Disclaimer: Since a grave error on my part was pointed out, let me make the record clear one last time – I don't own the Halo franchise or anything associated with it (that right belongs to Microsoft and Bungie) bar all the games, some novels, and this fic. Furthermore any similarities between this fic and any other Reach fic/Noble Six tributes out there are completely unintentional.
A/N: Thank you, Ghostreaper181 and Akatsuki Leader13 for pointing out the gaping flaw in the disclaimer, and also for the metaphorical kick in the pants.
To all who have kept track of this fic, sorry for the delay; between the Truth and Reconciliation level itself and real life, writing this chapter's been a long, slow ride these days. I appreciate your patience. This is the part where things start changing, and it's also the last chapter with Master Chief's direct involvement.
And the hits are now over two grand! All reviews have been replied to, all 'legal' issues resolved; let's see where this goes, hmm?
FYI: "This" is COM chatter, This is thoughts and ship names; This is emphasis.
Halo Reach: Noble Legacy
Chapter 3: The Truth and Reconciliation
"The enemy has capturedCaptain Keyes, and are holding him aboard one of their cruisers; the Truth and Reconciliation." – Cortana, "Halo: Combat Evolved"
(September 19th 2552, 8 PM [Mission Clock], Pelican Echo 419 in-flight)
"Are you all right, Lieutenant?"
Melissa-312 blinked, shaking herself from her musings, and looked up at the Master Chief – knowing that a lesser human would have flinched at being surprised so easily.
"I wish I could say I was, Chief," the Spartan-III replied, thankful the conversation was going over the Spartans' TEAMCOM instead of the group's, "Keyes' capture by the Covenant hit everyone hard, once it was confirmed."
"We have a chance to get him back, though," the Chief retorted calmly, "Can I count on you to help me again?"
"You can always count on me to back you up, sir," Melissa replied, "You and Cortana are my friends, few though they are – and no matter what, I never abandon my friends."
"That's great and all," Cortana shot back wryly over the Spartans' TEAMCOM, "And I for one am rather grateful – but what the big guy here means is are you okay to continue the mission? You helped us once, back on the Autumn, and hopefully you'll help us again; but we can't really turn back now, Sierra-312, and we don't have time to play psychiatrist."
"I'll be fine, Cortana," the Spartan-III replied wryly, "Don't worry about me," her expression darkened behind her armor's black visor, though both Chief and Cortana noticed somehow as she continued.
"Worry about Keyes – and especially about the Covenant we meet en route to him."
"Understood, Lieutenant," Cortana nodded – or would have, had her avatar been active. The Smart AI's presence in Melissa's mind – however temporary it had been – had given her tremendous insight into the now-former Noble Six; she knew that if Melissa said she was okay, she meant it.
However, Melissa also held a great deal of anger towards the Covenant for their part in Noble Team's destruction; both she and Cortana knew that. And the Truth and Reconciliation had been present at Reach...
Cortana was curious; would the Lieutenant let her rage consume her better judgment? She filed the thought away for future analysis and began her situation report.
"Let's give them hell, Spartan," a gruff voice replied quietly from next to the Spartan-III, as Cortana gave her sit-rep.
"Sergeant Myers?" Melissa hissed as her attention locked onto her newest friend – who was clad in standard ODST Battle Armor, tailor-made for what Melissa suddenly noticed was one robust body for a regular human; seven feet tall, and 300 pounds of nothing but muscle. Even with his above-average height, as he and Melissa-B312 listened to Cortana's sit-rep with one ear each, Myers still had to look up a little to lock visors with the Spartans, given that in-armor they were almost a foot taller than him.
"Don't look so shocked," the Sergeant replied wryly in a low undertone, "I volunteered for this – despite Parker already being here – once I heard you were part of the unit dropping in; I figured you could use a little extra personal backup, even if it is second-best compared to a Spartan. Wes is doing something similar for your friend Kat; we both cleared this plan with her first."
"You two just didn't want to miss the action," Melissa teased, looking at the Marine and de-polarizing her visor completely to reveal a pair of eyes as blue as the purest ocean, shining with amusement, "And I guess they found an ODST battledress in your rather muscular size."
"I used mine, actually – found it stored in Echo 419 after we hit landfall, luckily enough – and Wes and I didn't want to leave our friends, Melissa," the Sergeant retorted calmly as he de-polarized his own visor and locked eyes with the Spartan-III, "Or Captain Keyes. The lot of you are too important, to the crew and to both of us." The Spartan-III didn't know just how her eyes affected Sergeant Myers – though she knew how much his own dark brown (nearly black) eyes affected her. Thankfully the others aboard the Pelican were listening to Cortana, and thus completely ignored the byplay between the Spartan-III and the Sergeant.
"Be prepared to back us up alongside Parker and the others, then," Melissa ordered, re-polarizing her visor to its standard dark black and checking that her sniper rifle, assault rifle and sidearm were in place, "The Chief and I will be taking point on this one."
