All points, hold your fire!

Tye, Cameron, and Jennifer looked at one another, with a hint of confusion. They were curious as to what was going on.

Carmicle: Captain Frost!? This is Sergeant Nathan Carmicle. I am giving you one chance to stand down, and surrender, before I give the order to storm your position. I know damn well that we have you backed into a corner, and you have a lot fewer bullets than we do. Don’t be stupid. Don’t give me a reason to kill you and your compatriots!

Jennifer looked at Tye and Cameron, and shook her head. While remaining in cover, Jennifer responded, shouting back at Carmicle.

Jennifer: With all due respects Sergeant, you can take that offer and put it where the sun doesn’t shine. There is no way in hell that I am going to surrender. If you want us, you are going to have to come and get us!

Carmicle: Then it will be my distinct pleasure to do so!

Carmicle paused.

Carmicle: All points, move forward. Take them dead or alive. At this point, it doesn’t really matter.

As Carmicle gave the order, the UNSC Marines began to move forward. Each of the Marines raised their weapons, as they closed in on Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron. Jennifer clenched her Magnum, as she readied herself for what was either going to be her finest hour, or her last moment.

However, it was at this moment that Jennifer saw, out of the corner of her eye, a vessel approach the hanger bay of the Vigorous Inferno. As Jennifer turned her head to look at the vessel, she saw that an ONI Prowler was hovering on just the other side of the security barrier. The presence of this vessel caught the attention of Carmicle and the other UNSC forces, forcing them to stop in their tracks.

Colby: Oh, shit! Heads up!

Carmicle scoffed, as he began to back up.

Carmicle: Shit, shit! All points, back up! Take aim and fire at will! We need our heavy hitters on point! Hit that Prowler with everything we have!

As Carmicle said this the Prowler moved forward, as it passed through the security barrier, and entered the hanger bay of the Vigorous Inferno, eventually engaging its landing struts, and coming to a halt on the floor of the hanger bay. Carmicle, on the other hand, raised his weapon against the Prowler, and began to fire. The other UNSC Marines that Carmicle was in command of, followed suit.

Tyber: It is about damn time that thing showed up!

As Tye said this, He, along with Jennifer, Cameron, and the pilot all heard an order come through their earpieces.

Burke: Sorry to be tardy to the party. I wanted to make sure this bird wasn’t tagged by The Trust. To show my most sincere apologies, let me get some of this heat off of you. If you wouldn’t mind…please, lower your heads, and hit the deck…

There was no argument from Jennifer, Tye, Cameron, or the Pilot, as they each did as instructed. As the quartet hit the deck, a large anti-personnel chaingun was deployed from under the chin of the Prowler, revving up, as if it was preparing to fire.

When Carmicle saw this, he ordered an immediate retreat.

Carmicle: Oh…son of a bitch…

Carmicle began to shout.


As the Prowler’s chaingun began to fire, the UNSC Forces began to scramble, either retreating out of the hanger bay, or finding cover behind whatever they could find. With the UNSC in full retreat, Jennifer decided to take this opportunity to make a break for the Prowler. While still laying on the deck floor, she put her hand to her ear, and contact Burke.

Jennifer: David! We need inside of the Prowler, now! Open the hatch…and keep us covered!

Burke responded.

Burke: Copy that. Hatch is being popped…now!

Jennifer looked at the Prowler, and saw that the entry hatch began to open. Jennifer then looked at her compatriots, as she ordered them to run.

Jennifer: Go! Get to the Prowler! Keep your heads low, and double time it! Do not get caught between the UNSC and that chaingun!

As Jennifer gave the order, Tye and Cameron got to their feet. Tye looked at Hoffman, and lifted the unconscious officer over his shoulders, then proceeded to move towards the Prowler. Cameron, on the other hand, moved closer to Jennifer, and stood between her and the UNSC forces.

Cameron: Ma’am…stay behind me!

Cameron began to back up towards the Prowler, keeping his Magnum trained on the UNSC forces that were being suppressed, keeping a watchful eye for anyone who tried to sneak in a shot while ONI fell back to the Prowler. As he did this, he spoke with an active comm line.

Cameron: Whoever is manning the gun on that Prowler, check your fire! The last thing I need is to be hit by a friendly!

Tye was the first one to reach the Prowler. As he ran up the ramp, he was greeted by Burke, who nodded at him.

Burke: Welcome aboard commander. Get Hoffman into the Prowler! I will make sure the others make it aboard!

Tye nodded, as he walked through the door, and into the interior of the Prowler. Burke, on the other hand, took the safety off of an Assault Rifle he was carrying, and knelt down on the ramp, taking aim with the assault rifle. As he did, he called out to Jennifer, Cameron, and the Pilot!

Burke: Come on! Hurry it up! I have you two covered! Let’s go! Let’s go!

As Burke said this, Jennifer, Tye, and the Pilot all turned and ran towards the Prowler, each one of them running up the ramp, with Cameron being the last one up. Once Cameron was aboard the Prowler, Burke stood up, and stepped back into the Prowler, and immediately contacted the bridge.

Burke: Bridge, this is Burke! We are all aboard! Seal the rear hatch, engage the stealth systems, and get us the hell out of range of The Vigorous Inferno! Once we are clear, plot ANY escape trajectory, and engage at maximum speed!

Immediately after Burke had said this, the rear hatch began to close, and the Prowler began to lift off the hanger bay floor, as it backed out of the hanger bay, back into the vacuum of space. As soon as the Prowler was clear of the Vigorous Inferno, the Prowler plotted a course away from the Vigorous Inferno.

As the Prowler fled from the Vigorous Inferno, Carmicle and the other UNSC Marines began to emerge from cover. Carmicle cursed under his breath, and scoffed. He was none-to-pleased that ONI managed to escape with Hoffman, despite overwhelming odds.

Carmicle: God damn it…

Carmicle sighed again, as he contacted the bridge.

Carmicle: Admiral Harrison? This is Sergeant Carmicle. Do you copy?

Harrison promptly replied.

Harrison: Go ahead Sergeant. What is your status?

Carmicle: Sir, ONI managed to escape. They were extracted by a Prowler.

Harrison: I had no idea that ONI had any Prowlers in play. Then again, when do we ever know when ONI has Prowlers in play?

Carmicle: Well, we know for sure what they have. Suffice to say, they are gone.

Harrison: Damn it. This was the last thing we needed.

Harrison sighed.

Harrison: Where is Captain Sharpmen?

Carmicle: Captain Sharpmen was wounded in action, sir. He, along with Strike Team Diamond, sustained injuries. Last I heard, Ice was in really bad shape.

Harrison: Yes, I heard about Ice, but, the rest of Strike Team Diamond being injured is news to me. Jacob being injured is also a surprise.

Carmicle: I had them all taken to the medical bay. If you wish to speak with them, that is where they are currently residing.

Harrison: Thank you, Sergeant.

Carmicle: Any further orders, sir?

Harrison: Secure deck 8. Make sure that ONI did not leave behind any surprises for us. I want all stations on full alert until further notice. Furthermore, I want you to double time the security around the main engineering deck until our engineers can figure out what happened to ARC. They are currently running diagnostics, but, with main power offline, things are going slow.

Carmicle: I will see to it personally.

Harrison: Be sure that you do. Harrison out.

Just as Harrison said this, the comm line closed, and Carmicle was left with his orders. Carmicle did not waste any time as he got right to work, carrying out his orders.

Carmicle: Alright people, I want everyone to break into teams and sweep this deck I want every inch of this deck secured, and checked for any additional surprises left behind by ONI. Get moving!

The other UNSC Marines looked at Carmicle, and nodded, as they carried out their orders. However, the rest of Omega Legion regrouped with Carmicle.

Troy: Never in a million years did I think ONI would pull a fast one on us.

Limos: Pulling fast ones is what ONI does, at least, that is what the rumors say.

Colby: It isn’t rumor anymore. We just saw firsthand what ONI could do when up against UNSC personnel. It didn’t help that they had a Spartan II. But, isn’t that the funny thing? For all the firepower ONI had…they really held back. I was half expecting Cameron to cut through everyone here. Instead, he played a defensive game.

Carmicle: That Spartan II put three members of Strike Team Diamond in the infirmary. I would hardly call that a defensive game.

Colby: The point is, they held back. Cameron had every reason to go full hostile. Instead, his chief tactic was suppression. Am I missing something here, or does that not add up?

The other members of Omega Legion shrugged.

Troy: Perhaps he was just preoccupied. Perhaps he tried to make his ammo last. Spartans are basically killing machines. I doubt Cameron experiences any kind of feeling that is even remotely human. I doubt he checked his fire out of concern for us, especially after what he did to Strike Team Diamond.

Carmicle scoffed.

Carmicle: Enough! We have a job to do. Let’s get our boots down to engineering, and secure that area until the engineers can get ARC back online.

Without saying another word, Carmicle simply turned, and led Omega Legion out of the hanger bay, and towards their new destination.

San Angeles – Prowler 501 – Escape Trajectory away from The Vigorous Inferno – Main Bridge - 1815 Hours - February 1st 2540

Burke and Jennifer were on the bridge of the Prowler, with Burke sitting in the command chair, and Jennifer leaning on a nearby console that was unmanned. The two were conversing about their present scenario.

Burke: You really crossed the line this time. I bet Harrison is frothing at the mouth right now…like a Chihuahua with rabies…or a really angry Honey Badger

Jennifer: Well, there is no way that he is happy about any of this. However, after the threats he was making, I really could not give a damn.

Burke: Do you think he was being serious?

Jennifer: The threats he was making were pretty serious. I have no doubt in my mind that he wasn’t being facetious. Harrison said, in no uncertain terms, that he would turn violently againt ONI if we did not withdraw from this operation.

Burke: So, before he could violently turn on us, we violently turned on him? Seems like a very solid plan to me.

Burke had a bit of an inflection in his tone.

Jennifer: What was I supposed to do? I cannot allow Harrison to cut ONI out of this operation!

Burke: Well, you are certainly right about that. However, I cannot help but think that there may have been a less volatile solution. Don’t get me wrong Jennifer; I support you 100% and I am behind you all the way, but, Harrison was antagonized to no end. He may have been reacting to what he perceived as unacceptable treatment.

Jennifer: Perhaps. You may very well be right about that. I admit that, in no small part, I did my part to antagonize him. However, it was all necessary. Harrison isn’t ONI. He is not entitled to transparency. He could not accept that fact, and his threats are proof of that. Harrison wanted control where he had none.

Burke: Well, I just hope this was all worth it. I just hope that we will be able to do this without UNSC support.

Jennifer: We will find a way. I am sure we have all been in dicer situations than this.

Just as Jennifer said this, Tye and Cameron walked onto the bridge of the Prowler, catching the tail end of the conversation.

Tyber: Find a way for what, Ma’am? What is so dicey that requires us to “find a way”?

Jennifer looked at Tye.

Jennifer: David and I were just discussing what just transpired on The Vigorous Inferno. I was just saying that we were going to have to find a way to deal with Vanguard without UNSC support.

Tyber: Yeah, dealing with The Trust and Vanguard without UNSC support would be a dicey situation for sure. The Trust would have the four of us outgunned for sure.

Cameron: But the Captain is right; we have all been through dicey situations before. That is what sets ONI apart from the rest.

Burke interjected.

Burke: Well, regardless of how much ONI is set apart from all the rest, we are still going to need a plan. We need to find Vanguard, we need to find The Trust, and we need a game plan. Without any of that, I am afraid we will not even get a chance to show how “set apart” we are.

Cameron: It is why we captured Hoffman. He should have the information we need.

Tyber: All we have to do is interrogate him.

Jennifer nodded.

Jennifer: He should know something of value that will lead us in the right direction. The trick will be getting that information out of him.

Tyber: Well, it is my understanding that we are taking Hoffman to Nighthawk.

Burke: Well, that would be one way of getting intel out of Hoffman.

Tye looked at Burke, and shrugged.

Tyber: I mean, even if we did not bring Hoffman to Nighthawk for interrogation, it would have been me interrogating Hoffman. I could do it, but, I would have to do some really nasty things to him.

Burke: I get the feeling that you are not 100% comfortable with that.

Tyber: Cannot say that I am, but, someone has to beat the information out of this guy.

Cameron: Tye is right; someone has to do it. Hoffman has proven to only respond to extreme acts of violence.

Jennifer: The kind of violence that The Trust would so happily apply given any situation.

Burke: Or, the kind of violence that someone like Nighthawk would have zero remorse subjecting someone to.

Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron all looked at Burke. The gaze of his comrades forces Burke to follow-up on his thought.

Burke: I mean, as long as we are listing off viable candidates to perpetrate violence…Nighthawk seems like he would be someone who would come to mind.

Jennifer: Is that your way of suggesting that we take Hoffman to Nighthawk?

Burke: I am not suggesting anything. All I am saying is that Nighthawk is someone who is good with violence, that is, the kind of violence that Hoffman responds to.

Tye sighed.

Tyber: It would be a huge weight off of my chest if I didn’t have to do something…terrible. I mean, I try to avoid being an unjust and cruel monster. I prefer quick, clean kills over prolonged suffering…in most cases anyway. There is one exception I could make, but, Hoffman is not that exception.

Cameron: For the record, I do not care how we get the information out of Hoffman. All I care about is putting an end to a treasonous cabal.

Jennifer: I, for one, happen to have a certain affinity for Nighthawk.

Burke looked at Jennifer, and cocked an eyebrow.

Jennifer: I am also very sympathetic to Tye, given his situation. I would rather not force him to open an old wound when there are alternatives.

Burke: Well, I for one would rather steer clear of Nighthawk and his friend given their polarizing and antagonistic nature, but, I am a pragmatic man, and I know when something has to be done. Like I said to Jennifer, I will support her decisions 100%...and that is exactly what I am going to do.

Burke paused.

Burke: So, where is Nighthawk hiding?

Jennifer: That is a very good question. I do not know where he is, but, I do know how to contact him. I am in possession of Nighthawk’s communication frequency.

Burke: That is quite the thing to have. How did you manage to get that?

Jennifer: We have a rapport. HE and I see eye to eye on many things. He gave me his communication frequency because he trusts me.

Tyber: Well, I guess the law of averages says he has to trust someone.

Cameron: He trusts the Brute.

Tyber: I will never get over that fact. Never.

Jennifer smirked at the comment, as she walked over to the communications terminal, and accessed the communications array.

Jennifer: Prowler 501…prepare to open a communications channel. Assign a static communications frequency of 12.4 THz and direct the message to any transceiver array, in range that is capable of intercepting this frequency.

Jennifer waited a moment as the connection established. She kept her eyes on the display panel, eventually noticing the words “connecting” turn into the word “established”. Once this happened, she began to speak.

Jennifer: Nighthawk, this is Captain Frost. Do you copy?

Jennifer waited a moment for a response. Tye, Cameron, and Burke looked at Jennifer as she reached out to Nighthawk. The three men all noticed the rather familiar, and rather comfortable tone that Jennifer had.

Nighthawk: I read you loud and clear, Captain. To what do I owe the pleasure?

Jennifer: I have something you may be interested in.

Nighthawk: What would that be?

Jennifer: A source of information that you may find valuable. With the assistance of some of my ONI compatriots, I have managed to snatch Chairman Hoffman from Harrison’s grasp.

There was a noticeable pause in the transmission, as Nighthawk fell silent for a few moments. Jennifer simply waited for a response.

Nighthawk: How the hell did you pull that off? I mean, even I would be very unwilling to try that.

Jennifer: It was tricky, but, we managed to do it. Tricky is what ONI does.

There was another pause on Nighthawk’s end. The line fell silent for a few moments, before Nighthawk spoke again.

Nighthawk: You are transmitting from a Prowler; Prowler 501. My last bit of intelligence on The King Raven mentioned nothing about that ship being equipped with a Prowler. Where did you get it?

Burke spoke up, and answered the question.

Burke: We stole it from the Trust! Long story short, I sent an ONI team to take down ONI Installation Tropic, rather, to take that installation out of the hands of The Trust. When the mission was scrapped in favor of the direct assault on The Ulterior Motive, I kept a team of ONI Marines in the field to finish the job. I kept it hush-hush so as to pull off the assault without turning any heads. This Prowler was among the spoils of that victory. I had a feeling it would come in handy, and boy, was I right.

Nighthawk: That explains a lot, actually.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: So, why did you take Hoffman from Harrison?

Tyber: It turns out Harrison wasn’t playing nice.

Jennifer: He threatened to turn on ONI if we did not relinquish our role in this operation.

Nighthawk: Well, this serves him right then. The only one who had their role relinquished was Harrison. Good on you folks for putting that asshole in his place.

Jennifer: Harrison is beside the point. We need to find out where Vanguard is, and the only person who can help us is Hoffman, and one of the few people who can make Hoffman talk is you. We want to deliver Hoffman to you so we can find Vanguard.

Nighthawk: You want to know exactly where I am.

Jennifer: In so few words.

Nighthawk: I don’t think it would be a good idea to reveal my location. However, I would not be opposed to a rendezvous.

Jennifer: Fine. Whatever works for you is fine with me. I am more interested in getting information out of Hoffman and stopping The Trust. Where do you propose we meet in order to make this exchange?

Nighthawk: I am going to transmit you a set of coordinates. Proceed to that location, and await my arrival. Assuming you beat me there, it should not take me long to show up.

Jennifer: I am curious as to why you don’t trust us with your current location?

Nighthawk: There is no shortage of reasons as to why I am hesitant to reveal my current location.

As Nighthawk said this, Jennifer heard one of the pilots call out to her.

Davis: Captain? We are receiving a set of coordinates. They are being uploaded to our navigational computer.

Jennifer turned to the pilot, and issued the necessary order.

Jennifer: Plot a course for those coordinates. Keep an eye out for any UNSC or Covenant bogies.

Jennifer then turned back to the comm station, and spoke to Nighthawk.

Jennifer: We will see you planetside…

Nighthawk: I look forward to it…Captain.

With that, the comm line closed. Jennifer then turned to face the others; simply shrugging.

Jennifer: He seemed far less receptive than he normally is.

Cameron: Do you think it is something we should be concerned about?

Jennifer: I don’t know. On one hand, he does operate outside the established chain of command, so, he has no reason to trust us, but, at the same time…

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: He should trust me.

Cameron: Why?

Jennifer looked at Cameron, and realized what she had said. She then shook her head.

Jennifer: I don’t know. I just felt that we had a better rapport than this. I thought we had a better…working relationship. I thought there was a degree of trust between us.

Tyber: I don’t think it is possible to have a decent working relationship with a guy who chums around with an alien. I mean, common, you cannot have a rational definition of “trust” with company like that.

Tye shrugged, and chuckled.

Tyber: I have nothing against those two; no serious beef, but, they play by their own rules. If we need them, we have to play by their rules…simple as that. We may not like it, but, that is what it boils down to. Thus far, he has been pretty flexible to work with, so, we should just count our blessings.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: I am not sure if we need to play by this guy’s rules. I mean, we are the ones with Hoffman, and he is the one that needs this guy. Why do we have to make the compromises when we hold all the cards? Why are we letting this guy dictate terms when we have what he needs?

Jennifer: We could very well cut out the middle man and interrogate Hoffman ourselves. However, the problem is; do we want to get our hands that dirty. Hoffman is the kind of man who has proven that he can be difficult to break. Do we want to resort to the tactics that are necessary to break him? We all saw what it took to get him to talk the first time.

Cameron: We all know what it would take to break Hoffman. The question is, do we want to go that far? Are we more comfortable letting someone else do it?

Cameron paused.

Cameron: Whether we “interrogate” Hoffman or Nighthawk does, in the end, someone is going to have to cross that line. There is no rationalizing this decision. Whoever crosses “that line” will do it while the rest of us stand by and watch. What it boils down to is that Nighthawk has value in more than one way, and we are accommodating him in order to take advantage of that value. This fact alone should settle the discussion on the matter.

Burke, Tye, and Jennifer each let out a sigh, as they all knew Cameron was right. They all knew it didn’t matter who interrogated Hoffman. All that mattered was that it was going to happen, and there was no escaping the fact that the active participant, as well as the observers, were going to be equally culpable in Hoffman’s treatment.

Jennifer: You’re right. I think we got so caught up in the excuse of getting information out of Hoffman that we forgot that we were handing him over to the mercy of Nighthawk and Anaconda in exchange for our own perceived peace of mind. In the end, standing by and watching is just as bad as doing.

Jennifer sighed again, as she pinched the bridge of her noes.

Jennifer: I think those words are going to haunt us.

Tye looked at Jennifer and waited a moment, before he spoke up.

Tyber: So…are we still going to give Hoffman to Nighthawk, or are we changing the plan?

Jennifer: No, we are not changing the plan. We are going through with this. Everything else aside, Nighthawk will still be valuable to us in a tactical sense against The Trust. It is better to have him in a slightly better mood for that. If we show him we are willing to play ball, he will be easier to work with.

Burke nodded at Jennifer.

Burke: Well then, all there is left to do now…is wait. Once we arrive at the predetermined coordinates…we go from there.

San Angeles - Vigorous Inferno - In Orbit of San Angeles - Deck 5 – Medical Bay- 1835 Hours - February 1st 2540

Admiral Harrison was en-route to the medical bay to check on the Vigorous Inferno personnel that had been wounded trying to stop the ONI personnel from escaping his ship with Hoffman. As Harrison stormed through the corridors, he maintained a very stoic expression. However, underneath his bland and calm expression, there was an intense anger brewing inside of him. Harrison was furious. He was enraged by ONI’s actions. There was very little that Harrison hated more than ONI at the moment. He wanted nothing more than to reign the necks of every ONI officer he could get his hands on.

As Harrison walked into the Medical bay, he was greeted by nurse, who was busy entering in data on a tablet. As Harrison approached, the nurse looked up at him, and nodded.

Nurse: Admiral? What can I do for you?

Harrison: I am here for an update on Strike Team Diamond. How are they?

Nurse: Last I heard? They were all in pretty rough shape. Sergeant Williams was in critical condition when he arrived. He was prepped for immediate surgery.

Harrison: What about the others?

Nurse: Their injuries were less severe. Sergeant Madison suffered several broken ribs. Lance Corporal Mason sustained a fractured vertebrae. Private Kader sustained a severe concussion. However, Private Snyder was unharmed. In fact, the only reason that Sergeant Williams made it here alive is because of Private Snyder.

Harrison sighed, as he folded his arms.

Harrison: What about Jacob?

Nurse: Captain Sharpmen was also wounded, however, his injuries were comparably minor. He was hit by smaller rounds from an M6C, so his armor was able to absorb the rounds. One of the bullets, however, managed to penetrate his armor, but the attenuation effect on the bullet ensured that ballistic penetration was superficial.

Harrison nodded at the first bit of good news he had received.

Harrison: Where is Jacob?

Nurse: Last I saw, he was with Private Snyder, outside the surgical bay.

Harrison nodded again.

Harrison: Thank you.

With that, Harrison walked passed the nurse, and proceeded as instructed; walking towards the surgical bay. As he approached the surgical bay, he saw Jacob sitting next to Snyder. He could tell by their body language that they were conversing between one another; both of then leaning forward as they sat in a set of chairs that were facing each other. It was clear that the two were making an effort to keep the conversation private.

As Harrison approached Jacob and Snyder, the two of them looked over at Harrison and halted their conversation. Snyder looked up at Harrison, and then proceeded to stand up, saluting as she did.

Snyder: Sir!

Harrison: At ease, Private.

Snyder sighed, as she relaxed, and sat back down.

Harrison: How are you holding up?

Snyder: Well, I am doing my best sir. It is not every day your entire team gets flattened by ONI.

Harrison scoffed when he heard this. Snyder’s words reminded him of exactly why he was pissed off at ONI.

Snyder: I am pretty sure they are all out of commission. On one hand I am glad they are alive, but, on the other hand, I feel pretty useless right now. Without a team, all I can really do is either get reassigned or wait here until they are back on their feet.

Harrison: Well, for now, just take it easy Private.

Snyder nodded.

Snyder: I can’t believe that ONI would do something like this. I know that those people are supposed to be on our side…but…I just want to…

Snyder stopped herself from speaking further. However, Harrison grinned.

Harrison: Speak freely, Private.

Snyder looked at Harrison for a moment, before she finished her thought.

Snyder: I just…want to kill them. They each deserve a bullet in the head, Sir.

Harrison was taken aback by how blunt Snyder was. He could tell that she was very angry about what happened.

Harrison: Frankly, Private, I think it is a fair thing to want.

Jacob interjected.

Jacob: That is what I have been trying to tell her this entire time. She doesn’t really believe me.

Harrison: Well, Private, you have every reason to believe the Captain. He is very correct. You have every damn right to want revenge. Your friends were nearly killed by people who betrayed our trust.

Snyder sighed, and shrugged.

Snyder: If you say so, sir.

Harrison looked at Snyder, as he put his hand on her shoulder.

Harrison: Private…

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Victoria…

Snyder looked up at Harrison.

Harrison: Get some rest. You are going to need it. Don’t worry about your team. The finest people are looking after them. They will pull through. You need to rest. You need to gather your thoughts. You need to pull it together. I need you to have a clear head. I need you to be focused.

Snyder stood up, and nodded at Harrison.

Snyder: Yes sir.

Snyder paused.

Snyder: And sir? If there is ANYTHING I can do to put this gong show to an end…please, let me know. I don’t care if it is getting even with ONI, or kicking the Trust square in the ass; I want to be a part of that end game. I don’t care how dangerous it would be, and I don’t care what it would take.

Harrison: If something comes up, you will be the first to know.

Snyder saluted to Harrison, before she walked passed both he and Jacob, and left the medical bay. As Snyder left the area, Harrison pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed.

Harrison: What a fucking disaster…

Jacob looked at Harrison and raised an eyebrow.

Jacob: I take it that things are far worse than I assumed?

Harrison: Much worse. ONI escaped in a fucking Prowler. We were unable to track them as they left. Captain Frost’s trail has gone totally cold, pardon the expression.

Jacob: The King Raven was never equipped with a Prowler. That doesn’t add up. Where did they get the Prowler from?

Harrison: I have no idea. I can speculate, but, I have nothing concrete. The best I can come up with, is that they got that Prowler from The Trust.

Jacob: Got? Do you mean received, or stole?

Harrison: I don’t know.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: But one thing is clear; I no longer see a difference between ONI and The Trust. They are both equally bad in my opinion.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Both sides are equally arrogant and equally dangerous. Neither side can be trusted.

Jacob: Well, without ONI, we are going to have a hell of a time playing any sort of role in the end game. The fact is, that Vanguard thing is still out there, and The Trust still has every intention of bringing it back to life. We cannot allow ourselves to be sidelined by lack of intel. I don’t want to be spectating while ONI goes toe to toe with Vanguard and The Trust at ground zero.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: We need to find them!

Harrison: Believe me, I am doing everything I can to find anything that will get us back in the game! I have our remaining drones searching the planet as best as they can for anything that could be useful. So far, however, there has been nothing that can so much as point us in the right direction.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: The only thing we can do is turn our attention to The Covenant, and try to buy Reynolds the time he needs to finish evacuating the civilians.

Jacob: So, we are going to re-engage the Covenant, despite the fact that they have halted their advance?

Harrison: Correct. They are still an invading force, and they are still the enemy. Nothing will change that, and nothing will change our responsibility.

Jacob nodded.

Jacob: Understood.

Harrison looked at Jacob with a skewed look. He knew Jacob was holding something back.

Harrison: Speak your mind, Captain.

Jacob: Sir…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: If The Covenant has halted their advance, should we not capitalize on that and focus on The Trust? I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but, didn’t Nighthawk and Anaconda buddy up with a Brute Chieftain and an Elite? Didn’t the Covenant board the Ulterior Motive in order to find Vanguard and fight The Trust?

Harrison: Yes, but, that does not change the fact that we are talking about The Covenant.

Jacob: I know, but…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: We can’t win on two fronts. We need to take our breaks where we can get them. If The Covenant is after Vanguard, that helps us! That puts pressure on The Trust and it gives us breathing room.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: We want The Trust and The Covenant engaged in battle. We want those two sides killing one another. We should be doing everything we can to make that happen!

Harrison: How do you propose we do that?

Jacob: Well, for starters, we maintain the status quo. We cannot engage The Covenant. We cannot give the Covenant a reason to attack the UNSC.

Harrison folded his arms, and sighed.

Jacob: I know what it sounds like, but, it is our best chance!

Harrison: I don’t like the way this sounds, but, you do have a point. If the Covenant and the Trust are killing one another, it does give us an advantage. I just wish there was a better way…

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: The very idea of not killing these Covenant SOBs makes me sick.

Jacob: I know, sir, but we have no choice in the matter. We need to play our cards, and we need to play them smart. Our first priority should be stopping Vanguard, and that goes hand in hand with defeating The Trust.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: All we have to do is find out where the Trust is hiding Vanguard.

Harrison: Like I said, I already have drones covering as much ground as possible, looking for any sign of The Trust or ONI for that matter. If you have any other ideas, I am open to suggestions.

Jacob paused for a moment before he spoke up.

Jacob: I may have an idea, but, it is a longshot.

Harrison: I am willing to try anything if it will give us a chance of finding The Trust. What did you have in mind?

Jacob: Well…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Based on what I know about The Trust, they are very intolerant of potential information leaks. The very fact that we have created several information leaks must be very concerning for them. I am certain they would do anything to stop those leaks.

Harrison: Presumably, yes.

Jacob: We should try and capitalize on that.

Harrison: How?

Jacob: Quite simply…we need to make The Trust an offer they cannot refuse; we need someone to get close to the Trust.

Harrison raised an eyebrow, and a confused expression ran across his face.

Harrison: Jacob…Do you know what you are saying? This is EXACTLY what you tried to do! We all saw how that turned out! This reasoning is why you now have an ONI kill switch inside of you!

Jacob: I am aware of that, yes. However, the idea simply needs to be refined.

Harrison: And you are aware that we have no way of contacting The Trust, right?

Jacob: I am not so sure. I think we are sitting on the red telephone to The Trust, we just have not realized it yet.

Harrison: What do you mean?

Jacob grinned.

Jacob: Renegade…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: We have the Ulterior Motive, and we have the ability to communicate with the Trust’s AI…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: If we tell that AI that we are willing to make a deal with the Trust, we can use that to get the ball rolling on finding the Trust.

Harrison shook his head.

Harrison: The Trust is not that stupid. They will never buy that from me, and they sure as hell won’t buy it from you.

Jacob: Then we send someone who they will buy it from…

Harrison: Who?

Jacob: Someone with the motive to get even with ONI. Someone who has motivation to join the Trust. Someone who would do anything to get back at ONI for what they did to her team.

A look of sudden clarity ran across Harrison’s face.

Harrison: Snyder!

Jacob: She did want to be part of the end game!

Harrison: You want Snyder to do this!

Jacob: She has the motive to do it. It would be the most believable.

Harrison: What happens if the Trust takes this bait? Do we send Snyder in there with empty hands? We need something of value. I am not prepared to send Snyder up against the Trust empty handed. She would need to have something worth the time of the Trust

Jacob: We do have someone who is worth their time.

Harrison: Who do we have that is worthwhile enough to get the attention of the Trust?

Jacob: Me.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: No.

Jacob: Sir, it has to be me. I stabbed the Trust in the back, and I killed one of the Risk Takers. Believe me, in the short time that I was with them, I saw enough to know that the Trust will want blood. The Trust is very vindictive like this. We can get Snyder close to the Trust.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: And once we get close to the Trust…we get close to Vanguard. That will be the time to strike.

Harrison: Do you have any idea what ONI will do if they find out what we are doing?

Jacob: ONI? Look what ONI just did. I am long past caring about ONI and what they think. We need to act without ONI, ONI doesn’t give a shit about us, and they made that much clear.

Harrison couldn’t help but agree.

Harrison: ONI did betray our trust. They were the ones who put us in this situation. Who the hell are they to question our tactics, when their tactics are just as questionable?

Harrison scoffed, as he turned away. He let out an audible sigh, before turning back to Jacob.

Harrison: Alright Jacob, let’s do it right this time.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Get Snyder. Get Omega Legion. Get Suicide Squad. Bring them to the bridge. Before we do ANYTHING, I want every detail ironed out. I want exit strategies, and I want clear cut and concise action plans against the Trust, The Covenant, Nighthawk and Anaconda, and ONI if necessary. I want contingency plans for everything conceivable! We are not going to leave anything to chance!

Jacob: Yes sir!

Harrison: Dismissed!

Jacob nodded and saluted, before he turned and stormed out of the medical bay; heading off to gather Omega Legion, Suicide Squad, and Snyder. Harrison, on the other hand, watched as Jacob left. Once Jacob was out of sight, Harrison shook his head, with a dismayed, almost defeated, expression on his face.

Harrison: We’re not going to make it. We are not leaving this planet alive…

Harrison then turned, and walked out of the medical bay, intent on making his way back to the bridge.

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San Angeles – 265 Km north of Whitewater City – Prowler Loading Bay - 1900 Hours - February 1st 2540

Jennifer and Burke were in the Prowler’s loading bay, waiting for Tye and Cameron to bring Hoffman to the loading bay to meet with Nighthawk and Anaconda. The Prowler itself had been landed in a large clearing of forest north of the city of Whitewater; the pre-determined meeting coordinates for Nighthawk and Anaconda.

As Jennifer and Burke waited, they conversed with one another.

Burke: Do you think bird boy is going to show?

Jennifer laughed at Burke’s comment.

Jennifer: What kind of name is that?

Burke: Just poking fun, I guess.

Jennifer: Yeah, well, refrain from saying that to Nighthawk. I doubt he would appreciate it.

Burke began to chuckle.

Burke: The question stands; do you think he is going to show up?

Jennifer: I think so. I mean, he has every reason to.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: He said he would be a bit delayed. We need to give him time.

Burke looked at Jennifer for a moment, analyzing her body language. As he did this, he spoke to her.

Burke: Something is wrong. You are acting a bit off. I can see it. You seem distracted and withdrawn. There is a bit of anxiety in your posture. You are not usually like this. What’s going on?

Jennifer: Nothing.

Burke: Nothing? I doubt it. You are hiding something, and I can see it. You either know something we don’t or you are anticipating something that the rest of us are not. I can see it plain as day, Jennifer. Speak up.

Jennifer: You want to know?

Jennifer paused. She thought for a moment. She looked at Burke, and could see that there was really no fooling him.

Burke: Well? Out with it!

Jennifer sighed. However, before she spoke, she heard the doors to the loading bay open. Jennifer turned and saw Cameron and Tye enter the loading bay, along with Hoffman, who was walking between Cameron and Tye.

Tyber: Well, here is our product! Where is the buyer?

Hoffman scoffed at the comment.

Hoffman: You people realize that I am not going to give you one shred of information, right?

Tye nudged Hoffman in the back of the head with his SMG.

Tyber: Oh, shut your fucking mouth!

Hoffman scoffed.

Hoffman: There is nothing that ONI can do to me to make me talk. I will never help ONI find The Trust! Never!

Tye nudged Hoffman in the back of the head again.

Tyber: We are not handing you off to the rest of ONI, numb nuts. We are handing you off to Nighthawk and Anaconda. They are going to do the interrogating.

Hoffman scoffed, as he turned and glared at Tye.

Hoffman: You can’t do that!

Tyber: Sure we can!

Tye looked passed Hoffman, right at Jennifer, and followed-up on his comment.

Tyber: Right Ma’am?

Jennifer nodded back at Tye.

Jennifer: Absolutely!

Jennifer walked up to Hoffman, and glared at him.

Jennifer: And believe me…Nighthawk and Anaconda are not going to play nice. In fact, I am pretty sure they are anticipating your refusal to comply.

Hoffman scoffed.

Hoffman: Turning me over to Terrorists to extract information out of me. How low has ONI sunk? It is because of behavior like this from ONI that The Trust does what it does.

Jennifer: You have some serious nerve, Hoffman. You stand there and you condemn ONI with some imagined sense of righteous superiority, all while standing with an organization that sold out San Angeles to the Covenant just to get their hands on some super weapon.

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: You make me sick.

Hoffman frowned.

Hoffman: You still don’t understand, do you?

Jennifer frowned at Hoffman.

Hoffman: You have no idea what is coming for ONI, do you? You have no idea what The Trust has in store for you, do you?

Burke scoffed.

Burke: Yeah, big whoop; you have Vanguard. Last time I checked, Vanguard was still a disembodied hologram that needed to be carried off The Ulterior Motive.

Hoffman laughed.

Hoffman: No…

Hoffman paused.

Hoffman: This isn’t about Vanguard. This is about something much more…grand!

Hoffman paused.

Hoffman: ONI is coming to an end, whether you know it or not. Vanguard is simply a small part of that end. Everything that you know, will be no more.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: I doubt it, Hoffman. I seriously doubt it.

Hoffman: Then crossing you off will be all that much easier.

Hoffman paused.

Hoffman: Once we have Vanguard…ONI will fall with but a single phrase…

Hoffman paused, as he scowled at Jennifer, cracking a rather sadistic grin.

Hoffman: Out of the darkness…into the light. Remember those words, Captain. Those words will be what brings ONI down.

Jennifer looked at Hoffman with a look of utter reprisal. Jennifer was not impressed by Hoffman’s threats. However, she could not help but be curious about what Hoffman meant by his “out of the darkness and into the light” comment.

Jennifer: Well, here is a bit of time and tested advice Hoffman; do not count your eggs before they hatch. You may believe that you have what it takes to “kill” ONI, but, the last time I checked, The Trust really has nothing beyond a hologram that can utter threats.

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: And you will not even have that for much longer.

Jennifer looked at Tye and Cameron, and nodded at them.

Jennifer: Get this prick outside and wait for Nighthawk and Anaconda. Inform me when they arrive.

Cameron nodded.

Cameron: Yes Ma’am.

Cameron and Tye both nudged Hoffman, pushing him forward, forcing him to walk towards the loading bay’s exit ramp. As Cameron, Tye, and Hoffman exited the Prowler, Burke looked back to Jennifer, and began to question her again.

Burke: Jennifer…

Jennifer turned to look at Burke.

Burke: Don’t think that I am going to forget so easily…

Jennifer remained silent.

Burke: I know something is up, and I want to know what it is. I have noticed a change in your attitudes. You have become far more aggressive and proactive, and it started just after Harrison had his falling out with Nighthawk. Your decision making process has changed, and you are more confrontational than usual.

Jennifer sighed.

Jennifer: Nothing gets by you, does it?

Burke: I am a hell of a lot sharper than I look. Usually I don’t pry like this, but, given the circumstances, I think it is prudent to pry a little.

Burke paused.

Burke: I have a right to know what is going on.

Jennifer sighed as she looked at Burke.

Jennifer: David…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: You’re absolutely right. You do deserve to know what is going on.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: However, I get the feeling that when I tell you exactly what is going on, you are going to start second guessing the decisions that have been made.

Burke: I don’t like the sound of that.

Jennifer: Overall…it is much worse than it sounds.

Burke: I REALLY don’t like the sound of that.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: You should know that Nighthawk has a contingency plan in place to deal with Vanguard. This contingency plan is intended to execute if he, and Anaconda, die in the process of trying to stop Vanguard.

Burke: A contingency plan? They let you in on this?

Jennifer: I helped them gather what was needed to set it up. My involvement in the plan ended after I had provided them with the hardware necessary.

Burke: What did you do?

Jennifer: I…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I handed over the spare slips pace drive core from the King Raven.

Burke: Why?

Burke shook his head.

Burke: What possible reason exists that could justify that decision?

Jennifer: It was intended to be a contingency plan against Vanguard; something that could be used once every strategic option had been exhausted.

Burke: I don’t see how a slip space core could be used to such an end.

Jennifer: If I understand the plan correctly, the slip space core was retrofitted into a weapon of mass destruction.

Burke raised an eyebrow.

Jennifer: The slip space core has been modified and retrofitted to create a slip space rupture large enough to allow San Angeles to enter. Without any sort of protection for the planet, the exposure to the slip will simply phase the planet out of our known reality, theoretically speaking.

Burke’s jaw dropped when he heard this.

Jennifer: That was my reaction when I first heard this plan.

Burke began to shake his head.

Burke: Jennifer...this is fucking insane! Nighthawk has no right to do this, and you had no right to enable him to do this!

Jennifer: I know…but…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Vanguard is far too dangerous to be left to chance. There needs to be a working solution to Vanguard. There needs to be a way to stop this thing if all else fails.

Burke: I agree…but…to destroy the ENTIRE planet seems…extreme!

Burke paused.

Burke: I refuse to believe that Vanguard is so dangerous that the only way to stop him is to destroy San Angeles.

Burke scoffed.

Burke: I don’t like this one bit.

Just as Burke said this, the faint sound of a Vulture’s engines could be heard. When Burke turned his attention, he scoffed.

Burke: There has to be a better reason Jennifer. I refuse to be a part of this if there isn’t a good reason to destroy this planet!

Burke scoffed, as he walked towards the ramp.

Burke: Something has to give, and if this guy can’t give me a good reason for what he is planning, then I am not prepared to hand Hoffman over.

Jennifer watched as Burke walked down the loading ramp, and exited the Prowler the same way that Tye and Cameron had moments before. Jennifer sighed, as she took a moment to gather her thoughts, and exit the Prowler as well. As Jennifer walked down the ramp, and approached Burke, Cameron, and Tye, she overheard Burke speaking to Tye and Cameron.

Burke: I want you guys to keep your eyes open. If you think Nighthawk and Anaconda will turn hostile, don’t be shy about retaliation.

Jennifer interjected, as she glared at Burke.

Jennifer: David…do not make this situation more complicated than it already is.

Burke: Jennifer…you are the one who made it complicated when you allowed Nighthawk to put a gun to the head of everyone on this planet.

Tye and Cameron looked at Burke, and then looked at Jennifer.

Cameron: Ma’am?

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: The Commander and I have a difference of opinion on Nighthawk.

Burke: No, it is a difference of opinion on destroying this planet.

Tyber: What?

Burke: Didn’t she tell you guys? Sure as hell didn’t tell me…

Tyber: Tell us what?

Jennifer: I handed over the King Raven’s spare slip space core so Nighthawk could build a WMD capable of destroying this planet if he was unable to stop Vanguard.

Tye paused for a moment as he processed what had been said to him.

Tyber: What? Did I hear that right?

Cameron: How does one even use a slip space core to destroy a planet? That doesn’t make any sense!

Hoffman began to chuckle.

Hoffman: The bastard has the ability to destroy the planet, yet, you question why The Trust does what it does.

Burke: Nobody asked you, Hoffman.

Hoffman: No, but, you were all thinking it.

Everyone looked at Hoffman and frowned, but, their attention was taken away from Hoffman, when Nighthawk and Anaconda exited the Vulture that has landed. Anaconda hung back by the Vulture, as Nighthawk stepped forward, speaking to Hoffman.

Nighthawk: Hoffman! How nice to see you again! You are looking well!

Hoffman: No thanks to you…

Nighthawk stopped a few feet from Hoffman, as he looked at Captain Frost.

Nighthawk: Time is a factor, Captain. Hand this son of a bitch over, and let me do my job.

Before Jennifer could say anything, Burke interjected.

Burke: Your job? You mean the job that says to destroy San Angeles? It is my opinion that we should think twice about letting you do your job.

Nighthawk: It is my opinion that you should not concern yourself with this matter.

Burke: Who the hell are you to say that?

Nighthawk: I am the guy with the brains and the balls necessary to swallow a planet into the slip space.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I am going to guess that your attitude towards me is a result of you JUST finding out about this little detail.

Burke: Yeah…

Nighthawk: Well, like I said, time is a factor, so, let me spell this out for you as quickly as I can; The slip space weapon is a weapon of last resort, to be used only in the event that I cannot defeat Vanguard.

Burke: Why are you the only one who gets to take a stab at Vanguard?

Nighthawk: Because you will not have time to fight Vanguard, not while you are coordinating the extraction of all your forces from the planet’s surface.

Tye interjected.

Tyber: Whoa, whoa, whoa…we aren’t cutting and running.

Nighthawk shook his head.

Nighthawk: Yes, you are going to cut and run, because there is a very high probability that I am going to die, and this planet is going down.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: However, it is more than that; Vanguard was found on this planet, and it stands to reason that Vanguard wasn’t the only thing they found here. For all we know, this planet could house secrets that, in the hands of The Covenant or The Trust, would mark the end of Humanity as we know.

Hoffman scoffed, and interjected.

Hoffman: You give us so little credit! Everything we have done has been to enrich Humanity, to protect it.

Nighthawk glared at Hoffman.

Nighthawk: Yes, because killing civilians, experimenting on people, and hoarding sentient super-weapons enriches Humanity in ways never before seen. I refuse to believe you buy that shit! Even you are too smart for that!

Nighthawk paused. However, as he did, Anaconda walked up behind Nighthawk, and let out a growl, and then proceeded to pace back and forth. Nighthawk turned to face Anaconda, and nodded.

Nighthawk: I know. You don’t have to remind me.

Nighthawk turned back to face Burke and the others.

Nighthawk: Commander Burke, let me be clear; we had an agreement, and I expect you to uphold your end of it. If I don’t get Hoffman, I don’t get my shot at Vanguard. If I don’t get my shot at Vanguard, I will be forced to activate the slip space weapon.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: If you hand over Hoffman, you will give me the chance I need to try and stop that…thing. I may get lucky and I may NOT have to activate the weapon. It is your call. Honor the agreement, or I activate that weapon right now, and we can all watch as this planet drifts to its annihilation.

Nighthawk’s voice became very cold.

Nighthawk: Decide…now!

Burke took a deep breath, and frowned. However, he could not argue with Nighthawk’s logic. Without saying a word, Burke simply stepped back. As he did, Jennifer spoke up.

Jennifer: Tye, Cam…release Hoffman.

Tye and Cam released Hoffman, as they shoved him forward. As Hoffman stumbled forward, Nighthawk stepped to the side, and allowed Hoffman to stumble right into Anaconda. As Hoffman bumped into Anaconda, Anaconda looked down at Hoffman and snarled. Before Hoffman could back away, Anaconda grabbed Hoffman by the throat, and lifted him into the air, looking the Human right in the eye.

Nighthawk: He is all yours Anaconda. You know what you have to do!

Anaconda grunted, as he turned and walked off, heading back to the Vulture. Nighthawk, on the other hand, simply stood his ground.

Nighthawk: I am going to do everything in my power to stop The Trust and Vanguard. However, if I cannot stop him, I will have no other choice than to activate the weapon. That construct must not be allowed to leave this world, and I intend to make sure, one way or the other, that Vanguard dies on San Angeles.

Jennifer looked at Nighthawk, keeping silent. However, Tye spoke up.

Tyber: I still don’t like the fact that you are asking us to cut and run. There isn’t a person here who likes the idea.

Cameron: I agree. If this Vanguard construct is as dangerous as you say, then you are going to need all the help you can get.

Nighthawk shook his head.

Nighthawk: As much as I appreciate the offer, the fact is, I would much rather enlist the help of The Covenant in the matter.

