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Apollo by foxhound

Apollo - Chapter 1
Date: 11 February 2002, 2:13 am

    Inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi:
    "Know thyself"

    Since our time here we had experienced all sorts of weather conditions and the cycles of Halo were looking pretty predictable but recently the construct had taken on a climate that had never been seen before. The days have become shorter of late and a bitter winter climate is taking a hold of the Halo. It is cold beyond words... With temperatures falling to -90 at night and not getting much above -30 during the day, you can imagine what a strain it's been on resources. What made it worse is the speed it is accelerating, totally unexpected. Even Cortana is disconcerted. She had once commented on the expertise needed in engineering and AI for such a feat, something that was beyond our comprehension. She also added... it was more than we perhaps could imagine, which didn't exactly go down well with morale. She had been busy for days looking endlessly through databanks, I imagine trying to gather any info she could on getting this construct back to normal. I had never known her to be so preoccupied, I heard it was starting to worry Head Command. There were rumours circulating about Captain Jacob Keyes speech to the Head Battle Command Leaders. He had apparently proposed, or at least suggested to the group that since our arrival on the Halo, Cortana had a new type of neural core developing within her dynamic memory processing matrix, with a crystalline structure. The Engineers and Core Programmers had no idea how this was happening or what was causing it, they had run top level diagnostics but to no avail. Even more worrying, Cortana had dismissed the obvious fact outright and had acted quite aggressively to our inquiries. There were all sorts of rumours spreading through the ranks at a frightening rate.
    Basis has been suggested for a mission, possibly some sort of recon mission. Some have even suggested we came to this damn place because of a piece of rock or crystal with glyphs on it. Mind you, if the truth be told, that's all I've seen on the walls since we came here and it gives me the creeps just thinking about the possible reasons now. If all this wasn't enough, Cortana is also said to be developing Crystallographic Engineers, what crystals and Basis have in common your guess is as good as mine... Crystals create energy that can be formed into heat, well, that seemed the spin on most of the talk. Could it be as simple as that?
    All these rumours were not healthy, least of all for soldiers in battle conditions. We had already lost two Battle Groups over the last few weeks at the Onaku Lakes. They had been on a salvage mission and were en-route back when they were jumped by a Ghost Patrol... no doubt due to lack of intel as they were carrying two M19's. The crazy thing about it all was that she seemed more annoyed at loosing the salvaged equipment than she was over loosing the men. That hurt the men's' morale more then I let her know... Maybe she couldn't understand what was causing this climatic change. Or worse was there something she had yet to understand that was causing the change? Either way, things weren't getting any better, in fact the latest reports indicated that the temperature was to fall even further.
    Her efforts seemed centered on the databanks that we are salvaging from the PoA. She set up an engineering unit, mostly Bobs specifically designed to cater for the work. There were a few of us there to help out and to cover their asses should they come under attack. Some of the equipment had been brought back and in addition Cortana had requested we set up a relay system to help her in the matter, It seemed she was after a direct linkup with the PoA. We had initially ran into trouble trying to disassemble the primary units. The power grids and optic networks were shot to bits not to mention the maneuverability of the bigger units within the PoA near on impossible. With no hydraulic lifters allowed due to noise and heat signals, it was a bloody nightmare to say the least. Some of the units requested were an integral part of the ships makeup, it was like trying to do surgery on 5 people at once all piled on a tiny table with a blunt tooth pick as your scalpel. With the time we had and the tools that were available it was going to be a close call before the Covenant cottoned on to what we were trying to do.
    The relay system seemed like a good option, more importantly it would give her quicker access to most of the bigger systems on board the ship, a much quicker solution than trying to salvage them. With all this going on at the moment it still somehow felt like we were putting our eggs into one basket. If the Covenant did a full assault on the vessel for some reason, we were screwed. Still, the rate we were going it seemed like a good idea, and as usual ...we don't know what's going on ...right?
    Times were hard, very hard. Without any decent intelligence coming from Cortana we seemed to be blind to the attacks of the Covenant. The only problem now was that there had to be at least one squadron on guard at the PoA at all times. This was spreading resources and it had left us open to a number of small attacks. In fact attacks are all I can remember of late. It's been my life and my cause fighting battles but it's become a daily occurrence lately.
    I can't remember anything of my first life before my alterations. The wounds from an earlier war that had been almost fatal had happened on one of the planetary outposts. We had gone in to 'rescue' Harvest from an attack. I was part of a NavSpecWar group concentrated on Black Ops. Little did we know we were to meet the Covenant Elite for the first time that fateful day. We were the only ship to make it back to Reach, we lost a whole fleet of battleships there. They hit us hard and tore into us, relentlessly. In that first encounter we only just began to understand their destructive means, their advanced weaponry capable of 'glassing' on a planetary scale. Millions died in their wake.
    I believe my fate is choice, and not chance. That day lead me to who I am and where I am at this moment in time now. The modification I had done took two years of my life, the pain at times unbearable. The normal procedure being for any combat unit after critical injuries was to first clear the memory before any work was started on the cybernetics. It's pretty much accepted by everyone that this is for the best and beneficial with the new advances in sensory programming. A lot of people never made it through the surgery. With major organ and tissue damage it was always a close call as to whether the mind could take such a shock to the system. We all knew we would never be able to return to the life we had known ...so why try and remember it. It was also an accepted fact that remembering our previous lives could, or most likely would, cause major problems with the integration of the neural matrix node. To get that far only to be deactivated wasn't worth it and besides, if we were all honest with ourselves ..we all wanted to be a Spartan II. It was the best the military had. We envied them when we were soldiers, the places they had been to, the things they had seen. We could only dream about the lives they had lead.
    With an organic storage unit as big as the human brain Bio-Tec Corp. had taken the opportunity to fill us with terabytes of tactical info and military intelligence. Strategy, weapon and vehicle knowledge were all included in this. In fact we could be uploaded with recon data or 'situational intel' at any time it was needed. We can upload and ingest information at very quick speeds.
    Along with this technology came our Mjollnir Mark V armour. These battle suits are constructed in overlapping layers creating a sealed system, no virus or toxin could get to skin or respiratory systems. The armour's shell is made up of a multilayered alloy, augmented with a refractive coating capable of dispersing limited numbers of Covenant energy pulses. Sandwiched between the external armor and the internal padding is the most devastating weapon the suit carries, a layer of crystal. Woven by molecular tools into a super dense optical computer memory, this crystalline layer forms a network capable of supporting the kinds of artificial intelligence usually reserved for star ships systems. We had Cortana. Most of us liked her when we arrived, she seemed to have things under control and gave us good guidance, and reassurance on all the missions we were doing. We felt like we had some idea of what was going on. Lately things just weren't adding up. We were loosing too many men to the Covenant through basic mistakes or careless maneuvers. Cortana's behaviour was staring to worry all of us.
