Halo: Escalation Issue 24
The issue opens in the Absolute Record, with Jul' Mdama and his Elites fighting off Aggressor Sentinels. Jul is under the impression that the Custodian ancilla has regained control and is attacking them, unaware that they're under Halsey's orders to assassinate them. As for the humans, they escort the Sentinel containing the Custodian's personality fragment, who aids them in combat against Halsey's Sentinels.
Aboard the Breath of Annihilation, Sali 'Nyon's forces have taken control of the ship and secured Jul's vault of Forerunner artifacts. Sali rejoices in their victory and praises Ayit 'Sevi for their victory, still unaware that he's an ONI spy. However, two Zealots are suspicious of 'Sevi after they overheard him speaking English. As Ayit leaves supposedly to help secure the hangar, the Zealots follow him.
Back in the Record, Palmer, Tanaka, and Glassman reach the auxiliary control conduit where they can put the Custodian back in charge of the facility. The Custodian's sentinel sends the initialization code to Palmer's HUD, who reads it to Glassman as he types. However, Halsey realizes they're up to and interferes with the attempt, halting their progress. The custodian informs Palmer that Halsey is in the room directly above them, Palmer volunteering to head up there. At the top floor she holds Halsey at gunpoint, giving her three seconds to step away from her console. Instead Halsey activates a containment field around Palmer and prepares a portal to her next destination.
At the Annihilation, Thorne flies to its hangar in a Banshee while Ayit prepares to meet him. But the Zealots confront him there, accusing him of being a spy for the humans. Ayit tries to deny it, but the Zealots hear Thorne's voice over their COM. Guise revealed, Ayit tells the Zealots he'll surrender and let them have Thorne. The Zealots do not relent, telling Ayit that selling out his partner still won't spare his life. The very next second, Thorne's Banshee runs over both of them. Ayit helps him out, thanking the confused Thorne for saving his life.
Jul and his forces have managed to repel the Sentinels, and he uses the opening to order his flagship Song of Retribution to attack. It fires into the Record, disrupting power across the station. Palmer's containment field falls, and the Custodian Sentinel's mind transfer is interrupted, leaving the droid damaged. Halsey flees to her portal while Palmer shoots at her but misses, the doctor escaping and vanishing. But to her surprise, she lands on top of the shell of the now reactivated Custodian, who has regained control and catches her. It tells her that her performance in its previous test was excellent, but her impatience that led to her hijacking him means he now denies her further access to the Record even though she had nearly earned it. Halsey protests in vain that the Janus Key is Librarian's gift to her, but the Custodian makes it vanish.
Palmer regroups with the others, but they see the Record is suddenly disappearing into slipspace portals. Urgent to escape, Glassman recalls coordinates from the Custodian's examination, which appeared to tell him where Jul's ship carrying all his artifacts is docked. Jul's forces flee the Record aboard the Retribution, recovering Halsey in the process.
Aboard the Annihilation, Sali 'Nyon's warriors rally and celebrate their capture of the ship and Jul's vault. They notice an odd sound, but Ayit passes it off as a sign of the gods and distracts them. They continue rejoicing as Ayit investigates, finding the just-teleported Palmer, Tanaka, and Glassman, who he helps hide.
The story cuts to Palmer's debriefing with Captain Lasky, informing him what happened next. Sali was so proud of having capturing the Annihilation that he flew the carrier into Sangheili space, where Ayit flew the humans off-ship and they rendezvoused with an ONI Prowler in a safe zone. Their pickup came just in time, as Jul's and the Retribution followed and battled the Annihilation, though the fight ended with Sali and their ship escaping.
Palmer tells Lasky that Ayit overheard communications in the Retribution, saying that Halsey was recovered but the Janus Key wasn't, ending its threat. Lasky figures Admiral Osman will be disappointed that they couldn't capture it for themselves, but is curious as to why Palmer seems less bitter about Halsey's latest escape. Palmer responds that Halsey had them captured but overplayed her hand when she could've finished them, thinking it satisfying to see the doctor make that mistake.