AN: Be advised, aliens and humans are going to be getting shot in the face with 26th Century projectile weaponry and high-powered energy weapons. Bodies are going to get thoroughly mangled.

1425 Hours, 20 October 2552 (Military Calendar)

D+00:00:20:50 (Spartan-117 Mission Clock)

Onboard Cairo Station OWP-142

The Master Chief was faintly listening to the heavy drumming of Ciaro's Point Defense grid filling the void around her with kinetic slugs of varying calibers along with her Point Defense Lasers. They were the staccato undercurrent to the rest of the sounds of war permeating through Cairo, the rapid fire tenor of her missile and torpedo batteries, the heavy rumbling of her secondary batteries and mass drivers, and every few seconds the whole station would ring like a bell when the SMAC fired.

These sounds the Master Chief filled away as not necessary to his current situation. He had to focus on the battle ahead of him more than anything else. He checked his MA90 once again, the weapon was loaded with explosive buckshot. He knew what the capabilities of this gun were and the fact that in close quarters it would be absolutely lethal.

"Malta, this is Cairo, what's your status, over?" Johnson asked over FLEETCOM having been patched into earlier courtesy of Cortana, through the viewport they could see countless flashes of light as Covenant and UNSC warships exchanged salvoes with each other. The beginnings of a vicious brawl that, given what limited info the Chief knew, would spell doom for the Covenant fleet.

There was a pause before Malta Internal Defense answered. "We're already engaged over here, we got multiple boarding craft five seconds out! Standby," there was a pause followed by a clang that was audible through the link. "they're latched! Enemy forces disembarking, they're in standard formation. Little Bastards in front, big bastards in back! Good luck Cairo!"

There was a loud bang as a Type-28 Boarding Craft docked with Cairo, the docking sent tremors through the decking. The Master Chief cocked his MA90, cycling the bolt and loading the first round into the chamber as he flicked off the safety.

The auditive sensors in his helmet picked up the sounds of alien feet marching through the corridors beyond the hatch. With a thunk something was placed on the hatch. The Master Chief felt almost sorry for the Covenant, almost. The poor bastards were going to be charging straight into a killzone dominated by several MA5s, an M247, a few BR55s, and a single MA90.

"As soon as they charge in through that hatchway, let'em have it! Remember Marines, Cosmonauts, Cairo is a human station, we know this place and they don't! We got the home field advantage!" Johnson commanded as he racked the bolt back on the machine gun with an ominous chi-chock sound.

The biggest reason that boarding a ship or station was dangerous and that casualties were always to be expected was simply because you didn't know the ship. The enemy did, during boarding drills even the Marine Corps always took at least sixty percent casualties. He suspected that among the Covenant that number was much higher given their use of unshielded infantry with armor that could only take UNSC PDW fire with any sort of degree of reliability. More than that, due to the tight confines that were present within a ship or station, unless it was an O'Neill Colony Cylinder it was impossible to do proper fire team and squad level tactics beyond basic flanking. Right now, the Covenant would have to pass through a 'vertical coffin'.

To put it simply, the 'vertical coffin' was the hatchway. Mostly due to the fact that anything coming in through a hatchway, that was part of the preplanned defensive effort for counter-boarding on Station Cairo, which meant that it had a lot of guns pointed at it ready to shred anything that wasn't human which dared to pass through. The Master Chief poked his head over the Holotable.

That hatchway began glowing, heating up. It went from black to cherry red, to white hot in the span of two seconds and then it exploded inward. Heat filled the room as the explosion's shockwave went through it, but clad in his Mjolnir Armor it wasn't even an inconvenience for the Spartan as his visor polarized to reduce the effects of the flash and the audio receptors reduced the noise of the blast. While encased in their BDUs it probably didn't even bother the Marines. But judging by the yells from the Security Team, it did affect them.

Two plasma grenades arched into Recreation R-01 and they detonated in midair like some sort of flashbang, filling the compartment with horrific light and sound. The Holotable that the Master Chief was using for cover was partially slagged by one of the detonations and actively caught fire, flames licking up from the ruins. The other had detonated almost harmlessly almost. It instantly slagged a holonewstation and caused a Marine to collapse to the deck screaming horribly his armor glowing orange and white.

The Chief popped out of cover just as first Grunts began to run through the breach. Their plasma pistols cracking and hurling bolts of emerald death, the noise of the reports was partially drowned out by the weapons of the Security Team beginning to roar as Recreation R-01 turned into chaos as it became a warzone.

The Grunts began to wallow through mud despite not there being any. It was as if time itself was slowing down to the Spartan's perspective as he entered combat. Seemingly crawling by yet racing, it was a phenomenon that his 'sister', Kelly had coined as 'Spartan Time'.

The Master Chief fired his shotgun, the weapon boomed, hurling explosive buckshot downrange at over seven hundred meters per second. The front two Grunts staggered back, luminous blue blood squirting from their wounds and then the nanotech fuze inside each pellet activated. There were flashes and with muffled crumps, the aliens blew apart. Chunks of armor and luminous blue blood went everywhere as their shattered corpses fell to the deck.

A moment later, the Marines in the room opened fire. Their rifles, battle rifles, and the machine gun bellowed. Filling the room with bullets as they fired at the Covenant soldiers storming the compartment.

Wails of pain and agony from alien conscripts filled the compartment as luminous blue ichor splashed onto the decking in copious amounts. Then the first Elites charged into the room, their plasma rifles blazing. Bolts of azure fire streaked over the Chief's head and immediately several streams of tracers from the Security Team stopped amid choked screams. He leveled his shotgun and flicked the weapon to full automatic then pulled the trigger.

The shotgun went off like an artillery cannon three times a second as he fired, shifting out of cover to the right in order to flank the aliens. The Minor he was targeting didn't know what hit it, the first salvo of explosive buckshot stripped the alien of its energy shields amid a fusilade of noise and it staggered, it was beginning to whirl towards him when the second salvo hit it and the alien screamed in pain as it dropped its plasma rifle. The alien's other hand went flying to the mangled remains of its left arm. The third salvo blew the alien's chest apart in an explosion of armor and indigo blood.

