Halo: Escalation Issue 14
After UNSC Infinity is stranded in a distant system by Dr. Catherine Halsey and Jul 'Mdama on July 18, 2558, Captain Thomas Lasky deploys a reconnaissance team to investigate a potential source of interference emanating from the surface of a nearby planet, provisionally designated Aktis IV. The mysterious signal originates from an island in a large ocean of an opaque, foamy substance impenetrable to Infinity's sensors. Upon landing, Spartan Fireteam Majestic and Commander Palmer engage and defeat a detachment of Covenant forces and subsequently discover a recently-excavated Forerunner structure.
On the Song of Retribution, Jul 'Mdama's flagship, 'Mdama converses with Dr. Halsey regarding their ongoing plan to acquire the UNSC's half of the Janus Key. They are interrupted by one of 'Mdama's commanders, who reports on the discovery of a group of traitors conspiring against 'Mdama, some of whom were killed by forces loyal to Jul while others managed to flee. A single captive is brought before 'Mdama and is allowed to speak to "renounce his sins". However, the rebel Sangheili instead condemns 'Mdama because of his his allowing Requiem to be destroyed and his association with a human. He zealously declares that Sali 'Nyon is instead the true "Hand of the Didact" before 'Mdama impales him with his energy sword. Jul subsequently tells his followers that all "heretics" are to be eliminated on the spot.
Meanwhile, Dr. Glassman arrives on the surface of Aktis IV to examine the Forerunner structure, with the Spartans providing cover. Glassman theorizes the structure to be part of a translocation grid and soon discovers a Forerunner artifact with indentations the shape of the halves of the Janus Key, seemingly suggesting this is where the Key is meant to be placed. However, it is revealed that Halsey and 'Mdama are monitoring the events and that the artifact is in fact a decoy created to deceive the UNSC into taking their half of the Janus Key to the surface. Jul expresses mock abhorrence at creating a copy of a "holy" Forerunner object; to his shock, Halsey indicates that she is well aware that 'Mdama's public persona of a religious leader is a mere facade. Dropping the subject, Halsey goes on to state that the UNSC would never suspect a trap as no one but Glassman would realize the Key's true value.
On the planet, Glassman requests to have lab equipment brought to the Forerunner site along with the UNSC's half of the Janus Key in order to analyze the artifact; Palmer reluctantly agrees and contacts Lasky. Although 'Mdama has troops standing at the ready, waiting for the signal to ambush the UNSC forces and take the Key, Halsey reminds Jul to exercise extreme care to avoid damaging the Key until it is safely in their possession. While the Janus Key is being prepared for transport, Roland questions the decision to move the artifact to the surface as it may distract Glassman from his task of ascertain the origin of the interference keeping Infinity stranded. However, Lasky is confident Palmer is able to keep Glassman focused and believes taking the Key to the surface will not cost them anything either way.
As the Pelican carrying the Key approaches the Forerunner site accompanied by a Broadsword escort, Commander Palmer charges Gabriel Thorne with moving the materials to the Forerunner structure. However, the incoming UNSC craft are suddenly struck by Covenant anti-air artillery, but Jul 'Mdama and Halsey are as surprised as the UNSC as 'Mdama gave no order to fire, nor does he have forces deployed in the area. Meanwhile, the shipmaster of Breath of Annihilation, one of 'Mdama's CAS-class assault carriers, receives word on the unauthorized attack. Assuming he would be blamed for the incident since the unit responsible is likely one under his direct command, the shipmaster chooses not to wait for 'Mdama's signal and orders his fleet to proceed with their planned attack against the UNSC forces. The Breath of Annihilation, another assault carrier, and a CCS-class battlecruiser then emerge from the foam ocean, having remained concealed underneath. As the Covenant begin their onslaught the Spartans on the island are quickly forced to pull back into the Forerunner structure while Infinity prepares to deploy reinforcements.
On the Song of Retribution, Halsey and 'Mdama argue about their next course of action. Halsey urges 'Mdama to reposition his fleet to draw the UNSC's attention away from the Pelican's crash site, but Jul is confident they will be able to take the Janus Key via a full-on assault despite the unexpected complication. Halsey then requests 'Mdama to scour the Pelican's crash site herself, but Jul has her remain on the ship while he intends to personally land on the surface, acquire the artifact, and punish those responsible for compromising the plan. Back on Aktis IV, the rebel Sali 'Nyon and his followers are revealed to have orchestrated the premature strike and now search the Pelican's crash site. After discovering the half of the Janus Key, 'Nyon proclaims his goal to expose 'Mdama as a fraud and assume leadership of the new Covenant, declaring himself "the one true prophet".
The structure inside the Forerunner cavern is identical to the Forerunner structure in central area of the Spartan Ops location The Refuge, while the decoy Forerunner artifact is clearly modeled after the Requiem slipspace artifacts.