Chapter 1

Chapter 1

There was an immense groaning of twisted metal, and the inner hull plating finally came lose in the Master Chief's iron grip. Eyeing his prize, he took a mental assessment of what lied ahead, and took a gander at his chances of survival.

As usual – slim to none.

So yeah, a basically good chance, he thought dryly.

"Chief, do I need to remind you that we're accelerating towards the Earth's atmosphere in a useless piece of metallic junk?" Cortana interrupted. "Or do I need to send a neural shockwave through your body to get you going?" Her voice was strained.

"Right. Sorry." He continued on with his grim task, eyeing the thick slab of metal gripped in his MJOLNIR gauntlets. "What do you think?"

He felt, rather than saw, Cortana making her calculations. "It'll have to do."

Thompson's voice buzzed in, barely filtering through the almost impenetrable static: ". . . don't have much time left!"

The Master Chief smacked his helmet, trying to get a better reception. "Say again, Thompson, I repeat, say again."

"Chief . . . running out of time . . . preparing to shoot . . . trying to . . . they think you're . . ." There was a click, and Thompson's voice buzzed out again.

He spoke to Cortana. "Any idea what that was about?"

She shook her head – an odd sensation considering it happened inside his skull – and said, "Too much static. Couldn't make out a damn thing . . ."

The Master Chief shrugged. "Hope it was nothing important –"

The ship suddenly violently shuddered, twisted, and practically rolled over. The Chief was sent spinning, and he collided heavily into a twisted steel bar hanging from the overhead. His vision going black with pain, he struggled to hear the words being shouted at him from inside his skull. It was Cortana.

There was a sudden sucking sensation. John felt himself begin pulled down the hallway into the blackness.

Cortana was shouting, her familiar voice cutting through the madness.

"John! Get up!"

"What's happened?" He shook his head to clear his muddled thoughts, and finally got his vision to focus. What John saw in front of him, he did not like very much. The blackness of space, like an open maw ready to swallow him up, was staring at him from down the ruined hallway. His body slid forward easily, as though he was a piece of dirt being picked up by a vacuum cleaner.

"What's happened? I'll tell you what's happened, Spartan." Cortana's voice was bordering on hysterical. She seemed to find the situation funny.

"I think a door's just been opened for us."

The Chief abruptly understood Cortana's plan. "And we're going through it." He gripped the thick metal in his hands even tighter. This was it.

Right back in the action. Smack dab in the thick of it.

Welcome home, he thought – and then ran straight towards the gaping hole, ready to be swallowed by the infinite darkness of space once more.

Throwing himself headfirst into the depth of a battle millenniums in the making, Spartan-117 jumped off the burning Ready at Dawn and prepared for war.

The Arbiter was troubled.

It had been several peaceful cycles since the end of the Human-Covenant War. The Covenant was now a thriving species, and helping their newfound human allies to rebuild their shattered world. It was a sight to behold.

But, he knew even then, that it would not last. And finally that dreaded day had come, when the bells of chaos would ring and darkness would spread over the horizon, once bright and hopeful.

Something had been spotted traveling toward Covenant space. The troops had been gathered, and all weapons were aimed at the sky.

Whatever it was, this spherical object, it had no idea of what lay ahead. It was about to match wits with the Covenant, which despite its heavy losses from the war, was still a force to be reckoned with.

"Come strange object." The Arbiter muttered to no one in particular. "Come face the Covenant, and face your doom." He smiled – as good as peace was, nothing could match the honor and feeling of being at war.

"Arbiter?" It was the Ship Master who had allied with the humans near the end of the war. "It is time. We must move out. The sphere approaches quickly."

The Arbiter nodded absentmindedly, his eyes still focused on the stars. "What is it?" the Ship Master asked, worried.

"He is alive."

"Who?"

"The demon." It was spoke with respect and not hatred. The Covenant now worshiped and revered the demon that had saved their species from destruction at the hands of the insidious Flood. A colossal statue was built in his image, and serves as a reminder that humans can be as noble and tenacious in combat as any Elite warrior.

"How are you sure?"

