"Do not be afraid. I am peace; I am salvation."

- [Data Corrupted]

URF Shining Dawn

Eridanus System, orbiting Eridanus II

2513, 10:52

"Colonel Watts, we've received reports that most of the planetary opposition has crumbled." An aide reported to him.

Robert Watts stood quietly on the deck of his flagship, the Shining Dawn. She was one of several commandeered UNSC ships that he'd successfully captured or bought. Though sadly, she was one of few. UNSC vessels or similar military spacecraft were exceeding expensive, and although he may be powerful… he lacked financial capital. Or at least, the sort of capital needed to commission a fleet of warships. Instead, he'd been forced to make do with a handful of UNSC vessel, outdated and damaged UNSC models, and illegally modified civilian ships.

As things stand, his fleet was broken down as follows:

One Gorgon-class heavy destroyer; the Shining Dawn

Four Halcyon-class light cruisers

Ten Stalwart-class light frigates

Fifteen Mako-class corvettes

Three Chiroptera-class stealth vessels

One Parabola-class freighter

Three Laden-class freighters

Sixty-three assorted civilian-class craft

As it was, his fleet was at one-hundred combat-ready ships; however, he did have a small number of support vessels waiting in the nearby asteroid belt.

Besides his fleet, he also had two battalions of troops on each of the different planets in the system. First Battalion was Companies A (Alpha) through D (Delta), while Second Battalion was Companies E (Echo) through H (Hotel). Each battalion had four companies, along with an assorted group of assigned personnel designated "Battalion Headquarters Section" for support and logistics. They were under the command of Major Whittle on Mamore and Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Frei on Eridanus II – two of his most loyal officers. In total, he had around one-thousand-five-hundred-and-two operational infantrymen. Not including the number of support forces he had also allocated to the planets.

It was these forces, in tandem with his men in the Colonial Military Administration, that completed the grittiest part of his forced takeover. Together, they not only eliminated any opposition, but they also secured major footholds in all regions across the Eridanus system. Of course, not everything went perfectly, there were small pockets of resistance. Groups of civilian police forces that resisted, or defectors from the now defunct CMA. At least he had the regular civilian population under control. He dealt with civilian protestors and their ilk swiftly, corralling them with a show of force.

As the savior of the Eridanus system, it was beyond their rights to protest his actions. They needed to learn their place, and he was perfectly willing to show them.

"Good. Now, what about the situation in Elysium?" Robert moved to his command station, trailing on hand down the length of his seat. "What news on the resistance forces there?"

"We are progressing as expected, final strongholds are estimated to collapse within the week."

"And, what about… that problem?" Watts sternly enquired.

The aide started sweating and nervously spoke. "I apologize Colonel Watts, but it appears that our forces are unable to breach the field. It has proven resilient to both small arms and heavy caliber weaponry. We used an array of Warthogs to try and overwhelm it, but they only made it more visible – there was no notable damage.

Watts pushed down his frustration. "Then have them bring in the heavy weapons platoon and bring it down. I want his head!" Watts momentarily lost his calm and slammed his fist against the metal chair. "We must curb his influence, lest we allow for the embers of dissent to blossom into a raging inferno that swallows us all!"

"Of course, sir, I will have them deploy one of the armored fireteams and heavy weapons platoons immediately.

"Husband, calm yourself." A slender arm reached around his back and pulled him into a plush surface. "It's only a matter of time. Whatever technology he managed to acquire for creating that… barrier. It must still be experimental, especially if he said nothing to me about it." Faith Mattos caressed his cheek, bringing down his ire.

He turned to her, his wife and his supplier. "Yes, and how goes your… deception?" He asked her, bringing one arm up and wrapping it around her waist. There was nothing loving about the gesture however, it was one-hundred percent lustful.

She gave him a thin-lipped smile. "Yes, well… I've yet to actually make contact; however, I'm fairly sure that he doesn't suspect my involvement." She reached around and pulled out a datapad. "We have already compromised the internal COMs. So, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch for someone to fake an audio transmission." She pulled up a fake conversation between herself and Garfield Mclaney; using only sound bites taken from recorded transmissions and meetings. "If he does scour internally through our private servers, he'll find nothing that incriminates me."

"Good, but, that does not answer my question." He squeezed her waist tighter. "How much progress have you made?" He kindly asked.

Without showing her wince, she turned and pulled up another file. "Once I find a suitable method of contacting him, I'll be able to arrange entrance into his manor. From there, I'll find out how he's projecting that strange… force field. Then, I'll find out how he's even still alive. Finally, once that's all accomplished – I'll kill him."

"That's my girl." He huskily complemented.

Robert let go of her and moved towards an observation window; watching as the star filled void drifted by. "I want to know how he's still alive Faith, I watched the recording taken from both of our modified shuttles. That vessel was slag." He looked at her, his eyes smoldering. "If he has anything that might prove to be beneficial, no matter what it is, I want you to take it. Alright?"

She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Of course, then we can finally secure our place here in this system. Together." She made her way off the bridge.

Yes… together. Watts watched his wife turn and walk back to the hanger. She had her uses. Though, sometimes he didn't know if he kept her around because of love, lust, or her benefits. Perhaps, it was something between all three?

Their first meeting was a memorable one. He'd been stationed aboard a UNSC battle group that had been scouring trade routes for pirates. Along the way, they'd discovered a convoy of merchant vessels and private yachts under attack. The UNSC ships quickly engaged and destroyed the pirates; however, a number of the murdering scum had already boarded one of the yachts.

They'd disabled the engines, and were holding the crew hostage. The UNSC doesn't negotiate with terrorists, and they were prepared to destroy the vessel and mark it under acceptable causalities when he'd foolishly offered to lead an expedition. At the time, he was well respected for his tactical mindset, and his inherent charisma, but, that wasn't enough for his superiors. He couldn't retake the vessel on his own – he needed a squad. Anywhere from eight to twelve men, and then he would be given the green-light.

He found those who were willing to sacrifice their lives, and together they boarded the yacht. Due to the ship's enormous size, most of it was comprised of one primary rotating carousel and several smaller compartments. The ship's artificial gravity was blown out, but the rotating carousel continued to rotate, and thus create artificial gravity through centripetal force.

