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Halo: Stealth Action Evolved by Mind_Affecting_Parasite

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 0-Prologue
Date: 19 July 2004, 8:23 PM

(Author's Note: After beating Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow I was inspired to write up a story about the same type of thing. But seeing my insane obsession of the Halo story and materials, I decided to mix the two. I believe I also have found a way to incorporate his story's time line into that of the known Halo plot. Those of you who have played one or both of the Splinter Cell games will recognize some of the gadgets, names, and a major "project" title. Some might think I just can't make up a story or materials to put in it, but Bungie and UbiSoft have given me such good materials to work with, that I could not resist. I hope you enjoy your read!)

       Commodore Morgan Ford looked at the millions of stars displayed in front of him. In the magnified image on view screen, he could just make out two distant planets. One a light-purple gas giant, the other an orange cloud covered planet, about the size of Mercury. However, neither of those two planets or many stars was what the Commodore was focused on. In the center of the screen was what used to be a lovely planet. Heilos didn't used to be that different from planets like Earth or Reach. But now . . . Morgan could only scowl. Another planet glassed by the Covenant.
       The eight ship fleet sat motionless in space, at the outer edge of the Lestos system. All watching. Watching as the Covenant fleet fired volleys of plasma at the surface of Heilos. Morgan could barely stand it. He wanted to go back, take all those bastards down; but it wouldn't achieve anything, except more deaths. Twelve Human and six Covenant ships still floated in lazy orbits around the planet, destroyed. Commodore Ford's fleet had only been able to pick up ten life boats before the surviving ships had to get out of harms way. If it wasn't for the special cargo the Hercules had on board, she would still be in battle.
       "Captain," addressed Jason Kalish, a Lieutenant Junior Grade. "Staff Sergeant Smith reports that the Pelican is safely docked and the away team is on board."
       "Good," Morgan nearly growled. "Instruct the Chief to report to the bridge immediately."
       "Aye, sir."
       Another planet lost, another Covenant win. Commodore Ford still couldn't get the thought out of his mind. He hoped the team he was ferrying around would be able to make a dent soon. If they didn't, the war would not last much longer. It was turning into something very much, one sided.

       The Chief Petty Officer stepped onto the elevator. He gave a nod to his two teammates, and pushed a button on the control panel. The lift's doors slid quietly shut. The two soldiers on the other side of the doors looked at each other and continued down the hall. In the elevator, Michael let himself relax just a notch, and looked around as the lift started upward. Combat was what he was trained to do, and he was more comfortable on the ground; but he still had to give his body a break on occasion. Even his physique could only take so much punishment, but Michael new he was nowhere near that limit.
       The interior of the elevator was slightly confining. It was made to carry several people at a time, but it still felt constricting to Michael. It was well lit, and had enough shoulder room, but the ceiling was too low. It was only a foot from the Chief Petty Officer's shaved head. Many of his comrades had let a some hair grow on their heads, but Michael preferred a smooth look. Of course this let the scars on his head show. There were only two really noticeable ones. Even though they had been treated to reduce scar tissue, they still showed up. One ran from his temple to just behind his left ear, a bullet had almost caught him; the other was on the back of his head, a burn scar, his helmet had saved his life from a Covenant ambush, and he would never make that kind of mistake again.
       Michael's thoughts were interrupted as the lift's doors parted. The large man walked onto the Bridge of the Hercules. The air was still tense. The whole of the Bridge crew looked Michael's figure over nervously. Even without MJOLNIR armor, those like Michael were intimidating.
       The Chief Petty Officer stopped and saluted sharply as he approached the ship's commander, Commodore Ford. "Chief Petty Officer, SPARTAN-096 reporting as ordered, Sir!" Michael said.
       The Commodore still stood still, looking at the view screen. Michael could see what the Ford was looking at. The Covenant fleet was very evident on the screen. Commodore Ford tensed a moment, breathing in deeply, before letting out a loud sigh, lowering his head for a moment, and turning. He returned the Spartan's salute.
       "At ease, Chief," Ford replied.
       Michael spread his legs slightly, tucking his two hands in the small of his back.
       "I suppose you already now what we have to do, son," commented Ford.
       Michael understood, "Our mission was successful. But I assume the operations in this system have been recalled?"
       Ford nodded. "I'll admit I hate watching people die as much as anyone."
       The Spartan stood still and silent.
       "I hope this project we're part of will start showing products of success."
       "Where will my team and I be working next, sir?"
       The Commodore looked away from the screen and towards the Spartan beside him, still frowning. "I have to write up a report, and we need to resupply. So we'll head back to base."
       "Sir," said the officer stationed at the communication station.
       "What is it Lieutenant?" Ford responded.
       "Captain Williams is asking when we will exit the system," Lieutenant Gregor replied.
       The Commodore pressed his lips together. "Samuel," he addressed.
       "Yes, Commodore?" answered Samuel, the shipboard AI.
       "Do you have a randomized exit vector ready?"
       The holographic representation of the AI appeared on the Bridge hologram pedestal. The AI appeared as a man, clad in jet-black fatigues, complete with matching combat boots, a combat vest with full equipment compartments, a compact multipurpose goggle assembly, and even a silenced M6D at the hip.
       "Of course, Commodore Ford," tiny bits of information scrolled across the forearm mounted information screen and small eyepiece of the AI, reminiscent of those Marines had on their helmets.
       Ford nodded, pleased with the AI, but still frustrated with the situation. "Transmit it to the rest of the fleet, and synchronize our departure."
       The AI nodded and acted as if he was typing up commands on his information screen.
       "Lieutenant Gregor," addressed Ford. "Send a message to all non-essential personnel, it's time for the freezer."
       Robert Gregor's face showed that he was partially grateful he was one of the "essential personnel" roster. "Aye."
       The Commodore looked back at Michael, who had still been standing. "That means you and your team too Chief."
       "With your permission, Sir, I would like to keep my team out," requested Michael. "We would like some time to talk and get some real sleep."
       Morgan considered the Chief's request. It was use up supplies, but they were headed back to base, so he had no objection to it. "I don't have a problem with it Chief."
       "Thank you sir."
       "Well, I don't think you can do much more here, son," Ford said. "Dismissed."
       The Spartan snapped to, and saluted. Commodore Ford returned the salute. Michael turned on his heal and made his way back to the elevator. As he stepped into the confining lift again, thoughts of a warm meal and a mattress under his body tugged at his thoughts.

