Halo ghosts of onyx, p.1
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       Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, p.1
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           Eric S. Nylund
Halo: Ghosts of Onyx


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  • 24

  GHOSTS OF ONYX

  ERIC NYLUND

  A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK NEW YORK

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

  HALO®: GHOSTS OF ONYX

  Copyright © 2006 by the Microsoft Corporation

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

  Microsoft, the Microsoft Game Studios Logo, Bungie, the Bungie Logo, Halo, the Halo Logo, Xbox, and the Xbox logos are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries that are used under license from owner.

  A Tor Book Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010

  www.tor.com

  Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

  ISBN-13: 978-0-765-31568-7 ISBN-10: 0-765-31568-8 First Edition: November 2006 Printed in the United States of America 0987654321

  For Halo fans everywhere

  Table of Contents:

  Acknowledgements

  Prologue

  Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34 Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41

  About the Author

  ^

  →

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  First and foremost my wife and fellow writer, Syne Mitchell, and my son, Kai. They lived with a deadline-driven cranky writer for several months. Without their help, love, and understanding no one would be reading anything from me.

  Next, the Bungie "Story Four"—Brian Jarrard, Rob McLees, Frank O'Connor, and Joseph Staten—who helped develop the story and checked every nuance of the manuscript more times than I can count.

  My agent, Richard Curtis, for his clear thinking and ever-calm character.

  Eric Raab and Tom Doherty at Tor Books for their editorial acumen and constant support.

  Dana Fos and Matt Whiting at Microsoft Game Studios User Experience.

  In the Microsoft Licensing Group: Alicia Brattin, Alicia Hatch, Nancy Figatner, Brian Maeda, Steve Schreck, and Edward Ventura.

  Extra special thanks to Mercury Eric, and the many fans who have written to me.

  —Eric Nylund

  North Bend, Washington

  August 2006

  Linda's medical data winked on a display along with the entire Spartan roster: a long list of every Spartan's current operational status. Only a handful was left, almost every one of them listed as wounded in action or missing in action.

  "No KIAs?" Dr. Halsey murmured. She touched SPARTAN-034's entry. "Sam is listed as missing in action. Why would that be? He died in 2525."

  "ONI Section Two Directive Nine-Three-Zero," Cortana replied. "When ONI went public with the Spartan-II program it was decided that reports of Spartan losses could cause a crippling loss of morale. Consequently, any Spartan casualties are listed as MIA or WIA, in order to maintain the illusion that Spartans do not die."

  "Spartans never die?" she whispered. Dr. Halsey swiveled out of the contour chair and pushed the monitors out of her way with a sudden violence. "If only that were true."

  —HALO: First Strike, page 249

  PROLOGUE

  BETA COMPANY'S VICTORY AT PEGASI DELT A 1135 HOURS, JULY 3 , 2545 (MILITARY CALENDAR)

  51 PEGASI-B SYSTEM, TARGET AREA APACHE, PLANET PEGASI DELTA

  The orbital pod impacted, and metal wrenched and sparked. Inside his cocoon of titanium, lead foil, and stealth ablative coating, SPARTAN-B292 watched black stars explode across his vision, he tasted blood in his mouth, and the last air compressed from his lungs.

  Tom's training kicked in: he pulled the pod's twisted frame apart and blinked in the bright blue sunlight.

  Something was wrong. 85 Pegasi-914A was supposed to be a faint yellow sun. This was electric blue—boiling plasma blue.

  He jumped, rolling to one side as the blast washed over him. The outer layers of his Semi-Powered Infiltration armor boiled and peeled like a bad sunburn.

  "Training," his instructor, Lieutenant Commander Ambrose, had said. "Your training must become part of your instinct. Drill until it becomes part of your bones." Tom reacted without thought; a lifetime of training took over.

  He raised his MA5K assault rifle and fired along the trajectory of the plasma bolt, making sure to sweep low.

