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Literature / Halo: Ghosts of Onyx

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Halo: Ghosts of Onyx is the fourth Halo novel, and the third (and final) one written by Eric Nylund, published in 2006. The book primarily tells the story of the SPARTAN-III Super Soldiers (the successors to the SPARTAN-II program) and their training on the classified planet Onyx, but it is also an informal sequel to Halo: First Strike, with much of the novel taking place concurrently with the second half of Halo 2 (in particular, it expands upon the opening salvos of the Covenant's Great Schism).

Contains Examples Of:

  • Action Prologue: Twice! The book opens with Operation: TORPEDO, SPARTAN-III Beta Company's Suicide Mission to destroy a major Covenant refinery. The chapter right after that is about one of Blue Team's early operations against the Insurrection.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: It's implied the Grunts assigned to spy on human transmissions have created a thriving black market in human television shows like As the World Turns.
  • All of Them:
    "We've got incoming," Fred's static-filled voice crackled over the COM. "Sentinels."
    "How many?"
    "Sir, all of them."
  • Anti-Gravity: General Grave's Insurrectionists use an obsolete anti-grav plate to trick Blue Team's MJOLNIR armor into increasing internal pressure and temporarily knocking their wearers unconscious.
  • Anti-Mutiny: Voro 'Mantakree is forced to kill his Shipmaster Tano 'Inanraree when the latter attempts to order his crew into letting themselves be infected by the Flood.
  • Artificial Limb: The officer overseeing Alpha Company's augmentations has a synthetic left leg.
  • Badass Boast: Vice Admiral Whitcomb delivers one (posthumously) through a recording in a NOVA Bomb:
    "This is the prototype NOVA Bomb, nine fusion warheads encased in lithium triteride armor. When detonated, it compresses its fissionable material to neutron-star density, boosting the thermonuclear yield a hundredfold. I am Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb, temporarily in command of the UNSC military base Reach. To the Covenant uglies that might be listening, you have a few seconds to pray to your damned heathen gods. You all have a nice day in hell..."
  • Badass Crew: Blue Team and Team Saber. Both are Spartan teams, so it's a given.
  • Badass Normal: Chief Mendez is back (this time training the Spartan-IIIs), and as badass as ever.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: The Governors of Contrition are a Covenant sect who believe that the Flood were a sacred creation of the Forerunners, and that therefore believers have an obligation to protect and even be infected by the parasite. No wonder they're considered extreme even by the rest of the Covenant.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • When the rest of Blue Team is captured by Innies in the first chapter, Kurt is the one who saves them, crashing into the rebel warehouse in an armored Warthog.
    • When Ash is cornered by an Onyx Sentinel with nowhere to run, the rest of Team Saber suddenly show up to save him, destroying the Sentinel with large rocks.
    • A Brute gets the drop on Fred during the battle of Earth, but is sniped by Linda before it can do anything.
  • Big Dumb Object: A highly advanced Forerunner Shield World is the central focus of the final arc.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Shield World housed inside Onyx has a diameter of 300,000,000 km. However, it's contained within a slipspace bubble that makes it appear on the outside to have a diameter of only 23 cm.
  • Book Ends: The story both begins and ends with Kurt saving the lives of the rest of the Spartans in his team, and Kelly telling a fresh and unproven Spartan that "they're going to make a great team."
  • Boarding Party: Blue Team hijacks a Covenant destroyer in order to get to Onyx, eliminating its crew by disabling the life support.
  • Brandishment Bluff: When the Elite cruiser Incorruptable's engines are still recharging, its Shipmaster Voro 'Mantakree is able to trick a Brute frigate into retreating by depressurizing a launch bay to turn his ship and venting excess plasma into the cannons to fool the enemy ship's heat sensors.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: SPARTAN-III recruit Shane initially worries that he wet himself while parachuting from a Pelican for the first time, but he quickly realizes that it's really blood from where his skin was rubbed raw.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Invoked as the difference between Lieutenant Commander Kurt and Chief Mendez regarding the Spartan-IIIs they're training:
    Kurt: Chief, I'm sorry that order had to come from you.
    Mendez: I understand, sir. You're the CO. You have to inspire and command their respect. I'm their drill instructor. I get to be their worst nightmare.
    • Later when the Sentinels start to attack, the Spartan-IIIs wonder if they're hearing artillery strikes. They conclude that while Kurt wouldn't use artillery against them, there's a good chance that Mendez would.