Burke raised his eyebrow at Nighthawk.

Burke: What?

Nighthawk: I am not prepared to throw away the lives of UNSC or ONI officers to destroy this thing. The Covenant, however, would be far more expendable to me. If I can turn The Covenant on The Trust, that would be the most desirable situation.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Besides, there are a few of those Covenant bastards that want Vanguard destroyed as much as I do. They could prove useful without me having to care about them.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: And if things go my way, a weakened Covenant would be a far more ideal enemy to fight than a Covenant that is at full strength.

Burke: On the flip side…

Burke paused when he heard a snarl from Anaconda coming from the Vulture, followed by a chilling scream from Hoffman.

Burke: On the flip side…letting the Covenant near Vanguard poses an incredible security risk.

Nighthawk: Perhaps, but, I am banking on The Trust throwing everything they have at The Covenant in order to protect Vanguard. SO long as those two sides are killing one another, we will be in better shape.

Jennifer: That could conceivably happen. It is not a farfetched idea…

Jennifer paused when Hoffman let out another chilling scream from the Vulture.

Tyber: What the hell is going on?

Nighthawk: Hoffman is being questioned, Jiralhanae style…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Anaconda’s methods have always proven to be very direct. If there is anyone here who can get information out of Hoffman, and have a restful sleep at night, it is Anaconda.

Burke: Charming…

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: Not always, but, his methods are very effective. Messy, but effective.

As Nighthawk said this, Anaconda stepped out of the Vulture, holding Hoffman by the scruff of his neck. As Anaconda stepped forward, he threw Hoffman forward, causing Hoffman to roll on the ground, right to Nighthawk’s feet. Nighthawk turned to look down at Hoffman.

Anaconda, on the other hand, began to speak.

Anaconda: Speak, you whelp!

Hoffman had a look of terror on his face, as he tried to climb to his feet. However, before Hoffman could get his footing, Nighthawk reached down and grabbed Hoffman and dragged him to his feet. Hoffman groaned in pain as Nighthawk dragged him to his feet.

Nighthawk: Yeah…speak up. I don’t have all day!

Nighthawk tightened his grip on Hoffman’s jacket, as he glared at Hoffman. Hoffman looked at Nighthawk, for a moment before he began to speak.

Hoffman: The damn Brute broke my arm…

Nighthawk shook his head.

Nighthawk: The Human adult has 206 bones. He broke one of them. If you don’t tell me where Vanguard is, Anaconda is going to start breaking more of them!

Hoffman: Vanguard…was taken to Firebase Mediterranean…

Nighthawk: Where is Firebase Mediterranean?

Hoffman: The facility is located 25 miles west of New Havana. It is one of our most secured facilities.

Nighthawk remained silent as he thought about New Havana. However, before he could speak, Jennifer spoke up.

Jennifer: If I recall correctly, New Havana was still being evacuated, and the evacuation was being coordinated by Reynolds and his teams. If fighting breaks out in that location, it could put the civilian population at risk.

Burke: The proximity to Vanguard also creates a great degree of uncertainty. Additionally, if The Covenant moves in on Firebase Mediterranean, it will no doubt result in the Covenant being deployed to the city. Countless lives could be lost.

Anaconda grunted when he heard this.

Anaconda: How terrible for them.

Burke scoffed at Anaconda.

Burke: Those people matter! You may not care about civilians, but we do!

Anaconda: The only thing that matters is stopping Vanguard. Civilian deaths will be the least of your worries when this construct threatens your other worlds.

Anaconda snarled, as he turned to Hoffman, and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, pulling him right from Nighthawk’s grasp. Anaconda glared at Hoffman, and snarled, as he began to question Hoffman further.

Anaconda: How close was the Trust to reviving this…abomination!?

Hoffman scoffed.

Hoffman: I don’t know!

Anaconda roared, and growled, as he drove his knee right into Hoffman’s gut. As Anaconda slammed his knee into Hoffman, several cracking sounds could be heard coming from Hoffman. Hoffman began to yell out in agony.

Anaconda: Tell me what you know about Vanguard! How close was the Trust to reviving Vanguard!?

Hoffman: I don’t know! I don’t know

Anaconda snarled again, as he grabbed Hoffman’s left arm, and began to squeeze. The sheer force applied to Hoffman’s arm allowed Anaconda to easily break Hoffman’s other arm. When Hoffman’s bone snapped, he cried out in pain once more.

Hoffman: The Trust had no part in it! All we had to do was protect it while it rebuilt itself…

Hoffman winced in pain.

Hoffman: That is all I know! Please…that is all I know…

Anaconda looked at Hoffman, and growled once more, before tossing Hoffman aside, as if he was disposing of a piece of garbage. Anaconda then looked at Nighthawk, and grunted.

Anaconda: We have what we need. Let’s go!

Nighthawk nodded at Anaconda, as Anaconda turned and began to walk back to the Vulture. Nighthawk, on the other hand, turned back to look at the ONI Officers.

Nighthawk: You guys can have Hoffman back. We won’t need him anymore after this, but, I am sure ONI will have some use for him. We have what we need.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I want you guys to get back to The King Raven. Begin withdrawing your forces, and fall back. Leave the rest to me.

Jennifer: You do realize that fighting Vanguard by yourself is suicide.

Nighthawk: I am aware of the danger.

Jennifer: No, it IS suicide, plain and simple! It is the quintessential definition of suicide!

Nighthawk: Perhaps.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: But it is something that has to be faced. That being said, I will not jeopardize all of your lives to do battle with this thing. It was never your fight, and nothing will make me think otherwise.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Just focus on trying to save as many people as possible. Please, that is all I ask.

Jennifer frowned. She was very uncertain about this decision, however, if one thing was clear to her, it was that Nighthawk was trying to protect them from a very real horror.

Jennifer: Alright Nighthawk…you win.

Jennifer shifted her feet a bit, as she looked at Burke and the others, turning away from Nighthawk.

Jennifer: David, Tye, Cam…get Hoffman back aboard the Prowler, and get us prepped for our return to the King Raven.

Tyber: Yes Ma’am…

Burke watched as Tye and Cameron walked over to Hoffman and dragged him back to his feet. Tye and Cameron then dragged Hoffman back to the Prowler, and carried him up the ramp, and into the Prowler. Burke followed behind Tye and Cameron, which effectively left Nighthawk and Jennifer alone.

Jennifer Good luck…you will need it…

Nighthawk gave a nod.

Nighthawk: I am going to need much more than luck today.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Goodbye, Jennifer. I know that The King Raven is in good hands with you in command. You will make a fine CO…

A look of concern shot across Jennifer’s face.

Jennifer: You really think you are going to die, aren’t you?

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Yes, but, I suppose there are worse ways to go. Going down in a blaze of glory against a quasi-God…it sounds impressive.

Nighthawk laughed a bit, before he turned to walk back to his Vulture. However, before he could take more than two steps, he felt Jennifer grab him by the arm, placing her hand on his bicep, and holding him in place. Nighthawk looked back at Jennifer.

Nighthawk: Yes?

Jennifer remained silent, as she simply looked at Nighthawk. However, after a brief moment, she stepped forward, and wrapped her arms around Nighthawk’s chest, hugging him. Nighthawk sighed, as he wrapped his arms around Jennifer. After a moment, however, Nighthawk spoke up.

Nighthawk: Jennifer…

As Nighthawk said this, he pulled away from Jennifer, and looked at her.

Nighthawk: I have to go…and so do you.

Jennifer: Let us help you…please…

Nighthawk shook his head.

Nighthawk: No. This is something I have to do myself.

Jennifer: Why?

Nighthawk: You know why…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: It is too dangerous. If anything happened to, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I won’t be responsible for your death. I have lost far too much in my life. I have always felt that the people

Nighthawk took a few steps backwards.

Nighthawk: Jennifer, please…leave this place, and do not look back.

Jennifer sighed, as she watched Nighthawk turn and walk off towards the Vulture. Once Nighthawk boarded his Vulture, Jennifer turned and walked back towards the Prowler, convinced that this was the last time she was ever going to lay eyes on Nighthawk.

As Jennifer walked up the ramp to the Prowler, she heard the engines of the Vulture power up. As she turned to take one final look, she watched as the Vulture lifted into the air, and began to move off.

Jennifer: Something you need to do…

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: Bullshit…

Jennifer turned once more, and entered the Prowler, pressing her hand against a wall control to close the ramp. Jennifer promptly returned to the bridge of the Prowler, where she found Burke sitting in the command chair. As Jennifer walked onto the bridge, Burke turned the chair around, and faced Jennifer.

Burke: Ma’am?

Jennifer looked at Burke, but didn’t say anything.

Burke: Are we really going to fall back? Are we going to withdraw the ONI personnel?

Jennifer thought for a moment, before giving a firm nod.

Jennifer: Yeah, we are.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Get us back to the King Raven…and order all of our forces to fall back.

Burke: I can’t believe that we are actually doing this. Why are we letting Nighthawk do this? Why are we letting him take on Vanguard and The Trust by himself? He is lining himself up for failure, and it is going to get this planet destroyed. Why are we letting him do this?

Jennifer: I wish I could say…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I think he knows something we don’t. I think he is trying to protect us…trying to save our lives. I think he knows that whoever goes down there to fight Vanguard and The Trust is not coming back.

Burke: That is no excuse. You do realize that we DON’T take orders from this guy…right?

Jennifer: I know. Believe me…there is nothing I want more than to join him in that battle. However…Nighthawk was very clear with his request. He needs to do this himself.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: That is how it is. Now, if you don’t mind, we need to get back to the King Raven…the sooner the better.

With that, Jennifer turned and walked off the bridge of the Prowler, leaving Burke to deal with issuing the necessary orders. As Jennifer walked off the bridge, Burke sighed, and turned to face the front of the bridge.

Burke: Helm…get us back into orbit, and rendezvous us with The King Raven.

The officer at the helm nodded, as he began to key in the necessary commands to carry out his order.

Davis: Aye sir!

As the Prowler’s engines began to fire up Burke leaned back in his chair, and frowned. Never in a million years had had imaged that a battle could have gone so horribly wrong like San Angeles did. Alas…there was little he could do about it now. Part of him want to give the order to divert to New Havanna, but, he had no course of action after that, and it would only serve to be a fruitless endeavor.

All Burke could do now was go with a flow he had no control over. Did he have no control? Did he REALLY have to go with the flow?

Burke: Belay that order…

Burke frowned.

Burke: Prepare to alter our trajectory.

Davis: Destination, sir?

Burke: Take us towards New Havana…

Davis: But sir…Captain Frost said…

Burke: I know what she said. However, I also know what she was thinking…and what she said and what she was thinking were two VERY different things! Now…take us to New Havana!

Davis: Aye sir…

San Angeles – Nighthawk and Anaconda’s Vulture – En-Route to Firebase Mediterranean - 1930 Hours - February 1st 2540

Nighthawk was sitting in the pilot’s seat of the Vulture, as Anaconda was in the rear compartment of the Vulture, prepping the weapons that he had retrieved from The Venture Capitalist.

Nighthawk: So…I am pretty sure that by the time we are done, I am going to have to restock the armory aboard the Venture Capitalist, hmm?

Anaconda: If we survive, then yeah, you will have to restock the armory. I grabbed just about everything we had that could do damage. I don’t intend on running out of ammo when I am fighting Vanguard.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: The first time around, I was heavily outgunned. I had no idea what I was going up against…not fully, anyway. This time…I know better.

Nighthawk engaged the auto-pilot, and stood up from the pilot seat, as he walked to the rear compartment, and sat down on one of the seats. He looked at Anaconda and watched as he checked every weapon, before tossing it aside.

Nighthawk: What can you tell me about Vanguard? I know very little about this thing from a tactical perspective. What can I expect when going toe to toe with this thing?

Anaconda: You can expect not to go “toe to toe” with it. You will never get close enough.

Nighthawk: Then how do we beat it?

Anaconda: No, YOU won’t get close enough. Vanguard, as far as I knew, was impervious to any sort of conventional weaponry. The construct is protected by very powerful shields that are incredibly difficult to damage.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: The only weapon that seemed to have any effect on the construct was my Hammer, and even then, I put everything I had into those swings, and Vanguard kept coming at me with everything it had.

Nighthawk: Well, this time around, we may have some new toys that may or may not prove useful. Frankly, I would be shocked if the Mass Driver couldn’t put Vanguard on his ass.

Anaconda: Let’s hope it can, because Vanguard is going to be ready for me. We need something new or we are not going to last very long.

Nighthawk sighed.

Nighthawk: You think?

Nighthawk paused,

Nighthawk: I mean…what do you think our odds are of coming out of this alive?

Anaconda let out a low growl.

Anaconda: Not good…

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: But I am always ready to die. I have been ready to die since the day I was born.

Nighthawk gave an uncertain shrug.

Nighthawk: You had a different upbringing, hmmm? For me…honestly…I can’t think of a better way to die than fighting some superweapon with a quasi-god complex.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I would rather not die, but, I am pretty sure I am going to die on this rock. The odds are stacked too high to delude myself with the prospect of living through this shit show.

Anaconda looked at Nighthawk. As he looked at the Human, his head slanted to the side a bit, as if he was confused.

Anaconda: What are you saying?

Nighthawk: I am saying that I don’t fear death. I have never feared death. I fear dying an empty death or a meaningless death or a death that is punctuated with failure.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Death is a consistent factor in my line of work. I have learned to live with it, but, I want it to mean something when it comes, you know? I want my death to count for something.

Anaconda: So, that is how Humans prefer to die…

Nighthawk: Oh, no…no…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Humans are a mixed bag. Some of us prefer to die quickly. Others prefer to die peacefully. Some prefer to die in a blaze of glory, and others, like me, prefer to die for something worthwhile. Most Humans in the military are in the military because they believe in dying for something worthwhile.

Nighthawk fell silent, and sighed. He looked at Anaconda, and gave him a quick nod.

Nighthawk: How about you, big guy? How do you prefer to die? What drives that psyche of yours?

Anaconda: I prefer to die in battle, preferably atop the bodies of my enemies.

Nighthawk: In battle. I figured as much. Brutes seem like the type to prefer death in battle above all else.

Anaconda: Well…some Brutes think that the only thing better than dying on a mountain of your enemies’ bodies is dying shoulder to shoulder with your pack brothers.

Nighthawk: Or…shoulder to shoulder, atop a pile of dead bodies.

Anaconda laughed.

Anaconda: Now you’re getting it…

Nighthawk: Well, that being said, I think I have a pretty good idea what you are trying to say here…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: There are very few people in this life that I would go to bat for; people I would take a bullet for…people I would walk into hell with…people I would walk into hell for.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: However, you’re one of those people. Truthfully, you have been one of the most loyal friends I have ever had. It is kind of odd, when you think about it in the grand scheme, but, it is the truth.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: If we are going to die fighting Vanguard…I cannot think of better company to die in.

Anaconda: Well, we may get lucky. We may not have to lay down our lives to beat this thing. I have Vanguard once. I think between the two of us, we can beat it again!

Nighthawk waited a moment before letting out a sigh.

Nighthawk: I hope so, but, if all else fails…if WE fail…we can still destroy the planet with the slip space weapon. If we cannot stop Vanguard, then, the weapon will be used.

Anaconda: Very well. I trust you will handle the activation of the weapon?

Nighthawk: All three of us will have the power to activate the weapon at any time. You, HAWK, and I will all have the codes to begin the activation sequence for the weapon. The control of the weapon cannot be isolated to a single point of failure. This is far too important of a trump card to leave to chance.

Anaconda: This makes sense.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Other than that…we are about to hit Vanguard with everything we can muster. One way or the other; Vanguard dies today.

Anaconda growled, as he used his right hand to pound on his chest.

Anaconda: Your enthusiasm to destroy this construct is inspiring. Many would do well to follow that example.

Nighthawk: Well, I have had a chance to see a hologram of this thing up close and personal, and I did not like what I saw. This thing has to die.

Anaconda growled, and nodded.

Nighthawk: HAWK! What is our ETA to Firebase Mediterranean?

HAWK began to speak through the Vulture’s comm systems.

HAWK: At current speed, 45 minutes. We have quite a bit of distance to cover.

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: That is an eternity. We must get there faster!

HAWK: Easier said than done, big guy. This Vulture can only go so fast. Frankly, this thing’s current speed is rather impressive compared to the military standard. If I push this thing any harder, we are going to fly it apart.

Anaconda grunted. He had a tone of frustration in his voice. However, he accepted what HAWK said, and returned to checking his weapons.

Nighthawk, on the other hand, looked at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Don’t worry, Big Guy. We will need the extra time to prep anyway. Let’s just make sure that our heaviest hardware is ready to give this Vanguard SOB a run for its money. Before this day is out, let’s make sure history remembers our names for what we are going to do here today.

Anaconda grunted, and nodded to Nighthawk.

San Angeles – Perilus Avenger – Main Bridge – In orbit of San Angeles - 1945 Hours - February 1st 2540

Chieftain Dangerus was on the bridge of his Assault Carrier, standing in front of the large holotank that was situated in the dead center of the bridge. Dangerus looked at the large hologram of San Angeles, as his thoughts were dominated by a single subject; Vanguard.

Dangerus was intrigued by the construct, to say the very least. What he found most fascinating is how this one machine had managed to create a singular focal point around which the entire battle for this one world revolved around. Dangerus thought about how Xyrho had a passionate dislike for Vanguard, and he saw how Nighthawk and Anaconda were staunchly committed to the destruction of the AI. What Dangerus found even more interesting is how this single construct had so easily created a rift in the ranks of the Humans. Before today, Dangerus had no concept of The Trust, so his context was limited in this respect. However, in the grand scheme of things, Dangerus had yet to make his own assessments of Vanguard, and until Dangerus could do this, all he had was the assessments of others to go on.

Dangerus continued to stand silently, looking at the holotank on the bridge, running his claws through his goatee; his train of thought finally breaking when the sound of an unfamiliar pair of footsteps could be heard entering his bridge. Dangerus’ growled, as he turned around, and saw Xyrho enter his bridge.

As Xyrho stepped forward, the grunting and growling of other Brutes could be heard. However, Dangerus kept his composure, and did not succumb to such pettiness.

Dangerus: Shipmaster? I did not expect you to be here so soon.

Xyrho: I didn’t think so either. However, I have something worthwhile to report!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I have located the construct! Not too long ago, the luminary on my ship came to life in a way that I have only seen once before

Dangerus: Our luminary has been exhibiting odd behavior as well. Are you saying this has something to do with the construct?

Xyrho: It is the construct that is causing the luminary to behave differently.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The luminary devices are communicating with Vanguard, and Vanguard with the luminaries.

Dangerus: Why are they communicating?

Xyrho looked at Dangerus for a moment, before taking a step forward towards the Chieftain.

Xyrho: As we BOTH know…the luminaries have a “holy lineage”; engineered from the gifts left to us by our…”Gods”…

Dangerus laughed under his breath, as he quickly caught onto Xyrho’s disparaging tone in regards to the luminaries.

Dangerus: I find your disbelief to be rather humorous. I have never seen a Sangheili with such little regard for the promise of salvation.

Xyrho: I do not concern myself with the superstitious mundane dogma. I am more concerned with the scientific. Luminaries are technology…nothing more.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Much like Vanguard is technology; technology that shares a common point of origin. The technology is communicating because it is all very indifferent.

Dangerus: Does this communication pose a threat?

Xyrho: Potentially, yes. However, this also poses a threat to Vanguard as much as it is a threat to us.

Dangerus: How so?

Xyrho: It is entirely possible that Vanguard’s communication with the luminaries has allowed the construct to gain access to our ship systems, revealing everything held inside. I watched and analyzed how my own luminary was communicating, and I discovered that the luminary was making covert transmissions to an unknown source. No doubt…ALL of the luminaries are doing this.

Dangerus became wide eyed, and let out a growl.

Xyrho: However, like I said…this communication goes two ways.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I was able to track the transmission’s being generated by the luminaries, right to the original source. I now know where Vanguard is. We now have an opportunity to strike at the Construct, and destroy it.

Dangerus growled, as he folded his arms.

Dangerus: I never thought I would ever say this to a Sangheili, but, well done! If Vanguard is within our grasp, we can destroy it!

Xyrho: However…it may not be that simple.

Dangerus looked at Xyrho with a look of curiosity.

Xyrho: Vanguard may be able to counter our entire offensive with relative ease. If the Construct has been communicating with our luminaries, it has no doubt managed to communicate with other ship systems, using the luminary as an intermediary, and we could be totally unaware.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: And if Xyrho has access to the Forge, he will be more than capable of mounting an offensive against our fleet and defending himself from an attack.

Dangerus: I find it very hard to believe that this single construct could put up any sort of resistance that could match the strength of this Covenant fleet.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: You better start believing it, Chieftain, or there will not be a fleet left to speak of.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I know more about this construct than any other warrior here, yourself included. There is a history attached to this construct that is so bloody and so destructive, that you cannot even begin to fathom to full extent of the destruction that this abomination can cause.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: If we are not cautious, we will die before we even have a chance to take up our weapons against this construct!

Dangerus grunted, as he glared at Xyrho. He began to pace, walking circles around Xyrho, as if sizing him up.

Dangerus: Well then, Shipmaster…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: If we die, we will die in battle…

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: Chieftain…you are trivializing this battle, as if this was just another skirmish. You acknowledge that the construct is dangerous, but you do not believe it is a threat. You lack the understanding needed to fathom the true power of this construct. You have not seen the construct in battle!

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: You presume my ignorance in this matter?

Xyrho: I presume everyone’s ignorance when it comes to things I know EXCEEDINGLY well.

Dangerus growled at Xyrho.

Xyrho: Do not waste our time with your attempt at intimidation. I have seen it far too many times to find such posturing to be of concern.

Dangerus: Who do you think you are, Shipmaster? You stand on my ship, on my bridge, and you question my ability to do battle with this construct because I have not seen this construct with my own eyes?

Xyrho: If you truly understood how dangerous Vanguard is, you would not pound your chest about the glory of dying, so long as it is in battle. If you had any understanding of what we were up against, beyond the firsthand accounts of what I have seen, you would set aside your own pride and your own lust for glory and realize that there are things far more important than personal glory.

Dangerus frowned at Xyrho.

Xyrho: If you are unable to set aside your pride and accept the reality that this is not a battle in which you will gain infamy or personal glory, you are doomed to fail in your struggle against Vanguard, and you will be the cause of countless more deaths.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: You would be better off being an enemy than an ally.

Dangerus frowned at Xyrho.

Dangerus: I refused to be lectured by a Sangheili. Your species places the highest emphasis on glory and honor than even my own species does. You would do well to remember that before assuming that I am unable to set aside my own pride to destroy this construct. Between the two of us, you are the more likely the one who will fail to act due to his own superstitions.

Xyrho glared at Dangerus.

Xyrho: Then let me be clear, Chieftain…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Give me your blade…

Dangerus raised his left brow, as he was curious as to what Xyrho was trying to prove. However, Dangerus curiosity got the better of him, as he grabbed the hilt of his dagger, pulled the blade from its sheath, and handed the blade to Xyrho. Xyrho took the blade in his right hand, as he placed the sharpened end on his left palm.

Xyrho: If there is any doubt in my conviction which leads you to believe that I will fail to act because of my own inhibition…then let me erase that doubt…

Xyrho pressed the blade into his own skin, as he began to slice across his palm. As the blade worked its way across Xyrho’s palm, blood began to pour from the deep wound. Once the blade had run from one edge of Xyrho’s palm to the other, Xyrho pulled the blade away from his hand, and turned his bloodied palm to face the floor, allowing his blood to drip out to the ground.

Xyrho: I would NEVER, under any other circumstance, take a blade as unclean as yours, and spill my own blood on the deck of your ship, in such a self-loathing manner. However, if this is what it takes to SHOW you the mindset that is required to fight, and defeat, this construct, then so be it.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Make no mistake, the only thing that concerns me is stopping Vanguard. Stopping Vanguard is the most important thing that either of us will ever do in our short lives. It is more important than your pride, and it is more important than my honor. It is more important than glory, and it is more important than infamy. It is more important than your life, and it is more important than my life. The need to destroy this construct transcends all other concerns!

Xyrho paused for a moment, as he clenched his left hand into a fist.

Xyrho: Does your conviction run as deep as mine?

Dangerus grunted and frowned.

Dangerus: Your point has been proven, Shipmaster. I don’t need any more of your blood on my deck.

Xyrho: Then if my point has been proven, then we should move past this! While we waste our time squabbling, Vanguard grows more powerful by the second! We need to plan our assault! We need to move against Vanguard before it is too late!

Dangerus nodded.

Dangerus: If this construct is to be destroyed, then we should utilize our most powerful weapons against it! A direct assault, from low orbit, should provide us with the necessary firepower to destroy the construct!

Xyrho considered the plan, and nodded.

Xyrho: Attacking the construct with ships is an interesting tactic, and perhaps our best chance at quickly defeating the construct!

Dangerus: A wing of CCS battle cruisers should be able to easily overpower the construct in sheer output.

Xyrho: It is as good of an idea as any. As far as I know, there is no reason why a full frontal attack by our ships would not work. Vanguard will detect our ships closing in, and it will move to defend itself without hesitation. It will show itself on the field of battle.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The question is, do you plan on leading the offensive?

Dangerus: No. I feel that task would be better left to you.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: I could lead the offensive, but, this is not about glory or infamy. This is about stopping Vanguard, and you have the most experience with this construct.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: In the meantime, I will be preparing ground forces to assault Vanguard’s refuge. Once the construct has been defeated, there will still be a ground battle. Vanguard’s acolytes should not be allowed to live for what they have done.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: But there is also the matter of technology similar to Vanguard which may be in the hands of the filth.

Xyrho: The Humans must not be allowed to seize any of Vanguard’s technology. If they do, all of our efforts will have been for nothing.

Dangerus: This is exactly why I will be leading a ground assault.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: While you lead a wing of ships against Vanguard, I will take several Phantom’s to the surface, and approach Vanguard’s hiding place. The Humans that occupy that location must be purged in order to prevent them from any further meddling.

Xyrho: I agree…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: But what of the technology? Do we destroy it, or do we preserve it?

Dangerus: I don’t care. I am tempted to preserve the technology, if only to claim the accolades for doing so.

Xyrho: This isn’t about accolades!

Dangerus: Killing Vanguard isn’t about accolades. Securing the technology and handing it over to the Hierarchs is.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: Do not forget…the Hierarchs know that there is something on this world.

Xyrho: Do they?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Or were they told that this was a Human world?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Remember how we got here; our intelligence units captured a Human deep-space probe which pointed right at this world. There was no mention of anything divine…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The hierarchs assume that every Human world is important to their “great journey” as every Human world must be annihilated in order to walk the path!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The Hierarchs need not know what we are doing, and they need not know what we found! They need not know what we destroyed.

Dangerus: I understand that Vanguard must be destroyed, but, to destroy everything else is a foolish move.

Xyrho: Perhaps, but, I will not take any chances with this Construct. The Construct, and everything around it…must be destroyed.

Dangerus growled. He did not like the fact that Xyrho was intent on destroying everything in his path, with no consideration for the personal gains that could be made by returning the technology to the Covenant.

Dangerus: We are not going to destroy the technology. Vanguard will die, but, its technology will belong to us. I will not allow you to dictate otherwise!

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: This world, and the treasures that it holds, will be handed to the Hierarchs. Too much has been sacrificed to get us to this point. It will not be for nothing!

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: If you do not like it…tough.

Xyrho: This is a mistake.

Dangerus shook his head.

Dangerus: The only mistake would be allowing your fear of this Construct to decide what we should do with the spoils of our victory over it!

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: The technology will belong to The Covenant by the time this is all over. That is final.

Xyrho scoffed in disapproval. However, he could tell that Dangerus was settled on this, and any further contention of the point would be futile. Xyrho knew how stubborn Brutes could be, so he was smart enough to know how to pick his battles.

Xyrho: Very well Chieftain. Let us hope we do not live to regret your decision.

Xyrho scoffed at Dangerus. However, Dangerus took no mind to this.

Xyrho: I must know; what is to happen to the Human fleet and the cities below?

Dangerus: They are going to be destroyed, immediately.

Xyrho: The Humans no longer pose a threat. Is it wise to divide our attention like this?

Dangerus: The Humans are no threat. This is exactly why they are going to be destroyed as soon as possible.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: I have considered the merit of using the Humans to battle Vanguard, but, I have decided that the risk of the Humans turning hostile before the construct has been destroyed is far too great. As such, I have decided to resume active hostility towards the Humans on all fronts. I am fully intent on not only glassing the remaining cities, but, also intent on destroy what is left of their pathetic fleet.

Xyrho: What about the Nighthawk Human?

Dangerus: What of him?

Xyrho: That Human would be useful in a battle with Vanguard. By resuming activity hostility with the rest of his species, he may prove to be a problem.

Dangerus: That single Human’s teeth are not as sharp as you may think. If that Human decides to interfere…he will simply be torn into small pieces.

Xyrho: There is also the matter of the “heretic” that is in his company.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: You mean the Brute who mistakes that Human as kin?

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: That whelp will die with his Human compatriot.

Xyrho: So, we are to make no distinction? We are to exterminate every Human on sight?

Dangerus: Correct.

Xyrho nodded. He did not fully agree with the decision, but he did not care to argue the point.

Dangerus: If there is nothing else; return to your ship, and rendezvous with The Pious Daylight and The Divine Inquest. Those two vessels will provide fire support for you as you carry out your offensive against Vanguard. I will contact the Shipmaster’s of both ships, and inform them of the plan to take action against Vanguard.

Xyrho: Can they be trusted?

Dangerus: Both Shipmaster are loyal to me. They will do as I command, and they will follow your orders in battle so long as I tell them to do so.

Xyrho: I will take that as a yes, then. So long as they do as they are instructed, there will be no need for concern on my end.

Xyrho paused. He thought for a moment before he spoke.

Xyrho: In the off chance that I fail to stop Vanguard…do whatever you must to stop the Construct. This thing is not to be underestimated in any way. Any advantage you may think you have, is more than likely a trap. This construct is highly intelligent, incredibly deadly, and very cunning.

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: You have made that abundantly clear. I do not need to be reminded.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: But the fact that you insist on reminding me tells me that you are not too confident in your own chances.

Xyrho: No, but it is our best chance at stopping this thing. That should tell you something about how dangerous it is.

Dangerus: It does.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: However, if it was defeated once before, it will be defeated again; if not by you, then by me.

Xyrho nodded.

Xyrho: Then…all there is left to say is…hunt well, Chieftain.

With that, Xyrho turned and started to walk off the bridge of the Perilus Avenger. Dangerus watched as Xyrho walked off his bridge, and he had to admit to himself that, for a Sangheili, Xyrho was tolerable to be around and was much more accommodating than the average Sangheili.

Dangerus: Same to you, Shipmaster…

Xyrho stopped, and turned his head to look at Dangerus for a moment, before turning once more to walk off the bridge.

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San Angeles – Vigorous Inferno – Main Bridge – In orbit of San Angeles - 2000 Hours - February 1st 2540

Harrison was standing on the main bridge, looking down at the holotable that was at the center of the bridge. He was watching, in real time, as the drones that he had dispatched to scan the surface of San Angeles searched a relatively small area of the planet for any sign of the Trust. Deep down, Harrison knew that this was a futile move, but, he had to try, if only to have something to show for his decisions. However, Harrison’s focus on the holotable was broken when he heard the main door to the bridge open. Harrison turned, and saw Reynolds and Cochraine enter the bridge.

Harrison: I wasn’t expecting the two of you to show so quickly.

Cochraine spoke up.

Cochraine: You said ASAP, sir.

Harrison: I like that attitude, Lt. Commander.

Reynolds then spoke up.

Reynolds: Frankly, sir, I had a pretty good idea why you called us here, and I have a feeling it has to either do with The Trust or The Covenant. Seeing as both interest me greatly at the present time, I feel that it would be a disservice to NOT be here in a timely fashion.

Harrison: Well, this meetings is about The Trust, more or less. First and foremost, however, you all need to be updated on our most recent intel.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: You should all know that I have it on very good authority that Nighthawk and Anaconda are attempting to destroy San Angeles as a means of solving the Vanguard problem.

Reynolds: How is he going to destroy an entire planet?

Harrison: I am not 100% sure. However, it is my understanding that it will involve the use of a slipspace drive core. That is all I know.

Cochraine: Very unconventional.

Harrison: Perhaps, but, it is something that cannot be allowed to happen. I will not allow Nighthawk and Anaconda to decide the fate of this planet in a single unilateral decision! Knowing this, I am hereby placing the highest priority on the elimination of Nighthawk and Anaconda. All points are to be informed that if they sight Nighthawk and Anaconda, they are to radio for backup and then proceed to confront and engage Nighthawk and Anaconda…with the understanding to use all necessary force!

Reynolds: Rest assured, sir, I will see to it that everything that can be done to stop those two, is done without hesitation.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: Is there anything else that we should know?

Harrison: Nothing at this time. The only thing worth knowing is logistics on Nighthawks plan to use a slip space core to destroy the planet. If we find anything, we will inform.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: That being said, allow me to refocus; we may have a chance to hit the Trust. It is risky, but it is our best shot.

Reynolds: I see. What strategic intelligence do we have going into this?

Harrison: None, really.

Cochraine: ONI did not provide anything?

Harrison: ONI turned on us. Captain Frost and her brigade of misfits and Spartans started a firefight on my ships, and they wounded many service personnel in the process.

Cochraine: What? Why would they do that?

Harrison: Captain Frost and I could not see eye to eye on several key ideas. She did not like the fact that ONI had become more trouble than it was worth, and she did not like the fact that I could no longer find value in their involvement in this battle due to the sheer number of secrets and hypocritical decisions coming from their corner. When they discovered that I wanted them sidelined, they decided to go rouge. They made it very clear that they were going to do things their own way when they kidnapped Hoffman from my brig, and wounded 4 out of the 5 members of Strike Team Diamond and put them all in critical condition.

Reynolds: ONI kidnapped Hoffman? Why?

Harrison: Possibly to interrogate him; with the intention being to find out where the Trust is hiding.

Reynolds: I see…

Reynolds allowed a concerned look to shoot across his face briefly, before he spoke up.

Reynolds: Has any effort been made to recover Hoffman?

Harrison: Well, if ONI and The Trust have one thing in common, is that they are both REALLY good at hiding in the shadows, like vermin.

Cochraine: Very harsh words, Admiral.

Harrison: They would be your words too if Fireteam Harmony was as violently cut down like Diamond was.

Cochraine: Well…yeah…

Harrison: Suffice to say, ONI left us without a source of intel, they have no intention of sharing, and in my books…that makes them the enemy, as much as The Covenant and The Trust.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: That being said, I may have an opportunity to get us back into the fight, but, I am going to need a significant contribution of manpower, as well as a bit of luck.

Reynolds: You mentioned that you had a chance to strike at The Trust. Care to fill us in? If Lauran and I are apprised of the full extent of your plan, then I can defiantly authorize a significant contribution of manpower to your plan…especially if ONI isn’t going to play nice.

Harrison: I appreciate that Captain. Frankly, we are going to need warm body we can get for the coming battle.

Harrison paused, as he once again heard the door to the bridge open. Harrison turned and saw Jacob and Snyder enter the bridge.

Harrison: But yes, as I said; we do have a plan. However, I think I would rather leave the detailing of that plan to Captain Sharman, as it was his idea to start with.

As Harrison said this, Jacob and Snyder approached the holotable, and looked at Harrison, Cochraine, and Reynolds.

Cochraine: Captain Sharpman? Last I heard, you were being detained for treason. Did that change?

Jacob: Yes and no. ONI decided to let me out of my cage, so long as they had the power to kill me whenever they so desired. They injected me with a nanite that they can use to kill me. The fact is, I was on an intelligence gathering mission, and I needed to make things as convincing and credible as possible.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Speaking of credibility…ONI has serious credibility issues these days. They tag me like a deer, yet, they pull the same treacherous BS that they condemn me for.

Cochraine: That does seem hypocritical.

Jacob: Suffice to say, I am no traitor. I only did what I did to gather intel on The Trust. ONI knew this, that is, Captain Frost knew this…and it was proven to her, yet, she never had any intention of removing this damn nanite that she so happily injected into me. Captain Frost’s biggest concern was having someone to blame for what happened at San Angeles…and we all know that she is VERY unwilling to assign any blame to Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Harrison: I called Captain Frost on this BS, and she quickly showed her true colors. There were also other factors, such as her deference for Nighthawk and Anaconda that played a role in her turning coat.

Cochraine: Well, we will take your words for it, gentlemen. However, as interested as I am in the details concerning ONI’s supposed rouge status, I feel the need to point out that we are here to discuss The Trust. We should stick to that.

Jacob: Rightly so. You want to discuss how we plan on getting our shot at The Trust. It is a longshot, but, it is the best we can do at the moment.

Jacob paused, as he looked at Cochraine and Reynolds.

Jacob: As the two of you may, or may not know, most of Strike Team Diamond was critically wounded in an effort to stop ONI from taking Hoffman from our custody. The only member of the team who did not sustain any serious injuries was Private Snyder. As you can imagine, Private Snyder is not too thrilled with this fact. That being said, Snyder has agreed to play a pivotal role in locating and stopping The Trust.

Reynolds: And…what exactly is her role?

Snyder: I plan on infiltrating The Trust.

Reynolds: This is an old trick. This has already been attempted, with great failure. The Trust is too smart for this.

Harrison: It is why we said it was a longshot. The plan is a desperate one, and it is the only shot we have

Reynolds: Infiltrating The Trust is suicide.

Snyder looked at Reynolds and spoke up.

Snyder: I am doing this by choice, sir. I know the risks.

Reynolds: Do you know the risks? I don’t think you do. You are volunteering to infiltrate The Trust, after it was just done and after it was revealed to be an intelligence gathering mission. Do you honestly believe they will accept your turncoat status at face value?

Snyder: Yes.

Reynolds: Why?

Snyder: I have a motive…

Snyder grinned.

Snyder: After what ONI did to my team, I want to get even with them. I want revenge.

Reynolds raised an eyebrow. He knew that this had a chance of being rather convincing, especially if the Trust knew as much as they claimed. Reynolds was quite intrigued by the plan, however, he knew where his loyalties lay, and he had every intention of stopping this plan before it even had a chance to be a disruption to the Trust. Reynolds reasoned that his best bet was to play along, and simply tip off the Trust to the full details of the plan once he had a moment alone.

Reynolds: I take it back…that plan may have a rather high probability of working. If you do have a viable motive to base this turn coat on, then you may very well pull this off, provided the execution is competent.

Jacob: Our thoughts exactly.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: The aim is to contact The Trust and inform them of what has transpired between the UNSC and ONI; assuming the Trust does not already know. Snyder’s angle will be a desire for revenge, and a request to join their ranks.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: To further incentivize The Trust to take the deal, we are going to offer them something that they may want.

Cochraine: What would that be?

Jacob: Me.

Jacob grinned.

Jacob: Let’s face it…The Trust no doubt hates my guts and they no doubt would like a little payback on me. Snyder is going to turn me over to The Trust as show of commitment.

Cochraine: I do not like the sound of this one bit. The implications of what is being proposed are vast. Captain Sharman…you are asking us to support a course of action that puts two of our people in the hands of The Trust…one of which has already been in the hands of The Trust and whose loyalty is not entirely obvious or certain.

Jacob: Are you accusing me of something, Lt. Commander?

Cochraine: No, but I am stating the obvious; nobody here should trust you completely, yet, you are asking for us to put complete faith in your mission. For all we know, this could be some deranged counter-intelligence on the part of the Trust.

Harrison frowned at Cochraine.

Harrison: I had a serious disagreement with the last person who said something along those lines.

Cochraine: Would I be correct in assuming that person was Captain Frost?

Harrison raised an eyebrow, but he refused to answer.

Cochraine: Let’s just step back, and be real for one moment…

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: This plan has merit, and it has a solid foundation. However, we cannot ignore how virulent The Trust is. If The Trust has proven one thing, it is that it knows how to hide in plain sight, much like Hoffman was doing. I know I am prodding at a delicate topic, but, it has to be said; Captain Sharpman is not someone I would want BACK in enemy hands. This could either be a rather convoluted type of counter-intelligence on his part, or it could simply cost his and Snyder’s life in one fell swoop. Regardless, we need something with far less risk and a far greater payout.

Harrison glared at Cochraine.

Harrison: Lt. Commander…I do not recall asking for your tactical appraisal of the plan, simply, your cooperation with it.

Reynolds interjected.

Reynolds: Now, hold on, Admiral. My executive officer raises an excellent point. By your own admission, this is highly risky. Honestly…how quickly would Snyder be able to report anything of tactical value? I need more details if I am going to put my full support behind this!

Snyder interjected.

Snyder: If I may? I believe it can be done in a very short period of time.

Reynolds looked at Snyder.

Reynolds: May I ask how?

Snyder: The use of a subcutaneous transponder. We need a location above all else, and I am hoping that The Trust will get us close, and all you have to do is follow the transponder signal.

Reynolds: Clever, but, would The Trust actually fail to anticipate this? I am inclined to say no. I said I would support this plan if the execution was good, but, there are far too many longshots…far too many risks…far too many risks. My Ex-O is right…we need something with less risk and more payoff.

Harrison: Well, Captain Reynolds…do you have something else in mind?

Reynolds sighed.

Reynolds: At the moment…no.

Harrison: Well, we don’t have anything else in mind either. Jacob’s plan is our ONLY chance at the present time. We cannot afford to get picky when we have no other options. Besides…risk is part of the job, it has always been part of the job and it is no reason to discount a course of action.

Reynolds sighed.

Reynolds: I cannot disagree with you. However, I cannot help but feel that we would not be in this position had ONI been handled differently, perhaps more delicately.

Harrison: ONI lost its objectivity when it decided to work with Nighthawk and Anaconda, yet, condemn Jacob for his attempt to infiltrate The Trust.

Cochraine: Sir, have you ever considered that ONI may take problems with The Trust more personally than their problems with Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Harrison: I cannot see how that could be. Nighthawk and Anaconda were responsible for killing ONI’s previous director, Director Kapsky. ONI should take Nighthawk and Anaconda personally.

Cochraine: Perhaps under regular circumstances, yes. However…I think the obvious is being overlooked here. We have to remember who we are dealing with. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on ONI, but I do know when someone has a reputation. People like Captain Frost, Commander Vernette, Commander Burke, and the Spartan; those people have reputations. ONI Officers may operate in secret, but, the reputations of the people on The King Raven are no secret.

Harrison: Reputation or not…ONI Officers should know better to not shoot their allies.

Cochraine: And you should have known better than to cross ONI. Everyone knows that ONI is not an organization that takes kindly to dissidence or disobedience. When you tried to side line ONI, you told them that they had no right to be involved.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: ONI didn’t go rouge, Admiral. ONI did what it does best; take action. They kidnapped Hoffman because they wanted to stay in the fight, a fight you did not want them in; a fight that we needed them in. Are you so proud that you cannot admit that you made a tactical error, or, are you going to continue to submit that ONI is in the wrong?

Harrison frowned at Cochraine. However, he didn’t say anything at first, instead, opting to stay silent.

Cochraine: Frankly, sir, instead of desperate and half-cocked plans…we should be reaching out to ONI, and working with them, as allies…not against them as enemies!

Harrison looked at Jacob and Snyder; both of whom shook their heads, as if to say no.

Snyder: ONI doesn’t deserve to be “reached out“ to. ONI turned on us, not the other way around.

Jacob: I agree. We can do this without ONI. ONI has been nothing but trouble.

Harrison looked at Cochraine.

Harrison: I am forced to agree with my personnel. I will not extend the hand of friendship to ONI when they turned violently dangerous on us for no good reason. I have four good soldiers in the med bay in critical condition, with others who sustained moderate injuries. ONI does not deserve the hand of friendship.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Frankly…I am fully prepared to put a kill-order on any ONI personnel that my people see. ONI is dangerous, and I will not allow my people to forget that, and I will not allow any more of people to be injured because they were told to trust ONI.

Cochraine sighed in frustration. She was going to respond, but, she was cut off when one of the bridge officers spoke up.

Sensor Officer: Admiral Harrison, Sir, we have a problem!

Harrison turned to the sensor officer.

Harrison: What is the situation, Lieutenant?

Sensor Officer: The Covenant fleet is moving. Several ships have broken off and they are preparing to enter ELO. The others are moving apart and breaking their current formation. They are spreading out. Sir…the new positioning of the Covenant ships is consistent with previously observed movements that preceded an orbital glassing.

A look of alarm shot across Harrison’s face, as he walked towards a large wall-mounted screen and watched as the Covenant ships began to spread out.

Reynolds: Is there any specific location that the Covenant is establishing a synchronized orbit over?

Sensor Officer: It appears the Covenant is establishing a geo-synchronous orbit over New Havana.

Reynolds looked at Cochraine.

Reynolds: Fireteam Harmony is down there!

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: Get our people out of there!

Cochraine: Sir…our latest reports show that civilians are still being evacuated.

Reynolds: I am aware of that! Contact Harmony! Order them to rally our teams and fall back!

Cochraine was hesitant for a moment. However, she finally nodded, before turning away and placing her hand on her ear. After a moment, she began to speak.

Cochraine: UNSC Mind’s Attrition – this is Lt. Commander Cochraine. Patch me through to FIreteam Harmony immediately! This is a priority one!

A communications officer aboard the Mind’s Attrition responded directly to Cochraine

Comms Officer: Copy that ma’am…stand by…

Cochraine waited another moment, pacing back and forth anxiously, waiting for an acknowledgement from anyone on Fireteam Harmony.

Arman: This is Master Sergeant Arman. We read you loud and clear, Ma’am!

Cochraine: Sergeant! Listen to me very carefully. The Covenant is moving in on New Havana! We have reports that Covenant ships are establishing a formation which is consistent with positioning required to do a surface glassing…and they are right above New Havana! You need to fall back!

Arman: Ma’am…we are nowhere near finished the evacuation! There are still a lot of souls down here!

Cochraine: I am aware of that Sergeant. However, this is not up for debate! I am giving you a direct order! Rally all UNSC forces in the city and prepare to fall back!

Arman was silent for a moment. However, she finally replied to Cochraine.

Arman: Understood…

Arman sighed.

Arman: Any supplementary orders, Ma’am?

Cochraine: I want Harmony to report to the Vigorous Inferno instead of returning to the Mind’s Attrition. Captain Reynolds and I are currently aboard The Vigorous Inferno discussing our next move with the Admiral.

Arman: Copy that, Ma’am. Harmony out!

The comm line with FIreteam Harmony went silent. As it did, Cochraine turned and looked at Reynolds, Harrison, Jacob, and Snyder, and noticed they were all observing what was happening on the large wall-mounted display. As Cochraine approached the group from behind, Reynolds spoke up.

Reynolds: I doubt we have the firepower necessary to launch a counter attack.

Harrison: You may be right, but, that should not stop us from counter attacking.