"I am not. I just know."

The Ship Master nodded. "We must go, Arbiter."

The Arbiter nodded, took his eyes off the stars and headed toward the banshee that would take him to the fleet waiting in orbit.

As they lifted off into the atmosphere, the ship rocked back and forth violently, and the pilot struggled with the controls for several tense minutes. Finally, he managed to get it under control, and the banshee sailed into space.

"Sorry about that, Arbiter. A storm is brewing."

The Arbiter nodded, deep in thought. "Yes", he said, eyeing the ready fleet waiting for his command, "in more ways than one."

It was getting a little toasty in the MJOLNIR suit, the Master Chief had to admit.

Clutching the piece of hull plating to his back, he twisted and aimed his back toward Earth. Cortana's plan was simple: the metal, which had been designed to withstand the extreme temperature and intense strain of re-entry would act as a buffer. The MJOLNIR suit could withstand the rest. Kind of like a falling brick.

Yeah, okay, whatever.

"So who's idea was this?" The Chief grumbled out.

"Don't be a smartass, Spartan. Just because I'm rerouting all energy to the shields doesn't mean I can't find some way to injure you. I am in your mind after all."

Something caught the Master Chief's attention. Something – huge.

A sphere.

"Cortana, what is that?"

Voice strained, she replied, "I really can't talk right now, John."

There was an explosion, and John's shield flared dangerously. Cortana cussed in the Covenant language. The Master Chief was amazed – he hadn't heard her do that before.

"What the hell was that?" she hissed.

Another explosion, and the metallic hull was almost ripped from John's grip. Then Thompson's voice abruptly broke through: " . . . can you hear me?"

"Read you loud and clear, Thompson", said the Chief.

"Thank God. I thought that they had already shot you down."

A pause.

"Repeat that, Thompson. You thought that they had already what?"

"They're firing at you, Master Chief."

"Why?"

"Well, they think you're some kind of falling object from that Precursor thingy."

The Master Chief suddenly knew that Cortana was listening in.

"Cortana? What's up?"

"Precursor . . . it sounds so familiar, I can't remember –"

BOOM.

Things were heating up. "We'll figure it out later", the Chief grunted out as the metallic shield he was gripping threatened to tear loose from his already crushing grip. "Let's focus on this first."

John couldn't help but glance at the mysterious floating sphere – bronze and decorated with symbols that were similar to Forerunner, yet wholly different. Incredible. He felt a growing sense of dread. His experience with the technology of long dead races wasn't exactly a fond memory he'd like to re-visit.

"Chief!"

The warning came too late. As he tried desperately to swerve to the side, a missile came out from the side and exploded. Pieces of shrapnel splashed all over his weakening shields. Cortana cussed in another different language.

The piece of hull ripped out of the Master Chief's hands.

Before the world turned to fire in front of his eyes, he muttered, "Out of the frying pan and into the friggin' fire."

Thompson tried to explain once more. "That is not a piece of debris falling from the Precursor spheroid! It is the Master Chief!"

The person he was talking to wasn't the Admiral, unfortunately. It was only Thompson, the Admiral, and few other people, who continued to believe that the Chief was alive.

The guy in the holoscreen wasn't one of them.

"We can't take any risks at the moment. It's a foreign object, and anything falling towards Earth must be taken as unknown and dangerous. Besides, the Chief's dead! Get over it already." He shook his head sagely. The guy was barely in his twenties.

Thompson wanted to strangle him. But then, suddenly a voice talked from off screen.

"I believe someone wanted to talk to me?"

The newbie went rigid for a split second, then stood straight up and saluted the newcomer. "Sir!"

"At ease, son." The aged and battle-hardened face of Admiral Lord Hood filled the screen. "Thompson. Talk about good timing. A mysterious unknown object appears nearby, and you call in saying the Master Chief is back."

Thompson was relieved. "Yes, sir, he's back."

"And we've been firing at him?"

"Yes, sir. I tried to tell them to stop but – "

Lord Hood waved his hand dismissively. "Don't blame them, it was on my orders. We've stopped firing for now. What's the Chief's situation?"