  • Chase Scene: There's a few involving our heroes trying to avoid being lasered by Onyx Sentinels.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Whitcomb's planet-busting NOVA bomb, introduced in First Strike, finally comes into play when it destroys a Covenant fortress world.
  • Combining Mecha: Onyx Sentinels are capable of combining into a number of configurations, including ones powerful enough to one-shot Covenant capital ships. It turns out Onyx itself is actually made of millions of Onyx Sentinels sticking together.
  • Commanding Coolness: Kurt, all the way to the very end. He is a Spartan-II, after all.
  • Crazy Enough to Work:
    • Subverted. When Admiral Patterson's fleet has their backs to a gravity well, with a Covenant fleet three times their size getting ready to fire upon them, their response is to charge into the Covenant fleet; Patterson loses half his ships, but the charge puts the Covenant into just enough disarray for the rest to escape to a safer position. However, the Prowler commander observing the battle notes that Patterson actually made the most sensible call; his ships wouldn't have been able to dodge plasma at that range, so it was better to close the distance before the Covenant could safely fire another volley.
    • Ash's plan to destroy the Sentinel factory, which involves being chased by a ton of Sentinels until they can be tricked to fire upon vital components. Ash himself lampshades this:
    "Ash resisted the urge to vomit. This was the stupidest plan he'd ever thought up. Too late now, though, to back out."
  • Cruel to Be Kind: How Kurt views his hard training of the IIIs; he just wants them to be able to survive even the toughest situations.
    Deep Winter: Still... This is cruel. They will break.
    Kurt: I'd rather break them, than let them go out into the field without ever experiencing an intractable tactical situation.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: When the damaged NOVA bomb arrives at Joyous Exaltation, the Huragok there can't stop themselves from fixing it, activating the bomb in the process.
  • Deadly Dodging: The Spartans disable the Sentinel factory by dodging Sentinel fire so that they hit vital factory components instead.
  • Defensive Feint Trap: Towards the end of their battle, Patterson's fleet wipes out all but two of Voro's remaining ships by feigning a withdrawal and luring the Covies into a nuclear minefield. Too bad Covenant reinforcements arrive right as Patterson's men are about to finish off the survivors.
  • Determinator: Once again, Spartans (of both generations) show themselves to be dogged and stubborn fighters even in the worst of situations.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Kelly demonstrates that dodging bullets is for sissies, by dodging a laser blast. She then flips off the Sentinel that fired it. Really, ''all' the Spartans on Onyx have to constantly dodge lasers.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Does "Ghosts of Onyx" refer to the Sentinels that were nicknamed as such? Or to Kurt's Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane vision of his dead teammates?
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Mendez, who's at least as rough on the III trainees as he was with the IIs.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome:
    • Kurt, who nukes an entire Covenant army.
    • Will should get a mention too. He killed a Hunter with his bare hands.
  • Dyson Sphere: Onyx turns out to house a Forerunner Shield World, which was designed to be a safe haven from the Halos and Flood.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom:
    • Onyx isn't really a planet in the traditional sense, but it does disintegrate into billions of Sentinels.
    • The NOVA Bomb not only destroys an entire Elite fleet, but it vaporizes much of a nearby planet and completely shatters its moon.
  • Enemy Civil War: Voro's storyline shows the Great Schism of the Covenant from the Elite's perspective.
  • Enemy Mine: Voro negotiates a temporary truce between the Elite and Brute fleets fighting around High Charity in order to stop the Flood from escaping. The two sides quickly go back to fighting each other even before the Flood have been completely dealt with.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Covenant may be Scary Dogmatic Aliens and happy to genocide humanity in the name of their Scam Religion, but the vast majority of Covenants agree the Governors of Contrition (who believe that true believers must be infected by the Flood) are batshit insane.
  • Fantastically Indifferent: Played somewhat for laughs; after several Scenery Porn paragraphs describing Onyx's Forerunner city, with its "forest of sculpted geometries", "roads that curved up and twisted into Mobius surfaces", and three-km diameter pillars, Halsey's reaction boils down to:
    "Frankly, after reviewing the reports of the Halo structures, I am somewhat disappointed."
  • A Father to His Men: Kurt, who ultimately just wants as much of his Spartan-IIIs to survive as possible.
  • Field Promotion: At the end of the book, Kurt promotes Fred to Lieutenant.
  • Final Battle: The Spartan-IIs, IIIs, and Mendez defending the entrance to Onyx's core room (and the Forerunner treasures within) from Voro's crack army of Elites and Hunters.
  • Fire-Forged Friends:
    • Deliberately invoked by Kurt's training regimen, which is designed to turn a bunch of angry kids who hate each others' guts into True Companions through shared perils. It works pretty well.