  His eyes cleared, and as he automatically reloaded his weapon, he finally saw the surface of Pegasi Delta. It could have been hell: red rocks; orange dust-filled sky; the scars of a dozen impact skids and craters around him; and thirty meters ahead, dark purple splashes of Jackal blood soaking into the sand.

  Tom pulled out his Sidearm and warily moved to the fallen aliens. There were five with extensive wounds to their lower legs. He shot them each once in their odd angular vulturelike heads, then he knelt, relieved them of their plasma grenades, and stripped off their forearm force shields.

  Although Tom wore a full suit of Semi-Powered Infiltration armor (colloquially called "SPI" armor by Section Three techno-philes), its hardened plates and photo-reactive panels could only take a few glancing shots before failing. The armor's camouflag-ing textures sputtered and stabilized, however; and once again blended into the rocky terrain.

  Every SPARTAN-III had received extensive training in using the enemy's equipment, so Tom would improvise. He strapped one of the Jackal shields to his forearm. It was excellent protection, as long as you remembered to crouch behind it and cover your legs, a tactic larger UNSC soldiers would have trouble accomplishing.

  The display on his faceplate flickered to life, a transparent layer of ghostly green topology. One hundred kilometers overhead, the baseball-sized Stealth Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Satellite, or STARS, had come online.

  A single blinking dot appeared that represented his position. Tom was five kilometers south of the primary target.

  He scanned the horizon and saw the Covenant factory city in the distance, looming from the rocky surface like a castle of rust with giant smokestacks and blue plasma coils pulsing deep inside. Beyond the factory lay the lavender shoreline of a toxic sea.

  Additional dots appeared on his heads-up screen… a dozen, two dozen, and then hundreds. The rest of Beta Company was online. Two hundred ninety-one of them. Nine hadn't made it, either dead on reentry or killed from the impact or by Covenant forces before they could get out of the pods.

  After the mission, he'd cheek the roster to see who they'd lost. For now, he stuffed his feelings into a dark corner of his mind.

  Tom sighed with relief as he saw the eight Xs representing the subprowler Black Cat exfiltration craft appear and then fade on his display. That was their only way off this rock after Operation TORPEDO was accomplished.

  Text scrolled on his display: "TEAM FOXTROT PROCEED ON VECTOR ZERO EIGHT SIX. PROVIDE FLANKING SUPPORT TO TEAM INDIA."

  No reply was necessary. Orders were broadcast from STARS overhead, and any break of radio silence would reveal their position.

  Three of the dots on the display winked, and tiny numbers faded into view. B091 was Lucy. B174 was Min
. And B004, that was Adam. His friends. Fireteam Foxtrot.

  Tom loped forward, found an outcropping of rock, and took cover under it, waiting for them to catch up.

  To stay on task, and not get distracted by his racing heartbeat, he reviewed Operation TORPEDO one more time. Pegasi Delta was home to a Covenant refinery. The sea on this tiny world was unusually rich in deuterium and tritium, which they used in their plasma reactors. The factory processed the stuff, and refueled their ships, making this Covenant operation on the edge of UNSC territory a prime target. It allowed the enemy easy access to human space.

  There had been previous operations to neutralize the target. UNSC CENTCOM had sent nukes, launched from Slipspace, but plutonium emitted an aura of Cherenkov radiation upon reentering normal space, making all the stealth coatings and lead linings useless. The Covenant had easily detected and destroyed them.

  There were similarly too many Covenant ships near the moon to send a slow, distantly launched nuke in normal space. Nor was a regular invasion or even the elite Helljumper ODSTs worth the attempt. The UNSC had one chance to take the factory out before the enemy would muster their defenses.

  So they were sent.

  The three hundred Spartans of Beta Company had been launched seven hours ago into Slipspace from the UNSC carrier All Under Heaven. They had endured the ride in long-range stealth orbital drop pods, suffered debilitating nausea transitioning unshielded into normal space, and then got parboiled on the fiery ride to the surface of Pegasi Delta.

