As the shield energy test finished, Captain Jacob Keyes' voice echoed from the intercom.
"Bridge to Cyro Two- this is Captain Keyes. Send both the Master Chief and the Lieutenant to the bridge immediately."
Shepard pressed his lips together and tried to reason: "Captain we'll have to skip the weapons diagnostics and I-"
"On the double crewman," growled the commanding officer, before switching off the connection.
"Aye aye, sir."
The officer turned towards the taller figures and nodded. "The Skipper seems jumpy. We better get moving. We'll find you weapons later, Chief."
A subtle nod was given as a reply and Shepard swallowed back the lump in his throat. Cortana had made an announcement not too long ago about Covenant boarding craft. He'd cherished the time he could not on duty, and now he longed to be back home, or at least somewhere away from this ship. But that wasn't the case for him, unfortunately.
Sam saw the Spartans and Shepard head for the door and unlocked it, nodding as he spoke from the deck. "Okay, I'll leave the self-diagnostics running at least."
"Good idea!" Shepard called from below. "You better get to your evac group Sam."
"Affirmative, I just have to reset the computer, and then I'm out of here!" The younger man said cheerfully and smiled, working away at the buttons. But it faded as loud poundings came from the door across the small deck.
The Master Chief and the Lieutenant watched as there was a flash of metal and fire. Plasma fire went into the room and hit Sam square in the chest. He clutched his chest, the look on his face one of shock, before he fell to his knees, scrambling for something they couldn't see. A maroon armored Elite beat the human to the punch and pinned his arm to the ground with his foot, then aimed the plasma rifle and fired.
"Sam!" Cried Shepard, reaching a hand out, thoughts racing back and forth in his head, his heart pounding in his ears.
Silence remained company and the now friendless man shook his head, turning back to the human companions behind him. "Come on, we've got to get the hell out of here!"
The crewman ran out of the door first, followed by the Master Chief, then the Lieutenant. They all moved down the corridor, towards a door when a sudden explosion killed their escort. The Chief recalled maps and passageways of Halcyon-class ships, when the Lieutenant called him over.
"Here," she said, pointing at the other side of a pair of power conduits. Not waiting for a response, she jumped over them and landed in the maintenance hallway. The Chief mimicked the action and looked down at the smaller frame before him.
"I'll take point." She said calmly, gripping the handle of her rifle and sliding it off of her back seal, then handed over the sub-machine gun. The Chief nodded and stayed behind.
"I've never seen you on the Autumn before, so it surprised me when you found that small cut-through," The Spartan II remarked, as they walked down the hall and through a door, making a series of sharp turns in minute halls.
"It would make sense, sense I've never even boarded this ship before…well, before my last mission."
The Lieutenant rolled under a half raised door and came to her feet, checked her corners and found the Master Chief by her side, doing the same. He decided to push on with the query- it would be a more comfortable and easier process if they had at least gotten to know something about the other before they were fighting side by side.
"Then you must study ships."
The slight ease of her shoulders told the Chief that he was correct. "It's my greatest asset, yes. I have excellent piloting skills." The duo decided to take a right, taking advantage of what little time they had and jogged.
Eventually, the jogging led them to a dark hallway. The Lieutenant took point again, moving quickly. In result, she came face to face with an Elite who roared, his attention elsewhere as marines pumped bullets into its chest and it fell with an agonizing snarling sound.
The Chief brought her vitals onto his HUD, nodded in thanks towards the soldiers and gently pushed the Spartan III forward. She obliged and regained the sense of ease, her heart rate dropping to a regular pace.
"Take it easy, you shouldn't be moving so fast," he said firmly, jogging alongside the L.T.
She nodded, the grip on the assault rifle tightening. "Yes, sir."
There was a passageway, the sound of thick metal hitting even thicker metal, then a short silence as a blue arrow and the words 'Bridge' stenciled inside it appeared. The Spartans looked at each other for a moment then proceeded onto the Bridge.
Naval personnel worked endlessly, all attending to different tasks- repelling Seraph fighters, damage control on the ship itself, or using the ship's environmental systems to detach the atmosphere from sealed off areas where the Covenant- and other soldiers and personnel- were located.
Keyes stood at the center of the deck, keeping his eyes on the displayed image of a large ring. Standing behind their commanding officer, the Spartans came to attention, speaking in unison: "Captain Keyes."
The Captain turned to face the small team. The lost color in his face returned, like hope was just placed inside of him from even taking a single glimpse of the people that stood before him. Respectfully Keyes nodded, his arms behind his back.
