Halo: The Cole Protocol
"Sir, Li here," the comms piece in Keyes's ear buzzed. "They're boarding. The ODSTs want to know how to proceed."
Keyes swallowed. He was next in line. He was now in charge of the ship. All these lives. The mission. It had all been handed to him. This was no classroom, this was all the real front-line mess he'd been hoping to get.
Well, he'd gotten it all right.
They had no navigation data. They were outnumbered. Damaged. And dead in the water.
"Tell Faison we follow Zheng's orders to stand down. Spread the word." Keyes felt numb as he stood up. "Give me directions to the nearest incursion.
I'll go meet the Innies myself."
It was all on him, now.
HABITAT OUTER RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE
Thel sat in front of the bars, his legs folded underneath him, watching the two guards. It was a modified warrior's crouch, one that let a Sangheili rest with his legs beneath him, but in a manner that allowed one to leap up and forward in the blink of an eye. He'd spent long hours practicing with fellow students in the sandy training courtyards of the Vadam keep, learning the pose; now it came as second nature.
The short, shuffling Unggoy that guarded them carried a plasma rifle too large for its frame, and Thel caught the trace whiffs of methane that leaked from around the guard's mouthpiece. The Unggoy -- an annoying lesser being -- was careful to remain as close to the far wall and as far away from the bars as possible, rightly fearing the Sangheili's long limbs.
But that didn't stop the Unggoy from taunting them and puffing itself up. "Look, you mighty Sangheili. Look you not so mighty now, eh?"
Thel growled from somewhere deep in the back of his throat.
"You ignore the Unggoy, yes. Throw us to die at your feet. Don't care when other races take advantage of poor Unggoy. No more. Wait until you are taken to Metisette, then see you our might."
Thel looked over at Zhar. "Might?"
"Unggoy might is a contradiction in terms," Zhar grumbled.
"So think you," the Unggoy hissed. "Just you wait. Just you wait."
"What's this Metisette? That is the second time I have heard that word," Zhar observed. "The Kig-Yar who locked us in here mentioned it."
Thel took a deep breath. "It is the human name for a world around the great gas giant." His calves burned somewhat, now. But he waited still.
Just under his feet, hidden by his crouch, was the long spear of metal. Using the edge of the bedframe, and their own strength, Thel and Saal had taken turns sharpening it further. They'd also cut rudimentary barbs into the spike by shaving out sections of the crude weapon.
Now it was a case of choosing the best moment. Thel didn't want to waste their one attempt.
This cell, they had determined, was in one of the far edges of what Zhar had heard the humans call "the Rubble." Though the Kig-Yar and humans were working together, this was mainly a human creation.
Before Thel's thoughts meandered further, the walls shook and debris began breaking loose. The bars of metal holding them in started bowing and
screeching as they were tortured into slightly different shapes.
Lights flickered, and Thel still remained absolutely still, like a helioskrill imitating a rock back on the home planet, just watching for a meal to unsuspectingly walk by.
As the cell plunged into darkness, Thel felt his weight lift off as the antigravity generators failed. He picked up the spear, the end of it tied off to several lengths of tightly braided sheet strips, and listened.
He could hear the Unggoy's panicked breathing and the hiss of the methane tank as he struggled in the air.
The spear flew out from between the bars and made a wet, crunching sound as it struck the Unggoy. Thel gave the impromptu rope a quick yank, and the screaming Unggoy was pulled right into the bars.
Zhar and Saal waited there. Their long arms snapped the Unggoy's neck and quieted it.
Saal retrieved the plasma rifle as Thel pulled the makeshift spear out of the Unggoy and shoved the body away. Bright blue blood hung in the space, expanding into large globules as the Unggoy slowly spun in the air.
"Get the lock," Thel ordered.
After bracing himself against the far wall, Saal fired at the lock three times. Plasma blew the device away into a cloud of molten metal rivulets that flew across the room, sizzling against Unggoy skin and slapping into the wall.
The four Sangheili pushed the cell door open and floated out as the lights flickered back on.
They hit the floor, along with dried metal beads and the Unggoy's limp body. Blood splattered the floor a split second later.
