Halo: Array - A Halo Novelisation

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“Special delivery from Commander Keyes!”

Chapter 7 (v.1) - Chapter Seven: A Day at the Beach

Submitted: December 17, 2018

Reads: 32

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Submitted: December 17, 2018

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Chapter Seven
A Day at the Beach

 

The Master Chief, Cortana, Corporal Lim and Private Collins had a rather uneventful journey over the rooftops after Sergeant Major Johnson left. At one point they had to drop down from the structures and walk along a wrecked highway road, leaving them naked to the skies. Despite the expected dangers, no Covenant passed overhead or revealed themselves from the surrounding buildings. Not even the UNSC had been seen flying overhead. It was quiet now; an unnerving quietness. The air was still. The sun was rising higher in the sky, and while the Spartan’s armour maintained its own temperature, he couldn’t help but feel the heat second hand from the dripping soldiers walking beside him. Their uniforms were getting heavy from the sweat soaked up by the material.

The squad managed to cool down again once Cortana’s path led them back into the crevices of the building tops and later down into the alleyways. Before they knew it, they had reached their destination. The white letters of “Hotel Zanzibar” glimmered before them. It wasn’t the most extravagant hotel with its bland, undecorated walls, but the tall palm trees planted around the front were a nice change of scenery from the dull roofs and alleys. These palm trees were much larger than the ones seen in the orbital defence platforms. They rose up into the sky, soaking up the sun and breathing the warm air which their smaller Cairo Station siblings never could.

The small clearing before the hotel entrance contained an array of Covenant, both dead and alive. Orange, red and blue armour littered the ground. Several Grunts and a single Elite Ultra remained alive. The Ultra had its plasma canon aimed directly at the entrance. All the doors and windows of the Hotel Zanzibar lobby had been shattered. A team of marines were taking cover in the shadows of the foyer below the windows and behind the front desk.

John and his squad stayed close to the buildings they’d crept out from. The Covenant, all of which had their guns pointed at the hotel, never noticed the Chief’s group. John looked to his marines and placed his index finger vertically over the lower half of his visor, signalling to them not to make a sound. He then rose his flat palm before them as a stop sign.

“I’ll handle this,” he whispered faintly.

He snuck forward. Despite his MJOLNIR being as heavy as it was, it was designed to allow John to make even the slightest of movements accurately enough to not be heard. He kept low. The Elite Ultra that was crouched over its plasma canon was in the centre of the group. John simply had to take out the red and orange Grunts before the Elite could notice him.

The Chief approached the closest Grunt. He reached forward, grabbed the pinnacle of the gas tank on the Grunt’s back and pulled down. As the creature fell backwards, John reached around with his other arm and smashed the Grunt right through its mouthpiece into its half-hidden face. It had no time to feel pain before it lost consciousness. John repeated similar attacks on the other nearby Grunts as silently as possibly before moving up to the Ultra who had yet to notice the Spartan. He reached over his shoulder and pulled the sniper rifle off his back. Relying on the weight of the long weapon, the Chief lifted it above the Elite and pummelled it down into alien. The butt of the rifle tore through the shields of the Elite, right into its hunched back and dented the thick armour. John hit the Elite again twice in the neck before it could react. It died with a gargling sound.

The Master Chief strode over to the hotel, passing a kiosk with a digital screen.

“Optican! Healthcare on demand,” announced the mechanical kiosk voice.

John turned his head towards it. These kiosk dispensaries, which were scattered across the continent, provided the residents of Africa with health kits. Much like vending machines, they could be found attached to walls around the city, and required payments in order to dispense their product. Currently however, it began providing the Chief’s squad with free MediGel packs. The MediGel wasn’t quite as advanced as the military’s biofoam cannisters, and was nowhere near the equivalent automatic foam built into John’s armour, but they’d be soothing enough for the marines who looked like they were aching for a rest.

“Need immediate medical assistance? Choose Optican,” chirped the kiosk. “Fast, accurate diagnosis, or your money back,” it said in spite of the fact it was currently issuing free supplies.

