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John was piloting the Pelican through through the exit burn of its orbital path by 2037 hours, carrying all the Spartans, Halsey, the three technicians from at the Damascus facility, and twelve spare suits of Mjolnir. The UNSC Commonwealth's last known position was ten million kilometers in system from their previous rendezvous point, and it was this to this location that John was taking them. The Covenant ship was three million kilometers from the Commonwealth but closing that distance with every second. John confirmed with Halsey that their armor was usable in vacuum and then asked Sam for a overview of the dropship's weaponry. Sam let him know that the Pelican was equipped with thirty-two HE Anvil-II missiles, so John in turn told him to assemble a team to go EVA and retrieve them from the rocket pods on the craft's wing's. Halsey flatly objected when he asked her permission to attack the Covenant ship, but relented when he explained he meant to board it using thruster packs, not to go up against it with the Pelican. She transferred the bird's controls to herself so John could join the other Spartans in the rear. He motioned the techs to move to the forward cabin and ordered everyone else to grab a thruster pack. Sam handed him one of the warheads and Kelly passed him a pack. Thanks to an adhesive polymer Sam had applied, the missiles would be able to cling to their armor. John went over the plan with his Spartans, emphasizing that their target was the hole the Commonwealth had already put in the ship. He said that if anyone missed then they should power down and wait to be retrieved. John was the one to punch in the code that opened the Pelican's rear hatch and the first one to launch, followed close behind by the others.
While he rocketed toward the enemy ship at one hundred million kilometers per hour, he thought to contact Halsey to ask if she could have Captain Wallace create a diversion for them. Before long, the Covenant vessel was firing its pulse lasers at inbound Archer missiles. John was able to get his velocity to almost match that of the target by the time he reached it, but when he tried to find a handhold he came up empty due to its hull being covered by an energy shield. Around one hundred meters further along the surface, however, he noticed a pulse laser turret that the shield dropped around in whenever it had to fire. John carefully adjusted his vector and timed his approach so that he was able to slip beneath the shield the next time it dropped around the turret. He pulled himself along the exterior of the ship until he reached the hole that had been blasted into it. Only Kelly and Sam were waiting for him there, and they got no responses when they tried to reach any of the others over COM channels. The three who had made it traversed past multiple levels which the Commonwealth's magnetic accelerator cannon had penetrated, eventually settling on the first deck and moving inward until they approached they had reached the approximate middle of the ship. John and Sam were able to force open a sealed set of sliding pressure doors so the trio could continue down another corridor. John began to repeat the same after reaching another set, but Kelly stopped him and instead opted to try to open them with a nearby button pad. It only took here three attempts at pushing different buttons to make the doors slide open, and the Spartans found themselves face-to-face with a bird-like alien: a Ruuhtian Kig-Yar. A trio of armor-piercing bursts from the Spartans' assault rifles made short work of it.
Kelly picked up a radiation signature coming from deeper in the vessel, so they followed it down a side branch off of another corridor. Kelly opened the next set of doors as she had before while John and Sam took flanking positions on either side. The Kig-Yar on the other side seemed to have known they were coming, as it was ready with an activated point defense gauntlet and fired an overcharged Type-25 plasma pistol as soon as doors opened. John would have been hit by the blast had Sam not shoved him out of the way and caught the full brunt of the weapon himself. Return fire from the Spartans was initially deflected by the alien's shield gauntlet while it continued to shoot and hit Sam, so John charged forward and slammed his foot into the shield, knocking it away. It was then a simple matter for him to jam the barrel of his rifle right into the Kig-Yar's mouth and splatter its blood and bits of bone on the wall behind it. John helped Sam up, who claimed he would be okay, and then policed the Jackal's gauntlet to pass on to Halsey for study. The room they found themselves in overlooked a chamber that held what the Spartans reasoned was either the ship's reactor or some kind of weapons system. A third Kig-Yar sighted them but scrambled for cover rather than engage. At this point, Sam asked for John and Kelly's Anvil warheads and said they ought to simply shoot out the glass which separated them from the next chamber and toss them down into it. John agreed and told him to set their timers so they would explode in three minutes after being armed. He then was forced to regretfully order Sam to remain behind to defend them while he and Kelly escaped, as his armor had been breached and he wouldn't be able to make it back to the Pelican or the Commonwealth. Sam had already known this was to be his fate, but Kelly took some convincing on John's part. He and Sam parted with a clasping of hands, with John squeezing his. He grabbed Kelly's arm when she hesitated to leave and the two of them were soon forcing the nearest set of doors shut behind them. They raced back down the corridors the way they'd came until they were exiting the hole in the hull. They waited for an opportunity when a pulse laser fired and escaped through the gap in the ship's shield just as explosions tore through it behind them. Kelly clung to John as the Covenant vessel was finally torn apart pieces shooting past them. John then understood what Chief Mendez had meant differentiated lives wasted with those spent and knowing that the Covenant could in fact be beat, felt ready to go to war. He, Kelly, and all the other Spartans that had not made it on the Covenant ship made it back aboard the Commonwealth. On December 1, the Halcyon-class light cruiser UNSC Persian Gate appeared in the Chi Ceti system and took Halsey and the Spartans from the Commonwealth. On the Persian Gate, Halsey led a funeral service for Sam wherein an empty casket was ejected into space around Chi Ceti IV.
Alpha Corvi II
On December 3, 2525, a substantial Covenant force emerged from slipspace near Alpha Corvi and proceeded to began an attack on the system's second planet. It was at this point that the four remaining Spartan-II warriors of Blue Team whom had participated in Operation: TALON were briefed on the attack while already en route to the system. Lieutenant Commander Yao told John and the others that they would be dropping on the outskirts of Jamshid and engaging the Covenant from the rear. Their objective was to lessen the pressure on the main UNSC garrison within the city so that a proper counterattack could be prepared. It was also imperative, they were told, that they operate independently of Ground Command and refrain from having any contact with anyone from the Marine Corps whatsoever. After reviewing updated medical scans for the team, Halsey made sure to ask John if he was okay to fight, given the injuries he's taken before they'd gotten to Chi Ceti IV. John stated that he was fine and when asked whether he would tell her if he wasn't, he merely replied that she'd find out if that ever happened. Upon arrival at the planet, Blue Team was redirected to the mining settlement of Black Reef and ordered to neutralize the invaders there and discover why it was being targeted. During their insertion via a D77-TC Pelican, Nora, an A.I. on the Persian Gate, introduced the Spartans to various scouting and reconnaissance enhancements their armor was outfitted with for this mission, including prototype active camouflage technology. Both the Spartans' armor chassis and the additional modules applied to them for field testing had been designed as part of Project: COBALT, with John's suit in particular being given the designation COBALT CV.117.
Blue Team was set down in an X-24 FAV on the beach and immediately began taking fire from United Rebel Front troops encamped a short distance away. Kelly-087 and Frederic-104 recommended taking them out quickly so they could move on to deal with the Covenant, but John-117 opted for a different option. He activated his active camouflage and crept up on the small band, only revealing himself when he could reach out and touch their apparent leader. John identified his team as being responsible for capturing Colonel Robert Watts and argued there was no way they could hope to beat them. He told them what had happened to Harvest and through appealing to their immediate common enemy, was able to get the leader, Whitaker, to agree to work together for the time being. At John's insistence, he ordered his squad to circle around and rendezvous with the rest of their forces at the edge of a lagoon. From there, they would hit the Covenant from one side and drive them toward where Blue Team lay in wait. In order to keep an eye on their uneasy allies, John sent along a surveillance drone to keep a visual on them. The plan worked, and Blue Team unloaded on the Covenant with BR55 battle rifles when the distance between them closed. During the fighting, John's drone was destroyed by a shot from a Kig-Yar's Type-25 plasma pistol. The Sangheili and Kig-Yar that remained escaped into the mouth of a tunnel that led deep into the mines beneath the reef's bedrock. John was determined to pursue them, not least of which because he was curious about a strange device a Sangheili took in with him. Whitaker informed him that though the mine was an expansive mess of tunnels, it only had the one entry and exit, meaning the enemy was trapped within it. Yao soon let John know that a host of new dropships were inbound. Most of them were heading for Jamshid, but three Spirits would reach Black Reef in just three minutes. Whitaker volunteered to hold the mine entrance with his people so the Spartans could pursue the Covenant forces that had vanished within.
The passageway traversed by Blue Team took them more than thirty meters below sea level. When a light was sighted ahead Fred asked whether they ought to activate their camo, but John opted to wait until just before a group of Sangheili, Kig-Yar, and Unggoy encircled them from multiple side tunnels. Unfortunately, the Spartans were still possible to make out, so John decided to drop the camo as they engaged the enemy. After disposing of their ambushers, he led them through one of the passages they had come from until they came into a large chamber filled with enemy forces led by a Field Marshal. A skirmish erupted but was interrupted when the insurrectionists above triggered used satchel charges and an M41 SPNKR to collapse the entrance to the mine. the resulting blast triggered a flood of water to rush into the chamber where the Spartans were fighting. When John ordered the others to sound off after escaping the flooding, it became clear that Linda had been separated from the others and was not responding to hails. John determined that their primary concern was still the completion of their mission, but that finding her would come afterward if necessary. John and the two who remained with him continued to fight until the eventually made contact with Linda again, who had ended up just on the other side of a nearby cave wall. She requested urgent backup from the others and John told her they would be there as soon as possible. He had Kelly launch her drone through a hole to the other side to determine whether or not they could simply blast through the rock. Satisfied that it would be possible, John attached an MX-8 explosive to a Type-1 plasma grenade and used them both to knock a hole in the wall. The Spartans burst through to the other side, where they found more Unggoy, Kig-Yar, and Sangheili waiting. Once all the Covenant were dead, Blue Team could focus its attention on escaping the rapidly flooding tunnels. Fred revealed that his armor had been breached by a cut from the Field Marshal's energy sword, but since their only way out would involve going underwater, John told him to just hold his breath and assured him they would make sure he got out. John had the team wait until the chamber they were in filled up completely and then led them out of the submerged mine toward the shore, with Kelly and Linda bringing up the rear to make sure Fred was okay.
After emerging from beneath the waves, Nora made contact with the Spartans and informed them that the ground action in their immediate area was making it impossible for the Pelican Tango 807 to extract them safely. John affirmed that he and the others would clear a spot for it to land. Blue Team suddenly found themselves aided by Whitaker and a small group of other surviving rebels, with a few of them having even managed to hijack Blue Team's X24-FAV and now bring it to bear against the Covenant to aid the team. Once Tango 807 landed John confirmed with its pilot that they were on their way. The Spartans and URF allies all made their way to the craft in order to escape the doomed planet, but only John, Kelly, Linda, and Fred were permitted aboard. John angrily repudiated their pilot for leaving the insurrectionists behind, but the man stood his ground as he had only been following orders. Once they were back aboard the Persian Gate John confronted Lieutenant Commander Yao about abandoning Whitaker and the others. He was incensed that though the rebels had fought for them, they had not done the same for them. Yao told him that was enough and stormed off. Halsey reminded John that keeping his team alive was all that had mattered in the end, and also then asked him if he had been able to see what the Covenant had been looking for under Black Reef. The Persian Gate soon slipped away from Alpha Corvi II before it could be destroyed along with it.
Enemy of my enemy
At some point during the first few months of 2526, at least John and Fred were deployed to support UNSC Marine Corps forces in a mission to capture a leader of the Insurrection. John found and secured their target, but the man warned him that someone else was coming. The mission parameters suddenly changed dramatically when the arrival of the Covenant forced John and the others to briefly ally with the rebels against their common enemy. John ordered his squad to fall back as soon as it became clear a third faction was present.