"I understand, Lieutenant; good luck."
"Good luck to us all, Sergeant; stay sharp, ok?"
"Always, ma'am," the Sergeant nodded, re-polarizing his own visor after checking his own gear.
"Hit it Marines; go, go, go! The Corps ain't paying us by the hour!" Staff Sergeant Parker bellowed. The ODSTs' leader for this mission, Parker looked like a slightly younger version of Staff Sergeant Johnson – Melissa recalled that as she saw the Staff Sergeant at Alpha Base earlier in the afternoon, her mind flashed to one of her late childhood friends, a young boy named Dan – who would have likely looked like Parker had he lived until then.
The Spartan duo and ODST squadron exited the Pelican at best possible speed; the ODSTs moved to stand in a circle, facing outward as the Master Chief and B312 headed to a rudimentary sniper post up ahead, with Melissa engaging her armor's photo-reactive panels for additional concealment.
The group of soldiers had just finished taking out the first line of defenses between their LZ and the Truth and Reconciliation's gravity lift. As Myers took point among the ODSTs and the Chief took point among the entire group, the troops were moving up the slope when-
"Stop," Cortana ordered; the group froze at that command, "Motion tracker shows movement around the next bend."
"We'll advance on your orders, ma'am," Sergeant Myers replied calmly and quietly, "You concur, Parker?"
"I do – good luck, Spartans," Parker added, "We'll be here when you need us."
"Give us a minute to clear the path ahead," Melissa-B312 grinned after pulling a fiber-optic cable back, disconnecting and replacing the gear in her belt before taking hold of her Sniper Rifle, "It's Jackals and a Shade guarding a fork in the road; Chief and I will wreck them and each take one side of the fork."
"Back up the Lieutenant once we pick our locations," the Chief added, "Her base shield strength is weaker than mine; I'll be fine."
"We'll advance when you're in position, then." Myers replied, as the Spartans began their ascent. The Jackals fell like flies to a zapper; as a pair of grenades from the Spartans sent the turret flying back out of sight, Cortana's voice calmly resonated through the ODSTs' COMs.
"Fire Team Charlie, the Chief has secured the middle. Recommend you move to the left – you and the Lieutenant should be able to flank the enemy."
"Copy that; we're on our way," Myers replied.
"Charlie Team, move up!" Parker barked, already moving to back up the Spartan-III alongside the lower-ranked Sergeant Myers. Both men only subconsciously noted that their squad were all moving at the same pace as them – and then chaos ensued.
Despite all his training and self-control, Sergeant Myers couldn't have recalled the entirety of the battle if he'd been paid all the money in the universe, things were that chaotic; however, he did recall that while a couple low-ranking ODSTs were killed in the ensuing melee, the Sergeant himself, Parker and most of the Staff Sergeant's squad survived the insanity – and all of them helped to slag at least three Shade turrets, two Elites of differing ranks and a Hunter pair (among many, many other Covenant foes) all while Myers himself was side-by-side or back-to-back with the former Noble Six. After stopping a moment to pay their respects, Parker and Myers took the dog tags and ammo from their fallen comrades and proceeded onward.
"We're directly under the ship now," the group heard Cortana say over the COM, "Area secure."
"For the moment, anyway," Myers retorted calmly, "Marines, secure the gravity lift and prepare for boarding!"
"Yes, sir!" the other Troopers replied as Cortana called for Marine reinforcements for the coming battle.
"What's the matter?" Parker spat at his troops as they moved; several of them were looking longingly at the incoming Pelican, which contained the reinforcements that Cortana had called, "Never seen a UNSC dropship before? Damn it people, eyes on the rocks and the lift! That's where the enemy will come from!"
A freshly rested group of Marines exited the Pelican, and combined with some of the ODSTs to form the human force that would storm the Truth and Reconciliation.
"Going up?" Melissa smirked under her helmet minutes later, as the soldiers were suddenly pulled up by the ship's gravity lift.
"Ha, ha," Sergeant Myers deadpanned. As a hatch opened above them, the group as a whole came to a mild epiphany.
The easy part was done; now the tough part was about to begin. Captain Keyes was in that ship, and they were going to get him back. As the group landed on the now-closed hatch (having fallen from three feet above the deck) Melissa-B312 shared a look with Sergeant Myers.
"You feel that, Eric?"
"That mix of excitement and fear?" Eric replied softly, continuing with an amused tone to his voice at the Spartan's affirmative nod, "I do indeed, Spartan. Good thing, in a way – I only ever feel this during a really good battle."
The Sergeant refused to admit verbally to the fact that a part of the excitement came from fighting alongside Melissa-312.
"It's a shame there aren't any Covenant here to share in your enthusiasm, Sergeant Myers." Cortana interjected wryly as the group spread through the cargo bay to scan for hostiles.