The four marines from the hotel stepped out. They weren’t wearing the regular combat uniform and plating of the marines in John’s squad. Instead, their armour was black, a little heavier, and covered their entire bodies. Even their faces were concealed by reflective visors that mirrored the streets around them. John saw his own armoured figure standing before himself through the shiny faceplate of the marine who he assumed was the leader of this squad based on the red band of paint around his shoulder plating. These were no ordinary marines. They were Orbital Drop Shock Troopers or ODSTs, often nicknamed helljumpers due to the advanced training they received to drop into battle via one-man insertion pods from low orbit. They were the toughest of the marines, and before the Spartans came along, they were considered the best of the best; the most lethal soldiers in the UNSC. In fact, John observed, they didn’t look entirely dissimilar from the Chief himself in his MJOLNIR.

“Master Chief, glad you could make it,” said the leader, Sergeant Abram. “When Cortana told us there was a Spartan on the way, I thought we’d be left alone out here.”

John wasn’t sure if there was any underlying implication here. He had no reason to think there was except that it was well documented many ODSTs were not fond of their larger, bio-augmented allies; and John was one of the few who understood that they had a good reason for this. It wasn’t simply because the helljumpers’ title of being the best foot soldiers the UNSC had to offer was stripped away from them. The reason was a little darker than that. It was perhaps the only thing John truly ever felt guilty about, but as his old coach once told him, all that mattered was his duty to follow orders and protect his team, even if it cost a few lives. Ironically, the Chief thought, those two duties had contradicted one another on Reach, which was the very reason he had been forced to face Halo alone. He’d had to leave Blue Team behind.

“The crash site’s on the other side of this hotel,” Abram continued. “Covenant are crawling all over it. Better follow me.”

The Master Chief and marines, ODSTs and non-ODSTs alike, moved into hotel. The hallways past the foyer were pitch-black save for a few flickering LEDs revealing the painted walls and rose carpet.

“This way. Stay out of sight.”

John considered activating the automatically-rechargeable flashlight that was built into the side of his helmet. If the Covenant surprised them in these corridors, they’d have a hard time fighting the aliens in the dark. However, turning on his flashlight was a sure way to attract unwanted attention. Instead, he switched on his visor’s night vision. The night vision, intended for long ranged encounters, was far less effective than a flashlight in a situation like this. Within the Chief’s vision, it dimly lit everything before him with a hue of green. It would have to do for now. He followed the ODST Sergeant.

“ROAAWR!”

Nearing a backdoor exit of the hotel, the lighting had begun to get slightly brighter. Just as they’d thought they were almost out of the darkness, however, the marines were knocked back by a wave of Covenant. Elites and Grunts charged through the hallways. Images of the ugly aliens flashed forward each time the lights flickered on, revealing them in the darkness like an unattractive stop motion picture rushing toward them.

“Grenade out,” John said casually as he pulled the pin from one of his grenades and tossed it into the wave.

Covenant bits and pieces of hotel wall were blasted apart while the surviving aliens were gunned down by the marine’s BRs and SMGs. Two Elites remained upright only a while longer before they too fell into the corpses around them. It seemed this Covenant group had not been expecting the ODST team they were following to be returning through the hotel at twice their original size with a fully-fledged super-soldier. Otherwise, John imagined the Elites would have attacked with a more well-thought out strategy. The marines had been lucky so far. The Covenant presence here was not the threat they were expecting. It was almost as if killing the humans wasn’t even their main priority right now.

A large section of Hotel Zanzibar’s back wall was missing, revealing the multiple smouldering storeys of the building like a giant, fresh honeycomb. It seemed the ODST’s Pelican had hit the building hard. The Chief was almost blinded when he stepped out into the light through the hotel rear. A line of rings formed over his visors in response to the sun’s flare when the Chief looked up at the building he was stepping out from. He waited for the brightness to fade before he could appreciate the scene before him.