By March 4 of 2526, John and the rest of Blue Team had been assigned to the Razor-class prowler UNSC Starry Night. They were joined by Green Team, led by Kurt and also comprised of Anton-044, Malcolm-059, and Solomon-069, and Gold Team, led by Joshua-029 and also including Naomi-010, Daisy-023, and Grace-093. The uninhabited planet of Netherop in the Ephyra system had been recently glassed but by this point the only enemy vessel remaining in orbit was a Covenant frigate. The Starry Night observed the frigate for over twenty-four hours before the twelve Spartans gathered in the prowler's drop bay by 0342 hours on March 5. The prowler's captain, Halima Ascot, was hesitant to give the teams permission to go EV to board the enemy craft given the large number of unknown variables, but John reminded her that current intelligence summaries indicated only one Covenant species didn't breathe oxygen, meaning the frigate should support human life, and moreover argued that the longer they waited, the more things there were that could go wrong. From her place on the bridge, Ascot finally did relent and signaled that she would direct the Starry Night to begin a slingshot maneuver around the planet in five minutes' time. For this mission, each Spartan's Mjolnir had been temporarily modified to test skunkworks modifications and also tinted with a refractive coating that it was hoped would conceal them from the enemy. John was armed with an M99 Stanchion, a suppressed MA5K carbine, and an M6D magnum. At three minutes from the start of the maneuver, John ordered final checks and for his part looked over his inspection partner, Fred. He believed this boarding action should be easier than the impromptu one he ordered previously at Chi Ceti IV, but still reiterated that if anyone missed, thy should power down and wait to be rescued. Kurt questioned what had John so worried, but he denied he was and simply claimed he was confirming procedure and apologized for overbriefing, saying it was likely due to how much they still didn't know about the aliens. Encouraged by Joshua that the Covenant wouldn't know about Spartans either, John thanked him and then reminded everyone to not activate their rebreathers until they were clear of the hatch. With one minute left, each team lined up behind their leader, with each from the second row back holding on to the thruster pack of the Spartan in front of them. The Starry Night swung into the slingshot and the bay doors opened so they could leap from the craft. Their target was a group of five Type-27 Banshees returning to the frigate. The plan was to covertly match orbits and velocities with the fighters and follow them into the larger ship. By the time John had reached equilibrium so he was headed directly for the Banshees they were eighty kilometers away.
By 0402 hours, the Spartans were diving at a shallow angle into the planet's gravity well at thirty-three thousands kilometers per hour relative to it. When his HUD signaled it was time, John began to decelerate and flatten his angle of descent. Over the next forty minutes, he and the other Spartans crept stealthily toward the five fighters. When only eight minutes remained until the frigate would reappear over Netherop's horizon John had the assault squad form on him and begin to overtake the Banshees even more quickly, since the larger Covenant ship's sensor umbrella could pose a risk once the planet no longer was between them. The Spartans grouped together by team but were still careful to maintain at least one hundred meters' distance between each of them. Nine minutes later, John gave the signal to tighten the formation and arrange it so that each Banshee had at least two Spartans fifty meters below it. John and Fred climbed into an orbit directly behind the leftmost craft, stopping just two meters from it. Once they reached the mothership the Banshees bled off excess velocity and held position fifty meters beneath its belly. One by one, they rose past an energy barrier into the docking hollow beneath its tail, and the Spartans moved to follow the final one inside. John directed Fred and Kelly to deal with the pilot of the last Banshee and then used his Stanchion to begin firing on the occupants of the hangar, first taking out a Yanme'e and Unggoy in quick succession. Two further shots felled two Sangheili, and following this John could see no more living targets so elected to dispose of the rifle so it would burn up in Netherop's atmosphere. His MA5K would be more useful inside the frigate. All twelve Spartans had managed to board the ship by 0502 hours without triggering any alarms.
Once it was evident they would be able to breathe the atmosphere on the ship, John gave the okay to switch off their rebreathers. He ordered Gold Team to gather equipment to dump for collection and analysis by ONI's Beta-3 Division and led Blue and Green teams to an oversize iris hatch at the back of the hangar. The hatch leaves retracted before John could find a control pad or mechanical release, revealing two oblivious Kig-Yar which were immediately shot and killed by he and Fred. John tasked Green Team with securing all compartments and intersections as they moved forward and then advanced up a passageway which curled steeply upward along the curve of the ship's hooked tail. After fifty meters it ran through two ninety-degree twists, artificial gravity keeping them planted against the floor all the same, so that they then found themselves facing down a hall above the hangar deck. After another fifty meters iris hatches on either side gave way to tall, swinging hatches that did not automatically open when someone came near. Kelly offered to blast through them with breaching cord but seeing as they were already seventy seconds into the boarding action John denied her request and argued that they almost certainly only led to airlocks anyway. A dozen paces from another large hatch that John figured opened to the ship's main body, he had Blue Team halt and ready heavy weaponry for when Kelly breached the door. Their element of surprise was ended, however, by a sensor operator on one of the six prowlers in the area who activated SQUADCOM and gave away their presence. Kelly blasted through the hatch nonetheless and John helped the others eliminate the opposition on the other side with a M9 fragmentation grenade. John then put two rounds into the head of every alien on the other side, no matter whether they were only wounded or already dead. Sprinting up another passage toward where the bridge was suspected to reside, high in the bow, Blue Team cut down about fifty aliens who were attempting to flee or take shelter. After three hundred meters the frigate appeared deserted. Another fifty meters ahead, John signaled Kelly to blow another hatch and sent Linda and Fred to take covering positions. Kurt reported that Green Team was on the third deck and searching for the engineering deck but before John could get an update from Joshua the hatch in front of Blue Team opened and the Covenant on the other side lobbed plasma grenades at the Spartans. John launched himself forward through the opening to find himself suspended in a gravity lift slowly carrying him downward. John was hit by a number of radioactive projectiles fired from Type-51 carbines wielded by Sangheili above him but rolled onto his back as he descended and managed to break through the personal energy shielding of one to kill him. Kelly got another and then Linda and Fred followed them into the lift once the surviving Elites had traveled past the hatch, taking out another from above. The direction the lift sent things in reversed without warning, sending them all barreling upward past the hatch Blue Team had entered through. John managed to get the sit-rep from Joshua he had wanted before they were ambushed and then told him to focus on disrupting any counterattacks the remaining Covenant may try to launch. John then realized that the lift could we weaponized and shouted for everyone to grab onto something just before the polarity was reversed again, but violently. John hung on to a ladder rung but the others were yanked back to the bottom. A nearby hatch opened up and John opened fire on it with his MA5K. Kelly reported a compound rib fracture so John ordered Fred to get her out of the lift tube, also telling Linda to vacate it and to join up with Green Team. The nearby hatch led to the bridge, so John began lobbing grenades and before long it was filled with dead and dying Sangheili.
The shipmaster, hanging onto life and still seated on his throne, took fire in his left arm from John's M6D but it was not enough to keep stop him from activating a sort of dead man's switch. Hatches opened throughout the bridge and unarmed and unarmored Sangheili that remained tried to escape through them, but John casually blew holes through their chests with the magnum's .50 caliber nickel-plated rounds. Kurt reported that the Covenant, save for the Yanme'e, were abandoning ship, so John pieced together what was happening right away and called for his Spartans to escape the vessel as well. He made his way onto the bridge with the intent to stop the shipmaster from taking them all out while keeping in touch with the others, who all reported successful evacuations, save for Linda. She was being herded by Drones but was almost in the hangar, so she told John to make his move. Two Yanme'e tried to catch him by surprise but he had no trouble dealing with them. When he went for the commander in his throne, however, it spun away from him and dragged its hand off the yellow blister on an armrest John figured to be a dead man's switch. John dived for one of the open hatches and the escape pod beyond it, slapping at the controls for anything that would launch it. His armor's hydrostatic gel locked up as the ship came apart behind him while the pod sped away.
Task Force Yama
All twelve Spartans made it off the Radiant Arrow safely and were ferried to Battle Group X-Ray in deep space in the Polona sector. John was summoned to the tactical planning center of the Point Blank-class stealth cruiser UNSC Vanishing Point, which he and Doctor Halsey both entered at 0558 hours on March 8. Dressed in his khaki service uniform, he was invited to take a seat at the conference table within by Vice Admiral Preston Cole. Others gathered in the TPC included Captain Ascot, who was announced as the leader of Task Force Yama, Colonel Marmon Crowther, commander of the 21st Space Assault Battalion of ODSTs, and Staff Sergeant Avery Johnson, who Cole described as a special tactics sniper with plenty of experience fighting the Covenant. Task Force Yama, Cole and Ascot explained, was to be made up of the Vanishing Point and three squadrons of prowlers, and everyone present was being attached to it for Operation: SILENT STORM, a desperate mission with the stated aim of boarding as many Covenant capital ships as possible in order to detonate small-yield tactical nuclear weapons within their hulls. John met the proposed operation with enthusiasm but Colonel Crowther was less optimistic about the idea. When Halsey spoke up to suggest John should command his ODSTs, however, John pushed back against her and said that he would defer to the colonel. Seeing as the planet Biko lay right in the path of the enemy's current invasion route, it was decided that Battle Group X-Ray would travel there to wait for the attackers, and would begin harassing them to draw attention from the task force so it could slip past their defenses. Sergeant Johnson was assigned as a training resource for the "Black Daggers", the ODSTs of the 21st, but he would work with the Spartans during the operation due to similarities in experience between he and they. Johnson indicated he was looking forward to working with John, who reciprocated the statement.
It took ten days to travel from their location in the Polona sector to the Kolaqoa system where Biko resided. For John and the other Spartans, the first three days were spent training against the Black Daggers in the Vanishing Point's mission preparation hold. The initial exercises, with both opposing forces armed with tactical lockup rounds, were simple zero-gee combat scenarios with equal numbers on both sides. As they continued, Crowther gradually made things more difficult for the Spartans. Once he filled a hold with floating obstacles and ordered four Spartans to recover a nonexistent ball while facing off against en entire platoon. He also charged all twelve of the Spartans with holding a position against an assault that only ended when nobody could maneuver in the space due to all the floating strike-locked ODSTs. He additionally devised a hostage rescue situation in which the hostage turned out to be a hostile imposter. As these exercises continued, the Black Daggers began to have more successes then when they began, and eventually Sergeant Johnson began to lead the Spartans' opposition. Under his direction, they employed tactics which turned the Spartans' strengths against them, but also required a large number of simulated casualties for the Daggers.
On March 12, the fourth morning of the journey, Crowther called all assault personnel to the cruiser's drop hangar. The colonel congratulated the 21st on what he had witnessed over the past three days and then announced that when they moved against the Covenant he meant to have a single Spartan assigned to twelve of the battalion's platoons and to have them be the ones to carry the nukes. Furthermore, he intended to begin integration exercises that day based on this division. John was angered by both the decision and that Crowther had not consulted him first, but it took Avery Johnson's prodding him about his thoughts on the matter to draw Crowther's attention. The colonel noticed the two talking during his speech, so pointedly asked John to repeat whatever question he must have meant to ask. He shared his concerns about splitting up his Spartans but was rebuffed. When Johnson joined him in questioning the strategy, he got Crowther to admit he had doubts about Spartans leading assaults due to their young ages. Daisy scoffed at this, and drew Crowther's focus. He asked how old she was and John informed him that information was classified, only to have him reveal he knew their DOBs had been falsified. On paper, they were nineteen years old, but thanks to the Paymaster General's records Crowther had figured they must have begun training as early as age eleven. John reminded him that ONI would not look kindly on him doing too much digging. The tension was only broken when Johnson suggested that he, Crowther, and John decide on strategy together after first running some exercises with teams arranged how he was asking. Colonel Crowther agreed with this and asked of John would be okay with three days like that, to which he merely said the battalion was Crowther's to do with as he saw fit. Despite the apparent concession, by the end of those three days Crowther remained convinced and still doubted the Spartans' lack of experience, leading him to move forward with his original plan.
