Chapter One- A Conflict of Interests

The battle was going badly. Staff Sergeant Michael "Ghost" Weiss

watched as a pair of F-99s streaked overhead vectored in by some navy tech

sitting safe on an orbiting prowler. The drone fighters banked in perfect

unison and their onboard cannons roared as they strafed the advancing covenant line. A hail of un-aimed plasma fire clawed at the fighters as they began to climb but they manage to escape reprisal.

Not that it mattered much, Weiss noted. The first wave was composed almost entirely of grunts. ONI xenology reports had noted the high fertility and reproduction rates of the methane breathing aliens. As near as Weiss could figure, killing the little bastards was probably doing the Covenant a favor.

He felt a hand at his shoulder. "Sergeant, shouldn't we move out?" Lance Corporal Clare Nelson gave him an anxious look. As far as Weiss could tell she was a good soldier with a promising future, assuming she survived long enough to be promoted. . She was a quick thinker, and sympathized with her fellow marines.

"Just give me twenty seconds." He said flatly. He thumbed the transmit switch on his radio. "Calamity Dog, this is Ghost, 2nd platoon forward recon has positive citing on Covenant front line. Advancing force is composed of grunts, approximate strength four hundred, light vehicle support, no triple-A. Requesting artillery fire mission pave medium at grid 4B, subgrid 1-3-2-D by 2-2-4-D, targets moving north northwest at five KPH. Over."

There was static for a moment, then, "Ghost, this is Calamity Dog, we have received your report but cannot, repeat, cannot comply. All artillery assets are currently tasked with supporting the 415th. Advise you use any practical means to slow the advance and then withdraw to firebase India."

Weiss' jaw clenched slightly. "Confirmed command, Ghost over and out."

He looked up at Clare. "Lets get back to the rest of the platoon. We'll dig in, burn through our ammo and then cut and run. Hopefully they'll think we're a larger force and hesitate."

"But won't they just charge us when we try to disengage?" Clare asked.

"That's what the land mines are for." Weiss said. They cut back through the ruined buildings of the Aldrin planetary spaceport, mostly cargo handling facilities, Lorelei was an agworld, the spaceport was as large as any found on Reach but there was only one terminal for handling passengers. The rest was dedicated to sending and receiving cargo. When a colony wide evacuation had been called the navy had commandeered a dozen modular heavy lift freighters to evacuate the colony's two hundred and fifty thousand residents. They sat on the launch pads now, half buried underground, skyscraper sized stacks of modular containers wrapped around a fusion engine. Civilians had flocked to the spaceport lest they be left behind.

If the colony had more time it might have been easier to repeat the stunt pulled at Harvest and launch the civilians into space using the planet's space elevator, but Lorelei's orbital tether was two thousand miles from the main population centers, at the heart of a continent sized farm. There was no way to organize an exodus on that scale, not with the Covenant making assault landings across the continent.

2nd platoon had dug into the ruins of the spaceport's administrative office. A squat two story concrete building that had been built back when the port had first been established. They sprinted across the no mans land separating the administrative building from a line of warehouses. As they approached Weiss studied his platoons handy work. The broad grass lawn surrounding the building had been torn up with explosive and planted with antipersonnel mines, the platoon had blasted holes in the second story walls to create a nest for the marksmen team, and a quartet of automated sentry guns had been setup covering key fields of fire.

"Sergeant." Corporal James Billinghust beckoned Weiss and Clare to cover.

"What's our status?" Weiss asked.

"We're dug in good, just like you ordered. Hogs are on the parking ramp behind the building."

Weiss took his binoculars and scanned the rubble again. Battalion-net had started tracking the formation as soon as Weiss had called it in. It wasn't the only major thrust hitting the marine line, a covenant armored column was advancing along the northern highway while elements of the 415th MAR dueled with a covenant mechanized force trying to push through to the civilian evacuation area. There were intermittent reports of jackal infiltrators throughout the spaceport and some large seismic readings were being registered from the south but dust and smoke from the fighting was making it hard for the satellites to get a fix.

"So what do we do now, Sergeant?" Corporal Billinghurst asked.

Weiss took a grenade from his pack and slipped it into the under slung launcher of his MA5B. "Near as I can tell we have about five minutes before a few hundred grunts start spreading themselves through this area. We're going to make them think we've moved up our defense perimeter. With any luck that will throw them off and give us a chance to withdraw. Are the wounded ready to move?"

