<<Message Received[Priority OMEGA] Timestamp: 0030, April 23, 2541
Origin: Lethe Orbital Garrison, UNSC Colony Planet Charbybdis IX
[Observe Situation Gamma Protocol]

[Send to: Reach HIGHCOMM; CASTLE BASE]

---Covenant Forces {probable number of ships estimated at 113} detected on route by long range Slipspace Probes. Estimate ETA approx. 0450 hours, UNSC Reach Standard Time. Request IMMEDIATE reinforcements, and are commencing evacuation Protocols. Have initiated Cole protocol, as listed below for confirmation and authentication purposes:

Article 1

United Nations Space Command Emergency Priority Order 098831A-1 Encryption Code: Red Public Key: file/ rst light/ From: UNSC/NAVCOM Fleet H.T. Ward To: ALL UNSC PERSONNEL Subject: General Order 098831A-1 ("The Cole Protocol ) Classification: RESTRICTED (BGX Directive) The Cole Protocol To safeguard the Inner Colonies and Earth, all UNSC vessels or stations must not be captured with intact navigation databases that may lead Covenant forces to human civilian population centers. If any Covenant forces are detected:

1. Activate selective purge of databases on all ship-based and planetary data networks.
2. Initiate triple-screen check to ensure all data has been erased and all backups neutralized.
3. Execute viral data scavengers (Download from UNSCTTP://EPWW:COLEPROTOCOL/Virtualscav/fbr.091)
4. If retreating from Covenant forces, all ships must enter Slipstream space with randomized vectors NOT directed toward Earth, the Inner Colonies, or any other human population center.
5. In case of imminent capture by Covenant forces, all UNSC vessels MUST self-destruct.

Violation of this directive will be considered TREASON and pursuant to UNSC Military law articles JAG 845-P and JAG 7556-L, such violations are punishable by life imprisonment or execution.

End message >>

*******************

<<TRANSMITTING MESSAGE [Priority OMEGA] Timestamp: 0030, April 23, 2541

Origin: Reach HIGHCOMM, UNSC Navy Command, Reach, Epsilon Eridani, FLEETCOM Sector One

[Situation Gamma Protocol Recognized and Observed]
[Sent to: Lethe UNSC Orbital Garrison, UNSC Colony Planet Charbybdis IX]

---Have received your communiqué. Activation of Cole Protocol has been documented and recognized. Reinforcements are on route. Have dispatched Hades Sector Fleets Alpha-Theta. 263 ships on route, ETA 0465 hours. Have dispatched all available SPARTANs, ETA 0460 hours. Hold out, and give ‘em hell Marines.

End Message>>

*******************

[Timestamp: 1723, May 09, 2541]
UNSC Colony Planet Charbybdis IX
1.23 kilometers outside of the colony spaceport

The Covenant had been busy. Most of the city was in flames, and they had rounded up the surrounding civilians. The entire garrison had evacuated off of Lethe Station using HEV drop pods, escape modules, and all available landing craft to reach the surface and some semblance of safety. This left only a token force of volunteers and the station commander to man the station’s MAC guns so as to delay the Covenant as long as possible. It had combated the Covanent fleet for 46 minutes, a testament to both the bravery and the tenacity of the men and women who had stayed behind.

While the civilians that had been on board, technicians mostly, made for the wilderness, the military forces that made landfall fortified the Capital as much as possible. But, they were overrun by the sheer numbers of the massed Grunts and Jackals, directed by their Elite commanders, as well an entire company of Covenant Armor, Wraith Energy Mortar Tanks protected by Ghost Light Hoever Attack Units and Phantom-class dropships. Red Team had managed to lure them into a carefully planned ambush, a field laced with Lotus Anti-Tank mines. Massed-fire with M41 SSR Jackhammer rockets destroyed most of the survivors, and the Spartans had captured the remainder.

Unfortunately, they were too late to save most of the populace, as the energy mortars had systematically leveled the city, block by block, behind the advancing ground troops. Blue Team Leader, Master Chief Petty Officer Spartan John 117, observed the massacre of those who had managed to fortify the spaceport. He watched helplessly as they were torn to pieces by ravenous Jackals, and slaughtered by bolts of plasma launched by Elites and Grunts bearing Plasma Rifles and Pistols. It was unfortunate, but by the time his teams could reach them, there would be nothing left but smoking piles of so much meat.

