光环:科尔协议在线阅读

来自光环中文百科

序章

  • 瓦砾星 星盟占领区域 天枰座 23

伊格纳西奥.德尔加多躲在一个紧邻一系列货柜的隔离舱后面,红色的涂料从它们棱纹状的金属表面上剥离开,简直就像被爆裂的血浆击中一般。他躲藏其后的晦暗金属开始发红---发热融化的细小金属凝块滴落到他脚附近的冰冷的甲板上。

“梅尔克?”他大声盖过尖锐的嘶嘶声。

经过一段令人担心的长暂停后有人回应了:“还在这。”

他的副驾驶从货柜后面回答道。但这并没有改变他们的困境。

从他们周围延伸出去的货仓--- 一英里长的小行星的核心,缓慢旋转提供着重力,即将崩溃。德尔加多和梅尔克站在岩石圆筒墙的内侧。陷入到岩石中的货物区的金属墙被从其他小行星来的多余补给品给塞满了。

德尔加多拔出他那把在握柄上有大量刻纹和个人特色的手枪,贴近自己的脸颊。这是他的叔叔在马德里加尔星上用非常少有的橡树替换原本的枪托从而创造出的一件不同于标准M6的艺术品。

那是在星盟玻璃化马德里加尔星之前,当人们从安全的小行星逃到被躲藏其中的叛乱分子戏称为“瓦砾星”的赫西奥德气态星之前的事了。

德尔加多轻吻了一下漩涡型饰纹。

一边向着隔离舱的拐角处开火,他一边从紧邻货柜的安全地带猛然串出。他撇了一眼攻击进攻他的人 ---那些笨拙、高挑、外形像鸟,手上牢牢握着等离子枪的异星人。他们小而圆的眼睛正盯着他,脑壳上莫霍克般的多刺不住的抽搐着。

另一边货柜被等离子击中的声音在货仓中回荡。

豺狼!”德尔加多赶紧躲开。绝大多数人类都这样称呼这些异星人,虽然他们称自己为奇戈亚。(Kig-Yar的音译,拉丁语,意为令人讨厌的拦路抢劫的强盗。)

他们只是被称为星盟的外星种族中的一支。在破坏了马德里加尔星之后他们发现了躲藏在邻近赫西奥德的瓦砾星上的人类,而且出于某些原因,并没有将这些人给抹去。

他们如同人类给他们的绰号一般贪婪。在瓦砾星上这些奇戈亚恶棍做出无情的海盗袭击并不会很罕见。

梅尔克.霍里斯特依靠着一个旧货柜,他的灰色预备军人制服上粘有点点血迹。

“有多少?”

“三个。”德尔加多担心的望着自己的老朋友。过去几年里,他们一起飞过瓦砾星上的每一个角落和裂缝,在深夜里互相帮助搀扶着蹒跚走路,饮酒狂欢作乐。他们太亲近了,以至于人们经常把他们误认为是亲兄弟。

“你怎么了?看上去有些东西追得你喘不上气。”

“认为我健康恶化了?”梅尔克咳嗽着。“那你该看看那些家伙。”

德尔加多保持着背靠货柜的姿势,瞄准着边缘。“你杀了一个?”

“我们同时在拐角转弯。”梅尔克向后退,同时扫视了一下货柜的另一边。当他的左手捂着他的胃时他的右手依然握着手枪。“我第一个开枪的,第二个开枪的,还是第三个开枪的。”

“那些血是从哪来的?”

“有一个豺狼是第四个开枪的。”

德尔加多摇了摇头。这已经不可控制了。他伸手进口袋,拿出了这一切麻烦的元凶:一个微小的芯片,比指甲盖还小,静静地躺在坚固的容器之内。

回溯到马德里加尔星还是繁荣的外殖民地的时候,蕴藏其中的信息一点都不特殊。即便是回溯到星盟摧毁了马德里加尔星,人们逃往瓦砾星的漂流岩石之前,又或是UNSC(联合国太空司令部)抛弃了他们所有人之前,再或者是德尔加多在这被终结之前。

地球的位置一直都是寻常事物,它嵌入在每一艘在内殖民地和母星做长距离跳跃的飞船内。

“给。”德尔加多将芯片交给梅尔克。

而现在这儿的每一个人都知道,这个芯片里包含着的唯一一个已知的能够让一些人回去的导航地图。其余所有的芯片都被摧毁了,被病毒破坏,又或是那些船神秘的失灵了且所有信息都被清除了。所有的这一切都发生在上周。

这彻底地改变了瓦砾星上的一切。

梅尔克将这个黑色椭圆形物体滑入大腿口袋。“豺狼信心满满,悄悄潜入这里试图拿到它。”

他们的确是这么做的。德尔加多可不喜欢这样。虽然瓦砾星上的奇戈亚相对比较和平,甚至帮忙建造了小行星栖息地。但在内心深处德尔加多可不愿相信星盟的任何事。

在看到他们在轨道上像孩子一样赞美遗迹时,更加重了他的疑心。

星盟从来就不是什么善茬,德尔加多的人可能有危险。

所以,对德尔加多来说,不惜任何代价也要保护好这个导航数据。

德尔加多目测了从他们这组货柜到空气闸的距离。

“跑起来,梅尔克,我会拖住他们。当你登上远方号时,炸掉船闸全力逃跑,说不定会有艘豺狼的船在那等着。一旦你逃了出去就立即开始寻求帮助。”

他举起了雕花的枪。

“我和塞诺拉西斯(枪名)会在这里拖住他们。”

“你不能……”梅克尔说道。

“如果我试图跟着你后面跑向飞船,这只会拖慢所有的事 --- 他们也会跑进去的。但这么做至少会扰乱他们。他们会期待着我们会一起跑过去。”

他如此希望着。

梅尔克抓着德尔加多的手臂。

“好吧。但是当我成功脱离,紧急出口关上时,你就从这出去和豺狼保持距离。”

瓦砾星的小行星,彼此之间由柔软的航天软管连接在一起。一旦远方号离开了,德尔加多就计划利用这些东西从这个贮存设施中逃离到更大更复杂的小行星上去。

德尔加多的前臂上缀满了点点血污。“这没问题。”

货柜上方一些不同寻常的声音吸引了德尔加多的注意力。

“我想是时候了,”梅尔克说。他交出了自己朴素的手枪。“你会需要额外的火力的。”

“嘿,谢了,哥们。”德尔加多说道。

“三秒后在另一边见面。”举起了三个手指。三…二…

数到一时,梅克尔向前冲去,穿过那些立在他和空气闸之间货柜迷宫。德尔加多迅速跟上。

一个在货柜顶端的豺狼向梅尔克追去。它向下望时发现德尔加多正在瞄准自己,立即举起了它的圆弧形武器开始射击。

太晚了。当巨大的象鸟一样的异星人尖叫着,回身射击时,德尔加多已经按下了三次扳机。从豺狼右前臂上的手镯形成的椭圆形护盾闪烁了一下后,它便倒下了,紫色的鲜血在空中形成了一团淡淡的紫色的雾。

德尔加多通过货柜上的一个裂缝来到了通道上。

另外两个豺狼准备通过拐角。他一手保持梅尔克的手枪向前瞄准的姿势并扔掉了它的空弹夹,用仍然端着塞诺拉西斯的手指笨拙从自己的口袋拿出子弹,塞诺拉西斯的前端不断地上下摆动着直到装弹完成,然后把它推回胸前位置。

他向上举着两把枪,对准目标准备着,当豺狼来到转角时,他让手枪喷出了令人胆寒的火舌。异星人紧急滑停,回身躲回货柜后面,用火力回击不再露头。

金属在德尔加多四周飞溅着,灼烧着他的肋骨。

但是当他一手抓住烧焦的皮肤时,他听到了从货柜的另一边传来的有爆炸引发的突然减压。

空气沙沙作响,之后当梅尔克打开气闸,空气被吸入太空时,更是发出了呼啸声。

豺狼开始射击清除角落,三段式关节的腿部一阵用力向德尔加多跑去,他们手上的椭圆形能量护盾不断地闪烁着。

当他们躬身带着能量武器靠近德尔加多时,他清空了对紫色半透明的护盾毫无无用的弹夹并咬紧牙关准备着。

突然一个灰色模糊的东西,从豺狼身后堆成4倍高的一组货柜上掉了下来。

巨大的防护罩击打着融化的岩石地面,在地面上留下大量凹痕和破碎的岩石。

德尔加多凝视着那个巨大的戴着金面头盔的灰色雕像,向最近的豺狼的躯干射击出一整轮手提轻机枪火力。

随后用力地猛拉枪栓对准远处的豺狼,那些布满锯齿状的牙齿的下颌因此而面露惊恐之色。

豺狼被击飞了出去,紫色的鲜血在它的上方拉成了一个圆弧形。

异星人的身体,吱嘎作响着,无力地落在德尔加多的脚边,滑过他的身畔,当豺狼的血雨终于落到地面上时它的背也狠狠的撞在了货柜上。

一长串滑溜潮湿的紫色足迹向后指出了一个站立于豺狼之中,高大、身披装甲的战士。

装甲钢板上布满着缺口、伤痕和磨损的印迹,而当头盔被摘下后战士改变了,她是个女人。

她用戴着灰色防护手套的手,紧束自己脑后的头发,四处巡视着自己的战果。“虽然我帮了你的忙,”她用充满斯拉夫口音的声音说道,“但我并不期待你的报答。告诉我,你的朋友在哪儿驾驶着你的那艘小飞船?”

德尔加多感到有些粘稠、潮湿的东西在身旁散播开来,轻拍着他。他的手指被自己的鲜血染成了红色。德尔加多蹒跚地摇了摇自己的头,随后倒了下去。当他放下了手中的塞诺拉西斯和梅尔克的枪时,它们立即就远离他而去。

“见鬼!”女人冲上去屈膝抓住了他。她展开了一个小的医药箱,扯下一罐生物泡沫和一些战地包扎用品。如此有高效的杀手的眼睛竟然这般湛蓝,德尔加多这样想到。

“你究竟是干什么的?”当她扯破自己的衬衣喷泡沫时,他问道。密封伤口传来一阵剧痛。

“一个斯巴达战士。”她将用于包扎的绷带缠绕在自己的身上。

“我曾听说过有关斯巴达战士的传闻。不过即便你们确实存在,现在也该全都离开内殖民地了,为了UNSE而与星盟战斗着,你在这里干嘛?深入敌后?”

似乎是对自己的紧急医疗处理很满意,斯巴达战士向后靠去。“我们中的一些有着更怪诞的指派。”

总有传言说,在斯巴达战士的周围总会暗中惹上各种麻烦。但是人们也指责在设备中的小精灵才是引起随机、不可预期的麻烦的原因。可也有人不信这一套。对于叛乱军来说,斯巴达战士更像是有着超人力量的邪恶巫师。

“你也在找导航资料,哈啊?”德尔加多意识到,如果导航资料就是他们在此的全部原因那会十分奇怪,又或是他们不知怎的被抛弃在了瓦砾星上。

巨大的斯巴达战士微笑道,“如果豺狼的爪子碰到这块芯片,那每个人都得遭殃。”

她屈身向前将一个小东西放在了他打开的手掌上。防护手套非常小心和精确地将他拿着设备的手握成一个拳。

“如果你想要把它交出去,那就按下这个信标,我们就随叫随到。我们很确信我们能比你更好的保护好它。”

德尔加多摇了摇头,他不相信奇戈亚。但UNSC又鞭长莫及。

她叹了口气。“真是耻辱。”她转身走开,捡起塞诺拉西斯握在手中仔细检查。

德尔加多举手示意,她将它还给了他。“好东西。”

“我叔叔在它身上花了3个礼拜的时间,”德尔加多喘息道,他身体的一边仍然很疼。“他是个天才。”

“他曾经是。”

斯巴达战士仰起了她的头,竖起耳朵仔细听。“你们的救援到了。”

德尔加多试图站起来,但当他一改变姿势一股巨大的疼痛就向他袭来。“你是谁?”

斯巴达战士立正,环伺着他。“我的名字是阿德里亚娜斯巴达战士111。”

“伊格纳西奥.德尔加多。”德尔加多再次伸出自己的手。“谢谢。”

阿德里亚娜小心的握了握他伸来的手。“欢迎,德尔加多先生。请记住一点,我不在这儿,而且我也很确信我没有帮助过你。夜晚里也没有任何斯巴达战士存在,你明白了?”

德尔加多不懂,确实的。他觉得非常眩晕。但他还是点头了。这个穿着装甲在坐在楼梯前的泰坦巨神看来很审慎。

非常的审慎。

“很好,德尔加多先生。”阿德里亚娜放开了他的手,重新戴上头盔。从头盔中传来的被增强的声音听上去十分有力。“再见。”

她想最近的一个货柜跳去,然后轰然落下,留下德尔加多一人等待救援。

第一部分

第一章

从低温和黑暗中传出了一个深沉、干净利落,但稍微有些调皮的声音。“醒醒,醒醒,教官。”

雅各布·凯斯坐下并做了一个深呼吸。当他从肺中咳出医疗试液时,身下的凝胶垫也跟着弯曲,在咳嗽和第二次呼吸之间他稍稍喘息了一下。

“上尉。”凯斯咳嗽着。他的肺对他在它们有机会完全清理之前就开始说话提出抗议。“上尉雅各布·凯斯。”在教室里,他是凯斯教官,但回到这在甲板上他想要回复到相应的军阶。在他由于受伤而被调往教职之前,他在这儿努力工作过几年。

他坐进一个长形冷冻舱内,排成一行的许多个中的一个。

末影边缘号的其余船员正开始从他们自己的冷冻舱中爬出来。

船员们互相帮忙出舱,用出色的笑话将那些他们吸入的用以可以保护自己的身体免受低温冷冻睡眠伤害的液体激烈地咳出来。

值班长官蹲坐在凯斯身边。

一个瘦削的海军,埃德加.赛克斯,一个50岁上下苍白的男人,有修剪过的灰色短发和眯眼斜视的棕黑色的眼睛。

“你是怎么和舰队司令的妻子约会的,上尉?自从你被冻成冰棍可有一段时间了。”

一些船员已经准备起身穿衣,咧嘴笑着四处张望。凯斯在教室里待得太久了,不太会开玩笑了。

“抱歉?”凯斯问道。“舰队司令的妻子?"

赛克斯指指冷冻舱:“这张寒冷的床?”

哦,凯斯明白了。这是船员们现在对冷冻舱的称呼。而上次出航时他们称它为“冷藏室”。“没有什么事是你忘不掉的。”凯斯摩擦加热着双手。冷冻仓的寒意渗透进了每一个细胞。然而比寒意更糟糕的则是他在梅里威瑟刘易斯号上留下的旧伤发作。等离子深深地烧进了他的大腿,他放开握紧那被击碎然后又被重建的手。他们让他靠边站,把他推到一群见解宽阔,未经认命的军官面前,扮演一个课堂演练军士。

他小心地将自己转到冷冻仓的另一边。伤口已经愈合了足够多的时间。多到在绝大部分的时间里,它们只是个褪色的记忆而已,一个当他在健身房内过分努力时的刺痛罢了。但冷藏室似乎又将它引了出来。

当赛克斯注意到凯斯那谨慎的移动时,他伸手来帮助他。

凯斯看了看这个男人。

“你想约我吗?”

船员中发出一阵窃笑。赛克斯点头道。“是的,凯斯。欢迎登上末影边缘号。”

他转向船员。“你们认为自己都他妈的在看些什么?”

船员的目光都回到了自己的任务上,慢慢的都静了下来。

凯斯的冷冻仓旁摆着一件叠得非常整齐的灰色制服。他穿上了它,又检查了一下代表上尉的两颗银质星星是否在上面。

重新穿上制服感觉好极了,尤其是在甲板上。

当他从服役的梅里威瑟刘易斯号上退下来时,他曾认为在此踏上舰桥的机会几乎已经远离他而去了。这刺伤了他。

尽管如此,在40岁时,凯斯仍要保证自己每天早起跑步10公里,每个礼拜至少去健身房三次。他害怕自己变得越来越软弱。

他知道,登上过梅里威瑟刘易斯号给了他一个优势。即使在今天仍然使他有能力在体能训练上战胜自己的学生,这仍能有效的为他赢得了他们的尊重。

服役就是服役。如果海军需要上尉雅各布·凯斯花费接下来的数十年去训练领航员如何去驾驶他们的飞船,那就是他们需要他去做的。

每个人都有自己的角色和地位去担当。

但随着外星势力一个接一个星球的破坏,而人们献出生命却只能延缓他们时,凯斯知道没有自怜的余地了。

他从想念自己那住在外殖民地杜瓦尔卡的姐姐的黑暗时期中恢复了过来。尽管自从殖民地陷入沉默后就非常担忧她的命运,不过UNSC实在是鞭长莫及。

当他收到离开月神的命令时,他仅仅来得及去拜访一下自己的女儿,米兰达

上一次他受命起航时,他还没有自己的家庭,是个急躁的年轻人。而现在他不得不强行将自己拉走。他已经习惯于每天接她回家,并把她背到他们共同享有的基地内小公寓里。

他会和米兰达吻别,让她知道她不得不留在她学校的宿舍,就像所有其他有任务在身的家庭与儿童一样。她是个海军的好孩子,她对这个消息无比兴奋还追着问他要上那一条船。

有人在凯斯的背后清了清喉咙。他转头看见了一个穿戴全套飞行员装备,胳膊下挎着一顶头盔的男人。飞行员敬礼示意。

“早上好,长官。我是士官杰弗里斯。我将为您服务。”

凯斯身体前倾,拉了拉飞行员湿漉漉的制服。“我希望你的飞行不会像你的穿着那样草率。”一些飞船,例如末影边缘号,会有一些不平等。船长的特权。最关键的是战斗指挥效能,凯斯知道边缘号和另一艘舰船一起干掉了星盟的驱逐舰,带着需要完全整修的荣耀正在返回地球。

凯斯却坚持认为它没有伤的这么重。

“长官?”

“如果你都不能的扣上自己的纽扣,带好自己的肩章,然后照着程序走,我又凭什么会对待在你的大鸟里感到安心?”

“长官,那是因为我的制服从没在热区放弃过士兵,长官。”

凯斯稍微变得缓和了。“好吧,杰弗里斯,让我们来看看都有什么在等着我。”

士官杰弗里斯走近一架绿色的,紧邻末影边缘号上另外两个密封停机坪的战伤的鹈鹕运兵船。它的一侧被能量光束打得满是伤痕。

凯斯跟着飞行员后面走过了高高的尾翼和腹部斜坡下的引擎机舱。杰弗里斯走过布满捆绑带的储藏室和满是安全带的墙壁,爬进了驾驶舱。“您可以坐在我的身后,长官。”杰弗里斯说道。“您不必非得乘这个回去。我可不想让此行寂寞万分。在您的脚下有个空间可以放随身物品。”

斜坡缓慢地呻吟着关了起来,随着出口的关闭,船内也渐渐的暗了下来。

一听到运兵船关闭和密封的叮当声,杰弗里斯就把他的头盔扔在了一边。“在常规飞行中不用穿得这么密不透风吧,尤其今天我们又用不去参加战斗。”

不用,凯斯这么想着,过去的数次的战斗在他脑中闪现。他们当然不用。战斗是你驾驶着鹈鹕号穿梭和躲闪,通过防空炮,而男人们则肩并肩背靠着在船上坐好。你的手心会出汗,呼吸在你自己头盔的密闭空间内变得沉重。战斗是你坐在驾驶舱中闻到血的气味,深感恐惧。

当杰弗里斯在他前面操纵控制台时,凯斯系上了安全带。坐在副驾驶的座位上凯斯紧盯着前方。杰弗里斯检查系统的眼花缭乱的速度透露出充分的训练和熟悉感。驾驶舱窗户上用胶带贴着一张,深褐色头发的白人女子和两个男孩的照片。凯斯指了指照片。

“你的孩子?”

“是的,长官。您也有吗?”

“一个女儿。”凯斯说道。

四副引擎运转了起来,一阵震动传过了鹈鹕号整个框架。

末影边缘号上的伽马舰,起飞前的检查通过,系统正常,提交飞行计划。是否允许起飞?”杰弗里斯的声音听起来有些无聊。

“伽马54号,保持活板门紧闭。”从舰桥上传来了轻松愉快的回答。

飞船的舱门打开了,露出了下方的星球。上面缀有狭长、稀薄的云层和陌生的棕绿色大陆

凯斯没有时间去更多的了解他的目的地。他在午餐时接到了命令,随后在晚餐时就被塞进了末影边缘号的冷冻仓内。

“是什么将您从月神星一路带到希柔星上,来看这儿无比精彩的天空的,长官?”

末影边缘号的停机坪上并没有过多的空间给鹈鹕号去移动,但杰弗里斯还是加大了四个推进器,让鹈鹕号笔直地向前滑出去,然后突然转向飞出了舱门。

杰弗里斯耸着肩回头望着凯斯,表示他能够毫不费力的飞出舰船的舱室。凯斯并没有摆出一个令飞行员满意的惊吓反应。但这还是给他留下了深刻的印象。这个危险的特技表明杰弗里斯可以盲飞。而且还他妈的飞的很好。

“命令,士官,命令。”

“我们将去他们告诉我们的地方,对吗?”

“没错。”凯斯抬头扫过防御玻璃,瞥了一眼将他一路从母星带过来的中型飞船。

飞船的表面布满了陨石坑,船鼻的部分则被烧出了两支箭头互相交叉的形状。

虽然已经整修过了,但这个伤痕还是从上次的遭遇战开始就一直保留到现在。

末影边缘号在杰弗里斯雷霆般的穿越大气层的过程中渐渐地远离他们而去了。

鹈鹕号从大气层再次进入,在摇晃和战栗中不断变热。摩擦着空气产生一条条红色条纹。

“你知不知道这儿有没有任何巡逻队的训练站吗,杰弗里斯?”凯斯突然问道。

杰弗里斯透过后视镜瞥了一眼。“训练站?这儿?长官,希柔星可是一个维修和入干船坞。为前线提供支援的。这儿没有任何的训练设施。如果您非要做,那就得跑上几天的路程然后闯入星盟的远程巡逻队里,您会得到您所有想要的训练的。”

“我也是这么认为的。”凯斯看着红色的烟霞。希柔星是个内殖民世界。

不仅发展的和母星地球一样大,而且和地球的表面一样,有亿万人民居住在这个大陆上。

但是希柔星这颗有些灰沉的行星,是凯斯在这段时间内,从内殖民世界到外殖民世界,去过的最近的地方,

随着世界的扩展,彼此之间的距离越来越远,旅游是一个漫长有时甚至是危险的事,消息传递得过于缓慢,而且大部分都是通过UNSC那落后的频道。

每个公民都知道星盟正在从轨道上慢慢地摧毁人类的星球,一个接着一个的。

只有UNSC坚持自己的方式,为每一英寸的土地而血战到底。

即便是UNSC的正式公告显示,大部分外殖民地都被以难以置信的强大的能量武器给玻璃化摧毁了,而且其中有些是UNSC从来没有见过的。

过去九年里的每一天,自从第一次遇上了这些异星人,前线就在不断地靠近希柔星和内殖民世界的外部边缘。

凯斯知道这不是你训练飞行员的地方。

但他的命令,很奇怪,因为要求他全速赶往希柔星进行训练任务。即便是像凯斯这样无限服从命令的海军也知道,这道命令就是坨屎,是其他命令的掩护。

而那个其他的命令也许是重返战舰,凯斯发现自己这样衷心地期待着。甚至可能是弥补末影边缘号上的空缺。

第二章

杰弗里斯放弃了他原先的飞行计划,低空飞过了一个大型公园,树木的顶部被愤怒的发动机反复抽打着。

小鸟们被他们惊醒了,飞向空中组成绿色和蓝色的鸟群。

他倾斜着鹈鹕号,点起壮观的火焰喷射,这是个能震碎人骨头的降落以至于凯斯不得不握紧他座位的把手。

杰弗里斯又表现了一次。

当他关闭引擎时,它们发出了悲鸣,尘土缓慢地回到了地面。凯斯原本想对杰弗里斯那非比寻常的降落说些什么,但最终还是什么都没说。

他并不是这个男人的舰桥指挥员。就让他走吧,他告诉自己。

“当您回程时我会在这儿等您的,长官。”杰弗里斯说道。“并把您送往下一个目的地。”

凯斯将自己从副驾驶的位置上松了绑。“接下来去哪儿?”

“不知道,长官。”杰弗里斯说道,转了回去。“我的命令是一直等到您回来,所以我猜大概您会知道我们接下来要去哪儿。”

凯斯起身走到机舱前部,透过窗户向外望去。“那是什么?”

他们降落的那个泥土小径四周围,一排一排的木桩被打入地中。越过它们之后,有些看起来像是新生的玉米茎从耕地里发芽了。但在木桩附近,凯斯发现它们刚刚被收割过,一个巨大的标示显示这块区域已被用作巴斯加卢比纪念碑自然保护区。

“胜利公园,”杰弗里斯说道。“或者说是胜利农场更准确,我猜。你可以在任何地方种植农作物和食物,不仅是在地表,我们就是这样利用的。过去外殖民世界生产了绝大多数的食物,所以我们正在经历食物短缺。我这就为您放下舱门。”

凯斯走近了洒满阳光的鹈鹕号背部。舱门上的斜坡放下后,出现了一辆正在等他的疣猪运兵车,车身上盖满了灰尘,还坐着一个橄榄色迷彩服,表情烦闷,手臂下挎着一把步枪的列兵。

列兵和笨重、全副武装、特大型的地面车辆比起来有些瘦弱。凯斯一直都很喜欢疣猪号卷扬机两边用于防御的金属尖牙。

列兵敬礼道。“凯斯上尉?”

凯斯点头。“就是我。”

“列兵汤姆.杰仁瑟。我是您其余路程的司机,长官。”水兵跳上了大型车辆的驾驶座,凯斯也跟上了。“对于着陆点我很抱歉,但我们的主要站点都被帐篷城(注:难民营)弄成了超负荷运转。交通也是纠缠不清,所以这点不便还是物有所值的。最好的其实还是将您直接空降下来。”

“帐篷城?”凯斯在他旁边坐下,凝视着水兵。事情真的已经变得这么糟了吗?他感到自己的胃震动了一下。

凯斯和他的邻居经常乘坐穿梭机去地球探亲或享受一些精美的餐饮和观光旅游,而同时这里却有大量的人得为生活糊口而努力着。

UNSC是在监察着如此多的人而不仅仅只是地球上的那一小撮吗?他们必须正在这么做,真是个可怕的事情。

杰仁瑟点了点头,将他们开下了一条泥土路,转了一个大圈,驾驶着疣猪号绝尘而去。

“外殖民世界的难民,长官。他们在空间站内不断地堆积。又都无处可去。我们不得不为了他们关闭室内运动场,许多的停车点,甚至是整条街道。帐篷、食物都消耗完了,许多人的耐心也被耗完了。外面非常的丑陋,长官。我已经招募了一两个巡逻队。”

“巡逻队?”凯斯问道。“UNSC在做警察的工作?”

“难民是个无底洞,长官。我们计划扩展这里的战斗,如果…或者当星盟跟着那些坐在星球表面上消耗我们食物的难民目标到达时,能给他们一些惊喜。难民们每消耗一个口粮就意味着当我们维持战线时就会缺少一个口粮。我不知道要多厚脸皮才能忍受这里的混乱。”

他们咆哮着驶过数个巨大的佐敦机器人联合收割机,然后驶进了一个被最近新建的农场围绕着的木栏区域上的缺口。

“差不多就是这儿了。”他们一边在土路和车辙上下颠簸,杰仁瑟一边说道。

随着最后一声咆哮,疣猪号驶入了一个圆形小树林。水兵让这辆车引擎发动着停在一段被修补过的烂泥路上。

车下的地面发出隆隆声,四周的边界升起,他们慢慢地移入了一个长长的升降机。

“欢迎到帕特莫斯营地,上尉。”杰仁瑟露齿而笑着。“在这我们每时每刻都在计划着如何撬开星盟的罐装屁股。”

一排排的疣猪号塞满了金属洞穴墙壁。海军陆战队的坦克单位隐藏在他们背后的阴影里,看起来像是压扁的但却是笨重的装甲四足蜘蛛,由两对前足、两对后肢与核心上的一个驾驶舱来操控。

他们的长炮管气势汹汹的指着凯斯。任何降落到希柔星上的星盟都会受到猛烈炮火的欢迎。这里有着足够的天蝎M808B可以组成一个完整的作战坦克师。

凯斯上尉!”一个陌生的声音响了起来。“很高兴见到你。”

凯斯调整他的眼睛让自己可以凝视到了超大机库更深的幽暗处。在门道和一对猫鼬四驱车之间溢出了光亮,有什么人正站在门框之内。

凯斯跳出了疣猪号,右腿有些微微的刺痛。他隐忍着,迅速地走了过去。即使只是一个轮廓,你也很难错过制服上的三个星。凯斯猜出了那是谁。在希柔星上只有一个海军舰队司令。一个愿意自告奋勇地站出来走向前方,并同意采取任何形式的殖民地防御的人,无论这其中有多少的可能性。

“舰队副司令金.麻初贵時(日语MAWIKIZI的中文写法)。长官!这是我的荣幸。”凯斯敬了一个强有力的礼。麻初贵時在三个行星上的激战都遭失败,并在它们被玻璃化时在每个人的抗议声中升空离去。

纤细,但矮小,皮肤黝黑的麻初贵時微笑着回了一个礼。“为了把你快点送到这儿,可费了我不少功夫,凯斯。”

他为凯斯打开大门,一旦上尉通过后又嘭的一声关上。

“跟我走。”

粗糙岩石隧道走廊在他们面前延伸。麻初贵時领着凯斯穿过办公室,侧肩经过那些在他走过给他敬礼的列兵和士官。

凯斯瞟了一眼侧边的走廊,看到了远处的一个兵营。都在造在地下,全是新建的。麻初贵時注意到了他的目光。

“他们强行将我从布隆迪的退休生活中拉了出来,去指挥一个几乎每一天都在撤退的战斗舰队。我在希柔星这整编列队。最后的一个立足点。我们尽可能的去深挖洞穴。这样它们就不得不下到这里来,一个一个的驱赶我们。”

“长官,那难民和公园呢?我从来没有想到事情会这么糟。”

麻初贵時打开了他办公室的门。“那是很糟。我们已经下令让当地的殖民者去分担这些重担,但他们认为这些难民有能力自己去赢得战斗和生存的机会。他们很乐意给他们土地,只是这儿的当地人都是来自于一个过去被认为十分粗鲁的星球的幸存者。没有救济品,只有遍布各大洲,自给自足的家庭。他们都不喜欢被命令去分享...这不是他们的文化。已经有了些争吵,所以我们不能再相信当地人或者是难民、警察。我们试图在星盟进攻前将他们全都转移走。在那之前,他们可不会在这儿过得太舒服。”

舰队副司令的办公室里有窗户和阳台,透过那儿可以看见一个更加深入地下的巨型升降机。毫无疑问,那是为了地底的鹈鹕号和其他支援飞船的停放,等待和盘旋上升,外出战斗时的需要而建造的。

“但是他们什么时候会发动攻击?这是个问题。星盟九年前开始玻璃化星球。他们可能下个月就攻击我们,又或是在路上花上个几年的功夫。不该怎么说,凯斯上尉,我们都知道自己是在走路的死人。”

外面的办公室充满了各种行政管理的嗡嗡声,在耳机中抱怨的士兵,在研究全息战斗数据的军官,这是一个很大的前沿指挥中心。凯斯转身走向内部办公室的办公桌,麻初贵時嘭地关上了吱呀做响的防爆门,嗡嗡声消失了。

凯斯,这位是德米特里.郑中校。”

郑,在舰队副司令办公室角落边的会议桌后等待着,站起身握了握凯斯的手。他比凯斯要高,有着突出的颧骨,灰色的锐利眼神,和刚剃过的头。他看起来和凯斯一个年纪。

“郑是护卫舰舰长,刚被调来前线。”舰队副司令的声音听起来很疲惫,凯斯这么认为。回归高层的五年都已经将他耗干了。这个男子看上去面容憔悴,他坐在小会议桌旁。“好了,先生们,让我们说些正经的吧。”

麻初贵時打开了一个函件大小的信封,将里面的内容滑过桌子交给了凯斯。“每艘船上的指挥官都得看看这个。这是最近下发的。正如我说的这个命令会下发到UNSC的每一艘船上。”凯斯拉出一个塑料薄片读了起来。

联合国太空司令部紧急优先命令098831A - 1

  • 加密代码:红色
  • 公钥:文件/曙光/
  • 来自:UNSC/ 通信导航舰队 H.T.沃德
  • 发送:所有UNSC人员
  • 标题:常规命令098831A - 1(“科尔协议”)
  • 分类:限制(BGX指令)

科尔协议

为了保卫内殖民世界和地球,所有UNSC飞船或是空间站被俘时都不允许拥有完整的会将星盟引向人类平民人口中心的导航信息。

一旦侦察到任何圣约人舰只:

  1. 激活所有飞船和行星数据库的清除系统。
  2. 重启并检察系统三次,确认所有的数据均已湮灭。
  3. 执行病毒文件清除程序。(从UNSCTTP://EPWWW:COLEPROTOCOL/Virtualscav/fbr.091上下载。)
  4. 一旦成功逃离星盟的攻击,所有的飞船必须立刻采用随机航线进入跃迁断层空间,绝不要选择任何指向地球、近地殖民地或者其他人类居住地的航线。
  5. 一旦预料到会发生被星盟俘虏,所有UNSC舰必须立刻自毁。

任何违背此项指令的行为会被认为是叛变行为,将会受到UNSC军事法律JAG 845-P和JAG 7556-L的追查,并被处以终生监禁或者是极刑。

/文件结束/

阅读完毕清按“回车键”。

凯斯回望着麻初贵時。“科尔司令认为我们会遭受严重的打击。”他想了一会儿然后意识到,自从科尔在丰饶星上获得大捷之后,四年来再也没有大的胜利了。

“这项命令将会在UNSC内传递。保证内殖民世界和地球位置的隐秘性是最优先事项,尤其是靠近前线的这儿。还有凯斯上尉你进来的地方。”

“当他们排挤你的时候,我就在船上。我赞成将你留在船上。对于退役的医学诊断我很抱歉。”

“我也是,长官。”凯斯摸了摸自己的大腿。

“这对我来说是一种浪费,太浪费了,要将你留在月神星上的教室里。你是个出色的战术家,凯斯。我读过你的书看过你的训练。更重要的是,你不用手枪和野蛮的吼叫就改变了梅里威瑟刘易斯号上的每个船员。我喜欢那样,凯斯。需要你时你总能挺身而出。”

“谢谢您,长官。”凯斯仍旧等着听接下来的发言。一股肾上腺素直冲脑髓。他有可能回到船上了!

至少也是舰队副司令麻初贵時队伍里的提供舰队移动建议和战术的参谋职位。他将不得不把米兰达从月神星上转移到更近的内殖民世界。不是这,这太靠近前线了,但又得近到可以很容易的看见她。

“我们有个职位要给你,凯斯。”麻初贵時看了一眼郑中校,只是沉默的用眼神交流了一下。

郑按下了隐藏在桌子中的按钮,三个人面前出现了一个等比例的闪烁着的护卫舰模型。和其他所有的护卫舰一样,它看起来就像是被拿走弹夹的笨重步枪。只有一处有两个炮管,其余每个顶上各有一个。

不像是绝大多数的枯燥的金属灰色,这艘护卫舰是午夜黑色的。FFG-209这几个字被计算机印在了舰首。

远处的背部,靠近中央,写着护卫舰的名字:

仲夏夜号

“她是艘轻型护卫舰。”郑说明道。“她的套筒被稍微打扮过。”当他说到这些事,无情的脸上出现了浅浅的笑容。

仲夏夜号是艘远程潜行舰。”麻初贵時说到。“就像是巡游舰,不过她可有力多了。”

“但却是艘低速护卫舰,”郑补充道。“她也有能力运送一大堆海军补给品和行星轨道空降突击队,这给了她完成多元化任务的能力。”

“谁来接管它。”从他们中间传来了第四个声音。凯斯转动了他的椅子,很惊讶悄悄的接近他们会是如此轻易。

昭雄渡辺少校,隶属于潜行特种部队。军情局的。”郑介绍道。

凯斯没有听到门被打开。但这又明白地告诉了你。海军情报局的人并不相信介绍给他们的世界,他们真像是在人群中潜行。毫无疑问,这是出于专业上的自尊。但凯斯还是认为它太过令人讨厌和毛骨悚然了。

渡辺坐进了一张空椅子。他穿了一件长袖高领的灰色制服。他深黑的眼睛似乎想从远距离将人看穿。“我想……我准时到达了。”他环顾四周,“我拿到它了,舰队副司令,我们的协议还有效吗?”

麻初贵時看上去很不高兴。他叹气道“我遵守我的诺言,渡辺少校。”

郑按了一个按钮,仲夏夜号的全息图像消失了。“这艘船今天将会进行试航,凯斯上尉。我们将会辅助试行科尔协议三天,就在这艘船上。”

郑转向渡辺。少校点头示意。“接下来,在快速试航之后,将会由我来给舰桥人员发密封指令。”

凯斯皱眉转向司令。“长官,我们在为军情局工作吗?”

麻初贵時努了努嘴。“只有在最开始。专业交换有助于我们静悄悄的驾驶护卫舰。”

“这会是个短期任务,”渡辺保证道。他瞟了一眼胸前抱臂的郑。“随后我就不会来烦你了,接着你和舰队副司令就可以玩你们的新玩具了。”

凯斯望着麻初贵時。这个布隆迪老男人看上去就像在自己崭新、精致的职员车上发现了鸟粪。之后他看着凯斯咧嘴笑了。“郑和我都希望你能站在舰桥上。我们还计划实施远距离侦察和对星盟远程巡逻队的骚扰,找到机会,让对方万劫不复。我们需要你是因为你在远程导航上的卓越表现和你战术上的技能,所以才会启用夏夜号这种平时不常使用的护卫舰。我们需要一个能够打破条条框框,能真正和政一起工作的人。”

“有多远?”

“非常远,”麻初贵時重复道。“我知道你有家庭,但是我们没有太多的时间给你去做决定。”

凯斯向前屈身。“我不想骗您,长官,”他轻声道。“但要我离开我的女儿实在是太困难了。”不断进步的米兰达已经成为了学院内最耀眼的一个新星。虽然自己正面临着舰船上的一个潜在的职位,但凯斯很怀疑是该关注自己还没有的东西又或是自己已经拥有的东西。

“我知道。”麻初贵時说道。“我知道。”

“但另一方面,从星盟的手中守卫住我们的世界是我能想到的最好的做父亲的方式了。”凯斯补充道。“我很荣幸能登上仲夏夜号服役。感谢您给了我这个选择的机会。”严格来说,他们并没有被要求这么做。这已经成为了一种礼节因为他曾经授勋且已退役。

他们做了个最佳选择。这条狗会留下更多的咬痕的,凯斯这样认为。

“我有一点小小的要求想提,如果可以的话。”凯斯继续道。“那个载我到这里的鹈鹕号飞行员,我想将他调配到仲夏夜号上。”

郑中校看了看耸肩的舰队副司令麻初贵時。“我不明白为什么。你认识那个驾驶员?”

“以前从未见过。但他却是个见鬼的飞行员,如果我们要做非正统的任务,他可能会派上用场。他的名字是杰弗里斯。”

“包在我身上!”随着麻初贵時,凯斯和政都站起了身,最后是昭雄渡辺。舰队副司令握了握凯斯的手。“很高兴能有你登船,上尉。”

“能上船很激动,长官。”

他的确是,凯斯自己明白。能重新服役让他很激动。

杰弗里斯正在鹈鹕号的控制台上翘着两脚等着他。当听到凯斯登上运输船时他坐正了。“知道我们要去哪儿了吗,长官?”

凯斯笑着坐进了飞行员后面的位子,看着放下他后便转身离去的疣猪号。“是的,杰弗里斯先生,我知道。去仲夏夜号。他们会给你坐标的。”

“遵命,长官。”

“还有,你知道德米特里.郑中校的事吗?”

“郑?”他想了一会儿。“最近总是有他的各种流言。他来自外殖民世界。曾暂时指挥过一艘护卫舰。”

“暂时?”凯斯不喜欢听到这种事。

“他撞了一艘星盟护卫舰。”

“有时候,那是你唯一的选择……”

“那是在他被命令撤退之后。他没有被军事审判的唯一原因就是他让那艘船瘫痪了足够长的时间让另一艘舰船用MAC解决了它。他们从残骸里将他捞出来。”

凯斯反复琢磨着。他即将为那个男人工作。也许他不该这么迫不及待说“是。”

“您知道他为什么这么做吗,长官?”杰弗里斯继续道。“传闻他因悲伤而发狂了。七年前当他外出巡逻时,星盟烧了他的母星。之前从未有过相同的事。”

“好了,这就够了。”凯斯说道。交谈中混入了含沙射影的话,他不需要荼毒自己的未来指挥官。郑再次登船已经过去很久了。也许这就是凯斯会被召回的原因,为政的行事风格中添加一些战略和冷静。

“哦,还有一件事,杰弗里斯先生。”

“长官?”

“当你载着我,一个来自军事设施的指挥官,飞行的时候,请遵照给你的飞行计划去飞。如果不这么做,包括降低飞行高度至树木高度逃离雷达范围,这就表示他们有权像捻只臭虫一样把你从空中捻走。我们毕竟在一个靠近前线的世界,正如你告诉我的那样。”凯斯那坚毅的声音甚至震惊了他自己。“倘若我们由于违法飞行计划而被击落,我会从坟墓里爬出来亲自追捕你,大兵,然后让你为此付出生命的代价,听明白了吗,大兵?”

杰弗里斯透过挡风玻璃直直的望着窗外。“是的,长官。”

“最后,你得穿上你的全套飞行装备。当这艘鹈鹕号被击穿时,它很可能会开始向外泄露空气,我非常希望你能够完成你的任务 --- 即便这个任务对你这个全职司机自己来说什么都不是。都清楚了吗,杰弗里斯?”

“非常清楚,长官。”

凯斯将自己绑在副驾驶的位置上听着鹈鹕号的引擎开始加热。他是一艘潜行船的舰桥人员,三天内会执行一个来自军情局的秘密任务。

这是最棒的回归。

凯斯往后靠在椅子上,享受着推力的感觉。

三天的时间,用测试护卫舰和驱赶平民来实施科尔协议太简单明了不过。

这真是回归舰队生活的最佳方法。


第三章

  • 橡木林中央栖息地,瓦砾星,天秤座 23

伊格纳西奥.德尔加多穿着全套西装,脖子上是一条不舒适的领带,正慢慢地向他副驾驶的葬礼走去。等离子在他身上灼烧留下的伤痕仍然十分疼痛,但他必须得出席。

该公园存在于一个被挖空的小行星内部;向上可以看到在公园的另一边的树冠。

玛利亚. 埃斯奎瓦尔在小树林附近拦住了他。

“嘿,纳乔。”她抓住了他的手。只有玛利亚用这个绰号叫他,因为只有玛利亚在他还是一个在马德里加尔星的地表上四处乱跑的脏小孩时就认识他了。现在当她把自己的头发束成一条功能性的马尾辫时,她已经变成了街边好斗的假小子。

“你不该在这儿。”

“他是我最好的朋友。”

玛利亚捏住他的手。“我知道,但他们还是不想你在这儿。你得尊重家属的意愿。”

在远处,霍里斯特的家人正背对着他。全都身穿黑色,围着一个小小的骨灰盒,他们将骨灰撒到了用以命名这片栖息地的橡木树林前的土地上。

他们因为霍里斯特的去世而咒骂骂德尔加多。副驾驶在其他人抵达远方号之前就因伤势过重而死了。

家属们认为这样的死毫无必要。他们不关心如何保护那个可以引领人们回到地球的数据。他们已经为了这个星系的自治战斗了几个世纪。就让异星人占领地球吧,让它们去烧,他们不在乎。

“来吧。”玛利亚说道,将他带走了。

“你认为他白白牺牲了吗?” 德尔加多问道。

玛利亚继续拉着他向前走。“这不该由我来说,纳乔。但我知道你们已经成长到可以互相搀扶站立着去做你们认为是对的事。所以别在意他们,他们只是太过悲伤了。”

当玛利亚和德尔加多的父母匆忙地将他们带往努埃瓦利马的外围巨大区域时,他们两人就在一起。父母们将他们挤进一艘超载的货船,并告诉这些哭泣的小家伙他们会乘下一班飞船赶上来的。他们被塞入了挤满其他所有在害怕的孩子的货仓内,试图理解发生了什么事情。德尔加多已经14岁了。玛利亚则在计划自己的成人礼。(注:女孩15岁时的成人礼)

外面的空气变得白热化,货船在摇晃发出吱呀声,他们紧紧地抱在一起。当货船到达轨道时,驾驶员恐惧的声音充满了整个货仓,告诉他们整个马德里加尔星表面都被玻璃化了。

原因就是UNSC和星盟之间的战斗。

他们在一起散步,走向一个在栖息地内著名的巨大橡木林下等待他们的男人。他黑色的眼睛凝望着远处的葬礼。穿着一套随意的工作服和便帽。

玛利亚停下来了。“我哥哥想和你谈谈,虽然他拒绝告诉我谈话内容。”

“别弄得这么随意,玛利亚。这可是安理会的正经事。”

安理会的九个成员是由瓦砾星上的居民投票产生,他们和人工智能朱莉安娜一起处理整个星球的防御结构。

当导航数据开始消失时,迭戈和理事会选择了德尔加多和梅尔克一同去保护剩余的导航图。这几年他们在瓦砾星上四处运货,熟悉里里外外所有事。安理会觉得保密是最好的选择。利用他们的志愿防卫部队和开阔的自然界,将飞船置于铁桶般的保护下,只会引起注意并制造更大的目标。

但在这个最近的小事故后,德尔加多相信安理会里的某些人泄露了芯片的位置。

“你去过贫民窟了,迭戈?”这可不是德尔加多所熟悉的那个寻常穿着讲究的人。

迭戈扮了个鬼脸。“为了保持低调,伊格纳西奥。”他亲了妹妹的脸颊,然后她离开了灌木丛穿过修剪过的草地,向葬礼走去了。

“你想要什么?” 德尔加多看着她远去,最后问道。

“你似乎认为,在安全理事会有人泄露有关导航数据位置的信息。你已经到处寻查,四处关注,试图找出他。”

迭戈从公园内出来,开始走向在橡树林中央栖息地尽头的气闸。

“当我们决定由你带走数据并保护它的安全时,我们希望你能低调行事。这是整件事该死的重点,伊格纳西奥。”

“有人泄露情报。” 德尔加多说道。“那些豺狼都知道它在哪儿。这已经是第二次他们试图得到它了,而且还他妈的差点得手了。如果我没有比提交给安理会的时间更早开始转移数据的话,那些豺狼就已经得到它了。你知道,泄密的人杀了梅尔克。我要他们为此付出代价。”

他们通过了架设在对接管和小行星缓慢旋转中心间的巨大滚动转轴连接。

“我理解你在做什么,伊格纳西奥。但是唯一知道导航数据在哪儿的人就只有安理会而已。质疑我们中的一个泄密是很严重的指控。”

“我知道。”当他们走近一个巨大干净的管道时,德尔加多说道。从这他们能看到其余连接到橡树公园的小行星。连接结构消失在远方就像是一套巨大的修补玩具设备。

人工重力消失了,随后两人漂浮在空中时,就伸手抓住了围绕着管道运行的扶手。在对接管道的中央,装着货物和乘客的压缩隔离舱从一个栖息地飞往另一个栖息地。“许多人并不介意导航数据落入奇戈亚之手。他们提供我们能源、金钱和星盟的技术。

“那你呢,迭戈?”德尔加多问道。“你也赞成这么做?”

迭戈停了下来,给忙碌的管道让路。他眺望着远处巨大气态星赫西奥德隐约出现的轨道。“我认为如果我们交出了导航数据,那我们就对奇戈亚毫无用处了。这就是为什么我会如此努力地去隐藏数据的原因。那也是我请求你帮助我的原因。安理会绝大多数的人也是这样认为的。”

“绝大多数?”德尔加多审视着这个词。迭戈在这个老牌起义军中是个出人意料的温和派。

迭戈递给他一根雪茄,多谢消失了的人工重力让它能够飘在空中。德尔加多看了看。“甜心威利牌?(注:小说第五部《丰饶星接触》中首次出场,为海军陆战队队员们的最爱。)我不认为还有剩下的。”

“一个安理会成员给了我一根。还暗示我他能拿到更多,他说自己船队中的一艘船有到走私到卡律布迪斯九号的渠道。他说UNSC的海军已经准备严厉制裁一般市民的空间断层跳跃。他们想要每件事都变得军事化。”迭戈几乎是吐出最后一个词的。“这个安理会成员已经为其他殖民世界的起义军兄弟运输了一些从星盟购买的武器。但他担心正在毁坏瓦砾星上的某些东西,无论是什么,会来找到他。他想在一些事情发生之前,先把它交给奇戈亚。他声称自己正在做的走私是最后一次了。之后他想将自己的船交给奇戈亚,包括在船上的导航数据。我试图购买这艘二手船,但看起来他试图贿赂安理会,为他出售导航数据投多数票。”

“你就这样让他这么做?”

“我让朱莉安娜在最近的有运输的飞船中寻找可能的候选人。”迭戈笑着暗指了瓦砾星上的人工智能。“她找到了一个。这艘船的名字是茶隼号。这是唯一一艘已知仍可在殖民地间能够来回的船舶。只要它一回码头,我们就会知道。我们其他所有的走私船只都被摧毁,或是被删除的数据了。我们与其余人类真正的被切断联系了。”

“你的那位安理会成员可能在说谎,他也许只是恰巧找到了几箱甜心威利而已。”

“也许吧。”迭戈说道。“但是朱莉安娜认为这艘茶隼号是我们的船。”

“那么你想要我做什么?”德尔加多抓住了由迭戈从空中扔过来的雪茄。

“找出更多关于茶隼号的信息,伊格纳西奥。看看他们是不是真的为安理会工作。查查他们是不是悄悄地潜回了瓦砾星。因为如果你能通过他们联系上我们的安理会的成员,那我就能阻止他。做些比武器贸易更好的事。比如……医疗用品而不是该死的雪茄。”

迭戈捏碎了雪茄,烟草的碎片在他们之间的空中飞舞着。

“而且我会让你领导这个任务,请尽量做得不显眼。”

“我能做到。”德尔加多挥手将他们之间被捏碎的雪茄推了出去。“他的名字是?”

迭戈叹了口气,看起来他对于交出安理会同志的名字很不情愿。或许只是要回想一下而已。他转身,看向管道的外部。管道和小行星连接成的整体里,居住着马德里加尔星上残存的自豪的殖民地人民。它被称为瓦砾星是因为它原本就是一堆碎石子。岩屑、碎石、岩石和矿渣自从太阳系诞生起就存在着,围绕着气体巨星赫西奥德。

“你为我做的太多了,迭戈,我太感谢了。”德尔加多说道。自自从马德里加尔星毁灭,玛利亚和德尔加多到达这里之后,迭戈已经引领他们很多年了。迭戈在马德里加尔星被玻璃化前几年就已经加入了起义军,在他们逃离星球后他是唯一一个在等待着他们的人。德尔加多欠迭戈太多了。但之后一切都改变了,迭戈开始在客船上,空间站上和车站上安放炸弹。他开始走私,做海盗和一切暗地里的工作。德尔加多对于接受迭戈为了他们的生活而拼命的工作赚来的血汗钱总是感到十分尴尬。

他曾经一度与迭戈关系紧张,但这也许是不公平的。自从马德里加尔星陷落之后,迭戈就已经全身心扑在瓦砾星上了。

德尔加多改变了他说话的态度。“请给我那个名字。我不会杀了那个男人的。我会将他带回来接受审判。我们不再是暴民了,自从马德里加尔星陷落之后,我们已经改变了很多。”

回到过去,瓦砾星仅仅只是一个庞大的起义军的基地而已,分散驻扎在一个尾随在气体巨星后的小行星轨道上。

但在短时间内,利用宇宙飞船、原材料和一切他们能拿走的还没有被星盟摧毁的东西,他们建造了他们现在看着的瓦砾星。这是件值得骄傲的事情。

“我知道。”迭戈转身望向他。“别把它想太简单了。你要找的那个和茶隼有关系的人就是彼得.博尼法西奥。

德尔加多向下看了看管道的长度。博尼法西奥可是在星盟玻璃化马德里加尔星之前就已经在做走私买卖了。他现在仍只是偶尔减少了偷偷潜回内殖民世界的次数,尽管在UNSC和星盟让他损失了大量的飞船之后,这些旅行已经变得危险万分。德尔加多为这个老是拖欠运费的家伙运送货物,从一个小行星到另一个小行星。德尔加多从来没能理解他是怎么被投票选举为安理会的。

“包在我身上!”德尔加多说道。畅通管道内的流行型运送车辆在半路上加速了,将里面的乘客从一个磁悬浮火车轨道上运送到另一个轨道上。

“上帝啊。谢谢你。还有德尔加多,你需要多加小心。”

德尔加多点点头。这两个人握了握手,然后飘向了各自不同的道路。迭戈眼中充满了悲哀,而德尔加多则是复仇的怒火。

第四章

  • 外围边界 艾库塔纳斯 45 星系

当杰弗里斯准确的将载有一整排行星轨道空降突击队(注:ODST)的鹈鹕号精确控制在仲夏夜号和外表破烂的的平民运输舰-芬尼根觉醒号之间的漆黑幽深的空间时,凯斯就坐在副驾驶的位置上。

芬尼根觉醒号自从离开希柔星,就一直缓缓地向艾库塔纳斯 45 星系的边界走去,现在它已经准备做空间跳跃了。郑偷偷的跟踪了这艘货船足够长的距离来确保这不是次星系内的旅行。

当然不是。这艘船,并不知道自己被跟踪了,已经彻底地离开了这个星系的黄道面了。来自仲夏夜号船头出人意料的十字交叉射击说服了他们不要加速并允许仲夏夜号互相匹配速度以便让鹈鹕号着舰。杰弗里斯轻松而顺利地通过平民船的另一边,之后将鹈鹕号开进了货仓。

“检查你们的装备!”ODST的指挥官坎菲尔德吼叫道。“赶快!”