Reynolds: A counter attack would be suicide in our current state. We are outgunned, and we barely outnumber the Covenant. There is no way we will be able to stop the Covenant! We can delay them of course, but, we will not be making it out of here alive.

Harrison: That may be so, Captain. However, while you may be quick to withdraw your forces in the face of imminent danger, I am not so quick to scare.

Reynolds: I am never prepared to order my people to face an unwinnable battle! The fact that you would so quickly charge into a no-win situation engenders serious questions about your fitness to lead.

Harrison simply grinned, and chuckled.

Harrison: You want to talk unwinnable battles. Captain? This war is seen by many as unwinnable. However, we fight anyway because that is our duty, as soldiers.

Reynolds: You think I don’t know that?

Harrison: You tell me. You are the one who is afraid to face down the Covenant in one final showdown, with our side being at the disadvantage. Since the start of this war, the UNSC has lost on almost every front. I have seen the results and the fallout of those defeats first hand on too many occasions. I have no intention of seeing it again without making a damn good effort to avoid it.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: If you want to bug out, and fall back…you are free to do so. So far, from what I have seen…that seems to be what you are best at.

Reynolds frowned.

Reynolds: Alright Admiral…I get it…

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: You want to get everyone killed to prove a point. Fine. You want me to tag along and die with you. Fine. You want to die a heroic death? Fine.

Reynolds paused.

Reynolds: However, I would just like to state, for the record, that this is a terrible strategy. However, I doubt my objection will matter in an hour, or so, as we will all be dead.

Harrison frowned at Reynolds.

Cochraine: Gentlemen…this is not helping! We should refocus on stopping The Trust!

Jacob: Cochraine is right! Arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere!

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: That being said; how do we refocus on The Trust if we have no viable course of action?

Harrison: We do have a viable course of action, however, Reynolds believes that it is far too dangerous!

Reynolds: There is too much left to chance!

Jacob: But, we have no other options!

Just then, the sensor officer spoke up.

Sensor Officer: Sir…you better have a look at this!

Everyone looked at the sensor officer, as he displayed a sensor feed on one of the large wall-mounted displays.

Sensor Officer: Sir, I have been monitoring these three ships ever since they left orbit, and they seem to have moved right passed New Havana. After they descended into ELO, they flew right past New Havana, and they seem to be moving due west, with no apparent destination.

Harrison: They have to be going somewhere!

Sensor Officer: Not from what I can see. I have projected their course, and they are not flying in the direction of any major population center.

Cochraine looked at the sensor officer.

Cochraine: Can you show us a topographical overview of the area?

Sensor Officer: Yes Ma’am. Stand by…

The sensor officer did as instructed, as the large display began to zoom out to show a wider area of the planet’s surface. Cochraine looked at the topographical area for a moment before she spoke up.

Cochraine: Wait a minute…enhance grid Alpha-4 and magnify…

Once again, the sensor officer did as instructed. After a moment, the topographical map zoomed back in, except on a different region that was some distance away from New Havana. Once the sensor officer had zoomed in to maximum magnification, the outline of what appeared to be a large facility stood out to everyone on the bridge.

Cochraine: Can anyone explain what that is?

Harrison: I have no idea…

Harrison paused.

Harrison: It is defiantly a facility of some sort…but…who does it belong to?

Nobody was able to answer the question. However, Jacob spoke up to continue the general thought.

Jacob: Why did this facility not appear on our sensor sweeps?

Harrison: I have no idea. However, Firebase Desert never showed up on our sensor scans either.

Cochraine: And neither did Firebase Tropic.

Jacob: If we recall…Tropic and Desert were ONI facilities that were being used by The Trust.

Harrison: That means there is a very high chance that this a Trust facility.

Reynolds shook his head.

Reynolds: We have no proof of this! This is purely speculation, coincidence at best.

Reynolds was clever enough to know that if this was a Trust facility, he had to do what he could to dispel any idea that presumed as much.

Reynolds: We simply do not have the time to investigate these theories. We need to remain focused on what we do know, and we need to formulate our plans based on solid fact, not supposition.

Harrison: Solid fact? You want solid fact Captain? Very well…

Harrison paused.

Harrison: All we need to do is simply observe the Covenant. We know that the Covenant is on a direct course for our mysterious facility. If the Covenant knows something we don’t, then they will stop and investigate, and we will know that there is something of interest down there.

Cochraine nodded.

Cochraine: Seems reasonable.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: So, I assume that your previous plan has been put on the back burner?

Harrison: Yes, provided that this mysterious facility that we stumbled across proves to be something of value.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: We should know very shortly. All we need to do…is wait.

Harrison paused.

Harrison: With that said, I think it is worth raising the tactical level of the fleet in anticipation of an engagement with the Covenant that we know is going to happen.

Harrison looked at his communications officer, and issued an order.

Harrison: Ensign! Signal the fleet. Inform all ships to elevate their threat level of Alpha. I want all ships at the ready, fully armed, locked, and loaded to fire on my command!

Comms Officer: Aye sir!

Reynolds looked at Harrison, then back at the large screen mounted on the wall. He watched as a Corvette and two CCS Battle Cruisers moved towards the suspected Trust facility.

Reynolds: Admiral? What happens if that IS a Trust facility?

Harrison: What happens? I think you know what is going to happen…

Harrison paused.

Harrison: It will either be destroyed by The Covenant, or, we are going to go down there and finish the job. Either way…that facility is going to be shut down.

Reynolds raised an eyebrow as he glared at Harrison.

Reynolds: I still believe you are grasping at straws…desperate for a victory on any front. All we know is that there is a facility down there. You THINK it is a Trust facility, and you have no proof of the claim, yet, here you are, planning either a full-out assault against it – or – willing to stand by and watch it possibly get destroyed by the Covenant for the sake of proving a point. What if there are ONI personnel down there?

Harrison: Then ONI should have told us!

Reynolds: That is not a good enough answer, Admiral.

Harrison scoffed, and sighed, as he glared at Reynolds.

Harrison: Captain Reynolds…I am getting really sick of how unhelpful you are being. To this point you have disagreed with everything that has been proposed, and you have condemned every possible course of action that could bring about an armed conflict with The Trust. Frankly…it is becoming rather suspicious.

Reynolds raised an eyebrow, as he glared at Harrison. He was going to rebuttal, but, Cochraine interjected.

Cochraine: Admiral…that could be taken as a very serious accusation.

Harrison: An accusation of what? What am I accusing him of?

Harrison paused.

Harrison: When did I ever accuse him of something? Why do you presume that I am accusing Captain Reynolds of something? I am curious…where this is coming from?

Cochraine: Admiral…

Cochraine paused. She had a very visible frown on her face.

Cochraine: You claim that Captain Reynolds disagreement with your…dangerously risky plans is “suspicious”…

Harrison: I just find it very odd that he would have no interest in taking a shot at the Trust.

Cochraine: No…I think you are accusing him of being a member of The Trust! That is a very serious accusation, and it is uncalled for!

Harrison looked at Cochraine for a moment. He was rather uncertain as to why Cochraine would believe that, but, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that his wording could have been interpreted that way.

Harrison sighed, as he stepped back and pinched the bridge of his nose. Harrison remained silent for moment as he gathered his thoughts, and tried to settle his own tension.

Harrison: That was not my intent…I am sorry.

Harrison took another moment to recall what Captain Frost had said to him about the UNSC tearing itself apart under the tensions that would be created by The Trust. Harrison hated to admit it, but in his desperation to find some way to strike at The Trust, when he had nothing to go on, he realized that more and more, Captain Frost had a point.

Harrison: Upon reflection…I think I have made a terrible mistake.

Jacob: Sir?

Harrison: About ONI…

Harrison paused.

Harrison: Captain Frost was right. As much as I hate to admit it, I think she was right, if only about ONE thing…

Jacob: Right about what?

Harrison paused again as he gathered his thoughts.

Harrison: She warned me that this would happen. She warned me that without ONI to provide strategic intelligence, that we would fall apart, and, look what is happening. We cannot agree on anything, we are butting heads, and we are spinning our tires in the mud.

Harrison scoffed.

Harrison: The Trust is out there, getting ready to kill everything in sight…and we are up here…arguing…

Jacob: Sir…ONI turned on us.

Harrison: No, they didn’t turn on us. In fact, I am starting to think that Cochraine called it right; ONI simply took action. For all we know…ONI could be closing in on Vanguard…while we are stuck up here, doing nothing.

Jacob: Sir? What are you saying?

Harrison: I am saying that a house cannot stand on shifting sands. ONI may have very reprehensible methods, but, they had an important role to play in our efforts…and I alienated them. I lost sight of that fact because I allowed my personal feelings to get in the way. I put us into a terrible position because I was unable to reconcile ONI’s methods with my own.

Harrison turned away.

Harrison: As a result…we are now in a situation where our enemies are in striking position, while we are divided, ready to collapse at the slightest gust. I need to fix this…

Harrison began to pace on the bridge.

Snyder: Fix what? Sir…look what ONI did to my team! They do not deserve to have our reverence! As far as I am concerned, the only role they played was that of the turn coat!

Harrison returned back to face Snyder.

Harrison: I know…but…they did what they did to your team because I forced them to do it. I forced ONI into the corner, and I forced them to act in desperation. This was my mistake, and if I don’t recognize it, and correct it, we are all going to pay for it!

Harrison paused. He was going to speak again, but before he could, the sensor officer spoke up.

Sensor Officer: Whoa! Sir…look at this!

Harrison turned and looked at the large display on the wall.

Sensor Officer: That base just blue shifted! That entire area just lit up like a Christmas Tree!

Harrison saw that the facility that was totally silent and invisible to sensors only a moment ago, now had a power signature that was off the scale.

Sensor Officer: Sir…the power signature I am getting from that facility is off the charts! I have never seen anything that…noisy…

Harrison: How high is it clocking?

Sensor Officer: Sir…the power output from that facility has just exceeded the total power output from the entire Covenant fleet. I am showing blackouts across the planet. Something is drawing immense levels of power from the entire planetary grid.

Harrison: What the hell?

Sensor Officer: That’s not all. Sir…The Covenant ships have stopped moving. They have halted their advance. They seem to have detected it as well, but, I am not too surprised.

Harrison: What is going on down there?

Sensor Officer: I have no clue…but…whatever it is…it is massive.

Harrison looked at Jacob.

Harrison: Jacob…get Suicide and Omega prepped for deployment! We no longer have a choice, and this is no longer a debate. We need to find out what the hell is going on at that unknown facility.

Jacob: Yes sir!

Harrison looked at Snyder.

Harrison: Snyder…join up with Omega.

Snyder: Aye sir.

With that, Jacob and Snyder walked off the bridge.

Cochraine: Fireteam Harmony should be here any moment now. We can get them to join up with your forces, and we can coordinate a joint-effort.

Harrison looked at Cochraine and nodded.

Harrison: I want you to see to it personally. Lieutenant…I want you to assume field command of Harmony for the duration of this mission.

Cochraine nodded, as she turned and ran off the bridge. Reynolds, on the other hand, looked at Harrison.

Reynolds: I assume WE will be engaging the Covenant fleet?

Harrison: You assume correctly.

Reynolds: I still think it is suicidal to do so, given the circumstances. However, in the interest of cooperation, I will go along with your strategy.

Harrison: As you are expected to.

Reynolds: However, I do ask that you remain objective in your command. There is a lot that can happen during a battle, and a lot that can change the outcome, or even the need to fight the battle. All I ask is that you keep that in mind.

Harrison: I always have that in mind, Captain Reynolds.

Reynolds: Well then, I look forward to meeting you on the field of battle. Best of luck, Admiral.

With that, Reynolds turned, and walked off the bridge of the Vigorous Inferno, leaving Harrison to his deck.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Complex - 2030 Hours - February 1st 2540

Spender, Kolya, and The Consultant stormed through the corridors of the Forerunner facility that was buried underneath Firebase Mediterranean. The recent activity that had blue-shifted the power levels in the facility had caught Spender’s full attention, and he was very intent on finding out exactly what the hell had happened.

As Spender walked into a large antechamber, he dropped his nearly exhausted cigarette on the ground, as he made a B-line for a large door on the far side of the room. Spender could see ODST Black Team and Nova Team, by the door, with Black 2 kneeling down next to a holographic wall terminal, with a tablet in his hands.

Spender: What the hell is going on down here! I was just informed that our power signature blue shifted, and we are now visible to sensors!

Black 2: I am trying to figure that out, sir! As you know, we have been unable to get this door to budge ever since we put Vanguard in the central chamber. We knew it was doing something, but, up until this point, we have been unable to open this door. To the point…I have no idea what is going on in there, and I cannot get the door open.

The Consultant looked at Black 2 for a moment, before looking back at the tablet she had in her hand. After a moment, she chimed in.

The Consultant: I too have been trying to figure out how to open this door. I have yet to come up with anything to actually get it open. Frankly, I do not think we can. However, I may have a way to get us passed the door, but, it is still an idea that is very much a work in progress.

Kolya: I think I may know a way to get this door open that is not a work in progress.

Everyone looked at Kolya, as if waiting for him to enlighten them.

Kolya: It is long past time we call a demo team down here to remove this door.

Spender raised an eyebrow at Kolya, as he began to light up another cigarette.

Spender: I believe Kolya has the right idea. I am no longer interested in being locked out of Vanguard’s chamber. I want this door removed…now!

Kolya nodded, as he looked at Black 4.

Kolya: Black 4…rig this door to blow!

Black 4 looked at Kolya, and nodded.

Black 4: Aye sir!

Black 4 then looked at several Trust Marines who were standing off to the side. He pointed at them.

Black 4: You two…I want M168 demo charges on the door, rigged in a diamond pattern, spaced out for optimal dispersion.

The two marines nodded, as they turned and walked towards a nearby supply crate. Each marine grabbed a single demo charge and began to walk towards the large door. However, before the Marines could even begin to place the demo charges on the door, the air seal on the large door broke, and the door began to open.

As the large door to the central chamber opened, Black 4 raised a hand, as if telling the marines to stop.

Black 4: Hold your positions!

Once the large door had finished opening, Black Team drew their weapons, and began to move forward. As Black Team looked passed the door, they could see that the entire area behind the door was pitch black. However, the corridor was quickly illuminated by a very ominous red light coming from the far end of the corridor, no doubt coming from the central chamber.

The Consultant: I think Vanguard is awake…

Spender: Awake is not the word I would use.

Spender took a drag of his cigarette, before stepping forward, and walking through the large door.

The Consultant: Sir? Where are you going?

Spender: To find out what all the fuss is about. I need to see this thing first hand. After all the deception, and planning, and research…I am just a little curious…

With that, Spender turned and began to walk down the dark corridor, with his only guide being the red light at the far end. ODST Black Team watched as Spender moved forward. Without skipping a beat, they followed behind Spender, all while enabling the flashlights on their weapons to help light the way. The Consultant looked at Kolya, who began to follow behind Black Team. She then looked at Nova Team and nodded, as Nova Team and The Consultant began to walk behind Kolya.

After a few moments, the group came to a stop, as Black Team directed their flashlights at the source of the red light. As each member of ODST Black Team aimed their weapons at to direct their flashlights, they revealed Vanguard, in his entirety, seemingly docked in some kind of apparatus, confined by what seemed to be some kind of energy field. As Vangaurd sat motionless, smaller constructs were hovering around Vanguard, firing low intensity beams at Vanguard’s chassis, knitting what seemed to be an additional layer of armor around the construct from what seem like thin air.

The Consultant: Tell me you are all seeing this…

Black 4: Little robots shooting lasers at the big robot and building armor out of thin air. Yeah, we see it…clear as fucking day…

The Consultant: Incredible!

Spender scoffed.

Spender: So THIS is what it was all about. Vanguard is smaller than I expected. I was expecting something…bigger.

Kolya: Smaller? That is a lot smaller. That is…what? 6 feet in diameter? How the hell is this thing supposed to defeat The Covenant? I think we have been duped.

The Consultant looked at her tablet, and shook her heads.

The Consultant: No…there is no duping here, Kolya. The power readings I am getting from this thing are…unlike ANYHTING I have ever seen. This thing is VERY active…and if these power levels are any indication of the kind of firepower it can muster, then we have just hit the jackpot.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: I am detecting neural activity from this thing. This thing is alive…

Spender: Alive?

The Consultant: Yes…very alive! It is as alive as anyone else in this room.

The Consultant had a concerned look on her face as she continued to shift through her readings.

The Consultant: Sir…I am not sure what I am looking at, but this is far beyond anything I have ever imagined. I am detecting what appears to be some sort of power supply with an unknown source of energy as the catalyst. My best guess is that it is some sort of dark matter, possibly vacuum energy. I have no idea, as this is all hypothetical and not grounded in anything that any Human would know. I am also detecting some sort of redundant power supply which does not appear to be doing anything.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: If I am reading this right, this thing could, potentially, have unlimited power. There may be no upper limit to the power output on this thing.

Spender raised an eyebrow, before stepping back.

Spender: Everyone step back. Get away from it.

The Consultant: Sir…stepping back is not going to do anything. With the sheer amount of power that this thing can seemingly channel, this thing could potentially kill everything on this planet in a matter of minutes, and not even flinch. This thing wasn’t kidding; it is a weapon…and a very destructive one at that.

The Consultant looked at Vanguard for a moment. She could see that The Construct was perfectly motionless and totally unfazed, or totally disinterested in what was going on in front of it.

Kolya: I am not 100% convinced. I mean…if this thing is such a devastating weapon…why is it just sitting here…doing nothing?

The Consultant: I don’t think it is doing nothing. This thing knows we are here. It can hear us, it is watching us, it is observing us, and it is listening to us…but…it simply doesn’t care. I am curious as to why.

Spender: Well…we better figure it out soon. The latest intelligence reports suggests that The Covenant has dispatched several ships to our location. If Vanguard doesn’t start moving, we are not going to live long enough to find out exactly how powerful it is.

Kolya: Yeah, but those ships also stopped when they no doubt detected the power surge.

Spender: It will not stay that way for long. Sooner or later, The Covenant is going to begin firing on this location.

The Consultant: Actually…I doubt that they will fire on this facility. If The Covenant has discovered that we are hiding technology they perceive to be “holy” they will not endanger it with weapons fire.

Anubis looked at The Consultant, as he voiced a question.,

Anubis: Wait…if that is true…why did that Elite and that Brute want to destroy Vanguard? Doesn’t all this stuff come from the same place?

The Consultant: Yes it does. Frankly…I cannot say why the Zealot and the Chieftain wanted to destroy Vanguard. Now that I think about it, a lot of facts are not adding up. The only explanation is that we are missing information. Based on what I could fathom, they may have had prior experience with it that we do not know about. We could be missing a part of the whole story.

Just as The Consultant said this, Vanguard began to speak. The sheer volume and base of Vanguard’s voice caused all of the Trust personal to recoil away from the construct.

Vanguard: You…are correct…Reclaimer…

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: The “Zealot” you speak of has had prior contact with me. He was in the company of the one who destroyed me. The “Zealot”…as you call him, was once blinded by ignorance of what I was. I was perceived to be a God, and that “Zealot” was the instrument of my initial return!

Vanguard paused.

Vanguard: The “Zealot” presumes to understand my nature…but his knowledge of what I am is comparable to your knowledge of the universe which you are a woefully small and insignificant part of.

Vanguard paused, as he began to levitate into the air, undocking from the apparatus he had been residing in.

Vanguard: His death will be the first of countless many more. My revenge for his hubris will be swift.

The Consultant: Who destroyed you?

Vanguard did not answer.

The Consultant: I need to know!

Vanguard turned and glared at The Consultant.

Vanguard: You wish to know? Very well…Reclaimer…

The Consultant raised an eyebrow. She was curious as to why Vanguard referred to her as “Reclaimer” but, that was a question for another time. However, The Consultant did not get much time to ponder the question before she noticed that two holograms had materialized in the room. However, unlike standard UNSC holograms, the holograms created by Vanguard were eerily realistic, to the point of being life like and solid.

Vanguard: Behold…my final moments at Construct Assembly Line Security Bravo…

The Consultant could see a holographic recreation of a severely crippled Vanguard. Upon her initial inspection, she could see that Vanguard’s chassis had been severely damaged, and there was serious signs of wear and tear.

Vanguard: This battle took place at my weakest hour, only being active for a short time after countless centuries in stasis…disrepair. Having been unable to access The Forge at Construct Assembly Line Security Bravo to more fully repair myself, I was bested in combat by the Champion of the Beasts…the savage creature that somehow endured long enough to defeat me. It was…perplexing.

The Consultant turned and looked at the holographic recreation of the Brute, who was wielding a Gravity Hammer. The pose indicated that the Brute was in the middle of charging the weakened Vanguard.

Vanguard: Considerable time has been exhausted trying to discover how this…animal proved to be so worthy of an adversary. Consensus has never been reached, but, analysis has been thorough. I must do battle with The Beast to fully understand what makes it so…unique…what made it so capable of an impossible feat.

The Consultant began to walk circles around the holographic Brute…examining it from every angle, head to toe.

Spender: This is all very fascinating, but, I fail to see how this helps us in any way. Frankly…I do not care who defeated Vanguard the first time, as long as it does not happen the second time.

The Consultant: Sir…you should care…

Spender: Why?

The Consultant: Because…this Brute is here. I have seen him before, and I think Vanguard knows this as well.

Kolya stepped forward and examined the holographic Brute.

Kolya: Is this the Chieftain that was with the Zealot on The Ulterior Motive?

The Consultant: No.

Black 3: Honestly? How can you tell? All Brutes look the same to me.

The Consultant: Ignoring the flagrant ignorance of that comment, Black 3, there is one very important distinguishing feature on our hologram.

Black 3: Care to point it out, because, I don’t see it.

The Consultant sighed.

The Consultant: The Chieftain on The Ulterior Motive was right handed.

Kolya: Are you honestly telling me that you noticed that?

The Consultant: I notice everything…Mr. Kolya…

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: That being said…our holographic Brute is left-handed. You can tell because his left hand, his dominant hand, is higher up on the shaft of the Gravity Hammer.

The Consultant paused, as she looked down at her tablet. He hands began to swipe across the screen, as if she was looking for something.

The Consultant: I have seen this only once before.

The Consultant spend a few moments swiping through the data on her tablet, before she stopped, and grinned.

The Consultant: Here it is…

The Consultant took a few steps towards Spender, and handed him the tablet. She then pointed at the hologram, as Spender looked at the Tablet, and saw several full body shots of Anaconda taken by recon teams during engagements.

The Consultant: I think our hologram is Anaconda.

Spender looked up at the hologram, and raised an eyebrow.

Spender: I need more than left or right handed-ness and a pose to convince me.

The Consultant: Well, take a look at the physical attributes. Physical stature seems consistent with intelligence reports, facial hair has consistent coloring, and the combat stance…

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Coincidence? I think not…

Spender was silent for a moment, as he looked back and forth at the tablet and the hologram.

Spender: Upon further consideration…you may be right. Very fascinating, if true.

Spender looked at The Consultant and handed her back the tablet.

Spender: However, this is an unacceptable development. We cannot allow The Brute to get close to Vanguard…no matter who he is.

Spender paused.

Spender: I want one thing clear; if Anaconda is spotted…he is to be killed. Consider him a priority one target. He does NOT get close to Vanguard!

Vanguard interjected.

Vanguard: That will not be necessary. I do not require your limited services to protect me. The Beast is free to confront me. His death is all but certain. You will allow the animal to have unfettered access to me, so I may personally destroy it!

The Consultant looked at Vanguard and raised an eyebrow.

The Consultant: Why? Why would you engage Anaconda in battle? Do you honestly believe that it is going to come to that? Is that not a waste of time?

Vanguard quickly turned and glared at The Consultant.

The Consultant: I mean…do you really have to? Why not let The Trust deal with Anaconda?

Vanguard: The Beast is to only be destroyed by me! Any other means of destruction is unacceptable!

The Consultant: That sounds surprisingly…petty…very vindictive. I didn’t think you would stoop to revenge. One would think such a failing is beneath you. After all…you define yourself as being infinite and powerful. Why does ONE Brute warrant so much personal attention?

Vanguard’s eye began to flare up, as it was quickly becoming annoyed by The Consultant’s questioning.

Vanguard: The Beast is MINE to destroy…and I will destroy any insect that presumes to stand between me and the creature! I will not be denied this opportunity!

The Consultant: Again, I ask…why is killing Anaconda so important to you!?

Vanguard’s eye flared up even more, as it glared at The Consultant.

Vanguard: The Beast is mine to destroy!

The Consultant: WHY!?

Vanguard: Because I demand it! The Beast must pay for what he had done to me! I will not allow that Beast to exist a moment longer, knowing that it had bested me in battle! The Beast will die, and I will be the last thing that its pathetic eyes will see! Anything that presumes to get in my way will be destroyed without consideration! I want to destroy that Beast!

Vanguard paused for a moment; its attention shifting almost instantly. The rapid change in its demeanor caught everyone off guard.

Vanguard: I am detecting vessels converging on this facility! They presume to destroy me! That…is a fool’s gambit. A demonstration of my power is now required!

With that, Vanguard was enveloped by a bright light, before teleporting away. When Spender saw this, he was taken aback.

Spender: What the hell was that!? What just happened!? Where did Vanguard go!? What was it talking about!? Someone start explaining!

The Consultant: I believe that was the teleportation grid in action. Fascinating, if I say so myself.

Spender looked at The Consultant with a look of utter confusion on his face.

Spender: Excuse me? Did you say teleportation grid?

The Consultant nodded.

Spender: Teleportation?

The Consultant: Yes. This facility seems to have a teleportation grid that can move anyone and anything to anywhere on or near the planet. I only recently discovered its existence…only after Vanguard was finally brought here and the facility was brought to life. Frankly, it is not REALLY teleportation, per say. The more accurate description would be a very precise, and short range, slip space shift.

Yates: That sounds exceedingly dangerous.

The Consultant: I guess it does.

Spender: Is this something that we could take advantage of in some way?

The Consultant: Of course. The first thing that came to mind was retaking The Ulterior Motive. However, it would also be possible to put our soldiers anywhere…with the right set of coordinates, of course. Vanguard has really made no effort to lockdown low security systems, such as the teleportation grid. We do have access to it.

Kolya interjected.

Kolya: Could this be used to return us to the Ulterior Motive?

The Consultant: Yes. I could move a very large number of our forces back to The Ulterior Motive; placing them all in strategic positions, with the sole intent being to recapture the ship.

Kolya: This is something that would be invaluable! Are there any risks?

The Consultant: Not that I am aware of. I ran a few tests in the lab located in Sector 3, and the results seem promising. I don’t fully understand the exact details of how the technology functions, but, I understand how to use it. What can I say? I am a quick study.

Kolya looked at Spender.

Kolya: Sir…I could lead a team to retake The Ulterior Motive.

Spender: Kolya…you took the words right out of my mouth. Reclaiming The Ulterior Motive from the UNSC would be highly advantageous, and strategically smart. Organize our best forces and work with The Consultant. Provide whatever she needs to the best of your ability. When she is ready, you have my authorization to proceed.

Kolya: Understood sir!

Spender looked at The Consultant after he finished speaking with Kolya.

Spender: I want you to get out forces aboard The Ulterior Motive ASAP! We are going to require the resources of our vessel if things go south.

The Consultant: Yes sir. I will see to it immediately. That being said, anyone who will be going to The Ulterior Motive should rally and meet me at Sector 3 of this facility. Sector 3 is where I have put the science division to work on cataloging everything that we have found…including the teleportation grid.

With that, Spender simply nodded, and proceeded to walk off. Once Spender was gone, Kolya looked at Black Team and Nova Team.

Kolya: Black Team, Nova Team…you will be joining me on The Ulterior Motive. I am going to need your respective talents to retake the ship.

All four members of Black Team and Nova Team nodded.

Black 1: Aye sir!

Anubis: Acknowledged.

Kolya: Black 1…I want you to make contact with The Risk Takers and Hammer Team as well. I want them to remain here, at the facility, and intercept Nighthawk and Anaconda. Killing The Brute is priority number one! I don’t care what Vanguard says…I am not going to let Vanguard’s “pride” stand in the way of victory.

When The Consultant heard this, a worried look shot across her face. The Consultant was forced to interject when she heard this.

The Consultant: Wait a minute! Is it wise to sideline two Spartan Teams on defense? Would they not be better utilized in retaking the ship?

Kolya laughed when he heard this.

Kolya: In theory, yes. However, Spender was quite clear; he wants Anaconda dead. We cannot take any chances with Anaconda. If it is true that Anaconda has defeated Vanguard once before, we need to do everything in our power to ensure that does not happen again.

The Consultant: I agree. However, it is equally important that we secure The Ulterior Motive. Nova Team should remain here, with me, to protect Vanguard. The rest of you should retake The Ulterior Motive.

Kolya: Can Nova Team handle Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Anubis: Absolutely!

Kolya: Very well. Nova Team…you will stay here and keep this facility secured, while Black Team, The Risk Takers, and Hammer Team, along with a tactical team, take back The Ulterior Motive.

The Consultant nodded as Kolya turned to walk away, with Black Team in tow. Once Kolya and Black Team had walked off, The Consultant looked at Nova Team.

The Consultant: I get the feeling that the four of you know that I am not happy with the current situation.

Anubis: We got the impression. We noticed a shift in your demeanor when Spender ordered Anaconda to be a primary contact.

Anubis paused.

Anubis: I take it you still have an interest in Anaconda?

The Consultant: Of course! I have not given up hope. I want to try and reach out to him one more time. I have to try.

Anubis: He was not very responsive last time. What makes you think his tone will change?

The Consultant: I have come to have a better understanding of Anaconda in the past few minutes…and I now know how to speak to him. I now know what he wants…what he is after. More importantly…I know what I am after. I now know what needs to be done.

Anubis: What would that be?

The Consultant: Vanguard…we need to help him stop Vanguard.

Each member of Nova Team was taken aback by what The Consultant had just said.

Osiris: Wait…what? Ma’am? What are you talking about?

The Consultant: I am talking about survival, Osiris. You all heard the readout I gave on Vanguard. You all saw what just happened. If there was EVER a quintessential definition of the phrase “rampant AI”, it would be Vanguard. We have to kill Vanguard. As much as it pains me to say this, I feel that we have gravely underestimated this AI. This thing IS far more dangerous than we have ever given it credit for! I never knew how powerful AND deranged it was until now. I think we have made a mistake by reviving it…by helping it. We cannot control Vanguard in its present form…and we need to find a way to undo our mistake. There are things about Vanguard that are becoming more and more apparent, and I am not liking what I am seeing. Something must be done to undo our mistake!

Osiris: Does Nighthawk and Anaconda even stand a chance?

The Consultant: I don’t know. All I do know is that something as powerful as Vanguard has no reason to honor any agreement that it made with us. I doubt this thing gives a shit about Humanity or The Trust. We cannot believe that this thing is going to do as we ask, given how advanced it is. The more I see of it, and the more I see of the technology around us, the more I doubt our control over this AI. I doubt the rest of the senior brass understands this, but I am hoping that the four of you do understand this. I am hoping I can count on your support in this matter.

Anubis: Ma’am…our loyalty is to you, above all else. If you need us to do battle with Vanguard, you can be assured that we will do so. If you need us to help Nighthawk and Anaconda, just give us the word. We are behind you, no matter what.

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: My precious Nova Team…loyal to the end. I admire your loyalty.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: If we are going to take Vanguard down…we must be smart about this. We need to ensure that the senior brass is no longer on site to witness our “betrayal”. We need to convince Spender, Yates, and anyone else with any degree of seniority, to return to the Ulterior Motive once it has been secured. Only then can we act. The Trust does not take kindly to this kind of subterfuge.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Besides…there is no way in hell that I am going to allow that AI to kill Anaconda. I must not allow it to happen. I know what is on the line, but, I also know what I stand to lose. I will not let Anaconda die at the hands of this machine. He is far too valuable to me. I have to know what makes him tick. I have to know what motivates him, and if Anaconda dies…I will never know what motivates him…and that is simply unacceptable.

Anubis: Well, whatever happens, we are behind you 100% Just give us the word, and we will be ready to act.

The Consultant sighed.

The Consultant: Thank you…all of you. Now, we should get to Sector 3. The faster we get the senior brass off this base, the better. I feel that our time is dangerously finite.

Nova Team nodded, as The Consultant took point, and began to walk away from the antechamber. Nova Team followed in tow, as The Consultant lead the group up to Sector 3 to rendezvous with the other senior brass of the Trust. Once The Consultant and Nova Team arrived, they were greeted by Yates, who was in the company of Hammer Team, The Risk Takers, Black Team, Spender, Novak and Kolya.

Yates: Nice of you to show up.

The Consultant: I show up when I intend to.

Yates: Well, you may want to get up to speed. We just had a major development…

Spender looked backed at The Consultant.

Spender: Vanguard is about to engage several Covenant ships in battle. We are not sure exactly what is happening, but, there seems to be some kind of construct assembling itself outside the facility…and it is happening at an incredible rate. Whatever it is, the configuration of that construct seems to be consistent with that of some type of cannon or artillery weapon. The Covenant ships have halted their advance, and they began charging their weapons, and locking them on that construct. Conversely…the energy signature of that construct is off the charts.

The Consultant: This…is going to be fascinating. Can Vanguard’s construct make quick work of a Covenant fleet, or, has Vanguard once again overestimated its superiority.

Spender looked at a series of large screens that were mounted on the wall, each of which showed a different view of Vanguard, whether it be the view from an unmanned UAV, or a low altitude surveillance drone.

Spender: We are about to find out.

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San Angeles – ELO Near Firebase Mediterranean – Covenant Corvette Divine Intervention- Main Bridge - 2050 Hours - February 1st 2540

Xyrho was on the bridge of his Corvette. The alarms on the bridge were blaring, indicating that the ship was at full tactical alert. Xyrho was pacing back and forth on the bridge, as he anxiously waited to engage Vanguard in battle. However, much to his dismay, he would first have to move through the massive turret that Vanguard had thrown into his line of sight.

Xyrho: Sensor analysis of that construct!?

Sensor Officer: Sensors show what is consistent with a high-density particle cannon. The total output of the weapon is…immense. I am reading active shields, and a build-up of energy.

Xyrho stopped in his tracks, as he gave a visual analysis of the Forerunner particle cannon that was hovering above Firebase Mediterranean. The cannon itself was enormous in size, approximatly the same size as Xyrho's Corvette.

Xyrho: What is our current weapon status!?

The Elite at the weapon’s control station spoke up.

Tactical Officer: Our weapons are at full power! We are ready to fire! Jiralhanae vessels report full combat readiness. They await your order to engage!

Xyrho simply nodded. However, before he could issue the order to engage Vanguard’s particle cannon, Xyrho saw a massive scanning beam sweep across the three Covenant ships. Xyrho quickly realized that Vanguard’s particle cannon was now scanning all three Covenant ships. Xyrho knew from experience that Vanguard was preparing itself for battle, and that the preliminary scan was the first step in that preparation.

Xyrho: The weapon is preparing to attack! We must strike now before it has a chance to fire on us!

Xyrho stepped forward to the front of the bridge, as he placed his hand on a communication terminal that was mounted on a pedestal. Once he did this, it automatically opened a communication channel to the two Jiralhanae-controlled Covenant vessels that were in his wing.

Xyrho: Jiralhanae vessels…this is Shipmaster Xyrho. Open fire on the weapon that is directly ahead! Destroy that abomination! Do not relent…use all necessary force to destroy that construct!

The moment that Xyrho gave the order, the two Jiralhanae ships began to fire their weapons, unleashing a full barrage from the pulse laser turrets, sending dozens of individual beams at the large particle cannon, with each beam managing to hit the target with 100% accuracy. However, once the smoke had cleared, it became very apparent that the particle cannon was undamaged by the firepower that was unleashed

Xyrho had a shocked look on his face, as he realized that the particle cannon had managed to absorb every watt of energy that was unleashed on it.

Xyrho: The construct was undamaged by our weapons…they had no effect…why? Why did our weapons have no effect?

Before Xyrho could even begin to make sense of what he saw, the particle cannon retaliated with a ruthless vengeance. In but a moment, the large weapon fired back at one of the Jiralhanae cruisers; the powerful particle beam passing right through the shields as if they were not even there, and cutting right through the hull, down the spine of the vessel like a hot knife through butter. Xyrho watched as the CCS Cruiser on his starboard side was impaled by the Forerunner particle cannon. Xyrho watched as the cruiser lost power, and began to quickly lose altitude. As the vessel went down, noes first, the particle cannon fired several more times, blasting several holes right through the body of the ship, as if to add insult to injury.

Xyrho watched each point of impact, and realized that the particle cannon was targeting and hitting very specific sections of the ship.

Xyrho: That particle cannon is targeting the main reactors of the fallen cruiser! Move us away! Break us off!

As Xyrho’s vessel broke away from the battle, the other Jiralhanae cruiser pressed forward, and continued to fire. This time, however, the full arsenal of the cruiser was unleashed on the particle cannon. Once again, a massive smoke cloud erupted as the weapons from the CCS Cruiser impacted the particle cannon, obscuring the construct behind a smoky veil.

Sensor Officer: Shipmaster! The other Brute ship is moving forward against the Constructs!

Xyrho: Order them to fall back!

The sensor officer gave a snide look at Xyrho, and shrugged.

Sensor Officer: Why? I would much rather see those savages burn.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: Order…them…BACK!

However, before the order could be carried out, the Brute ship was impacted by the particle cannons’ energy projector, and in the same fashion as before, the ship was impaled right down the spine of the vessel. Like before, the cruiser began to crash downwards towards the planet, noes first, while the particle cannon strategically fired its energy projector at the second cruiser.

With both cruisers down, Xyrho’s vessel was left alone with the particle cannon. As the smoke cleared once more, Xyrho knew that his vessel was the next target. Xyrho knew that at any moment, his ship would be struck down in the same way that the two other cruisers were. However, Xyrho was not going to make it easy for the particle cannon to destroy his ship.

Xyrho: Helm…power up the engines to max, and return us to orbit! Get us back to…

Before Xyrho could finish his sentence, his ship was hit by a directed energy blast from the particle cannon. Xyrho’s ship violently rocked, as Xyrho was knocked off his feet, and his ship began to spiral out of control. Xyrho struggled to climb back to his feet and get his bearings, as the alarms on his ship blared in his ears.

Before Xyrho could issue another order, his ship was blasted once more by the particle cannon; the beam impaling the ship and carving it up like a roast. Xyrho watched as the lights on his ship died, and every single one of the ship’s systems began to fail, one after the other.

Xyrho began to cough as smoke began to fill the bridge. Amongst all the chaos, Xyrho struggled to find some way to brace for the inevitable crash landing of his ship. However, he found that there was very little he could do, but hope to survive the very ungraceful landing.

The ship violently shook once more as the particle cannon fired fired once more. However, only this time, Vanguard’s energy beam was targeting the bridge. Xyrho had to stumble out of the way of the large energy beam as it sliced right through the deck plating of the bridge. As the beam sliced across the bridge, Xyrho watched in horror as he came to a terrifying realization.

Xyrho: The only way the Construct would be capable of this level of destruction would be if it had access to the Forge…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Vanguard has fully repaired itself…

As Xyrho came to this realization, his ship drew closer and closer to the ground. He could see out the large window at the front of the bridge that he was only moments from impacting the ground. As Xyrho looked around what was left of his bridge, he saw that all of the bridge crew were already dead, and that he was the last one standing. The sight of his dead compatriots filled Xyrho with a very strong sense of lament. He knew that he had failed to stop Vanguard, and that his crew and the lives of the Brutes on the two CCS Cruisers were but the first casualties to result from that failure.

Xyrho growled under his breath, as his ship neared its impact zone. Xyrho simply waited, and braced for the inevitable impact. He knew his odds of survival were slim, but, he also knew that if he did not survive, he could die knowing that it was in battle.

As soon as Xyrho’s ship had hit the ground, Xyrho was violently tossed forward across his bridge, his body slamming into one of the forward bridge stations. Xyrho was only aware of the first few moments of the crash, as the force of impact had knocked him unconscious. As the Corvette slid across the face of the planet, it left nothing but a trail of debris and destruction in its wake. However, in what was only a few short moments, Xyrho’s ship finally came to a halt, the broken hull of his ship now nothing more but a monument to his failure to stop Vanguard.

As Xyrho’s Corvette’s lay broken on the surface of San Angeles, the particle cannon simply powered down, as if it began some sort of hibernation while it waited for its next target to approach.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 3 - 2100 Hours - February 1st 2540

The high ranking brass of The Trust all had their eyes glued to the large screens that were mounted on the wall, as they were all dumbstruck by what had just happened to the three Covenant ships at the hands of Vanguard.

Spender: Well…that was…unexpected. Welcome, but unexpected.

Spender turned to look at The Consultant.

Spender: Where did that cannon come from, and how the hell did it take down three entire Covenant ships with so little effort?

The Consultant was uncertain, however, it did not stop her from speculating.

The Consultant: If I had to make a supposition, I would surmise that Vanguard was, at some point, a planetary defense platform; an AI tailored to defend entire worlds. From what? I have no clue. It seems that Vanguard is able to use the “Forge” to create or manifest exactly what it needs to defend itself. That being said, I would image that Vanguard is capable of a very sophisticated level of threat analysis. Even ignoring the fact that the technology that composes Vanguard is any number of thousands of years more advanced than anything The Covenant has, Vanguard may be able to examine the critical flaws of technology better than we can even begin to fathom. This thing’s existence is based around technology, and as such, it stands to reason that technology is what it knows best. Point and case, we detected a massive directed energy scan from that connon right before it brought those ships down and we all saw the amount of energy it could put into the directed energy blasts it produces. This thing was created to take down ships…even fleets.

Yates interjected.

Yates: Alright, so then how the hell did it survive that onslaught from those Covenant ships? That cannon didn’t even flinch.

The Consultant: I have no idea. I do not have these answers. I don’t know what makes Vanguard tick, let alone the weapons that it seems capable of producing! I only know a little bit more than anyone else here does. I am not an expert on Vanguard, and I can only speculate on its true purpose and operation.

The Consultant shrugged.

The Consultant: We don’t know what we are dealing with, not entirely. We need to know before this goes any further with this thing.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: We have EVERYTHING we have ever wanted! We have a way to beat The Covenant. We have a source of technology that is beyond anything we could ever dream of. We have a weapon of unimaginable destruction…and it scares the living hell out of me…and it should scare the living hell out of the rest of you as well!

Spender shrugged.

Spender: Frankly, it doesn’t. I know damn well what I was after the second I authorized this entire operation. I wanted a weapon of unimaginable power…and now we have it.

Spender paused, as he glared at The Consultant.

Spender: If it will ease your mind, Madam Consultant, then by all means...find out what makes Vanguard tick. However, be warned of one thing; do not allow your fear to compromise your view of the bigger picture. The survival of Humanity is at stake. I would hate for a mistake on your part to put Humanity in danger. We are losing our war with The Covenant. Humanity does not need another loss on the scoreboard.

The Consultant raised an eyebrow at Spender.

The Consultant: Of course, sir!

Spender: Good. Now, we have a ship to retake, and you have to get us there. I assume you have access to the same teleportation grid that Vanguard is using?

The Consultant nodded.

Spender: Good. Our teams are already organized, and we are now waiting on you to do whatever it is you have to do to get us back to The Ulterior Motive without detection. So, if you don’t mind…

The Consultant: Yes sir…

The Consultant nodded, and looked down at the tablet that she still had in her hand. She began to input several commands to the tablet before speaking up.

The Consultant: Alright…I think we are just about good to go.

Black 1: I am curious as to how you are going to make this work. I mean…do you know exactly what you are doing?

The Consultant: I have a very general understanding. Given the limited amount of time I have had to actually examine this function, I would say I have more than outdone myself. However, given the fact that we have serious time constraints, I opted to allow Renegade to operate the teleportation grid.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: I anticipated that once we abandoned the Ulterior Motive, we would need the services of our AI. It took a bit of effort once we got here, but I have managed to establish a network connection with The Ulterior Motive, which in turn allows Renegade to assist us from his datacenter on The Ulterior Motive.

The Consultant showed her tablet to Black 1. The Tablet had Renegades avatar on the screen.

The Consultant: Renegade has been quite useful in quickly mastering the use of the teleportation grid. He will be handling

Black 1: Not bad. That is a very good idea, I must admit.

The Consultant: I aim to please.

The Consultant shrugged.

The Consultant: That being said...are the assault teams ready?

Black Team nodded.

Black 1: Black Team is ready.

Liam then interjected.

Liam: My team is ready to move!

Thor: Hammer Team is also prepped for deployment!

Kolya then spoke up.

Kolya: I have 8 large squads, consisting of 9 soldiers each, on standby to supplement our main attack force.

The Consultant looked at Kolya.

The Consultant: Renegade and I can send you all up at the same time. It is not as problem.

Kolya: While it would be ideal to send everyone at the same time, my teams are still getting organized. They will require a bit more time. My Teams are going to be hitting high priority locations including the engineering deck and the armories. They will require more comprehensive briefing and equipment to accomplish their tasks.

The Consultant: So, we are sending up Hammer Team, The Risk Takers, and Black Team alone?

Kolya: I believe they can handle themselves until reinforcements arrive.

Black 2 spoke up.

Black 2: You have that right, sir!

The Consultant sighed.

The Consultant: It is entirely possible that The UNSC has stationed a large presence on The Ulterior Motive in order to secure it from a retaliatory takeover.

Liam interjected.

Liam: Liam Ma’am…with all due respects, there is no number of soldiers the UNSC can put on that ship to stop me and my team. Frankly…we are in the right mindset to clear that entire ship ourselves.

The Consultant: I am not inspired by your blood thirst, Liam.

Liam: I am simply stating a fact Ma’am. The fact is, the UNSC is not going to stand a chance when we storm that ship!

Liam paused.

Liam: Hell…I would settle for The Vigorous Inferno instead of The Ulterior Motive. We could do some serious damage on Harrison’s ship.

The Consultant: Now you just want revenge!

Liam: You’re DAMN RIGHT I want revenge!

The Consultant: Spartan…you were not created to succumb to revenge! You were created for one purpose, and one purpose alone; to kill when ordered to. You are not here to become some rouge operator. You are here to do as you are ordered.

Liam scoffed at The Consultant, as he stepped towards her, and grabbed her by the throat, and lifted her into the air. Liam took several steps, before he slammed The Consultant into the wall, and tightened his grip on her throat, suspending her several feet above the ground.

Liam: Is that so?

When Nova Team saw this, they drew their weapons, and took aim at Liam.

Anubis: Put her down, Spartan! This is your only chance!

As Anubis said this, Osiris began to charge up his Plasma Pistol.

Anubis: Don’t make me give the order to fire!

Liam turned his head to glare at Anubis for a moment, before he turned back to glare at The Consultant.

Liam: We are not weapons! We are not THINGS you can do with as you please!

The Consultant scoffed.

