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About the Author

Troy Denning is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty novels, including Halo: Divine WindHalo: Shadows of ReachHalo: Oblivion, Halo: Silent StormHalo: RetributionHalo: Last Light, a dozen Star Wars novels, the Dark Sun: Prism Pentad series, and many bestselling Forgotten Realms novels. A former game designer and editor, he lives in western Wisconsin.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Halo: Silent Storm

CHAPTER 1


0342 hours, March 5, 2526 (military calendar)

UNSC Razor-class Prowler Starry Night

High Equatorial Orbit, Planet Netherop, Ephyra System

The distant slivers of five alien spacecraft burst from Netherop’s pall of brown clouds and climbed into orbit on tails of white-hot propellant. The attack plan was to match velocities with the vessels, then have a squad of Spartans go EVA and follow them into their mothership’s hangar. But the aliens were traveling about twenty times faster now than when the Starry Night had spotted them just fifteen seconds earlier, and John-117 didn’t know if a Razor-class prowler could match that kind of acceleration.

There were a lot of things John didn’t know about this operation, like whether the alien craft were reconnaissance boats or superiority fighters, or whether their mothership was a survey frigate or an assault corvette. He didn’t know the size of the vessel’s complement, or how many of them would be trained for close-quarters combat, or why the Covenant might be interested in a greenhouse planet that had probably cooked its native population a hundred centuries before.

What John did know was that the aliens were the enemy, and today they were going to die.

He continued to watch the five spacecraft via a tactical monitor mounted high on the drop-bay bulkhead, and a crisp female voice sounded over the Starry Night’s internal comm net.

“Brace for acceleration. The inertial compensator won’t handle what we’re throwing at it.”

“Acknowledged.”

John and his eleven Spartan companions lowered their center of gravity against the prowler’s acceleration. A moment later, they began to hear muffled clangs and thumps as poorly secured equipment slammed into nearby bulkheads. “How long until we catch the targets?” he asked.

“It depends.”

When she failed to elaborate, John said, “That’s not an answer, ma’am.”

He tried to keep the impatience in his voice to a minimum. Halima Ascot might have an informal manner, but she was still a captain in the United Nations Space Command, and he was just a fifteen-year-old petty officer first class. Not that his age mattered. The date-of-birth had been falsified in the service records of all Spartans, and no one in the Starry Night’s crew had reason to believe any of them were younger than nineteen.

Besides, John and his fellow Spartans were no ordinary fifteen-year-olds. At age six, they had been conscripted into a top-secret program to develop bioengineered super-soldiers. The intention had been to use them against a massive colonial Insurrection that threatened to shatter humanity’s young interstellar civilization, but priorities had changed when the Covenant appeared.

That was the life of a Spartan. He went where he was needed, he didn’t complain, and he killed whatever he had to. It was that simple.

Deep down, John knew he had been wronged when he was taken from his family at such an early age—that he should have hated his abductors for robbing him of a normal childhood. But he didn’t. They had molded a schoolyard bully into a soldier, then forged him into the leader of the finest fighting unit in the UNSC. He was grateful for that.

And he was damn proud they had chosen him.

When Captain Ascot did not acknowledge his point, John added, “We need a little warning before deploying, ma’am. Once we activate our rebreathers, we’ll only have ninety minutes of air.”

“I’m aware of that, Petty Officer,” Ascot said. “Which is why this drop may be no-go. The mothership is on the far side of its orbit right now.”

This meant it would be hidden from the Starry Night’s surveillance systems until both vessels were on the same side of the planet again, but that was hardly a cause for concern. The Starry Night had been observing the Covenant vessels for more than a day, and the mothership had never been visible for longer than twenty minutes out of every hour.

“So, situation normal,” John said. “I don’t see the problem.”

“Orbital mechanics,” Ascot said. “You can’t just go faster and make the rendezvous—try that, and your whole squad will end up flying out of orbit.”

“Right.” John had studied classical mechanics in the physics courses during his third year of Spartan training. But that had been five years ago, when he was only nine, and he had been more interested in tactical theory than Newton’s laws of motion. “We have to drop into a lower orbit and catch up, then sync orbits and begin proximity operations.”

