Marathon-class cruiser Mark II Defiant Warrior


The Warrior shuddered violently as a Covenant fighter slammed into its mangled portside armour and an alarm staring blaring as the hull was breached by the collision. Captain Davian's brows furrowed together as he studied the TAC display; he was surrounded, again, by Covenant ships that had been slipping into the edge of the system and targeting the Outer Supply Platforms.

OSP 8 had been destroyed by the time his battle group had arrived via slip-space micro-jump and a dozen Covenant destroyers had immediately descended on his beleaguered forces. A million kilometres away and closing fast, a quartet of alien cruisers cut through the void at breakneck pace, moving to support the destroyer group that Davians forces were trading fire with.

"Plasma torpedoes inbound; counter-missile ordinance depleted, brace for evasive maneuvers," Paladin's voice rang throughout the ship seconds before the multi-million tonne bulk of the cruiser lurched out of the way of a trio of torpedoes, narrowly avoiding a direct hit against its ravaged portside armour belt and throwing crew and any equipment not bolted down around like the discarded toys of a petulant god-child.

Most of the bridge crew was strapped into their seats and was thus saved from any serious injuries, but more than one crew member headbutted their displays. The Warrior fired it's two remaining dorsal PACs in response, popping the shield of an enemy destroyer like a balloon and saturating the offending ship with heavy rail-gun rounds until it stopped moving under its own power.

"Multiple slip-space ruptures detected," Paladin reported grimly. "Sensors indicate multiple hostile battle-cruisers and carriers slipping in approximately five hundred thousand kilometres out-system."

Davian cursed out loud and shook his head. The TAC display was registering more hostile contacts with each passing moment and his rapidly dwindling battlegroup was not going to be able to maintain this fight against the forces already arrayed against him. Battle-cruisers and carriers were just overkill.

"All ships capable of doing so are to transition to slip-space as soon as possible," he ordered, his voice coming out as a hoarse, bitter croak. "Lay in course for Attero system; Paladin, inform Admiral Cole that we're unable to maintain our position and that he's about to get a whole lot of company."

"Aye, sir. Orders sent, message on its way to Admiral Cole," Paladin responded as the Warrior's twin MACs fired in rapid succession. "Slip-space transition in twenty seconds."

Attero was a good choice; though not the closest colony to Harvest, it was well fortified and home to three shipyards, making repairs to his battlegroup much easier. He didn't like leaving this fight, but there was little his ships could do in their current state.

"Admiral Cole acknowledges and condones your withdrawal," Paladin reported as the Warrior shuddered faintly from the recoil of a massed rail-gun salvo. Davian scowled at the TAC display, wishing he could do more. The most powerful production-model ship in existence and he was still powerless to stop the Covenant.

"Slip-space transition in five seconds."

A swirling pool of Cherenkov radiation burst into being in front of the cruiser, followed by several more as the remaining Mark I cruiser and handful of destroyers slipped into fourth-dimensional space and left the Covenant fleet - and Harvest - behind.

"Good luck," Davian whispered to himself, eyes fixed on the TAC display as the battlefield dissolved around him to be replaced with the slip-stream, watching the icons for Admiral Cole's fleet and the alien one before they faded away.


Harvest, Surface

Mount Hieronymous

Forerunner facility

Covenant in the chamber behind them. Covenant at the mouth of the tunnel ahead of them, wiping out the temporary base there and forcing dozens of Marines and ODSTs to retreat and join up with the people running from the chamber.

This is it, Weeks thought as he nervously checked over his SAW. This is how I'm going to die, trapped in a tunnel and surrounded by monsters.

One of the tanks fired its cannnon's up at the top-side entrance, fully two kilometres away, presumably covering the retreat of UNSC personnel from whatever was up there.

"This is Colonel Mokena," Weeks' helmet spoke to him ."Alien forces have slipped past our orbital defences; their ships are descending on the colony as we speak. We've lost access to nuclear ordnance and we are on our own until the fleet gets their shit together upstairs."