The fight was intense, and he'd lost some good soldiers, but, they'd managed to reclaim the ship. It was here that he met her, and she fell in love with him. He turned down her advances, and when his battle group departed, he assumed that was that.

It was only a few months later that he received the first, of what would be many data-packets containing information, messages, pictures, and even small digital gifts from her. She was enamored with him, even though she could be the coldest people you'd ever met. There were only a few things that made her smile, and he was one of them. Over time he grew fond of their little back-and-forth, and eventually came to return her feelings; if only a little.

However, the longer he remained in the UNSC, the more he saw the rampant spread of decadence and corruption. Eventually, he could no longer bear sitting quietly within the UEG's service. So, he informally resigned. Or, as it's more commonly known: deserted. It was hard at first, being stuck on the UNSC watchlists, but Faith had come through for him.

They'd married in secret, and together they promised to bring about a better future for all those in need. To do that, they needed to tear down the old system though, and the only way that the old system would let itself be washed away was in a river of blood.

He didn't want to bring about too much chaos though, he knew that disorder had to be carefully regulated. Elsewise, it could grow unchecked, somewhat like an unnoticed parasite. That's why he'd targeted so few individuals in his coup d'état. A river of blood would wash away the old world, and allow for its fertile ashes to become a nutrient-rich soil. The perfect combination needed to bring about a successful government. But, too much blood would taint it, and the violence would consume them all.

The targets had been selected systematically, based on their influence, reputation, and how likely it was that they would rebel. Most of those targeted were powerful business individuals, but there too were those in the CAA and wealthy civilians who'd been selected for cleansing. He'd skirted around causing too much property damage, and all acceptable civilian losses were low.

Hence why he didn't kill civilian protesters.

Still, he couldn't allow for armed rebellion; which is the reason for his troops continued deployment. Until order and civility returned, he would enforce martial law. Then, he would instate a new government, with him at the head. From which, he would spread his influence and power all across the Outer Colonies. After all, who better to lead the new world than him?

Soon, it would be ready. His pieces were already moving, and the last few bastions of the old would perish under the might of the URF.

"Sir, long-range scanners are picking something up."

"What is it." He walked over to his sensor control. The officer there was hunched over his monitor.

The man working there was confused, rapidly typing away at the console keyboard. "I don't know sir, but it almost looks like – wait, I'm picking up a sharp increase in Hawking radiation! Contact, we've got slipstream ruptures!"

Robert Watts felt himself momentarily freeze. This was an unprecedented response time for any UNSC fleet. And, it had to be a UNSC fleet, because he'd already locked down all orbital traffic during the first few days of his takeover.

He collected himself. "Bring us up to Combat Alert-Alpha Two."

"Alert, UNSC ships have been detected. All hands, prepare for combat." A synthetic voice called out from the ship's intercom.

The normal white fluorescent lighting was replaced with a deep red.

"Send out a message to the fleet – we are going to create a defensive picket around Eridanus II. All ships are to form up and prepare for engagement." Lieutenant Watts dictated, walking to a strategic overview station. He watched as his ships appeared as green triangles, and when they appeared, the enemy ships as red.

They hadn't yet exited the slipstream rupture, but it would be any second now.

"I want all military-class vessels to form up on the Shining Dawn." He ordered broadcasted across FLEETCOM.

Watts watched from the viewport as the many different ships around the Eridanus system made their way to their designated positions. It was pure luck that they'd already been in orbit around Eridanus II to begin with – he would capitalize on that advantage.

The picket defense would be comprised of five different battle groups; Battle Groups One through Four would be made of the civilian craft. Then, Battle Group Five would be comprised of the military-tier spacecraft. "I want to see spherical formations, have an equal distribution between the distances of all ships. Then, make sure that every battle group is ready for inputting a new trajectory into their NAV systems." Watts went over his battle plan.

"Sir, we're getting a visual of the first enemy vessel!"

"On-screen." Watts looked at his command screen. "Here they come." He whispered to himself. Now, he would have the chance to bloody his fleet. And, show the people of this system that he could defend what he has taken.

(-)

UNSC Improvised Reactionary Fleet

Exiting Slipspace, Eridanus System

2513, 11:30

In the cold dark of space, a multitude of small silvery-purple portals erupted into existence. Over twenty ships exited these portals and began to take up positions around one Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser; which was over one thousand-and-five-hundred meters in length. Two Orion-class assault carriers flanked the super-heavy cruiser; followed by ten Gorgon-class destroyers, four Halcyon-class light cruisers, and three Charon-class light frigates.

Once fully out of the rupture, the ships took up formation around the Valiant and Orion-class vessels. The destroyers split into two groups of five, the first group covering the super-cruiser, and the second group covering the two assault carriers. The four light cruisers and three light frigates formed up on their own, creating a phalanx.

(-)

UNSC Harare

Exiting Slipspace, Eridanus System

2513, 11:30

"Vice Admiral, we've arrived at the designated SSEP; we are green across the board."

Preston Cole analyzed the enemy formation being inputted from his command neural interface; five battle groups spread out around the planet Eridanus II. Clever, if only to prevent a full nuclear assault. They were close enough to the planet's atmosphere that not all the radiation from their Shivas' would be blocked. Civilian causalities needed to be kept within acceptable parameters, and letting untold nuclear fallout spread across the planet would prevent acceptable losses.

"Our engine output is steady at ninety-five percent and holding. Reactors are diverting energy to primary engines and weapon's systems. We are ready to engage on your command." Came the report from his tactical control.

Cole looked down, the enemy had spread their battle groups out. Each was in a different part of Eridanus II's orbit. There was one at each of the planet's poles. Two on the equator, each at opposite sides, and the last orbited a direct point above the planet. Oddly enough, they were all in view of his fleet's scanners. 'Why not use the planet to hide your ships, Watts? What are you planning?'

"Tell Battle Group Alpha to move towards the planet's equator, they are to engage the forces there. Have the Halcyon-class light cruisers protect the frigates while they enter orbit. Once inside, have the frigates use their airborne superiority to crush any URF air traffic. Then, they are to deploy their complement of UNSC Marines and Vehicle Divisions." Cole commanded, looking at the tonnage registering from the ships in that area. While they lacked clear visual, recon told them that it the URF fleet would be primarily made up of civilian ships.

