Halo: Array

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"It's like a postcard."

Chapter 12 (v.1) - Chapter Twelve: Helljumpers

Submitted: February 10, 2019

Reads: 9

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Submitted: February 10, 2019



Chapter Twelve


Buses, cars, traffic signs and loose rubble were expelled into the new environment before the In Amber Glad was thrust into the system. The in-atmosphere jump into slipstream space had caused a surge of energy to sweep through New Mombasa like a tornado, but that chaos was now long behind the crew of this UNSC frigate. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 stood upright, squeezed tightly into his Single Occupant Exoatmospheric Insertion Vehicle or drop pod with Cortana still planted safely in the port at the back of his helmet. The four-sided insertion pods had been used by the ODSTs since the days of the Insurrection. John and Sergeant Major Johnson had both seen fit to strap themselves in before the ship’s slipspace jump. With the digital monitor directly in front of the Master Chief’s face currently being blank, he stood silently waiting for new orders from the bridge.

“Sorry for the quick jump,” apologised Commander Miranda Keyes over the com. “Sergeant, you in one piece?”

“I’m good,” replied Johnson’s voice impaired slightly by the obstructing cigar in his mouth. “Chief?”

We’re fine,” replied Cortana.

“Cortana…” Keyes’s voice sounded tentative, astonished even. “What exactly am I looking at?”

An object appeared before John as the drop pod’s display screen flickered to life. His own eyes widened beneath his visor as he soaked in the sight before him.

“That,” Cortana answered, “Is another Halo.”

John could here the coughing of Sergeant Johnson choking on his cigar in the pod beside him.

“Say what!” Johnson exclaimed. “I thought we were done with that damned hula-hoop.”

“So, this is what my father found,” Miranda mused. “I thought Halo was some kind of superweapon.”

“It is,” Cortana responded. “If activated, this ring will cause destruction on a galactic scale!”

John examined the ringworld. It appeared almost identical to the one he’d destroyed a month earlier. The shapes of the continents on the ring’s inward facing surface were a little different from the ones he remembered seeing on the first ring. Another difference was that this ring had a blue tint on its grey outer face due to the reflection of the Uranus-like gas giant of which it orbited, but other than that, it was a mirror image of the original. The Master Chief thought back to his encounter with the first ring. Vast pine tree filled valleys, tropical islands, desert plateaus, murky swampland and bottomless underground facilities filled his mind, but one memory in particular came to the forefront. After trekking his way up the levels of a triangular Forerunner ziggurat that emerged from the side of a snowy chasm, John and Cortana had found Halo’s control centre.

Twice John had found himself inside the control room, and neither instances were recalled fondly. After a nightmarish slog through a fortress called the Library in which the Master Chief acquired Halo’s key, the Activation Index; the Monitor of Halo used the ringworld’s teleportation grid to send the Chief back to the control centre. That was wear he learnt the truth about the ring, its purpose and function.

“Technically,” Guilty Spark had informed, “This installation's pulse has a maximum effective radius of twenty-five thousand lightyears, but once the others follow suit, the galaxy will be quite devoid of life.”

John had forgotten that little detail during the following battles. He and Cortana had been forced to destroy the Pillar of Autumn’s fusion reactors, triggering a chain reaction that caused the complete destruction of the ringword. They had then returned to Earth, albeit indirectly. John was debriefed by Fleet and ONI executives. Cortana likely had to hand over the Activation Index and other obtained data from Halo, and not long after, they’d begun the defence of Cairo Station. Finally, given the chance to reflect, John realised, Of course there are more Halo rings. There’s an entire collection of them. Miranda Keyes continued.

“I want all the information you've got on the first Halo,” she stated, “Schematics, topography, whatever. I don't care if I have the clearance or not.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Cortana acknowledged.

“Where’s our target?” Miranda asked.

“The Prophet of Regret’s carrier has stopped above the ring, ma'am. We're going to pass right over it.”

“Perfect. Given what we know about this ring, it's even more important that we capture Regret. Find out why he came to Earth and why he came here. Chief, take first platoon. Hard drop, secure a landing zone. Sergeant, load up two flights of Pelicans and follow them in.”