The group stood on the coastal road, weapons in hands, looking out at the ocean. The waves could be heard lapping at the wet sand on the shore. Squawking seagulls circled overhead. Debris from the crashed Pelican marked the path it took as it had ricocheted off the hotel wall before gliding along the dry beach sand. A curved platform to the right with an overview of the beach had several roundish Covenant supply crates and communication nodes sitting on it, left behind by the aliens that now lay dead in the hotel. In the distance, over the sea, the main island of New Mombasa looked closer now than ever.

Immediately in front of the squad, sitting on the road ready for use was an old acquaintance of John’s. Over the course of the war, and especially on Halo, the Master Chief had become very accustomed to travelling around on this thing; not the exact copy that was in front of him, but several of the same vehicle at different times. The M12 Force Application Vehicle or Warthog was the embodiment of power.  The avocado-green, four-wheeled hulk of a vehicle stood at almost two and a half metres tall, over three metres wide and six metres long. The hood, rear tray, sides and roll-cage of the vehicle all blended together seamlessly to form one highly durable body. Even the oversized tires were barely destructible with their nanotube lining. A thick windshield curved forward from the front roll-cage frame. A driver and passenger seat sat behind it and a rotary machine gun turret stood tall at the back. The Warthog’s reputation as an all-terrain jeep had been proven to the Chief on Halo as he had driven it over grassy valleys, through snowy chasms and, most relevant to John’s current situation, across sandy beaches.

“Special delivery from Commander Keyes,” said Abram.

“We’ll need it,” replied Corporal Lim, looking up at the clouds. “Looks like the Covenant have noticed one of their hordes has gone missing.”

The Covenant must have been responding to the lack of chatter from the Covenant squad John and the marines just killed in the hotel. A large dropship, roughly the same size as a Pelican, was drawing in from the direction of the Covenant carrier. Its silhouette was made clearer as it got closer. The Covenant Phantom looked much like a beetle dangling on an invisible string toward them. It maintained the traits of almost all Covenant designs. The top of the rounded dropship was covered in thick magenta plating, while the bottom was silver with blue lights glowing from the engine within. Instead of legs, it had three sharp arms underneath that bended and twisted around to face the Phantom’s Type-27 Shade turrets at the humans.

The Spartan and marines, who had been restocking their weapons with ammunition that had dropped from the crashed Pelican now scrambled behind cover. The ODSTs moved back behind large chunks of the hotel wall, while John, Lim and Collins dove forward behind the Warthog.

The Phantom now hovered above the curved platform over the beach. A beam of white light lit up the ground below the alien dropship as a circular hatch opened in the centre of the Phantom’s underside. The Shade turrets fired long, dense, plasma bolts at the marines. Red energy splashed around the Warthog and hotel debris. Orange and red Grunts dropped down in single file from the gravity beam of the Phantom followed by two Elites. John still his second grenade. He would have liked to toss it into their landing position, but the Shades had him pinned down. He had a smarter idea.

“Stay where you are!” John yelled out to both groups of marines. Then, he whispered to the soldiers by his side. “We need them to come to us.”

Phantoms didn’t generally get too close to the battlefield. Like the UNSC’s Pelicans, the Phantoms’ role was to fly in, drop off troops and cargo as quickly as possible and then fly away.  This one was hovering around longer than most, but it wouldn’t risk manoeuvring itself into a position closer to the buildings and to the Demon just at a slightly better chance at taking them out. The ship kept firing its red plasma around the group to keep them immobile while its ground units approached.

John could hear the smug Grunts muttering beneath their masks.

“Ugly humans try hiding from us?” One of them scoffed.

“They more stupid than you look,” replied another.

“Quiet,” came the much deeper voice of the Elite Major as John heard its hoofs stepping closer.

He gripped his SMG tightly as the Covenant approached. The frequency of the Shades’ shots were dropping slightly. The Covenant wouldn’t risk killing their own kind, at least not when they were trying to kill a Spartan.

“Ahah!”