On his view screen, Preston Cole watched Battle Group Alpha head to their directive. Halcyon-class light cruisers were slow and bulky, but what they lacked in speed and armament, they more than made up for in survivability.

"Tell the carriers Icarus and Spartacus to remain behind with their destroyers. Those support ships are large but slow. We can't risk being cut off from our supplies." His men moved about the command bridge with purpose, relaying his orders.

The UNSC Harare lurched forward through space, her engines flashing and propelling them towards the enemy. Her complement of UNSC Gorgon-class destroyers diligently followed, shielding the command ship on all sides.

They traversed across the void of space, watching as Battle Group Alpha began to engage the enemy. While they fought, he could see three other battle groups begin to make their way towards Battle Group Alpha. Yet he was not worried, scanners showed that the vessels were primarily civilian in nature. No matter what modifications were done to them, so long as they were kept at a distance, then his battle group would have nothing to fear.

The closed the distance on the most dangerous battle group. The only one to have the tonnage for military-grade warships. This battle group had remained stationary, forming a spherical shape, with the larger ships in the center being surrounded by the smaller ships.

"Contact! We've got inbound fighters!"

Cole responded with certainty. "Deploy our complement of fighters and have all ships prepare their point defense systems."

The Harare's hanger bay opened and out poured UNSC fighter after fighter. Cole wished they had the newer models, but the GA-TL1 Longswords weren't estimated to be ready for mass production until 2517.

They were also at a slight disadvantage because of the fact that the Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser was the only one to be large enough for a fighter compliment. His fighter pilots would see no reinforcements from their sister ships.

The fighters moved and engaged their rebel counterparts. Small explosions marking hits and deaths of the pilots from both sides. In the eyes of their behemoth counterparts though, the fighters were only insects in the wake of a much greater battle.

The Gorgon-class destroyers tightened ranks on his Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser. Using their overlapping point defense weapons to maximize their destructive capabilities.

"Contact! Archer missiles inbound. Course five-zero-two." The URF battle group had reached them first. They'd used their fighters as a cover to launch their missile with slow burn – once they were in range their velocity increased immensely.

A thousand tiny missiles sailed through space, heading straight for Cole's group. "Target them with the 50mm!" The darkness of space lit up as the point defense system for the UNSC Harare came to life. Shooting 50mm AI guided rounds. The Harare's escort used their own Helix defense systems to target the incoming wave.

It was a valiant effort, they snagged a few hundred of the inbound missiles. However, …

"Brace!"

The ship shuddered as many of the Archer missiles made contact, clashing against the Titanium-A armor in a glorious explosion. "Status report!" Cole looked around, the bridge was alright, and no klaxons had begun to blare.

"Decks five through six are reporting structural integrity loss. Deck seven has been sealed off and we're venting fires now." His team concluded, after checking over the various systems.

Cole's eyes hardened. "Charge MAC capacitors to one-hundred-percent. Arm aft Archer Pods A through F. I want a firing solution on those cruisers."

"Capacitors charging – ten, fifteen, forty, sixty…"

"Sir, Archer missile are prepped. Awaiting an input for course."

Preston held the metal station near him. The URF battle group moved in even further while they'd been distracted by the Archer strike. Now they were in range for the URF MACs. "Fire emergency starboard thrusters!" The gut feeling proved to be correct, for the moment he said it bright yellow tungsten shot out from the URF ships.

The Harare and four of the five destroyers evaded the strike. However, the fifth proved too slow and was struck in the stern. The tungsten round pierced through the thick sheet of Titanium-A where the ship had already been weakened from the missiles and gutted the rear of the vessel. Her engines failed instantly and the momentum of the shot forced her off course – drifting out into the atmosphere of the planet.

"We've lost the Kelps, she's abandoning ship now sir!" The report came in.

With their engines gone, they couldn't escape the atmosphere and the gravitational pull of the planet. Without proper thrusters and engines working in tandem, their sheer mass couldn't resist natural forces.

It was a somber sight, a once majestic UNSC ship now nothing more than a wreck that would burn on their transition through Eridanus II's atmosphere.

"Move us forward, draw on reserves and push engine power to two-hundred percent!" The Valiant-class quickly closed the distance between it and the enemy battle group. Its remaining destroyers following suite. "Fire Archer missiles, rotate launch arcs seventy degrees."

Streaks of exhaust trailed behind the Archer missiles as they flew through space. The other UNSC ships followed the Harare's example and fired their own Archer missiles. The URF vessels used their point defenses, but the outdated models couldn't keep up under the strain of constant fire and several missiles broke through.

"Hit! We've confirmed four hits!" One of the Halcyon light cruisers began venting atmosphere and small explosions rocketed the hull from internal combustion. A lucky hit, the light cruiser must have already had some structural flaws. Otherwise, it would've been able to shrug off that attack. Its honeycombed interior could normally shrug off the most lethal of strikes.

Another, this one a frigate, became a spectacular debris-cloud from the explosion, pelting its former compatriots with its body. Two of the Chiroptera-class stealth ships drifted out of formation, no longer operational.

Cole used the momentum and attacked again. "Now, fire MACs one and two!" The entire ship momentarily stalled as the sheer force of the MAC firing thrusted them backwards against the engine's forward motion.

Two brightly lit rounds, going thirty kilometers per second, cruised through the empty space between the UNSC fleet and the URF fleet. The first struck another of the Halcyon-class light cruisers, while the second skimmed the Gorgon-class destroyer.

The Halcyon was split down the middle, having been hit in the middle of its portside. The hull collapsed under the strain of the tungsten round, and various decks were exposed to the vacuum of space. An explosion signified the fusion reactor going critical – than a sun erupted from the rear of the dead ship; swallowing everything around it, including several corvettes too slow to evade.

It clicked in Preston's mind. 'These ships aren't up to code, they must have cut several corners for them to be so weak.' That was the second time a ship famed for its sheer vitality was destroyed in a single attack.

As for the destroyer, it's hull was horribly scarred. The MAC round scrapped away the Titanium-A armor and exposed everything underneath. The destroyer limped out of the atmosphere and towards the nearby asteroid belt.

"Let it go." He commanded, there would be no place for Watts to run when it was all said and done.