More Grunts stormed into the compartment as the Minor's corpse hit the deck with a crash. Immediately the lot exploded as Johnson brought the M247 to bear on them, the 350-grain SAPHE rounds tore right through their armor like it was made of paper and detonated inside, green flames erupted from what little was left as their methane packs ignited.

The Chief pulled out an M9 HEDP grenade, thummed the activation switch and with a call of "Frag out!" he strong armed it, the grenade landed at the feet of a Major that was just storming in. The alien had a weird weapon, a longarm of some kind and then with a massive wham the grenade exploded and lifted the alien off its feet. It crashed to the ground and was in the process of getting back up when the Chief fired a sustained burst from his shotgun. Five salvoes of explosive buckshot crashed into the alien and blew it apart in an apocalypse of violence and gore, sending armor, blood, pieces of bones and organs everywhere.

Three shots left in the current drum.

One of the remaining Minors whirled to face him and roared in alarm in stilted English. "DEMON!" That particular alien then had its chest blown open as a Marine with a BR55 landed a pair of bursts on him, the anti-material rounds tore the shield down in a single burst and the next three rounds punched through the armor. Indigo blood squirted out of the seams and jagged holes in the armor and it collapsed.

Pandemonium broke out amongst the Covenant, the few remaining Grunt Minors and Majors panicked and tried to flee out of the compartment. Only to get punted back inside as three more Elites and four more Grunts charged in. Two more Majors and an Elite wearing orange and black armor, a Super while the Grunts all wore White Armor, Ultras. From what he knew, Covenant Supers were Platoon Leaders. Who promptly opened fire with their weapons, emerald and azure fire lashed out at the humans.

There was a horrible wail from a Marine, a Private Loke Frank fell to the deck shrieking, his arm simply ending at the elbow. While one of the Security Troopers collapsed with a hole the size of a basketball having been torn out of her chest cavity, sending crimson splashing across the decking.

Johnson's M247 bellowed, a Grunt exploded sending more blood and gore splashing across the decking amid mangled alien plating as the diminutive aliens began to scatter when more fire tore into them, two more collapsed. Then the Spartan saw the man shift his fire and began sending rounds into one of the Holonewstations where an Elite Major was firing periodically from. The rounds chewed through the station and began punching into the alien's shield.

It was beginning to shift to new cover when the Master Chief put the last three rounds in his drum into the alien. It staggered in surprise and then fixed its gaze on him and was in the middle of roaring a challenge as the cyborg reloaded when a frag grenade landed at its feet. With a wham it exploded and the alien was instantly shredded.

Now with a new magazine in his shotgun he leveled it at the Super and the two Majors, they too had those new Type-50 Plasma Rifles. The long-barreled weapons were appearing in significant numbers and they had a substantial increase in damage and range from the previous Type-25 rifle. They could be a problem.

Something that even as he began to pull the trigger, they began firing at the Marines. His targeted Major recoiled from the explosive rounds that hammered into it, but this one was smart. It seemed to notify the Super who turned to face him, its mandibles spread in a wide grin as it roared a challenge. The alien dropped the rifle that it held and its arm went to it's chest.

It's pulling a sword. The Spartan thought and sure enough, a crackling two-pronged energy blade sprang to life with a snap-hiss and the alien charged, it's triple jointed legs propelling it to nightmarish speed. He jammed down on the trigger as he back-pedalled, the shotgun roared its challenge. The first three blasts tore down its shields and sent the alien rocking back, the fourth practically eviscerated the alien's midsection and it collapsed in more or less two pieces, spasming violently as the sword guttered and went out. The Cyborg calmly strode up and fired once more, blowing its head and upper torso apart.

The Spartan looked up just in time to see one of the Majors bolt back through the hatch. That action caused him to raise an eyebrow, the Elites were Warriors they would never retreat lest they bring dishonor down upon them. However, one thing the Cyborg had noticed was that as the Human-Covenant War had progressed, particularly in the last few years, the Elites had begun to act more like soldiers and less like warriors. It was strange, at the start of the Human-Covenant War he had seen Elites lead charges of Grunts without thought into killboxes by the score till the ground was soaked with blood and littered with corpses to the point that successive waves had to dash over their own dead. That had shifted in the midpoint to just massed Grunt waves against UNSC positions, but the Elites gaining a soldier's mindset was something else.

If anything it showed that both the UNSC and the Covenant had learned much during this long war. The longest continuous war in humanity's history. "Shit, you guys ain't never seen an Elite retreat before?! There's more outside! Press forwards." Johnson growled as the man took the machine gun off the tripod.

The Cyborg saw Marines and Navy Cosmonauts rise from their defensive position. He suppressed the urge to frown, Security Team Gamma had been reduced to just two and they had started with ten men. Combat Team Alpha had been reduced from sixteen Marines to ten. Considering that three whole Lances had just tried to force their way through Recreation R-01, that wasn't bad.

Master Chief took point as they left the Recreation Room and just as he passed through the mangled hatch, he heard a snap-hiss of an energy sword igniting followed by a wild bellow that his suit translated as a challenge that came from his right. Oh fuck. The Master Chief thought as he pivoted on the spot as a blurring energy sword came towards his neck, he ducked and the slash from the Major that had fled sliced into the mangled the metal of the hatchway, carving through the metal effortlessly.

The alien was in the process of yanking the blade out when the Master Chief lashed out with his fist, driving it straight into the Elite's mandibles. It recoiled and that bought him the time he needed, he drew his knife from its compartment in the left forearm plating and then as the alien was about to slash at him again he stepped inside its guard and buried the knife to the hilt in its neck and then sliced it horizontally. The monomolecular titanium-carbide blade carved through flesh and body glove like it was made of paper, slicing open the vital veins and arteries in the Elite's neck. It staggered backward, dropping its sword as its hands flew up to its neck in a desperate attempt to quench to blood that was fountaining from the wound.

It never got the chance for the Master Chief leaped back and then lashed out with his foot in a vicious roundhouse kick that struck the Elite at chest level, the cuirass it wore caved under the massive blow with an audible crunch and a glob of blood flew out of the Elite's mouth from the strike as it crumpled into a heap.

The Master Chief looked down the passageway and saw another Covenant File, several Grunts and a pair of Elite Minors down the passageway at an intersection. He signaled to the Marines who were filling out of Recreation R-01 to hold their fire. He locked on with his neural lace, a portion of the right shoulder in his armor lifting upward to reveal the weapon launcher and the two 35x100mm Hydras contained within, then with a simple command from his Neural Lace the missile launched with a crack.

