Halo: The Flood (Halo #2)

Chapter 13

chapter
Chapter

CHAPTER SEVEN

Seventh Cycle, 49 units (Covenant Battle Calendar) /

Aboard Cruiser, Truth and Reconciliation, above Halo’s surface.

Zuka ’Zamamee had entered the Truth and Reconciliation via the ship’s main gravity lift, taken a secondary lift up to the command deck, suffered through the usual security check, and been shown into the Council Chambers in record time. All of which seemed quite appropriate until he entered the room to find that only a single light was on, and it was focused on the spot where visitors were expected to stand. There was no sign of Soha ’Rolamee, of the Prophet, or of the Elite to whom he had never been introduced.

Perhaps the Council had been delayed, there had been a scheduling error, or some other kind of bureaucratic error. But then, why had he been admitted?

Surely the staff knew whether the Council was in session or not.

The Elite was about to turn and leave when a second spot came on and ’Rolamee’s head appeared. Not attached to his body the way it should have been, but sitting on a gore-drenched pedestal, staring vacantly into space.

An image of the Prophet appeared and seemed to float in midair. He gestured toward the head. “Sad, isn’t it? But discipline must be maintained.”

The Prophet made what ’Zamamee took to be a mystical gesture. “Halo is old, extremely old, as are its secrets. Blessings, really, which the Forerunners left for us to find, knowing that we would put them to good use.

“But nothing comes without risk, and there are dangers here as well, things which ’Rolamee promised to keep contained, but failed to do so.

“Now, with the humans blundering about, his failures have been amplified.

Doors have been opened, powers have been released, and it is now necessary to shift a considerable amount of our strength to the process of regaining control. Do you understand?”

’Zamamee didn’t understand, not in the least, but had no intention of admitting that. Instead he said, “Yes, Excellency.”

“Good,” the Prophet said, “and that brings us to you . Not only were your most recent efforts to trap the marauding human a total failure, he went on to neutralize part of Halo’s security system, found his way in to the Silent Cartographer, and will no doubt use it to cause us even more trouble.

“So,” the Prophet added conversationally, “I thought it might be instructive for you to come here, take a good look at the price of failure, and decide whether you can afford the cost. Do you understand me?”

’Zamamee gulped, then nodded. “Yes, Excellency, I do.”

“Good,” the Prophet said smoothly. “I’m gratified to hear it. Now, having failed once, and having determined never to do so again, tell me how you plan to proceed. If I like the answer, if you can convince me that it will work, then you will leave this room alive.”

Fortunately ’Zamamee not only had a plan, but an exciting plan, and he was able to convince the Prophet that it would work.

But later, after the Elite had rejoined Yayap, and the two of them were leaving the ship, it wasn’t a vision of glory that he saw, but ’Rolamee’s vacant stare.

The Master Chief paused just inside the hatch to ensure that he wasn’t being followed, checked to make certain that his weapons were loaded, and wondered where the hell he was. Based on instructions from Cortana, Foehammer had dropped her Pelican through a hole in Halo’s surface, flown the dropship through one of the enormous capillary-like maintenance tunnels that crisscrossed just below the ring world’s skin, and dropped the unlikely twosome off on a cavernous landing platform. From there the Spartan felt his way through a maze of passageways and rooms, many of which had been defended.

Now, as he walked the length of another corridor, he wondered what lay beyond the hatch ahead.

The answer was quite unexpected. The door opened to admit cold air and a sudden flurry of snowflakes. It appeared as if he was about to step out onto the deck of a footbridge. A barrier blocked some of the view, but the noncom could see traction beams that served in place of suspension cables, and the gray cliff face beyond.

“The weather patterns here seem natural, not artificial,” Cortana observed thoughtfully. “I wonder if the ring’s environmental systems are malfunctioning—or if the designers wanted this particular installation to have inclement weather.”

“Maybe this isn’t even inclement weather to them,” he said.

The Chief, who wasn’t sure it made a hell of a lot of difference, not to him anyway, stuck his nose around the edge of the hatch to see what might be waiting for them.

The answer was a Shade, with a Grunt seated at the controls. A quick glance to the right confirmed the presence of a second energy weapon, this one unmanned.

Then, just as he was about to make his move, a Pelican appeared off to the left, roared over the bridge, and settled into the valley below. There was a squawk of static, followed by a grim-sounding male voice.

“This is Fire Team Zulu requesting immediate assistance from any USNC forces. Does anyone copy? Over.”