    With the new energy levels we had experienced from the Covenant we knew the critical cybernetic systems would be ok on all models, they were protected deep inside the abdomen casing. The embedded neural matrices also seemed intact on all the various hybrids we were running. It was the bio-mechanical systems that were proving to be our Achilles' heel. The new types of energy power that the Covenant were using in conjunction with frozen bio-tech units was proving to be a messy business. Shattered limbs were a big problem on the field, reserves were low and tension was running high.
    Head Command had already got the medical teams and surgeons to start work on new model types capable of withstanding the cold as well as the new forms of energy. These are all based on the Spartan II 600 series, they had good Mjolnir MKIII military armour and would just about be able to absorb the energy levels the Covenant were using. In truth though... their cybernetic systems are not as developed as ours. We know them as Marines in military terms, or on the field. In reality they're known as Bobs ...or 'odd jobs' if you really wanted to confuse their primitive D37 e-moto chips. Ever faithful and proud to be in battle though. They did well and gave us good service to our missions here, we couldn't do without them. There were not many of the new models on the field yet. In fact our technology was reaching a critical point here, we just don't have the means to produce anything above a 600 with MKIII armour at the moment. That combined with the early designs in AI interrogation throughout their battle suits, it wasn't exactly matching the pace of the war.
    If the Covenant increase the energy in their weaponry systems further, which they look to be doing with all the reports of their mining going on lately, we're dead. They'll just pounds our resources to dust leaving us unable to continue our fight.
    Just what would happen if Cortana didn't deliver on time was an unanswered question no one dared think about.
    I strode out from our camp the snow and ice crunching under foot as I headed up a small slope to a ridge overlooking the mist filled valley below. I pulled my visor up onto the head mount. The freezing air took me by surprise, making me gasp with the first couple of breaths, as I exhaled my warm breath fell as ice crystals. A phenomenon known as 'diamond dust' which was known to the early explorers of Antarctica on our home planet Earth was starting to appear on the Halo where the air was so dry and the temperature so cold the 'snowflakes' in the air formed tiny hexagons. Unlike any other snowflake, in that when you looked up at Basis, or indeed the Sun on Earth for those early explorers, it appeared to have a halo around it with the rays of light forming a sort of cross right in it's center. It sometimes felt like some natural targeting system was highlighting Basis. Very peculiar with the rumours of a possible Basis mission lately.
    The swirl of breath, now turned to prismed light around my eyes and fell slowly as I inhaled again.
    "Can we talk?" I said looking out over the valley not really expecting a reply, pulling my visor back down unable to bear the cold.
    "Of course 673b, what do you wish to discuss". The voice was clear and familiar as it had ever been. It came from deep within me like a whisper of consciousness. Almost as if I could 'feel' her talk in an emotional sense.
    "The men are worried, some are even afraid", I said "We've heard rumours about a mission to Basis, is this true?"
    "Your voice tells me your also afraid 673b"
    "Why no... it's ...it's" I stuttered with her directness.
    "I think you are 673b, would you like me do deactivate your C9 e-moto chip or disconnect you from the hyper grid sensor array"
    "NO No, 'I'm' not afraid but you know how fast word spreads through the men, their going crazy" I looked down at my boots, they were dented and scuffed with flash burns, scars from old encounters.
    "You know they need guidance, that's all we're after Cortana, nothing more."
    "Why do you humans prize your fear on the unknown? I shall never comprehend that quality in you 673b? ...but yes, to answer your question, you are right. Plans for a Basis mission are being drawn up as we speak".
    "Really?" I gulped, gazing up into the early evening sky and looking at the small satellite in orbit around Threshold. The diamond dust embellishing the small moon with it's own halo which seemed to give it it's own importance. It looked so far away, an impossible objective to reach.
    "What's up there? and how the hell are we going t..."
    "Don't bother me with your inquisitiveness 673b. Leave me be, you will be briefed in good time." Take Group3 and get down to the PoA, rendez vous with Group 8a, I'll send some Bobs down to you after you've departed. I want you to personally overlook the delivery of equipment to the midway relay station, this is important 673b... don't let me down".
    My mind went silent, I knew she was no longer there, or rather wanted the conversation terminated. I pondered for a second on her comments, about the delivery job from the PoA and more importantly the conformation of a Basis mission... I turned and headed back down the hill to our camp set under a small crop of trees, the snow covered canopy reflecting the evening light.

Apollo - Chapter 2
Date: 12 February 2002, 1:22 am

Apollo - Chapter 2
Mary Renault (1905-1983)
"How can people trust the harvest, unless they see it sown?"

    We were only one group, that's three men covering the delivery to the midway relay station, not a lot of firepower if we came across a Covie Elite group or a Ghost patrol. The actual Midway Station was ok and had been made pretty secure, we had tunneled and developed a large holding bay within a small crop of rock and had housed some M41's near it's top and sunk a couple of M808B's covering the flanks. Cortana had requested security be of primary importance. The place was starting to look like Fort Knox
    At the PoA the engineering units would be inside doing there bit, we were there purely to cover the operation and make sure the systems were extracted and delivered ok. Cortana said she would send in some further Bobs but I must admit, even that didn't sound too hopeful. I didn't want to press her on the matter, it didn't sound like it was the right time, or that she was in the mood to be given ideas ..or orders.
    The drive down went smooth, nothing in sight. It's at times like these you start thinking about about the things that could happen too you. The silence seems to creep within the shadows around you, always catching your eye.
    Whether the cold was creating the eeriness of the situation we seemed to be in of late, I couldn't say. It just felt something was not right with this whole idea, we almost felt insignificant to the war's progress digging inside some old ship retrieving old data banks.
    Jaktar was heading the engineering unit at the PoA, sitting still. The soft dim glow from his helmet directed inside a panel on the bridge of the PoA, highlighting a mass of circuitry and optic cabling within the casing. Beside him were other members of the unit, all busy repairing or extracting the systems Cortana had requested. There was broken furniture strewn about the place with the dark console screens reflecting a dim flicker of light from the workers. Great rips in the internal structure protruded into the room, the twisted bulk heads made maneuvering difficult.
    Ventilation systems and optic cabling hung from the ceiling like some savaged metallic intestines. It was a place that smelt of death. Within the darkness you could just make out small flashes of laser torches and the fluorescent glows from the holo scanners. As the workers moved about slowly, the smoke from the lasers filling the room making their head lamps beam out across the wreckage of the bridge.
    "Damn this ML converter", he blasted.
    "I can't see anything in this light... Hey Dax," Jaktar shouted.
    "Could use some of your light if your on re-gen'."
    Dax's body flicked into motion instantaneously at the sound of his name being called, his head rose looking over at Jaktar.
    "You'll owe me one Jak, I was enjoying that!" he replied with a smile.