The Spartan panned the monocular scope around the city, scanning in an outward spiral, until he reached an otherwise untouched suburb. A few Elites, the rookie warriors with blue armor, were being escorted by two dozen grunts bearing plasma pistols, and a small squad of Jackals were beginning their search of the area.

A slight hint of motion drew the Master Chief’s attention, and he noticed a small group of survivors huddled on the flat rooftop of what appeared to be a small, one story convenience store. A trio of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers were guarding them, bearing MA5B Assault Rifles, and opened fire on the cluster of non-humans when they near the structure. Two of the Jackals and 6 of the Grunts were killed before the Covies could react.

John cursed slightly in his mind. ‘Great. A Snag.’ His Blue Squad only had one weapon with a range great enough to reach the distance accurately, and the SRS99C-S2 Anti-Materiel Rifle had been reduced to slag by a lucky shot from a panicky Grunt that had dumped his plasma pistol’s entire charge into an overload shot. Linda was NOT happy about that. She loved that gun.

So the team would have to do this the hard way.

Setting up a NAV point on the structure, he opened a channel to the rest of the Blues, since the other three squadrons were otherwise occupied in “removing” the enemy forces from the smoking ruins that had once been a thriving metropolis. All that remained now was half-melted rubble and the spaceport in the center of the city.

“Survivors located at way point ALPHA. As per standing orders, we’re moving in to rescue and evac them. All units, fall back to and fortify rendezvous point Beta. Everyone in there is already dead. Let’s move Spartans.”

A number of affirmative clicks answered him, coinciding with several small winking blue dots on the edge of his helmet’s HUD. As his team moved towards the location, he kept his eyes on the group of huddled civilians. There were several children in that group.

Even though it had only taken a minute to reach them, by the time the Spartans arrived, two of the Helljumpers were dead, and an Elite was holding the third by the neck, lifting him off the ground and slowly squeezing the life out of him.

And the Jackals were feeding on the civilians.

Three of the adults were dead, having been torn apart by the Jackal survivors, and one of the youths was screaming as the ravenous bird-like creatures gnawed off his left arm at the elbow, and his right leg at the knee. Just as 117 and his team opened fire, one of the non-humans plucked the child’s left eye from its socket.

Bursts of fire from three separate MA5B’s ripped the Jackal apart, and Kelly blurred forward to the Elite. Breaking first its arm, then its neck, she freed the now unconscious ODST. The remaining resistance, such as it was, was swiftly eliminated, and John and the others began field triage. There was nothing that could be done for those the Jackals had finished with, but the youth might still be saved.

Taking out his field medical kit, he applied a cauterizing agent to the boy's shredded arm and leg, to stop the severe bleeding, and applied a generous application of Biofoam to seal his now empty eye socket. That had the boy screaming in pain. He felt as though thousands of ants were crawling in the vacated space, slowly shredding his head from the inside out. The boy would live, but was soon rendered unconscious by a merciful anaesthetic injection from 117.

His squad policed the bodies of the downed Covenant, salvaging weapons and technology. They even took the Elite’s armour. All UNSC personnel had standing orders to recover any and all Covenant technology that they could without risking either themselves or their mission.

Looking around, The Master Chief noted that all the injuries were attended to, as much as could be with his team’s limited resources, and signalled that it was time to move out. He spoke out now, his gravelly voice startling the survivors from their shock and terror induced stupor.

“Listen up. We’ve got a ship inbound to EVAC us, and we're taking you along. The Fleet is on its way. Dustoff is in 2 hours. Stand up, and let’s get you to the rendezvous point and ready for evacuation. Spartans, we’re pulling out.” A second chorus of affirmative clicks was the response over the Comm, accompanied by the twice winking blue lights. After he picked up the child, and Linda slung the unconscious Trooper over her shoulder, they and the rest of the Squad got the survivors moving.