    • Kelly initially has strong doubts about Team Saber's capabilities, especially after they botch an ambush by attacking too early. However, they earn her respect during the next skirmish, after Ash takes the initiative to take out the Sentinels pursuing Kelly.
  • Forbidden Zone: Zone 67 on Onyx, because of the Forerunner excavations being done there.
  • Flipping the Bird: Kelly does this to an Onyx Sentinel, of all things, as part of a distraction.
  • Futuristic Pyramid: Onyx's enormous Sentinel factory includes a pyramid five times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza and made of glowing golden spheres. Said spheres are what become the "core" of Onyx Sentinels.
  • Greek Chorus: Briefly; the big space battle between Admiral Patterson's UNSC battle group and Fleet Master 'Mantakree's Sangheili fleet is told not from the perspective of either commander or any of the main participants, but from a Prowler crew whose main job is to stay back and provide intel (though they do get briefly involved by dropping off some nuclear mines).
  • Heroic BSoD: The loss of almost all of Beta Company on Pegasi Delta causes Lucy to have one, resulting in her not speaking ever again. Or, at least, not for many years. Ash has one when Holly is killed. He shakes it off pretty fast though, as they still have a battle to fight.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Holly, after she dives in front of two Hunters' cannons to save Kelly.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: At one point during the final battle, Kelly cuts several Elites in half with an energy sword.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Ash comes up with the idea to use the Sentinels to destroy the generators for the Sentinel production facility.
  • Hope Spot: Admiral Patterson is down to one carrier and three destroyers, facing just two damaged Covenant destroyers. And then a Covenant fleet of 32 ships comes out of slipspace between the Covie destroyers and the four UNSC ships, and promptly annihilates the human vessels.
  • Human Popsicle: Subverted: At first, it looks like Team Katana's members are simply being held in the Forerunner version of cryopods, but it turns out the pods are actually encasing them in time-displaced Slipspace bubbles.
  • Internal Reveal: Cortana's message revealing the existence of more Halos and the continued presence of the Flood, and the crew of the Dusk stumbling upon the opening salvos of the Covenant's civil war. They're a shock to the novel's characters, but readers will have likely already played Halo 2 before opening the book.
  • It Can Think: Unlike regular Sentinels, the ones on Onyx turn out to have impressive learning capabilities.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Ash says this to Kurt before undergoing the Bio-Augmentation process. He survives, but he didn't know if he would (as Kurt had showed him and the other Gamma Company trainees graphic videos of the Body Horrors suffered by the SPARTAN-II candidates who couldn't adapt to the augmentations).
    Ash: Sir, I... I just wanted to let you know what an honor it's been to train under you, Chief Mendez, and Petty Officers Tom and Lucy. If I don't make it today, I wanted you to know that I wouldn't have done anything differently, sir."
    Kurt: The honor has been mine.
    The two shake hands.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure:
  • Jaded Washout: Unlike with the SPARTAN-II program, ONI doesn't have the budget to turn every Spartan-III trainee into a full Spartan. Instead, the washouts become drill instructors for the next company of IIIs, and their bitterness tends to make them particularly brutal towards the trainees.
  • Klingon Promotion: A relatively heroic variation; while Voro becomes Shipmaster of the Incorruptible by killing its previous shipmaster Tano 'Inanraree, he did it solely because Tano was a Governor of Contrition who was about to force his men to let the Flood aboard their ship. Heck, even Tano's personal bodyguards admit that Voro did the right thing.
  • Laser-Guided Tyke-Bomb: Unlike their predecessors, the Spartan-III super soldiers were made to be expendable, with most of them dying on suicide missions by their early teens.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: When shit starts going down on Onyx, we get a brief scene of Kurt and Lucy gathering all the gear (both UNSC and Covenant) from the armory in Kurt's residence. There's also a small subversive moment when it looks like Kurt is about to put on his SPARTAN-II MJOLNIR armor for the first time in decades, but decides to don inferior SPARTAN-III SPI armor instead, since he doesn't want to set himself above his troops.
  • Lured into a Trap:
    • The Innie nukes Blue Team is sent to recover in the first chapter turn out to be part of a trap meant to capture them.
    • The events of Blue Team's mission to investigate an abandoned space station turns out to have been all staged by ONI for the purpose of kidnapping Kurt to have him train the Spartan-IIIs, while at the same time tricking the rest of the UNSC into presuming him dead.