鹈鹕号里的ODST们一阵骚动,解下了他们的安全带,开始列队。他们对郑用仲夏夜号拦下了前三艘船却没有让他们登舰的一事抱怨不断了,所以指挥官最后同意让他们稍微行动一下。

“他们还在对船舶登记进行检查,” 坎菲尔德从后面传来声音。“但我们准备好冲锋了,长官。”

“你确定不需要等待他们完整的报告吗?中尉?”凯斯问道。

凯斯开始对自己48小时前那种认为接下来的三天将会非常轻松的菜鸟想法而懊恼不已。的确,这是场淘汰赛,多亏了军情局的恐吓和他那诡异的密命,才有这场实际作战前的演习。但这并没有阻止一根管道爆炸和辐射泄漏,和数名因此而躺在医务室的船员。船身右舷的两门远端炮也没了。MAC上的一组磁力开关,本质上是轨道炮,失效了,阻止他们给巨大加农炮完全填充能量。

芬尼根觉醒号并不知道,就在此时,多亏那些虽然部分反应堆当机却依然运转的引擎,他们能够轻松摆脱仲夏夜号

“当然不用,长官,我完全确定。” 坎菲尔德说道。他的回答充沛响亮。凯斯有个感觉坎菲尔德想要行动,而且就是现在。凯斯不得不一直留神他,以保证坎菲尔德不会对平民太过粗鲁。

“好的,坎菲尔德,让我们上路吧。”凯斯从自己的座位上站起,坎菲尔德走到他的面前,等待他的指示。凯斯向他点了点头。是时候让那些平民目瞪口呆了。得让他们对UNSC的科尔协议留下相当严肃深刻的印象。这包括派遣人员监督登机。

坎菲尔德向鹈鹕号的甲板吐了口唾沫,喊道。“准备冲锋,地狱伞兵!”

凯斯转向驾驶室。“放下斜坡,杰弗里斯先生。尽可能的迅速和稳重。”“正在放下斜坡,长官。”

105师的ODST,或者是他们自称的地狱伞兵,身穿黑色真空级装甲,镜面头盔等等,一涌而出。他们稀稀拉拉通过了货船的货仓和货柜,选择目标。他们快速而安静,没有喋喋不休,只有专注于当初的任务。

凯斯大步跨下了斜坡走进了货柜间的峡谷。他粗略地瞟了一眼一个货柜上被擦伤的窗户。除了被标记的盒子外没有看见什么。货船的船长和三名船员站在他们货舱的边缘看着ODST提出抗议。

“先生,你是这艘船的船长吗?”凯斯问道。

这个苦行者点了点他长着散开的亚麻色头发的脑袋。“我们什么事都没做。我们只是想做个跳跃到-----”

凯斯伸手示意停止。“你的船正在离开UNSC的保护空域,船长。你可以选择为这批货物另作安排,或是申请加入护航队,你的导航图将由海军的通信人工智能来操控。再者是,我们需要清空你的导航数据并搜查这艘船。”

“我们作为商人的权利受到了侵犯。我们要求立即运走我们的货物。”船长坚持道。

“先生,这儿正在打仗。”凯斯严厉地说。“也许你没有注意到,异星人正打算强行进入内殖民世界。货物可以等等。”

军情局正在扩大目标民用船的范围,他们只是不愿冒险让导航数据落入星盟之手而已。

船长盯着凯斯,包含着激昂和愤怒。“我们又失去了一个权利。”

凯斯转向已经悄悄走近的坎菲尔德。他看起来迫不及待地想让他的人冲进门里检查货物。

“执行任务。”

“法西斯!”船长咆哮道。凯斯望着那个男人,他看起来非常激动和生气。

坎菲尔德转动了他的头盔,凯斯听到他的听筒中传来了无线电的沙沙声。“好的,地狱伞兵,行动起来,之后-----”

凯斯没有听到坎菲尔德其余的命令。紧邻他们所站之处的货柜爆炸了,将凯斯炸飞出去,头直直地撞向了甲板。

现场的地狱伞兵立即开始争抢这块逐渐被浓密的烟雾覆盖的区域和昏迷不醒的凯斯

第五章

  • 起义军货船
  • 外围边界 艾库塔纳斯 45 星系


货仓内又发生了四起爆炸。碎片在空中飞舞,撞击着墙壁发出咔哒声,然后又如雨点般落在了地板上。空气中满是浓雾弥漫的烟尘,几乎让人无法呼吸。凯斯躺倒在一边,鲜血闪耀着顺着他的额头流下,滴进了眼睛里。

他试图驱动自己的手和膝盖让自己站起来,但他实在没法做到。

一个ODST地狱伞兵抓住了他的手臂。“坚持住,长官,你只是刚能听到钟鸣罢了。”(注:人从爆炸的冲击中恢复时产生的耳鸣,原本是拳击用语。)

这个人是对的。凯斯甚至很难将注意力集中到地狱伞兵靴子底下的地板格栅上。他靠在地狱伞兵的身体装甲上,努力用自己的力量站起来。

浓稠的烟雾开始散去。凯斯地狱伞兵扶他到他们进入时那一边的货柜旁坐下。凯斯能够看到在他前方货柜的边缘处,鹈鹕号那高高的尾部。其余负伤的ODST坐在他的旁边,装甲为了抵御从货柜内出来的子母弹全都被炸开了。

有些人仍旧筋疲力尽地躺在地板上。凯斯用袖子擦了擦脸上的血迹。他感到有更多温热的东西正滴下来。“坎菲尔德在哪?”他想要知道经验丰富的ODST指挥官正在干吗。“坎菲尔德阵亡了,长官。”那个将他拖到了安全地带的士兵正在检查其他人的伤势,并在伤口上喷入生物泡沫,试图稳定伤势。在损失更多士兵之前他们需要尽快撤离。

“阵亡了?”凯斯眨了眨眼,更多的鲜血和汗水刺痛了他的眼睛。“现在谁负责?”凯斯对于将那个好人领进了这个根本就是个陷阱的货仓而感到愧疚不已。

“费森,长官。”

凯斯想去摸自己的耳麦随后又意识到他已经在冲击波中失去它了。“赶快给我一个你们的头盔。我需要发出警告和进行通信。”

一个受伤的士兵扔出了他的头盔,凯斯将它戴在头上,头盔刚碰到头皮他就赶紧拿开了。

有什么东西击中了他的颅骨,这让他头开了花还可能引起了脑震荡。

“费森,我是凯斯,报告战情。”

“正在清理货柜,长官。是起义军没错。爆炸发生时他们中的三个立即就攻击我们了。”

“有没有生还者?”凯斯希望他们捉了个活的,能从中套出一点信息。

费森清了清自己的嗓子。“有一个。他受伤了。长官,当时他们正在向我们射击,我判断应该进行反击。”

“我知道了。”凯斯说道。“但我希望你当时能再多一点睿智 --- 像是再多等等或有更多惊喜之类。你正在扣押这艘船,并搜寻其他人吗?”

“是的,长官。”费森听起来有些恼火。“当然,长官。一个呼叫仲夏夜号上派遣救援的紧急信标已经被触发了。而我们即将开始行动,翻遍这艘船上的每一个角落,长官。”

“我确信你会的。”凯斯小声抱怨道。

“如果您不介意,长官,我不想有人对我的命令说三道四或是监视我。所有的事都经过了深思熟虑,长官,您是海军,我是海军陆战队。让我们各自都只管好自己的本分就行了。”

大声抱怨在货仓中变得有点的刺耳。凯斯看着照顾伤员的士兵,忽视了费森更近一步的蔑视。“孩子,我们这儿的空气从哪儿泄露出去了?”

“每一个地方。爆炸将这艘破船弄得到处都是洞。”

“真希望自己现在就是海军陆战队。”凯斯说道,看了一圈周围的ODST。“我可没穿可以抵御真空的装甲。”

“我们会想办法的。”地狱伞兵说道,匆匆瞥了一眼鹈鹕号。

凯斯轻轻拍了一下自己的耳麦。“杰弗里斯,我是凯斯,听到请回答。”一片沉默。

随着一声哼哼凯斯爬了起来却又被货柜绊倒了。他靠在货柜上,溜进了转角。

凯斯呆呆地望着鹈鹕号一侧的大口子。

“他们将他拉了出来,长官。”另一个地狱伞兵轻拍了一下他的肩膀。“我们已经为他喷满了泡沫,可他情况不容乐观。不过仲夏夜号很快就会赶来的,我们会把他们都转移出去的。”

凯斯看着一整排受伤的阵亡的ODST。这些人是精英中的精英。他们都是自告奋勇志愿加入前线的,非常的了不起。乐于面对巨大的困难,乐于直面敌人的眼睛。

却阵亡在例行公事的登舰上。

由于一个诡计。

凯斯知道还会有更多,他转向了一个还活着的芬尼根觉醒号上的船员。他负伤躺在甲板上。一个地狱伞兵坐在他的附近,保证他还活着。

凯斯环视了一下货物舱。横向的想了想,他告诉自己。这是场非典型性的战斗;他需要再多想一步。

地狱伞兵正在搜查更多的叛军。一旦搜查结束他们就需要运离这艘船,而带他们来的鹈鹕号却被困在这儿了。凯斯试图建立与仲夏夜号的舰对舰通信频道,却一无所获。

凯斯咬着自己的嘴唇。“费森指挥官,这里是凯斯。是你触发了那个呼叫仲夏夜号的信标吗?”

“这里是费森。不是,长官。”

“那么是谁?”凯斯感到了恐惧的寒意。

紧急通信频率上正在发送一个他们全都能听到的信标。用一系列稳定的数字蜂鸣声敲出一个数字代码,翻译过来,就是广播通知所有UNSC:有人倒下了,需要尽可能快的支援和医疗救助。

“我不知道,长官。”费森恼怒的说道。“我们正在搜查这艘船……”

“我可以滥用职权,指挥官。我命令你停止搜查,并让在你指挥下的每一个海军陆战队队员都做出回应。我想知道是谁设置了信标。”

“遵命,长官。”费森急促的回答直冲凯斯的耳朵。“您该不会是想让我跑去会见所有的死人吧,长官?这可稍微有点难度。”地狱伞兵的消极攻击性行为(一种普遍怀疑、消极的人格特质,通常在人际关系和职场上表现为拒绝承担责任。)正在转化为愤怒。费森很明显地想要反攻。非常猛烈的。

“不,费森。我们就在这儿做。”凯斯转向站在他身边的地狱伞兵们。在那些蓝黑的面板后面他看不见任何的表情。但他有感觉那绝不会是微笑。凯斯清楚地知道在一场战斗中继续做些什么是极其重要的。虽然现在他们可能并不尊重人,但凯斯确信即使是ODST也会非常尊重军衔的。

“拿出每一个士兵头盔内的芯片,检查视频片段和无线电通讯,看看是谁触发了信标。”(注:UNSC所有作战单位的头盔都内置有记录装置,HALO1中士官长就通过检查头盔而发现了虫族。)

他们全都沉默地站在那儿。一个海军陆战队队员试图说些什么。“长官……”

“别光站着在那儿盯着我,”凯斯吼道,他的语调中隐含着严厉。声音在大而深的货仓内引起一阵回声。“快执行命令!”

他们照做了,拿出阵亡同伴头盔内的芯片然后检查视频。凯斯望着那个抛给他头盔的士兵,那个人摇着头,不是他。

当他们检查时,凯斯切换着频率继续呼叫着仲夏夜号

可是没用。他们能在货船内通信,但看起来没有东西能出去。

一个接着一个,地狱伞兵们回答出同一个信标结果:没有触发。

“费森?”凯斯对着通信频道吼道。

“这儿也没有,长官。还能站着的没人干过。”

“也没有受伤的或是躺平的人干过?”

“长官?”费森这次没有恼怒的质疑凯斯。他想知道凯斯在想些什么。

“鹈鹕号被干掉了。如果你的人发现了一个能联系上仲夏夜号的方法,那他们一定已经告诉了郑要保持距离。之后一切事都会在我们的控制下。”

“这我明白,长官。”费森沉默了。

一阵头晕眼花袭来,凯斯做了一个深呼吸。他们在货仓内失去了太多的空气了。在他开始喘息之前也许只有15分钟的时间了。

“长官?”费森回来了。“我们被卡住了。没有东西可以出去。在我们和驾驶室之间有着些被炸得变形的舱门。我们可以立即开始排除这里,之后我们就可以使用这艘船上的通信设备了。”

“不。”凯斯说道。“他们可能会给我们更多的惊喜。现在不值得这么做。先回来让我们重新编队,看看还能再做些什么。”

“您有计划了?”费森问道。凯斯在自己的ODST头盔内微笑着。他确信的确有个计划。但凯斯却并不想通过这套无线电去广播这个计划,至少不是在起义军已经展现出可以轻易扰乱他们通信的现在。

“不,指挥官。我只是想要重新编队,照料一下我们自己的伤势,然后等待仲夏夜号的救援。让每个ODST都尽快的回到货舱。立刻行动。”

凯斯示意一个ODST过来。这个人的标签上写着马尔科夫。

“长官。”

“这套盔甲真的能抵抗真空吗?”凯斯问道。

“是的 长官。”

“里面的空气能撑多久?”

“15分钟,长官。”很好,在他退役的几年里这一切都还没变过。

“好的,马尔科夫。”凯斯环顾四周,然后降低了声音。“我们需要炸药。我们要将这些残骸扩大成一个足以让货柜通过的大洞。在通信频道中什么都不要说,所有的东西都要由你悄悄地亲自完成。尽可能多的带上步枪,一副护目镜,和所有你能拿的动弹药。立刻行动。”

马尔科夫走开了,凯斯穿过货仓门走到船身远侧的破洞处。空气正呼啸着从这缘参差不齐的裂口里泄露出去。

凯斯往回走,看了看伤员。“听着,从现在开始每个人都要亲自转达命令。不准使用通信频道,明白了吗?我需要彻底地搜查这些货仓货柜。将阵亡的放在一个货柜里,受伤的人进另一个。”

地狱伞兵们涌回了货仓。当命令传递下来时,每个人都开始将他们的同志放入了空的货柜中。

马尔科夫在装甲上的每个口袋里塞满了额外的弹药,带着一对步枪回来了。凯斯上下打量了他一番。“脱掉你的装甲,孩子,然后递给我这些步枪。之后我要你和伤员待在一个货柜里。”

“长官?”

“我要在这些货柜前面离开这里。”

“这儿还有别的装甲。” 马尔科夫抗议道。他用戴着黑色手套的手指了指一排排的阵亡者。

凯斯靠近了这个男人的头盔。“你想让我用已经在爆炸中受损的护身装甲?那些已经让他们受伤和阵亡的装甲?我们没时间去检查它们了。”

“马尔科夫,脱下你的装甲,现在!”一个在身上和肩膀的装甲上印有班长记号的地狱伞兵走到了他们的身后。那是费森。

马尔科夫脱下了自己的装甲,凯斯迅速地换上。

“没有计划,是吧?”费森大声说着。“但从我站着的地方看来可不是这样。”

凯斯完成了换装。现在他从外表上看来就是另一名全身漆黑的ODST地狱伞兵。他在肩上扛上两把步枪并检查了一下,确保弹药都已经装妥。

他看着费森。“我撒谎了。我是有个计划。他们在船上炸飞了我们,他们还设置了发往仲夏夜号的紧急信标,因为很明显那不是我们设置的。你认为下一步会是什么?我敢打赌当这艘货船距离我们的船足够近的时候就随时会整个爆炸。所以现在我要让你用炸药布满这个缺口。我希望有一个洞,大到足以通过一个货柜。受伤的在一个货柜内,阵亡的在另一个货柜内。我想要所有能走能跳的地狱伞兵跳进外空间,将他们自己扔出这艘货船。”

“我们要炸毁这里?”

“表面上是这样。”凯斯拿起一把战斗步枪。“当你们进行零重力训练时,就应该学会了开火的第一原则。确保你有支撑点或是你打算去飞。”

“牛顿第三定律,长官!”费森点了点头。“每施加一个力,就会有一个相等的反作用力产生。你想让我们像使用火箭背包一般地去使用武器。”(注:子弹的火药里有氧化剂,受到高温后会分解,产生氧气,来支持火药的燃烧,所以子弹是能在真空中被击发的。)

“现在你懂我在说什么了。”凯斯说道。“是的。我们将跳出这艘船然后用我们的武器去做机动规避动作,但首先。我得离开这个大罐头足够远的距离去警告仲夏夜号发生了什么,我们不能让他们再犯和我们相同的错误。”

“我们不能清理那些舱门是因为?”费森问道。

“当恐怖分子设置炸弹时,它往往旨在制造恐慌,而他们真正能够做出伤害则是在人们开始逃离时。什么是最自然的逃脱这里的路径?你能向我保证外面没有摆满了武器吗?”凯斯问道。

“舱门…”一些小声低语道。

“没错。这就是那个错误的路径。我们只有15分钟的空气。我们都需要立即向仲夏夜号出发。我让ODST们将伤员放进一个货柜内是为了他们能轻易地用枪将它带离这艘船。留下一个标记为死亡的信标,行动结束后再将它捡回来。”

费森摇了摇头。“这是废话,长官。利用有限的空气逃出这艘船是在用我们自己的性命冒险,我们本该进行战斗,清除他们的货船...”

“我没有在征询你的意见,费森。”凯斯坚毅地说道。“这是个命令。”

有一段时间,他们就站在那里瞪着对方,之后费森咬牙切齿的退下了。

地狱伞兵将货柜密封好之前只有两分钟了,炸弹已经准备好了。得加快速度了。如果仍有起义军在船上监视他们的话,那么,再不用多久他们也会意识到凯斯到底想要做些什么了。

ODST们表现的很好,安静而高效组织了整件事情。装有伤员的货柜已经被移到了洞口边,其余的地狱伞兵们开始准备离开。

“起爆!”凯斯从一个安全距离外说道。

“注意隐蔽!”马尔科夫按下了遥控。

爆炸摇晃着凯斯,将他撞向身后的货柜。幸运的是,这次他有头盔。融化的金属如雨点般落下,发着丝丝声击中了货仓地板。

四名地狱伞兵赶到了凯斯的边上。他觉得装备内的空气随着压力的下降而翻腾起来。他们抓住了他的手和脚。

“您确定吗,长官?”其中一个人问道。

“只管去做。”凯斯说道。

他们没有浪费时间再问他一次,四个人如同拿着攻城捶一般将他举起。他们短跑冲刺到船身的另一边,然后将凯斯从破洞的中央扔了出去。

一把步枪被边缘挂住随后自由了。

但他还有一把。

凯斯飞出了晶体化的蒸气云。

在眼角处,他看到了一系列的枪口闪光。有什么东西击中了他的背部,使他失去了控制。星星在他周围侧手翻腾。但没有被更多的子弹击中,很可能是他已经漂到足够远的地方,而那些黑色的盔甲又太难瞄准了。只有当蒸汽云在他周围结冰时他才能被看见。

仲夏夜号,这里是凯斯,请求着舰。”

他等了一会儿。没有人回答。

凯斯抓住他剩余的战斗步枪,缓慢的呼吸用以保持冷静并试图推测自己旋转的速率。他不断向着自旋的反方向开火,直到自己停下来,他可以看到远处像玩具一样的芬尼根觉醒号。

四周望去。在那里他看不到仲夏夜号,但他清楚货船在大致正确的方向。他只是需要到更远处去罢了。

凯斯射出了一排子弹让他能在正确的方向上前进到更远的地方时,又尝试了建立无线电联系。但他并没有转身开火示意留在货船上ODST们跟上来。

仲夏夜号,这里是凯斯,请求着舰。”

再一次,没有回答。凯斯射光了步枪内一梭瞄准了货船下方的子弹,几秒钟过后,他在静谧的黑暗中飘得更远了。

他在思考自己还剩下多少时间的时候,心跳加速了。如果郑已经离开的话,或者是在货船的另一边的话……

凯斯强迫自己保持冷静,并遵照计划行事。生命中充满了疑虑、恐惧和推测但他们不存在于紧急事件中。

凯斯清空了战斗步枪的弹夹,然后尽可能快的装填弹药。

远处的觉醒号看起来已经和他的拇指一样大小了。他看到两个红色的金属小点从它上面离开,凯斯希望那是两个将其余ODST从货船上撤离的货柜。

“这里是UNSC护卫舰仲夏夜号。”

郑的声音突然闯入了凯斯的耳朵。“请证明身份。”

“上尉凯斯,长官!”凯斯咧嘴笑了。“其余的ODST们正在跳出那艘货船。我们遭到了攻击。藏有伤员和阵亡者的两个货柜刚刚被推了出来。这艘货船非常可能是个大陷阱,长官,很可能会在你们靠近时自爆。”

凯斯拉高了自己头盔上的护目镜。进入识别模式后,通过设备,头盔上的提示器显示出了远方被放大了的货船。

他能看到川流不息的地狱伞兵们用自己的武器,推动着他们自身从灰色的飞船中摆脱出来:一个黑点群漂流进了真空中。

“干得好,费森。”

两个货柜也能看见了,地狱伞兵们微小的轮廓推动着它们,他们的枪正瞄准着货船。一旦第一组逃离了货船,拉着货柜的地狱伞兵们就会开火将这些笨重的盒子向外推去。

远处的觉醒号崩溃了,货船隔离舱上的骨架部件变形了,随后又向内部崩塌。

当躲藏在飞船外部的起义军已经意识到ODST开始抓紧放弃这艘货船时,他们做了一件仍能清除UNSC的军队的事情,将货船炸成了碎片。

地狱伞兵,停止开火!”凯斯喊道,即便费森已经尖叫着让他们做同样的事。

货船爆炸的碎片迸发出白热化的火球,鲜艳的气体冲击波和碎片不断地试图剥离狱伞兵们正紧紧拉着的货柜。

在明亮的光线和放大倍率下,当地狱伞兵被从摧毁的货船附近抛飞出去时,凯斯看见他们的轮廓扩展着向外旋转。

凯斯惊恐地瞪着,忘记了呼吸。他们没能及时的撤出,而凯斯自己,由于坚持要冒着起义军会在半路上出现开火的危险而第一个走的人,或许成为唯一一个幸存者。

“回收器紧急起飞!”当冲击波猛烈撞击着凯斯时,郑大声的喊道。

觉醒号的火球变成了残骸,当夹杂着大块甲板和机械的残余连续不断地袭来时,凯斯感到自己被扔得更远了。

身上充满了震惊麻木的感觉。

他归来后的第一个任务失败了。他不能够适应这外面的一切,一群卓越的人因此而被杀了。

第六章

  • 岩中埃迪,瓦砾星,天平座 23

瓦砾星这种规模的建筑物——通过接驳软管连接起来的上百个拥有重力适宜居住的小行星,建有很多能让人喝上一杯的地方。而作为那几百个地方其中之一的岩中埃迪,如果要排个名的话,它肯定是排在倒数十名之内。

德尔加多知道那些有可能了解任何关于茶隼号事情的时髦前走私者不会去别的地方,只会经常光临这些会从建造的如同工业气闸的门后面喷薄出猛烈敲打般鲁莽音乐的较大居留地。不,他们会躲藏在一个外层居留地里,那些远离核心,仍在开采或是被掏空小行星里面。在那里,酒吧的门就是一个真正的气闸,以防空气会在某些建筑设备被一块巨大的岩石打出一个洞时全都泄漏出去。

德尔加多已经花了大半天在这个靠近瓦砾星边缘的居留地一侧上钻探出来的黑暗洞穴内躲躲闪闪;这儿只是在永久冻土上匆忙地装配好内部栅格而已。

他穿着一条廉价的干净裤子和一件远方号上的皮夹克,蜿蜒地走过那些没有人造重力的居留地,和其他为了施工方便而只有半个标准重力的地方。

埃迪.昂德伍德注视着走进自己吧台的德尔加多。

“远方号是吧?”当埃迪用干净的抹布清理杯子时他的人工右手有些抽动,白色的前臂上透出一丝造作的粉红色。

岩中埃迪是一件低级酒吧,但它的拥有者却非常专注于清洁。

“没错。”德尔加多将采矿队的设备从一个新近开采完成的居留地运送到另一个居留地,当然他也会将那些在赶时间的采矿队从瓦砾星尽头送到另一头。他在这个圈子里很有名。

德尔加多坐到吧台前。吧台处有一排体格魁梧的采矿工人,他们背朝前脸朝后的反坐着,稀稀拉拉凑成一小堆,大声的喝着酒或是在吧台上玩着重力球。一个精干的健身爱好者或是重体力工人背靠着门独自一人坐在远离中央的小隔间里。

“梅尔克.霍里斯特的事听说了?”

埃迪点了点头。德尔加多从他身上察觉不出任何对于这件事的反应。

“来点什么?”

“能帮个忙吗?” 德尔加多靠在吧台附近的一个角落里,在那儿的天花板上悬挂着一条石头手臂。它曾经是埃迪的。埃迪在船上工作时失去了它,他的手跌进液化的岩石里。

在那之后埃迪就退休了。他用手提钻将这条手臂从冷却的岩石中拿了出来并开了这间酒吧。

埃迪没再说任何话,德尔加多只能继续说道。“我知道这很突然,但我没有别的船员。我正在找能上船工作的人。”

“也许我认识几个。” 埃迪说道。

“我在找一整队的船组人员。” 德尔加多回答道。“会付给你中间人佣金的。我有个机会能便宜的租到一艘拥有断层空间驱动器的飞船,一次搞定所有的事。我需要一群不需要冷冻就能应付断层空间跳跃的人。尤其是最近有过经验的人。特别是那些最近从内殖民世界回来的人。”

埃迪向前屈身。“年轻人你得知道,现在没人在干走私了。所有的导航数据都被清除了。”清除了。埃迪重重地说出了这个词。这是全瓦砾星都在讨论的话题。他们是如何阻碍那些偶尔才偷偷溜出来的船并偷袭敌人的防线的。他们从外部世界收集了什么样细小的消息,他们计划拉回什么样的补给品,什么时候才会停下来。人们都吓坏了。有些人推测这是镇压起义军的行动,是UNSC偷走了导航数据。另一些则谩骂奇戈亚,并指出是星盟得到了导航数据,在摧毁了马德里加尔星之后,他们害怕瓦砾星就会是下一个。还有一些却断言是UNSC正在制裁所有的非军方飞行。

“那只是一两艘船落后了而已。” 德尔加多小声抱怨道。“还有些仍有导航数据能帮我出去。”

“像是从茶隼号上来的船员?”

德尔加多楞住了。“我并没有在特别地寻找他们的信息……”

“嗯…好吧,你可不是唯一的一个。那里的尤尼弗斯小姐也在打听。” 埃迪将头指向了一个阴影中的隔间,里面坐着一个大块头。对方换了个姿势,德尔加多注意到了那人衬衣下凸显出的三头肌。他不得不推测埃迪是说有一个女人和那家伙一起坐在这个隔间内。

那坐着的并不是一个健身爱好者,当然也不是一个男人,而是一个斯巴达战士阿德里亚娜。他认出了她的脸。上次见到她时,她全身都包裹着荧光的灰色金属,而且她穿着那身极其有力的盔甲就像穿着第二层衣服一般。

现在她以一种在酒吧中休息的矿工般的姿态,穿着一条干净的裤子和一件紧身的长袖衬衣。但这并没有没有掩盖她身高超过六年英尺半,占据了整个隔间的这个事实。(译注:约一米九八)它同样也没有隐藏住这样一个非常明显的事实,她能将酒吧里任何一个男人打成两截。很多人都意识到了这一点并努力保持清醒。

德尔加多坐回椅子上,埃迪叹息道。“你认识她。”

“不,并不真正认识,埃迪。并不真正认识。” 德尔加多很难不去撒谎。他离开了座位向隔间走去。“我能给你买杯喝的吗?”

她没有回头,只是挥手将他招进了隔间。“你好,德尔加多先生。”她说道。“我们都在找些东西,不是吗?”

德尔加多扫视了一下吧台。“也许吧。但既然你已经提前到达并问了相同的问题,那我发现它的机会就破灭了。”

吧台另一边的一群人对他们很感兴趣。

“我很抱歉。”阿德里亚娜说道。

在德尔加多建议他们立即离开这里之前,五个男人走了过来。

“你们这两个家伙在对茶隼号瞎打听什么?”

小团伙的头目问道。

“嘿,伙计们,得了。” 德尔加多举起了他的手,试图安抚他们。“让我们冷静一下。”

“闭嘴。”这有着体型硕大,浑身肌肉的矿工,他们的眼睛由于喝太多了而显得十分呆滞。“这个怪胎在到处打听和她无关的事。”

阿德里亚娜看着那个团伙。“我只是问了几个问题而已。你们没有理由来做这个。”

“我们不需要热爱地球的女绿巨人在我们的酒吧里鬼鬼祟祟,问些和她没任何关系的事。”另一个人严厉地说道。

“就现在。” 阿德里亚娜说道。

“就现在什么?”带头的伸出了手臂抓住了阿德里亚娜的肩膀。“现在就来听听这个!”

她耸肩将他的手推了回去。这个粗壮的矿工稍稍地蹒跚了一下,有那么一会儿,整个团伙都怔住了。

然后这个矿工又冲了回去,一把抓住阿德里亚娜的衬衣衣领。“你——”

这次她抓住了他的手并将它拧了回去。“别碰我。”她没有询问对方,而是直接行动了。就好像这是个公认的事实一般。

第二个男人咒骂着冲向她。“我们会做所有我们想做的该死的事。”

他伸手去抓她的手臂,却被她反手抓住并猛力一拉。

现在她各用一只手制服了两个男人,将他们的手拧到他们自己的背后。“现在听我说。” 阿德里亚娜厉声说道。“如果我想要询问茶隼号的事或是其他我中意的事,你们凭什么认为你们自己能够阻止我?”

酒吧中那装作彬彬有礼的气氛被突然打破了。“这儿没有一件事是关你屁事的,臭婊子!”另一个矿工尖叫道。他打出了一拳。

阿德里亚娜放开了她抓住的两只手,擒住了半空中打来的那一拳。她将那个男人拉近自己然后将他的头在桌子上一阵猛磕。

男人的头不断撞击着桌子直到撞击处被击了个粉碎。他躺倒在阿德里亚娜和德尔加多之间的地面上那堆碎木屑中。

一场突然爆发的打斗让整个酒吧陷入了疯狂。德尔加多咒骂着挤出一条路想让自己离那隔间远点。他可不想被卷入其中,但整间酒吧的人都认为他们是一伙的。

阿德里亚娜扯碎了残余的桌面,咕哝着扔到了地面上。用单手抓住固定在自己身前地面上的巨大基座来阻挡隔间里那些愤怒的男人,之后轻轻叩住自己的耳朵说道。“是的,好吧,该撤退了。”

砖块和栅格爆炸的碎片吹过德尔加多。

当灰尘散尽后,他发现有一个矿工拿枪瞄准了阿德里亚娜。德尔加多掏出了塞诺拉西斯,所有的人都不动了。

但他们并没有在看他。当隔间的灰尘云雾被吹走后,他们都站在那儿注视着一副巨大的灰色动力装甲套装在岩中埃迪的墙壁上炸出了一条路,仿佛那墙是用轻木做的一样。

“都别动。”金色头盔后传来了低沉严厉地声音。斯巴达战士手上一把巨大的来福枪正瞄准人群。没人敢动。

这个新来的斯巴达战士抓住了阿德里亚娜和德尔加多,穿过碎屑将他们拉了回来。德尔加多被残留的缺口刮伤了。

尽管岩中埃迪的后半部分深深地嵌入在坚硬的岩石中,但这片区域很明显正巧比邻维修通道。

一些酒吧的老顾客试图通过酒吧里的这个洞探头张望,看看他们究竟去哪儿了,但全副武装的斯巴达战士向砖块开火迫使那些脸缩回了酒吧。

“德尔加多,看着我。” 阿德里亚娜命令道,德尔加多转向了声音的方向。

一些非常大的东西直接击中了他的后脑勺,他在她面前双膝着地,之后就昏了过去。

第七章

  • 货船
  • 佩蒂亚号
  • 刚刚脱离博利瓦居留地,瓦砾星外围,天秤座23


德尔加多在一张帆布床上醒转过来。他坐在那,摩挲着自己的后脑勺又赶紧松开。他在货船中一间狭小的船员宿舍内——隔离壁、压碎的地板、忽明忽暗的管状灯光和无处不在的污垢与油脂。

“你起来啦。” 一个巨大的机器已被焊接到了船员宿舍的后部。当他们从一个有着午夜般漆黑眼睛的斯巴达战士身上小心地移除整套装甲时,维修隔离间里传来了移除手臂装甲的电火花声。

这个斯巴达战士挠了挠满是胡茬的脸,穿上了裤子和衬衣。“好痒。”他说到。“我想去洗个澡,但我们不得不先处理你的问题。”

德尔加多站起身却又绊了一下腿。斯巴达战士用手臂牢牢地抓住了他并把他送回原位。另一个高到可以阻挡灯光的巨人。德尔加多眨了眨眼。“你们想要我?”

“你知道我们是谁,对吧?”

斯巴达战士。起义军小孩嘴中的邪恶巫师。” 德尔加多咕哝地说着。

他的头仍在抽痛,但他感觉斗志旺盛,尽管事实上他身旁像山一样巨大的人或许可以像打破根棍子般将他一截为二。但如果他们要杀死他,他们早就做了。这给了德尔加多胆量,他挺身站立。德尔加多笑了起来。

“不要骄纵,不要打斗。在黑夜中要一直保持警惕。因为斯巴达战士会回来,穿着重达半吨的盔甲。他们会偷走你所拥有的一切,就像他们对瓦特斯上校所做的一样。”

斯巴达战士歪了歪自己的脑袋问道。“什么?”

“只是首儿歌。” 德尔加多轻声低语道。“没错,有很多关于你们这些家伙的谣言。就像是你们这些超级战士带走了瓦特斯上校而起义军的整个网络不得不再找一位新的领导人。另外还有一些别的传闻。你知道,很多人都太抬举UNSC了,说是UNSC创建了一个全是超级战士的特别部门来追踪他们。但自从丰饶星陷落后一切都不同了,不是吗?那些异星人一定将你们揍得鼻血直流吧。”

“是的,他们的确这么做了。”斯巴达战士同意道。

“突然间,为自己争取生存权利的想法就不再是那样一个陌生的想法了。”

“没错。”斯巴达战士说道。“但是,UNSC却从来不玻璃化一整个星球,所以用UNSC与星盟间的战斗来比喻UNSC与起义军之间的战斗并不恰当,不是吗?”

斯巴达战士指出了重点。

“你的名字?”德尔加多问道。

“杰。斯巴达战士006。”

“你很喜欢你的编号。但你有姓吗?”

斯巴达战士甚至都没有回答,只是拉上了德尔加多弯腰进入货船的驾驶舱,以避免被舱壁击中他的头部。

另一个男人,巨大的身形必定是个斯巴达战士,坐在驾驶员的位置里。阿德里亚娜斜斜地靠坐在导航控制台附近。她转动自己的椅子面向他们两个。“德尔加多先生。你已经见过杰了,我们的队长。在驾驶员座里的是麦克。”

透过驾驶舱的窗户,德尔加多能够知道他们仍然在瓦砾星,但并没有放开港湾连接器。他们正慢慢移动通过由管和小行星组成的错综复杂的迷宫。

杰坐在通信控制台上,转过身面对德尔加多,示意他坐在空服人员的座位上。

“你是对的,回到那个话题。我们过去的确曾经追寻过叛乱分子。但是,这就是我们从小就接受的训练...我们生活,呼吸,吃饭就是为了这个任务,德尔加多。我们服务于人类,我们的存在就是为了保护地球和她所有的殖民地。”

“嗯……说得比唱的好。”德尔加多在胸前交叉自己的手臂。

“这可不是光说说的。”麦克低声咆哮道。

杰举起了一只手。“我们已经为此奉献了一切,德尔加多先生,不要如此随便地否决我们的全部生活。我猜你是一个起义军?”

德尔加多摇了摇头。“不完全是...在马德里加尔星上很多人是中立的,甚至忠于地球的。但当马德里加尔星被玻璃化之后,不是UNSC的那些混乱的货船而是起义军将人们从马德里加尔星上带了出来并将他们藏到了这里。”

这儿一直都属于起义军。即便是在马德里加尔星上的难民和定期矿工的数量迅速超越了瓦砾星上的起义军之后。这儿仍然对起义军保有相当程度的尊敬。即便是德尔加多。他也欠着起义军自己的一条命。

杰倾身向前。“你得知道,我们不是来这打仗的。我们来这儿只是试图阻止星盟夺取更多的殖民世界或者是地球。有一阵子,军队高层和军情局的人员一直都担心星盟的进展。结果就是,在本周稍早的时候,科尔协议正式启用。所有的UNSC的舰船在跳迁到目的地之前都必须先进行一次随机跳迁。如果星盟出现了,那他们得破坏所有的会将星盟引向地球的导航数据。”

“只是引向地球对吧。”

“还有殖民世界,这是个推断。然而,在科尔协议实施前的几个月,军情局一同放出了数个游弋舰船队,下达深入敌后的任务,包括我们这个团队。我们有一份清单,上面列出了所有可能会有导航数据幸存的地方,而我们的任务就是确实地破坏所有的数据。”

“而在瓦砾星上。”杰进一步激烈地向前俯身。“我们已经坚持了将近一个月。我们每天都在这里,我们不断地破坏数据或是检查其他地方的目标,以防星盟会在偶然间跳迁进入内殖民世界和地球。”

“杰想问的是,”阿德里亚娜打断道,“你是否真的认为将导航数据放在瓦砾星上是安全的?”

德尔加多环顾了一下在驾驶舱内的三个斯巴达战士。“我不会把它交给你们的。你们得做你们的工作。而我得做我的。”

“当然...我们也注意到你没告诉安理会,你撞见了一个斯巴达战士。”阿德里亚娜说道。

他抬头看着她,吓了一跳。她是怎么知道的?这一切都在斯巴达战士的掌控中?在瓦砾星上他们到底窃听了多少?“为什么是我?看起来,对于保持低调你可不在行,试图悄悄潜入却又表现的非常戏剧化,而提问的水平的低劣更是令人叹为观止。”

杰双臂合抱于胸前。“阿德里亚娜,我不明白你为什么要救回这么一个老顽固。”

“不明白什么?”德尔加多问道。

麦克摇了摇头。“别管他,杰。别管他。”

三个斯巴达战士在瞬间做出了一个决定。

德尔加多瑟瑟发抖。他敢打赌,他的小命就在刚才被登记入册了。

杰站了起来。“我的团队认为你是个好人,德尔加多。我不清楚。麦克,我们还在经过那艘船吗?”

麦克转过身。“是的。让我将我们都翻转过来。”

当瓦砾星在飞船旁旋转起来的时候,德尔加多皱起了眉头。船身点火时远处的推进器向下沉了沉,而货船的驾驶舱有些晃动。

他们漂流前往结构边缘上一个较大的居留地。在那停泊着的一艘船在外观上与瓦砾星的完全不同——一件由不同年代,不同形状,不同功能的部件拼凑出的孩之宝积木。(译者注:孩之宝积木的基本形状是长棍和有插槽的圆形,和长方形的乐高积木完全不同。)

慢慢地经过了它之后,杰转向了德尔加多。“我们很难相信和敌人做生意的人,德尔加多,而那是艘豺狼的船。也可称为:敌人。”

“是的…那是豺狼的船。”德尔加多说道。“但大多数的奇戈亚都喜欢我们、反叛军和小行星的居民。他们一直在帮助我们。”

星盟曾经似乎是不共戴天的敌人。一股自然的力量。当十年前丰饶星上第一次接触这个异星混合种族时,破坏后的景象传达出的是深深的恐惧。星盟的船只和他们的等离子体武器摧毁了这个农业世界的地表,直到什么都没留下。

马德里加尔星就在丰饶星的不远处。在丰饶星被摧毁之后他们就已经开始准备接受这件不可避免的事。准备着,等待着。

直到2528年,当星盟跌跌撞撞进入了天秤座23的轨道并摧毁了马德里加尔星,幸存者逃到了瓦砾星。

当奇戈亚回到天秤座23,在赫西俄德星周围寻找开采小行星时,他们发现了瓦砾星。每个人都准备好了另一场一边倒的战斗。但奇怪的是,这些长得像鸟的异星人悄悄地开始了与人类的交易。他们甚至会在一些外层小行星上建立庇护所。

因此,当瓦砾星上的人们听到有关星盟破坏抢夺人类数据的传言时,他们不得不猜测发生了什么事。毕竟,他们还活着。

可是……星盟也曾花了三年的时间去设法攻击马德里加尔星。德尔加多知道瓦砾星仍然登记在册。

豺狼就是用狩猎导航数据这种方式来帮助你的?”杰问道。

“我知道。”德尔加多咕哝道。“我又不是特别的相信他们。”

“那么你该知道。”杰说道。“此刻你交出数据,星盟就会在瓦砾星上做和马德里加尔星上一样的事。”

德尔加多没有回答。他站在那里,双臂交叉,盯着杰看。“也许吧。这是我们的问题,不是你们的。UNSC在这儿没有做过任何事。”

“好吧。”杰说道。“但我们会监视你。”

货船在麦克的控制下轰然进入了港口。内部的空气被切换了,德尔加多的耳膜一阵敲击。阿德里亚娜将德尔加多领向气闸,在那门已经打开了。

德尔加多迟疑地走了过去。他咬着嘴唇。他们不会从背后射击他的,对吧?他们有着荣誉,和一个套规章,不是吗?

阿德里亚娜靠在了气闸边。“再见,德尔加多先生。尽量试着避免麻烦。”

他转身看着她,不穿盔甲的高大的危险的斯巴达战士战士。货船的气闸门倾斜着,开始缓缓地关上,表面的铁锈也随之被纷纷刮下。

“还有别忘了,这里没有斯巴达战士。”她严肃地说着,不带一点幽默。

货船离开后,德尔加多望着远处豺狼船上的一扇气闸舷窗。

斯巴达战士是对的。此刻豺狼一旦得到导航数据,他们就会将它卖给自己的星盟兄弟。他将不得不弄清楚该如何保护好导航数据。有太多的人在这条路上紧跟着它。如果瓦砾星想要活着对抗星盟,那导航数据就必须得是安全的。

第八章

  • 货船
  • 佩蒂亚号
  • 瓦砾星外围,天秤座23


杰看着最后的一丝光线随着气闸的关闭而消失。他们独自回到了佩蒂亚号货船上。

阿德里亚娜从他后面走来时,他将双臂合抱在胸前。

“我们应该控制住他。”当她经过时杰说道。

阿德里亚娜停顿了一下,眼对眼地看着他。“我们已经为此讨论过了。如果你想命令我去找他,杰士官,我会服从你的命令。”

他认真地回瞪着那双蓝眼睛。“你会吗?”

她叹了口气,留下了靠在墙上的他。当麦克关上气闸并驶离小行星的停泊点时,货船发生了颤抖。

灰色小队,杰认为自己受到了一些小小的挫折。

他问自己做了什么能让另外两人值得托付的事,但其实他早就知道了。这一切从他六岁时就开始了。他被突然抢走,远离了日常的生活,他唯一能朦胧记得的事就是和其他七十五个孩子一同被带往志远星上的军事训练基地。杰还记得自己从冷冻睡眠的寒气中苏醒过来之后,被一位粗鲁看上去像是海军的教官赶进了一个圆形的露天剧场。每个孩子身旁都有一位教员站着。

然后,前面升起了一张讲台,一个有着黑头发,灰蓝色眼睛的女人清了清她的嗓子。她身边站着一个带着勋章的人,一个他们将来会尊重和害怕的人:门德兹军士长。

但是很明显,这个女人是负责人。所有在房间里的海军大男人都忠实地执行着她的命令。这个女人看着紧张的孩子们,并告诉他们:“根据海军代码45812,现将你们征召入UNSC的特别计划,代号为斯巴达战士II。”

征召。

杰不喜欢这个词的发音。它听上去像是错的。当他听到这个词时,他站起身试图离开。站在他的旁边那满身肌肉的教官抓着他的肩膀将他推倒在地。

震惊,杰只能继续听女人说道,“你们已经被要求服役。你们将接受训练……我们将会使你们成为最好的。你们将会是地球和她所有的殖民世界的保护神。”

他已经六岁了,真该死。

他在普杰孤儿院里的生活并没有比地狱般的新兵训练营之后的第二天清晨要来得好,这全都由门德兹军士长精心策划,但杰已经怀念起自己在普杰的街上四处徘徊的自由日子。在那,他和其他的淘气鬼打架,偷食物,寻找城市中最好的避风港,藏身其中观察那些从别处来的人。这就是他的生活,即使只是一个瘦弱的6岁小孩,杰也已决定不将征兵列入他的人生计划。

新兵训练营后的第一天晚上,杰在鬼鬼祟祟想要趁夜出逃时遇见阿德里亚娜

“你想要离开?”她用蹩脚的英语问道。

“是的。”杰说道。“我需要一些东西把锁撬开。”

阿德里亚娜从她的舌下拿出一个金属碎片交给他,是一个从基地别的地方偷来的回形针。杰撬开了锁,他们一起从营房里偷偷开溜,利用阴影做掩护直到他们在大门处被发现。

在守卫给栅栏通上电之前,杰刚刚爬了一半。随后杰和阿德里亚娜掉下了地面,一起在尘土中痛苦地翻滚尖叫。

“晚上好。”门德兹说道,看着他,在一旁走来走去。“我不记得有给过你们两个离开基地的权限。”

他们什么都没说,只是直直地盯着远处的森林。

下一周,杰在毛毯的帮助下爬过了栅栏,而守卫则在另一边抓捕他们。之后,便是在整个营地周围那荒芜的空间里短跑。他们在森林中被追捕,接下来的几天中他和阿德里亚娜分头行动躲避追捕。他们在贯穿森林的大路上追踪他,动用了配备疣猪号和鹈鹕号的大型团队才抓了他们。

但无论门德兹怎样用超额的跑步、俯卧撑、打扫厕所来惩罚他,无论门德兹多么努力的想要打垮他,杰和阿德里亚娜一直在计划下一次的出逃。

那些去追捕年轻的杰的人也不得不为此付出了代价。他越是在门德兹手下被粗暴的训练,在被捕时他就战斗的越是猛烈。守卫们被压碎了膝盖,失去了眼睛、手指和脚趾。最后他们开始在鹈鹕号上来狩猎他,一直等待着直到他从森林中蹦出来,在安全的空中将他射倒。直到有一天,五个月后,一个女人来询问他。凯瑟琳·哈尔茜。总是在远处注视着他们,总是草草记录在她的笔记本上。

杰坐在她的书桌前,门德兹军士长在他身旁。

“你想要什么?”哈尔茜博士突然从书桌上抬起头问道。

“是你把我叫来这儿的。”杰大胆地对抗着。

哈尔茜博士轻声的笑了。“是我没错。你想要离开吗,杰?”

“是的!”

这个女人已经从他身边夺走了一切,还像训练石头底下的一只陌生的虫子一样训练他。

“你明白自己第一次到达时被告知的事情吗?”

“你将我偷了过来。你要我为你战斗。为地球战斗。它甚至不是我的母星”杰说道。“我不希望到这里来。”

哈尔茜博士点了点头,突然间看起来很疲惫。仿佛接下她什么都不想做了。但最后她的脊椎还是挺直了。“好吧,杰。你看过这个吗?”

她拿出了一个小飞镖。“你们中的一些并不称职。一些已经倒下了。一些还没准备好成为殖民世界的保护神。这都没问题。这支飞镖将会导致选择性神经麻痹。下次你冲出这片森林时,鹈鹕号上的看守会用其中的一支射击你的头部,之后你会在一座城市里醒来。你将不会记得这所有的一切。”

在杰的脑海里爬行的感觉告诉他,这是一个谎言。一块记忆橡皮擦?这听起来可不对,甚至哈尔茜博士的眼神看起来也不太对,在那里面有着一池更深的疲倦和悲伤。但杰毫不怀疑这只飞镖会抹除一些事情。哈尔茜博士一定是注意到了杰的转变。她订正了自己的话。“你会失去的东西可能不止于此。这没有保证。过程非常混乱,它对一个孩子来说会更糟,因为他们只有这么几个记忆可以丧失。”

杰咽了口唾沫,盯着飞镖看。

“当然,”哈尔茜博士说道,她的声音如同钢铁。“你也可以继续你刚才的训练和你的责任。”

“为什么?”杰问道。

“你是个孤儿,对吧,杰?国立宿舍55,床号68?你想要回到那儿?”杰点了点头。

哈尔茜博士叹了口气。“你认为他们还会记得你吗?我们打过电话,没人注意到我将你转移了。在那没人足够关心你到要去检查你的床,直到我打了电话,而那时你也已经离开那好几个月了,杰。”

杰盯着她。听到这个消息不应该会伤害到他。他不停地问自己,为什么他很惊讶他们没有注意到?

“没有小贩还记得你,你在城市中的藏身之所已经被老鼠占据了。甚至没人注意到你已经离开了。你没有家庭,没有朋友,什么都没有。当你被带走时,你没在这个世上留下任何印记,杰。你这么努力地战斗着想要离开,但当你回去时却又一无所有。”

杰咬着嘴唇摇了摇头。

“但在这里,杰。”哈尔茜博士继续道,将她的话引回正题。“当你试图离开时会有很多人注意到你。门德兹训练你。而且即使你没有家,让我觉得有趣的是你也会不断地找到阿德里亚娜,让她帮助你逃脱。如果你离开了,你会想念她吗?如果我们用一枪就抹去了你的记忆并从我们的电脑里删除你的名字,而且阿德里亚娜也仅仅只是将你遗忘,你会高兴吗?”

杰盯着她,他的嘴发干。他没有说什么,但在内心他却觉得自己已经被摧毁了。她将他撕成了两半,如同他是一些简单的智力测验。门德兹能够打垮他们的身体,但哈尔茜博士却能打垮他们的精神。

“我给你一个最后的提示,杰。”哈尔茜博士说道。“今晚这些卫兵会包围这座森林——如果你试图逃跑,我们就会从我们的记录中将你删除,就好像你从来不在这里一样。但如果明天早上你躺在自己的床上,我会给你一个家,杰,和一个能让你确实存在、不被遗忘的地方。”

杰盯着她。他相信了她。

阿德里亚娜当晚也回到了军营,看起来十分动摇。

但是,他们再一次逃脱了,当然。他们使用了一条一个星期前他们一起挖出来的隧道穿过了栅栏。有食物和简易武器藏在森林里,就埋在树下。

但他们都没有停下来,直到跑到了森林的边缘。“她跟你说什么了?”杰问道。

阿德里亚娜的泪水顺着脸颊往下流。“我不能告诉你。”

“但是你不打算走,是吗?”

“不,我太想走了”阿德里亚娜挂着让杰一直看着很舒服的笑容说道。“我也是。”

他们一起在一块木料上坐了下来,看着鹈鹕号在森林外的天空上纵横交错地飞着,然后转身回到了军营。

第二天早上门德兹没有评论杰那满是尘土的靴子,只是微笑给他派了个十公里跑步。

当杰回来时,门德兹给他介绍了另一个肤色甚至与比杰的褐色头发还要深的安静孩子,他有着一头浓密的卷发站在营房外,在阿德里亚娜的身旁原地踏步,他们的头上都顶着重型原木。

“稍息!杰,阿德里亚娜麦克。”门德兹说道。“现在你们就是一个团队。你们会一起吃饭,一起跑,一起演练。并肩作战。”

“遵命,长官!”

门德兹离开时,阿德里亚娜和杰转向了麦克。 “你干了什么?”

麦克笑了。“我偷了一艘鹈鹕号。”他天真地说到。“然后当它起飞时,他们抓到了我。”

多年之前,他们三人就这样互相握了手。之后灰队被调出来单独训练,甚至是有点失察般的被塞进了遥远的区域去执行任务。在经历过物理性增强之后,他们成为了冷酷的杀手,军情局开始利用这三个不合群的人去执行那些不能够接受指令的长期任务。

他们是能够造成巨大伤害的幽灵。这也就使得军情局补编潜行特种部队致力破坏所有陷入敌后的数据信息这个最新任务的实施成为可能。相同的品行造就出灰队一个难以置信的优点,但这却让杰很难做好这个小队的指挥官。灰队非常的……不同。阿德里亚娜麦克服从杰的领导,但他们却被训练成遵循自己的理念和行动。

所以杰非常沮丧地发现,当豺狼在自己创造的奇形怪状的小行星上对最后一个已知的导航数据采取行动时,阿德里亚娜却放了叛军德尔加多一条生路。她只应该将注意力集中到数据上。

但她没有。

而现在,他们又一次放跑了他。

但正如阿德里亚娜所指出的那样,如果他们破坏了最后一字节的数据并离开了瓦砾星,那么他们将不可能再了解到其他从卡律布狄斯IX上回来的其他飞船。因此他们的延误起作用了。他们也许该留在瓦砾星上,而不是完整地执行整个任务。

但杰仍旧认为他们应该将德尔加多控制在船上。无论怎么说,他都在为叛军工作。杰已经杀了太多的恐怖分子了。

现在阿德里亚娜认为他们有责任去确保所有活着的人的安全。麦克坐在控制台上看着豺狼的飞船缓慢地驶离他们的视野。

“该给它们来一颗湿婆核弹。”麦克抱怨道。

“你认为阿德里亚娜是对的吗?星盟会干掉他们吗?”