The AI recognized the call sign as belonging to one of the units operating out of Alpha Base and made her reply. “Cortana to Fire Team Zulu. I read you. Hold position. We’re on the way.”

“Roger that,” the voice replied. “Make it quick.”

So much for the element of surprise, he thought. The Spartan stepped out of the hatch, shot the Grunt in the head, and hurried to take the alien’s place on the Shade. He could hear the commotion the sudden attack had caused and knew he had only seconds to bring the barrel around.

He swiveled the weapon into position, saw the sight glow red, and pulled the trigger. A Grunt and a Jackal were snatched off their feet as the ravening energy bolts consumed not only them, but a chunk of the bridge as well. All the rest of the enemy forces seemed to melt back into the woodwork.

Then, with no clear targets left in sight, he took a moment to inspect the bridge. It appeared to have been built for use by pedestrians rather than vehicles, had two levels, and was held aloft by the traction beams he had observed earlier. Snow swirled down from above, hissed when it hit the glowing cables, then ceased to exist.

There was movement farther down the bridge deck, which he rewarded with a steady stream of glowing energy. He used the plasma like water from a hose, squirting the deadly fire into every nook and cranny he could find, thereby clearing the way.

Then, satisfied that he had nailed all the obvious targets, the Spartan jumped to the deck. The bridge was large enough that it featured a variety of islands, turn-outs, and pass-throughs, all of which could be used for cover. That cut two ways, of course—meaning that the Covenant had plenty of places to hide.

Moving from one bit of protection to the next, he fought his way across the span, dropping down to the lower level to deal with Covenant forces there, then resurfacing at the far end, where he spotted an Elite armed with an energy blade. The Elite ducked behind a wall.

The Chief saw no reason to close with such a dangerous opponent if it could be avoided, and tossed a plasma grenade over the wall. He heard the startled reaction as the explosive device latched onto the Elite’s armor and refused to let go. The alien emerged from hiding, and vanished in a flash of light.

Thankful to put the bridge behind him, the Chief activated the hatch, made his way through the mazelike room beyond, and entered a lift. It dropped for a long time before coming to a relatively smooth stop and allowing him to exit. A short passageway took him to a hatch and the battle that raged beyond.

As the door opened the Master Chief looked up, saw the bridge directly above, and had a good idea where he was. Then, looking down, he saw a snow-covered valley, punctuated by groups of boulders, and the occasional stand of trees.

Judging from the fact that most of the Covenant fire was directed toward the corner of the valley off to his left, the Spartan assumed that at least part of Fire Team Zulu was trapped there. They were under fire from at least two Shades and a Ghost, but putting up a good fight nonetheless.

He knew that the heavy weapons offered the greatest danger to the Marines.

He sprinted from the protection of the tunnel, paused to shoot the nearest gunner with his pistol, then headed toward the dead Grunt’s Shade. He could feel the heat radiating off the weapon’s barrel as he jerked the corpse out of the seat and took his place behind the controls. There were plenty of targets, a rather busy Ghost primary among them, so the Chief decided to tackle that first. A couple of bursts were sufficient to get the pilot’s attention and bring him into range.

Both the human and the Elite opened fire at the same moment, their reciprocal fire drawing straight lines back and forth, but the Shade won out.

The attack vehicle shuddered, skittered sideways, and blew up.

But there was no opportunity to celebrate as a Wraith mortar tank turned its attention to that corner of the valley, lobbed cometlike energy bombs high into the air, and started to walk them toward the Marines.

The Spartan sent a stream of energy bolts toward the tank, but the range was too great, and the fire couldn’t penetrate the monster’s armor.

Convinced that he would have to find some other way to deal with the tank, the Chief decided to bail out, and was twenty meters away when one of the bombs scored a direct hit on the Shade he had just occupied.

The Marines saw him coming and took heart from his sudden appearance on the scene. A Corporal tossed him a weak grin, and whooped, “The cavalry has arrived!”

“We can sure use your help—that Shade has us pinned,” another Marine chimed in.

The soldier pointed and the Spartan saw that the Covenant had dropped a Shade onto the top of a huge rock overlooking the valley. The elevation allowed the weapon to command half the depression and even as the Chief looked, the gunner continued to pound the area where Fire Team Zulu had taken refuge.

The Marines’ Warthog had flipped, spilling supplies out onto the ground.