  • Made of Iron: The fact that Will was even able to take a few steps before keeling over and dying after taking an unshielded blast to the midsection point-blank from a Hunter's cannon is testament to his toughness.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Before Kurt dies, he sees all of his deceased friends giving him the all clear to detonate the nuclear warheads on Onyx. It does not specify whether or not he was actually seeing their ghosts or if he was hallucinating but either way this moment can double as a Tear Jerker.
  • Mega City: The Forerunner city in Zone 67 covers the entirety of a 100-km diameter crater. And that's just the part that's been excavated!
  • Mêlée à Trois:
    • Around High Charity, you have Flood vs. Elites vs. Covenant.
    • Around Onyx, you have Sentinels vs. UNSC vs. Elites.
  • Meaningful Funeral: The last chapter opens with the surviving Spartans, Halsey, and Mendez holding a brief funeral for the Spartans killed on Onyx.
  • Mook Chivalry: Various Elites just stand back and watch as Will fights the Hunters. Justified though, as it's said that the sight of someone fighting two Hunters in hand-to-hand combat has left them too stunned to move. Furthermore, their sense of honor would probably prevent them from intervening anyway. The Spartans fortunately don't feel this way, and promptly shoot the Elites.
    • There is another possible reason for them holding back - in Halo: The Fall of Reach, it is shown that Hunters do not care about other Covenant soldiers, even going so far as to step on them if they are in the way. Later, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn showed that other Covenant soldiers will completely evacuate an area just to stay out of the way of Hunters. It's possible the Elites just didn't want to get squished.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: A literal example. A group of Engineers start fixing the detonator for the NOVA bombs aboard the Elite flagship orbiting the Covenant colony Joyous Exaltation. Cue a very VERY big boom.
  • No One Gets Left Behind:
    • After completing their main objectives during Operation: PROMETHEUS, Robert and Shane try to drag an injured Jane to their evacuation craft, but the group ends up being surrounded and killed.
    • Tom refuses to leave Kurt's side when the latter decides to stay behind and cover everyone else's retreat; Kurt has to be literally knock out Tom and have Lucy carry him away.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • For all the differences between the IIs and IIIs, Blue Team comes to quickly realize that Team Saber are just as much Spartans as they are.
    • When Kurt confronts Halsey about why she decided to desert the UNSC and lure as many Spartans to safety with her as possible, she points out that Kurt himself is more than willing to flout the law in order to ensure his own Spartans' survival.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Kurt knows something's truly gone wrong on Onyx when Endless Summer, an aloof ONI AI who never initiates communication with the Camp Currahee staff, suddenly shows up to hand him a message. Kurt then sees that even Mendez, the most unflappable soldier he knows, has a worried expression on his face.
  • Oh, Crap!: A Grunt's reaction when a couple of curious Engineers reactivate Admiral Whitcomb's NOVA bomb.
  • Pocket Dimension: Not only is the Shield World encapsulated inside a tiny slipspace bubble, but the members of Team Katana end up being sealed inside Forerunner pods that encase them within a compressed slipspace field.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner:
    Voro Nar 'Mantakree: One last fight, demon. You will die and we shall reopen the silver path.
    Kurt: Die? Didn't you know?... Spartans never die. Kurt proceeds to nuke Voro and his entire army.
  • Psycho Serum: Gamma Company's Spartans are illegally injected with drugs to increase their aggression, strength, endurance, and tolerance to injury. It's why Dante feels like he only got nicked when he actually received several mortal wounds. Interestingly, Kurt's motives for doing so was to increase Gamma's chances of survival.
  • Quantity vs. Quality: The main difference between the Spartan-III and Spartan-II programs. The IIs were meticulously screened, highly trained candidates given the best augmentations and armour technology humanity has to offer, turning them into veritable one man armies to be used in the most critical operations of the war. In contrast, the Spartan-IIIs are made up of young Covenant War orphans chosen for their aggression and zeal, given weaker but more widely-compatible augmentations, and assembled into 300-person companies and trained to operate as a larger unit against Covenant hard-targets. The SPI armour used by the Spartan-IIIs is inferior to Spartan-II Mjolnir armour, but is easier to mass produce and comes equipped with active camouflage so they can better infiltrate and sabotage Covenant installations.
  • Ramming Always Works: Will takes down a Scarab by ramming it with a gasoline tanker, the resulting fireball destroying the Scarab's reactor.
