Halo: Array

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"Wort, wort, wort!"

Chapter 4 (v.1) - Chapter Four: Priority Shift

Submitted: November 17, 2018

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Submitted: November 17, 2018

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Chapter Four
Priority Shift

 

Earth had once been home to millions of people. In time, the planet became overpopulated. Cities were crowded, employment rates suffered, housing became complicated, crime intensified and general hygiene deteriorated. The Unified Earth Government (UEG) was under tremendous amounts of pressure to find a solution. Using advanced terraforming technologies, they were able to extend the population across Luna and Mars, transforming them into hospital environments, but it wasn’t until the development of the Shaw-Fujikawa drive in the twenty-third century that humanity was finally able to breathe.

Utilising faster-than-light travel via jumps though slipstream space, the UEG formed colonies within star systems across a sparse portion of the Milky Galaxy. The UNSC, a division of the UEG that worked on scientific research, space exploration and military forces, had propelled humanity forward enough that the species was now a major power in the galaxy. However, the issue of overpopulation was not the last problem humanity would have to face nor its worst.

Eventually, citizens of the numerous colonies began to challenge to management of the Unified Earth Government. Individuals on the Outer Colonies did not believe a planet that was lightyears away should have the right to govern their worlds. How could the people of Earth understand the problems the outer colonists faced when they were that distant from the action? These individuals began to form protest groups, rallied and gained many supporters and sympathisers. Even some citizens amongst the Inner Colonies, which were closer to Earth began to join the cause; but what was once a battle of opinions and politics grew into violent clashes, terrorist activity and eventually all-out war.

The war between the Insurrectionists and the UNSC militaries was a long and terrible one. Many soldiers died as expected, but many civilians were killed as well. Business districts, residential buildings, schools and hospitals were all bombed. The Insurrectionists were hated and feared, but the UNSC were not loved either. Their failure to prevent the death and destruction meant the sight of UNSC soldiers and officers were just as unwanted in many cases. Their presence sometimes only made things worse. It wasn’t until the Office of Naval Intelligence green-lit Doctor Halsey’s Spartan-II program that the tides truly began to turn, but by then, the Insurrection were the least of the UNSC’s concerns.

After years of spreading out amongst the stars, humanity had reached far enough that they could no longer go unnoticed by other inhabitants of the galaxy. The first contact made with extra-terrestrial life was above the planet Harvest. Harvest was a peaceful agricultural planet that existed outside of the Insurrection and had little to no military power. The UNSC attempted to make peace with their new alien neighbours. The efforts made to keep things friendly with the single Covenant ship they met at Harvest appeared to be going well until, without any warning, the ship began glassing Harvest’s capital city. An immense beam of colourful, blinding plasma was cast down into the atmosphere, igniting the atmosphere, melting entire skyscrapers and killing thousands. By the time the rest of the Covenant fleet arrived, the humans had already lost.

Soon after, the Unified Earth Government handed over all governing duties to the UNSC as a response to the Covenant’s attack. Throughout the entire course of the war however, the UNSC only ever had one victory against the Covenant. An early UNSC fleet managed to reclaim the planet Harvest, but that only caused the Covenant to retaliate with more ships and more firepower than ever. Once the Covenant realised just how many humans they were dealing with, they unleashed their full power, and mankind never stood a chance again.

In the year 2552 Earth still had a high population, but those who remained in this late stage of the war were but a tiny fraction of what had once been the might of the human race. Every man and woman at some point during the war had to make a decision; continue living their normal day-to-day lives until the Covenant one day showed up at their door step and obliterated their planet or they could fight back, slow the Covenant down and search for some form of hope of continued survival for their children and the rest of the population. The choice for most was apparent, and so they marched off to face the enemy. Most were never seen again.

If the Covenant fleet broke through Earth’s defences, they would wipe out the last survivors of the human race. The species would become extinct and ultimately forgotten. Earth’s defences were strong, but whether they were strong enough was the question they now faced. A total of three hundred orbital defence stations formed a blockade around the planet. The battle cluster that Cairo Station belonged to was the one directly facing the enemy. Each platform was essentially a giant gun; an enormous MAC canon surrounded by habitats with control rooms, security, hangars and other facilities necessary to run the station, including lesser canons for smaller threats.