       Lieutenant Commander Brent Williams sat at his station. He monitored all the reports and active operations on the Lambert space station. This was the "center of operations" for project Splinter Cell. Commander Williams didn't know much about the project, any of the specifics or anything. His duty was to control this space station, and make sure everything was kept running smoothly. Although he did know some things about the classified project being conducted from the station.
       After the results of the SPARTAN-II project, many wanted to see what else these "Super Soldiers" were capable of. A project team was assembled, and three of the Spartans were selected for their potential in the project, to be test subjects for new equipment and tactics. The project initiative was to create a group of soldiers able to use redefined stealth action during specialized missions for their talents. Though Williams didn't know what would happen if the project was successful, but he would bet more soldiers would be recruited for the task. He had even heard distant rumors of a SPARTAN-III project. Perhaps some of them would be recruited.
       Brent redirected his attention to his station. He looked around the control center. All the officers were alert at their stations. He decided to take a look at each of the stations, make sure all the officers were doing their best. Just as he reached the Slipspace monitoring station, the Lieutenant at the communications station spoke up.
       "Sir, I'm receiving a message from the Hercules," the woman said. "Commodore Ford reports that they have just exited Slipspace from their randomized vector and are headed back to base."
       "Make sure a hangar is ready to take in people," Commander Williams instructed.
       The fleet was returning. Brent wondered what had happened to cause the ships to return prematurely. The Lieutenant Commander figured he would find out when the time came.

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 1
Date: 26 July 2004, 1:05 AM

       The two dropships glided smoothly into the welllit hangar on the Lambert space station. One was a standard Pelican, and it's engines would have thundered, had there been atmosphere in the docking bay. The second dropship was modified specifically for the Splinter Cell project. Replacing the "Pelican" designation was the name "Owl"; the name was the subject of debate between several personnel, as not being "cool enough" for the job. However, the name summed up the aerial vehicle's abilities.
       Unlike the standard Pelican dropships the three Owls that had been produced were heavily modified for the specialized missions three particular Spartan soldiers embarked upon. The engines, for starters, were modified to contain heat and noise as much as possible; so that the ship would be less noticeable on approach. The ship itself was slightly more narrow, having sleeker body. Frame components were also replaced and modified to lighten the dropship; make it more maneuverable. Also, the wings were slightly less stubby, and could rotate more easily and at greater angles. To aid further to navigational capability, a Class C military AI had been installed.
       The vessel's skin was composed of materials to block and absorb as much sensor energy as possible; and what couldn't be absorbed would be ricocheted off at an oblique angle, making the sensor assembly that had broadcasted the signal in the first place unable to capture the return signal. Along with the sophisticated imaging gear, the craft was well suited to its purpose. The combined systems had been tested, and had preformed extremely well during missions. Some people had begun thinking about implementing some of the technology into other dropships, but the proposal was deemed to costly to be efficient.