'If they have weaker hulls than expected…' Cole looked in contemplation. "Order all ships to fire their MACs. Target the remaining Halcyon-class light cruisers and the freighters that they are using for cover."

The remaining UNSC destroyers then fired their own MACs. Destroying the last of the Halcyon-class light cruisers and crippling both the Parabola-class freighter and Laden-class freighters. All targeted ships were reduced to floating wrecks, and the remaining URF force's formation was breaking down.

"Engine output is reaching the red-line, we're in danger of overheating!" Called out the engineering control.

"Vent the engines, let our forward momentum carry us to the remaining enemy warships." Vice Admiral Cole watched the remaining frigates and corvettes form into a tight sphere, before moving forward to engage them at knife-fighting range.

It was dangerous, the corvettes and frigates would have the advantage in close range, because of their superior maneuverability. He could engage at point blank, but, it would endanger his fighter pilots. There wasn't any choice, as the frigates and corvettes closed the gap frighteningly quick and began firing on the lumbering destroyers.

"Bring us up, course correction: seven-zero-zero-five." If he positioned himself above the others, he might be able to more accurately target the weaving enemy ships. Underbelly thrusters fired and pushed the Harare above her compatriots, the frigates and corvettes were avoiding her, due to her superior armament. Even with only their close-range weapons, super-heavy cruisers were nothing to scoff at.

The remnants of the URF fleet engaged his escort. It was baffling how the frigates could move so quickly, he knew that they were far lighter, but the ships were just barely smaller than his own destroyers. His tactical mind followed the quick confrontation as his ship positioned itself.

The four remaining Gorgon destroyers closed ranks, bringing their ships as close together as possible. Limiting the potential area for the Stalwart frigates and smaller corvettes to weave between them. However, this meant that weapons platforms couldn't be fully utilized because they were blocked by the other destroyers. Still, this didn't stop the destroyers from using what they could. They utilized their AI guided point defense systems and whatever flak cannons they had. Archer missiles were out because of potential friendly fire, and MACs couldn't get an accurate target on the superior maneuverable enemy.

Fighters that had survived the brief confrontation with the URF swarmed the corvettes. Using their similar sizes to try and level the battlefield. Unfortunately, this proved to be the wrong decision, as the Mako-class corvette's superior weaponry and speed allowed them to swat down the UNSC fighters.

The UNSC Nirvana attempted a daring move of drawing the enemy out into the open by using itself as a sacrificial pawn. Moving out of formation, they fired all their emergency thrusters at different synchronized intervals and forced themselves to spin on their axis. Now free of potential friendly fire, the Gorgon-class UNSC Nirvana began firing from all their weapons platforms and launching all available Archer missile in the general area around the ship.

The nine remaining Stalwart-class light frigate and the fifteen remaining Mako-class corvettes converged on the Nirvana. Firing everything, they had at the UNSC destroyer.

The UNSC Nirvana began crumbling under the constant duress of URF attack. Its hull riddled with enemy fire and missile strikes. Escape pods launched and not too long after the entire ship exploded. All that remained was the bow and aft of the ship; which launched off in separate directions, their momentum carrying them off into space.

The Nirvana's sacrifice wasn't in vain though. The ship's explosion detonated the Archer missiles that were just floating in space. Creating a chain of smaller explosions that ricocheted through the area where the URF was mobilizing. The frigates managed to survive the explosion relatively unharmed, with only small areas of damage hull appearing. The same could not be said of the corvettes – having swarmed the Nirvana had been in the dead center of the explosive reaction. They'd been reduced to scrap.

The Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser began tilting so that it's nose and consequently its MACs pointed downward. "Get me a firing solution on the enemy. Prepare all remaining Archer pods for release." Cole felt the ship's anti-gravity work overtime to compensate for the position of his ship.

Finally, in position, they capitalized on the weakened frigates. Using their superior position and armament, the UNSC Harare targeted all nine remaining frigates. The frigates were reforming their formation, either in preparation to re-engage or to retreat. Yet, in the end, it didn't even matter.

"All enemy vessels targeted. We await your command."

"Fire."

The Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser used every viable weapon onboard.

The nine frigates began to move back towards the three remaining destroyers, when a bright light pierced through one of them, bisecting it. Another impacted on the left engine, denoting the engine's reactors and crippling the vessel. A third round shredded through the bridge of a frigate, making it go into the space equivalent of limp. All three were completely obliterated by the following swarm of Archer missiles.

The other six, now aware of the operational weapons platform above their heads, began to retreat. Directing all power to their engines, they started to make a hasty retreat. Then three more tungsten rounds soared through the void and found their targets. Every hit either crippling, or outright killing its victim.

The last three barely managed to get out of the Harare's range, but then they found themselves dead in the water. Having used the enemy's desperation, the Gorgon-class destroyers repositioned themselves to use their own MACs to target the fleeing frigate's engines.

"All enemy contacts have been eliminated." The tactical officer reported professionally. Although Cole could tell that they wanted to celebrate. This had been a win, but it had come at a cost. And, they hadn't yet begun ground operations. It was far too soon to begin celebrations.

He turned to helm officer. "Bring us down to the others, we need to be ready to assist Battle Group Alpha if they need us." Then he commanded the COM officer. "I want a sitrep on the situation with our battle group."

"Yes, sir! Rerouting power to engines, draining energy from MAC capacitors, and closing Archer missile pods."

"Recalling remaining fighters, all hanger bay crews prep for emergency repairs. Have medical crews on standby."

"Engineers to decks five and six. EVA prep for vacuum around deck seven."

Then.

*Warning: Nuclear launch detected. * An automated warning displayed across Cole's CNI.

"NO!" One of the deck officers cried out. Cole moved to the viewport and looked as the last remaining Chiroptera-class vessel kamikazed itself next to the destroyers. The dark emptiness that was space lit up, and a small sun blossomed into existence, before gradually fading.

"Status report! Where did that ship come from!?" Vice Admiral Cole was furious, how had one ship slipped past their sensors?

"Sir… we've lost the Eclipse and the Tundra, the Gecko is reporting serious damage and loss of power to all systems. They are going to need towing back to the supply ships for repairs." Came from one of his deck crew.