The ODSTs and Spartans kept training daily until the Task Force Yama finally reached the Kolaqoa system and Biko's third moon, Seoba, on March 18. By 1426 hours, less than twenty minutes after exiting slipspace, John and Johnson both found themselves in the back of the drop bay of the Razor-class prowler UNSC Ghost Song behind the forty member strong First Platoon of the 21st's Alpha Company. John had been designated the platoon's fire-support soldier and was naturally carrying a lot of heavy weaponry. The Ghost Song had begun an insertion run meant to simulate a dismount-under-fire. The exercise was being referred to as Operation: ICE DANCE and also would serve to establish a presence for the task force in an abandoned ice quarry on Seoba where part of it would wait for the Covenant. Before the order to deploy could be given, however, an urgent burst from Colonel Crowther informed everyone in the drop bay that the operation was no longer a drill. The Biko Independence Army, it turned out, was attempting to stage a coup against the colonial chancellor and the quarry that was Yama's target had already been occupied by insurrectionists using it as a staging grounds for their revolution. The leader of Ghost Flight, the squadron to which Ghost Song belonged, entered the bay and further informed the platoon that Alpha Company was being tasked with preventing the rebels from transmitting from a comm center that would be hit by prowlers initially but could very well be operational again within thirty minutes. Once Lieutenant Commander Hector Nyeto was finished briefing the platoon, he signaled for John to follow him back into a passageway behind the drop bay. Nyeto explained that he wished to apologize to John, for it had been one of his people that broke comm silence and alerted the Covenant to the Spartans' presence on their ship at Netherop. John told him that as long as it didn't happen again, he didn't see a need for it to go any further. Nyeto then casually remarked that he had thought his sensor operator had gotten them all killed because he must have forgotten how good the Spartans were, thanks to being trained since the age of five. Though Nyeto was slightly off, John was still shocked at the commander's apparent insight. Nyeto let him know that an ODST buddy of his, now dead, had told him stories about training against eight-year-olds on Reach seven years ago. John accidentally confirmed his suspicions when he grew defensive and threatened to report Nyeto for breaking security protocols. The commander became apologetic soon after and swore to keep the information to himself and even shared that he sympathized with John in light of Crowther's poor strategy. Sergeant Johnson entered at this point to let them know First Platoon's lieutenant, Nelly Hamm, wanted to evacuate the bay in two minutes. As such, John and Nyeto parted amicably.
The Ghost Song's jump hatch opened at 1433 hours but when it did, the ODSTs on the other side immediately began to suffer casualties under a barrage of M41 Vulcan fire. Lieutenant Hamm called for the pilot to abort the dismount so the prowler lifted away. John moved forward to assist with pulling a wounded trooper on the threshold back inside against the prowler's thrust, and after doing so passed him off to Hamm so that he could get a good look at the situation below while she was preoccupied with caring for him. John spotted bunkers which had been dug into the icy slopes ahead of their planned landing zone and from this reasoned that the insurrectionists couldn't have been waiting for them because it would have taken longer to construct those bunkers than the length of time Yama had been in the system. Johnson, however, cautioned him to not rule out the possibility that they had been warned even before that. Hamm was upset by John's transparent action and berated him for being out of position. John apologized but then proceeded to ready an M41 SPNKR to fire upon a bunker below, even shaking Johnson off when the marine tried to stop him. At over a kilometer and a half away, the nearest one was out of the effective range at this point, so without hesitation John stepped out into open air. He used thrusters to accelerate his descent in the moon's low gravity, only firing a rocket once his target was within three-hundred and fifty meters. He decelerated and performed and evasive corkscrew as he landed, but not before firing once more before reaching the ground. John was about to launch a 40mm grenade from the M301 grenade launcher attached to his MA5B, but Kelly took care of his target before he could, the members of Blue Team having dropped right after him at Johnson's call to do so.
John commanded the rest of Blue to form up and meet him at the nearby docks. He ran and leaped in the low gravity, all the while firing his rifle and taking fire in return. John's concern was locating any hangars that might be launched from, seeing as the mission involved not allowing the rebels to get a message off Seoba. Once he reached the docks he dropped into a bay for cover and was soon after joined by not only Fred, Kelly, and Linda, but Johnson and Lieutenant Hamm as well. The lieutenant was furious at his disregard for her orders but John defended his actions as necessary. Johnson, always the diplomat, appeared to take Hamm's side but in doing so got the conversation to shift to what needed doing next. A convoy of Civets was heading up the mountain where the comm center lay, no doubt intending to repair the damage done. Three more friendlies, one of whom was the Alpha Company commander, Zelos Cuvier, were given covering fire by Blue Team so they could join them at their position. Cuvier commended Hamm for what he thought had been her decision to send in the Spartans. Hamm gave no indication that the truth had been anything different and then recommended that they make further use of the Mjolnir-clad soldiers to stop the Civets by sending them up the tube of the large mass driver which ran up the slope of the mountain with the comm center. John agreed to the plan, but given that the tube was partially filled in with ice, he requested vacuum-suitable M7057 flamethrowers and thermite paste for his team and Fred pointed out they would need lots of C-7 as well.
By 1456 hours Blue Team covered the last dozen meters that separated them from the base of the mass driver. The tube extended five kilometers up the mountain slope. John ordered Linda to watch their backs while he used a thermite carbon cord to cut through ice covering a loading breach. Fred was doubtful about the wisdom of the strategy for beating the Civets, which made John irritated, but ultimately Fred convinced him that Hamm was up to something by using them in this way. Johnson, included on their TEAMCOM, offered to talk to Ascot about having the Spartans trade places with First Platoon, but John refused to accept the offer. He further addressed Kelly's concerns about making it in time by assuring her the ice would thin as they got closer to the top. furthermore, John declared that despite the narrow space through which they had to move, they would not be crawling that distance since they were each outfitted with thruster packs. After trying out some different positions, he settled on lying on his belly with his arms stretched out in front. He instructed Linda to stay back to provide their ascent as an observer and sniper, and with Fred following him and Kelly bringing up the rear, the three began to be propelled forward with their thruster jets. The first part of the journey through the tube was relatively flat, but soon the climb up the slope started. Linda let John know that their presence within the old mass accelerator was noticeable due to ice plumes rising off its exterior as they passed by. John's first reaction upon hearing this was to order Fred and Kelly to turn back and let him go on alone, but both flatly refused. John, being in the lead, broke through three curtains of ice before telling Linda to avoid any high-risk maneuvers as she covertly advanced up the mountain out in the open. After eight minutes, John had made it about two-thirds of the way but suddenly stopped when a barrage of Vulcan fire started chewing through the tube ahead of his position. Kelly offered to make a hole and fire her SPNKR at whomever was shooting the turret, but John denied her request. He instead opted to create a distraction by using both thermite-carbon cord and their I-Jet to draw fire behind them. The resulting explosion worked as planned and the three were two hundred meters ahead of the blast when it occurred. The end of the tube was just fifteen hundred meters further and John told Linda to hold her position then due to a series of other explosions she reported on mountainside. As it turned out, a prowler drop was soon underway which stopped the Civets in their tracks. Hamm had meant Blue Team as a distraction the entire time. John, Fred, and Kelly covered the last kilometer to find the lieutenant and others from the First Platoon already planting charges in the comm center when they emerged. She congratulated the Spartans on a job well done but received nothing but ire from John for having lied to them and using them as she had. Not one to back down, Hamm defended her strategy and reminded him that she hadn't forgotten his prior disregard for her orders, stressing that this type of thing could be expected more often if he continued down that path.
The next day, John presented himself to Captain Ascot at 0816 hours during an after action debriefing held around a folding conference table within Assembly Chamber 4L430 in one of the quarry's abandoned habitats. After taking a seat at the table, John was given the opportunity to explain why he had concluded that the insurrectionists had known about their attack ahead of time. He also defended his actions in aboard the Ghost Song to both Ascot and Crowther and stated that he hadn't expected Alpha Company to follow him when he jumped from the drop bay. Nyeto, ostensibly coming to John's defense, let it slip that the Spartans were young. Halsey panicked and thought John might have told him their true ages but he explained to her that Nyeto had figured it out on his own based on reports from an ODST friend. The revelation prompted both the captain and colonel to state that they refused to send the Spartans into combat henceforth. John remained silent on the matter, but by the time the conversation came back around to how the enemy had known they were coming, he was pointedly asked by Sergeant Johnson for his thoughts. He suggested that the rebels may have remained on Seoba instead of fleeing because they had been waiting for someone—and that someone must have been the Covenant. He argued that the only reason the BIA would stage a coup now was if it thought by surrendering the colony to the aliens they could save it. This could only mean that the Covenant must be inbound soon, so John suggested that they ambush the aliens with the intent of making them think the insurrectionists had set them up. Ascot agreed with John's idea with the provision that SILENT STORM still went forward. It was 0835 hours when John began to argue for his Spartans' place in the operation to Crowther but before he could get a sentence out a chorus of alarms signaled that five Covenant corvettes would reach Seoba in twenty-two minutes. As everyone rushed to load all prowlers, Crowther made sure to let John finish making his point. Despite the advantage he and the others would give, however, he was adamant about not sending teenagers into battle. To make up for this, he instead directed Blue, Gold, and Green teams to guard and load the more than three hundred prisoners captured the previous day for transport. Before parting John made one request of his own: that Crowther cease from calling him son, something he had been making a habit of doing.
Battle of Seoba
By 0847 hours, John and the other eleven Spartans were marching the prisoners onto a Banta-class transport named the Emmeline within the quarry's Subsurface Maintenance Grotto 6M430. John, assisted by his Mjolnir's onboard computer, was able to single out General Harper Garvin, a priority target for ONI interrogation, within the crowd. The Emmeline would be launching for Biko, but John told Garvin to step forward so that he could keep him back for ONI. Despite threatening to break bones, the others surrounded Garvin to protect him and a woman, Petora Zoyas, came forward instead. She attempted to distract him but he wasted no time telling his Spartans to stand at the ready before seizing her tunic lapels in his gauntleted fist. With only eight minutes until the Covenant was estimated to arrive, he could not afford to waste time, so he informed her she could be executed for her interference and at that, Garvin finally relented and presented himself to John. He gave the order to resume loading the rebels. Garvin questioned how John had recognized him and in response John claimed he had once seen him lecture at Luna OCS. Artillery strikes then shook the grotto, even though seven minutes still remained till the Covenant's original estimated ETA. John could hear Ascot calling for the Starry Night to launch but she was soon cut off and Nyeto broke in to inform those listening that her prowler had been hit and downed in the quarry. Urgent to concluded his business with the prisoners, John told them that anyone not aboard in one minute would be left behind to die. And since all prowlers had already launched and only the Spartans remained to secure the Starry Night, he also sent Garvin back to his people since he could no longer afford to babysit him. John led his Spartans to the grotto's airlock and told them his intentions for keeping the prowler out of Covenant hands.