Thompson gulped. "Not good, sir. He jumped for it."

Lord Hood sighed. "Why does he always have to jump . . .?"

A voice shouted from off screen. "Sir, we have witness reports that something has crash landed in the Atlantic Ocean!"

Hood's voice was sharp. "What is it?"

The voice sounded incredulous. "They say it's a Spartan sir. Emerald green, almost seven feet tall, MJOLNIR suit. Says his designation is . . ." he gulped, "Spartan -117!"

"What condition is he in?"

"Not good, sir. His suit was badly damaged on re-entry."

Hood nodded. "That's to be expected. Luckily for him – and for all of humanity – we've got a fresh new one ready for him back at the lab. The techies have been working on that since he disappeared, just in case."

Thompson nodded, his mind distant.

"You'd like to see him, wouldn't you?"

He hesitated – then nodded, knowing it was no use. Lord Hood was notorious for being a good reader of emotions.

Hood chuckled. "Son, you just helped Earth's greatest hero make it back home in one piece. I'll send a Pelican over in an hour. Hood out." The holoscreen went blank.

Thompson immediately began to pack. His mission was over – the Master Chief had been found. He could go back to his wife, his old life, and meet his revered hero!

The day couldn't get better.

"Penelope!"

"Yes?"

"Help me pack our stuff! We're leaving!"

"They are sending emissaries over, Arbiter."

"Who is it?" He stood at the control deck, the holoviewer showing the Precursor Sphere as they had recently dubbed it. The science department had said that the markings on its surface were older than even the Forerunners. Thus, the name Precursor.

"Unknown. But the soldiers are having a riot over it. I can't get a decent answer out of any of them as to what they look like", said the annoyed Ship Master.

The Arbiter sighed and turned to head towards the docking bay. "Then, I will see to his arrival myself. It would be rude not to meet with a guest you invite into your household."

The Ship Master nodded in agreement. Then he called out, "Arbiter, wait!"

The Arbiter paused and turned around. The Ship Master handed a Covenant Carbine to him. "Just in case."

The Arbiter shook his head. "I will not need it."

The Ship Master looked surprised. "Oh? Trying for a little human diplomacy I see."

The Elite Energy Sword ignited in the Arbiter's right hand, its blade deadly and bright. "I will not need it", he said again, but this time with a feral smile. Human diplomacy indeed.

The Ship Master chuckled.

"Sir!"

"What", the Ship Master barked.

"The guests have arrived."

"I know that already", the Ship Master said, exasperated.

"No, sir. I mean that they have arrived here, at the control deck!"

The Ship Master and the Arbiter turned as one, and eyed the elevator door. It began to hiss open, revealing the occupants.

The energy sword came up in a defensive stance, and the Arbiter heard the click of Covenant Carbines being powered up all around him. He smiled slightly – it was good to see that despite the respite from war, Covenant soldiers were as able and efficient as ever.

The doors finally opened all the way.

The Arbiter's eyes widened. A collective gasp went up from around the word.

Silence.

The armored figures stepped through. It was unmistakable. That armor – shiny, glinting in the light. Helmeted heads. Almost seven feet tall. Some wore different armor from the others, but they all shared a common look.

To the humans, they were known as Spartans.

But to the Covenant . . .

"Demons", said the Arbiter. He deactivated his energy sword, and he heard others following suit with their own weapons. The Arbiter and Ship Master strode forward to greet the new visitors.

A tall blue one, stepped up from the group and examined them both, his head cocked slightly to the side.

A second passed.

Then he gestured at his Spartan group.

They all suddenly armed themselves with the weapons magnetized to their backs. The Arbiter stopped, confused. Then –

"FIRE!" shouted the tall blue Spartan.

And all hell broke loose on the command deck.

Illuminated Pen here. I apologize that this took so long. School's almost over, though, so you'll be hearing more from me soon. So just bear with me. Two more weeks, yeah! Read and review. Oh, and in case you don't get who the Spartan group is, it's the guys from the "Ghosts of Onyx" book. Just an idea I had that seemed interesting to me.