“While staying hidden behind the alien spacecraft,” Ascot said. “In their current orbit, it’s going to take seventy minutes just to sync. After that, you still have to last through proximity operations, then sneak aboard and capture a five-hundred-meter ship full of LGMs.”

LGM stood for little green men, a slang term that could be traced
back at least as far as the unidentified flying object reports of 1950s Earth. Because one of the Covenant species averaged only a meter and a half tall, some analysts in the Office of Naval Intelligence believed the enemy might actually have visited Earth in the past. But John knew better. If the Covenant had ever been to Earth, it would be a glassed-over wasteland by now.

“We can handle it.”

John hoped he sounded more certain than he felt. On the one hand, he and his fellow Spartans were the deadliest soldiers mankind had ever created. On the other, humanity had not even been certain that aliens really existed until the violent first contact with the Covenant. So there was no getting around it—at best, John and his assault squad were only somewhat prepared for what they were about to attempt.

But he didn’t dare admit that. If he wanted his team to fight with confidence, he had to project confidence at all times.

When Ascot did not respond to his reassurance, John decided to double down. “Really, ma’am, we’ll be fine. Spartans work fast.”

“Nobody works that fast,” Ascot said. “Look . . . you’ll have no more than a fifteen-minute margin. If anyone runs out of air during the boarding action, there’s nothing the Starry Night can do to help.”

“I appreciate the concern.” John did not let her caution shake him. The SPARTAN-II program was so highly classified that even prowler captains did not know the full capabilities of the super-soldiers they ferried into battle. “But once we’re aboard, rebreather time won’t be a factor. The mothership’s atmosphere should support human life.”

“There’s a big difference between should and will.”

“The odds are with us. You’ve seen the intelligence summaries. Only one Covenant species doesn’t breathe oxygen.”

“Only one species that ONI is aware of,” Ascot replied. “We both know there could be a dozen more that breathe anything from hydrogen to cobalt. The UNSC has a lot to learn about the Covenant.”

“Yes, ma’am. That is the reason for the operation.”

“Careful, Spartan,” Ascot said. “A pissed-off prowler captain has about two hundred ways to make your life miserable.”

“I apologize, ma’am.” John didn’t like begging for permission to carry out a mission assigned to him by the chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence’s Section Three, but as the commander of the Starry Night, Ascot was in charge of the mission until the Spartans left her vessel. “I still think we need to take the risk.”

“I know you do.”

Ascot’s tone was sympathetic. The UNSC knew almost nothing about the enemy. If the Spartans could capture a Covenant vessel, the scientists of ONI’s Section Three Materials Group should be able to reverse-engineer the technology and learn the secret of the enemy’s superior slipspace drives and nearly impenetrable energy shields. They would also attempt to discover the true capabilities of the aliens’ advanced weaponry, and perhaps even uncover a few hidden vulnerabilities. With a little luck, they might even figure out where the aliens lived out there—and why they wanted to eradicate humanity.

“But it’s my call,” Ascot continued. “And I need to be sure you understand the risks. We’re working at the edge of your armor’s capability, with more unknown variables than we can count. If something goes wrong, there won’t be much chance to recover.”

“If you’re saying we’d be on our own, Spartans are trained—”

“I’m saying the Starry Night will do everything possible,” Ascot said. “But we’re limited by orbital mechanics. It might be smart to wait for an opportunity that’s not quite so marginal.”

“With all due respect, ma’am, I disagree.” As much as John wanted to accept her recommendation, he didn’t even consider it. The longer they waited, the more likely they were to run into a mission-killing complication—and the more his private doubts would eat away at him. “We’ve been here a day already, and our luck won’t hold forever. Sooner
or later, an enemy patrol will spot the Starry Night, or a second Covenant vessel will arrive, or the enemy commander will decide it’s time to move on. I can think of a dozen things that might go wrong if we don’t go now.”

Ascot fell silent for a moment, then finally sighed. “So can I.” There was a low murmur while she consulted with someone on the bridge; then she said, “Very well, Spartan. You’re cleared to move forward. Slingshot maneuver in five minutes.”

“Affirmative,” John said. “And thanks.”

“Don’t thank me, son. This isn’t a favor.”