They emerged into the quarry's exterior maintenance yard at 0859 hours as plasma bolts impacted all around. John led the teams thirty meters forward before stopping to request a waypoint for the crash site. Colonel Crowther broke in over the channel to ask what John was doing but agreed that the Spartans were the only option, seeing as nobody else was left groundside. John had Kurt and Joshua work with him to create a search line out of all twelve that moved forward through the sublimation fog at a trot. The waypoint which appeared on John's HUD indicated the prowler was downed somewhere between four and eight kilometers away, and at that point Covenant forces were predicted to be close enough to land troops within just two minutes. At this, John ordered his squad to advance at a full run with their eyes pointed toward the ground. Debris from the ship might be the first thing they were able to sight, after all. With one minute remaining till the Covenant was there, the estimated distance had narrowed to between five and seven kilometers. By the time that maximum distance dropped to five meters, a few more minutes had gone by. At two kilometers, John finally saw the ship. It had impacted about halfway up the quarry wall and now sat about seven hundred meters from the bottom amidst the debris from an avalanche it had created. Fred was the first to point out an inbound Type-25 Spirit which soon began spraying fire in the Spartans' direction. John then announced that their main priority had changed from rescuing the Starry Night's crew to denying any of the data it carried to the enemy. With around thirteen hundred meters between he and the prowler, John contacted Crowther again, who concurred that it could not be allowed to fall into Covenant hands. Speaking to both the colonel and Lieutenant Commander Nyeto, John only asked that they do what they could to keep alien dropships off their backs.
As soon as John finished speaking a stream of plasma bolts caught him at chest height, fired from an unseen vehicle within the fog. When he could finally see it as it swerved toward him, he fired a grenade from his MA5's underslung launcher, which detonated upon impact with the Jiralhanae pilot's head. With at least four more of the rapid attack vehicles registering on his motion tracker John signaled Gold and Green teams to deal with them while Blue went for the Starry Night. Once within forty meters of the avalanche's base John leapt ten meters up in Seoba's weak gravity to get a better look at the ship above the fog. It was being swarmed by Sangheili, Jiralhanae, and Kig-Yar, and two Spirits were in position overhead. John called out to Nyeto to ask where their air support was and was reassured it was on its way. At the bottom of the slope he ordered Blue Team to follow his lead in firing grenades beneath where the prowler rested. Before they even exploded, however, a plasma strike sent the mass of snow and ice tumbling further down. John tried in vain to get above it was was quickly buried under tons of snow and ice by 0909 hours. His HUD showed that only six of his Spartans had escaped being immobilized like he had, so he turned over command to Fred at once and told him to stick with the plan to board and blow up the Starry Night. Unable to do much else, he once again checked on the status of their air support with Crowther and Nyeto to only to be told again that it would be there soon enough. It took John over two minutes to finally dig himself out. Once he was able to reorient himself he confirmed that Fred, Linda, and Malcolm-059 had made it aboard the prowler. Linda was in the midst of arming its Fury tactical nuclear weapon. John warned Fred that four Brutes, four Jackals, and four Elites were on their way inside and when he was notified that four ODSTs and Sergeant Johnson had survived, with the Sergeant suffering a concussion, he advised that grenades be taken away from him. John additionally agreed to a thirty second timer being set for the blast to give them all time to get away. When John finally pulled himself free of the snow he set off at a run while firing his M6D at the Sangheili he judged to be in charge. Holes in its chest made the alien collapse but as he fell John grabbed him by the throat and shoved him toward the second Elite. John was just able to get inside the swing from the second's energy blade, grab his wrist, and fold him onto his own sword. He was then caught off guard as he was hit from behind by a shot which ruptured his armor. His suit began to slowly lose pressure as he somersaulted, rolled, and dug into the snow to find ay semblance of cover. John's attacker was dealt with by Anton-044 and Joshua, who offered to assist him with a patching kit. Noticing that a Covenant ship hanging low in the sky over the Starry Night looked as if it could lift the craft into itself at any moment, John yelled for the nuke to be set off as soon as possible. He, Joshua, and Anton bounded down the slope to but at least half a kilometer between themselves and the blast. Seoba's lack of atmosphere meant they didn't have to worry about a shockwave. As soon as all eight Spartans were accounted for in the wake of the explosion, which destroyed the Covenant vessel above it, John had Joshua then patch him up so he could go check on each one of them. The wreckage of the Covenant ship yielded some sort of holoprojector which the Spartans recovered for study.
At 0630 hours the next day, March 20, John and five other Spartans well enough to attend stood in their dress blues within the Vanishing Point's command hangar for a funeral service which honored the two hundred and three men and women of the UNSC who had died on Seoba in just the past couple of days. Once the company was dismissed, only the Spartans, Nyeto, Crowther, Halsey, and a handful of senior officers stayed behind. John stared down Nyeto long enough to make the man cross over to him and clap him on the arm, congratulating him for his squad's performance the day before. Now that Nyeto was in command of the task force and not Ascot, John requested that her decision to sideline the Spartans be reconsidered. Nyeto assured him they would be seeing plenty of action under his command, but at this Crowther broke in to object. He threatened the commander with a court of inquiry should he send teenagers to fight with his Black Daggers and in so doing got him to relent. Halsey took John by the arm and led he and the five other Spartans toward one of the hangar's starboard exits.
Crowther continued to resist Nyeto's desire to see the Spartans returned to active status, which left them frustrated and angry. At 1534 hours the four members of Blue Team and four other Spartans were residing in one of the Vanishing Point's smaller maintenance hangars when the Covenant's Fleet of Inexorable Obedience emerged in force from slipspace in the Kolaqoa system. They could observe the enemy ships on a bulkhead monitor, and when many smaller crafts launched only to swirl around the larger ships in tight escort patterns, Fred noted that such a formation struck him as odd. John explained the strangeness of this away by stating that different weapons required different tactics, but Kelly also spoke up in agreement with Fred and Linda thought that perhaps the Covenant was just aiming to be unpredictable. As they continued to observe, however, Kelly concluded that the fleet must have somehow been warned about the strategy Task Force Yama sought to employ against its ships and John could not help but say that she may be right. Knowing about SILENT STORM's aims explained why the enemy appeared to be guarding against boarding actions and why it had tried to hard to capture a prowler the day before. John guessed that General Garvin had been the one to tip the aliens off, but could not explain how he had gotten the necessary intelligence first. John vowed to find out how such a breach could have occurred as fighting raged between the Covenant and the Bikon space navy. Sergeant Johnson walked up behind Blue Team soon enough, and after waving off a question from John regarding why he wasn't resting, asked the four of them if they planned to just lounge around the hangar and bellyache. He went on to rhetorically ask if there might be more they could be doing, and John perceived that the sergeant was speaking outside the chain of command. Johnson informed them that Crowther wanted the Spartans to volunteer for a special mission, albeit quietly. As it turned out, his statements at the service had been meant to provide him with cover and he actually hoped to send the Spartans to the planet Etalan, a recently-glassed human world where the enemy fleet's logistics convoy still resided. In addition, he let them know about mounting evidence which indicated Nyeto could not be trusted. John was hesitant to decisively condemn the new task force commander and had reservations about Crowther as well, but ultimately agreed they had to take the mission. The Vanishing Point and two prowlers slipped away from the rest of the task force that day.
On the way to the Igdras system, John and Avery decided that they ought to attack the Covenant convoy's munitions supply first and then its food supply. After arriving on March 22, the stealth cruiser and its escort observed the enemy for four days before beginning their assault approach on the twenty-sixth. during the days which led up to this point the Spartans spent most of their spare time in Doctor Halsey's special projects hangar learning how to operate all manner of captured Covenant equipment. Halsey had even given them a few lessons on which panels in a Type-27 Banshee's cockpit needed to be watched closely. By 0546 hours on March 26 the Spartans of Blue Team and Sergeant Johnson were all fully armored and armed with Mark 2521 Havok nuclear devices. Identifying which vessels were the Covenant's munitions carriers had so far proven difficult, but Doctor Halsey approached the five in the cruiser's aft fighter hangar to let them know she had been able to deduce which ships fit the bill almost right after they had first been observed. She told the sergeant and the Spartans that she had only neglected to share this information with them due to the prevalence of bugs on the ship placed by insurrectionist infiltrators working for Hector Nyeto. At this John expressed concern about the possibility that their MJOLNIR might have been compromised, and although she dismissed the notion at first Halsey eventually admitted a small chance remained that one of Nyeto's people had gotten to it in the maintenance module before she discovered the extent of the problem. Before Halsey finally got that point John had already ordered the rest of the team to have their onboard computers run diagnostic checks on the suit systems and then to run similar checks on the computers themselves. The plan called for the Spartans of Blue Team and Johnson to fly captured Banshees right into the hangars of the enemy ships they were targeting and then to extract immediately after by going EV for prowler pickup, leaving the nukes armed in the Banshee cockpits. Gold and Green Teams had already launched against the Covenant in four of twenty S-14 Baselard Space Strikers by the time Halsey revealed which ships they'd be going after first. The five of them were still holding back simply because they would only be authorized to attack once it was clear the other Spartans were achieving their objectives as planned. With around nine minutes estimated to go before a separate trio of remotely controlled Baselards led pursuing Covenant fighters protecting munitions carriers past the Vanishing Point's bow, Halsey let it be known that she was close to uncovering the location of the aliens' primary supply depot in that area of space. She was confident that if enough damage could be done at Etalan to force the invasion fleet to resupply, she would be able to pin that location down for good.
At 0559 hours John gave the signal to Johnson and the others to load up. He took control of the middle Banshee of the five and after confirming the readiness of his team with the remote pilot of a Baselard which they were to follow out of the hangar, piloted the craft into space after a ten second countdown. The launch was timed to immediately follow an attack with M42 Archer missiles from both the Vanishing Point and the remotely controlled space striker on a squadron of enemy Banshees drawn toward their position. John and the others then opened fire with their own on the Baselard in front of them, which allowed the Vanishing Point to remain undetected. John then led his flight to link up with the reassembling Covenant squadron, ignoring all hails in the hope that it would just be assumed they had damaged communication equipment. A trio of the crafts matched velocities with the humans and for nearly a minute one hung right alongside John at a distance of no more than twenty meters. John attempted to communicate with a standard wing waggle but only drew a similar response after dropping the fighter's tail and lifting its nose. Once the craft controlled by John's flight had fully linked up with the rest of the squadron its unit commander synced their orbits above the logistics fleet. A pear-shaped materials freighter ten kilometers ahead suddenly vanished in the wink of a nuclear detonation, which was followed by a series of others. One was close enough to the squadron to leave all the banshees dead in space due to the overwhelming of their radiation shielding with gamma rays. John made the decision at that point to go EV in order to continue the attack, asking if anyone had visuals on their targets, a trio of carriers collecting gas from Etalan's atmosphere. Johnson had managed to locate the first, which was less than fifty-two kilometers away and in an orbit around ten kilometers below theirs. John resolved to take that one out himself, ordering Kelly to take the second, Fred the third, and for Linda and Johnson to provide cover with their M99 Stanchions. After a count of three, he ejected from his Banshee along with the others and fired his thruster pack to direct him toward the first carrier. With five minutes and twenty seconds until he matched orbits and intercepted the first of the air skimmers, John declined to have Johnson cover him and instead told the sergeant to take care of either Fred or Kelly. Despite his insistence that things be done his way, however, Johnson had already committed to a vector which placed him a kilometer behind John. This division of covering fire had been Linda's idea, and when John reacted with apparent incredulity she said that he could be yell at her later. Soon after John switched to congratulating Johnson on his thinking when his HAVOK detonated behind them among the other Banshees, eliminating witnesses whom had seen them go EV. At almost three minutes until interception John's target was in an orbit five kilometers below him and was twelve kilometers behind. As soon as only two minutes and thirty-seven seconds remained he shut off his primary thruster and used maneuvering jets to swing him about so he was descending to intercept facing backward. Two seconds later he fired the thruster again to begin decelerating hard. At this point eight Banshees broke off from where they had been near the ship and moved to engage him. One veered off but as soon as the remaining seven opened fire Johnson recommended John abort his approach. With just around two minutes left John desperately tried to obscure the enemies' targeting sensors by firing his underslung grenade launcher, but this only worked briefly. He finally had to shut off his thruster pack once more and switch to using only the jets. In doing so, he put himself on a new course that would not involve syncing orbits but would lead to an impact with the ship nonetheless and which cut forty seconds off of his ETA. With only fifty seconds left until they met he entered a time delay of thirty seconds on his nuke and warned Johnson that he didn't want to be within five kilometers of the carrier in about forty seconds. The marine urged John not to be a hero but with only thirty-six seconds left, it was too late. At thirty seconds John initiated the nuke's countdown sequence and immediately let go of it. Doing so caused it to continue flying toward the ship as it had been while being held but John activated his thruster and burned hard past the ship before the detonation. When the nuke did explode, the blast caused space all around John to flash white but for that directly ahead of him and for his armor's shell temperature to climb way above the danger level.