Weeks swallowed thickly in frightened anticipation. He really was going to die here, it seemed. If that was the case, he was going down swinging.

"Well," a Marine whose IFF tagged her as Savita Farid said, surprisingly chipper. "Looks like we're about to get screwed and the bastards aren't even gonna buy us dinner first."

That bought a few half-hearted chuckles from other Marines, but Weeks just nodded dumbly as the vehicles arranged themselves hull-down, half facing toop-side, half facing the chamber below. Marines set themselves up in positions of cover behind the reassuring armoured bulk of the tanks and IFVs, coordinating with other fireteams to set up overlapping fields of fire.

Marines and ODSTs from top-side began filling in the gaps, bringing with them the welcome sight of three Automated Sentry Guns and five of the Elephant's remaining Automated Defence Drones.

Among these newcomers, an IFF tag identified Colonel Ibrahim Mokena, a hulking mountain of a man with deep mahogany skin, jaw firmly set in grim determination. He held in his massive paws an M502 SAW, and looked like he was intimately familiar with its use.

"Ears," Mokena rumbled, and every Marine present looked to the big man. "Alright, here's the sitch. We've got split-lips up top, no doubt heading down here to introduce us to our ancestors. We've got more of the bastards down below, itching for payback for the bloody nose we gave them."

"We call that being between a rock and a hard place. We've got no point of egress, we're surrounded and we're outnumbered. None of that means dick, Marines. If we die here today, we're taking ten times our number of those ugly mothers with us. We shoot them 'til we're out of ammo, then we beat them 'til our rifles are bloody and broken and then we kick their asses with our fists and feet."

Weeks swallowed thickly as the Colonel paused, looking each of the assembled men and women in the eye in turn. Mokena locked gazes with him for a moment, gave him a barely-there nod of reassurance.

"What do you say to that, Marines!?" Mokena finally bellowed.

"Ooh-rah!" The Marines roared back.

"What was that? I can't fucking hear you!" Mokena shouted, spittle flying from his lips and fire in his eyes.


The Marines chanted their war-cry at the top of their lungs, Mokena nodding in satisfaction and joining in, raising his SAW above his head in one hand.

"Defensive positions!" Mokena shouted above the rabble. "Marksmen, pick your targets and fire as they come! Only shoot at what you know you can hit! Suits, rotate suppressive fire in groups! Two firing, two cooling off or reloading! Vehicles, spray as you like at infantry but reserve ammo for vehicles! Do your jobs and get ready to rain hell, Marines!"

Weeks shuffled through the seething masses of bloodthirsty Marines, finding cover behind a damaged IFV facing up-slope, slotting himself in beside an ODST toting a rail-gun. The silver face-plate nodded at him as he set up the SAWs bipod across a couple of sandbags resting against the edge of the vehicle's hull.

A small, tracked Automated Defence Drone jolted to a stop a few feet from Weeks, it's 7.62mm machine gun clicking as it ran pre-combat diagnostics on its autoloader. Weeks glanced at it as it's weapon traversed back and forth, up and down before settling into a central position.

"Heads up, people," one of the tankers announced over the com-link. "Sensor package is picking up hostiles advancing from both directions; looks like they're coordinating. Get ready to deliver an ass-kicking, Marines."

Marksmen settled themselves into firing positions, arming their rail-guns and yanking the charging handles on their DMRs; they had the longest effective range and thus would be the first to engage the Covenant.

"Looks like infantry only from below, got a couple of recon bikes accompanying infantry up top," the tanker reported. "Engaging recon bikes!"

A second later, one of the Devastators fired its main guns in sequence, the deafening whine of the coil-guns echoing strangely off of the tunnel walls as a wash of heat from the passing of the rounds spread over Weeks. In the distance up-slope, twin blue-tinged explosions roared to life.

Moments after, those marksmen with rail-guns opened fired, taking carefully aimed shots and quietly calling out kills. The guns gave off a distinctive whine-crack sound as they fired, which also returned odd sounding echoes. The ODST beside Weeks chuckled as his weapon recoiled against his shoulder and an alien lost his head.