A Grunt Minor had jumped out near the front headlights of the Warthog. Lim and Collins opened fire. John held his fire, saving it for another red dot he could see moving closer on his motion tracker. The Chief faced the back of the Warthog with his short SMG barrel pointed straight ahead. The blue flash of an Elite Minor emerged from behind the vehicle, but its movement did not stop. Instead, it sprinted right past the Spartan toward the ODSTs.

The Shade bolts had now decreased enough that they were no more than a minor inconvenience. The helljumpers stepped in-and-out from behind their cover, firing both at the Elite Minor that charged toward them and the Grunts surrounding the Warthog. John heard Abram grunt something to his team before they all turned their attention to the Elite. John fired his submachine gun at the same Elite to ensure its energy shields depleted before it reached them, but the speed of a Sangheili was no joke.

John kept his eye on both the yellow and red dots on his motion tracker to help monitor the entire firefight. He was forced to stop firing at the flaring blue shields of the Elite Minor in order to catch the Elite Major that was now landing on him from directly above. It had jumped up onto the middle bar of the Warthog’s role cage and leapt over onto the Spartan, knocking him to the ground. Kneeling over the Chief, the Elite tried to fire its plasma rifle, but wasn’t quick enough. John slapped it out of the Elite’s hand into a nearby Grunt before the rest of the monster’s heavy body slammed down upon him. The two grappled momentarily, but the Chief came out on top. He pinned the Elite down and slammed his first into its exposed neck. It made no sound as it died.

John looked back at the ODSTs. None of the marines were dead, but it seemed the remaining Grunts who had not yet been killed by Collins or Lim were now assisting the blue-armoured Elite. Lim and Collins leaned against the side of the jeep, reloading their rifles, preparing to unload another magazine into the Grunts. One ODST had been knocked to the ground; the second, Abrams, was shouting swear words while reloading his SMG; and the third was held up by his throat, pinned against a chunk of the hotel wall by the Elite Minor. John began closing the distance between the Warthog and the building, strafing left and right to dodge the Phantom’s plasma bolts before using his elbow to melee the Elite in the back with the force of his charging body. The helljumper slid to the ground with a throaty inhale.

Naturally, the Grunts panicked and dispersed after the quick deaths of their commanders. The marines picked them off now with little effort.

“Is everyone alright?” John asked.

The temporarily strangled ODST nodded as he regained his breath sliding back up against the wall. The other fallen helljumper also rose from the ground. John looked around. He saw no red blood amongst the cyan and indigo puddles. There were no broken bones; just a few marines stretching their arms and unstiffening their necks. 

“We’re all good, Chief.” Abrams replied. “I trust you packed your swimsuit,” he said nodding toward the sea.

The Phantom was already flying back in the direction it had come, unleashing a few stray plasma bolts that landed nowhere near the group. Cortana’s voice returned online within John’s helmet.

“The highest concentration of Covenant troops is directly below the carrier,” she uttered. “I don't think they want you to get on board.”

John wouldn’t be swimming any time soon. The best he could do in his heavy vacuum-sealed MJOLNIR would be to tread slowly through the sand deep beneath the ocean. Doing that, he’d probably make it over to New Mombasa in about a day. John’s eyes followed the opposite shore along to the left where he saw a long bridge connecting to the mainland. It was still a long way away, but it was his best shot at getting to the Covenant carrier before the Prophet could commit whatever crime it was here for.

“That bridge is the most direct route to the city centre,” said Cortana. “Saddle up, marines, ‘cause that’s where we’re headed. Drop Troopers, you with us?”

“Sorry, Cortana.” Abrams replied. “We’ve been called back to the cruiser, Say My Name. We’ll have a Pelican picking us up any minute now. We’ll have to show you Spartan how it’s done another time… if there ever is another time.”