Zhar lopked around the room, blinking as his eyes adapted to the overly bright human lights. "They brought us in over there." He jutted his mouthpieces in the direction of a corridor.
Thel moved with the spear, taking point.
The Kig-Yar still here would deeply regret jailing him, he thought, as he turned a comer and spotted one of them standing by an airlock door.
Thel sprinted the length of corridor, caring little for stealth. The Kig-Yar spun, a protective shield flaring up by his forearm, but Thel struck so hard the Kig-Yar's head smashed into the bulkhead behind him, and he drooped to the ground.
Saal peered in through the window briefly, then pulled back.
"More inside," Saal grunted. "But they seem preoccupied."
Thel looked at the door controls, regretting his impulse to kill the Kig-Yar guard so quickly. The collection of buttons that the humans used to control things stumped him. But he managed to tap a large green button that cycled the door open.
The Kig-Yar all turned and found themselves facing Saal with the plasma rifle aimed right at their heads.
"Remember us?" Saal said, and pulled the trigger. Long Kig-Yar faces exploded as Saal calmly shot all four in the head over their screeches of fear and rage.
"And that," Veer said, stepping over the bodies and closing the airlock door of the ship behind them, "is why you never imprison Sangheili; you execute them."
The walls and seats were splattered with bright purple blood. Thel looked around with satisfaction. "That is a good start," he said, a pleased rumble in the back of his voice. "Throw the bodies out."
Now it was time to find out what the Kig-Yar, humans, and Unggoy were up to. And make them all pay.
OUTER RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE
Petya's alarms sounded. Jai bolted for the cockpit, where Mike was already strapping in. In the far distance a bright flash receded, a glowing ball of excited trace gases in the vacuum of space that had been disturbed by an explosion's shock wave.
"That's a Shiva," Mike said, reading off the monitors. "Probably three, actually."
"Nukes? Who's nuking the Rubble?" Adriana asked.
"Us," Mike said. "There's a UNSC ship in system. Some sort of stealthed ship."
"Prowler? ONI coming around to check up on us?" Jai wondered.
Mike shook his head, half of which was covered in shaving cream -- he'd been in the head when the alarms flashed. "Would have piped us a message by now. No. this is fleet. Looks like a frigate on the long-range."
"One of our own," Adriana said.
"Getting the crap kicked out of it," Jai said.
Adriana nodded. "Look at all those ships surrounding it. What the hell were they thinking?"
"Arm us up. Let's get in there and see if we can help," Jai said.
"Too many ships," Mike said. "I don't have enough explosive surprises to get those guys off its tail. Plus, I'm seeing a bunch of them moving in to board it. That's a death trap, Jai."
Jai hit a console with his fist, leaving the imprint in the metal.
"Easy, cowboy," a female voice that wasn't Adriana's said.
Jai whirled to find Juliana's image appearing at navigation, her large eyes regarding his.
It's just a simulation, he told himself. Those eyes can't see, like they almost seem to right now.
The AI spread her arms. "I can help your UNSC friends; you can't. Mike is correct. They're surrounded. They fell into a trap. One of their bridge crew was a sympathizer who signaled the ship's location. They're being taken to temporary holding cells."
"And after that?" Jai asked.
"After that, well..." Juliana folded her arms. "If they followed instructions, I doubt they have working navigation data. Which means they're no major threat. They'll be left to live. If they aren't, I've threatened to stop working for the Rubble. They need me too much to ignore that. It all falls apart without me."
Jai glanced at Adriana over the top of the AI's image. Adriana smiled back.
"I will look after this," Juliana continued. "I'd like you to go look after Ignatio Delgado. I've sent Mike the coordinates."
"Adriana's pet Insurrectionist? Why?" Jai walked over and sat in front of the AI.
"He's in a spot of trouble. And we need him because, while I can spy on him and monitor his movements, he's been quite canny about keeping the navigation data hidden even from me. I think he fears you might hack me." Juliana cackled at the thought, then stopped abruptly, looked around, and continued. "I think at this point, Delgado may give you the data for safekeeping."
"Why is that?" Mike asked, eyes narrowed. The AI smiled and shrugged. "Call it a hunch," she told the team of Spartans. And then she flickered off.