The Master Chief paused to grab a rocket launcher, but knew the range was extreme, and that it would pay to get closer.

So he slung the launcher across his back, checked the load on his assault weapon, and moved into the trees. A party of Grunts made a run at the Marines, and were pushed back even as the Spartan spotted a likely looking tree trunk. He moved up, killed the Jackal that lurked behind the tree cover, then brought the launcher up to his shoulder. The Shade winked blue light as he peered through the sight, increased the magnification, and saw the gun leap toward him. Then, careful to hold the tube steady, he fired.

There was an explosion on top of the rock, and the Shade toppled off the side of a cliff.

The Marines cheered, but the Master Chief had already shifted priorities. He ran for the ’Hog.

A mortar bomb exploded behind him and blew the tree cover he’d just vacated into splinters. A Marine screamed as a meter-long shard of wood penetrated his abdomen and nailed him to the ground.

The Spartan grabbed hold of the Warthog’s bumper, then used his armor’s strength enhancements to flip it back onto its tires. One Marine jumped aboard and manned the LAAG, and another jumped into the passenger seat.

Snow sprayed out from behind both of the rear tires as the Spartan put his foot down, felt the ’Hog break loose, and steered into the skid.

The sudden movement gave their position away to the Wraith. It belched, and a comet arced their way and slid sideways across the center of the valley as if to block the humans from reaching the other end.

The Spartan saw the fireball, raced to pass under it, and heard the LAAG open up as the range to the Wraith began to close.

But there was an infantry screen to penetrate before they could dance with the tank, and both the LAAG gunner and the Marine in the passenger seat were forced to deal with a screen comprised of Elites, Jackals, and Grunts as the Chief slammed on the brakes, backed out of a crossfire, and turned to provide them with a better angle.

The M41 roared as it sent hundreds of rounds downrange, plucked Grunts like flowers, and hurled them back into the bloodied snow.

The Marine in the passenger seat yelled, “You want me? You want some of this? Come and get it!” as he emptied a clip into an Elite. The eight-foot-tall warrior staggered under the impact and fell over backward. He wasn’t dead, however, not yet, not until the front of the Warthog sucked him under and spit chunks out the back.

Then they were through the screen, and more important, inside the dead area where the Wraith couldn’t fire mortar bombs without risking dropping them on itself. That was the key, the factor that made the attack possible. The Chief braked on a patch of ice, and felt the ’Hog start to slide. “Hit him!” he ordered.

The gunner, who couldn’t possibly miss at that range, opened fire. There was an earsplitting roar as large-caliber rounds pounded the side of the tank.

Some glanced off, others shattered, but none of them managed to penetrate the Wraith’s thick armor.

“Watch out!” the Marine in the passenger seat exclaimed. “The bastard is trying to ram!”

The Spartan, who had just managed to bring the Warthog to a stop, saw that the private was correct. The tank surged forward, and was just about to crush the LRV, when the Master Chief slammed the lighter vehicle into reverse.

All four wheels spun as the ’Hog backed away, guns blazing, suddenly on the defensive.

Then, having opened what he hoped was a sufficient gap, the Spartan braked. He slammed the shifter forward and swung the wheel to the right.

The vehicles were so close as they passed each other that the Wraith scraped the ’Hog’s flank, hard enough to tip the left-side wheels off the snowy ground. They hit with a thump, the LAAG came off-target, and the gunner brought it to bear again. “Hammer it from behind!” the Chief yelled. “It might be weaker there!”

The gunner obeyed and was rewarded with a sharp explosion. A thousand pieces of metal flew up into the air, turned lazy circles, and drifted downward. Black smoke boiled up out of the wreckage. What remained of the tank slammed into a boulder, and the battle was over.

The valley belonged to Fire Team Zulu.

Cortana’s intelligence revealed there were other valleys, all connected by one means or another, and he would have to negotiate every one of them in order to reach his objective. A drop-off prevented the Spartan from taking the Warthog any farther.

He bailed out and made his way through the snow. A cold wind whistled past his visor and snowflakes dusted the surface of his armor. “Damn,” one of the Marines remarked, “I forgot my mittens.”

“Stow the BS,” a sergeant growled. “Watch those trees . . . this ain’t no picnic.”

Strangely, the Chief felt very calm. Right then, right there, he was home.

It was sunny, only a few clouds dotted the sky, and the strangely uniform hills piled one on top of the other as if eager to reach the low-lying mountain ridge beyond. It had been dry in this region, which meant that the vehicles sent wisps of dust into the air as they climbed up off the plain, and made for the heights above.