"Good to see you Master Chief-Lieutenant. Things aren't going well. Cortana did her best, but we never had a chance."
The ghost of doctor the Lieutenant had met on Reach, Cortana, appeared on the terminal next to the screen, her back faced towards the humans.
"A dozen Covenant superior battle ships against a single Halcyon-class cruiser…With those odds we still managed three-"A momentary pause stopped the conversation and the A.I. spoke again, analyzing new data. "Make that four kills."
Cortana looked over at the Spartans, and then moved her attention to the Chief. "Sleep well?"
"No thanks to your driving, yes."
"So you did miss me," she muttered, smiling.
Before any response could be made, a blast ricocheted through the ship. Personnel on deck fell to the floor as the Captain took grip of the console in front of him for balance.
"Report!" He barked, frowning at the sudden interruption. Covenant bastards just couldn't stay still for two minutes.
Cortana's avatar shimmered," It must have been one of their boarding parties. My guess is an antimatter charge."
One of the two fire control officers turned in his seat, sweat lingering across his panicked face. "Ma'am, fire control for the main cannon is offline!"
The A.I. frowned and turned to Keyes. The MAC cannon was the glue to keeping the Autumn's defensives together.
"Captain, the cannon was my last defensive option."
Keyes closed his eyes and looked up at the ring on the screen in front of him. There wasn't any other way. "All right. I'm initiating Cole Protocol, Article two. We're abandoning the Autumn- that means you too Cortana."
"While you do what? Go down with the ship?" She protested, gesturing towards the ring, emphasizing her point.
"In a manner of speaking," the Captain replied calmly, putting his Grandfather's pipe into one of his pockets. "The object that we've found- I'm going to try to land the Autumn on it."
It wasn't logical to land the ship on an unknown structure, built by some type of creature that they've yet to encounter. It was suicide. "With all due respect sir…this war already has enough dead heroes."
The last remark finally received a reaction from Keyes. He turned, making eye contact, his facial features looked like they were made of stone. "I appreciate your concern Cortana- but it's not up to me. The Protocol is clear: destruction or capture of shipboard A.I. is absolutely unacceptable. Meaning you're abandoning ship. Lock in a selection of emergency landing zones, upload them to my neural-lace, and then sort yourself for a hard transfer."
Cortana looked at the ground, no longer willing to argue with authority and nodded. "Aye aye, sir."
The avatar of the blue woman dissolved into the terminal. Keyes turned towards the Spartans, the second part of the evacuation plan coming into focus now that he had dealt with the first part of it.
"Which is where you come in Spartans. Get Cortana off this ship. Keep her safe from the enemy. If they capture her, they'll learn everything: force deployment, weapon research…" The one thing that humanity could not afford to lose, the last frontier, the last planet left: "Earth."
"I understand," the Master Chief said truthfully. The L.T. nodded silently, her jaw clenching in concern at the mention of the planet she was fighting for.
The same silhouette of the two foot tall A.I. reappeared on the terminal.
Keyes raised an eyebrow, "Are you ready?"
A slow glance across her home; she didn't want to leave it. The last thing she looked at was the Lieutenant. "Yank me."
After touching a series of buttons, Keyes watched as the avatar dissolved into the terminal once more, then pulled a data chip from it. He handed it to the Master Chief, as well as his side arm- a pistol.
"Good luck Master Chief, Lieutenant…I don't keep it loaded son, you'll have to find ammo."
The Lieutenant nodded as the Chief slipped the chip into the back slot of his helmet where the neural interface was located. A cooling sensation was felt, along with a small stab of pain. Keyes still held out the pistol, which was taken. The sub-machine had been handed back to its owner. Nothing else was said, so the trio team left the bridge, walking into the rest of the ship.
Human bodies lay across the corridor. It was clear that there had previously been a battle there before. The Lieutenant was alert, her assault rifle shouldered and pointing at every corner she could see. The Chief kneeled next to a fallen woman, closed her eyelids and took some ammo along with her set of dog tags. He loaded the clip into the pistol and closed with a welcoming click.
"See anything?" He called, standing up.
"Nothing…but there's noise coming down from the end of the corridor. Marines must have engaged in another fight at the…" The L.T. paused and brought up a map of the ship onto her visor. "Mess hall," she concluded, looking over her shoulder.
"We should get moving then."
As they marched along the corridor, the sounds of squealing and barking caused them to pause. The Lieutenant ducked behind a wall, curious to see what the excitement was about. The Master Chief did the same, watching as a bright red armored Grunt scurried down the hall with two others, wearing a Marine belt. The Lieutenant sighed, clearly irritated by the sight, and attached the assault rifle to her back seal.
