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Literature / Halo: The Cole Protocol

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Halo: The Cole Protocol is the sixth novel set in the Halo universe, and was written by Tobias Buckell. It was the last novel published under the contract with Tor Books and has been available to the public since November 25th, 2008. The official plot summary:

"In the first, desperate days of the Human-Covenant War, the UNSC has enacted the Cole Protocol to safeguard Earth and its Inner Colonies from discovery by a merciless alien foe. Many are called upon to rid the universe of lingering navigation data that would reveal the location of Earth. Among them is Navy Lieutenant Jacob Keyes. Thrust back into action after being sidelined, Keyes is saddled with a top secret mission by ONI. One that will take him deep behind enemy lines, to a corner of the universe where nothing is as it seems.

Out beyond the Outer Colonies lies the planet Hesiod, a gas giant surrounded by a vast asteroid belt. As the Covenant continues to glass the human occupied planets near Hesiod, many of the survivors, helped by a stronghold of human Insurrectionists, are fleeing to the asteroid belt for refuge. They have transformed the tumbling satellites into a tenuous, yet ingenious, settlement known as The Rubble and have come face-to-face with a Covenant settlement of Kig-Yar...yet somehow survived.

News of this unlikely treaty has spread to the warring sides. Luckily for the UNSC, this uneasy alliance is in the path of the SPARTAN Gray Team, a three man renegade squad whose simple task is to wreak havoc from behind enemy lines in any way they see fit. But the Prophets have also sent their best, most ambitious and ruthless Elite, whose quest for nobility and rank is matched only by his brutality... and who will do anything to secure his Ascendancy and walk the Path."