    "Sure! no problem, I can't get an accurate reading off this matrix laser, the security codes are hard-wired through the encryption circuits, I can't even see the damn key pad in this light and I'm not explaining to Cortana why we had a level 6 lock down on this system!"
    I poked my head round the corner of the door catching Jaktars' eye. "Hey Jak, when your done meet me out front, I gotta talk" I said.
    "No probs, be there in a sec" Jak said giving me a nod.
    "I'll go along with that Jak" Dax said rising and moving nearer to Jaktar, his head beam directed into the wall paneling. "Yeah, I don't want to mess with Cortana, with all this shit going on". Dax mumbled something I couldn't quite hear as he directed his light into the panel and Jaktar again went about his business.
    I strode outside, there was no point in me getting in the way. The storm was starting to blow over and there was breaks in the night sky. There was no external lighting near or within the PoA, we had been given strict instructions to work under night vision or by their personal head lamps. This was proving very difficult for the intricate work needed to probe deep into the ships systems. The extraction exercise was no easy job. The area had been covered with frequency dampeners. They would contain most of the energy signals we were letting off during the work on the PoA. That still didn't make it any easier, knowing one Covenant could blow all our cover.
    The head lamps we used soaked up our internal energy supplies. That meant having to go into regeneration for a short period of time every once and a while. A thirty second re-gen cycle is your every day 'power nap'. A sixty second one re-writes and optimizes any new integrated biomechanical limbs making you feel like you got a whole new body attached to your head. Just what you need when you've had a bad day at the office, like watching a plasma nade stick to your leg, and then only to watch them 'both' get vapourised.
    My AV-HUD came online, a broken image of one of the perimeter scouts flashed and then crackled, distorting the image. The energy fields were playing havoc on our communications network making visual almost always non existent and the audio, well it seems to work for the moment at the frequencies we were using at least.
    "Bob Group Echo at the south east perimeter Sir".
    There was a swooshing noise as the signaling processor tried again to gain a visual lock, then nothing but digital snow.
    "Send them in, I want to brief them before I head back with the next load."
    "Yes Sir", he responded as the audio signal fought for a lock.
    "Bring them on in" I said quickly, surprised that Cortana had kept her word on getting me extra men. This must be one big load we carrying back, I thought.
    Just at that moment Jaktar strode out of the makeshift doorway we had cut into the external bulk head and came down the ramp. Snow and ice had been piled up along the walkway. A flimsy attempt at concealing the fact we are working here.
    "Hey Jak, I gotta talk. Something's going on, this comes straight from the horses mouth... if you catch my drift?" wanna unhook and do a 'cap'?"
    This was an old trick only the Spartan II 670's could do. It was our only way of secure off-line communication. The technicians had enabled us to communicate with two completely different systems simultaneously. It was put in as a back up or alternative in case of interrogation and the other 'mind freak' games our 'sport' seemed to be developing. Lets just say it also allowed us to steer clear from Cortanas' listening mind. I don't believe any of us liked the way we had to go about it or the reasons we did it but it had become the norm over the last few months. It had almost become standard practice now on patrols where we thought Cortanas'' judgment needed questioning. We basically hot-wired an optical cable directly into our aural network through the implant located just inside the earpiece, as simple as that. We communicate through that channel whilst still keeping in contact with the main network. By-passing the main neural signal nodes. Cortana never knew it happened... and we like to keep it that way too.
    "Sure, no problem". Jak said, there was a pause for a second as we hooked up, "what's up anyhow?"
    "It's Cortana and some mission." I said.
    "What's she cooking up now then, not more Basis stuff?" Jaktar said with a tired grin.
    His energy cells were running low, I could see the indicators reflecting in the corner of his visor.
    "Well, she mentioned there's defiantly a mission to Basis but by the way she said it, I have this feeling she has no idea why we're going. She got really snappy with me too. She scared me Jak, threatened to turn off my e3..."
    .."Whoa, so it's true?" Jaktar said, butting in, "that's serious resources, she'd better know what she's up to. No wonder battle commands been hit so hard these last months. I knew she could be cold, patronising even arrogant ...I must admit she has seemed a little 'loopy' lately."
    "Loopy? I said, She's lost it Jak. She spooked me bad. I don't like the sound of this Basis mission either. I bet we're the ones going up, well at least the 673 models..."
    "Your right, this is getting way out of control, ...turning your e3 off, she's crazy ..or rampant... hell she's been as cold as this damn freezing hunk of ice we're stuck on lately. Hey, when's the brief for Basis?" Jak said.
    "No idea, she never said..."
    Just then, four figures slowly came through the undergrowth, I noticed one of them carrying a long range sniper rifle.
    "Hold up Jak" I said unhooking the cable and watching it swiftly glide back into my ear casing.
    "Bob Group Echo reporting Sir."
    "Glad you could make it corporal, I said as I made out his markings. At least he's seen contact I thought as he stood at ease.
    "Put two of your men on a roaming scout patrol, keep them in contact, Jackals have been seen by the outermost scouts. They're just sniffing around and I want to keep it that way. We're gathering their scouting patterns, report to intel command for the latest update. I also notice you got a 'snipe', we could use some cover on the east. Make sure he knows the intel and scouting patterns and get him to cover the convoy on the way out. It's important to Cortana that this load gets back safely. Make sure no contact is made unless absolutely necessary and I mean necessary Corporal. We want to get as much time on our hands as possible. We want to make out there's been no interest in this wreck of a ship, leaving here without a trace if possible. Probably best you say local and watch the main entrance and make sure everything gets off ok."
    "Aye Sir, understood" He said and about turned, returning to his Group to relay the orders.
    "I can see your feeling anxious" Jaktar said. "Look, this load is almost done I need to re-gen too, and then I've got to get started on the next load straight away ...then, at last me and Group 8a are out of here. This place gives me the creeps, I'll catch up with you at base."
    "OK, I understand Jak but you watch your back once we're gone, you finish up and make sure you get out ok".
    "What are you, my mother?!" Jak said with a grin, "Get out of here metalman!".
    I laughed and watch him go back up into the main entrance, his movements slower than normal, his head and shoulders slumped forward through tiredness and drained energy levels.
    Damn you Cortana your going to kill us all if I didn't know any better, I thought watching Jak disappear up the walkway and into the hull of the ship.
    I finished overlooking the final load onto the M12. It was a three-way hog convoy, two of them had there guns removed and were loaded up with the kit we had salvaged from the PoA, mostly databanks but also some unusual data matrix pods. These had apparently been brought up from deep within the sub systems on the ship. I had never seen or heard about these pods, they almost looked alien, or at least not our type of technology. I was tired of asking questions these days especially at the response we normally got, so I thought about the best extraction plan to keep my mind off our cargo. With the limited resources we had, I decided to lead out on point with Bob Group Echo keeping the scouts to our flanks and leave the armed M12 to tail us. Another ice storm was going to be rolling over our area soon, the images on my navigation maps relayed local weather conditions, usually quite accurate too. This would be to our advantage. The Covies never flew through these storms and with their limited visibility range we had the upper hand with IR for navigation.