“Aye aye, ma’am,” Johnson replied.

“Until I can move and fight, I'm going to keep a low profile,” Miranda continued. “Once you leave the ship, you're on your own.”

“Understood,” John acknowledged.

John heard two knocks caused by Johnson tapping on the outside of his drop pod. He touched the side of his fist lightly into the metal. With his Spartan strength, it created the necessary reply. He waited for the clanging coming from the front hatches of the ODSTs’ insertion pods to end as they each entered one of their own. John’s screen switched from the view of the Halo ring, which drew closer, to the empty drop bay in front of him.

“Here we go again,” sighed Cortana. “Hang on to your helmet!”

“Over the target in five…” Transmitted one of the bridge crew. “Four… Three… Two… One… Drop.”

John was prepared for the expected lurch sensation as the insertion pod dropped down amongst the stars. He could make out around thirty pods dropping in line with his own through his viewing screen, seven of which fell into a cluster with the Chief’s. The atmosphere grew brighter as they descended into its breathable air.

“Mind the bump,” Cortana warned as the drop pod’s parachute unfolded, slowing the Chief down drastically but still fast enough to form a visible layer of heat around the bottom of the pod and a tail above.

The continents below grew larger until a great land mass rose up to them. John’s cluster was headed toward the side of a small mountain where the Covenant were waiting for them. Three Grunt-operated stationary Shades fired up at the cluster. One of the pods was struck by the heavy plasma bolts and deflected to a lower section of the mountain. The rest struck hard into a reasonably flat landing surrounded by steep slopes and shallow cliffs. They each hit with a loud thud. John hit the explosive bolts around the hatch in front of him, which thrust the front of the pod forward, opening him up to the cool air and grassy environment. The hatch hit a shallow cliff face as John ripped himself from the pod.

“Could we possible make any more noise?!” Cortana vented.

The Chief pulled out the SMG from the side of the pod followed by the two-barrelled titan of a rocket launcher, the M41 SPNKr.

“I guess so,” Cortana finished.

“Sir,” called a nearby ODST who’d already stepped out of his pod. “We need to neutralise those turrets!”

John saw that the area wasn’t completely flat. The rocky terrain offered plenty of cover for the surrounding Covenant ground units, and further up the slope was what appeared to be ancient ruins of unknown origin. It was a small stone temple-like structure built into a deep notch in the side of the mountain. At the top of the ruins sat one of the three Shades. The other two had been placed on the earth above either side of the landing. 

“Clear the landing zone,” yelled the ODST colonel to his squad. “The Pelicans are on their way!”

The hard crackling of SMGs against the loud hisses of plasma fire filled the area. The helljumpers engaged in combat with the Grunts, Jackals and Elites that had taken refuge amongst the rocks and ruins. John raised his rocket launcher over his shoulder and used his smart-link to aim at the Shade turret to the right. He dive-rolled as the Shade fired unsuccessfully at the Chief, and then return fired with the rocket launcher. The rocket flew straight out of the SPNKr’s left tube and blew up in flames as it struck the turret. The Shade’s shield was immediately extinguished, offering no protection against the heavy explosion. Purple fragments bounced down onto the landing as the barrels on the rocket launcher automatically rotated around one another, switching sides for John to aim at his next target.

“Push up,” ordered the colonel. “The first line is down!”

John fired his second rocket at the left Shade as the ODSTs pushed forward toward the ruins. John trod past a fourth unoccupied Shade that had previously been obscured by two large boulders. Could the Covenant have placed the turret in a less useful position? John thought. He reloaded his rocket launcher, but decided to save his last two rockets in case things got hot. He jumped on the abandoned Shade and spun it around to face the ruins. The Shade operator on the crusty building had the turret pointed down at the closer helljumpers. John fired his own Shade, taking out his target’s hardlight before an ODST finished off the gunner. John then flipped the heavy rocket launcher over his back, took his SMG off his hip and swept a dropped plasma pistol off the floor before jumping into the fray at closer quarters.  