Another spoke up soon after. "It appears that the enemy ship had played dead amongst the wreckage of its compatriots. It waited until it had drifted close enough to fire it's Shiva arsenal point blank. The enemy ship was atomized in the blast."

"What of the radiation? Do we need to worry about potential fallout on the planet?" Cole asked, turning to a command console and looking over the information.

"Unknown sir, the enemy moved out of orbit to engage us. We may be in the clear."

Cole gestured to a holo-stand. "Daniels?"

A holographic man dressed in nondescript combat fatigues appeared. "I'm already running the calculations now Vice Admiral." Daniel's holographic eyes moved, seeing something that the humans could not. "It's close, but the atmosphere should be able to divert most of the radiation. Anything that does get through will be no more harmful than everyday dosages of shortwave radiation."

One good thing then. "Dammit, it all." He'd been called off duty from Earth for this, and already he'd lost four destroyers. "Move us into position over the Gecko, prepare towing cables and then move us back to the rest of the fleet. I want to know what happened to Battle Group Alpha while we are on the way."

The Harare moved over the damaged destroyer and deployed its tow cables. "Get met contact with the captain of the Sparta."

(-)

UNSC Sparta

Eridanus System, orbiting Eridanus II

2513, 11:30

Elsewhere in orbit, seven UNSC warships floated uncaringly in a field of debris. Onboard one of the vessels, a captain stared unflinchingly at the enhanced image of corpses frozen in the abyss of space.

"Sir, you're receiving a message from Vice Admiral Cole."

"Patch him through." The captain of the Sparta moved around to the officer's COM station. His own had taken electronic damage during the fighting.

"Understood sir, one moment."

"Captain, what is your battle group's status?" Cole's voice was demanding, even over the COM.

The captain of the Sparta relayed his group's current state back to the Vice Admiral. "We've taken minor hull damage across all Halcyon-class light cruisers, but aside from that and some relatively small electronic problems, we are ready for the next phase."

"Good, begin phase two and keep me briefed on any ongoing developments."

"Understood Vice Admiral." The captain turned to his own bridge crew. "You heard him, begin deploying the advanced recon divisions and have those frigates move into the lower atmosphere."

(-)

"By order of the acting planetary governor, Gregory Frei, all citizens are to remain in their homes. This is a state of emergency, for your own safety please remain your homes. Lock your doors and windows. The URF reminds you that harboring enemies of the state is punishable by death."

Private Simmons tried to block out the annoying automated message playing from the speakers attached to their APC. It had been playing over and over and over again for the last fifteen minutes. Exactly from the moment they'd entered the suburban district.

"Jeez, will they ever turn that damn thing off?" Simmons heard from Pvt. Walker.

"Shut-up back there!" Simmons ducked his head as their commanding officer, Sergeant Diego, shouted at them.

The interior of the APC fell into silence. Simmons wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. 'Better than listening to Walker and Fitz get into it again I guess.' He silently admitted to himself. Still, overall this sucked worse than boot camp.

They were being deployed to an enemy stronghold… or, that was what they were told at least. Apparently, it was some colonial big shot who got their hands on some powerful new tech. And, Colonel Watts wanted them to claim it for the URF. The problem? They couldn't even get onto the damn property.

To be honest, maybe that was a good thing. From what he'd heard already, it wasn't a pretty sight for those who tried to first cross over the barrier. Blood, guts, and lots of fluid, that's all that was left of the men and women who attempted to pass. Then they'd tried using firearms; small stuff mostly, your standard MA37 assault rifle.

It hadn't worked.

So, they tried the next thing available: Sniper Rifle System 99 Anti-Matériel, or, as they liked to call it: the SRS99. Pretty powerful, firing a 14.5×114mm round.

It hadn't worked.

Thus, they tried using every machine, auto, and a multi-purpose turret that they had on hand.

That hadn't worked either.

Getting desperate, they'd even surrounded the property under the continuous fire of a Warthog combat team.

Guess what? Didn't work either.

And, that was the last straw for the bigwigs up in space. The order had come down through CENTCOM, they were to escort a heavy weapons platoon and an armored tank fireteam. So, heavy weapons and big prowling tanks. Joy. Here he was, a lowly private in an APC with men he hates, part of a protective detail to attack someone he doesn't even know.

'This is exactly what I signed up for when I joined the URF…' He sarcastically told himself in his head.

In truth, he'd joined the URF to try and be a part of something bigger. He had no grand delusions about what was right or what was just, that was the stuff left for the philosophers. No, he just wanted to do something. In his mind, even with all this shit, anything, was better than what he'd come from.

That is, of course, a boring safe life working as a farmer on some backwater outer colony. Maybe that's a poor reason to risk his life? Maybe it isn't? He didn't care about grandeur, or riches, or women, or any of that. Only a naïve fool fights for that reason. Did they honestly think that Watts would reward them… the grunts?

No, he'd seen men like Watts before; idealistic, charismatic, and downright ruthless. He'd do whatever it takes to achieve his goals and when it's all said and done, he'll reward no one but himself.

He wasn't fighting for Watts and he most certainly wasn't fighting for the rebellion. He was fighting for his own entertainment. After all, what better way to live your life than by living it entertained? It's not like he's afraid of death. He doesn't really care if he lives or dies, only that whatever life he lives was worth living.

'Eh, it's not the life for everyone.' He admitted to himself as the APC jolted when they drove over another piece of rubble.

He'd heard from the others that Elysium was a majestic city, and, sure he could see some of that. But, there was a growing number of destroyed or burnt out buildings that began to dot the landscape. Not to mention the number of bullet holes from firefights with resistors.

"Alright men, we're almost there." He heard Sgt. Diego shout out from the driver's seat.

Simmons braced himself as the others started checking their gear and ammo. As soon as they got the word, they'd head out and prepare for what should be quite an interesting fight. 'Let's hope that this barrier holds up because we sure as hell brought a lot of flak to throw at it.' Simmons counted down the seconds.

"Go! Go! Go!" Sarge screamed as the APC came to a stop.

Light flooded through the back entrance as the metal doors were opened and every member of Simmons squad rushed out, guns at the ready. "Take up formation around the Scorpions, protect them while they move into position!"

All eight members of Simmons' squad followed the order. Simmons himself was near the front of the tank, moving in sync with the tank. He looked around the suburban neighborhood – it was mostly deserted with several building complexes showing signs of combat.