The Consultant: Put me down Spartan…or I will have you shot…

Liam glared at The Consultant, the thought of budging not even crossing his mind. However, Spender, who had been watching the scene unfold, spoke up.

Spender: Liam! Put her down! That is a direct order!

Liam continued to glare at The Consultant, as he spoke to Spender.

Liam: Why?

Spender: Why? Because I am ordering you to, that’s why!

Liam: Sir…let me kill her! She has been nothing but a problem! We both know this! Her secrets…her lies…her behavior! You, yourself know how annoying she is! Sir…give me the order top snap her in half!

Spender: Request denied Spartan! Release her immediately!

Liam was very hesitant to release The Consultant. However, after a few moments, he released his grip, and allowed The Consultant to fall to the ground. As Liam turned and walked away, he gave a very stern warning to The Consultant.

Liam: Next time…Spender won’t be there to save your pathetic life…

As The Consultant tried to climb back to her feet, Anubis approached her, and began to assist her. The Consultant gave a very stern look at Anubis, before turning to glare at Liam.

The Consultant: I will keep that in mind…Spartan…

The Consultant got back to her feet and took a moment to catch her breath before she continued.

The Consultant: I think it might be best if I let Renegade handle things from here. Clearly present company is not thrilled with me being here.

The Consultant knelt down to grab her tablet, then stood back.

The Consultant: Nova Team…you four are with me.

The Consultant turned and left the area, storming away from the senior brass with Nova Team in tow.

Spender: Where are you going?

The Consultant stopped, and turned to face Spender.

The Consultant: To do my job! There is an AI superweapon under this base, and someone has to figure out what makes it tick!

With that, The Consultant turned and walked away, with Nova Team in tow. Spender, on the other hand, simply watched as The Consultant walked away. Once she had vanished from view, Kolya spoke up.

Kolya: I have no idea how much longer she is going to last in this organization. Nobody likes her…

Spender paused.

Spender: I don’t know either. However, she is difficult to replace…her skillset is rare…

Spender paused.

Spender: Show me one person who could replace her…

Yates looked at Spender, and simply grinned.

Yates: Once we get off this rock…I have someone in mind that you may wish to meet.

Spender: Let’s put a pin in that for now, Mr. Yates…

Spender looked at Yates for a moment, before breaking eye contact and calling out to Renegade in order to get the mission to retake The Ulterior Motive underway.

Spender: Renegade…you know what you have to do. We are waiting…

Spender then looked at Black Team, Hammer Team, and The Risk Takers.

Spender: Good luck gentlemen. You may or may not need it.

Thor: We will radio back as soon as things are under control.

Spender: Be sure that you do.

As Spender said this, a bright yellow light enveloped Black Team, Hammer Team, and The Risk Takers. Once the light had dissipated, the three teams had vanished. Spender then waited a few moments, before receiving a transmission over a secured comm line.

Black 1: Black 1 to Spender…believe it or not…this actually worked, for the most part.

Spender: For the most part?

Black 1: Yeah…it was fine…right up until we appeared upside down. The landing could have been better, but, we are back aboard The Ulterior Motive.

Spender: Well, as long as you can stand, that is a minor issue. Get back on your feet, and get to work. We are counting on you to get our ship back under out control!

Black 1: Copy that, we are moving out now. We will maintain comm silence until the ship is secured. Black 1 out.

Once the comm line went dead, Spender turned to Kolya.

Spender: Kolya…be sure that your forces are ready ASAP!

Kolya: I will check on them now!

Kolya nodded, and turned and walked away, leaving Spender, Yates, Novak, and a handful of Trust ODSTs in the Sector 3 CIC.

San Angeles – Low Altitude Approach to Firebase Mediterranean – Nighthawk and Anaconda’s Vulture - 2105 Hours - February 1st 2540

Nighthawk was in the cockpit of the Vulture, manually piloting the Vulture towards Firebase Mediterranean, while Anaconda was in the rear compartment of the Vulture, sitting on one of the seats. Anaconda was hunched forward, and his right leg twisted up and down in an almost nervous anticipation, his large heel making a loud thud against the deck plate with each twitch.

Nighthawk was not ignorant of Anaconda’s nervous twitch. In fact, Nighthawk was all to aware of how nervous Anaconda was. He had to admit, this was the first time he had ever seen his compatriot with a nervous twitch.

Nighthawk: I have never seen you nervous before. I don’t really like it to be honest.

Anaconda stopped his nervous twitch, but did not say anything.

Nighthawk: I have always known you to be the fearless one. I’ll be honest…I have always derived a bit of courage from that. However…knowing that you are anxious…it makes me really uneasy.

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: I want nothing more than to engage this construct in battle. It has to be destroyed. This is not something that should be debated. However…

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I was barely able to beat this thing the first time I fought it. Think back…I got lucky.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: I may not get lucky again. If the construct is to believed…it has spent considerable time find out exactly how I beat it, and how it has to beat me. This construct has spent years preparing for this fight, as if it knew it was going to happen, while I had nearly forgotten what had transpired in our single battle.

Nighthawk: You don’t think we can beat Vanguard. That is what you are saying.

Anaconda grunted, as he stood up, and walked into the cockpit, and sat down in the co-pilot’s seat.

Anaconda: I doubt our chances of victory. All of the bravado aside, our odds are not good. We may not survive this.

Nighthawk: You are right. Our odds are pretty bad. We are up against The Trust AND Vanguard. All of the power is on their side of the field, no question about it. However…I think it is worth mentioning that between the two of us, we have managed to get out of some pretty nasty situations, and we have managed to pull of victories which were otherwise impossible for anyone else. We have both been cornered and outnumbered more times than I can remember. What we are walking into is not very different in many ways.

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: And, to be quite honest, if you can’t beat Vanguard, I doubt there is anyone who can. I mean…I have seen more things in the past 20 years of my life than most people dream about in a lifetime. I have done things and seen things that many people cannot even begin to imagine. I have worked with the best of the best; the finest that Humanity had to offer, and continues to offer. I have done battle with countless non-humans…Elites…Brutes, from the newest of recruits to the most seasoned of veterans. I can say, with absolute certainty, that none of it can compare to what I have seen you to be capable of. I honestly believe that you are the most capable individual I have ever met. I know that if there is ONE person that can best Vanguard in battle, that person is you. You can beat this thing.

Anaconda looked at Nighthawk for a moment before he spoke.

Anaconda: You believe this?

Nighthawk: Excuse me?

Anaconda: The things you say; do you actually believe them?

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: Yeah…of course! I wouldn’t say any of it if I didn’t believe it. You’re damn good at what you do, big guy. You are the toughest son of a gun I have ever had the fortune of meeting. I have always believed that. It is the reason I wouldn’t have anyone else watching my back, and I wouldn’t go into this fight with anyone else. Cliché, I know…but God damn it…it’s true. I don’t want to get overly sentimental, but I have to be honest.

Anaconda snarled, as he quickly began to find a new sense of conviction. Anaconda let out a long growl, as he looked at Nighthawk, and gave a nod.

Anaconda: You know…I REALLY needed to hear that. I have not been told any of what you had just said to me in a very long time. To hear it validates my own own confidence.

Nighthawk: We all need to hear someone else confirm what we think of ourselves every so often. It keeps us self-confident.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Even I need to hear this stuff from time to time.

Anaconda: Well…

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: Thank you…

This caught Nighthawk off guard. It was not often her heard those words.

Nighthawk: Think nothing of it.

Just as Nighthawk said this, HAWK appeared on the dashboard, and interjected.

HAWK: Nighthawk! We may have an issue!

Nighthawk looked at HAWK.

HAWK: There is a problem with the slipspace core.

Nighthawk: What!?

HAWK: There seems to be a disruption in the planetary power grid, and the slipspace core is unable to maintain a consistent charging cycle. I have been unable to correct this issue, and I can no longer provide estimates as to when the slipspace core will be fully charged.

Nighthawk: Can this weapon still be activated as our contingency?

HAWK: Yes, but, there are going to be delays.

Anaconda: What caused this?

HAWK: Something, I don’t know what, drew a massive amount of energy from the power grid. At first, I didn’t see any problem with this, but, as the massive consumption rate continued to occur, entire cities began to go dark, and even Firebase Desert was effected. Whatever is siphoning all this power from the power grid, it is still happening, and it is expanding, and it is growing. As a result, we now have rotating black outs across the planet.

Anaconda: Can you do anything to stop this?

HAWK: I was able to completely cut some cities from the power grid to reduce power consumption, but, the grid is still highly unstable. We are not getting a consistent charge from the main power grid, so, the charging sequence of the slipspace core is going to be disrupted, and even delayed.

Nighthawk: Keep an eye on this, and let me know if anything changes.

Nighthawk sighed.

Nighthawk: What the hell could be siphoning a planet-worth of power?

HAWK: Your guess is as good as mine.

Anaconda: It could be Vanguard. If Vanguard as access to The Forge, then, it will no doubt need massive amounts of power to operate.

Nighthawk: What is the likelihood of that being the case?

Anaconda: I cannot say for certain. I have no reason to suspect that Vanguard already has access to its Forge. However, if it does, then the construct stands to become very powerful!

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda, and let out an uncertain sigh as he turned his attention back towards the front of the Vulture, so he could focus on actually flying the vehicle. However, as he did, he noticed that there was something rather out of place coming up in the distance.

Nighthawk: Hey, check it out…dead ahead. What the hell is that?

Anaconda: It is a crashed ship. It looks like a Covenant ship…

Nighthawk: I am going to get us some altitude in order to get a better view. Hold on…

Nighthawk engaged the thrusters on the Vulture in order to quickly gain the altitude that was needed to identify what he was flying towards. However, as the Vulture flew higher into the air, and as it got closer to Firebase Mediterranean, it became quite clear what the Vulture was flying towards.

Anaconda: That is a CCS Battlecruiser…

Nighthawk: No…that’s two CCS Battlecruisers…

Anaconda: And an SDV Corvette…

Anaconda let out a very low growl.

Anaconda: What happened here?

Nighthawk: I cannot say for certain, but, whatever DID happen…I am pretty sure The Covenant lost. The question is…what was The Covenant doing? Were they fighting?

HAWK Chimed in.

HAWK: Actually…yeah, there was a fight here. Sensors are picking up trace amounts of ionized air particles in this area. Typically, this happens when Covenant pulse lasers are fired in atmosphere. Whatever happened…The Covenant was shooting at something.

Anaconda grunted.

Anaconda: It may have been Vanguard…

Anaconda sighed.

Anaconda: That Corvette may have belonged to Xyrho. Xyrho may have tried to engage Vanguard. He may have tried to destroy the Construct.

HAWK: I don’t see how that could be. There is no way that Vanguard could be powerful enough to bring down THREE Covenant ships!

Nighthawk nodded to HAWK, then looked at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Is that right?

Anaconda: You’re right. Vanguard didn’t bring these ships down…

Anaconda looked forward.

Anaconda: That enormous weapon above Firebase Mediterranean did…

Nighthawk looked forward, and noticed the large construct hovering above Firebase Mediterranean.

Nighthawk: Holy shit. What the hell is that?

Anaconda: I don’t know. I have never seen anything like that before. However, I think it is safe to say, that it is a weapon, and that it can bring down CCS cruisers with relative ease.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Why isn’t that thing shooting us?

Anaconda: Who knows? Frankly…I don’t care, so long as we get on the ground and OUT of the line of fire.

Nighthawk: Agreed!

Nighthawk began the descent for the Vulture, as he began to fly lower, and faster.

Nighthawk: Well…we know that Vanguard can materialize deadly ship-destroying weapons. It stands to reason that it can also create deadly people-destroying weapons as well. If this proves to be the case, we are going to have a hell of a time taking this thing down.

Anaconda: Do you think that is going to be possible, at this point?

Nighthawk: You tell me. You were the one that fought this thing before, not me. That being said, I have not had much of a chance to figure out exactly how we are going to take Vanguard down. I am not sure if HAWK has anything for us, however.

HAWK: I might have something, but, it is a longshot.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I have been analyzing that piece of hardware we took from the Ulterior Motive; the device that Vanguard was using to communicate with, and if my analysis of the device is even remotely accurate, then I believe that it may be possible to engage in some sort of cyberwarfare with the AI. I have been working on a viral payload that has been tailored specially from the design of that hardware, with the sole purpose to assist me in fighting Vanguard and its technology, but, it is still a work in progress and still VERY experimental. I have been testing it against the hardware we took from The Ulterior Motive, and I have seen some promising, though, inconsistent results. I am not sure how much good it would do in the long run, but, in theory, I should be able to do some damage.

Anaconda: What do you think you could do?

HAWK: Conceivably? Anything I needed to do, provided I have enough time to properly calibrate the viral payload. The fact of the matter is, Vanguard is an AI with a physical platform. Like all AIs…it has a network which it uses to facilitate its goals. This is software and hardware working in tangent. In any measurable sense, it is always possible to disrupt the communication between software and hardware. I think I can do it. We cannot afford to NOT try.

Nighthawk was very unsure about this plan. However, Anaconda spoke up.

Anaconda: I think it is worth it! If HAWK can make it easier for us to take Vanguard down, then he should be allowed to try! Our choices are limited, and we need every chance we can get!

Nighthawk: I have no idea what Vanguard is capable of in terms of cyberwarfare, but, given what we have just seen, I don’t think we can preclude any course of action that may help. All in all, I think you are right, Big Guy. As much as I would hate to put HAWK up against Vanguard, our choices are getting very limited.

HAWK nodded.

HAWK: Due to the fact that we have very limited intel on this facility, we are going to have to do this op as we go along. Once we get boots on the ground, and we have an idea of what exactly we will be dealing with, I can provide additional details. That being said, Nighthawk, you are going to need the uplink data chip in order to get me into the local network of that facility.

Nighthawk: Copy that, HAWK.

Nighthawk then turned his attention back to piloting the Vulture. He took a quick glance at the sensors before speaking up.

Nighthawk: We are closing in on Firebase Mediterranean…ETA…two minutes. HAWK, take the controls, and get this bird on the ground.

HAWK: Understood!

Nighthawk then looked at Anaconda and nodded. Anaconda and Nighthawk then stood up and they both walked to the rear compartment of the Vulture. Anaconda grabbed his Gravity Hammer and his Spikers, while Nighthawk grabbed his Shotgun, and holstered it on his back.

Nighthawk: As always, we are going with confront and engage tactics. This is take no prisoners. If we see ANY Trust personnel, we cut them down.

Anaconda: I expected as much

Nighthawk: As for UNSC personnel; if by some chance Harrison knows where we are, and they send teams to engage…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Kill them.

Anaconda: I look forward to it.

Nighthawk: ONI should not be a problem. I have already advised Captain Frost to stay away, so, that should make things easier. However, if by chance she does not listen, and I am half expecting that she won’t, I recommend that you check your fire. The ONI personnel are my people, and I know my people well, and they will not cause us any problems.

Anaconda: Fair enough.

Nighthawk paused, as he turned and grabbed his Mass Driver from the top rack. As he held the large rifle in his hands, he began to laugh.

Nighthawk: I have a feeling that this is going to come in handy.

Anaconda: Against Vanguard?

Nighthawk: Perhaps…perhaps not. We will see.

Nighthawk shrugged, as he paused a moment.

Nighthawk: Whatever happens down there…we make it count.

As the Vulture began to slow down, and as the sound of the landing struts engaging could be heard, Anaconda nodded.

Anaconda: We make it count.

The rear hatch of the Vulture began to open as the Vulture touch down on the ground. As Nighthawk and Anaconda stepped out of the Vulture, their weapons at the ready, they took a moment to look around. Nighthawk and Anaconda quickly realized that they had touched down in what appeared the front of the base. From what Nighthawk and Anaconda could see, there were several highly defensible positions, as well as several sniper nests in the immediate area. As Nighthawk and Anaconda looked around, HAWK chimed in over the comm.

HAWK: Sensors show that the immediate area is clear. I have touched the Vulture down in front of what appears to be the main entrance of this facility. Proceed north-east from your current location to find the main entrance.

Nighthawk nodded, as he pointed in the direction that HAWK had instructed them to move in.

Nighthawk: Hey, big guy…this way.

Nighthawk took point, as he and Anaconda walked towards a large door. This was, unmistakably, the main entrance to the facility. As Nighthawk and Anaconda approached the door, Nighthawk stopped in front of a wall-mounted control panel. When Nighthawk inspected the control panel, he saw that there the panel’s background wallpaper was an ONI logo. Nighthawk frowned behind his visor when he saw this.

Nighthawk: It boils my blood to think that these motherfuckers are pretending to be ONI…

Nighthawk attempted to open the main door, but was prompted by the need to provide an access code.

Nighthawk: The door seems to be locked. I cannot access the door controls.

Nighthawk set his Mass Drive aside, leaning the large weapon against the wall. Nighthawk then reached to his side and pulled out his PDA. After entering in a few commands, Nighthawk placed his PDA next to the control panel, and held it there.

Anaconda: What are you doing?

Nighthawk: Using the decoder on my PDA to get this door open.

Anaconda: Would it not be better to just blast this door out of the way?

Nighthawk: It would be faster to get HAWK to use the Vulture to blast this door right off its hinges, but, it lacks style. Besides, I would prefer to go in silently. Stealth would serve us much better than a full alert. As much as I am itching for a firefight, I will happily forgo that for the sake of surgical precision.

Just as Nighthawk said this, the PDA beeped, and the wall-mounted control panel flashed green. Nighthawk holstered his PDA as the large door opened.

Nighthawk: Plus…this also saves ammo.

Nighthawk turned and looked at Anaconda, as he took the Shotgun off his back, and set it aside.

Nighthawk: We should go CQC. I am pretty sure things are going to get close quarter.

Nighthawk then picked up the Mass Driver and holstered it on his back.

Anaconda: I will stick with the spikers. We may find corridors, and having a medium range weapon would not hurt.

Nighthawk picked up his Shotgun once more, and nodded.

Nighthawk: Good call.

Once the door had fully opened, Nighthawk raised his Shotgun, and entered the base, taking point with Anaconda in tow. As Nighthawk and Anaconda moved through the corridor, HAWK began to speak to the duo via the comm line.

HAWK: Now that the two of you are on the ground, the first thing we need to do is locate a point of entry into their network. Any centralize point of access will do. However, it would be far more ideal to locate a data server or a mainframe. Direct access to the backbone will allow for faster infiltration of the network than access to a terminal.

Nighthawk: Copy that HAWK. We will see if we can locate something that could be useful. We will let you know if and when we find an access point.

With that, Nighthawk went silent, as he and Anaconda moved further into the facility. As the duo entered the facility, Anaconda let out a few sniffs, and growled.

Nighthawk: Problem?

Anaconda: Yeah…it is far too quiet for the number of scents I am picking up.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: Be alert. Something is not right.

San Angeles – Low Altitude Approach to Firebase Mediterranean – Chieftain Dangerus’ Phantom - 2115 Hours - February 1st 2540

Chieftain Dangerus, along with six other Brutes, of which included Furium, were en-route to Firebase Mediterranean in a cloaked Phantom. While the other Brutes waited in relative silence, Dangerus conversed with Furium.

Furium: Chieftain…we have received word that Xyrho failed to stop The Construct. According to our ships in orbit, Xyrho’s vessel was taken down, and it lies broken on the surface of this world.

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: That is unfortunate. That Sangheili had potential. However, his failure means that I must now engage the Construct in battle.

Furium growled.

Furium: It is sure to be a glorious battle.

Dangerus: It is a necessary battle. If Xyrho is to be believed, then this is something we must do, not only for The Covenant, but for our kind as well. There is much at stake! We will need more than our ferocity to win this battle!

Furium gave an uncertain grunt.

Furium: Do you intend on honoring a cease-fire with the Humans who oppose Vanguard?

Dangerus: Only for as long as it is beneficial. There is something to be said in using Human lives as a disposable resource.

Dangerus laughed.

Dangerus: As long as the Humans that oppose Vanguard are useful, I will allow them to die with the belief that we are temporary allies. However, I will not place the lives of my Brutes beneath the lives of these…humans.

Furium: What of the Brute who has allied with the Humans? The Outsider?

Dangerus growled. He knew that Furium was speaking of Anaconda.

Dangerus: I could not care less about that one. He has chosen his side, and his loyalty is without question. HE is to be treated as if he were Human. If he so chooses to fight alongside them, he will die like one when his value has diminished.

Furium: Understood, Chieftain.

Furium growled.

Furium: There is nothing I want more than to kill The Outsider. Just give me the order, Chieftain…

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: Looking for payback?

Furium: Wouldn’t you be?

Dangerus: I would be lying if I said no. However, The Outsider has value in this battle, and that should be capitalized on. However, once the Construct has been destroyed, you are free to kill The Outsider as you see fit, but not before!

Furium: As you say, Chieftain.

Dangerus simply nodded. As he did, he could feel the deceleration of the Phantom, as it began to slow down.

Dangerus: We are nearing our destination. Stand ready, brothers!

The Other Brutes all grunted and growled, as they stood ready, and held their weapons in their hands. As the Phantom came to a gradual halt near the ground, the side hatches of the Phantom opened up, allowing Dangerus and his Brutes to jump out of the Phantom. As Dangerus’ feet hit the ground, he looked around to take in his surroundings. Dangerus saw several military grade Warthogs that were seemingly untouched, as well as a few large warehouse doors. Unbeknownst to Dangerus, he, along with his team of Brutes, had touched ground in the rear side of the facility, near the loading warehouse; that is, the opposite side of the facility that Nighthawk and Anaconda had entered from.

Dangerus: This is where they are keeping Vanguard? Very odd. I would expect something much more…fortified.

However, Dangerus was not to be dissuaded by the apparent lack of security, as he began to move forward, with his Brutes in tow. As Dangerus approached the facility, he drew his Gravity Hammer, and used it to slam through one of the warehouse doors. As he did this, the alarms in the facility began to go off. However, Dangerus did not care.

Dangerus: If that will not attract Vanguard’s acolytes, I have no idea what will.

Dangerus began to laugh, as he pressed forward through the loading bay, and into the main facility. Dangerus’ Brutes followed in tow, each of them ready for a fight.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 3 CIC - 2125 Hours - February 1st 2540

Spender was still holding his ground in the Sector 3 CIC when the alarms in the facility began to go off.

Spender: What the hell is going on out there!? Yates! Check the security terminals!

Yates nodded, as he walked over to one of the security terminals. Once he looked at the security terminals, he began to cycle through the feeds. After a moment, his eyes widened.

Yates: Sir…The Covenant is here. A team of Brutes have just breached the loading bay. I count seven Brutes, one of them, a Chieftain. We should dispatch response teams at once.

Spender: Agreed!

Spender turned away, as he placed his hand on his ear, and contacted Kolya.

Spender: Kolya, do you copy? Priority 1!

Spender waited a moment for Kolya to respond.

Kolya: Kolya here, sir! Is this about the alarms?

Spender: Very perceptive! I need you to change your plans. We have Brutes breaching the loading bay. I need you to respond to that inclusion and cut them off!

Kolya: Copy that, sir. I have several squads with me now. I will put the brakes on those space apes.

Spender: Excellent. Keep an open comm line so we may provide you updates as need be!

Spender sighed, as he looked at Yates.

Spender: Yates…keep cycling through the security feeds and look for anything else out of the ordinary!

Yates nodded, as he carried out Spender’s orders. Spender, on the other hand, began to pace back and forth. As he did, Novak spoke to Spender.

Novak: Sir, I believe that the Brutes that breached the loading area may have been the very same ones that attacked The Ulterior Motive. Those Brutes are here for Vanguard.

Yates spoke up, as he kept his eyes on the security feeds.

Yates: Why is that though? It was my understanding that Brutes were the most religiously zealous of all the Covenant races. Why are these Brutes trying to attack Vanguard, when Vanguard is something that they should revere as holy?

Novak: It is hard to speculate. My field of experience is not xenoanthropology. Perhaps they are somewhat like Anaconda; holding no reverence for The Covenant, or, at the very least, their dogma.

Spender: Frankly, it does not matter why those Brutes are here. The only thing that matters is that they are here, and they are a threat. These Brutes must be dealt with!

Yates continued to cycle through the security feeds as Spender said this. However, Yates stopped when he noticed something odd.

Yates: Speaking of threats…

Spender and Novak turned to face Yates.

Yates: Nighthawk and Anaconda are here. Based on their position, it seems they entered in through the front side of the facility.

Spender: Where are they, exactly?

Yates: They are in Sector 1…near the mess hall. We have nobody in that area. However, we can divert forces from Sector 2.

Spender: Sector 2 contains the elevator leading down to Vanguard’s forge. We cannot risk leaving it undefended!

Yates: It was Vanguard who said it did not need defending!

Yates paused.

Yates: And, let’s be frank…do you think Vanguard is going to save our asses if Nighthawk and Anaconda come this way!? The sooner engage them, the better!

Novak: TO be even more frank, does it even need defending? Look how easily it dealt with those Covenant ships.

Spender took a moment to consider his options, before he finally nodded to Yates.

Spender: Divert forces from Sector 2 to engage Nighthawk and Anaconda. Halt their advance!

Yates: Aye sir!

Spender scoffed, as he lit up a cigarette. He did not like the direction that things had turned, but, complications were to be expected.

Spender: Under no circumstance is Nighthawk and Anaconda to get close to that elevator.

Spender continued to pace back and forth, as he continued to burn through the cigarette he was smoking. Both Novak and Yates watched Spender, and they could both see that he was rather tense. However, neither man said anything, for fear of reprisal.

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San Angeles – Low Altitude Approach to Firebase Mediterranean – Trust Prowler Tesseract - 2130 Hours - February 1st 2540

The Trust Prowler that had been hijacked by Commander Burke was on a direct course for Firebase Mediterranean. Burke was on the bridge of the Prowler, sitting in the command seat, when Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron entered the bridge.

Jennifer: Commander Burke…ETA to the King Raven?

Burke: Ma’am…I decided against going to The King Raven.

Jennifer raised an eyebrow, as she glared at Burke.

Jennifer: Excuse me, but, what!?

Burke turned the chair to face Jennifer, Tye, and Cameron before he explained himself.

Burke: I had our heading adjusted. We are en-route to Firebase Mediterranean. Frankly Ma’am…retreat is not the answer.

Jennifer: That was not your call to make, Commander. Nighthawk said…

Burke: Ma’am…I don’t care what Nighthawk said, but, I do care what you think.

Jennifer gave a suspicious look to Burke.

Burke: You did not seem very enthusiastic about falling back. I got the impression that you did not like the notion of retreat. You did not like the idea of sitting by and watching. However, despite your apparent objections, you went along with Nighthawk’s recommendations.

Burke shrugged.

Burke: I know you better than you think Jennifer, so, I made the call.

Jennifer scoffed.

Jennifer: That was not your call to make David…

However, Jennifer’s scowl broke, and she grinned.

Jennifer: But I am damn glad you made it.

Cameron then spoke up.

Cameron: So, does this mean we are hitting the surface?

Tyber: It sure as hell sounds like it!

Jennifer nodded.

Jennifer: Oh yeah, we are hitting the surface for sure! There is no way in hell we are sitting this one out!

Burke: Well, if we are intent on hitting the surface, you should know that our ETA is less than 5 minutes. That being said, we should get ready for a ground game.

Jennifer: Agreed!

Jennifer nodded, and turned to walk off the bridge of the Prowler. Burke, Cameron, and Tye followed in tow.

Cameron: SO, what is the plan when we get down there? There is a good chance that Nighthawk and Anaconda will be there. Do we assist them, or do we focus on The Trust?

Jennifer: We focus on The Trust. Nighthawk is going to have his hands full with Vanguard. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that he has an unhindered shot at that AI.

Jennifer stopped, as she turned to face her compatriots.

Jennifer: Besides…I think we all owe The Trust a punch in the teeth for no shortage of reasons. Hopefully we will get that chance!

Tyber: Your lips to God’s ears, Ma’am.

Jennifer: Heres hoping we get the chance.

Jennifer turned again, as she continued to lead her compatriots to the armory on the Prowler. Once the four reached the armory, they began to gear up. Tye and Cameron went with their standard issue weapons, while Jennifer and Burke each grabbed a pair of Shotguns and additional ammo for their sidearms.

Once all four ONI Operatives had fully geared up, they were contacted by one of the pilot. The pilot’s voice came in through the ships comm system.

Davis: Captain Frost? This is Corporal Davis. I think you may want to hear this.

Jennifer tapped her earpiece, as she began to speak.

Jennifer: What is it Corporal?

Davis: We have several Pelicans closing in on Firebase Mediterranean. The IFFs of the Pelicans indicate that they are all from The Vigorous Inferno. In seems Harrison has caught on to where we were going. They are still a good distance behind us, however, that will quickly change when we set down. I estimate that within three minutes of setting us down, they could end up being right on top of us. That being said, I doubt they have detected us, as our Stealth Systems are fully operational.

Davis paused.

Davis: Should I break off our approach and let the UNSC take point?

Jennifer: Negative Corporal. Maintain our course! By the time they get their boots on the ground, we will have already made headway into that facility.

Davis: Copy that Ma’am.

As Jennifer enabled the safty on her Shotgun, Cameron looked at her.

Cameron: Ma’am…I am sure that you are aware that The UNSC may not be on the best terms with us, given what we did on The Vigorous Inferno. It would be reasonable to expect that they could turn hostile.

Jennifer: If Harrison’s people turn hostile, we will deal with them. However, I am hoping that the UNSC will be more interested in fighting The Trust than ONI.

Tyber: I am pretty sure that Harrison’s people see no difference between ONI and The Trust. We should expect them to be hostile on contact. Furthermore, if Nighthawk and Anaconda are on site, we can expect an armed conflict between Harrison’s people and Nighthawk and Anaconda. That is a guarantee.

Burke: It would be unwise for ONI to get involved in that conflict, given the current state of affairs.

Jennifer: Agreed. If Harrison’s people turn on Nighthawk and Anaconda, we may have to steer clear of that engagement. Nighthawk can look after himself. That much should be abundantly clear. However, if Harrison’s people turn hostile on any of us…defend yourselves using any means necessary, that includes lethal force.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: We are not going down there to fight Harrison’s people. We are down there to fight The Trust. If Harrison cannot accept that, and he orders his soldiers to turn on us, we will give him a run for his money. However, I think we should try and make contact with sooner rather than later. If they are going to hit Firebase Mediterranean, then we are going to have to run into them sooner or later.

Tyber: That works for me. I don’t know about Cam and the Doc, but, I can work with that.

Burke: Likewise. It is as good of a plan as we are going to have.

Cameron: Agreed.

Just as Cameron had spoken, the landing struts could be heard deploying, and the ship could be felt going into a full deceleration.

Cameron: We are touching down. We should get ready to disembark.

Jennifer nodded, as she quickly took point, and led her team out of the armory, and to the loading bay. As Jennifer entered the loading bay, the ship shook a little as it touched down on the ground.

Jennifer: Alright, that is our queue. Double time it!

Jennifer picked up the pace, as she approached the loading ramp, and slammed her palm on a wall mounted control panel to open the ramp up.

Jennifer: Cameron, Tye…you two are on point. David, keep our six covered.

Cameron: Copy that, Ma’am.

As ordered, Cameron and Tye took point, as they led the way off the Prowler, and onto the ground. As soon as they exited the Prowler, the first thing they noticed was Nighthawk and Anaconda’s Vulture. IN addition to noticing the Vulture, the group could also hear the alarms coming from Firebase Mediterranean.

Cameron: It looks like Nighthawk and Anaconda have already arrived on site.

Tyber: So it seems.

Tye then noticed that main entrance to the facility was left open.

Tyber: Based on the fact that those doors are open, and there alarms blaring from the inside, I would presume that they are already inside, and they have already started the party.

Jennifer: That is a reasonable assumption. However, we should hold position here until Harrison’s teams show up. We should try and make contact with them, above all else. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. The last thing we need is a Trust ambush.

Burke: Change of plans? I thought we were going to try and get some headway on Harrison’s forces.

Jennifer: Upon further reflection, it may be wiser to make an effort to talk to them. It may not seem like it, but, we are all on the same side. I think we both have to be reminded of that.

Jennifer, and her fellow officers, held their position and waited for a few moments, occasionally checking their surroundings. After a few minutes of waiting, Jennifer’s attention was caught by three Pelican’s flying overhead. Jennifer watched as the Pelicans quickly turned around, and began to descend, as each Pelican landed about 20 yard from where the Prowler had landed.

Jennifer: Alright guys, here we go.

Tye and Cameron stood at the ready, their weapons partially raised, as Burke lowered his Shotgun. Jennifer went a step further and holstered her Shotgun on her back. Jennifer put her hands behind her back, and she stared at the three Pelicans, as each one opened its rear hatch, and expelled UNSC personnel.

Jennifer took note of who exactly came out of each Pelican. The Pelican closest to her was disembarked by Jacob, Snyder, and Omega Legion. The Second Pelican was disembarked by Suicide Squad, and the third Pelican was disembarked by Lieutenant Commander Cochraine and Fireteam Harmony. Jennifer watched as all three teams closed in on her, with Suicide Squad closing in from the right, Cochraine and Harmony on the left, and Jacob and Omega Legion from the front.

Jacob: Well, well, well…look what we have here. If it was not bad enough that Nighthawk and Anaconda is here…

Jacob had a very sarcastic and disrespectful tone in his voice, as he hefted his weapon in a very threatening manner.

Jacob: ONI also had to rear its ugly head.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: The four of you have some real fucking nerve showing your faces here after what you did.

Jennifer: We did what we had to do. It is what ONI does!

Jacob: Bullshit Captain! That is bullshit, and you know it!

Jennifer: Harrison should not…

Jacob grew angry, as he took a very hostile step towards Jennifer. Jennifer, however, held her ground.

Jacob: Don’t even try that excuse! You had no business going rouge!

Jennifer raised an eyebrow, and grinned. She was going to rebuttle, but she bit her tongue. However, Burke interjected.

Burke: You are one to talk, Captain. Last I checked, you were the resident expert on rouge.

Jennifer: David has a point. You did go rouge, Captain. You have no business lecturing me. Besides, you are drawing a very false equivalency. You went rouge. ONI simply acted.

Cochraine gave a chuckle.

Cochraine: Took the words right out of my mouth.

Cochraine stepped forward, as she looked at Jacob.

Cochraine: Captain Frost does have a point. I don’t think you have any business lecturing anyone on going rouge.

Jacob turned his head and looked at Cochraine.

Jacob: Whose side are you on?

Cochraine: The side that puts this nonsense aside, and brings the fight to The Trust!

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: We are wasting time with the bickering! We have a job to do! Yes, I get it; you don’t like ONI very much right now. However, we are going to need their assistance if we are to put The Trust down!

Jacob looked at Cochraine for a moment, before he backed off. Cochraine, on the other hand, turned back to Jennifer.

Cochraine: Your assistance with fighting The Trust would be very welcome, Captain. The more of us, the better.

Jennifer shrugged.

Jennifer: That is why we are here, Lieutenant Commander. ONI is here to bring the fight to The Trust. Rest assured, we are not here to give you problems…we are here to help.

Cochraine: That’s good to hear.

Jennifer nodded. However, as she did, her eyes shifted to Fireteam Harmony.

Jennifer: You know, I am not ignorant of the casualty report from the attack on The Ulterior Motive. I have to admit, I am surprised to see Fireteam Harmony on the field.

Cochraine: If I had the luxury, Harmony would be sidelined after what they had been through. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that I need my best people on the field…especially when that field is the end game. I take no pleasure in putting injured people on the front line, but, I have no other choice.

Cochraine paused, as Arman spoke up.

Arman: To be honest…I am fine, for the most part. There is nothing that a quarter of a dose of Polypseudomorphine, along with biofoam and bone-knitting polymer can’t fix. It is ill-advised to be in the field after getting hit with a .50 cal in the thigh, but, I refuse to let one screw-up sideline me, especially when the fate of this planet hangs in the balance.

Robertson nodded.

Robertson: Besides, there is plenty of time to rest when we are dead.

Jennifer looked at Arman, and then at Robertson. She could see where the bullet had impacted Arman in the thigh, and she could also see where Robertson had been stabbed.

Jennifer: I have to admit, I am impressed by the dedication. However, at least two of you should not be here.

Jennifer paused, as she looked At Arman and Robertson.

Jennifer: You two should be in a medical bay, recovering…not in the field, getting shot at!

Robertson: With all due respect Ma’am…the medical bay is reserved for people who can’t walk. If we can stand, we can fight. Besides…from what I understand, warm bodies is a commodity that we are running low on.

Arman: Trust us Ma’am…we can do this! It won’t be easy, and it is going to hurt like hell at the end of the day, but, we can do this. A lot of innocent people are counting on us, and we want to say that we were there when the people of San Angeles needed us most! Don’t take this away from us.

Jennifer raised an eyebrow, as she was unsure. As she considered the situation, Burke leaned over to her, and spoke to her.

Burke: We could use their help, Jennifer. If they say they can handle it, then, we should give them the chance. It is not often we get a break like this.

Jennifer sighed, as she looked at Arman and Robertson.

Jennifer: I don’t approve of soldiers pumping themselves with pharmaceuticals and first-aid JUST so they can stay on the battle field. I am uncomfortable ordering wounded soldiers into battle, as it is a violation of everything that I believe as a Physician. However, there are times we all have to do things which make us uncomfortable…for the greater good.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: If you think you can stay in this fight, fine. However, the moment you endanger ANYONE with your injuries, you are to bug out immediately, even if I have to have you dragged out of here by your feet…is that understood?

Arman and Robertson nodded.

Arman: Understood, Ma’am.

Jennifer then turned to Cochraine, as she pointed at Robertson and Arman.

Jennifer: You are going to be personally responsible for those two, is that clear?

Cochraine: Perfectly.

Jennifer: Keep an eye on them, and make sure they do not become a liability.

Cochraine: There won’t be a problem with harmony, Captain.

Jacob scoffed, as he was getting impatient. He glared at Jennifer, as he stepped forward once more.

Jacob: Forgive me, Captain, but you sound like such a hypocrite right now. Here you are, talking about wounded soldiers, when you and your ONI goons took out Strike Team Diamond. You did a real number on them with your little stunt.

Jennifer: Like I said, Jacob…sometimes we have to do things which make us uncomfortable, for the greater good. I took no pleasure in shooting Ice, and my men took no pleasure in putting Diamond on the ground. We had limited options, and we did what he had to do.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: At least we can say that Strike Team Diamond is in the med bay, and not in the morgue.

Jacob clenched his fists, but, he stopped himself and kept his cool. Jacob wanted to rebuttal against Jennifer for her snide comment, but, he knew that he had to keep his focus. Jacob sighed, as he turned to Suicide Squad, and issued an order.

Jacob: Suicide Squad, get inside that facility and scout ahead. See if you can locate Nighthawk and Anaconda. Once you find them, kill them. You are authorized to use all necessary force.

Folee nodded.

Folee: Copy that sir.

Folee and the rest of Suicide Squad readied their weapons, as they moved towards Firebase Mediterranean. Jacob then looked at Omega Legion.

Jacob: Omega, I want you to move ahead, and break off from Suicide Squad. I want that facility swept and cleared of all Trust personnel. Take no prisoners. I will rendezvous with you later.

Carmicle: Copy that sir!

Jacob: Snyder, stick with Omega Legion.

Snyder: Copy that!

Omega Legion turned and proceeded towards Firebase Mediterranean; with Carmicle on point, and Snyder following up on the rear. Fireteam Harmony looked at Cochraine, as if they were awaiting orders. Cochraine was going to issue an order, but, she hesitated when she saw Jacob eyeing up Nighthawk’s Vulture.

Jacob, on the other hand, looked at Nighthawk’s Vulture for a moment before he began to move towards it. When Cochraine saw this, she looked at her team, and gave them an order.

Cochraine: Harmony…hold position, and await further orders.

Cochraine watched as Jacob walked towards the Vulture. As Jacob approached the Vulture, Jennifer and Cochraine began to follow behind him.

Cochraine: Captain Sharpman? Where are you going?

Jacob did not answer, as he stopped a few feet from the Vulture, and simply looked at it.

Cochraine: Captain?

Jacob answered Cochraine.

Jacob: We don’t get the chance to inspect this ship up close very often. We might as well take a look while we can.

Cochraine: Is that a wise idea?

Jacob: Why not?

Jacob began to move towards the Vulture again, except, he circled around to the back, and stepped inside of the Vulture. As Jacob stepped inside, he looked around the rear compartment, and had a look around.

Jennifer and Cochraine followed, as they both looked at Jacob. They watched as he looked around.

Jacob: I am curious if they left anything laying around.

Jacob took a moment to look around. However, he did not find anything that was too valuable.

Jennifer: I doubt they would leave anything valuable in here.

Jacob: One would think. However…you never know when you might…get…lucky…

Jacob walked towards the cockpit, and sat down in the pilot’s seat. He reached out with his right hand, and touched a screen that was mounted to the dashboard, effectively waking the screen up. Jacob looked at the screen, and based on what he saw, he presumed that it was an uplink to The Venture Capitalist.

Jacob: Like I said…lucky. This looks like a terminal uplink to his ship. Makes you wonder what kind of secrets the prick holds on that ship.

Jennifer frowned, as she glared at Jacob.

Jennifer: You are prodding a wasp’s nest Jacob. I highly recommend that you stop digging through his files. You have no idea if that thing is bobby trapped. I seriously doubt Nighthawk would leave this laying around without a means to make it backfire.

Jacob looked back at Jennifer, and shook his head.

Jacob: No, this is too good to pass up. Let’s see what this prick has been up to.

Jacob used the on-screen controls to cycle through different sections of The Venture Capitalist’s datacenter.

-The Trust
-The Covenant
-Strategic planning
-Psychological profiles
-Personal R&D
-Mission archives

Jacob accessed the data files pertaining to The Trust. Once he did, a new menu was populated on the screen.

-Eliminated operatives
-Known operatives
-Suspected operatives
-Persons of interest
-Known sites
-Project Risk Takers
-Spartan Team Hammer
-ODST Black Team
-ODST Nova Team
-Recon Team Shield

Jacob paused for a moment, before he accessed the data files for suspected operatives. As Jacob read through that rather comprehensive list, some of the entries shocked him, while others angered him. Jacob not only saw his own name, but he also saw Harrison’s name, as well as dozens more that he recognized.

Jacob: Nighthawk suspects Harrison of being a member of The Trust? Why?

Jacob then noticed his name in the list.

Jacob: He long suspected me of being a member of The Trust. I am sure that, in his mind, the suspicion is confirmed.

Jacob then noticed more names that he recognized.

Jacob: Murphey…Zeph…Carmicle…Williams…Folee…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: He thinks everyone on The Vigorous Inferno works for the Trust.

Jacob began to skim a few lines, before stopping. He slowly turned his head and looked at Cochraine.

Jacob: You’re on this list, Ma’am…

Cochraine: What? Why?

Jacob shrugged, as Cochraine walked over to Jacob. She looked at the list, and, indeed, her name was on the list.

Cochraine: Why am I on this list?

Jacob: He has to suspect you of something.

Cochraine: I have no idea what it could be. To be frank, I am NOT a member of The Trust. Whatever this guy’s reasoning is…it is categorically false!

Cochraine thought for a moment, before she reached out, and tapped her finger on the screen; accessing the files that Nighthawk had on her. As Cochraine accessed the dossier, she noticed something rather disturbing.

Cochraine: What the hell?

Jacob: What?

Cochraine: He has copies of my personal logs. How the hell did he get these!?

Jacob: I have an idea…

Jacob stood up, and turned to look at Jennifer.

Jacob: Tell me, Captain Frost…is it not true that ONI has seemingly unlimited access to the datacenter’s located on every UNSC ship? I believe the clearance level required to do that is Alpha-2 clearance?

Jennifer: I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Jacob: In other words, yes. That is ONI’s way of saying yes, without saying yes.

Cochraine looked at Captain Frost, then at Jacob.

Cochraine: How does this explain how Nighthawk has copies of my personal logs?

Jacob: It is quite simple, Cochraine; Nighthawk either has Alpha-2 clearance, or someone with Alpha-2 clearance is giving him personal logs upon request, not to mention other information. Either way…this proves that Nighthawk works for ONI in some capacity.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Nighthawk an ONI Agent. If you think about it…it makes a lot of sense. An Agent that can be disavowed. An Agent that can get his hands dirty and get caught in the process. An Agent they can put on a wonderful show with, trying to stop him, but, always being JUST out of reach. An Agent with seemingly unlimited information on everything around him, just minus the logo on his armor. An Agent that can get caught and observed doing horrendous things, and it would never reflect poorly on ONI. AN Agent that can work AGAINST ONI’s enemies; be it The Covenant or The Trust, and be given the green light to go to any length imaginable to win the fight. I would be hard pressed to believe it myself, had it not been for ONI’s propensity to do shady things. IT would sure as hell explain why Nighthawk is so friendly with you, Captain Frost.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I know of VERY few people who have Alpha-2 clearance, and even fewer who would fit the bill of someone who would support Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Cochraine: Who?

Jacob: The first name that comes to mind would be Rear-Admiral Vernette. He is defiantly the type of guy who would condone and/or support the activities of Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Jennifer shook her head.

Jennifer: That is an interesting theory, Jacob. However, it is categorically wrong. I can tell you right now that Nighthawk is not an ONI Agent. He does not have access to the ONI Information Net, and he is not taking his queues from anyone in ONI, and he is certainly not taking his queues from Preston Vernette. I would know if my commanding officer was assisting a terrorist.

Jacob: Yeah? How do you know? What makes you so sure of that?

Jennifer: From my perspective, Nighthawk and Anaconda are useful, but they are NOT assets. Simply put; ONI has never condoned terrorism. We are not about to start now.

Jacob: Bullshit Captain! You have been condoning his activities since the moment you found him in White Water! Don’t feed me that bullshit Captain!

Jennifer frowned.

Jennifer: Nighthawk is NOT ONI!

Jacob: If he is not a member of ONI, he is at least working for someone in ONI!

Jennifer: Nighthawk does not work for ONI in ANY capacity!

Jacob: Then where is he getting his intel?

Jennifer: I don’t know!

Jacob: I don’t believe you!

Jennifer: Did it EVER occur to you that Nighthawk may have simply stolen the data? If there is one thing we know abundantly well about Nighthawk, it is that he is extraordinarily talented when it comes to technical applications. I would not be surprised if he was able to take the data using more conventional means, such as through a network intrusion. It is possible that he bugged our network somehow, and he is leveraging one of our systems as a backdoor, or as a command and control bot to get information he needs.

Jacob glared at Jennifer for a moment. However, just as he turned back to the cockpit of the Vulture, HAWK appeared on the dashboard, and folded his arms.

HAWK: You should listen to the lady. She is more correct than you might think.

Jacob, Cochraine, and Jennifer looked at HAWK, as the AI had a very standoffish appearance.

HAWK: You people should not be here!

Jacob: The same can be said for you, and your handlers.

HAWK laughed.