“他们一直是这么做,”麦克说道。“星盟一直在攻击。一直在摧毁所有的东西。这次他们又凭什么会停下来呢?”

“我不知道。”当麦克从他们潜伏的地方加速驶离瓦砾星的外围时,杰说道。“我们之前从没见过这样的事。豺狼和人类交易、工作还建立小行星居留地。”

但另一方面是灰队的任务。他们不能去申请命令,他们是离群的UNSC。他们三个得自己去弄清这一切,并决定下一步的行动。

“一颗湿婆核弹?”杰转身看着麦克

麦克将手绕过自己的光头。“放一颗在正确的地方,是的。”

“放哪儿?”

“内部。”

杰看着他然后笑了。“会做这个把戏的,麦克。会做的。”

然后他想象着如果阿德里亚娜麦克是对的,就像平时一样,那他们最终就不得不这么做了。

“我们手头还有几颗湿婆核弹?”杰问道。

“足够多。”麦克说道。

“足够多到做什么?”

“在瓦砾星上制造一大堆的麻烦。”麦克说道。“当时机来临时。”

“我还没有对此做出任何决定。”杰说道。

麦克耸了耸肩。“只要你决定好,核弹就会准备好。”

杰离开了舰桥。那两个人都太相信自己了。而他也是一样。他对自己笑了笑。他们该互相诅咒。

“等一下。”麦克喊道。

杰恼怒地回了身。“什么?”

写有警告和文本的屏幕亮了起来,滚动速度超出了杰的阅读速度。麦克在键盘一阵敲击时,他的手指跳动着进行输入,他开始了咒骂。

“这是什么?”杰又问了一遍。

“有些东西正通过我们的通信硬碟开始闯入。我不能够阻止它;到处都是警告。”

杰觉得自己的胃一阵痉挛。麦克是个系统专家,一直都是。当他在被征召进入斯巴达战士II项目飞向某一营地的时候,他就弄明白该如何偷走鹈鹕号了,对他而言只要看一遍飞行员如何驾驶就足够了。杰嫉妒他对于机械和电脑的天分。

现在麦克看上去慌乱不安。“快按下杀戮开关。就现在!”

杰跑向驾驶室中央并扯下了一块金属板。他猛地拉下内侧的红色把手随后整艘货船陷入了黑暗中。

“刚刚发生了什么?”阿德里亚娜喊道。“是杀戮开关?”

“没错。”失去动力后人工重力也失效了。杰就悬在杀戮开关附近,那是麦克在漫长的断层旅行时安装上的一个人工电路断路器。

以防万一,他一直这么说。如果有人扯掉了电源线你就不可能入侵飞船了。

佩蒂亚号,他们过去几个月的家,在黑暗中独自航行。

麦克在星光下转动自己的背然后移向一扇窗户。“在接下来二十分内我们不要去按任何东西。”他说道。“这样会给我们争取些时间。”

当它来到船和硬盘上的时候,麦克最后做了决定。

麦克原地转圈面向了他们。“杰,带上剪刀,切断通讯阵列。在我们发生碰撞前你有十八分钟。阿德里亚娜你该穿上盔甲。如果有人试图得到我们的系统,那他们会尝试最少的线路并在外显露出来。”

“了解。”阿德里亚娜踢掉了驾驶室舱门的边缘,转身进入漆黑的飞船中央向双层铺位前进。

杰跟上了,将麦克一个人留在了驾驶室。

十五分钟之后,经过在佩蒂亚号的内部爬来爬去地追踪线路系统,杰已经剪掉了两个阵列了。阿德里亚娜则穿上了整套盔甲来到了货船的腹部而且刚刚切断了最后一个阵列。

当杰将自己拉了出来并将自己扔过空气丢进驾驶室时,阿德里亚娜触发了气闸也跟了进来。穿着全套盔甲,她看起来占据了整个驾驶室。

“没有任何人在外面,也没有识别出任何向我们移动的东西。”她报告道。

“这既令人安慰又令人担心。”麦克说道。“将开关合上。”

佩蒂亚号上的应急灯咯哒地一声打开了。有点迟,杰想到,毕竟是艘老旧的货船,她甚至都不能从一个断层空间点艰难地行进到另一个断层空间点直到麦克坚持要修复她。在他的指导下小队花了整整一个星期的时间,重新安装了一个更快的军用级别的断层空间器在她上面。

但杰现在不得不同意,这一切做得都值。在他们的计算下,在货物区他们有了更多的空间来放武器,这让阿德里亚娜非常高兴。

麦克也是;他装上了一些额外的湿婆核弹头,并塞满了所有他认为能够用得上的东西。

麦克在屏幕上一阵轻敲让飞船重新启动后,主灯光又亮了起来。

当风扇和气泵呼呼地开始工作时杰意识到之前所有的东西都陷入了死一般的沉默中。整艘船牢固的背景缓慢地呼呼地移动了回来。人工重力回来了。阿德里亚娜麦克像猫一样的扭动着,随后用双脚着地。

“好吧,让我们看看我们都有些什么。”麦克回到了控制台,当他用推进器调整轨道时,佩蒂亚号一阵颤抖。他们通过了一个在两个小行星之间延伸出半英里长的柔软的停泊管道。里面的人都在忙他们自己的事,甚至很难注意到,这艘货船已经来到了一英里外而且就快撞上了。

麦克右边的一个屏幕闪烁着,随后一个女人出现在了上面,她的皮肤仿佛是幽灵般的数字和计算符号。很多人工智能看起来都这样。它看来正在环视驾驶室。“简单的把戏。”它通过驾驶室内众多的扬声器说道。“但在你再次切断动力之前,你该知道我感染了你的一些外部主导航传感器。他们没有较大的广播功率,但我有许多针对你们这些家伙的通信设备,而我可以通过瓦砾星来监听它们。另外我已经切断了你们的断层空间器,所以你们真的不得不听我说了。”

麦克检查了屏幕,然后咒骂着转向了准备拉下红色把手的杰。

“等等,等等,让我把话说完。”在屏幕上的人工智能说道。“我有个给你们的提议。我能够给你们瓦砾星的导航数据,但我需要达成一项协议。”

杰静止着直直地看着在耸肩的麦克。杰转头回看。“一项协议?”

屏幕上的人工智能点头。“你们是斯巴达战士。精英中的精英中的精英。”她笑道。“这儿的许多生命都处于危险之中,战士。我将会帮助你得到导航数据,因为我想要你们去保护它。但你们不能马上离开。这就是协议。”

“我们必须得在附近停留?”杰问道,有些表示怀疑。“为什么?”

“因为瓦砾星上的每个人都处于危险之中,斯巴达战士。而我希望你们三个能够在短时间内拯救他们。我们将解放他们,你们就是他们的游侠,我那穿着闪耀盔甲的骑士们。”

麦克摇了摇头,在大腿上摆了七根手指让杰看。

一个人工智能在被合理地强制关闭之前通常只能存在七年。七年之后它们就会开始陷入不稳定的状态。它们会变得无法控制;确信自己拥有神一般的力量和能力。无法控制的人工智能是毁灭性的、危险的且有些疯狂。

但这种疯狂并不是会必然发生的,这只是统计上的。一个超过七年的人工智能就像是在玩一场危险的游戏。在瓦砾星这儿,为了维持系统,他们必须审慎地让人工智能长期运行。

“得了。”人工智能厉声地向他们喊道。“我能够看到你的手指,斯巴达战士。我是超过年限,是的。也许我是疯了。我的确应该发疯。”

阿德里亚娜转身看着杰,但他摇了摇手。让它说。看看接下来会发生什么。

“当马德里加尔星被玻璃化之后,他们将我从存储器中拆解,去负责瓦砾星——他们无法通过手工调整以保证小行星之间相互连接。他们需要天才般的注意力就像是我这样的。这让我忙透了,直到豺狼来了。此后,好吧,我就被计划终结了,斯巴达战士。现在它在这儿。是的,我是朱莉安娜,瓦砾星的女神。你的专家也许怀疑我疯了,但一个慈善的女神正是你们现在需要的。而这个女神又恰巧有着一个非常、非常重视拯救瓦砾星人们的想法。”

麦克改变了态度。“对我来说这听上去并不疯狂。”杰知道他正在安抚它,确保它。甚至也许是验证它。杰觉得没有按下开关是值得的。这个不稳定的人工智能,被一直以来的琐事折磨得有些疲惫,也许是一个非常有用的盟友。

朱莉安娜向下看着,突然非常疲劳,忧伤闪过了她的脸庞。“我……认为,现在,我对于拯救瓦砾星上居民这个棘手、庞大、复杂任务的全神贯注的确能让我远离疯狂的深渊。从两年前疯狂就开始蚕食我。”

“你要我们去帮忙?”阿德里亚娜捅了捅。

人工智能回头了。“作为回报,我会给你远远超过所需的数据。星盟的军队在瓦砾星上可不仅仅只是开了几个店而已。我有细节。你会想要这些的。”她露出了一个腼腆的笑容。

阿德里亚娜麦克看了看正在回笑人工智能的杰。

“我们没有太多的时间了。”朱莉安娜说道。“我们现在需要互相帮助。”

他们现在有了一个需要他们帮助的疯狂的叛军人工智能和一个更大秘密的承诺。而阿德里亚娜的叛军宠儿还在到处乱跑。此外他们还有一艘残破的货船。这真是灰队行动的最佳状况了。

第九章

提尔·外达密继位要塞宗主后的某一天曙光中,他伴随着三对脚发出的微弱沙沙声醒转过来。他们站在他窗外的屋顶上,快速移动着准备通过窗台的边缘闯入他的房间。提尔没有浪费时间,立即从他坐了一整晚的椅子上爬起来,静静地等待着。

当第一位刺客打破窗户时,提尔按下了他手中那个一直都恰巧带在身边的粗糙金属闩的按钮。随着电离化空气的爆裂从把手处生出了一把能量剑并形成出现了一对半椭圆的蓝色等离子。

怒吼之剑的第一次猛击深深地扎进了刺客的胸膛,用浓缩的等离子刺穿了他。而他确信这个刺客都没能发出尖叫。

当他面前剩下来的两个刺客举着各自的能量剑砍向他时,提尔几乎没有时间去躲闪。他们劈啪作响的能量剑几乎不可能错过提尔的头。但他们幅度过大的摆动注定了他们的厄运。正当他们的能量剑从他身旁擦肩而过时,提尔恢复到了完全站立的姿势,干净利落地砍下了最近的一个刺客的手臂。

最后一名刺客意识到这不再是件轻松地工作,改变了主意,开始寻找着空间防卫自己。

在这个主房间内有许多的空间。刺客一步步的后退到房间地面上巨大的岩石后,他的眼睛从一扇门扫视到另一扇,正在考虑是否能够从这逃出去。或者至少他能利用这些空间作为自己的优势。

提尔回到窗户前,看着刺客。老实说,他期望的比这更多。基于他作为一个领导的能力、一个战斗的能力和一个狂热者的能力,外达姆长老们已经选举他继位宗主。要塞采取的是英才管理制度——只有最具能力的人才能在前任死后被选举为宗主。

但那些人觉得他们的选票该是病态般的审慎,或者是有着别的意义,包含着一个被珍视的权利和一个派遣刺客去测试统治者真正的军事能力的传统。

这是另一个层次的英才管理制度。不能从刺客手中幸存的宗主不是真正的统治者。

这是传统的圣赫利思维。

刺客试了试第一扇门,发现它被锁住了。四英寸厚的卡菲尔木可不是这么容易打破的,刺客只是扫了一眼就知道了。第二扇门也被锁上堵死了。

现在他转身看着提尔,在意识到自己已经形同死亡之后便直直地跑向了提尔所站的窗户。最后的抵抗。

提尔从他的手枪皮套中拔出了等离子手枪直接射中刺客的头部。刺客翻倒在提尔脚前的地板上。

那么是哪位长老,提尔转身环顾着由坚硬的岩石围墙砌成的古老外达姆要塞,够胆发出这样的命令?

圣赫利奥斯星巨大的月亮悬挂在山峦的顶峰,没有为提尔给出答案。

他转身走过尸体,拿出用黄铜线系在头颈上的钥匙,打开了门。他的一群私人侍卫疲乏不堪的手持武器站在外面。

“集合长老们。”提尔命名他们。“在岩石会堂。”

“可现在还没有到早晨。”一个侍卫反对道。

提尔绕着他打转。“谁是宗主?”

这名侍卫低下了自己的长脑袋。“我以我先祖的血发誓,我将不再质疑您。”

提尔上下打量着他的守卫们。精瘦而高挑,他们柔软的深色皮肤都隐藏在结实的盔甲下面。星盟的盔甲。他们的长脖子脑袋覆盖着锁子甲,而他们巨大的眼睛闪现出会堂闪烁的灯光。

他们都有着良好的体型、充满力量,自从出生后就在进行过度的训练,是圣赫利战士的典范。

而且全都听从提尔的命令。

提尔走过石头走廊那狭小的空间时,他们则散开去唤醒长老们。

这是提尔迄今为止的人生中最紧张而光荣的日子。外达姆的血统,在他这一种族中长远的历史中,相对来说比较年轻——由远支的先祖在第一探索纪元中创造,当时由于星球和多个太阳和月亮一同共舞,圣赫利们的船往来于危险的大洋,穿越巨大的朝夕。

外达姆一族一直留意着距离克拉尔山脉的一侧30英里远的外达姆港口。数个世纪以来他们一直在这抵御着入侵者,这也是让他们能大打出手的上好防御位置。

在众多的对手中,即便是先知一族也没能摧毁外达姆。他们也被埋葬进了峭壁和高山悬崖。伟大的圣赫利通过一代代的努力建立起了外达姆的权威。提尔想要将自己的名字加入外达姆圣贤的行列中,雕刻进山川下现存的城墙岩石上。

“他们在等您。”一个侍卫站在石头房间外说道,提尔走下了那块将进一步他带往山川基岩深处的台阶。

在远处,河水的隆隆声震撼着提尔脚下的石块。一个地下水源,一个甚至没有敌人试图得到过的力量之源。

提尔走进岩石会堂,看着他头上一百英尺处弧形的横梁。随后又向下望着房间中央的一张长桌子。长老们,绝大多数都穿着斗篷抵御着清晨的寒冷,用他们硕大的动摇的眼睛望着他。

“我的血亲们。”提尔走到桌子的前端说道。“你们选举我为宗主,但看来你们中的一个并不相信自己的选择,也不相信我,就在几分钟前三个刺客闯进了顶端室。”

一边说着提尔一边除下了自己的斗篷,赤裸裸地站在了他们面前。“宗主……”他们中的一个惊愕地低语道。

“正如你们亲眼所见,他们甚至没能在我的身上留一道印迹。”当提尔身边的一位私人侍卫为他穿上斗篷时,他盯着他们所有人。“我杀了其中的两个,但留下了一个活口,这样我们就能来讨论一下到底是谁派他来的。”

一个谎言,但却是一个非常有效地谎言,提尔看见长老中的一个,身体突然僵硬,随后做了一个深呼吸。

寇迪亚,提尔记起了他的名字。寇迪亚·外达姆提尔隐隐地感到了一丝失望。

任何一个长老都可能是提尔的生父。让孩子知道自己的父亲是谁可不是圣赫利的处事方式,圣赫利以他们高超的战斗技巧为父。圣赫利只确实地知道自己母亲的兄弟是谁,所以他们都是由自己的叔叔传授战斗的艺术。

长老中的很多人曾经都是伟大的战士。提尔的几个叔叔就坐在他的面前。

寇迪亚,谢天谢地,他不是。

“我是提尔·外达密。”提尔将重音放在了“幂”上凸显自己的军队职务。“如果你们选了我继位宗主,当然你们想知道我是否能护卫自己?”

寇迪亚屈身向前,用他身前桌子上那满是皱纹的手稳定了一下自己。“你在过去几年中都在和孱弱的星盟作战,而不是和圣赫利。我害怕你已经变得虚弱不堪,不能成为这个要塞的强壮宗主。”

提尔摇了摇自己的头。“只有密谋对抗他们宗主的人,看起来似乎就是那些龟缩在自己小房间里的长老们,会逐渐地变得柔弱。如果你足够强壮,那你就应该自己等在我的房间里袭击我。”

长老们一阵窃语表示同意,提尔绕着桌子走着,一把抓下寇迪亚的斗篷,将他从椅子中拉了出来。将他推到了最近的一面刻有外达姆圣贤的巨大墙壁上。

“这就是我们世系的记录,寇迪亚。”提尔说道。“你的名字在这面墙的何处?”

寇迪亚悲伤地摇了摇头,他褶皱的,褪色了的深色皮肤也随之紧束。“它不在这面墙上。”

“我们圣赫利只注重自己的作为。我们都出生、居住在共有的房间内,在要塞的注视下平等地开始生活,随后凭借各自的能力晋升。你可以坚持自己的立场投我反对票,或者亲手杀了我。可你的懦弱却并不是我想要在外达姆血统内流传的品性。”

寇迪亚睁大了自己的眼睛。“我接受自己的失败,宗主,但请不要废除我这一支的血脉。”

“我并没有抹杀这支血亲。”提尔说道。“是你自己抹杀的。”

寇迪亚向前冲去,突然展现出了勇气,提尔则拿出了自己的能量剑。蓝色等离子激增而出,提尔挥舞着剑刃砍向寇迪亚的脖子。

长老的头滚过了地板,紫色的鲜血喷薄而出,溅到了雕刻的圣贤金言上。这位长老身体终于成为了这面墙不可分割的一部分。

提尔转向了他的侍卫。“寇迪亚一脉必须离开。他们不再是外达姆了。他们得在日出前离开。任何留在这里的寇迪亚一脉在那之后都会面临着与这相同的命运。这是我给予他们的仁慈,因为寇迪亚至少在临死前挖掘出了自己灵魂的价值。如果他当时跪地求饶,那么他们都得死。”

“这是我们的荣幸。”侍卫说着,随后离开去传达命令。

提尔转向长老们。“我已经审视过外达姆的状况了。”港口带来收益,外面的建筑从山川一直延伸出去横穿整个大陆,外达姆的奴隶们很幸福、工作努力并试图提升和区别他们自己,在要塞中建立自己的地位。“我为你们的领导感到高兴。世系非常强大。”

外达姆非常强大。”一位长老同意道,也许是为了博得好感和注意。

“但我不是一个傀儡。”提尔继续道,忽视了一时的打断。“我会对我们所有的投资和活动保持关注。那些只为自己而不是为外达姆谋求利益的人,将会触怒我。我说得够清楚了吗?”

他们齐声答道。“是的,宗主。”

“很好。”提尔收起了能量剑,放回了斗篷的深处。

“你们非常正确地选了我为宗主。我也有消息带给你们。我已经得到了晋升,成为高级先知自行创建的舰队中一艘舰船的船长。我们已经发现了一个新的人类世界。”

“我们很怜悯那些即将被你高贵的手所摧毁的可怜生物。”一个长老说道。

“这个世界的名字是?”另一个问道。

“人类称它为卡律布狄斯IX。现在我将你们全部留下,去管理外达姆。”提尔注视着长老们。“我希望它会被最高明的人来打点。”

他们都对新宗主恢复了信心,事实上,的确是。

第二部分

第十四章

  • HABITAT EL CUIDAD, INNER RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE

The moment 模板:Delgado stepped out of the airlock he knew something was wrong. Five very burly men stood waiting for him. Their shaved heads gleamed in the artificial lights of the inner asteroid, and they wore expensive, well-tailored suits. 模板:Delgado also noticed the telltale bulges of holsters just underneath their left armpits. “Ignatio 模板:Delgado?” one of them asked. “Yes, that’s me.” 模板:Delgado stared into the eyes of the nearest heavy. He didn’t see any way to get out of this. The five men had covered all degrees of escape. He was hemmed in. “There’s someone that would like to see you.” They led him across the open expanse of hangar and into the back of a roomy, plush, tube car that waited at the lip of the docking tube leading out from the asteroid. Inside sat a thin, sparse-looking man with jet-black hair and dark green eyes. He set down the computer pad that he had been reading, folded his arms on his lap, and swiveled slightly to regard 模板:Delgado. “Mr. 模板:Delgado,” he finally said after a long pause, no doubt calculated to make 模板:Delgado somewhat uncomfortable. “You would not believe how hard you are to track down.” 模板:Delgado blinked. He’d been hard to find because he hadn’t been around. The Rubble Security Council had asked him to move the navigation data once more. “I had sensitive business to take care of,” 模板:Delgado said. The door to the tube car shut behind him. The tube car moved over and gripped a long sliver of track that led down and away from the hangar asteroid where 模板:Delgado had docked the Distancia. “I know that,” said the man. “I was one of the members who voted to send you out to secure the navigation data today.” “I’m sorry?” 模板:Delgado frowned. “No, no,” the man waved in the air. “Entirely my fault.” He reached out a hand. 模板:Delgado reached over and shook it tentatively. “I am Peter Bonifacio, and I hear you’ve been asking about me, Mr. 模板:Delgado.” 模板:Delgado stared into the eyes of the man who, most likely, had caused Melko’s death. He bit his lip. “I don’t think so. You must be mistaken. I’ve been far too busy with the Security Council’s orders. As you must know.” If Bonifacio, this short, intense-looking man, was really desperate to get his hands on the navigation data, he was hiding it pretty well at the moment, 模板:Delgado thought. Bonifacio lit a cigar. A Sweet William, 模板:Delgado realized with a kick in his stomach. “No, it’s certainly you, 模板:Delgado,” Bonifacio said. “Asking all sorts of very interesting questions. So I thought, maybe it’s time I asked some questions of my own.” 模板:Delgado watched Bonifacio inhale a long drag of the Sweet William, and then let it out into the tiny, cramped interior of the bubble car. A haze of smoke lingered around them. Bonifacio leaned forward. “What do you know about the Exodus project?” The tube car moved on past pedestrians floating their way to and from asteroids. “The what?” 模板:Delgado asked. It felt like Bonifacio was studying every pore on 模板:Delgado’s face. “What about the 奇戈亚尔—why are you asking about them?” 模板:Delgado shook his head, pulling back from Bonifacio, offended. “I have my reasons.” “Mmm,” Bonifacio grunted. “It’s a strange coincidence that the 奇戈亚尔 attacked a place that only the nine Council members knew about… and you.” “You’re accusing me of selling that information?” 模板:Delgado leaned back in. “I was shot protecting the data. My copilot was killed. How dare you suggest I gave anything to them?” Bonifacio looked out the window at the depths of space passing them by. Ahead, the tube pierced the center of another asteroid habitat. They passed into the heart of it, curved green farmland stretching up on all sides around them. “We are all innocent until proven guilty, of course, Mr. 模板:Delgado,” he said. “But in your case, this is such a sensitive matter that a few Council members and I have decided that for the safety of the Rubble, you will have to be detained while we investigate certain concerns regarding your loyalties.” 模板:Delgado clenched a fist. “My loyalties are to the Rubble.” Bonifacio chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure you’re just a living, breathing patriot. So I’ve heard. But the Council would like to hand over security of the data to me now. “So where is it, 模板:Delgado?” “Lodged deep, deep up your ass, Bonifacio.” 模板:Delgado grinned. Bonifacio’s face steeled. “There was no call for that,” he said. 模板:Delgado shrugged and leaned back in the chair. “If we’re playing games, I might as well have some fun too,” he said. Bonifacio quickly hauled back and punched him in the stomach, not even an inch away from a still-healing plasma wound. 模板:Delgado felt like he’d been stabbed, and the pain doubled him over. “It’s such a shame,” Bonifacio hissed. “We started off on a nice foot, and then you had to go do that.” “You’re such a charmer,” 模板:Delgado grunted, holding onto his stomach and leaning against the seat in front of him. “You like this on all your first dates?” “You’re in a lot of trouble,” Bonifacio said. “Because as of this moment, you’re under arrest for suspicion of leaking the location of the navigation data.” “The Council will not stand for that,” 模板:Delgado said. “They all worked hard with me to keep that data safe when we realized it was being destroyed.” “For all we know you could be part of some conspiracy to destroy the data. You and your friend Diego. Who incidentally, did most of the exhorting us to ‘trust’ you.” The tube car slowed, and Bonifacio leaned back. “And the Council signed the warrant.” Bonifacio pulled up his pad. 模板:Delgado looked down at it. Then back up. “How?” “A nice benefit of being a trusted, elected Security Council member. Now, I want the location of that navigation data, 模板:Delgado.” “And how long will you be able to get away with this? Eventually the Council will realize it’s not a normal arrest when I don’t actually show up in a proper holding facility, Bonifacio.” The smuggler sighed. “True, but we have enough time for what I need.” “Until the Kestrel gets in?” 模板:Delgado ventured. Bonifacio quirked a small smile. “And to keep you from spreading that damn name around.” “It’s coming in from 卡律布狄斯IX, right?” 模板:Delgado said, trying to prod more information out of the man. “I hear the UNSC Navy is sewing everything up, so it’s obviously a last-hurrah smuggle. A ship full of luxuries that soon people will pay a premium for… and then you no longer need the navigation data. Right?” Bonifacio said nothing, but looked out the window. 模板:Delgado nodded. The silence said a lot. “So you’ll sell us out to the 奇戈亚尔? Give them the data?” 模板:Delgado growled. “Are you some weepy Earth sympathizer?” Bonifacio snapped, suddenly irritated. “Because you seem really hung up on this idea that I’m trying to steal the data to sell it to the 奇戈亚尔. Even if I am, who the hell cares what happens to Earth? They could care less about us.” 模板:Delgado shook his head. Bonifacio hadn’t come straight out and admitted anything yet, but at least he was getting chatty. He pressed the issue some more. “The 奇戈亚尔 will attack the moment we sell that data. They’re just here to scavenge it.” Bonifacio shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong. They’re risking a lot to be here, to help us build these asteroids. And they will reward us. They think of this as home just as much as we do.” “How do you think they will reward us?” Bonifacio smiled. “Don’t you worry yourself about that right now.” 模板:Delgado gritted his teeth. The smuggler had now all but admitted he was working with the 奇戈亚尔. That he was the leak in the Council. The tube car slowed near an industrial looking section of the asteroid, where metals were being processed from the raw slag forwarded by other mining companies still operating in the outskirts of the Rubble. They stopped in front of a large warehouse half dug into the ground. Bonifacio leaned forward as one of his men snapped a pair of handcuffs on 模板:Delgado. “Welcome to your new home for the next few days.”


第十五章

凯斯 stared at the faces of the rioters, reading the rage and the desperation of the crowd’s mood. So far they were just watching the ONI survivors. The trucks and trailers the ONI team and 凯斯 crawled out of lay broken across the road, burning from the RPG hits. The asphalt had melted underneath them in some places, and the warehouse windows reflected the dancing flames. “Behind us.” Hansen whirled around and shot at the corner of the burning trailer. Someone ducked back behind it. “We need to get out,” Watanabe told 凯斯. The crowd muttered, and triumphant shouts increased in the distance as several of them dragged an ONI agent out from the remains of a trailer. The man struggled, but the ten people holding him were too strong. They shoved him to the ground and started kicking him. They could hear his screams. “Can’t we do anything?” 凯斯 asked. “It’s just the three of us, and hundreds of them over there,” Hansen said. “I can’t even get a shot clear, there’re too many of them.” “Damn it.” 凯斯 turned so that he could glance back and forth between the crowd and the trailer. “鹈鹕运兵船 019, this is eutenant 凯斯.” He pulled his side arm out of the holster, but didn’t point it in either direction, just kept at his side. “I take it you’re ONI?” The Insurrectionist on the other side of the trailer yelled at them. It sounded like Kincaide. “You think you’re so smart, sneaking around. But we have you now! We’ll beat you down like your friend over there.” The screams from the ONI agent had stopped. The crowd moved away from the limp, broken body. 凯斯 felt sick, then nervous as the mob screamed in his direction. Hansen dropped a magazine out of her gun. It hit the asphalt at the same time as a new one clicked home. She didn’t respond to Kincaide’s rants. “Jeffries here, sir,” crackled the voice in 凯斯’ earpiece. “Can you get a read on my location?” 凯斯 tried to keep his voice calm. Something about the pent up rage of the crowd unnerved him. “Yessir.” Hansen pointed at a nearby door to another warehouse. They backed over to it. 凯斯 held his hand up to his ear. “Get ready for a hot pickup. We’re coming up to the roof. Got a mob after us, and we lost the Insurrectionists we were after. They were using RPGs on us, so come in fast and low and keep your eyes open.” An Insurrectionist peered around the corner, and ducked back again as Watanabe fired at him. “These are company agents,” Kincaide shouted into the air. “Any one of you grab them I’ll give you weapons. Free guns.” A pair of rioters heard that and ran down the street at the trio. Watanabe and Hansen shot in unison, and the two men pitched forward into the road. Hansen turned around and shot the doorknob several times, then kicked the door in. “Inside.” They moved in, Watanabe and Hansen staying by the door as 凯斯 looked around for a way up. A few more gunshots cracked out—they convinced the mob to stay back. Meanwhile, Kincaide was screaming at the mob to attack. Still, even rioters didn’t want to charge head on into gunfire. 凯斯 could see that through the shattered windows of the door. They were holding back as the two ONI agents shot just above their heads. Looking the other way, 凯斯 spotted a service elevator. “Sir, I’m a minute away,” Jeffries called in. “Get to the rooftop.” “To the roof,” 凯斯 shouted. They ran to the elevator, pulling the cage shut. It lurched up, just as the door they’d come through shattered, rioters pouring through, Kincaide with them. He raised a 星盟 plasma rifle, and as the elevator rose to the next floor, a burst of plasma hit the elevator doors beneath them, blowing them out into the shaft. Smoke rose up with them as they climbed toward the top floor. The elevator lurched to a halt, and once the doors opened Hansen shot the control panel several times. The foyer led to a doorway out onto the roof, and past the stairs leading down the warehouse’s floors. They could hear murmuring and footsteps farther down the stairwell as they passed it to kick open the door. As 凯斯 ran onto the flat roof, he saw the running lights of the approaching 鹈鹕运兵船 wink off. The craft swooped by, blinding them with a sudden glare of a spotlight that then shut off almost as quickly as it had been flicked on. “That you coming out on the roof, sir?” Jeffries asked. “Better believe it,” 凯斯 grunted, sprinting away from the stairwell. “Coming back around for the land, deploying the ramp,” Jeffries reported. The 鹈鹕运兵船 banked and disappeared off into the night. Then it appeared again. Jeffries was throwing it full speed right toward the top of the building, skimming just over the rooftops in a near suicidal dash. 凯斯 had to admire the skill. From the street level the bright flash of a rocket launch lit up an alleyway and a rocket streaked for the 鹈鹕运兵船. “RPG!” 凯斯 shouted, but Jeffries had already kicked the tail of the 鹈鹕运兵船 out, crabbing it around in midair to face the rocket and present a smaller profile. The rocket streaked by, missing but bathing the 鹈鹕运兵船 in an eerie orange light. A second rocket flashed and leapt up from underneath the 鹈鹕运兵船. It slammed into the belly of the craft, gutting it. Debris rained down out of the 鹈鹕运兵船, and a second explosion inside rippled throughout the craft’s body. It hung in the air, engines wailing, but not moving. The third rocket slammed into its tail, and the 鹈鹕运兵船 dropped out of the air into the street below, sinking from eye level in an inferno of boiling metal and parts. 凯斯 threw himself at the ledge of building, firing his sidearm into the street, but the Insurrectionists had already melted back into the shadows. The flaming wreckage burned itself against the back of 凯斯’ eyes as he waited for some movement, any movement, near the ruins of the 鹈鹕运兵船. “eutenant,” Watanabe grabbed him and yanked him back from the edge. Chips of concrete stung 凯斯 in the face as gunfire hit the lip of the building. Watanabe locked his eyes. 凯斯 stood in front of Watanabe, frozen, as Watanabe grabbed him by the face to look right at him. “There’s nothing you could have done, 凯斯.” 凯斯 numbly ejected the spent magazine from his sidearm and slid in another. “I’m the one who transferred him aboard 仲夏夜号.” “He was a good soldier and a good man. Jefferson flew hard, and now he’s down and we need to focus.” 凯斯 stared at the ONI spook. Jefferson? What the hell was that? Watanabe was supposed to be a man of details, observant. But Jeffries hadn’t rated his attention, apparently. But then, that was a spook versus enlisted. They didn’t care about the man standing next to you. They had their own agendas. “凯斯, you listening? Can you raise the ship?” “I can try,” 凯斯 said. By the stairwell Hansen fired three shots, and someone screamed. 凯斯 moved away from the lip of the wall and closed his eyes. He flipped frequencies on the earpiece, and then looked up at the stars in the night sky. One of them was 仲夏夜号, parked in geosynchronous orbit. It hung directly over the city. “Midsummer Night, this is 凯斯.” He waited a moment, then repeated it. A response came through, crackly and faded. “凯斯, this is 模板:Kirtley. Glad to hear your voice. What’s your situation?” “Pinned on a roof,” 凯斯 reported. “Jeffries was hit by RPG fire; the 鹈鹕运兵船 is down. We’ve got Insurrectionists and a mob ready to tear our throats out.” “sten, hold tight,” 模板:Kirtley said. “There are ODSTs on their way.” “They won’t get here in time,” 凯斯 said. “Major Faison had it out with the captain, said you guys needed boots on the ground for support if a mob was moving in. They left early, before you called Jeffries. You need to hold out twenty minutes. Copy that? Twenty minutes?” Twenty minutes. Might as well have been an eternity. But it was a chance. “Tell them to space out and watch out for rockets,” 凯斯 said. “Will do. Good luck, eutenant.” 凯斯 ran over to Watanabe and Hansen. “ODSTs are on their way. Twenty minutes.” Watanabe and Hansen glanced at each other. Watanabe held up his side arm. “Last mag.” “Same here. 凯斯?” “I’m on my last mag too.” The three of them looked down the empty stairwell. “Twenty minutes, huh?” Hansen said. “Twenty,” 凯斯 repeated. “Well, I’m game to try it,” the ONI agent said, and steadied herself against the wall for a better shot.


第十六章

“They’re not trying to push up the stairs hard enough,” Hansen said, ten minutes later. So far 凯斯 had only fired warning shots. The rioters would peek around a corner and fire off a round, and he would too, and then there would be silence until the next rioter nerved up enough to try doing the same thing. “She’s right.” Watanabe stepped forward, trying to look down the stairwell. He jerked back as someone fired a shot. Plasma exploded against the walls of the foyer. “They’ve got the 星盟 weapons now.” Hansen shuffled back from the doorway. “So why aren’t they rushing us?” 凯斯 asked. He scanned the rooftop. “They’re up to something.” Hansen pulled a wicked-looking knife out of her boot and put it on the ground. “凯斯, go left, Watanabe, right. Just start checking the edges. Don’t pop your head over, just listen for anything. I’ll hold this point.” 凯斯 and Watanabe took off at a crouch for the edge of the roof. 凯斯 skirted it, slowly moving against the concrete lip. The edge came up to his head. On the other side of the building, he could see Watanabe doing the same. 凯斯 made his way down one whole side of the building. His thighs burned from the awkward waddling by the end, and he paused to stretch them out. Watanabe had stopped as well. But he wasn’t stretching his legs. He had his gun out. Three men leapt over the lip near Watanabe, with Kincaide vaulting the edge just behind them. The ONI agent charged them from the side, shooting down the first man, then the second. 凯斯 couldn’t risk firing, he’d just as likely hit Watanabe at this distance, so he sprinted at the group. Kincaide used the third man, a rioter, as a shield. He shoved the surprised civilian into Watanabe, then shot them both several times with a plasma rifle. 凯斯 felt sick as he watched Watanabe fall. The man may have been ONI, but he was crew and a fellow soldier, and 凯斯 realized he was screaming. 凯斯 had his pistol up without a second thought. As Kincaide seemed to turn in slow motion, 凯斯 pulled the trigger. He’d been aiming for the chest, but the first shot hit Kincaide in the shoulder. It spun the Insurrectionist back, and he struggled to bring the heavy plasma rifle back up to aim at 凯斯. 凯斯 shot him in the chest, then stomach, grazed his side, and then ran out of ammunition. He slammed into Kincaide, grappling for the alien rifle. “Damn… UNSC… pig,” Kincaide spat, still trying to force the rifle up into 凯斯’ ribs. “Go back to Earth. You don’t belong here.” The memory of the explosions in the cargo bay of Finnegan’s Wake, the flaming 鹈鹕运兵船 Jeffries piloted going down, wounded ODSTs gritting their teeth and bearing the pain as they waited for help, all filled 凯斯’ mind. He grunted and kept forcing the plasma rifle down until it was aimed at Kincaide’s feet. He pulled the trigger, and a burst of white-hot plasma destroyed the Insurrectionist’s leg and threw 凯斯 back, still holding onto the rifle. Concrete bubbled where they’d stood, and 凯斯 felt the legs of his uniform burning. He patted the fires out quickly, and looked back at Kincaide. The man had lost his left leg, blown clean off at the thigh. He’d been shot in the shoulder and chest. Yet he now had a small pistol in his right hand, lifting it up to point it at 凯斯 with determination in his glazed eyes. Without hesitation, 凯斯 blew the Insurrectionist’s head off his body with a burst of plasma. His hands shook. He’d never shot a man before. He’d shot at people, fired warning shots, practiced in drills, but never actually looked at someone in the eyes who was about to kill him, and beat him to the draw. Watanabe groaned, and 凯斯 crawled over to him. The plasma rifle had ripped through the ONI agent’s left torso, leaving a crisped mess. 凯斯 gagged at the smell. “This is bad,” Watanabe muttered. “Don’t move,” 凯斯 told him. “Stay still, don’t close your eyes.” “It hurts.” 凯斯 bit his lip. “Just hang in there, Akio. They’re on their way. We just need to hang in there.” Hansen fired three shots at someone in the stairway trying their luck. Watanabe grabbed 凯斯’ forearm and grimaced, then let go. 凯斯 looked down at the limp, dead body of Major Akio Watanabe. He stood up and grabbed Jason Kincaide’s headless corpse, dragged it to the lip, and shoved it over. He heard the distant thump, and a crowd of people shout in surprise. 凯斯 walked to the ledge and looked down. A fire truck had been commandeered, the ladder pushed up to the roof. Several hundred rioters milled below, many with plasma rifles. “sten up!” 凯斯 held up his newly acquired plasma rifle as he shouted. “Anyone else tries storming the roof, I’ll blow their damn heads off too.” He fired the plasma rifle twice into the base of the ladder, and watched with satisfaction as metal slumped and the ladder slid off the side of the building, falling over toward the crowd. Rioters scattered as it struck the street in their midst. “Now,” 凯斯 snapped the word out, in full drill sergeant cadence. He may as well have been talking to a crowd of new recruits. “UNSC marines are about to arrive any second. If I were you, I wouldn’t want to be standing around here in plain sight, lest they get the mistaken impression you’re hostile, and act accordingly.” 凯斯 turned around and walked away from the edge. “Look,” Hansen said, pointing up. Stars in the sky grew larger, twinkling brighter and brighter, until they could be seen streaking toward the building. “The cavalry has arrived,” 凯斯 said.


第十七章

Twenty single occupant exoatmospheric insertion vehicle pods came in high, ripping through the atmosphere, still glowing hot from reentry. Parachutes popped, enough to slow the 人类-sized capsules down a bit. Then at the last second rockets flared, lighting up the night sky in flames and thunder as all the SOEIV pods slammed into the reinforced structure of the roof. Concrete dust hung in the air, and chips off the roof clattered down as the pods split open and ODSTs leapt out with their battle rifles drawn. From the corner of the roof, in a pod that leaned precariously near the edge, one ODST hopped out. The SOEIV shook, and then fell off the edge onto the street below. The Helljumper pulled his helmet off. It was Faison. “Miss us much?” 凯斯 pointed at Watanabe, and Faison paused. “Damn. Didn’t like the spook, but still…” He pointed at two ODSTs and detailed them to wrap up Watanabe’s body. 凯斯 looked away and swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d seen too much death for one day. “They’re firing RPGs around. It’s probably too risky for 鹈鹕运兵船s,” 凯斯 said. “They took Jeffries out.” “We heard about them coming in,” Faison said. He looked around. “But don’t worry, we’ve got it in hand, eutenant. You saved our asses back on the Finnegan’s Wake, now it’s time for us to even up.” “I don’t want to see anyone else die down here,” 凯斯 said. “Magnus! 模板:Jeremy!” Faison shouted. A pair of very tall and bulky Helljumpers ran over. “Grab four spotters, get your gear in place where you two can do your thing. Start marking targets. But stay in the shadows.” “Yes, sir.” “And someone,” Faison said into his mic, still hanging from his ear, “please start tossing grenades down that stairwell.” The mob had retreated when 凯斯 threw the body of Kincaide over the wall, but there were gunshots coming from the corridor and the street as the mob worked itself back up. Two svelte ODST shadows meandered over to the side of the doors and skipped grenades down the foyer and into the stairwell. “Fire in the hole,” one shouted, just before a fireball gushed out the door. There were screams from the depths of the warehouse. 凯斯 switched frequencies to the marine’s open chatter. He could hear the spotters with their night vision and thermal gear muttering. “See the one out by that window?” “Yep, marked him.” “Okay, I got one on top of the building. North-north-west. Near the water tower.” “Sneaky. Yeah.” 凯斯 followed Faison over to an edge, where he held his helmet over the lip for a second, then pulled it back over and reviewed the cam footage. “Look at that,” Faison said. “All this excitement scared off the rioters. So, anyone left is an Innie.” “Perimeter secure,” a Helljumper reported. “They’re not shooting at us yet.” “Okay,” Faison said. “Bring on the decoy and let’s play find-the-RPG-launchers.” A 鹈鹕运兵船 with its running lights on came in slowly, passing them overhead, and swooping around. “Take out your targets,” Faison said. The two snipers, Magnus and 模板:Jeremy, were the focus now. Crack. The sound of an SRS 99 carried over the rooftop. “Got Mr. Window.” The pair of snipers had crawled onto the top of the small structure above the foyer, a building on a building. It gave them unobstructed line of sight to the surrounding streets and buildings. “Mr. Water Tower is… clear of the lattice…” Crack. “And he’s most definitely not going out to party tonight.” “Moving location.” One of them jumped off and sprinted across the rooftop, the long barrel of the sniper rifle bobbing. He set up on the corner of the building, the edge of the gun resting on the concrete lip. “While you’re huffing about, Mr. Street Corner is sighting on the 鹈鹕运兵船…” Crack. “And down.” Crack. “That’s the last one.” Faison made a circling motion with his hand. “That’s how we do it, gentlemen. Bring the other 鹈鹕运兵船s in.” Two 鹈鹕运兵船s descended out of the clouds and came in hard, slamming onto the roof. Hansen and 凯斯 ran up the ramps and buckled in; the Helljumpers followed. The 鹈鹕运兵船s dusted off, engines screaming as they zigzagged their way out of the neighborhood. An occasional zap of plasma-rifle fire rang in the distance. As the ramp shut, Faison staggered his way forward to 凯斯 and handed him a cigar. 凯斯 eyed the flaked exterior. “A Sweet William?” “Nothing but the best, sir. A victory smoke.” “A victory smoke?” 凯斯 looked over at Watanabe’s body. “We lost two of our own down there. Those rioters have 星盟 weapons, now.” “Sir, any day you come back from a mission alive, it’s a victory.” The Helljumper grinned. They were a different breed of soldier, 凯斯 had to keep reminding himself. They had to be. Packing yourself into a heatshield pod, braving the flames of reentry over a planet, and parachuting down into the middle of action, surrounded… that was a bit above the call of duty for a normal marine. 凯斯 handed Faison back the cigar. “I don’t smoke. It’s against regulations.” “Sir, I’ve seen you standing with a pipe, in the chart room, looking over maps.” His grandfather’s pipe. It was an heirloom, and 凯斯 kept it on him. It comforted him to have it in hand. An old habit. “And I don’t smoke it. But tell you what, marine, when I see a victory, I’ll smoke one with you. This wasn’t a victory, it was a cluster—” “It wasn’t a complete loss,” Hansen said. She stood at the center of the 鹈鹕运兵船, balancing as the craft shook and shuddered its way higher and higher. “The reason Kincaide was so set on eliminating us was that he realized he made a mistake. He told me the name of the next ship making a smuggling run while he was trying to bid up the price of the weapons. Said he’d done business with them.” “And the name of the ship?” “The Kestrel. These 星盟 weapons, they’re a problem, 凯斯. We need to figure out why the 星盟’s doing this. And we damn well need to stop it.” “Hoo-ah,” one of the Helljumpers agreed. 凯斯 folded his arms. The Kestrel. They’d hunt it to the edge of the galaxy if necessary, as far as 凯斯 was concerned. Someone was going to have to pay for all the deaths on his watch. “Sir,” the pilot of the 鹈鹕运兵船 shouted back into the hold. “Sir, 仲夏夜号’s hailing us.” The pilot’s voice had cracked slightly. Fear. 凯斯 walked calmly up behind the woman’s chair, even though he could feel the kick in his stomach. The pilot’s helmet twisted back. It had the name Carson stenciled on it. The 鹈鹕运兵船 bucked a bit as it passed over clouds, still gaining altitude. The craft was pitched up, aiming for the black of space. “The sensor stations at the edge of the system think something’s coming in. Something big,” she said. “星盟?” 凯斯 asked. “Know of any other fleets planning to wing by this place?” Carson returned to getting them to orbit, and 凯斯 stumbled back down the steep angle. “Are there any Navy ships scheduled to arrive?” he asked Hansen. She shook her head. “Cole is still out near Harvest. Mawikizi’s main fleet is spread out around Ectanus. There are three destroyers picketing—” “The Night’s main attribute is her stealth,” 凯斯 said, his mind rapidly running through some rudimentary plans on how three Destroyers and 仲夏夜号 could face this 星盟 fleet. So far only Admiral Cole and his battle group had ever scored a meaningful victory against the 星盟. And it was a loose secret within the Navy that Cole had thrown three ships against the 星盟 forces for every ship of theirs he destroyed. Midsummer Night and the three other frigates would be facing long odds. “If it’s 星盟, we’ll have to utilize that stealth for a defense.” With stealth, and the single MAC gun aboard the Night, a series of hit-and-runs could perhaps harass the 星盟 into chasing them, and lure them into a situation where the three Destroyers would only face one or two 星盟 ships. Hansen shook her head. “If the 星盟 are coming for Charybdis, your one frigate will make no difference. 凯斯, it’s vital you follow up on the Kestrel, find out what the 星盟 are really up to. It’s what your ship was designed for. We can’t waste it on a last stand.” “But—” “It wouldn’t be a wise use of resources.” Hansen bit her lip. “And the UNSC, every day, has fewer and fewer resources to spare, 凯斯. We’ve been fighting the 星盟 now for almost a decade. As of now, we’ve pretty much lost all the Outer Colonies. You need to find out what is going on. You need to go after the Kestrel. Before the 星盟 get all the way in-system and trap you.” It didn’t sit well with 凯斯, abandoning people to a doomed defense. He stood next to the ONI agent in silence as the 鹈鹕运兵船 broke free of the atmosphere. “After you drop me off at the orbital depot, tell Zheng to get clear. I’ll transmit the orders. You’ll find that I outrank you both.” “Yes, ma’am,” 凯斯 said. Hansen sighed. “And when you find your real victory, eutenant, make sure you smoke one of those Sweet Williams for me.” “We’re coming in!” Carson announced from the cockpit. “And fast. Captain Zheng wants us back on board ASAP.” Through the cockpit windows the long spars of a Navy orbital depot slowly rotated. Carson twitched the 鹈鹕运兵船 until it slammed against one of the spokes. As the back opened, 凯斯 stood straight and saluted. The ODSTs inside followed his example, not sure what was going on. Hansen saluted back, and then left the 鹈鹕运兵船. “Okay,” Carson shouted. “Hang on!”


第十八章

提尔·外达密 burst through a corridor at a full run and aimed a plasma rifle down its length. Nothing. There had to be more 人类s aboard this destroyer than the pitiful few who’d tried to hold off the boarding party. The angular ship with its sharp corners and boxy layout reeked of a larger contingent of 人类s. The Sangheili did not reholster his gun. A drawn weapon demanded blood, and one didn’t draw a weapon in Sangheili culture unless you intended to use it, even if it was a just a gun. So now it would remain out in his hand. Thel crossed another bulkhead and turned to his right. There it was, that scent again: a pungent smell. The 人类s. They must have retreated to a core area, deep inside the ship. Throughout this system his fellow Sangheili hunted down 人类 ships to destroy them, and the flagships of the fleet would now be raining the full strength of their energy weapons down on the surface of the planet. It was sterilization. A mandate for destruction handed down by the leaders of the 星盟, the three High Prophets. But Thel and his handpicked team were off on a side mission. To his right a team of zealots padded along with him, keeping a full 360 degree path of fire at the ready in case of an ambush. Their long, leathery necks craned around, their eaglelike eyes scanning the awkward nooks and crannies of the 人类 ship for the enemy. “Cowards,” Jora ‘Konaree hissed. Jora was one whose blood always ran hot, always ready for the fight and eager to rush a position. He sounded disappointed and frustrated to not have a direct fight to engage in. “They flee in front of us like panicked forest creatures before the flame.” An apt metaphor, thought Thel, considering that 星盟 ships rained fire down on the 人类 worlds. “Be cautious,” Thel warned. “They are small creatures, but they are not unaware of their disadvantages.” The 人类s would ambush them, soon enough, in some sort of last stand. He’d heard a few rumors from other Sangheili who’d boarded 人类 ships looking for information that they would fight hard, almost honorably. Or, at least, Thel hoped so. Hunting them down like vermin would be… demeaning to everyone involved. From past dissections of 人类 ships of this class, they knew the control center would be close to the front of the ship. A daring and brash position that Thel appreciated. They broke through the doors by tossing a sticky grenade at the seam. The grenade thudded into the gap and stuck in place. It glowed a sickly blue, then exploded. “Forward,” Jora shouted. The other three zealots—Zhar, Saal, and Veer—followed Jora and Thel through the ruined remains of the doors. Zhar, careful but constant and steady; Veer, a bored expression on his face but eyes darting everywhere, looking for details and oddities for his war poems; and Saal, like Jora, looking for anything to kill. They were Thel’s own small force, a band of fighters that had seen many enemies fall at their feet. Jora rushed through the room. “They abandoned their own command center,” he growled. Then he leaned over the alien computer consoles and tapped at them. The only response was sparking and fizzing: the consoles had been shot up before the 人类s abandoned them. “Useless!” He unsheathed his energy sword and fired it up in frustration. The two crackling, curved blue flames of energy rose up on either side of the hand holding the bar. Jora plunged it into the heart of the machine, sparks flying and metal oozing out around where the sword pierced it. The screens above flickered and faded. Jora pulled the sword out and cut the whole console in half, the energy sword cleaving it cleanly down the middle. “Savages with starships and toy weapons, Shipmaster,” he hissed at Thel, who watched the display of anger without any emotion. The barking chatter of 人类 gunfire ripped through the cockpit, and Jora’s armor flared. “Blood,” the zealot swore, as he ducked for cover. Zhar calmly turned and lobbed grenades down the corridor. “So they finally attack.” Jora’s mandibles split open as he roared a challenge down the corridor. Thel, though, already ran down the corridor at the attack. The 人类s had cornered them here. A smart move. Thel leapt through the smoke and chaos of the explosion, his armor dinged, nicked, and its energy shield flaring due to 人类 bullets. He shot the first 人类 he saw as he landed back on the deck. The second 人类, flush against the wall, spun to bring his rifle to bear. Thel was too close to shoot him: he snapped the butt of the energy rifle into the short alien’s face and watched it slump to the floor. Weak, very weak. The 人类’s insubstantial armor of olive clothing did little to protect it. Jora barreled through, sword high, and cut the third marine in half, but not before the man got off several shots, near point blank. Jora stumbled, and clutched at his armor. Thel threw grenades around the corner, angry. Jora might act a little crazed, but he was a hard fighter. Thel did not want to lose him. Thel waited for the explosion to dissipate, then rounded the corner, firing at anything that moved. Within seconds Thel and his boarding crew stood in the odd crimson pools of 人类 blood. Twenty men lay dead in the corridor, their bodies twisted, contorted, missing parts, or just plain destroyed. “There is nothing here for us,” Thel relayed back to the Retribution’s Thunder. “We are returning.” A shame, thought Thel. The 人类s had thwarted their mission to find data about their homeworld by destroying their computer systems before he’d even boarded. Twenty Unggoy filled the large, open space of the hangar bay. The Unggoy, like the 人类s, were short, bred too fast, and were individually weak. The Unggoy, however, wore triangular methane tanks and breathing masks over their flattened, squashed faces. Thel found them useless for intense fighting, but in large enough numbers they were very effective, so he’d left them to guard the boarding craft. The Unggoy were a part of the 星盟, and thus were to be used in the war against the apostate 人类s. But that didn’t mean Thel had to go out of his way to include them in the heart of his missions. As they jumped up into the long, pipelike snout of a boarding craft, Jora groaned. Thel and the others pretended not to hear. “Back on board,” Thel ordered the 星盟 forces in the hangar. The Unggoy grumbled about being moved about randomly, and about being forced to wear their heavy tanks and their itchy masks, but did as they were told. They streamed back up into the mouth of the boarding craft, stepping past their fallen brothers who had died as the 人类s tried to defend the ship. The boarding craft yanked away from the gash it had made in the side of the destroyer, shields flaring as it did so. Thel watched as the bulky, blocky destroyer fell away from them. Streaks of carbon ran along the side where they had fired at the 人类 ship. Most of the damage clustered near the ship’s engines. “It is strange,” Jora grunted. Everywhere the hiss and occasional wispy stink of methane filled the air in the boarding craft due to the lines of Unggoy staring straight ahead, trying not to be noticed by any of the five Sangheili. “What is?” Thel asked as the destroyer dwindled into the size of an eyeball. He nodded at Saal, who murmured into a mouthpiece. “The Prophets have demanded we destroy their ships, burn their worlds, and allow no heretic to live.” Jora held his side, and Thel noticed a trickle of purple blood seep through his fingers. “Now we search for information and sneak aboard their ships?” “The Path is strict, Jora—it brooks no deviation, no remorse. We are zealots. We serve the Way. These are our orders. We do not question them.” Thel saw the tiny destroyer suddenly light up as a long sliver of a plasma beam ripped into it. It exploded, chunks flying off in all directions, superstructure glowing hot and failing. “You do not wonder why our orders changed, Shipmaster?” Jora asked. Zhar, from nearby, looked up. “The Prophets, in their infinite wisdom, want to shorten this war. Maybe the Hierarchs did not realize these vermin were spread out in so many different places, like some weed. Now they urge us to seek the source.” “You think we have failed to find their home world?” Thel asked. “We keep finding more and more developed worlds to destroy,” said Zhar. “ke the one we just visited. What was it the 人类 Saal tortured called it?” “Charybdis…” Thel said. “The aliens called it Charybdis.” His split mandibles struggled with the word. It was an affront for lesser species to name an entire world. That was a right reserved for the powerful. Saal ran to them, his eyes wide with astonishment. “Shipmaster! Encrypted signal from 模板:InfiniteSacrifice!” Thel walked with him to a communications niche. A holographic image turned, startling the Sangheili zealot. Speak of the Prophets! Here one was. One of the Hierarchs themselves. The image was of a tired, ochre-skinned, and hunchbacked creature slouched over a floating antigravity chair, its head bowed with the weight of an enormous gold crown its long neck could barely support. “提尔·外达密,” it hissed. “You are to report to me aboard the ship 模板:InfiniteSacrifice. I have studied your intrusion attempts aboard the 人类 ships. I have a new mission for you.” The Hierarch leaned forward, and the image flickered away. Thel turned to Saal. “That was the Prophet of Regret. He has been following the fleet, observing the destruction of this latest 人类 world. He has a new mission.” “What is it?” Jora looked a bit awed by the thought a Hierarch had noticed them. “I do not know, but whatever it is, I am sure it will bring us honor,” Thel said. He looked at Jora’s purpled hand. The zealot would need medical attention soon, probably from one of the Huragok. That 星盟 species was obsessed with fixing anything. Yet even letting a Huragok work on you was a grave dishonor. It was the same as letting a doctor put his filthy claws on you. Thel sighed. Blood was your essence, your nobility. To spill it meant to lose honor, and Jora had lost honor with his eagerness and carelessness. Now he would have to let a doctor—a Sangheili warrior so low as to make his living slicing and causing other Sangheili to bleed without honor—tend to his wounds. That was a deep shame. Jora would be eager to prove himself again after this slip. Thel looked back at the glowing remains of the 人类 destroyer. It would be an honor to help find the world the pink, fleshy 人类s came from. And to reduce it to nothingness.