Two seconds later, it became a ball of fire right where the aliens were. Pained squeals and wails filled the passageway. "Advance!" The Chief barked over the comm. As the launcher retracted back into its housing.

The Grunts were in pieces, bright blood splattered liberally over the decking and walls, the lone surviving alien was making this awful keening as it pawed at what was left of its fellows with its remaining arm. The Elites weren't in much better shape, their armor was crumpled and rent with indigo blood pouring from their wounds. Before any of the humans could do anything, one of the Elites activated something that blazed with blue-white fire.

"GRENADE!" The Master Chief yelled as he leapt back, an instant later there was a high pitched screech and the plasma grenade detonated with a mind-numbing roar. Heat and force crashed into the Master Chief as his visor went to full polarization. When the light cleared, the grenade had blasted a hole through the decking and wall, the ramp the Elite had been slumped against was mangled into ruin.

"Well that was interesting!" A slim, tall olive skinned Voidswoman said as the noise from the grenade died away. The Master Chief ignored the quip and quickly accessed the station's internal sensors. So far at least a dozen Boarding Craft had docked with Cairo, the number of boarders was increasing exponentially as the craft disgorged their cargo into the station. The number would soon result in the Marines and ODSTs being outnumbered by the Covenant. He then went over his options and the layout of Station Cairo, if the aliens gained Recreation R-01, they could quickly access a Maglev Station and quickly get to just about anywhere in the station.

He highlighted the remaining Marines and two Cosmonauts before addressing a heavy set man. A Sergeant Marks. "Sergeant, take your Marines and what's left of Security Team Gamma and hold Recreation R-01 at all costs. Prevent the Covenant from gaining access to the Maglev."

"Aye Master Chief! Alright, you heard the man, back to Recreation R-01!" The sergeant barked and the Marines and Cosmonauts raced back to their defensive positions.

Save for a Master Sergeant that held an BR55HB in his hands. "I know you're not leaving me out of this party, Master Chief." Master Sergeant Johnson said using the external speakers on his helmet, looking up at his big friend. "So what's your plan?"

The cyborg turned back towards the end of the passageway, one that led deeper into the station and spoke. "We're going to sweep this station free of anything that isn't human."

The Master Sergeant depolarized his helmet and grinned broadly, revealing pearly white teeth. "I like the way you think Master Chief." the man said.

Chief Petty Officer Tamara Zola was not having a good day as she frantically hurried with the rest of Security Team Alpha to Pelican Bay A-01 onboard Cairo Station, securing the straps on her vest as she ran. The MA5C in her hands was heavy, the Security Teams had drilled and drilled for the nightmare scenario that had now come true.

She was going to be fighting the Covenant, she knew her odds of survival and how low it was. The vest she role was made of interlocking Titanium-A3 Discs whose thickness was nowhere near the armor that the Marines wore. Basically, all that meant that if she got hit center mass by an alien with something heavier than a plasma pistol, she was going to die. Her helmet wasn't much better in comparison to what the Marines got.

It was terrifying and as they ran to the sounds of combat. All Tamara could think about was the fact that she was going to die here, on an orbital platform above humanity's cradle. She hadn't even been born on Terra or in the Sol system for that matter. But the Covenant had glassed her homeworld years ago, and now she was going to die defending the homeworld. It was something that she dreaded.

The whine of energy weapons and the thud thud thud of automatic weapons got louder. The security team burst into one of the doors for the Pelican Bay. It was a large two-storey compartment capable of holding a total of six Pelicans in individual slots. There were gantries and gangways for gaining access to the dorsal surface of the dropships.

In the ten minutes that have passed since the Covenant first boarded Cairo through the three-meter thick transparent Titanium-A via three boarding craft. The genocidal aliens had almost completely overrun the place, a few sporadic Marine fireteams still fought against the tidal wave of aliens, but most of the four Combat Teams had been decimated and almost all the security teams were down in their entirety. Streams of plasma and glowing purple needles crisscrossed the hangar as tracers retaliated.

I am going to die here! Tamara thought frantically as the Security Team leader barked for them to find cover and engage the enemy. She dove behind one of the M72 Mobile Barrier-Smalls that hadn't been reduced to slag and shouldered her rifle. Dammit, her aim was shaky, she had done this dozens of times dammit in the simulations with no problems. Why was she being so terrified now?

Elites, Skirmishers, and Grunts fired their weapons as they bounded from cover to cover. These were crack troops as they assaulted the human positions.

Tamara finally controlled her breathing and fired, the rifle kicked, digging into her shoulder as its war cry rang in her ears. Twelve gram projectiles screamed out of the barrel going some twelve hundred meters per second, tracers flashed through the air so fast she could barely track them. The burst missed the Skirmisher, it squawked at her and raised its rifle.

High-pitched cracks rent the air as purple lines streaked towards the barrier, impacting and detonating; the barrier could take that sort of firepower. "Die!" she screamed as she fired again, the MA5C roared and this time she hit the alien. It fell with a screech.

Voidsman Berzenc, a close friend of hers took a three round burst. She nearly vomited as the plasma blew his torso apart in a cataclysm as the energy super-heated the water and blood in his body, limbs and his head went flying amid an explosion of crimson and steam. All that was left of the man, was just part of his waist and legs.

She fired again as the plasma continued to fly and people she knew were cut down left and right. The aliens were seemingly unstoppable. Why? The bay was lost, why couldn't they just give it up and fallback to secondary defensive positions?

Cairo rang like a gong as her SMAC fired.

She honestly didn't know, all she knew was that she was going to die here, it was something that she hated. Frantically reloading her rifle, she continued to fire at the Covenant. An energy bolt struck the barrier, even through the thirty-and-half centimeters of Titanium-A2, the back of the mobile barrier began to glow cherry red.

I am gonna die here, goddamn that Ukranian at Internal Defense to hell! Tamara thought bitterly as aiming up at an Elite Minor she fired, the rifle bellowed and the shields blazed with light. The alien strafed left and right making it difficult to land hits, firing with its plasma rifle as it did so. The air behind the shield began to grow hot rapidly as the energy splattered upon the mobile barrier, the one man bunker that was her position would be her grave. Already the plating was glowing orange with pricks of white in some places.