(Alpha Base, 9 PM [Mission Clock])
Kat, meanwhile, had (after a brief meeting between all the non-jailed survivors at Alpha Base to discuss the transition of leadership) called on the help of her aide, Corporal Collins – as well as heading to the brig to consult the former Major Silva, much to her and Collins' shared disgust – and come up with a plan. While the Truth and Reconciliation was being assaulted by the Master Chief, Lieutenant-312, Sergeant Myers, Johnson and his Marines, Lieutenant McKay would take her own squad of Marines and attack the crash site of the Pillar of Autumn, to regain as much as they could in the way of food, ammo, fuel and supplies. However, that wasn't the only means of resupply that Kat had used.
In the wake of the assault on the CCS-Class Covenant vessel, Second Lieutenant Dalu was bringing back to Alpha Base everything he could scoop up and then some via Pelican Echo 419. Plasma pistols and rifles, Needlers, power packs, hand tools, COM equipment, food packs, even the odd Needle Rifle (much to Kat's surprise) – Echo 419 had brought back all that and more, including three Shade turrets; the latest of which Dalu and some Navy techs were taking delivery of right at that moment. Kat smiled; while she wouldn't have minded the possibility of the group escaping the ring world with most of this Covenant technology, for now it'd do as a supplementary defense in their efforts to survive.
"Ten-shun!" Sergeant Lister shouted, doing a smart about-face and saluting Lieutenant McKay, who returned the salute and replied with the obligatory "at ease."
Walking out into the rain, which she and Wes barely felt due to their respective armors and helmets, Kat smiled as she depolarized her visor and scanned the ranks. All she saw was Marines – soldiers of all colors.
"You know the mission – get to the Autumn's crash site. But it's not to make her fly again," Kat replied, "No, the Pillar of Autumn is all but dead; she'll never fly again, so we'll get off this ring another way. But we need to outlast the Covenant to do that; what you're all going to do will help us get to that point, finish the fight, and get the hell out of here!"
There was a roar of approval from the crowd, though in Kat's opinion it sounded weak.
"Focus, people; there's no time for pessimism, damn it!" Collins interjected hotly, clearly noticing the same weakness, "We will get off this ring – count on it! But we're in a battle of attrition with the Covenant in the area; we've got to win that fight to get out of here, and this effort from all of you is going to help us do that!"
"The Corporal's right," Lieutenant McKay added as some of the run-of-the-mill Marines in the group started muttering disparaging comments, "We've only just begun to fight; or are you all planning on lying down like beaten dogs and surrendering? ARE YOU!"
"Sir, no sir!" the soldiers chorused.
"You're damn right you won't," Kat replied calmly, "Because the Covenant doesn't take any prisoners. Fight hard, bring back all the salvage you can, and good luck – Corporal Collins and I will see you all in a couple days."
Except they both knew they wouldn't. As Carter had taught Kat through example over the years (and as Wes had learned through years beside Eric in the UNSCDF), good C.O.'s had to love the soldiers under their command – and still be able to order them into life-and-death situations. Frankly, that aspect of command pissed Kat off, in no small part because had things gone a little differently; had she forgotten to reactivate her shields in New Alexandria, for instance, or had Emile been skewered by the Zealot which Melissa had seen sneaking up on him, all of Noble Team would have been destroyed for certain by that aspect.
How you lead the various incarnations of Noble Team, old friend, I'll never know. Kat mused, thinking of her lost friend and Commander as she dismissed the formation, which was subsequently checked one final time for any loose items and then sent to the waiting Pelicans after final fix-up.
"You okay, Kat?" Corporal Collins asked after the area was cleared of Marines and the two had returned to Kat's "office".
"Just thinking... about old friends," Kat murmured absently, reaching into the hard-case on her leg and pulling out a battered pair of dog tags. As the light glinted off them, Wes saw a name and rank.
Commander Carter-A259. The Corporal winced.
"He died on Reach?" Wes asked.
"As far as I know, yes," Kat replied, a sad undertone lacing her voice as she put the tags back, "I was on the Autumn recovering from the needle shot that had knocked me out; Jun was escorting Dr. Halsey to another base on Reach as Sword Base was destroyed, but Carter, Emile and Melissa were on a new mission. They were headed to the Autumn, docked in Aszod – to deliver a clone of Cortana, which held an upgrade of some sort. Apparently, it was a matter of life-and-death; humanity's best chance for survival."
"Certainly looks like it was; if we'd encountered the Covenant anywhere else I doubt the crew would be faring half as well," Wes murmured.
"Emile and Melissa left the Pelican that they and Carter had taken; raced along the ground on a Mongoose... Carter took on most of the air forces in the area by himself... and then they all crossed paths with a Scarab that Emile and Melissa couldn't avoid. They could've beaten it in time, but there was no time, so Carter rammed it..." Kat sighed, "Dot, Noble Team's AI, couldn't get a read on him after that, so Colonel Holland recalled her to his ship before the Autumn left."