       The two ships spun around, making the necessary maneuvers in the space the pilots had available. Staff Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Look, the two pilots, let up on their controls as the docking clamps attached themselves to the two small vessels, and the gravity of the spinning station settled the two ships' frames.
       As docking bay doors slid together, a hissing sound started to become audible as the atmosphere was pumped back into the hangar. When the green lights flashed on, the hangar staff filed into the bay. Technical crew quickly began looking over the two small ships, first cleaning them up from their last mission and preparing them for the next. None of the crew in the hangar gave a look in the direction of the troop compartment door, dropping open, in the rear of the Owl. The Crew Chief and Tech came out first, carrying their belongings. While the pilot and copilot made sure everything was in order in the cockpit, the three large figures in the back readied their gear to be unloaded.
       "So when's the last time you heard from her?" asked Paul, one of the Techs, looking at the soldier next to him with his hazel eyes.
       PFC Henson continued to walk alongside the Tech, he had been asked to help loading gear onto the robotic dolly following him and the Tech. "The last time I contacted her was six months ago," Jerry Henson replied with a rough sigh, he was tiring of the conversation.
       "That has to suck, eh?" Paul whistled to keep the dolly following.
       "It sucks horse cock."
       The Tech chuckled lightly as the metal door opened before him, revealing the hangar.
       "So when do you get to see her again?" asked Paul.
       Henson gave the Tech a quizzical look, tinted with frustration, bordering on anger. "Who the hell knows."
       "Guess till the next transport gets sent out here, eh?"
       "Fuck yeah, but it's not up to me. It's for my damn COs to decide."
       Paul shrugged as he and his ODST companion stopped just shy of the open troop bay of the dropship. Three soldiers were carrying boxes towards the two men.
       "Make sure this gets to the 'Spartan Armory'," the female of the three ordered, as she and the slightly smaller man slid the crates they carried onto the bottom level of the cart.
       Private Henson's reply was a curt nod, but the woman wasn't looking at him to notice. She was already moving another two crates to the unloading ramp. The third member of the trio set his double-load on the top of the dolly without a word, a look or a gesture. As the three were still getting another load of crates, the pilot and copilot from the cockpit walked past all five of the present people and headed towards a lift. Apparently, they were eager to get to their quarters.
       Paul would have addressed one of them, out of curiosity and his social nature, but the Spartans' outfits were devoid of insignia of any kind. Paul was slightly disappointed, he had always wanted to see what a real live Spartan was like. Sure, the Tech was a bit nervous around the seven-foot figures, maybe even a little scared; but he still would like to meat one in conversation. Oh well, he thought. Maybe another time.

       Within thirty more seconds, all of the crates were loaded up. The three Spartans watched the slow moving robotic dolly being led away by the Tech and Marine, before looking briefly at each other and taking their first steps, in the last week, into the Lambert space station.
       They walked in triangle formation through the bay, and towards a lift. The two Marine MPs stiffened as the Spartans walked past them and into the open elevator. For three people of such size, the several person lift was fairly cramped. Even as the doors of the lift closed and the elevator started upward, the soldiers barely relaxed. Debriefings could be as harrowing as the missions themselves.

       Commander Williams sat calmly in the amphitheater styled briefing room. This room was small, only meant for a certain amount of project personnel at a time. It was divided into four main sections. One, where the Lieutenant Commander was seated, was for Commanding Officers who were currently involved in the project; there were twenty-five seats. Another section was for the civilian members of the project, there were also twenty-five seats there as well. A third section was for the three Spartans, and only three seats were in that section. Finally, the last section was for presentation purposes, there was room for a few people to stand behind the one-person podium, positioned next to the hologram projector and view screen.
       The room was quiet and empty for the time being though. Williams had been ordered to report to the briefing room by Commodore Ford, as the fleet had arrived. The other members of the meeting would be reporting shortly.
       But since Brent liked to keep tabs on station operations, he pressed the communications button to the "Bridge."
       "Lieutenant Lust," he addressed.
       "Yes sir?" Michelle Lust responded.
       "What is the progress of Commodore Ford?"
       There was a brief pause. "Commodore Ford and the rest of the ship commanders are on the station, en route to the Beta Project Briefing Room."
       "And the fleet?"
       "Starting into patrol routes in-system, sir."
       "Very well, Lieutenant," Williams replied. "Keep me posted on any major events, Commander Williams out."
       Brent licked his lips and swallowed, before letting out a deep breath. He then returned to a book he had brought with him. It was titled The Enemy Within, the author's name was actually a pen name: MAP. Commander Williams was only just finishing chapter thirteen.