She reloaded, not having much time left she knew, she would try and empty this magazine at the Elite that would kill her. The MA5C roared its fury at the alien and finally, the alien's strafing couldn't save it. The energy shields blew and indigo sprayed as several rounds punched through the alien, leaving holes nearly two inches in diameter in its front. The armored monster fell to the decking with a clang, its hand spasming around the trigger and sending azure fire streaking into the rafters.

Again she heard the cracking of a Needle Rifle and felt something punch her in the stomach and pain blossomed in her midsection. She looked down and had just enough time to scream before there was a flash of pink and darkness swallowed her.

The Master Chief burst into Pelican Bay A-01, Master Sergeant Johnson and three Marines two steps behind him. In an instant he analyzed the situation from the catwalk. It was bad, the internal defense turrets in this compartment had already been slagged into uselessness, two of the Combat Teams were down in their entirety as were all three Security Teams. The remaining two Combat Teams were down to half strength and outnumbered nearly three-to-one. Granted, the majority of the aliens were Grunts, but there were a few scattered Skirmishers and Elites as well. In this fairly large compartment, nearly 130-meters in length and 75-meters wide; the MA90 would still be effective but only against the Grunts and Skirmishers, not so much the Elites. With that in mind, he slung and pulled the Battle Rifle, it was a powerful weapon firing high-velocity semi-armor piercing high-explosive rounds. It would be perfect in this situation.

"Marines provide fire support from this gantry. Target the Elites!" The cyborg ordered as he identified the ranks, most of them were Minors and Majors, but there were two Supers and an Ultra.

"Aye Master Chief." Private Dubbo replied as the Marines opened fire, Johnson's heavy barrel Battle Rifle roared and an Elite Minor took the burst in the head, the higher muzzle velocity granted by the heavier, longer barrel meant the rounds imparted more energy into the target's shields meaning they failed on the second round allowing the third to punch through the helmet and pulp the alien's head.

The Chief vaulted down from the gantry, the BR cracked on single shot and Grunts fell left and right their bodies blown open by the explosive rounds. His boots slammed into the deck with a horrifically loud clang that echoed through the hangar as he switched to three round burst as he sighted the Ultra some 120-meters downrange and commenced firing. The rifle spoke and the Ultra recoiled in shock as surprisingly accurate rounds hammered into its shields.

That seemed to gain the attention of the Covenant. "It's a demon!" one of the Elites shouted as plasma fire began to shoot towards him. The Master Chief spun out of the way and kept up the fire on the Ultra, on the second round of the fifth burst, its shields popped and the alien was knocked flat on its back as the last round crashed into its helmet.

The Spartan swore as the alien got back up, Ultras had insanely tough armor and this was no exception. He fired two more bursts in rapid succession, to the point that it sounded like the battle rifle just fired a six round burst and the alien toppled amid a geyser of indigo blood as the alien's chest was torn open when the two rounds that penetrated its armor detonated.

"Not elite, run!" A Grunt wailed and several Grunts simply broke and ran as battle rifle fire continued to rain down.

The Cyborg kept on firing as he whirled to the left and right in fluid motion, as the Elites, Skirmishers, and Grunts fired upon him. A plasma pistol bolt struck him in the shoulder, lowering his shields by a fifth as golden energy crackled over his armor. He reloaded and kept on firing even as a Skirmisher flew apart thanks to the supporting fire. With a rushing roar, a grenade exploded amongst a cluster of Grunts and the aliens were reduced to something that looked more at home in a meat packing plant.

An Elite Super raised a Plasma Repeater in his direction, the massive weapon had five rotating barrels. It spat electric blue fire in staccato bursts of five at the Spartan who rolled out of the way, he was well aware of the sort of damage that thing could do. Raising his battle rifle he engaged the Super as he moved to a partially slagged M72-MBS, he winced as he stepped in the remains of what had been the remains of a young woman's abdomen which had been violently torn apart, life amber eyes looking up at the half-ton armored giant that loomed over it.

The Spartan gritted his teeth and fired at the Super with his battle rifle. But the alien was smart, the bastard kept on ducking and weaving, pausing for only the slightest of moments to fire a burst of plasma at something then continue its maneuvers. But that's why he didn't play fair, he gestured at the alien with his hand and it glowed red with the marker "Priority Target" emblazoned on it.

The remains of the two Combat Teams finally got their act together and began to mount a proper resistance. The first clue that the Covenant got was when he heard a whoomp, an instant later an alert flashed over his HUD in ominous red letters:


A cluster of Skirmishers disintegrated into a mass of flying body parts and purple gore amid a concussive boom as a 50mm programmable smart grenade detonated in their midst. Moments later an Elite fell as several Assault Rifles and Battle Rifles turned on it and opened fire.

Seeing this as his opportunity. The cyborg wheeled out from behind cover as he slung his BR and drew the automatic shotgun. Explosive pellets tore into an Elite Major and sent it down with three quick blasts to strip the shields and mangle the squishy alien underneath, it wailed in pain as the cyborg began to strafe as well, his shotgun booming and causing the mangled body of another Elite to collapse. He then shifted his fire to the next Elite and that alien had just fallen to the deck with most of its upper torso missing when a burst of five plasma bolts struck his shield and knocked it down to a mere 25%, triggering an alarm to start playing in his helmet. He dove behind a pillar, coming into one of the slots for a Pelican Dropship to let his shield recharge while he looked for the source of the five bolt burst and scowled when he saw it.

Somehow that damn Super was still alive despite taking fire from several Marines, its plasma repeater continued to blaze azure fire at a frankly astounding rate and the tracers probing for the alien ceased. Alright, it was time to change tactics. The Chief slung his shotgun and drew his Magnum. A plan forming in his mind he was a hundred meters give or take a few meters away from the Super, all he needed was his sidearm, his blazing speed, and his reaction times to pull this off.