This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Ace Pilot: Pelican pilot Jeffries, whose skills are so apparent in just one flight that Keyes almost immediately has him join the Midsummer Night's crew, despite Jeffries' showboat tendencies and lack of discipline.
  • Achey Scars: During Keyes's service on the Meriwether Lewis, he suffered a deep plasma burn to the thigh and had to have one of his hands rebuilt. The injuries have mostly healed by the start of the story, but cryosleep causes them to flare up again.
  • Action Girl: Adriana-111, the sole female member of Gray Team, who absolutely wrecks any Covenant and Insurrectionist she comes across.
  • Action Prologue: The book begins with a firefight aboard the Rubble, as locals Ignatio Delgado and Melko Hollister attempt to prevent the Jackals from getting their claws on a chip containing vital navigation data.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Sangheili/Elite society is meritocratic, meaning that those who perform great deeds (re: military success) advance in society. Kaidons (feudal lords) accept assassination attempts as tests of their ability to lead, for "a kaidon who cannot defend himself is not a true leader".
  • Asteroid Thicket: The Rubble is made up of hundreds of hollowed-out asteroids linked together by docking tubes.
  • Bar Brawl: Adriana ends up getting into a big one with an entire dive bar while infiltrating the Rubble.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Adriana-111 introduces herself by dropping out of nowhere to save Delgado from a pair of Kig-Yar.
  • Boarding Party: Keyes and the Midsummer Night's ODSTs board the civilian cargo hauler Finnegan's Wake to ensure that it's Cole Protocol-compliant. It turns out to be an Insurrectionist trap, with the hauler itself set to explode.
  • Bullying a Dragon: A bunch of drunk locals try to pick a fight with Adriana-111 in a bar at the Rubble. While they didn't know she was a Spartan-II, she still was well over six feet tall and was clearly strong enough to snap a man in half with her bare hands.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Charybdis IX is run by one, which gives the Insurrectionists a good way to throw off the UNSC's authority.
  • Death from Above: Standard Covenant glassing, which is what inspires Keyes to use the asteroids of the Rubble as weapons against the Jackals and Grunts on Metisette.
  • Distress Call: After being ambushed by Insurrectionists aboard the Finnegan's Wake, one of the ODSTs manages to trigger an emergency beacon to bring in the Midsummer Night with more reinforcements. It turns out that the Insurrectionists themselves triggered the beacon to lure the Midsummer Night into an explosive trap, but Keyes figures out what they're doing and is able to send out a warning in time.
  • Doomed Hometown: Madrigal, which the Rubble inhabitants are survivors of, was glassed by the Covenant in 2528.
  • Dramatic Irony: Thel kills his best friend Zhar when the latter tries to kill the Prophets of Regret and Truth with his sword for looking like they're about to execute them for following orders. This action spares Thel's life, and he is left wondering who in their right minds would dare to rebel so against their leaders. If you've already played Halo 3, then you know that Thel, after becoming the Arbiter and leader of the Covenant Separatists, kills the Prophet of Truth with his own energy sword, the very same Prophet whose life he saved on that day.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens twice with Thel 'Vadamee's Zealots.
    • Jora 'Konaree is crippled in a fight, so he decides to kill himself rather than live with the shame. Perfectly justified within Sangheili culture, as living would compel his keep to kill his nephews to prevent the "genetic proclivities of failure" from spreading to future generations. However, he's also too wounded to do it himself, so his commander and friend Thel has to deliver the killing blow instead.
    • Saal wants to immediately kill himself as punishment for disobeying Thel, but Thel tells him that he'll only be allowed to commit suicide after the mission is complete if he fights honorably.
  • Dysfunction Junction: To suggest that Prophets should disagree with each other is heresy to the Covenant. The irony is lost on no one.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Our protagonists include Gray Team, consisting of three of humanity's greatest super-soldiers, and Thel Vadamee's Zealots, who are part of an elite order of Warrior Monks. Also, the Midsummer Night's Marine contingent are all Orbital Drop Shock Troopers of the 105th, humanity's best non-Spartan soldiers.
  • Gambit Pileup: Big time. Basically, the novel boils down to around a dozen plans colliding at once, and everyone trying to crawl out of the ensuing clusterfuck.
  • Guns Akimbo: In the opening firefight, Delgado duel-wields pistols while covering Melko's escape, but it only succeeds in briefly forcing the Jackals to keep their heads down until they can get their shields up.
  • Family Honor: The story emphasizes multiple times that if a Sangheili performs poorly or acts dishonorably, their entire clan will bear the stigma of their shame. For example, after Thel discovers that Koida was the one who sicced the assassins on him, the only reason Koida's entire family is "merely" exiled instead of immediately executed is because Koida did at least attempt to kill Thel himself.
  • Heroic BSoD/Villainous BSoD: Zhar, one of the Elite Zealots, begins to basically shut down after learning that the Prophet of Truth went behind the Prophet of Regret's back. He even tries to kill them when it appears that they're going to order his execution, when all he did was follow their commands.
  • Hollow World: Thanks to Centrifugal Gravity, the Rubble's habitats are set up on the inner surfaces of their respective asteroids. For example, if you looked up inside the Oaks Central Habitat, you'd be looking down on the treetops of the other side of the habitat.
  • Honor Before Reason: The Sangheili/Elites are portrayed as this to the eleven, as several examples on this page demonstrate. Understandably, both the Jackal leader Reth and the Prophet of Regret regard them as totally insane.
  • Hope Spot: One set up early in the story, at that; at the end of the prologue, it looks like Delgado's friend Melko has successfully escaped with the navigation chip. The beginning of the third chapter reveals that he ended up succumbing to his wounds.
  • Internal Homage: Like in Halo: The Fall of Reach, Chapter 1 begins with Keyes being woken up from cryosleep.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Not even the Navy likes the Office of Naval Intelligence, and pretty much everyone from Vice Admiral Mawikizi to the lowliest crewman aboard Midsummer Night makes their disdain for ONI agent Akio Watanabe pretty clear.
  • Ironic Nursery Rhyme: By this point, the Spartans have become such a boogeyman among the Insurrectionists that even their kids have rhymes about them, with Delgado sharing one with Gray Team leader Jai-006:
    "Don't be spoiled, don't start a fight. Always be careful, here at night. Because the Spartans might come, in suits that weigh half a ton. And they'll steal from you all you gots, just like they did from Colonel Watts."
  • MacGuffin: A data chip containing the coordinates to Earth, with the main plot centering around our heroes trying to keep it from the Covenant's grasp.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title: As seen above. Justified, though, as the Cole Protocol has been referenced since the earliest Halo works.