Through observation of a Covenant relief convoy which arrived at Etalan shortly after Yama's attack, Doctor Halsey was able to use the captured starholo to identify the most likely location of the fleet's supply depot. All of Task Force Yama departed on March 31 and did not emerge from Slipspace Transit Node Bhadra in the Muruga sector, over two hundred light-years beyond the furthest point of human exploration, until April 14. The last week of that journey saw John meeting with Colonel Crowther and Avery Johnson for regular planning sessions concerning the upcoming mission. During these meetings Crowther made sure to consult with John about every aspect of the planning. By 0458 hours John found himself standing in one of the Vanishing Point's hangars, ready to board the command ship for Sierra Force, the Razor-class prowler UNSC Black Widow, with only fifty meters separating him from where the traitor Hector Nyeto stood at the boarding ramp to the UNSC Ghost Song. Crowther and Johnson were offering him some last-minute guidance. Despite being fully armored, Johnson suggested smiling and waving at the commander to make it less obvious that John wanted to kill him there and then, which Crowther additionally had to caution him against. After leading the two other men up the boarding ramp into the Black Widow for further privacy, John apologized to the colonel for how he had responded to his earlier reticence to trust the Spartans. It was then that Crowther surprised him by producing a metal armor insignia displaying the rank of a master chief petty officer. John was taken aback, as he was still only a petty officer first class at the time and such a jump in rank was unheard of. Crowther insisted that although he may be reprimanded for such a meteoric field promotion, he believed it was necessary for the mission that every ODST in the two companies John was being placed in command of, including two captains and a fistful of lieutenants, knew that he had the full backing of their colonel. Even so, John couldn't help but refuse but was told he had no choice in the matter, as Crowther and Johnson had talked it over at length and the acceptance of the rank was to be considered an order.
The colonel affixed the insignia high on John's chest plate, right over his left collarbone. John finally gave in and made it clear he understood the necessity of the promotion. He promised that under his leadership, Sierra Force would get the job done, but did share his concern for the well-being of Dagger Force, which both Crowther and Johnson would be part of. John had been allowed to handpick the flight commanders for Sierra Force, which would be made up of four prowlers divided into two flights. About ninety percent of his reasoning for who he chose, Esme Guayte and Jim Linwoo, had to do with the fact that they had been raised on Earth. Dagger Force was being led by Nyeto and numbered three prowler flights. Dagger would approach the Covenant's supply world, designated "Naraka", first in an attempt to draw out its defensive flotilla stationed at Libration Point Three. Sierra Force was supposed to follow a few minutes later. Before the two took their leave, Crowther shared one final bit of wisdom with the young master chief, telling him that sometimes a good commander cannot be a hero. One trait in which he had yet to see in John was the willingness to send his people to their deaths, if that was what was necessary. John only pushed back against this charge slightly but ultimately thanked the colonel for the advice. Once only John and the sergeant were left alone, the two said goodbye to one another and John thanked him for the lessons he'd learned in their short time together. As soon as Johnson had departed as well Linda found John in the vestibule and jokingly congratulated him on his "nice bling" and suggested he shouldn't let it go to his head. She then reported she'd discovered a bug in the Widow's wardroom and that Kurt had also found one in the UNSC Quiet Man's. John chose to see the presence of the devices as a good sign that Sierra Force's flight commanders weren't working for Nyeto and when Linda reminded him they still might not trust him when things kicked off, he just assured her that was what his bling was for. The Black Widow launched from the Vanishing Point shortly afterward and John moved toward the flight deck while Linda remained amidship. Naval Lieutenant Guayte scowled at him for entering the compartment without permission but John pretended not to notice. After a short while, she seemed she was about to question his presence but suddenly noticed John's new insignia and was taken aback, pointedly asking where that had come from. John informed her Colonel Crowther had given it to him. Following Dagger Force's transition to slipspace Guayte was about to begin the countdown for following it but John stopped her and handed her a data chip Crowther had also given him, telling her it had new orders. The chip contained a recorded message from the colonel which accused Nyeto of treachery and stated he should be considered relieved of command. The lieutenant paused it, asking John if he'd known about this. He responded in the affirmative and let her know about the eavesdropping devices his Spartans had found aboard the force's prowlers. Continuing the message revealed that there was an alternate vector through which they should slip. Guayte sat in silence briefly but then turned to John and made it known she understood he was in charge, asking him to please not get them killed.
By 1519 hours on April 15 the Black Widow and the rest of Sierra Force had begun the insertion approach toward Naraka. Dagger Force should have begun to infiltrate the planet's libration point outposts at that point and the plan of attack called for Sierra Force to insert Spartans and a platoon of Black Daggers at four different locations near an orbital support ring which encircled the entire world above its equator. Using EV tactics, those inserted would then try to board and destroy as many facilities along the ring as possible using nuclear devices and tubs of octanitrocubane. Due to his position on the Widow's flight deck, John was present when Avery Johnson's space assault distress beacon was detected transmitting in the open and some suit chatter on the First Platoon Alpha comm channel. Something had evidently gone very wrong with the planned effort to retake control of Dagger Force's prowlers from Nyeto. John was certain that the sergeant would not compromise the mission by activating an emergency beacon the enemy was sure to detect, so when ten frigate-sized vessels departed the Libration Point Three outpost he could only conclude that Johnson was intentionally luring them in his direction. As such, he told Lieutenant Guayte he believed they should stick to their plan. The alien ships were accelerating on a vector that would bring them within around one hundred kilometers of Sierra Force, and since they could feasibly plan to swing around for a tail attack, Guayte had to decide whether or not to change course and risk exposure if they were indeed still hidden. Once again, John advised sticking to their current course and suggested that the aliens could be chasing a Ghost Flight prowler, since their vector intersected Sierra's original slipspace approach. Several tau bursts eventually signified the departure of Ghost Flight's prowlers from the system. John was stunned at the realization that Nyeto had been able to crew three prowlers with traitors. Given that Sierra Force would evidently be facing a hot insertion, John told Guayte to just get them within EV range of the orbital ring. This soon proved to be undoable, however, because a fighter shell was maintaining a tight anti-infiltration web around the ring's orbital facilities. It was obvious to John that this was yet another sign that their plans had been leaked to the enemy. In response, he elected to come up with what he called "Plan D", in which they would access the ring by landing troops on Naraka's surface to attack it by means of what looked to be enormous gravity-elevators which connected the planet to the ring like spokes of a wheel. Additionally, he wanted each prowler's compliment to go for a different one. The lieutenant was unsure about splitting their forces like that but John argued it would only increase their chances that at least some would make it to the target. She reminded him that in order to being down the entire superstructure they would need to destroy at least ten facilities and made sure he understood that if the spokes weren't actually what they appeared to be, extraction from the surface would be out of the question. John knew this, and when Guayte finally gave her approval, he requested permission to retire to the ship's drop bay to prepare for the insertion. Guayte gave him leave, telling him to expect to be dirtside in just sixteen minutes. Joining the rest of Blue Team and Third Platoon Delta Company in the drop bay, John explained the new plan and began securing weapons and devices to his armor, including an MA5B with grenade launcher and an M90 shotgun. Each Spartan also took possession of two octas and a thirty-megaton HAVOK nuke. After a few minutes the Black Widow was plunging into the planet's atmosphere. John tasked Fred and Kelly with leading the dismount, followed by twelve ODSTs each and then by himself and Linda, with the remainder bringing up the rear. When only three minutes remained until touchdown John ordered final checks, running through his own systems list in kind and exchanging visual inspections with Linda. At one minute he ordered all chatter to cease and at thirty seconds signaled for weapon safeties to be taken off. When the hatch opened the Spartans and ODSTs dropped to two and a half meters to the pavement of a bustling transfer yard at the base of their designated elevator.
The first thing John noticed after landing was that the glassy pavement he was standing on was pulling he and others toward the elevator along with the haulage sleds which carried cargo to its base. Realizing that it was only emerald green bands that ferried supplies continuously in that direction, John sidestepped to cease moving forward involuntarily at around one hundred and twenty meters from the target. He asked Fred if he'd noticed any opposition left in the wake of the volley the Widow' had led with and was told some injured Jiralhanae could be taking cover behind some wrecked sleds ahead of them. John confirmed the Third Platoon had cleared the prowler with Guayte so it could take off and she in turn let him know that of the three other bats, the Quiet Death and Widow Maker had come under fire and been forced to turn back and the Quiet Man had broken up during its final drop. Green Team, as far as she could tell, was gathering survivors and continuing the attack. John allowed himself to be carried forward with others toward a skirmish line Kelly and four of the Black Daggers had set up. He then ordered she and Fred to flank the breastwork of sleds in their path while he and Linda gathered two of their own to construct a makeshift mobile barricade. John made sure to leave a slight gap in the middle between the two sleds and called for someone with an M41 SPNKR to come forward and take charge of it. Small Bear, the platoon's lieutenant, yelled for a trooper named Chavez, who didn't hesitate to put himself in the gap. They moved forward, and right as John asked Chavez if he could see anything through the surrounding smoke the marine fired both of the launcher's rockets. Before he could reach for a second set he was struck repeatedly by white-hot spikes fired from one of the Brutes' Type-25 Spikers. John got off a blind shot with his M90 in response but it was Fred and Kelly which cleaned up the Jiralhanae after that point. Once Kelly told him they were clear John yelled for a medic to help Chavez and told Kelly and Fred to rejoin them and grab as much ammunition as they could. From there the ODSTs and Spartans were carried into a sorting tunnel where the blue column of the alien elevator met its base. He asked the lieutenant if Chavez would make it but Small Bear said that the medic, Mehran, was giving him "the shot", a powerful narcotic used to relieve the pain and anxiety of a dying trooper. Removing her Fury nuke from its magmount on her person, she stated that the marine deserved a big send-off. John told her to lock in a forty minute countdown on the device and to leave it there.