  • The Reveal: Played with. Lucy is obviously taken aback and awestruck when Kurt reveals to her his MJOLNIR armor from back when he was still an active Spartan-II. Since a sharp reader will notice that Kurt says he has not worn the armor since his first day training Alpha Company, and Lucy and Tom are both from Beta Company, this seems to heavily imply Tom, Lucy, and the rest of Beta and Gamma Companies never knew Kurt was a Spartan-II. Of course, the reader already knew that. And amusingly enough, Lucy can't tell anyone.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Onyx Sentinels have incredibly powerful energy shields, but they only activate against fast-moving objects, making them vulnerable to slow projectiles like falling rocks, making it a very literal case of this trope. Kelly even manages to destroy one by repeatedly punching it.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: The first edition of the book was full of glaring typos, such as the Spartans sneaking past Grunt "salves" and trying to escape Covenant "persuaders."
  • Sacrificial Lion: Will's death in the final battle is what makes it clear the Spartans aren't going to be able to hold out forever.
  • Scenery Porn: The description of the Forerunner city on Onyx:
    "Kurt blinked, dazzled by what he saw. Mirror-image clouds drifted upon angled surfaces and burned crimson and gold. As his eyes adjusted, he saw swirls and bands of other muted colors underlying the reflected images: green stripes and black and silver waves that appeared to be a tempest ocean frozen in place."
  • Sherlock Scan: Despite Kurt having been officially MIA for decades, Halsey is able to quickly figure out that the mysterious figure in full SPI armor leading the Spartan-IIIs is him. Lampshaded immediately:
    Kurt: Is there anything you don't know, Dr. Halsey?
  • Schmuck Bait: Invoked. When Halsey has trouble getting past Endless Summer's firewalls so she can contact him, she decides to send him a Zen koan to lure him out instead, knowing that a smart AI like him won't be able to resist the prospect of a philosophical discussion.
  • Sink the Lifeboats: After destroying Battlegroup Stalingrad, the Covenant destroy what few lifepods were able to launch from the human ships.
  • Somebody Set Us Up The Bomb:
    • While making their escape from Havana's space elevator, Blue Team tricks a Covenant destroyer into picking up nukes, and then remote-activates said nukes.
    • When Voro's forces finally make it to Onyx's core room, they're greeted by Kurt detonating several nuclear warheads.
  • The Spartan Way: Kurt designed the IIIs' training to be even more grueling than the IIs'; the very first thing the four-to-six year old recruits have to do upon arrival is jump out of an airborne Pelican.
  • The Speechless: Lucy apparently loses her ability to speak as a result of being traumatized from the outcome of Operation: TORPEDO.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: At the end of a training exercise, Kurt and Mendez show up out of nowhere behind Tom and Lucy's team to congratulate them on their success.
  • Suicide Mission: What the IIIs were created to undertake; the reader gets to see firsthand the two main operations which wiped out almost the entirety of both Alpha and Beta Companies.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • The UNSC destroyer Iwo Jima overloads its reactor and detonates its lone nuke, taking out two Covenant destroyers with it.
    • Kurt detonates nuclear warheads in Onyx's core room, taking all Covenant forces on the planet with him.
  • Taking the Bullet:
    • The UNSC destroyer Glasgow Kiss sacrifices itself to save Admiral Patterson's flagship by intercepting several plasma torpedoes, though its crew are already ready to evac the moment their ship is hit.
    • Holly does this with two Hunter assault cannon blasts to save Kelly.
  • Tap on the Head: When Tom refuses to leave Kurt's side, Kurt knocks him out and orders Lucy to get his unconscious body to safety.
  • That's No Moon: The entire planet of Onyx is revealed to be made up of Sentinels, unknown to the humans who have established a base there.
  • Theme Naming:
    • The known teams of Gamma Company are all named after blades: Saber, Katana, and Gladius.
    • The known team names for Beta Company are from the Military Alphabet.
  • Title Drop: Some Spartan-III recruits claim to have seen a "Ghost of Onyx". It's later revealed they are Sentinels. It's also meaningful because just before Kurt performs his Heroic Sacrifice, he sees his dead friends join him on the battlefield for one last time: Literally, the Ghosts Of Onyx.
  • To Absent Friends: Linda, Fred, and Will give a toast to their fallen and missing comrades while en route to Onyx.
  • Trapped in Another World: In the end, the main characters get trapped in a Shield World inside Onyx, with no apparent means to return home.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Kurt holds off Covenant forces long enough for the Slipspace portal on Onyx to close, thus saving the other Spartans, Mendez, and Dr. Halsey.
  • Zerg Rush: During the battle for Onyx's core room, the Covenant's first wave is a swarm of Grunts meant merely to distract the Spartans while the Elites get into position behind them.