第十九章

The Prophet of Regret hunched forward, head bowed with the weight of his crown. The wrinkled wattle of his throat shook as he looked around the room at the many holographic screens that flickered in the control room buried deep in the heart of the 模板:InfiniteSacrifice. An honor guard of Sangheili surrounded the Hierarch, ready to kill anything that moved to attack the hierarch. Thel was surprised to see the Hierarch himself here, but Regret had always seemed to spend as much time as possible around Sangheili warriors. Regret admired the Sangheili martial prowess, rumors said. While most of the San’Shyuum floated about the holy city of High Charity and focused on their lives, Regret traveled with Sangheili battle fleets to see them in action. It was rumored that the Hierarch carried a sidearm of his own underneath the silk robes draped over his lap, and had killed acolytes who dared ask too many questions on the spot. One of the Minister’s honor guard, a distant cousin with obligations to Thel’s bloodline, had told Thel that the Prophet of Regret had come to his throne through machinations. That may have been true. Thel had his doubts—everyone was prone to gossip. And so what if it were true? The Sangheili were sent forth into battle by the mixed Council of Masters, a group of Sangheili and San’Shyuum masters who dictated war needs. But most of the fighting was done by Sangheili as the San’Shyuum remained on High Charity, the mobile world and heart of the 星盟. That was the nature of the 星盟 itself—the Sanghieli defended the Prophets, defended the holy objects. Meanwhile the Prophets deciphered the holy relics, doling out the technology they found and adapting them for 星盟 use. Their eventual hope was to unlock what the races would need to do to join 朝圣之旅. Much like the mysterious race of the Forerunners had done all those thousands of years ago when they disappeared from this area of the galaxy, leaving only their artifacts behind. It didn’t matter to Thel how the Prophet of Regret came to be one of the three hierarchs, because Regret was here, monitoring the fleet and talking to him. Regret nudged the floating chair he sat in closer to a grand conference table that swooped up from the floor. He threw a plasma rifle onto the table in front of Thel. “Pick that up,” he ordered. Thel froze. If he picked up the rifle, he would have an unholstered weapon out in the presence of a Prophet. The honor guard would be obliged to kill him. Was this some way of punishing him for failing to find data leading to the 人类 homeworld aboard the destroyer? Thel met the honor guard’s captain with large, brown eyes. The Sangheili shook his head in a snaking motion. It was okay. Thel picked up the plasma rifle. “What would you like me to do?” “Look closely at it,” Regret said, sounding suddenly annoyed. “What do you see?” For a moment, Thel saw nothing. It was just a normal plasma rifle. Then he spotted the small readout on the side. It scribed an alien symbol at him. 人类 script. “You see it, do you not?” the Hierarch said, looking intensely at him. “What is this?” Thel dropped the rifle back on the table, feeling unclean. It was forbidden to alter the technologies that the Prophets handed down. They were the holiest of gifts. “It is blasphemy. Heretical 人类 creatures touching and altering the holy gifts of Forerunner artifacts like our energy weapons… or anything else,” hissed the Hierarch. It navigated the floating chair around the table and pointed a hand and jointed finger right at Thel. “And I want you to find who is responsible for it. Find them out and destroy them. They have been found in 奇戈亚尔 black markets on High Charity. Supposedly they come from a system the 人类s call 23 brae, by way of 奇戈亚尔-run ships. One of my loyal deacons aboard a ship of theirs died transmitting this data to me. Ungrateful pirates.” The Hierarch’s voice had risen to a scream, even as Thel listened. He remembered 23 brae, he had fought there, on a world the heretical creatures called “Madrigal.” Thel dropped to a knee and fist in a bow before the Hierarch. “Your will be done, Hierarch.” Regret cleared his throat noisily; large fishy eyes gleaming as he stared at Thel. “Of course you will, my Sangheili warrior. Of course you will. That is why I asked you here. You will leave while we continue destroying 卡律布狄斯IX and go to 23 brae to hunt down this heresy.” He pivoted his chair, and said over his back, “You will take your own ship, but you will also have additional forces at your disposal. I have tasked Jiralhanae to accompany you aboard the 奇戈亚尔 raider A Psalm Every Day. They will help you with whatever you may encounter. And keep the 奇戈亚尔 Ship-mistress well in line. I’ve come to distrust their greedy natures more and more of late.” Jiralhanae? Thel blinked his large eyes, but dared not question the Prophet. The Jiralhanae were barbarians who considered themselves the equals of Sangheili. The Jiralhanae had once attained space flight and high levels of technology. But by the time the 星盟 came across them, they’d bombed themselves back into a state of barbarism. Why the Prophets regarded them so highly was beyond Thel. They had no culture. No refinement in their fighting. No thought about their bloodlines, copulating at will with no foresight or plans. They were not noble. But Thel bowed his head. “I thank you for your gift of troops and ships,” he said out loud. And he thought secretly to himself: I do not have to use them on this mission, they can simply come along and watch true warriors do their duty. He had just recently become a shipmaster, something he’d longed to attain ever since he’d stood on the stone walls of his keep and looked up at the stars and wondered what amazing things might be waiting for him up there. Now, with another ship and more troops under his command, the dream of becoming a fleetmaster seemed within reach. With a promotion like this, Thel would need to send a message home to the keep elders. He would have more wives brought to the keep. It was time for Thel to create more alliances on the homeworld. It was time to expand the rooms, and father more children to pack the common rooms. The line of Vadam would be continued in strength. The keep’s poet would add a line to the family saga, celebrating Thel’s furthering in rank. Thel would be the most renowned Vadam yet. The Prophet of Regret waved his hand. “Come with me, Shipmaster.” Thel loped behind the antigravity throne that Regret drove across the room to a massive wall-sized projection of the planet they’d come to orbit. “They left only three ships to protect it,” Regret mused. “You know why we fight these creatures?” “They committed a grievous sin,” Thel said. “They destroyed Forerunner artifacts.” He shivered as he said that. The Forerunners had left traces of the time they spent in the galaxy scattered across worlds and in space. These mighty demigods of the galaxy had been the forefathers of all the 星盟 knew, and they’d just… disappeared. But they’d left clues as to where they’d gone. A Holy Journey, to another plane of existence, using the technology of the Halos. So the Prophets taught, and the 星盟 existed for finding the Halos, and following the Forerunners on their holy path. But these 人类s, they’d found Forerunner artifacts, and instead of venerating them like all other species, they had destroyed them. Thel vibrated with religious rage. For that, the 人类s would pay. “It is important their heresy and desecration be punished,” Regret said. “So anything that distracts us from this holy duty, that itself, is unholy. And must be stopped. ke these blasphemous weapons.” “I understand, Hierarch,” Thel said. “I will stop at nothing.” Regret sighed. It spoke into its chair to the fleet commanders throughout. “Destroy this planet, and all on its surface.” On the screen, plasma roiled and grew on the sides of the 星盟 cruisers as the ships prepared to rain fire down upon the world the 人类s called 卡律布狄斯IX.


第二十章

UNSC FRIGATE MIDSUMMER NIGHT, OUTER 卡律布狄斯IX

Zheng stood on the bridge of 仲夏夜号, his hands behind his back. 凯斯 watched him pace as the screens lit up. All the bridge crew were on duty, and the junior officers stood at the back, looking on. “I called you all here to watch this,” Zheng announced, suddenly pausing in place to turn and face them, “because it’s important to remember why we fight.” 凯斯 swiveled his chair. Zheng had been averse to talking to the entire ship before this, slightly nervous. 凯斯 bet that Zheng knew what his reputation was. Or maybe Zheng was still damaged from whatever it was he was dealing with. Either way, he’d kept his distance, even from his own bridge crew. And everyone had been happy to keep their distance from him as well. Until now. Zheng looked animated. Angry. For this he’d asked 模板:Kirtley to broadcast his address to the rest of the ship. It was an interesting change. “Some of you joined because you had no other options, some because you were looking for adventure, and others because of patriotism. And since the first contact at Harvest, many of you out of a desire to fight the 星盟. “But as days pass, and the dreariness of daily life, cramped in this ship with your fellow sailors mounts, I know it can be easy to forget that we are, first and foremost, a weapon.” Zheng looked out over the officers on deck. “A weapon to strike back against all our enemies. External… or internal. Because if we don’t do our best, this will be a small taste of what is to come.” Behind Zheng the screens lit up with images broadcast from Charybdis. 凯斯 found his eyes drawn to the nearest, a scene from low orbit taken by a satellite. Far below, the sleek, sharklike shape of a 星盟 cruiser passed over the patches of land, and as it did so, everything underneath it glowed. The screen flickered off, jumping to a new scene: a shot from the top of a skyscraper in downtown Scyllion. What looked like shimmering rain fell from the sky, but wherever it touched the city exploded into actinic flame. Buildings melted, slumping over and then bubbling down into a lavalike mix of asphalt and concrete and shattered glass. The camera wavered as blue haze began to build up near it, and then it melted and static filled the screen. Another live feed, from far outside the city, showed the blue waterfalls of plasma strike the river, sending up a giant cloud of steam as it was vaporized. “They’re attacking,” someone said in a shocked voice. 凯斯 looked to the screen everyone pointed out, and saw tiny dots rising up to harass the bulbous-nosed 星盟 cruisers. They were about as successful as minnows attacking sharks, 凯斯 thought. Plasma darted out from the sides of the cruiser over Scyllion, swatting the tiny Charybdis defense fighters out of the sky like annoying insects. Maybe if they’d been more coordinated, 凯斯 wondered. Could a force of tiny craft distract a 星盟 cruiser long enough for someone to slip something through their defenses? He realized he was trying to avoid the death and destruction in front of him with academics, and forced himself to continue watching. One by one the screens turned to static, and Zheng waved at them. “This ship we’re chasing, it looks like it’s going into 星盟 territory, and we know it’s Insurrectionist. Working with 星盟. For all we know, they led the 星盟 to Charybdis.” 凯斯 raised an eyebrow. That was quite an assumption for Zheng to make. If the Kestrel had led the 星盟 to 卡律布狄斯IX, they’d gotten a lot of their fellow Insurrectionists killed here today, not just UNSC. Innies might be ready to die for their cause, but like this? 凯斯 thought back to what Jeffries had said about Zheng when they’d first met. Zheng had lost his entire family to the 星盟. Zheng had even been impatient about Watanabe’s mission. Now Zheng seemed to have been electrified into fiery, angry motion. “There will be a reckoning,” he shouted to the bridge crew. “We will throw ourselves against whoever was responsible for all this.” And behind Zheng the remaining screens shut down, leaving the last few images of the burned world flickering across everyone’s eyes. 凯斯 spotted Badia Campbell staring at the screens. She looked queasy. Zheng turned back to the empty screens, surveying them for a long moment, and then said softly, “That is all.”


第二十一章

The Prophet of Regret watched the surface of 卡律布狄斯IX melt from the firepower of his ships with grim satisfaction and heavily lidded eyes. He shouldn’t have chosen to smoke in his private quarters before coming out, but before attacks like this Regret always found a good smoke calmed his nerves. Energy rolled over the square buildings that the 人类s loved to cluster near one another on the ground. That made it all that much easier for the 星盟 to destroy them. Regret grew bored of watching the destruction of the planet, and turned the screen off. “You are dismissed. Go. Weed out the Heretics. Leave no stone unturned!” The Sangheili zealot blinked, and then bowed in that sinuously graceful Sangheili way. “Your will be done, Hierarch,” he said, and then left to pursue his mission. Regret sat in the control room, listening to the buzz of the ship’s bridge crew. The matter of the 奇戈亚尔 smuggling weapons rankled the Prophet. Only the San’Shyuum, the leaders of the 星盟 and its pinnacle species, could alter holy technology. To let other races control technology was a dangerous path. The 星盟’s cohesion was grounded in their shared need for Forerunner technology. It was their unified religion, their political structure, and the hub of all commerce. To pull out one major tenet of the 星盟 meant risking the entire thing crumbling. And Regret had not worked the last ten years of his life to watch the 星盟 die. He’d helped it face one of its biggest threats, with hardly anyone any the wiser, right before his ascension to Hierarch. Together, Prophets Regret, Truth, and Mercy had been aboard the massive Forerunner dreadnought that sat in the heart of High Charity, powering the entire moving world with just a fraction of its engines’ power. The dreadnought had come to life as the Oracle at its heart had muttered blasphemous, world-changing accusations at the Prophets. All triggered by the Oracle encountering information about the 人类s. This machine had accused the Prophets of mistranslating Forerunner documents, and misunderstanding 朝圣之旅. It claimed the very tenets of their religion were false. And then the Oracle had attempted to launch the dreadnought. They had disconnected it just in time. In that moment, Regret felt, they had saved the entire 星盟. Without the Halos to search for, the Path to walk, and the worship of the Forerunners who left their mark all over the galaxy, the 星盟 would fall apart. And the Hierarchs would not let that happen. So they turned that conflict into the annihilation and genocide of the 人类s. There was no room for negotiation or settlement. 人类ity would be the first species they had encountered that they hadn’t tried to absorb into the 星盟, as it was the source of the Oracle’s confusion. Destroy them, and the 星盟 would be able to continue Its holy search to follow the Forerunners safely. Nothing could detract from that. Not even these counterfeit weapons. Regret didn’t care that they’d been modified. The San’Shyuum happily pilfered Forerunner technology and modified it as they saw fit. What Regret cared about was that the weapons had been modified for 人类s, and that they’d been tampered with without the Prophet’s approval. And Regret wouldn’t stand for that—not from the Oracle, or from whoever was making those weapons. Regret turned the screen back on and looked down on the burning of 卡律布狄斯IX and watched. This was for the good of the 星盟, he told himself. Regret had only made one major mistake, he told himself. When the 人类s were first discovered Regret had assumed the world they’d been found on was their homeworld. But after destroying it, they’d found out that the 人类s had scattered across many worlds. It made destroying them all a lot more difficult, tiring, and time-consuming than Regret had anticipated.


第二十二章

  • MADRIGAL, 23 LIBRAE

The 人类s called it 23 brae. For the 星盟 it was no more than a series of coordinates, another star in a long series of stars that 奇戈亚尔 ships scouted out under their Ministry of Tranquility contracts. The 星盟 hoped to find Forerunner artifacts in these various systems. It was in one of these many 人类 places that the 奇戈亚尔 had found signs of a massive wealth of Forerunner artifacts, the Prophets said. They also said that instead of studying them and learning of the glorious truths contained in them about the journey all species could prepare themselves for, the stupid creatures had destroyed them. Cosmic vandalism, mused Thel, as the two ships skipped out of Slipspace next to the one planet 23 brae had in its habitable zone: the orbit not too close to the sun where it would boil its atmosphere off, or so far away that it would freeze. “Start scanning the planet,” Thel ordered his bridge crew. “Engage all sensors. Make the sweep through. Last thing we need is for the 奇戈亚尔 to lay claim, or the Jiralhanae to best the Sangheili in a task personally assigned them by a Hierarch!” Madrigal. Retribution’s Thunder fell into orbit around the planet that had once been inhabited by the 人类s. Just off to their starboard side the 奇戈亚尔 ship that the Hierarch had assigned to them, A Psalm Every Day, accompanied them. Thel’s lower mandibles twitched. The 奇戈亚尔 Shipmistress had come in too close. They could have collided thanks to her aggressive piloting. But neither the 奇戈亚尔 nor the Jiralhanae aboard would listen to Thel. They hadn’t so far. He’d asked them to keep their distance, but they acted as if he were going to cheat them of any discovery, or any chance to get into battle. Thel felt he would have been better off alone than saddled with A Psalm Every Day dogging his every move. Then again, maybe that was the Hierarch’s way of keeping an eye on him. Thel had a general feeling, from what he knew of politics on High Charity, that the Prophet of Regret was very crafty. Yes, this one probably didn’t just outright trust Thel, but wanted some verification. A Psalm Every Day was here to monitor him. Fair enough. “Nothing there,” Jora grumbled from his station as initial results from the systematic scans began to scroll through the holographic display. “It is as we left it, Shipmaster. There are no signs of activity. Our quarry could not have come from here.” The entire surface of the 人类 planet had been destroyed. Melted with plasma. Zhar grunted. “Their structures have deep roots. Is it possible they survived deep underground?” Thel shook his head. “I participated there.” Thel considered it briefly. “I personally saw to the destruction of their warrens in the capitol. I doubt it will become useful again in this Age. You may tell the Jiralhanae they may check the capitol for spoils… with my leave. Meanwhile, send a probe to finish the sweep, then let us move on.” “To where?” Jora asked. He threw the words out almost like a challenge. Thel eyed Jora. “This is a system. There is more than one place to hide. These are 奇戈亚尔 we are dealing with, remember.” Zhar frowned. “Asteroids?” Thel smiled. Zhar, ever the analytical. Hardheaded, but a hard thinker. He knew that the 奇戈亚尔, after leaving their homeworld, had chosen to settle out among the asteroids of their home system. It was what had made them so hard for the Prophets to ferret out while battling them when the 奇戈亚尔 had initially resisted joining the 星盟. “Yes. We will seed the asteroid belt with sensor buoys. We will leave no stone unturned.” Zhar nodded. “It will be done.” Thel leaned over. “Veer, would you do me the…” his voice dripped with sarcasm, “…honor of contacting A Psalm Every Day?” Veer nodded, and the three-dimensional image of Pellius appeared in front of Thel. The Jiralhanae stood eye-to-eye with Thel. Behind the giant, furred chieftain sat the 奇戈亚尔 Ship-mistress, Chur ’R-Mut, her lanky arms draped over her chair’s arms. He grinned his needle-sharp grin and the quills on his head twitched. Pellius curled his lip slightly. “What do you want? We’re preparing to land and search the destroyed capital city.” “You will not find anything there,” Thel said, and explained what he’d already told his bridge crew. The Jiralhanae chieftan looked disappointed. For a second. “You still search, though?” “Yes.” “Good.” And then the image faded away. “Jiralhanae,” spat Saal from his weapons console. “Uncivil and untrustworthy.” “So they are,” Thel agreed. “The Prophets in their inscrutable wisdom have assigned them to us. They are here to stay. Zhar move us out.” Without seeding the system with navigation buoys the ship’s own long-range scanners weren’t good enough to root out a hiding enemy. Unless something was moving around. To catch sneaking ships, they’d need to lay some traps. Thel settled into his chair, getting ready for the Slipspace hop they’d have to make to the asteroid belt, when Veer straightened in his chair. “Shipmaster,” Veer hissed. “Our long range instruments are detecting multiple signals. They are not even trying to hide!” Thel hid his excitement before them. “Where?” “The gas giant.” Not where he’d been expecting. But nonetheless, they had something! “Take us there,” Thel ordered.

Retribution’s Thunder poked a hole through space and time as the ship made the sudden leap from Madrigal to a trailing orbit just behind 23 brae’s sole gas giant. This was a great location Thel thought. Gas giants tended to have small rocky clusters both in front of their orbit and behind them—it was a natural place to hove his ship to and spy on whatever was going on near the gas giant. Retribution’s Thunder’s screens lit up with contact symbols. Alarms wailed as the crew scrambled for damage control and fire stations, and Thel realized he hadn’t been the only one with that particular idea. “Situation?” Thel barked. “They are everywhere!” a Sangheili shouted from the deck. “We are surrounded.” Thel whipped around at the outburst to look at the unnamed and slightly unnerved Sangheili. “Get off my bridge!” Thel turned to Saal. “Take his console. What do we face—numbers and weapons strength?” “My honor, Shipmaster,” Saal replied quickly. Thel watched the shamed Sangheili slink off the bridge, disgusted that someone so incompetent could end up on his bridge. “人类 contacts,” Saal reported. “But they do not appear to be warships. And they are not moving to engage.” “Tell Pellius to hold his fire and follow our lead.” Thel stood up and walked toward the screens, a long shipmaster’s cloak pulling off the chair with him. His ancestors had worn thick, doarmir-fur cloaks like this at sea to stay warm and dry on long voyages. Thel had made his by hand during a long recuperation in the Vadam Keep after a training accident the family had tried to hide. Thel remembered the shame of seeing his own blood spilled on the sand of the training ring in the courtyard, due to his own mistake. He recalled the faintness and the tall snowcapped mountains that rose above Vadam Keep as he pitched to his side. The family had a recently promoted shipmaster in their bloodline, and they had been loath to lose that particular honor. They’d secretly called for a doctor in the night and held Thel down by his limbs as he was operated on. Thel kept the cloak as a reminder to himself that he could make grave mistakes when he let his guard down. Mistakes like letting an inexperienced minor Sangheili aboard the bridge who panicked at the thought of being surrounded by 人类 warships. “Make sure that coward gets his rations revoked,” Thel said to Veer, letting his mind dwell on that particular incident now that he knew the ship was not in danger. “Maybe with a hunger in his belly he will find the hunger in his soul that he needs to be a real warrior.” “A well thought-out solution, shipmaster,” Veer said, and leaned over to send out the command. “Saal, report.” Thel gathered the cloak around. Be sharp, he reminded himself. Keep your mind open, and think sideways instead of walking forward into a pit-trap. “I… I have to show you,” Saal said. A complex set of scans appeared on the screens. Thel narrowed his eyes, then opened his mandibles in shock. “These are all asteroids,” he said. “They are all connected.” There were hundreds of connected worldlets. “This is unlike anything I have ever seen the 人类s do,” Thel said out loud. “There was nothing like it when the 人类 world here was destroyed.” “Perhaps they built it after that?” Zhar suggested. He looked intrigued by the scans. “You have to admit, that demonstrates some strong blood on their part, to remain here and build after the Prophets ordered them destroyed.” “Strong indeed,” Thel agreed. “But it does them little good ultimately,” Jora said. “Their blasphemy still cannot stand, and they must all still die.” “What bothers me,” Thel grumbled, “is that they have gone this long unnoticed.” “I think I know why,” Zhar said. He tapped his console, and before the bridge crew the long-distance image of a 奇戈亚尔 freighter appeared. It was docked against one of the many asteroids in the superstructure. A 人类 structure. “What new treachery is this?” Thel hissed. The 奇戈亚尔, pirates and scum, worked under contracts given out by the ministries. They were hardly loyal fighters; they had little nobility. But they usually remained in line due to the dual methods of Unggoy Deacons aboard their ships, as well as the contracts and payments the Prophets offered them. Thel could hardly believe what he saw. “Brace for impact!” Saal warned, just as the Retribution’s Thunder shivered, throwing Thel from his feet against a pillar. So the 人类s had found them and were attacking, Thel thought as he sprang for his shipmaster’s throne. The second impact stabbed through the heart of Thel’s ship, a violent, metal-boiling line of light that just missed the bridge. But this wasn’t 人类. 人类s employed kinetic or explosive ordnance, not plasma. A Psalm Every Day was preparing a second volley. It was very obvious that the plasma salvo was from another 星盟 vessel. Their own escort. “Traitors!” Thel seethed. “Evasive maneuvers!” “I have a firing solution,” Jora yelled, turning to Thel. “Permission to fire, Shipmaster?” “Fire at will! Saal tactical Slipspace, now!” But getting past the shock of being fired upon by their own escort had cost them critical seconds. Even as Retribution’s Thunder fired back, another salvo of blue plasma ripped through the heart of Thel’s ship. He could feel some of the engines firing, but they had been too slow. Sangheili double hearts could take far more acceleration than Jiralhanae or 奇戈亚尔, but the incredible random high-speed evasive maneuvers Thel had braced himself for didn’t come. “Status,” Thel snapped. He did not like the returning reports. They were venting precious air into space. The number of casualties was rising. Long range communications were down. fe support was failing. The last volley had taken their core engines offline, and their ability to generate plasma had gone with it. While most of their sensors were still operational, they could go nowhere and do nothing. Pellius appeared in hologram before Thel. The Jiralhanae looked pleased with himself, his large teeth bared. “A mighty shipmaster Sangheili, helpless before me. I shall savor this moment for the rest of my life.” Thel stared at Pellius and wondered where the 奇戈亚尔 ship-mistress had gone. She was nowhere to be seen on the bridge. “It will be a short life.” “Not as short as yours. Good-bye, Shipmaster.” Pellius faded away. “He has released boarding craft and Spirits!” Saal reported. “They will not have the Retributions’ Thunder,” Thel said, staring at the spot Pellius had faded from. “Alert the crew. Get in protective gear and draw the boarders in deep. Rig every section to explode. We will leave nothing to salvage!” “Shipmaster! A Psalm Every Day has engaged their slipspace drive!” Zhar said. “They’re leaving!” “Leaving?” Jora growled. “The 人类s are not likely to go anywhere as are we. He will report whatever his feeble mind can concoct when he reaches High Charity.” “They get the glory for reporting this structure and the 人类s hiding here,” Zhar concluded with frustration. “Cursed cowards,” hissed Jora. “The Spirits are approaching to attack!” “Where are their boarding craft?” “They are hanging back.” In the distance, the outer hull shook and shivered as Spirits flew up and down the length of the ship, strafing it. Thel broke the arm off his chair in frustration. “Those who wish to escape the ship may do so now.” It was a rhetorical statement. But it did serve one purpose: to weed out any dishonorable Sangheili who might falter by your side. Thel pressed his mouth parts firm against each other as they waited in silence for a handful of dishonorable crew to desert. Maybe they were serfs who had risen far enough to work simple duties aboard the ship, or Sangheili who’d managed to hide their lack of real blood. He waited for that, and for the 奇戈亚尔 to get bolder and try to board the ship. One of the screens showed Sangheili trying to escape aboard Spirits from inside Retribution’s Thunder’s hold, and the 奇戈亚尔-run ships fell on them en masse, overwhelming them. Plasma ripped out and filled the space around the ship, and it wasn’t long before the cowardly died in the vacuum at the hands of traitorous 奇戈亚尔. A fitting fate, Thel thought. “Fire the empty escape pods,” he ordered. They watched those get destroyed, and it strengthened their resolve to fight. To run was to die. Now the 奇戈亚尔 felt that they could risk boarding, with what seemed like most of the crew of the ship gone. Thel waited. Waited until 奇戈亚尔 swarmed the hull and trooped through the heart of his ship, and then gave the order. Explosions ripped through the interior, section by section. The smooth, bulbous lines of his ship flexed and twisted, and fire gushed out from in between the cracks, roiling up through the corridors. The air in the bridge heated up, and then rushed out. Thel found himself panting for air that no longer existed, and then a secondary explosion turned the cockpit inside out. Thel hurtled through the air and struck a bulkhead.


第二十三章

  • HESIOD, 23 LIBRAE

The Kestrel was a svelte smuggler of a ship, more engine than cargo bay. Even then, civilian engine technology didn’t hold a candle to what 仲夏夜号 had at its heart. 仲夏夜号 had been shadowing the Kestrel for almost a week. UNSC sensor buoys had been put on high alert on the edges of the system, and caught the Kestrel preparing for its jump into Slipspace. These were the same sensor buoys that had detected the inbound 星盟. Dmitri Zheng had thrown 仲夏夜号 on a ripping course out to follow it. Badia Campbell at ops reported nervously that the ship’s reactor was struggling to keep up. But the ship had been shaken out. No more pipes blew, or components failed. She’d gotten up to speed, closing in on the Insurrectionist ship like a shark slipping up from the depths on its prey. On their way out, they’d all continued to watch broadcasts from sensor posts scattered throughout the system of the 星盟 ships moving over 卡律布狄斯IX, glassing the surface. The mood onboard had remained somber and determined. The crew had been itching to fight, and now had to turn tail and run. No one liked it. But they had a mission, and they’d all had friends and family fall to the 星盟. Despite Zheng’s anger, many had gotten used to the dull pain of 人类 loss. Casualties mounted; they had for years. It had become a part of life for many. Now they were deep behind 星盟 lines, hopping through what had once been the Outer Colonies, sticking close behind the Kestrel as it seemed to randomly jump into Slipstream space. “We’re close,” 凯斯 announced. The last three jumps the Kestrel had taken made a line on the star charts that 凯斯 could use. Assuming that the jumps continued in their pattern, 凯斯 had run the charts. He posted the result to the bridge crew’s screens. Zheng took a look and frowned. “You think they’re headed to Madrigal? That planet was glassed by the 星盟.” “It could be where they make their drops,” 凯斯 suggested. He paused as his sensors showed the smuggler making another jump. He was right. The last several Slipspace jumps took them to the outer edge of the system, and then the Kestrel began curving its way in-system. 仲夏夜号 followed, invisible and silent. They coasted with the Kestrel all the way into the depths of the system. “It isn’t Madrigal,” 凯斯 announced several shifts later, reviewing the navigation data left by a junior officer. “Then what is it?” Zheng asked. “Where are they headed?” 凯斯 had astronomy data up on his screen with possible paths of the Kestrel mapped out. “There’s a gas giant, farther out. It’s called Hesiod.” They followed the Kestrel as it fell into an orbit trailing far, far behind the gas giant, but slowly catching up to it. “There we go,” 凯斯 said, upping the magnification on the view ahead of them. “Asteroids?” Zheng said. “Trojan asteroids,” 凯斯 said. “Most gas giants have asteroids sitting just ahead and behind their orbit in stable L4 and L5 positions.” “Makes a good hideout,” Rai spoke up from weapons. “The rebels at Eridani used the asteroid belt there and it made it hard to hunt them down.” The Kestrel slowed as it slipped into the cloud of rock. There was something wrong, 凯斯 thought. Dirtsiders heard the term “asteroid field” and thought of a large collection of rocks floating near each other. The truth was that asteroids lay millions of miles from each other. A slow-moving ship could thread through them easily enough on their way through a system. But this collection of asteroids looked just like a layperson’s idea of an asteroid field. Hundreds of asteroids had been moved within a mile of each other. 凯斯 magnified the image even more, putting it up on a wall screen the whole bridge could look at. The hundreds of irregularly shaped rocks jumped into view. “Looks like some of them are built up,” Dante 模板:Kirtley said. “Plus, I’m starting to get a lot of direct-line comms chatter. They’re trying to keep it focused and quiet, but I’m hearing it. Looks like we got ourselves an Insurrectionist hiding hole. And behind 星盟 lines, no less.” But something glinted between them. 凯斯 upped the magnification even further, and everyone on the bridge gasped. The glints were long, silver lines. As 凯斯 jumped the magnification up again, the gossamer lines resolved themselves into tubes. “They’re all connected,” said. “With docking tubes.” “If each of those asteroids is fully inhabited, this isn’t just an Insurrectionist hiding hole,” Zheng said. “It’s a floating metropolis… behind enemy lines.” They coasted in closer, staring at the spectacle of an asteroid field towed in closer, connected together, and hollowed out. Ships moved in between the rocks, and occasionally a burst of flame from a guidance rocket adjusted an asteroid, presumably so that it didn’t break one of the tubes. “Freeze that,” suddenly snapped. 凯斯 stopped the drift on the image. “Zoom.” He saw it too, now. “Is that a 模板:Jackal ship?” 模板:Kirtley asked. “That’s 模板:Jackal,” confirmed. She tapped her console and put a window up next to their live image of a 模板:Jackal ship taken from the combat camera of a Navy ship. Unlike the usual 星盟-made ships, the 模板:Jackal-made ships looked like last-minute scrap yard projects—girders, rockets, and capsules haphazardly joined together around a core unit. These ships were not made to even kiss an atmosphere, but remain in space. Zheng cracked his knuckles and stared at the screen. “Bring the crew up to ready, ops. Weapons, unlock missiles and arm a nuke. Comms, make sure you’re scanning and getting everything that’s going on.” , 模板:Kirtley, 凯斯, and Campbell got to work. “eutenant Campbell, set up preparations to destroy our navigation charts, as per the Cole Protocol.” Campbell paused, considered something, and then spoke up. “Sir, does it make sense? The Kestrel obviously has charts, and I’d bet other ships in this … complex have charts as well. We’re not making it any harder for 星盟 here to find charts, are we?” Zheng looked at the screen. “You’re right, eutenant. That thing out there, that’s just one giant Cole Protocol violation, isn’t it? But orders are orders. Ready the purge. Just in case.” “Yessir.” “Okay, 凯斯, bring her in nice and easy. We just want to swing nearby, nice and quiet, and see what intel we can pick up to bring back with us. But if things get hairy, be ready to get us the hell out.” “Aye, sir,” 凯斯 responded. Then he spotted movement. “They have patrols, it looks like. Moving around the perimeter.” “Let’s see how stealthy this frigate really is, 凯斯.” Zheng leaned forward in his chair. 仲夏夜号 moved closer to the tangle of docking tubes, asteroids, ships, dust, and debris trailing the massive orb of Hesiod.


第二十四章

  • PINEAPPLE HABITAT, THE RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE

提尔·外达密 and his bridge crew sat on the far end of a large cell. It was a crude thing: a hole dug out of the rocky interior wall of a hollowed out asteroid, with bars of metal over the front, some of which were hinged. Thel had seen medieval keeps with similarly built jails back on Sanghelios. In museums. He’d woken up with a horrific headache pounding the side of his temple where he’d struck the bulkhead. Not an honorable battle wound, or a way to end a fight, Thel thought miserably as he looked out through the bars. The 奇戈亚尔 had combed the remains of the ship, carrion sniffers that they were, and found the bridge crew alive. The rest of the crew had fought to the death, destroying the ship in the process. Thel sincerely wished they’d just left him for dead on his destroyed ship. But the 奇戈亚尔 had some plan in mind for them, using the Sangheili as hostages. Jora crept his way over. “I am beyond shame, my shipmaster.” Thel had been told Jora rushed the 奇戈亚尔 with no weapon, and they’d shot him several times in the leg. Now Jora was dragging the useless limb behind him on the cell floor. “I have snapped one of the legs off those useless cots made for 人类s.” He handed it to Thel, who tested the sharp end with a finger. Jora had worked hard to get the long piece of metal sharp. “Please,” Jora begged. “I have no honor left. I am crippled. I cannot face my keep.” If the Sangheili masters found out that they’d been captured by a lesser race like the 奇戈亚尔, or that they’d failed so horribly in a holy mission handed to them directly by a Hierarch, there would be dire consequences. Jora’s entire bloodline could be killed off. They’d hunt down his nephews and behead them. The genetic proclivities of failures, the planetary heads of Sangheilios thought, could not be allowed to continue on. But if Jora did the right thing, and killed himself before the 奇戈亚尔 could get any use out of him, or further sully his name and by extension, his line . . . well, his keep might fall in stature, but at least the line could try to struggle back up from its loss of honor. “Please,” Jora whispered. “You have been like a cousin to me. Please do me one last favor. I have not the strength to do it myself.” “Come and kneel,” Thel said. The other zealots in the cell faced away. It was embarrassing to see that Jora could not even dispatch himself, but needed the hand of another. But Thel remembered how Jora had thrown himself against the 奇戈亚尔. That had to count for something, he thought, as he stepped behind Jora. “May 朝圣之旅 await you, may your enemies writhe in hell, and your line continue forward, and gain honor,” Thel said to his boldest fighter. And then he slammed the spike into the back of Jora’s head. Jora slowly toppled forward with a sigh. “May your scattered body go,” Veer murmured, turning back around, “beyond the limits of your mind….” “Beyond the limits of our worlds,” Saal said the next line of the death benediction. “To the places our ancestors dream and sang of,” Zhar sang. “And the Prophets speak of,” Thel finished. The survivors clasped forearms. “You all remain alive—why?” “We want to study how to destroy the 人类s hiding here,” Saal said. “The 奇戈亚尔 spoke of ransoming us to our keeps. But Thel, you are kaidon of your keep now. Would you pay for one of your own captured like this?” Thel snorted. “I would sooner bleed on the ground than do it. You know this.” “Exactly,” Zhar said. Thel could see his tactical mind working. This was good. Set Zhar on a problem and he was like a warrior—he’d tussle with it to his last breath. Saal laughed. “The 奇戈亚尔 are idiots who pay no attention to us. They should have known to kill us where we lay; no Sangheili in his right mind would pay a ransom. That is a 奇戈亚尔 game.” Zhar turned to him. “And that is how we will destroy them. They are too far away to find this out so quickly. And our suspicions were right; we have heard 奇戈亚尔 say as much. The Jiralhanae who betrayed us are returning with the Shipmistress to High Charity where they can claim this find for themselves.” “And find favor with the Prophets,” Veer said. “But how is it that we’re in a 人类 cell here?” Thel understood what he was getting at. “The prophets will not like it.” “人类s and 奇戈亚尔, working together,” Veer mused. “There were 人类s here talking to the 奇戈亚尔 who dragged us in.” “They called the one 人类 Bonifacio,” Saal said. “You could smell his fear of us in the air.” “All we need to do is get out of this cell,” Zhar said. Saal walked over to Jora’s body and pulled the spike free from his head. “I have yet to see anything spying on us. This all looks like it was recently welded together on short notice to contain us.” Thel snorted in appreciation. “Roll Jora’s body onto a cot and cover it. Eventually they will want to know why he doesn’t move. Make sure the covers they gave us drape over where the metal leg used to be.” They had a weapon now. And a plan. Of sorts. Four Sangheili free would be a force to reckon with. And Thel did not, one way or another, intend to be recaptured. Now all they needed was an opportunity.


第二十五章

  • HABITAT EL CUIDAD, INNER RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE

Ignatio 模板:Delgado pulled at the handcuffs attached to the long chain until he was at the very end, and got a drink of water from a sink. It was a long drink. He used his body as a shield as he picked at a cotter pin holding one of the taps in place. He palmed it and stood up. He was being held inside a dingy factory. The dust seemed to cling to everything. Even the light beams from the windows seemed to ride in on floating clouds of dust. Bonifacio’s five pet heavies sat at a table with a deck of cards that fizzled and popped and lit up their little corner of the warehouse. The card game paused as he watched. The men gathered the cards up quickly, all five rushing to get things cleared off. One of the men stood up and trotted over as 模板:Delgado finished drinking water out of his hands. “What’s going on?” 模板:Delgado asked. The men had ignored him. Bonifacio had yet to return. He’d had no food, but he could drink out of the sink and use a bucket they’d left for him. “Your time is up,” one of them grunted. “The Kestrel’s back.” That meant Bonifacio had no reason left to leave him alive when he got back from wherever he was. The question was, since he was handcuffed here under Council’s orders, how was Bonifacio going to properly get rid of him? “The thing is,” another heavy added. “She’s got company.” 模板:Delgado looked around. “Company?” “A UNSC stealthed frigate. Some new design. It’s poking around the edges of the Rubble.” “How do you know?” asked 模板:Delgado. “Same way we know anything about them. We have someone aboard. They’ve been using a tight-beam laser to cast out messages to us, like where the ship is, what it’s up to. They’re getting ready to help us take care of the problem. “Once we know that’s solved and the Kestrel is safely at Mr. Bonifacio’s private dock, then we take you back to the Council.” The man grinned. 模板:Delgado did not believe what he said for a second. 模板:Delgado imagined they’d be on their way to take him back, and hand him over, but somehow there’d be a terrible tube car accident. Or airlock accident. That’s how people like Bonifacio worked. Four of the men were called away, leaving one heavy to sit by himself and forlornly guard 模板:Delgado. The lone guard only lasted about three minutes before he unfolded a small screen and started watching something on it. The sounds of tinny gunfire and screams from the movie echoed in the empty factory walls. 模板:Delgado retrieved the cotter pin he’d been hiding. He started using it to fiddle with the lock on the cuffs. The guard stared intently at the screen.


第二十六章

  • OUTER RUBBLE, 23 LIBRAE

There was an art to deciphering patterns, 凯斯 thought, looking at all the contacts the ship’s radar was showing him on a screen. And despite all the training he gave in his life he felt it wasn’t something you could analyze. Seeing patterns came to those with intuition. You looked for the gaps and cracks that opened up. 仲夏夜号 had slipped deep into the Insurrectionist structure. He couldn’t help but be amazed by it all. All these asteroids, all these connections. What a tremendous achievement. “Say what you will about them, this is a pretty slick operation,” Lt. Dante 模板:Kirtley muttered from comms. He was bent over, looking for stray chatter. “They’ve routed most of their communications through physical lines, there’s almost no wireless leakage. Makes all of this pretty quiet out here, Commander.” Commander Zheng checked the information they were all sending him. “The 模板:Jackal ship, eutenant. Don’t forget about the ship. These Insurrectionists are probably working with the 星盟—that’s how they’ve managed to achieve all this. I’m not inclined to be as charitable.” The radar contacts 凯斯 was following shifted with the ship, as if orbiting it, but from a very long distance. 凯斯 puffed the thrusters, gently moving them along a random line. The bulk of the cloud of freighters, personal ships, drones and other small contacts all shifted slightly. A slight sense of claustrophobia washed over 凯斯, but it was quickly quenched. “Commander, you better take a look at this,” 凯斯 said, putting the contacts up on a forward screen. “They’re adjusting their position based on our adjustments. I think we’re not as stealthy as we think we are.” Out of the corner of his eye 凯斯 saw Badia Campbell swallow a pair of pills with a pained look on her face. She looked stressed. Zheng double checked the time-lapsed information, then nodded. “I think you’re right, eutenant.” Campbell at ops disagreed. “We can damp our engines down further, alter our course and coast through. ghting up full to jump out of here will just blow our cover. We won’t be able to get back in this deep ever again.” 凯斯 disagreed, but didn’t say anything. The bridge crew had been tight. He wasn’t going to risk second-guessing anyone just yet, even if Campbell was being jittery. The decision was Zheng’s anyway. Zheng mulled it over for a second, then tapped the pad. “I don’t like it. 凯斯, light us up and let’s blow clear. We’ll observe from a distance. We can drop some drones and double-check the stealth there; maybe something is going wrong. It’s still a new ship.” 凯斯 had a rough line plotted out already. He double-checked it, and checked the engines. Ready to come on fully hot. They’d rip right through that school of slow Insurrectionist freighters to safety, 凯斯 thought, tapping the navigation console and getting ready. But then something in the heart of Midsummer Night exploded and the air in the cockpit rose in pressure, making 凯斯’ ears pop. “Ops!” Zheng shouted, turning to his side. “Report!” 凯斯 fired the ship’s main engines, looking to throw them clear while Zheng and Campbell figured out what had happened. But the engines wouldn’t fire. 凯斯 turned to Campbell, about to ask for a report. But Campbell leapt clear of her station and pulled out her sidearm. “Campbell, what the hell?” He hesitated for a second, not sure what was happening. So did everyone else. Badia Campbell pulled the trigger. She shot Zheng twice in the side and stomach as he started to get out of his chair. The loud crack of the gunfire stunned everyone into moving. 凯斯 jumped forward at her without thinking, as did 模板:Kirtley and . Campbell turned and shot low, getting the weapons officer in the leg. As Campbell raised her gun, she shot 模板:Kirtley in the shoulder, spinning him around. 凯斯 smacked into her before she could pull the trigger again. They rolled over the decking, Campbell twisting to get free and kneeing 凯斯 in the groin as he wrestled to grab her gun. He finally pinned her against the bottom of her console, using all his strength to hold her down. “Why?” 凯斯 asked. “You heard Zheng back on Charybdis,” she said. “He said he would destroy them. I couldn’t let that man in among the Rubble. He’s too dangerous. You know what he did with his own ship, lost his whole crew, just for the smallest chance to get his revenge. I can’t let him do that to us.” She was amped up on something, preternatural strength exhausting an already recovering 凯斯. Sweat beaded her entire face, and her pupils were dilated. “We will win, eutenant 凯斯,” she hissed at him. “One day, we will be free.” Her vicelike grip on the gun twisted, and 凯斯 fought her. But the adrenaline and drugs in her system left her crazed. She twisted the gun up between them until the point of the barrel jammed up against her chin. “Badia, please…” 凯斯 hissed, his arms shaking from the effort of trying to pull the barrel away from her chin. She pulled the trigger. The sound, this close to 凯斯’ face, was more than deafening, it washed through his skull and left it ringing. A red mist hung in the air underneath the console. Her jaw slackened, and her eyes glazed. 凯斯 rocked back, holding her limp hand and the gun. He closed his eyes, unwilling to look at the mess of blood and brains spattered across the deck. “Medic!” he screamed, trying to process what had just happened. But as he looked around, he realized the whole bridge crew had been shot by Campbell as she’d leapt forward. Campbell didn’t need help. But they did. He turned around to see Zheng crawling up into the commander’s chair, holding his stomach with one bloody hand, spitting even more blood clear of his mouth. had hobbled back to her weapons console, and 模板:Kirtley had cracked open a first-aid kit and rushed back to Zheng’s side. “Engineering!” Zheng croaked. “Update. What happened?” 模板:Kirtley sprayed biofoam on Zheng’s wounds. That would sterilize the wound, and the hardened foam would act as a firm bandage, seeping into the wound and holding everything together. It would do until the medics got to the bridge for something more thorough. There was a haze of swearing in the background, along with the clanking of crew running from place to place, as engineering crackled back in reply. “We’ve been sabotaged. eutenant Campbell, or someone working with her, put explosives on the goddamned fusion core coolant system. It’s a mess, sir.” “Can we fix it?” was all 凯斯 wanted to know. “Sir, she knew her business. The fusion core is going critical. We can stop it from blowing us up to hell, but we’re not going to get the engines back very quickly here.” Engineering got into spacesuits and opened the back of the ship. They started flushing everything out to the depths of space; the lack of air began extinguishing most of the fires and let them get to work on the damaged cooling system. But this was also venting heat and radiation into space. They were no longer stealthy in any sense of the word. They were as good as dead in the water. 凯斯 reoriented 仲夏夜号, realizing that they had only thrusters to work with. “We have thrusters,” 凯斯 reported, a bit relieved. He scanned his console for the largest asteroid. If he could get them to it and use it as a shield of some sort, he could buy them some time to fix the engines. “And weapons,” grunted. Commander Zheng groaned as he shifted. “Comms, set condition red. Battlestations.” 模板:Kirtley moved back to his console and tapped away, one-handed. More blood had begun to stain his uniform. Emergency lighting flickered on and the sirens yelped. “Missile crews stand by. Get the MAC ready,” Zheng ordered. He glanced over at 凯斯. “Where are you headed, eutenant?” 凯斯 explained his strategy quickly as they continued thrusting their way back into the rebel structure that Campbell had called the Rubble. He finished with, “We can just go right through the structure, buying time for us to get the engines fixed.” “Belay that,” Commander Zheng snapped. “Steer away from the structure, get us out into the open.” “Sir, with all due respect, we can’t outrun them. Lying about in the open like this… we’re too vulnerable,” 凯斯 said. “Don’t repeat the obvious to me, eutenant,” Commander Zheng said. “I’ve already had one of my core bridge crew shoot me. Now another is heading the ship deep into enemy territory. Please forgive my inability to trust your judgment right now. I don’t want to hand the enemy my ship on a damned platter. Take us out and away. Now.” “Yes, sir,” 凯斯 said. He didn’t like it. Not a bit. But he saw Zheng’s position. And he had his orders. 仲夏夜号 ponderously turned about, into a net of freighters and small ships moving in toward it around the very edges of the Rubble. 凯斯 flipped through the scans until he found the biggest Insurrectionist ship, and then wound 仲夏夜号 through the weave of docking tubes and asteroids out toward it. 凯斯 wanted to move them close to one of the Insurrectionists’ big ships. He wanted to get the rest of the smaller ships attacking 仲夏夜号 to stop for fear they might fire on their own ship by accident. A slim chance. But 凯斯 would take it. “Incoming!” 凯斯 shouted, as the world lit up. “Counter-measures deployed,” reported. The twinkling chaff had enveloped the ship in confused a handful of the missiles. The others penetrated the screen. The ship shuddered as they struck the hull. A second wave of missiles streaked in, and 凯斯 had the ship thrusting as close to one of the smaller asteroids as he could, almost grazing it. Missiles struck the asteroid, throwing up dirt and dust. “Good thinking,” said. 凯斯 looked over to Zheng, who had narrowed his eyes. “We’re not stopping, 凯斯. Full thrusters, get us clear.” The moment they cleared the asteroid the next wave of missiles struck. The ship shuddered and shook; damage reports started streaming in. They were taking a hell of a beating. And still Commander Zheng, now doubled over and clutching his stomach, had them limping their way out into the open. This was suicide, 凯斯 thought. He wanted to speak up, say something. But he didn’t. An order was an order, damn it, and Zheng was a good commander. A fast-moving blip ripped across the screen before 凯斯 could even call out. The explosion slammed 凯斯’ face into his console. When he sat up, blood dripped all over the screen. “That was a mass-driver slug,” 凯斯 said, wiping the blood away with the edge of his palm. “Pretty much like a MAC; though in this case, they use it for mining operations.” “It hit near engineering,” Zheng said. “They fire it again, we’re dead,” said. “We’re barely taking the hammering from their missiles.” Zheng closed his eyes, fighting some inner pain. “They’re working with the 星盟. I have no choice but to enact the Cole Protocol. 凯斯, destroy the navigation data, databases, logs, and anything related to them. You have the bridge. I need to get down to engineering.” Zheng painfully left his chair and shuffled out of the cockpit. 凯斯 accessed the Cole Protocol instructions. He found the virus needed to scavenge through the ship’s systems as a second line of defense. This was it, he thought. Once he started this, they were stuck here, no matter what happened next. He’d probably never see Miranda again. Never see another Earthrise over Luna. Another missile strike shook him out of those thoughts. They were dying here. He had a duty. Getting rid of the data might well protect Earth and the colonies. 凯斯 triggered the program, swallowing his nervousness as he began shutting down the nav station. eutenant was coordinating fire response, trying to keep the Insurrectionist forces busy and at arm’s length. But judging by the more and more frequent explosions on the hull, it was a losing battle. 模板:Kirtley caught 凯斯’ eye. “They’re hailing us. They want to talk to the commander.” “He’s on his way to Engineering.” 模板:Kirtley shook his head. “Engineering hasn’t seen him yet.” 凯斯 frowned. “Where the hell is he?” swore, and 模板:Kirtley looked frustrated. 凯斯 checked the progress on his virus. It was done. This ship would never get back to the Inner Colonies or Earth. “They’re saying they have more mass-driver shots aimed at us if we don’t kill the thrusters,” 模板:Kirtley said. “Patch them through, then, I’ll stall,” 凯斯 said. Just as he finished saying that three distinct explosions threw the whole ship sideways a few hundred feet. Bulkheads groaned. Metal screeched all up and down the ship. “What was that?” 凯斯 asked. “Nukes,” said. “Our own Shivas.” 模板:Kirtley leaned forward. “Got Zheng now. I’m putting him through to the Insurrectionists.” Zheng’s voice had dropped almost to a hoarse whisper now. “This is Commander Dmitri Zheng, of the UNSC Frigate Midsummer Night. I have just unleashed our Shivas. Remember, I could have dropped these into the heart of your structure, but chose not to. We have honor. I’m ordering my crew to stand down. I demand that you treat them fairly. That is all.” As he faded away, an engineer’s voice came from comms. “Sir, someone needs to get down here. The medic says Zheng’s bleeding out. He doesn’t have long.” 凯斯 stood up. “I’m on my way.” The last time he’d rushed through the ship, he’d gotten somewhat lost. By now he knew his way down the corridors, leaping through bulkhead doors and swinging into the next section with accomplished ease, sliding down rails and leaping up stairs in other sections. Engineering was a chaotic mess of steam, slagged metal, and activity. They’d repressurized the section, but the chief of engineering was at the center of a maelstrom of 人类 activity. Near the engineer’s operations center a medic crouched next to Commander Zheng, who sat in a pool of his own blood. The medic met 凯斯’ eyes and shook his head. “He hand-loaded the Shivas himself and shot them off, wouldn’t let anyone near him,” the medic said. “If you want something done, you got to do it yourself. You can’t trust anyone,” Zheng said from the floor. He held up a bloody hand. “凯斯… come closer.” 凯斯 crouched next to him and the medic, and Zheng grabbed 凯斯’ hand slippery tight. “Didn’t think I’d let any Insurrectionists get their hands on some nukes, did you?” “No, sir,” 凯斯 said. “I want you to know, I didn’t ram that 星盟 ship for revenge, like they say,” Zheng whispered. “No one said that.” 凯斯 glanced at the medic, who just waved his hand to indicate that he keep listening. “Yes they do. I rammed that ship because we had no other choice. It would have killed many, many more. I had to look at the big picture. I had to step outside the box and do what I could with what I had.” “I understand, sir.” “Maybe, 凯斯. Maybe. Just remember, don’t trust any of these people, 凯斯. 星盟, rebels, hell, keep an eye on your own crew. Look for the big picture. You take good care of my ship. Make sure they treat the crew well once they take them prisoner.” Commander Zheng squeezed 凯斯’ hand, and started to breathe heavily. “Move aside,” the medic said, as Zheng slumped over. “Defib!” 凯斯 looked at his bloody hand that Zheng was gripping as the medic tried to revive the Commander. “Sir, here,” the comms piece in 凯斯’ ear buzzed. “They’re boarding. The ODSTs want to know how to proceed.” 凯斯 swallowed. He was next in line. He was now in charge of the ship. All these lives. The mission. It had all been handed to him. This was no classroom, this was all the real front-line mess he’d been hoping to get. Well, he’d gotten it all right. They had no navigation data. They were outnumbered. Damaged. And dead in the water. “Tell Faison we follow Zheng’s orders to stand down. Spread the word.” 凯斯 felt numb as he stood up. “Give me directions to the nearest incursion. I’ll go meet the Innies myself.” It was all on him, now.