He rolled out of cover and charged at the alien, crossing the distance in less than five seconds. He struck shoulder first and the alien dropped the plasma repeater as it was bowled off its feet by the blow, the alien's energy shields blowing out from the blow, the armor it was in letting out an audible crunch. The Elite was still in midair when quick as a cobra the cyborg lashed out with his arm, grabbed the alien's arm in his armored gauntlet and pulled, there was a pop and the arm was ripped free from the socket causing indigo blood to fountain from the wound. However it also adjusted the trajectory of the alien just enough to give him a clean shot. The magnum barked and the alien's skull blew apart.

The repeater was just beginning to hit the ground when the Spartan returned the Magnum to its magnetic clamp and scooped the weapon up. The remaining Super was just beginning to realize that the Spartan had relocated to its flank when the Cyborg opened fire with a weapon that could be considered a light plasma cannon. The first burst of plasma completely collapsed its shields, blew an arm apart and punched a glowing crater into the Elite's side armor, the alien was just beginning to scream in pain and recoil to the Spartan's enhanced eyes when the next burst of supersonic plasma impacted and blew the Elite apart in an explosion of gore, shattered bone, flying limbs, and wrecked armor; leaving behind part of the head, part of an arm, and the legs.

That broke the Covenant, the few remaining Grunts and Skirmishers, stunned by the loss of the last two Elites, panicked and broke then. They tried to flee to the Boarding Crafts that had brought them in, but between the Master Chief and the dozen or so surviving Marines, they didn't even get halfway there. They were mangled by grenades, blown apart by explosive bullets, or eviscerated by the Master Chief's newly acquired Plasma Repeater.

The Master Chief as soon as the last alien fell, strode back to the partially slagged M72-MBS that he had used for cover, he could see a trio of holes from what could only be a Needle Rifle. He came back behind it and closed the eyes of the dead woman, she was of italian descent judging by the nametag on her uniform. He stood up and then began to pick over the fallen Elites and Marines for ammunition and grenades.

Onboard Station Malta, in the Fire Control Center for the starboard forward MAC Bay, which controlled the firing solutions for one of the massive MAC turrets that supplemented the station's monstrous SMAC. Rested an oblong object covered in spikes.

"Time left on the purifying light?" One of the four Sangheili asked, he knew his duty. This was something they volunteered for.

"Two Mini-Cycles, the evacuation of our forces is in progress." The leader, a General wearing the colors of a Zealot replied as it hefted a medium plasma cannon that was connected to a backpack powercell. The energy in the cell gave him literally tens of thousands of shots.

Dots appeared on his motion tracker, the Major nodded. "Humans inbound, judging by the speed it's a Combat Team."

Marines, the humans elite regular troops. They were devils in their own right, warriors to be respected for their fighting prowess. He just hoped that the Purifying Light, something that would, admittedly only fractionally, cleanse the orbit of this world of the filth known as humanity not get hit before the evacuation was complete. They were remarkably finicky things for the simple fact that they used antimatter and that containing it was a hassle in it of itself. It wasn't unheard of for these devices to explode simply because a penetration from a human kinetic weapon had tossed them around inside their magazine. Something that usually resulted in the destruction of the ship in question.

Before the Supreme Commander had been branded with the Mark of Shame for allowing Halo to be destroyed, rumors were floating about that his fleet used Pure Fusion Warheads as purifying light. Given his ruthlessly pragmatic attitude, it made sense to the Major. He checked his Plasma Repeater and nodded.

The humans were going to be surprised when they stormed inside, yes. A rumble heralded the arrival of one of the two highly specialized boarding Mgalekgolo that had helped them fight their way through the corridors of this human station and into this fire control center. It hadn't been easy, wrestling the warhead through the tight passageways and making sure the relatively delicate device wasn't hit by gunfire. But the Mgalekgolo had helped immensely in this regard.

The hatchway slid open and grenades came bouncing into the compartment, they detonated with furious whams and then the Marines charged in. The roar of their rifles was almost immediately challenged by the high pitched whine of plasma weapons. The repeater that the Major held was lethal, the first burst he fired blew a Marine in two.

He heard the foul tongue of the humans. "Oh Jesus Christ, that's a bomb! Malta Internal Defense commence evacuation! The Covenant got a bomb on the station!" one of the Marines screamed and was cutdown a second later by a bolt that melted through his helmet and blew his head apart.

A new alarm sounded as Marines continued to fall, bullets smashed into the Major's shield and flattened them. Moments later a grenade detonated and he toppled, agonizing pain in his legs and lower abdomen. But still he fired at the humans and despite himself, he grinned. The humans were too late.

There was a chiming sound from the Purifying Light, one of the Marines said in a low tone "Oh fu-" then the world turned white.

Platform Malta, like all Moncton class Orbital Defense Fortresses, was a marvel of human engineering. It was protected by meters of Titanium-A3 Battleplate, its structural plating wasn't the normal TR Steel Alloy that was used normally but this new Durasteel plating that was simultaneously tougher and lighter than TR Steel in plates that were nearly a meter thick. The station was also big, composed of a hexagonal platform that was some eight hundred meters across and was some three hundred meters thick, the majority of the station's immense height, nearly two and half kilometers was due to the immense Mark V SMAC that dominated the station. When the bomb inside the platform detonated, it didn't stand a chance of containing it.

For a brief moment, the inhabited part of the station appeared to balloon as if an immense amount of pressure had been released inside the station and was looking for a way to escape. In the end it brute forced the problem, amid a blinding flash of light a full third of the platform was blasted apart with most of the mass being outright vaporized. The station's reactors blew a moment later, tearing the entirety of Malta apart like it was made of paper mache. The huge Super MAC snapped in half at the chamber of the immense weapon and the barrel went cartwheeling into space. While the larger pieces that remained went tumbling, tearing themselves apart with their own rotation.

Station Malta had simply ceased to exist.

1445 Hours, 20 October 2552 (Military Calendar)

D+00:00:40:27 (Spartan-117 Mission Clock)

Onboard Cairo Station OWP-142

The Master Chief had just picked up several plasma grenades when suddenly a blinding white flash filled the Pelican Bay, it was brief but eye-searing. "What the fuck was that?!" the cyborg heard Master Sergeant Johnson bellow.

The connection to FLEETCOM clicked. "Cortana, Seabiscuit. What the hell happened to Station Malta?" Lord Hood demanded over the link. The Master Chief was wondering the same thing, that had been the death flash of a ship or in this case, it had been the death flash of a station.

Dubbo began whispering. "This is bad, real bad. That flash came from the direction of Malta."