The Master Chief confronted an Elite Major as the ODSTs fought other lower ranking Covenant. Each helljumper had taken cover behind jagged rocks that stuck out from the overgrown grass. Covenant fired from the ruins above, but were unable to hit the marines who were focusing their fire on nearer targets. John zipped left and right between the rocks in order to dodge the bending pink projectiles of the Major’s dual needlers. He charged his plasma pistol behind a boulder, stuck his arm around it and released. The Elite’s shields were wiped clean as it staggered back, leaving John free to step out and finish it off with his SMG.

Before long, John and the ODSTs were pushing up into the ruins leaving an array of colourful Covenant bodies across the grass. The Covenant may have had the better technology, but they were not well-trained. Only the Elites were a true match for the ODSTs and were, in fact, much more deadly individually; but the helljumpers outnumbered the Elites, and the Grunts and Jackals fought with very little strategy. Soon the stone walls were smeared in indigo, purple and cyan coloured blood with only a few splashes of red.

The Chief observed the ruins from within as injured ODSTs were treated with biofoam. The sandy walls were built with tan-coloured stone bricks not unlike something that might be have been created by an ancient culture on Earth. Despite being on an artificial alien world, John would not have been surprised if he were told the ruins had been built by humans. Some of the carvings on the walls reminded him of the types of murals often found in the grey and brass buildings of the Forerunner. That along with the angles of some parts of the ruins made the Chief wonder if they had been created by the Forerunner themselves or some other more primitive civilisation paying homage to them.

“Artillery disabled, Sergeant,” Cortana transmitted to Johnson. “Landing zone secure for the moment.”

“I hear you,” he responded. “Starting our approach. Hang tight.”

John and the marines waited in the ruins as two Pelican drops ships flew into view from behind the clean white clouds. The Chief stepped out onto a stone balcony and watched. The sky around the clouds was a very healthy blue, and behind that, John saw the other side of the Halo ring itself. He remembered seeing this exact sight on the first ring. The horizon itself stretch up; a strip of land and sea shrunk narrower as it grew higher into the sky. It was thinnest directly above, where it was furthest away and then grew again before melting back into the ground on the other side.

“I’ve got a good view coming in,” Johnson called as the dropships approached. “There's a big building in the middle of this island's lake.”

“I saw it as we dropped,” Cortana replied. “It looks like a temple. If I were a megalomaniac - and I’m not, that's where I'd be.”

The Pelicans lowered down to ground level in front of the ruins. John watched the ODST colonel command two of his soldiers to remain behind as the others stepped up into the front dropship. The rear Pelican released a Warthog for the Chief. Two names flashed over his heads-up-display as he acknowledged the remaining helljumpers. They were both ranked Private First Class; one male and one female. 

“Nice! A Mark Six,” exclaimed the male ODST with an Australian accent.

John matched the voice to the name. He had fought alongside Private Dubbo not all that long ago. He didn’t remember him being an ODST, and he was surprised to see he had not yet been promoted. The female marine was unfamiliar to the Spartan.

“Private First Class Rao,” she introduced rather redundantly John thought as he glanced at her name on his display. “I’ll be your side seat, sir.”

She spoke with a thick Indian accent. John stepped into the driver’s seat as Rao filled her position, balancing over the passenger seat as expected. Dubbo climbed up to the machine gun turret.

“Saddled up,” Dubbo confirmed. “Let’s move out!”

The Master Chief drove the Warthog down a winding trench. The dirt path down the middle appeared to be made intentionally. It was a smooth drive until the jeep emerged on the other side of the trench where there was another landing that looked down over a sizeable lake. The reflective water felt inviting aside from the fact that, along with the blue sky, it also produced the image of the massive Covenant carrier up above. Chief saw many grey Forerunner structures in the very distance beyond the lake, but it was the ones within that called to him. At the very centre of the lake was a monolithic temple standing above the water.  Three incredibly tall triangular supports stretched out over the roof of the building before continuing downward and beaming further into the water. A beam of light shot up into sunny sky from each triangular segment.

“Whoa!” Dubbo cried, looking out over the blue lake and adjacent natural landscape. “It's like a postcard,” he said in his Aussie accent. “Dear Sarge, kicking arse in outer space. Wish you were here.”