Automatics started chattering behind Weeks as the aliens from the chamber end of the tunnel entered optimal range for assault rifles; plasma bolts whizzed up at the Marines in return, most splashing harmlessly against the armoured vehicles.

A few moments later, rifles began firing short bursts at the rapidly approaching Covenant infantry up-slope. Weeks' mouth went dry as he sighted his SAW; a seething mass of Grunts lead the charge, galloping toward the entrenched humans and screaming alien warcries.

Those that fell to the deadly accurate Marine fire were simply trampled under the stampeding aliens. Plasma started whining back down at the humans as shorter ranged weapons opened fire. Weeks' SAW hammered against his shoulder as he loosed a burst that cut a line through a handful of Grunts.

The chattering of rifles firing in bursts was suddenly washed away by the roar of men and women cutting loose on full-auto; the little creatures were disturbingly fast when running on all fours and were closing distance rapidly. On top of that, there were so many of them that it was virtually impossible to miss.

IFV's fired their auto-cannons in sweeping arcs, devastating the advance and causing the hordes to slow to a crawl as they tried to scrambled over their dead and dying to get at the humans. Explosions rocked the encroaching tide as the Cyclops battle-suits pumped HE grenades into their midst.

Down-slope, the situation was somewhat less desperate. The enemy numbered fewer on that side and were taking a more cautious approach, trying to use destroyed vehicles as cover and sending their shielded walkers ahead to absorb fire. Human tanks shattered the walkers as they began sweeping energy beams over the lines of Marines, boiling away armour plating on vehicles and setting people alight. Men and women screamed as they burned alive, the sickly-sweet smell of burning human flesh lingering over the other humans.

Weeks flinched away from the edge of the IFV he was taking cover behind as plasma scored it's armour and molten metal splashed away from it. Marines began taking more carefully aimed shots as aliens clambered over the mountain of dead now blocking the tunnel, picking them off as they crested the "summit".

"Keep it up!" Mokena's voice crackled over the cacophony. "Plug the bastards up!"

Weeks gritted his teeth in anxiety as he fired a twenty round burst at a trio of Grunts sliding down the corpse barricade. He swept the SAW a cross the corpses, seeking movement and finding none; the chatter of small arms fire died away as new targets failed to present themselves.

"Looks like they're backing off," Mokena said. "Ammo check, people. If you need to reload, do it now! They'll be back before you know it."


UNSC End Of Innocence

Modified Demetrius-class Destroyer

Epsilon Indi System

The destroyer slotted itself in between Admiral Cole's flagship and a Mark I Marathon, it's pitch-black hull reflecting the light of the local star. No doubt, the sight of this particular ship was met with plenty of groans of distaste; beneath the letters UNSC were emblazoned the letters ONI.

A spook ship arriving in a system that was likely to be abandoned couldn't possibly be a good sign. Cole certainly didn't like the look of it. He could take a guess as to what ONI was after here, and he had a feeling they were going to ask him to lay down a lot of lives on a lost cause because of it.

Imagine his surprise when he was told to stay out of their way.

"We have two objectives, Admiral," Daphne Grayson, acting captain of the spook ship, announced to Cole via private link. "The first is obvious, but seemingly unobtainable."

"Whatever the aliens want from Mount Hieronymus," Cole surmised.

"Correct," Grayson said. "Our second is a little more obscure. Section Two had a modest research facility hidden within Utgard, beneath the City Hall, to be exact. Some of the research carried out here could prove critical to our war efforts against the Covenant and I've been informed that it is imperative that I retrieve any and all material within the facility by any means necessary."

"And you want to use my Marines to do it," Cole replied, trying to think of a way to say no without actually saying no. "I can't spare the people. Anyone not engaging Covenant forces is being evacuated from the surface. We're going to level Mount Hieronymus to ensure the Covenant don't achieve their objective and then we're withdrawing from Harvest. We cannot hold her and I'm not going waste lives and ships trying to."