Billinghurst grimaced, "Mathews and Polanski aren't too bad, we've got them strapped into passenger seats on the hogs with a couple of fresh mags. Mao has lost a lot of blood, he'll probably die if we move him, but he'll be dead for sure if we don't, he needs a corpsman."

"Right." Weiss grunted, "Corporal Nelson, your team is on point, forget fire discipline, I want suppression. Billinghurst, get the jackhammers up onto the second floor, your free to engage any vehicles or troop concentrations worth the ammo." He thumbed his mike to the all squads frequency, "Alright marines, we've got four hundred plus foot mobiles incoming right into our kill zone. We're going to hit'm hard as soon as they come into sight, make'm cautious, then pull out. Keep up the fire until your down to two mags or you hear the order to withdraw." A series of green blinking affirmatives appeared in the corner of Weiss's helmet visor.

Weiss settled into position and shouldered his rifle, looking out a rubble strewn hole in the wall. The distant crack of gunfire, the anxious rustling of marines, the doppler shriek of dronefighters and hornet jump jets were the only sounds.

There! Weiss took aim, a short, hunchbacked silhouette was hiding in the shadows of one of the warehouses, its nurvouse movements giving it away. He eyeballed the range at about two hundred meters, thumbed his rifle to single fire, took aim, and squeezed. The single shot echoed and the silhouette dropped. A moment later a hail of plasma bolts burst from the shadows. 2nd platoon answered with assault rifle and SAW fire.

The covenant soldiers began to flood from the buildings taking, advantage of their small stature to find cover on the rubble strewn tarmac. A charged plasma shot blasted a hole in administrative building's concrete facade while lighter shots ate away at 2nd platoon's cover. One unfortunate marine took a shot to the chest. The ablative plating of his combat vest might have saved him but the heat of the spent shot lit off the magazines in his ammo pouch. His body performed a gruesome dance macabre before falling over

A second marine died quick taking a plasma bolt to the head vaporizing his skull and sending his helmet flying out as shrapnel. Fire picked up as a pair of Ghost hoversleds appeared from behind a maintenance shed on the platoon's flank, the pilots tried strafing their position only to be taken out a pair of jackhammers. Another rocket shot from its tube, annihilating a pack of grunts trying to charge the platoons forward most position.

A respectable line of bodies began to build up around 2nd platoon's position, bullet riddled methane canisters popped on occasion and drew additional fire. Weiss estimated they inflicted ten percent casualties within the first two minutes. That would have been enough to freeze a marine battalion in its tracks but something had whipped the alien troops into a frenzy.

"Sergeant, fire team charlie is out." Corporal Nelson reported.

A spectre that had been laying down suppressive fire from a distance exploded as a jackhammer homed in on its white hot gun barrel. "That was our last rocket Sergeant." Corporal Billinghurst signaled.

"Platoon fall back by numbers to the hogs, we're moving out." Weiss emptied his clip into the oncoming tide of infantry, fired a rifle grenade for good measure, and bolted back towards the rear of the building. As he ran he heard alien screams as the advancing wave hit the minefield. The platoons Hogs sat on the access ramp to the building's underground parking bay. Weiss dropped into the passenger seat of the lead hog and slapped the driver on the side of the helmet. The marine stamped down on the accelerator and the hog fishtailed as it shot up the ramp. "Billinghurst, key the sentries." He shouted into his com. On his helmet visor the a quartet of lights blinked green as four sentry guns went live.

Over the wine of the hogs electric motors he heard the guns spin up. Each sentry consisted of an M41 chain gun mounted on a servo driven tripod, they were programmed to engage anything that entered their field of fire. The guns would run dry or the grunts would flank them and realize the marines had abandoned their positions. Either way it bought time for their escape.

"Calamity Dog this is Ghost, 2nd Platoon had disengaged enemy at forward point November, heading for fire base India, over."

"Ghost this is Calamity Dog, copy, your new orders are to reroute to the evacuation center and guard the evacuees. The time table has been moved up, we're getting everyone off this rock by sundown. Over."

A cold feeling gripped at his insides. "Why are we moving up the launch? Over."