John, Lim and Collins refilled their weapons with what was left on the ground before stepping up into the Warthog. The Chief looked right at home in the big, bulky jeep. It was almost as if the two were made for one another. John sat in the driver’s seat while Lim jumped up onto the round metal plate that held the machine gun turret. Collins climbed into the passenger seat, balancing up on the back of the chair with his feet rested on the seat and his rifle pointed over the windscreen of the roofless vehicle. The skill of balancing this way, which many UNSC marines had learnt over the years, became quite challenging when the Warthog rumbled across various bumpy terrains, but it was the most offensive position to be in when in a passenger seat up against Covenant forces.

John did not need to look over the buttons and screens of the Warthog’s dashboard to start the hydrogen-injected ICE engine. Operating this vehicle was pure instinct to the Spartan who had been driving these for two thirds of his life now. He turned it on, gripped the steering wheel and revved forward. The Warthog’s reflection shrank within the ODST’s visors as it raced off down the broken road and right onto the beach.

The three tonne-vehicle had no trouble barrelling over the small, rippled sand dunes. It was made to drive over any battlefield the Insurrection, and now Covenant-war, could possibly lead it. The waves splashed up the shore and sprayed over the right side of the jeep, sprinkling the marines in their uniforms with cool salt water. John drove up the concrete ramp of an ocean groyne without slowing down. They had to reach their destination as soon as possible. In response, the Warthog sailed through the air, ignoring all laws of physics and gravity. Sand splashed up as it landed on the new beach over the other side of the groyne. The Warthog rumbled briefly and then continued forward.

A large building stretched out into the ocean ahead blocking their path. Their path now veered to the left into an open sandy-covered clearing. A tall Covenant Weevil sat in the centre of the beach, and behind the towering anti-air gun was a Covenant sniper platform. The deep purple, vibrant, alien designs looked very much out of place in such a human environment, especially out here over the cream-coloured sand. A small circular vent opened up on the underside of the Weevil. John knew if they took the time, they could take out the giant weapon, but there were likely plenty more of these throughout the city and they simply did not have the time for such endeavours. The UNSC’s presence in the skies here seemed minimal now anyway, and the Weevil’s range was not as threatening as other such Covenant models. Had it been a Mantis, for example, John would have stopped there and then and done what he could to destroy it, or no aircraft or spacecraft alike would have made it to the island.  

That got John wondering again, why had the Covenant had attacked with such little force compared with previous planetary assaults?

Blue and green plasma bursts flew past the Warthog as Elites and Grunts shot out from beneath the Weevil and behind surrounding Covenant crates. A loud cracking sound discharged from the sand beside them as purple light flashed across the side of the vehicle. The Jackal Sniper in its sniper tower was doing its best to fire at its moving target. John spun the wheel one way and then the other to avoid the critical energy strikes. The sniper tower took the form of a small, circular, floating platform that was suspended in mid-air by a similarly shaped object on the ground emitting a blue gravity lift.

Lim, with his heavy machine gun turret, returned fire at the Covenant ground units while Collins with his more accurate battle rifle aimed for the sniper. John payed no attention to either targets as he zoomed ahead passed their enemies. These Covenant could be cleaned up later if need be. He drove around the sniper platform and turned a hard-left between a gap in the buildings. They passed a few open cargo containers, some Grunts shooting from behind and a single Grunt plasma canon operator. The marines managed to take out half these targets before the Chief exited out to the right, back onto the open beach again.

The new beach almost mirrored the last one. A purple out-of-place anti-air gun sat in the middle of the beach, this time near a small concrete lookout. As there was with any Covenant camp, numerous purple crates and coms terminals were piled around the centre. Once again, Grunts and Elites shot at the Warthog from behind cover. A pair of Elites fired downwards from the lookout, searing black marks along the green paint of the jeep. They drove onward.

Red energy rained down upon them as a new Phantom, or possibly the same one as before, emerged from the clouds. John swerved this way and that, flicking sand over the Covenant crates as he dodged heavy plasma bolts and manoeuvred around his foes. A small explosion sounded from the Phantom as Lim shot down the front Shade arm, which landed in the sand beside them.