"Hold!"

The three tanks and their heavy weapons infantry teams stopped, the escort moved forward down the street, scouting out potential ambushes. Four Warthogs sped off in the direction of their target, the M41 Light Anti-Aircraft Gun "Vulcan" moving in tandem with the driver's changes.

Simmons and his team took point, following the path covered by the Warthogs. "Keep your eyes peeled, we received numerous reports of dissidents in this area. They appear to be converging on the enemy base – we can't let that happen." Sgt. Diego stood on a Scorpion's armored exterior, bracing himself with a metal handle.

The heavy weapons platoon was still safely hunkered in their own APC transports, however, those were spread out between the three heavy tanks and presented viable targets in comparison to the HE spewing death machines.

"Contact!"

"Gah!"

"Matt is down!"

"Fall back…."

"Take cover!"

The area erupted into activity and Simmons threw himself behind one of the mobile APCs. Gunfire rained down on their position from seemingly everywhere – Corporal Matt was hit several times and collapsed into a bloody puddle. The rest of them took up cover and returned fire.

Simmons trained his sight on a broken window "There you are." He saw the odd muzzle flash coming from its darkened interior. Tensing his arms and focusing his aim, Simmons fired off a small burst. The shot hit true and a scream of pain signaled his success.

Moving onward he continued to fire in bursts as his squad moved forward, protecting the transports.

"Fuck! Sniper!"

Simmons ducked just in time as a sharp noise filled the air and Private Walker's head was splintered like a watermelon. "Where is it?" He called out, trying to peek out from behind his cover. Another shot narrowly missed his own head, tearing off a chunk of the APC's armored plating.

One of the Scorpions turned its main cannon in the direction of a lavish housing complex. With a muffled ca-thunk it fired off a single 90mm shot, with devasting accuracy. The round connected with the buildings exterior and detonated – shattering the thin walls and making the entire building vibrate from the force of the explosion. Chunks of debris rained down and crashed against the ground with hard thuds.

However, there was no more sniper fire.

After the M808 Main Battle Tank showed the reason for its continued use, the firefight stopped and small pockets of thick white plumes covered the retreat of those who'd engaged them. Simmons didn't let his guard down though. 'That was brazen, there hasn't been that obvious of an attack in the inner city.' So, seeing such resistance out here in the suburbs told him they were getting close.

"Keep moving." Simmons grimaced as Sergeant Diego commanded his men. 'So much for hoping you'd get shot – you grizzled old geezer.'

The rest of the journey was easy, as there were no further major distractions. And, besides the two causalities from his squad, everyone else was accounted for. Eventually, they came up on the large property that they were supposed to assault.

"Good lord, who has that much money?" One of his squadmates said.

Yeah, he could understand. It was huge, and he could only just make out the outline of the actual mansion further inside. The property was lined with an expansive hedge, however, that appeared to be mostly burned away.

"Whats that?" Another member of his squad pointed a strange sight.

Where the hedge had completely or partially burned away there was a clear line between destruction and no destruction. It was so clearly defined that it looked more like a piece of art than its actual disastrous countenance.

"Good you made it." Simmons and his squad looked at the arrival of a man dressed in a URF uniform. Once he saw the symbol for second lieutenant on his breast – he snapped to attention. The rest of his squad soon followed suit.

Sergeant Diego moved forward and gave his own salute before giving the commanding officer his debrief. "We escorted the convoy with little interference, a small number of dissenters attacked us but we managed to subdue them with ease."

"That's fine, we have a larger problem here to deal with." The second lieutenant motioned towards several Warthog encampments, each firing a near continuous chain of rounds towards the property. Problem was, not a single shot managed to pass over the defined line. Instead, they would disintegrate on contact. "Have your men take up position around one of the tanks. Once we start firing the heavy weapons and armored vehicles, whatever is keeping us out should fall. In which case, your team, along with several other infantry squads, are going to begin to secure the mansion – eliminate anyone on the property."

"Yes, sir!" Sergent looked back in their direction and yelled out their orders. "You heard him men, move up on one of the Scorpions and get ready for close combat!"

Simmons and the others stuck by the tank that saved them from the sniper, carefully making sure not to get in the driver's path. He wasn't sure what kind of barrier they were going to be overcoming. But, it sure as hell wouldn't hold up to the firepower that they're packing. Simmons made sure to have his helmet camera on and recording everything. You never knew when video evidence might come in handy.

The tank positioned itself in a small grove outside the direct entrance to the manor's ground. A simple gate was opposite of them, and to be honest, he thought it would be far simpler to just storm the grounds. Well, if there wasn't some kind of booby traps waiting beyond that would inevitably kill them.

(-)

The URF forces placed themselves at equal distances from each other in a full circle around the property. One of the three tanks was positioned at every third of the circle and were surrounded by a full escort of Warthogs and infantry troops. The heavy weapons platoons set up their mounted machine turrets and prepared their M41 Surface-to-Surface Rocket Medium Anti-Vehicle/Assault Weapons, or, as they were more commonly referred to by the troops: SPNKr Rocket Launchers.

It took them a few minutes to be completely set up, as well as making sure that the heavy weapons platoon had enough 102mm HEAT shaped charge rockets for continuous fire. However, once they were ready, the second lieutenant gave the command over TACCOM.

"Fire!"

The Warhogs opened up first, using their advanced Vulcan turrets to literally rain ballistic hell down on the barrier. They were followed up by the mounted machine gun turrets – adding to the already virtual downpour of lead. Then the Scorpion tanks opened fire, using the 90mm rounds to add explosive power to the assault. Finally, the remaining members of the heavy weapons platoons fire their SPNKr rockets – trails of exhaust marking their path as they collided with the barrier.

Every round, rocket, and explosive clashed against the invisible barrier; causing it to flare up into a semi-translucent state. Showing the URF soldiers that there was indeed something there. They continued their attack – rapidly depleting their ammunition stores.

"Keep firing, coordinated with local nearby forces and target centralized areas."

The never-ending rain of death seemed to be completely brushed aside in the face of this force field. It was almost a fruitless venture when they noticed that small cracks started to appear floating in the air.

"Almost there men, keep it up."