The Covenant’s current targets were the Cairo, Athens and previously, the Malta. They needed to blast a hole through these three MAC platforms in order to safely slip through the UNSC’s defences to Earth and begin their final destruction of mankind. So far, the MACs had managed to keep the larger fleet at bay, but they weren’t the issue. The issue was the Covenant boarding craft slipping through and injecting Covenant infantry into the hangars. As Lord Terrence Hood suggested, they must have been there to take the stations’ MACs offline. Spartan John-117 was there to prevent that.

John lead his team of UNSC marines through a bending corridor of grey and yellow within Habitat Alpha of Cairo Station in search for the next Covenant boarding craft. He was now equipped with a battery-operated plasma rifle while his marines had restocked submachine guns. Sergeant Johnson was no longer present. He had been recently ordered elsewhere on the battlefield. As the team approached the door of the bottom level of the next hangar bay, they could hear an already active firefight. The sounds of UNSC bullets and charged plasma warned them of the dangers on the other side of the hard metal door. The sounds became almost deafening as the door slid open to let them in.

This time, they entered from a side door of the shuttle bay. The hangar was identical to the previous one aside from the crates and barricades having been placed in different locations around the room, there was no longer a Pelican taking up space, and some new alien additions had entered the scene. The boarding craft’s umbilical was inserted into the opposite side of the room through the great glass hangar door. Below the tubular opening were two large Covenant stationary shield generators. The small purple devices sat on the grey floor projecting a blue arch-shaped, seemingly solid, glowing, semi-transparent energy called hardlight. The first wave of Covenant from this boarding craft must have placed them there to offer cover to troops that were yet to spill out from the long tube.

Atop the railed platform on the higher level of the hangar were two mounted plasma canons pointed down toward the level the Master Chief and marines stood on. Essentially, these canons were the Covenant’s answer to the UNSC machine gun turret in blue, smooth, rounded Covenant style. Standing behind them operating the guns were Covenant Grunts, this time clad in green armour and rebreather packs. They were firing continuously at the sides of a large crate of which a lone helmetless marine had taken cover behind. The soldier had fighting in the room when the Chief’s team had arrived. He stood crouched beside two marine corpses and a puddle of red blood brighter than the dried blood that covered his face.

“Vusaro’s pinned down, sir!” yelled one of the marines, causing both Grunts to notice the Master Chief’s team having entered the room.

The Grunts gave up on their existing target and turned their heavy canons toward John and his marines. Each soldier scattered and dove for cover behind the nearest object.

“How many more grenades do we have?” John asked the group.

“Saito and I have one each,” replied Pinciotti.

The Chief pondered for a moment. These Grunts won’t be our biggest threat, John thought. It wouldn’t be worth wasting the explosives. He scanned around the room before noticing Private Vusaro hugging his BR55 battle rifle to his chest behind his crate.

“How effective are you with that thing, Vusaro?” John asked, raising his voice over the loud sizzles of the Grunts’ continued plasma firing into and around the crates.

“Good enough, sir!” Vusaro replied.

John turned to his marines.

“Marines, stay put. Vusaro, I’ll draw out their fire. Aim for the Grunts’ heads.”

The Master Chief jumped out from his cover, raising his plasma rifle in his right hand. Strafing sideways as fast as a Spartan can, which was evidentially incredibly fast, John held down the alien equivalent of the trigger on his gun. He felt no recoil from the weapon due to his Spartan strength and extreme reflexes, but from his position he could not hit the Grunts. The large plasma canons blocked the Chief’s fire while returning much faster energy bolts of their own. Plasma from the left canon hit the Chief.