       The Lieutenant Commander had only finished another page and a half before he heard the main doors begin to open. He quickly stowed his book in the seat-side storage compartment and stood. He prepared himself to salute, but didn't need to when the doors parted fully. It was the small team of Spartans that walked through the door, still in their combat suits. While they weren't in MJOLNIR armor, Brent had seen the spectacle before, they were still excellent examples of the SPARTAN-II project. The black suits that the three Spartans of the project wore were designed to function like the part of MJOLNIR Mark V armor that was under the hard outer shell.
       The three stopped a few feet past the door and snapped off a crisp salute.
       Commander Williams returned the salute. "Spartans," he greeted. "Commodore Ford is still on his way."
       "Of course, sir," the forward most Spartan replied, known to Brent as Chief Petty Officer, Spartan-096.
       The three resumed their walk, as the door slid back shut, and proceeded to their seats. No sooner had Williams sat back down, the main door again signaled it was opening.
       The group of eight was met by four saluting Navy men.
       "At ease," Commodore Ford replied as his hand fell from his returned salute.
       "Welcome back, Sir," greeted Williams.
       "It's damn well and good to be back, Commander," Ford's voice was not hostile, but Brent could tell the man was upset.
       The seven others behind Ford walked passed him as the Commodore made his way to the podium. Five of the other ship commanders were Captains, but two were only Commanders. None the less, the seven who had followed Ford in quickly took their seats. It was only fifty-seven seconds until seven of the scientists were in their seats, and the meeting was officially started.
       "Well people, this is going to be one of those unpleasant debriefings, but it has to be done," started Commodore Ford. "We lost good men today. Twelve ships worth of good men and women, and an entire colonized planet."
       The room was uncomfortably quite, each person present silently mourning the loss in some way.
       Ford continued. "The Spartan team was successful in their planet-bound operations, but as we all know, what is allowed to happen on the ground is all determined by what happens in orbit. While the Away Team Alpha-" the Commodore looked at the three Spartans "-was planet side, our fleet was taking care of the Covenant fleet currently assaulting the planet. When we had arrived, there were five Covenant ships already orbiting the planet, having already engaged and crippled the two ships who had made the call for reinforcements.
       "We sent in ATA to assess the situation before we made a major offensive. A single Covenant Cruiser was at the bottom of the gravity well, hovering a couple-hundred meters above one of the larger cities. ATA's objective was to set off an alarm within the vessel to draw as many Covenant troops back in before they set off explosives to destroy the gravity lift of the vessel. Once that was done, we hoped that the Covenant ship would attempt to lift off for a search of her interior and repairs. We had planned, if the ship lifted off, to have ATA set off a tactical nuclear device within the ship."
       One of the lead scientists had raised a hand, after Ford had paused for a moment. "Yes Dr. Chang?"
       The doctor removed his glasses and looked up from the small screen in the right arm of his chair. "How would our Spartans have escaped?"
       "I was about to explain," answered the Commodore. "As I was saying, the Spartans were to plant the device and escape the Covenant vessel. To do this, they were either to attempt to steal a Covenant dropship or Banshees to fly out, or they were equipped with parachutes to make a HALO jump back to the planet's surface."
       Ford paused, typing a command into the podium controls. The lights dimmed and the view screen flared to life.
       "As you can see," the Commodore said, commentating the video clip. It was an enhanced zoom of a Covenant ship rising through the atmosphere of Heilos from over a city. Within a few seconds, an explosion blossomed on the lower starboard side of the ship. It was contained for a split second by the shields, which had apparently just been activated, before blasting through the remaining part of the vessel. "That part of the plan was successful. Are next plan depended on the rest of the Covenant fleet. We expected that this distraction would lure some of the fleet into the atmosphere of the planet, and into the gravity well. With that done, the ships couldn't have effectively fought back when we attacked."
       The video zipped forward, to the image of two Covenant ships descending into the atmosphere, with a third hovering above them, but staying in orbit. Ford went on, "We assumed correctly, and so we made our move. It went very well at first, we managed to send the flaming wreckage of the two planet-bound ships through the atmosphere, but we lost two of our ships fighting off the other three Covenant vessels.
       "We won that battle. But, either due to a call for reinforcements or bad timing on our part, several more Covenant vessels appeared in system. My fleet wasn't expecting bogies to pop out of Slipspace behind them, and to we were unprepared for the threat. The enemy fleet managed to get off a volley of plasma fire before we could fire. It all went downhill from there."
       Pauline Wesson pressed a button on her arm chair.
       "Yes, Dr. Wesson?" asked Ford.
       "Weren't you concerned with collateral damage from two Covenant warships crashing to the surface of the colony?" she responded, her face troubled, almost angry with the Commodores already-made decision. "Or a nuclear device above the surface?!"
       Commodore Ford sighed. "Yes, I was aware the there was a high risk of collateral damage from the ships on their way through the atmosphere. But I had thought a large portion of the ships would have disintegrated on the way down. I was correct, and not much remained to reach the surface-"
       Pauline interrupted, "Even a small portion of debris would cause damage when impacting at over mach-one."
       "I am aware of that," replied Ford, almost visibly disturbed my the woman's reaction.
       "What about over-penetrating MAC rounds?"
       Ford dropped his head slightly, not breaking eye-contact with whom he was speaking. "One round did hit one of the ships that was unshielded in a relatively thin spot. It did pass through the ship, and one would assume-with accuracy-that it did reach the surface."
       "Traveling at more than thirty-six-thousand feet-per-second," added Pauline, without request.
       The Commodore responded as if he hadn't heard her comment. "As for the nuclear explosion, ATA was instructed not to detonate the weapon until the Covenant vessel had risen to a safe altitude. Far enough so that the explosion would not directly damage the city."
       "What about indirectly?" Pauline posed another question. "What about falling radioactive debris? And the EMP? While the tactical nuclear device used was designed to be as clean as possible, there is still an EMP. The collateral damage caused is unacceptable for this type of operation."
       Ford's head snapped up from looking over the data screen, only viewable by him. "Well it doesn't really matter now, does it?!" the Commodore was bordering on losing his temper, but he was better than that, trained to stop such emotional impulses, and so calmed himself.
       "What happened next?" passively asked a man by the name, Dr. Freeman. He understood that his colleague was becoming aggravating.
       The calmed Commodore stood straighter, beginning to speak again, as he recalled the event.