A bold Elite Minor stepped out from behind its crate to fire its plasma rifle through the glass windshield of the Warthog. It proved itself a foolish Elite as it was sucked under the bumper of the bulky vehicle before it could fire a single shot. The Chief and marines felt only a small bump as they drove over the alien. John drove the vehicle out closer to the waves and then made a jump over another sloped beach groyne.

“Chief, the carrier just released a wave of drop pods,” Cortana announced. “They’ve been launched toward our position.”

The next beach had no anti-air gun. Instead, the aliens filled both a Covenant sniper tower and concrete lookout. The beach was littered with crumbled-wall debris, much like the road had been behind the hotel. The gaping hole in the wall opened to a tunnel highway. John simply needed to drive his Warthog along a pathway through the debris past the sniper tower and up into the tunnel. He could then turn right onto the road and he’d have a clear route North, straight towards the bridge.

CRASH!

An Elite-sized, navy-coloured, cylindrical object torpedoed from the sky straight through the bonnet of the Warthog. Several more Covenant insertion pods landed around them at the same time. The impact of the drop pod caused the Warthog to stop dead in its tracks over the sand. Private Collins was launched forwards over the smashed windscreen glass right into a large chunk of concrete. Lim had tried bracing himself by bending his knees and gripping the turret tightly, but he too was flung over the machine gun into the sand to the right. The impact caused the Chief to lose some of his shield, but he was otherwise unimpacted.

Round panels on each of the drop pods were blasted forward as both Elite Minors and Majors revealed themselves within. Only the pod that hit the Warthog stayed shut. Fire and smoke rose up from the front of the crashed jeep. John leapt out onto the sand. In one fluid motion, he drew his sniper rifle from over his shoulder, aimed up at the sniper tower, zoomed in with his smart-link and sniped the Sniper Jackal in the head before it could shoot Corporal Lim with whom it had its beam rifle pointed at. The reptilian sniper still managed to release one shot from its weapon, but as it fell back the bright beam flashed forward into the open sea far from its human target.

Lim dove into cover amongst the wall rubble and fired his BR at the Elites while John danced around them with his SMG. Gold and blue sparkled on the dancers as plasma and bullets alike were sprayed through the air. John wasn’t a careless fighter by any means, but time was short and Collins lay unconscious on the ground. He had to keep the Covenant distracted before they fired a killing blow at the sleeping Private. The trouble was, they were completely outnumbered. Plasma still rained down from both the lookout and the sniper tower while countless blue and red Elites engaged the Spartan on the ground. Lim called out from his cover while continuing firing at the grounded aliens.

“We can’t stay here forever, Chief!” He yelled over the weapons fire. “Cover me!”

The Corporal ran from behind his cover toward Private Collins. His back remained hunched over to keep himself a smaller target. John ran backwards over to the marine pair, shielding them from Covenant fire. His shields depleted rapidly as they absorbed plasma after plasma while he fired back. Lim pressed his fingers onto young Collin’s neck and then his wrist.

“I’m not getting a pulse, sir!”

“That’s it then,” the Chief replied while still fighting. “We need to retreat to the tunnel. Keep close to the debris.”

John’s display flashed red. He could barely hear his shield alarm sounding within his helmet as he held his SMG’s trigger down while plasma whirled past him. They ran through the hole in the wall and dove to the right, out of sight of the Covenant.

“That was lucky,” said Lim panting.

 There were no Covenant units within the tunnel, just two driverless Covenant vehicles.

“That was reckless,” replied the Spartan, his shields now recharging. “A second longer and we would have died.”

“One of us did die.”

John nodded in reply. Of course, the Spartan had had many scrapes like that over the years, and he still remained unscathed to this day.

“We need to get a move on, Corporal.” John looked at the Covenant vehicles. “Know how to drive one?”

“Only in simulation,” Lim answered.