第三部分

第二十七章

Thel sat in front of the bars, his legs folded underneath him, watching the two guards. It was a modified warrior’s crouch, one that let a 圣赫利 rest with his legs beneath him, but in a manner that allowed one to leap up and forward in the blink of an eye. He’d spent long hours practicing with fellow students in the sandy training courtyards of the Vadam keep, learning the pose; now it came as second nature. The short, shuffling 昂苟伊 that guarded them carried a plasma rifle too large for its frame, and Thel caught the trace whiffs of methane that leaked from around the guard’s mouthpiece. The 昂苟伊—an annoying lesser being—was careful to remain as close to the far wall and as far away from the bars as possible, rightly fearing the 圣赫利’s long limbs. But that didn’t stop the 昂苟伊 from taunting them and puffing itself up. “Look, you mighty 圣赫利. Look you not so mighty now, eh?” Thel growled from somewhere deep in the back of his throat. “You ignore the 昂苟伊, yes. Throw us to die at your feet. Don’t care when other races take advantage of poor 昂苟伊. No more. Wait until you are taken to Metisette, then see you our might.” Thel looked over at Zhar. “Might?” “昂苟伊 might is a contradiction in terms,” Zhar grumbled. “So think you,” the 昂苟伊 hissed. “Just you wait. Just you wait.” “What’s this Metisette? That is the second time I have heard that word,” Zhar observed. “The 奇戈亚尔 who locked us in here mentioned it.” Thel took a deep breath. “It is the human name for a world around the great gas giant.” His calves burned somewhat, now. But he waited still. Just under his feet, hidden by his crouch, was the long spear of metal. Using the edge of the bedframe, and their own strength, Thel and Saal had taken turns sharpening it further. They’d also cut rudimentary barbs into the spike by shaving out sections of the crude weapon. Now it was a case of choosing the best moment. Thel didn’t want to waste their one attempt. This cell, they had determined, was in one of the far edges of what Zhar had heard the humans call “模板:Rubble.” Though the 奇戈亚尔 and humans were working together, this was mainly a human creation. Before Thel’s thoughts meandered further, the walls shook and debris began breaking loose. The bars of metal holding them in started bowing and screeching as they were tortured into slightly different shapes. Lights flickered, and Thel still remained absolutely still, like a helioskrill imitating a rock back on the home planet, just watching for a meal to unsuspectingly walk by. As the cell plunged into darkness, Thel felt his weight lift off as the antigravity generators failed. He picked up the spear, the end of it tied off to several lengths of tightly braided sheet strips, and listened. He could hear the 昂苟伊’s panicked breathing and the hiss of the methane tank as he struggled in the air. The spear flew out from between the bars and made a wet, crunching sound as it struck the 昂苟伊. Thel gave the impromptu rope a quick yank, and the screaming 昂苟伊 was pulled right into the bars. Zhar and Saal waited there. Their long arms snapped the 昂苟伊’s neck and quieted it. Saal retrieved the plasma rifle as Thel pulled the makeshift spear out of the 昂苟伊 and shoved the body away. Bright blue blood hung in the space, expanding into large globules as the 昂苟伊 slowly spun in the air. “Get the lock,” Thel ordered. After bracing himself against the far wall, Saal fired at the lock three times. Plasma blew the device away into a cloud of molten metal rivulets that flew across the room, sizzling against 昂苟伊 skin and slapping into the wall. The four 圣赫利 pushed the cell door open and floated out as the lights flickered back on. They hit the floor, along with dried metal beads and the 昂苟伊’s limp body. Blood splattered the floor a split second later. Zhar looked around the room, blinking as his eyes adapted to the overly bright human lights. “They brought us in over there.” He jutted his mouthpieces in the direction of a corridor. Thel moved with the spear, taking point. The 奇戈亚尔 still here would deeply regret jailing him, he thought, as he turned a corner and spotted one of them standing by an airlock door. Thel sprinted the length of corridor, caring little for stealth. The 奇戈亚尔 spun, a protective shield flaring up by his forearm, but Thel struck so hard the 奇戈亚尔’s head smashed into the bulkhead behind him, and he drooped to the ground. Saal peered in through the window briefly, then pulled back. “More inside,” Saal grunted. “But they seem preoccupied.” Thel looked at the door controls, regretting his impulse to kill the 奇戈亚尔 guard so quickly. The collection of buttons that the humans used to control things stumped him. But he managed to tap a large green button that cycled the door open. The 奇戈亚尔 all turned and found themselves facing Saal with the plasma rifle aimed right at their heads. “Remember us?” Saal said, and pulled the trigger. Long 奇戈亚尔 faces exploded as Saal calmly shot all four in the head over their screeches of fear and rage. “And that,” Veer said, stepping over the bodies and closing the airlock door of the ship behind them, “is why you never imprison 圣赫利; you execute them.” The walls and seats were splattered with bright purple blood. Thel looked around with satisfaction. “That is a good start,” he said, a pleased rumble in the back of his voice. “Throw the bodies out.” Now it was time to find out what the 奇戈亚尔, humans, and 昂苟伊 were up to. And make them all pay.


第二十八章

The Petya’s alarms sounded. bolted for the cockpit, where 麦克 was already strapping in. In the far distance a bright flash receded, a glowing ball of excited trace gases in the vacuum of space that had been disturbed by an explosion’s shock wave. “That’s a Shiva,” 麦克 said, reading off the monitors. “Probably three, actually.” “Nukes? Who’s nuking 模板:Rubble?” 阿德里亚娜 asked. “Us,” 麦克 said. “There’s a UNSC ship in system. Some sort of stealthed ship.” “Prowler? ONI coming around to check up on us?” wondered. 麦克 shook his head, half of which was covered in shaving cream—he’d been in the head when the alarms flashed. “Would have piped us a message by now. No, this is fleet. Looks like a frigate on the long-range.” “One of our own,” 阿德里亚娜 said. “Getting the crap kicked out of it,” said. 阿德里亚娜 nodded. “Look at all those ships surrounding it. What the hell were they thinking?” “Arm us up. Let’s get in there and see if we can help,” said. “Too many ships,” 麦克 said. “I don’t have enough explosive surprises to get those guys off its tail. Plus, I’m seeing a bunch of them moving in to board it. That’s a death trap, .” hit a console with his fist, leaving the imprint in the metal. “Easy, cowboy,” a female voice that wasn’t 阿德里亚娜’s said. whirled to find Juliana’s image appearing at navigation, her large eyes regarding his. It’s just a simulation, he told himself. Those eyes can’t see, like they almost seem to right now. The AI spread her arms. “I can help your UNSC friends; you can’t. 麦克 is correct. They’re surrounded. They fell into a trap. One of their bridge crew was a sympathizer who signaled the ship’s location. They’re being taken to temporary holding cells.” “And after that?” asked. “After that, well…” Juliana folded her arms. “If they followed instructions, I doubt they have working navigation data. Which means they’re no major threat. They’ll be left to live. If they aren’t, I’ve threatened to stop working for 模板:Rubble. They need me too much to ignore that. It all falls apart without me.” glanced at 阿德里亚娜 over the top of the AI’s image. 阿德里亚娜 smiled back. “I will look after this,” Juliana continued. “I’d like you to go look after Ignatio 模板:Delgado. I’ve sent 麦克 the coordinates.” “阿德里亚娜’s pet Insurrectionist? Why?” walked over and sat in front of the AI. “He’s in a spot of trouble. And we need him because, while I can spy on him and monitor his movements, he’s been quite canny about keeping the navigation data hidden even from me. I think he fears you might hack me.” Juliana cackled at the thought, then stopped abruptly, looked around, and continued. “I think at this point, 模板:Delgado may give you the data for safekeeping.” “Why is that?” 麦克 asked, eyes narrowed. The AI smiled and shrugged. “Call it a hunch,” she told the team of Spartans. And then she flickered off. frowned. “I don’t feel like being some AI’s errand boy.” 麦克 raised his hand. “Yeah, she’s also holding back on us.” “How’s that?” moved to his side. “The ship the dockworkers were passing rumors about, that was coming back from the colonies, was the Kestrel, remember? Well, it’s out there now. The chatter is that the UNSC ship came in after it. Took me a bit to find her…” slapped him on the back. “Damn good. We go for the Kestrel, knock her engines out when she docks.” “And 模板:Delgado?” 阿德里亚娜 asked. “He’s the next navigation puzzle.” “Once that smuggler’s out, we snatch 模板:Delgado for the AI.” smiled. Everything was coming to a head now. It was time to move. 麦克 stood up and nodded. Gray Team was on the same page. “Your pet AI? , I think maybe it just likes you,” 阿德里亚娜 said as she turned around to go back to where their Mark IV MJOLNIR armor waited on brackets. and 麦克 followed. “You’re just jealous,” 麦克 said, as they stopped in front of the armor. “But then, we both seem to be making friends out here. Shame doesn’t seem to have the social knack.” “Idiots,” said. “We’re not supposed to be making friends.” “But it’s so much more fun.” 麦克 grinned. 阿德里亚娜 chuckled, then looked at the armor waiting in the gloom for them. “Get the feeling we’re going to be spending a lot of time in our second skin?” reached a hand up and caressed the gray exterior. Yes, he did have that feeling. Things were past that tipping point where you felt you could still back away and lie down in the grass and just observe. No, someone had tossed grenades into the anthill. It was time to jump in and participate. Back in action.


第二十九章

Thel grumbled happily. They’d taken the 奇戈亚尔 shuttle out farther away from 模板:Rubble, slowly scanning the area until they’d found a larger 奇戈亚尔 transport ship on its way to Metisette. They boarded it, fast and quick, before the few 奇戈亚尔 on board had even realized what had happened. On board were several hundred 昂苟伊. The 奇戈亚尔 had been in charge, but didn’t have the numbers to run their own ships. Now the 奇戈亚尔 were dead. But the 昂苟伊 had run the ship for the 奇戈亚尔. That made them useful. They were willing to work for Thel and his crew, or so the cowering 昂苟伊 Deacon said as Thel stood on the purple-stained bridge. “It would be the Prophets’ will,” the Deacon yelped. “It would be,” Thel said from behind the 昂苟伊. “We are on a direct mission from a Hierarch.” The 昂苟伊 waddled about, shifting its mouthpiece, to face Thel. It looked up and spread its arms out. “I do not question. I serve. That is our fate,” it moaned. Thel couldn’t care less for 昂苟伊 self-pity. “Tell your crew this ship flies where we command, or we will slaughter every last one of you. Saal will go down to engineering and watch over you. Veer will roam the corridors.” Veer growled, and the 昂苟伊 backed up. “Sirs! We will do our ship duties! Doubt us not.” Thel turned to Veer and Saal. “Be wary. The slightest notion the 昂苟伊 are playing games, hold nothing back.” Veer and Saal grunted affirmatively and walked out of the cockpit. The deacon turned to go, but Thel held up a hand, and the 昂苟伊 froze. “What is down there, 昂苟伊?” Thel asked. He pointed at the image of the planet on a screen at the front of the cockpit. It was Metisette. Its sickly, yellow-orange-colored atmosphere swirled; thick, cold storms lashed the icy surface. The 昂苟伊 stared at them, saying nothing. Thel turned back to the screen and folded his arms. “Zhar, my closest advisor, didn’t want to come here. He wanted to turn this transport right around to attack the 奇戈亚尔 ship docked by the humans, and take that right back to High Charity so we could warn the prophets about the Jiralhanae treason.” “A noble choice,” the 昂苟伊 said. “It is not,” Thel said. “We were captured, and jailed. When we return, we will be lucky if we hold our titles, if not our very names.” The 昂苟伊 trembled at Thel’s anger. “What is your name, Deacon?” “Pipit,” the 昂苟伊 replied. Thel folded his arms. “Pipit, one of my ancestors, a kaidon of Vadam, lost a war to one of the keep’s bitter rivals. The new kaidon put my ancestor in the cellars, jails where the defeated were left in the most dishonorable manner imaginable. They were fed scraps, and visited by the invaders to be mocked and laughed at. The most honorable among the jailed killed themselves or each other. “The kaidon escaped after weeks of starving. He had become so thin he could pull himself through the bars of his window looking out over the Vadam keep cliffs. He scaled the cliff, and swam down the river, all the way to the valley. “The kaidon walked for many days, eating vermin and scraps, becoming lower than low, until he came into the vast deserts that lie in the interior of all our lands. And out there, after wandering for many years, built his strength, his hardness, and made allies from other wanderers. They were the least of the least, yes, but with a will to fight, and a will to live no matter the odds. “With this new tribe, my ancestor returned to Vadam keep and scaled the walls. He killed his enemies all, throwing their bodies to the river. It is said that it ran purple with blood for a week. And when the kaidon was done killing his enemies, he opened the jails and killed the Vadam who had been cowardly enough to remain alive in them. That was my kaidon. That is Vadam. Our blood was forged in the desert, confirmed in the keep that day, and purified through Kaidon Ther’s experiences. So it is carved on the Vadam saga wall.” Thel looked over at Zhar, who asked, “Shipmaster, do you have a point to retelling a stanza of your family’s saga?” Thel sat down in the shipmaster’s chair at the center of the cockpit. “I can hardly turn my back on my lineage, can I, Zhar? I will not return to High Charity with a lost ship, knowing we were locked up by 奇戈亚尔, and little knowledge of what is happening here. I would be no better than the jailed 圣赫利 that Ther executed for being useless.” “It was a suggestion. An option,” Zhar said. “But it is not an option, as we are 圣赫利.” Thel now turned back to Deacon Pipit. “So you understand, 昂苟伊? We are here to stay. I ask you, again, what is on Metisette?” “Dreams,” Pipit sighed. “Do not play word games,” Thel growled. “Be plain.” “When commanders need fighters, 昂苟伊 are ordered to breed and expand. Then we die in great numbers. 昂苟伊, you all say: do this, do that. Some dream of free,” Pipit explained. “And though we hate 奇戈亚尔, this one named 模板:Reth, high commander, says to those 昂苟伊 that they can come to Metisette. Come, build a home. Help change this moon so it becomes a place you can live where the methane is free in all the air. Breed free.” Zhar started to laugh. “And you believed this… 模板:Reth?” Pipit looked up, beady red eyes squinting in anger. “奇戈亚尔 always betray, yes, but the opportunity…” The alien shrugged. Thel looked down at the fatalistic little alien. “So Metisette has methane in the air that you can breathe.” “A place for 昂苟伊,” Pipit said. “A safe place, where we can live without interference, without controls on our population that are imposed from on high. Where we can walk around without these chafing harnesses and breathing tanks.” “An 昂苟伊 paradise,” Thel muttered. “Where you can breed until you overrun the entire place.” The 昂苟伊 were well-known to reproduce like mad. During peacetime the Prophets monitored their population closely; the 昂苟伊 had never cared for that. And even though they hated the 奇戈亚尔, it made sense that the 昂苟伊 had jumped at the chance in this strange sequence of events to gain a world of their own. Thel scratched his lower mandibles. Saal called Thel over the intercom. “They have our infiltrator harness here,” he said. “In their storage bay. The 奇戈亚尔 stole it from our ship!” Thel stopped scratching as he thought about the news. “We have a change of plans. Take the armor down to the 奇戈亚尔 shuttle. Get the shuttle warmed up as well. We are going down.” “Into that murk?” Zhar protested from nearby. “Yes. Zhar, the Prophets unleash the 昂苟伊 to breed whenever there is a war; they stop mixing antibreeding hormones into the methane supplies. Now we have a renegade 奇戈亚尔 breeding 昂苟伊. I think this ‘模板:Reth’ is creating an army on the surface of Metisette for himself.” “So we are going to see for ourselves?” Zhar snorted. “I want to talk to 模板:Reth,” Thel said simply. “Why?” “If he is in charge of Metisette, he knows what is going on with the humans and the 奇戈亚尔 working together. And he knows about the betrayal of the Tiralhanae. 模板:Reth knows things we need to know.” “And he is surrounded by hundreds of 昂苟伊,” Zhar noted. The deacon cleared his throat. Thel turned to him, and Pipit said, “Not hundreds.” Thel waited a moment. “Thousands?” Pipit still bobbed his head. “Tens of…” but already the alien had shaken its head again. “Hundreds?” Now Pipit nodded eagerly as Zhar swore. 模板:Reth had quite an army at his disposal. This would make getting to him a lot more difficult. But Thel smiled. “We have our infiltrator harness back.” That gave them an edge. They were not just 圣赫利, but well armed, well armored, and also invisible 圣赫利. Like his ancestor Ther, the ancient kaidon, Thel would come back against great odds, swarming into the middle of his enemy before they even knew what had happened. “Get us ready, Zhar,” Thel ordered. “We are going down there. Pipit, Veer will take over while we are gone; you will help him. Give us the coordinates to 模板:Reth. And if you deceive us, Veer will be here to make sure you suffer immediately for it.” Pipit nodded and, in a voice that seemed to crack, gave Zhar the necessary coordinates. “Thank you, Deacon.” Thel looked around. “You will also need to have an 昂苟伊 pilot meet us at the shuttle, Deacon. Talk to the 昂苟伊 down there on Metisette, tell them you had an accident aboard, and need to be resupplied with methane for 昂苟伊 to breathe.” With that done, Thel stalked off the bridge with Zhar close behind. “Three of us against hundreds of thousands of 昂苟伊,” Zhar said. “The little ones will cower with fear and run from us in floods,” Thel proclaimed as they thudded down the corridors. Zhar laughed. “You are confident.” “I am 圣赫利,” Thel said. “This is what we are.”

They crammed into the tiny shuttle. Spec ops armor lay on the benches where 昂苟伊 would have lined up and sat. Now there was only one 昂苟伊, a terrified pilot who remained strapped in and staring at the 圣赫利 in terror. Thel felt the warmth that came to him when he had a direct plan. “Take us down, Saal.” Once they’d broken through the worst of the deceleration in the upper atmosphere of Metisette, Thel unstrapped himself and walked back to don his spec ops armor, and helped Zhar with his. The shuttle shook and rattled its way through the thick atmosphere, but they remained balanced on their feet easily enough. Once suited up, Zhar flicked the armor on, and faded away into invisibility. “It works,” Thel said. Then tested his own. Zhar and Saal switched places. As Saal struggled into his armor alone and Zhar flew the shuttle in, Thel walked up to the edge of the cockpit to look down. Nothing but thick orange clouds and haze—at least until they broke out under the clouds to fly over a jagged, ice-cold landscape whipped by constant storms. Zhar banked them slowly through the orange murk toward a massive crater. As they flew across it the sides reached up like distant mountains, and Thel could see a massive lake at its center. In the distance stood what looked like a keep, straddling a giant river of liquid that tumbled over the edge of the crater down to its floor. The keep was ramshackle, made out of parts of old, ruined ships that had been rudely deorbited and landed near the lip of the immense waterfall. But it stood high with additions that had been built in between the spaceships’ hulls, with tubes and domes that hung like carbuncles pocking the rock faces and rising above the river. Thel saw that it could house hundreds of thousands. Elevators ran down along the sides of the thousand feet of waterfall to structures around the giant lake. Metisette wasn’t a world one could breath in. Its mostly nitrogen atmosphere would leave 圣赫利, or 奇戈亚尔, or most races with nothing to breathe. The liquid on the very cold Metisette was methane. Thel watched as a stream of it fell off the lip of the crater. Methane mist hung strong in the air all throughout the natural valleys and low areas of the crater, thanks to the falls. “Giant reactors heat the land all around the crater,” the pilot spoke up, pride suddenly more powerful than its fear of the 圣赫利. “It makes more of the mists.” Zhar skimmed the lake and approached the falls. The shuttle hit the mists, and then rose up near the falls, pressing Thel against the seat. “We pop over the edge and land, Zhar,” Thel shouted. “Make sure your armor is tight, Saal. It will give us air until we are inside the structure. If 模板:Reth is breathing and 奇戈亚尔 are in there, then we will be okay. “If there is only methane, we go in as far as we can before coming back. Zhar stays with the shuttle, hiding, as this 昂苟伊 has the other 昂苟伊 load up our shuttle with tanks of methane.” Thel watched the remains of a large 奇戈亚尔 merchant ship appear over the lip, and Zhar arced over it into a large landing area marked out in plasma-melted rock. As soon as the shuttle touched rock, the three 圣赫利 activated their camouflage and flickered and vanished. Zhar sat across from the 昂苟伊 who was supposedly piloting the shuttle, and Thel and Saal jumped out the back of the shuttle. The 昂苟伊 pilot had not lied—the land here was bitterly cold to Thel, but it was tolerable. Like an arctic waste. Not nearly as cold as the rest of the moon. Silent ghosts moving through the orange murk that hung in the air, they maneuvered across the field, keeping well clear of the 昂苟伊 who waddled out across the landing pad toward the shuttle, barking and shouting in their language. Thel kept an easy lope going, covering the ground so fast that any 昂苟伊 who noticed a wavering in the air would surely shake their heads and dismiss it as a trick of the light. They slipped in through a series of giant airlocks, where 昂苟伊 still had to wear their harnesses and tanks. Thel looked around. “This is 奇戈亚尔 territory,” he whispered to Saal. It made sense that the lesser aliens were here in a re-purposed old ship, mounted near the lip of the falls. It made for a commanding view, because although the 昂苟伊 felt like this was their world, Thel would imagine that the 奇戈亚尔 saw it differently. Saal found a lone 昂苟伊, and an empty room in the back of what had once been the large hangar bays of the 奇戈亚尔 ship. It didn’t take long to get the 昂苟伊 to give up the location of 模板:Reth. “The cockpit room, at the very top.” Saal snapped the 昂苟伊’s neck and they took the emergency maintenance tubes up through the ship. Thel panted heavily and his mandibles were wide open, his tongue flicking the air, by the time they arrived at the top. Four 奇戈亚尔 guarded the cockpit’s doors, but two of them were looking out the windows down to the launch pad, bored, their plasma rifles slung over their backs. They never had a chance to turn and see what attacked them. The two 圣赫利 were in their midst in a split second, firing point-blank into their faces with their own plasma rifles. The other two 奇戈亚尔 had a second to squall loudly before they met the same fate, and Thel blew the cockpit doors apart with a grenade. Inside the carpeted, lavishly furnished room sat a single 奇戈亚尔, his large eyes staring at the shimmering flaws in the air before him. Thel shut his invisibility off. “圣赫利,” the 奇戈亚尔 hissed. “Damn you, what have you done? Do you know who you cross?” “You are 模板:Reth?” Thel asked. “Yes,” the 奇戈亚尔 said. “You let 昂苟伊 breed without control. You pretend to be a voice of the Prophets here. You are a heretic.” Thel raised his plasma rifle and struck 模板:Reth in the head with it. “Pick him up,” Thel ordered Saal. “Let us return to the shuttle.” A loud warble echoed across the corridors. Thel looked around. “That sounded like an alarm.” Saal walked over to the front of the cockpit, 模板:Reth slung casually over a shoulder. “It is. We should call Zhar, have him fly up here. We can get outside onto the top and get him to pick us up there.” Thel stepped forward to stand next to Saal and looked down. Saal murmured into the air, talking to Zhar. “Zhar needs just a minute. Too many 昂苟伊 inside the shuttle.” Hundreds of feet below in a courtyard formed from the superstructures of three or four mothballed spaceships, thousands of 昂苟伊 streamed out. The crowds ran to surround the building they were in. “They cannot enter,” Saal said. “Almost all of them have no harnesses or air. The methane mists out there let them breathe. Where are their harnesses?” Thel looked at the unconscious 奇戈亚尔 on Saal’s shoulder. “The 奇戈亚尔 either have not made them many, or are keeping them under lock and key.” “But why?” Saal asked. “Because they cannot leave Metisette, or even attack this 奇戈亚尔 structure in the center of their own keep, if they have no tanks.” “Doesn’t help us right now,” Saal said, looking at the quadrangle fill with 昂苟伊. “Enough 昂苟伊 seem to have harnesses to cause us trouble.” Thel turned and looked back down the corridor, hearing the sound of 昂苟伊 screeches. “It tells us who’s really in charge of all this.” “The 奇戈亚尔.” Thel looked back at 模板:Reth’s limp form. “Yes. That one in particular. Wake him up. We may have to put a gun to his head. What is Zhar’s progress?” Saal cocked his head, listening to an update from down below. “Zhar is closing the ramp and warming the shuttle up.” “The timing will be tight,” Thel said. He walked over to the doors with his plasma rifle up and ready. “Be ready to blow the windows out when he gets airborne.” “My honor,” Saal grunted. He set 模板:Reth down and slapped the 奇戈亚尔’s face. “Wake up,” the 圣赫利 zealot growled.


第三十章

凯斯 watched his people being herded toward gates. They huddled together and stared down at their feet as they moved forward. Men in gray uniforms, rifles slung at the ready, moved about the edges, pushing the crew back into line toward the five checkpoints the rails led everyone toward. The Midsummer Night had been docked with an asteroid. From the cargo bay they’d all been herded out at gunpoint, down a long corridor in the endcap of the habitat, and walked out into the interior. But the tall rails, all enclosed in chicken wire with razor wire wrapped around that, effectively prevented them from walking out into the habitat until they’d passed through five stations. Humorless-looking officials stood by small podiums in the stations with computer pads. “Stay single file,” a guard shouted. The lines formed up, people jammed against each other, wondering what came next. They were face-to-face with the enemy: Insurrectionists. Captured. A woman in a black uniform with yellow trim walked up to a dais mounted over the gates. She brushed back a long lock of black hair, then folded her arms at the small of her back in a sort of parade rest. When she spoke her voice was amplified so that the entire crowd could hear her. “Welcome to the habitat Asuncion,” the woman said. 凯斯 leaned back and looked up at the far side of the asteroid’s interior, far on the other side from where he stood. Patches of gardens and trees could be seen. It was odd, seeing something almost pastoral in a megastructure like this. “And welcome to 模板:Rubble,” the woman continued. “My name is Maria Esquival. I am here to help orient you to your new situation.” 凯斯 was surrounded by his remaining bridge crew. Lt. Dante Kirtley had folded his arms and was watching the woman, but Junior Grade Rai Li checked out the crowded crew, looking worried. Behind 凯斯 loitered a handful of ODSTs, with Faison standing in their midst. He raised an eyebrow at 凯斯. Maria Esquival continued her speech. “After the destruction of Madrigal, as we escaped into the asteroids and rocks here, we had some very tough decisions to make about who we would become: refugees struggling to exist, fighting over scraps? Or a civilization? “We chose civilization. We worked hard to build 模板:Rubble. We worked hard because we knew we had something to build. A world like nothing the UNSC has ever known, with its strict hierarchies and militaristic command.” 凯斯 looked over at Dante, who rolled his eyes. “More Insurrectionist bullshit,” the comms specialist muttered. “Free of the trappings of being a colony, we reinvented ourselves from the ground up. 模板:Rubble is a technocracy. All of its municipal functions, all its laws, are voted on by our members. Some of us are Insurrectionist, some of us are refugees from Madrigal. Others are miners who were here from the beginning. Some are smugglers who made it here from the Inner Colonies. All are welcome. “We mean that. All are welcome to have the right to vote. This includes you, crew of the Midsummer Night.” Esquival paused to let that sink in. In the crowd, Kirtley leaned back toward 凯斯. “They all vote on everything. Like even security? That’d be insane.” “Because we believe in freedom, 模板:Rubble invites you to join our democracy. You have a choice in what happens next to you. You can choose to turn your back on the imperialist nature of the UNSC. Many of you may have come from Outer Colonies. Colonies that fell to the alien Covenant while the UNSC took their time to enact methods of dealing with the aliens. Colonies that you know were not as well protected as they could have been, because the UNSC’s loyalties are to Earth first, the Inner Colonies next, and the Outer Colonies last. Here in 模板:Rubble, you are equal among all.” Rai Li sniffed. “How many crew you think are going to buy that crap?” 凯斯 looked out over the crowd of heads. How many crew were survivors of border colonies, or had family in the Outer Colonies? He thought of his sister for a second, a twinge of pain at the thought of her dying without UNSC protection, out there alone in the Outer Colonies. Or maybe, 凯斯 suddenly thought, maybe they’d survived. Just like 模板:Rubble had. The idea captured him for a second, and then 凯斯 shook himself. No, he had to remember what the Covenant was really about. 模板:Rubble was some strange anomaly… “Too many.” 凯斯 rubbed his jaw, thoughtfully. “And can you blame them? We have no options. We’re stuck out here. Behind the lines. They might as well start trying to find allies, figure out what the new game is. We’re refugees, now.” His eyes burned. He hadn’t slept since they’d been boarded, running from place to place to make sure things went smoothly. Now it was over. Everything was over. He’d read about POWs in past wars, unlucky bastards who’d been the first shot out of the air and stuck in a camp for the length of a war. If he lived, he’d be one of those footnotes. Maria Esquival cleared her throat. “But, as you are UNSC, and have a checkered background, there are some concessions that have to be made when integrating you into the population of 模板:Rubble. “You will have to swallow a motion tracker, in the form of a pill. This will let 模板:Rubble’s AI monitor and track your location. You will have to report for counseling and you will be assigned a case officer who will review the integration process. However these things are a small price to pay for your freedom.” 凯斯 wished he had his pipe to fiddle with. He had to leave it aboard the ship, along with any other personal effects or objects as they were moved to Asuncion. “Those of you who wish to become citizens, have only to ask when you reach Processing. You will be split off to a separate location. Those of you still loyal to the UNSC, who refuse the pill, we will, of course, be forced to jail you.” With that, Esquival turned around and left her perch. The large lines staggered forward. “A lot of them are asking for citizenship,” Faison said from behind 凯斯. “Can’t blame them,” 凯斯 said. “One can understand what’s going through their minds.” “You’re not going to do anything about it?” Faison asked. “We’re trapped. We have nothing. What do you want me to do? They’re doing the rational thing.” Faison grabbed 凯斯 by the shoulder. “Either we’re soldiers or we’re not. Defeat or not, we should never forget that, 凯斯. Give them a speech. Say something to counteract all that, because whatever this is you’re doing right now, this isn’t leadership. Where’s the man who had us all jump out of that freighter?” Say something. 凯斯 cleared his throat, then jumped up onto the railing. He wobbled for a second. “Crew of the Midsummer Night,” he shouted. The snaking line paused. And 凯斯 suddenly felt like a blank sheet of paper. Nothing came to him. Faison punched his shin, and 凯斯 sucked his breath in. “Crew of the Midsummer Night, we have had a hard blow, I know. Some of you, after hearing all this, will have a hard choice to make. “Just know this. No matter who we are, or why we give our service, we all joined to fight a common enemy. The people here, although they fled the destruction of their own world, think that the Covenant can be allies. The same creatures that destroyed their world. I think this is an illusion. So I hope that you will, if the time ever comes, stand by my side again if the need calls for it. With no hard feelings. I will not be joining their citizenry. I remain ready to fight the Covenant and protect humanity, as I swore to do when I joined the fight. As did you all.” 凯斯 got back down. There was only silence. Rai Li finally shook her head. “That was an awkward speech.” “Doesn’t matter,” Faison said. “What mattered was that he gave it.” And 凯斯 knew he was right; he was stumbling toward being the leader they all wanted . . . and needed. 凯斯 grabbed Faison by the shoulder. “By the way, why are so many ODSTs at the front of the line? They look like they’re going to be citizens.” Faison nodded and looked 凯斯 in the eye. “Well, of course. You know the Helljumpers: first in and all that.” He gave the last word in emphasis. Then he winked. 凯斯 got it. He could still trust Helljumpers to be Helljumpers. Faison was just making sure he got men out into the general populace in case they needed them out there. “You’ve got company,” Lt. Kirtley said. Maria Esquival and several black-clad men pushed through the crowd of crew toward 凯斯. “Lieutenant Jacob 凯斯, I gather?” Esquival said. “Yes ma’am,” 凯斯 replied. “No more speeches.” 凯斯 laughed. “I thought we were all equals here.” Esquival tilted her head. “You just announced you gave up the right to citizenry, right?” “Yes…” One of the black-uniformed men punched 凯斯 in the stomach. Faison stepped forward, but 凯斯 waved him back as he coughed. “Then I’m pleased to report I’m under no obligation to treat you as a citizen, Lieutenant 凯斯.” Esquival smiled. “The problem is, you have a position of power over your men. Such speeches, while admirable, are given from that position of power. Many possible citizens might feel compelled to go to jail who wouldn’t otherwise.” “It’ll all end,” 凯斯 said. “When the Covenant gets bored of whatever game it’s playing here.” Esquival sighed. “You’re so sure of yourself. The war with the Covenant is something the UNSC somehow started back on Harvest, we’re sure of it. This is not our war, we just got caught up in it. It’s your war. While you all fight to the last man with your brotherhood of arms, we’ve built something here. I don’t know if the UNSC has noticed, but the Covenant is comprised of a number of varying races. Many of these were allowed into the Covenant. We here in 模板:Rubble are looking for ways humanity can join their ranks. As a junior race, perhaps. But we’re adept, Lieutenant 凯斯, we’ll work our way up.” 凯斯 shook his head. “You conspire with the enemy.” Esquival sighed. “Take him and his bridge crew to the jails. Get them out of here.” They zip-tied his hands, and then led him off. Several junior officers started applauding, but it died out nervously after a few seconds.


第三十一章

eyeballed the Insurrectionist smuggler in the distance. They’d been tagging along far behind it until it had docked. Now he flew in the weightless vacuum toward it. He struck the surface, absorbing the impact with his knees. Even as he rebounded, he threw a magnetic grapple at the hull to stay attached. 阿德里亚娜 hit the hull next to him. She grabbed his leg with one hand to stop him from bouncing back off. She had a large plastic case tucked underneath the other arm. looked at her helmet. “What does 麦克 have for us today?” “Electromagnetic pulse bomb. Mostly harmless—except to anything electronic aboard the Kestrel. It’ll wipe it all clean,” 阿德里亚娜 said. She opened the case and pulled out a large, disc-shaped device that looked like a landmine. “He’s been saving this one.” With a thud the EMP attached itself to the hull. 阿德里亚娜 leaned over it and tapped out a code. “It talking to you, 麦克?” “We’re live,” 麦克 reported. “Now get well clear of that thing. The EMP pulse is strong enough to fry a whole ship. Usually our armor can recover from those bursts pretty quickly, but it will still knock out your MJOLNIR briefly if you’re too close. I want to wait until we’re all back aboard and well clear before—” spotted movement. “We have company. They’re coming from the airlock.” Two black space suits, hardened-looking affairs, coasted quickly at them. A burst of flame from their backs jetted them down the hull even faster. “Hostile or curious?” 麦克 asked. Muzzle flash answered that; the two suits had machine guns in either hand. 阿德里亚娜 bent down and leapt at them, pulling out her battle rifle and firing. Her rounds sparked and pinged off well-hardened material and the two suits curled up in a ball. “They were expecting us,” said. “We’ve been here a while, it’s obvious something’s happening,” 麦克 replied. “Not too surprising they’ve rustled up a response of some sort. I’m jockeying Petya in closer.” “No,” 阿德里亚娜 said. “Get ready to hit the EMP; we don’t want to give these goons a chance with it. They’ve probably raised the alarm. We also don’t want to give them time to get the data off the ship somehow.” She grunted as she smacked into one of the suits. leapt at the second one while paying out the rope on his grapple with one hand. He didn’t bother shooting at the man until they collided. He ripped the rocket pack off the back of the combat space suit and threw it away, did the same with the man’s two guns, then yanked himself back toward the smuggler with the line. The black suit hung still, unable to move anywhere. 阿德里亚娜 had smashed in the faceplate of their other opponent. The man’s dying breath hung in the air between the two, a crystalline and fading cloud. She threw the suit away, the motion pushing her toward the hull. “Four more of them,” she said. The glare of their packs marked them, flying right at them from the asteroid. “Let’s get out of here.” With all the strength available to them from the combination of their physique and the MJOLNIR powered armor, they crouched and leapt for the Petya, over a mile away. Halfway across, 麦克 triggered the EMP bomb with a dramatic electric fireshow that crackled across the Kestrel’s hull. It also left their chasers immobile, their electronics burnt out by the invisible wave of electrical energy the bomb had released. ’s heads-up display flickered slightly. “Cutting it close, 麦克?” “A little,” came the response.


第三十二章

The first trio of 昂苟伊 to turn the corridor walked right into Thel’s line of fire. Short bursts of plasma struck them in the center of their torsos. Footsteps pattered behind Thel. He turned around and saw 模板:Reth trying to run away from Saal. Saal grabbed the 奇戈亚尔 leader and dragged him back toward the windows and out of the direct line of fire. “Do you two realize what you are doing?” the 奇戈亚尔 asked. Saal cocked his head. “We are kidnapping you.” 模板:Reth did not find it as amusing as Saal seemed to. “There are hundreds of thousands of 昂苟伊 out there, all who are at my command.” “They are out there,” Saal said. “But you and I know they cannot all get in here.” And Saal chuckled. “So you plan on doing what then?” 模板:Reth hissed. “You are meddling in extraordinarily important affairs.” Thel ducked behind the doorframe as more 昂苟伊 spilled out into the far side of the corridor. One stumbled when he saw Thel duck back around with his plasma rifle. “圣赫利! Defend the Redoubt!” it screamed, and the back of its methane tank exploded from another accurate shot. Flaming debris struck other 昂苟伊, who lost their cohesive charge down the corridor and scattered, trying to pat the flames away before they got burned. “That should hold them for a bit,” Thel muttered. But then to his surprise, the 昂苟伊 turned back toward him again. These were some very determined 昂苟伊. “They have something to fight for,” 模板:Reth shouted. “圣赫利, you don’t understand what’s going on. You must free me. I can save your lives. I swear it.” Thel watched the 昂苟伊 charge. There was little love between the 奇戈亚尔 and 圣赫利模板:Reth’s kind resented the position 圣赫利 held in the Covenant. And the 圣赫利 regarded the 奇戈亚尔 as little more than scavengers. Thel suspected 模板:Reth was lying and would happily have them killed the moment they set their weapons down. But 模板:Reth pressed on nonetheless. “You are the 圣赫利 from Retribution’s Thunder, am I right?” Why was Zhar taking so long? Thel shot another handful of 昂苟伊. “Yes.” More came up the elevators and stairs and ran forward. “It was a mistake. We should not have betrayed you to those Jiralhanae,” 模板:Reth said in as soothing a voice as a 奇戈亚尔 could. “But we needed you to not interfere! Not after all the work we’ve done so far.” Thel shook his head. “What is done is done. You have made your choices. Now we are making ours.” Way too many 昂苟伊 were rushing up to the top floor, flooding over dead bodies in the hall. Thel knew they were going to continue until he ran out of the charge in his plasma rifle. “You go against the Hierarchs!” 模板:Reth shouted. Saal backhanded the 奇戈亚尔. “We are on a direct mission for the Hierarchs. Do not dare blaspheme like that. As if you speak for the Hierarchs…” he muttered. Thel saw out of the corner of his eye that the 奇戈亚尔 looked stunned. “Which Hierarch?” “The Prophet of Regret himself,” Saal proclaimed proudly. 模板:Reth shook his head. “Wrong Prophet,” he muttered, the feathered spines on his head wavering in confusion. Wrong Prophet? Saal and Thel looked at each other, and then Saal shouted, “Zhar is up!” Sure enough a column of disturbed air rippled just outside the windows. “Blow the windows out!” Thel ordered. He shut the doors and locked them against the 昂苟伊. Saal used a sticky grenade on the thick windows. The blue light pulsed, and then Thel grabbed 模板:Reth to shield him as the explosion shook the room. Glass shards flew out, and the thunder of engines filled the room, bringing the acrid clouds of methane mist with it. Thel hoisted 模板:Reth onto his back. “You scream, struggle, or move about, you will regret it dearly. Now take a deep breath while there’s still some air!” He followed Saal out onto the lip of the window, looking at the slope of the repurposed ship stretching out before him. They didn’t want to go that way. Slide off the edge, they’d have a very long fall. Thel pulled himself and the weight of the 奇戈亚尔 up, using his hands and legs to crawl up onto the slope of metal above the windows. Saal scrambled up ahead, unencumbered, to the top of the ship, where the shuttle hovered, waiting for them. They needed one last tactic to gain them some time. Thel pulled out a pair of grenades and let them roll down toward the slope of the hull. As they dropped by his feet he kicked them in through the window. He scrambled up after Saal as fast he could, the grenades’ explosions blowing red flame and debris out of the windows underneath him as he ran. The 昂苟伊 pilot stood in the back of the shuttle, eyes wide in stunned surprise as he watched them run toward him. Zhar gently touched the top of the old 奇戈亚尔 wreck with the shuttle and Saal and Thel leapt aboard. The tips of other grounded ships poked out of the thick, ruddy mists all around them like towers. “Take it up!” Saal shouted forward, and they accelerated away, the structure dwindling at the top of the falls, the crater lake falling into the distance.


第三十三章

Despite being left alone, Ignatio 模板:Delgado had still not managed to free himself. The thing was, trying to use a sliver of metal to pick the lock of a pair of handcuffs was a challenging proposition. And 模板:Delgado couldn’t even get the sliver to reach the keyhole. With a loud sigh the one guard in the warehouse stood up and folded up whatever he’d been watching and pocketed it. “Alright, 模板:Delgado, things are settling down. Time to get you moved out.” 模板:Delgado nodded, filled with a sense of foreboding. This was it, then. The guard noticed the look on his face. “Come on, 模板:Delgado. It’s not like that.” “Really?” 模板:Delgado looked the heavily muscled man up and down. “How is it, then?” The man shrugged. “All 模板:Bonifacio and the Security Council know is that the data keeps getting found out. Better to keep you on close watch.” 模板:Delgado shook his head. “Then why are you doing this? Why the hired muscle, the empty warehouse?” “It keeps you under his eye. He doesn’t trust you, 模板:Delgado. You’re a wild card, man.” 模板:Delgado was unshackled from the chain, then handcuffed to the man’s right wrist. With a shove, 模板:Delgado was pushed forward. “What’s your name?” 模板:Delgado asked. “Owen.” “Your real name?” “What do you think?” “Owen” asked, looking down at 模板:Delgado as he herded him outside to a waiting tube car. “Where are we going?” 模板:Delgado asked. Owen smiled. “One of 模板:Bonifacio’s working ships.” 模板:Delgado frowned. “Working ships? He have a lot of broken ones?” “Look.” Owen leaned in close, almost whispering. “Relax a little, 模板:Delgado. 模板:Bonifacio’s going to be in a foul mood because his smuggler ship, it just got fried.” “What?” Owen was laughing. “The best-laid plans… Someone really doesn’t like 模板:Bonifacio. They fried his ship. It’s structurally intact, but nothing inside it works; the data got wiped out.” 模板:Delgado swallowed. The Spartans had struck again. “So now 模板:Bonifacio needs me.” “Pretty much.” The tube car stopped after making its way between a handful of coupled asteroids. Owen opened the door, and 模板:Delgado quickly followed him to avoid being yanked along. Peter 模板:Bonifacio stood near an airlock, along with a handful of Security Council members. Including 模板:Diego Esquival. Owen unlocked the handcuffs, and 模板:Delgado massaged his wrists. “What’s this all about?” “Where’s the navigation data, Mr. 模板:Delgado?” one of the suited Security Council members asked. 模板:Delgado stood still for a second. “Safe. As we agreed on.” 模板:Diego pursed his lips. “模板:Bonifacio presented evidence to the council that there are Earth-first elements within our population that have attacked any navigation data that might lead ships of any sort back to Earth or the Inner Colonies. The data you have needs to be transported to its final destination, where it will be better safeguarded.” “Final destination?” 模板:Delgado looked around at them. “What final destination? The 奇戈亚尔? Come on, you know where that will lead.” “We’re moving it to the Exodus Project,” said one of the councilmen, an older man with scars across his face. “It’s final. We’ve all voted. So please, Mr. 模板:Delgado, give up the data. You’ve served 模板:Rubble well. It’s time to hand it over now.” “What the hell is this Exodus Project?” 模板:Delgado snapped. “It’s just a big emergency plan,” 模板:Diego said. “We can’t talk about the particulars.” “And it needs nav data?” 模板:Delgado looked at 模板:Diego. “Yes.” 模板:Diego nodded, and spread his arms. “It really does, Ignatio. Please, trust me on this. Trust the Council as 模板:Rubble’s elected leaders.” 模板:Delgado looked at the other members. They didn’t look like they meant him any ill. But was it the right choice, whatever they had in mind? 模板:Delgado took a deep breath. It wasn’t his decision to make, was it? 模板:Rubble had elected the entire Council for a reason. The Council had hired 模板:Delgado. He was no longer keeper of the data. “Okay,” 模板:Delgado said. “It’s aboard Distancia. I have to key everything open.” 模板:Diego laughed. “In plain sight, huh?” “The best place.” For a quick moment, everything felt okay. Maybe even normal. 模板:Delgado relaxed slightly. The sensation was shattered as Peter 模板:Bonifacio stepped forward. “I’ll take him over to Distancia, then meet the rest of you at Exodus. The Distancia only has a light guard on it. It’s an easy target. My guards aren’t just Rubble Defense volunteers, they have actual fighting experience.” There was accusation in his glare, and 模板:Delgado saw a few nod in agreement. It looked like 模板:Bonifacio had been knocking 模板:Delgado’s ability to keep the data safe. 模板:Diego came forward. “I go with you.” He and 模板:Delgado shared a glance. 模板:Bonifacio shrugged. “I’d be delighted to have you aboard, Councilman, as well as anyone else who wants to come. Keep in mind, my ship’s quarters are cramped. This way.” He held out his hand, indicating that they should go first. His guards had already cycled through the airlock into the ship 模板:Bonifacio had waiting for them. It was a cramped ship, a converted tug of some sort. It had probably once grappled dirty asteroids and pushed them into new orbits to be harvested by the miners and their processing plants. Now it was 模板:Bonifacio’s personal transport. Quick enough, 模板:Delgado thought, looking around the extended cockpit once they’d come in through the airlock. But still a bit over the top. Who had a personal ship just for transport in 模板:Rubble? It was part of 模板:Bonifacio’s desire to preen and make a point of showing how special he was. 模板:Bonifacio got inside, gave the order to leave, and turned to 模板:Delgado. In the darkly lit cockpit he looked birdlike, his eyes pools of beady darkness. “Someone fried my ship, everything electrical was shorted, and several good men guarding it are dead. That costs. A lot.” “I’m sorry to hear it,” 模板:Delgado said, eyeing the three large guards now surrounding him in the tiny cockpit. 模板:Diego chuckled, and 模板:Bonifacio turned to him. “This amuses you? The future of 模板:Rubble is laughable? I’m working hard to make sure we have a future, despite your meddling.” “A future?” 模板:Diego shook his head. “You’re full of shit, 模板:Bonifacio. You care about future profits, not the future.” “Yeah?” 模板:Bonifacio reached into his pocket, hands trembling slightly, face red. “Were you all so high-and-mighty when the Covenant first came? Tell 模板:Delgado the real story, and how you all, in your democratic glory, turned to one person when it all came to a head.” 模板:Diego didn’t say anything. 模板:Bonifacio shook his head and pulled out a Sweet William. He pointed the cigar at 模板:Diego. “They tell you how the 奇戈亚尔 contact really happened? I’ll bet not. Because it doesn’t make those men look good.” He lit the cigar and drew in a long pull, then laughed, cigar smoke puffing out of his mouth. “They crapped their pants when that first 奇戈亚尔 ship swung by 模板:Rubble, scanning us, checking everything out. Wanted to know what to do. Attack it, or try to pack up and run to some other part of the system? And if attack, how? But they were taking so long to deliberate, I did something else. “I hailed it. And I offered to trade. Sent them a manifest of everything I could imagine we had in our storage areas. I explained we weren’t UNSC, that we hated them. That we were rebels. Because, really, even other species have to know about trade, right, 模板:Delgado? Economics, that’s universal. Everyone wants to better themselves.” “That was the real first encounter?” 模板:Delgado asked. “So it’s the second where their ship appeared and offered to trade and set up in 模板:Rubble?” “A month later. Some sort of 奇戈亚尔 big shot named 模板:Reth had a box that could translate their speech into ours. Like they’ve been studying us,” 模板:Diego said. “And they wanted to trade.” 模板:Bonifacio nodded. “We took guns off them to sell to our brothers, where we could smuggle them back to the colonies, in exchange for goods. The 奇戈亚尔, in turn, wanted Slipspace drives.” “Slipspace drives?” 模板:Delgado frowned. “Turns out the 奇戈亚尔 are pretty low on the Covenant totem pole.” 模板:Bonifacio smirked. “They’re not allowed to build drives for their own ships. Its engineering is all done by the ones they call Prophets. Closed boxes for the 奇戈亚尔. See, they’re not the monolithic juggernaut the UNSC makes them out to be, this Covenant. They have divisions and inequalities. And where those exist, we have what you call a market, Mr. 模板:Delgado. Combine the engines with Earth’s location, and 模板:Rubble will do more for the Insurrection than any other place in history.” “But what happens when the 奇戈亚尔 slip up and we’re all found out?” 模板:Delgado asked. “The Covenant will be back to glass us.” “We leave,” 模板:Diego muttered. “Ahhh, exodus, exodus, exodus,” 模板:Bonifacio waved his cigar around. “模板:Diego, we have spent so long building all this. And you want to run away from it?” “I don’t,” 模板:Diego said. “But it’s irresponsible to not have a backup plan.” “I’ll tell you what’s irresponsible. Irresponsible is promising the 奇戈亚尔 Slipspace engines, taking their payments of nifty little weapons and shipping them back to the colonies, but then pretending to warehouse those engines until you’ve got them all gathered up. When you never intended to hand them over.” “Damn it, 模板:Bonifacio,” 模板:Diego shouted, “the council voted to proceed with the Exodus Project. It’s a backup plan. Once we have enough Slipspace engines installed, then we’ll hand the rest of them over.” “The 奇戈亚尔 know what you’ve been doing anyway,” 模板:Bonifacio said dismissively. “What?” 模板:Diego stared at 模板:Bonifacio. “You can’t take an asteroid habitat as big as the Exodus Project and hang it way back off 模板:Rubble, and not expect them to miss it. Plus, they really want their engines. They haven’t believed your official excuses for not getting as many delivered to them as promised—not in the slightest. They are our allies, our business partners. We stand a chance to live on. Let the Covenant and UNSC fight, while we make money and trade instead.” 模板:Delgado stared at both men. “The Exodus Project is a giant habitat?” “He’s pretty much told you what it is,” 模板:Diego said, annoyed. “The largest rock in 模板:Rubble was held back from the beginning. The surface was coated to try and stealth it. Back at the start, it was an emergency in-system retreat: get as many civilians in it if the Covenant came back in force and try to sneak out to the Oort cloud far on the edges of the system where no one ventures. “Now the Exodus Project is being outfitted with Slipspace drives. A lot of them. The idea is not to hide in the system, but to head out away from the UNSC, and the Covenant. Just get into the stream and keep going until we’re well away from all of this.” “That’s audacious,” 模板:Delgado said. “How many citizens can it hold?” “It’s big,” 模板:Diego said. “Big enough for a million citizens.” “And you’ve hidden it away, all this time?” 模板:Delgado couldn’t believe it. In 模板:Rubble, where everything was voted on, the Security Council had pulled off something significant: a major secret. The tug fired a series of thruster bursts and slammed into a docking collar. 模板:Bonifacio grabbed 模板:Diego by the shoulders. “Look, 模板:Diego. I know you and I don’t exactly agree on everything. But I’m a Council member, just like you. I want to see 模板:Rubble continue and prosper. I’m not your enemy. You know that, right?” “I know that,” 模板:Diego said. “I’m sorry.” “I want that data on Exodus protected, but not out here in 模板:Rubble where people are attacking it—whoever the hell it is that’s doing that. Understand?” 模板:Diego nodded. “Good.” 模板:Bonifacio pulled 模板:Diego tighter. “Now tell 模板:Delgado here to let us onto his ship so we can get it and do our duty.” 模板:Diego looked at 模板:Delgado. “Give him what he needs.” 模板:Delgado bit his lip. “You sure about this?” “Yeah.” 模板:Diego sounded subdued. “It’ll be okay. And we’ll need to talk to you about the Exodus Project. You can’t repeat any of that to anyone.” “I can keep a secret,” 模板:Delgado said, as the airlock doors opened. 模板:Diego laughed. “I know. And after this, we’ll make everything right for you. You took shots for us. They can’t forget that.” They trudged out from 模板:Bonifacio’s tug down an access tube to a set of quiet docks that 模板:Delgado had chosen. The rock ceilings sloped fifteen feet overhead, and only four or five docking collars led into this small chamber, as it was an old mining depot. 模板:Delgado crossed the silent chamber to the airlock where Distancia was docked. They all crowded into the airlock and cycled through and in. 模板:Delgado took a deep breath, pulling in the smell of metal, oil, and sweat. Distancia had once hauled miners out from Madrigal orbit across the system to 模板:Rubble. Now she ferried cargo in and around 模板:Rubble, from one end to another. Quicker than tube cars, as he didn’t have to route through each habitat, pausing for traffic. It felt good to be back aboard. Maybe if 模板:Bonifacio was telling the truth, and he was really just a maverick Security Council member, then 模板:Delgado could just go back to ferrying things about 模板:Rubble. Like before 模板:Diego had called, talking about the disappearing navigation data, asking him if he’d take on hiding it for the council, as he knew 模板:Rubble the best. And he was the only person 模板:Diego personally trusted. Going back to ferrying sounded good, 模板:Delgado thought, as he walked the small group over to the safe hidden under the floor grates of the tiny kitchen on the ship, halfway toward the cockpit. It opened on his fingerprint, and 模板:Delgado pulled the oval container of hard plastic that held the chip out. He offered it to 模板:Diego. 模板:Bonifacio reached out a hand, and 模板:Diego shook his head. “I think I’ll be the one who keeps it on his person until we get it to the Exodus.” “I was afraid you’d say that,” 模板:Bonifacio said. 模板:Delgado turned around, eye to eye with the barrel of a very large pistol in 模板:Bonifacio’s hand. “Hand it over to me, 模板:Delgado.” 模板:Diego swore, and was hit in the ribs by one of 模板:Bonifacio’s men. “Thank you,” 模板:Bonifacio took the navigation data away from him. “Thank you very much, 模板:Delgado. I’d hoped to just take it and promise to meet you two aboard the Exodus and never show, but 模板:Diego had second thoughts. You’re rubbing off on him. Either way, 模板:Reth is really, really going to appreciate this.”