    "Ready to roll out in five" I whispered into the mic. "Bob group Echo take front and keep the snipe covering our asses Corporal".
    "Yes Sir", came the reply.
    "Everyone on night vision, no lamps on the hogs and keep the frequencies clear."
    The gurgle of the engines startled me, it seemed to be deafening compared to the eerie silence we had been in before. The hogs coughed out exhaust fumes which immediately froze in the air and fell slowly to the ground. I looked back at the battered hull of the PoA, partly submerged in a deep drift. You could just make out parts of the bridge protruding through the whiteness reflecting from the light of Basis. The scars we had left on our crash landing had long disappeared, the burnt foliage and trees fading into new growth. All that seemed so long ago now, had this battle really been going on for that long? Sometimes it felt like an eternity.
    I checked the AV- HUD and looked through our proposed route that Cortana had laid out for us. We were to move through the forest then up along the Elysium Ridge using the ravines as cover. As long as we covered our flanks we should spot the enemy long before they did us. Scouts would be used to flush anything in there out. It had been quiet for a while, or at least that's what the intel confirmed. Once we were passed the ridge we were in range of the Midway, the M808B's from Midway would pick off any serious attacks. The 90mm high velocity rounds made mince of any type of flesh and bone. Due to the weather conditions airborne attacks looked unlikely. For once it looked good. Going was going to be tough however, the hogs had been adapted to have better traction on the ice but it still meant a skilled driver was needed in case of emergency maneuvers.
    Cortana had supplied the best, all three were from Zulu Squadron and they normally only dealt with heavy insertion. If anyone could save these vehicles from Covenant capture, it was this lot. They had saved many a man on the field and there Battalion held most of the military honours there were to be got. I felt reassured that they were with us today. This shipment must mean something big to Cortana, I thought. God forbid I lose this load.
    "Move out" I said and the convoy broke its mooring with the ice that had formed about the base of the wheels and moved on towards a break in the tree line. I looked back at the PoA and could make out two M12's one armed and ready for the final load as a thick cold mist enveloped us driving through into the forest. The ice and snow on top of the dead trees provided us with good cover, in places you could see right through the ice laded on the network of interweaved branches. A strange pale light emanated through near the top, illuminating the area just below the ice line and the skeletal branches supporting it.
    The wildlife had been decimated over the last few months. The cold had quite literally killed most, if not all the natural inhabitants. The grass and foliage and all the forna had long gone. With it the insects, birds and huge roaming herds of animals that used to make this ringworld resemble something of a normal 'home'. Now it just felt as cold as the metal it was made from and stank of death, not of the natural kind either.
    A crackle of a voice came through on the comm, "Echo, scout reporting."
    "Go ahead Echo scout," I replied hesitantly.
    "Road ahead is clear, I repeat, clear. Flank patrols also reporting as clear."
    "Roger Echo scout, moving to rendez-vous point, keep a two man point ahead of us. Has your sniper reported back yet Corporal?" I questioned
    "No news from the sniper yet. Meet at the rendez-vous as planned."
    No news? I thought. It was way passed the time he was supposed to rendez-vous. In fact the second load should be ready to leave any minute. At least the way ahead was clear I thought.
    Just then an urgent voice suddenly came shouting through the comm. "Sir, PoA under heavy Covenant attack, multiple Banshee's, I count five. Looks like Elite groups on ground cover." It was the snipe. I raised my hand for the convoy to halt.
    "Where are you sniper?" I beckoned quickly.
    "Still holding position Sir, I was just about to leave, they'd all cleared out ok and we're getting ready to haul out. The Covies haven't seen me yet ...shit they're massacring everyone, Shit Sir what do I do?" The voice was young and inexperienced and in a state of panic.
    "OK soldier hold your position, give me access codes to your telescopic". I flicked up my AV-HUD and punched in the eight digit code. Suddenly my HUD was filled with a close up on the outskirts of the PoA camp. The signal dampeners had been taken off line. There were bodies strewn everywhere. I moved the scope around slowly panning the zoom out, desperately trying to find Jaktar. The glowing night vision image moved over the vehicles. There were huge flash burns on them, some parts of the vehicles still glowing hot. A glaze of yellow shimmered at the inner edges. I flicked on the infra red and saw the levels of heat still being absorbed. I made sure I got some clear readings, Intel Command would gain valuable information from the data. Deep down I knew these were not normal for the weapons used and confirmed our deepest worries... The Covenant had indeed increased their energy levels in their weapons... God help us. I thought...
    Flicking the scope back onto NV, still focused on the warthogs I noticed the drivers and their navigators lying slumped half out of their vehicles their bodies twisted and deformed from the impacts they had received. One with his back still smoldering from the energy blast that had hit him, zooming in I caught his cold deathly eyes still open, glaring straight at me. Our men were lying everywhere their bloody and frozen flesh captured in time. They were all dead, ...damn, everyone was dead. I zoomed back out and caught some movement near a small crop of trees. What looked like a small group of Elites. Panning across to them my heart stopped for a second as I saw Jaktar. Two of the elite were holding him against a tree stump or some part of the cluster of Banshees near them. They were giving him hell, I could see another Elite holding his plasma pistol and firing low energy pulses into Jaktars feet. The blasts were immense, we had used these weapons on many occasions, we knew them inside out, energy pulse damage signatures, everything. We hadn't seen these levels of energy released from a pistol before though. The Elite Commander increased the energy pulses with each shot as if to show him the new levels of pain they could inflict. Why were they doing it, sick bastards.
    His head now slumped forward, his feet and lower legs almost glowing from the energy blasts they had given him. The two either side of him then dragged his body back through near where the Banshee's were parked while the others moved off into the trees. The last of the Elite turning his head and looking out in our direction, sniffing the air like the animal he was and fired a full charge plasma bolt into the air with a roar. The blue dot raced out high into the arc of the Halo above us. I watched him get into the Banshee they were holding Jaktar against and zoomed into the Elites face.
    "I'll get you", I whispered with clenched teeth under my breath.
    "Ok Echo snipe," I said quickly, "returning scope optics back to you," deactivating the console as I spoke. The shock of seeing Jaktar taken by the elite had effected me. I stuttered as I spoke into the mic, "Th.. The route through the forest is clear, keep to the designated route and you'll be OK" There was no reply...
    "Echo snipe, do you read me, over?" Just static...
    Then a gurgling crackle came through on my comm link, one I knew instinctively as Covenant. I could just make out the words but the sound was familiar and sent a shiver down my spine.
    "You will burn next human." Where is your God now. Haaaa?"