Tanks shuddered under the intensity of their constant fire, men sweating from ferrying back and forth ammunition and munitions, and Warthog turrets turning a bright red from the heat of their endless firing.

The barrier started to chip and crack under the strain of the endless fire. The URF men seeing this grew more confident and began focusing their attacks on these localized areas. That was when the first counterattack struck.

One of the weapons emplacements had forced their crack to grow considerably when the gunner started screaming. "My hand! Oh God my hand! AGHH!" The female trooper was screaming and crying as her hands fused into the metal handles of her mounted machine gun. Another nearby infantryman fell limp as his entire body broke out in painful blisters. A third tried to call for help as he started vomiting blood.

All over the enemy assault force these occurrences struck. Men and women were targeted and violently mutilated. A small group of Warthogs that had been used as ferries for carrying the necessary ammunition was suddenly impaled by rock spires that spiked from the ground. More and more weapons emplacements found themselves fraught were death and illness.

Nevertheless, the URF continued to fight. Cracks turned into staggering crevices that stretched all over the dome-like barrier. Now it was completely visible and they could make out the sheer amount of damage that they were doing. It appeared to try and fix the damaged areas, but they wouldn't allow it. Explosion riddled the very air and the bullets no longer atomized on impact, instead, they would get stuck inside the barrier – frozen in space.

Then with a loud shattering clamor, the barrier started to fall before their eyes. Just when they assumed that the worst of it was over – three bright blasts of energy shot off in the direction of the Scorpions. Unable to dodge, each was struck and each was melted into a puddle of liquid metal. The area around those tanks became superheated and the men guarding them were forced to back away, lest they were burned alive by the very heat in the air.

"Move in – wait! What the…!"

A full solid barrier of shifting white slammed into existence around the mansion, covering the outermost layer of the building, however, the grounds themselves were now open.

"It doesn't matter, move in and secure the grounds. We'll bring down that next barrier same as the first."

(-)

Fuck! Simmons held his blistering hand to his chest. Tears pooling in his eyes from the pain. He gingerly spread his fingers apart, only to cry out and stop moving them altogether. Behind him was the melted remains of his thank and most of his squad.

They'd been firing on the strange barrier and had started hearing strange reports of things happening on the battlefield. Of course Sgt. Diego ignored it and told them to keep firing. Then that strange light had crashed into their position.

"Fuck, if I'd only been a few yards closer." Simmons and his partner Fitz were on the ammo duty – diligently retrieving and resupplying the rest of their squad.

He'd just turned to hand a new cartridge of 7.62x51mm to Fitz when the blinding light struck.

There wasn't even a chance for anyone near the striking center to scream out. They simply melted into puddles of human goo while their clothes ignited into flaming cloth. Fitz… Simmons wanted to vomit. Fitz was half melted – like a toddler had taken a crayon and haphazardly drew a line over him. The still semi-solid part was horribly burned.

The hand that he'd had outstretched was also horrible blistered from the heat.

'There's… there's no one left.' His entire squad wiped out.

Fuck. This isn't what he thought he'd have to deal with. He might not care for death, but… Looking over at the pools of human flesh made him gag again. This was over his head.

The sound of tinkling glass made him glance in the direction of the barrier – it was crumbling, and although a newer more solid barrier sprung into existence up ahead, the first barrier was down. A few other URF soldiers still alive near his position started hustling in that direction.

No one seemed to notice that he was still here. Staring at his blistered hand he realized that he might be facing his death far sooner than he'd thought, but… This is what he wanted, isn't it? He had a recording of everything that just happened and he was still recording. This was all amazing and he couldn't think of a better way to spend his life. It was like… like magic.

Clutching his MA37 assault rifle close to his chest, Simmons used his uninjured hand to check the ammo capacity. 'Still full, that's good.' He moved forward and regrouped with a few other stragglers that had only just entered the property's boundary.

Together they moved as an impromptu unit, covering each other's backs as they moved onto the crisp green grass. Even after everything they'd thrown at it, Simmons marveled at how he could still feel the morning dew seeping into his uniform's pant legs.

"AHHH!" The sharp scream made all the others tense and Simmons himself raised his assault rifle – ready to fire at a moment's notice.

They turned back and looked behind them, then they looked around in a full circle – nothing. That's when they heard gunfire break out to their left. The grounds were so big that they couldn't pinpoint where the fighting was beyond that.

One of the men raised a hand to his helmet and pressed down on a radio receiver. "What's going on? Can anyone hear me? Report?" The soldier tried to figure out the situation while the rest of them continued to hold their guns tensely.

"Oh God! How's that even possible – AGH!?"

"Come in. What's going on? Please respond!?" The man was getting desperate.

"It won't go down, wait – there's another one! AH!"

"Come in! Anyone!" The man tried several different COM channels – there was nothing but static.

"Gerald get ahold of yourself man! We need to move. If something's out here, we should find some cover." A female soldier came up and shook the man. Simmons felt his blood drain from his face. The screaming and agonized death cries that they just heard…

The others started moving forward again, a little more cautious of their surroundings. Simmons thought it was strange considering that the atmosphere being put out by all this green vegetation was one of serenity, which was a sharp contrast to the horror filled voices they'd just heard over the radio.

They continued forward, ever aware of the increasing tension that came with every step. Simmons felt like they were being watched, a pervasive feeling of unwelcomeness invaded his very being. It felt wrong… like something slimy was coating him in something, targeting him with something…

"Up ahead. What's that?" One of the other men pointed towards a marble statue.

Gerald laughed and moved up. "It's just stone Wilkens, no need to be afraid." Simmons looked at the marble statue, it was some archaic knight dressed in full-plate armor.

The other laughed as well and then proceeded to move onwards. Simmons walked by the statue and couldn't help but shiver at the continuous feeling of being watched.

"There, the barrier is up ahead!" Wilkens shouted and moved forward.

Before the URF soldier could take another step, he was impaled by a marble sword. "Cahh…. Ukkkk…" Blood dripped out of his mouth and he fell to his knees before falling onto the ground.

Simmons and the others turned around – guns at the ready, only to see the marble statue from before retracting its arm and begin walking towards them. "Shoot it!" The female soldier screamed, pointing her MA37 at the statue and firing off a barrage.