"Actually, Admiral, you can carry on with your evacuations," Grayson said, the barest hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "We don't need your Marines. We brought our own specialists; all I need from you is to keep your people out of the way of my people."

Coles brow furrowed in confusion, but he nodded his head in agreement anyway. The Covenant had a presence in Utgard for unknown reasons, most likely search and destroy teams, and though it wasn't exactly an army there were still unknown thousands aliens roaming the city. Grayson's "specialists" would have their work cut out for them.

"Alright," Cole said. "But if you take too long, the fleet will leave you behind. I'm not going to wait around for you and your specialists if it comes down to a choice between the safety of the fleet and the safety of your ship."

"Understood," Grayson said. "Thank you, Admiral Cole. And don't worry. This shouldn't take long at all."

Grayson cut the link from her end and her destroyer shot away from the safety of the shadow of the two cruisers, coming to a rest directly above Utgard. A few moments later, eight Single-Occupant Human Entry Vehicles detached from the ship and dropped into Harvest's atmosphere.

Cole observed the whole process from his flagship. He shook his head almost imperceptibly. What chance did eight people stand against a city full of monsters?


SOHEV 19-56

Harvest Atmosphere

It took some getting used to. He'd been a force to be reckoned with before he'd been mated with his suit; now people threw around words like "unstoppable" and "juggernaut".

Malcolm-059 was a product of his time. The UNSC had been growing desperate and wanted a lasting solution to the Insurrection problem. He and his brothers and sisters had been intended to be that solution. Now they were going into battle, not against their intended foe but against an alien menace that had reared its head just in time for he and his fellow Spartan-IIs to stomp it into the ground.

That's what he'd been told, at least. In reality, his insides were aflutter with nerves. He winked his acknowledgement light to the rest of his team and received three lights in return; Keiichi-047, Isaac-039 and Daisy-023 letting him know they were still there and ready to back him up.

He winked his light to the other team and immediately received a response from the other four Spartans; James-005, Joseph-122, Victor-101 and Carris-137. All there, all ready to go. Team Alpha, Malcolm's team, was going to drop in on the South side of City Hall and make their way to the objective with all due haste. Bravo, led by Victor, would be doing the same from the North.

Malcolm's SOHEV shuddered as it passed through some turbulence. His altimeter wound down quickly; at three thousand meters the SOHEV deployed air brakes. At two thousand, attitude thrusters corrected his course so that he'd land exactly where he wanted to. At one thousand, the air brakes disengaged and ripped off the SOHEV, and a carbon nanotube lattice parachute deployed.

His pod slammed into the ground, the explosive bolts on the door detonated and flung 160 kilos of steel and ceramic away from him as he grabbed his rifle from its mooring by the door and leapt outside, rolling to a crouch and shouldering the rifle, scanning for threats.

He'd landed in the middle of a two-way street, surrounded by tall buildings on both sides. Threat-tracking software highlighted ideal spots for sharpshooters to roost on his visor. There were too many, but he wasn't coming under fire and after an entry like that, he'd have to assume that if anyone was in a position to investigate, they would have by now.

Malcolm stood, still scanning his surroundings, and sought out the IFF tags of his teammates. Keiichi was closest, a little over two hundred meters away. He still puzzled over that. They'd been sent in as a team, but had been set up to land separated from one another and had been ordered to rendezvous at a point a quarter kilometer from the objective.

Another test, he thought to himself. They still don't know how most of us will perform in real combat yet, so they're using this opportunity to test us.

It didn't matter. They'd pass the test. Just like they'd passed every other test ONI had thrown at them.

Malcolm stood and began making his way down the street, moving quickly from cover to cover, his threat-tracking software constantly high-lighting new potential sniper roosts. Urban warfare. Malcolm hated it. Too many places to hide.

He glanced at his rifle as he moved and specs ran through his mind instantly. XMA20 experimental assault rifle. 32 round detachable magazine. 6.8mm discarding sabot rounds. 700 rounds per minute. Muzzle velocity, 2218 meters per second.