The Chief watched as his comrade pulled her sidearm, the classic 12.7 mm pistol up and aimed at a Grunt. One shot sped across the room and hit what seemed to be the leader of the small group straight in the face. It fell to the floor and the other two aliens pulled their plasma pistols from their waists, trembling and squealing in fear.
The Grunts looked about, searching for their enemy. A glimpse of shining metal caught the eyes of them both. The tip of the combat knife ran along the side of a Grunt's head, the jaw hanging loose from the head. The last five foot tall alien jumped and screamed as it dropped its weapon. It turned and tried to run, but fell to the ground as 500 pounds of flesh and armor tackled the short alien. It felt a sharp jab of pain as the knife went through its skull, and then went limp, dying a gruesome death.
Elapsed time: ten seconds. The Lieutenant stood, pulling her knife out of the skull of the enemy and flicked her wrist, trying to get the blood off. It was a truly horrifying and bloody scene as three different pools of neon colored blood started to form.
"Good work, Lieutenant…a bit violent, I must say." Cortana said, surprising the L.T. She'd almost forgot that the A.I. even existed.
"Mm? That's your only response?"
The Spartans approached the Mess Hall. On the floor of the entrance was what the Chief had been looking for- a MA5B. He shouldered it, just in time to see an Elite run past. He moved through the doorway, helping three other Marines take it down.
"Did you expect something else?" The Lieutenant casually asked, jumping over a table and firing bullets into a Grunt who had the misfortune of being in her path.
Cortana's voice changed to an amused tone; she was beginning to like the Lieutenant. She had studied the Spartan III on Reach, but now having the time to actually interact with her escort was a completely different experience for her.
"I thought you would take it as an insult, really. But I was proven wrong."
Even though the L.T. hadn't taken off her helmet, Cortana could tell that she was grinning. Another trait she learned about her- Spartan 312 liked it when she was right.
There were several small battles and firefights the Spartans had ran through, but the last one was the most difficult. The Chief sprayed an Elite with bullets, piercing its armor and tearing into the sensitive flesh underneath. It ended its life with one last agonizing gurgle as it fell to the floor, followed by several of its comrades.
The Lieutenant's rifle sputtered and hit five Grunts in the face. She looked to her left, eyeing a docked lifeboat. She ran over, the Master Chief not far behind, and stepped in, waiting for her fellow soldier to enter. A Marine had fallen to the floor in the process of trying to get inside as well. He covered his face, trembling and shouting in fear. The Chief picked him up with ease and tossed him inside, then turned and made sure that no other Covenant troops would decide to join them.
"Now would be a very good time to leave!" Cortana shouted urgently, and he backed in the lifeboat. The door sealed and a red light flickered on.
"Punch it." The Spartan II commanded, turning to look at the other armored figure. The space was small, no thanks to the duo.
"Aye, aye sir!" The pilot called and went to work.
The lifeboat accelerated and left the Autumn. It approached its landing zone- the ring. Closing the external com system and setting up a secure link between the Lieutenant and himself, the Chief began to ask about their destination.
"Look!" The A.I. exclaimed and the Spartans moved towards the pilot, looking out the view port. The ring was coming in close, but that wasn't what caught their attention. The Pillar of Autumn was coming in- and coming in fast. Cortana watched with amazement, her suspicions finally answered.
"I knew it! The Autumn is accelerating! Keyes is going in manual!" She exclaimed, quite impressed with her Captain's piloting abilities.
The pilot turned her head just slightly to look back at everyone. "Heads-up everyone. This is it! We're entering the ring's atmosphere in five!"
"You two sure you rather wouldn't take a seat?" Cortana asked in disbelief.
"We'll be fine," the Chief answered for them both, earning a nod of support from the Lieutenant.
The Master Chief and the Lieutenant gripped bars on each side of the lifeboat, preparing for what they knew would be a hard landing.
"If I still had fingers, they'd be crossed," the A.I. muttered nervously.
The lifeboat dove into the atmosphere of the ring and shook in response. The Spartans braced themselves.
"Halo…" The Master Chief heard someone mutter, but wasn't exactly sure who as the new structure- Halo went from large to larger, second by second.
Author's Note: Holy hell! Did you guys read that? They're about to hit a ring! Well I'll be damned-! Didn't see that one coming! :D
I've decided that I'll update every week on new chapters, alright? Yes? Good. Glad we came to an agreement. =u= Hope you enjoyed this one (I know I did *pervy eyebrow wiggle*).
-Until next time, Comrades!