"Damn... so you and 312 are completely AI-free now? I mean, I know it doesn't affect you that much; I swear, you're half-AI sometimes," Wes joked, getting a small smile from Kat in response, "But... knowing what I know now, I wonder why Cortana didn't go with the Lieutenant instead of Master Chief."
"When Spartan-B312 asked her that, after I had the Chief take Silva to the brig, Cortana said something about Master Chief's armor being more similar in structure to the Autumn than hers; Cortana's physical 'body' was the Pillar of Autumn for a good month, so..." Kat shrugged, "She has a bond with the Lieutenant, there's no mistaking that; according to Melissa, Cortana chose her for the actual package delivery – no one else on Noble Team. The last thing Carter told her before she and Emile jumped from the Pelican was..."
"That she made the right choice, in choosing the Spartan she did for that mission," Wes deduced.
"I guess she and Eric have that much in common after all," the Corporal smiled weakly, leaning back against a wall, "He cares for your teammate... more than I've seen him care for anyone. He's certainly been as much a brother as I've ever had, and he would certainly jump into battle alongside me – hell; he's done that since we met, years before joining the Marines – but at the same time..."
"The Lieutenant's a Spartan – one of the best – yet he volunteered to back her up anyway." Kat finished.
"Exactly," Wes replied, "It's not hormones, a death wish, or an outburst of emotion – if there's any man who seems to have had hormones and emotions well under control from the onset of puberty, it's Eric 'I-Don't-Need-A-Woman' Myers, and I know for a fact he's happy with the way things are in his life – but aside from falling in love, I don't know what drove him to do this beyond a genuine care for your Lieutenant 312."
"He loves her." Kat replied with calmness and certainty.
"How can you be sure?"
"You said that Sergeant Myers has tremendous emotional control," Kat noted, "In that regard he's much like a lot of the best soldiers I've met. But I've met a few as well who – even with all that discipline and control – would give everything to help someone they love, even if that person didn't necessarily require their aid."
"You know that feeling yourself, don't you?" Wes realized. Kat nodded.
"I... felt that way with Carter, once; it's why I never requested to join any other Spartan team," Noble Team's hacker admitted sheepishly, chuckling as a thought came to the front of her mind, "I hope Sergeant Myers doesn't do anything nearly as crazy."
"Eric's an ODST, Kat," Wes retorted wryly, "Crazy's part of the job."
"Myers, what the hell are you doing!" Cortana barked over the COM.
"Backing up the Spartans; what's it look like!" Sergeant Myers retorted as he (miraculously) dodged another shield strike from one of the two Hunters that had stomped into the hangar; Master Chief was handling the other, Lieutenant B312 was backing Myers, and the other ODSTs were handling the remaining hostiles from the previous wave.
"Frankly it looks like you're committing suicide," Cortana noted sardonically as the Sergeant jumped back as far as he could, landing in a crouch as the Hunter he'd been baiting landed 'face' down right where he'd been a second before, dead from a pair of sniper shots to its exposed back.
"Maybe in another life, Cortana; but not here in this tub. I've got too much to fight for. Nice shooting, LT!" Myers grinned under his helmet as he turned to pound a Grunt into submission; the muscle behind his attacks did a surprising amount of damage.
"Thanks," B312 replied wryly, "Nice moves, Sarge." The Sergeant threw the Spartan a thumbs-up in response as the group moved ahead, exiting the cargo bay and stopping at a doorway at the end of the corridor the Hunters came from.
"This door is locked; no way through," Parker noted as the door didn't budge an inch, "Any suggestions?"
"There's got to be another way around," Melissa mused, "The side passages, maybe?"
"We'd be sitting ducks in that narrow space," an ODST noted.
"Even Myers here couldn't do much," Parker added.
"Not in those quarters, sir; not without a shotgun."
"We'll hold this position, then," the Staff Sergeant replied, "You two find a way around; get those doors open once that side's clear."
"Understood," Chief replied, already moving back to the cargo bay.
"See you in a few minutes, Marines," Melissa added, following the Chief.
After getting the door open and fighting through the masses of Covenant they encountered on the 5800-foot long vessel, the Master Chief unlocked the doors blocking Parker, Myers and company from following them. They and Lieutenant-312 later entered a massive hangar bay from a series of winding corridors just as a Spirit dropship was leaving.
Seeing something one level up, Melissa took aim with her Sniper Rifle – and fired one silent, solitary clip right through the skull of an Elite, killing it as the Chief shot through two Grunts with one shot, and proceeded to kill another Elite on ground level with the remainder of his Sniper Rifle's clip. The group then moved back into the passage they'd just came from; the door to the hangar shut as the remaining Covenant in the area scurried about in disarray.
"Holy...!" Sergeant Myers hissed, "Chief, your shot was obvious, but Melissa... how'd you see that guy?"
"Gut instinct, Myers," the Lieutenant replied teasingly, "You might want to try it sometime, instead of thinking so much."
"She's got you there, soldier," Parker muttered.