It took almost an hour to get the shell-shocked civilians to the rendezvous point, and the rest of the Spartans, having no “mundanes” to slow them down, had already arrived, and begun fortifying the site. The liberated Wraith Tanks were positioned in the centre of the landing zone, while Grey Team moved in a circular patrol path on Ghosts. Simple .50 cal auto-turrets ringed the perimeter. Snipers armed with captured Covenant Beam Rifles were stationed along the cliff above, with quicklines set for fast drops to the ground.

After pointing the civilians towards the medical station, he dropped the kid off with the squad’s medical officer, and moved over to the SAT-COMM uplink, where Red 5, Justin, was decoding a recent FLEETCOMM message.

“Sir, the fleet has arrived, and has begun to engage Covenant forces in orbit. Our ride is on the way, vectoring in from the opposite pole. ETA 5 minutes.”

“They're earlier for a change. Good. We need to get these people out of here, and the sooner, the better. We’ve done what we can for this world, and now it’s up to the Fleet.” Turning towards the encampment, he spoke on the Spartan comm channel. “Pack up Spartans. We're leaving.”

He turned around, noting that the kid was already awake again, and though his remaining hand was clenched in pain, he didn’t say anything or cry out. He simply stared in awe at the massive armoured forms moving around him with practised precision, packing up hardware and securing captured ordnance for transport.

Hearing in the distance the approaching shriek of atmospheric drives, the Spartans turned as one to follow the path of an incoming Halcyon-class Cruiser, Dawn Under Heaven. The massive vessel descended on the edge of the clearing, lower bay access doors descending to the ground.

As soon as the massive lifts hit the dirt, John and his team hurried the civilians on board to the waiting medical personnel. He watched as the injured child was placed on a gurney, and rushed to the medbay. The sole surviving Helljumper of Charbybdis IX colony had been revived by this point, and was helping Blue team disassemble the fortifications of the temporary base, while Red and Grey teams loaded the captured Covenant vehicles, weaponry, and equipment.

The Master Chief boarded the aging vessel as the bay doors closed, watching as the alien menace known as the Covenant prepared to burn another world to glass. The humans had the advantage in numbers shipwise this time around, though. So, perhaps this time at least, this world might be saved. It would all depend on the skill of the Acheron Colony Sector Defence fleets overhead.

*******************

[Timestamp: 1608, December 3rd, 2553]
Officers Barracks, UNSC R&D Colony “Styx”
Planet Acheron, Hades Theta System

A pulsing light accompanied by a shrill, repetitive tone alerted the occupant of Officer Barracks 23, grid beta-7 (which belonged to the commanding officer of the Acheron Third's Orbital Drop Shock Troopers 4th Tactical Heavy Weapons squad, affectionately termed “the Wraiths of Acheron”) of a priority message. He sighed softly, rolling out of his bunk and moving to activate the Comm unit, displaying the glowing letters of the message text to hover in the air above the holopad. Quickly scanning the contents of the message, he swore softly, grabbed the matte-black helmet off the desk, and slipped it over his short, spiked blond hair. Sealing it with the quiet hiss of atmospheric pressurization, he began to gather his gear, speaking with a low, raspy voice into the audio pickup of the helmet.

“Skeith?”

“Aye, sir?” A deep and rumbling voice, echoing softly with the scraping hiss of steel sliding across armoured plating, sounded in his ear, responding to the query.

Cael Dougal began strapping his battlefield kit to his armour, the strong alloy plates scarred and scraped from countless battles.“Prep the squad and ready contingencies. Loyalist forces are on route to Acheron, and we all know why they're here. All forces are on a Priority One alert, and must be ready to deploy to Zone 23 Beta, Rally Point Zulu, by 1633 hours.”

“Aye, Lieutenant. Shall I ready the nukes as well?”

A slight pause as a small smirk tugged at the edge of his lip, stretching the dual scars that ran past it. “Yes, I would appreciate that. But let Command know this time, will you?” He slid his M90A shotgun, as well as 36 extra slugs into a duffel bag.

“Aww, no fun Cael…”

“…Shut up, Skeith. We have work to do. Now have the others meet me in fifteen minutes at the Depot.” Fastening his outer vest, he began strapping the holsters for his weapons to his legs, two each for his sidearms and SMGs. The SMGs he strapped to his outer thighs, and the pistols he attached to the belt around his hips. He slipped several dozen full cartridges for each into the various pockets and pouches of his vest.