"Yeah." Another Marine replied.

Cortana replied as Cairo rang like a bell yet again. "According to the final moments of the station as logged by the battle network, a Covenant bomb was discovered in the FCC for one of the MAC Turrets. An evacuation was ordered, but it hadn't even commenced before the device exploded. Given what our sensors picked up, the yield of the device was easily several dozen megatons." the AI replied.

The Master Chief swore sharply as the other shoe dropped. So the Covenant had a plan for dealing with the orbital guns. It wasn't the easiest of plans, sneaking a bomb onto a station that could obliterate a Moncton class Orbital Defense Fortress was no easy feat. It would have to be a device with a yield similar to a FENRIS, at least 150-megatons in order to do so. Plus from what he knew, Covenant ordnance big enough to destroy a Moncton class was generally pretty big and wouldn't be easy to hide.

"Then they sure as hell brought one here. Alert Station Athens, they probably got a bomb as well. Master Chief, Marines, Security Teams, canvas this station, the Covenant brought a bomb with the intent of blowing us all into space dust, find it ASAP and disarm it. Cortana, see if you can find it as well through the station cameras." Lord Hood ordered firmly.

"Yessir." The Master Chief replied quickly.

"How the hell are we even going to find it?" one of the Marines asked. "The damn thing could be anywhere on the station by now."

The Master Chief knew how to answer that question. They would simply use a process of elimination, whichever areas had been overrun by the Covenant would be the most likely areas where the bomb. He pulled up a map of the station and noted the flashing red areas as indicated by biometric and video data that had been overrun by the Covenant. He was on the portside lunar side of the ODP on A Deck having been directed there to help repel boarders in Pelican Bay A-01. The closest areas that were confirmed to have fallen to the Covenant were Pelican Bay A-02, Commons B-01, Security Station B-01, and Fire Control Centre Bravo. The Chief grumped irritably, Fire Control Centre Bravo was on the other side of the platform. Naturally.

That was just great. He sighed, such was the life of being a soldier. You could do things either the simple way or the hard way. Nine times out of ten, you had to do things the hard way. He was used to it though, so he wasn't about to complain about it since it seemed like almost every single campaign he had been forced to do things the hard way or more usually went completely FUBAR. However, if they were on a clock then it could get difficult and he had to assume that he was on a clock considering how long it had taken since the boarders had hit Station Malta. Which meant that depending on how lucky they were, the Covenant would soon probably have the bomb ready, which meant he would have to go EVA. His armor and the armor that the Marines wore was certified for it, but he hated fighting in zero-g it always messed with his aim.

"Cortana, give me the fastest path between Pelican Bay A-01 and Pelican Bay A-02, we'll start there and if the bomb isn't there we'll work our way through the various areas that have been secured by the Covenant." The Master Chief spoke into the comm, alerting the AI.

"Aye Chief. Uploading the fastest route to your HUD now." Cortana replied and a blue line appeared on his HUD.

The cyborg nodded. "Marines with me!" he commanded and he led the Marines towards the back of the Pelican Bay and through a hatch. It was tight maneuvering but they advanced, checking every hatch and corridor as they advanced.

A shadow shifted almost imperceptibly along the wall on an intersection they were coming up on, it sure as hell wasn't human. The Master Chief held up a fist and brought the collection of Marines to a halt. "Contact, thirty meters, left. Unknown species, but it's not human." he said and the acknowledgement lights from the Marines winked.

He pulled out a frag grenade thumbed the activation button and threw it at an angle. The device skipped off the decking and into the intersection, detonating at about waist level with a wham. A deep roar filled the passageway and this thing rushed into the intersection. It was as tall as an Elite, but with short trunk-like legs and arms. One of which held a small shield and the other held what looked like several plasma cannons. The thing was covered in thick crimson plating. It let out a basso rumble, the beast was quite possibly the worst thing that the Master Chief had expected to encounter.

"Oh shit! Boarding Hunter, frag that thing!" The Spartan called as he dove to the deck and opened fire with the Battle Rifle. The alien bellowed a challenge and leveled its arm weapons, indigo fire filled the hallway dueling with the tracers. This wasn't a firefight with any tactical maneuvering, just a pure smackdown drag out brawl.

The explosive rounds hammered into the alien's armor and it began to glow from the heat being imparted into it as more plasma lashed out from the plasma cannons. The air was seemingly tearing itself apart as it did so from the hellish bellow of the energy weapons. But the alien slowly began to stagger and rock back, rounds began impacting the alien, sparking off the plating and striking its body glove. Orange goop splattered onto the decking.

Whomp. The sound of a grenade launcher discharging filled the passageway, a 50mm HEDP grenade struck the huge hulking alien monstrosity and exploded, the heat and pressure roared through the passageway and the decking shook. Without wasting any time, the Master Chief leaped up sprinted to the fallen Hunter which was trying to get back up, he activated a plasma grenade and shoved it into the alien's midsection then leaped back. Two seconds later there was a loud screech and blue-white fire filled the passageway amid a loud boom.

"Right, that thing should stay dead." One of the Marines said as they came up from their varying positions and began to advance once again. They'd started with twelve and were now down to seven.

It should remain dead, considering I just shoved a plasma grenade into its midsection. The Master Chief thought as Cortana butted in, her disembodied voice speaking in his ears. "Just a friendly reminder. Bomb." she said, her voice taking on a slightly snarky tone.

"Advance!" The Chief commanded the Marines. They continued bounding down the passageway in pairs, covering each other as they headed towards the Pelican Bay. In this tight confines, firefights often came down to who was better at aiming and equipment wise.

Dots flashed on the Master Chief's motion tracker and as he wheeled around. A cluster of Grunts and Skirmishers greeted the half-ton of power armored cyborg. The Master Chief pulled the trigger on the MA90 and two Skirmishers flew apart into clouds of gore, feathers, and shattered armor.

Pandemonium erupted amongst the Covenant as they realized that a seven foot tall, green metal-ceramic armored cyborg that represented a half ton of pure havoc had just come around the corner. From the Spartan's viewpoint they were just beginning to panic when the MA90 boomed again and a trio of Grunts blew apart, fragments of armor and mangled flesh going everywhere.