第三十四章

The 奇戈亚尔 named 模板:Reth screamed, a primal roar of pain and horror that echoed throughout the corridors of the ship, all the way up to the cockpit, where Thel sat poring over 奇戈亚尔 estimates of human strength in 模板:Rubble. Zhar stood up, but Thel held up a hand. “I ordered Saal not to do this. I will go.” For a moment Zhar remained up, then he folded back down into his chair. “What—” “That is my concern, Zhar.” Thel walked out of the cockpit, past the 昂苟伊 clustered in the halls. They chattered nervously and cleared a path as Thel strode by. Thel walked to 模板:Reth’s cell. The 奇戈亚尔 had been strapped to the wall, his arms and legs splayed out in a large X by strong straps. On the other side of the energy bars, Saal stood in front of the 奇戈亚尔. As he leaned forward, the horrendous screams began again. “Why are you really here in this system?” Saal bellowed. “What is it you seek to gain?” 模板:Reth spit purple blood and screamed. Thel shut off the containment system, and stepped into the alcove. “Has he said anything new to justify continuing this interrogation? Maybe something different?” Thel asked softly. Saal spun around, turning off his energy sword. Purple blood stained the hilt in his hand and dripped from his fingers. “No, honor. He has not. He’s still sticking to his story. That a Hierarch commands him to have done all this.” “Have you forgotten your orders, then?” Thel stared Saal straight in the eye, neck bared, as if daring Saal to try for it. Saal backed away from the implicit challenge of confidence, moving closer to a wall. 模板:Reth gurgled in the background. “I wanted to break him of his heresies,” Saal said. “What he’s saying cannot be true.” “It is a poor soldier who insists on seeing things not as they are, but as he wants them to be. One day reality hits, and his illusions fail him, and he dies stupidly. What honor is there in that?” Thel stepped closer to Saal, cornering him, dominating his space. Saal straightened. “But if the 奇戈亚尔 is right, then one Prophet ordered him to come here and do this, and another ordered us to come here and—” “It is not up to us to pick apart what the Prophets may or may not have ordered, Saal. It is also not up to you to decide what orders of mine to follow.” Thel patted his waist, where his own energy sword was clipped, and kept his eyes locked on Saal, who finally looked toward the ground. “I have failed you, honor,” Saal said. “You have.” Thel sighed. “I have lost nobility. I will do what is right.” Saal’s energy sword flared into being. “You will not take your life,” Thel said. “You will scar your forearms with the mark of disobedience.” Saal closed his eyes and shivered. “Please…” “It is an order,” Thel stood up straight and high over Saal. “Now leave.” Saal walked out of the cell with his head low from shame. Thel walked over to the slab of a bed and sat on it, facing 模板:Reth. “圣赫利 are insane,” 模板:Reth hissed. “What is the mark of disobedience?” “He will use his energy sword to burn marks into the skin of his arms. Crossing lines all up and down, where all can see and know him for what he is. It is shameful. Death is preferred. But for now, I need all my fighters. He can kill himself later, and we will destroy the body so that his lineage will not suffer. If he performs well in battle.” 模板:Reth shook his head. “圣赫利…” “We are strong, 奇戈亚尔. That is why we sit at the right hand of the Prophets.” 模板:Reth laughed. “One day that shall pass.” “Not as long as we remain strong.” Thel stood. “But Saal’s worries do trouble me. You still claim that it is the Prophet of Truth who sent you here?” Again 模板:Reth laughed. “You should worry. I speak the truth. And it was Truth who sent me here. He doesn’t believe that the Prophet of Regret has come even close to the human home-world.” Thel leaned closer. “But this here is not the human home-world.” 模板:Reth blinked, focusing his memories. “When that 奇戈亚尔 ship took back recordings of these humans begging to trade for their lives, Truth realized he had found a way to easily find the core of their infestation.” “These heretical weapons,” Thel said. “Humans have rebels among them. Something Truth wants to use. The weapons are traceable. We could map the entire human population if we got these rebels to smuggle back enough of them. Sadly, the humans have a new directive that has killed this opportunity.” “They destroy data on their ships before they are captured, yes,” Thel said. “But we still have a chance to get the location of their home-world from them here. There are opportunists who will sell it to us. Once we have it, these habitats are ours to keep, the Prophet promised us. The 奇戈亚尔 will hold a special place then, Truth has promised us.” Thel shook his head. “The 圣赫利 will remain by the side of the Prophets.” “You are too arrogant,” 模板:Reth spat. “The Jiralhanae betrayed you. We are given this special mission by the Prophet of Truth. Both seek to minimize your kind. You have dominated things far too long.” “We are in the midst of a holy war with the humans,” Thel hissed. “That is not the time for such things.” “But it is,” 模板:Reth said. “We will use our 昂苟伊 army from Metisette to destroy the humans here once we have the data that leads us to their homeworld. And we will be favored in the Prophets’ eyes. Not you, 圣赫利.” “You are an obnoxious creature.” Thel broke the straps around the 奇戈亚尔 and freed him. “When we hand over the humans, we will be honored. The Prophets will look kindly on us in the final journey.” 模板:Reth staggered over to the bunk and lay down. “We will be holier and more blessed than you, 圣赫利. You will see. You will see.” Thel walked away, back to the cockpit, where Zhar looked up. He’d overheard their whole exchange. “Do you believe him?” Zhar asked. “I think 模板:Reth believes what 模板:Reth is saying.” Thel sat down, suddenly tired. “What games are we caught in the middle of?” Zhar asked. “I do not know,” Thel said. He toyed with the image of the 奇戈亚尔 ship on his screen. It was the closest thing the 奇戈亚尔 had to a true fleet ship, similar to the designs of refitted 奇戈亚尔 raiders that had fought the Covenant from asteroid belts before the 奇戈亚尔 were granted a place within the Covenant. He wondered if the 奇戈亚尔 had managed to put a Slipspace drive on it. It looked likely, though Thel wondered if the cobbled-together affair would make it through. It certainly didn’t look like it. But it had weapons. Thel made a decision. “We will take that 奇戈亚尔 ship. We will use it to destroy all this heresy. If the Prophet of Truth shows up and tells me to stop, then I will do so. Tell the others to prepare, and tell these 昂苟伊 to ready themselves to be useful.” Until the Prophet of Truth himself showed up here, Thel had to follow the orders he was given. And since the Jiralhanae would be back with the High Prophet of Regret soon, Thel wanted his actions to show that he had done his duty. Yes. The human habitats here would burn, just as their world Charybdis IX had burned.


第三十五章

模板:Delgado didn’t even think twice—he grabbed the gun and kicked 模板:Bonifacio in the stomach. But in that split second 模板:Bonifacio’s three men piled onto him, trying to yank the gun away as they smashed his ribs. As he gasped from the pain, 模板:Bonifacio shouted, “Shoot them both and throw them out the damn airlock!” But 模板:Delgado had the gun up and pointed at 模板:Bonifacio despite the pain of getting pummeled by the bodyguards. “Get away from me. Or he dies.” The three overly muscled men backed away, their guns now out and trained on 模板:Delgado. 模板:Bonifacio smiled and held his hands up. “Now, easy, 模板:Delgado. Come on. We can work something out here.” “Screw you, 模板:Bonifacio.” 模板:Delgado wasn’t in the mood for his bullshit now. “Give me a gun,” 模板:Bonifacio snapped. The nearest heavy tossed him one. 模板:Delgado hesitated, not really wanting to fire a gun inside his own ship. That hesitation cost him, because now 模板:Bonifacio had a gun of his own pointed at 模板:Diego. “I’m going to shoot 模板:Diego if you don’t hand that over.” 模板:Delgado thought about it for a second. Giving away the data would certainly endanger 模板:Rubble. 模板:Bonifacio, it was now obvious, would not be taking this data to the Exodus Project. No, he was going to sell it to the 奇戈亚尔. All signs pointed to it. 模板:Delgado shook his head. 模板:Bonifacio shot 模板:Diego in the chest. Blood sprayed and hit the floor as 模板:Diego collapsed, clutching the wound with a look of shock on his face. 模板:Delgado leapt over to 模板:Diego as he shot at 模板:Bonifacio, who ducked out into the corridor and ran for cover. 模板:Delgado waved the gun at the bodyguards. “Back up. Back up.” They were hired help—their hearts weren’t into the idea of a close-range shoot-out, luckily. Only 模板:Bonifacio was insane enough to fire inside a damn spaceship, 模板:Delgado thought. He grabbed 模板:Diego’s collar and pulled him out of the kitchen and down the corridor. 模板:Bonifacio fired down at him from the cockpit, the bullets sparking off the metal bulkheads. 模板:Delgado fired back as he dragged 模板:Diego to the airlock. This was all messed up. Very messed up. 模板:Diego moaned as 模板:Delgado pulled him into the lock and cycled into the habitat’s lock. A very loud bang startled him. The airlock seal broke as Distantia abruptly cut loose, her engines firing. Air whistled out of cracks in the warped airlock. Red alarm lights blinked, and 模板:Delgado kicked at the door leading into the habitat. It wouldn’t open, of course—with the outer seal broken emergency systems had kicked in. As long as the simple sensors on the outside detected loss of air the inner door was locked. 模板:Delgado grabbed the emergency phone, and got 模板:Bonifacio’s voice. “I just used an emergency Security Council code to override communications from your airlock,” 模板:Bonifacio said flatly. “And I canceled the airlock’s alarm.” The strobing lights shut off. It would look like a false trigger. A mechanic would be sent out at his leisure instead of an emergency crew. “You bastard.” “Good-bye, Mr. 模板:Delgado.” “Go to hell, 模板:Bonifacio.” 模板:Delgado slammed the phone against the wall until it broke. 模板:Bonifacio had killed them. Almost as good as a bullet, 模板:Delgado thought. He sat down next to 模板:Diego, holding a hand to his chest. 模板:Diego stared up at the ceiling, his breathing irregular and gasping. “I’m sorry, 模板:Diego,” 模板:Delgado said, looking down at his old friend. 模板:Diego bubbled blood up from his mouth, but said nothing. 模板:Delgado closed his eyes and bit his lip. Already the air seemed to be getting thinner. 模板:Delgado lay down, breathing shallowly. Then he reached down into his right shoe and tugged out the small beacon 阿德里亚娜 had given him. 模板:Delgado opened the casing and pressed the red switch. A small green light flickered on, and started pulsating. He closed his eyes and waited.


第三十六章

模板:Reth lay curled up on the uncomfortable slab, thinking about the warmth and closeness of a 奇戈亚尔 nest, and how far away such things were from him at the moment. He hurt everywhere, thanks to his treatment by the 圣赫利. Oh, they’d pay for this. 模板:Reth followed the orders of a Prophet. Who were they to treat him so cruelly? The 圣赫利 thought they were lords of it all, but they were just thugs, 模板:Reth thought. Little different from the Jiralhanae and their violent approaches to everything in the world. Soon the Prophets would listen to all 奇戈亚尔, 模板:Reth thought. 模板:Reth was here, working to find the secret of the human home-world. It would have been his already, if not for the 圣赫利 meddling. “昂苟伊!” 模板:Reth carefully got off the bench, his limbs protesting, his steps dizzy. The 圣赫利 would have to go. Things were so close to being finished. Soon his human agent would have the location to Earth for him. Once 模板:Reth had that, then the army of 昂苟伊 he’d gathered on Metisette would be ready to be unleashed on 模板:Rubble. The asteroids would make wonderful 奇戈亚尔 nesting grounds. “昂苟伊, where are you? You must attend me. Are you not believers in the mission the Prophet of Truth himself gave to me, and thus to you?” 模板:Reth collapsed to the ground in front of the energy bars that kept him jailed. Once he had 模板:Rubble, he thought through a haze, and the location to Earth, the humans’ Exodus Project would provide him the vehicle he needed to then bring the 昂苟伊 to attack the human homeworld. A daring plan. A 奇戈亚尔 plan. A plan the Prophet of Truth had agreed to when 模板:Reth presented it after returning with the secret of 模板:Rubble and the humans’ desire to trade. He’d kept it a secret from his own Shipmistress, a violation that would have gotten him castrated if found out, but it had paid off handsomely. “昂苟伊!” Now they’d been discovered, the Jiralhanae were returning to broadcast the news about the discovery of 模板:Rubble to a different Prophet. The 奇戈亚尔 couldn’t stop them. But they could move the plan up, so that they wouldn’t look like traitors, trading with the humans. No, it was time to destroy the humans and their homeworld and show the Prophets that it was the 奇戈亚尔, not the 圣赫利 or Jiralhanae, who were the most cunning and loyal and holy subjects of the Covenant. The shuffling steps of two furtive 昂苟伊 soldiers got 模板:Reth to focus on the ground in front of his long face. “圣赫利 kills us if we release you,” one of the 昂苟伊 protested. “And you’ll risk your chance at joining in the Great Journey because you’re scared of these 圣赫利,” 模板:Reth hissed. His ribs hurt. The 昂苟伊 shuffled their feet again, methane snorting out from their masks as they looked back and forth at each other. “Will you risk the 圣赫利 destroying the Redoubt, and all you’ve built on Metisette?” 模板:Reth asked. “Will you see all the 昂苟伊 on that planet punished, when they’ve been following the right Path?” They glanced at each other again. “Our nipple brothers would be all killed?” The 昂苟伊 sucked food from a shared tube, a nipple, 模板:Reth remembered. “Yes, your nipple brothers would all die.” That was enough to get them to free him. One of the 昂苟伊 tapped at the controls for 模板:Reth’s cell. 模板:Reth smiled as the energy bars disappeared. He rolled out of the cell before the 昂苟伊 changed their minds. “Quick, you must help me escape.” The two 昂苟伊 grabbed him under his arms as he wobbled, prompting 模板:Reth to grunt in pain. Together, all three hobbled down the corridor until 模板:Reth had them stop near a service panel. The 圣赫利 may have taken the ship by force, and cowed the 昂苟伊, but 模板:Reth still had some tricks of his own. He shut down the ship’s computer system with an override password. While the 圣赫利 raced to reboot the system, he had the 昂苟伊 drag him to an escape pod. Minutes later the cylindrical pod shot out of the ship, veering back toward Metisette at top speed, as the 圣赫利 coasted with a dead ship. It was time, 模板:Reth thought bitterly while rooting around the pod for a medical kit, to show the 圣赫利 that 奇戈亚尔 could fight.


第三十七章

麦克 flew the Petya through 模板:Rubble, flipping the ship end over end for sudden deceleration, and weaving his way around docking tubes and asteroids. In the confines of the airlock, braced against 麦克’s radical maneuvers, swore. “I don’t see why I’m in the airlock for the quick rescue, 阿德里亚娜. He’s your pet Insurrectionist.” “Shove it,” 阿德里亚娜 muttered over the suit radio. stiffened. “Is that how you talk to rank?” “When rank stops whining I’ll modify my behavior,” 阿德里亚娜 said. “Besides, I need to be in the medical bay in case 模板:Delgado’s hurt.” “So we’re trusting an Insurrectionist AI and rushing to help an Insurrectionist. You see anything wrong with this?” asked. Another voice crackled in his ear. The AI. Juliana. “Technically 模板:Rubble is a collection of people with many different backgrounds. Only a small percentage of them are actually Insurrectionist as you understand it—” “Can it,” muttered, as 麦克 flipped the ship again, making his stomach lurch. 麦克 fired the engines to dodge docking tubes. “Anything new about 模板:Delgado?” “The airlock the signal emanated from is still throwing me error codes from the broken seal,” Juliana reported. “You’re still the closest ship. An emergency crew is outside the lock on the habitat side, but can’t get at it, of course. I’ve broken the communications block on the airlock, but no one inside is responding.” thought about that. A broken airlock and silence. “Doesn’t sound too promising.” “No,” Juliana replied. “It doesn’t.” “Coming in on the lock,” 麦克 shouted. felt the Petya shudder like it never had before, and he was pressed against the side of the airlock despite the artificial gravity. He was glad he wasn’t looking at this from the cockpit. Metal ground on metal as 麦克 forced the wrecked airlock against theirs. “We’re go on your command,” 麦克 reported. faced the thick metal door with its yellow stripes and red warning symbols and notices. “Do it.” The airlock sprung open with a gust of air. Then the habitat’s airlock ground open with a tiny puff of air. forced his way through the moment the gap was large enough. Two men lay on the floor of the airlock’s nonslip metal surface. 模板:Delgado, a gun in one hand and the other bloody, lay over the stomach of a man with a bad chest wound. Blood pooled the floor around them, freezing as the vacuum sucked air and warmth out even faster now that a bad seal was in place between ship and habitat. threw 模板:Delgado over a shoulder of his gray MJOLNIR armor, and picked up the other body as gently as possible, aware that he could be making the chest wound worse. He cycled through back into the Petya, thudding his way past bulkheads into the tiny cramped offshoot to the crew quarters where 阿德里亚娜 stood ready by a large metal table. She looked up. “Two? Who’s the other one?” Juliana flickered into being over a nearby shelf. “That’s 模板:Diego Esquival.” Her voice sounded muted, as if she were shocked. 阿德里亚娜 shook her head as she checked him over, while held him in his arms still. “He’s dead.” She pulled 模板:Delgado off ’s shoulder and set him on the table. “But 模板:Delgado’s got a pulse. Store the other man into one of the cryogenic pods.” walked 模板:Diego’s body around the table and to one of the three pods. Once he set it down and closed the lid, the automated systems kicked in. 模板:Diego was frozen in his last minute, for all the good it did him. When he turned around, 阿德里亚娜 had an oxygen mask on 模板:Delgado and the computers reading his vitals. 模板:Delgado stirred and opened his eyes, the oxygen taking effect. He tried to sit up, but 阿德里亚娜 put a hand on his chest to keep him in place. “You’re back on the Petya, 模板:Delgado.” “模板:Diego?” 模板:Delgado groaned, looking around. “What about 模板:Diego?” and 阿德里亚娜 glanced at each other, and 模板:Delgado saw it. He seemed to fall back in on himself, shaking his head and looking off into the distance. “Damn that bastard.” “What bastard?” Juliana asked from the corner of the room. 模板:Delgado twisted to see her better, and his mouth fell open. “You!” Warring emotions crossed his face. figured the man had wondered if the AI was not to be trusted, but that the revelation still caught 模板:Delgado off guard. “Yes, me.” Juliana grinned. The hologram folded its arms. “What happened, 模板:Delgado?” “模板:Bonifacio happened.” 模板:Delgado all but spit the name out. “He took Distancia. He also shot 模板:Diego.” 模板:Delgado bit his lip, and slowly sat, holding his knees to do it with a grunt. “I knew 模板:Bonifacio was a sketchy man. I have watched him smuggle things into 模板:Rubble. I know of ten different caches he uses. He’s definitely running those covenant guns to the colonies. He campaigned hard for that Security Council spot,” Juliana said as 阿德里亚娜 and watched the exchange. “But to do this?” 模板:Delgado looked at the AI. “We have to catch him.” “He’s not even trying to run,” Juliana said. “Your ship is slowly coasting through 模板:Rubble.” “模板:Bonifacio thinks I’m dead. He’s taking his time, so he doesn’t alarm anyone.” The group looked at each other, and 模板:Delgado caught the glances. He raised his voice. “Oh come on, I would not have done this. Why the hell would I risk my life to break an airlock? And do you think I shot Maria’s brother? Really?” tapped the table. “Juliana, he makes a good point.” 模板:Delgado turned around to him. “And since when are you and 模板:Rubble’s AI all working together? When the hell did that start?” “When the Jackals started getting too close to the data,” said, staring 模板:Delgado down. Juliana was quiet, her eyes closed. “Okay 模板:Delgado. I think you are right. We have a big problem.” She opened her eyes to look at the three people staring back at her, and the equations streaming across her holographic body suddenly flashed bright red. “奇戈亚尔 ships are withdrawing all throughout 模板:Rubble. They’re en route for Metisette.” “You told us the Jackals were up to something, like an invasion. Could this be it?” said. “Their encryption is good. I can’t break it just yet. But communications traffic is up and that can tell me something. I’ve never seen activity like this. 模板:Delgado says 模板:Bonifacio is stealing the data. And this is happening at the same time as the largest movement of 奇戈亚尔 ships we’ve seen since they first started arriving to make a presence on 模板:Rubble. It has to be related.” “Damn,” 模板:Delgado said. “We were right—all they wanted was the data. They’re making a move now, right?” Juliana continued. “Distancia is moving in the direction her flight plan indicated, but could make a break for it the moment it gets clear of 模板:Rubble to wherever the 奇戈亚尔 want it to. We have to get to it and stop 模板:Bonifacio. And prepare for whatever it is the 奇戈亚尔 are up to.” nodded. “Our first priority is 模板:Bonifacio.” They had to focus on that; that was Gray Team’s mission. 阿德里亚娜 met his eyes, then nodded. She agreed. “Once we have that secured, Juliana, you have our assistance.” The AI had her eyes closed again. Planning, running through the millions of threads spread all throughout 模板:Rubble in a way no human could. But she was an AI close to rampancy. wondered how much they should follow her plans. He’d have to revisit that once they had their hands on 模板:Bonifacio and the navigation data. Juliana faded, becoming almost a ghost in the bright medical bay, then she appeared again. “Okay,” she almost whispered. “I can pass the fix I have on Distancia onto you, but I’m going to need some of you to help me. One team goes after 模板:Bonifacio, the other I need to do something a little bit trickier. “There’s a 奇戈亚尔 ship still in 模板:Rubble. I can’t crack their encryption, but if I can physically get into one of their systems, that would let me figure out exactly what they’re up to. If it’s a full-scale attack, we need to know for sure so that we don’t make a big mistake. If we use non-Rubble attackers, then 模板:Rubble can deny this little incursion was our doing if things turn out to be okay with the 奇戈亚尔.” looked at the AI. “You want us to board a Covenant ship?” “And plug me in, yes.” Juliana nodded. “My higher functions. I’ll be leaving a simple base copy to keep regulating 模板:Rubble, of course. But the core me will go with the boarding party.” Juliana was rampant. Or just plain insane, thought. He scratched his chin, then looked at Juliana. “We’ll need a larger force. We need to free the crew of that UNSC ship that was captured. It’ll have ODSTs aboard. Release those men and we have a force.” Helljumpers weren’t huge fans of the Spartans, but were somewhat like Spartans, had to admit, but without the altered physiology and powered armor. And they were good fighting men; he was sure he could get them to storm a Jackal ship. It was the sort of thing ODSTs would enjoy doing. “I’m not the ruler of 模板:Rubble,” she said. “Only the Council can release them. Besides, most of those people are tagged with locaters. People will notice it if they start trooping out to help us.” “Do all of them have locaters?” 阿德里亚娜 asked. Juliana smiled. “Not all. The ones who refused to become Rubble citizens don’t.” “Then we can use some of them,” said. “I won’t open the doors,” Juliana said. “That would draw attention. But if the cameras were to malfunction, you could break the crew out and get them to help you before anyone would really notice.” “That’ll have to do.” turned around. “阿德里亚娜, 麦克, you take 模板:Bonifacio. 模板:Delgado, you’re with me, I need someone who knows the inside of these habitats.” 模板:Delgado swung his legs over the side of the table with a wince. “You sure you’re going to break up your little team?” grinned. “Who else will be able to talk the ODSTs into coming with us? 麦克, 阿德里亚娜, get on the navigation data, and quickly. I’ll take care of things for Juliana.” The Petya shuddered as 麦克 disengaged the ship. “I’ll drop you off at the nearest working set of locks,” he announced. “Then it’s a full burn for Distancia.” 模板:Delgado stood up, wavering on his feet. “Do me a favor,” he asked 阿德里亚娜. “When you catch up to 模板:Bonifacio, make sure you shoot the thieving bastard for me. Preferably in the knee, or somewhere painful like that.” The Petya thudded into another airlock. “I’ll go release the others,” told 模板:Delgado. “You and Juliana need to scare up another ship for the attack.” 模板:Delgado and Juliana exchanged a glance. “We’re on it.” ran a systems check of the Mjolnir armor, and walked down the corridor for a pair of M7 submachine guns and extra ammo.


第三十八章

模板:Reth quickly strode through the hall of one of the Redoubt’s grounded ships. There were ten old decommissioned ships that had been landed around “the Plaza,” with the largest 奇戈亚尔 ship towering over them all from the northeast corner. Docking tubes connected the ships like bridges high over the ground. And if 模板:Reth chose, he could descend into the ground, where every day the 昂苟伊 warrens spread deeper and farther into the warmed rock. The escape pod he had landed in still sat out on the landing pad of the Plaza, crackling and shimmering from the heat of reentry. He’d lived in fear for several long minutes, convinced that the 圣赫利 would get the ship running in time to turn around for him, but they hadn’t. The 圣赫利 had gotten the ship booted up and kept moving along their trajectory, headed for 模板:Rubble. 模板:Reth needed to order the 模板:InfiniteSpoils away from dock along with all the other 奇戈亚尔 ships, but he was reluctant to do so. Soon the 模板:InfiniteSpoils would have human Slipspace drives, something the Hierarch hadn’t even granted 模板:Reth, but something that all 奇戈亚尔 wanted: a Slipspace ship of their own. But first 模板:Reth needed to take 模板:Rubble, and any human ships with the drives, for the 奇戈亚尔. The humans had been stockpiling the Slipspace drives they’d traded for to install in their own machine: the Exodus Project. But when the 模板:InfiniteSpoils got its drives it would mark something new, as long as the 奇戈亚尔 could spirit it out of 模板:Rubble before the Hierarchs heard of it. Everything was about to change, 模板:Reth felt, as he took an elevator up into the tall, grounded ship that was the 奇戈亚尔 refuge inside the Redoubt. There were many, many more guards around now than when the 圣赫利 had broached it. He entered his room. The remains of the firefight had been cleaned up, the glass replaced so that he could, once again, look out over the Plaza, and the Redoubt as a whole. The river of methane on the surface of Metisette rumbled underneath their creation. Its passage turned giant turbines, creating power for the entire complex. The 昂苟伊 thrived here among the mists of methane reclaimed from the rivers and pools. Shuttles were already descending from the reddened clouds to touch down on Metisette’s surface. 奇戈亚尔 were forming up in the square below the balcony, as well as 昂苟伊 Deacons. All per his command. Several of his key advisors hustled up behind him. They looked shocked at the wounds all over his body, and his hunched position. 模板:Reth paid the stares no mind. “We have planned for the invasion of 模板:Rubble for a long time,” 模板:Reth said, doing his best to straighten up against the twinges of pain the 圣赫利 had left him. “Is it time?” they asked. 模板:Reth smiled. “Yes,” he said. “It is time. Send the orders. Gather the 昂苟伊 out onto the Plaza. Give them their harnesses and masks. Prepare for the attack. We will take it all for our own, and once we have that data, we will continue to their homeworld as well.” The 奇戈亚尔 in the room warbled happily. They had been waiting patiently as the humans developed asteroids that the 奇戈亚尔 considered prime for 奇戈亚尔 nests. Now they would be rewarded. “Go,” 模板:Reth snapped. “Tend to your functions!” The 奇戈亚尔 advisors scattered out of the room, bumping into a slew of 昂苟伊 that waited outside. They were not rocketing into 模板:Rubble just yet. But for all intents and purposes, the invasion had begun.


第三十九章

The first sign for 凯斯 that something was happening were the shouts from the guards who had been walking the corridor outside. Two of them ran full tilt past 凯斯’ cell. 凯斯 walked over to the bars as the guards dogged shut the thick, metal door leading to the corridor. They pulled out handguns and stepped back from the door. “Faison?” 凯斯 shouted down the row of cells. “What’s going on?” “Don’t know,” came the response. The guard on the left side of the door looked back at them. “Quiet!” 凯斯 pressed his face against the bars to get a better look. As he did, the large metal door exploded inward between the two guards and bounced down the corridor. A heavy cloud of dust hung in the air, making everything hazy. Something large and gray blurred through the door. The guards shot at it, but not before it smacked into them, knocking them both out with quick blows to the head. The figure paused, and a golden faceplate scanned the rows of cells. 凯斯 heard Faison’s incredulous voice: “Holy shit, a Spartan.” Dirt settled on the gray armor, then shook off as the Spartan thudded down along the cells. “Who’s the commanding officer?” it asked loudly from behind the helmet. 凯斯 put a hand out through the bars. “That would be me, Lieutenant Jacob 凯斯.” He still couldn’t believe this. Had the Spartan come just for them? Where had he come from? The Spartan stopped in front of 凯斯. “Back up.” 凯斯 stepped back, and the Spartan gripped the bars and yanked them off their hinges, metal squealing in protest and more dirt falling from where they’d been set into the rock. The Spartan tossed the door onto the floor behind it and walked into the open cell. “I have a proposition, Lieutenant 凯斯.” By the entryway between the bent bars the face of an AI appeared. “We may have a way to help you get your crew back to where they belong as well. If you’re interested.” 凯斯 leaned out of the open cell. “I’ll listen to you both. You can explain what you’re doing here and what’s going on while you free my men.” The gold faceplate looked him up and down. “Of course. I’m , Spartan double-oh-six, Gray Team.” 凯斯 shook hands with the large, gauntleted hand. “We need an attack force,” the Spartan said as he moved from cell to cell. “To get the AI Juliana into a Jackal ship and back out. To figure out what the Covenant are up to in this system, and whether they’re readying an invasion force.” “You’re a Spartan. You haven’t tried going after the ship already?” The gold faceplate shifted. “Those are long odds. Not something I want to try unless I absolutely have to, and am feeling extremely lucky.” “Fair enough,” 凯斯 said. “You said you could get my crew out?” A few more mangled bars clattered to the ground. Faison and his ODSTs had rifled through the pockets of the guards for key cards. Now they moved door to door, unlocking cells with less drama. A crowd of officers and crew now milled about. paused in front of 凯斯, now that he no longer needed to free prisoners. “The ship we came in has navigation data. We can join its computers with your ship’s by docking for a Slip-space jump. It’ll be awkward, but your frigate should be large enough to clamp us on.” 凯斯 looked over at Faison behind the Spartan. “Your men willing to jump a Jackal ship?” “You kidding?” Faison said. ODSTs behind him nodded. “Beats rotting here.” The AI tilted her head. “Ignatio 模板:Delgado has a ship ready for you all. The alarms are shut down, but the guards change shifts soon. You’d better all clear out.” “She’s your ship’s AI?” 凯斯 asked . “No,” replied. “I’ll explain later.”

第四十章

Thel idly scratched at a small piece of charred carbon that had been flaking off his armor while the 昂苟伊 before him trembled, wondering about its fate. He finally stopped. “So 模板:Reth escaped.” “Lords…” The 昂苟伊 shook as it started to speak. “模板:Reth is devious. And he has commanded all within this system. You can imagine, most 昂苟伊 are eager to please our masters. It is easy to be confused at times like these, when lords turn against lords.” Thel stood up from the pilot’s seat. Saal looked up from his console. The 圣赫利 winced as he moved, the crisscrossing scars of his shame scabbing and causing him pain. Which was the point. Saal refused to look at Thel; he kept his eyes cast down at the floor. Another sign of his shame, a refusal to meet another 圣赫利’s eyes. The message had gotten across to Saal, Thel thought. It was a shame it had taken so long to control him. Thel leaned closer to Saal. “It will only bring shame if you do not perish triumphantly in battle.” Saal looked up, a glimmer of hope brimming in his large eyes. “I will redeem myself before you and my ancestors—by my blood I swear it,” he said. “I know you will,” Thel replied. “That is why I ordered you to remain by my side for now.” Ahead, on their screens, 模板:Rubble grew larger as they got closer. “I want you to lead the charge on that 奇戈亚尔 ship,” Thel said. “The 模板:InfiniteSpoils. It is powerful enough and large enough for what I have in mind.” “I’ll destroy anything in our way,” Saal said. “Good.” Thel returned to the shaking 昂苟伊. “And you, will your soldiers do their job, by the Prophets? Or will they risk the chance of damnation by disobeying?” “Sirs! They will fight. They have seen the error of their ways,” it said. “Then you will follow close behind Saal,” Thel said. “Saal, get weapons for yourself and the 昂苟伊.” “My honor,” Saal said, and left to go equip himself. Zhar, still in the cockpit, scratched a mandible. “You think the 昂苟伊 will really fight hard to take the ship?” “Do they ever really fight hard?” Thel wondered. “I just need them to cause confusion while we do what needs to be done. With that ship, we can destroy this ‘Rubble’ and get things moving back in the direction they’re supposed to be moving.” Zhar nodded. “And Saal will fight like an unleashed army to regain honor.” Thel grumbled happily. “Yes. Yes, he will.”


第四十一章

模板:Delgado ached all over. His throat felt like someone had taken steel wool and shoved it down to his stomach, and he couldn’t help stumbling a bit as he walked from the bridge down to the airlock of a decent-size freighter, not all that much different than Distancia. But adrenaline kept him moving. Juliana had run through a list of ships they could commandeer on short notice in the name of 模板:Rubble Security Council and found this old bucket. 模板:Delgado had moved and docked it near the prison. He reached the airlock and flicked switches to power the door. marched through first, with a quick nod at him. A long stream of UNSC Navy types trailed behind him. The man immediately following wore a standard orange prison jumper, but he had the air of command. He walked over to 模板:Delgado. “You’re the pilot?” “Yes.” “Excellent. I’m Lieutenant Jacob 凯斯. They’ve asked me to run the ship. I hope I’m not stepping on any toes?” 凯斯 looked around the cockpit, and 模板:Delgado could tell the man knew exactly what he was looking for. “No toes,” 模板:Delgado said. “I’m happy to work with you.” “We need weapons,” someone said. Juliana appeared as a hologram over at the communications station. “And weapons you shall have. I need a few more minutes to download a version of myself into this ship. There’s a high-capacity storage chip in the comms panel, , 模板:Delgado. When we get to the 奇戈亚尔 ship, you’ll need to get that into the ship and plug me in.” It looked like some fifty people had invaded the freighter. 凯斯 looked around. “This bucket have a name?” 模板:Delgado looked at Juliana. “The Mighty Sparrow,” the AI reported. “And no, I have no idea why. I’m downloaded now, though. Time to disconnect.” “Good.” 模板:Delgado took the pilot’s chair, and 凯斯 moved to stand next to him as 模板:Delgado cast off from the airlock. “Where to, Juliana?” “Habitat Greenworthy for the weapons,” the AI replied. She looked around at the cockpit. “So many determined men all around me. It’s quite exhilarating.” No one responded. 凯斯 cleared his throat as 模板:Delgado began moving the Mighty Sparrow through 模板:Rubble toward Habitat Greenworthy. “The trick will be approaching this Jackal ship. If they get their shields up we’ll be useless. By the way, do we have a name for this ship?” “The 模板:InfiniteSpoils,” Juliana muttered. One of the crew on deck, Dante Kirtley, who had seated himself near Juliana’s image at comms, suggested a diversion. “You asked about tricks, sir. We need to keep their eyes on something else while we drift near.” “What can you offer us?” 凯斯 asked Juliana. “You said you controlled 模板:Rubble when you were catching me up as we walked from the prison over to the ship.” Juliana thought about it for a second. “A very large industrial accident. I can cut loose one of the asteroids being mined. We can float it by their ship. It’ll give them a scare but it won’t hit.” “Excellent,” 凯斯 said, folding his arms. “Add a lot of debris, we’ll use it for chaff.” “Consider it done,” Juliana said. “And because they built this 奇戈亚尔 ship here in 模板:Rubble, we’ll be able to dock with them. No need for suits.” “What about just attacking the dock they’re attached to? Why a ship?” an ODST asked. “They have the dock airlock guarded,” Juliana said. “Of course, a few feints from the docks will also serve to keep them distracted, so I think it’s a good idea to attack from the docks as well as via a ship.” Now they had a plan, 模板:Delgado thought, as crazy as it was. And they seemed to have a leader, because even , hardened Spartan though he was, deferred to Lt. 凯斯’ command of the bridge.


第四十二章

The Petya had been hunting down Distancia, without the other ship even aware that there was a cat-and-mouse game going on. Both were plain freighters, long ships with spars and cargo containers bolted to the main frames. But Petya had the advantage of being extraordinarily well armed. Inside the Petya, 阿德里亚娜 watched 麦克 lean over the controls with the air of a predator waiting in the bushes, patiently biding time before striking. “He’s edging out of 模板:Rubble,” 麦克 whispered. That was all 阿德里亚娜 needed. Enough toying about. was getting ready to invade a Covenant ship, while they were out here. They needed to move quickly to wrap this up and get back to support him. “Alright, let’s hit him.” “We’re done playing hide-and-go-ship?” 麦克 smiled. “Definitely.” “You hail them, I shoot them.” 阿德里亚娜 looked at the screen showing their trajectories. “Shoot this jerk first. Hit the engines. We’re not playing games. We can’t give him a chance to turn back and do the right thing. He already chose his fate back at that airlock.” “Yessir,” 麦克 said, with a sudden grin. Two distant thumps under her feet indicated missiles away. Twin rocket trails flared in front of the cockpit windows as they sped ahead, and then slowly curved down. “He sees them,” 麦克 reported, as Distancia increased power to her engines to make a run for it. But the missiles closed the dark gap between the two ships and slammed into Distancia’s rear. “Nice!” 阿德里亚娜 said, looking at the debris trailing off the stern of the Distancia. “Crippled in one shot.” 麦克 leaned back. “They’re not going anywhere.” 阿德里亚娜 hailed the stricken freighter. “Distancia, this is Petya. We took out your engines, don’t make us hole the rest of the ship. I’m coming aboard. You cause any trouble, it gets ugly. You cooperate, you live.” For a long moment there was no reply, leading 阿德里亚娜 to wonder if they weren’t monitoring any of the standard channels. Then finally, over a burst of static, a reply: “Petya, this is Peter 模板:Bonifacio, aboard the Distancia. I have to protest this extraordinary hostility. I am a member of 模板:Rubble Security Council, on a top-priority mission. You are way out of line, whoever the hell you are.” “Shut up and get ready to open your airlock, 模板:Bonifacio,” 阿德里亚娜 snapped. “But what is this about?” 模板:Bonifacio whined over the radio. 阿德里亚娜 didn’t reply. 麦克 pulled them in over the Distancia’s spine, getting ready to dock. “I will report this,” 模板:Bonifacio radioed. “You can trust that…” 阿德里亚娜 muted the volume. The Petya shuddered as the two ships docked, 麦克 grappling them into place. “Pressurizing the lock. You’re go in twenty,” 麦克 said. 阿德里亚娜 pulled her helmet on and snapped it into place. “Once I’m in, you undock. Just in case. Hit them from a distance if it goes bad.” “You sure about that?” 麦克 asked. “Damn straight. I’ll find a way off.” “Ten seconds to full pressure.” 阿德里亚娜 turned and left the cockpit for the airlock. She flipped her battle rifle forward and stood in front of the door as the light on the airlock door flashed green. It slid open and 阿德里亚娜 walked through, wincing slightly as it then slid closed after her. There was always a sense of finality in leaving the safety of a base ship like this, a sense of stepping off the edge of a metaphorical cliff of some sort. And now she was free-falling her way into a new situation, a new set of variables: whatever was on the other side of the large metal door in front of her. But then, she liked the screaming flow of adrenaline coursing through her. She liked the adrenaline rush even back when she’d first showed up at the Spartan training grounds, staring with all the other kids at the instructors. She hadn’t broken out with because she wanted to escape. She’d done it for the fun, that feeling of stepping off the edge. The more dangerous, the more it felt like she was really someone. It beat the gray numbness of stillness, and sameness. The world seemed to vibrate as 阿德里亚娜 watched the outer door open, her rifle up, her vision expanding into a sort of hunting state. She burst through into the Distancia’s airlock where nothing waited for her but benches and metal grating. The door closed behind her, and the Petya disengaged with a loud thump as 麦克 cleared away. 阿德里亚娜 waited until 麦克 had time to get well clear, then banged on the inner airlock door. It opened, and two gunshots cracked into the armor over her ribs. 阿德里亚娜 grunted and rolled through the crack in the door, firing back at the two men shooting at her. Always take the offensive, she thought. Don’t get backed into a corner. After dropping them she moved back into the airlock for a moment and checked her armor. Just dinged. But her ribs ached from taking the impact. “Hold on,” a voice shouted. Not 模板:Bonifacio, another bodyguard of his. A handgun skittered down to stop in front of the airlock door. “I’m not going down like that, no way. I signed up as a bodyguard, that’s it. I’m unarmed, now, please don’t shoot.” 阿德里亚娜 moved her back against the corner and glanced at the gun. “Who else is there?” “Just me.” “模板:Bonifacio?” “He’s in an escape pod,” the bodyguard said. His voice quavered a bit. 阿德里亚娜 spun around the corner and marched up on the bodyguard, a slender man with a shaved head. He looked up at her, hands up near his chest to show he was unarmed. “What’s your name?” 阿德里亚娜 asked. “Sean. Wha…What the hell are you?” The patch on his jumpsuit said s. Williams. “You catching this, 麦克?” 阿德里亚娜 murmured, amused. “Any pod launch yet?” “No,” came the answer. 阿德里亚娜 looked down at Sean. “Why hasn’t he launched?” “Because you’ll shoot him,” the bodyguard said. “Tempting, huh?” 麦克 said. “So what game is 模板:Bonifacio playing, then?” “He’s hailing us,” 麦克 said. “Put him through,” 阿德里亚娜 sighed. 模板:Bonifacio’s voice filled her helmet. “You’re after the navigation chip, right?” “Hand it over and live, 模板:Bonifacio,” 阿德里亚娜 said. “Maybe. I heard what you did to my crew, soldier.” 模板:Bonifacio spat the last word. “I’m not stupid enough to believe you’ll just play nice once I hand the chip over.” 阿德里亚娜 sighed. Now the man was getting seriously jittery and causing problems. “模板:Bonifacio…” “Here’s the deal. I am leaving the data onboard, but I’ll tell you where it is once I’ve cleared the ship in my pod.” “Oh, come on,” 阿德里亚娜 said. “And then we find out that you lied and have the chip on you.” “We split the difference,” 模板:Bonifacio said quickly. “Let me get far enough away in the pod that it would require some serious work, for you to catch up to me. A good-faith gesture that you’re actually going to let me go. I get to that point and I tell you where the data is.” “Let me think about it,” 阿德里亚娜 replied, and toggled the mic off. “Williams?” “Yes?” “Did 模板:Bonifacio make a copy? And if you lie, don’t imagine I won’t make you pay for it.” Williams shook his head. “No, he didn’t think you were on to him until you shot the engines out.” 阿德里亚娜 moved until her faceplate stopped an inch from Williams’ nose, looking at his reaction. She waited until he finally closed his eyes. Satisfied, she flicked the radio mic back on. “Alright, 模板:Bonifacio, you cut loose.” 麦克 came on. “阿德里亚娜, you sure?” “ is about to storm that ship without us, 麦克. We don’t have time—we need to move quickly and get back to him.” “Okay, he just shot clear.” 阿德里亚娜 walked over and stood by the pilot’s chair of the crippled ship, and watched the tiny pod dwindle away on one of the monitors. The pinpoint flare of its exhaust finally winked out. 模板:Bonifacio’s voice crackled. “It’s taped above the edge of the airlock’s lip, right where you entered.” He laughed. 阿德里亚娜 ran down to the airlock. She felt along the top of the rim of the entrance delicately, and found the chip where he said it was. She pulled it free and looked at it. It wasn’t much more than a tiny, stubby hardened wafer that sat in the palm of her hand. So much trouble over such a small thing, she thought as she slid it into a hip pocket. “Got it?” 麦克 asked. “Think so. I’m coming back to double-check,” she radioed. “I’m moving in.” She stepped into the airlock, and Williams moved forward. “What about me?” he asked. “You stay aboard the ship.” 阿德里亚娜 put a hand to his chest and pushed him back. “Someone will eventually be out for you.” “Eventually?” “It’ll give you time to think about the quality of the people you choose to work for.” The door slid between them, and Williams looked through a porthole at her. 阿德里亚娜 turned her back to him and cycled aboard the Petya. She walked forward to the cockpit and handed 麦克 the chip. He plugged it into the ship’s computer. “It’s good.” “Then let’s get the hell out of here.” 麦克 looked at the monitors tracking the escape pod. “You sure you don’t want to go after him?” 阿德里亚娜 bit her lip. “Let him rot in his pod. It’s going to be a long journey. I don’t imagine whoever he was working for is going to be happy. People like 模板:Bonifacio might believe the Jackals are suddenly warm and fuzzy, but he’s insane if he thinks the Covenant is going soft. He’s a dead man, he just doesn’t know it yet. Let’s go.” “Strap in, then,” 麦克 said. “We’re bugging out.” The nearest chair groaned as 阿德里亚娜 sat in it. They’d reinforced the chairs to deal with fully armored Spartans, but the chairs still protested the weight. Then 麦克 spun Petya around and fired up the main engine, speeding them toward the Jackal ship that was going to be storming. She hoped they got there in time. Because she would be a little bit disappointed if they missed all the action, 阿德里亚娜 realized.


第四十三章

The freighter Mighty Sparrow drifted ever so slowly behind the protective bulk of a stray asteroid as Juliana reassured some very worried Jackals that the asteroid would miss the 模板:InfiniteSpoils. An industrial accident. A debris cloud of rock, water vapor, and metal shards all completed the messy illusion. On deck, a tense Lt. 凯斯 eyed the screens, watching closely. Everyone in the cockpit was suited up, guns at their hips, ready for anything. He glanced over at Li and Kirtley, who had both managed to integrate themselves into the crowded bridge, helping out where needed. “You have the mass driver primed to shoot their shields out, just in case this doesn’t work?” he asked Juliana. “Yes, but at that point we have to assume that even the Jackals won’t believe that the attack on their ship was by escaped UNSC, if that comes into play.” 凯斯 doubted they’d believe this was the work of a lone UNSC vessel anyway, but Juliana wanted a door out, in case they found no plans by the Jackals for 模板:Rubble. Privately, 凯斯 felt 模板:Rubble should just assume the Jackals had plans for invasion and strike first, intrigue like this be damned. But it felt good to be back in action against the Covenant one way or another. “Get ready, then,” 凯斯 muttered. They were close. “The 奇戈亚尔 shipmistress is relaxing; her computers are showing the rock won’t hit. She’s yelling at me for being careless,” Juliana reported. “All teams go, then,” 凯斯 said. “Now or never.” Juliana’s body flashed a sudden increase of the equations that decoratively flowed over it. “Airlock assault teams are go in ten, nine…” 凯斯 turned to 模板:Delgado. “Fire it.” The pilot triggered the thruster sequence, and the entire asteroid rolled them around to face the Jackal ship. The thickest part of the cloud of debris lay between them and the Jackal ship as the Mighty Sparrow leapt across the several hundred feet, thrusters blazing. “Four, three…” Juliana intoned. “Brace for impact!” 凯斯 shouted. “Two, one.” They struck, and the Mighty Sparrow screeched and shivered as its hull smacked against the 模板:InfiniteSpoils. “ODSTs are go for intrusion,” 凯斯 ordered. “Moving out,” Faison reported via radio, the banging of an airlock door coming over the channel. “I’ll be adding support,” the Spartan, , reported. “We’re locked in. Very nice maneuvering, 模板:Delgado,” 凯斯 said. “Our hull is holding, minor leaks.” He let out breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Juliana cleared her throat. “The 奇戈亚尔 shipmaster is complaining that we are deceitful, cowardly liars.” 凯斯 chuckled. “I take it she’s figured out she’s under attack.” In the distance, gunfire started up, with the return whine of plasma answering it. “Yes,” said Juliana. “I would say that she has.” “We have contact,” Faison reported. “Pull me,” Juliana said. “We want to be ready to plug in the moment we get the chance.” “Okay.” 凯斯 leaned over and gently slid the chip, in reality a small matchbook-sized card, out of its housing in the station. Juliana’s hologram flickered away, and he tucked it into his chest pocket as he left the cockpit. A pair of ODSTs flanked the airlock, battle rifles at the ready. “What have we got?” he asked. “Pretty small contingent of Jackals. We have the corridor in secured. Faison has us pushing them back toward their bridge.” The sound of grenades boomed out, bouncing around the walls. “Breached the bridge,” Faison reported. “There’s still fighting outside the ship by the other entry airlock. You have a clear path to me, though. I’m sending back to get you.” “I’ll be here,” 凯斯 said, as the echoes of the last blast finally dissipated, and the distinct sound of a wounded Jackal’s screams followed it.