The Type-32 Rapid Assault Vehicles, known as Ghosts, reminded John of the Covenant’s Banshees. However, instead of having long wings for flight; they had short, stubby wings on the sides to maintain balance as they hovered about half a metre above the ground. The driver also sat out in the open as if on a giant motorcycle. Some cover was provided by the hood of the vehicle of which the two wings were attached and by a smaller rear piece at the back. Instead of a windscreen, the round hood rose up over the engine and provided the driver with a holo-screen, touch-controls and levers for steering. Beneath the hood, at the front sat two plasma canons, and attached to the side behind the left wing was small round fuel cell, which if heavily damaged would cause the entire Ghost to explode. The key to driving one of these safely was to either never expose enemies to anything other than the front of the Ghost or to speed ahead too fast for them to strike the vehicle.

John and Lim wasted no time jumping on their respective Ghosts before the Covenant could follow them up into the tunnel. The backs of the Ghosts’ wings glowed brightly as they zoomed ahead down the highway. The highway road was made from coarse metallic segments with glowing white and yellow lines for road markings. There were lights across the tunnel ceiling and a raised footpath running along the side. The road segments could be raised, lowered and tilted as necessary by the city’s AI to control traffic. Fortunately, they’d mostly been left flat as the city had evacuated allowing the Ghosts to glide smoothly past the many abandoned cars left on the highway. 

The pair skimmed along until they reached a closed floodgate. Fortunately, the wall to their left opened to the tunnel that contained the highway lanes for traffic that travelled in the opposite direction back when the city was still alive. John and Lim turned into the new tunnel and continued forward.

“This tunnel leads up to the bridge,” said Cortana, briefly pulling herself away from monitoring the Covenant chatter.  “It's full of rats if you know what I mean, but it sure beats swimming.”

Sure enough, the other side of a bend in the road revealed a horde of Covenant awaiting their arrival. Elites, Grunts and Jackal Scouts blocked the path ahead. A bus and several cars had piled up in this part of the tunnel during the evacuation, forming a makeshift barricade for the aliens that left only a small pathway between the vehicles just wide enough for the ghosts, but was now blocked by Covenant. On the footpath to the left of the highway was a stationary Shade turret. The green-armoured Grunt Heavy sat on a seat behind an aqua-coloured shield that fanned out behind the gun. It was the same colour as the shields worn by the Jackal Minors on the road. The scouts carrying orange shields were Jackal Majors.

“Brake!” John yelled.

Lim abided.

“That’s quite a welcome party,” said Cortana.

The two human soldiers held their Ghosts back from the Covenant group and fired their twin plasma canons into the crowd. The Ghosts felt much lighter than the Warthog. They were also faster and more easily handled. They didn’t rely on wheels for turning, which meant the pair could face them at whichever targets they chose while swinging the Ghosts left and right, strafing to avoid red, green and blue plasma return fire. They managed to strike a few Grunts, but the Elites and Jackals kept their cover behind the civilian vehicles. John jumped off his Ghost.

“Get ready to plough through!” He yelled. “Wait for my call.”

The Chief pulled the pin from his frag grenade and launched it over into the gap between the cars. It exploded. Dust and ash polluted the air around the Covenant.

“Now!”

Lim boosted his Ghost forward. The wings’ lights left a stream of blue behind as it thrust onward. John grabbed onto his Ghost’s steering and swung his legs over the seat. He followed Lim as he raced through the smoky pathway between the cars. A piercing screech from a Jackal was the last they heard of the Covenant party as they left them behind.

“I've been analysing the Covenant tactical chatter,” said Cortana with a curious tone.  “They're surprised and confused. I don't think they expected us to be here… Not you and me, or any of us; humanity on Earth. It’s odd. I know, but it does help explain why they came here in such small numbers.”

The ground began to vibrate before an immense light filled the tunnel. A green beam materialised in front of the Chief and swallowed Lim and his Ghost entirely. John broke. The high-pitched roar of the energy beam was deafening, but it dissolved as quickly as it had come. The Spartan assessed the situation in front of him. Natural light filled the tunnel through a freshly cut, truck-sized hole in the ceiling. A glimpse of purple flashed through the hole for only a second. The smouldering remains of a Warthog lay turned over just ahead of the where the beam had struck, and behind it, a similarly black, Ghost-shaped heap lay burnt to a crisp. John payed no attention to the charred human remains that sat upright in the ruined Covenant hovercraft. Corporal Lim was no more.