    With that I heard the cry of the sniper as they tore into him, I switched off the comm link to the sounds of his last gasps of life. The poor Bob didn't stand a chance. My thought immediately turned to Jaktar and the new energy power they had hit us with, this was the first SII 670 the Covenant had captured and they had just shown us what damage they could do to us, let alone the Marines. This must have been planned, they wanted us to see this attack. I tried to open a secure link with Cortana. "Cortana... Cortana, answer me damn you... answer me. There was silence.
    "Check my AV files for the new Covenant plasma energy signatures immediately. Analysis requested, priority Alpha." There was again no reply...
    "Cortana? I beckoned.
    I turned and looked up from the ground at the silence, the two marines I was with staring blankly at me. I could see the horror in their eyes, they were frightened. Hearing their friends last breath taken by a Covenant only brought the reality to you quicker, the odds were on it happening too you one day. They had also over-heard me try and contact Cortana and relay on the comm to head command about their new energy pulse signatures in their weapons. They all wanted answers, myself included but nothing was going to be said, not now.
    Cortanas' silence didn't help matters. At least Head Command would be checking the new information we had on the energy signatures I thought as I looked up at Elysium Ridge where I knew we would be in relative safety.
    "Ok, lets move out double time", I said, voice raised slightly to try and get the momentum back into the convoy. " Echo point, do you read me?"
    "Yes Sir, loud and clear."
    "We need to step this up a pace, Contact was made at the PoA we've had heavy casualties. Requesting for medi-evac as I speak. We need to get this load back to the Midway at once, no delays. I want everyone on high alert, spread the word Corporal... and Corporal, they also got your sniper".
    There was a moments silence as the news sunk in that the PoA had been attacked and the lose of one of his group.
    "Aye Sir, over" came the reply... then silence.
    "Lets move" I said starting off in double time. The three hogs got going again and we worked a good pace up. Coming out of the forest, working our way over and through the Elysium Ridge onto the rendez-vous at the Midway.
    Our escape had been lucky. Not so, for one...

Apollo - Chapter 3
Date: 11 June 2002, 10:04 pm

"There is no 'royal road' to geometry."  Euclid - c.300 BC
      Jaktar awoke to a blue ambiance of light surrounding him. The frozen metal of the bed stung across the back of his bare shoulders as he slowly moved his head. The cold air catching his breath as he inhaled...
    He coughed at the stale stench, watching the warm air rise from his lips and move on up into the light above him. Blinking in the brightness around him he tried to focus on his surroundings but there seemed to be none, no walls, floor or furnishings. The room felt like a void creating a feeling of suspension on the platform he was lying on. The bright almost white light from around his body emanating in a circular glow, dispersing into a vivid blue into the shadows beyond.
    Jaktar blinked again and realised this wasn't some dream. The reality of his predicament became apparent like a bolt from hell... it was, ...a nightmare. His head twitched in a panic as he realised his Mjollnir armour had been stripped from his body, most importantly his helmet. The bio synthetic skin around his audio and visual units raw where the cybernetic systems had been crudely removed leaving just the connection sockets open to the air. All of his hybrid sensory matrix processors systems had been shut down, or were off line, infact he had minimal life support control systems active and no more. He couldn't move a bone in his body. Jaktars eyes blurred into a blue haze he felt week and drained of nutrition. His eyelids slowly shut out the strange alien light and he drifted off into unconsciousness again.

It was only as we reached the outer perimeter of the Midway station that I began to feel safe again. As we wound through the trees along the dirt tracks towards the camp my thoughts wondered about our last mission. The Covenant had now captured one of our primary units... and a friend of mine with that. I wanted some answers but I wasn't sure how I was going to get them from Cortana. Once again we seemed to have saved the equipment at the expense of our men. Maybe I could just approach Head Command and see if they could give me the answers, although going behind Cortana's back wasn't proving to be such a good idea at the moment. Some of her missions felt like a one-way-ticket recently and I wasn't going to push my chances. I pondered for a second and decided to give it a shot with Cortana rather than Head Command. They probably only knew as much as I had told them anyhow.
    The main gates appeared as we banked the last turn. The reinforced steel plates stood tall and wide, hinged at both edges within the rock making them almost impossible to get through without serious firepower.
    My audio comm-link came online.
    "Midway to Group3 and Bob Group Echo, report to main debrief area as soon as your inside the base."
    "Roger Midway we read you" I replied.
    Looks like they must have got my data I thought as I surveyed the tall rock face in front of me glancing up at the sentry nests embedded high up near the top. The outcrop we had chosen to house the relay was surrounded by trees and dense foliage. We had the whole forest area set with remote sensory units or moles. These were small devices that burrowed themselves underground enabling us to get signals from vibrations and electrical signals. Cortana had helped us develop the processing software and we could now tell if it was Covenant or our own vehicles or indeed troop movements. All this allowed us to get a stronger and much clearer motion tracking signal should the Covenant try a ground assault.
    The iron gates slowly broke open with a loud 'clanking' noise as the locking systems activated. Bob group echo ran on ahead as the hogs got back into motion after the brief stop. The dark interior of the cave soon gave way to a hub of activity within the dim light. Cargo was being shuttled around by Bobs on small hover pads along with specialist welding units high up in the caves hollow, wiring in new tracking stations and the networks and relays for the newly extracted matrix pods. At the tracking stations already in place, Bobs were wired into the terminals their fingers working the touch sensitive screens creating a holographic display of it's area of operation. We obviously weren't taking any chances. Most of the systems were in place, god only knows what was to happen after all this was set up.
    "Hey Anglo, your back!" I spun round recognizing the voice instantly.
    "Hey... Tick, what are you doing here?" I said surprised at seeing him.
    "I thought you were up in Sector D3k showing the Flood your style of cooking!" giving off a grin.
    His genetically enhanced eyes seemed to look straight through me, they were like silver mirrors, catching the light as he moved forward. They actually worked as a high-res digital imaging system that allowed him and Cortana to process and enhance the imagery on the fly making him a walking microscope in my book. He could see things in NV or IR that looked like a speck of paint to us. Useful to have when your fighting spore based parasites like the Flood.
    As he got nearer he outstretch his hand and I took it, clasping it with strength.
    "Good to see you Anglo, it's been a while... hey look I'm sorry about Jaktar, I heard those bastards took him alive."
    "He's alive alright and we're going to get him back" I replied sharply.
    "Hey, I'm with you all the way, you know that" Tick said frowning at me obviously concerned about my reaction. I felt terrible losing a 673b, that was bad enough. The fact it was a friend twisted my gut. My head was in a spin thinking about what they might be doing to him.
    "Look, no problem. I understand your anger but deal with that later. I heard they got a big meeting set up for you Anglo, I think they going to grill you on why this happened."