The Grunts broke and began to flee as the Skirmishers scattered for cover. The MA90 spoke again and another Skirmisher flew apart. The Marines engaged, 7.62 and 9.5mm rounds screamed downrange with hypersonic cracks, Grunts and Skirmishers fell at the sudden onslaught. But if anything, the Covenant hadn't dealt humanity so many crushing defeats for panicking so suddenly.

An Elite Super stormed into the passageway, brandishing two plasma rifles. Energy blazed and the Spartan whirled around, effortlessly evading the energy bolts as the cyborg pulled out a plasma grenade and hit the activation rune before flinging it "Plasma out!" he barked over the radio as the Super's shields glittered and flared from the high powered rounds impacting it, but they stayed stubbornly up.

The grenade was another matter entirely, it smashed into the Super's helmet and it staggered backwards before charging with a panicked wail towards the Chief. It never got there before the grenade exploded and the Super along with several Grunts vanished in a flash of blue-white fire. The Skirmishers fired their Type-50 Long Rifles and Type-31 Needle Marksman Rifles at the Spartan and the Marines.

One Marine fell with a scream, blood oozing from his neck but it wasn't spraying like the Chief expected. He realized in an instant that a crystalline needle had punched through his neck and not hit anything important.

Supersonic needles and plasma streaked through the air. Several plasma bolts impacted the Chief's shields and they flared, dropping them by half.

The MA90 boomed and another Skirmisher dissolved into flying giblets, shattered bone, and mangled armor. The cyborg advanced and the Skirmishers backpedalled, the Grunts having long fled. Another of the bird-like aliens took a burst from an MA5 and collapsed with a blood-curdling squawk of agony as purple sprayed from the wounds.

The Master Chief threw a grenade with a call over the freq of "Frag out!" and when it went off, the last two Skirmishers fell, having been torn apart by the grenade. "Clear!" he commed to the Marines and nodded when the Marines repeated his call.

Johnson was helping the Marine who got hit back to his feet, the Master Sergeant having applied biofoam and a quik-clot gauze. As that was happening, the Spartan checked the station's internal sensors and nodded. The Grunts weren't far, in fact they were at the intersection just up at head, around the bend. They were obviously lying in ambush, it might have worked against a Security Team, but against a Marine team being led by a Spartan-II, it was futile.

He gave a hand motion and they moved forwards, as they approached the intersection. "Grunts are waiting in Ambush, left. Pull grenades." The Spartan ordered and dropped a navpoint so the Marines would know where to throw grenades.

Grunts wailed in surprise, along with an Elite giving a startled roar when over a half dozen frag grenades were bounced into the area they were in. A half-second later detonated like a string of firecrackers and as the roar from the grenades detonating faded away, they heard the Elite screaming in pain. As they came around the corner, they found a scene of devastation: the Grunts had been torn apart with the passageway thoroughly decorated with gore while the Elite was missing its legs and had an arm mangled into uselessness. One of the Marines fired a burst from her rifle into the alien and it stilled. "Xenos scum!" she spat, the words that came from the external speakers of her helmet had nothing but spite.

The Chief checked how far they were from the Pelican Bay and nodded, they weren't far now. "Cortana, how many Covenant are in the Pelican Bay?" the cyborg asked as they began to approach the bay.

"Several levies of Grunts, mostly standard configuration, a Lance of Skirmishers, and several Brutes." The AI replied and the Cyborg paused, seeing Brutes during a boarding action was rare. Mostly because the big aliens struggled with the passageways onboard UNSC stations and ships. For the simple fact that they were too big to easily maneuver through them, even Elites had been known to struggle on occasion with them.

"Repeat Cortana, did you just Brutes?" The Master Chief asked, he knew that the question was likely rhetorical, but it was better to double-check.

"Confirmed Chief, looks like six Brutes. They are equipped with power armor." The AI replied coolly.

The Spartan grimaced. "Confirmed on Brutes." To say that the cyborg hated fighting Brutes was an understatement. The aliens were stronger than even Spartans and were insanely tough, to the point that they required several bursts from an Assault Rifle or a magdump from an SMG to put down. It was the main reason why the standard ammunition for the BR55 was explosive and why the UNSC had developed 7.62mm explosive rounds just so that they could be put down easier. Shotguns could also put them down easily, however the Spartan was out of explosive buckshot and was down to flechettes, having expended the last of the explosive buckshot during that last encounter.

Thus it paid to have a plan though, he knew that he had the best armor and the most combat experience out of all the Marines here. He quickly thought up a plan, he would be the first one into the Pelican Bay followed by the regular soldiers several seconds after he did. That way the Covenant would be almost entirely focused on him and wouldn't notice the Marines until it was too late. At least that was the hope.

In light of this, the Spartan slung the MA90 and pulled out the BR55, after checking the weapon he was satisfied with its condition. 117 didn't smile, indeed he knew that he had the advantages here as they came up to the passageway entrance to the Pelican Bay. It was the entrance closest to entry doors for the Pelican Bay. He keyed the Line of Sight Intersuit. "On my mark enter the Pelican Bay." he said.

Then he stormed in, his eyes prowling for the Brutes. They immediately locked on to one some fifty meters away. The overall silence of the Pelican Bay was thoroughly shattered by the roar of the BR55, the Brute Minor's turquoise colored armor while it provided some protection; it didn't pack energy shields, the three round burst punched through the alien armor like it was made of paper and then they exploded. Green blood erupted from the holes and seams in the armor, the alien made this horrific screeching noise as it crumpled to the ground, spasming violently.

The yapping of Grunts and the screeching of Skirmishers filled the chamber along with the alarmed bellows of Brutes. But the aliens were only now just beginning to realize the threat, but to the Spartan they hadn't even begun turning before the Spartan had the next Brute, a Major sighted. Hypersonic 9.5mm rounds crossed the distance before the Major's brain had even sent the signals for it to turn around. They punched through the back of its indigo helmet and black body glove, blowing the skull and neck apart. The helmet clattered to the decking as blood geysered into the air, followed by a loud crash as the corpse hit the ground.

Moving through thick mud, the Grunts began panic firing. Bursts of plasma criss-crossed the bay, the Skirmishers tried to get them back in line only to get shot at by the Grunts themselves. The Spartan for the moment ignored the antics of the lesser aliens and fired another three round burst, another Brute Minor's helmet and skull split open like a gorud amid a fountain of bone fragments, brain matter, and blood.