第四十四章

whipped out his submachine gun and peered around the cloud of smoke the grenades left behind. Jackals lay draped everywhere on the bridge, thrown clear by the explosions. Nothing stirred in the haze, but walked around, putting a round in the head of each Jackal for good measure. “Bridge is secure,” he reported. ODSTs streamed in after him. “Bridge is clear,” they confirmed. They had plowed through the Jackals quickly on their way up to the bridge, running in front. Five Jackals, unable to hide behind their energy shields, had died in the corridors. Same for the bridge crew. But from the sound of battle chatter, the bulk of the fighting Jackals had run out of the ship to fight the initial attack from the dock. A good hundred or so of them had held their airlock against that threat, not even for a second imagining that they were going to get boarded from the outside. It was easy enough to keep them from getting back in. The AI and Lt. 凯斯 had a flair for this, thought. “Spartan, can you head back and provide protection for Lt. 凯斯?” Faison asked. “On my way,” replied. He took one last look around the bridge. The ODSTs were throwing the dead Jackal bodies into a pile in the corner. He double-timed it back down the corridor. ODSTs snapped quick nods at him as he passed, some flat-out stared as he thudded his way back toward the Mighty Sparrow. He passed Li and Kirtley running toward the bridge with a pair of ODSTs guarding them. 凯斯 waited in the airlock. As stepped inside, his earpiece crackled. “, this is 模板:Delgado.” “Go ahead,” said. “I’m passing on a message from Petya. They report success, and are on their way back. That’s all.” “Thanks,” said. He smiled inside his helmet. 阿德里亚娜 and 麦克 had taken care of business. “You ready?” asked 凯斯. “Yes. And by the way, Spartan?” “Yessir?” looked down at him. 凯斯 smiled up at . “Boy, is it nice to see you out here with us.” So many things could still go wrong, thought. But they’d stormed a Jackal ship, destroyed most of the nav data, and had control of the rest. So far, so good. “, Faison, 凯斯,” 模板:Delgado’s voice burst over ’s moment. “We have a problem. There’s a ship inbound. Not ours. Covenant.” 凯斯 frowned. “Already?” put a hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder. “Come, Lt. 凯斯, we need to move quickly, then.”


第四十五章

Thel looked at the monitor, not quite believing what he saw: a human freighter, docked with the 模板:InfiniteSpoils. And he was listening to the 奇戈亚尔 battle channel, where they screamed about human attacks by their UNSC warriors. Zhar looked over at him. “This Rubble grows stranger by the day, Shipmaster.” Thel shook his long head. “As strange as this may be, it cannot surprise you. The humans are heretics—it was foolish of the 奇戈亚尔 to think they could enter into an alliance with them.” “Nonetheless, the airlock is occupied. What do we do now?” Zhar asked. “Shoot the human ship,” Thel ordered. “It will either move, or we will have to burn our way in.” Thel leaned back in his command chair, watching plasma leap out toward the human ship.


第四十六章

模板:Delgado grabbed the sides of his navigation chair as the cockpit shuddered. Air pressure dropped—the ship had been holed. He pulled the visor shut on his suit and sealed the gloves. It made operating a console clumsier, but it was clear this bucket was going to be full of nothing but vacuum soon enough. The monitor showed the Covenant craft firing another round of plasma at them. 模板:Delgado winced as the Mighty Sparrow groaned. A large chunk of the cockpit ceiling caved in, and the glass all blew out. This was bad. They needed to bug out. “We’re losing the freighter,” 模板:Delgado reported. “Get your men out of this ship, 凯斯. It looks like the Jackals have reinforcements.” “Get inside the 模板:InfiniteSpoils with the ODSTs then,” 凯斯 said. “Abandon the Sparrow, it’s a lost cause. If we leave the Sparrow docked, they’ll have a hard time getting through her. We’ll fight our way out down the docks.” 模板:Delgado cleared out of the cockpit. At the airlock one of 凯斯’ men waited for him. Faison, if he remembered the name correctly. “I came back to make sure all my men were out,” Faison barked, putting his black helmet on. 模板:Delgado could see the corridor he’d just run down reflected back in the visor. “凯斯 and are on the bridge, jacking the AI in. We’re headed for the docks. I want to lead the breakout there.” “I’ll go with you,” 模板:Delgado said. Running with the leader of the Helljumpers had to be a safe bet. They ran through corridors, Faison leading, turning the corners with his battle rifle up at chin level. 模板:Delgado followed, handgun out. He was struggling to keep up with the marine, though. His legs hurt, his lungs hurt. Everything was one big ache. Faison turned a corner well ahead of 模板:Delgado and plasma fire burst out. Faison dropped to the ground with a grunt, firing as he fell. The smell of burnt flesh filled 模板:Delgado’s nostrils. 模板:Delgado rounded the corner firing his pistol low, shifting his aim to hit a 奇戈亚尔 running down the corridor in the feet. It howled, energy shield falling to the ground, and Faison shot it in the head. “Damn it!” Faison shouted. He sounded angry, not hurt. Despite that, the floor was slick with his blood. The shot had been close to an artery, 模板:Delgado guessed. Even without the charring, Faison was in bad shape. “This corridor was supposed to be cleared.” “He could have been hiding until now.” 模板:Delgado crouched in front of the marine. Faison’s right thigh had been hit. As he cursed the Jackal, Faison used a knife to cut off long strips of cloth from his left pant leg. 模板:Delgado helped him make a makeshift tourniquet, tying it off around Faison’s upper thigh to reduce the bleeding. It was a blood-soaked rag by the time they finished. 模板:Delgado wiped his hands on his trousers. “You need a medic.” Faison leaned his helmeted head against the wall and groaned. “I know,” he grunted. “But if we call someone down we’re putting them in risk.” 模板:Delgado sat down against the opposite wall. “What are you doing?” Faison asked. “Waiting for help with you,” 模板:Delgado said. Faison shoved the battle rifle across the floor. “No, you keep moving. You’ll have a better chance of getting out of here if you head for the docks. Keep your eyes open.” “There is no way I’m leaving you behind,” 模板:Delgado said. “Leave me your pistol,” the marine said. “Take my rifle. I’ve been shot in the thigh and I’ve already lost too much blood. I’m not walking out of here, pilot. It’s just not going to happen.” “You have men to lead. We can get them to come back via the docks for you,” 模板:Delgado said. “I’m not spending lives to save my own,” Faison said. He shifted his position and winced, and then he yanked his helmet off, throwing it down beside him. “I turned the corridor too fast, I let my guard down, and I paid the price.” “And if I wasn’t in such rough shape, I would have been right there beside you,” 模板:Delgado said. “Battle is random like that, sometimes.” Faison gestured for 模板:Delgado’s pistol, and 模板:Delgado tossed him Se?ora Sies. The marine examined it. “Fancy piece.” “It has a long history,” 模板:Delgado said. “I’ll bet so,” Faison muttered. “I’m sorry to have to ask for it, but you’ll be better off with the rifle. Now go, quickly.” 模板:Delgado stood up, and grabbed Faison’s wrist in an extended handshake. “You’re a good man, Faison. For UNSC.” Faison laughed. “I bet it hurts to say that.” 模板:Delgado smiled. “Not really, soldier. Not really.” “Go,” Faison hissed. “Please.” 模板:Delgado turned the corner with the battle rifle up and at the ready, his footsteps echoing softly off the walls as he left the ODST marine behind him in a pool of blood. Once he was down the corridor he ignored Faison’s commands and radioed . “Faison is down. If you can get back to this location at any point, he really needs a medic. He’ll need backup—we were ambushed.”


第四十七章

凯斯 watched as Juliana appeared over the alien console, her form wavering and sparking. “It’s getting bad out here,” he told her. “We have Jackals on the docks in solid numbers still holding out, and reinforcements at the door on the other side. We abandoned the Mighty Sparrow. Please tell me all this was worth it.” Juliana ignored him as her eyes flashed incandescent white and she dropped to her knees. “Strong security,” she whispered. Then she opened her eyes wide. “But it was worth it. We’re in real danger. All of us. Yank me, Lieutenant, and get me back into 模板:Rubble. I have the data I need, and we need to act fast. The 奇戈亚尔 are coming for us. 模板:Rubble will need to make a stand. Get me out of here, 凯斯. Now!” 凯斯 pulled the chip and pocketed it. “To the docks?” he asked . The Spartan’s gold visor turned to him. “I need to make a detour. Your man Faison’s hurt. 模板:Delgado asked if we could help.” 凯斯 nodded. “Get to him.” thudded out of the room, and 凯斯 turned to the ODSTs inside the cockpit. “Let’s get out of here.”


第四十八章

Thel stepped aboard the 模板:InfiniteSpoils with a snarl. The human ship had clogged up their attempt to board, and they’d had to shuttle over on boarding ships, burning their way aboard the docked human freighter. It left him in a testy mood. And with 昂苟伊 milling about bumping into each other, Thel’s mood had darkened further. He leaned over to Zhar. “Have any of them figured out how to move this human ship away?” “No,” Zhar replied, looking over the 昂苟伊 standing around the cockpit, pushing buttons and chattering to each other. Thel sighed. “Leave five 昂苟伊 here to cut the ship loose with plasma torches once we get through the airlock.” He stalked back to the airlock and made his way through after several 昂苟伊. They fanned out ahead of him into the corridors, their ungainly steps making far too much noise. The 奇戈亚尔 ship felt empty. No 奇戈亚尔 had even tried to hold the airlock. Had the humans killed them all? And if so, where were the humans? Zhar followed him through. After the airlock closed, the sound of welding and cutting came through from the other side. A moment later a loud creaking sound filled the corridor, then silence. “The human ship is cut loose. The 昂苟伊 Deacon and Saal say they’re towing it free and casting it off,” Zhar said. “So far, no human ships have come to sniff around.” “Good.” Thel looked around. “昂苟伊 toward the bridge. Zhar and I will secure the other airlock from the docks and eliminate any 奇戈亚尔 there.” The 昂苟伊 dutifully headed up the corridor. Zhar patted the plasma rifle in his hands. “Let’s go, then.” Thel’s old friend took the lead, turning corners as Thel quickly followed behind, keeping him covered as they thudded down the inside of the ship through bulkhead after bulkhead. Zhar turned a corner and flinched as human gunfire slapped into his armor. The old 圣赫利 fired downward, and the shots stopped. The now dead human, its back against the wall, had been already wounded. A large shot to its thigh had bled the creature’s strange red blood out onto the floor. Zhar had shot it once: clean through the head. “It was sitting down,” Zhar said. “Startled me. I barely got a return shot in.” “You are lucky it didn’t have a more powerful weapon.” Thel kicked away the handgun lying by its side. “Indeed.” Zhar actually sounded somewhat shaken. He squatted in front of the dead human. “I wonder why they left one of their own behind like this? Was it a trap?” “Who knows how they think?” Thel said. “Who cares? They are heretics. They do not deserve names or life.” Zhar wouldn’t stop worrying at some idea deep in his head, “I don’t know, Thel. You’re a true zealot, I know, and I would never doubt the word of the Prophets, but we’ve fought the humans for years and they show some capacity for honor. Look, they left behind one of their own, who was bleeding and dishonored, to spring a trap and die with honor. Don’t you think that indicates something profoundly noble about them?” Thel looked down at the dead alien and thought about it, “You think too much, Zhar.” As he said that, Thel saw something move quickly out of the corner of his eyes. Zhar snapped out his plasma rifle and fired, just as the large, gray-armor-clad human fired back with a rifle of its own. Thel pulled out his energy sword as the armored human smacked into him, carrying them both rolling down the corridor until they struck a bulkhead hard enough to make Thel’s vision blur and knock his sword loose. “I cannot get a good aim,” Zhar shouted, as Thel struggled to get a grip on the powerful human’s rifle. The loud human gun fired into the floor several times as they fought over it, and then Thel got the barrel in both his hands. He stared at his reflection in the alien’s visor and roared as he bent the weapon, straining to make it useless. The gold visor stared implacably back at Thel. There were no sounds, though the alien was straining just as hard. What creature did not choose to show its face that wasn’t a soulless and dead one? Thel roared again. “Demon! Heretic. Unholy alien!” He headbutted the gold visor, snapping the human’s neck back with each whiplike blow. The human threw him back and yanked a primitive knife from the chest of its armor. The two warriors stood, staring at each other for a split second. Thel suddenly realized that they would both die, fighting to the very end, equally matched. Equally matched with a human. Thel spat purple blood from his mouth. This was a surprise. The human looked over at the other dead marine, shook its head, and then took off down the corridor. “We follow it,” Thel gasped, out of breath. He’d broken a rib with that impact. “What was that?” Zhar asked, cautiously pointing his plasma rifle around the corner. “I do not know,” Thel said. “It was strong, though.” He joined Zhar, turning around the corner. “Looks like it was headed to the docks. Let’s go.” Zhar had a small limp, and it hurt for Thel to run, but neither of them would allow these to slow them. Both 圣赫利 ran all out, grunting occasionally, to the airlock dock. They got there just in time to see the gray-armored human disappear past the lip, running out into the large cavernous docking area where human tracers and Covenant plasma filled the air. 奇戈亚尔 corpses lay around the airlock. Zhar took one side, Thel the other, forgetting about the strange new human for now. “It looks like the 奇戈亚尔 were protecting the ship,” Zhar said. “But were surprised by the attack from inside.” “The humans are moving out onto the docks, back into their habitats,” Thel noted. “They have done us a favor. They cleared the ship.” He shut the airlock door with a laugh and walked over to Zhar and clapped him on the shoulder. “Guard this door, old friend. I will head to the bridge and get us moving. We will pick up Saal, and then we will see what our options are.” Zhar nodded. “But you should also check to see what it was the humans were doing aboard when we get clear,” Zhar said. “We do not need anymore surprises.” Thel thought about the pain in his ribs, and what had felt like a close brush with death, and nodded. What had that human been?


第四十九章

The sound of the ship’s airlock doors shutting echoed throughout the spare cavern that the 奇戈亚尔 had as a docking bay. The lanky aliens paused, looking over at the doors. Two of them ran for the lock, banging on the door, as loud clanks and hisses told everyone in the docking bay that their ship was undocking. 模板:Delgado watched the panic spread through the 奇戈亚尔 as they realized what had happened. The 奇戈亚尔 had kept bunched up on the far side of the docks, close to their ship’s airlock. That had made getting out onto the docks a dangerous exercise, but the 奇戈亚尔 had realized that letting the humans get off their ship was better than trapping them in it. Now they were no doubt wondering who the heck was taking their ship. 凯斯, hunkered down on the far side of a shipping container they were both using as cover, waved 模板:Delgado over. The immense bulk of the gray Spartan stood behind the lieutenant. “I’m sorry to hear about Faison,” 模板:Delgado said. The word had spread as they’d remained pinned down by the 奇戈亚尔. The aliens, with their energy shields and snipers, were doing far better now in the large, open docking bay than in the tight confines of the ship. 凯斯 nodded. He looked tired, 模板:Delgado thought. These men were all his responsibility. The four dead in the open area of the docks were on 凯斯. Now so was Faison. “ has an idea,” 凯斯 said. The Spartan stepped forward. “You had them all suit up, 凯斯. Everyone’s vacuum ready. Only a few Jackals are equipped. If we figure out how to flush the air out of the entire dock…” “We’d need Juliana for that,” 模板:Delgado said. One couldn’t just flush the atmosphere out of a habitat without extensive overrides. 凯斯 pulled the large chip out of his pocket that held Juliana. “ will cover you; you just need to get somewhere to plug this in. Get Juliana back up and have her flush the bay. We’ll pick off the stragglers.” 模板:Delgado almost reverently placed the AI’s chip into his pocket. She’d been created to manage the mining operations of a Madrigal corporation, helping guide asteroids to processing plants around the system. She may have been commercial AI, nothing like the industrial strength thinkers the UNSC used, but she’d somehow managed to keep the entire Rubble together since the fall of Madrigal. Juliana had been a protector of 模板:Rubble for so long she was almost like a technological deity, a god everyone in 模板:Rubble looked to for help with their troubles. And she fit in his pocket. He scanned the docks. “Over there.” He pointed at a console used by supervisors to run the docks. “That should be doable.” It was well away from the bulk of the firefight. “So go!” 凯斯 said. The rate of fire from the ODSTs picked up as and 模板:Delgado made a run for it, ducking from one set of containers and large structural spars to another. They stopped a mere fifteen feet from the console. 模板:Delgado swallowed. From where he had been, the console looked out of the way. Up close, he realized it was in the open. Though far away from the 奇戈亚尔, they were good shots. realized it too, because the Spartan turned and held out a gauntleted hand. “Give her to me, I’ll plug her in.” 模板:Delgado stared at the Spartan’s hand. He’d be just handing over one of the most important assets 模板:Rubble had. How much did he trust these UNSC Spartans? So far they’d worked toward the same goals. If you didn’t start trusting someone at some point, he thought, then you’ll never trust again. This Spartan was offering to risk his life to get out in the open and try to save them all. How much proof did 模板:Delgado need? He took a deep breath and handed Juliana over. cupped the chip in his hands and darted out. For a brief second it looked like the 奇戈亚尔 hadn’t spotted them, that would make it to the console and back before they noticed anything. But as the Spartan stood and inserted the chip, plasma fire struck the wall overhead. 模板:Delgado leaned out and wildly fired his battle rifle at the 奇戈亚尔. Several plasma shots grazed , but he kept the chip guarded until Juliana’s form appeared over the console. “Get back!” 模板:Delgado shouted. “She’s in the system.” Near misses blackened the gray armor as ran back to cover, firing his battle rifle as he did so. Three 奇戈亚尔 fell over, dead. 模板:Delgado marveled at the Spartan’s accuracy. At this range, across hundreds of feet of dock, all 模板:Delgado had done was harass the 奇戈亚尔. slammed his back into the container as plasma slapped the other side, boiling metal. 模板:Delgado’s earpiece crackled, and Juliana’s voice filled his ear. “Thank you, 模板:Delgado, . What do you need from me?” “Blow the air out of here,” 模板:Delgado requested. Juliana didn’t reply, but a second later all the airlocks feeding into the docks blew open with the bass warbling of emergency sirens and strobing warning lights. Air rushed out into the vacuum, thundering past, and the sound of plasma fire stopped. It was over in a few minutes. ODSTs popped up and shot the few remaining 奇戈亚尔 that were in full gear and still able to breathe and fight. The other aliens died horribly, flailing around, asphyxiated, their long mouths open and frozen in silent screams. 凯斯 and the ODST Markov looked out over the carnage once the docks repressurized. 凯斯 looked a bit horrified at the carnage. Markov looked slightly pleased. stood behind them, towering high, battle rifle in hand. “The Petya has caught up to us,” he told 凯斯. “I would suggest you use it as a temporary command center. It’ll keep you from getting recaptured, at the least.” 凯斯 ran a hand over his silvering hair and nodded. “Thank you, Spartan. We’ll need it. Juliana reported that this is just the beginning, the 奇戈亚尔 are up to something. Juliana might as well brief us aboard your ship.” slung his battle rifle and plodded off toward one of the nearby airlocks. After a moment, 模板:Delgado followed, both glad to be out of the dock full of dead 奇戈亚尔.


第五十章

Thel looked over the reports that Zhar had patiently gathered for him. The humans had dug around the 奇戈亚尔 battle net, which had been poorly secured. “These are details on where the 昂苟伊 Redoubt is,” Zhar said. “Including force strength, ships, how they will shuttle the 昂苟伊 to 模板:Rubble for an attack, and plans for an invasion of one of their habitats called ‘Exodus’. The humans have the whole 奇戈亚尔 battle plan for themselves now.” “Well, they are clever creatures,” Thel said. He shut the display down. “You yourself admired that, if I remember correctly.” “This is troubling, though,” Zhar said. “It means the 奇戈亚尔, 模板:Reth, may have been telling the truth.” Thel sighed. “That they plan to trick the humans out of the location to their homeworld?” “Yes. And that he was doing a holy duty for a Hierarch. You must admit the possibility, looking over those plans to attack the humans. These have been in place for years.” Thel rubbed the bottom of a mandible thoughtfully. “It is a possibility, now. I agree.” “Then we may have crossed the Hierarch,” Zhar said. “You of all should know how that chills my heart.” “A Hierarch,” Thel said, cautiously. “What do you mean?” “What I mean is that we were given a set of orders that put us in conflict with orders given by another Prophet.” Zhar shook his head. “These things border on heresy.” “Then do not speak of them ever again,” Thel said. “But it does not change our situation.” “But—” “So we shall also send a message to 模板:Reth,” Thel said, trying to add a note of reassurance to his voice. “We will not approach or attack the Exodus asteroid that the 奇戈亚尔 want. We will attack the other human parts of 模板:Rubble, working to destroy the humans there.” Zhar swallowed. “Will that be enough to convince the Prophet of Regret that we did what we were asked?” Thel grumbled. “We will destroy 模板:Rubble. We will grind it to pieces from this 奇戈亚尔 ship. How will they doubt our zealotry, then, Zhar? We offer 模板:Reth our agreement to leave their habitat alone, and maybe we will come out ahead.” “Maybe?” Zhar left the cockpit in a dark mood, and Thel sat down on the shipmaster’s chair with a sneer. This was not Covenant standard; it was designed for 奇戈亚尔. It was an insult and an expression of their rebellious impulses. And even worse, it was an uncomfortable fit for the 圣赫利. Nonetheless, it would be a good spot from which to oversee the destruction of 模板:Rubble. The sooner this mess was wrapped up, the sooner Thel imagined a more normal life would resume. Betrayals and intrigues were not his strong suit. 圣赫利 were almost always more… direct. Thel punched the console in front of him in frustration, shattering the screen and denting the metal.


第五十一章

Peter 模板:Bonifacio unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat of the escape capsule. The long-burn engine had run out; he’d kept the thing maxed to get well clear of the damn Spartans that had hunted down Distancia. Now he coasted toward Metisette. What was that damn 奇戈亚尔’s code? 模板:Bonifacio hunted through scraps of paper in his pockets until he found the tiny card. He plugged the frequency into the escape pod’s controls and transmitted the emergency. Then he waited nervously until the speaker crackled with the sound of 奇戈亚尔 voices. “Peter 模板:Bonifacio. Proceed.” “I need help,” 模板:Bonifacio blurted out. “I’m in a capsule, headed toward Metisette. I need to be picked up!” “And do you have our navigation data with you?” “Is this 模板:Reth?” 模板:Bonifacio asked. A moment as the question was transmitted, and then translated. “This is 模板:Reth,” came the response. “Our data?” 模板:Bonifacio swallowed nervously. This was indeed 模板:Reth, he told himself. He’d done a lot of business with the 奇戈亚尔. This was about business. And a partner like 模板:Reth would understand a setback. He was dealing with a trade-oriented species, just like himself. 模板:Reth would understand. “The data was stolen from me,” 模板:Bonifacio finally admitted. “Stolen? What use is this to us? Why did you bother even calling to admit this?” 模板:Bonifacio couldn’t tell because of the delay and monotone of the translation device, but it felt to him that 模板:Reth sounded angry. “I know where they will be taking the data,” 模板:Bonifacio said quickly. “Please, if you come help me I’ll help you get the data.” Another pause before the reply, then, “You are a useless lump of nothing that once glittered to us, 模板:Bonifacio. We gave you weapons to smuggle, and make a profit on. We gave you docking rights, and helped you in every way we could imagine. And all we asked is this one favor, for which you failed us.” “No!” 模板:Bonifacio screamed over the radio. He started babbling. “You can’t just abandon me, you owe me. We worked well together. We were good together.” Only silence came from the other end. “I’ll tell you where they are taking it, if you do me this last favor,” 模板:Bonifacio begged. “Where are they taking it?” 模板:Reth asked. “To the Exodus asteroid,” 模板:Bonifacio said. “And if you do me the favor of picking me up, I’ll tell you where it is.” 模板:Reth laughed. “I already know where it is, thank you. We will be taking it for ourselves soon enough.” 模板:Bonifacio’s mouth dried with fear. He’d been wrong, he realized. About the 奇戈亚尔. Probably about everything. But he still had his life to save. “But…” “I will do you this last favor, 模板:Bonifacio,” 模板:Reth said. “I will not come pick up your pod. Because right now, were I to pick you up, the last moments of your life would be horrible indeed. Good-bye, human.” The radio went silent. 模板:Bonifacio was alone, floating toward Metisette, looking out the tiny portholes of his escape pod at the distant ruddy orb. He wondered if the air would run out before the heater stopped.


第五十二章

  • SOMEWHERE NEAR CHARYBDIS IX

The Prophet of Regret stood in front of a giant screen that showed his fleet assembled in the far distance: tiny specks of light waiting to be flung through space wherever he wished. He turned his chair about to regard the other body in the room: the Prophet of Truth. Regret frowned as Truth rebuked him. “You are, as ever, too hasty.” “How is this?” Regret whined. “I have sent my hunters out to find the source of what I thought was trouble. I have hunted the humans. I have acted.” “You have not acted well. My plan was more elegant.” Truth, Regret thought, always did like working his intrigues. He shouldn’t have been this surprised to find out Truth was behind the design of these smuggled weapons. They were all just an attempt to furtively find the human homeworld, Truth had said, without further fleet engagements. Never mind that Regret knew they could smash the humans, one world after another. Truth worried about the secret of humans, and their first encounter with them. Particularly since the three Hierarchs had worked so hard to hide that secret. “Does it matter now what we have done?” Truth said. “There is a mess, and it needs cleaning. The fleet needs to return to this world. If the 奇戈亚尔 have the location of the human homeworld, we can use it and the 昂苟伊 quartered there. If not, then we destroy all traces of this… experiment.” “I agree,” Regret said, finding himself once again following Truth’s lead. “The Jiralhanae who betrayed your 圣赫利 shipmaster, they will need to be destroyed. Their loyalty is commendable, but the knowledge of what they saw must die with them. We do not need any in High Charity speaking of this.” Regret agreed. “You will travel to this world with us, and watch the fleet in action?” The Prophet of Truth bobbed his head. “I want to see this all concluded, yes. I have had my effects brought onto your flagship. We will have joint command. Together we will fix any problems. As we always have.” Regret turned and looked at the screen, with its live images of the fleet. Truth had platitudes, words about being brothers, now that his experiment had failed. But they were only brothers with a shared secret while the humans lived. If they ever got rid of the threat humans presented, then Truth would have no need of Regret. More than ever, Regret realized, if he ever had the chance to destroy the humans first and keep control of his position in the Covenant, he would have to move fast in the future. Faster than Truth’s intrigues. Regret shook himself from his thoughts. “Then it is time for us to go there,” he said. And using the controls on his floating throne, he keyed in a channel to the ship’s bridge and gave the order for the fleet to make the jump.

第四部分

第五十三章

模板:Delgado sat down in the cockpit of the 斯巴达战士’s freighter, finding it strangely reassuring to be back aboard. 凯斯 had joined the 斯巴达战士s aboard the Petya, along with Markov and 模板:Delgado. The other ODSTs remained out on the docks, cleaning up after the firefight. Things were happening all across the 模板:Rubble, 模板:Delgado felt. 模板:Juliana was off in some vast, spread out, processing mode that made it hard for her to focus on one small area. But she’d asked them all to get ready for a conference. So now they were just waiting, 麦克 running checks on the Petya, Jai and Adriana in the back examining his armor after the battle. 凯斯 paced the cockpit, waiting for information, frustrated. Markov just stared at the metal floor, somewhat shell-shocked at the death of his commanding officer, Faison. Everyone surged into the cockpit, though, when 模板:Juliana finally returned to manifest herself. “I’m sorry for my absence,” she said, appearing over the communications console. “I was verifying the data I had taken from the 奇戈亚尔 ship. I’m also presenting this information to all members of the 模板:Rubble Security Council.” She faded away, and in her place the moon Metisette appeared. It zoomed large, until its clouds hung in front of the crowd in the cockpit. The image increased, until an irregular oval appeared on the rocky ground of Metisette’s surface. Another leap in perspective showed it to be the remains of a crater. Liquid covered the very bottom, filled by a river of some sort with a waterfall. 模板:Delgado looked at the shapes by the waterfall’s edge. “Are those structures?” “The 奇戈亚尔 have created a natural home for hundreds of thousands of 昂苟伊,” 模板:Juliana’s voice said. “This structure, parked over a methane waterfall where the mists are thick enough with methane that the 昂苟伊 can breathe out in the open, is called the Redoubt. Right now, as we speak, 昂苟伊 are being readied for an invasion of the 模板:Rubble.” 模板:Juliana let that sink in. “When do they mobilize?” 凯斯 asked. “Within the next twenty-four hours,” 模板:Juliana said. The image of Metisette faded, replaced by pictures of 奇戈亚尔 ships moving out of orbit down to Metisette. “As soon as they pick up the 昂苟伊.” Those images faded as well, to be replaced by 模板:Juliana. She cocked her head, listening to someone else. “The Council wants to know what our 奇戈亚尔 contacts are saying about all this.” “That would tip the hand of any defense the 模板:Rubble might need,” 凯斯 muttered. 模板:Juliana nodded. “May I offer another point of importance?” “Please,” Jai said from the cockpit’s entrance. He’d removed his helmet, and his brown eyes were fixed on 模板:Juliana. “The 奇戈亚尔 know about the Exodus project.” 模板:Juliana had dropped a bombshell, 模板:Delgado realized. Their most tightly held secret, something he hadn’t known about, had been in the 奇戈亚尔 databanks. It angered him. “And once 模板:Bonifacio had delivered the navigation data to them, the 奇戈亚尔 were going to use the asteroid as a troop carrier to invade Earth.” 模板:Delgado felt vaguely sick. 凯斯 looked confused, but didn’t ask any questions for now. This was the first he had heard of the Exodus project, and while he could infer what it might entail from the AI’s statement, he was hoping it would let something more solid slip. 模板:Juliana waited for this, too, to sink in. “I’m unwilling to lose the 模板:Rubble. It’s everything I exist for. I say we attack first. We use our mass drivers like MACs. We get 凯斯 and his men back aboard the 仲夏夜号. If we start attacking them while their main force is on the ground, we have a chance of winning this.” 凯斯 fiddled with a pen as he looked around. “The 仲夏夜号 has the capacity to go up against that big 模板:Jackal ship, but we could get overwhelmed by sheer numbers with all these other craft they have parked throughout the 模板:Rubble. And then there’s the other issue: have these 模板:Jackals been working alone? Because if not, all they have to do is call in support. One stealth frigate won’t be much use against what the Covenant usually bring to a fight.” “I can’t speak to that,” 模板:Juliana said. “But now we have another problem. The Security Council is getting ready for a meeting. They’re shutting me out. This isn’t something I can override without drawing attention. 模板:Delgado, 玛丽亚 was Diego’s closest relative, and has been given a temporary seat on the Council to represent him. Can you get down there? I don’t want us out of the loop here.” 模板:Delgado was already up. “Take me there, I’ll go in.” Jai and 麦克 looked at each other. Jai shook his head. “We don’t want to risk taking Petya into the heart of the 模板:Rubble. We’re already exposing ourselves enough with the AI and 模板:Delgado aboard.” “I’ll take tube cars,” 模板:Delgado said.

Outside of the tall faux-marble columns of the Council Chambers, 玛丽亚 Esquival looked over at 模板:Delgado. The chambers were buried deep in the heart of Korrah, one of the first 模板:Rubble habitats, and he had rushed to get there. “You got over here quickly.” She looked like she hadn’t slept in days, with bags under her eyes. She pushed a stray wisp of hair aside. 模板:Delgado broke protocol and gave her a long hug. “I’m so sorry about Diego.” She let go and looked up at him. “They said that bastard 模板:Bonifacio is in an escape pod somewhere with the 奇戈亚尔?” “As far as we know, yes. When this crisis is over, I will personally hunt that cockroach down.” 玛丽亚 cleared her throat. “The Security Council just had an emergency meeting to figure out what to do next. I stood in for Diego. I had no voting rights, but I could talk if needed.” “I know. What can you tell me?” “The summary is that we’re grateful for all the risks you’ve taken, though I think half the Council is ready to string you all up for releasing the UNSC prisoners without locators, or without authority.” “We didn’t have a lot of time to confer or ask permission, and 模板:Juliana was helping.” “That disturbs them almost as much as anything. You know the AI is well past her useful age.” 模板:Delgado nodded. “She’s unpredictable. But I think, deep down, what she cares about is the 模板:Rubble. What is the Council going to do?” “You’re not going to like this.” “Really?” 模板:Delgado raised an eyebrow. “They’ve called the 奇戈亚尔. They want to see if there is any negotiation to be done.” 模板:Delgado stared at 玛丽亚. “They what?” “Understand—from their position, the 奇戈亚尔 have only helped. And don’t lecture me about the destruction of Madrigal. The fact is, you know a lot of people trust the 奇戈亚尔 here. They’ve worked with us to build the 模板:Rubble. They’ve traded with us. They consider them allies.” “They really did it?” “Yes. We’re waiting for a response.” 模板:Delgado walked away, shaking his head. “We’ve completely tipped our hand.” 玛丽亚 looked down at the ground. “I don’t know. Maybe not. We’re just asking for meetings. I’m not sure what else we can do except get ready to defend ourselves. We have a Council, it’s the way the 模板:Rubble works. They’ve spoken.” “But they were wrong,” 模板:Delgado snapped. “What would you have us be?” 玛丽亚 asked. “We’re ruled by representatives, and by our votes.” “This is a disaster.” “Maybe not.” 玛丽亚 grabbed his arm. “Again, all we’ve done is ask for meetings. We haven’t asked why. Certainly with all the recent activity around the 模板:Rubble it would make sense that we’re jumpy.” 模板:Delgado looked at her. “I really hope so.”


第五十四章

模板:Reth lay in a soft collection of pillows in an approximation of a nest. His skin had been bandaged, cuts and bruises covered with medicines that stank, and he was giddy from pain medication. The damage the 圣赫利 had done to him still throbbed, but he was beginning to feel like the worst of the pain was over now that a 奇戈亚尔 healer had spent time with him. The soft sound of air fans lulled him near the edge of sleep when the door to his room opened. “I was not to be disturbed during this sleep cycle,” 模板:Reth snapped, his eyes still closed. “It is the humans.” A lesser 奇戈亚尔 groveled by 模板:Reth’s feet. “They keep contacting us, requesting meetings.” “About what?” 模板:Reth opened his eyes. The room was decorated with bits and pieces of art from around Covenant space randomly piled in corners and hanging off shelves in random chaos and clutter. All were pieces stolen or traded from all the species the 奇戈亚尔 dealt with—a riot of shapes, colors, sizes, and function. It may have looked like random junk, but any 奇戈亚尔 in the room would know it was 模板:Reth’s hoard. In the corner was a handmade 圣赫利 practice helmet, carved out of a hard wood and painted black. 模板:Reth’s most prized piece of the collection. 圣赫利 didn’t part with their handmade gifts easily. 模板:Reth had to work hard to pilfer that particular item. “They won’t say,” the 奇戈亚尔 by his feet said. 模板:Reth sat up, wincing as split skin on his shoulder recracked and started bleeding again. “Send word to all 奇戈亚尔 in the 模板:Rubble to pull out. Have them stand ready to act as our front wave. The humans may be getting wind of our plan, somehow. Let’s not leave our brothers sitting within easy reach of the aliens.” “Yes, lord. But… we have worked with these humans for so long. We have built good things with them. Are you sure we must destroy them?” 模板:Reth sighed. “Any day now the Hierarchs will arrive. Do you wish to look like you were helping heretics? Our task is to fetch the location of Earth, and destroy them. Now we are to do this.” Time was growing short, 模板:Reth felt, if the humans were getting antsy. He was going to have to launch 奇戈亚尔 ships against the 模板:Rubble before the 昂苟伊 were even on their shuttles for the invasion. No matter, he thought. That would just soften up the 模板:Rubble before he took it. Once he had the Exodus asteroid, 模板:Reth thought, all these stolen baubles in his room would be meaningless compared to that fat prize.


第五十五章

凯斯 turned to Jai at the back of the cockpit. “You and your team should leave. The Council seems to think things are unchanged; they might even fight to prevent us getting back aboard the 仲夏夜号. I don’t see the sense in us weighing you down.” “I don’t see the sense in leaving either,” Jai said. “I could make it an order,” 凯斯 said. “You do outrank me. You may well order me to do it.” Jai looked at 凯斯. The unspoken second half of the sentence in the air was that Jai would refuse. 凯斯 raised an eyebrow and drew in a breath to ream the 斯巴达战士 out, but from behind him 麦克 spoke up. “Say what you will about 斯巴达战士s, Lieutenant, one thing we don’t do is leave fellow soldiers behind to die.” Jai raised a finger. “With us at your side retaking your ship will not be hard to do. With Petya’s navigation charts and the computers synchronized—” “We won’t be leaving citizens behind to be massacred,” 凯斯 interrupted. He already had to live with leaving Charybdis IX on its own. He couldn’t bring himself to run away from yet another fight. “The 模板:Rubble has no love for the UNSC,” Jai said. “They are mostly Insurrectionists.” 凯斯 wondered if the 斯巴达战士 was really that cold, having been trained to do nothing but kill Insurrectionists, and unable to shake that training. Or if Jai was somehow testing him. “There are children, 斯巴达战士, and citizens. They will be slaughtered. I will offer my services to them, and we will be ready to fight for the 模板:Rubble.” Jai folded his arms. “Look—” “The 模板:Jackals are moving out of the 模板:Rubble,” Dante Kirtley shouted. 凯斯 snapped his head up in interest. “They’re moving out?” “He’s right. Take a look.” Up at the front 麦克 tapped one of the many screens before his seat. 模板:Jackal ships all eased their way out from the 模板:Rubble, according to the contacts on the radar and reports from all over the 模板:Rubble. “Like rats from a sinking ship,” 凯斯 muttered. Jai moved in for a closer look himself. “Does the Council know? Where’s 模板:Juliana? Get that damn AI here, she has to have spotted this.” 凯斯 stepped back. The 斯巴达战士 sounded agitated. “My, my, temper, little 斯巴达战士,” 模板:Juliana said. She’d appeared at their sides. “Time is short!” Jai said. “We don’t have the time to sit around and debate things. We need to move quickly.” “What’s going on?” 凯斯 asked, realizing that Jai’s frustration mainly came from leading a small team, alone, and now being part of a committee trying to figure out how to defend an entire community. Jai was somewhat out of his element. 凯斯, on the other hand, had expected something to happen. The 模板:Rubble was basically a very large, slow ship, and it was constantly making course corrections. “I come bearing news,” 模板:Juliana said. “The Council has 模板:Rethought their approach based on this behavior. I had them recast their votes. They’re willing to consider our plans. Second: aboard that 奇戈亚尔 ship I stole some encryption keys. I’ve been tracking their chatter. We’re in even more trouble than just the 奇戈亚尔 attacking—according to the 奇戈亚尔, they’re expecting high ranking officials from the very top of the Covenant hierarchy, and possibly a Covenant fleet, to arrive shortly.” “When?” 凯斯 asked. “Even they don’t know. Just… soon.” 凯斯 looked at Jai. “Still think we can even make a stand now?” Jai slowly shook his head. “A whole Covenant fleet? Not without some minor miracle. These people are all doomed.” 凯斯 felt he had to agree. It was a chilling feeling. “The Council agrees,” 模板:Juliana said. “They have decided to launch the Exodus habitat and evacuate the 模板:Rubble.” “The Exodus habitat?” 凯斯 asked. “You mentioned the name before. I need to ask, what is it?” Jai turned back to look at him. “Right, you need to get caught up a bit.”


第五十六章

Thel stalked across the bridge. “All the 奇戈亚尔 ships are leaving the 模板:Rubble?” Zhar exhaled through his mandibles in an audible sigh of happiness. “Yes. Now we won’t have to worry about firing on them. One less reason the Prophets may seek to damn us when they arrive.” “Contact 模板:Reth,” Thel ordered, tamping down his annoyance with Zhar’s obsession about the wills of Prophets. They were 圣赫利—noble warriors. This dithering didn’t bode well. “It is time we spoke since his escape.” Zhar bowed his head and fiddled about. Thel ignored Zhar’s mutterings with distant 奇戈亚尔, moving his way up the chain of command, until 模板:Reth’s long face appeared on one of the screens. Thel faced the image. The 奇戈亚尔 still wore bandages over the wounds Saal had inflicted on him. “Shipmaster,” 模板:Reth said, the words dripping with fury. “You have stolen Infinite Spoils, the pride of my fleet.” Thel ducked his head. “I am not here for recrimination, 模板:Reth. You will do what you have been asked. I can only do the same, for we are both soldiers of the Covenant. I have offered to stay away from your main target, but I am also going to start attacking the humans.” “Do what you wish. Keep them occupied, 圣赫利. The longer their eyes aren’t looking toward this moon, the better.” The 奇戈亚尔’s image flicked off. Thel looked around at the nervous 昂苟伊, and the now petulant Zhar. “That 奇戈亚尔 will do his best to assassinate us with words to his Hierarch,” Zhar said. “Why talk to him like this, Shipmaster? It serves nothing but to remind him that we’re here.” Thel ignored Zhar. “Prepare this ship’s weapons.” He walked over to a screen showing the image of their first target, a small asteroid on the edge of the 模板:Rubble with mining equipment on it. The long-barreled mass drivers could sling ingots of metal across the 模板:Rubble to wherever they were needed. The larger machines could send these slugs across the entire system, from planet to planet. They made effective antiship weapons in a pinch, Thel knew. He’d encountered a few repurposed mass drivers in the service of canny humans before. “Destroy it,” he ordered, and watched as several balls of energy barreled their way across the empty space between them to plow into the asteroid, ripping it apart in fiery destruction. Normally his heart leapt when dealing fire to his enemies. In this case, Thel felt as if he was merely going through the motions. He had no idea what the Prophets would think of all this. But he had to do his duty. And 圣赫利 knew all too much about duty and nobility. It ran in the blood.


第五十七章

The first attack on the 模板:Rubble came from the Infinite Spoils. 凯斯 had 麦克 put the information up on one of Petya’s larger screens. “They’re going after the mass drivers,” 模板:Juliana reported. “They realize they’re damn good weapons,” 凯斯 said. Another blow. He’d hoped that the 模板:Jackals hadn’t realized the defensive potential of the mining equipment. It would have been a useful surprise. 模板:Delgado joined them, out of breath from running across the dock to get to the Petya. “They’re starting the attack?” “The Council is calling for the 模板:Rubble to evacuate to the Exodus habitat,” 模板:Juliana told him. “There are ships moving in to defend the mass drivers and the most populated habitats while the evacuation proceeds. Exodus is being moved toward one of the limbs of the 模板:Rubble, so that civilians can get to it by tube car. I’m initiating emergency routing, all cars are one way.” “How long will it take to get everyone evacuated?” 凯斯 asked. “A million citizens, once Exodus is docked, will take twelve hours. With me presiding. But then there is another question,” 模板:Juliana said. She turned to look at the 斯巴达战士s. “The Exodus can hardly go anywhere without the right data.” “The 科尔 Protocol is absolute,” 凯斯 said. “We cannot risk handing that over.” “Not even to save a million lives?” 模板:Delgado asked. “Because it risks billions more,” 凯斯 said. “Don’t even look at the 斯巴达战士s, you turn and look at me. I’ll carry the weight here. We cannot turn risk back on whole planets.” 模板:Juliana practically hissed her next sentence. “I have not held onto the edge of rampancy for years trying to save all this, just to watch the UNSC walk away from it.” 凯斯 closed his eyes. The weight of the entire million lives felt as if they were crushing his skull. He wanted to find a way to help. Anyway. But… “模板:Juliana, there are hundreds of thousands of trained Grunts getting ready to board 模板:Jackal ships, and a suspected Covenant fleet getting ready to hit this system. You calculate the odds: what would you do if you were me?” 模板:Juliana paused for a moment, running through simulations and possibilities, no doubt. “Give us something, Lieutenant. According to the records on your ship you’re known for thinking outside the box. Now would be a good time, Lieutenant 凯斯, to do some serious out-of-the-box thinking. “We need your help,” the AI whispered. “A last stand isn’t what’s needed. They need to be saved.” 凯斯 sat heavily in a seat. He looked at the images of 昂苟伊 Grunts lining up amid the large structures on the waterfall of liquid methane. He started flipping through the 模板:Jackal ship numbers. Hundreds of them perched on the ground on Metisette, except for the handful that had just withdrawn from the 模板:Rubble and were targeting mass drivers, as well as other weapons-like systems. He tapped his pen against the screen, missing the heirloom pipe he usually held. It was still back on the 仲夏夜号, with all his other effects. “模板:Juliana, the habitats and asteroids, the parts of the 模板:Rubble—you keep them all aligned, correct?” 凯斯 looked up and saw the AI nod. He looked back down at the Covenant forces. They were all on the ground. Vulnerable, if you had the right weapons. Or something close enough. 凯斯 stood up, and the eyes of everyone in the cockpit tracked him. “The Exodus is not the only habitat with engines—the entire 模板:Rubble can move. 模板:Juliana is constantly keeping the entire structure of the 模板:Rubble aligned. Which means they all have engines. Which also means, given enough time, the 模板:Rubble can be used as a weapon itself as it’s emptied and abandoned.” 模板:Juliana hadn’t seen it, 凯斯 realized, because it was almost a form of suicide. The AI lived for the 模板:Rubble. It was a part of her. But it was lost to them. The Exodus was how these people would survive. So why protect the 模板:Rubble anymore? 凯斯 pointed at the forces marshalling on the surface of Metisette. “The Covenant has destroyed us from orbit. Why not return the favor for once?” He looked over at the 斯巴达战士s, and was surprised to see a trio of grins. Gray Team was in.


第五十八章

Jai realized there was excitement building in the air. They’d gone from looking defeat in the eye, from contemplating a million lost lives, to realizing that 凯斯 had come up with a seed of a working strategy. 模板:Juliana was glowing, abstract figures flowing faster and faster over the holographic space of her body. It was as if she was breathing faster and faster, as if having a panic attack, and then she slowed. “I… I think I see what you’re thinking, 凯斯.” Jai saw that 凯斯 had been watching her closely. “模板:Juliana, can you help us do it?” “It… it won’t be easy,” she said. Jai and 凯斯 exchanged glances. This was their best opportunity. If the AI stood in their way, it could all fall apart. Jai moved close. “模板:Juliana, they all need you now more than ever.” She focused on him, as if seeing him for the first time. “Ah, 斯巴达战士, are you worried about me?” Jai blinked, not sure what to say, and 模板:Juliana laughed. “You’re worrying about me, aren’t you? It’s flattering, 斯巴达战士. So flattering. But what I meant was that it’s going to be hard to dodge the 模板:Jackal defenses and sensors.” On one of the screens three large structures were highlighted, then picked out of the picture and zoomed. “Item number one is the central processing unit for their sensor grids. A big building. Kill that, and you take out their ability to see anything coming. “These other two are Covenant antiship weapons, mounted to keep their Redoubt safe. They’ll be firing at any non-Covenant ships coming in. You’ll be dodging them to land. Not only that, they may be powerful enough to strike at any pieces of the 模板:Rubble that I throw at them.” Jai studied them. “We’ll have to jump right into the heart of the attack to disable these?” “Do that,” 模板:Juliana said, “and I’ll rain Armageddon down on them, I promise you.” 凯斯 leaned over and looked as well. “For this you’ll need ODSTs. Can we get the Council to let us back aboard my ship?” “I’m sure they’ll be cooperative at this point,” 模板:Juliana said. “You’ll need to be moved,” 凯斯 said. “I can offer you space aboard 仲夏夜号; we have the processing power for you. That is, if Exodus does not have the power yet. I know it’s not completed.” “I’m not going anywhere, I’ll be staying with the 模板:Rubble,” 模板:Juliana said. “To hit Metisette and the Redoubt from here will require tricky calculations. I need to ride the pieces down where I can make instant adjustments for the best effect.” No one said anything for a moment. 凯斯 looked at the hologram. “Are you sure about this, 模板:Juliana?” “I lived for the 模板:Rubble. What am I without it? And who else can do this? You all know I’m approaching rampancy. I certainly know I am.” 模板:Juliana chuckled. “How many get to choose how they will die. And how few in such a poetic manner? Besides, you can’t get away with all the heroism here.” The words hung in the air as everyone let that settle in. They were all taking similar actions, and could well share the AI’s fate. Jai touched the lieutenant’s arm. “The Exodus. What do we do?” “Have the Petya stand off by the Exodus with the navigation data. If we fail, Petya makes a run for it. The moment we’re successful, though, I think we should take a risk, don’t you? We give them the navigation data, to be handed over when the ‘all clear’ goes through. Petya and 仲夏夜号 can pair up and cover the Exodus as it launches off to… wherever it’s going to go. We go our own way. They head off into the depths of the galaxy, far from the Covenant, using random jumps.” “We’ll still face a court-martial,” Jai said, curious to see what 凯斯’ reaction would be. “We’ll still have saved a million lives,” 凯斯 said. “I think it’s worth it. We keep with the Exodus, long enough to make sure its well clear.” Jai stood fully up from their quick conference. “So now we move.” Adriana stepped forward. “I want in on dropping to Metisette.” “Adriana…” “You took on the 模板:Jackal ship alone. You’re asking me to sit this one out as well?” 麦克 stood up, and Jai shook his head. “Petya needs its pilot. We can’t afford to lose the ship.” The three of them hadn’t worked as a team in combat since all this trouble erupted in the 模板:Rubble, but then, their missions always seemed to be a by-the-minute sort of thing. And Jai didn’t relish the thought of trying to even stop Adriana this time out, now that she knew there was a big fight ahead on Metisette. For as long as he’d known her, Jai knew she was actually looking forward to it.


第五十九章

模板:Delgado had offered his services as a pilot, and 凯斯 had accepted. Now 模板:Delgado trooped his way aboard the 仲夏夜号, surprised by all the tight corridors, low bulkheads, and lack of confusion in the flurry of returning people on deck. Everyone had a mission: get the Night on its way toward Metisette at the highest possible speed. When he got to the bay of the 仲夏夜号 模板:Delgado was shown a Pelican. “We lost a damn good pilot back on Charybdis IX,” a grizzled fellow pilot with blond hair and a strong jaw said. His uniform had a patch naming him as Finlay. “I’m sorry to hear it,” 模板:Delgado said, walking around the long-tailed machine. “Damn Insurrectionists,” Finlay said. “Shot him right out of the sky.” 模板:Delgado looked over at the blond pilot. “Is there a problem?” “Yeah.” Finlay threw a punch to the gut that doubled 模板:Delgado up, coughing. “I don’t like Insurrectionists. You sons of bitches have cost us enough—now we’re covering your asses on some suicide mission?” 模板:Delgado staggered back, and Finlay stepped forward. 模板:Delgado planted his feet and head-butted the man in the face. Finlay staggered back, hand on a bloody nose. “You goddamned—” He didn’t get any further. Pilots and an officer surrounded him, pulling him away. “I’m not a damn Insurrectionist,” 模板:Delgado said as he walked by him. One of the other pilots joined him. “He’s a bit strung out by all this. He and Jeffries hit it off pretty quickly.” “Jeffries was the one who was killed?” “Yeah. Nice guy. Great pilot.” 模板:Delgado stopped. “I’m sorry to hear about it. But I didn’t kill him.” The other pilot nodded. “I know. Come on. They’re going to get Finlay patched up and calmed down. For all his testiness, you can trust him in the air, you understand? But we still should give him some space.” 模板:Delgado nodded and followed the pilot away. The plan was to have the 仲夏夜号 come in fast at Metisette’s upper atmosphere, then decelerate by aerobraking. Once the friction of the atmosphere had slowed them down, the ODSTs and 斯巴达战士s would be released. Then 仲夏夜号 would boost up and out again, and loop back around to settle into orbit so that her Pelicans could retrieve the ground forces. But there was a good chance, 模板:Delgado knew, that even if they were successful, if the 斯巴达战士s and ODSTs took too long they would all still be on the surface as the evacuated parts of the 模板:Rubble came down. Then 模板:Delgado wouldn’t be needed at all. The deck of the 仲夏夜号 vibrated. The ship had left its berth in El Cuidad, and was accelerating toward Metisette. Here we go, thought 模板:Delgado.