HAWK: Believe me…we are the only people that should be here. You do not want to go toe to toe with Vanguard.

Cochraine: That is your opinion, AI.

HAWK: Perhaps, perhaps not.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: However, if you choose to throw your lives away against Vanguard, that is your choice. What I want to know is why you people think it is alright to peak at things that don’t belong to you.

Cochraine: That is a lofty statement coming from the custodian of a data center that houses stolen data which includes personal logs. Those don’t belong to you!

HAWK: Good point.

HAWK paused, before giving a shrug.

HAWK: However, the question stands; why are you on the Vulture?

Jacob: We owe you no explanation…HAWK…

HAWK glared at Jacob, but, he turned his attention to Cochraine when she spoke up.

Cochraine: I want to know how the hell you got copies of our personal logs!?

HAWK thought about the question for a moment, before he answered.

HAWK: They were stolen. How else?

Cochraine: We know you stole them!

HAWK: Let me clarify…

HAWK slammed his palms together, and made a clapping sound.

HAWK: I stole them. How? I will never say how, exactly. Suffice to say…infiltration is my job. There is no hiding from me, especially in the digital age!

Cochraine: What is the point of stealing personal logs?

HAWK: Threat assessment. You would be surprised how much you can tell about a person by reading their personal logs. It is like a looking glass into the soul. That being said, I have very little context as to what that means, exactly. I lack a soul, but, I guess you could say that my personality simulation is the bitter mote of a soul, but, that is far too existential for the present situation. To be more precise with my answer; I stole your personal logs to better understand who you were before I categorized you with a threat assessment.

Cochraine: By that, do you mean trying to determine if I am a member of The Trust? I seriously doubt my personal logs would be of any use.

HAWK: Again, you would be surprised. The fact is, however, when I say threat assessment, it is intended to be a very broad concept. Part of it is determining if someone COULD be a Trust operative. Part of it is also determining if the person in question is a threat to Nighthawk and Anaconda, in particular. Some people are…some people are not. Captain Frost is not. Captain Sharpman is. It is how we operate. It is why we are still alive. Knowing is half the battle, Lieutenant Commander Cochraine.

Jacob: Knowing is half the battle. It is why I am here as well. I think it is time that we learn something about Nighthawk and Anaconda for ourselves.

Jacob took a step forward, but HAWK reacted immediately, as he snapped his fingers. The moment he did this, the uplink terminal on the Vulture’s dashboard went black.

HAWK: Not going to happen. I refuse to allow you to leverage our own information against us. I think you have seen enough…just enough to ensure that the question “what if” chews you up inside.

Jacob’s body language was clearly one of annoyance. However, HAWK was not fazed by this.

HAWK: Now, if you don’t mind…I have a job to do, and so do you. I cannot hang around here and babysit you while you try and snoop around.

HAWK gave an impromptu salute to Jacob.

HAWK: Go and fight the good fight, Captain! The Trust is not going to kill itself.

As HAWK said this, he disappeared, and fell silent. With HAWK gone, Jacob cursed under his breath.

Jacob: Pretentious piece of software. I hate that AI.

Jacob then turned and walked off the Vulture, with Cochraine and Jennifer in tow.

Jacob: We should get moving! As much as I would have wanted to stay here and shift through this bastard’s secrets, I am forced to concede that there is little left for us on this ship after HAWK seemingly locked it down. We should try and link up with Omega Legion. From there, we can push through the facility.

Cochraine: Agreed!

Cochraine turned with Jacob, as they turned and walked out of the Vulture. As they did, Jennifer simply watched as they walked by.

Jennifer: So, I presume you want nothing from ONI?

Jacob stopped as he stepped out of the Vulture. He turned and looked at Frost.

Jacob: The only thing I want from ONI is for you to stay the hell out of our way! Your help is not wanted.

Cochraine raised an eyebrow at Jacob when he said this. She was going to object, but, she knew that if she did, it would not do any good.

Cochraine: Jacob…we should get moving! Time is of the essence!

Jacob looked back at Cochraine and nodded. Jennifer watched as Jacob and Cochraine linked up with Fireteam Harmony, and entered Firebase Mediterranean. Jennifer let out an audible sigh, as she stepped off the Vulture and rejoined her ONI compatriots.

Cameron: Ma’am? I take it Jacob doesn’t want our help?

Jennifer: You guys heard that?

Cameron: Yeah. Every bit of it. Are we going to do as he requests?

Jennifer: Of course not! We are going in there, and we are going to do what we came here to do; fight and defeat The Trust. If that means getting in the way, then by God, we are going to get in the way! AT the very least, Cochraine seems more tolerate of ONI at the moment, so, she will be useful if we need operational support.

Tyber: That works for me!

Jennifer nodded, as she grabbed her Shotgun off her back, and disengaged the safety.

Jennifer: Weapons live gentlemen! We are going in!

Burke, Tye, and Cameron each readied their weapons, as they followed behind Jennifer.

Jennifer: Our goal should be to try and isolate the CIC, that is, the command center where The Trust is conducting its operations from. If we can take their command point, we can cut the head off the snake.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Finding the CIC will be a challenge unto itself, but, we deal with it as it comes.

Tyber: If I know Spender, then he is going to be expecting that move. We can expect a significant degree of resistance, both from him, and anyone he has defending his position.

Jennifer: That is to be expected.

Burke scoffed, as he interjected.

Burke: If I may ask; are we going to kill or capture? I mean…this is the head of The Trust. I mean, it is reasonable to assume that if Spender is here, then he is no doubt coordinating the defense of this facility. He is most likely in the CIC that we are looking for. We are bound to encounter him. What is our goal?

Tyber: To kill.

Burke: Is that wise? I mean…he WOULD have valuable intel.

Tyber: He will never talk. We have to kill him.

Burke was uncertain, as he looked at Jennifer to make the final call.

Jennifer: We capture if we can. Otherwise, we kill him.

Tyber: Not my first call, but, I will go with it.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 1 – En-Route to the Loading Bay - 2150 Hours - February 1st 2540

Kolya, and a large contingent of ODSTs were moving through the corridors, heading in the direction of the loading bay in response to an incursion by Covenant forces. As Kolya grew closer to his destination, he radioed Spender.

Kolya: Kolya to Director Spender; requesting an update on Covenant movement.

Spender promptly answered.

Spender: Be advised, that we are tracking The Covenant in junction gamma-2. They are moving south-west from their start position. It is recommended that you take your next left and proceed down junction epsilon-2. This will allow you to flank the Covenant.

Kolya nodded, as he did as he was instructed.

Kolya: Copy that. Moving down junction epsilon-2 now.

Kolya began to pick up the pace, as he broke out into a full on sprint; the rest of his fireteam following suit. It did not take long for Kolya to locate junction gamma-2. Once it was located, Kolya diverted once more, and began to move down junction gamma-2. Sure enough, Kolya could confirm that he was on the right path, as there were several low-level Trust functionaries that were lying dead on the ground, each of them with several large spikes protruding out of their chests. Kolya stopped for a moment, and knelt down next to one of the bodies. He could tell by the residual warmth of the corpse that the kill was very recent, no more than a few minutes. Kolya stood up once again, and began to pick up the pace. As Kolya moved, he signaled an update to Spender via the comms.

Kolya: We are now converging on hostiles. Stand by…

As Kolya moved forward, he could start to make out the sounds of Brutes. He could hear the heavy footsteps of each of the Brutes coming from around a nearby corner. From this, he could infer that this pack was more prone to direct assaults, and up-close confrontations. Kolya knew that once he engaged these Brutes, they were going to turn around, and begin pushing back. With this in mind, Kolya gave a hand signal to the ODSTs behind him, telling them to group up and advance forward.

Kolya and several ODSTs were the first to turn the corner and make visual contact with Dangerus and his pack of Brutes. Without wasting any time, Kolya gave the order to fire.

Kolya: All points, fire at will!

As Kolya said this, he fired off his Shotgun, as the ODSTs he was with laid down intense fire with their SMGs. Right off the bat, two of Dangerus’ Brutes were taken down. However, Dangerus, who was quick to realize that he was now under attack, wasted no time in retaliating. With his Gevity Hammer in one hand, Dangerus reached to his side and drew his Spiker, as he laid down fire on Kolya’s ODSTs. Dangerus’ Brutes were quick to do the same, as a close quarter firefight ensued. Despite his preemptive assault, Kolya’s forces lacked the strategic advantage of energy shields. As a result of this fact, several, of Kolya’s ODSTs were quickly killed by Dangerus’ retaliation. As such, Kolya moved back, and ducked around the corner to find cover.

Furium: Chieftain! Vanguard’s acolytes have finally revealed themselves!

Dangerus: Then it is to their own peril! Hunt them down and tear them apart! I give this hunt to you, Furium. Now is your chance to redeem yourself for your defeat at the hands of the Humans!

Furium: It will be done, Chieftain!

Dangerus let out a growl, as he stepped back, and allowed Furium to take command of the other Brutes, in order to push back against Kolya and his forces. As Furium moved against Kolya, Dangerus simply turned away and continued moving through the facility, in search of Vanguard.

Kolya peaked around the corner and watched as Dangerus moved off, and he cursed under his breath. Kolya knew that the Brutes that were advancing on him and his team were merely a diversionary tactic for to allow Dangerus to continue moving forward to his intended destination, effectively unopposed. However, Kolya had to focus on Furium and the other Brutes before he could even begin to plan against Dangerus.

Furium: Tear these Humans apart!

Furium growled at the Humans, as he pointed at them, instructing his trio of Brutes to engage. The ODSTs that Kolya was with began to back off, as they laid down fire on Furium’s Brutes, trying in vain to hold them off. However, as like before, the lack of energy shields, and the aggressive weapon’s fire from the Brutes, saw a disproportionate number of Causalities for The Trust. Kolya saw that he was losing soldiers fast. As a result, he opted to return to the battle.

As Kolya turned the corner, and engaged The Brutes once more, he cocked his Shotgun, and began to fire, his target being the nearest Brute. As The ODST’s drew the bulk of the fire, Kolya was able to bring down the shields of one of the Brutes, allowing it to be picked off by a burst from an SMG.

When one of the Brutes fell to the ground dead, the other Brutes growled in anger, as they became more aggressive in their methods. One of the Brutes looked at Kolya, and snarled, as he raised his Spiker in the air, and slammed it down in the direction of Kolya. However, Kolya saw this, and quickly moved to the side. As he did, he readied his Shotgun, and raised it to the side of the head of the Brute that attacked him, and pulled the trigger, killing the Brute in a single blast. With a second Brute killed, Furium and the last remaining Brute took their focus off the last remaining Trust ODSTs, and turned their hostility on Kolya.

Furium: Focus on the other Humans. That one is MINE!

The other Brute nodded, as he turned back to the last remaining ODSTs and continued to fire his Spiker. Furium, on the other hand, glared at Kolya, as he drew his Hammer off of his back, and wasted no time in swinging the Hammer at Kolya. Kolya. Kolya leapt back to avoid the impact of the large weapon, but, he did not fully clear the effective range of the hammer. As a result, Kolya was tossed back, being thrown down the corridor, and being separated from his Shotgun. The last remaining Brute that was with Furium, however, was taken down by the last remaining Trust ODST. Furium simply growled when he saw this, as he used his arm to swat his way through the last remaining Trust ODST, tossing the ODST aside violently, as he approached Kolya.

Kolya watched as Furium quickly approached. With his Shotgun out of reach, Kolya knew that his options for retaliation were very limited. However, despite this, Kolya quickly got back to his feet, and began to step backwards, as he drew his sidearm, and took aim at Furium.

Furium: You think you are a match for me, Human?

Kolya: Oh yeah, I am more than a match for you. I have never believed that some silverback with a Hammer could best me. It just isn’t possible!

Furium snarled, but, as he did, Kolya began to fire his sidearm, unloading 8 rounds from his M6G on Furium’s shield. However, this was not enough to bring Furium’s shields down. As Kolya began to reload, Furium lunged forward, and grabbed Kolya by the neck, and lifted him into the air.

Furium: Is that so, Human?

Furium growled, as he slammed Kolya into a nearby wall.

Furium: I don’t think you give me enough credit.

Furium snarled, as he began to squeeze his hand around Kolya’s throat.

Furium: Where is that defiance now, little Human?

Kolya grit his teeth, as he tried to struggle. However, he could not break free from Furium’s grasp. However, Kolya’s saving grace came from one of the ODSTs that had been swatted aside earlier. Just as Furium began to tighten his grip even further, the Trust ODST grabbed his SMG and took aim at Furium and fired off his entire clip right into Furium’s back, breaking through the Brute’s shields, and putting several rounds in Furium’s back.

Furium snarled, as he tossed Kolya aside, and turned to face the ODSTs. Furium could see the ODST was on the ground, leaning against a wall, propping himself up with one hand, and holding his SMG in the other. Furium glared at the ODST for but a moment, before he reached to his side, drew his spiker, and shot the ODST, killing him.

When Furium turned his attention back to Kolya, he could see that Kolya had not only reclaimed his Shotgun, but had moved up to point blank range. Furium growled as he felt the cold barrel of the shotgun press against his Torso, and he howled in pain as Kolya pulled the trigger. The force of impact caused Furium to stumble back. Kolya cocked his shotgun and took aim once more, as he shot Furium once more. The force of the second impact knocked Furium back again, only this time, he fall to the ground and landed on his hands and knees. As Furium fell to the ground, he grasped his side, as he tried to stop the bleeding, but, to little avail

Kolya: Like I said, I have never believed that some silverback with a Hammer could best me. It just isn’t possible!

Kolya scoffed, as he kicked Furium in the side of the head, if only to taunt him.

Kolya: I am not impressed.

Kolya grinned, as he cocked his Shotgun once more. However, before he could finish Furium off, he was contacted by Spender.

Spender: Kolya, do you copy? This is priority one…respond immediately!

Kolya frowned, as he stepped back from the wounded Brute, and placed his hand on his ear.

Kolya: This is Kolya. Go ahead sir.

Spender: Kolya, I am going to need you to divert back to Sector 3. The UNSC and ONI have entered the facility, and we have teams advancing in this direction. To make matters worse, Nighthawk and Anaconda are also on site. However, they seem less intent on engaging The Trust.

Kolya nodded.

Kolya: Copy that sir. I am falling back to Sector 3 immediately.

Kolya closed the comm line, as he glared at Furium for a moment.

Kolya: You don’t deserve death in battle, you dumb ape. You get to bleed out, like a wounded animal.

As Kolya turned to walk away, Furium snarled. However, this fell on deaf ears, as Kolya continued to walk away, eventually breaking into a sprint in an effort to reach Sector 3 with a degree of expediency. Furium, on the other hand, was left in the corridor, to tend to his own injury.

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 3 – Main Armory - 2200 Hours - February 1st 2540

Omega Legion was currently engaged in battle Trust forces that were currently defending the main armory. Due to the superior positioning of the Trust forces, as well as the seemingly endless stockpile of munitions at their disposal, Omega Legion was having a great deal of difficulty routing control of the armory from The Trust.

Carmicle: This is Sergeant Nathan Carmicle to any UNSC personnel; we require assistance at the main armory. Trust forces have proven to have formidable positioning, and we are having trouble breaking through their line. Requesting additional fire support!

Carmicle waited a moment, before he received a response from Cochraine.

Cochraine: Sergeant Carmicle? This is Lieutenant Commander Cochraine! I am en-route to your position with Fireteam Harmony, and Captain Sharpmen in tow. Our ETA is two minutes. Just hang on, we will be there shortly.

Carmicle: Copy that Ma’am. We will hold out as long as we can.

As the comm line went dead, Carmicle readied his Battle Rifle, as he peeked out of cover, and began to open fire. Carmicle was able to take down a single Trust ODST, but, as quickly as the hostile target was neutralized, a new ODST moved in to fill the operational gap. Carmicle was forced to duck behind cover once more as he came under heavy fire from a Trust ODST who was operating a mounted turret.

Carmicle: We need fire on that damn turret! Someone take that prick out before he cuts us down!

As Carmicle said this, Limos emerged from cover and took aim with his SMG and fired off his SMG in fully automatic mode. As Limos fired, he swept across his field of vision, and took down two Trust ODSTs, as well as the turret gunner.

Limos: Gunner is down…for the moment anyway! Not sure how long it will take them to replace that prick!

Carmicle: Doesn’t matter! It buys us time and eases the pressure!

Carmicle peeked out of cover once more, and laid down some precision fire on the Trust line.

Carmicle: We need to hold out for reinforcements! We need to route the Trust from the armory if we have any hope of overpowering them on their home turf!

Carmicle ducked back down to cover once more to reloading his Battle Rifle. As he did, he began to issue additional orders.

Carmicle: Colby, I am running low! I need you to take over on precision! Troy…keep Colby covered!

Colby: Solid copy, sir!

Colby immediately jumped into action, as he emerged from cover, and laid down precision shots against The Trust. As Colby handled the precision, Troy emerged from cover and began to draw fire with a series of controlled bursts from his Assault Rifle.

Colby: These pricks keep coming! How many of them are defending the armory? They must have an entire platoon in there!

Carmicle: I have no idea, but, we have to keep up the pressure until backup arrives!

However, just as Carmicle said this, he heard a voice shout out from behind him.

Robertson: Mac blast…coming through! Hit the deck!

When Carmicle heard this, he, along with the other members of Omega Legion, ducked down, as they heard the sound of a rocket flying down the corridor, and impacting the wall adjacent to the armory entrance. The explosion took out every Trust ODST that was station to protect the entrance of the armory.

Cochraine: Hit them again, Sergeant!

Robertson did as he was ordered, as he fired the second rocket. The second rocket impacting roughly the same spot as the first. However, this subsequent rocket did far more damage than the first. The damage caused by the first rocket was further extenuated by the second rocket, to the point where the door to the armory, including the surrounding wall, had been completely destroyed.

Robertson: Reloading!

As Robertson reloaded his rocket launcher, the other three members of Fireteam harmony began to advance forward.

Axlon: Fireteam harmony…move forward! Advance on the armory!

Axlon, Arman, and Cadieux began to move forward down the corridor, their weapons raised and at the ready. As Harmony moved forward, Jacob regrouped with Omega Legion, and quickly took charge.

Jacob: Omega; provide cover for Harmony as they push forward!

Each member of Omega emerged from cover, as they pointed their weapons towards the damaged entrance to the armory.

As Fireteam Harmony approached the armory, they could not hear any movement inside the armory. As such, they were able to quickly breach the armory, and proceed inside. As soon as Harmony crossed the threshold into the armory, they began to fan out.

As Fireteam Harmony approached the armory, they could not hear any movement inside the armory. As such, they were able to quickly breach the armory, and proceed inside. As soon as Harmony crossed the threshold into the armory, they began to fan out.

Arman: Fan out, sweep the area!

Arman kept moving forward, as Cadieux broke off to the left, and Axlon broke off to the right. As Arman moved forward, he radioed Omega Legion.

Arman: Omega, this is Arman. Point of entry is clear. Move forward.

Arman then continued to move forward, as she, Cadieux and Axlon moved through the corridors of the armory. When the trio reunited at the far side of the armory, they lowered their weapons, and nodded to one another.

Cadieux: All clear, sir. No sign of any additional Trust personnel and no sign of any traps or remote or timed ordinance.

Axlon: Ditto on that, Ma’am.

As Axlon and Cadieux gave their reports, Cochraine and Robertson entered the armory and proceeded to immediately regroup with Axlon, Arman, and Cadieux.

Cadieux: Ma’am, I believe the Trust forces that we pushed out of here, may have fallen back through, and exited this room from the auxiliary entrance.

Cadieux pointed over his shoulders at a secondary door, on the far side of the armory, which lead back into the corridors of the facility.

Cadieux: I recommend that we pursue and engage.

Axlon nodded.

Axlon: I agree, but, that is Cochraine’s call, not mine.

Cochraine shook her head.

Cochraine: We should hold position, for now, and take advantage of our victory. This armory can still be useful to us at the moment. We should resupply while we have a moment.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: With that said, well done, Harmony. That was a textbook breach if I have ever seen one.

Cochraine shrugged, as she looked at Robertson.

Cochraine: Mostly textbook, anyway. I am pretty sure procedure does not permit the use of high yield explosives in CQC.

Robertson: If it hurts, it works, Ma’am.

Cochraine: Well, you are not wrong.

Cochraine cracked a grin, but she turned around when she heard footsteps approaching from behind. When she turned, she saw Jacob and Omega Legion.

Cochraine: This area is secure, Jacob. From what we can tell, any surviving Trust personnel that may have survived our breach may have fallen back using the auxiliary entrance, as pointed out by Private Caiduex.

Jacob took a moment to look at the auxiliary entrance, as he gave a nod of agreement.

Jacob: Agreed. If there were any survivors, there is no doubt they double backed out that door. We should consider perusing ASAP.

Cochraine: Cadieux made a similar recommendation.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: However, I feel that there would be strategic value in securing this location and using it as a resupply point. We have no idea what The Trust may have in store for us, and any advantage we can get, would be invaluable. The last thing we need is for The Trust to retake this position so they can resupply their defensive.

Jacob shook his head in disagreement.

Jacob: Under normal circumstances, I would agree. However, we do not have the manpower necessary to hold this position. While I can agree that a resupply is necessary, we cannot risk spreading ourselves too thin trying to hold ground.

Cochraine: We can easily call for additional reinforcements.

Jacob: That would take too much time. The amount of time that we would have to hold this position while we awaited reinforcements would allow The Trust to rally to an unacceptable degree. We have them on the run, and we cannot halt our advance to wait for backup.

Cochraine: Then what do you propose we do?

Jacob: We resupply and we resume our pursuit of The Trust. We are not here to secure this facility; we are here to shut it down.

Cochraine gave an uncertain shrug.

Cochraine: Very well Captain. If that is what you think is best, then that is how it will be.

Jacob: Good. Gear up, and get ready to move out!

Just as Jacob said this, he turned, and walked off, heading towards the auxiliary exit with a very clear urgency in his movements. Cochraine took notice of this as Jacob exited the armory, but, she opted not to say anything. Cochraine knew that something was wrong, but, she could not quite put her finger on it yet. However, one thing was clear; Jacob was clearly unstable, and the command grace he had been known for had been replaced by what seemed like an insatiable desire to be exonerated for his mistakes. It was almost as if Jacob was overcompensating with his zeal to cut the Trust down. Cochraine knew that this sort of behavior was inevitably going to lead to a critical error in judgement that would cost lives. The one thing that Cochraine was unsure of, is whose lives would be lost as a result.

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 3 – Junction Alpha-1 - 2220 Hours - February 1st 2540

Jennifer, Tye, Cameron, and Burke were moving through the corridors of Sector 3. Tye was on point, and Cameron was watching the flank, as the group moved forward, being careful not to draw undo attention.

Tyber: Something is not right here. We are not encountering enough resistance.

Burke: Is this a bad thing?

Tyber: Oddly enough, yes. We should have encountered Black Team, at the very least, by now. Black Team is not known to hold back or hide as the enemy moves about their territory.

Burke: Perhaps they are busy elsewhere?

Tyber: Possibly. However, Black Team is not intended for crowd control or suppression. Black Team is intended for neutralization; they come and go quickly. Besides…

Tye pointed out a security camera that was in the corridor.

Tyber: Black Team should be coming after me, first and foremost. The Trust knows we are here, and Black Team would make every effort to find me. Their Achilles heel is their desire for revenge. They don’t let things go.

Cameron then spoke up.

Cameron: Black Team aside…we have not even seen Nova Team, Hammer Team or The Risk Takers. They are ALL silent. Something is up.

Jennifer: Potentially. However, we should reserve speculation until we have more to go on.

Just as Jennifer said this, a sizeable squad of Trust ODSTs had turned the corner from a junction that was further down the corridor.

Jennifer: Eyes up, gentlemen! Hostiles are dead ahead!

As Jennifer said this, the squad of Trust ODSTs quickly took up offensive positions and began to lay down fire. Jennifer, Tye, Burke, and Cameron each moved to cover, finding shelter from the gunfire in the doorways that lined the corridor.

Burke: The Trust sure as hell didn’t understaff their patrols! I count 8 hostiles!

Jennifer nodded, as she took a quick peek from out of cover.

Jennifer: Confirmed!

Jennifer paused, as she looked at Cameron.

Jennifer: Cameron! Move out, and draw their fire!

Cameron nodded, as he quickly emerged from cover, and began to move forward, strafing from side to side, and returning heavy fire with his Assault Rifle. As Cameron moved forward, the Trust forces stopped in their tracks, and began to move back.

Trust ODST: Fall back…keep your distance from the Spartan! Short, controlled, bursts!

When Jennifer heard this, she grinned, and nodded at Tye. Tye reacted immediately, as he holstered his SMGs, and drew a single automag. As Tye emerged from cover, he aimed down his iron sights, and began to take precise shots against the retreating Trust forces, picking them off, one by one. However, this quickly drew attention away from Cameron, and The Trust’s fire quickly moved towards Tye. Tye was force back into cover to avoid being hit by an onslaught of gunfire.

Trust ODST: All points, fall back to junction 13, regroup with Helios Squad.

As The Trust ODSTs quickly fell back, Jennifer ordered a full halt.

Jennifer: Break off, do not engage!

Cameron immediately stopped in his tracks, as he began to slowly back up, his Assault Rifle still raised in the direction in which the Trust forces fell back to.

Burke: Jennifer? Why are we breaking off?

Jennifer: The Trust is consolidating…shortening their defensive line. We are getting close to their CIC. Chances are, we are outnumbered, heavily. We may have the superior personnel, but we do not have the firepower or the resources. We are going to need reinforcements.

Burke: Cochraine?

Jennifer: Yeah. If we can divert Fireteam Harmony to our position, we can break through.

Tyber: That is if they will cooperate.

Jennifer: Cochraine is pragmatic. She will cooperate. Besides, she does not strike me as someone who likes to rock ONI’s boat at every opportunity.

Cameron: It is your call ma’am. Personally, I could get us through. I might have to fill out a ton of requisition forms for new equipment and paint after it was said and done, but, I could get us through.

Jennifer: Put a pin in that idea; we should speak to Cochraine first before we commit to any other course of action. She may be useful…

Jennifer paused, as she turned away, and placed her hand against her ear, as she opened her comm line, and patched into the main communication channel that was being used by local UNSC forces.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Commander Cochraine, this is Captain Frost; do you copy?

Jennifer did not have to wait long to get a response.

Cochraine: Cochraine here. Go ahead Captain.

Jennifer: I need an update on your operational status.

Cochraine: Fireteam Harmony and I are currently holding position in what appears to be the main armory. With the assistance of Omega Legion, we were able to take this position and route The Trust. We are currently resupplying, and we are preparing to resume active operations against The Trust.

Jennifer: Do you have an intended target or destination?

Cochraine: Negative. Our plan was to simply track the movement of the Trust forces that had fallen back.

Jennifer: In that case, I am going to need you to divert to my position. I believe that my team and I have discovered where The Trust is currently staging their defensive operations from, their CIC to be exact. However, the defensive lines are starting to shorten, and The Trust appears to be consolidating. We are going to need additional fire support ASAP.

Cochraine: I can divert Fireteam Harmony to your location right away.

Just as Cochraine said this, Jacob chimed in.

Jacob: Belay that order, Cochraine. Harmony is needed elsewhere.

Cochraine: May I ask where?

Jacob: I am going to need Harmony to assist in reinforcing Suicide Squad. I received an encrypted text message from Folee; they have visual confirmation of Nighthawk and Anaconda, and they are ready to engage. I was going to divert all of our forces to assist.

Jennifer: Jacob; that is a gross misappropriation of man-power. Stopping The Trust is paramount to anything else.

Jacob: I disagree.

Cochraine: Well, I agree with Captain Frost. If we have the ability to shut the Trust down, we should take it. Nighthawk and Anaconda can wait!

Jacob: I am not about to leave Suicide Squad high and dry without any backup.

Cochraine: But you are prepared to leave ONI without backup? To be frank, we can order Suicide Squad to break off and regroup. We can order them to withdraw…YOU can order them to withdraw! We should focus on taking down The Trust; we should assist ONI…we should provide ONI with the backup they need!

Jacob: ONI does not deserve backup…not after what they did! I find the very notion of ONI asking for ANYTHING after what they pulled on the Vigorous Inferno to be downright insulting!

Cochraine: Jacob, we do not have the time to debate this! Regardless of what happened on the Vigorous Inferno, it does not change the fact that ONI is within real striking distance of The Trust. It is our job, above all else, to help them in our common goal! We all want to cut the Trust down!

Jacob: Like I said; I have no intention of ditching Suicide Squad in favor of ONI. Stopping Nighthawk and Anaconda is JUST AS IMPORTANT as stopping The Trust. I am taking Omega Legion, and I am going to go and backup Suicide Squad, and we are going to put Nighthawk and Anaconda down! If you want to break off and help ONI…be my guest! I have no intention of helping them.

An audible sigh could be heard over the comm line, as Cochraine spoke up.

Cochraine: Stand by Captain Frost; Fireteam Harmony and I are on our way. We are moving towards your transponders now. Hold your position until we arrive, and we can push forward from there.

Jennifer: Copy that, Cochraine. We will hold our position until you arrive. Out current position is Junction Alpha-1 in Sector 3. Move towards our transponders, and utilize available signage to make your way here. Frost out.

Jennifer closed the comm line, as she looked at Burke, Tye, and Cameron.

Jennifer: Cochraine is on her way, but, Jacob has no intention of helping us.

Burke: At least we are going to get some backup. Harmony should prove to be useful. That being said, I am not surprised Jacob has no interest in helping us. I am guessing he is still holding a grudge about what happened on the Vigorous Inferno.

Jennifer: You could not be more right David. Jacob cited my stunt on the Vigorous Inferno as his reason for NOT backing us up. That being said, Jacob is more interested in leading Omega Legion to provide fire support for Suicide Squad, who, is about to engage Nighthawk and Anaconda. Frankly…I think Jacob is making a big mistake. Nothing about that plan will end well, but, there is no way to convince him of that.

Cameron: Do you think someone is going to get deep-sixed?

Jennifer: There is no doubt in my mind…

San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 2 – Main Access Lift leading to Subterranean Forerunner Facility. - 2230 Hours - February 1st 2540

Nighthawk and Anaconda had managed to move through the facility with very little difficulty. As a result, they had the chance to cover a great deal a ground, and drive right into the heart of the facility. As they reached the dead center of Firebase Mediterranean, they came across a large room, rectangular in shape, with a very large elevator at the far end of the room. It was clear that this was a point of interest for The Trust, given the fact that there were several defensible positions leading up to the elevator.

Nighthawk was on point; his gun raised, and his steps slow, as he slowly waked towards the elevator.

Nighthawk: I think we are on the right track. This was clearly a defended position.

Anaconda: It is not defended anymore. Why?

Nighthawk: Good question. Perhaps whoever was holding this position retreated down that elevator.

Nighthawk pointed his gun at the elevator, as he quickened his step, and moved towards the large elevator door. As Nighthawk closed in on the door, he holstered his Magnum, and placed his hand on the door.

Nighthawk: My HUD shows this as Titanium-A. This door was meant to keep people out, and it was meant to stay closed.

Nighthawk looked around, and he could not see anything which would help him get the door open.

Nighthawk: I have no idea how to get this door open. HAWK? Any ideas?

HAWK: Nothing yet.

Nighthawk: Well, work on it! See if you can find a solution on your end! Anaconda and I will try to force the door open

Anaconda grunted, but, his grunt quickly turned into a growl, when he heard the sound of an unfamiliar voice coming behind him. Nighthawk also turned, as he quickly drew his Magnum, and took aim at the trio of ODSTs that stood on the far side of the room.

Folee: Sounds to me that you have nowhere left to run.

Folee stood on point, his Shotgun aimed at Nighthawk, while Athios and Jaclyn had their weapons poised on Anaconda.

Folee: Cutting the two of you down should be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Nighthawk: Sergeant Folee…you are making a big mistake. You don’t want to do this. There are bigger fish to fry than Anaconda and I. You are in the heart of Trust activity. I am sure you can find someone else to fry

Folee: Perhaps, but, you two are the biggest fish at the moment, so that means you two go on the fryer!

Nighthawk: I am not here to fight the UNSC. I am here to stop The Trust, and I am here to put Vanguard down! As much as I want to do that, I can’t do it with you getting in my way. I am giving you a chance to walk away…one chance…

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Don’t start something you cannot finish! Don’t pick a fight you can’t win.

Folee: What makes you think we can’t win?

As Folee said this, he took a quick step forward, as he tightened the grip on his shotgun, and fired at Nighthawk. However, when Nighthawk saw Folee move, he immediately knew that a confrontation was inevitable. Nighthawk was barely able to make it to cover by the time Folee had fired off his weapon. Anaconda, on the other hand, simply snarled, as he readied his Hammer, and prepared himself to attack. As Nighthawk ducked behind cover, he scoffed and he looked at Anaconda, and simply nodded. Anaconda nodded back, as Anaconda charged at Suicide Squad.

Folee: Athios, Jaclyn…focus on the Ape. I will deal with Nighthawk! Keep that Brute away from Nighthawk!

Athios and Jaclyn both nodded, as they turned their weapons on Anaconda, and began to fire. Anaconda simply moved through the gunfire, as he jumped at the two ODSTs, and slammed his Hammer down right between them, tossing both ODSTs to opposite sides, separating them with relative ease. However, Athios and Jaclyn quickly rallied, as they began to coordinate their efforts.

Jaclyn: We need to keep our distance from this Ape. If he gets close, he is going to crush us with that Hammer. Move between cover, and make sure you keep something between you and him at all times. It will be best if we stay separated in order to catch him in crossfire. We won’t have much room to move, so, let’s not get greedy with our attacks.

Athios: Took the words right out of my mouth, Jaclyn.

Nighthawk, on the other hand, took his time emerging from cover, knowing full well that Folee currently had the upper hand based on his positioning. Nighthawk knew that if he had to emerge from cover, that he would need a moment to get a visual lock on Folee before he could do anything. Folee, on the other hand, would have Nighthawk in his line of sight the moment he began to move out of cover.

However, Nighthawk could hear Folee’s footsteps, as he was quickly getting closer. Nighthawk knew that his best bet was to wait for Folee to get closer before he acted.

Folee: Come on out Nighthawk…if you show yourself, I promise to make it quick!

Folee continued to step closer and closer to where Nighthawk was in cover. His Shotgun was raised, and at the ready, as he converged on Nighthawk, and cut down the angle at which the defensive position would be useful as cover. However, Folee came to an immediate halt, when he noticed that one of Nighthawk’s Magnums quickly slid across the ground, moving quickly to the right. This momentarily caught Folee’s attention, as he unconsciously followed the sliding weapon across the ground.

Folee: What the…?

Folee quickly realized that this was a diversionary tactic. When he did, he turned his attention forward again, but saw Nighthawk quickly approaching out of his left-most periphery vision. However, before Folee could adequately react to defend himself, Nighthawk grabbed the stock of Folee’s shotgun with his left hand, and lifted it into the air, pointing the shotgun at the ceiling. With his right hand, Nighthawk gave Folee a sharp jab in the throat, which caused Folee to lose the grip on his shotgun, and stumble back.

Nighthawk glared at Folee, as Folee rubbed his neck. As the two men exchanged mutual looks of distain, Nighthawk began to eject the shells from Folee’s Shotgun.

Nighthawk: We can’t have you running around with this canon. It would be very unwise, and very unhealthy for me.

Nighthawk laughed, as he ejected the last shell from the weapon. However, Folee was not to be spited, as he reached to his side and drew his Automag. However, before he could even take aim, Nighthawk stepped forward, and threw the shotgun back at Folee; the butt of the shotgun impact Folee right in the visor. The force of the impact caused Folee to stumble back once more.

However, this time, Nighthawk did not let up. Nighthawk continued to move towards Folee, as he gave a swift right hook to Folee, before following up with a quick kick to Folee’s left knee. As Folee fell to the ground, Nighthawk took a step back, then charged forward, as he slammed the sole of his hoot right into Folee’s chest, kicking the ODST back. As Folee fell to the ground, he dropped his Automag; the gun sliding across the ground.

Nighthawk: I am telling you, kid…you are out of your league.

Folee scoffed at Nighthawk, as he quickly jumped back to his feet, and drew his combat knife.

Nighthawk: You’re a nimble one, aren’t you? No matter. It won’t do you any good.

Folee: You really love to run your mouth, don’t you?

Nighthawk: What can I say? I love the sound of my own voice!

Folee sighed, as he lunged forward, slashing at Nighthawk with his combat knife. Nighthawk, however, recoiled back to avoid being slashed by the combat knife. Despite this, Folee kept up the pressure, as he continued to lunge towards Nighthawk, getting closer and closer with each successive attempt. It was not long before Nighthawk had run out of room to evade Folee’s attacks, and was force to raise his left hand, and grab Folee’s right wrist, as Folee had sung his combat knife at Nighthawk, in an effort to slam the knife into the side of Nighthawk’s neck.

Nighthawk struggled with Folee, as the two men were stuck in a very deadly and very dangerous grapple. As the two men struggled with one another, Folee began to push forward, as he slammed Nighthawk into a wall. The force of impact briefly stunned Nighthawk, as Folee was able to press the point of the blade right to Nighthawk’s neck.

Folee: What’s the matter? Not running your mouth so much now, are you? Cat got your tongue, you prick?

Nighthawk scoffed, as he glared at Folee for a moment, before lifting his right foot, and kicking Folee back. As Folee stumbled back, Nighthawk quickly composed himself. However, Folee did not give Nighthawk much time, as he once again charged at Nighthawk, except this time, his combat knife was raised into the air, and he sent it lunging downwards towards Nighthawk. When Nighthawk saw this, he was barely able to move out of the way, as the combat knife slammed into the metal wall behind Nighthawk.

As Nighthawk moved to the side, to distance himself from Folee, Folee turned to face Nighthawk once more. As Folee had done before, he began to move against Nighthawk. Nighthawk, who was now sick of playing the defensive game, knew that if he did not act soon, that there would be an unfavorable conclusion to this fight.

Nighthawk: Listen kid, you have to stop this! I am not the enemy here!

Folee: I have my orders to cross you off, and I intend to see those orders fulfilled.

Nighthawk: Those orders are going to get you killed if you follow them!

Folee: What’s the matter Nighthawk? Trying to talk your way out of a defeat? Worried you can’t win?

Nighthawk: No, I am worried I am going to have to cross a terrible line in order to get the job done. You are not making this easy! I am giving you one last chance; stand down!

Folee: Take your offer, and stick it where the sun don’t shine, you prick!

Nighthawk: Very well…if that is the way you want it…so be it. I am sorry that it has to be this way.

Folee scoffed, as he lunged at Nighthawk. However, this time, Nighthawk was ready, as he grabbed Folee’s arm, and twisted it, snapping the bone in Folee’s forearm in the process. This caused Folee to drop his knife to the ground. As Folee cried out in pain, Nighthawk spun around, and tossed Folee over his shoulders; slamming the ODST into the ground.

As Nighthawk looked down at Folee, he placed his boot on Folee’s throat and he drew his other Magnum, and aimed it right at Folee’s head.

Nighthawk: Nothing personal kid, I am just doing my job.

Nighthawk was about to pull the trigger, but he stopped when his attention shifted to Anaconda doing battle with Jaclyn and Athios. From what Nighthawk could see, Athios and Jaclyn had been engaging in hit and run tactics with Anaconda. Nighthawk could see that Athios and Jaclyn had split up, and spent most of their time taking pot shots at Anaconda from behind cover, slowly withering down his shields with a set of coordinated attacks. Nighthawk could tell that both Athios and Jaclyn were tired; whether it had been from the grueling campaign that defined the persistent fighting on San Angeles, or the fact that Anaconda had kept them on their toes, Nighthawk knew that they were not going to last much longer.

Nighthawk: What is the ODST Motto, Mr. Folee? Feet first into hell?

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I don’t know about feet first, but, your friends are going to hell, and I am going to send them there, and you are going to watch me do it.

Nighthawk watched as Athios and Jaclyn moved away from Anaconda’s position, as they began to reload their weapons. Nighthawk grinned as Anaconda began to charge at Athios and Jaclyn; the large Brute leaping into the air, as he slammed his Gravity Hammer down, causing the two ODST to stumble back.

Nighthawk: You know…I never thought I would ever say it, but, I am sick and tired of beating around the bush when it comes to the UNSC. I have tried so hard to mitigate Human casualties. I have tried so hard to avoid killing men and women in uniform, that is, good men and women who fight for the right ideals, who fight the right battles, and make the noble sacrifices. However, people like you, Mr. Folee, could not leave well enough alone. I came here to fight The Trust, to cross of a very real threat, and to spare you people the horrors of a terrible compromise. I asked you, man to man, to back off and let me do what I needed to do. However, whether it was pride, hubris, or just the inability to defy a stupid order, you led your people into a slaughter. Tell me…Mr. Folee…where is Jacob? Why did he send you? Why are you here? Why is he nowhere to be found? Why did he send you to die?

Nighthawk watched as Anaconda lunged at Jaclyn, and backhanded the ODST across the room. As Jaclyn flew across the room, and slammed into the wall, Athios called out to her.

Athios: Jaclyn! Are you alright!?

However, much to the dismay of Athios, Jaclyn did not respond to his call. Athios scoffed, as he glared at Anaconda.

Athios: God-damn fucking APE!

Athios broke out into a sprint and charged at Anaconda, as he readied his shotgun. However, before Athios could even begin to retaliate against Anaconda, a single gunshot rang out. As the discharge echoed in the room, Athios came to a halt, before he began to stumble. As Athios stumbled, he dropped his shotgun and he began to gag, as he placed his hand on his neck to try and stop the bleeding from the gunshot wound that Nighthawk had just inflicted upon him. As Athios struggled to turn and face Nighthawk, several more gunshots rang out, as Nighthawk shot Athios several more times in the chest. After Nighthawk had expended his clip, Athios fell to the ground, and quickly began to bleed out, dying moments after he hit the ground.

When Folee saw this out of the corner of his eye, he began to struggle, but, Nighthawk simply pressed his boot harder down on Folee’s throat. However, Nighthawk did not keep this up, as he pulled his foot off of Folee’s throat, and stepped away, reloading his gun as he walked.

Nighthawk: Like I said Mr. Folee…

Anaconda walked over to where Jaclyn was laying. As he approached her, she began to move, as she tried to climb back to her feet. Nighthawk looked down at this and shook his head, as he pointed his gun downwards, and shot Jaclyn in the back of the head, followed by the rest of his clip into her back.

Nighthawk: Your team is going to hell…and I am going to send them there.

Folee glared at Nighthawk, as he tried to climb back to his feet.

Folee: You son of a BITCH!

Nighthawk glared at Folee as he tried to get back to his Feet.

Nighthawk: Stay down, if you know what is good for you.

As Nighthawk approached Folee’s position, he began to reload his Magnum. Once Nighthawk had reloaded his Magnum, he kicked Folee in the side, knocking the ODST back down to the ground. As Folee laid on his back, Nighthawk placed his foot on Folee’s chest, and looked down at him. As Nighthawk stood over Folee, Folee looked up at Nighthawk.

Folee: There is a special place in hell for people like you!

Folee scoffed.

Folee: You murdered my team! One way or the other, you are going to pay for that! Someone, I don’t know who, is going to cross you off. One of these days, your luck is going to give out, and you are going to come face to face with your own mortality! When that day comes…remember me! You are a murdered, through and through. You are malevolent. If there was any shred of Humanity behind that helmet, it is surely dead, if not before, then defiantly now! You are an animal; you run with one, and you have become one!

Nighthawk: You condemn me for defending myself. I was simply defending myself. I tried to reason with you, but, you would not listen! I had to defend myself…

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: However…I must be honest…part of me enjoyed killing your team. It felt liberating, even exhilarating! I have to admit…I could see myself doing it again!

Folee was breathing heavily. He was furious with what he was hearing. Never before had he been so enraged by a single individual. Folee could not find the words to adequately express his rage and disgust. However, Folee still made the effort to convey his disgust.

Folee: Shooting Jaclyn in the back of the head, and filling her dead body with bullets is not defending yourself! Putting a round through Athios’ trachea, and pumping lead into his dying body is NOT defending yourself! This is not you defending yourself. This is you being a PSYCHOPATH!

Nighthawk was going to respond, but, Anaconda, who had approached from Nighthawk’s flank, simply grunted and growled.

Anaconda: I grow weary of this Human! Nighthawk…finish him off! We have a job to do!

Nighthawk looked up at Anaconda, and gave a single nod. Anaconda grunted back, as he handed Nighthawk his other Magnum; the same Magnum that was used earlier as a diversion.

Nighthawk: Are you sure you don’t want to finish him off, big guy? Who am I to deny you a kill?

Anaconda: It would be better if you kill him. I have very little to gain from killing this whelp! You, on the other hand, SHOULD kill this Human. You are far more interesting when you are killing.

Anaconda snarled.

Anaconda: Besides…I am saving my blood lust for Vanguard. So, Nighthawk…finish the job! Get it over and done with! We have a job to do, and we must not waste any more time!

Nighthawk nodded at Anaconda, as the duo looked back down at Folee.

Nighthawk: You heard the man, err, the Brute. Time to die, Mr. Folee.

As Nighthawk took aim at Folee’s forehead. As Nighthawk prepared to fire, he was stopped when he heard the sound of several individuals approaching from behind.


Nighthawk kept his gun aimed at Folee, as he turned around, only to see Omega Legion, along with Jacob and SNyder, with their weapons raised and at the ready. Anaconda gave an exasperated snarl, as he was getting tired of the constant interruptions and diversions

Anaconda: Nighthawk…we don’t have time for this!

Anaconda clenched his fists around his Gravity Hammer, as he glared at Jacob and Omega Legion. Nighthawk looked at Anaconda and nodded, before turning back to Jacob and Omega Legion.

Nighthawk: You’re right, Big Guy, we don’t have time for this.

Nighthawk paused, as he glared at Jacob for a moment.

Nighthawk: Jacob…stand down! I will not ask this twice! Folee cannot afford me to ask twice. If I have to ask twice, I will kill Sergeant Folee, and his death will be on you.

Nighthawk could see that Jacob had taken a glance around the room, and the deaths of Athios and Jaclyn were now know to him. Jacob then glared at Nighthawk; a very clear and visible rage in his voice and in his body language,

Jacob: You son of a bitch…

Nighthawk: Help me out Jacob. Don’t make me kill Sergeant Folee! Nobody wants that!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Well?

Jacob glared at Nighthawk for a moment, before he looked at Omega Legion, and gave them a nod. Omega Legion lowered their weapon, before Jacob finally did the same. As Jacob lowered his weapon, Folee called out to him.

Folee: Jacob! Don’t do it! Don’t let this fucker win! Don’t let him dictate the terms of engagement to you! Shoot the bastard! Take the shot! Losing me is a small price to pay! Just finish this bastard off!