Thing of beauty. Excellent all-rounder. He'd fallen in love with it the moment he first held it. He'd modified his with a holographic reflex sight, an under-slung 30mm smart grenade launcher and a muzzle break. Couldn't wait to try it out.

Malcolm hunkered down behind a car, ever observant of his surroundings despite his threat-tracker. Never rely too heavily on tech. He was surprised out how untouched the city seemed so far; the briefing packet had said there'd been heavy fighting between UNSC Marines and the Covenant in Utgard, but he'd seen little evidence of it so far.

His threat-tracker bleeped at him. Movement. Something big, heading his way from the East, opposite side of the building he was on. Malcolm moved on, quickly and quietly. Best to avoid contact as much as possible for now.

He sidestepped off the street and into a building on the West side of the street, made his way through a handful of ground-floor rooms before exiting into an alleyway and moving onto the next building. At least he wasn't sniper bait indoors.

The next building's alleyway access door was locked from the inside, the door quarter-inch plate steel set in concrete. Must have been something important here before the Covenant came. Malcolm ripped the door from its hinges and entered the building. Looked like a bank.

His ears pricked up has he heard the soft shuffle of booted feet across marble floors. This building was occupied. He spent a quarter-second debating what to do before the decision was made for him; the contact his tracker had picked up earlier was coming this way. He pressed on into the abandoned bank. If he was going to be sandwiched between two hostile forces, he may as well be heading toward his objective when it happened.

Alien voices chattered and warbled ahead; the threat-tracker logged the sounds and pinpointed the locations of the aliens for him, tagging them with an inverted triangle. Five targets, other side of the wall, in the lobby. The big one behind him was getting closer. Now or never.

Malcolm sprang forward, shattering his way through the wall, rifle shouldered, taking the aliens completely by surprise. Two were down to a burst from his rifle before he was even completely through the wall. Another one turned in time to take a round to the face.

Something snapped and hissed at him and a blue blade of searing heat swept toward him. He ducked under it easily and came up with his left fist raised in an uppercut that broke his attacker's neck and shattered its skull.

Another blade jabbed at his mid-section and he whirled out of the way, grabbed the arm holding the energy sword and rammed his palm into the elbow. Bone splintered instantly and the big alien warbled in agony as Malcolm spun around behind it, still holding its useless arm. Malcolm pitched forward, flipping the alien over his back and slamming it into the ground hard enough to crack the marble before driving his fist straight down and crushing its throat.

He stood and surveyed the damage. Five dead aliens. He was unscathed. The big target was moving much more quickly now, and his sharp hearing picked up the thunder of massive, booted feet. Time to go.

Malcolm turned and sprinted across the lobby, shouldered his way through the ballistic glass and out into the street. He crossed the road in the blink of an eye, ramming his way through another door into an apartment complex. He hooked a sharp left, his boots digging into the ground and cracking the floor from the force of his turn. He was going upstairs, planning to stick to the rooftops. He could move quicker that way.

He was on the fifteenth floor landing when he heard movement above him; a door slamming open, the bustle of many feet coming down. On the seventeenth floor landing he barged his way through the door and onto the seventeenth floor proper. He'd made it less than three steps when an apartment door flung open further down the hall and a big alien – Marines were calling them Elites now – emerged, firing at Malcolm.

Malcolm leapt straight up, smashing through the ceiling and landing on the eighteenth floor, still moving forward. He was nearly at the end of the hallway when he heard the door to the stairway open and alien voices calling out. Plasma chased him, nipping at his heels.

He turned sideways, shoulder first and leaped forward, smashing through the brick wall. He caught a brief glimpse of an alleyway below before thundering through another brick wall and rolling to his feet on the eighteenth floor of another apartment building.

"Heads up, Alpha," Malcolm spoke into his com-link. "I'm blown. Continue with mission. I'll lose my tail and RV."