    Tick put a hand on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and smiled at him almost sarcastically. I knew I was going to have to take the flak on my own.
    "We all know what it's been like lately, deal with them first then we'll think about getting Jaktar out." Tick nodded at me in reassurance.
    "Yeah, your probably right" I said, slightly startled at how I had reacted.
    I wondered how Cortana was going to react. She wasn't going to take this loss lightly either, I knew that for certain.
    I called over the nearest Bob and checked off the load we had just brought in. The alien matrix pods were removed swiftly and carried off to one of the main terminal points. I watched as two specialist engineering units immediately started work on them, connecting special terminal heads onto the connectors.
    "OK, lets get this over with. I don't care what they throw at me, I just want to get back out there and find out where they're holding Jak." I said turning to Tick.
    "Your not wrong there buddy good luck and don't let them get inside your head... you hear?"
    Tick followed me towards the elevator doors. I motioned back to him, raising my hand slightly as the door shut with a sharp hiss taking me down to the lower compartments where the operation rooms were. The doors opened in a matter of seconds and I walked out into the dimly lit room, the large table before me was racked with top brass. There were Class B AI's in each of the corners behind them not integrated systems like Cortana, probably terminal based and built with the complex, probably just access points for the Commanders to get into the Midway's main system.
    I took a deep breath in and squared my shoulders.
    "Anglo 673b reporting as requested" I said standing firm with my arms held by my side tightly, thumb knuckles presented to the table.
    " Do you know why your here Anglo?" A voice suddenly said. It was Cortana, she flickered into life in the center of the main table.
    "I think so, I mean we lost a good bit of 'hardware' as you might call it" I said thinking this was all a bit over the top for the start of a debrief.
    "Any news of Jaktar, is there a mission to get him back?" I enquired trying to press the importance of time in the operation.
    "No" Cortana snapped back quickly.
    "You were in command of Bob Group Echo and 'you' were supposed to cover Group 8a's leaving. Thanks to your incompetence the Covenant have captured one of our primary units..." Cortana paused for a second...
    "And what exactly did you discuss with Jaktar 673b?"
    Her voice seemed devious, as if she already knew the answer and was just playing cat and mouse with me in front of High Command.
    "I didn't tell him anything" I murmured, "nothing of significance." My mind flashed back to the PoA and what I talked about with Jak. Cortana must have gone back though my dialogue banks and found some sort of inconsistency. Did she already know we were 'capping' behind her back?
    "Well lets see," she said as I felt her activate an ERS probe scan. This program specifically dealt with episodic recall and recognition scans, and was built into our sub-routines, it was mainly used for data recall should one of us be beyond repair, it was a way of extracting very particular data from deep within the neural network. It also happens to be a very personal experience when done when your fully conscious. Head Command were using the same technology for interrogation but to my knowledge I've never heard of a case where it had worked. The sensation is supposed to feel similar to pins and needles, the synthetic nerves go haywire. Then the feeling of waves, or strokes as the probe moves through your neural network. It was a feeling that went right through you. It's supposed to only lasts a couple of seconds.
    "Cortana, that's enough" a voice snapped. "We've got more to worry about than disciplinary matters at the moment."
    I shook my head as the fragments of the program dispersed and my sub-routines were restored. A figure rose from the table and walked around to the front where the spotlights made out his appearance. It was Captain Jacob Keyes.
    "Yes, we do have more worrying matters Anglo, the footage you captured on the Bobs telescopic indeed has provided us with conclusive evidence of their increased energy power in their weapon systems. We're sorry to hear about Jaktar 673b but what you captured in intelligence will not go to waste, I promise you that Anglo."
    I looked at the rows of medals and insignia adorning Keyes' chest. Most were won for bravery along with excellence. I wondered how many of his friends he had lost in the battles he had fought. At least Head Command knew what we were up against I thought. Cortana's reaction felt bitter almost like she wanted me incriminated for the crime when it was probably due to her lack of focusing on our situation which allowed this all to happen in the first place.
    Just at that moment Cortanas' hollo image flickered and flashed violently. The flashes of light filling the room almost like stroboscopic light. Captain Keyes spun round, "Cortana, are you alright?" he motioned, holding his hand up instinctively protecting his face, pointing at the flickering image. There was a silence as the image flashed violently like static once more. The whole room shuffled in their seats, some almost rising out of their chairs in fright.
    "I'll get back to you gentlemen." And with that she was gone. The room fell silent as the light faded.
    "Cortana... Cortana," Keyes shouted "Are you alright... can you hear me?"
    The plasma orbs on the two terminal AI's then wavered and slowly dimmed until they to went dormant.
    "Will someone please tell me what the hells going on?" Keyes yelled.
    There was a flurry of activity as the rest of the room tried accessing their terminals on the table. Within a split second of her going, the hollo image returned to life and Cortana looked directly at Keyes.
    "The matrix pods have come on-line and are integrated into the mainframe Sir. Sorry about that little incident, I had to completely re-route primary functions while the matrix pods were activated."
    There was silence again, all you could hear was the faint whirl of the heating fans as Cortanas' hologram flickered and wavered once more.
    "I think we're OK Captain" Cortana said with a sense of uncertainty. The vivid blue hollo image still seemed to be oscillating between her normal image and something which looked quite unstable. There was a momentary pause where she seemed to be frozen then without warning she again convulsed sending what looked like holographic scintilla out across the room. All along these paths a mass of numbers started to stream, fading near the ends. Cortana turned and gave me a fleeting glance as she looked at the Captain once again, the blue tentacles spiraling about her as she turned, throwing out holographic numerals across the room.
    "Was.. not re..ady for... the in...creased da..ta tra..ffic activi...ty on main..frame..... Pods.. hold too.. man..y ma..trix nodes."
    "Are you OK Cortana", Keyes motioned abruptly. "Have you found something?" he pressed, his face frightened by the appearance of Cortana.
    "St..ill pro..ces..sing....   New.. core.. u..nits.. have.. now been ac..ti..vated on Halo-04.
    "Up... load da..ta com..plete." Cortana froze once again, the tentacles about her wavering in the air the streams of numerical data still moving along them at lightening speed.
    Cortanas' stuttering must have been due to her merging with the new pods. The levels of activity looked to have completely over run her main system including her Primary Image Program. The PIP program was created by Cortana herself, if something had taken control of that, then there was no stopping it accessing any part of Cortanas' databanks. Everything she knew and held in her would be accessible. The PIP program had never been hacked by anyone or any machine todate. The sight of her change in appearance frightened the room, everyone knew what the possible implications were.
    "Halo-04... Upload data?" Keyes questioned.
    "What the hell is she talking about? Anglo, check out this new data immediately." Keyes said turing to me and pointing towards Cortanas main optical output point.