The patrol consisted of two captured Ghosts, or “Gees” as some of the Marines called them, plus two of the Warthogs that had survived the long, arduous journey back from the Pillar of Autumn .

Various combinations had been tried, but McKay liked the two-plus-two configuration best, combining as it did the best features of both designs. The alien attack craft were faster than the LRVs, which meant they could cover a lot of ground in a short period of time, thereby reducing the wear and tear on both the four-wheelers and the troops who rode them. But the Ghosts couldn’t handle broken ground the way the Warthogs could and, not having anything like the M41 LAAG, they were vulnerable to Banshees.

Therefore, if an enemy aircraft appeared, it was standard procedure for the Gees to scuttle in under the protection offered by the three-barreled weapons mounted on the ’Hogs. Each Warthog carried a passenger armed with a rocket launcher as well, which provided the Marines with even more antiaircraft capability.

Of course the real stick, the one the Covenant had learned to respect, was a Pelican full of Helljumpers sitting on a pad back at Alpha Base ready to launch on two minutes’ notice. It could put as many as fifteen ODST Marines on any point inside the designated patrol area within ten minutes.

No small threat.

The purpose of the patrols was to monitor a circle ten kilometers in diameter with Alpha Base at its center. Now that the Marines had taken the butte and fortified it, they had to hold onto the high keep. And while there had been some air raids, and a couple of ground-based probes, the Covenant had yet to launch an all-out attack, something that bothered both Silva and McKay. It was almost as if the aliens were content to let the humans sit there while they tended to something else—although neither one of the officers could imagine what the something else could be.

That didn’t mean a complete cessation of activity; far from it, since the enemy had taken to watching the humans, making note of which routes they took, and setting ambushes along the way.

McKay tried to ensure that she never followed the same path twice in a row, but often the terrain dictated where the vehicles could go, and that meant that there were certain river crossings, rocky defiles, and mountain passes where the enemy could safely lie in wait—assuming they had the patience for it.

As the patrol approached one such spot, a pass between two of the larger hills, the Marine on the lead Ghost called in. “Red Three to Red One, over.”

McKay, who had decided to ride shotgun in the first ’Hog, keyed her mike.

“This is One. Go . . . Over.”

“I see a Ghost, Lieutenant. It’s on its side—like it crashed or something.

Over.”

“Stay clear of it,” the officer advised. “It could be some sort of trap. Hold on, we’ll be there shortly. Over.”

“Affirmative. Red Three, out.”

The Warthog bounced over some rocks, growled as the driver downshifted, and entered an open area that led up to the pass. “Red One to team: We’ll leave the vehicles here and proceed on foot. Gunners, stay on those weapons, and split the sky. The last thing we need is to get bounced by a Banshee. Ghost Two, keep an eye on the back door. Over.”

There was a series of double-clicks by way of acknowledgment as McKay took the Warthog’s rocket launcher, jumped to the ground, and followed her driver up the path. A scorched rock, and what might have been a patch of dried blood, served as reminder of the patrol that had been ambushed there not long ago.

The sun beat down on the officer’s back, the air was hot and still, and gravel crunched under her boots. The hill could have been on Earth, up in the Cascade Mountains. McKay wished that it were.

Yayap lay next to a pile of wreckage and waited to die. Like most of ’Zamamee’s ideas, this one was totally insane.

After failing to find and kill the armored human, ’Zamamee had concluded that the elusive alien must be on top of the recently captured butte. Or, if not on the butte, then coming and going from the butte, which was the only base the humans had established. The butte was a strong point that the Council of Masters would very much like to take back.

The only problem was that ’Zamamee had no way to know when the human was there, and when he wasn’t, because while taking the butte would be something of a coup, doing so without killing the human might or might not be sufficient to keep his head on his shoulders.

So, having given the problem extensive thought, and aware of the fact that humans did take prisoners, the Elite came up with the idea of putting a spy on top of the butte, someone who could send a signal when the target was in residence, thereby triggering a raid.

But who to send? Not him , since it would be his role to lead the attack, and not some other Elite, because they were deemed too valuable for such a dangerous scheme—nor could they be trusted not to steal the glory of the kill—especially given the increased demands associated with countering the mysterious “powers” to which the Prophet had referred.