  From the warm welcome given by those five Jackals, Tom knew they'd been detected, but the Covenant might not yet know the size of the breach in their security. He'd have to move quick, take advantage of whatever element of surprise remained, blow the factory, and if possible, the secondary targets of ammunition depots and methane reserves.

  They could still do this. They had to do it. Destroying that factory would triple the length of the Covenant supply lines to UNSC space. This is exactly what Tom had trained for since he was six years old—years of drills and war games and schooling. But that might not be enough.

  He heard the crunch of gravel under a boot. He spun, rifle raised, and saw Lucy.

  Every SPARTAN-III looked the same in their Semi-Powered Infiltration armor. The angular shifting camo pattern of the SPI armor was one part legionnaire mail, one part tactical body armor, and one part chameleon. Tom, however, recognized Lucy's short, careful gait.

  He made the two-fingers-over-faceplate gesture, the age-old silenced Spartan welcome. She gave him the slightest of nods.

  Tom handed her a Jackal shield unit and two plasma grenades.

  Adam arrived next, and Min ten seconds after that.

  When all their appropriated shields were in place, Tom gave Team Foxtrot a series of quick, sharp hand gestures, ordering them to move ahead in a loose arc formation. Stealthy, but fast.

  As he stood, thunder rumbled, fire flashed in the sky, and a

  shadow covered them—and vanished. Two teardrop-shaped Covenant Seraph fighters roared over their hiding spot.

  A line of plasma erupted a hundred meters behind them—an inferno that billowed and blossomed straight toward his team.

  Tom leapt to one side, activating his Jackal shield, holding it between him and the three-thousand-degree flames that would melt though his SPI armor like butter. The force field flared white from the radiation; his skin on his palms prickled with blisters.

  The plasma passed… thinned… evaporated. The air cooled.

  Covenant air support was already in play. That made the situation a hundred times worse.

  With a blink, Tom switched his heads-up display from TACMAP to TEAMBIO. All members of Team Foxtrot showed skyrocketing pulses and blood pressures. But they were all still green. All alive. Good.

  He sprinted. Stealth was no longer an operational priority. Getting to the factory where they couldn't be strafed was all that mattered.

  Behind him, Lucy, Adam, and Min fell in line, covering the rough ground in long powerful strides at nearly thirty kilometers an hour.

  Red ovals appeared on Tom's TACMAP: Covenant Seraphs on another attack run. More than before… three… six… ten.

  Tom glanced to either side and saw his comrades, hundreds of Spartans running across the broken ground. The dust from their charge filled the air and mingled with the smoke from the last plasma blasts.

  Three Spartans lagged behind, turned, and braced, holding M19-B SAM missile launchers. They fired. Missiles streaked into the atmosphere, leaving snaking trails of vapor.

  The first bounced off an incoming Seraph's shield; the missile exploded, not damaging the craft, but buffeting it nonetheless

  into its wingman. Both craft tumbled, lost fifty meters of altitude, and then recovered—but their leading edges scraped the ground, dissipating their weakened shields, and they spun end over end erupting into fiery pinwheels.

  The two other missiles struck their targets, overloaded shields, leaving their target Seraphs covered in soot, but otherwise intact. Tom could see the Seraphs wave off their attack runs.

  A small victory.

  Tom slowed to a trot and watched as the remaining six Seraphs dipped and released their plasma charges, then pulled up, rolled, and vanished in the haze.

  Each charge of dropped plasma was a brilliant pinpoint that elongated into a lance of boiling sun-fueled sapphire. When they hit the ground, they exploded and fanned forward, propelled at three hundred kilometers an hour by momentum and thermal expansion.

  A wall of flame appeared on Tom's left, and it made the camo panels of his SPI armor shiver blue and white. But he didn't move. He remained transfixed on the other five fires enveloping scores of Spartans.

  The plasma slowed, still boiling, and then the clouds cooled and thinned to a dull gray haze, leaving crackling glassed earth and bits of charred bone in its wake.

  On his TACMAP, dozen of dots winked off.