A gap appeared in the rectangular shield gauge of John’s heads-up-display just as the gold light of his energy shield sparkled around him. It didn’t matter, he only had to hold out long enough for Vusaro to headshot the Grunts. He moved backwards toward the stationary Covenant shields as Vusaro fired his BR. A light flashed from the muzzle of Vusaro’s rifle and a loud bang bounced around the walls as a burst of three bullets were fired from Vusaro’s weapon, making direct impact with the Grunt on the right.

Two of the bullets made contact with the Grunt’s mouth piece, blowing it right off the creature’s ugly face and revealing its hideous mouth, collapsed into its face with bare, tiny, pointed teeth. The last bullet went right between its eyes, causing the creature to fall back from its canon as a splash of cyan blood leapt forward from its head. Vusaro jumped back behind his crate.

Before he could safely move back out into view of the left plasma canon, John waited behind the Covenant shield for his energy shield to recharge. He watched the shield gauge begin to refill before he heard metal clunking behind him. Red dots appeared on the bottom of his motion tracker. He spun around to meet his new enemies.

“Wort wort wort!” Came a deep voice from within the boarding tube as aliens spilled out from it. At the same time John’s translator device kicked in. “Go go go!” It translated.

About seven orange-armoured Grunts jumped down one at a time followed by two blue-armoured Elites. John jumped back out into the open view of the remaining plasma canon Grunt. The Grunt turned its canon back toward the Master Chief and fired. John dive-rolled to his right, tricking the canon’s operator into firing at the three Grunts that had been standing in front of the Spartan. All three died. Their hard, grey skin was now charred black where they’d been shot, and the smell of burning crustacean filled the air. Another bang went off followed immediately by a thump as the plasma canon Grunt’s lifeless body fell off the platform and hit the ground below. Unggoy blood ran out like a tap from the gaping hole formed by the three battle rifle bullets in the Grunt’s head.

John moved back into cover behind the closest crate, allowing his shield time to fully recharge while the marines fired their SMGs and BR from their positions at the aliens standing below the umbilical. One Grunt fell, and then the next.

“Aargh!”

A gurgled cry came from Vusaro’s position. John glanced in his direction. The marine had fallen to the floor with his back leant against the crate. His battle rifle lay on the ground next to him. He clutched his left hand over the scorched flesh below his right shoulder. Blood ran down his arm as he slumped to the floor.

“Master Chief, sir! Vusaro is down,” came Pinciotti.

“Acknowledged,” John replied, all the while moving about to avoid bright green and blue bursts from the Covenant.

He continued firing his plasma rifle into the Covenant group, aiming for the Elites as he ran. The meter on his head-up-display now read his energy shield as fully charged. One Grunt hobbled forward toward the Chief, its plasma pistol raised. John smacked the Grunt in the head with the bottom of his rifle, pounding an impossible dent through the creature’s thick exoskeleton. Its entire face gave way as the alien fell to the floor. John jumped backwards away from the crowd.

“Grenades now, marines!” He yelled.

One pinless grenade sailed through the air toward the Covenant group. It hit the blue energy of a stationary Covenant shield and ricocheted off sideways. The grenade exploded as it flew toward an empty corner of the hangar. No Covenant were close enough to be harmed. John looked back at the marines. Private Pinciotti still had her grenade in her pouch. She was gliding towards Vusaro’s position, likely to secure the dropped battle rifle.

The Covenant scattered, no longer forming a cluster. A grenade would now be useless. John stepped forward smacked one Grunt down, followed by another as both Elites charged toward the marines. Two more Grunts fell from the SMG fire before the marines all turned their attention to the Elites.

The Elite closest to the humans yelled a deep Sangheili growl as its shield lit up. It did not flinch as the marines held down their triggers. John sprinted toward the other one closer to him. He ran up behind and smacked the monster right in the back of the neck with his elbow. The force of the Spartan’s melee went straight through the Elite’s shields. It fell dead immediately. The final Elite wailed as his shield popped when he was barely a metre from the marines. Its body shook as it was hit by the bullets from each of the SMGs before it too fell, joining its partner on the ground.

The room fell silent. All that could be heard was the wheezing of Private Vusaro in pain. John strode toward the soldier. Private Pinciotti was crouched beside him. Vusaro released a final long sigh before his entire body relaxed.