A soft sigh, followed by an amused chuckle, is the first response to Cael’s prior words, “As you wish Lieutenant Dougal. Informing Acheron FLEETCOMM now.”

“Good. Now shoo. I'm busy.” He checked over his BR55HB SR Battle Rifle, and slung the shoulder strap over one arm, filling the remaining pockets in his vest with extra 9.5mm x 40mm ER ammunition. Having done so, he jumped in place to make sure that all was silent and secure. The Helljumper placed his MA5K Carbine into the duffel with his shotgun, slipping ten clips in with it. His final weapon, a modified SRS99D-S2 AM with a shorter barrel to make it more compact and easier to move quickly with. Although this decreased its accuracy at ranges of over one kilometre, he needed the rifle to be smaller so as to be able to perform to his utmost ability. He also packed along ten 8-round expanded clips for the weapon, slipping them into a pouch at his belt before sliding it into the duffel as well.

Now fully equipped, he passed the threshold of his quarters, perhaps for the final time. Once he cleared the security checkpoint that marked the entrance to the lifts, he activated the large construct that would take him to the surface. The entirety of the military and research branches of the colony were embedded three kilometres under the surface, whereas the civilian populous sprawled above, a bustling city with a population numbering well over four million. That was simply the HUMAN population of the city, however.

After the Human-Covenant War, the Elites, now “Bonded with the humans in the Crucible of Blood Spilled”, as the Arbiter had put it, had begun to settle in several of the more outlying of the remaining human colonies, driven to aid in the restoration of the human race. As a result, there were nearly six hundred thousand of the enemies turned ‘Blood Brothers’ of humanity, with a thriving presence in the planetary defence force.

There were also thriving Engineer and Grunt colonies as well, though the grunts were dwelling in special underwater habitat domes that contained methane atmospheres. The fact was that they were ecstatic at the fact the colonies were heated, and now had a substantial population of the critters. For aliens that were once considered hostile to all of mankind, once they joined with humanity they had quickly developed a fan following, as many found their antics and mannerisms to be absolutely adorable.

Cael removed his helmet, and rubbed his fingers over the twin scars, and they throbbed with memories of the war...

~

In 2551, Acheron HIGHCOMM had received a signal from a nearby system, sent by a group of what the Covenant called Heretics. As it turned out, for close to a decade an Elite Supreme Commander named Esor ‘Tarasamee, who had heard the words of The Oracle, a Forerunner Construct, when it revealed the Fallacy of the Great Journey, had been replacing the staff of a shipyard and production colony with those who were loyal only to him. When the Prophets brought the Brutes, the hated blood enemies of the Sangheili, into the Covenant to replace his people, Esor felt that a final betrayal of his people had occurred.

Feeling that the time was right, he staged an uprising, slaughtering the loyalist forces present on the facility, and seizing almost total control of both the colony and the shipyard.

Unfortunately, a loyalist fleet numbering 234 vessels exited Slipspace at the same time, only to discover the uprising before the rebels had managed to take control of the colony defences, and began to burn the “Heretics” from the space surrounding the world, causing heavy losses to Esor’s comrades.

Reach HIGHCOMM immediately ordered the entirety of the Hades sector Navy to the area, as the chance to gain control of a Covenant shipbuilding facility was too important to pass up. The 495 ships of the Sector Fleets immediately deployed.

Upon arrival, all forces engaged in mass fire tactics upon the enemy, while two dozen specially designed carriers dispatched a veritable armada of assault craft, all of which converged on the Brute Command and Control Flagship, appropriately christened Sundered Heresies. After several hours of fighting towards their objective, then Master Sergeant Cael Dougal and his squad assaulted the command center of the ship. Heavy resistance from Brute warriors entrenched within the bridge of the vessel managed to kill almost half of his squad before Supreme Commander ‘Tarasamee and his Bodyguard, seasoned veterans of hundreds of conflicts, arrived from the opposite side of the command deck. They systematically tore through the defending Brutes and Jackals in the ensuing crossfire. Ammunition nearly depleted, and when only the Brute Fleetmaster and three of his bodyguard remained, both sides charged.