Jacob: Folee…I can’t do that. I can’t do that! I refuse to give Nighthawk the justification he needs to finish of Suicide Squad!

Nighthawk kept his eye contact with Jacob as he spoke.

Nighthawk: Of course you can’t. It is because you are weak! The only thing you know how to do is kill people through a telescopic lense. You cannot stomach the visceral sensation of killing someone face to face. That is what makes you weak, Jacob! It is why you will always be weak. You don’t have the guts to look someone in the eye and cross them off, and you certainly don’t have the guts to sacrifice Folee, despite the fact that he is pleading with you to let him die…JUST to have a chance at stopping me.

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: I am not impressed by any of this. I am actually very disappointed, for a lot of reasons. That being said…it reaffirms why I left the UNSC; people like you, Jacob, are what is wrong with it to its very core.

Jacob: Coming from a man whose primary associates include a malfunctioning AI and a Brute whose motives are as nebulous as his intelligence, a man who hides behind an alias, a man too afraid to show his face, a man with more blood on his hands than anyone I have ever had the misfortune of knowing…your words mean very little.

Jacob scoffed, as he glared at Nighthawk, and then at Anaconda.

Jacob: I should have left you to die at the hands of The Trust.

Anaconda growled. He stepped forward, but Nighthawk stopped him.

Nighthawk: Not yes, Big Guy…not yet…

Anaconda snarled, as he stopped in his tracks. He held his position, but the grip on his Gravity Hammer tightened.

Jacob shook his head as he looked at Nighthawk, glaring at Nighthawk as he spoke to him.

Jacob: I should have killed you the moment Anaconda was captured by The Trust. Let’s face it; without the Brute to intervene at the moment of your defeat, you are actually pretty easy to kill, Nighthawk. It doesn’t take much effort. In the end, when you take away the fancy guns, and the fancy armor…lose the toys and ditch the Brute…and all that is left is some guy with too much luck, and not enough self-control; someone that lost touch with their Humanity long ago.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Mark my words, Nighthawk; you are not getting off this planet alive. I will not allow it. No matter what…I am going to hunt you down, and I am going to finish you off, even if it is the last thing I do.

Before Nighthawk had a chance to respond, he heard HAWK speak to him through his helmet’s comm line.

HAWK: Nighthawk, heads up! That elevator I have been working on is moving up, and that door is about to open. That is your only escape route, and you have to take it!

Nighthawk heard what HAWK said, and simply grinned, as he responded to Jacob.

Nighthawk: Is that so, Jacob?

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: That is a terrible idea, given the circumstances. Like I told Folee before I crossed his team off; I am trying to stop The Trust, and I am trying to stop Vanguard. When you get in my way, you are only helping The Trust and Vanguard. When you try and kill me, you are doing their dirty work. If you actually manage to kill me, you are enabling them to win.

Jacob: Who the hell do you think you are? You think you are the only one who can stop The Trust. How badly did you have to distort that logic to get to this point?

Nighthawk: I am the only one who can stop The Trust, because I know The Trust better than almost anyone else! I have had more experience fighting The Trust than ANYONE else! There is a reason they have commissioned so much to stop me, and nobody else; it is because I am the biggest threat that has the audacity to stand up against them!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I am the only one capable of stopping The Trust.

Nighthawk paused, when he heard the large elevator doors open behind him.

Nighthawk: I am going right now to stop them. The only thing that is not leaving this planet is The Vanguard construct. I am going to put an end to The Trust and their weapon.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: As for you, Jacob, you have one job; stay the hell out of my way, and let me end this! Walk away! Go back to the Vigorous Inferno, and never look back!

Anaconda looked at Nighthawk, and then Jacob, and then back at Nighthawk. Anaconda knew that Nighthawk was ending this engagement, but, he knew something was up because Nighthawk did not budge. After a brief moment of total silence, Nighthawk began to laugh.

Nighthawk: I know what is going through that head of yours, Jacob. The moment I move…the moment the barrel of my gun is not pointing down at Folee’s head…is the moment you, and your team, raises your weapons and tries to kill me. I recognize your stance, and I can see the body language, and I know you to the point I can anticipate what you want most! I am not stupid.

Jacob: No, but you two are dead the moment you move. That much is certain.

Anaconda bared his teeth, and snarled, as he turned in Nighthawk’s direction, and reached down, grabbing Folee by the throat; violently lifting the injured ODST into the air. Folee moaned in agony as he was manhandled by Anaconda. Anaconda glared at Folee, his nostrils flaring as he breathed heavily, and a vicious snarl escaping his teeth with every breath.

As Anaconda held Folee in his hands, Jacob and the rest of Suicide Squad raised their weapons, and took aim at Anaconda. As Anaconda heard the sounds of weapons being raised, he turned and glared at Jacob.

Anaconda: I do not have the patience for this! I will utterly pulverize this Human if you even TRY to stop us!

Jacob: Let him go, you god damn Ape!

Anaconda snarled, as he began to squeeze his fist. With every second that went by, Folee’s neck was put under more and more stress. It was obvious that Folee could not take much more of what Anaconda was doing.

Nighthawk watched as Anaconda was on the brink of crushing Folee’s neck. As Folee’s body started to go limp, Nighthawk called out to Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Anaconda! Fall back to the elevator! They are not going to risk getting Folee killed, but, if Folee dies in the death grip of yours, there will be nothing to stop them.

Anaconda grunted, as he began to step back, slowly backing into the elevator, with Nighthawk. As Nighthawk glared at Jacob, he began to laugh.

Nighthawk: So, tell me Jacob…what were you saying about the two of us being dead the moment we move?

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Let Folee go!

Just as Jacob said this, the large elevator doors began to close. As the doors closed, Anaconda snarled, as he tossed Folee out of the elevator, and right to Jacob’s feet. As Folee slid across the ground, towards Jacob, Omega Legion took the opportunity to step forward and open fire on Nighthawk and Anaconda. However, before the first bullet was fired, the elevator doors began to slam shut. Nighthawk and Anaconda had to move to opposite sides of the elevator to avoid being hit by the gunfire, but, ultimately, were unharmed.

Carmicle: Damn it! The bastard got away!

As Carmicle said this, he turned back to Jacob, only to see that Jacob had knelt down next to Folee and began to examine the injured ODST.

Carmicle: Jacob? How is Folee doing?

Jacob: Not 100% sure. We may need someone with an actual background to accurately determine that. However, I doubt it is going to be good.

Carmicle: The only one here qualified for that would be Captain Frost.

Jacob: That is something I am painfully aware of…

Snyder stepped forward, and looked at Jacob, shaking her head.

Snyder: You are not thinking of asking ONI for help, are you? Those were the same people that knocked my entire team off the active list! They cannot be trusted!

Jacob: I am also aware of that. However, if we don’t do something, Folee is not make it! He is in bad shape!

Snyder: Contact Harrison and request an evac!

Jacob shrugged, as he opened a comm line to the Vigorous Inferno.

Jacob: Admiral Harrison? This is Captain Sharpmen, priority one…please respond!

After a moment of silence, Harrison responded.

Harrison: This is Harrison. Go ahead Jacob. What is your status?

Jacob: Situation is not good, sir. Suicide Squad engaged Nighthawk and Anaconda. Athios and Jaclyn are dead, and Folee is in critical condition as a result! I need a medical evac for Sergeant Folee right away.

Harrison: Negative. We would be unable to get any evac crafts through the mess we are in up here! We have been engaged by Covenant bogies…lots of them. Our point defenses are working overtime, and we are taking a beating up here. Any non-combat vessel we deploy will be at risk of being destroyed the instant in leaves the ship! Until we can clear the surrounding space, I am unable to authorize an evac!

Jacob: Sir…Folee will die if we don’t get him out of here!

Harrison: Anyone I send out to get you will die if I don’t eliminate The Covenant! I am sorry Jacob, but I cannot evac you at the moment. We are working as fast as we can to clear the surrounding area, but, we are not close, and, if one of those larger Covenant ships turns on us, we are going to be in serious danger, and Folee would just end up dying up here! Try and make due for the moment. The moment I can evac Sergeant Folee, I will do so!

Jacob: Aye sir!

Jacob sighed, as he was clearly frustrated.

Harrison: Jacob…hang in there. Believe me…I am not going to leave you guys behind!

Jacob: I know sir…

Harrison: Jacob…until I can evac you, consider this your new standing order; Kill Nighthawk and Anaconda. All other concerns are to be considered secondary! Is that clear!?

Jacob: Crystal clear, sir.

Harrison: Those bastards have done enough to warrant multiple lifetimes in hell. Make sure nobody else dies on their account! Find them, and use whatever means necessary to put them down!

Jacob: Aye, sir! Captain Sharpmen out!

Jacob closed the comm line, as he stood up. He looked at each member of Omega Legion, as well as Snyder, before he spoke.

Jacob: Evac isn’t possible at this time. New standing orders are to kill Nighthawk and Anaconda. We are to utilize all necessary force.

Carmicle: What about Sergeant Folee? What do we do?

Jacob: I think it is very clear what we have to do…

Jacob looked at Snyder for a moment, before Snyder sighed.


As Jacob and Omega Legion conversed with one another on how to proceed, Nighthawk and Anaconda had been descending downwards in the elevator they had used to escape. As they descended downwards, Nighthawk was unusually silent. Anaconda took notice of this, and spoke up.

Anaconda: Are you alright?

Nighthawk looked at Anaconda, and sighed.

Nighthawk: Yeah…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Sort of…

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: Sergeant Athios and Corporal Cross…they shouldn’t have had to die. I have been trying to figure out why they didn’t stand down. They were defiantly following orders, which explains why they would not stand down. Whose orders, we will never know.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: However…I did what I had to do. They put the mission in danger.

Anaconda: Exactly! They tried to stop us! We couldn’t allow that.

Nighthawk: Yeah…they did.

Anaconda: Never doubt that for a moment! Never doubt that you did the right thing!

Anaconda gave Nighthawk a firm slap on the back.

Anaconda: The way you cut those Humans down…it was quick and it was ruthless. I have not seen that killer instinct from you in a long time! I was worried you had forgotten HOW to be a ruthless killer!

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: I am glad to see you still have that killer instinct. Just be sure to show it more often. I was getting tired of the half-measures. I prefer to smell the blood of my enemies when I am in battle!

Nighthawk: Until Vanguard has been destroyed, there will be no more half-measures. It is now kill or be killed. Frankly, when this is all said and done, I doubt things will ever cool down. I think kill or be killed is going to have to be my new mantra. The UNSC is going to hunt me for the rest of my days after San Angeles goes down, but, I think we both knew that.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Speaking of which…

Nighthawk paused for a moment before calling out to HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK, what is the status of the weapon?

When HAWK replied, both Nighthawk and Anaconda could hear the AI speak through their comm lines.

HAWK: Not good. The charging sequence has stopped. Literally every watt of power is now being consumed by Firebase Mediterranean. A spectrographic analysis of the planet proves this. Whatever is happening down there, it is more power-hungry than an entire planet. Whatever is consuming a planet-sized amount of power needs to be shut down before San Angeles can be destroyed.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Then this means that we are now forced to defeat Vanguard through conventional means before we can destroy this world. If we were trying to stop The Trust AND The Covenant from getting their grip on Vanguard’s technology, then Vanguard is directly in the path of that objective.

Nighthawk: Conventional means may not be enough.

Anaconda: I was able to defeat Vanguard through conventional means once before.

Nighthawk: If I am not mistaken, the first Vanguard was much different than this Vanguard. This Vanguard has the benefit of hindsight, and he has access to a forge, both of which makes it immensely more dangerous.

Anaconda: I will not cower from Vanguard on the premise that it is simply a stronger opponent. I can beat it again; it may be more difficult, but, I believe I can do it…I believe I can stop this thing.

Nighthawk: Well, that’s all I need to hear…

Nighthawk shrugged.

Nighthawk: Vanguard aside, I have to give it to you HAWK, you certainly prove, time and again, that you have good timing.

HAWK: What do you mean?

Nighthawk: The elevator…you managed to get it to us at the perfect time.

HAWK: I didn’t do that. I was still working on it long after Jacob arrived. The elevator was sent to you, but it wasn’t by me.

Anaconda: Then who sent it?

As Anaconda said this, the elevator began to slow down, eventually coming to a halt. When the elevator stopped, the doors opened, to reveal The Consultant and Nova Team. The Consultant stood in front of Nova Team, with her hands behind her back, with a grin on her face. Before Nighthawk and Anaconda could even react, however, she raised her hand, and spoke to them.

The Consultant: Before the two of you do anything rash…hear me out…please.

Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at each other, before they looked back at The Consultant.

Anaconda: What do you want, Human? Make it quick!

The Consultant waited a moment, as she looked at Anaconda.

The Consultant: You are not very patient, hmm?

Anaconda snarled.

The Consultant: Relax, I am not here as your enemy. Don’t treat me like one.

Nighthawk looked at The Consultant; a confused inflection in both his body language and voice.

Nighthawk: Ummm…excuse me?

The Consultant: Let me be precise; I am here to help you stop Vanguard. I believe you two are the only people who, not only, have what it takes to stop Vanguard, but also have the decency and common sense to hear me out, and work with me to save not just Humanity, but, the Galaxy.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: I have made a terrible mistake, and it needs to be rectified. I am here to help you destroy Vanguard. Alone, it can’t be done, but, I think between the two of us, that is, between Nova Team and myself, and the two of you…we may be able to stop the single greatest catastrophe from ever happening.

The Consultant stepped forward, towards both Nighthawk and Anaconda.

The Consultant: I would not be here, and I would not ask this of you if I was not sincere in my belief that Vanguard MUST be stopped! I have seen this thing up close, I have had the chance to examine it, and I have seen how its tune has so radically changed since it rebuilt itself, and I am convinced that in very short order, this thing is going to kill everyone; UNSC, ONI, The Trust, The Covenant…we are all equally inferior in its eyes…and we are all equally expendable. We need to stop Vanguard before something terrible happens!

Anaconda: I seriously doubt THE TRUST is capable of such altruism. I am not even capable of that kind of Altruism!

Anaconda snarled, which caused The Consultant to take a step back.

Anaconda: I don’t believe you!

The Consultant: The rest of The Trust does not know what I am planning to do. They believe that I am here to study and examine the construct, even protect it from the two of you. There is nothing that Spender wants more than to see this Construct annihilate everything in its path. He sees this AI as the solution to everything; ONI, The Covenant, and even the two of you. The fact that Vanguard has explicitly stated that it wants to kill Anaconda, is reason enough for Spender to give it a free pass and to hell with the dangers of doing so! The problem is that in his crusade to “protect Humanity” he fails to see the dangers of his own solutions. He cannot grasp the notion that this thing will destroy everything, and nothing will be spared.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Part of me knows that Vanguard is too dangerous. Unfortunately, I did not understand that before it was too late. However, another part of me is just too fascinated with Anaconda to let some AI with a grudge have its way.

The Consultant looked at Anaconda, and laughed a bit.

The Consultant: Call me a fangirl, but, you are more important to me than a doomsday machine with a voice box.

Nighthawk chuckled, as he nudged Anaconda in the side with his elbow.

Nighthawk: You have a secret admirer, big guy. You can’t say no to your fans.

Anaconda let out an exasperated grunt, as he hung his head and shook it.

Nighthawk: That is his way of saying “fine, whatever”. If Anaconda wants to go along with this, I think I can as well. Under normal circumstances, I would NEVER entertain the idea of joining forces with someone who actively works for The Trust, but, these are not normal circumstances.

Anaconda grunted in agreement, as he glared at The Consultant, and interjected.

Anaconda: if you try and stab us in the back, if you even think about stabbing us in the back, I will rip you, and Nova Team, into a hundred pieces…very…very…slowly. Do not think that I am not capable of doing it! I have killed for much, much less!

The Consultant nodded.

The Consultant: Rest assured…there will be no betrayal. You have my word…

The Consultant extended her hand towards Anaconda. Anaconda looked at The Consultant for a moment, and then looked at her hand. Anaconda felt very uncertain about trusting this Human, but, given the circumstances and given what he had just been told, he was no better or worse off by not trusting her. Anaconda grunted, as he grabbed The Consultant’s hand, his own eclipsing hers in size.

The Consultant: Well, isn’t this exciting! An unexpected alliance? What next!?

Anaconda grunted, as he quickly released his grasp and pulled his hand away.

Anaconda: This deal is not intended to excite you!

The Consultant: Of course; you only care about stopping Vanguard. I can appreciate that! That much I can expect from you. After all, you have already bested Vanguard once? Right Chieftain?

Both Nighthawk and Anaconda were taken aback by this statement. Anaconda growled, as he stopped towards The Consultant.

Anaconda: How do you know that?

The Consultant: I had the distinct “pleasure” of speaking with Vanguard concerning the first time it was defeated. Vanguard knows who you are; it knows you are the one who beat it the first time. It wants to settle the score. It wants to fight you, above all else, before all else. It has a score to settle, and it wants to fight you. It wants nothing more than to get revenge ion you. In fact, I believe that you may be the single thing that motivates it at this point in time.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Anything that is capable of THAT MUCH disdain and hatred could never be a reliable asset! Had I known what Vanguard was like before we decided to help it, I would have done everything in my power to destroy it! I did not know what we would unleash, but, I know now, and it has to be stopped!

The Consultant looked at both Nighthawk and Anaconda, as she gestured her head, as if to instruct the duo to follow.

The Consultant: Come with me, I have something the two of you may want to see before we engage Vanguard. It is part of my plan to defeat it. There is technology here that can help us, technology that I believe may be capable of damaging Vanguard in ways that our weapons could not hope to achieve.

With that said, The Consultant turned, and began to walk away. Nova Team kept their eyes on Nighthawk and Anaconda for a moment, before they turned to follow The Consultant. Nighthawk and Anaconda then looked at each other; both of them shrugging at one another, before they began to follow The Consultant and Nova Team.

As Nighthawk and Anaconda followed, Anaconda nudged Nighthawk to get his attention. When Nighthawk felt the nudge, he looked at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: What’s up, Big Guy?

Anaconda: I am curious about something.

Nighthawk: What would that be?

Anaconda: What is a fangirl?

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: It’s a person, specifically a woman, who would say yes to anything, so long as the right person asked, and we will leave it at that.

Anaconda gave an uncertain grunt, as he shook his head, as he had a pretty good idea of what Nighthawk was trying to get at.

Nighthawk: Far be it from me to know why, but, she likes you. What can I say; women are strange creatures.

San Angeles – Crash Site Near Firebase Mediterranean – Covenant Corvette Divine Intervention - Main Bridge - 2250 Hours - February 1st 2540

Xyrho began to finally regain consciousness after he had been knocked out in the initial crash landing of his ship near Firebase Mediterranean. As Xyrho came around, he groaned in discomfort, as he had a terrible headache and his vision was blurry. While his headache was something that would not go away any time soon, his vision began to clear up at a pretty rapid pace. It was not long at all before Xyrho’s eyes had cleared up, and he was able to see normally.

Xyrho began to climb back to his feet once his vision had fully cleared up. As Xyrho looked around his bridge, he was reminded that his entire bridge crew had been killed by the barrage that brought down his ship. The sheer number of dead Elites that lay around him angered Xyrho to no end, but, he kept his composure.

Xyrho scoffed, as he looked up at the ceiling of his bridge and noticed that the entire area that was above the bridge was missing, no doubt destroyed by the Forerunner particle cannon. As Xyrho stared at the massive hole in the ceiling of his bridge, he heard the sound of something trying to force the doors to the bridge. Xyrho quickly looked at the doors to the bridge, but he stopped short of drawing his energy blade. Xyrho looked at the door for a moment, holding his ground as he tried to decide on a course of action. However, before Xyrho could put much thought into it, he was caught off guard, and stumbled back, when the door in question was breached by what seemed like an explosive charge.

Xyrho roared, as he glared at the massive smoke cloud where the door used to be. However, his anger subsided, when he saw a pair of Elites step through the smoke cloud, and onto the bridge.

Voro: Shipmaster! You are alive!

Xyrho looked at Voro, and saw that his armor had taken a serious beating.

Xyrho: That is more than I can say for my bridge crew…

Xyrho turned and looked at the other Elite, and noticed that Vhat had also survived the crash.

Xyrho: Did the two of you find any other survivors?

Vhat: We did not. You are the only other warrior we have found alive. The rest of our brothers perished in the crash. There does not seem to be many survivors.

Xyrho: Have either of you heard anything from Chieftain Dangerus? It was my understand that he was going to assault Vanguard’s compound if I was not successful in my attempt.

Voro: No, the mongrel has not made any effort to contact us. The same can be said for the mongrels that follow him. We have not heard anything.

Xyrho shook his head in frustration.

Xyrho: Then we must proceed under the assumption that we are all that is left of The Covenant, here, at this world. It is possible that Dangerus may be alive, but, with no ship at our disposal, we have no way of contacting any of our other forces if they are alive. This means that we have no support and no backup. We are alone.

Xyrho paused, as his mind shifted to focus on resuming a tactical engagement against Vanguard.

Xyrho: Did any of our Phantoms survive?

Vhat: No…they were all destroyed in the crash. The only thing that survived the crash was a few Ghosts and a single Spectre. I managed to get the vehicles off the ship, and on the ground, the intent being to try and regroup with The Covenant. That was just before Voro found me.

Xyrho: Well then, if we have transportation, then, we can still fight.

Voro: Shipmaster?

Xyrho: I may have lost my ship, Voro, but, I have not lost my resolve. So long as I draw breath, I will pursue Vanguard, and I will fight it! I will not allow this setback to strike fear into me.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Let’s get to that Spectre. Our time is limited!

With that, Xyrho walked right passed Vhat and Voro. As he did, the other two Elites began to follow behind him.

Voro: How do you intent to fight Vanguard?

Xyrho: I don’t know…

Voro: What is the plan when we find it? How do we engage it?

Xyrho: I don’t know…

Vhat: Was there ever a plan?

Xyrho: I don’t know…

Voro: I don’t like the sound of this. It sounds like we are throwing our lives away. Dying in battle is one thing. This sounds like dying for nothing.

Xyrho stopped, as he turned and glared at Voro.

Xyrho: You know, as well as I, how dangerous and unpredictable Vanguard is!

Varro nodded.

Xyrho: Then you know that, no matter what, we either destroy this construct, or, we die trying. Vanguard is too dangerous to ignore.

Vhat interjected.

Vhat: If Vanguard is as dangerous as you say, then would it not be wise to locate additional forces, and engage with greater numbers?

Xyrho: Ideally, it would be…but look around you…

Xyrho paused, as Vhat looked around the bridge.

Xyrho: I am pretty sure we are the only survivors of this crash. Without any reliable communications, how can we call for support from our ships in orbit? We don’t even have forces nearby to contact with short-range communication. There is very little we can do!

Vhat scoffed.

Vhat: Surely there are survivors on the two Brute ships that crashed alongside your ship?

Xyrho: It is possible, but, we do not have the time to search two ships for survivors! The amount of time it would require to search two CCS Cruisers for survivors would be immense! We do not have that sort of time! The demonstration of power that was used to bring down two CCS cruisers, as well as my own ship, proves that Vanguard is fully operation, and ready for battle! Every moment we spend searching for survivors, Vanguard becomes immeasurably more powerful and dangerous!

Vhat: If you say so, Shipmaster.

Xyrho then turned, and continued walking, with Voro and Vhat in tow towards the hanger bay.

Xyrho: Do we have access to any weapons?

Vhat: No, the armory is inaccessible. I tried to get to it, but, it had been buried under a collapsed corridor.

Xyrho frowned, but, he had an idea.

Xyrho: If memory serves me correctly, there was a number of fully armed squads, consisting of Sangheili and Unggoy in the hanger bay when we were shot down.

Vhat: Yes, and they are all dead.

Xyrho: Exactly my point; any weapons we need can be…scavenged…from the dead

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Unfortunately…we may not have a choice in the matter. We do what we must, however. The only thing that matters is stopping Vanguard.

Vhat and Voro looked at one another as they followed behind Xyrho. Both Elites were thinking the same thing; that Xyrho was either absolutely obsessed with stopping Vanguard, or his notions of honor leave much to be desired.

Voro: That is disrespectful to our fallen brothers…

Xyrho: I don’t care.

Vhat and Voro were taken aback by this statement. Both Voro and Vhat were now certain that Xyrho was, or has always been, blinded by his desire to destroy Vanguard. However, both Elites knew better than to openly challenge Xyrho on this, as they knew that Xyrho’s response would be as irrational and narrow as his disregard for even the most basic level of respect for Sangheili honor.

As Xyrho led Voro and Vhat into the hanger bay, he began to issue orders to his subordinates.

Xyrho: Vhat…Voro…gather what weapons you can find. Be selective with what you take. Preference should be given to Flak Cannons and Carbines. I will go and prepare the Spectre for departure.

With that, Xyrho turned and walked towards the large hanger bay door which led outside. Voro and Vhat watched as Xyrho walked towards the large hanger bay door, and jumped out of the ship to the ground below. With Xyrho out of sight, Voro and Vhat exchanged a mutual look of concern.

Vhat: I have never seen the Shipmaster act like that.

Voro: Xyrho has always had very unconventional ideas when it came to the notion of Sangheili honor. He has never shown reverence for it.

Vhat: No, I mean, I have never seen him so motivated to charge into battle. From what I have seen, he always deferred to a more strategic method. Now, all he wants is to charge into battle, like a starving Brute.

Voro: Vanguard is a personal matter for him, However, I fear it has become far too personal. I fear that Xyrho is going to do something foolish.

Voro paused.

Voro: However, it is our duty as warriors to stand behind our Shipmaster, even if his perception of honor is that of a mongrel. Xyrho’s only grace comes from his desire to destroy Vanguard. He will do whatever he must to meet that goal. All we can do is try and survive what he gets us into.

Voro paused.

Voro: But do not forget that your loyalty to The Covenant is para mount to your loyalty to Xyrho. Xyrho’s obsession with Vanguard must not obscure the fact that the technology on this world is holy, and it is our mandate to claim it for The Covenant! Xyrho must not be allowed to overstep his bounds!

Vhat: What if he does?

Voro: Then we make him step back…

Vhat: What if he refuses to?

Voro: Then we kill him…

Vhat was very uncertain about what he was being told to do. However, he kept his reservations to himself, opting to make his own decisions, if and when the time came.

Vhat: I will keep what you have said in mind.

Vhat paused.

Vhat: That being said; we should hurry. Xyrho is, no doubt, waiting for us!

Voro gave a slow nod, as he turned away, and did a quick search of the Hanger Bay, grabbing any weapon that looked at if it could be useful. Voro found mostly Plasma Pistols and Plasma Rifles, but, was able to find several fully loaded Carbines. Vhat, on the other hand, managed to locate A Flak Cannon and a pair of Carbines. Once Voro and Vhat had finished searching the hanger bay, they both exited the hanger bay the same way Xyrho did. Once the two Elites had jumped out of the hanger bay, they saw Xyrho waiting by a Spectre and a Ghost.

Xyrho: It is about time. Did the two of you find anything useful?

Vhat: A few Carbines and a Flak Cannon. Everything else was not worth the effort of taking.

Vhat tossed one of the Carbines to Xyrho. Xyrho caught the rifle as it flew towards him, and he holstered it on his back. Vhat then set the other Carbines down by the Spectre. However, Vhat held onto the Flak Cannon; keeping the large weapon holstered on his back.

Xyrho: Good enough.

Xyrho looked at Voro, and he pointed at the Spectre.

Xyrho: Voro, you are on the turret.

Voro nodded, as he proceeded to hop on the back of the Spectre. Xyrho then looked at Vhat.

Xyrho: Vhat…take the ghost.

Vhat did as he was instructed, as he hopped onto the nearby Ghost. Xyrho began to load the additional Carbines onto the Spectre. As he did this, he spoke to Vhat and Voro.

Xyrho: We are going to head towards the Human facility, and our goal, first and foremost, is to locate Vanguard. If we can make contact with Dangerus, or any of his Brutes, we will do so.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: My only concern is doing battle with Vanguard. Given our limited resources and force, we must not waste what we have fighting the Humans. If a confrontation with the Humans is avoidable, we will avoid it. If a confrontation is inevitable, we will destroy the Humans, and continue onwards towards Vanguard.

Vhat: As you command, Shipmaster.

Once Xyrho finished loading the last weapon onto the Spectre, he entered the driver seat of the Spectre, and began to warm up the engines..

Xyrho: Vhat…take point, and scout ahead! Find us an entry point on that facility! Voro and I will be right behind you.

Vhat nodded, as he engaged the thrust on the Ghost and sped forwards, taking a large lead on the Spectre. Xyrho then engaged the thrust on the Spectre, and began to move towards Firebase Mediterranean.

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 3 – Junction Alpha-3 – Outside Main CIC - 2300 Hours - February 1st 2540

Jennifer, Burke, Cameron, and Tye, along with Cochraine and Fireteam Harmony, were converging on the CIC for Firebase Mediterranean. However, the sheer number of Trust forces that were present at the CIC made the battle long and drawn out, and very little ground was being claimed by either side.

Since the CIC was only accessible from a single corridor, there was no possibility of there being a two pronged attack. The Trust had the advantage with the easily defensible location, and the sheer number of soldiers that were on reserve.

Jennifer was behind a corner, in cover, next to Cochraine. As Jennifer was reloading her Magnum, she received a transmission from Jacob.

Jacob: Captain Frost!? Do you copy!? Priority one!

Jennifer sighed, as she placed her hand on her ear, and answered the transmission.

Jennifer: This is Frost, what do you want?

Jacob: Stow the attitude Captain! Folee needs help! Suicide Squad engaged Nighthawk and Anaconda, and Folee was critically wounded in the engagement, and he requires immediate medical attention!

Jennifer: Negative! I cannot fall back at this time. My team is under heavy fire, and we are in a stalemate with The Trust. I cannot afford to divert Burke, or even myself without an escort, to your location. We are barely holding the line as is. We cannot afford to lose a single person on our line!

Jacob: Damn it! Folee is going to die if we don’t get someone here!

Jennifer: Call in an evac from The Vigorous Inferno!

Jacob: Evac isn’t possible! Harrison is unable to deploy any extraction team, due to the fact that The Covenant have engaged the remainder of the UNSC forces in orbit.

Jennifer: I am sorry Jacob, but, I can’t help you! I tried to tell you that sending Suicide Squad after Nighthawk and Anaconda was a fool’s gambit! In fact, I believe those were my words!

Jacob: God damn it Frost! I need med support, now! Enough of the bullshit! Folee’s life depends on this!

Jennifer: Jacob, I do not have the time nor the patience to debate this! If I can route The Trust, I will send Burke over to you, and he can help Folee. However, until the CIC has been secured, I need my men on the line! The discussion is over…Frost out!

Jennifer scoffed, as she shook her head in anger. Part of her derived some sort of twisted satisfaction from Jacob’s request, and an even more deranged satisfaction at being able to tell him, in so few words, “I told you so”. However, Jennifer did not have the luxury of thinking too much about her conversation with Jacob. She was in the middle of a firefight, and she needed to focus. Jennifer sighed, as she cleared her mind, and looked at Cochraine, who was right next to her.

Jennifer: This fight is going nowhere. No matter how many of these guys we take down, another one simply takes the place of the fallen. I have no idea how much longer we can keep up this offensive before we have to fall back and resupply.

Cochraine: Hell if I know. The fact is, I have never seen anything like this before in my life. They are really trying to hold us at bay. Either the CIC is especially vital to their operations, or someone very important is hiding in there. Either way, it is all the more reason to break through their line and take control of the CIC!

Cochraine paused for a moment.

Cochraine: We are not going to get anywhere by playing it safe. We may need to start pushing forward…taking risks…

Jennifer: Got anything in mind, Lauren?

Cochraine looked at Jennifer with a confused look. Jennifer laughed, as she shook her head.

Jennifer: Force of habit! I am on a first name basis with my team.

Cochraine: Clearly…

Cochraine paused to gather her thoughts.

Cochraine: Sergeant Robertson may be able to punch a hole through their defenses. He is carrying explosives. I know that close quarter explosives is not recommended, but…

Jennifer: Go for it! Give your man the order!

Cochraine: Ma’am?

Jennifer: You are going to quickly realize that ONI is not very by the book when it comes to situations like this. When things get desperate, ONI will act, even if our only course of action is dangerous.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I can order my men to lay down suppressive fire so Robertson can lock onto a target. Just make sure he punches a hole through that defensive line! If we can do enough damage, I think we can rush the CIC and take it by force!

Cochraine nodded, as she looked over to Robertson. Cochraine could see that Robertson was behind cover, reloading his sidearm. Cochraine called oujt to Robertson to grab his attention.

Cochraine: Sergeant Robertson!

Robertson looked over to Cochraine, as if waiting for her to issue an order.

Cochraine: You’re up! Get us through the defensive line! Do whatever it takes!

When Robertson heard this order, he simply nodded at Cochraine. He immediately knew what Cochraine wanted and he was very quick to react. It did not take Robertson long to prepare his rocket launcher for use. However, as he did, Jennifer put her hand to her ear, as she spoke to Tye, Cameron, and Burke.

Jennifer: Gentlemen…Sergeant Robertson is going to need cover fire! I need suppressive fire from all points. Stay low, and do not let up! Give The Trust everything you got!

When Tye and Cameron heard this order, they looked at one another, and nodded. As Cameron reloaded his Assault Rifle, and Tye reloaded his SMGs, they began to move up, staying low and in cover to avoid being hit as they moved into position.

At the same time, Fireteam Harmony, with exception to Robertson, prepared their weapons, with the intent on providing additional fire support. As Axlon, Arman, and Cadieux readied their weapons, Arman spoke up to her team.

Arman: Weapons hot, Harmony! Let’s show The Trust what we are made of!

Axlon and Cadieux both nodded, as they joined Arman in emerging from cover, and laying down additional fire support on The Trust’s defensive line. The combined fire from FIreteam Harmony, as well as the suppressive fire from Tye and Cameron proved to be very effective at suppressing The Trust.

Arman: Make it quick Frazer! You have a shot! Take it!

Robertson: Copy that! Mac blast area clear!

Robertson emerged from cover, as he took aim down the corridor, locking onto The Trust’s line, and firing off two rockets in rapid succession. The rockets quickly converged onto their target, as they both exploded on impact; utterly decimating the defensive line that had been created by The Trust.

Robertson: Reloading!

Robertson ducked back into cover, as he began to reload his Rocket Launcher As Robertson began to reload, Arman looked to Cochraine for supplementary orders. However, before Cochraine could say anything, Captain Frost spoke up.

Jennifer: Tye, Cam…move up, and secure the CIC! FIreteam Harmony…provide support! Burke, and I will cover your six!

As Jennifer gave the order, both Cameron and Tye began to reload, as they moved forward towards the CIC. Both men had their weapons primed and ready.

Cochraine: You heard the Captain! Harmony…move out!

All four members of Fireteam Harmony nodded, as they began to follow behind Tye and Cameron. Cochraine moved up behind FIreteam harmony, and advanced with them.

Burke: I have to admit, the rockets were a nice touch.

Jennifer nodded, as Burke cracked a grin, but, his attention was caught when he heard the faint sound of what seemed to be a weapon’s safety mechanism being disengaged. The sound had come from behind him; originating from behind a corner not too far from where he was standing. When Burke heard this, he spun around and raised his Magnum, taking aim down the iron sights. Jennifer and Cochraine looked at Burke, as they readied their weapons, but did not raise them.

Jennifer: David? What’s wrong?

Burke: I heard something.

Burke paused.

Burke: Cover me.

As Burke began to move towards the location of where he assumed the noise to have originated from, Jennifer raised her weapon, and began to follow Burke, staying a few steps behind him.

As Burke approached the corner, however, Kolya emerged from the corner, and quickly disarmed Burke. Kolya moved as quickly as he appeared, and before Jennifer could react, Burke was thrown backwards, colliding with Jennifer as he fell; resulting in both officers being put on the ground.

As Kolya looked down at Burke and Jennifer, he cracked his neck and his knuckles, as if to taunt his opponents.

Kolya: If that your best? If so…I am not impressed.

Kolya had to laugh, as he paced back and forth.

Kolya: Typically, when I am in a rush, I don’t get distracted, but, I think I can make a special exception for you, Doctor.

Burke shook his head, as he got back to his feet. As Burke got back to his feet, he looked at Kolya, examining his movements. Something about the way Kolya moved was familiar to Burke, but, he could not quite put his finger on it.

Burke: Lucky me…I love it when I get special attention.

Kolya cracked a grin, and gave a nod, as he charged at Burke, and slammed his forearm right into Burke’s chest. Kolya used his moment to literally lift Burke off the ground in order to slam the ONI Medical Officer into a nearby wall. The force of impact knocked the wind out of Burke, but, Burke was no worse for wear.

Kolya: I have to admit, I find it to be rather surprising that you, of all people, are here. I knew ONI was short on respectable talent, but, to send a medical officer to do a soldier’s job…it seems desperate to me.

Burke scoffed at Kolya.

Burke: ONI is full of surprises, and the personnel is no exception!

Burke lifted his arms up, as he slammed both of his palms into Kolya’s left and right ears. The impact briefly stunned Kolya, effectively allowing Burke to give Kolya a head-butt to break free of the hold. As Kolya stumbled back, Burke lunged forward, and gave Kolya a right hook across the jaw. However, something about the impact did not feel right, as Burke’s hand hurt more than it should have from such a strike. What was even more off-putting than the pain was the fact that Kolya barely even stumbled from the subsequent hit. It was almost as if Kolya barely felt the strike, only feeling enough of it to put him slightly off balance.

Burke frowned at this, but, he was not going to let this dissuade him. Burke lunged forward again, except this time with a left hook. However, just before Burke made impact, Kolya raised his hand and caught Burke’s fist. Kolya began to squeeze Burke’s fist; an expression of pain slowly forming on Burke’s face as Kolya continued to squeeze. Burke began to groan in pain, as he fell to one knee. As Burke fell, Kolya grinned, as he released Burke’s hand, stepped back, and kicked Burke right in the chest, knocking Burke violently to the ground.

Burke groaned in pain, as he rolled onto his side, his left arm held tightly to his chest to try and null the pain from the kick he had just received from Kolya. Kolya, on the other hand, looked down at Burke and laughed.

Kolya: Do you honestly think you are a match for me, Doctor? Come on…seriously?

Kolya smirked at the comment; amused by the prospect that Burke had the audacity to try and go toe to toe with him. However, Kolya’s smirk and condescension quickly faded when Jennifer had charged at him from the side, slamming the butt of a Shotgun right into the side of his face. The force of the impact caused Kolya to stumble into a nearby wall. However, Kolya quickly regained his footing, as he turned to look at Jennifer, who was already charging to strike Kolya once more. However, before Jennifer could strike Kolya a second time, Kolya dodged out of the way, and followed up with a right hook, knocking Jennifer to the ground in a single blow.

As Jennifer fell to the ground, Kolya wiped a bit of blood from his lip. He had a scornful look, as he glared at Jennifer. Kolya stepped towards Jennifer, as he reached down and grabbed her by the throat, and lifted her from the ground, right into the air. As Kolya held Jennifer by the throat; suspended above the ground, he frowned at her.

Kolya: Captain Frost…you are a brave one, aren’t you? Preston Vernette’s first officer. I can see that you have taken your queues from him. Too bad that kind of thing will get you killed in the long run. Didn’t he ever tell you never to challenge your betters?

Kolya grinned as he began to squeeze his hand, slowly choking the life out of Captain Frost.

Kolya: Come on Captain…scream for me!

Kolya began to laugh as Jennifer struggled in his grasp.

Kolya: What’s the matter Captain? Having trouble?

Kolya continued to tight his grip. However, his stranglehold was broken when Burke, who had managed to get back to his feet, RAN AT Kolya, and tackled him to the ground. As Jennifer fell to the ground, Burke began to punch Kolya in the face. With each successive punch, Burke drew more and more blood from Kolya. After 5 solid hits, however, Kolya managed to strike back with a punch of his own, and knock Burke off to the side. As Burke fell to the side, Kolya climbed back to his feet, and spat blood out of his mouth. Burke, on the other hand, also began to climb back to his feet, as he once again charged at Kolya. Kolya, however, was not about to be taken down again. As Burke ran at Kolya, Burke clenched his right fist, as he threw another punch. Kolya, on the other hand, managed to grab Burke’s arm, and in one quick movement, used his left palm to strike Burke’s forearm, snapping Burke’s Ulna and Radial bones. Burke cried out in pain, as Kolya gave Burke a swift palm strike to the chest, knocking the ONI Officer against a wall, and to the ground.

Kolya looked down at Burke, as Burke cradled his broken forearm. Kolya had a very dirty look on his face, as he once again wiped some blood from his mouth. However, before Kolya could even resume his attack, his attention was drawn to the sound of gunfire from the CIC. Almost immediately, Kolya turned, and made a break for the CIC, knowing full well that his compatriots were now in danger. Burke let out a sigh of relief, as he winced in pain.

Meanwhile, in the CIC, FIreteam Harmony, along with Tye, Cameron, and Cochraine, were once again in a firefight with several Trust ODSTs, along with Spender, Novak, and Yates. As the two sides exchanged fire, Tye looked at Cameron, as he reloaded his Automag.

Tyber: Cam, draw some fire. I am going to try and circle around and flank them.

Cameron nodded, as he reloaded his Assault Rifle, and readied himself to draw the enemy fire.

Cameron: Ready on your mark, sir…

Tye drew his second automag from his holster, as he gave the nod to Cameron. At that moment, Cameron emerged from behind cover, and began to draw fire from The Trust. As Cameron drew fire, Spender could be heard giving orders to the last of his forces.

Spender: Take that Spartan down! Don’t let it advance on our position!

As Spender said this, Yates, who was in cover next to Spender, spoke up.

Yates: Sir…why the hell are we still here? Why have we not had Renegagde get us the hell out of here yet?

Spender: We don’t have the all-clear from our teams on The Ulterior Motive yet.

Yates: Sir, I would much rather be on The Ulterior Motive with our A-Teams than down here, face to face with an enemy Spartan!

Spender looked at Yates for a moment, and he was going to tell Yates to hold his ground. However, Spender stopped when he noticed that Tye was trying to circle around to flank his position. When Spender saw this, he looked back to Yates, and nodded.

Spender: I think you have a point, Yates.

As Spender put his hand to his ear to issue an order to Renegade, the last remaining Trust ODSTs were picked off, one by one. Each of the Trust ODSTs was taken down by precise shots to the head; shots that were taken by Tye.

Spender: Renegade…access The Consultant’s control algorithms, and bring that damn teleportation grid online! Get us the hell out of here, now!

As Spender said this, Tye had emerged from a flanking position, with his Automag raised, and pointed at Spender. When Spender saw this, he reached for his sidearm, but, before he could grab it and take aim, Tye managed to take his shot on Spender, hitting Spender in his left clavicle. However, before Tye could take his second shot, Tye, himself, was shot in the abdomen by Kolya, who was standing at the entrance of the CIC. As Tye fell to the ground, Cameron and Fireteam Harmony turned their weapons on the direction from which the shot rang out. As they all took aim at Kolya, they recoiled when Kolya was enveloped by a bright yellow light, and simply vanished. When the light had dissipated, Cameron stood up, and holstered his gun.

Cameron: What the hell just happened!? Where did that guy go!?

Cameron contemplated the question for a moment, before he turned, and ran to check on Tye. As Cameron approached Tye, and knelt down next to him, he tried to inspect Tye’s wound, only to see that Tye’s hand was covering the wound.

Cameron: Commander!? Are you alright!?

Tye groaned in pain, as he removed his hand, and revealed his exit wound; his hand covered in blood.

Tyber: Not really…

Cameron scoffed, as he looked at Fireteam Harmony.

Cameron: I need bio foam over here!

Cadieux nodded, as she reached to her side and grabbed a can of bio foam, and tossed it to Cameron. Cameron caught the can of bio foam, and quickly placed the nozzle inside of Tye’s wound. As Cameron compressed the lever on the can of bio foam, the foam-like substance began to spray, filling and closing the wound. Tye winced in pain at first, however, Tye quickly got control of himself, as he let out a deep breath, and a sigh of relief.

Tyber: God…that shit strings. I hate it.

Cameron tossed the empty can of biofoam to the side.

Cameron: Consider it encouragement not to get hit in the field.

Tyber: That fucker came out of nowhere.

Cameron: Then vanished into thin air…

Tye turned his head to where Spender, Novak, and Yates were.

Cameron: Along with Spender, Yates, and Novak.

Tyber: Vanished? What the hell are you talking about?

Cameron: Bright yellow light, then, nothing. It was unlike anything I had seen before!

Tyber: Bullshit! They have to be somewhere! We have to find them!

Tye began to climb back to his feet. Cameron saw this, and lent him a hand.

Cameron: No, we need to get you some proper medical attention.

Tyber: I’m fine…I am fine…

Tye sighed, as he saw the members of FIreteam Harmony fan out in the CIC. He also saw Axlon holster his weapons and approach one of the computer terminals. Tye watched as Axlon accessed one of the few active computer terminals in the CIC.

Tyber: Did you find something Corporal?

Axlon: Not 100% sure sir. Give me a minute on that.

Tye shrugged, as he opened a comm line to Captain Frost.

Tyber: Jennifer? Do you copy?

Tye waited a moment before he received a response from Captain Frost.

Jennifer: Yeah…I hear you…

Jennifer’s voice was groggy and it was clear that something had happened. Without saying another word, Tye began to backtrack, as he sprinted back to Jennifer’s last known location. Cameron followed behind Tye, as Cochraine simply watched the two men run out of the CIC.

As Tye and Cameron rushed back to Jennifer, they could see that they both Jennifer and Burke had been attacked. Tye knelt down next to Jennifer.

Tyber: Jennifer! Are you alright?

Jennifer: More…or less…Commander…

Jennifer began to cough. As she did, Tye noticed the bruisers on her neck.

Tyber: My God…what happened?

Jennifer: We were attacked by…someone, I am not sure who. The guy lifted me off the ground with absolutely no problem…and…Burke…

Jennifer looked over at Burke.

Jennifer: Had it not have been for David, I am pretty sure that Trust bastard would have snapped my neck with that stranglehold.

Cameron: It may have been the same guy who shot Tye.

Jennifer: Whoever it was…he was one tough SOB. Nothing seemed to stop this guy!

Tye heled Jennifer back to her feet, before the trio went over to check on Burke. Jennifer knelt down next to Burke, and looked at him.

Jennifer: David? Are you alright?

Burke: No. I think that bastard broke my forearm. This hurts more than I thought.

Burke sighed.

Burke: I have not seen strength like that in any normal Human being before. The guy broke two bones with a palm strike, nothing more…nothing less. That guy was an Ox!

Burke sighed.

Burke: I doubt I am going to be much use to you guys from this point out.

Jennifer: Don’t worry about that. Let’s just get you back on your feet, and out of the open. I can look after that arm of yours.