"Can we finish this later?" the Master Chief retorted calmly, "We've got a hangar bay to clear out."
"Agreed," Myers grunted, "Let's move!" The soldiers moved back into the hangar, shredding a Grunt that tried to sneak up on them – and then all the hatches in the hangar opened simultaneously. As Covenant swarmed from the open hatches, Melissa-B312 recalled a line uttered by an ODST Commander she'd encountered in one of her pre-Noble missions.
"Let's show these bastards what humanity can do, gentlemen!" The line was oddly appropriate, given what Melissa-B312 was trying to do for herself.
"Party time, people – let's do it!" Parker added heartily, motioning his troops forward. The ODSTs, Marines and Spartans all opened fire, and in seconds it seemed like a dozen different firefights had begun. Wounded and dead soldiers – human and Covenant alike – littered the deck in due time; Spartan-B312 was grateful that Sergeant Myers, Johnson and Master Chief weren't among the casualties, even as she – just as the Chief did – kept her back to a Marine, a pillar or the nearest bulkhead for as much of the battle as possible. As she and the Chief reloaded their respective assault rifles, Melissa saw Myers flip over an overcharged plasma bolt from a Jackal before shooting said Jackal in the face.
Is he a Marine or a gymnast? Seven-foot tall un-augmented men in armor shouldn't be able to do that! Melissa mused as she returned to the fight; shortly after, the Spartans and remaining Marines made it to the other side of the cavernous hangar. Myers bit back a curse as he noticed the doors were locked.
"This entire level's sealed – where to now?" another ODST asked. Melissa noticed her HUD registering the soldier's FOF tag as 'I. Foster, Lance Corporal'.
"Hold on, Marine," Cortana replied, "I'm going to access the Covenant Battlenet and locate an override code to open a door."
"Make it quick, ma'am," Foster replied, "We can't hold them off forever."
"Working on it," Cortana retorted, "I'd like to see one of you crack a 128,000-bit modulating encryption key," she added.
"Talk to Kat sometime, Cortana," Melissa retorted wryly as she looked around, watching for hostiles while flanked by Sergeant Myers and the Master Chief, "I bet she'd come pretty close."
"Wes too," Eric smiled under his helmet, "The guy's practically got a 12th level intellect – not that he uses it for himself much, or even admits to having it."
The Spartan-III and the Sergeant heard something akin to well-suppressed laughter from Cortana; under his helmet, the Master Chief raised an eyebrow upon hearing the sound.
"Really funny, soldiers – now, if you'll excuse me, this code isn't going to crack itself."
Suddenly, Covenant appeared from all exits – including the ones the soldiers had exited minutes before... and charged right at the rescuers.
"Like Foster said, Cortana, work as fast as you can," Myers replied calmly, raising his assault rifle and aiming at the horde alongside the others, "Keyes hasn't got all night."
"Marines, let's give them hell!" Parker bellowed, targeting a Grunt and firing his own rifle. The methane-breathing creature's tank was breached, causing him to fly into (and knock out) another Grunt, bounce off the other Grunt and hit a Minor Elite as the tank exploded; the resulting explosion tore down the Elite's shields and left him wounded; Foster shot him. But those weren't the only enemies in the area; indeed, there were other Elites and Jackals about, with a nice helping of Grunts spread throughout the chaos too. The sheer volume of Covenant meant that every soldier was involved in a firefight of some kind. As the Spartans took on the Elites, several mini-firefights occurred between the ODSTs and the smaller Covenant; fallen soldiers from both sides soon littered the deck after a time...
...and then a Hunter pair entered the fray with a bloodcurdling roar each. Melissa and Master Chief both turned and saw Sergeant Myers shoulder his rifle and start backpedalling; they also saw the other Marines step back, and Parker moving back as well after firing the last three shots from his own rifle. As the Hunter attacking him raised its shield, Sergeant Myers moved to the Hunter's right side – and missed its shield strike by a matter of feet before moving behind it. Parker barely dodged his opponent's razor spines – and crashed to the deck as a result.
The Spartans slapped fresh clips of ammo into their rifles, chambered rounds and fired at the Hunters, unwilling to let them at their teammates' exposed flanks. Unfortunately, the enemy were coming in too fast – the Spartans knew they wouldn't get kill-shots in time... and then both Hunters reared up, howled in pain, and crashed to the deck themselves. As the Master Chief examined his weapon in puzzlement, wondering if he'd gotten in a lucky shot, Melissa looked behind the Hunters, where she'd last seen Sergeant Myers – and saw him and Parker both standing tall, holding smoking M6D pistols and breathing heavily with exertion. There was blood flowing from gashes in Parker's side, created by the razor spines of the Hunter he'd been fighting. Both ODSTs were unsteady on their feet, yet Parker found the strength to spit on his fallen opponent's corpse. Myers just clenched his jaw, and glared at the Hunter he'd shot.
"Human, Covenant, whatever," the Sergeant growled, "Nobody messes with my friends."