Cael was raked by the blades of a swung Spiker Rifle, the twin under slung blades destroying his left eye for the second time, but was saved from a second and fatal stroke by an Elite known as Usze ‘Taham, who cut down the offending Brute with a single powerful swing of his Plasma Sword. Partially blinded but still able to fight, Sgt. Mjr. Dougal was able to empty a full clip of 7.62mm x 51mm Armour Piercing rounds into the fleet master at near point blank range, killing him in an explosion of blood and bone before he was able to swing his Chieftains Hammer down and crush 'Taham.

~

“Are you awake, Cael?”

The rumbling voice, accompanied by a light rap to his forehead, startled him out of his remembrance, and the human rubbed the vicious double scar that ran from the centre of his forehead across his left eye to the edge of his jaw. Looking up he noticed that during his reminiscence he had reached the surface, and Usze “Uzi” ‘Taham stood leaning against the doorway, clacking his mandibles in amusement.

“Yeah, just doing some remembering. You get the news?” He looked at the Elite, who had considered them to be Battle Brothers after that particular round of combat, and the many they together had fought afterwards. ‘Taham was garbed in an interesting combination of ODST fatigues and his own matte-gray armor, and was loaded with almost as much firepower as Cael.

“I did indeed. I had been lending my expertise in the primary development lab when I received the news of the incoming fleet. I knew you would use this exit, so I headed here immediately.” Pausing briefly, he handed Cael a glowing crimson device, which looked vaguely like someone had tied four 'bubble shields' together. “The Admiralty gave orders for these to be distributed to all squad leaders.”

“What is it?” The human took the device, inspecting it thoroughly as he began to walk towards the Vehicle Depot he had set as his squad's rendezvous point.

“The engineers have lovingly termed it the ‘Quadrilateral Multi-Unit Hexagonal Phase Shielding Sphere.’”

“And what do we call it?” Cael quirked a brow.

“Super Bubble.” Uzi said simply.

A warm, throaty laugh tore it's way past his lips, “Oo-rah, Brother. A much better name. They really should just let us name the tech, since the ones we come up with get used anyway.”

The elite managed a fair approximation of a grin, gesturing to their squad in response as they walked into the 3rd’s section of the vehicle depot.

Cael nodded to those he had fought with for years, soldiers that he trusted unconditionally with his life, and had survived the fight to claim Sundered Heresies.

“Bout time you got here Lieutenant!” called out Lance Corporal Mendoza Montegu, who was making final checks on his kit, double checking clips and explosives.

“Yeah, we’ve been here for hours, where’ve yuh been?” quipped PFC Kelly ‘Geisteskrank’ Jenkins, squad demolitions expert, who as usual was carrying enough C-12 and assorted explosive shaped charges to blow a Covenant Cruiser in half, with enough left over to decimate a battalion of enemy armor.

The LT snorted uncharismatically, shaking his head in feigned disgust, “I thought I told you maggots to be geared and good to go already.”

“You took so long, we figured the Covies got delayed. So we decided to stop for some beer on the way.” That one came from Sergeant Chad Jenkins, Kelly's younger brother and a man who had been a close friend to Cael since they had each survived the assault on Charbybdis IX together. He was also his closest squad mate all through Boot and Advanced Training. And he was also the best damn pilot and driver any of them had ever seen, able to guide a heavy transport, ground AND aerial varieties, through a mountain pass not 5cm wider than the vehicle on each side, at full speed, and not so much as scratch the paint.

“Even if it does taste like piss.” Tyler “Gentleman Jim” Hutchinson, the One Eyed Wonder of the squad, spoke out. He was skilled enough in hand to hand combat to wrestle an Elite to a standstill unaided by powered armor, and bearing a centuries old monocle that somehow has never managed to break. He also seemed to possess the strange and rare ability to repel filth, able to come through a mine field or air strike without losing the crease in his uniform. Most definitely Camp Instructor material.

“I hear that!” Cael replied, slipping his helmet back on with a grin, his face now hidden behind his opaque visor. “Skeith, how are overall preparations for our side?” He held forth his left hand, palm downward, and activated the holographic display attached to his arm.