"Calamity Dog copies, the seismic disturbances we've been detecting have been verified by drone flyover. Four scarabs on approach to your position with infantry escort, ETA thirty minutes, and that's just the lead elements." Weiss's mouth went dry. Scarabs were the covenants heavy hitters, even the lightest models could wade through heavy fire and packed enough weaponry to eradicate a UNSC tank battalion.

"Calamity Dog please advise, are units moving to delay the Scarabs?"

"Affirmative Ghost, THEY are on their way." The line went dead.

"They?" Ghost thought.

"Sierra-2-3, this is Calamity Dog, Scarabs are on approach, can you verify."

Silence for a moment. "Sierra-2-3 copies, approaching force confirmed, four Scarabs, staggered formation advancing on a northerly vector. Infantry support, one covenant infantry company, Grunt and Jackal formations with Elite support. Lead elements will overpass this position in ten minutes, over." Daisy grimaced inside her helmet as she watched the Covenant leviathans approaching, their armored limbs seemed to stab at the earth with each step dragging them inexhorably closer to their goal.

When the walkers had been identified, Vermillion team had been returning from a retrieval and demolition mission at an ONI NavSpecWep facility in the Planetary Capital. Their Pelican had been rerouted by ground command and linked up with elements of the 55th Engineering Battalion and 28th light infantry to delay the walkers advancing on the civilian evac point. Idealy the Spartans would have simply planted a tac-nuke or spotted for an artillery strike but neither option was on the table. The EMP from an atmospheric nuclear detonation could damage the civilian transports docked at the spaceport and the fleet was too busy getting its teeth kicked in to provide orbital support. All other artillery assets were either too light or tied up.

That left doing things the hard way. Daisy glanced over at her fellow Spartans, Isaac and Li. They stood out, all Spartans stood out from the the soldiers they served with. Seven feet tall and Clad in half a ton of olive drab Mjolnir tactical armor, they were unshakable monoliths amongst the merely human marines that they served besides, or at least, that was what ONI liked the public to think. If only it were true.

"So, Daisy, what do you think?" Isaac asked.

Daisy surveyed the ambush site, a flat plot of undeveloped land on the perimeter of the spaceport crisscrossed with half buried drainage ditches and overgrown with grass. The ditches formed a makeshift trench network that the marines and Spartans were exploiting to provide cover while the grass provided camouflage and combined with insulated camo sheets, broke up their thermal signature. "I think it reminds me of those old 20th century movies Chief Mendez used to show us as a reward when we were kids. All we need is an ice field."

"Ice would make this harder, we'd light up like torches on their thermals." Li said.

Isaac snickered and shook his head, "And once again it flies right over your head."

Li turned his head to stare at Isaac, his fellow Spartans new that beneath his opaque visor lay another expressionless mask.

The ground shook as the Scarabs drew closer. Daisy stiffened, "Heads up we've got trouble." She tagged a covenant troop formation screening the Scarabs on her HUD and sent the image to the other Spartans. "They're getting close to the marine positions."

The Spartans lay perfectly still as the advancing force passed the overgrown ditch where a marine fire team was lying in wait. The Covenant troops were confident, why wouldn't they be? I bet you think your the baddest mothers out here. Daisy thought, well, they were about to break the covenant of that misconception.

The rear Scarab crossed into the killzone, marine and Spartans sprung into action. A dozen jackhammer rockets smashed into the back legs of the rear Scarab causing it to stagger. A second flight concentrated on the already weakened joint, crippling one of the legs. The Scarab shuddered and began to turn to face its attackers. A phalanx of jackals wheeled back around and locked shields, advancing on the fire team's position.

At the same time marines positioned around the field started throwing off camo netting. The covenant infantry found themselves embroiled in an ambush. The marines of the 28th let loose with machine guns, assault rifles, and automatic grenade launchers, making quick work of grunts and forcing the Jackals and Elites into whatever cover they could find. Scarabs were nearly unstoppable juggernauts against armor and fortifications, but without an infantry screen they were as vulnerable to harassment as any tank.

A second Scarab peeled off from its cohorts and turned back to engage the marines on the ground. The Scarab's spherical head opened up and a spray of white light bathed the ditch line as it vented reactor plasma. There wasn't even time for the marines caught in the ditch to scream.