She closed the comm channel, leaving John to hope he was making a sound decision. His best friend, Samuel-034, had died a few months earlier during the boarding action that had inspired this one, and John was still trying to figure out what had gone wrong.

The UNSC’s entire complement of Spartans had been aboard a modified Pelican dropship, ascending toward an orbital rendezvous above Chi Ceti IV, when they spotted a Covenant warship moving to attack their transport frigate. The vessels had savaged each other earlier, and it was clear the UNSC frigate would not survive another engagement. John ordered the company to go EVA and board the enemy ship.

He’d told himself he had no choice, that the desperate assault was the only way to prevent all thirty-three Spartans from being trapped on a soon-to-be-occupied world. And that had probably been true.

But the whole reason for going to Chi Ceti IV had been to outfit the Spartans in their new, state-of-the-art Mjolnir power armor. The automatic neural interface, performance-amplifying circuitry, and titanium-alloy shell had made them feel almost invincible, and John had been as keen as anyone to test the new armor in action. So when the Covenant ship reappeared, he hadn’t hesitated to commit his entire force to an impromptu boarding action.

The risky attack had worked—though just barely. John and two companions, Samuel-034 and Kelly-087, had intercepted the vessel and boarded through a breach in the combat-battered hull. They had managed to plant a trio of Anvil-II warheads near a power core, but not before a lucky plasma bolt found a soft spot in Sam’s armor and ruptured the pressure seal beneath.

The only way to flee the ship had been to jump back into space, where Sam would decompress inside his armor. Rather than condemn his friend to such a slow and agonizing death, John had ordered Sam to stay behind and guard the warheads until they detonated.

The decision continued to haunt John in his dreams, and that troubled him. He had seen many soldiers die, both in training and in combat, and suffered no self-doubt. But Sam had been under his command, and John could not help believing that had he been better prepared—and not quite so reckless—his friend would be fighting at his side today.

John didn’t see what he could have done differently—there had been only moments to plan and no opportunity to marshal ordnance—but he was not about to make the same mistake twice. This time, the Spartans were carrying emergency patching kits and extra thruster packs and locator beacons . . . equipment for just about every foreseeable contingency.

And still he worried, thanks to the UNSC’s lack of knowledge about the enemy. Almost literally, John was leading his Spartans into battle blind, and everything in his training told him that was a recipe for disaster.

But they had to try.

John turned toward the interior of the drop bay. Including him, there were twelve Spartans prepared to launch, all looking vaguely robotic in their angular helmets and bulky Mjolnir power armor. In an effort to optimize each Spartan’s individual field competencies and test
skunkwork modifications, their armor’s titanium alloy frame had been temporarily modified, each of them bearing distinctive features. And to avoid enemy sensors, their plating sets had been tinted with the same refractive coating that helped conceal the UNSC’s prowlers.

Whether the precaution would work against the aliens was little more than an educated guess. The only thing the UNSC knew about Covenant sensor technology was that in the active mode, it radiated across a broad array of the electromagnetic spectrum. In theory, the apparatus had to operate on the same general principle as human sensor systems—by emitting a signal and looking for reflections bounced off an unseen object—but that was really just an assumption. For all anyone in the UNSC knew, the alien transmissions could be the by-product of some quantum-scanning technology that humanity had not yet imagined.

Another good reason to capture an enemy ship.

The illumination in the drop bay dimmed from white to pale purple, an indication that the Starry Night was three minutes from start-of-maneuver. The darker light would be less noticeable when the jump hatch opened to discharge the Spartans, and the time buffer gave their eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness.

“Final check, everyone,” John said. The Spartans had already examined their systems twice since entering the drop bay, so this was more of a focusing ritual than an actual equipment inspection. “Make sure you give your partner a careful lookover. No loose straps or partial magclamps.”

Inside his helmet, a chain of LEDs flashed green as the eleven other Spartans acknowledged the order. John ran through his own checklist—weapons loaded and safe, suit integrity good, rebreather operable, thruster canisters charged, directional nozzles responsive, attachments secure, quick release functional—then turned to his inspection partner, a dry-witted Spartan named Fred-104. John began a visual
check, confirming that the seams on the outer shell of Fred’s armor remained tight, that the refractive paint was unblemished, the weapons attachments were solid, and the thruster harness sat flush beneath the fission reactor.