“All Fleet and Ground personnel are at full combat readiness, Lieutenant. We are to deploy with the rest of the 3rd to rally point Zulu, within Zone 23 Beta, ASAP. We are proceeding with strategy gamma 34.” A black figure surrounded by a faintly glowing, blood red aura shimmered into view. Standing in miniature, the two foot tall image appeared to be a demon, with legs that ended in vicious spikes, and arms that ended in fingers tipped with deadly looking talons. 'His' body was covered with gleaming black armour, and a face of darkness covered with a gunmetal mask of steel. Crimson pools of rage seemed to gaze from behind that mask, the glowing eyes appearing as though they should scorch the very soul soul of those who were to earn his ire. A wicked razor-edged scythe was clutched in one hand, the holographic weapon slowly swaying back and forth along Cael’s forearm.

“Good. Wraiths! Mount up, we’re heading out.”

A chorus of shouts greeted him as his squad slipped on their trademark helmets, each subtly or not so subtly decorated in unique ways.

“SIR, YES SIR!”

They climbed aboard the two squad M12 LRV's, or Warthogs, and raced to their appointed drop zone.

*******************

[Timestamp: 2350 hours, October 3rd, 2553]
Rally Point Zulu
Acheron

Every member of the colony, both military and civilian, knew why the Loyalists were coming here. They were after the eons-old Forerunner facility buried deep below the surface. Acheron had once held a thriving Forerunner population before the original activation of the Halo installations. Much of the city and most of the surface structures had been destroyed in the millennia since then, however there was a manufacturing facility hidden deep below the surface, not only intact but also still active, with functional power generation and even a somehow still-sane Monitor AI.

And the UNSC had found it.

The forerunner complex had activated the year before at the same time that MIA Master Chief Petty Officer John 117 had destroyed the Ark, revealing it's location to the human forces stationed on-planet at the time. After thoroughly exploring and examining the facility, they had managed to access much of the information stored there, even reactivating the resource gathering and processing facilities stationed throughout the unique artificial star system that was Hades Theta.

So when the Covenant arrived the Wraiths and the rest of the defending forces knew exactly where they would go, and had set up around the area in advance of the enemy's arrival.

Unfortunately, things never happened quite as they were planned.

The Cruiser had bypassed the planetary defence grid entirely when it initiated an inter-atmospheric Slipspace emergence, surprising everyone with its sudden appearance above as it began disgorging its horde of Loyalist troops. The defending ground forces, hidden amidst the terrain, waited until a sizable amount of enemy troops had deployed to the ground. Then they detonated the HAVOC-class Tactical Nukes that were buried there, immolating those that had touched down.

And that was when the plan REALLY went all to hell.

After the destruction of the loyalist ground forces, the Cruiser began to use its primary beam weapon to devastate the area, raking a wave of fire across the landscape and flash-vaporising anything it touched. Half of the Third was wiped out in less than twenty seconds, and the First and Sixth regiments were completely annihilated as the energy pillar swept across the defenders. Mighty Hunter pairs, roaring defiantly and firing their arm mounted fuel-rod cannons at the massive engine of death, were rendered into free-floating particles, and armies of Grunts manning anti-air weapons simply ceased to be.

“Detecting Targeting beam. We’re next Cael!” the AI cried in his ear.

“Well, this situation is typically FUBAR…” the LT said sarcastically, deploying the Super Bubble, the semi-transparent protective dome of coherent energy surrounding the members of Wraith Squad just as the beam weapon lanced out towards them.

Shimmering lavender energy swept over top of them, the shield flaring completely opaque under the assault as Cael and the rest of his squad hunkered down. It was amazing that they were still alive, and they all knew it. If they lived through this, those technicians would definitely be getting some expensive “thank you”s.

Hearing the crackling of electrical arcs inside the eerily silent protective dome, Cael noticed that arcs of what seemed like black lightning were connecting the four emitter cores of the shielding array.

“Oh, FUU-”

The streaks of energy curling around the device shrank into a coalescent orb of shimmering silver light, then rapidly expanded outwards in a powerful shock wave of force that slammed Cael and his squad up against the solidified walls of the shield bubble. He could feel a strange tugging sensation as pulses of energy flowed across his body. Lightning lanced out to assault his flesh and he was able to feel himself sinking into the solid wall of light.

And then everything went black.

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