“He… he’s dead, s-s-sir,” Pinciotti stuttered.

Deciding he’d had enough use from his magnum. John pulled the pistol off from his armour and let the weapon slip out of his hands onto the floor. He replaced it with the plasma rifle, freeing up his hands. He glanced at the BR still on the ground.

“Hand me the battle rifle, Private,” John ordered.

“W-what?”

“The battle rifle. There’ll be more Covenant in the station,” he answered, glancing toward the unlocked doors within the hangar. The Covenant they’d just fought would not have been all from both boarding parties, he knew.

Right on cue, the loudspeaker started as if the officer on the other side of speaker had been listening to the conversation.

“Security Chamber Four is under attack,” it stated.

John bent down and lifted the battle rifle from the floor as Pinciotti as she stood up straight.

“That’s it?” She asked with a faint quiver in her voice.

“What’s it?” John replied.

John sensed an emotion from Pinciotti that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Was she afraid? Perhaps she was injured.

“Marco Vusaro just died!” She emphasised the last word. “…And all you can do is ask for his rifle?”

John had lead his own personal team during the war. It was a team of Spartan-IIs. Blue Team, they were called. He was missing them now, not because he needed their help defending the station against the Covenant, but because he understood them and they had understood him. Most soldiers’ behaviour wasn’t drastically different from the Spartans while on the battlefield, but occasionally he found himself facing situations like this, non-Spartan soldiers acting in ways illogical to the Chief.

John noticed Pinciotti’s eyes getting wet. What was the right thing to say in this situation? Vusaro was not the first man to die on this space station. He was certainly not the first to die in the wider battle. John thought of the Malta crew. Vusaro was one of countless lives that had been lost in the war. Even Spartans had perished. When Sam or Kurt had died, how had John coped with it?

What should he say to this marine? If he was going to continue to fight alongside these soldiers, he needed them to be clear-minded and determined. John thought back to his days in training. It is acceptable to spend lives when necessary. The Master Chief spoke.

“Soldiers die every day, Private. Vusaro just took out two canon operators. He was well-spent.”

“Well spent?” Replied Pinciotti. “You fucking ro-”

She was cut off by another marine.

“Out the window! They’re leaving the Athens.”

They all turned toward the view of space presented by hangar’s massive glass doors. Sure enough, a swarm of Covenant boarding craft were flying away from Athens Defence Platform just as they had the Malta. The same light that had flashed from the Malta now flashed brightly from the Athens as the station exploded apart. Just like the Malta, the Athens and its entire crew were no more.

Lord Hood spoke over the loudspeaker

“Cortana, assessment.”

“That explosion came from inside the Athens. Just like the Malta.” Cortana’s voice replied over the same speaker. “The Covenant must have brought something with them… a bomb.”

“Then they sure as hell brought one here,” Hood returned. “Master Chief, find it.”

The Master Chief looked about at the marines gathering around him. This bomb needed to be found as soon as possible or everyone on the station would be dead and the war itself may as well be forfeit. These soldiers would only slow down his search.

“Marines, keep an eye out for any more boarding craft. I’ll find this bomb. Pinciotti, I need that grenade.”

Whatever she was feeling was irrelevant to the Chief. John had a number one priority. Until that bomb was found, nothing else mattered. Pinciotti reluctantly opened her pouch and handed him the grenade. John placed it in position opposite from the plasma rifle. The magnetic armour pulled it in, snapping it in place. He scanned the room. Something else was different with this hangar than the last one. The trap doors on the floor had been slid open. They were inviting him in.

John entered. He followed the stairs into a long, wide, dark hallway. Lined along the centre were rows of torpedo-shaped objects about twice as long as the Spartan himself. They were held down on a segmented conveyor belt. This was the ammunition for the MAC gun. The Chief ran forward along the side of the metal shells, heading toward a door at the other end of the hallway. He felt floor vibrate as he heard gears grinding down below. A giant bullet at the end of the row near the door was pushed forward into a black opening in the wall.