John gave Fred’s shoulder an all-good thump, then turned to await his own inspection. By the time he felt the all-good on his own shoulder, five LEDs were glowing green on the squad-status bar inside his helmet. The first three represented the other three members of John’s own Blue Team. The fourth represented the four members of Gold Team, led by Joshua-029, and the final light represented the four members of Green Team, led by Kurt-051. Twelve souls in all, ready to be hurled through space like human slingshot pellets.

“This intercept will be a lot easier than at Chi Ceti IV,” John said. “But if you miss the target, break orbit and power down, then settle in—”

“And conserve your air,” Kelly-087 interrupted. A member of John’s Blue Team, she was the fastest of the Spartans, as quick mentally as she was physically. “You said that already. Twice.”

“Just making sure everyone remembers.”

“Don’t trigger your locator beacon until the battle is over,” Linda-058 added. Normally quiet and reserved, she was the best sniper in the Spartans—and also on John’s Blue Team. “We remember.”

“Yeah, what’s up?” Kurt asked. A natural people-reader who made friends easily, he was plainspoken and direct. “What are you so worried about?”

“I’m not worried,” John said. In most units, such banter would have been borderline insubordinate. But the Spartans weren’t most units. They had been training together since childhood, and they were as much family as comrades-in-arms. John would have been worried if his squad didn’t feel comfortable speaking freely with him. “I’m just confirming procedure.”

“Not much to confirm,” Fred said. In addition to being John’s inspection partner, he was the squad’s backup leader and Blue Team’s fourth member. “Sneak aboard the alien ship and kill everything that’s not a Spartan. If things go bad, stay out of sight until the fight’s over, then call for rescue. It’s a simple plan.”

“I guess so, when you break it down that way,” John said. Nobody had mentioned the five prowlers standing by for rescue operations, but he could see that his reminders were only making the squad nervous. “Sorry for overbriefing, everybody. I just want us to be ready for surprises. What we know about the aliens would fit in a bullet casing.”

“And there’s our advantage,” Joshua said. “We know that we don’t know, which makes us careful. But the aliens may have been studying humanity for a while. They’ll think they know more about us than they do, and that makes them vulnerable.”

“Hadn’t looked at it that way.” It seemed a stretch to claim that ignorance was an advantage, but John appreciated the out Joshua was giving him. “Good point. The aliens have no idea how hard we’re about to hit them. Any questions?”

A chain of status lights blinked red inside his helmet.

“Okay then,” John said. “Captain Ascot is right about working on the margins, so stay off your rebreathers until we’re clear of the hatch. We may need every second of air we can save.”

The alert lamps on the drop-bay bulkhead changed from red to amber, and Ascot’s crisp voice sounded over the Starry Night comm net.

“One minute to maneuver.”

John and the other team leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the jump hatch. Their team members lined up in columns behind them, each one grabbing the thruster pack of the Spartan ahead. Even with their physical enhancements and the Mjolnir’s mechanical strength multipliers, they would never hold fast through the wild acceleration of the slingshot maneuver. But that wasn’t expected. John just wanted to
keep the members of each team close enough to support each other if an emergency arose.

The alert lamps began to blink.

“Thirty seconds,” Ascot said.

“Begin comm silence,” John said.

He had barely voiced the order before his Mjolnir’s onboard computer shut down all external communications. It was reacting not to his words, but to the intention that had given rise to them, accessing his thoughts via the neural lace implanted at the base of his skull. The interface allowed him to manipulate a half-ton of power armor as effortlessly as his own body, and to keep track of his fellow Spartans by merely thinking about them. Yet even after using it for the last few months, he still found it unsettling at times—especially when a targeting reticle or status readout appeared on his heads-up display before he had consciously summoned it.

The alert lamps flashed green as the Starry Night swung into the slingshot maneuver. Control of the mission had now passed to John—though that was, for the moment, a meaningless distinction. For the next few seconds, their fates would be determined by the laws of classical mechanics, and he could not have called off the launch had he wanted to.

John’s weight sank and shifted aft. The alert lamps stopped flashing, then the jump hatch split down the center and retracted into the hull, creating an exit portal four meters square. The bay had been left pressurized so the decompression would augment their acceleration.

He felt the push of escaping air and jumped.