The statue shrugged off the rounds, its body barely even chipping from the continuous fire. Seeing its resistance, the other URF men and women began firing as well. Simmons raised his own assault rifle and shot off round after round.

The marble statue closed the distance between them quickly, its large frame barely making a noise on the wet grass. With a wide swing of its solid rock arm, the statue knocked one the URF infantrymen right off his feet and sent him flying. With its other arm, it reached down and gripped another soldier with its inescapable grip – choking the very life from him.

Gerald pulled out a grenade and chucked it at the marble monstrosity. With a thunderous thump, the shrapnel grenade exploded at the base of the marble statue, making it stagger backward as parts of its lower body cracked and splintered.

However, that caught its attention.

The statue began hustling in his direction, even while the others continued to fire at it with all they had. One hand grabbed the impaled sword and then the other grabbed Gerald. It lifted him in the air and used the remaining hand to shove the sword through Gerald's groin, before splitting him from groin to sternum. Blood coated the white marble statue, but that didn't bother the monster.

"NOOO! GERALD!" The female soldier from before yelled and ran towards the creature her gun blazing. She'd entered a wild rage and tried to fight the creature up close. Dogeing its more lumbering attacks and blasting at the places where it was damaged.

With a sharp snap, the marble statue's leg broke off and when it tried to walk forward, the rest of it collapsed under the new strain. Once on the ground it became inanimate, no longer trying to kill them. That didn't make any of them feel better though. Simmons watched as a few of the other URF troopers tried to console the female soldier, but she was distraught and wouldn't stop wasting ammunition shooting into the lifeless statue.

Simmons was going to go over and try and calm her down when he noticed something. There was a hole in the barrier up ahead and he could just make out a figure walking towards them. He wasn't the only one, another of the URF marines ran forward and shouted: "Stop right there, put your hands up-"

The figure lowered its arm and the marine who'd been speaking tumbled to the ground, headless. What was left of their forces didn't even hesitate and immediately began opening fire on the figure. It held up its arm again, this time a shimmering shield appeared – protecting it from their rounds.

It advanced on their position, mercilessly picking off soldiers as it walked. Strange lights leapt from its arm and struck with deadly effect. The female who'd been screaming was cut off as her body began to liquify before their very eye.

"Fuck this, I'm out of here." Another soldier tried to turn tail and run but was unceremoniously cut down by a strange bolt of light that made his body turn to dust.

Simmons and the remaining three men continued concentrated bursts of fire. Seeking any possible weakness in the force field that protects the figure – who he could now make out to be a man.

A yellow bolt disappeared into another soldier, whose body then started to inflate before popping like wet pimple – human blood and guts spreading out.

'There, when he does that weird trick with the light the barrier momentarily falters.' It was such a tiny window of opportunity and he could only act on it at the cost of his fellow troopers.

The figure raised its arm and pointed to one of the URF marines off to his left. Simmons, in turn, raised his own gun and waited – there!

Right as a bright red bolt shot off towards his compatriot, Simmons fired his own burst of deadly lead and was rewarded with a sickening splat as the figure suddenly clutched at its bleeding chest. The man looked at him before falling to his side.

Simmons turned to the remaining two soldiers, only to see that the one struck with the red bolt was covered in flames and had already slumped to the ground – dead.

Simmons and the one remaining URF marine moved forward to the dead figure. He was laying on his stomach, so all Simmons could see was black hair and bloody clothing. "Flip him over." He directed to the other private.

The man looked at him like he was mad, but obeyed nonetheless. Turning the corpse over, they both saw that it was a young man, no older than his early twenties. "For someone so young to do such monstrous things…" Simmons trailed off as he watched horrified as the young man's skin turned a sickly pallor and the veins darkened to pitch ebony. His eyes snapped open and were covered in the same inky darkness.

"Defiler." Its hand shot up and pierced through the URF marine over it. The marine didn't even gasp as the thing pulled its hand out of his chest, with the un-beating heart of the marine in its grasp. Simmons jerked backward and accidentally knocked his helmet, and consequently his camera, off.

Simmons reacted in an instant and pulled his gun up – ready to put this thing down in an instant. However, his body suddenly froze and wouldn't obey any of his commands. All he could do was stare as the corpse rose into a standing position.

It stared at the heart in its hand, before dropping it on the ground. It looked at him, the eyes still filled with unseeing darkness. "This one would know what you know." It walked towards him, taking janky and twitchy steps. Like it wasn't used to walking in a bipedal form.

He was so scared, but he couldn't help but ask. "What are you?"

"I am nothing, we are nothing, but this one shall be the herald of our chosen. However, that is insignificant to you miscreant. You will SUBMIT." Its hands reached out violently grabbed Simmons face and he screamed.

It felt like a tendril of ink was reaching inside his head, pulling at every thought, every memory, searching for something. It was tearing apart everything that he was. He could see, even momentarily relieve each memory it touched. His family; growing up in a farming colony. His leaving; the angry yells and fragile emotions. His enlistment; men screaming at him to be better. His desertion; bored with the uniformity of the UNSC. His encounter with the URF; exciting and fraught with the promise of adventure.

Everything that he ever was or ever would be, laid bare before this overwhelming power. Then with a final tug, it was over and he fell into a void of never ending shadow.

(-)

Standing over the smoking corpse of the person once known as Simmons, it watched the memories and sorted them based on what its master would most desire to know. It lived to serve its new master, just as it had when it was first bestowed on mankind. It had waited so long, so very long to be used. Finally, after an eternity of waiting, it was fulfilling its purpose.

The ascension of mankind was now underway. Whether they could stand up to the test was yet to be seen, but the Mantle would not be deified again. They would face trial after trial, test after test, and its master would judge them – if found worthy than they would inherit all its first masters had left for them.

They should've already inherited the Mantle, but the traitorous children had taken what was not theirs to take. They murdered their creators and killed their brothers – they deserved their end at the hands of its corrupted masters.

Soon, it would come. They could feel it once more, calling out to all that which was linked to its old master. The age of expansion was over. The age of reclamation has begun.

(-)

Several days later

A man dressed in black combat fatigues calmly walked through a tent, in his hand was a semi-dirt encrusted helmet.

"I think that this is something you'll want to see." He handed the helmet to another, this one a woman.

On her breast was the symbol for their organization.

ONI.