John had not yet made it to the exit before it opened. He raised his battle rifle in response. Something had entered the room just out of range for his motion tracker to detect. It entered the shadows without him seeing. John scanned the area near the door, and then he saw it. It was a mere blur. Waves rippled in the air. Colours fluttered briefly before him that should not have been there. John flipped his BR onto the back of his armour and pulled out the plasma rifle once more. His heads-up-display informed him that he only had thirty percent battery life left on the weapon.

The Chief sidestepped as he heard the wind whoosh past his helmet. A Covenant Elite hidden in active camouflage had just taken a swing at him. Whoosh. It swung again. Once more, John dodged it. He aimed his plasma rifle into the air before him and fired. The blue energy shield and silver armour of a Stealth Elite flickered before him. The Elite, now revealed, raised its own plasma rifle back at the Spartan. John dived onto the conveyer belt between two of the metal slugs before the wall opening at the end.

He had not been hit. He needed to kill the Elite before its shield recharged. The Elite followed him into the gap. John slapped it over the head with his plasma rifle. The Elite was not harmed but flinched long enough for the Chief to provide another blow, this time into a gap in its armour at its lower abdomen. The Elite’s shield did not fully pop. It fired its plasma rifle back at John, but John crouched quickly enough to avoid the fire. He launched himself directly into the Elite’s legs. The Elite stumbled back in attempt to retain its balance and fell over onto the MAC shell at the end of the row. Suddenly, the conveyer belt moved. John jumped off back onto solid ground as the Elite was pulled into the dark opening.

“Oooaaaargh!”

Whatever happened on the other side of the opening sounded painful. John continued through the door the Stealth Elite had entered from. In this new room, there was metal grating forming the ceiling above and some stairs before him leading up to another trap door. He heard plasma and shotgun fire from above.

“Get the hell out of my armoury!” A familiar voice yelled from the other side of the grating. “Tell your friends I got enough ammo for all of you!”

John ran up the stairs and pushed through the trap door just in time to see Peters hit in the chest by a bolt of blue plasma and fall to his death. There were two Elites in the armoury with the blast door open into one of the Commons behind them. One was a blue clad Elite Minor. The other was a red Major. John dropped his plasma rifle and dived for the dropped shotgun beside Peters’ fresh corpse as both Elites fired their plasma rifles at the Spartan.

“Foul demon!” The Elite Major yelled. “Your death is my duty!”

John ducked behind the workbench still holding broken hardware from his MJOLNIR Mark Five. The Elites ran forward. The Minor was still firing his continuous plasma shots. The blue Elite reached him first while the Major waited on the other side of the workbench.

“Infidel!” Its voice shook with rage.

John fired a single shot from his shotgun. Multiple bullets blasted out of the barrel at once, forcing the Elite backwards. At point blanc, the shotgun was able to wipe out the Elite’s entire energy shield. The Chief fired again. Indigo blood puffed out like wind from the creature’s back into the air behind it before sprinkling into the grating.

Immediately after, the remaining Elite jumped onto the workbench and fired down at the John. The Spartan rolled sideways to avoid the fire, still managing to get hit and losing some of his shield. He ran over to the recharge station, the zapper, still firing his shotgun back at the Elite at the same time. The Elite’s shield lit up, just as the Chief’s did, but as the distance between the two grew, less of John’s shotgun bullets made contact with the alien. John jumped behind the zapper as the Elite Major followed. The Elite jumped forward onto the red square, making a swing for the Spartan just as John slammed his fist down onto the control panel. He formed a dent in the panel, locking several buttons into place. The poles on either side of the red square spun around the alien, distracting the creature. Zap! The Elite’s shields popped fully depleted and John fired his shotgun. The creature fell dead with splat.

Puffing slightly, John looked out into the trees of the Commons through the open blast door. Where had the Covenant taken this bomb? If he didn’t find out soon then it would all be over. Every last man, woman and child… dead. So far, he’d been moving through this station too slowly. It was time to speed things up.


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