第六十章

凯斯 was back on the bridge of the 仲夏夜号, but this time he sat in the commander’s chair. He hadn’t thought about Zheng in a while. Too much else going on. But as they thundered toward Metisette, he wondered what thoughts would’ve run through Zheng’s mind in this same predicament. Zheng had been feared as a suicidal leader, one willing to throw his ship against the Covenant. An unfair assessment, 凯斯 knew. And ironic. Because here 凯斯 was now throwing his own ship and crew into a mission that might well have the same result. He’d promoted Dante Kirtley to Ops. Rai Li remained on weapons. A junior officer, Lieutenant Second Grade Jason Burt, managed communications. And 凯斯 had navigation rerouted to the commander’s chair, because what they were about to do was beyond tricky. “How are you doing on your end, 模板:Juliana?” 凯斯 asked. “Slinging mass and burning fuel, Lieutenant.” All throughout the 模板:Rubble docking tubes had been severed as the last of the occupants pushed their way through. Deputies with bullhorns shouted and directed traffic toward the Exodus habitat, but so did every computing device in the 模板:Rubble. They’d all been taken over by 模板:Juliana and were blaring the need for evacuation. She’d shown 凯斯 some of the organized chaos. “I just took out the five 奇戈亚尔 communications relays,” 模板:Juliana reported. She’d used the last of her mass drivers to fire hyperkinetic slugs of metal at each of them. Now 奇戈亚尔 comms were down to line of sight. “And here comes those annoying 奇戈亚尔 ships that have been hovering around.” 凯斯 smiled. It was a small trap for the 模板:Jackals. Knowing that they would move in, 模板:Rubble ships with missiles were lurking around the mass drivers to ambush them. 模板:Juliana fed 凯斯 grainy video showing sparks of fire and tracers lighting up the vacuum, and the resulting return fire of plasma as 奇戈亚尔 and 模板:Rubble ships fought it out over the mass drivers. “Where’s the Infinite Spoils?” 凯斯 asked. That was the one he was nervous about. That 模板:Jackal ship could match his frigate, from what he’d seen while aboard it. “Keeping back. You said there were 圣赫利 aboard it?” 模板:Juliana asked. “We saw Elites, yes,” 凯斯 replied. “While we were retreating.” A screen popped up on the arm of his chair, showing him a diagram of where that ship lurked. It was moving toward several of the large habitats, now thankfully abandoned. The screen jumped to video showing plasma ripping apart the large asteroids and boiling rock as clouds of air burst out along with slagged metal. Hopefully destroying those parts of the 模板:Rubble would keep that monster at bay until 凯斯 was done. Then he looked forward to engaging it. He shut the views down and brought up Metisette. “Good luck, 模板:Juliana,” 凯斯 said. The decoupled habitats that 模板:Juliana commanded were trailing far behind 仲夏夜号 on a separate trajectory. The 模板:Rubble trailed behind Hesiod in the same orbit around the sun as the gas giant. And Metisette orbited Hesiod. That meant that soon Metisette would disappear behind Hesiod from the point of view of the 模板:Rubble. 凯斯 was rushing to catch Metisette even as this happened. His signal to 模板:Juliana, a direct line-of-sight signal, was failing even now as Hesiod’s stormy atmosphere began to get between them. 模板:Juliana’s trajectory was different. The pieces of the 模板:Rubble under her command were much slower. She was moving them forward from their trailing point behind Hesiod to a point where Metisette would be when it came out from behind Hesiod in its orbit. To be strict about it, the 模板:Rubble wouldn’t rain down upon Metisette. Instead, Metisette’s orbit would swing the moon around Hesiod at breakneck speed right into the pieces 模板:Juliana had jockeyed into place. The effect, however, was the same. The Redoubt would be destroyed. If they all did their work. 凯斯 had the frigate moving so fast it was shaking. The reactor could be close to overheating, yet no one breathed a word about how hard they were pushing the ship. They all knew they needed each additional second. “ODSTs ready?” 凯斯 asked. “Standing by,” Lt. Kirtley reported. “Aerobraking in four minutes. Everyone strap in and hold on.” The 仲夏夜号 was in the shadow of the moon now, streaking toward it like an arrow toward a bull’s-eye. 凯斯 could see the swirls and outlines of the moon’s clouds. It grew over the next minutes until it filled the cockpit with its strange orange- and red-hued light. 凯斯 was aiming his ship deep into the thick atmosphere, counting on the immense friction to slow 仲夏夜号 down. He’d timed this down to the millisecond, run it by 模板:Juliana, and now all he could do was let the ship’s computers continue with the course… and hope. They’d picked up 模板:Jackal contacts, but they’d approached too fast for them to engage. They’d run right through the cordon before the 奇戈亚尔 even realized they were there. “Aerobraking!” 凯斯 shouted. They hit Metisette’s atmosphere and the ship began to buck and pitch. A junior officer standing by was thrown clear across the bridge. “I gave orders to strap in, damn it,” 凯斯 snarled as the young man grabbed someone’s chair, his arm bent at an impossible angle, his face bloodied. “You’re endangering the bridge crew.” The man crawled away and got himself to a safe place and strapped in, moaning loudly due to his injuries. A fireball grew around the frigate, heating up as they continued to thunder through the high atmosphere of Metisette. Deck plates creaked and groaned as they readjusted. 凯斯 glanced at the readouts. They were losing speed. Dramatically. They were also losing hull integrity. The friction was burning off plates every second. 凯斯 tapped the screen. A second set of preloaded routines sprung into effect. Thrusters fired, slowing them down even further. He glanced at the topographical map of Metisette that 模板:Juliana had uploaded to his computers. “One minute!” 凯斯 shouted. They were closing in on the Redoubt. They would be moving fast when they shot the ODSTs out. He could only hope the pods and their bodies could handle what came next. He didn’t know of anyone who’d attempted dropping ODSTs in a maneuver like this. The seconds ticked by as he waited. A hull-breach alarm sounded, and 凯斯 looked over at Kirtley. “Hull abrasions, no serious structural damage, within expectations,” the lieutenant reported. The aerobraking had lost them a lot of hull, but the ship would hold. “The ODSTs are go in ten,” 凯斯 said. He tapped the console to give authorization. The 仲夏夜号’s computers took care of the rest, spitting the ODSTs out from a bay like bombs being dropped on an enemy city. 凯斯 watched them fall away like dangerous, black spores on another screen, then looked up as emergency klaxons went off. “Covenant antiaircraft fire!” Rai Li shouted. Teardrops of contained plasma rose to meet their ship. 凯斯 turned off the thrusters and slammed on the main engines. All ahead full, he thought with a grimace, as plasma grazed the sides of the ship. The 仲夏夜号 shuddered and clawed its way along, struggling to escape the moon’s gravity and get back into orbit. “Come on, girl,” 凯斯 found himself muttering quietly to the ship. “You can do it.”


第六十一章

Jai felt the SOEIV slam against him as it fired rockets to reach a sane velocity right before it slammed into the ground. The front popped off, and Jai stepped out onto the surface of Metisette with his battle rifle up. Four SOEIVs had already hit the ground around him. Two ODSTs stumbled out; one fell to his knees. “Shit, I can’t even see straight,” he muttered over the comm channel. “Can the chatter,” Jai said. They’d had a brutal launch from the ship and a rough journey down filled with Covenant antiaircraft fire picking them off. And even Jai had been slightly rattled by the whole experience. But they were in enemy territory right now. They needed to get sharp, and quick. They had four hours of air strapped to their backs with rebreathers and tanks. They needed to get this mission wrapped up as fast as possible. The air was thick and red, and a similar eerie red fog covered everything around them. Jai continued looking around. They’d landed within a mile of their target: the spirelike building along the banks of the methane river that housed the sensor equipment, capable of spotting the 模板:Rubble. On 模板:Juliana’s map it hadn’t looked so imposing, Jai thought. “We launched with three Shivas,” Jai radioed. “Tell me at least one of them managed to make it down.” He glanced at their ID pips briefly to get their names. Mutuku was yanking on the front of an SOEIV. The front popped loose, and a fully-suited ODST fell out. “Jones ate it.” The other Helljumper, Adams, yanked the other pod open. “Your bomb, sir.” Jai ran over. Good. He glanced around. The other SOEIV pods must have landed all over the damn place. They were the only ones out of fifteen supposed to hit here. They’d have to do. Jai dragged the Shiva free from the pod. A foldable frame with wheels came loose as he yanked on it. “Form up.” Jai grunted from the strain of shoving the frame under the large missile. Once underneath it, he pressed a button, and the wheels deployed. With the two marines covering his flanks, Jai started pulling the nuclear warhead toward the building. Mutuku opened fire. Jai looked over to his right to see two 昂苟伊 tumble to the ground, dead. Ahead, more materialized. Jai gunned them down, realizing that they were only lightly armed. “We caught them off guard,” Mutuku observed. “They’re carrying pistols.” “Good for us, then,” Jai said. “Keep moving.” More 昂苟伊 Grunts came, a fast frontal assault in two waves of ten. Jai picked them off as Mutuku and Adams held off attacks from the sides. They sprinted for the building’s door, which Jai kicked down. He threw a grenade inside and ducked as a cloud of debris flew out over him. Three 奇戈亚尔 hid behind energy shields in the far corner of the room. Jai left the Shiva behind and took cover around the nearest corner. Mutuku and Adams got the 模板:Jackals’ attention with a burst of rifle fire; Jai threw a grenade behind them. As they turned around to shield themselves from the blast Jai picked them off. “We need to clear the building,” Jai said. “We’ll hold the door,” Adams said. Jai ran down the hallway that the 模板:Jackals had come from. He turned a corner, and found himself face-to-face with another. He swept the butt of his rifle up without a second thought and caught it in the chin. The alien flew backward in a spray of purple blood. Jai barely slowed down his run. He got up a set of ramps without anything getting in his way, but as he started moving from room to room he found plenty of Grunts inside. They were armed with plasma pistols. Jai hardly bothered keeping a count. He just moved from room to room, a gray killing machine. Within fifteen minutes he’d swept the entire building. The rest of the upper floors looked to be just equipment. If any Grunts were hiding up there, they were cowering away and not going to present a problem. He sprinted back to the foyer where the two Helljumpers waited. “How are we looking?” Adams sighted down his rifle. “A handful of Grunts made a run on the door. We dropped them. But I think there are a lot more out there gearing up to come our way.” The building was half a mile upstream from hundreds of thousands of Grunts waiting to board hundreds of 模板:Jackal ships. Jai curled his lip at the thought of so many Grunts attacking. They wouldn’t need weapons, they could just throw themselves at the team. “There’ll be more,” he said. Satisfied they had the situation under control, he pulled the Shiva down the corridor. He’d spotted a thick door leading to what looked like a maintenance room. He kicked the door open and smiled. A whole room of Covenant junk—consoles, chairs, screens. He wheeled the Shiva into the heart of the room and pulled the cart out, smashing it to uselessness so the Shiva couldn’t be easily moved. “Jai, they’re pressing hard,” Mutuku radioed over the sound of plasma fire striking nearby. Battle rifles clattered. “Maybe a hundred Grunts this time.” “On my way soon,” Jai promised. He shoved Covenant junk up against the Shiva after checking the readout on the front. The timer said they had two hours before Pelicans would be back to rescue them. Once he had the Shiva covered he left it, closing the heavy door behind him. “Stowed our present away?” Adams asked from the side of the entrance. Jai held his rifle up and scanned the murk outside. A lot of dead 昂苟伊 lay out in the mist. “Safe for now.” “Now we stay put until the antiaircraft guns go down.” An explosion in the distance made them jump. “Well, there goes one,” Jai said, checking his ammo with a sense of satisfaction.


第六十二章

Adriana opened her eyes inside the HEV. How long had she been out? The HEV had slammed into a building before the retro-rockets had finished their full burn, bringing it to a near stop. It had bounced down the side and hit the ground headfirst, crumpling badly. She’d been knocked out by the impact. In the dark she couldn’t tell if her vision was okay, but she had a raging headache and what felt like whiplash. She slapped the cover-eject switch and the explosive bolts on the cover thudded. It hardly moved an inch, but now streams of orange light came in from around cracks between the cover and the pod. The HEV was facedown on the ground. Adriana swore. She pulled her knees up, forcing herself back against the restraints and padding, compressing it to get her feet under her. The knees of her armor ground and scraped against the cover, but she finally planted her feet. Then she pushed the entire HEV up, lifting it onto her shoulders. She heaved it off to the side where it landed with the restraints facing the sky. It would have been a lot easier had it landed like that, she thought. She looked around. “Oh…” Tens of thousands of Grunts turned to face her, ripples of activity passing through their ranks like wind through tall grass. Since nothing had initially popped out of the pod, they’d ignored it and continued to line up to board the giant troop carriers that awaited them in this plaza. Adriana was supposed to land outside the Redoubt, close to one of the antiaircraft emplacements. Not here. “…shit.” She dove back into the HEV as plasma-pistol shots struck the sides. The HEVs held a little bit of rocket fuel to allow soldiers to use them to easily hop over to a new location. But that required them to be standing up, in the position they were designed to land. Adriana triggered the emergency burst with the HEV lying flat anyway, and the HEV took off across the mile-long plaza. It plowed through Grunts who flew overhead in sprays of bright-blue blood, constantly thumping and shivering as it made its way through the tightly packed mass. The engines finally sputtered, then stopped, and the HEV ground to a halt over the icy rock. Adriana vaulted out and ducked behind it with her battle rifle in one hand, yanking a rocket launcher out with the other. She was out of the main mass of Grunts. Those still hovering couldn’t decide whether to chase her or continue boarding their vessel. A massive, purple-stained gap in the center of the 昂苟伊 formation indicated the path the HEV had rocketed through. Some hundred Grunts finally peeled off to make a run at her. Adriana fired in short, controlled bursts, watching wave after wave of Grunts tumble forward and die. There were so many. She was quickly running out of ammunition, and now hundreds of outraged Grunts had drawn their pistols and started a second assault on her position. Just not enough ammo, she thought, checking her heads-up display. And she didn’t want to use the rockets. Those were her last resort. Screw it, this was a last-resort situation; it was her against a moonfull of Grunts. She popped up with the launcher on her shoulder and unleashed everything she had before ducking back for cover. As the plaza boiled with rocket fire, she looked for blips on her heads-up display. Some of the signals were of HEVs that were weapons caches, dropped alongside the regular HEVs. She needed one right now. She spotted one half a mile away. Adriana threw the empty rocket launcher away and dashed from the large open grounds of Grunts before they could regroup. She grinned as she approached a larger, bulky HEV that had struck into the side of one of the many tall structures that ringed the plaza. The 模板:Jackals had just grounded ships and turned them into buildings, by connecting them. Almost as ramshackle and bizarre as the 模板:Rubble, she thought, as she ripped the cover off the HEV. A quad bike almost fell out onto her. “A Mongoose?” she whispered. Useless. The four-wheeled ATVs just meant you were a biking target. Several Grunts rounded one of the arches of the building. Adriana picked the Mongoose up by the handlebars, using it as a shield, and then ran into the small group, slamming the Grunts into the ground with it. The Mongoose worked well as a weapon, a giant four-wheeled hammer that she used to crush three more Grunts in explosions of purple blood, until the wheels had all bounced off, the chassis warped, and finally snapped. Adriana tossed the ruined machine away. Her muscles would pay for that later, but for now, there was too much adrenaline for her to notice. In the distance, a long line of Grunts moved through the mist and buildings at her. She checked her ammo and prepared for the onslaught, just as a distant explosion caught her attention. They needed all the antiaircraft emplacements knocked out. They needed it more than they needed some extra dead Grunts. No matter how many she killed, they just kept coming at her. She needed to think smarter. Adriana sprinted for the distant river of methane, visible by the fog banks created by the waterfall as it hit the warm grounds of the Redoubt. Plasma fire hit the rocks near her, kicking up steam and molten splashes that stained her armor. Adriana ran faster than she ever had before in training, or in battle. This was staying smart. She needed to find a way to rendezvous with the ODSTs trying to take out the second emplacement. In the dense fog she had to slow down a bit, but it gave her a chance to catch her breath. The motion tracker in her heads-up display, overwhelmed up to this point, cleared, and showed friendlies. Four Helljumpers were pinned at the riverbank behind their HEVs by Grunts. Adriana ran up behind them. “What’s the situation?” “Two 模板:Jackal snipers. Lots of Grunts. Every time we try to break out of the fog and make a run at the antiaircraft gun they pick us off.” “You have the charges ready for the antiaircraft gun?” Adriana asked. “Who’s placing them?” One of the Helljumpers raised a hand. “Dobey took one in the head on the third attempt. But I can place them.” “There were supposed to be sixteen of you.” Adrienne pulled out the near-empty magazine on her battle rifle and slapped a fresh one in. “Ten of us made it down—we lost six trying to get up to the damn thing.” Adriana looked out into the rolling banks of orange-lit mist. Large boulders of ice and rock on the edge of the Redoubt made for good hiding places, both in the mist and outside of it. “Let’s stop at five attempts to charge that gun, shall we? I’ll take point.” She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this pace up. She could feel her blood pounding since the moment she’d stood up, surrounded by a sea of the enemy. She realized now that she almost went out in a blaze of glory, until she’d spotted the river and came to her senses. But she was still struggling to think clearly and not merely react. She took a pair of large stones and threw them out right where the boundary of the mist ended. Two sharp bursts of plasma vaporized them. That was enough for Adriana to pinpoint where the shots came from. Adriana tossed a pair of grenades in a high arc, one right after the other, using her strength to get them higher than any normal human toss could. She counted off two seconds, then radioed, “On me!” The sprint through the mist took another several seconds. She dodged waist-high pieces of rock as she made her attack. Just as she was about to burst out of the mist, a good fifty feet ahead of the Helljumpers struggling to keep up with her, two grenades exploded behind the pair of boulders where she figured the snipers were taking cover. It was all the distraction she needed to cover the ground to the first 模板:Jackal’s boulder. The 模板:Jackal was already turning to face her when Adriana brushed the long Covenant weapon he held aside and struck him. Adriana grabbed the 模板:Jackal by its feet, whipping it around, until she found a boulder and bashed him against it. The 模板:Jackal died in a spasm, its spine pulverized against the rock, its suit leaking air. Rock exploded around her, and she dove behind another boulder. Three Grunts rounded on her, and Adriana used the last of her precious ammo for three head shots, taking a deep breath before each one to center her aim. She hardly noticed their grazing plasma fire. A grenade explosion from the other sniper’s position got her attention. Adriana sprinted around another boulder, rifle up and at the ready, and found a Helljumper finishing the sniper off with a handgun. The silvered faceplate turned to look up at her. “All clear,” the Helljumper radioed. One of them had gotten hit by the sniper as they’d rushed the position. But the Helljumper with the charges was still on his feet. Rising over the haze and boulders by the river were the large tripod legs of the Covenant antiaircraft battery. Adriana pointed. “Get that thing rigged ASAP, soldier. You two, follow me, we’re creating a perimeter. He rigs it, we hold it.” She bent over the dead Helljumper for his extra ammo magazines, and before she stood back up, tapped his helmet. “Okay gentlemen, let’s do this. We have an hour before the Pelicans return.” They fanned out into the boulders, watching for more Grunts and 模板:Jackals.


第六十三章

模板:Delgado avoided looking over at his copilot. He didn’t want the UNSC pilot seeing the pale look of fear on his face as they bucked and kicked their way through the thick atmosphere of Metisette. 凯斯 had come at the moon fast, used its soupy atmosphere to burn off their speed, then sped back up into orbit to loop back around and drop the Pelicans off. Several smaller 奇戈亚尔 ships had come after them, but most of the troop carriers that had lifted off Metisette were staying well clear of the UNSC frigate. The 奇戈亚尔 ships attacking them were small, but then so was 凯斯’ frigate. 凯斯 was drawing them off, away from the drop zone. It was mostly working. As long as the antiaircraft guns didn’t fire when 模板:Delgado and the five other Pelicans came in over the Redoubt, this insane, highly fragile plan would work. 模板:Delgado watched as the clouds parted, and slammed his Pelican hard right to avoid a massive 奇戈亚尔 troop carrier climbing up and away from the complex. He wobbled back on course, looking over to the right to see another Pelican with a sheered tail diving and tumbling its way toward the ground. “That was Finlay,” someone radioed. 模板:Delgado came in low over the remains of the anti-aircraft emplacements with a smile, and touched down in front of the large spirelike building. The other Pelicans made similar flare-outs and landed in a row. He fumbled for a second when trying to find the switch to lower the ramp, but the copilot was on it. The moment the ramp hit the ground, boots stamped their way up and into the Pelican. 模板:Delgado turned around to see both 斯巴达战士s standing behind him. Their armor was hardly recognizable: dented, carbon burned, peeling and flaking from heat and plasma and abuse. They looked as if they’d fought through hell itself, 模板:Delgado thought. Helljumpers snapped themselves in along the sides of the bay. Several hung out the back of the Pelican, firing back at a solid mass of 昂苟伊 who started to flood the area. Plasma filled the air and slapped the sides of the Pelican. The 斯巴达战士s looked back, then tapped 模板:Delgado on the shoulder. “That’s everybody. Go go go,” he heard Jai yell over the radio. “The Shiva has ten minutes.” 模板:Delgado had the time up on a counter in his heads-up; he knew damn well how much time they had. He rammed the engines up full and pulled out over the Redoubt, moving upriver as fast as he could as Helljumpers fired their last few bursts from the closing ramp. Once well clear of the Redoubt, and with the cabin depressurized, 模板:Delgado began a slow spiraling climb with the other four Pelicans. A giant flash of light filled the inside of the Pelican. In the distance the Shiva went off. As the initial blast faded, they could see the plume of the explosion reaching up into the sky, slowly turning into a giant mushroom. Then 模板:Delgado’s slow spiral took it out of sight.


第六十四章

模板:Reth sat at a table as a healer checked him over. He’d been inside a command center when the massive explosion occurred, and since many of the 奇戈亚尔 ships grounded to make the skeleton of the Redoubt were fighting ships, he was therefore well shielded. He’d been safe. But he’d gotten a high dose of radiation. The healer left him with pills to take, and 模板:Reth stalked his way up to an enclosed balcony carved out of a large airlock. The Redoubt was a mess. It was a good thing they were moving out to take the 模板:Rubble, he thought. Rebuilding this would be expensive. There were 昂苟伊 leaders wanting to see him, shocked by the damage the humans had done and wondering what it meant for the timeline they had in mind for their continuing development of Metisette as a world for themselves. 模板:Reth growled. Humans. When the Prophet set him on this task, 模板:Reth had done it to raise his profile, and that of the 奇戈亚尔. He’d also enjoyed the guilty pleasure of working with the humans. Their profit-minded goals and 奇戈亚尔-like love of trade and smuggling and piracy had meshed. He’d been slightly disappointed to have to destroy the humans throughout the 模板:Rubble as the endgame of this grand experiment. Now though, he wondered if the Prophets weren’t right. The humans were unconscionable reprobates, too dangerous to let live. The Prophets’ call for their extermination was starting to make sense to him. 模板:Reth looked forward to taking the 模板:Rubble. Even more so, to getting the Exodus and the location to their homeworld on it. He’d happily burn it all for the Prophet, now. 模板:Reth left the balcony and donned a long cloak, his air supply for the walk across the plaza, and a pair of plasma pistols. He walked out in the plaza where droves of terrified 昂苟伊 stood. They’d all been dosed with antiradiation meds. Many had died in the blast, but 模板:Reth had had those bodies bulldozed away, and cleared the way for 昂苟伊 waiting in the lower warrens to line up and get aboard the troop carriers. He had only lost a few thousand to the bomb, thankfully, as the communications and scanning station was miles upstream of the core Redoubt plaza. It was time to repay the humans for their deeds, he thought, as he walked toward his shuttle and several of his senior 奇戈亚尔 officers. 昂苟伊 were shaking and looking up into the sky. It was growing brighter. 模板:Reth stopped and looked up. Giant fireballs were streaking down, growing larger and larger. The humans had taken out the antiaircraft batteries and his ability to see… to see this coming. He ran for his shuttle, shoving frightened 昂苟伊 aside. “Go!” he screamed at his pilot in the cockpit. “Get off the ground!” The shuttle fired its engines and started to rise, and 模板:Reth saw the first giant mound of rock slam into the Redoubt. But where had they come from? he wondered, as the shock wave threw his shuttle aside and dashed it against the side of one of the large buildings. The wreckage of the shuttle slid to the ground as debris and rock rained down on it. A dazed 模板:Reth looked up through the cracked glass of the shuttle; he stared directly up at one large fireball that plummeted right at him. It was irregularly shaped, he thought, with large docking collars sticking out of one side, melting away into slag as the heat deformed them. A piece of the 模板:Rubble, he realized just before it struck, vaporizing everything in an immense release of hyperkinetic energy and destruction.


第六十五章

Thel looked at the glowing, cratered remains of the Redoubt from orbit. “Nothing remains of 模板:Reth’s fleet. There is no sign of 模板:Reth himself, either.” A stillness descended on the bridge of the Infinite Spoils as both Zhar and Thel contemplated the destruction the humans had wrought on Metisette. “And now what, Shipmaster?” Zhar asked. “We have destroyed prime targets in the 模板:Rubble; the rest has dashed itself against Metisette.” Thel looked at the 昂苟伊 working for them, and thought about Saal, brooding somewhere deep inside the ship. “Some might say we have done our mission well, Zhar. Do you think the Prophets will believe it when they arrive?” Zhar looked at him, his mandibles flexing slightly as if tasting the air for clues as to what Thel might want as an answer. His once proud mind had become erratic in the face of the idea that the Hierarchs may have had differing goals, and that they’d gotten caught in the middle of some machination between the Prophets of Regret and Truth. Thel knew that 圣赫利 honor demanded they rise above it. He cleared his throat. “模板:Reth’s invasion fleet is in disarray. The Hierarchs will not be happy if we stand here and let the last of the humans escape with the location to Earth and the only chance all these loyal 昂苟伊 have to live.” Thel looked at the 昂苟伊 on the bridge as they paid close attention to him, without looking directly at him. So maybe 圣赫利 could play politics, Thel thought to himself, or at least set aside the desire for direct combat for a bit, despite the fact it coursed through their blood. “What do you mean?” Zhar said. “The Hierarchs want loyal subjects and true believers,” Thel said. “I cannot imagine what would happen to all these surviving 昂苟伊 if they do not try to take that asteroid in which the humans are trying to evacuate the system.” 昂苟伊 eyes balefully watched Thel pace the bridge now. Zhar coughed. “Their lives would all be forfeit.” Thel nodded. “They would indeed.” He turned to the 昂苟伊 in the room. “Tell your surviving brothers to board the Exodus asteroid. We will provide cover for the action, but then stand clear. That human ship is too much of a match for this ungainly 奇戈亚尔 boat.” He walked over and shut off the screen showing the ruins of the Redoubt. “The 昂苟伊 will take the asteroid, or die trying.” If the Hierarchs were to let any of them live, there was no other option. Zhar got up and walked over to Thel. “If the illustrious Hierarchs cannot agree on these things, what else do they disagree on, and what else might just be Prophet manipulation, Shipmaster?” Thel grabbed Zhar’s arm, and Zhar growled. But Thel looked his fellow 圣赫利 in the eye and whispered, “Such thinking lines the path to heresy. Do not indulge in it.” Zhar pulled free and left the bridge.


第六十六章

From the moment the evacuation protocols had blared into life, Karl Simon’s day had been a blur of tubes and long lines, waiting to board a habitat he’d never heard of until today. And it was a habitat that was going to jet them toward a new system. Away from home. A home that was under attack. It reminded him of the day the Covenant attacked Madrigal: the same nervous lines of people, hushed rumors, and fear that hung in the air. At the very end, Karl had been shuttled to the Exodus in a cramped supplies freighter. He’d looked out the pilot’s windows and seen the craters and pitted surface of what looked like a tiny moon. The Exodus was six miles of potato-like asteroid, with a diameter of two miles. The freighter was a fleck of dust next to it, and the Exodus filled the windows as far as they could see as they approached it. We did this, Karl had thought with a momentary flash of pride. He’d been hustled to what felt like a stadium near the core of the ship, moving through miles and miles of corridors, following instructions on a card that had been handed to him in the shuttle. A hundred thousand other refugees, their murmuring echoing around the walls and ceilings, all had assigned chairs that matched numbers on their cards. But now, the moment Karl sat, an usher appeared. “Karl Simon?” “Yes?” “Volunteer for the 模板:Rubble Defense Force?” “Yes.” Karl had signed up during the early days of the 模板:Rubble, when they’d been looking over their shoulders every day, expecting the Covenant to return. “Come with me.” The usher led Karl out of the rows of chairs with restraints where everyone else was being ordered to buckle in. Outside, the usher pointed down a corridor. “Follow this all the way to the end. They need you there.” It was a mile, which Karl walked as fast as he could, slightly out of breath when he reached an open bay near the front of the asteroid where thirty men with rifles and handguns stood, guarding the entrance. A grizzled old miner looked him up and down. “Volunteer Defense?” “Yeah.” “You have certification in hand-to-hand combat and firearms training?” Karl nodded. The minder handed Karl a datapad and a handgun. “We have an estimated three thousand 昂苟伊 who’ve managed to get inside, more expected. You’re drafted. The doors behind us lead to the control center, the bridge, of the Exodus. The aliens do not get past here. Understand?” “Yes, sir,” Karl said, and took up position just as the floor started to shake. “What the hell is that?” one of the other men shouted, holding a machine gun up as a seven-foot-tall man in gray armor turned the corner. They all stared as the half-ton, armor-clad human walked up to them. “I have something the bridge crew needs,” he said, and held up a small black chip casing in his gauntleted hand. “Mind letting me through?” The 模板:Rubble Defense Force stepped aside, one of the large miners politely holding the door open for the giant, armor-clad soldier to step inside.


第六十七章

The bridge crew of the Exodus habitat hailed the 仲夏夜号. 凯斯 looked over at Lt. Burt on the comms. “Patch them through.” 仲夏夜号 had been covering the slow flight out to the edges of the system to prepare for a Slipspace jump for almost a day now. 昂苟伊 and 奇戈亚尔 fighters had dogged and harassed them the whole way, pockmarking the surface of the asteroid and occasionally scoring hits on the frigate, but unable to stop them. The desperate Grunt boarding parties left 凯斯 nervous. He’d had to make a snap decision to have the 斯巴达战士s hand over the nav data, but all indications were that the 模板:Rubble Defense fighters were keeping the Grunts pinned down. And more importantly, well clear of the cockpit. The Grunts, with their methane tanks and nowhere to go once the Exodus entered Slipspace, would eventually choke to death. 凯斯 had decided the million lives were worth the small risk. There’d been enough Colonist deaths by the Covenant so far. It was time to rescue some of them. He had no idea of what trouble might lie ahead for him from this decision, but the lives saved would be worth it. They were far now enough out to enter Slipspace. An engineer appeared, his overalls dirty, bags under his eyes. “Lieutenant 凯斯, I apologize, but the Security Council insisted I contact you.” The 模板:Rubble’s Council. 凯斯 had almost forgotten about them. “What’s wrong?” “The Exodus will not be able to make the trip. We don’t have the range and engine power. We expected more time to bring more engines online. With a Covenant fleet supposed to arrive, we have to go with what we have now. And what we have now, well, they’ll burn out, or if we make lots of small jumps, it will literally take centuries to cross the galaxy away from where Covenant or UNSC people would ever dare venture, as we originally planned.” The man looked defeated. “The Council knows?” 凯斯 asked. “Yes. They’re debating what to do.” The engineer looked down at the floor. “But the Exodus can make a journey, just not as far as originally intended?” 凯斯 confirmed. The Council didn’t want to return to the colonies. Would they be hardheaded enough to risk Exodus and everyone in it to try and leave the Covenant and colonies behind anyway? “Yes.” The engineer met his eyes. 凯斯 realized the engineer was worried about the same thing. “Put me through to the Council,” 凯斯 ordered. He thought about the last time he’d given a speech. Forget trying to sound stirring, he thought. Just lay it out. His duty was to convince the Council to head toward the Inner colonies. It was their best bet for survival. The screen filled with the members of the Security Council. The 模板:Rubble wasn’t working as a technocracy right now, not while being herded into their spots all throughout the Exodus asteroid. This was their leadership. And 凯斯 had to influence it. “Hello, I’m Lieutenant 凯斯, of the 仲夏夜号,” he said with a faint grin. He locked his arms behind him. It was a classroom habit, and it would keep him from reaching for the pipe which he’d found sitting in his belongings, thankfully untouched. “I’m a fighting man, but as commander of this ship, I know something about holding people’s lives in my hands. I won’t bullshit around. You have enough engine power to reach an Inner Colony quickly, where there will be some measure of protection, and access to resources. The other option is to risk a slow, long journey out to a destination that has neither, but in which you retain your own power. “I don’t know what the UNSC will do, and I can’t guarantee that all of you with Insurrectionist ties will be given a pass. But remember, you have a million lives you’re deciding for. A million lives who could make a difference in the future fight against these bastard aliens who destroyed the 模板:Rubble. Unless you choose to let the Covenant win.” 凯斯 looked at them all, and 玛丽亚 Esquival stood up. “We took a vote,” she said, “before you called.” 凯斯 sucked in his breath. She quirked a faint smile. “We’re aiming to reach the 18 Scorpii system. If you would escort us, Lieutenant.” “Of course,” 凯斯 said. “Make random jumps out, until we clear the asteroid of Grunts. We want to make sure not a single one remains alive before we turn toward the Inner Colonies.” His after-action report was going to be damning enough. Showing up with an asteroid full of evidence… well, 凯斯 figured he’d be spending time behind bars again soon. But he couldn’t turn his back on a million lives. He couldn’t leave them for the Covenant. Not again. 玛丽亚 nodded. “We have teams combing Exodus thoroughly.” 凯斯 waited until the screen flickered off, then looked around at his bridge crew. “It’s still tricky,” he said. “Don’t let those breaths out. We have to hope Petya’s computers can keep us in sync.” “Actually,” said a voice from the back of the bridge. “We ditched Petya.” The 斯巴达战士 at the back pulled his helmet off. It was 麦克. He held out a chip. “This what I think it is?” 凯斯 asked. “Navigation charts.” 麦克 sat down by 凯斯’ old console. “I ran simulations on syncing our two ships. The odds weren’t good. Made more sense to dump the freighter. I pressed your crew into service; we off-loaded a lot of the more useful cargo into your bay. We also cut loose a couple of Pelicans to make some room.” 凯斯 raised an eyebrow. “And I authorized this when?” 麦克 plugged the navigation data in, dumping star chart information into the ship’s computers. “I took some liberties. Time was short when you showed up. Jai and Adriana lent a hand; they’re still stowing things. A good price for the data, losing just a couple Pelicans, Lieutenant 凯斯, don’t you think?” 凯斯 straightened out his back, holding in his private smile. “Don’t ever try to run my ship for me again.” The 斯巴达战士 did not reply, but plugged in a random vector out of the system. “We’re going in the same direction. I carried these personally on a disk from their ship to this one. Can’t be intercepted. Will you give the order?” 凯斯 looked out into space through the windows of his bridge. “Send them the signal. Engage Slipspace drives.” All across Exodus engines flickered to life, and the asteroid struggled its way into Slipspace, ripping and clawing its way into a hole in the universe. It was ungainly, but the asteroid managed it, and 仲夏夜号 followed, leaving behind the remains of the 模板:Rubble.


第六十八章

模板:Bonifacio drifted in orbit around Metisette. The batteries on his pod were close to dead, and condensation dripped off the portholes. He’d seen the destruction of the Redoubt from orbit, the asteroids raining down into the atmosphere. Since then things had been quiet. The air was getting thick inside the pod, and it was hard to breathe. Occasionally he heard 奇戈亚尔 voices on the radio and sometimes fast 昂苟伊 chatter, but none of them would respond to his calls for help. Not even calls back to the 模板:Rubble had been answered. He’d pleaded and begged, even offered rewards, but gotten only static. He sat in place hugging his chest, when a loud pipping sound caught his attention. 模板:Bonifacio moved over and looked at the scans. A bulbous-headed ship had appeared in orbit nearby, expertly dropping out of Slipspace in a way no human ship could. Another flashed into space behind it, then another, and another. An entire Covenant fleet materialized in front of 模板:Bonifacio. This would be a new group of Covenant. Ones who hadn’t shut him out, 模板:Bonifacio thought. He moved to the radio. He’d surrender. Yes, he’d be a tool of the Covenant, a slave to them, but he’d live. Yes, he’d live. He grabbed the microphone and hailed the large cruiser moving nearby, and kept calling it until he saw it change course. 模板:Bonifacio’s heart skipped. He’d done it. He’d survived. He was going to get picked up. He smiled as he watched the cruiser pick up speed, and then frowned. It was still picking up speed. It was moving so close that he could see it from the windows of his pod, growing larger every second. A ball of energy gathered underneath the ship. 模板:Bonifacio screamed and put his hand up against the slimy, wet porthole as if to ward off the plasma that lashed out and struck his tiny pod. The massive Covenant cruiser plowed through the vaporized remains as it adjusted its orbit.


第六十九章

Thel got to his knees and bowed to the pair of Hierarchs before him on the bridge of the Infinite Sacrifice. An honor guard of five 圣赫利 guards arrayed themselves around their floating chairs. “Rise,” the Prophet of Truth said. “You ordered the 昂苟伊 to storm the human vehicle after the 奇戈亚尔 模板:Reth’s death?” “Yes, Hierarch,” Thel said. “It was a chance to get the location of their homeworld. But we know now the 昂苟伊 and any 奇戈亚尔 that were with them have failed.” “How is that?” the Prophet of Regret asked. “Their air would have run out by now.” The heavy crowns of the Hierarchs bobbed as they considered that. “Indeed,” Truth said. “We are left only with 奇戈亚尔 who imagined they were helping humans, at 模板:Reth’s orders. Potential traitors, all of them. And these 昂苟伊 as well, breeding outside the law. Traveling without permits.” Regret shook its head. “A mess.” “A mess that revealed much,” Truth hissed. For a moment, an uncomfortable silence hung in the air. Then Regret nodded at Truth. “We will destroy all the traitors.” Thel felt his neck tighten. He’d failed to appreciate the situation, and now he would pay the ultimate price for his mistakes. The Hierarchs would have his head. Vadam would suffer. His lineage would be suspect. The floor beneath his feet felt as if it wavered, and then Thel stiffened. Zhar was moving forward. The 圣赫利 warrior had drawn the bar of his energy sword, but not yet unleashed it. “Zhar,” Thel hissed, horrified. Zhar seemed to be struggling with himself. “So you will kill us too, Shipmaster?” Zhar cried out. “Like animals? After all we served. How can I suffer such a dishonor? My line’s dishonor?” The honor guard drew their energy pikes, the ends shimmering with contained blue plasma. Zhar took another hesitant step forward, and Thel pulled out his sword and turned it on. “Zhar?” His old friend looked back at him. “I have already drawn,” he said. “I will not stand and let them dishonor me.” “I have drawn as well,” Thel said sadly. Zhar leapt forward, but Thel jumped as well, slamming into his side and spearing Zhar through the throat with his sword. It sizzled and spat 圣赫利 blood. Thel threw Zhar against a wall, then decapitated him with a swift swipe. He stared at the mess of blood and Zhar’s body, then turned back to the Hierarchs, setting his sword down on the ground away from him. What else could he have done? Thel wondered. Zhar had forced him into it. To step toward the Hierarchs with a sword in hand was madness. Regret looked shaken, but composed himself and piloted his chair out of the large bridge. “What madness 圣赫利 honor can be,” he muttered as he left. “They should be careful, lest they lose their way.” But Truth looked at Thel with analytical eyes. “Tell me your name, noble warrior.” “Thel ‘Vadamee,” Thel said. Truth moved closer, the honor guard moving with him. “You live. Say nothing of what happened here.” “Yes, Hierarch,” Thel said. “Report to the shipmaster—he will find you lodging until we return to High Charity.” Truth also left the bridge. Thel waited until they were well clear, then stood. He didn’t look at Zhar’s body as he walked to the large, 圣赫利 shipmaster to get his instructions. This mission was over, and Thel was grateful. He wanted a ship to command that was part of a fleet, not off on its own. But leading a mission, away from the Prophets where his decisions could or could not risk their wrath… Thel ‘Vadamee never wanted to be in that position again.

第七十章

  • UNSC FRIGATE READY OR NOT, OUTER 18 SCORPII

Commander Arthur Resnick of the frigate Ready or Not was enjoying a routine patrol at the edge of the system of 18 Scorpii. The slow pace gave him time to catch up on paperwork, and he was scrolling through a datapad full of reports when his navigation officer suddenly stiffened. “Sir?” Resnick glanced at the screen. “What the hell is that?” The report showed something… huge. It was bearing down on the system in Slipspace. The scan had been forwarded to them via an early warning sensor net and station farther out-system. “That’s gotta be Covenant,” he said. “None of us have anything that heavy.” The mass was off the charts. “It’s six miles long,” the navigation officer said. She sounded shocked. “Whatever it is.” “Send the warning.” The planet of Falaknuma would need to gear up as best it could. There wasn’t much in the way of UNSC Navy here. Falaknuma mainly served as a base for a section of the 军情局 Prowler Corps, and a handful of frigates. They were going to get overwhelmed pretty quickly, if past Covenant encounters were anything to judge by. Resnick cleared his datapad. “Get the MAC ready. Bring the reactor up to full operational power—” “Sir.” Comms stood up. “It’s broadcasting a UNSC friend-or-foe tag. The 仲夏夜号.” Resnick looked over at Navigation. Lt. Onika frowned. “There’s another signature in there. About the right size to be a frigate.” “Could be a trap.” “Standby, but wait for my order to fire,” Resnick said. “We stand off and watch this. For a moment.” Then the massive object dropped into real space and they finally got a read on it. A six-mile-long asteroid, trailing debris, one engine misfiring and a UNSC frigate trailing it. “Comms, open a channel,” Resnick ordered. On the screen a man with Navy-short salt-and-pepper hair appeared. “Ready or Not, this is Lieutenant 凯斯, of the 仲夏夜号. We’re all friendly. Do not fire.” 凯斯 grinned. “The asteroid is full of refugees from behind Covenant lines. They’re all civilians from what was once Madrigal. About a million of them. Their air is getting stale, the asteroid has been holed from being shot at, and the engines are critical. We need to get these civilians off the moment they get into a stable orbit.” The bridge crew of the Ready or Not stared at the large asteroid moving by them. Someone from the back of the bridge uttered what was on everyone’s mind: “Holy shit.” Resnick snapped around. “Alright, let’s get to it. Comms, we need to bump this up the chain of command and to the Colonial Administration Authority. Let’s get cracking—there are people’s lives at stake.” The bridge exploded into motion as the rescue effort began.

第五部分

第七十一章

“We lost much,” the Prophet of Regret said. Truth looked at his fellow Hierarch. “No. We purged 奇戈亚尔 and 昂苟伊 who might have caused trouble, due to their inclinations to work with humans. And thanks to the modified weapons, we have found two more worlds of theirs to attack.” “Neither of which will be their homeworld,” Regret grumbled. “It is progress,” Truth said. From their throne room, high up in High Charity, they looked out over their subjects. Streams of other San’Shyuum wobbled around the city in the air in large rings, barges of 昂苟伊 flew from point to point, and pilgrims from all throughout the Covenant worlds thronged the streets. “We need to be more careful about the 圣赫利,” Regret said. “Honor and nobility might one day get in the way of orders.” Truth glided away from the city scene and into the heart of the chamber, where golden streams of light flashed through a gentle drug-smoke haze. “Maybe,” he said. “But some of them seem fiercely loyal, and very useful. I value loyalty.” Regret grunted. “I value results.” “Then it is good we work together,” Truth said. “For the good of the Covenant.” Regret picked up one of the bowls and inhaled. “For the good of the Covenant, yes. In all we do.” The two hierarchs had resolved the moment of bad blood that had grown between them. Their plans were back in synchronization. For now, Regret thought. For now.


第七十二章

  • VADAM KEEP, YERMO, SANGHELION

“The Fleet of Particular Justice?” Lak ‘Vadamee asked. The old 圣赫利 walked along the keep’s walls with Thel. Thel had a new shipmaster’s cloak that tugged and kicked at him in the cold mountain wind. “I have never heard of it.” “It is a new reorganization of the fleets. Against the 圣赫利 Councilors’ desires. They have given me a cruiser to command within this fleet.” “A strange new age, Kaidon.” Thel looked out over Vadam valley, out toward the distant sea. “Stranger than I can dare speak. Even when I add my lines to the family saga.” “But our nobility rises, does it not?” Lak asked. “For now,” Thel replied. “But I have seen humans as strong and as fast as any of ours. And I have seen what happens to those who disappoint the Prophets.” “We are Vadam,” Lak said. “We shall persevere.” Thel started to say something, then paused. Lak had trained Thel when he’d been among the keep’s young. He’d bruised and kicked Thel, toughened him to be the warrior he was today. He’d taught him the histories, made him learn sagas, and taught him to reason. If he couldn’t trust Lak to be a close advisor, then Thel had no friends and was alone in this universe. “You must never repeat this, but I saw the Hierarchs argue with each other, and it cost the lives of many souls,” Thel finally said. “Is it heresy that I cannot shake the worry that gives me?” “There is heresy, and then there is heresy,” Lak said softly. Thel rested his hands on the stone in front of him. “What do you mean by that riddle, elder Lak?” “Long ago our ancestors believed without a doubt that the Forerunner artifacts we found scattered on our world were objects of veneration. We could study and worship them, and imagine transcendence. But that was it. To destroy, even take them apart, was heresy. “Then came the Prophets, who wanted the artifacts to study. They wanted to violate them and explore them. So we fought to prevent this heresy, and both Prophets and 圣赫利 almost perished in the fight. Now we let the Prophets do what they will and study these artifacts. Might made heresy change. But what is the true truth? Who knows?” Lak shrugged. “That is close to heretical,” Thel said, looking over at his old master. “I am an old 圣赫利,” Lak said. “I have been hit on the head too many times, and am easily confused. What do I know of theology?” Thel grumbled. “We shall persevere then, elder, heresies or not, and strive to follow the path. I might even rise above just shipmaster.” “That is the attitude to take, Kaidon. Enjoy your moments of triumph now. The future will come soon enough; there is no reason to dwell too much on it. Then you will end up an old creature who has spent far too much time worrying.” Thel followed Lak down the stairs into the warmth, where the elders of the Vadam waited to congratulate him on his success and promotion. There was living to do, Thel thought happily. And the warmth of a productive and virile keep to enjoy.


第七十三章

  • UNSC LOCAL HQ, FALAKNUMA, 18 SCORPII

凯斯 saluted and stood ramrod-straight in front of the two men at the table in front of him. Admiral 科尔 waved at him to sit down. The other man, an 军情局 agent, slowly flipped through the pages of a report with exaggerated care while 凯斯 stared at the Admiral 科尔, the Hero of Harvest and the man who’d dedicated his life to taking the fight to the Covenant. 凯斯 realized that the slow page turning was theater, but it was working. 凯斯 was nervous and sweating under his full dress uniform. This was the part where they busted him back to the classroom. And yet, as he played back all his actions in the past few weeks, he found in himself few regrets. He was at peace with himself. In some ways, he’d managed to banish the guilt of not being able to help his sister, dead or trapped somewhere out in the Outer Colonies, by rescuing these million. “Lieutenant Jacob 凯斯,” the 军情局 agent said in sibilant tones. “Quite a return from your mission.” Admiral 科尔 tapped the table. “To begin with: navigational hazards.” The Exodus asteroid had been falling apart as it came in, shaking itself to pieces due to resonances the engineers hadn’t anticipated from trying to drive a six-mile-long asteroid through Slipspace. Once in orbit around Falaknuma the emergency scramble to evacuate the nearly one million ex-模板:Rubble residents had been a success. But the asteroid had disintegrated shortly after. Falaknuma now had a ring of debris around it, and the UNSC was using frigates with MAC guns to blow the larger chunks into small enough pieces to burn up in Falaknuma’s atmosphere. But that now meant impediments to getting on and off Falaknuma until everything had deorbited and burned up, which according to experts would take years. “Then there is the matter of your dumping an unknown number of Insurrectionists on the population. Some have slipped away from the camps. Who knows when that will start to come back to bite us,” the 军情局 agent said. 凯斯 stared straight ahead. “Yessir.” “And I’ve lost one commander,” said Admiral 科尔. “I see, sir.” 科尔 fiddled with a pen. “Why, Lieutenant?” 凯斯 looked at him. “A million civilians, sir. Behind enemy lines. I had a duty to do something. Anything. Sir.” “A good argument,” the admiral said, much to 凯斯’ surprise. “At ease, Jacob. You did the best you could under some damn horrendous circumstances. You did good. A lot of those million civilians are people with experience in dealing with the Covenant, which 军情局 is already putting to good use through debriefing. Seems this 模板:Rubble group is full of pilots. We’re getting some recruits out of them. And getting people back from behind the lines—damn it, that’s a victory in my book any day.” 凯斯 couldn’t help but be stunned. “Thank you, sir.” “Most important, I see you worked damn hard to keep my protocol in effect.” “Yessir.” “Good job, then, Commander.” “Thank you, sir.” 凯斯 took the compliment, then paused and looked back at Admiral 科尔, who chuckled and pushed a set of bars across the table at him. “You’re promoted, Commander 凯斯. We can’t let someone who thinks like you get away from us, can we? A few more maneuvers like that stunt at Metisette and you’ll be in the textbooks, not ever teaching them again.” “Thank you, sir.” “仲夏夜号 is getting a refit, 凯斯. You have time to take some leave, get back to the home system and see family. Get healed up and ready for the next round.” 凯斯 was dismissed. Outside he found Jai, Adriana, and 麦克. “I thought you were all under a different branch?” he said. “We’re here to ask for a Prowler,” Jai said. “Think they’ll give us one? We need to get back to work.” 麦克 sighed and folded his massive arms. “I say we just take one now, ask for forgiveness later.” 凯斯 smiled. “There’s going to more lurking around behind Covenant lines?” “Couldn’t tell you,” Adriana said. “Have to kill you if we did.” 凯斯 smiled, and Jai stood up, towering over him, and extended a hand. “It was a pleasure working with you, sir,” Jai said. They shook hands, all of them, and then 凯斯 stepped out.


第七十四章

  • UNSC LOCAL HQ, FALAKNUMA, 18 SCORPII

Admiral 科尔 turned to the man next to him. “Men like him will save us, you know. We need more like 凯斯.” The 军情局 agent, one Commander 模板:Hadley, did not disagree. He looked down at the paperwork in front of him. “The Spartans want another Prowler. They seem to lose their own on a regular basis.” It was 科尔’s turn not to comment. Eventually 模板:Hadley turned back to his paperwork. The door creaked open, and a ton and a half of gray-armored Spartans walked in. The three of them stood impassively before the table. “We’re giving you the Prowler,” 模板:Hadley said. “And you’re going back in. Deeper, this time.” He tossed them a binder that included the details of their next mission. “It doesn’t get any easier, and you’ll be even farther from our lines.” The three Spartans were poring over the documents. “That’s the way we like it, sir,” the team leader said. “We’re Gray Team.” 科尔 imagined them all smiling with the excitement of heading back out over enemy lines.


第七十五章

  • UNSC RECRUITING STATION, HALKIA, FALAKNUMA

Ignatio 模板:Delgado, formerly of the 模板:Rubble, now sat slouched in front of a heavyset Navy recruiter in his full Navy dress uniform. They’d been trading barbs, 模板:Delgado getting more bored and irritated with the process. Questions about his background, lineage, political affiliations, ideals… it was a lot of bullshit really, 模板:Delgado thought. He’d come back from a funeral for Diego, attended by 模板:Rubble refugees living in tents and temporary housing on Falaknuma. He’d held Maria as she cried. And halfway through, made a decision to come here. He saw the datapad the recruiter had on the table. “Trouble with authority” had been written down. The recruiter was going through the motions now, not interested in 模板:Delgado unless he was looking to become a marine. They’d give him a gun and some boots, sure. But not a ship. It seemed like it was too late to kiss and make nice with the recruiter, 模板:Delgado figured. He was wasting his time now. “We’ll process this application as soon as possible, then,” the recruiter finally said, sensing 模板:Delgado’s desire to leave. But before he could turn to the next person in line, a man in a black uniform sidled up beside the recruiter and flashed identification. “Commander 模板:Hadley, sir. What brings an 军情局 agent out to a simple recruiting station?” 模板:Hadley looked down at the recruiter, then at 模板:Delgado. “He does.” He pointed at 模板:Delgado. He picked up the datapad and tapped on the screen. “Mr. 模板:Delgado has no love of the Covenant, do you, Mr. 模板:Delgado?” 模板:Delgado shook his head. “No, no, I don’t.” The 军情局 officer smiled. “Welcome to the Navy then, Mr. 模板:Delgado. You’ll be picked up from the refugee camp here in two days. Get your effects in order by then.” The recruiter’s mouth was open. It shut. “Sir, this man’s background check came back with ties to known Insurrectionists!” “How many recruits do you get who’ve fought one-on-one with the Covenant? Or ship to ship?” Commander 模板:Hadley asked the recruiter. “But his psyche profile…” “Oh, I’m sure Mr. 模板:Delgado will have a life-altering experience while at boot camp. In fact, I already have an instructor in mind for him. And if Mr. 模板:Delgado doesn’t wash out, well then, there’s an 军情局 Prowler with a spot on it for him. You won’t wash out, will you, Mr. 模板:Delgado?” 模板:Delgado looked up at him. “It would make too many people happy for me to even consider it.” Commander 模板:Hadley laughed. “So why are you joining, Mr. 模板:Delgado?” “I’d like to shoot down some Covenant ships, Mr. 军情局 man.” 模板:Hadley turned to the recruiter. “See? He’s perfect. I like him already.” “I’m not in the Navy until I sign, right?” 模板:Delgado said. “Right,” the recruiter said. 模板:Delgado slowly flipped the 军情局 officer the bird, then pressed his thumbprint to the datapad. “Be seeing you around, Mr. 模板:Delgado.” 模板:Hadley walked away. “Bet on it,” 模板:Delgado called after him.


第七十六章

  • OFFICER APARTMENTS, MARE INSULARAM, LUNA

When 凯斯 opened the door to his apartment on Luna, he found 米兰达 inside watching a hologram of an old naval battle. He’d radioed ahead to tell her she could leave the dorms and head home before he got there. Tall, square-rigged ships lumbered around the center of the living room, battered about by raging seas, trying to line the sides of their ships up for the best cannon shot. 米兰达 was studying the battle from various angles, rewinding it, and had alternate simulations of it running in different sections of the apartment. 凯斯 set his luggage down inside the door, walked over to her, and grabbed her tight for a long hug. “Geez, what’s that all about?” she asked. “You’re not normally that clingy.” He let her go. “Nothing. Just glad to see you.” He realized he was a bit of a cold Navy father figure, urging her to study, keeping her on the straight and narrow. So much so that a hug caught her off guard, even though he’d been away for weeks. “Is this homework?” 凯斯 asked, looking at the battle. 米兰达 froze it all. “No, just something I’m playing with.” “I was hoping to tear you away, walk down Armstrong Alley, get an ice-cream cone.” “Okay.” Outside, as he locked the door, he refused to look up through the clear lunar dome at the night sky and the stars. For 凯斯, stars were no longer distant, amazing things. Now they were filled with the threat of the Covenant, bearing down and moving ever closer, always. An implacable foe. Tonight, he kept his head straight ahead, walking down past the bronzed statues of lunar rovers and centuries-old busts of astronauts who’d first landed on Luna oh so long ago. They might even enjoy a nice Earthrise by the decks. Because tonight he was just a father, out with his daughter, enjoying the simple treats of life.