Three acknowledgement lights winked at him as he reached the staircase and continued up. He made it two floors before seeing more Covenant. Three Grunts and an Elite. The Grunts went down easy, a single round to the head each. The Elite took a couple of hits before ducking into an apartment. Malcolm ducked into the apartment next door, planning on bursting through the wall and taking the Elite by surprise.

The Elite thought of it first, though, and tackled Malcolm through the wall, tipping him backwards. The alien landed on top of Malcolm in a position of leverage, and Malcolm was looking down the barrel of a plasma rifle before he knew it.

Malcolm bucked hard and twisted, throwing the Elite off of him and across the living room. He flipped to his feet as the now familiar snap-hiss of an activating energy sword reached his ears. It hadn't come from the Elite he'd tossed, though. It had come from the doorway to the apartment he was wrecking.

A camera in the back of his helmet showed a PIP display of a pair of Elites coming through the door, one holding an active energy sword, the other bringing his to life as he entered the apartment. The one Malcolm had tossed climbed to his feet, his own blade activating as he stood.

Malcolm's rifle lay on the floor in the middle of the room. The aliens moved to surround him, one placing itself between him and his weapon. He drew his combat knife, a nine-inch carbon-kevlar blade, and dropped into a ready stance. The first blade came from behind, as he knew it would, and he ducked and spun as a second blade swiped at him.

He came up knife first, narrowly missed the nearest Elites jugular and gouged a hunk of flesh out of its neck. It grunted as the third blade swung down in an attempt to lop off Malcolm's arm. He pulled back, leaning backwards and placing his free hand on the floor, kicked off with his feet and twirled around to land on his feet facing the first Elite.

He grabbed the Elite's sword arm, trapping it, and drove his knife up under its jaw, penetrating the roof of its mouth and piercing the top of its skull. He yanked the blade free and whirled away as the second Elite swiped at him, cleaving the dead Elite in two before it had the chance to fall.

Malcolm jabbed his fist into the second Elites ribcage, felt bone shatter, jabbed again with his knife hand. The blade slid through ruined bones and into where Malcolm guessed the heart would be. The Elite gasped and collapsed instantly.

The third alien roared and charged; Malcolm rocked back away from his fresh kill and his left leg flashed up in a front kick that crushed the charging Elites chest and shattered its spine, killing it instantly.

Malcolm wiped the blue-black blood off of his knife and retrieved his rifle, giving it a quick once-over to make sure it was still in working order. His tracker pinged as he left the room. Something big, coming from the stair-case. He turned toward the door to the stairs and raised his rifle.

The door flung from its hinges and great, hairy thing hunched through the doorway into the hall. Its head brushed the roof as it glared down the length of the hall at him, baring its teeth. It was like some kind of massive gorilla with a gun. And what a gun!

It was huge, but seemed suitably sized for the simian creature. The bandolier across its chest seemed to hold grenades, which was presumably what its weapon fired; muzzle size seemed right. The weapon had no stock to speak of, just a two foot blade with a wicked curve.

It took a step toward Malcolm and he fired a three round burst on reflex, centre-mass. The rounds punched into thickly matted fur and slabs of dense muscle and blood ejected from the trio of wounds, but other than that the alien seemed unaffected.

It raised its weapon and fired; Malcolm launched himself sideways back into the apartment he'd come from as two grenades detonated in the hall, spraying the walls with shrapnel. He heard a roar and the thunder of feet charging down the hall, felt the vibration through the floor.

Malcolm ducked into the next apartment, popped out into the hallway and fired a five round burst at the aliens head. It wore a simple alloy helmet that was little more than a skull-cap, but it afforded enough protection that the rounds didn't penetrate its skull. It was on him before he could fire again, swinging a meaty paw at his head. He ducked and rolled away, a chunk of wall tearing away where he'd been. He came up and fired a burst into its back, but again the alien seemed to shrug off the wounds and turned around, blade flashing.