  • Men of Sherwood: The "Helljumpers" special forces troops have a higher survival rate than in the games and other books and provide effective support for Keyes and the Spartans.
  • Military Maverick:
    • Gray Team are all textbook examples of soldiers who march to their own drum, up-to-and-including stealing equipment from ONI. Heck, even Gray Team's own leader often has a hard time getting the other two members to listen to him. It's tolerated by their superiors because Gray Team's independent-mindedness is what makes them such effective operatives to begin with.
    • Deconstructed with Jeffries. On their first flight together, Keyes doesn't do much to admonish Jeffries's lack of regard for orders and regulations, choosing instead to acknowledge his genuinely impressive and battle-hardened skills at piloting. However, before their second flight together, Keyes pulls ranks to point out to Jeffries the specific practical reasons why the orders and regulations he's been ignoring need to be followed.
  • The Mole: Lieutenant Badia Campbell is one for the Insurrectionists, while Rubble Council member Peter Bonifacio is one for the Covenant.
  • Oh, Crap!: Adriana gets a good one when she emerges from a drop-pod and realizes that she's alone, and surrounded by ten thousand Grunts.
    "Oh shit."
  • The Penance: After Saal tortures Reth in defiance of orders, Thel orders him to scar himself with the Mark of Disobedience, which the Sangheili consider A Fate Worse Than Death. Saal wants to kill himself instead, but Thel promises him that if he performs well in battle, he'll then be allowed to commit suicide and have his corpse destroyed to prevent him from bringing shame on his keep.
  • Planet Spaceship: At the end, the inhabitants of the Rubble use a large asteroid converted into an evacuation ship to get themselves safely to UNSC space.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Though they have no love for Earth, most of the Rubble Security Council realize that if they hand over the navigation data, their usefulness to the Jackals is over.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Elite characters, who value prowess in combat well above anything else.
  • Ramming Always Works: Commander Dmitri Zheng's previous frigate was lost when he rammed it into a Covenant destroyer against orders. The only reason he wasn't court-martialed was because he did successfully disable the destroyer long enough for another ship to deliver the killing shot.
  • Rank Up: At the end, Keyes' actions in the Battle of the Rubble convince Admiral Cole that he's too good to lose, resulting in Keyes being skip-promoted from Lieutenant all the way to full Commander.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The Prophets competing plans smash HEAD on.
  • The Reveal: Though it's now in Late-Arrival Spoiler territory, said reveal was originally a fairly subtle one that would have only been caught by readers who had read The Halo Graphic Novel: near the end, Thel is given a post in the Fleet of Particular Justice, revealing that he's the same Elite who becomes the Arbiter in Halo 2.
  • Recoil Boost: Keyes and the ODSTs manage to escape the Finnegan's Wake by using their rifles as impromptu rockets to boost them through space.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Averted along with The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified. The Insurrectionists have arguably justified intentions, but their attempts to continue the war during the genocidal war with the Covenant is rather stupid.
    • In the other books, it's quite uncivilized, though.
    • Definitely uncivilized with the rioting on Charybdis IX, wherein numerous ONI operatives, pilot Jeffries, and Major Watanabe all lose their lives to the mob.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Peter Bonifacio is left to die when he fails to get the navigation data to Reth.
  • Rule of Drama: Invoked In-Universe. During his debriefing, an ONI officer is flipping through Keyes report with exaggerated slowness. Keyes notes that it's drama, meant meant to make him nervous; but also notes that it's working.
  • Samus Is a Girl: There's a small moment of this when the giant Super-Soldier in gray Powered Armor who just saved Delgado takes off its helmet to reveal that it's actually a she.
  • Smug Snake: Peter Bonifacio. Actually, all of the Insurrectionists seem to be this. Their myopic independence-based patriotism and condescending attitude can really grate.
    • Conversely, this is how the Insurrectionists see the UNSC, apart from basically considering them to be fascists.
  • Space Marine: Spartans, as above, alongside the more Badass Normal ODSTs led by Major Faison.
  • Space Pirates: The Kig-Yar, who get their "Jackal" nickname thanks to their tendency to steal anything that isn't bolted down. Their leader, Reth, has a personal Treasure Room filled with stolen art from all over Covenant space.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Akio Watanabe introduces himself by suddenly showing up in the middle of a briefing without anyone noticing. Keyes notes that this seems to be a regular habit among ONI agents in general, and finds it creepy and annoying.
  • Super-Soldier: The members of Gray Team are heavily-augmented commandos who have been trained since childhood to be humanity's most effective soldiers.
  • Take That!: A subtle one to the torture scenes of Halo: Contact Harvest, with Watanabe's denouncement of torture and those who use it.
  • Tap on the Head: In order to prevent Delgado from seeing the route to Gray Team's ship, a fully-armored Jai-006 knocks him with a blow to the back of the head. Somehow, Delgado suffers no lasting injury from this.
  • There Was a Door: Jai-006 makes his first appearance by smashing through the wall of a bar, which instantly stops the fight going on inside.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Elites Honor Before Reason is taken to this level. Thel, who is the Sole Survivor, is so shook up by the events (particularly the fact that the leaders he so zealously followed are very much mortal beings with materialistic desires and having to kill his best friend) that it basically kick-starts his development into the warrior who would eventually become the Arbiter.
  • War Refugees: UNSC worlds near the frontlines like Chi Rho are overrun with "tent cities" filled with refugees from the Outer Colonies, and there's a lot of tension between the newcomers and the locals, especially on worlds like Chi Rho where the local culture prizes self-sufficiency and looks down on handouts. Additionally, most of the Rubble's inhabitants are themselves refugees from glassed colonies.
  • Villain Protagonist: Thel 'Vadamee, the future Arbiter. At this point he is still a loyal and zealous servant of the Prophets. Though by the end of the story, he starts showing some hints of doubt about the motives of the Prophets.
  • Warrior Poet: Veer, one of the Elite Zealots, spends raids looking for oddities on human ships for his war poems.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Veer. He disappears partway through the novel to pilot a Jackal shuttle (or something similar), then is never mentioned again.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Outer Colonies mainly think this of the Insurrection.