“I think we both know what that was,” said Cortana to the Master Chief.

John saw no reason to reply. He boosted the Ghost forward once more and zoomed through the tunnel. Along the way, the Spartan came across a few more floodgates, which forced him to switch occasionally back and forth between the opposing lanes. He also passed several more Covenant. Heavy Covenant transport vehicles were travelling in the same direction, toward the bridge. John did what he could to take out the drivers and continued forward. Eventually, the tunnel began sloping upwards, and before long, the Chief could see the crimson sky of New Metropolis up ahead. He exited out onto the open road that blended into the long causeway bridge. The Spartan and his AI were now free of the rats.

“Pelican inbound,” Cortana announced.

All lanes of the tunnel had opened into the bridge ahead. It was very wide and extremely long. Damaged cars were scattered along the road which had several large holes burnt out of it. John saw the Scarab ahead walking away into the distance. A male marine leant beside a boom gate barrier a few metres away while a female marine stood beside him. Both were equipped with BRs. John unmounted his Ghost and approached the pair.

“It blew right through us!” Exclaimed the Latina female who was labelled Private Ortiz by John’s heads-up-display. “Fifty-cal, rockets, didn’t do a thing.”

A Pelican came into view over their position with a supersized, blocky object dangling behind the troop-transport compartment. It was a vehicle far larger than Warthog had been. The M808B Main Battle Tank was an exceptionally wide military tank with two very long treads on either side. The top half of the treads as well as the body of the vehicle which sat between them was covered in artichoke-green ceramic-titanium armouring. Two rectangular hatches opened at the top of the body with seats underneath for the operators. Just behind the hatches sat a gyratory block with a thick canon that protruded forward almost as long as the tank itself. A much smaller machine gun barrel also stuck out from its right. The overall shape of M808B, despite being quite straight and hard-edged, was what gave it its nickname; the Scorpion.

The metal plating of the Scorpion rang loudly as the immense tank landed on the road after being released by the Pelican. The UNSC dropship turned its back toward John and the marines, revealing Sergeant Major Avery Johnson in the open passenger container smoking one of his favourite Sweet William cigars. He jumped out in his green combat uniform, fitting in well with the other marines aside from the sergeants cap on his head.

“Where’s the rest of your platoon?” Johnson asked the marines, chewing on his cigar in the process.

“Wasted, Sarge.”  Ortiz replied.

The male marine named Private Newton also spoke up.

“And we will be too, sir, if we don’t get the hell out of here!”

Johnson placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, gripped hard and replied.

“You hit, marine?” He asked.

“No, sir.”

“Then listen up!” Johnson barked. “When I joined the corps we didn't have any fancy-smancy tanks. We had sticks. Two sticks and a rock for the whole platoon… and we had to share the rock. Buck up, boy. You're one very lucky marine!"

He then gestured toward the Spartan and continued.

“The Chief here is going to jump in this tank, roll across the bridge and blow up any inhuman son-of-a-bitch dumb enough to get between him and the Prophet of Regret, and you're going with him.”

“What about the Scarab?” Ortiz asked the Sergeant.

“We've all run the simulations,” Johnson replied. “They're tough, but they ain’t invincible. Stay with the Master Chief. He'll know what to do.”

“Yes, sir!”

Cortana spoke as Johnson marched back to the Pelican.

“Thanks for the tank,” she said. “He never gets me anything.”

John knew if she still had her avatar she’d be pointing at him. Johnson stepped up onto the drop ship and looked back at the Spartan and his AI while still smoking his Sweet William cigar.

“Oh,” he began. “I know what the ladies like.”


© Copyright 2019 David Cameron. All rights reserved.

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