The lead walkers shrugged off sporadic small arms fire and continued on a straight line course for the evacuation sight, now stripped of their infantry cover. The two rear scarabs hunkered down and began hosing the marine positions with fire from their secondary turrets and main guns. The marines used the drainage ditches to evade covenant reprisal and concentrated fire on the damaged walker.

Daisy signed to Li and Isaac with two fingers and flicked her wrist down the drainage ditch towards the lead scarabs. Two green lights flashed affirmative in her HUD. The Spartans set off in a fast trot hefting satchels full of thermite charges and grenades. Daisy listened in on the marine battle net, it was vital the Scarabs remained uncoordinated, the whole plan depended on breaking off each Scarab and eliminating them in detail.

"This is Sergeant Presley, 3rd Platoon is combat ineffective, repeat, we have taken heavy casualties."

"Fire team Bravo, rockets expended, falling back."

A wash of static filled the radio, then, "Rear scarab is down but still firing, sappers, storm it with demo charges. Concentrate fire on the remaining Scarab in the kill box."

The lead Scarab crossed the drainage ditch ahead of the team and right into a waiting ambush. Charges hurriedly drilled into the tarmac by combat engineers detonated turning the flat surface into a broken field of concrete, dirt, and mud. The blast staggered the Scarab and did light damage to its legs but did little to slow it down.

"This is Wolloby team to Calamity Dog, charges have had negligible effect." A woman's voice crackled over the coms. "Will observe movements and continue to report in."

"Calamity Dog confirms Wallaby, Vermilion, I hope you can pull this off."

"The situation is well in hand." Daisy said. The second Scarab came into view and Daisy nearly froze in place. Up close it was immense, its bulk filling her field of view, each leg was over four stories tall and supported a body as large as a cargo shuttle. Her training took hold as she unhooked the rapid ascent unit from her pack. The small device consisted of a modified M67 personal grenade launcher, a spool of cable rated for six tons, and a high torque electric motor and gear box capable of pulling a ton and a half straight up at half a meter per second.

Deftly peeling the nonstick plastic cover from the adhesive round, Daisy took aim and fired. The adhesive activated on contact with air and formed a tight bond where it impacted with the Scarabs hull. Working quickly she secured the RAU to her chest, engaged the gearbox and began realing in the cable. Li swung above her as the Scarab took another step but managed to keep from tangling in her line.

They reached the scarabs underbelly and set quickly to work shimmying across the hull to the walker's side. Schematics of destroyed Scarabs had identified no significant weak points, even the vehicle's joints were robust by virtue of size. However, the hinges and locking mechanisms of the rear crew hatches, protected in armored alcoves, were comparatively thin.

A horn call blasted over the Scarab's external speakers and the walker bucked violently, nearly flinging Daisy off before Isaac grabbed her arm and pulled her up onto the top deck, the scarab squatted and shook again, trying to fling the Spartans from its deck.

"Looks like they know we're coming." Li said.

"Good thing we brought the party favors." Isaac hefted his satchel of explosives. Plasma fire stitched along the hull forcing the three to take cover around a crew hatch. The lead Scarab was attempting to dislodge them.

Daisy looked over the locking mechanism and set to work placing thermite charges on the hinges and locking mechanisms. A few seconds to prime the magnesium fuses and she shouted "Clear!". Even in their armor the Spartans cringed away from the white hot chemical reaction that proceeded to burn its way through the door.

Isaac delivered a solid kick to the ruined hatch knocking it inward and then ducked back into cover as a stream of plasma bolts burst from inside. Daisy clenched a fist and Li tossed a grenade through the hatch. Alien chattering came from inside and then a dull wump followed by screams of pain. Li followed the first grenade with two more, waited for the twin explosions and then swept in with his shotgun. Daisy followed shouldering her assault rifle and Isaac took up the rear.

The inside of the Scarab was cramped, packed with the machinery necessary to support the huge vehicle. The first corridor was filled with the mangled remains of its crew. Mostly grunt gunners and technicians. An elite appeared from behind cover and fired a burst of plasma fire, the shots seared bulkhead paneling and blew out control panels. A shot impacted daisies shoulder spinning her sideways and causing her to hiss in pain as the heat from the shot burned through to the armor's gel layer, scalding her skin. Li stepped out of cover and caught the Elite in the face with a shotgun blast, overloading its shields, he quickly stepped inside the Elite's reach as it stumbled backwards and delivered a spear hand blow to the throat, crushing its wind pipe and leaving the alien to strangle.