Melissa smiled under her helmet, and took a covering position near Myers, as the Master Chief did for Parker.
"Nice job, both of you," the Spartan-III replied, "Thanks for the save."
"Anytime, swabbie," Parker grinned faintly, picking up his fallen assault rifle and slamming a fresh clip into place.
"Thank you for the cover, Spartans," Myers added, "We'd have been vaporized if you hadn't done that."
"Cortana," Melissa asked, "How long until you have that door unlocked?"
"I got it!" Cortana replied exultantly, "Everyone should move through now – I can't guarantee the door won't lock when it closes."
"Marines, follow the Chief!" Melissa ordered, heading through a small door to her left, following the Chief into the relative safety of the corridors. The next fifteen minutes were akin to a slow-motion nightmare, as the group of soldiers/rescuers fought their way through a maze of narrow corridors, up a series of equally narrow ramps, and onto the upper level of the hangar bay – with Cortana's guidance, they went across that upper level to another set of doors, and back into more corridors. Eventually, after fighting through another fifteen-minute maze, the group reached what appeared to be the ship's bridge. The Spartans both took aim at a single Elite apiece – and two shots later, the Zealot in the room and a Minor were silenced. Aiming again, more Elite crewmembers were silenced – the Marines were (for once, at Parker's suggestion) content to let the Spartans snipe the Elites to death. Once that was done, the roles were reversed as the Spartans only needed to back up the ODSTs once against the bridge's contingent of Grunts; when an overcharged shot of plasma nearly hit Foster in the back, Melissa took the hit without flinching.
"Thanks, Spartan – you ok?" Foster asked.
"I'll live," Melissa replied, "Just gotta clean my armor again when we get back."
"Don't we all," Myers smirked before looking around.
"This looks like their bridge," he added, "The Captain's CNI still transmitting strong, Cortana?"
"It is," Cortana replied, "He's got to be nearby."
"Don't let us slow you down, then," Myers replied, "We'll mind the bridge; keep any Covenant off your backs. We'll have to come back through here to get out anyway. Chief, Lieutenant – you two find Keyes."
"Negative," Melissa retorted calmly, "We're in enemy territory; the Covenant likely have SpecOps on the way here to destroy us. I'll stay here, with you and the others; back you up if Covenant beat the Chief here. Master Chief, find the Captain," the Lieutenant added, "And get him back here in one piece... please. Watch for cloaks on the way; they'll likely register as trace movements on your radar."
"Understood, ma'am," the Master Chief nodded, "I'll be back soon – with Captain Keyes."
"I doubt Captain Kat will mind much – but don't let this get back to Silva," Parker replied.
The Chief then sprinted off, into the bowels of the ship.
"Orders, Lieutenant?" Parker asked.
"You and your squad take up positions around the room," Melissa replied, "Watch the doors, and engage your VISR systems; they're the only decent way to spot cloaked Elites. Myers, with me – we're going to sit right on the bridge itself; I'll snipe, you spot."
"Copy that," Myers nodded. Taking their positions, the soldiers watched and waited. Looking through the scope of her rifle, Melissa decided to get to know her new friend during the lull in the rescue operation.
"Sergeant Myers, talk to me," Melissa smiled, "What the hell's a seven-foot-tall, 300-pound soldier doing in the ODSTs and not the Spartan program? And what's with the acrobatics? I didn't know Marines could do stunts like what you've done."
"I wasn't always a Marine, Lieutenant," Myers grinned, "Before I signed on, I lived on Mars; practiced martial arts and gymnastics straight from childhood, ate as healthy a diet as possible, and trained in Tae Kwon Do and a couple 20th century styles called Jeet Kune Do and Toso Kune Do for fifteen years. Corporal Collins trained in that manner as well, for just as long; our teachers in that training are how we met."
"Your family approved of that?" Melissa blinked, surprised, "You must've been three years old when you started." Myers looked crestfallen as the question registered, causing the female Spartan to inwardly grimace.
"My biological family wasn't really around to give a damn after I turned 16," the Sergeant replied, "My father vanished when I was a child; my mother kept her distance after that = gave me food, clothing, and shelter. I had to fight for everything else, and so I did. Corporal Collins and his father, Alexander, were my family along the way – when my mother vanished three weeks after my seventeenth birthday, the two of them kept me from doing anything stupid; the elder Collins hired me on at Traxus Heavy Industries as part of his security force, after the prep school I was at kicked me out – long story; I'll explain that later."
"Sajnálom; I'm sorry, for your losses," Melissa replied somberly.
"Hungarian, are you?" Myers smiled stiffly, recognizing the phrase.
"I picked up a phrase or two from a friend; Cortana stuck translations in during her brief jaunt in my mind," Melissa retorted, "Don't change the subject, Eric. How'd it go, working at Traxus?" The muscular ODST sighed.