At 1615 hours, just over thirty-five minutes since Lieutenant Small Bear had began her Fury's countdown, the Spartans and ODSTs in the antigravity beam were nearing the massive elevator's terminus. John was initially relieved when his onboard computer calculated an ETA of just sixty seconds when only four minutes and thirty seconds remained until the Fury detonated, but the elevator then caused he and the others to suddenly decelerate, leaving them with a new ETA of just over three minutes and a safety margin of only twenty-two seconds. John notified the others and instructed them to ready their nukes and octas for three-minute countdowns and to begin sixty-minute ones. As the end drew close John had Fred and Kelly go left and right, respectively, each leading their own fireteam of Black Daggers. The Spartans and ODSTs were set upon as soon as they emerged from the elevator, prompting John to ask Fred what their breakout options were. The nearest entrance to the transit tube lay over a hundred meters from the elevator exit, so with less than thirty-two seconds until he, Linda, and the other ODSTs would join the others John asked Small Bear to give Blue Team a rolling screen so it could get to the tube and start running bombs through it. He then swapped his M90 for his MA5B and grenade launcher and finally used thrusters to slip into position with ten seconds remaining till his arrival. Upon exciting he and the others unloaded a volley of grenades and rockets at the general direction of the enemy, with six needles and spikes glancing off John's armor. He fired one more grenade over the troopers heads before starting across the deck to the tube mouth and used another to take out a Jiralhanae who tried to cut him off. Halfway there John stopped to take cover behind a pile of toppled crates and reload his M99. With ten seconds left until the Fury was set to detonate he brought down an encroaching Elite with MA5B fire and at five seconds shouted for everyone to disengage as he ran for the tube mouth. His M99 was empty yet again before he reached it and he was yanked across the threshold by Kelly. He got off one final shot which saved Small Bear from a Sangheili, but the decompression which followed the Fury's shockwave pulled she and others into space. An emergency hatch cut Blue Team and six Black Daggers off from the elevator terminus. John could not help but denting the hatch with his fist as he listened to the cries and shouts of the wounded and dying.
Turning to those that remained, John encouraged them to make what happened next count for the lieutenant. Fred had already climbed aboard a haulage sled so John motioned the ODSTs aboard with him and told Fred to teach them how to operate it after the other Spartan had communicated the similarity of the control to those of Banshees. Before John took his own sled he instructed the troopers to exfiltrate the best way they could and to call for a ride as soon as they ran out of octas. Kelly and Linda took a second sled and John steered his own as they set out, soon being joined by Fred. A closed hatch soon met the trio of cargo sleds but Fred blasted through it with his SPNKR. On the other side lay one of the orbital installations they were targeting, but Blue Team simply raced through it to the opposite end while amateur security forces fired at them. When the Black Daggers reentered the transit tube a few minutes later John began a two-and-a-half minute countdown to estimate the time until the first octa exploded. It took just over two minutes after that to reach the next facility, which Fred blew open their way into once more. A barricade waited for them beyond the hatch, however, so John called for a second rocket. The resulting hole was not large enough to drive through, however, so John stopped the vehicle short fired a grenade through it. Kelly and Fred cleared out the other side of hostiles easily enough and the troopers arrived behind them just as John's countdown ended. He immediately ordered them to hit the side of the tube with a rocket to create a vacuum cushion between them and the detonation but was assured they'd already taken care of that. They all made it across the threshold with around ten seconds to spare before a charge they'd placed ruptured the tube. John helped the rest of his team push the damaged sled into the breach to minimize the pressure loss which followed. All of Blue Team then gathered on a single sled and shot off again, exchanging fire with security but soon racing through the tube toward another installation. The next few were taken out much the same as the first two, with new tricks being employed by the defenders but countermeasures being found by the Spartans in kind. It was after making it through the sixth that John was told the Black Daggers would be going out with the bomb, having suffered too many casualties to continue forward. The explosion which followed cut off their conversation before John could even learn the name of the man he'd been speaking to but he had his computer log the time and conversation so he could recommend the man and his companions for a commendation.
John brought the sled to a halt before they reached the next facility to investigate what was happening outside of it. He was elated to see that Green Team had taken out three of the installations in addition to the six Blue Team and its ODSTs had destroyed. As a result, the ring was already showing signs of destabilization. His attention was drawn toward a massive supercarrier under construction in a kreche ahead of them. As a flight of ten Banshees was making its way towards the partially-built behemoth John decided they would blow it up and steal four of the Banshees to escape. Linda wasn't sure they'd be able to find the crafts in time, but John was convinced their current pilots were coming to meet the Spartans specifically. Back on the sled, they journeyed next through a dormitory with a thousand meters of lobby space. Over fifty Kig-Yar within tried to put up a meager attempt at defense but Blue Team blew past them without trouble. The team brainstormed a plan while on its way to the next fight and by the time the transit tube began to branch John thought they had something workable. The Spartans stopped then, and after resetting the fuses on their two octas and four HAVOKs for two-minute delays, approached the viewing band at the side of the tube to survey their target. John spotted fast-moving shapes within a hangar on the starboard of the two fabrication barns which flanked the vessel, signaling to him the location where the Banshees had landed. After instructing the others to set that hangar as their waypoint and to check the pressure status and rebreather integrity of their armor, he had Linda go to work on shooting through the viewing band with her rifle a few minutes later. A final kick from Fred at John's insistence finally shattered it and the four Spartans were pulled through the breach together. They used thrusters to descend toward their waypoint with John and Kelly in the lead spaced around thirty meters apart and the others around twenty meters behind. The plan they'd devised called for the nukes to be left twenty decks below the transit tube where the humans were expected to still be. John confirmed everyone was read right before they sailed past the energy barrier into the hangar where the Banshees lay waiting. He opened fire on the unprepared Unggoy and Kig-Yar within upon crossing the threshold and then rushed to bring the impulse drives and instrument consoles of the fliers online. Announcing the initiation of third step in their plan, he and Kelly then fired a few rounds to keep the remaining hostiles in the hangar confused and in hiding before readying the HAVOK devices. Once he was sure Kelly was ready, they both took off toward a pair of lift tubes in the back of the chamber. At twenty paces from the lifts he gave the command to initiate the devices' countdown timers. As soon as he and Kelly had pressed their devices' fuse triggers two Sangheili emerged from the lifts twenty meters away. John shouted to throw the nukes, which continued to roll toward their destination after hitting the deck. More Elites followed the first pair once they were dealt with and within fifteen seconds since arming the weapons John and Kelly were retreating as they fired. Just as John began to switch to his MA5's grenade launcher he caught a plasma bolt in his shoulder, which burned through his armor and sent his first shot wide. He just managed to duck as one of the Sangheili cut right through his rifle's barrel with its energy sword. John managed to stomp-kick his attacker's knee and spring away, unshouldering his shotgun in turn and executing him with ninety-four seconds left until the bombs exploded. John missed his next shot but spun inside the blade-wielding target's blow to land a glancing shot which brought down his shield. The agile warrior tried to take advantage of John's shoulder and immobilize him for a killing blow but this only allowed the Spartan to grab his wrist and use it to block his own swing, severing the limb at mid-forearm. The blade still sliced John across the side of his neck, but after a final shot to his opponent's foot he toppled with John on top of him. He then began beating the Elite's sword arm with his M90 until Kelly gently took it from him and finished the job for good. John stated he was fine when asked. With only one minute remaining to flee the structure John began slapping patches on his armor as Blue Team ran for the Banshees. He was about to use one of the craft's guns on a pair of Jiralhanae at the thirty-six second mark but thought better of it, reminding his team of the Banshees' poor shielding to emphasize the need to get as far away as possible. The four of them accelerated into a higher orbit after exiting the hangar. When there were only five seconds left until detonation John activated his locator beacon and requested extraction over Sierra Force's encrypted channel. He and the others excited their Banshees after the explosions and formed a recovery line with fifty-meter spacing. Soon enough, they were met by the UNSC Night Watch, guided onto its drop bay deck by Black Daggers, and welcomed aboard by Nelly Hamm.
By 1718 hours John was seated in the crew lounge alongside the rest of Blue Team, Green Team, and Sergeant Johnson. The sergeant offered him a Sweet William cigar but the first draw he took made him cough so hard he popped all eight butterfly bandages which had been applied to keep his neck wound closed. As they watched out the viewport, John and the seven other Spartans present cheered each time a segment of the fleet-support ring burned up in Naraka's atmosphere. As soon as the chronometer on the wall showed 1719 hours, eight final octanitrocubane detonations signaled the fruitful handiwork of Green Team and the Black Daggers. An awed silence fell over the compartment at this. Soon enough, conversation resumed and when Hector Nyeto's betrayal was brought up, John agreed that Colonel Crowther deserved to be avenged. In his opinion, though, the best way to honor him would be to simply have each other's backs as the fight against the Covenant continued. He did assure Daisy that they would get the traitor and kill him eventually, however, as he was certain he'd be coming after them again.
The colony world Circinius IV came under attack by the Covenant on April 26, 2526. As part of the counterattack against the Covenant, Blue Team deployed to the surface to evacuate surviving cadets from the Corbulo Academy of Military Science. John tracked a distress signal from what remained of Hastati Squad and found them cowering in a training room with a Sangheili zealot about to attack. John crept up behind the zealot and stabbed it in the back of its neck with a combat knife, instantly killing it. He turned to the four cadets--April Orenski, Thomas Lasky, Chyler Silva, and Michael Sullivan—and told them that they didn't have much time to get out. John radioed Kelly and informed her that he had secured four survivors and that she ought to inform command and bring her team north for Pelican extraction at Evac Alpha. As far as John was concerned, these four cadets were by then the only remaining survivors on the entire planet. He told them to armor up quickly, as they had only fifteen minutes to get to their evacuation point. Sullivan pointed out that the nearby lockers were inaccessible to them, so John simply tore the doors from their hinges. Once everyone was sufficiently armed and armored, the group proceeded cautiously down a darkened hall of the academy. John eventually signaled a stopping point, as he had heard what might be enemies ahead. He ordered the cadets to stay quiet and to remain in place while he left to deal with any nearby threats. When John did return, he asked who the best shot among them was. Silva and Orenski were both singled out, and once he confirmed Lasky could drive an M12 Warthog, each of those three was given a role. Their goal was General Daniel Black's LRV parked just outside the building. When asked who he was, he simply replied that they could call him "Master Chief".
John and the cadets exited into the black of night and it wasn't long before they came under fire. Kig-Yar with Type-51 carbines and Type-31 needle rifles were posted on the roof above them. Sullivan was hit once with a Subanese crystal but John stepped in to let his armor take the brunt of a second which would have found its mark also. John returned fire with his MA5D assault rifle and yelled for the others to get down behind cover. He then committed to intentionally drawing the enemy's fire so that they could make it to the Warthog. John's M6H magnum soon landed consecutive headshots on the Kig-Yar. With the immediate attackers dealt with for the moment, he jumped down from the higher position he had attained and ordered everyone into the hog. They took off with Lasky driving and John manning the mounted M41 Vulcan machine gun. The Warthog carried the five of them down a forest road away from Corbulo. With only a little more than four minutes until they needed to be at the Pelican, John steered Lasky to bear right for an access directly ahead and to pick up speed. A Type-1 plasma grenade was suddenly lobbed into the road in front of the vehicle. The Warthog powered through the resulting explosion but they started taking fire from Kig-Yar among the trees armed with Type-33 needlers. John opened fire with the Vulcan and advised controlled bursts on the part of Orenski and Silva while also pointing out targets for them. He contacted Kelly once again and told her to track his position to be ready for evacuation. Without warning, the Warthog slammed into one of the Kig-Yar and this, combined with the damage it had already suffered from being hit with exploding Subanese crystals, slowed it to a halt, now unable to restart. John jumped off the back and immediately went to address Sullivan's worsening wound with biofoam, telling Orenski to take over on the chaingun. The biofoam made it so Sully could walk, but it was then that Chyler revealed she had also been hit and now that the canister had been emptied, it was even more imperative that they get to the Pelican soon. John commanded the cadets to take themselves north as fast as they could until they ran into his team. He then took off and soon found himself facing down an imposing Mgalekgolo.