A pack of grunts tried to ambush them at a T-junction, most likely the surviving members of the Scarab's gunnery crew. A well tossed grenade and a quick burst of assault rifle fire ended them quickly.

"Which way from here?" Daisy scanned the junction, from memory the top level was the gun deck, weapons were managed from here, the lower level housed the main reactor and cockpit.

Li pointed down the corridor leading to the Scarab's starboard side. A second T-junction led to a ramp that descended to the control deck. More plasma fire shot up from the lower deck and was met by another pair of grenades and a blind burst of assault rifle fire. Li snaked a fiber optic cable around the corner and signaled clear. Daisy and Isaac took the lead and halted at the bottom of the ramp, Isaac held up three fingers, scissored his index and middle finger together and then spread them apart.

Daisy counted to three and then swept around the corner. An Elite swiped its arm at chest height. Daisy ducked and used her momentum to perform a roll, narrowly missing the energy blade that would have otherwise disemboweled her. She spun round took aim and and managed to squeeze off two shots before leaping backwards to avoid a downward swipe. She deflected a second strike with her rifle, out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of her team mates struggling with a second Elite. That was all she had time for before her attacker launched another quick series of attacks. The alien didn't let up the pressure, it knew its fellow wouldn't last long two on one and needed to finish her before it found itself in an unwinnable situation.

Daisy was running out of room to backpedal, she brought her rifle up in an overhead block catching the Elite's bone crunching strike at the wrists. The rifle buckled in her hands, nearly splitting in two. You've got to be kidding. A quick kick to the stomach drove her back. Daisy pressed herself against the bulkhead. The Elite was damn good with that sword, maybe there was a way to use it to her advantage. Slipping a hand behind her back, the Elite hesitated, cautious now that its prey was cornered. She found the pouch she wanted and in one smooth movement, chucked it at the elite.

The Elite blocked reflexively, the energy sword neatly bisecting the object. It had been a mistake. The rifle magazine went off like a case of fire crackers as the confined plasma of the Elite's sword superheated the shell casings. The Elite roared in surprise, mandibles flying open and staggered back giving Daisy time to draw her sidearm. Six shots to the chest overloaded the Covenant soldier's portable shield. A seventh shot was deflected off the Elite's shoulder armor as the alien dropped all pretense of subtlety and simply tackled her into the bulkhead. The impact stunned her and she felt something in her shoulder crackle unpleasantly, her left arm fell limp.

The elite batted the M6C pistol from her hand and drew its sword back to deliver a stabbing blow through the visor of her helmet. The Elite paused, blinked curiously and then fell to its knees arms going limp, mouth open wide in surprise. The alien didn't let out a sound as it collapsed dead from the combat knife buried in its back. Isaac stood over the dead creature, "You okay?"

"Few bruised ribs, dislocated my shoulder, otherwise I'm fine." Isaac felt her limp arm gingerly causing her to wince in pain, "Not dislocated, feels like you fractured something, probably can't feel it through the adrenaline." Daisy nodded as Isaac removed a thin canister from his pack and slid its needle thin nozzle into a valve on the shoulder of her armor. She grunted slightly as the biofoam spread through her shoulder and quickly set, the foam would degrade later or be flushed from her system with a solvent, in the meantime it gave her back the use of her left arm, she rotated her shoulder stiffly and flexed her fingers.

"Okay I'm good." She said, taking a spare magazine and reloading her sidearm, she also removed the dead Elite's sword and holstered rifle. "Let's go."

The Spartans trooped down the corridor with Daisy bringing up the rear, the Elite at the control station looked up from the ring of displays surrounding his seat as they entered the walker's cockpit and Isaac shot it out of hand before it had a chance to activate its shields. They felt the Scarab lurch to a halt.

"That takes care of that." Daisy said. "Isaac, set the charges on the reactor." She keyed her com and suddenly was flooded with background noise. "Calamity Dog this is Sierra-2-3, target two has been neutralized, will scuttle scarab and withdraw to friendly lines, over."

"Sierra-2-3 this is Calamity dog, that is a negative on withdrawal, target one is still advancing and target three has decimated the ambush team, advise you to attempt a delaying action." The radio crackled.

"Will we be receiving additional support? Over." Daisy asked.

"No assets can be spared at this time. Over."