(Author/Story Note: I know this is not very combat or action filled at the moment, but stay with me. Part 1 is mainly about developing the plot and characters, getting you in the mood and setting for the rest of the series.)

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 2
Date: 31 July 2004, 5:09 PM

       "Incoming fire!" shouted one of the pilots over the flight command freq. "Taking hits! Can't break off!"
       Flight Officer Captain Keel took the chance and looked over his shoulder, out of the glass viewport. Two Seraphs pulled up and began to circle back around. Directly beneath them, a Longsword took two plasma torpedoes to the nose. The air-filled cockpit popped, and all but the former craft's two wings were blown away.
       "Damn," Jason Keel cursed.
       Keel looked back in front of him, just in time to see a smoking Seraph speeding towards him. His copilot, Flight Officer Young, must have been looking else where too, she hadn't noticed the enemy fighter. Jason pulled as hard as he could on his flight yoke, pulling his fighter up-but he could tell it wouldn't be enough. The Flight Officer in the copilots seat turned with the beginning of the motion and immediately opened up with the Longsword's 110mm rotary cannons. Meanwhile, Keel banked his craft to the right, rolling his ship as he went.
       By now the distance between the doomed Seraph and the intact-for the moment-Longsword had closed to under a hundred meters. Most of the Human craft would be clear, but the left wing-tip was in the enemy fighter's line of flight. Just as Jason braced for impact, two missiles streaked in from seven o'clock. The Seraph exploded into a ball of flame, and Flight Officer Captain Jason Keel's craft sped through the fading explosion.
       "Thanks One-Five," Jason put through his COM.
       "Copy that," Knife One-Five replied. "Just another day at the office, sir."
       Keel would have smiled had Flight Officer Young not pointed out one of the Human destroyers.
       The Neptune was just sending a MAC round towards a Covenant cruiser. Of course, the cruiser didn't take that as a friendly gesture and had already managed to fire two plasma torpedoes of its own. The two orbs of heated energy were speeding through space, and the cruiser that had fired them attempting an evasive maneuver. It was pretty hard to dodge a MAC round at that range, however. The Human and Covenant vessels took each other's fire at nearly the same time. The MAC round hit the Covenant cruiser, whose shields were apparently already down, at an angle. It entered from the top slightly of center, towards the bow, and exited not far from the tip of the cruiser's stern. It must have hit some kind of control conduit, because the Covenant ship floated dead in space. It didn't take long for the ruptured main coolant and plasma conduits to induce the Covenant ship's reactor to explode.
       Meanwhile, while the Covenant ship was incapacitated, the Neptune had taken the two plasma torpedoes on her port side. Jason watched the Human ship as the two Covenant weapons burned through the armor and several decks before subsiding as the cruiser exploded in the distance. Within a few seconds, a squadron of Longswords and a pair of Pelicans exited from two of the Neptune's hangars. It was only thirty seconds until, coincidentally, the ship that Jason Keel had called home for most of the last several months also experienced a meltdown of her reactor. Only two lifeboats had made it out.