John was able to defeat the Hunter but when he found the cadets again, they had stopped moving because Silva had died. He offered his condolences and asked for any ammunition they could provide, as he had spent all his bringing down the Mgalekgolo gestalt. None of the cadets had any rounds remaining either, but Lasky produced an M9 fragmentation grenade and offered it to the Chief. Before long, the another Mgalekgolo, the bonded gestalt of the one which had just perished, went from hunting them to shooting its assault cannon at them. The three cadets and John tore through the forest to get away but stopped once they jumped down from a ledge and took cover behind it. Kelly was, at this point, insisting that John leave them, but he refused to do so. He implored her to give them more time and then ordered the Hastati remnant to go on without him while he dealt with their pursuer. Lasky responded by declaring that he would be a decoy so that the Chief could sweep in from behind. Before he could quash the idea, Lasky took off running. John let him distract the Mgalekgolo for a moment before making his move. When he rushed the hulking giant, however, it smacked him with its pavise shield and sent him flying backwards. The next time he made an attempt at the colony he used the shield to his advantage, climbing up it and vaulting over the mass of worms. He landed on its back and without a second's thought plunged the grenade into an exposed mass of Lekgolo. He flipped backward off of it just as the grenade detonated and blew the gestalt to pieces. John paused just long enough to gather up a piece of its armor before rejoining his evacuees. As daylight dawned, he let Kelly know they appeared to be in the clear and that she could have their pilot bring the D79-TC Pelican down in the clearing they had made it to. Everyone boarded and they were soon away. John gave the armor fragment he had gathered to Lasky, addressing the cadet as "soldier" and commending him for his performance. The Pelican escorted the Spartans and Corbulo cadets safely away from the planet's surface. The glassing of Circinius IV had already begun that day, but fighting between the UNSC and the Covenant continued on the planet well into mid-July.
Circinius IV was but one stop in a chain of disasters that Blue Team found itself rushing to and from over the course of six weeks following the victory at Naraka, the Spartans desperately attempting to stem a brutal tide of violence. The Covenant was bringing its full might to bear and human colonies were falling at a rate of two or three a week by the end of May. By June 5 John estimated that he would have died a dozen times during the past six weeks had it not been for the advantages his neural lace offered him. By May 3, 2526 the Spartan-IIs had at some point successfully infiltrated Outer Colony networks with the help of "smart" (volitional) A.I.s. On May 30 Blue Team deployed to the planet Mesra in the Qusdar system, where it fought alongside the Mesranis for six days. During this period of time the four Spartan-IIs managed to destroy at least a hundred of the enemy's Type-26 Wraiths. They were assisting the Militia of Mesra in a delaying action which sought to prevent the Covenant from gaining access to valuable xenotime mines. By June 5 they had arrived in time to help protect the planet's most remote mine, the Doukala Xenotime Works, while the UNSC's 24th Marine Engineering Brigade worked to demolish it. John was observing a line of Covenant armor five kilometers away opposite his post on one side of the Samalat Gorge in the Karpos Mountain Range at 1403 hours on this date. Easing back from the cliff edge, down behind a rocky crest overlooking the gorge, John then descended the slope a dozen meters so as not to disturb nearby sleeping Mesranis and crab-walked across it to the Fifth Ghost Battalion's command post. After dropping two meters into the bottom of the bunker he introduced himself to the commanding major, Bah'd de Gaya y Elazia de los Karim, and confirmed he was the support she'd been promised.
Return to Netherop
More than six weeks after the attack on Circinius IV the UNSC finally put its faith in John and the other Spartans, thanks largely due to SILENT STORM being deemed an overwhelming success. At this time he and the rest of Blue Team were deployed back to Netherop under the direction of Commander Amalea Petrov. Their goal was the capture of a disabled Covenant frigate filled with valuable technology.
On June 12 John reported to the interior compartment of Chester W. Nimitz Secure Conference Suite aboard the Valiant-class super-heavy cruiser UNSC Everest, then located at Rendezvous Point Durga within a deep space transitional zone of the Polona sector. He had been abaord the UNSC Kayenta when he'd recieved a summons to provide "clarification" for a Court of Inquiry and had donned full dress whites and made the trip over to the Everest, reporting to the court at 1010 hours. John made sure to rise to his full height as he moved to the end of the conference table within the suite. Seated around it were Doctor Halsey, Samson, Roselle, Vice Admirals Cole and Stanforth, Lieutenant J. Stone, and Lieutenant Commander B. Nett (both of the Judge Advocate General's Corps). The first question posed to him came from Lieutenant Stone, who asked whether Commander Petrov had ever suggested it may be better for the mission to leave the castaways on Netherop so he and the other UNSC personnel could escape with the person shield generator recovered by Captain Stocken. John confirmed she had. His voice elicited shock from Samson and Roselle, neither of whom had realized who he was until that moment. John assured them he was older then he looked before being made to once again confirm what Petrov had said to him. He also relayed that in reponse he'd told her such a course of action likely violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Colonial Administration Authority Laws of Deep Space, or another such statute. When Stone asked if one of the castaways might have overheard them John could not say for certain whether or not that was even possible given the circumstances at the time. The Master Chief was startled to then learn that Petrov's marooning would seemingly be permanent, as the Covenant had seeded Netherop with orbital mines. He asked whether they could still get messages through to her so they could warn her about the Covenant operatives who were left behind as well, to which Stanforth said they had tried but could not know whether any of their transmissions had been recieved. When it came time for Lieutenant Commander Nett to question him John confirmed that he had asked the castaways to support Linda at one point during the operation and that in order to secure their support he'd promised them a Sharpfin escort corvette and travel to any planet they wished to live on, courtesy of the UNSC. when Stanforth asked where the two Castoffs present would like to go Samson immediately said Gao. John was astonished at this, as Gao was Hector Nyeto's home world and was practically in full rebellion just then. Admiral Cole let John be the one to decide whether they could trust Samson and Roselle to keep quiet regarding he and the other Spartans. After recieving subtle nods from both of them he said he was sure they wouldn't talk. Nett thereafter began to lead them both back to their compartments and when they stopped near John Roselle took both of his hands in hers, asking if he would come and see them. He replied that she could count on it, though perhaps not on Gao.
Fighting two wars
During the first decade of the war, Blue Team fought on dozens of besieged worlds, buying time for orderly UNSC withdrawals and civilian evacuations and leading strikes deep into the heart of enemy forces to destroy key ships and eliminate Covenant commanders. During these first ten years a handful of victories were secured by Spartans even after orbital superiority was lost at colonies under attack. Though the colony of Green Hills was one of the first to be glassed by the Covenant soon after Harvest, like Harvest, the UNSC did not immediately abandon it. In 2527 John found himself fighting alongside ODSTs on the ruined world. At least around two years and ten months after the initial attack on Circinius IV, John returned to the planet as part of Operation: PHALANX. The operation's goals included both the evacuation of a civilian population that still remained on the surface and the observation of the enemy's invasion patterns.
In mid-2530, John and the three other members of Blue Team successfully assaulted the United Rebel Front's Station Jefferson in the Eridanus asteroid belt. They dealt another blow to the rebels at some point between then and the last few months of the year when they boarded the URF destroyer Origami and completed a mission which removed the ship from the Front's possession. This campaign against the Front then led to John, Kelly, Fred, and Linda carrying out a mission to halt the manufacturing of highly-powerful explosives at one of its dedicated facilities in October or November of 2530. At two points between then and the advent of May in 2531, the four-Spartan team deployed against pockets of the URF that existed on two of the UEG's core worlds: Earth and Reach. On Earth, they were deployed to deal with a rebel element in Micronesia, and on Reach, they put an end to a saboteur cell. At some point following Operation: PHALANX but preceding Operation: WARM BLANKET in 2544, John is known to have participated in operations SWITCHBACK and HORIZON. Details regarding the former are highly classified, but the latter involved the destruction of Covenant exploratory fleet elements near the colony of Cascade.
At some point during the course of the war, John, aided by Fred and the rest of Blue Team, boarded a Covenant vessel called Perpetual Devotion. Once aboard, the Spartans overloaded the ship's reactor and made it off just before it exploded. On one occasion a large city on a colony world was under attack from a CAS-class assault carrier, which had launched hordes of Type-26 Banshees and landed ground troops, both of which were killing civilians indiscriminately. John and six other Spartans jumped from two D79-TC Pelicans, using their armor's integrated thrusters to land in the city and immediately begin engaging the enemy with MA5D assault rifles. At another time, John found himself alone far outside a human city facing down a hulking Jiralhanae with a Type-2 gravity hammer. Surrounded by a crashed Pelican and the corpses of dead Sangheili, and himself having been rendered weaponless, John met the Brute head-on and kicked off its chest, sending it reeling backwards. John met the ODST and future Spartan-IV Edward Buck at some point during the war post-2528 and the two fought together. Some time prior to the Covenant's attack on Sigma Octanus IV in 2552, John was awarded the Legion of Honor medallion by Admiral Stanforth for saving a platoon of marines. The marines had been pinned down inside a bunker by a stationary energy weapon emplacement but John came to the rescue and took out twenty Covenant troops by himself.
Operation: SMOKING ACES
By April of 2531, NAVSPECWEP's Spartan-IIs, and Blue Team in particular, had put a significant dent in the efforts of the United Rebel Front to free the Outer Colonies from UNSC control. A URF cell in the 111 Tauri system reached out to the regional UNSC Central Command and claimed to be willing to give up three stolen FENRIS nuclear warheads in exchange for medication and treatment by UNSC doctors being provided to some of their people whom had supposedly contracted Boren's syndrome. Command responded by covertly deploying Blue Team to the planet Victoria on May 1 as part of Operation: SMOKING ACES. The team was ordered to recover the stolen warheads and target any Front leaders present. John-117, Kelly-087, Fred-104, Linda-058, and Kurt-051 infiltrated from the UNSC Bunker Hill and approached the rebel base, Camp New Hope, under the cover of darkness. Kurt's inclusion during the mission marked the first time an additional Spartan had been added to the team since Sam-034 had died, bringing the roster back up to five once more.
John led his team to the perimeter of the rebel base and in quick succession, they silently eliminated perimeter guards by approaching them stealthily. For his part, John wrenched a guard's neck upward until he heard the sound of a dislocation. Once he got confirmation from his team regarding the others, he signaled them to move forward. John, Kurt, and Kelly ran for the base's gatehouse three-hundred meters away while Linda started to pick rebels off with her sniper rifle. Kelly surprised those within by dropping flashbang grenades from a hatch in the roof right before John breached the door by tearing the door and its frame from its steel reinforcement to the wall. By the time John brought his weapon to bear on the enemies inside, Kurt had already killed three. John dispassionately executed seven remaining men struggling to orient themselves with head-shots. He delegated the task of dealing with New Hope's security system to Kurt and Kelly, who put cameras and detectors into loops so that they wouldn't be revealed further in. She stated that they would only have a fifteen minute window in which they wouldn't have to deal with drones or dogs, given the current rotation and refueling schedule. John ordered everyone to move out, even though Kurt hesitancy and doubt about their ability to not being spotted. The Spartans skirted around one warehouse, went underneath an officers' barracks, and finally arrived at a central warehouse which John was certain held what they were seeking, thanks to a radiation counter he had been outfitted with for this operation. He had Kurt go secure a modified Warthog that was parked nearby so that they would be ready for a quick exit while the rest of the team spread out around the building. He authorized Linda to begin sniping rebels in her sight and then charged inside, followed shortly thereafter by everyone else but Kurt. Three FENRIS warheads were prominently displayed on steel racks but before John could do anything about it, he and the others were caught off guard by the sudden effects of an old antigravity plate pointed at their position. The URF commandos who had sprung this trap intended to trick the Spartans' Mjolnir into thinking it was under ten times the force of Earth's gravity. In response, the armor automatically increased its internal pressure and momentarily rendered its wearers unconscious.