    I walked over to the table and quickly released the optical cable from my earpiece and plugged it into the main terminal platform on which Cortana stood. Immediately high density data started to stream in. Thousands upon thousands of files, I purged all secondary memory banks instantaneously realizing this was going to require a massive storage facility.
    I began to scan random files. There were mission details and plans for the Basis mission, details of a launch pad almost finished in construction that had been here since we arrived built by another alien race, certainly not Covenant.
    Files on the type of craft we were to use and the new piloting and navigation programs to go with it. Hundreds of references looking at intelligence within geometry, crystallography, slipspace vectors and velocity theories. I did a quick category scan on some of the new data that had been uploaded, while the rest was streaming in. I flashed through hundreds of articles and mathematic logarithms most relating to heptagon geometry within circular form, I noted a large section of these articles discussed the reasons why you cannot connect seven points within a circle using the same angle. Why was circular formulae and heptagon geometry so important? I pondered for a second as a further flood of images flashed through my mind. I paused on an image of an ancient temple built at Edfu on our 'home' planet Earth, which was structured using heptagons this being intentionally preserved in the details of the workmanship, for the purpose of being recognised by later generations. Was Earth also connected to this riddle? Then another of a different shaped heptagon, in which of the connecting triangle. Each base being triple the angle of the vertex, bearing important relationships to the plan of the human skeleton and other parts of nature.
    I quickly shut off the search mode and decided to encode it during my next re-gen. That was the normal practice with a high density uploads and a lot less intense as an experience.
    I turned to the Captain slightly stumbling at the shock of coming out of the data stream. Cortana stood as I last saw her a few seconds ago. Her body motionless oscillating in appearance with the huge tentacles spewing numbers along there path, as if stuck in some processing cycle or loop.
    "What's going on Anglo? We've lost total contact with Cortana and can't access the mainframe."
    I turned to the Captain, his eyes looked tired with pale hollows surrounding them. His furrowed brow beckoning for some sort of answer.
    "Sir I have mission briefing and new operations data. The mission to Basis is to be up and running as soon as possible and it's to be called "Operation Apollo". I'll download what data Cortana has given to me onto the working terminal here incase we can't get control of our main frame back. I suggest you get our top brains working on what we've got as soon as possible. I'll not have time to process all the new data myself."
    Keyes looked at me, his direct eye contact holding a sense of an unforeseeable future.
    "OK Anglo, take charge of this Apollo mission, do what you have to. We know Cortana has been drawing up plans for a Basis mission but she was always reluctant to give us a reason for going. This must be an attempt by her to help us... If it is, then it's up to you Anglo."
    "What, or rather who's matrix pods are those, and where the hell have they come from? I said as I looked over at Cortana.
    "Why weren't they tested first before we put them on the mainframe?" I questioned looking around the room for an answer."
    "They were Anglo, we had them tested thoroughly while on flight here. We picked them up on Sigma Octanus IV. They were held in storage there and had been for years, it was only just before our departure that Cortana told me they were originally from Earth.
    "Earth?" I questioned. "Well someone obviously put it there, it's not our technology, that's for certain. Who the hell left them there then?" I motioned.
    "In truth Anglo we have no idea where the pods came from. Our politics of alien technology always seems to be shrouded with secrecy. It's recently been confirmed that some of the symbols on the pods have been found on the Halo too. That's the reason why Cortana wanted this Midway relay set up, to accommodate these new pods. She once proposed the possibility that the people who made these pods either visited this Halo... or built it. Although none of this has been confirmed yet." Keyes motioned by waving his hand almost brushing it aside.
    "Something inside Cortana must have activated something we didn't detect while testing." He whispered as if thinking out aloud.
    A red light flashed silently on the desk where the Captain had been seated, he walked over to it and pressed a switch. A screen flipped up on the desk.
    "Sir, initial neural scans have shown Cortana's neural core is changing again, it seems to have started when the new matrix pods were integrated. It also looks like some sort of pattern in the changes, like it going through some sort of cycle. We're unable to say much more at the moment."
    Keyes nodded to the monitor, "keep me posted, I want to know of any further changes."
    "Yes Sir." The monitor sunk back into the desk lying flush with the top of the table.
    "So those rumours are true as well?" I said directing my comment to Keyes.
    "Yes they are Anglo," he said with some directness.
    "We've known about it for some time now as well. There's never been any evidence showing it was doing any harm to her ...or our operations, Keyes said in a quieter tone.
    Cortana has also recently supplied us with evidence that the Covenant are mining on this Halo. She's had some units working on some new types of scanning devices utilising some of the programming used in her ERS probes along with modified optical hardware we built for Ticks. They've been able to locate a number of huge mining tunnels. It seems they've been very busy over the last year or so. We now believe it's for their new types of crystal energy used in their weapons. The harmonic pulse ranges are much higher than we've seen before, it's definitely been formed by new types of crystal rather than adapted types. We're pretty sure that's what they're mining for."
    "Sir, may I speak off the record" I said, unable to justify what I had just heard.
    "Go ahead Anglo" Keyes motioned.
    "Well Sir, if we're to get Cortana back and have any sort of control of this war I think your 673's should be informed of any change in circumstance or new information which effects us directly from now on ...which hasn't happened to date by the sounds of it. The reality is we're losing this war and good men with it, we need to know what's going on to be effective."
    There was a pause as Keyes moved his glance from the table to me.
    "Agreed Anglo, from now you will have direct access to our High Command log files. Terminal based as usual, we have no idea what mind games the Covenant are brewing up. We know how strong there interrogation units are."
    It was obvious some of Head Command did not agree with the notion, there was quiet shuffle around the table as I walked over to it and plugged my optical cable into the port.
    "Downloading new data Sir."
    There was a small pause, a blink of an eye lid in relative terms. I reached down and ejected the small memory cube from the computer.
    "I suggest you get working on this then Sir," tossing the small glass like cube across the table, watching it bounce on it's sharp edges like a dice dancing across a gambling table.
    "If there's nothing else to be said, I'll get Apollo under way." I said walking towards the door.
    "Good luck Anglo, we'll be in contact on Cortanas progression" Keyes said.
    I paused at the door of the lift, the doors hissed open and I walked in. Turning to face the room I caught the eye of Keyes giving a nod as the doors closed quickly, the rest of the silent figures around the table motionless as they were when I entered.

 Jaktar awoke again, his eyes blinking in the brightness, unable to focus on anything except the blue haze that surrounded him. He fought to find some form or shape within the room but could see nothing. Suddenly he sensed a voice, a presence, it felt like Cortana.
    "Cortana... Cortana... help me..  What's going on?"
    He shuddered as he heard a low gurgle coming from the dark shadows behind him... Something took breath.
    "It is not your friend, Cortana, human... Do you not remember your foretold fate?"
    Jaktar was terrified, not having the familiar voice or sensory persona contact of Cortana his mind felt like a vast void of darkness. Was he dying? he thought, gazing up through the blue light surrounding him.