       "This is Knife One-Nine to the Javelin," Lieutenant Junior Grade Kelly heard come in over the Longswords' command frequency. "The Neptune has taken hits and has been destroyed, repeat destroyed. My squadron has escapees and needs a docking bay for pickup."
       "Captain," addressed Lyle Kelly. "Knife One-Nine says they need a pick up."
       Xavier Marker, the Captain, was just choosing a new heading and target. Another Covenant ship, this one a frigate, had been dispatched by the cooperative efforts of his own ship and the Ardor. Captain Marker hadn't suffered any hits, but the Ardor had taken a single plasma torpedo to her gut. The ship was still operational, but now her belly was exposed, and MAC was out of commission. More bad new included the fact that of the ten Covenant ships that had recently appeared in system, only three had been taken out. Already seven of the Human fleet had been destroyed.
       "Coordinates, Lieutenant?" asked Xavier, keeping his two hands planted at the base of the view screen, but turning his head to face Kelly.
       Lyle punched a control. "At your station, sir."
       "Lieutenant, tell the pilot we're on our way."
       "Aye, sir."
       Captain Marker did a quick calculation on his terminal. Normally such a thing would be done by an AI, but at this time in the war, ship-class AIs were in short supply. Marker would be on his own.
       "Lieutenant Banks," Xavier started, glancing towards the black haired woman. "Bring us to heading two seven nine declination zero one zero."
       "Aye, aye. Starting on course, bearing two seven nine declination zero one zero."
       As the Javelin closed in on the small flight group's location, Captain Marker could see that several Seraph fighters were harassing the larger group of Human forces. The Captain took an offense to that.
       "Commander Quinn," Xavier addressed his Weapons Station One man. Marker would have liked to have the higher ranking officer, a Lieutenant Commander, at a different kind of station, but Quinn was damned good at what he did. "Swat those flies out of the sky for our friends out there."
       Mark Quinn didn't even turn his buzzed, strawberry-blonde haired head, concentrating hard. "Aye."
       Within seconds the Javelin's point defenses started picking off every Seraph that strayed too far from the Human fighters, as not to risk any collateral damage. The remaining Longswords responded with a volley of missiles and a sweep of rotary fire to the four enemy fighters that were still active, not having been hit by the Human destroyer's fifty-millimeter auto-cannons.
       "Lieutenant Kelly, invite Knife One-Nine on in," Xavier ordered.
       "Right away, sir."
       Captain Marker refocused his full attention to the ongoing space battle, and the rest of the Human and Covenant ships. A Covenant destroyer had just been blown to pieces, but three Human vessels were now also out of commission. One totally destroyed by result of explosion, the other two dead in space. That left eleven Human ships, and seven Covenant; it seemed like good odds, but another Human vessel already was looking like she was about to go.

       Above and behind the Javelin, the commander of the Hercules was assessing the situation as well. As the commander of the remainder of the Human fleet, Commodore Ford needed to make a decision based on the well being of the still-alive Humans; and to keep the three project Spartans alive. The frigate Osiris winked off of the tactical display, as the ship took four plasma torpedoes in rapid succession. The first and second striking aft, rendering the ship's engines unuseable; the third struck amid ship, burning through two lifeboat launch areas and the majority of the vehicle bays on that side; and the fourth and last plasma hit struck the lower bow, within seconds vaporizing all the personnel that had been the Osiris' command crew.
       Morgan winced, his hardened features scowling. This was the worst operation that project Splinter Cell had yet to encounter. The Commodore knew he had a responsibility to the lives of the still-alive Humans; and to keep the three Spartans alive if at all possible. Ford had to make a call, and so he made it. This operation was over.
       "Lieutenant Kalish, where are the Spartans?" asked Commodore Ford.
       "We just received a message, sir," Lieutenant Junior Grade Kalish replied. The man was short, and a newer addition to the command crew, but the boy sure was bright. Ford knew the Brit could go places, if he would put his mind to it. "Flight Officer Captain Smith has picked up the Spartans and is en route. Currently rising through the atmosphere.
       Ford briefly scrutinized his system map, displayed on his view screen. "Tell Smith to rendevous with us-" he selected a location on his display, and transmitted it to the communications station "-here."
       "Aye sir," replied Jason.
       Morgan Ford again looked at his tactical display, this time at the Human and Covenant battle groups. He traced a path with his eyes to the rendevous coordinates and finalized his plan.
       "Samuel," he said. "Check my calculations and send a final firing solution through to the fleet."
       "Firing solution calculated," the AI responded, his hologram having drawn its rifle.
       "Now transmit my exit course through. I want all of the ships to be synchronized."
       "Working . . ." the AI's eyes flashed green, as the foot tall figure put his digital fingers against his arm mounted information screen.
       The Commodore switched his display screen to show the space around him. The rest of the fleet turned to the same angle in unison, the ships' reverse thrusters at maximum, and fired their MACs towards the opposing vessels. As soon as the MAC rounds had been sent downrange, all ten of the remaining Human ships spun on their axises and pushed their engines to their fullest.
       The salvo struck the Covenant fleet a second later. Eight of the nine rounds found targets, four of which bounced harmlessly off of Covenant energy shields. The other four met less resistance; however, and ripped through the enemy ships' hulls. Two of the Covenant vessels, having only taken one hit, continued on, bearing the holes through their bodies. Only one of the targeted ships was taken out, that Covenant ship had taken two MAC rounds; one to the nose and the other on her port side.
       As would have been expected, the enemy fleet didn't take a liking to the Humans' actions. They were quick to send a salvo of their own. The Human fleet had taken a course nearer to the planet; Commodore Ford had sent them into a slingshot orbit to pick up the Spartans. This had fortunately worked to the plasma torpedoes disadvantage. Some of them were diverted by the nearby planet, Heilos' gravity. Not all of the shots missed though, and four Human ships took hits. Two of them continued onward, suffering only, relatively, minor damage; another was hit multiple times, and sent too far into the gravity well of Heilos to have a hope of pulling out. The forth ship hit, the Ardor, already suffering from a hit, didn't have a chance of surviving the second hit to her bottom decks. The plasma torpedo met little resistance as it burnt its way up, through the doomed Human ship.