"It was the closest to fun I'd ever had, Six," the Sergeant smiled faintly under his visor, "For one year, when I wasn't training security forces or on guard duty myself, I was learning from Wes and Alexander what normal life was – or as close to normal as we could get, given I was bouncing between Reach and Earth half the time. And then, when the year was up the three of us saw a UNSC recruitment poster... and I joined up; never looked back. Wes followed six months later, complete with his father's blessing."
"How'd you get to be a Sergeant, then? You can't be older than 22." Melissa noted.
"Gunnery Sergeant, technically," Myers smirked sardonically, "I just prefer being called Sarge 'stead of Gunny, and they never did update my IFF during the shit storm at Reach. And as for how I got so high in the enlisted ranks so fast – I only look 22, thanks to cryo. Let's just say I've worked with a friend of yours. Does the name Buck ring any bells?"
"Gunnery Sergeant Buck of the 11th Shock Troop Battalion?" the Spartan-III asked, "I remember – he needed escort to pick up his troops for a classified op while I was in New Alexandria; probably something closer to Kat's current pay grade."
"He's also the only one besides Wes I can call anything resembling family," Myers replied, "Buck was a brother to me when Wes couldn't be; he and I rose through the ranks together, at the same pace, as a team. I was one of the troops he picked up in New Alexandria, though I wasn't an official part of his squad. When his op was over he took me to Aszod at my request, and then left with his squad for Earth."
"I'll have to meet him when we get there," Melissa smiled, before noticing trace movement on the edges of her motion tracker and activating her COM, "Marines – contacts. Watch yourselves."
Half a dozen green lights flared on her HUD, signaling confirmation as the doors opened – revealing two floating Energy Swords, which then proceeded to slice-n-dice the rest of the ODSTs despite Melissa, Foster and Myers' best efforts at hitting the Elites holding them.
Spec-Ops... I hate when I'm right. Melissa grimaced; the trace radar movements and yellow outlines were a dead giveaway as to the presence of the high-ranked Elites. The floating Energy Swords were a greater giveaway as well, but could still do serious damage if they got in close – and clearly, these Elites were good. With that fact hardened in her mind, she took aim at a high point perpendicular to the hilt of one of the swords, and fired one shot from her sniper rifle.
The Elite under the cloak seemingly fell from nowhere. Scanning the room with his own VISR active, Myers threw a plasma grenade he'd acquired at the VISR-enhanced outline of another Spec-Ops Elite – the grenade stuck, and with a roar that Elite exploded. Unfortunately, the latter Elite had taken out half the ODSTs in the room before Myers stuck him.
"Looks like the last of them," Foster replied, "You two ok?"
"Pissed that we lost the others," Myers growled, "Parker! Are you still alive!"
"Yeah," Parker grimaced, "I'm still ticking. Who else is left?"
"The LT, Foster and me," Myers winced, "So much for the rescue party."
"We're not out yet, Gunnery Sergeant," Melissa retorted calmly, "The Chief's still alive; he and the Captain are en route back here with some other POWs from the Autumn. Motion trackers show them... right there."
The doors the Chief exited through opened, revealing the Spartan-II himself, alongside Captain Keyes and half a dozen haggard Marines. The Spartan and Keyes moved towards Melissa, while Myers, Foster and Parker gave the Marines food and wake-up stims. The former child of Harvest looked at the closest she had to family; Keyes had taken a beating in the last twelve hours. While there was no visible damage and the older man didn't complain, the Captain's movements were sluggish – and Melissa had noted upon Keyes' entry to the bridge of the Truth and Reconciliation that his breathing was ragged.
He needs medical attention... but first we've gotta get out of here. Mission's not over yet.
"Captain Keyes," Melissa moved to meet Keyes halfway, extending her hand, "Good to see you still in one piece."
"Same to you, Lieutenant B312," Keyes smiled stiffly and shook the offered hand, "Enjoy the ride down?"
"I did – there's nothing like riding in a Drop Pod, sir."
"Indeed there isn't," Keyes replied wryly, before looking up – and noticing Myers standing next to Melissa, "Gunnery Sergeant Myers, what are you doing?"
"In your absence, sir, Captain Kat – Spartan-B320 – appointed me as the Lieutenant's attaché; I hope that's not a problem," the seven-foot ODST replied.
"No problem at all, Myers; guard her well," Keyes nodded, and began his explanation.
"While the Covenant had us locked up in here, I overheard the guards talking about this ring world, and its abilities. They call it... 'Halo'," Keyes paused to let the name sink in.
"One moment, sir," Cortana interjected, "I'm accessing the Covenant Battle Net." Pausing, Cortana let her vastly powerful intrusion protocols sifted through the Covenant's systems, finishing seconds later.
"According to their data, the ring has some sort of deep religious significance," the AI explained, "If I'm interpreting this correctly, they believe Halo to be a weapon of some sort – one with vast, unimaginable power."
Keyes nodded thoughtfully, "The Covenant who were interrogating me kept saying that 'whoever controls Halo controls the fate of the universe.'"