Malcolm leaped back, sighting up on its chest as he did so and emptied the remainder of his magazine full-auto, tearing the alien's breast to ribbons. It shuddered under the assault and roared in pain and rage as the rifle clicked empty. It charged then.

Its shoulder connected with Malcolm's side as he tried to dodge, the sheer size of the thing leaving him with nowhere to go. He slammed through the wall and back into another apartment.

The ape turned, followed him into the apartment and swung its huge fist again, flinging its gun to the side as it did so. Malcolm ducked the fist, came up swinging his own, connected with the beast's belly. It let out a wheezing grunt as his fist drove the air from its lungs, swung its other fist.

Malcolm dodged that, jabbed with his left, clacking the aliens jaws together. He danced away and sent a round-house kick to the brute's right side, felt ribs crack under the force. The ape gibbered in rage and began swinging its arms wildly.

What the hell is this thing made of?, Malcolm thought. It felt like he'd punched starship armour.

An arm connected with the side of Malcolm's head and sent him stumbling. He backpedalled quickly and freed his secondary from its holster, an X12 stacked projectile hand gun consisting of four barrels, each with ten rounds stacked inside. The alien had gone mad and didn't even seem to be aware of him anymore; it was simply trashing everything that got in its way.

Malcolm drew as good a bead as he could and squeezed the trigger, emptying all forty rounds in an eye-blink. The alien roared and charged blindly at Malcolm. The Spartan swayed aside and let the beast skid past, crashing through the apartment wall and out into the open air beyond to fall twenty-one stories, hopefully to its death. It screamed in rage the whole way down.

Malcolm collected and reloaded his weapons before heading back out into the hall. He could hear hurried footsteps from the stairwell. He glanced back the other way, eyeing the elevator. It might be worthwhile using the shaft as a point of egress; he could forget about using the rooftops to quickly reach his destination since if the Covenant were even half competent they'd have air support looking out for him by now.

He turned and ran as the first Grunt exploded from the stairwell and fired a hail of pink needles after him. Another joined it and plasma flowed too. The elevator door opened as he neared and another of the simian aliens charged out. Malcolm leaned back as he ran, dropping onto his backside and sliding forward, firing full-auto at the alien as he did.

He passed between its legs and it dropped to the ground in its hasty attempt to turn after him. Malcolm's feet contacted the back of the elevator and he sprang upright, leaping straight up and through the escape hatch immediately as the elevator filled with plasma and crystalline needles.

He aimed down at the elevator floor with his rifle, set his smart-launcher to contact detonate and removed the safety. He fired, blowing a hole in the floor just big enough for him to fit through. He dropped down, arms tucked in and fell through the elevator, reaching out to grab the cable as he dropped through the floor.

Hand over hand, he made rapid progress down. He'd made it six floors when the cable went slack and he swung into the wall of the shaft. A glance up told him the elevator was coming down, far too quickly. Malcolm dropped.

He dug his hands and heels into the shaft wall to control his descent, but the elevator was gaining. He made it another seven floors before letting go of the wall and free-falling, the elevator a second behind him. He hit the ground floor of the shaft, hard enough to rattle his teeth, and recoiled away, legs working like they were spring loaded.

He launched into the stainless steel elevator doors, bending them outward as the force of his leap propelled him through. He rolled to his feet as the elevator hit the floor of the shaft behind him, sending a cloud of dust and shrapnel after him. He was already moving, crossing the lobby of the apartment building, bursting out into the street and skidding to cover behind a parked car.

He surveyed his surroundings quickly before launching off again. He was aiming to put as much distance between him and his pursuers as possible now, and beat feet far faster than any Olympian ever had.

He was three city blocks away from the apartment complex when he ducked into an alleyway and relaxed a tiny fraction. If they were chasing him, he was pretty confident that they'd been unable to keep up and lost him.

"Status, Alpha," Malcolm queried his team.

"One minute," Keiichi answered first.

"Two," Daisy said.

"One," Isaac acknowledged.

"ETA four," Malcolm responded after consulting his tac-map. "Tail lost."

Three acknowledgement lights winked.