       "Kalish, where is the Away Team now?" asked the Commodore.
       Jason looked at his small display, reading Away Team Alpha's position. "ETA to rendevous coordinates is one minute."
       Ford nodded, nervous. His course had gotten his fleet farther from the Covenant than the enemy had expected, and the opposing ships were not following yet. Perhaps they though that the Humans would come all the way back around the planet for another attack. If that was their assumption, they had thought wrong.
       "Commander O'Brien," Commodore Ford addressed the officer at the navigation station. "Prepare for exit burn."
       "Calculating now, sir."
       "Samuel, link with Commander O'Brien's station and transmit exit burn calculations to the fleet," Ford went on.
       "Sending now."
       "Sir, Flight Officer Smith has cleared the atmosphere and is preparing to dock," reported Lieutenant Kalish.
       Good, thought Ford. We might just have a chance of getting out of here alive.

       Commodore Ford stopped and let silence creep back into the room, as he finished telling about his fleet taking the Spartans back on and exiting the system.
       "So Heilos has been destroyed?" Dr. Wesson asked rhetorically.
       Ford didn't answer, knowing there was no need. He remained standing and gathered his thoughts.
       "What a waste," Pauline muttered.
       "How successful was the Spartans mission?" asked a previously silent civilian: Dr. Schneider.
       The Commodore turned to look at the three Spartans, and nodded towards Michael.
       The largest of the three Spartans stood and spoke, "As reported by Commodore Ford, our mission of drawing a large portion of the Covenant ground forces back into their own ship, and then destroying said Covenant ship was successful. We also managed to procure some pieces of Covenant technology.
       "We acquired a few of their weapons, some of which we have not had a chance to study in the past; we captured one the species known as 'Elites', complete with its armor, which was intact after the capture; we brought back a crate of Covenant cloaking devices, along with a few over-shield, combat armor power ups; and lastly, I escaped in a Covenant dropship, and Spartan-036 got out in a craft known as a 'Banshee'. Spartan-108 was on the exterior of the Covenant ship and detached from the ship's hull; if we had to jump, were had planned to make a HALO jump back to the surface, to make ourselves less noticeable. I picked her up with my acquired dropship."
       One of the ship commanders responded to the last bit. "Where is this Covenant dropship now?" asked Captain Williams.
       Michael cleared his throat, "We did not manage to bring the dropship back with us on our return. We did, however-"
       "And why not?" questioned Cynthia Pick, one of the scientists. She was probably the most striking of the female civilians of the project. The woman was fairly young, but her personality left much to be desired. Cynthia was a close friend of Pauline Wesson, and they shared the same general feelings about certain subjects.
       "My team and I made it to the extraction point and had loaded most of the crates, as well as the Elite, into the Owl, and had attached the captured Banshee as well, when two squadrons of enemy Banshees attacked us. I conjecture that they spotted us on our way down. We did receive attempted communications while still in the Covenant dropship."
       "So why didn't you fly out with the Covenant dropship?" pushed Dr. Pick.
       "We decided to use the ship as a lure to get the Banshees away from our position," Michael continued. "From what we had learnt from captured dropships in the past, we set the autopilot to fly the craft at top speed towards the city. The plan worked and the enemy Banshees quickly followed in pursuit. My team took advantage of the momentary distraction to escape, and return to the Hercules."
       Cynthia persisted, "You didn't even try to get the out dropship with you?"
       "It was unreasonable, ma'am, to try to get out with that many enemy air craft opposing us," answered Michael, calmly. "We might have made it out, but it would have been putting undue risk upon the lives of my team."
       Again Dr. Freeman interjected to stop his negatively-overzealous colleagues. "At least you brought back what you could, and made it back yourselves."
       "I would be interested to hear an account of the mission," commented Captain Raichur.
       Commodore Ford quickly scanned the faces in the room to see if the Spartan's account was wanted. The looks on most of the present parties' faces indicated that a mission account would be heard.
       "Spartan-096, please come up and present your mission report," Ford said.
       Michael pressed a few buttons on his chair's arm screen and walked forward to the podium. Morgan Ford stepped back and sat in one of the seats behind the single person ambo, as the male Spartan took his place.