"Now I see," Cortana replied, equally thoughtful, "I've intercepted a number of messages about a Covenant search team scouting for a control room. I thought they were looking for the bridge of a ship I damaged during the battle above the ring – but they must be looking for Halo's control room."
"That's a bad sign if I've ever heard one," Myers muttered gravely.
"Indeed," Keyes added, "If Halo is a weapon, and the Covenant gain control of it, they'll use it against us."
"Against all of Humanity, eventually," Melissa noted, "That kind of power..." Keyes nodded.
"Chief, Cortana – I have a new mission for you. We need to beat the Covenant to Halo's control room."
"No offense, sir," the Chief replied, "but it might be best to finish this mission first."
"Good point," Keyes grinned tiredly, "Marines – let's move!"
"Yes, sir!" the Marines as a whole replied.
"Chief – you have the point," Keyes added, picking up a fallen Needler, "Lieutenant, watch our backs; Myers, cover her."
"Understood," Melissa and Myers nodded, moving into position as the soldiers fell in line. The Spartan-III held back a smile as she noticed the Marines – even the former POWs – covering the Captain from all sides as they moved following Cortana's suggestion of returning to the shuttle bay.
"I doubt any of us want to walk home, sir," the Lieutenant joked, "You, Chief and I are Navy, last I checked – we prefer to ride."
"No kidding, Lieutenant," Keyes smiled, "No kidding."
After numerous twists and turns, the group had reentered the shuttle bay… and saw two light wands floating side by side in mid-air.
"Chief, take left – I'll take right," Spartan-B312 murmured, raising her Sniper Rifle as the Chief raised his sidearm. Half a clip each later, two Elites de-cloaked and caught their own entrails before fire rained at them from all sides. As the two late SpecOps slid off the floor's edge, Cortana got to work.
"Cortana to Echo 419; we have the Captain and need extraction on the double."
"Negative, Cortana," Carol "Foehammer" Rawley replied over the COM, "I've been engaged by Covenant air patrols, and I'm having a tough time shaking 'em. You'd be better off finding your own ride – sorry."
"Understood, Foehammer – Cortana out."
"Aw, man, we're trapped in here!" a POW moaned, "We're screwed – we're screwed, man!"
"Stow the bellyaching, soldier – remember you're a leatherneck!" Keyes growled, "Cortana, if you can get us into one of those Covenant dropships, I can fly us out of here."
"Yes, Captain," the AI replied, "There's a Phantom dropship still docked."
Noting the waypoint's location on her HUD, Spartan-B312 took point and led the others through a hatch, down a series of corridors, and into the dropship bay… which unfortunately for them, was well-defended. As the Spartans went for their assault rifles, Myers barked an order.
"Marines, cover the Captain – Foster, Parker; that means you too! The Spartans and I will watch your backs; you get to the ship!"
"Give 'em hell, Myers," Keyes nodded appreciatively as the Gunnery Sergeant pulled out his own rifle and bashed a Grunt in the face. However, that didn't make a dent in the veritable sea of Covenant that was coming their way. As the ODST shot, punched, kicked, stabbed and blasted his way to the side of his Spartan comrades (who were both fighting with the same ferocity) he saw the Master Chief hurl his assault rifle at an Elite – having used up all the ammo he had for the weapon.
If a Spartan was out of ammo, then things were getting bad. Thankfully, Myers noted, the others had made it to the last Phantom docked in the bay.
"If we're going," Master Chief called, "we need to go now!"
"We're running low on ammo here!" Melissa added.
"Everyone mount up – let's get on board!" Keyes ordered as the side hatch facing the group opened As the Marines entered the dropship, Myers looked towards Melissa.
"You two had better be right behind me!" the former martial artist growled, entering the Phantom.
After Master Chief ensured everyone else was inside, he dove into the closing troop bay with a single round in his sidearm. Keyes smiled tiredly after peeling out of the hangar bay.
"Lieutenant Sierra 312?"
"Yes, Captain?" Melissa replied, moving to stand next to Keyes.
"Thanks. Coming to that ship was reckless – but I understand why you did it." Keyes responded.
"Military code, sir," Melissa retorted calmly, "No one gets left behind." Besides which, the Covenant took away the rest of my family, the Spartan-III recalled grimly. I'm not losing you too, Uncle Jake.
"Of course," Keyes smiled, "So where'd all the Autumn survivors hole up?"
"Alpha Base, sir," Melissa answered, "Shall I fly us there?"
"Lead the way, Noble Six." After handing the controls off to the Lieutenant, Keyes stood back – but didn't rest. He wouldn't rest until arrival at Alpha Base.
As she glanced at her unofficial uncle out of the corner of her eye, Melissa made a decision; Whatever mission Keyes was taking on next, the Spartan-III would be right by his side. She couldn't have known at that point that Myers had made the same decision regarding her...
...or what the consequences of such a decision would be.