  Lucy sprinted past Tom. The sight of her snapped him back to action, and he ran.

  There'd be time for fear later. And for revenge. When they blew this factory there'd be plenty of time for bloody revenge.

  Tom shifted his focus off his TACMAP on his helmet's faceplate and farther ahead to the primary target, now only five hundred meters distant.

  From the center of the city-sized factory the blue glow was too intense to stare directly at, casting hard shadows in the web

  of pipes and the forest of smokestacks. The structure was a kilometer square with towers rising three hundred meters, perfect for snipers.

  Tom forced himself to run faster, ahead of Lucy, Adam, and Min, darting from side to side. They understood and mimicked his evasive tactic.

  Plasma bolts exploded near his foot. He weaved back and forth through a hailstorm of high-angle trajectories. His suspicions about snipers had been correct.

  He dodged, kept running, and squinted ahead at the edge of the factory. His faceplate automatically responded and zoomed to five-times magnification.

  There was another threat: shifting luminescent edges of force fields, Jackal shields. And in the shadows, the arrogant eyes of a Covenant Elite in purple armor, staring straight back at him.

  Tom skidded to a halt, grabbed the sniper rifle slung on his back, and sighted through the scope. He stilled his labored breathing. A plasma bolt sizzled near his shoulder, crackling the skin of his SPI armor, singeing his flesh, but he ignored the pain, irritated only that the shot had thrown him momentarily off target. He waited for the split second between the beats of his heart, and then squeezed the trigger.

  The bullet's momentum spun the Elite around. The articulation of its neck armor exploded off the creature. Tom shot once more, and caught it in the back. A splash of bright blue blood spattered the pipes.

  Jackals emerged from the shadows at the periphery of the factory, crawling out behind pipes and plasma tubes.

  There were hundreds of them. Thousands.

  And they all opened fire

&n
bsp; Tom rolled to the ground, flattening himself into a slight depression. Adam, Min, and Lucy dropped, as well, their assault rifles out in front of them, ready to fire.

  Plasma bolts and crystal shards crisscrossed over Tom's head—too many to dodge. The enemy didn't have to be able to see them. All they had to do was fill every square centimeter of air with lethal projectiles. His team was pinned, easy picking for those Seraphs on their next pass.

  How had the Covenant mustered such a counterresponse so quickly?

  If they had been detected earlier, their drop pods would have been vaporized en route. Unless they had had the extreme bad luck to get here when a capital ship had been docked at the factory. On the blind side? Could the STARS overhead have missed something that large?

  One of Lieutenant Commander Ambrose's first lessons echoed in Tom's head: "Don't rely on technology. Machines are easy to break."

  Tom's COM crackled: "Ml9 SAMs execute Bravo maneuver, targets painted. All other teams ready to move."

  Tom understood: they needed cover. And the only cover was dead ahead in the factory.

  From the field six smears of vapor lanced forward to the factory. The M19 SAMs detonated on contact with pipes and plasmas conduits—exploding into clouds of black smoke and blue sparks.

  The enemy fire slowed.

  That was their opening.

  Tom rolled to his feet, and sprinted for the thickest smoke. Team Foxtrot followed.

  Every other Spartan on the field charged as well, hundreds of half-camouflaged armored figures, running and firing at the dazed Jackals, appearing as a wave of ghost warriors, half liquid, half shadow, part mirage, part nightmare.

  They screamed a battle cry, momentarily drowning the sound of gunfire and explosion.

  Tom yelled with them—for the fallen, for his friends, and for the blood of his enemies. The sound was deafening.

  Jackals broke ranks, turned to flee, and got shot in the back as their shields turned with them.

  But hundreds more held their ground, overlapping shields to form an invulnerable phalanx.

  Tom led Team Foxtrot into the smoke-filled shadows of the factory. He found a pipe the size of a redwood dripping condensed water and green coolant and took cover behind it. In the mist he saw Lucy, Adam, and Min take positions behind cover, too. He gave them rapid-fire orders with hand signals: Move in and kill.

 
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