“I heard that, jackass!” Johnson transmitted.

John used his visor to zoom in at the temple and analyse the other buildings.

“Over there,” Cortana directed. “Hmm… It seems the Forerunner used a gondola system to travel across the lake. If we keep to this path around the left of the lake, we should be able to find a way in. Chief, happy driving.”

John did not have to drive very far before the path was obstructed. Ahead was a steep canyon, at the bottom of which was a river that flowed into the lake. In front of the gap was a small shrine. At a distance, John couldn’t quite tell if it consisted of the advanced architecture of the Forerunner or another set of ruins like the ones at the edge of the mountain. As the Warthog drew nearer, John was able to discern it was both. A long grey drawbridge with energy beams below it was being pulled up toward the shrine, which the Covenant had a made camp out of.

“The Covenant have control of that bridge,” Cortana explained. “They're going to try to bottle us up on this side of the gorge. The controls to extend the bridge should be within the structure.”

As John drove the Warthog down toward the shrine, they were greeted by four Elite-driven Ghosts as well as more Jackals and Grunts taking cover behind rocks. John decided the space between the rocks was the perfect place for the Warthog to escape their plasma. He drove the Warthog in continuous random loops, slowing down, speeding up and generally making it hell for the Covenant to land a shot. The Ghosts tried to follow him closely and then bend around and block his path, but to no success. Private Rao focussed her SMG fire on the smaller ground units, while Dubbo handled the Elites.

“I’ve got something hear for ya!” Dubbo screamed as he mowed them down with his heavy turret.

As soon as the area was clear, another threat presented itself. Massive plasma mortars soared over the shrine and landed with heavy splashes near the Warthog’s position. Burning dirt rained over the jeep as the plasma bombs hit the ground. Two Wraiths were on the far side of the gorge. John swerved the Warthog around and parked it so that it hugged the shrine wall out of view of the Wraiths and then slipped into the building. Inside the structure, he found that sections of the floor were made from tan stone tiling while other parts consisted of the smooth grey Forerunner polygons he recalled seeing on the first ring. Similarly, the walls were built from both the light tans of the ruins and the darker greys typical of the Forerunner.

The heart of the shrine was one hundred percent Forerunner. It included a window made from Forerunner glass that provided the Chief a view of the Wraiths on the other side of the gorge from a cut-out in the building that the bridge had rolled its way up earlier. In the centre of the room was a large hologram projecting what appeared to be a speckled galaxy spinning around slowly, but above that was another image. The blue-tinted, semi-transparent form of the Prophet of Regret reminded John of an old shrivelled man in a wheelchair except far less human. The Prophet was mumbling a chant in his foreign tongue. Unlike the Grunts, Elites, Jackals or any other Covenant the Chief had ever encountered, the more soothing tone of Regret’s voice was rather resonant like a song. He began to understand why the aliens worshipped these beings. It was almost entrancing.

John shook his head and fired upon the Covenant he’d walked in on who had been worshiping the broadcasting Prophet. It was an inconveniently small space to fight in, but John had the element of surprise. Once their bodies hit the floor, he walked up to the holopanel that projected from below the thick glass window. He remembered the first time he had come across such a console on the first Halo. Despite having no knowledge of Forerunner technology, he had found himself instinctively knowing exactly which holographic sensors to touch, and just like then, he used his instinct to activate the switch before him. The creaking bridge began to slide its way down the glass wall in front of John and over the canyon, joining the land on each side together.

“Good,” said Cortana. “The bridge is down. Now about those Wraiths…”

“Roger that,” replied Johnson. “Armour’s on the way.”

Chief turned around to see both Rao and Dubbo had joined him.

“Isn’t that our target?” Rao asked, looking up at the holographic Prophet.

“What’s he doing?” Dubbo added. “Giving a speech?”

“A sermon actually,” answered Cortana. “I've been listening to it since we landed. So far, it seems to be standard Covenant liturgy, but I'll translate if he says anything interesting.”