Three Brutes down, where are the other three? The Cyborg thought as he shifted his gaze upwards, there were two more Minors and another Major up there. Gotcha ya.

The Master Chief off-handed the Battle Rifle as he raised his forearm and targeted the area that the Brutes were at with a Hydra. A thought caused the missile to lock-on, another thought fired it. The missile shrieked across the bay and exploded with a roar right below the Major's feet. The pre-fragmented casing resulted in the Major looking like it had just gone through a blender while the Minors were on the gantry flailing in pain, blood pouring from wounds in their legs and arms.

"Marines, Mark!" The Spartan boomed as he switched to single shot. The Marines stormed in, their weapons blazing at everything that wasn't human, between the hellishly accurate fire from the Spartan and the Marines, the panicking Grunts and Skirmishers lasted less than a minute before their mangled corpses were decorating the deck.

The bomb wasn't here.

Cairo rang like a bell as the SMAC fired, the Chief quickly calculated the next way to get the next probable location. "Cortana, I need access to ammunition bay three."

"Done. Chief careful there are," the AI was cutoff as the Spartan stormed down the ramp. The trio of Grunts didn't know what hit them as the MA90 boomed, sending flechettes into their bodies and thoroughly shredding them. "Mis-" the AI began as an Elite gave a surprised roar only for the roar to turn into a shriek of surprise as a Plasma Grenade struck it in the face, knocking it off its hooves. The alien vanished in a blue-white fireball when the grenade exploded. "Never mind." the AI replied before realizing they were still on the clock. "If this thing goes off Chief, I am never talking to you again."

"Have you found the bomb yet? It would make my job easier." The Spartan replied to the snark.

The AI once again cycled through the various cameras. For some reason most of the cameras in the Fire Control Center weren't functional. For two whole seconds, something that was like a lifetime for an AI capable of trillions of calculations per second; she processed what this could mean. Then it hit her. "Found it, the bomb is in FCC Bravo, depressurizing said compartment." The AI said and took great pride as according to the biometric scans, the five Elites within the compartment began to panic as the atmosphere was forcibly sucked out. They flailed, tried to hold their breath, do anything. But they couldn't because the systems were designed to complete their task in thirty seconds. She could just imagine their mandibles snapping at nothing as they tried to find breathable air, air that wasn't there. One by one, the aliens collapsed.

"FCC Bravo is secure sans bomb, giving you the best route Chief." Cortana told the cyborg and then Cairo station shook violently as the AI's mood soured immediately as damage reports streamed in. "Oh dammit, we just took a salvo of particle beams, Chief the quickest route requires you to go EVA. For the love of God, don't get your suit breached!"

"I won't." The Chief replied as he began to move through the ammunition bay.

The AI had just done the electronic equal of a shake of the head when a stream of expletives suddenly came over the Battle Net. It took Cortana a moment to figure out which AI was unleashing the cluster atomic F-bomb and she did the electronic equivalent of a blink of surprise. What could cause the normally calm and collected Hapai of Station Athens to fly off the handle like that? She commed the AI in question. "Hapai, what the hell happened over there?" she sent via message package.

The response caught Cortana by surprise. "Cort, Athens just got hit by three plasma torpedoes that managed to slip through the Carrier Division guarding us and our own PD net. One of the umbilicals is completely ruined, a Harpoon torpedo battery was knocked offline and the resulting plasma fires are threatening to detonate the magazine, and the SMAC's barrel and chamber got slagged. The CO has ordered an evacuation of non-essential personnel." Hapai replied sourly, anger still noticeable in his voice.

Cortana thought up about fifty different swears that she wanted to use, however, she used none. Instead she just notified Lord Hood who let out a single muttered "Dammit."

The AI had to admit that bit of news certainly wasn't good. Particularly because it meant that with Athens offline, all that was left defending this sector was just Station Cairo. Suffice to say, this wasn't exactly a good thing since that meant there was too much void to protect with just one platform. Hell, the battle wasn't only just barely an hour old and the Covenant had already destroyed one ODP and crippled another's ability to fight.

What's worse was that the lead Super Assault Carrier was simply refusing to die, the thing had already tanked over seven hits on the energy shields and they weren't showing signs of failing. The thing had to be regenerating faster than they could tear it down, but how could that be plausible? Each one of the massive projectiles that the Mark V SMAC fired struck with several hundred gigatons of TNT, taking one projectile would put a crimp in the day of even Covenant Super-Capitols. How was it that this thing was absorbing a level of firepower that could destroy a fairly large asteroid in a single shot? The sheer shield regeneration capability required to do that was alarming.

"Lord Hood, recommend Battle Group Warspite hit the two Assault Carriers with everything, leave the evading Battlecruisers and Frigates to us." Cortana suggested as she put another shot into the lead ship to a brilliant flash of light, that upon clearing revealed a ship that was untouched. Alright, she was beginning to get seriously annoyed.

Lord Hood nodded in acknowledgement. "That's what I am thinking, those Seraphs and fast attack ships covering that Super Assault Carrier are ensuring that missiles and torpedoes aren't getting through and it's too dangerous for our own squadrons to approach. They'll get cut to pieces by that monster and its escorts, we are going to have to grind it down. Send it Seabiscuit, Cortana shift target."

"Aye sir, sending orders." Seabiscuit replied and Cortana shifted the ODP somewhat, she checked the status of the MAC. The CCS class Battlecruiser had no idea about its sudden plight as she calculated everything that was required for the shot to connect. Then she smiled and hit the firing command.

Electromagnetic coils of immense power flared, space dust at the end of the muzzle and around the barrel ionized into plasma creating a purple halo around the immense structure. An instant later, a glowing white 1800 slug of tungsten carbide screamed out of the gun, the battlecruiser which hadn't been hit at all didn't stand a chance. It shattered into quintillions of pieces as the slug punched through the shields and armor like they didn't exist and released its energy into the ship.

"Scratch one Battlecruiser!" Cortana announced gleefully as a buzz of approval went through CIC.

"Nice shot Cortana."

AN: Now I hope that wasn't too bad of a chapter.

Tune in for the next chapter: Return to Sender; coming soon.