The Mona Lisa is the seventh and longest short story in Halo: Evolutions - Essential Tales of the Halo Universe. It follows the crew of the UNSC Red Horse as they are sent to investigate the fate of the Mona Lisa, which has mysteriously come to rest near the destroyed Installation 04. After boarding the ship, a team of Marines stumbles upon a parasitic nightmare, and begin a desperate struggle for survival against the infested Humans and Elites. The Mona Lisa was written by Tessa Kum and Jeff VanderMeer.
Like three other Halo: Evolutions stories, The Mona Lisa was adapted into a motion comic.
Aboard the UNSC Red Horse, close to the wreckage of Alpha Halo, a team of marines and naval personnel led by Sergeant Lopez recover a drifting escape pod from the Mona Lisa. Inside the pod is an injured man, who rants in indistinguishable gibberish about monsters. The man is referred to as “John Doe” by the team, and is deemed unsavable. Lopez tries to get as much information as she can before he dies, but he speaks very little. However, he expresses relief for being safe before inevitably expiring. Soon after, Sergeant Lopez is summoned to meet with the CO of the Red Horse, Captain Foucault, and the new AI, Rebecca. She is ordered to take her team and investigate the Mona Lisa, although what she is supposed to be looking for is left unclear. Major members of Lopez’s team include Ngoc Benti, a corpsman, Clarence, an extremely competent and quiet private, MacCraw, the loud and inexperienced rookie in their squad, and Burgundy, a crack Pelican pilot.
Lopez's squad boards the drifting Mona Lisa and quickly cleans up a small group of terrified, unarmed, and unarmored Covenant Elites. Benti, chasing a fleeing Sangheili, runs directly into it. The Elite, to Benti's surprise, puts its finger to its mouth in a "shush" gesture. Benti hesitates, but the Elite is gunned down by Clarence. By the time the team had neutralized the Covenant presence, they notice that one of their marines is missing. Lopez assigns a small group of marines to stay behind and guard the Pelican while the rest look for their missing squadmate. The lost soldier, nicknamed Rabbit, is soon found dead with yet another unarmed Elite repeatedly stomping on her chest. The alien is soon put down by the team before they investigate the corpse. While removing Rabbit's dog tags, Lopez notices unnatural growth on the body. At the same time, marines Cranker, Maller, Sydney, Percy, Rakesh, and Simmons engage an unseen enemy, and are quickly overrun. As the screams and gunshots suddenly dissapate, a petrified Burgundy is left all alone. She stays inside the cockpit of the pelican and watches as their bodies are dragged away into the darkness.
The remaining marines with Lopez make contact with Foucault, who orders them to initiate the Cole Protocol, seeing as there are Covenant aboard the ship. Lopez divides up her remaining soldiers into two groups, one led by herself to destroy the nav data in the bridge and the other led by Corpsman Benti to destroy the backup in the engine room. As Benti's team leaves, Lopez realizes that another marine, Ayad, is also mysteriously missing.
Lopez and her squad make their way to the ship's minimal medical bay, where they find a sealed saferoom. It opens to reveal the ship's supposed medical officer, John Smith. Thinking of the strange growth on Rabbit’s body, Lopez interrogates Smith, who reveals that experiments were being conducted on Covenant prisoners with an unknown infection. However, the infection quickly jumped to the human prisoners aboard the ship, sparking an outbreak. Back at the pelican, Burgundy sees Cranker and Maller outside, badly wounded but apparently still alive. She expresses extreme relief as she opens the bay doors for her teammates. However, as they get closer, Burgundy realizes that her former squad mates are in fact dead and deformed, yet are still inching towards her. While making an attempt to stop the creatures from getting any closer, she is overpowered and dragged away. Meanwhile, Benti’s group makes its way to the bilges of the ship, only to be attacked by the Flood. As the marines rush to make their escape, Orlav is wounded by one of the beasts, while Tsardikos does not get in to the safe room in time and dies. Soon after, an infected Orlav gets back on his feet only to ravenously bite Gersten, just as Orlav is killed by Clarence. Back at the saferoom, Lopez finds out that Smith is actually an ONI operative. Before she can do anything else, Smith breaks free from his captor by killing Mahmoud and running to the pelican. He makes it back to the Red Horse in the group’s now vacant pelican. Meanwhile, Benti’s group finds yet another human survivor, Rimmer, and his befriended Elite armed with a cricket bat, "Henry".
Having brief experience with the Flood, Rimmer points out that one of Benti's party is infected. The infected Gersten is promptly shot in the head by Clarence, before reanimating and being shot again. During an engagement with an infected Elite, Lopez loses two more marines, leaving only herself and MacCraw. Lopez makes contact with the Red Horse one last time, and is informed that Foucault will destroy the Mona Lisa to ensure that the Flood do not escape. Benti's team, consisting of only herself, Clarence, Rimmer and "Henry," finally reach the engine room to witness Burgandy being dragged towards a huge growth on the engine. She is paraded towards the Proto-Gravemind, and soon absorbed alive by the growth. Realizing that the Flood are trying to "hot wire" the Slipspace drive of the ship, Benti throws her last grenades at the Flood growth to destroy it, and falls back.
Benti’s team meets up with Lopez and MacCraw outside the airlock of escape pods, but Benti has been injured by an infected marine. As Lopez meets Rimmer and “Henry”, Clarence swiftly shoots Rimmer in the head, and reveals himself as an ONI agent. As the survivors standoff, the still wet-behind-the-ears MacCraw takes one of the two remaining escape pods and abandons them. As an army of Flood swarm the remaining group members at the airlock, the mortally wounded Benti manages to push Clarence into the mass of parasitic creatures. The Flood quickly consumes him, but both he and Benti are taken. Lopez and "Henry" hold off the Flood long enough to enter the airlock, but realize that there is only enough room for one of them in the last remaining escape pod. Lopez tries to shoot "Henry," but is out of ammunition. The two begin fighting for the seat in the last pod as the countdown timer to Foucault's attack reaches thirty seconds.
- Sergeant Zhao Heng Lopez
- Hospital Corpsman Ngoc Benti
- James MacCraw
- Patrick Rimmer
- Commander Tobias Foucault
- AI Rebecca
- John Smith
- Raj Singh
- When writing the story, Tessa Kum and Jeff VanderMeer used Halo Alpha for some of the in-universe details, due to the fact they were not given the official Halo Story Bible. Due to this, there are a small number of details found in the story that aren't found in the games, such as the Flood's ability to infect an organism by simply wounding them, which causes them to mutate without an initial infection form present.
- In the motion comic adaptation, Threshold is erroneously depicted as being blue. In original Halo canon, the planet is a rusty orange.
- The animated short bears a striking resemblance to Dead Space: Downfall, another "space zombie" horror story based on its respective video game series.
- The motion comic adaptation drops a number of characters from the story, including Ayad, Maller, Simmons, Sydney, Percy and Rakesh. It also makes no mention of the Red Horse's former A.I. Chauncey, and does not show nor mention Rebecca's alternate avatar of a Mediterranean woman.
- The motion comic removes a number of themes, such as Lopez viewing her squad as her "rosary beads" after a single mention, and rewrites the unknown injured man into dying moments after he is removed from the pod, rather than in the medical ward of the Red Horse. This was presumably to cut down on time.
- There is a mistake on page 261 of the original version: "Thought Benti, with Clarence, would be more effective heading things up on that team than Orlav." Thought should be though.