    The sound of the animal breathing was heinous, you could hear the rattle of it's larynx as it took another breath.
    "Yes human... you are with us now... we see your mind... we see your weakness," it said as it sucked in it's saliva making a disturbing gurgling noise as it caught it and swallowed.
    "What is this fascination your culture holds over technology that makes you want to be part of it human? We have removed some of your implants for you, do you not feel better human? Do you not hold individuality, know your own thoughts now? The beast said. "You live your lives trying to connect with your technology. You thought your bodies were strong human ...but we broke them, your minds will soon follow." It gasped taking in another breath, snatching at the air and exhaling through it's nostrils.
    Jaktar trembled as the voice moved through his sensory C9 e3 chip. At least he still had control of that he thought. If they somehow got had a direct link-up they could actually read his mind, access his neural matrix. Jaktar flinched in a confused panic, trying to cower from the voice emanating from within him...
    "Yes human, we can see your perception of mind, your confusion with being. Now tell us what you were doing at your old ship the Pillar Of Autumn".
    "Nothing, we were just having a look, it's a wreak, what are we going to find in there?" He tried to focus on the voice behind him but he couldn't move an inch, terrified at the voice.
    "No human, If your lies are going to be this transparent, this is going to be a very short conversation or should I say interrogation."
    "Then maybe I should make my lies more opaque." Jaktar said gritting his teeth desperately trying to gain some sort of perspective on his surroundings awaiting some sort of retaliation from the creature but there was silence.
    "Anyhow, isn't the truth usually just an excuse for a lack of imagination". Jaktar grinned, knowing his captor wasn't really accustomed to his humour. Having realising there was no way out of here for him it seemed pointless trying to struggle. Jaktar settled, nervously.
    "Yeah, think about that one you drivelling amphibian, or whatever you are" he replied in the silence almost as a whisper, suggesting he was going to wake up from some sort of nightmare any second as he closed his eyes.
    "Savage life forms never follow their own rules, you should know that by now humanoid." The voice said in a loud cackle annoyed at the humans response.
    Jaktar startled at the voices' directness his eyes blinking quickly in fright.
    "You don't believe me, do you?  Jaktar said quickly. "Do you think I would humiliate myself like this, I'm being serious here?"
    "If it served your purpose, yes" replied the beast with a sense of distaste. "Your way of being holds no honour humanoid. Tell me now, what is it that feeds your hunger?"
    Jaktar, slightly startled and confused by the angle of questioning, "the choice of meal is determined by individual taste." He replied without question.
    "And what is it that you desire human?" the voice said sharply.
    "I.. I don't desire sustenance or food. I occasionally ingest semi organic nutrient suspension in a silicone-based liquid medium." He replied confused.
    "Is it good?" The animal replied gurgling while he waited for Jaktars reply.
    "Well, yes in a sense,  it lubricates my biofunctions but serves no real other purpose."
    "That doesn't sound very appealing human, your torment is my delight. Haaar" The creature snuffled and snapped it's jaws hard sending out a sharp 'cracking' noise as it's jaws drew down on each other quickly.
    At that moment a towering shadow of a figure appeared overhead. The hood of its shroud concealing most of its appearance. The light catched the saliva on it's teeth and mouth as it moved its jaws together, grasping the lower lip with a repulsive slurping noise. It's eyes moved through the light revealing its blue retinas making them glow like clear crystal. The shrouded figure of its head wavered looking at Jaktar for a second then moved back out of the light.
    "Enough of your games human, do you not yet realise the power and light of our god... do you?". The voice said, louder and more direct.
    Jaktar lay paralysed by the grotesque figure that had now moved back behind him.
    "I'm not playing games", Jaktar blurted, his head spinning, trying to focus on the figure moving back beside him, he could smell the odour on the shroud, it was a smell worse than death.
    A hand slowly reached down from the shadow as it came closer to Jaktar, it held out a crystal between its three digits which sparkled in the blue light of the room, the prism of blue light beaming out across Jaktar's face.
    "This is why we have brought you here humanoid", holding it closer to Jaktars face.
    "Yes... We found this crystal on a navigation key that we took from one of your home worlds in the Sigma Octanus System. It was the same key that also brought you here human. We have been mining for this crystal, and others like it since our arrival here. Our mines run deep into this structure. You have no knowledge of such powers human... but I will show you, soon. Our Gods have left us these tools deep within this construct. These powers were meant for 'us' human."
    The Covenant lowered itself nearer to Jaktars face. The un-armoured head glistening in the blue light, saliva gathering on its lower jaws and slowly falling to the floor beside him, it hissed slowly as it exhaled through it's nostrils.
    "Now, I ask you one more time human. What was your mission at the Pillar of Autumn?"
    Jaktar trembled and tried to find his words.
    "I.. I.. we were just collecting some old equipment, data banks and storage units, nothing important."
    The Covenant looked into Jaktars eyes. The pale blue orbs flickered and scanned his face, almost as if it was trying to focus or find a focal point of reference.
    "Your words are weak and lack truth human, let us end this now."
    The Covenant placed the blue crystal into some sort of casing connected to optical cabling and proceeded to plug the wire into Jaktar's optical port. He shuddered as the device was plugged in, freezing for a second wincing at the pain. A soft pale blue wash flowed through his optic sensors, giving him the sense of floatation, as if in some sort of liquid medium then without warning a shaft of light pierced through his e3 chip creating an explosion of whiteness around him which slowly faded and blurred back into the blueness surrounding him. Jaktar lay still the room felt calm, the blue light shrouding him gave him a sense of comfort.
    "Can you hear me now?" the voice said, softer and with ease.
    Jaktar's eyes opened slowly, he was powerless to the control of the crystal, his eyes gazing up above him.
    "Now think back and visualise your mission at the ship. Think back to what it was that you were doing," The voice said slowly, it's articulation of speech softer and more serene, sounding familiar and untroubled.
    Jaktar's eyes closed his speech slurred as he tried to relate his mission to the Covenant interrogator. Drifting off into an unconscious slumber the crystal started to glow and flicker into life starting a holographic projection of Jaktars thoughts above him. The washy and dreamy image flickered above his frail body. The interrogator watched closely as the crystal relayed Jaktars memories of the mission at the PoA, noting the conversation Jaktar had with Anglo and the discussion of a mission to Basis. As his thoughts turned to the battle that raged on after the mission the Covenant clicked it's jaws rapidly, the snapping sounds penetrating the air around him again as the images of Covenant Elites butchering Marines washed through the air infront of him. It looked down at the crystal and cabling and then at Jaktars wasted body. Taking the cabling in one hand it pulled it out in one swift movement. Jaktars body shook then went limp, his body lay still and motionless. The interrogator turned and left Jaktars side, his naked and mutilated body left for dead.