Burke nodded, as Jennifer and Tye helped Burke back to his feet. Once Burke was back on his feet, Jennifer, Burke, Tye, and Cameron returned to the CIC. As they walked in, they were addressed by Cochraine.

Cochraine: Captain Frost…I think we may have found something that may be useful!

Jennifer led Burke towards a desk in the corner of the room, as she responded to Cochraine.

Jennifer: I am all ears Cochraine. What did you find?

As Jennifer said this, Burke sat down at a chair near the desk. Jennifer, on the other hand, began to unbutton her jacket, eventually removing it and tossing it aside, revealing a black long sleeve dress shirt with an ONI logo on the right shoulder.

Cochraine: Axlon has been digging around on their network, and it seems he has stumbled across a few valuable tidbits of information.

Axlon nodded.

Axlon: It seems there is a facility located directly under this facility. That is, there is something buried under this facility…and it is massive.

Jennifer turned to look at Tye, as she approached him and grabbed his combat knife from the sheath on his chest.

Jennifer: Go on!

Jennifer turned to the coat that she had removed, as she began to cut it up; slicing it into longer pieces to use as a makeshift sling.

Axlon: There is a single elevator that leads down to this subterranean facility. From what I can tell, the facility under out feet is NOT of Human origin. That being said, digging further into the matter, I have learned that this subterranean facility is where Vanguard is currently located.

Jennifer looked around her surroundings, looking for anything she could use as a splint. She eventually spotted a maintence closet on the far end of the room.

Jennifer: Tye, I need something I can use a splint. Check the maintenance closet for something I can use!

Tye nodded, as Jennifer looked back to Axlon.

Jennifer: Corporal? How do we get to the elevator which leads to the subterranean facility?

Axlon: The elevator is located in the approximate center of the facility. I can summon the elevator from here and bring it up to ground level. All we would have to do is make our way to this elevator, and we can get down there.

Jennifer sighed. Part of her wanted to call for an extraction due to the number of injuries that were sustained. However, part of her wanted to continue the fight.

Jennifer: Summon the elevator. We will figure out what to do from there.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: Download as much information as you can from the local network. We should not waste a chance to collect intel.

Axlon: Copy that. I will need a few minutes.

Just as Axlon said this, Tye returned with a pipe wrench, and handed it to Jennifer.

Tyber: Best thing I could find with no give.

Jennifer: This will do. It may not look pretty, but, it will allow me to set the bone and keep it in place.

Jennifer laid the pipe wrench down on the table, as she carefully moved Burke’s arm on top of the pipe wrench. Jennifer held onto David’s arm, as she looked him in the eye.

Jennifer: David?

Burke grinned as he looked at Jennifer.

Burke: I know, it is going to hurt when you set the bone. I have done this enough times to know how this works. Just…make it quick.

Jennifer grinned back at David, as she quickly set the two broken bones in Burke arm. Burke winced in agony as he tried to save face. However, a slight groan escape him, as he cursed under his breath.

Burke: Ohhh…fuck…

Jennifer grinned, as she began to tightly wrap David’s arm in the strips of cloth that she had cut from her jacket. It did not take long for Jennifer to dress Burke’s arm, and get him into an improvised splint and sling.

Jennifer: Alright…that should allow you to move about without risk of further injury.

Burke nodded.

Jennifer: Alright everyone. We are going to go and find this elevator that leads down to this subterranean facility. Once we find it, we can decide how to proceed!

Everyone nodded in agreement. As they did, Axlon spoke up.

Axlon: Alright, I think I have everything I can possibly get, including a floor plan. If I take point, I can get us to where we need to go!

Jennifer: Very well Corporal. You are on point! Let’s move! Double time it!

Axlon nodded, as he grabbed his PDA and called up the floor plan. Without skipping a beat, Axlon took point and got on the move. Cochraine and the rest of Fireteam Harmony followed in pursuit. Jennifer, Burke, Tye, and Cameron followed behind Fireteam Harmony.

It did not take Axlon very long to lead the group to the elevator in Sector 2, the same elevator where Omega Legion had taken up position. However, upon their arrival, Axlon, along with the others, were quite surprised to see Omega Legion.

Carmicle: Well, well…look who decides to FINALLY show up!

As Carmicle said this, Captain Frost and Cochraine stepped forward.

Jennifer: Finally show up? Excuse me Sergeant, I was unaware that you were the one giving the orders.

Carmicle: I was unaware that ONI was still allowed to give orders. I mean, after the shit that YOU pulled on the Vigorous Inferno…

Cochraine interjected.

Cochraine: Captain, Sergeant…we should focus on the matter at hand! Nobody may believe it, but, we are all on the same side…the same dysfunctional side.

Jennifer nodded at Cochraine.

Jennifer: You’re right, Cochraine…you’re right.

Jennifer looked back at Carmicle.

Jennifer: I want a sitrep, Sergeant!

Carmicle sighed, as he took a moment to compose himself.

Carmicle: Not good. Suicide squad has been wiped out, save for Folee, who is dying on the ground as we speak. There is very little that we can do for him here. He needs medical attention or he will die. Unfortunately, Nighthawk and Anaconda finished off Jaclyn and Athios before we could get here to stop him.

Jennifer looked at the dead bodies of Jaclyn and Athios. She bit her lower lip, as if she was deeply disturbed by the notion of Nighthawk killing the two soldiers.

Jennifer: I see.

Jennifer then paused, as she looked around the room, and then frowned.

Jennifer: Where is Jacob?

Carmicle: As luck would have it…that elevator came back. With only the order to hold our position, Jacob got into that elevator, and is now in pursuit of Nighthawk and Anaconda. He said…”nobody else was going to die trying to stop those two”.

Jennifer: Nobody, except Jacob.

Cochraine: I don’t think Jacob cares at this point. I think Jacob is driven squarely by his desire to kill Nighthawk and Anaconda. Nothing more, nothing less.

Carmicle: That pretty much sums it up. Jacob is out for blood. He is seeing red, and he wants Nighthawk’s head on a platter. It is very personal for him. For Jacob, it all comes back to Nighthawk. He really hates Nighthawk, and I think he is going to do whatever it takes to kill Nighthawk, even if it means sacrificing his humanity, or even his life, to do it. Athios and Jaclyn were the straws that broke the camel’s back. We could not talk Jacob down, and he would not listen to us.

Jennifer sighed.

Jennifer: God damn it! That idiot is going to get himself killed.

Carmicle: I think that is what he is trying to do. Jacob knows that if he leaves San Angeles alive, ONI is going to kill him in the worst way possible. It is no secret that your ilk takes a very twisted satisfaction in making examples of traitors. Jacob knows this.

Cochraine: That is no reason to throw his life away!

Carmicle: It is reason enough for him. If he is going to die, he wants it to mean something, and he is not going to stop until he gets that bastard and his pet silverback.

Cochraine frowned.

Cochraine: Captain Frost…we cannot let Jacob toss his life away like this! We have to stop him!

Jennifer: I don’t give a damn about Jacob tossing his life away. What I give a damn about is that Jacob is trying to kill Nighthawk.

Cochraine: Excuse me?

Jennifer: Nighthawk had a plan to stop Vanguard. If Jacob interferes and tries to kill Nighthawk, it could jeopardize that entire plan. We must not allow Jacob to complicate things. We must not allow Jacob to interfere with Nighthawk.

Carmicle: WHAT!? Are you for real? Did you just say what I think you said?

Cochraine: Captain Frost…we are not here to help Nighthawk, we are here to stop The Trust and we are here to stop Vanguard.

Jennifer: Yes, I am aware of that. However, what you people seem to be unaware of is that Nighthawk, unfortunately, is the most qualified person when it comes to stopping Vanguard. He is our best chance! Nighthawk has workable theories and an actual plan of action when it comes to Vanguard. Nighthawk has to be given the chance to stop this thing, and we cannot allow Jacob to get in the way of that! I am not saying that we should hurt Jacob. What I am saying is that we need to stop him before he does something impulsive! What if Nighthawk gets the upper hand? What if Nighthawk kills Jacob because we were too occupied with the technicalities of taking a certain action? On the flip side of the coin; what if Jacob kills Nighthawk, and we are left empty handed against Vanguard? I am proposing we stop Jacob before he does something stupid that could get either himself, Nighthawk, or all of us killed.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: If I wanted to kill Jacob, I could do it right now, and save everyone a ton of work! Jacob still has that nanite in his brain, and I could kill him with the press of one button. However, I am not going to do that because I am willing to give him one final chance to walk away from this alive.

Cochraine nodded. She listened to Jennifer’s reasoning, and was forced to agree.

Cochraine: You know, Captain? When you put it like that, I think you may have a point, if only about Jacob getting himself killed. While I am not too thrilled about Nighthawk and his “plans”, I must admit that we are otherwise empty handed when it comes to Vanguard. That being said, we should not allow Jacob to throw his life away on something like this.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: However, I have to contest the fact that Nighthawk is our ONLY shot at Vanguard. He is NOT the be all and end all of tactical excellence. I dare say that between the two of us, we command soldiers who are arguably just as good, if not, better than Nighthawk in almost every sense. I give you that he excels in a technical sense, but, beyond that, I would put any one of my people up against him without any doubt in my mind. Even if Nighthawk gets killed by Jacob, we can still take a shot at Vanguard. We may not have as much information as Nighthawk does, but, we are not helpless either.

Jennifer: Perhaps, but, you said it best; Nighthawk excels in a technical sense. Vanguard IS a technical problem!

Carmicle interjected.

Carmicle: It is still no reason to entrust anything to Nighthawk.

Jennifer: That is where you are wrong, Sergeant. It is every reason to entrust this to Nighthawk.

Carmicle: When has ANYTHING being entrusted to Nighthawk ended well?

Jennifer was forced to shrug.

Jennifer: It could be worse. It could be much worse.

Jennifer paused, as she was getting frustrated. She took a moment to reorganize her thoughts, before realizing there was another way to go about this argument.

Jennifer: But, let me put it another way; I would sooner throw Nighthawk at Vanguard before I would throw any of you. We have no idea what to expect from Vanguard. Nighthawk has an idea of what to expect. If I have learned ONE thing in my life it is that putting soldiers into a situation where they are flying blind is the surest way to build a massive body count. I am not going to waste lives when I have alternatives to burn through.

Carmicle sighed. He knew that Jennifer had a point.

Carmicle: That is one way of looking at it.

Cochraine: I tend to agree.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: So, where does this leave us? How should we proceed?

Jennifer: Well…like I said, we have alternatives. There is always more than one way to skin a cat.

Cochraine: The cat being Vanguard, I assume?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: I plan on calling for an evac, first and foremost.

Carmicle: An evac was already requested. Admiral Harrison was swamped with The Covenant. He could not get a single ship out of the hanger.

Jennifer: I don’t intend on calling for Harrison. I don’t need Harrison. My ship is still up there, awaiting further orders. They are going to pull us out. The King Raven will find a way.

Cochraine: Correct me if I am wrong, but, don’t we already have ships here we can use to evac?

Jennifer: Yes, we do have a number of ships on site. However, we are going to have to leave them behind because whoever is going to locate, and extract, Captain Sharpmen, is going to need some way to get off the planet. I plan on sending someone after Jacob, in order to extract him. I just need a volunteer.

Carmicle: Ma’am…I will go.

Cameron then stepped forward.

Cameron: Captain Frost…send me.

Cochraine looked at Carmicle and Cameron, and then shook her head.

Cochraine: No, I will go. Anyone being sent to extract Jacob cannot be a subordinate, and it cannot be someone with whom Jacob has an axe to grind with and it HAS to be someone who will be indifferent to using force, if necessary. It has to be someone that Jacob can trust this late in the game. Most importantly…it has to be someone who ISN’T injured or crippled.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I am the only person here who meets ALL of those qualifications. I should be the one sent to find Jacob.

Arman stepped forward.

Arman: Ma’am…I must protest to you being sent alone! It is too dangerous!

Cochraine looked at Arman, and shook her head.

Cochraine: Danger is part of the job, Sergeant. Nothing we do is safe, and everything we do carries risk. Sometimes…the burden of command expects those who carry it, to walk the extra mile.

Arman: At least take us with you! There is no telling what you will run into down there!

Cochraine: That is not true, Sergeant. I know for a fact that Jacob, Nighthawk, and Vanguard are down there. It is not a complete mystery.

Arman: But, Ma’am!

Cochraine shook her head.

Cochraine: The discussion is over, Sergeant. I am ordering you, and your team…to go home. This mission is unlike anything that anyone has ever undertaken. You are in no condition to venture into the howling dark that waits. I am not prepared to put you up against such steep odds. That being said, I am ordering you to get your team off this rock, and do not look back. You have done enough, more than enough. You have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and you have upheld your duties to the highest tradition of the UNSC. You deserve a break.

Cochraine looked at Axlon, and gave him a nod.

Cochraine: Call the elevator back. I need to get down there.

Axlon nodded, as he looked down at his PDA, and began to tap on the device. Once Axlon had successfully summoned the elevator, he approached Cochraine, and handed her the PDA.

Axlon: Ma’am…you are going to need this. This PDA contains the floor plan for the subterranean facility. You are going to need it if you are going to get anywhere.

Cochraine nodded, as she took the PDA from Axlon, and holstered it at her side.

Cochraine: Thank you, Corporal.

Robertson then stepped forward, and handed Cochraine his Shotgun.

Robertson: Ma’am…take it from me; you never want to go CQC without one of these. You are going to need it!

Cochraine nodded, as she grabbed the weapon from Robertson.

Cochraine: Much appreciated, Sergeant.

As Cochraine said this, the large elevator doors opened behind her. Before Cochraine could turn to enter the elevator, she was stopped by Captain Frost.

Jennifer: Lieutenant Commander…watch your back down there.

Cochraine nodded.

Jennifer: And…one final thing.

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: If Jacob refuses to cooperate, in ANY way, and he even goes so far such that he becomes a danger to you…lethal force is authorized.

Cochraine: You are saying that I can kill him?

Jennifer: If necessary…yes. If you are not comfortable shooting him, then, you are authorized to use this…

Jennifer reached to her side and grabbed her PDA. She held it out, offering it to Cochraine.

Jennifer: This PDA contains the authorization codes necessary to activate Jacob’s nanite. If he becomes uncooperative…you have the green light to activate the nanite. If the nanite is activate, it will have a 15 second delay before it carries out its directive. During that 30 seconds, you can cancel the order, and the nanite will return to a dormant state. After the 30 seconds, however, he will be dead before he hits the ground.

Cochraine took a deep breath, and then sighed. She grabbed the PDA, and put it in her pocket, as opposed to clipping it on her belt.

Cochraine: I will take it under advisement, Captain. I just hope I won’t have to use it.

Jennifer: If you must use it, be sure that you do. Jacob is unpredictable, and he has nothing to live for. Do not hesitate to cross him off if the need arises. If you need to shut him down…do it!

Cochraine: Well, I still need to find him, first and foremost. Until I actually locate him, everything else is just wishful thinking.

Jennifer grinned.

Jennifer: Well, happy hunting Cochraine, and good luck.

Cochraine nodded, but before she turned, she asked one final question.

Cochraine: Ma’am? What about Nighthawk? What if he becomes a threat? What if Nighthawk becomes the enemy? If, by some chance, I need to engage Nighthawk…do I have the green light to do so?

Jennifer was silent as she looked at Cochraine. Jennifer closed her eyes, as she took a deep breath Jennifer waited a moment, before she finally nodded at Cochraine.

Jennifer: Only if he becomes a threat…to you. Do not go looking for a fight.

Jennifer had an expression of remorse and emotional distress on her face, though, Cochraine did not understand exactly why. Despite this fact, Cochraine turned and entered the elevator. As soon as she stepped onto the elevator, the large doors began to close, and the elevator began to move downwards. Once the doors had closed, Jennifer turned back to Omega Legion, Fireteam Harmony, and her own crew.

Jennifer: Alright everyone…hold your current position while I call for evac. The sooner we get out of here, the better.

As Jennifer said this, Cameron stepped forward.

Cameron: Ma’am? What happens if you are wrong? What happens if the Vanguard AI escapes this facility? What happens if your faith in Nighthawk is misplaced?

Jennifer looked at Cameron, and shrugged.

Jennifer: If that happens, then we respond. If Nighthawk is doomed to fail, then we will be in a position to attack Vanguard. I will bombard this location with everything The King Raven can muster, if need be. Rest assured, Vanguard is not getting off this planet.

Cameron: Do you think Nighthawk will survive?

Jennifer sighed.

Jennifer: I don’t know, Cameron…I don’t know…

Jennifer paused.

Jennifer: All I can do is pray to God that he does.

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Subterranean Forerunner Facility – Equipment Storage Area – 2320 Hours - February 1st 2540

Night and Anaconda, along with The Consultant and Nova Team were walking through the dimly lit corridors of the Forerunner facility. As they walked through the large corridors, there was little discussion between the two groups. However, The Consultant broke the silence.

The Consultant: You know, Nighthawk…I watched you kill those two ODSTs.

Nighthawk looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: I did what I had to do. They left me no choice in the matter.

The Consultant: That is some very ruthless calculus. I must admit, I applaud you for it. It is a shame that you repudiate The Trust. A man of your skill would go far in this organization.

Nighthawk: Don’t count on it. I would rather lay down my life than EVER work for The Trust.

The Consultant: Who said anything about working FOR The Trust. A man of your skill would LEAD The Trust. This organization would PROSPER under your leadership.

Nighthawk scoffed.

The Consultant: Did you know that there are many people in The Trust who fear the two of you.

Nighthawk: Not surprising. I am the single biggest thorn in the side of The Trust. I bet I have killed more Trust Operatives than you care to admit.

The Consultant: It is more than that. It is not how many you have killed; it is WHO you have killed, and it is who CANNOT kill you. You stand up to some pretty big foes, Nighthawk.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: Even I am impressed by you and your large friend. You two are special, and I like special.

Nighthawk stopped in his tracks, along with Anaconda. The Consultant stopped a few steps later, and turned to face Nighthawk.

The Consultant: Problem?

Nighthawk: I don’t like what you are doing. I don’t like the fact that you are trying to cozy up to me. As far as I am concerned, you are still the enemy, and nothing will change that! Stop trying to flatter me, and stop trying to get my attention. If you have something to say about Vanguard, then spit it out. Otherwise, I am NOT interested in the recruitment script. You and I; we are NOT friends. We are not allies, we are not chums. You and I are enemies; enemies with a common goal, I give you that, but enemies all the same. Had it not been for the fact that Vanguard was here, I would have shot you between the eyes, and emptied the clip into your torso, just to make sure you were dead.

The Consultant was taken aback by what Nighthawk said.

The Consultant: Very well. If that is how you want it to be, I can work with that. No need to jump down my throat about it.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: That being said; I apologize. I clearly hit a nerve, and I know when to back off.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: It was not my intent to illicit that response.

Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at one another, before looking back at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: Let’s just drop it. We have a job to do.

The Consultant nodded. As she looked at Nova Team, and nodded. Nova Team nodded back, as they continued walking. The Consultant then looked at Nighthawk and Anaconda, and walked besides them.

The Consultant: Alright, so, you two want to talk about Vanguard. That is what we will do. Ask me anything that comes to your mind, and I will do my best to answer the question.

Nighthawk: Where is Vanguard at this moment?

The Consultant: Vanguard is at the heart of what I presume to be The Forge. I have not seen much from it since it went there, but, I know that it is still there, and it is very preoccupied.

Anaconda: Vanguard has access to The Forge?

The Consultant: Yes, it has been there for some time.

Anaconda snarled.

Anaconda: There is no telling what it could be capable of now!

Nighthawk nodded in agreement.

Nighthawk: What can you tell us about Vanguard? Do you have any technical knowledge of how it functions?

The Consultant: Technical knowledge? I do have some. I had a chance to study the construct before it fully “woke up” and I could answer any number of questions on its design. For starters, it seems to be powered by some sort of vacuum energy.

Nighthawk: Vacuum energy? I thought that was a theoretical concept?

The Consultant: That is what I though too…then I saw Vanguard, and it became a practical one. You and I both know that if Vanguard is using Vacuum energy, then this thing would have a near limitless surplus of power to draw from.

Nighthawk: Yeah, and I do not like the sound of that. Being able to draw a near limitless amount of power would enable this thing to channel enormous levels of energy.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: The last time I did battle with this thing, it was equipped with energy shields. It took an incredible amount of effort on my part to break through those shields, and it nearly got me killed in the process.

Anaconda paused.

Anaconda: If my memory serves correctly, Vanguard did not have access to a Forge, and it was nowhere near full strength.

The Consultant: Vanguard mentioned something about how it did not have the chance to repair itself.

Anaconda: The previous Forge that it had access to was damaged; it did not have enough power to function.

The Consultant: Well, I am sorry to say that this Forge is active, and Vanguard has been using it. The last time I saw the Construct, it was being modified, possibly a combat outfitting. The Construct had smaller machines building metallic armor out thin air!

Nighthawk: How the hell is that possible?

The Consultant: I have no idea, but, it was happening very quickly. If the rate of construction was, at the very least, consistent with what I saw, I am fully confident that Vanguard has made significant modifications to its outer shell, and it is fully prepared itself for battle.

Anaconda gave an uncertain grunt.

The Consultant: Vanguard could be magnitudes more powerful than the last time you saw it.

Anaconda: I am aware of that.

The Consultant: We may be no match for this thing. I am just throwing that fact out there.

Anaconda: I was no match for it when I did battle with it the first time. I am no match for it now. I see no difference in that respect. The best I can do is fight, and die, if necessary. I cannot allow myself to be intimidated by Vanguard…even if the prospect of doing battle with Vanguard once again is…daunting.

Anaconda grunted, as Nighthawk chimed in.

Nighthawk: That being said…

Nighthawk looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: You said you may have something which would be useful against Vanguard. That is defiantly something.

The Consultant: Yes, we do have something. We are almost there. You need to see it to believe it!

Nighthawk: Care to give us a hint?

The Consultant: It is weaponry.

Nighthawk: Weaponry? Do you mean infantry grade weaponry?

The Consultant nodded.

The Consultant: Oh yes, and it is just ahead!

The Consultant began to move forward at a quicker pace; breaking into a sprint, as she ran towards a door that was not too far off into the distance. The Consultant stopped in front of the large door, allowing the door to open up as she approached it. Once the door was open, a make-shift lab was revealed.

The Consultant: I setup a lab down here some time ago, and I had some of my people study the weapons we found in as much detail as possible. We managed to learn a thing or two, and we managed to translate what we learned into a few practical designs. However, we only barely scratched the surface.

Nighthawk: Let me guess; Nova Team is currently equipped with the fruits of all that labor?

The Consultant: Very astute!

The Consultant looked at Nighthawk and Anaconda, as the duo walked into the lab.

The Consultant: Look at this…

The Consultant grabbed what looked like an assault weapon from the table, and she held it up.

The Consultant: I am not 100% sure what this weapon is, but, I can tell you that it has some serious kick to it. We decimated training dummies with but a few shots from this gun, whereas conventional weapons would only be able to shred a dummy after several clips.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: I believe that this weapon is some sort of portable assault weapon, medium range, high velocity, medium impact, rapid fire. I cannot make heads or tails of the ammunition, however. I am not sure what it is made of. The only thing I do know is that it is very unconventional.

Nighthawk: I am not surprised. This weapon looks ancient. Have you managed to date it?

The Consultant: No, we were not able to. The alloy used in the construction of this weapon was unlike anything we had seen. We could not accurately date it.

Nighthawk: Well, that does not matter. What does matter is that we can now fight fire with fire.

The Consultant: That is the assumption.

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: We also have other weapons at our disposal, in case this assault weapon proves to be ineffective.

The Consultant set assault weapon aside, as Anubis threw a precision rifle at The Consultant. Nighthawk watched as The Consultant caught the weapon with one hand, and quickly shifted the weapon, so that she was holding it with both hands.

The Consultant: This weapon is a very high impact, medium to long range precision rifle. When we tested it, we had a tremendous amount of success with the destructive capabilities of this weapon. It does not fire as fast as the previous weapon I showed you, but, it is a given fact that this weapon hits much, much harder!

Nighthawk: Have these weapons been tested against energy shields yet?

The Consultant: Yes, and they all seem to have a varying effectiveness against shield tech. However, every single one of these weapons proved to be highly effective against shields; going so far as to be, at the very least, comparable to Covenant plasma-based weaponry.

Nighthawk turned to look at Anaconda.

Nighthawk: Any thoughts on this, Big Guy?

Anaconda grunted, and shrugged.

Anaconda: I used a Gravity Hammer to stop Vanguard. That is what I plan on doing again. I know that it works, so, I am going to stick to it!

Nighthawk: Well, the old ways work best, right? Hopefully that saying holds true today.

The Consultant: I am not so sure.

Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at The Consultant.

The Consultant: I think Vanguard may be expecting that. I think Vanguard may be prepared to face your old tactics. If you walk into this battle with your old tactics, Vanguard will know exactly how to defeat you.

Anaconda: How can you be so sure of that, human?

The Consultant: When I first spoke with Vanguard, it said something along the lines of spending considerable time going over how you beat it the last time. This thing is, no doubt, an expert on your tactics by now, and I am pretty sure if you walk in there with the mindset of doing what you did before, Vanguard is going to pulverize you.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: We need new tactics if we are going to beat this thing. These weapons are a start, but, we need an offensive game plan!

Anaconda: Do you have one, human?

The Consultant: Not entirely. These weapons were the large portion of my plan. I was hoping to combine this with whatever the two of you have to create something more complete.

Nighthawk and Anaconda exchanged a glance with one another, before Nighthawk turned back to The Consultant and spoke up.

Nighthawk: We have been playing around with a few ideas. My AI believes that it is capable engaging Vanguard in a less than physical sense.

The Consultant: Cyber warfare? Vanguard is far too complex to engage in cyber warfare. Any conventional AI we could throw at Vanguard would be futile, at best. However, your AI could still prove useful. In fact, your AI may be able to help in a big way.

Nighthawk: Go on…

The Consultant: We all know that Vanguard’s obsession with The Forge stems from the fact that it enables it Vanguard to have a near limitless capability to build and construct whatever it desires; evident from the fact that Vanguard was able to, almost instantly, materialize a particle canon to swat three Covenant vessels from the sky with little to no effort.

The Consultant paused.

The Consultant: I believe an AI could prove immensely useful in shutting this capability down. If we could cut Vanguard off from The Forge, using an AI to deliver a viral payload, we could cripple Vanguard, perhaps, even back it into a corner…figuratively speaking.

Nighthawk: How would we go about administering this payload?

The Consultant: There is a control room not far from this location; just before the antechamber that leads to the heart of this facility, that is, The Forge. From the control room, different systems and subroutines can be accessed. Based on the diagnostic that Renegade had performed on the control room, it would be very possible to leverage it as a point of entry to deploy a viral payload.

Nighthawk nodded.

Nighthawk: My AI does have a viral payload ready to go. It is untested, but, I have confidence that it could help us in some way.

Nighthawk paused, as he looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: If you can get Anaconda to Vanguard, I can get my AI to the control room. I can work on getting the viral payload administered while you the lot of you get started on Vanguard. I will join you as soon as I can!

Anaconda stepped towards Nighthawk, letting out a grunt as he moved. Nighthawk looked at Anaconda, and shook his head.

Nighthawk: It is dangerous, I know. However, if we don’t do this, we give up a valuable tactical advantage! I don’t want to risk splitting up, but, our time is finite. We have no choice.

Anaconda: Very well.

Anaconda growled.

Anaconda: Try not to miss out on the fight. I would hate to be the only one who could bask in the victory.

Nighthawk: I will try not to miss too much.

Anaconda nodded, as The Consultant stepped forward.

The Consultant: The control room is closer to this location than Vanguard presently is. However, we will have to take opposite paths to reach our intended destinations. At a brisk pace, you should be able to reach the control room in about two or three minutes…tops.

Nighthawk: Just give me a general idea of where I need to go, and I will find it.

The Consultant: When you exit this room, head right, and follow the corridor. When we were mapping this facility, we put up a ton of directional cues. Simply follow the directions posted on the walls, and you will be able to find the control room. It should be very easy. You will know it when you enter a very large spherical room, with a series of control stations situated around the room. The one you will want to access will be the station attached to the large holotank, in the center of the room.

Nighthawk: Copy that. What about you and Anaconda? Where will you be heading? That is, where is Vanguard presently?

The Consultant: As I said earlier, Vanguard would be at the heart of this facility, with The Forge. In order to get there, from this location, you would exit this room, and instead of going right, you would go straight. Again, if you follow the directional cues we put on the wall, you should have no problem getting to where you need to go.

Nighthawk: Alright. I won’t be long. I will try and be as quick as I can. I don’t want to leave all of you hanging for too long. As soon as I get the viral payload in place, I will link up with you, and we will finish Vanguard off! Hopefully, without his Forge, he should be easy enough to take down.

The Consultant: Alright…this sounds like a plan! We may just be able to pull this off!

The Consultant grinned.

The Consultant: Alright gentlemen…let’s do this!

Nighthawk and Anaconda looked at one another, and nodded, before they both looked at The Consultant.

Nighthawk: Alright, let’s get moving!

Nighthawk readied his shotgun, as he began to walk forward; leaving the storage room, and heading towards the control room. The Consultant, Anaconda, and Nova Team proceeded to walk straight out, as they made their way towards Vanguard. However, before Nighthawk parted ways with the rest of the group, The Consultant called out to him.

The Consultant: Nighthawk!

Nighthawk stopped, as he turned to look at The Consultant.

The Consultant: Good luck…

Nighthawk was silent for a moment, before he nodded.

Nighthawk: Same to you…

Nighthawk then turned, and continued on his way towards the control room. As Nighthawk made his way towards the control room, he found himself somewhat disturbed by the general atmosphere of this facility. The dimly lit corridors, the strange contours, along with the metallic taste of the air and the chill that was ever-present was very off-putting. This facility was clearly not built with the comfort of organics life in mind. The facility itself felt very synthetic, down to every detail imaginable. However, despite the amount of discomfort that this facility instilled in Nighthawk, it was not something he was ever going to forget. For all of the inhospitable factors in play, this facility had embedded itself into Nighthawks memory…permanently.

It was not long before Nighthawk found himself quickly closing in on the control room. Nighthawk began to slow his approach, as he walked down the final corridor, towards a massive door that was located at the end of the corridor. Nighthawk was certain that this door was what would lead him to the control room. As Nighthawk stepped closer to the massive door, it opened up, as if it was triggered to do so by Nighthawks mere presence. As Nighthawk stepped through the massive doors that led to the control room, he took in the sights. Nighthawk quickly realized that The Consultant was not kidding when she said it was a large, spherical room.

Nighthawk: Interesting design…

As Nighthawk looked around, he quickly spotted the holotank at the center of the room. The holotank, however, was surrounded by dozens upon dozens of smaller terminals, each of which was slightly higher than waist height, and at least several meters in length. Nighthawk surmised that these supplementary terminals were used to control the various functions of The Forge, but, he had no idea as to what could have possibly made use of these terminals, as the design of the facility was in no way friendly to organic lifeforms. As he walked forward, he lowered his shotgun, as he contacted HAWK.

Nighthawk: HAWK? Do you copy?

HAWK promptly responded.

HAWK: There is a bit of interference, but, I can hear you.

Nighthawk: Good. I was worried we were going to have a weak signal this far down.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Do you still have that viral payload you were working on? Do you remember what I am talking about? The one that you created to attack Vanguard?

HAWK: I remember, and yes, I still have it. Why do you ask? Have you reconsidered?

Nighthawk: Yes, and no. I have found a new application for your virus. We are going to attack The Forge, and cut Vanguard off from his precious end game. I am currently in the control room of the facility, and I have an access point right in front of me.

HAWK: If I may ask, to what end are we attacking The Forge? How would that give us a tactical edge on Vanguard?

Nighthawk: Vanguard needs his Forge to do, well, anything! Without The Forge, Vanguard’s tactical capabilities are severely diminished. Without The Forge, Vanguard is unable to create another body, as an example. The point is, The Forge is its end game. There is no telling what Vanguard can use The Forge for. I can only imagine so many scenarios, and there is a lot of them! If we take it out of play, we eliminate a massive uncertainty, and we strike a serious blow to this AI.

HAWK: Makes sense.

HAWK paused.

Nighthawk: More importantly, however, if we shut The Forge down, we can resume prepping the Slipspace weapon.

HAWK: That is correct. If The Forge goes down, I can stabilize the power flow, and I can get our trump card back into play. Very well…standby…

HAWK paused for a moment before he continued to speak.

HAWK: Nighthawk, I am in the process of prepping the viral payload for transfer. I am going to need you to place your uplink into the back of your helmet. From there, I am going to upload the viral payload to the uplink. Once that is done, I am going to ask that you place that chip inside of the access point.

Nighthawk: Copy that!

Nighthawk reached into his side pocket, as he pulled out a data crystal chip. Nighthawk quickly inserted the chip into the back of his helmet.

Nighthawk: Alright HAWK, do your thing!

Nighthawk waited a moment, as he watched the upload counter count up to 100% on his HUD. Once the upload had reached 100%, HAWK spoke up.

HAWK: Alright, you are good to go. The viral payload should initialize the moment you insert that chip into the access point.

Nighthawk: Sounds easy enough…

Nighthawk reached behind his helmet to grab the data chip. However, as Nighthawk did this, he came under fire from behind, from what sounded like a silenced SMG. As if by muscle memory, Nighthawk jumped to the side, and took cover behind one of the many terminals that were scattered about the control room. As Nighthawk cocked his shotgun, he noticed his HUD was flashing an alert on his right arm and his torso, indicating that there were confirmed ballistic impacts. However, Nighthawk could not feel any injury, so he surmised that his armor had absorbed a majority of the impact.

HAWK: Nighthawk! What the hell was that!? Your suit is showing two points of impact.

Nighthawk: I am under fire…stand by, HAWK.

Nighthawk fell silent, as he readied his shotgun. As Nighthawk disengaged the safety on his weapon, he heard a familiar voice call him out.

Jacob: Nighthawk! Show yourself you son of a bitch! Face me like a man!

Nighthawk scoffed when he heard Jacob’s voice. Nighthawk stayed behind cover, as he shouted back at Jacob.

Nighthawk: Jacob? What the hell are you doing!?

Jacob: Isn’t it obvious, you prick? I am here to put a bullet in your head! I am here to kill you, you treacherous bastard! I am here to avenge EVERY person you have ever killed.

Jacob began to move forward.

Jacob: I followed you down here, and I have been shadowing you for some time! I know damn well that you are working with The Consultant and Nova Team! I know about your plan to destroy San Angeles! You have the audacity to call me a traitor, yet, you work with The Trust and you build a weapon to destroy a planet! You are a real piece of work, you know that!?

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Where does it end with you? Where does it fucking end!?

Jacob paused, as he continued to walk forward, closing in on where Nighthawk was in cover.

Jacob: You are a monster! You are a murderer! You are a terrorist! You are a traitor, a psychopath, and a coward…a gutless fucking coward! You have to die…

Nighthawk scoffed, as he sighed in frustration.

Nighthawk: Jacob…you have to listen to me! I would love nothing more than to settle our score, but, Vanguard needs to be stopped! Everything depends on Vanguard being stopped! You have to let me do this! If I don’t stop Vanguard, we are ALL going to die!

Jacob: I don’t give a damn what you are trying to do, not anymore! I don’t give a damn about Vanguard! The only thing that matters to me is crossing you off!

Nighthawk scoffed, as his tone became more aggressive.

Nighthawk: Jacob! Listen to yourself! Have you become so consumed by your desire to kill me, that you can no longer see reason!?

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Let me fight Vanguard! Let me do my job! The survival of…EVERYONE depends on this

Jacob shook his head.

Jacob: Why are you the only one qualified to fight Vanguard, hmm? What makes you so God-damn special? Who made you so important?

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Who the hell gave you the right to make these decisions? Who the hell gave you the right to destroy San Angeles? Who appointed you the hero, hmm?

Nighthawk: You don’t get it, Jacob! I don’t think of myself as some big hero for doing this! The only reason I am here is because nobody, except Anaconda and I, is qualified to fight Vanguard. No one is prepared to go to the lengths Anaconda and I are to go! Anaconda and I have a very comprehensive understanding of exactly how dangerous Vanguard is, and we are doing what we have to do! The UNSC, ONI, The Trust, The Covenant…not one of them has EVER faced ANYTHING like Vanguard! Nobody has ANY idea what this thing is capable of! That fact alone is why Anaconda and I are here! Anaconda and I are the only one who are prepared to do the wrong thing for the right reasons!

Jacob: Bullshit! The wrong thing for the right reasons; that sounds like bullshit!

Nighthawk: Jacob…you have to believe me when I say that I am here to stop Vanguard! However, there may be no stopping this thing through conventional means! It may turn out that the only way to destroy Vanguard is to destroy this entire planet! I don’t want it to come to that, but, I have to be realistic! Vanguard must NOT be allowed to leave this planet! If you can believe that for ONE MOMENT…we could end this debate, here and now! You would put the gun down, and you would let me do my job!

Nighthawk paused, as he stood up from cover, and glared at Jacob.

Nighthawk: Jacob…put the gun down! Let me finish this! Let me fight this thing! Let me kill Vanguard! Let me put an end to this…THING…once and for all, before it is too late!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Don’t be a fool! Don’t let yourself be blinded by your hatred for me! Don’t put everything at risk JUST so you can take one final shot at me!

Jacob didn’t budge.

Nighthawk: Jacob…I will be more than happy to settle this with you when this is all said and done! However, for now…right now…I am asking you to set aside your differences with me…and let kill Vanguard! Please…don’t risk countless lives just to kill me…

Jacob continued to glare at Nighthawk. However, after a moment, he lowered his SMG, and sighed. Nighthawk also started lowered his weapon.

Jacob: Perhaps you are right…

Jacob paused, as Nighthawk fully lowered his weapon.

Jacob: But then again…

Jacob raised his SMGs again and began to fire. As Nighthawk tried to raise his weapon, he took several rounds right in the torso, falling to the side, and down into cover. Nighthawk could see that there were several impacts on his torso, and that at least one of the shots rounds had managed to penetrate his armor.

Jacob: Then again, how many people have died because you were allowed to keep on living? How many people have died because someone was scared of taking risks?

Nighthawk was breathing heavily behind cover.

Jacob: Yeah, I MAY be putting a lot of lives at risk by crossing you off, but, by letting you live, I am DEFINATLY condemning a lot of people to death. I choose to take the risk over give into a certainty. After what you did to Athios and Jaclyn…you don’t deserve to live! You don’t deserve to walk away! You are going to die here, today…to hell with everything else! This is where you end!

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: And when I am done killing you, I am going to find your Gorilla friend and kill him to. Then, just to top it all of…I will kill Vanguard, and I am going to prove to EVERYONE that you were NEVER needed to do ANYTHING! I am going to make sure that history remembers you for being little more than a dead liability!

Jacob paused, as he began to walk forward, towards where Nighthawk was in cover.

Jacob: I am through stomaching your bullshit, Nighthawk. The UNSC is through stomaching your BS. After today…nobody will EVER have to be subjected to it…ever again!

As Nighthawk sat behind cover, he could hear Jacob closing in on his position. Nighthawk was in a great deal of physical pain, as the bullet wound that had penetrated his armor was a free flow exit wound; his blood pouring out at a steady rate with no signs of stopping. Nighthawk was thankful that his armor was absorbing all of the blood, as the last thing he wanted to show was the fact that he was injured. However, despite the sheer amount of pain that Nighthawk was in, he knew that this was now a sink or swim situation. Nighthawk was now fighting for his life, against an opponent that could not be reasoned with on any level.

Nighthawk had to think fast, as Jacob was getting closer and closer. Nighthawk knew that if he tried to pop out of cover once more, his injury would be a serious detriment to him, and it would hinder his draw speed. On the slip side, he knew that standard UNSC operating procedure in a situation like this was to give your corners a wide berth to prevent ambush. Nighthawk knew that rushing Jacob would not be a good idea either, as Jacob had his weapon raised and ready.

Nighthawk was quickly discovering that the odds were stacked against him, and that he was running out of time. However, it was at that moment that Nighthawk had an idea that would stand a chance of bailing him out of his current predicament. However, this idea was a longshot, but it was Nighthawk’s only chance.

Nighthawk: Alright Jacob…you win…you win…

Nighthawk tossed his Shotgun aside, so it was in plain view of Jacob. As he did this, Jacob stopped in his tracks.

Nighthawk: I know when I am beat.

Nighthawk reached to his side, and pulled out a frag grenade; activating the weapon, and holding his thumb in place. As Nighthawk held the grenade in his hand, he was forced to grin.

Nighthawk: I surrender…

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: There is no surrendering, Nighthawk. The only way this is going to end is if you die, and your death is long past due!

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: Well, that’s too bad. I really had no intention of surrendering anyway. I was just hoping that old trick would work once more…

As Nighthawk said this, he threw the frag grenade over his shoulder, right in Jacob’s general direction. However, Nighthawk gave the grenade too much force, as the grenade flew passed Jacob, and landed about 10 feet behind him. However, despite this, the grenade still posed a threat to Jacob’s safety. Jacob scoffed, as he leapt forward in an effort to take cover from the shrapnel that was no doubt going to fly in various directions.

Once the grenade had exploded, Jacob began to climb back to his feet. However, as he was getting back to his feet, he was violently kicked in the side. Jacob coughed, as he was flipped right onto his back by the force of the kick. As Jacob groaned in pain, he could see Nighthawk standing over him. Jacob watched as Nighthawk raised his foot, and slammed it down on his chest. Jacob groaned in pain once more as Nighthawk stepped away, and looked down at Jacob.

Nighthawk: You should have walked away when you had the chance, Jacob. I didn’t want it to come down to this, but, you have left me with no other choice! You cannot be reasoned with. I have tried to reason with you to no end. I can’t stop Vanguard so long as you are still alive.

Nighthawk paused when he heard HAWK speak to him.

HAWK: Nighthawk…we need to hurry! You need to get that Malware into The Forge! Time is of the utmost essence! You have to hurry! Forget Jacob…and shut that thing down!

Nighthawk scoffed, as he gave Jacob one final kick in the side to make sure he styayed down, before he turned and staggered over to the holotank; the data crystal chip still in his hand. As Nighthawk approached the holotank, he looked around to try and get his bearings.

Nighthawk: I am in front of the holotank, HAWK. Standby…

Nighthawk looked at the chip in his hand, and then back at the holotank. Nighthawk surmised that the holotank he was in front of had near-field communication capabilities, as he could not find anything resembling a data port. As Nighthawk brought the chip closer to the holotank, he found himself caught off guard when he was tackled from behind. Jacob had managed to climb back to his feet, and charge at Nighthawk; tackling him onto the holotank. The two men rolled right across the holotank, and back onto the floor, with Jacob landing on top of Nighthawk.

Nighthawk groaned in pain, as the tackle, and the subsequent fall, caused an extreme amount of discomfort as a result of his bullet wound.

Jacob: The biggest mistake you made was not putting a bullet in my head the moment you had the chance! You are going to regret that, you prick.

Jacob climbed back to his feet, as he returned Nighthawk’s cheap shots by kicking Nighthawk right in the side. Nighthawk cried out in pain, as Jacob kicked him right in his wound. Jacob noticed this, as he began to taunt Nighthawk.

Jacob: Well, well…that hurt more than it should have, didn’t it?

Jacob scoffed, as he kicked Nighthawk again. Nighthawk, once again, cried out in pain; the agony from his bullet wound being hit being almost unbearable. Jacob noticed this again, and knew that he had found a vulnerable spot on Nighthawk.

Jacob: You don’t like that, do you? Big, scary Nighthawk…can’t take a simple kick to the torso.

As Jacob said this, he kicked Nighthawk again, this time, as hard as he could. The force of the kick knocked the wind out of Nighthawk, causing him release his grip on the data chip that he had in his hand. As the chip bounced out of his hand, Jacob took notice of it, and picked it up.

Jacob: Well, well, well…what do we have here? Something important, I assume?

Nighthawk looked up at Jacob, as he struggled to breathe.

Nighthawk: I need that…to stop…Vanguard…

Jacob: Is that so? How would it stop him?

Nighthawk: It will shut down The Forge…make it vulnerable…

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: You expect me to believe that bullshit?

Nighthawk: It is the truth…

Jacob laughed again.

Jacob: The truth? You wouldn’t know the truth if even if it slapped you across the face with a wet fish! You never tell the truth, Nighthawk!

Jacob paused.

Jacob: You know what I think? I think that whatever is on this data chip is pivotal to your plan to destroy San Angeles. I will not let that happen!

Jacob looked at the data chip, and then proceeded to snap it in half.

Jacob: Looks like you won’t be destroying any planets today, Nighthawk.

Jacob reached down and grabbed Nighthawk by the throat, and lifted him back to his feet. Jacob glared at Nighthawk, as he held his hand to Nighthawk’s throat. Jacob glared at Nighthawk for a moment, before he drive his knee right into Nighthawk’s midsection. The impact cause Nighthawk to keel over and groan in pain. Jacob, however, did not relent, as he pushed forward, against Nighthawk’s throat, and pushed him down, pinning him to the holotable. Jacob squeezed his hand as hard as he could, as he tried to strangle the life out of Nighthawk. Nighthawk did his best to try and wrestle free from Jacob’s grasp, but, he was far too weak to break Jacob’s hold.

Jacob noticed that Nighthawk was starting to struggle. As a result, Jacob placed his other hand on Nighthawk’s throat in order to secure his death grip. Jacob could see that with every passing second, Nighthawk was getting weaker and weaker.

Jacob: Do you feel that, Nighthawk!? This is what it feels like to die! How many people have you inflicted this upon? How many people have felt the cold embrace of death at your hands? How many people have you killed?

Jacob glared at Nighthawk, as he took great satisfaction in what he was doing.

Jacob: I will see you in hell, Nighthawk! I will see you in hell!

Nighthawk scoffed. In a last ditch attempt at desperation, Nighthawk mustered every iota of his remaining strength, as he clenched his right fist, and swung it upwards at Jacob, slamming his fist right into Jacob’s trachea, causing Jacob to lose his grip, and stumble back. As Jacob stumbled back, Nighthawk rolled to the side, and fell off the holotank, falling to his hands and knees, breathing heavily and erratically.

HAWK: Nighthawk! Are you alright! Your vitals are off the charts! Are you alright!?

Nighthawk began to cough, as he struggled to speak.

Nighthawk: Far from it, HAWK…

HAWK: I am not seeing any activity from the viral payload I sent you. Have you been able to transfer the payload to The Forge yet?

Nighthawk: Negative…the uplink chip was compromised…Captain Sharpmen destroyed it. I need alternatives if we are to proceed.

HAWK: Stand by…I will see if I can figure something out.

As HAWK said this, Nighthawk struggled to get back to his feet. However, before Nighthawk could fully get back to his feet, he was kicked in the side, once more, by Jacob. Nighthawk fell to the side, and rolled as he hit the ground. However, Nighthawk continued to try and climb back to his feet.