John saw five white needles shining bright against the brown crescent of Netherop’s horizon, more or less where he expected to find the propellant tails of the Covenant spacecraft. He began to experience the full force of the slingshot maneuver’s thirty-g acceleration. Even with the hydrostatic gel inside his Mjolnir pressurized to protective levels,
his vision narrowed and his chest hurt, and the back side of his body ballooned with pooling blood.

For a few heartbeats, the shining tails of alien propellant remained fixed in the center of his faceplate, growing longer and thicker as he began to overtake them. In his HUD’s motion tracker, he saw the three other Spartans of Blue Team lined up behind him in an undulating column, everyone struggling to hold fast to the thruster pack ahead, but still together after the initial furious acceleration. Gold and Green Teams were already beyond his motion tracker’s range, so he could only hope that their launch had gone as well as Blue Team’s.

Then the propellant tails started to drift across John’s faceplate, as did Netherop’s brown horizon, and he realized he was entering a roll. He felt his center of mass change as the Spartans behind him finally yielded to the minute variances in their launch vector and released their holds on each other. His roll accelerated, and stars began to streak past his faceplate in a dizzying blur. He checked his HUD and saw Blue Team drifting apart in a long arcing curve.

No matter. The assault squad had always intended to approach the target in loose formation, as it was easier to spot a group clustered together than one scattered across several kilometers of space. All John had to do was bring himself under control and continue toward the Covenant spacecraft.

The thought had barely formed in his mind before a waypoint marker appeared and began to gyre around the edges of his faceplate. He focused on it and began to feel dizzy.

And light-headed.

It had been seven seconds since he leaped from the jump bay, and he still hadn’t activated his rebreather. He might be getting a buildup of carbon dioxide.

The rebreather light activated in his HUD, and the dizziness faded as fresh air flooded his skinsuit. John felt refreshed. Although there was
something creepy about a suit of power armor that seemed to know what he was thinking before he did, it did spare him the necessity of managing suit-systems when he had more important things to worry about.

John activated his thrusters with a thought and began to expel tiny bursts of propellant, being careful to fire against the movement of the waypoint marker and keep working it back toward the center of his faceplate.

It took only a few seconds to reach equilibrium. By then, the alien propellant tails had vanished from sight, and he had to remind himself that Covenant spacecraft were subject to the same laws of motion as human ships. Once they reached the desired orbit, they had to shut down their engines. If they kept accelerating, they would only climb higher and eventually break orbit altogether.

John would have liked visual confirmation that the Covenant was on the expected trajectory, but that wasn’t going to happen. The Spartans were still eighty kilometers from their targets, much too distant to spot the dark sliver of spacecraft roughly a dozen meters long and with cold engines.

Knowing his squad would not show up in his HUD—the motion tracker had a maximum range of twenty-five meters—John increased his faceplate magnification to its highest setting, then used his thrusters to begin a slow roll and start locating his Spartans.

Initially, he saw only a dark blur obscuring a distant field of stars. But when he rolled toward the planet, their forms were more distinct—tiny human-shaped figures silhouetted against the brown disk of Netherop’s clouds. If an enemy patrol happened to pass by in a higher orbit, there was a chance the pilots might glimpse the little shadows and realize what they were seeing.

But that seemed unlikely. The aliens would be even farther away from the tiny figures than John was, and they would be looking for spacecraft, not humans in airtight armor.

It took a few minutes to locate the twelfth squad member, but once he had, John felt an immense wave of relief. Given the number of missed intercepts at Chi Ceti IV, he had expected at least a couple of Spartans to be out of position by now. But his concerns had been unwarranted. In their new Mjolnir, with time to plan and marshal resources, the Spartans could not fail.

And John wouldn’t let them.
Always the perfect gift

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Gallery Books; Reprint edition (July 30, 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 400 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 198212315X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1982123154
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 3.53 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.31 x 0.9 x 8.25 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.8 out of 5 stars 1,313 ratings

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Troy Denning is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost and Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star, as well as Waterdeep, Pages of Pain, Beyond the High Road, The Summoning, and many other novels. His most recent Star Wars novel is Star Wars: Crucible. A former game designer and editor, he lives in western Wisconsin with his wife, Andria.

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