Daisy bit her lip, "Affirmative Calamity Dog, this is Sierra-2-3, over and out."

"We don't have the firepower to bring down two more scarabs." Li said.

Daisy's eyes drifted to the control console where the alien pilot still sat limply. "Well, actually, we do. Isaac, forget the charges."

"Daisy, your not thinking of . . ." Isaac began.

"She is." Li finished matter of factly.

"This can't possibly work." Isaac said.

"What makes you so sure? We've run the simulations on covenant equipment before." Daisy said as she began tugging at the dead pilot with her good arm, Li took the dead alien by the armpits and lifted it bodily from the pilot's seat.

"Those were ghosts and banshees, not a Scarab." Isaac countered.

"How different can it be?" She said sarcastically as she settled into the pilots seat and scanned the controls for any familiar symbols. An uncomfortable sense of deja vu came over her as she began keying in commands. The phenomena had been reported by virtually every UNSC soldier that had used Covenant equipment. A strange sense of familiarity and an intuitive grasp of controls. The best theory UNSC scientist had was that using the broad sample base of intelligent minds available to it, the Covenant had developed a symbolic language that was intuitive to any intelligent species. Daisy didn't know if she bought that sketchy line of reasoning, but whatever caused it sure was convenient.

Screens flickered to life showing external views of the Scarab's environment, they had come to a halt amongst the hangar bays used to service and maintain atmospheric aircraft and shuttles. A small metallic sphere jutted from the center of the console at waist height. Taking a guess Daisy lightly cupped the sphere in her hands. A holographic overlay appeared over the sphere, she took a breath and rotated her hands forward, the holographic overlay followed her hands and the Scarab shuddered into motion. She tried twisting one hemisphere back slightly and the scarab began to list to the side. Beneath her helmet Daisy grinned. "I think I can manage this, it looks like path finding is automated, the pilot just tells the Scarab which way to go and the onboard systems handle the rest. Li, Isaac, man the guns."

Her fellow Spartans gave small nods and retreated up the rear ramp to the fire control stations. "Calamity Dog, this is Sierra-2-3, we have commandeered a Scarab and are in pursuit of target one."

There was a long static filled pause, "Uh, Sierra-2-3 can you repeat that last message."

"Repeat, Vermilion team has acquired target two and is moving to engage target one from behind, please update our IFF."

"Uhm, right, very good, please proceed on a direct northerly heading at best speed. Be advised, do not attempt any shots that might hit the transports."

"Affirmative Calamity Dog, Sierra-2-3 over and out."

On the main display hangars gave way to more open tarmac. The lead Scarab had built up a respectable lead in the time they were stopped but it was still within firing range. "Li, Isaac, have either of you found anything that looks like the fire control for the main gun."

"Negative here." Isaac said.

"The same." Li replied. "The controls may be on the pilots console."

If I were designing a giant walking death machine I'd put the main gun controls right about, here. Daisy hit a holographic symbol that vaguely resembled a bullseye. A whole line of symbols changed and crosshairs appeared at the center of the main monitor. A little experimentation revealed that the crosshairs were aligned by way of a second holographic display to the right of the main console.

"Now here goes nothing." Daisy closed her hands around the control sphere and a jet of plasma shot out burning into the rear legs of the lead Scarab. The machine fell forward before its pilot corrected and began ponderously turning his vehicle to face the unexpected attack. The Covenant Scarab opened fire with it top mounted secondaries rocking the Spartans' machine and scouring the armor.

Daisy set her scarab in a crab walk that carried it behind the cover of burnt out warehouse. "Isaac, Li, we need our turrets online or we're going to be out gunned."

"We've got it figured out." Isaac assured her, "Just get us an angle."

Daisy pushed the controls full forward, driving her Scarab through the ruined warehouse. Aluminum girders snapped and walls disintegrated in clouds of wood splinters and gypsum. Their Scarab erupted from the ruins and came face to face with its sister walker.

Secondary cannons opened fire as the two machines advanced. There was no finesse in how the Covenant crew handled their vehicle. It occurred to Daisy that the Covenant may never have considered the possibility that a Scarab might be hijacked. It would be like a shuttle full of Indies stealing a Marathon class cruiser. The Spartans could use that to their advantage.