John awoke to find himself propped against a wall, still fully armored but now fitted with a neural-inhibitor collar and still suffering somewhat from the effects of rapid decompression. Rendered unable to move, he was approached by the URF's own General Howard Graves, who proceeded to gloat about how easily the UNSC had taken their bait. Before anything else could happen, however, an Asteroidea anti-personnel mine came flying through the doorway, triggered and thrown by Kurt. The deadly explosion that followed was joined by three others after Kurt drove the warthog into the warehouse and tossed three more mines at Blue Team's captors. He freed his teammates, and at John's command, hopped back behind the wheel of the warthog once more and drove them out, now with the warheads. URF hostiles in the surrounding area realized what was happening and before long, the hog was taking fire from armor-piercing rounds and being pursued by three MAKO-class attack drones. To avoid being hit with a drone-fired missile, John ordered the modified vehicle's back hatch opened so he and Linda could snipe their flying pursuers out of the sky. The D77-TC Pelican that had brought them down to Victoria saved the team from the one missile that had been managed to be fired. With no time to spare, the pilot had the bird latch onto their vehicle and lift it skyward, carrying them like that all the way into orbit where the Bunker Hill was waiting to slip out of the system as soon as they were aboard. Kurt revealed it had been the large amounts of AP rounds the rebels had which had made him uneasy while in the guard tower. John told him that from there on out if anything else ever gave him pause during an op, he should make sure to report it right away.
By 2535, John had been attached to the destroyer UNSC Resolute, commanded by Captain de Blanc. He had already witnessed the glassing of a least one world while working with de Blanc when the ship was deployed to Jericho VII in the Lambda Serpentis system for Operation: FALLEN WALLS. Covenant forces began a ground invasion of the planet on February 9, 2535, and for three days the Spartan-IIs of Blue, Red, and Green teams battled against them. During the fighting, John-117 commanded Blue Team, outfitted with its own D77-TC Pelican and comprised of himself, Kelly-087, Frederic-104, Linda-058, and James-005. FALLEN WALLS called for the planting of a HAVOK tactical nuclear weapon at the aliens' staging area in order to stop their ground advance.[note 3] Among those who fought alongside the Master Chief during this conflict was a man who would go on to become a Spartan-IV following the war's conclusion. On February 12 Blue Team attempted to draw out the Covenant's rear guard so that Red Team could slip through its lines amidst the confusion and plant the nuke so that when the next ship landed to unload more troops, it would trigger the bomb's detonation. In the morning, Blue Team buried a spiderweb pattern of Lotus anti-tank mines along a hill near a beach, where John and the others planned to lure Covenant troops.
At 0500 hours, John's motion sensors alerted him to the presence of more than one hundred enemies near the position where the mines had been buried. He immediately signaled all teams to halt their progression and assessed the threat by way of a HUD-linked fiber optic probe which he snaked up and over a three meter ridge of rock. The visual showed a valley absolutely overrun with Unggoy—easily a thousand of them. This same group had been responsible very recently for the massacre of the 105th Drop Jet Platoon. He passed along what he was seeing to the rest of Blue Team and instructed Kelly to use a pair of M41 SPNKRs to eliminate four stationary plasma cannons before unloading into the rest of them. Fred-104 and James-005 were told to help him with "crowd control" and Linda was given the job of setting off the mines at the opportune time. As soon as Kelly leapt into action, John, Fred, and James opened fire with MA5B assault rifles, shooting armor-piercing rounds at first and then shredder rounds subsequently. John took a barrage fire from a Type-33 needler, but the Subanese crystal projectiles only bounced off his armor before detonating. The Chief gave the command to fall back in five seconds once Linda informed him the Covenant would have air support in the area in just two minutes. The closest Unggoy of the charging crowd was only three meters from their position along the ridge when John tossed two fragmentation grenades and turned to run. It took he, Fred, and James thirty-two seconds to sprint half a kilometer up a sandstop slope, beneath which lay the buried mines and that ended at a cliff overlooking an ocean beach. Once they were a safe distance from the planned explosions, John gave Linda permission to detonate the Lotus mines. He, Fred, and James picked off those that still remained after the devastating blasts.
Suddenly, five Type-26 Banshees appeared over a ridge and raced toward their position at over one-hundred kilometers per hour. After giving all teams under his command permission to fire and surviving the first pass the craft made at them, John ordered Fred and James to perform a Theta maneuver. The three Spartans regrouped afterwards at the cliff edge and rappelled down steel cables already waiting for them. Fred was told by John to cover him while he prepared to detonate another trap: ten hidden fougasses packed with napalm and ammunition casings that would serve as shrapnel. When the five Banshees were just fifty meters away, John jumped from the cliff face and pressed the button sent them crashing into the sea. All five Spartans rendezvoused on the beach and John learned from Red Team that their part of the operation had been successful. He had Kelly patch him into SATCOM so he could report the victory to Captain de Blanc, but the captain informed him that things were going poorly in orbit and that the Spartans were being pulled out. In fifteen minutes' time, Blue Team had made its way ten kilometers down the beach and dusted off in its waiting Pelican. After docking in the Resolute's port bay, John took an elevator to the bridge, using the time it took to get there to review Red Team's after-action report. Though they had stopped the Covenant on the ground, it made little difference to the planet's ultimate fate. With the battle orbit lost, nothing else could be done. At thirty-million kilometers out from Jericho VII, John requested permission to stay on the bridge so he could observe its final glassing. Captain de Blanc granted him his wish, and for the next hour he stood completely still as he stared at the view screens. The captain then gave the order to leave the system.
In 2544, the Inner Colony, Miridem, came under assault by the Covenant. The colony was declared lost after over two weeks of fighting. During civilian egress, an evacuation craft carrying Dr. Catherine Halsey was intercepted at the edge of the planetary system and disabled before it could slip away. The Covenant evidently realized the value of Halsey as a prisoner, for only she was spared and taken prisoner aboard the Third Fleet of Glorious Consequence's flagship, Resplendent Fervor. The day after losing Miridem, Vice Admiral Berlin M. Tursk sent a message from the UNSC Swiftsure to Lucius Jiron, captain of the Sahara-class heavy prowler PRO-49776, in which he told the captain he would be receiving Spartans shortly and that he ought to prep his OF92 booster frames for a quick and dirty extraction of the doctor.
By the time Blue Team was aboard the prowler, now composed of John-117, Kelly-087, Frederic-104, Arthur-079, and Solomon-069, the Third Fleet of Glorious Consequence was being prevented from initiating slipspace jumps by the powerful magnetic field of the star Ascon. Captain Jiron briefed the team before their departure and let them know they would only have a ten minute window to locate the package and return it to the UNSC. The Spartans saluted when he was finished and proceeded to their booster frames. John stayed behind briefly to ask what would happen if they ran out of time, to which Jiron said they would have no choice but to do whatever they had to in order to annihilate the fleet before it got away with its valuable asset.
The five EVA frames came under fire from pulse laser turrets and plasma torpedos almost immediately after the fleet noticed them. John gave advance warning of the incoming projectiles and lasers and had his Spartans optimize their frames for mobility. They all managed to evade the initial salvoes and even use their MITV pods to do some damage to the hull weaponry of the CCS-class battlecruisers shooting at them. Solomon and Kelly broke off to investigate a seemingly positive reading Solomon was receiving from the first battlecruiser he landed a scanning device on. John was skeptical of their prospects of locating their target so easily, so he flew his OF92 into the cruiser's hangar just in time to warn Kelly he suspected it was a trap. The two of them made it out just as an antimatter charge was detonated, destroying the ship and killing Solomon as well. At this point, multiple similar readings were being recognized across many ships in the fleet. John concluded they were all decoys like the last and that their best bet would be to aim for the flagship. When a formation of Kai-pattern Seraphs bore down on the four remaining Spartan-IIs, he said to ignore them and to stay on target toward the CAS-class assault carrier Resplendent Fervor.
John commanded they stick to a tight formation and begin charge their M92 Gauss cannons to fire at a single point in the carrier's aft hangar bay. Unfortunately, Arthur was killed while trying to defend the others from the Seraphs and Kelly had to abandon her frame to join Fred on his. With only two left, John had them fire everything they had, both gauss cannons and MITV missiles, at the Fervor's aft hangar bay. The Spartans even ejected from their booster frames so they could be sent slamming into the bay doors as heavy projectiles. John and the others survived the resulting explosions and entered the hangar encased inside a Z-4190 bubble shield. With only three minutes left to complete Operation: WARM BLANKET, John ordered a full sprint into the ship's interior. Armed with an MA5C assault rifle and dual M7 SMGs, John took down Jiralhanae, Kig-Yar, and Unggoy as they raced down corridors in search of their target.
Fred used an M6 Spartan Laser to create openings in the ship's bulkheads twice for them to pass through. Suddenly, the Sangheili Major, Thel 'Lodamee, and two minors ambushed John and the others. Fred leapt in to assist John, killing one of the minors, and elected to stay behind to face down the other two so John and Kelly could keep running ahead. At this point, the fleet's Supreme Commander, Luro 'Taralumee, initiated the splitting of the ship into detached sections in an effort to halt their advance. John and Kelly, in vacuum between the dispersed portions of the carrier, locked hands and she swung him toward the foremost section. He only hesitated briefly upon landing, regretting leaving his closest companion behind.
John chanced upon the doctor soon after he made his way forward. She was still in cryostasis within a cryotube taken from the evac craft she'd been kidnapped from. John initiated a quick thaw and woke her, jokingly asking if she slept well. Halsey thanked John, relieved to see him. The two made their way for utility shuttles they could use to escape but were met by Thel 'Lodamee, whom had evidently gotten away from Fred. John opened fire with his MA5, but the Elite's Type-1 energy sword was able to block the bullets. Surprisingly, Thel tossed John a second sword. Realizing he was being challenged to a duel, the Chief activated it and before long the two were clashing blades as Halsey looked on. At that moment the fleet became clear of Ascon's magnetic interference, however, and 'Taralumee decided to once again break off the portion of the ship John, Halsey, and Thel were in before jumping to slipspace. Rather than leave the major behind, though, he was caught up in a gravity field and pulled back to the foremost section. Now free to leave, John and Halsey boarded a Ren in Delta Section and blasted away from the remainder of the ship before it was scuttled. They were accosted by a group of Seraphs left behind by the fleet, but were saved thanks to the combined efforts of PRO-49776 and another Seraph that had been commandeered by both Kelly and Fred.
Once safely back aboard the prowler, John mourned the losses of Arthur and Solomon and considered whether he could have beaten the major had their duel continued, as he had been exceptionally strong. John resolved to be stronger in the future, which Halsey agreed they would all need to be. Soon after the successful rescue of Doctor Halsey, John was ordered to redeploy to Miridem as part of Operation: IRON FIST, with the dual goals of denying the Covenant access to valuable assets on the planet and the partial recovery of critical cyberinfrastructure assets alike.