That suggested a lower ranking member of the Covenant forces, but someone ’Zamamee could trust. Which was why Yayap had been equipped with an appropriate cover story, enthusiastically beaten up, and laid out next to a wrecked Ghost which one of the transports had dropped in during the hours of darkness.

The final scene had been established just prior to dawn, which meant that the Grunt had been there for nearly five full units. Unable to do more than flex his muscles lest he unknowingly give himself away, with nothing to drink, and subject to his own considerable fears, Yayap silently cursed the day he “rescued” ’Zamamee. Better to have died in the crash of the human vessel.

Yes, ’Zamamee swore that the humans took prisoners, but what did he know?

Thus far, Yayap had been unimpressed with ’Zamamee’s plans. Yayap had seen Marines shoot more than one downed warrior during the battle on the Pillar of Autumn , and saw no reason why they would spare him. And what if they discovered the signaling device that had been incorporated into his breathing apparatus?

No, the odds were against him, and the more he thought about it, the more the Grunt realized that he should have run. Taken what he could, headed out onto the surface of Halo, sought shelter with the other deserters who lurked there. The dignity of his eventual suffocation when his methane bladder finally emptied had considerable appeal.

It was too late for that now. Yayap heard the crunch of gravel, smelled the musky, unpleasant meat odor he had come to associate with humans, and felt a shadow fall over his face. It seemed best to appear unconscious, so that’s exactly what he did. He fainted.

“It sounds like he’s alive,” McKay observed, as the Grunt took a breath, and the methane rig wheezed in response. “Check for booby traps, free that leg, and search him. I don’t see much blood, but if he’s leaking, plug the holes.”

Yayap didn’t understand a word the human said, but the tone was even, and no one put a gun to his head. Maybe, just maybe, he was going to survive.

Five minutes later the Grunt had been hog-tied, thrown into the back of an LRV, and left to bounce around back there.

McKay recovered two saddlebag-style containers from the wrecked Ghost, one of which contained some clothes wrapped around what she took to be rations. She sniffed the tube of bubbling paste and winced. It smelled like old socks wrapped in rotting cheese.

She stuffed the alien food back into its pack, and investigated the second. It held a pair of Covenant memory blocks, brick-shaped chunks of some superdense material that could store who knew how many gazillion bytes of information. Probably a kilo’s worth of BS? Yes, probably, but it wasn’t for her to judge. Wellsley loved that kind of crap, and would have fun trying to sort it out.

If they were lucky, it would distract him from quoting the Duke of Wellington for a few precious minutes. That alone was almost worth recovering the devices.

As the humans got back on their vehicles and went up over the pass, ’Zamamee watched them from a carefully camouflaged hiding spot on a neighboring hill. He felt a thrill of vindication. The first part of his plan was a success. The second phase—and his inevitable victory—would follow.

Finally, after battling his way through wintry valleys twisting passageways, and mazelike rooms, the Master Chief opened still another hatch and peered outside. He saw snow, the base of a large construct, and a Ghost which patrolled the area beyond.

“The entrance to the Control Center is located at the top of the pyramid,”

Cortana said. “Let’s get up there. We should commandeer one of those Ghosts, we’re going to need the firepower.”

The Spartan believed her, but as he stepped through the hatch, and more Ghosts appeared and began shooting at him, none of the pilots seemed ready to surrender their machines. He destroyed one of them with a long, controlled burst from his assault rifle, then scurried up through a jumble of boulders, and perched on one of the pyramid’s long, sloping skirts.

From his new position he saw a Hunter patrolling the area above, and wished he had a rocket launcher. He might as well have wished for a Scorpion tank.

The pyramid’s support structures offered some cover, which allowed the Master Chief to climb unobserved, and toss a fragmentation grenade at the monster above. It went off with a loud craack! , peppered the alien’s armor with shrapnel, and generally pissed him off.

Alerted now, the Hunter fired his fuel rod cannon, just as the Chief hurled a plasma grenade and hoped his aim was better this time. The energy pulse missed, the grenade didn’t, and there was a flash of light as the Covenant warrior went down.

It was tempting to run for the top, but if there was one lesson the Spartan had learned over the last few days it was that Hunters traveled in pairs.

Rather than leave such a potent enemy guarding his six, the Master Chief climbed up to the first level, ducked around the wall that separated one side of the pyramid from the next, and took a peek. Sure enough, there was Hunter number two, gazing down-slope, unaware of the fact that his bond brother was dead. The human put a burst into the alien’s unprotected back.