Jai frowned. "I don't feel like being some AI's errand boy." Mike raised his hand. "Yeah, she's also holding back on us."
"How's that?" Jai moved to his side.
"The ship the dockworkers were passing rumors about, that was coming back from the colonies, was the
Kestrel, remember? Well, it's out there now. The chatter is that the UNSC ship came in after it. Took me a bit to find her ..."
Jai slapped him on the back. "Damn good. We go for the
Kestrel, knock her engines out when she docks."
"And Delgado?" Adriana asked. "He's the next navigation puzzle."
"Once that smuggler's out, we snatch Delgado for the AI." Jai smiled. Everything was coming to a head now. It was time to move. Mike stood up and nodded. Gray Team was on the same page.
"Your pet AI? Jai, I think maybe it just likes you," Adriana said as she turned around to go back to where their Mark IV MJOLNIR armor waited on brackets. Jai and Mike followed.
"You're just jealous," Mike said, as they stopped in front of the armor. "But then, we both seem to be making friends out here. Shame Jai doesn't seem to have the social knack."
"Idiots," Jai said. "We're not supposed to be making friends."
"But it's so much more fun." Mike grinned.
Adriana chuckled, then looked at the armor waiting in the gloom for them. "Get the feeling we're going to be spending a lot of time in our second skin?"
Jai reached a hand up and caressed the gray exterior.
Yes. he did have that feeling. Things were past that tipping point where you felt you could still back away and lie down in the grass and just observe.
No, someone had tossed grenades into the anthill. It was time to jump in and participate.
Back in action.
IN ORBIT, METISETTE. 23 LIBRAE
Thel grumbled happily. They'd taken the Kig-Yar shuttle out farther away from the Rubble, slowly scanning the area until they'd found a larger Kig-Yar transport ship on its way to Metisette.
They boarded it, fast and quick, before the few Kig-Yar on board had even realized what had happened.
On board were several hundred Unggoy. The Kig-Yar had been in charge, but didn't have the numbers to run their own ships. Now the Kig-Yar were
But the Unggoy had run the ship for the Kig-Yar. That made them useful. They were willing to work for Thel and his crew, or so the cowering Unggoy Deacon said as Thel stood on the purple-stained bridge. "It would be the Prophets' will," the Deacon yelped.
"It would be," Thel said from behind the Unggoy. "We are on a direct mission from a Hierarch."
The Unggoy waddled about, shifting its mouthpiece, to face Thel. It looked up and spread its arms out. "I do not question. I serve. That is our fate," it moaned.
Thel couldn't care less for Unggoy self-pity. "Tell your crew this ship flies where we command, or we will slaughter every last one of you. Saal will go down to engineering and watch over you. Veer will roam the corridors."
Veer growled, and the Unggoy backed up. "Sirs! We will do our ship duties! Doubt us not."
Thel turned to Veer and Saal. "Be wary. The slightest notion the Unggoy are playing games, hold nothing back."
Veer and Saal grunted affirmatively and walked out of the cockpit.
The deacon turned to go, but Thel held up a hand, and the Unggoy froze.
"What is down there, Unggoy?" Thel asked. He pointed at the image of the planet on a screen at the front of the cockpit.
It was Metisette. Its sickly, yellow-orange-colored atmosphere swirled; thick, cold storms lashed the icy surface.
The Unggoy stared at them, saying nothing.
Thel turned back to the screen and folded his arms. "Zhar, my closest advisor, didn't want to come here. He wanted to turn this transport right around to attack the Kig-Yar ship docked by the humans, and take that right back to
High Charity so we could warn the prophets about the Jiralhanae treason."
"A noble choice," the Unggoy said.
"It is not," Thel said. "We were captured, and jailed. When we return, we will be lucky if we hold our titles, if not our very names."
The Unggoy trembled at Thel's anger. "What is your name, Deacon?"
"Pipit," the Unggoy replied.
Thel folded his arms. "Pipit, one of my ancestors, a kaidon of Vadam, lost a war to one of the keep's bitter rivals. The new kaidon put my ancestor in the cellars, jails where the defeated were left in the most dishonorable manner imaginable. They were fed scraps, and visited by the invaders to be mocked and laughed at. The most honorable among the jailed killed themselves or each other.