"Brace for impact!" Daisy shouted and moved the Scarab into a charge. The starboard side of the Spartans' Scarab crashed into its opponents front leg, metal shrieked as the limb was pushed up and back before yielding under the terrible strain. On her monitors Daisy could see the limb was still semi functional but clearly damaged. The Covenant pilot managed to keep its machine balanced. Spreading the three good legs wide the Covenant Scarab's main gun unhinged and began to glow.

That's new. Daisy thought and shoved the controls to the side just in time to evade a bolt of white hot star stuff. The bolt boomed past the Spartan Scarab and smashed into the ground ten kilometers away generating an impressive fireball and a small mushroom cloud.

"Concentrate fire on the main gun." Li shouted.

Daisy took a second look at the symbols that had appeared after activating the main gun. The ten little symbols that would probably lead to their own further series of menus. The Spartans were at a disadvantage in this fight, the Covenant Scarab was fully manned and its crew had an intimate knowledge of its capabilities. Having nothing to lose Daisy started tapping tiles picking one then another, more by feel than any logic. The first menu shared symbols with the target selection controls on a banshee, she keyed her way back to the main menu and went through a few others. most of the menus appeared to be for more technical adjustments to the weapons. The Scarab rocked again under fire. The Covenant Scarab's main gun was a charred ruin and its damaged side had faired little better. If the displays were saying what she thought their own machine was doing even worse. The Covenant gunners were concentrating fire near the joints, probably trying to burn through the power junctions.

A final key command caused the targeting crosshairs to change shape. Daisy clamped her hands together and hard a loud whine as capacitors built up a charge. On the main monitor the Covenant machine did something she hadn't believed possible. It jumped. Daisy's shot passed safely beneath the Covenant machine as it rocketed into the sky on some sort of anti-gravity system. She twisted back on the controls hastily backpedaling just before the Covenant machine came crashing down on their position. The walker's damaged leg gave way under the landing and the machine sank nearly to the ground. Daisy took the chance and advanced full speed. Her Scarab registered the fallen machine as an obstacle and climbed over it. Fifteen hundred tons of war machine supported on needle thin legs impaled the weakened forward section of the Covenant walker. Daisy turned around, took aim, and fired the main gun. The scarab was blown in half in a brilliant flash of white and blue, fragments of armor and weapons were hurled high into the air.

Daisy leaned back and took a deep breath.

"Damn," Isaac said, "This really is like that old movie."

"It was the third one." Li said.


"They stole the walker in the third movie. The ice field was in the second."

"Sierra-2-3, this is Wallaby team, confirmed target one destroyed, I like your work, Spartans." The female voice from earlier came over the coms.

"Affirmative Wallaby team. Anything to report on target three?"

"We lost it in the smoke earlier but the drones caught sight of it diverting to some sort of large trench just a few seconds ago, looks like its trying to bypass your position and link up with the main armored thrust before advancing."

Daisy brought up a map of the spaceport on her HUD. "It's a large gauge rail line used for moving ships to and from the launch pads." Daisy said. "Vermilion team will intercept."

"Sierra-2-3 this is Calamity Dog, belay that, 2nd Battalion of the 415th is moving down the North-10 highway with the last of the civilian evacuees, Scorpion and Python units will break off and engage the Scarab. Vermillion team, you have a new mission, a tier one asset has been reported missing from the the evac sight." An image file blinked up in Daisy's HUD showing a dark skinned woman with black hair done up in short spikes. "This is Doctor Annea Zan, she's a civilian contractor working for ONI. She was escorted to the spaceport by a squad of ODSTs before the fighting started. Doctor Zan disappeared about the time the Covenant started landing troops at the port."

"A kidnapping?" Daisy asked. It didn't seem likely, the covenant were likelier to feed a prisoner to the jackals and their few reported attempts at interrogation had been clumsy at best.

"Not likely." The voice on the other end of the line gave an exacerbated sigh. "We think she bolted when she heard the time table for evacuation was going to be moved up. We believe she's attempting to retrieve her research data. Priority cargo was being housed at the trans shipment hub. It's outside our defensive perimeter and we've had intermittent reports of jackals and Elite rangers in the area."

Daisy checked her map of the spaceport. The shipping hub was situated about half a kilometer from the launch pads, a large hexagonal building with roads spanning out from it in a radial pattern.

"Affirmative, Vermillion team will get it done." She said.