The spined warrior fell and slid, face first, to the bottom of the structure.

The Chief worked his way farther up, zigzagging back and forth across the front of the massive pyramid while an extremely determined Banshee pilot tried to bag him from above, and all manner of Grunts, Jackals, and Elites emerged to try and block his progress.

He took a deep breath, and continued his climb.

At the top of the pyramid, the Spartan paused and allowed his long-suffering shield system to recharge. He stepped over the fallen body of a Grunt, and loaded his last clip into the assault rifle.

A huge door fronted the top level. There was no way to tell what waited on the other side, but it wasn’t likely to be friendly—a series of motion sensor traces ghosted at the edge of the device’s range.

“What’s the plan?” Cortana inquired.

“Simple.” The Spartan took a deep breath, hit the switch, spun on his heel, and ran.

It was about twenty meters back to the Shade, and the Chief covered the distance in seconds. Once at the controls he swiveled the barrel around just in time to see the doors part and a horde of Covenant soldiers pour out.

The Shade was up to the job. Just as quickly as they appeared, the aliens died.

Dismounting once again, the Spartan entered a large, hangarlike space, took the time required to deal with stragglers, and activated the next set of doors.

“Scanning,” Cortana said. “Covenant forces in the area have been eliminated. Nicely done. Let’s move on to Halo’s Control Center.”

He made his way through the doors and out onto an immense platform. A gleaming reflective bridge, apparently without supports, extended over a vast emptiness and ended in a circular walkway. In the center of this walkway was a moving holographic model of the Threshold system: a giant transparent image of the gas giant overhead, the small gray moon Basis in orbit around it, and suspended between the two, the tiny shining ring of Halo itself.

Outside of the walkway, stretching almost to the edges of the enormous space, was another model of Halo, this one thousands of feet across, displaying as it rotated a detailed map of the terrain on its inner surface.

The span lacked any kind of railing, as if to remind those who passed over it of the dangers attendant to the power they were about to encounter. Or so it seemed to the Master Chief.

“This is it . . . Halo’s Control Center,” Cortana said as the Master Chief approached a large panel. It was covered with glyphs, all of which glowed as if lit from within, and went together to form what looked like a piece of abstract art.

“That terminal,” the AI said. “Try there.”

The Spartan reached out to touch one of the symbols, then stopped.

He felt Cortana’s presence dwindle in his mind as she transmitted herself into the alien computer station. A moment later, she appeared—giant- sized—over the control panel. Data scrolled across her body, energy seemed to radiate out of her holographic skin, and her features were alight with pleasure.

Her “skin” shifted from blue to purple, to red, then cycled back as she gazed around the room and sighed.

“Are you all right?” the Master Chief inquired. He hadn’t expected this.

“Never been better!” Cortana affirmed. “You can’t imagine the wealth of information—so much , so fast. It’s glorious !”

“So,” the Master Chief asked, “what sort of weapon is it?”

The AI looked surprised. “What are you talking about?”

“Let’s stay focused,” the Spartan responded. “Halo. How do we use it against the Covenant?”

The image of Cortana frowned. Suddenly her voice was filled with disdain.

“This ring isn’t a cudgel, you barbarian, it’s something else. Something much more important. The Covenant were right, this ring—”

She paused, and her eyes moved back and forth as she scanned the tidal wave of data she now accessed. A puzzled look flashed across her face.

“Forerunner,” she muttered. “Give me a moment to access . . .”

A moment later, she began to speak, and her words rushed out in a flood, as if the constant stream of new information was sweeping her along.

“Yes, the Forerunners built this place, what they called a fortress world, in order to—”

The Chief had never heard the AI talk like that before, didn’t like being referred to as a “barbarian,” and was about to cut her down to size when she spoke again. Plainly alarmed, her voice had a hesitant quality. “No, that can’t be . . . Oh, those Covenant fools, they must have known, there must have been signs.”

The Chief frowned. “Slow down. You’re losing me.”

Her eyes widened in horror. “The Covenant found something , buried in this ring, something horrible . Now they’re afraid.”

“Something buried?”

Cortana looked off into the distance as if she could actually see Keyes.

“Captain—we’ve got to stop the Captain. The weapons cache he’s looking for, it’s not really—we can’t let him get inside.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There’s no time!” Cortana said urgently. Her eyes were neon pink and they focused on the Spartan like twin lasers. “I have to remain here. Get out, find Keyes, stop him. Before it’s too late!”


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