John was surprised the translator in his helmet didn’t automatically interpret the Prophet of Regret’s speech, but he supposed the pitch and different accent of the Prophet must have been enough to confuse the device. It wasn’t like capturing Prophets was common activity for the UNSC. Cortana, on the other hand, was top of her game. She’d know what Regret was saying. The Chief heard a heavy thud outside. The Scorpion had been delivered.

“Let’s go,” he instructed.

“You…” Dubbo started, “Don’t talk much, do you, sir?”

The marines definitely seemed to be getting bolder toward this end of the war, but John supposed he was talking a lot less these days.

Once outside, John hopped in the tank while Dubbo and Rao sat on either side towards the back of the treads. As they rolled over the metal bridge, the Chief fired both the main canon and the machine gun at the Wraiths. The Wraith pilots were perhaps even more protected than the Chief was in the Scorpion, but their weapons were slow and cumbersome. By the time their shots landed anywhere near the Spartan and riding helljumpers, both Wraiths had been destroyed. Several Ghosts emerged from a big cavemouth to the right of the flaming mortar tank remains. Loose vines hanging down from the foliage above the cave whipped up as the Covenant vehicles sped through. Soon, the Ghosts were in pieces thanks the M808B’s ninety-millimetre armour piercing ballistic-capped rounds.

John turned the Scorpion right and chugged his way into the cave. He was surprised to find that it was not a natural formation. The walls and ceiling of the cave were lined with the same stone bricks and tiles the Chief realised he really should be expecting at this point. The cave path wound in through and out from the cliffs. John had to keep readjusting to the light and darkness as they drove through the wide caverns and along the edge of the gorge alternating between left and right turns. Dark green moss covered some areas of the tunnel near edges where scenic waterfalls splashed by into the river below.

More Ghosts and Grunt Heavies with plasma canons awaited around one of the bends. John felt they were making progress due to the fact that the further they drove the more Covenant there was awaiting them. The Scorpion received little damage as it rumbled its was over the stone. Rao and Dubbo dispatched of Grunts and Jackals who stood beneath the shade behind stone pillars while John demolished anything else that dared confront them. They were unstoppable, at least for the time being. Dubbo cheered as he extinguished the shields of a Jackal Minor and Major pair who were slinking further into the shadows.

“That’s alright,” he yelled. “I’d hide from me too!”

“Careful,” warned Cortana. “We’re coming up to another structure.”

“Here, piggy, piggy, piggy!” Dubbo continued as he fired at a gaggle of scrambling Grunts. “Die, bastards! That’s what you get for glassing Reach!”

He yelled the last line as he shot a Grunt Major in the back of its methane tank. A piece of the red metal gave way, causing the leaking gas to propel the Grunt forward onto its face as Dubbo finished it off.

“And that’s what you get for Harvest,” he continued as he shot another.

“That’s for Harmony!” Rao now joined after killing a Jackal.

“And Madrigal,” Dubbo kept going, “Arcadia… Hat Yai… Troy!”

They continued like that for a while until the Scorpion drew closer toward the end of the tunnel. John considered asking the two accented marines marines to quieten down, but then he remembered he was in a sixty-six-tonne killing machine that was louder than any rally cry the helljumpers could produce. As if to make that point, John fired another explosive round at a group of Covenant whose own cries were drowned out by the blast.

While the tunnel had not been tight by any means, the area beyond it was extremely open in comparison. The walls around the zone were completely made from the recurring tan bricks while a solid stone temple much larger than the gorge shrine or mountain-side ruins sat in the middle. It was highly decorated with rectangular pillars and triangular obelisks, and from its centre rose a tall brown maple tree. The tree and indeed much of the foliage that filled the area seemed to represent the conflict between nature versus construction, John thought. In this case, nature was winning. Vines tangled themselves around the cracking stone, suffocating the structure within its embrace. Spikey shrubbery poked out from every corner, and long grass grew from crevices in the stone.

On the righthand side of the area, above the stone wall, the ground sloped up into another mountain. John turned the tank slightly to the left where he saw the open lake. The stone tunnel had cut right through the underground, allowing them to travel quite a distance. Forerunner structures near the edge of the lake, the ones running the gondola system now looked closer than ever. Soon the Master Chief would have the Prophet of Regret within his clutches.

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