Jacob: You don’t give up, do you?

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: You should know by now that…

Nighthawk reached for the knife that was holstered on his chest with his left hand, and drew it from the sheath. With the knife firmly in his hand, he swung his arm upwards, and slammed the blade right into Jacob’s side. Jacob staggered back and began to lose his footing, as Nighthawk got back to his feet.

Nighthawk: I am a very hard man to put down.

Nighthawk threw a right hook at Jacob, causing Jacob to stumble back, and collapse against the holotank. Jacob was breathing heavily, as he looked down at the knife that had penetrated his body right down to the hilt. Jacob then looked up at Nighthawk and cursed at him.

Jacob: God Damn it…

Jacob began to cough, as he pulled his helmet off and tossed it aside. As Jacob tossed his helmet aside, Nighthawk could see that Jacob was coughing up blood.

Jacob: Well, what are you waiting for, Nighthawk? Kill me. Killing wounded people is what you do best, right?

Nighthawk held his side, as he looked at Jacob.

Nighthawk: Not true. I just kill people who give me no shortage of problems…

Nighthawk sighed.

Nighthawk: Jacob, you have been nothing but trouble for me. A constant source of problems! You have been nothing but a hindrance…and an obstacle. You have made every effort to get in my way and obstruct me from doing my job. I came here, to fight Vanguard, only for you to show up and make a monumentally difficult task more difficult! Nobody is going to miss you, because you are a fucking traitor! I am going to do ONI a favor…

Nighthawk drew one of his Magnums, and aimed it at Jacob.

Nighthawk: I am going to save everyone a lot of time and effort…and I am going to cross you off, here and now.

Nighthawk disengaged the safety on his Magnum, as he took aim at Jacob. However, just before he pulled the trigger, he heard someone call out to him.

Cochraine: Nighthawk! Stop!

Nighthawk froze, as he turned his head and saw Cochraine in the corner of his eye, standing behind him.

Nighthawk: Lieutenant Commander Lauran Cochraine. What brings you here? You don’t seem like the type to come to a dreary place like this.

Cochraine: I am here for Jacob…nothing more…nothing less. I am not here to pick a fight with you. I am just here to retrieve the Captain.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Lower your weapon…let me take Jacob back to the surface. Nobody needs to die, just let me take him back to ONI.

Nighthawk didn’t respond.

Cochraine: Nighthawk?

Nighthawk: I fail to see why he should be taken back to ONI. I fail to understand how that makes any sort of difference. He is going to die, either way.

Nighthawk looked back at Jacob, as he continued to speak to Cochraine.

Nighthawk: ONI is just going to kill him. Whether I kill him, or some ONI Agent crosses him off…it makes no difference.

Cochraine: There is a difference, Nighthawk. There is a big difference! If you gun down Jacob, here and now, it is something that will be seen with a measurable difference. Let the system deal with Jacob…let ONI deal with him as they see fit.

Cochraine paused, as she stepped forward, and lowered her shotgun.

Cochraine: If you leave this to ONI…at the very least he can be processed by the system. If ONI does decide to kill Jacob…at least it will have been the system that decides that…after a trial…after a conviction. People like Harrison won’t be out trying to kill you. Let the system deal with Jacob. You need not dirty your hands with this.

Nighthawk laughed.

Nighthawk: That is not how ONI works…

Cochraine: Then how does ONI work Nighthawk? You seem to know so much about ONI. Care to explain to me how it will actually happen?

Nighthawk turned his head to look at Cochraine. He glared at her for a moment, before he spoke.

Nighthawk: One of two things will happen; he will either be quietly crossed off by an ONI Agent before anything is put to record, or, he will be detained by ONI, at which time he will be interrogated and subjected to “enhanced interrogation methods”. During his detention, every shred of information will be extracted from him. When his usefulness has expired, he will be put to death. There is no trial and there is no conviction.

Cochraine: Well…from the sounds of it, Jacob is going to die, either way! Why dirty your hands with it? Your rap sheet is long enough…why add to it? Do you really want Harrison trying to get revenge for this? Can you afford that sort of attention?

Nighthawk scoffed.

Nighthawk: I am prepared to kill millions of people with a WMD. Believe me…I am very comfortable with adding to my rap sheet. As for Harrison…I am not afraid of that windbag. I would not be here if I was afraid of what Harrison could do to me.

Cochraine thought for a moment, as she recalled how Harrison mentioned that Nighthawk had the capability to destroy San Angeles. As Cochraine thought about this, she looked at Nighthawk, and stepped closer to him.

Cochraine: Oh yes…Harrison mentioned your plan to destroy San Angeles. A very nebulous concept if I have ever heard it.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I can’t say that I like the sound of the idea. I can’t say that the notion of destroying San Angeles appeals to me very much.

Nighthawk: You think it appeals to me? Do you think I like the idea?

Cochraine: I am going to guess “no”. I get that impression from the tone of your voice.

Cochraine sighed.

Cochraine: Look, Nighthawk…let me break this down; you don’t need to kill Jacob. I know you want to, but, you don’t have to! If you put your gun down, I will take Jacob out of here, and I will let you do what you feel that you have to do. I know you are here to destroy Vanguard, and I don’t want to stand in the way of that. We can end this, all of this, right now…if you just put the gun down, and let me take Jacob back to ONI. Don’t make a bad situation worse…

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I have seen enough of you to know that underneath that exterior of yours, there is a relatively pragmatic and intelligence individual. I have seen your pragmatism, first hand. You know how to compromise with people, and you know how to find common ground. I have seen it in the way you worked with ONI and the UNSC against The Trust. I am asking you to compromise with me, right now. Work with me…help me…

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Compromise with us…one more time…please…

Nighthawk looked at Cochraine for a moment, before he began to speak.

Nighthawk: I admire people like you; people who can defuse a situation without the gun. It is a rare commodity these days. I was never very good at that.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I have to admit, you have my number as far as not wanting to destroy San Angles. You are very correct about the notion of destroy8ing San Angles being highly unappealing. You make a good argument aboutnot killing Jacob. In think you are right that ONI killing this bastard will work out better. Alright, Cochraine…I will do it your way. I will humor you.

Nighthawk lowered his gun, and holstered it.

Nighthawk: He’s all yours.

Nighthawk turned away, as Cochraine approached Jacob, she knelt down next to him. Before Cochraine could say a word, however, Jacob spoke up.

Jacob: You should have killed him, Cochraine. You don’t let people like Nighthawk live. You could have walked up behind him, and blown his fucking head off!

Cochraine: I have no intention of killing him, Jacob. We need Nighthawk to deal with Vanguard.

Jacob: Bullshit! We don’t need Nighthawk for anything! Why did you not kill him?

Cochraine: I did not kill Nighthawk because I am here to retrieve you, not kill Nighthawk. I did not come down here to fight Nighthawk. Unlike you, I know why he is here, and I choose to let him proceed. If you could have seen that, things would be much different right now. Jacob…you have to admit that you made a tense situation far worse than it had to be.

Nighthawk turned back to Cochraine, and nodded, before he turned back to Jacob.

Nighthawk: The lady knows what she is talking about Jacob.

Cochraine looked back at Nighthawk.

Cochraine: Above all else, I feel that I owe you one, Nighthawk.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Nobody owes that prick anything!

Cochraine: I beg to differ. Had it not have been for Nighthawk, I would have been killed in a bombardment that was ordered by Admiral Harrison, at the start of this battle.

Jacob: It was Tye and Cameron that rescued you…

Cochraine: But it was Nighthawk who extracted us…moments before that place was lit up like a fireworks display. In a way, I owe him my life, at least, I owe him enough to let him off the hook this one time.

Cochraine paused, as she helped Jacob back to his feet.

Jacob: Let him off the hook…

Cochraine held her shotgun in one hand, as she put Jacob’s left arm over her shoulder to help him walk. Nighthawk watched as Cochraine and Jacob walked passed him. As they moved out of Nighthawk’s periphery vision, Nighthawk turned and looked back at the holotank.

Jacob: You don’t let a man like that off the hook…ever…

Jacob scoffed, as he reached to grab Cochraine’s shotgun. Once Jacob had his hands on Cochraine’s shotgun, he shoved her to the side, knocking her to the ground. Nighthawk, hearing the commotion, turned, and saw what Jacob had done. Nighthawk watched as Jacob turned and charged at him once more. Nighthawk reached to his holster to draw his Magnum, but, Jacob had managed to close the gap between himself and Nighthawk. With the gap closed, Jacob slammed the butt of the shotgun right into Nighthawk’s gut, once again, attacking Nighthawk’s vulnerable spot.

Nighthawk stumbled back once more, as he fell against the holotank. Jacob charged at Nighthawk, and slammed the butt of the shotgun into the side of his helmet, knocking him down.

Jacob looked down at Nighthawk, as he took aim with the shotgun.

Jacob: I refuse to let you get off the hook, Nighthawk. People like you don’t get off the hook.

Cochraine began to climb back to her feet, as she shook her head. Cochraine looked on as Jacob struck Nighthawk in the side of the head with the butt of the shotgun. Cochraine knew that if she didn’t do something quickly that Jacob was going to kill Nighthawk. Without any hesitation or thought, Cochraine reached into her pocket, and grabbed the PDA that Captain Frost had given her. Cochraine looked at the PDA, as she called Jacob’s name.

Cochraine: Jacob!

Jacob stopped, but he kept the shotgun aimed at Nighthawk’s head.

Cochraine: Stand down!

Jacob: Not until this prick is dead! Not until he has paid for the blood he has spilled!

Cochraine frowned, as she looked at the PDA. Without any hesitation, Cochraine sent the activation signal to the nanite.

Cochraine: The only person here who is going to be dead is you if you do not stand down!

Jacob turned his head, and looked at Cochraine.

Jacob: Is that so?

Cochraine: It is so! I activated the nanite…

Jacob froze in place.

Jacob: What?

Cochraine: I sent the activation code to the nanite. Captain Frost said it would be necessary if you became uncooperative. I guess she was right. I didn’t want to do it, but, you left me no choice!

Cochraine showed the PDA to Jacob. Jacob could see the PDA counting down to 0.

Cochraine: In 20 seconds…that nanite is going to kill you.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I can stop it, but I will only do so if you drop the gun, and walk away! Surrender! Now!

Jacob: You would kill me to protect Nighthawk? Why?

Cochraine: 15 seconds. Drop your weapons, and surrender immediately.

Jacob: WHY!?

Cochraine didn’t answer. She simply glared at Jacob and waited for Jacob to make his move.

Jacob: Why are you doing this? Why won’t you let me kill this prick!? This bastard deserves to die! He killed Athios! He killed Jaclyn! He is going to keep killing, and he will never stop! He is EVIL!

Cochraine: Why won’t you let him fight Vanguard? That is why he is here. He has a purpose, Jacob…an important purpose. Whether you like it or not, Nighthawk has a reason to be here! He actually has a plan to deal with Vanguard.

Jacob struggled to find the words to justify his actions.

Cochraine: 10 seconds. This is your last chance; drop the shotgun, drop your sidearm, and surrender, or…you will die. You will be dead before you hit the ground. You have to stop this! You have to step back! Your life depends on it!

Jacob scoffed, as he turned, and took aim at Cochraine. Cochraine stepped back, but, she kept her cool.

Cochraine: 5 seconds. Jacob…please…don’t let it end like this! Please…

Jacob glared at Cochraine, looking her right in the eyes. The only thing Jacob could see from Cochraine was a resolute and determined frame of mind that would not back down. Jacob quickly realized that Cochraine was not going to budge, and in this game of chicken, he knew that she was going to win.

Jacob sighed, as he quickly tossed the shotgun aside, followed by his side arm. Cochraine looked back at the PDA and pushed the cancel button. Jacob staggered away from Nighthawk, as he slowly walked towards Cochraine.

Jacob: Alright Cochraine…fine…you win.

Cochraine drew her sidearm and pointed it at Jacob, as she held the PDA in her left hand.

Cochraine: Get moving…Captain…that is an order!

Jacob scoffed, but he complied with Cochraine’s order. Jacob began to slowly walk towards the exit of the control room. However, Jacob stopped, and turned back to Nighthawk. Jacob glared at Nighthawk, then pointed at him.

Jacob: Nighthawk…this is FAR from over! If you, somehow, make it off San Angeles alive…I swear on my life, I will hunt you down, wherever you may hide, and I will finish what I started here today. This Galaxy will not be big enough for you to hide in. When we meet again…all bets are off…and you WILL die by MY hands.

Jacob paused, as he grabbed the hilt of Nighthawk’s combat knife, and pulled the blade out of his gut. Jacob winced in pain, but, that didn’t stop him from dropping the knife on the floor.

Jacob: Mark…my…words…we are going to finish this…

Nighthawk: Don’t count on it Jacob. Don’t count on it.

Jacob scoffed then turned away, and continued to walk. However, before Cochraine could turn to walk with Jacob, Nighthawk called out to her.

Nighthawk: Cochraine!

Cochraine turned to face Nighthawk, who was struggling to get back to his feet.

Nighthawk: That PDA…it has an uplink chip, doesn’t it? I need it!

Cochraine had a perplexed look on her face.

Cochraine: Why?

Nighthawk: To shut down The Forge. I had a piece of malware that would have proven useful in doing that, but, Jacob destroyed my uplink chip. I need another...and you have one.

Cochraine paused for a moment, as she reached into her pocket, and pulled out Jennifer’s PDA. Cochraine looked at the PDA for a moment, before she finally grabbed the uplink chip out of the bottom of the PDA, and tossed it to Nighthawk.

Nighthawk: Thank you.

Cochraine: Do not thank me, Nighthawk. I am doing what I have to do! I am doing what I must to ensure that Vanguard is taken down! This is not for you. This is for Humanity! This is to stop The Trust, and this is to stop Vanguard!

Cochraine was going to turn away, but she stopped and looked at Nighthawk.

Cochraine: However, for the record, I feel that YOU do deserve ONE thing from me. I know it is a bit late, but, I wanted to express my gratitude for the extraction a while back. Had you not have been there to pull our asses out of the fire, we would not be here having this “delightful” conversation in this exotic location. Like I said, I owed you one.

Nighthawk: All things being considered, and, in hindsight, I am glad I could help. It defiantly paid off. I like it when investments pay off.

Cochraine: Well, let’s just say that there are no more dividends left to pay. We are even now. That means, you get nothing more from me. You are on your own from here on out.

Cochraine paused, as she stepped towards Nighthawk. Her voice became cold, and far less inviting.

Cochraine: Keep one thing in mind, Nighthawk; from this point forward, we are now enemies. Anything you do, from this point forward, that is considered hostile to the UNSC, will be met, by me, with the deadliest of force. You may have Captain Frost fooled, and eating out of the palm of your hand, but, I am not so easily fooled and I am not so easily taken in.

Cochraine scoffed.

Cochraine: Despite my orders to come down here and retrieve Jacob, I understand his reasoning for why he is here, and why he wants to kill you. I get it, and I am sure that if I were in his situation; had you have killed any of the people on Fireteam Harmony, I would be here, doing exactly what he was doing, with a little more grace, mind you. The fact is, from what I have seen…Jacob is a man with very little to lose, and a hell of a lot to rage against. You, Nighthawk, are not exactly the nicest guy here. I am aware of what you did to Suicide Squad, I saw your handy work…and I am not impressed with you, in the slightest! To be honest…it makes me sick. Those were not surgical kills…they were brutal and malicious, and you should be ashamed of yourself! How you could stray so far from your own humanity, that you could do that to two people whose lives were defined by the act of standing between the defenseless and The Covenant, makes me wonder what the hell has happened to you, exactly, to turn you into such a monster?

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Do I even want to know?

Nighthawk shook his head.

Nighthawk: No, you don’t want to know. All you need to know is that I killed two people; two people who tried to stop me from dealing with Vanguard. I tried to talk them down, but, in the end, there was nothing I could do. My mission is far too important. By your own admission, you understand that.

Cochraine: Oh yes, stopping Vanguard and The Trust is important. Be that as it may…those were UNSC soldiers that you killed, and you brutalized them. I saw Athios and Jaclyn’s bodies…and it was a bloodbath. You didn’t shoot to shot to torment.

Nighthawk: I killed two people. Jacob killed a hell of a lot more than I did. I killed Jaclyn and Athios to protect the mission…Jacob killed to fit in with The Trust. I am not proud of what I did, but, I would do it again…for the mission.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Yes…your mission…

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: Vanguard…

Cochraine frowned.

Cochraine: How many people are going to die for the mission, Nighthawk? How many people are you actually prepared to condemn by doing the unthinkable? IT is monstrous, no matter how you put it! No matter how you add up the body count…no matter how you justify it…it is monstrous! How many people do you have to kill?

Nighthawk: Too many. Men…women…children…all civilians…but it is for the mission. There is nothing good about what I have to do. Destroying San Angeles is, in no uncertain terms, a monstrous act of the highest order! I accept that judgement, and I am prepared to do something unthinkable, unimaginable, and unspeakable. I am prepared to destroy San Angeles…to stop Vanguard…to stop The Trust…to stop The Covenant…to buy the future of Humanity! It is a heavy price to pay, but, I will pay it!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Look around you, Cochraine. Look where we are! Look what we are surrounded by! This is the end game! This is what The Covenant wants. This is what DRIVES The Covenant! Claiming…ALL OF THIS! This is what The Trust wants. This…ALL OF THIS…is what motivates The Trust. This is what will embolden our enemies. Whether it is The Trust or the Covenant…the technology down here could usher in a nightmare the likes of which you could not even imagine. If The Covenant gets their hands on what is down here, Humanity is finished! We lose the war! If The Trust gets their hands on it Vanguard’s technology…ANY of it, even the slightest piece…I cannot even begin to imagine what they would do with it!

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: I cannot allow that to happen! Everything depends on destroying San Angeles. The future of humanity depends on me denying our enemies the chance to claim this technology for themselves, by any means necessary! This technology is too damn dangerous, and it cannot be allowed to exist! I am prepared to do the unthinkable. I am prepared to kill millions…so that I can save BILLIONS! I am prepared to make the hard choices, so that people like you don’t have to. I am prepared to live with this, so that people like you can sleep at night. If you think that I am going to enjoy destroy San Angeles…you have another fucking thing coming!

Cochraine frowned, as she paused for a moment to gather her thoughts.

Cochraine: I have no idea what Captain Frost sees in you. I have no idea why she puts up with you. She must know something we don’t. She is ONI…it would not surprise me.

Cochraine scoffed.

Cochraine: Well…you do what you have to do, Nighthawk. You can go ahead and make that “noble” sacrifice. If you do the unthinkable, and you, somehow, destroy San Angeles…you can do it, with the complete understanding and absolute expectation that you WILL be hunted down, and killed for it. I am hoping your better judgement and what little remains, if any, of you humanity takes the reigns on that decision making process. However, if by chance, you lack either, or both, then you can expect to be hunted down like a dog. You may believe that you are saving Humanity, but, I assure you…that is NOT how history is going to remember it. History is going to remember that YOU, not The Covenant, not The Trust…YOU…destroyed San Angeles. History will not care about the reasoning or the minor details. The UNSC will not care about the reasoning. ONI will not care about the reasoning. History…EVERYONE…is going to blame you, and the exonerating facts will be damned to a mountain of red tape. Nobody will care or ask about the why, only, the who and the what…you and San Angeles.

Cochraine paused.

Cochraine: I am hoping that you, somehow, find an alternative to what you are planning. If you don’t, and you destroy San Angeles, then you have no future worth living in. Consider yourself warned.

With that Cochraine turned, and left the control room with Jacob, leaving Nighthawk alone in the control room, to lament Cochraine’s bone chilling words. After a moments, Nighthawk shook his head, as he tried to snap himself back into the moment. Once Nighthawk had refocused he wasted no further time in completing his objective.

Nighthawk: HAWK? Do you copy?

HAWK responded.

HAWK: I read you, Nighthawk. What is your status?

Nighthawk: Not doing too well at the moment. I took a bit of a beating, and I am barely holding it together.

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: On the plus side, I got another uplink chip.

Nighthawk put the chip into the back of his helmet.

Nighthawk: Send me another copy of the viral payload.

HAWK: Copy that…upload in progress.

Nighthawk sighed, as he staggered over to the holotank, and leaned on it. Nighthawk hung his head, as he felt light headed and disorientated.

HAWK: Upload complete…

Without saying a word, Nighthawk reached behind his helmet, and pulled the uplink chip out of the slot. As Nighthawk held the chip in his hand, he shook his head.

HAWK: Nighthawk? Are you alright?

Nighthawk: No…nowhere near alright. We are about to do something very bad HAWK. I am about to commit an atrocity. No matter how much I tell myself it is for the greater good, I feel like I cannot completely convinced myself. I fear that I am stepping over a cliff on this one.

HAWK: Perhaps you are right, Nighthawk. Perhaps you are right. However, we need to be sure that Vanguard, and every shred of technology, is destroyed. Given the current circumstances, I see no other way to do it. I am certain that you agree with me, but, you are unable to reconcile the ends with the means.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: I know you are capable of setting aside your own personal beliefs for the good of the mission. That much is clear by now. You need to set aside your beliefs…one more time! If you don’t…then you are condemning humanity. If you do not set aside your beliefs…then someone, be it The Trust or The Covenant, will claim Vanguard’s technology, and they will use it against Humanity. You said it yourself…everything depends on you. You are very correct when you say that.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: Like you said…everything depends on stopping Vanguard.

Nighthawk took a moment to process what HAWK said to him. Nighthawk knew that HAWK was right, and Nighthawk knew that San Angeles needed to be destroyed in order to deny access to Vanguard’s technology. While Nighthawk still struggled with the idea that he was doing the right thing, he knew he was doing the necessary thing. Nighthawk doubted he would ever forgive himself for what he was going to do, and he doubted that he will ever reconcile what his about to do. However, Nighthawk drew strength from the fact that he had steeled himself for what needed to be done. Having subjugated his doubts once more, Nighthawk sighed, as he extended his arm, as he brought the chip near the holotank terminal. Much like HAWK had predicted earlier, the uplink chip reacted to the proximity of the holotank, and a data transfer initiated from the chip to the holotank.

Nighthawk: HAWK? I think something just happened. I think the viral payload has been transferred to The Forge. Can you confirm?

HAWK: I have confirmation. The viral payload is contacting the command and control server I have setup, and it seems to be working…so far.

Nighthawk: How will we know if this works?

HAWK: That is tough to say. However, I will keep an eye on it, and I will inform you if there are any changes. In the meantime, we should just give the viral payload time to work.

Nighthawk: Alright…that works for me…

Nighthawk put the uplink chip in his side pocket, as he turned, and began to walk away from the holotank, heading towards the exit of the control room. As Nighthawk walked towards the exit, he made a slight detour to recover his shotgun before leaving the area.

Nighthawk: Alright HAWK. The moment that viral payload starts producing results…make it your top priority to shut The Forge down, and finishing the charging cycle of the slipspace core. I want that thing ready for deployment at a moment’s notice.

HAWK: Copy that. I will see to it.

HAWK paused.

HAWK: What about you? Are you going to return to the ship?

Nighthawk: Negative…

Nighthawk paused.

Nighthawk: Vanguard is still operational. I need to regroup with Anaconda and The Consultant, and I am going to lend them a hand.

HAWK: Are you out of your mind? I am looking at your vitals right now, and that is suicide, plain and simple! You are in no condition to engage Vanguard!

Nighthawk scoffed, as he reached onto his back, and drew his Mass Driver, setting it aside at first so he could holster his shotgun on his back. Once Nighthawk had his Shotgun holstered, he grabbed his Mass Driver once more, and diseneged the safety on the weapon.

Nighthawk: HAWK…I have been through hell and high water to get to where I am. I have been chasing The Trust like a mad-man…JUST to get to this facility. I may be in pretty bad shape…I may be tired…beaten…and running on willpower alone…but NOTHING is going to keep me from seeing Vanguard in person. I have come too far to turn back now.

Nighthawk checked his Mass Driver, and confirmed that it was ready for use. As Nighthawk hefted the large weapon, he mustered what energy and strength he had left, and began to move forward.

Nighthawk: At the very least…I need to see what the fuss was about.

With that, Nighthawk walked out of the control room, and proceeded to retrace his steps so he could regroup Anaconda…and finally confront Vanguard.

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San Angeles – Firebase Mediterranean – Sector 1 – Main Loading Bay - 2350 Hours - February 1st 2540

Xyrho and Voro’s Spectre pulled up behind Firebase Mediterranean; stopping a few feet from where Vhat had left his Ghost. Once the Spectre had stopped, Xyrho and Voro wasted no time in disembarking from the Spectre, and fanning out. Both Elites scanned the area for Vhat, but he was nowhere in the immediate area.

Voro: I do not see Vhat anywhere. He may have proceeded to scout ahead.

Xyrho: It is possible.

Xyrho readied his Carbine, as he began to walk forward, heading towards a large loading bay door that was open.

Xyrho: Let us proceed inside. Be mindful of your engagements. We do not have the resources to engage every hostile we see in battle.

Voro rolled his eyes, but he followed behind Xyrho, as the two Elites entered into the facility, moving quickly and quietly. As the two Elites moved through the loading bay, and into the main corridor, they came across Vhat, who had been holding position just outside the loading bay. When Xyrho spotted Vhat, Xyrho called out to him.

Xyrho: Major!

Vhat turned and looked at Xyrho and Voro.

Vhat: Shipmaster. I am glad to see that you have arrived. We can now move forward.

Xyrho: Did you find anything worth mentioning?

Vhat: I did not. I scouted the immediate vicinity. While I found a few signs of combat, I could not locate any hostiles. As far as I know, most of the surrounding area has been cleared or abandoned. I only recently fell back to this point to maintain a foothold, awaiting your arrival.

Xyrho: Well done, Major.

Xyrho proceeded to take point, as Vhat fell into formation with Voro. As the trio of Elites moved through the corridors, they eventually stumbled upon a damaged corridor, with multiple Human bodies and several Brute bodies lying about.

Xyrho: These must have been Dangerus’ Brutes. They must have been killed during their initial raid.

Vhat: No loss there…

Xyrho: It will be our loss if we cannot find reinforcements. The Humans that protect Vanguard are opponents not to be scoffed at.

As Xyrho said this, he turned a corner. As he did, he noticed Furium sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall, in a pool of his own blood. Xyrho held up his hand, signifying for Voro and Vhat to stop. Xyrho, on the other hand, slowly walked forward, cautiously stepping towards Furium. Xyrho proceeded to nudge Furium with his hoof. As he did, Furium snarled, as he snapped to a disorientated attention, and raised a Spiker, and pointed it at Xyrho. Xyrho proceeded to back off.

Xyrho: Chieftain! Stop!

Furium growled at Xyerho, as he allowed his arm to drop to the ground.

Xyrho: Chieftain? Are you alright?

Furium didn’t respond right away. It took a moment for him to grunt, and shake his head.

Furium: No…

Xyrho looked at Furium, and noticed the large wound he had in his side. It was clear that Furium was bleeding out, and that he had lost a lot of blood.

Xyrho: What happened?

Furium: I did battle with the Humans…one of them managed to get a decent shot in before he retreated. The Human left me to die…not sure why…perhaps out of spite…

Xyrho: Can you move? Can you fight?

Furium: I have tried to move, but, it does very little good. If I had sealent mesh…I could move, but, I don’t have any…

Furium paused.

Furium: There was some on our Phantom…in the portable aid station.

Xyrho: You have a Phantom? Where?

Furium: The Phantom was landed on the far side of this facility. We engaged the active camo on the to prevent the Humans from acquiring it

Xyrho: Do you remember where it is?

Furium: I do…

Xyrho nodded, as he turned to Voro.

Xyrho: Voro…help The Chieftain back to his Phantom! Treat his wounds, and then secure the Phantom! Do not allow any Humans to compromise it! That will be our only means of escape from this planet when we are done here!

Voro scoffed, as he had a look of disgust on his face.

Voro: I will not touch that beast, nor will allow his blood to dirty me…

Xyrho was taken aback by Voro’s disobedience. Xyrho turned and glared at Voro, as he approached him.

Xyrho: If you do not…I will slice your throat, and I will leave you here to die.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I am not asking you to do this, Voro. I am commanding you!

Voro took a step back, as he was taken aback by Xyrho’s threat. Voro and Xyrho exchanged a momentary glare with one another, before Voro finally sighed.

Voro: Very well…

Furium began to chuckle, as he glared at Voro, deriving amusement from Voro being overruled. Voro scoffed, as he reluctantly helped Furium back to his feet. As Firum and Voro began to backtrack, Xyrho looked at Vhat, and gestured his head, telling Vhat to follow in tow. As Xyrho continued to move deeper into Firebase Mediterranean, Vhat followed behind Xyrho.

Vhat: Shipmaster? If I may be so bold to ask…would you have killed Voro had he not have complied with your order?

Without skipping a beat, Xyrho answered Vhat’s question.

Xyrho: Yes. I was prepared to kill him.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I do not have time to debate every order I give. Voro should know better than to question the orders that I give him. I have been more than generous with my tolerance of his insubordination. However, I will no longer tolerate his inability to follow orders, especially now, when Vanguard is almost in my grasp.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I get the impression that you do not approve of the way I handled Voro.

Xyrho kept on walking, as Vhat listened.

Vhat: It has nothing to do with approval, or lack thereof. I have just never seen one Sangheili threaten the life of another over the survival of a mongrel before…

Xyrho stopped in his tracks, as he turned to face Vhat.

Xyrho: Is that so?

Vhat nodded.

Xyrho: Well, now you have.

Vhat: But Shipmaster…to place the life of a fellow warrior beneath that of a…

Xyrho interjected.

Xyrho: Vhat…let me stop you right there. All you need to know is that I have seen the idea of placing the lives of Sangheili above all else in practice. I have seen it used to justify very bad decisions, and I have seen it end with disastrous results.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The idea of Sangheili supremacy is why Vanguard is even a problem today.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: I used to think that the lives of my fellow Sangheili was paramount, above all else. That line of thinking is what lulled me into believing that I was doing the right thing the first time that Vanguard became a problem.

Vhat had a curious expression on his face.

Xyrho: Many years ago, when I had little more combat experience and wisdom than you do now, I made a mistake, a terrible mistake, a mistake that cost many lives, nearly my own. My former Shipmaster, Quinn ‘Mozumee, was a…fanatic, to say the least. However, as much as he was a fanatic, he was also charismatic. His views were not much different than Voro’s are now. In fact, they are nearly identical.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: Where do you think Voro gets his views from?

Vhat: Did Voro serve under Quinn as well?

Xyrho: He did…faithfully. As did I. We both were subject to his megalomaniacal ravings on Sangheili supremacy. He was insane, to put it simply.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I was naďve, and for a time, I believed what he said, I believed every word of it. I trusted Quinn, and I saw him as a mentor, a teacher, a leader! However, I was so blinded by my trust and adoration that I began to believe in Sangheili supremacy, and I started to adhere to a very dark and objectionable system beliefs. I came very close to fully believing, as Quinn did, as Voro does, that The Sangheili are superior to all other races.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Quinn wanted nothing more than to, in his words, cleanse the galaxy. This was his most deeply held belief. It is what motivated him, and it is what drove him! When Quinn first found Vanguard, he believed he had found his divine right to turn his deeply held beliefs into applicable ones. Quinn believed that Vanguard was the key to Sangheili supremacy.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: Quinn used his influence over me, to leverage my technical expertise on the “sacred artifacts”. In turn, I allowed my naivety to follow his commands, without question. He used me to bring Vanguard back into this plane of existence, not fully understanding what it was capable of. I restored a monster…under the guise of Sangheili supremacy…because I was too naďve to question what I was being told.

Xyrho scoffed, as he gathered his thought.

Xyrho: The only reason I am here today is because Vanguard was defeated, narrowly. However, it was not defeated by Quinn, nor was it defeated by me. Vanguard was defeated by a single Chieftain, a mongrel as you and Voro would say. This Chieftain was someone who somehow, fought his way through a battle group of Quinn’s finest commanders, a legion of Quinn’s finest warriors, through Quinn himself, and finally through Vanguard.

Vhat: What is your point, Shipmaster?

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: What is my point? Let me be clear, if I have not been already, Vhat; when I hear your disparaging tone, your choice of words, and your language…when I hear how you choose to place the life of a fellow Sangheili above all else…when I reconcile myself with the idea that I am, once again, about to do battle with Vanguard, and I am shoulder to shoulder with Sangheili who are as narrow minded as Quinn was. I am forced to look back on my own life experiences, and I am forced to see all of the same mistakes being made, once again! History is repeating itself, in all of the wrong ways. We will not defeat Vanguard is we adhere to xenophobic ideologies. You may not like Dangerus, or his kin, but, they are our allies, above all else! We fight, for the same reasons. You may not see eye to eye with his kind on certain ideas, but the ONE thing that binds us is the fact that Vanguard is here, and we ALL want to destroy it!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Even some of the Humans have a vested interest in destroying Vanguard! In that way, we fight for the same reasons. There is no shame and no dishonor in joining an enemy to fight an even greater threat!

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: If you cannot see passed your own prejudice, then you are useless to me! So, Major, if you are unable to be someone I can rely on, you are free to return to the Phantom with Voro, and I will engage Vanguard by myself. I would fare better alone, than with someone who is not ready to set aside their own convictions to fight a implacable foe.

Vhat shook his head.

Vhat: I would prefer to stay, Shipmaster. There is no honor in retreat, and I will not deny myself the thrill of this battle.

Xyrho: Then do not be a burden! Do not make me regret having you here.

Xyrho did not even wait for any acknowledgement, as he turned, and continued walking. Xyrho was clearly angry, and he clearly had no patience remaining. Despite this, Vhat continued to follow behind Xyrho, although, several steps behind. It was clear to Vhat that Xyrho had many strongly held beliefs, all of which set him very far apart from the typical Sangheili by a very wide margin. This made Vhat very weary of Xyrho, as it was clear that Xyrho was someone who could not be easily trusted.

This was very jarring for Vhat, as it shook his conventional notions of what it meant to be a Sangheili. Vhat had never met another Sangheili that spoke so despairingly about honor, while at the same time, having deference for something as savage as a Jiralhanae. What shook Vhat even more was the fact that Xyrho was a veteran warrior, who would not be where he is today, had it not been for conventional Sangheili ideology. Vhat wondered if Xyrho knew something, or believed something, that he did not. Vhat was curious if there was more to Xyrho’s view than he had let on. Vhat wondered if Xyrho’s propensity for unconventional views and behavior was limited to Sangheili honor.

Vhat now found himself questioning his own views and his own way of doing things, in light of Xyrho’s revelations. Did Xyrho have a point? The more Vhat thought about it, the less and less he believed that Xyrho’s viewpoint was valid. Vhat simply could not find it within himself to have any deference for the same things that Xyrho did. The more and more Vhat thought about Xyrho, the more that Vhat came to realize that Xyrho had lost touch with what it really meant to be a Sangheili; that Xyrho had lost touch with his own heritage, in favor of some disparaging, borderline heretical view. Vhat was baffled on how Xyrho could become so distant from his fellow Sangheili and so cold towards the idea of honor, that he would so easily cast it all aside as a means of convenience. However, most importantly, was that Xyrho was, without a doubt, a strange bedfellow to what was essentially the sworn enemies of the Sangheili. Vhat was convinced that there was much more that wasn’t being said, that Xyrho was, in fact, hiding something.

Despite all of this, Vhat followed Xyrho through the corridors, eventually entering a large room with an elevator at the far end of the room. As Xyrho and Vhat approached the large elevator doors, they both noticed the signs of battle that were scattered around the room, including spent ammo casings and Human blood. However, there were no bodies anywhere to be seen.

Vhat: A battle must have taken place here recently.

Xyrho: No doubt. The question is…why?

Vhat looked around before he examined the large elevator doors

Vhat: Perhaps it has something to do with these doors. These doors bear a resemblance to the primitive lifts the Humans use.

Xyrho examined the doors, and nodded in agreement.

Xyrho: Agreed. However, I do not see anything that can be used to access the lift. Typically, there is an access point to summon the lift.

Vhat: Perhaps it is done from a remote location?

Xyrho: A likely scenario!

Vhat: But, is there any value in finding a way to access this lift? Does this not detract from our mission to locate Vanguard?

Xyrho: Possibly…or it may be possible that we are on the right track. When I examine this room, it occurs to me that there was a battle that took place, yet, there is nothing of value in this room. As you said, the only thing here is this door. Perhaps someone was defending this location.

Vhat: The only reason to defend a location would be if it had tactical value.

Vhat paused.

Vhat: Could this lift be where the Humans are hiding Vanguard?

Xyrho: It is possible. I see very few alternatives.

As Xyrho said this, he heard a voice behind him interject.

Dangerus: It is not possible Shipmaster. It is all but certain.

Xyrho and Vhat turned around.

Xyrho: Chieftain!

Dangerus sneered.

Dangerus: Shipmaster. I am surprised to see you alive. I was told you were dead, that your ship had been cast down by Vanguard.

Xyrho: My ship was destroyed, but, I survived, along with two of my warriors.

Dangerus: I count one other…

Xyrho: When we arrived, we located Chieftain Furium. He had been critically wounded in battle. I sent my other Warrior to assist the Chieftain in getting back to The Phantom.

Dangerus snarled.

Dangerus: Then we shall have a greater share of the glory.

Xyrho: Well, we shall have no glory, unless we can find a way to get to Vanguard! As far as I can see, there seems to be no obvious way to proceed forward.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: That being said…how do you know that this lift leads to Vanguard?

Dangerus: On my way here, I passed by a group of Humans who were retreating. I managed to avoid being detected as they retreated. However, as they were falling back, I heard a very brief mention of Vanguard. This peaked my interest. I opted to retrace their path, following their scents right back to this room.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: It is very plausible that we are on the right trail.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Well, we have little else to go on. We may as well work on the premise that in order to get to Vanguard, we must get through that door.

Xyrho pointed at the elevator door.

Dangerus: Can you open that door?

Xyrho: With enough time? Yes. However, as our time is very finite, I am very uncertain. We would be able to use force to bring the door down. However, if this is a lift, then, it would be a useless effort.

Dangerus: Then what do you propose, Shipmaster?

As Dangerus asked this, the elevator door began to open. Dangerus, Vhat, and Xyrho all turned to face the door, only to see Cochraine and Jacob in the elevator.

As Xyrho glared at Cochraine and Jacob, he laughed, as he answered Dangerus’ question.

Xyrho: Patience…

Cochraine and Jacob scoffed at Xyrho, as Cochraine raised her Automag and took aim at Xyrho. Xyrho, on the other hand, glared at Jacob and Cochraine.

Xyrho: Stand aside Humans…

Cochraine: Over my dead body…

Xyrho: That can be easily achieved!

Xyrho took a hostile step towards Jacob and Cochraine. Cochraine tightened the grip on her automag as she stood in defiance of Xyrho. Jacob, on the other hand, looked at Xyrho, then looked passed Xyrho, noticing Dangerus standing several feet behind Xyrho. Jacob exchanged a look with Dangerus, before he spoke up.

Jacob: Cochraine? Picking a fight with these guys would be a very bad idea. You are outgunned and outnumbered. They may be willing to let us walk out of here. We should take advantage of that!

Cochraine: Captain, are you insane?

Jacob: Some people could debate that, but, I submit that I am still sound in the head.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: If they wanted to kill us, we would be dead already.

Cochraine: We cannot permit The Covenant to move past this point!

Jacob: Says who? Nighthawk?

Cochraine: Says me!

Xyrho was getting more and more impatient, as he watched the two Humans argue between one another.

Jacob: Ma’am…we don’t have time to debate this! Put the gun down Cochraine! We’re out-gunned!

As Jacob said this, Xyrho’s patience had run out. Xyrho roared, as he charged at both Cochraine and Jacob. Jacobn turned to look at Xyrho, just as Xyrho grabbed Jacob by the back of the head, and tossed him out of the elevator; throwing him across the room as if he was nothing.

Cochraine: JACOB!

Cochraine glared at Xyrho, as she took aim at the Elite, and began to fire off her Automag. However, the lower caliber of the Automag was little more than glancing blows off of Xyrho’s Zealot-class shielding.

Xyrho roared as he stormed towards Cochraine, and slapped the gun right out of her hand, right before he grabbed her by the throat, and lifted her into the air. Xyrho lifted Cochraine right up to eye level with him, as he brought her close, and looked her right in the eye. Xyrho glared at Cochraine for a moment, before he tossed her aside, throwing her in the same direction that he had thrown Jacob only moments ago.

Vhat and Dangerus watched as Xyrho had quickly tossed the two Humans aside. Dangerus began to chuckle, but Vhat remained silent.

Dangerus: Could not have done it better myself, Shipmaster…

Xyrho scoffed, as he stepped onto the elevator that Cochraine and Jacob were occupying only a moment ago. Dangerus and Vhat followed suit, as they too stepped onto the elevator. Once Xyrho, Vhat, and Dangerus had stepped onto the elevator, Xyrho looked at a control panel that was mounted on the wall of the elevator. Xyrho pressed one of his fingers to the downward arrow that was on the control panel. Once he did, the elevator door began to close, and the elevator began to descend downwards to the Forerunner facility buried below.

Cochraine and Jacob each took a few moments to recover and get their bearings. Cochraine was the first to recover, as Jacob was still dealing with prior injuries from multiple prior engagements.

Cochraine: Jacob!? Are you alright!?

Jacob groaned in pain.

Jacob: It is getting harder and harder to say yes to that question. I think I am starting to run out of steam here.

Cochraine stumbled back to her feet, as she walked towards the elevator door, and pounder her fist on it.

Cochraine: God damn it! The Covenant is down there! They are going for Vanguard!

Cochraine was breathing heavily, as she placed her hand to her ear, and began to broadcast a message.

Cochraine: This is Lieutenant Commander Cochraine…is anyone reading me?

Cochraine waited a moment, and eventually, someone did respond.

Jennifer: It is good to hear your voice, Lieutenant Commander. What is your status?

Cochraine: I have located and extracted Captain Sharpmen. However, as we were making out way to the extraction point, we were engaged by The Covenant; three contacts to be exact. Two Elites; classifications Major and Zealot, and a Brute Chieftain.

Jennifer could be heard sighing over the comm line.

Jennifer: That squad configuration seems somewhat consistent with a report from Commander Vernette which suggested that Nighthawk and Anaconda had Covenant associates.

Cochraine: Those “associates” are going for Vanguard.

Jennifer: It is plausible that those associates are trying to confront and engage Vanguard.

Cochraine: I don’t buy that, Captain! We need to go down there, and we need to stop those bastards before they get any ideas! For all we know, they are down there to claim either Vanguard, or the facility, for themselves. We must not allow them to do so! I am requesting reinforcements, and permission to go back down there!

Jennifer: Permission denied, Cochraine! I need you to get the hell out of there!

Cochraine: Ma’am…with all due respects, we cannot allow The Covenant to just have free access to that subterranean facility! We need to stop them!

Jennifer: I have every intention of stopping them, Cochraine. However, if you are down there, I cannot counter attack! I have no intention of sending any more people planetside. What I am going to do, however, is annihilate Firebase Mediterranean from orbit using every destructive weapon in my arsenal! I plan on leveling that entire area into a beautiful parking lot once it becomes necessary!

Cochraine was uncertain about the idea. However, she reluctantly decided to go with it.

Cochraine: Understood Captain. While I am not 100% confident in that plan, I will admit that it has promise. I will proceed to the extraction point right away!

Jennifer: Get out of there as fast as you can, Cochraine. We left a Pelican behind for you to use. Return to The King Raven, and we can discuss this further.

Cochraine: Should I not return to The Mind’s Attrition?

Jennifer: Negative. Precluding the fact that you need to turn Jacob over to ONI, The Mind’s Attrition is currently engaged with The Covenant, and I doubt that that anything would make it through that mess of plasma fire and hostile bogies.

Cochraine paused for a moment. A terrible thought almost overcame her, as she realized that Reynolds was in the thick of battle, and that his odds of survival were growing narrower with each passing second.

Cochraine: Ma’am…you should be linking up with the rest of the fleet, and helping them!

Jennifer: As soon as you and Jacob are on-board…I plan on engaging The Covenant! The sonner you get here, the sooner we can engage!

Cochraine: Copy that. Cochraine out!

Cochraine turned back to Jacob, as she watched him sit on the ground, catching his breath and taking a moment to rest.

Cochraine: On your feet soldier! Our evac is waiting!

Jacob: More like my executioners are waiting.

Cochraine: That is not true, Jacob.

Jacob: That is bullshit, and you know it! You are taking me back to The King Raven! You are taking me back to ONI!

Cochraine: That, is true. However, ONI is not out to kill you, they are there to bring justice to the people that you killed.

Jacob: ONI is not interested in justice. They are interested in results! This is even assuming I will be dealing with ONI. We both know Spender’s influence goes far, and The Trust is very insidious. Besides…you heard what Nighthawk said; I am a dead man either way!

Cochraine was silent for a moment, before she sighed.

Cochraine: Jacob…you need to trust the system.

Jacob: Cochraine…The Trust is the system.

A look of concern shot across Cochraine’s face, as she took a moment to consider what Jacob had said.

Cochraine: What are you talking about?

Jacob: I am talking about the fact that EVERY single Trust operative we have encountered operates under ONI’s banner in order to further their agenda. Doesn’t that make you wonder?

Cochraine didn’t respond.

Jacob: Don’t tell me that you have not noticed?

Cochraine: The thought has crossed my mind…to be honest.

Jacob: The King Raven is an ONI ship. It stands to reason that The Trust is there, as well. Any one of them could be with The Trust. Hell, we know that Tye ran with the Trust for a while.

Cochraine: So did you.

Jacob frowned.

Cochraine: I know what you are trying to do Jacob, and it isn’t going to work. My orders are clear; I am to bring you back to The King Raven.

Jacob: Are you going to force me to go?

Cochraine: Yes, I am.

Jacob: How are you going to do that? You’re not armed. You have no way of forcing me to do anything you say.

Cochraine: I don’t need to be armed, Jacob. I have Captain Frost’s PDA. That is all I need. Besides, I seriously doubt you would do anything to give me a hard time. Something tells me that is not in your character. I don’t think you want to make things worse for yourself. We both know that if you run, you will have nowhere to go. ONI will eventually find you, or you will die before getting off this planet. Your best chance is to surrender to ONI and hope for leniency.

Jacob: Do you honestly believe that?

Cochraine: I believe as much of it as I have to.

Cochraine scoffed.

Cochraine: Frankly Jacob, as much as I would like to stand here and argue about ONI, I have my orders. Get moving…that’s an order!

Jacob frowned, as he shook his head.

Jacob: If only you knew ONI like I did.

Cochraine: If only…

Cochraine shrugged.

Cochraine: But I know enough not to cross them. My orders were to bring you back to ONI…and that is exactly what I am going to do. Now, I won’t ask again…get moving.

Jacob sighed, as he turned, and began to walk; Cochraine following in tow.

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