(Author/Story Note: Some of you may have noticed that Staff Sergeant Smith is now Flight Officer Captain Smith. The change was made due to a corection by a commentor.
And by the way, any of you that need help in
Splinter Cell PT, the best advice I can give you right here is: Try, try again. Practice makes perfect. But if for some reason you want advice, I do have an email address, and the FFF [Fan Fiction Forum] is not for giving gaming advice to commentors.)

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 3
Date: 3 August 2004, 4:58 PM

       "So how did you end up getting into the ship?" questioned Dr. Schneider.
       "I was coming to that, sir," Michael replied. "We made our way towards the Covenant ship's gravity lift. That had been one of the original planned entry points.

       "Well guarded," commented Cassie. The woman's voice was full of an Australian accent, it had stayed with her through all the training and combat. Some had thought it was something Cassie did just to keep herself used to speaking in the fashion she had been accustomed too when she was "recruited" for the SPARTAN-II program. Her fellow Spartans had come to learn that her accent was a part of her that wasn't going to be done away with. "We'll need a diversion, or a disguise of some sort."
       The Team Leader nodded in agreement, looking on around the corner with the optical probe. Around the corner of the wall was an active Covenant gravity lift. Four Shades, with Elite gunners, were pointed outward, positioned at the corners of the grav lift base. Jackals and Grunts meandered around the perimeter, Elites walking in short, coordinated patrol paths. Ghosts too, three of them, but they were a good distance away, watching the streets. Two Wraith were stationed about twenty meters from the lift, keeping a good watch on the open expanse between the purple beam of energy and the buildings.
       The place where the Covenant ship hovered over used to be the city's Central Park. Now it was an unloading zone for the Covenant troops. The Spartan watching wasn't planning on surprising the aliens around the corner though, his teams plan of action would hopefully be achieved without even one of the enemy ground troops noticing. The lighting was to the Human team's advantage, it was midnight, and quiet. The Covenant wouldn't hopefully be planning on an incursion, only expecting the occasional full assault. The Covenant had put up portable lights, but only around the lift itself; the shadows elsewhere would come in handy.
       "Team Leader, I report an enemy transport approaching at nine o'clock," reported the team's Rifleman. Raul was second only to Linda in the entirety of the Spartans; except maybe for Fred, but Raul had beet his fellow Spartan in their last friendly contest. He wasn't as much of a "Lone Wolf" as Linda, Raul preferred to work with another Spartan. He was a natural choice to have on this team. The sniper was currently just on the other side of the building that the Spartans were using for cover. It was an outlet to the metro system of the city. From the amount of guards that had been guarding the interior, the Covenant weren't expecting any enemy forces to come out of the tunnels. Their mistake had cost them; two Jackals, three Grunts, and one Elite. The bodies had been easy to hide, dropped into the sewer system access openings.
       "Copy that, Red-Two," replied Michael, the TeamLeader.
       Michael used the binocular function of his goggle assembly and zoomed in on the Covenant transport. He had to activate his night vision to get a clear look. His enhanced retinas could compensate for darkness to a degree, but it didn't give him the clarity that the electronics could. John would have said not to rely fully on the equipment; it could break, but eyes wouldn't.
       Sure enough, just as Raul had reported it, two large grav carts, with crates atop, were headed steadily towards the well lit lift base. Michael took a brief second to assess the situation. If he and his team could reach the transport before it got into the light, they could hide in the crates until the transport stopped inside the ship.
       "Red-Two, hold position, that's our way in," Michael ordered the team sniper.
       "Copy," came the reply.
       Michael quietly, but quickly, raised himself from his prone position in the hedges surrounding the small building. Cassie was quick to follow, walking backwards to make sure their position hadn't been made. The pair stopped at the back of the building, making sure any Covenant hadn't moved up behind the building without the Spartans knowing. Michael nodded and started forward, crouched low to avoid the light spilling from the window, just inches above his head. They would have taken out the lights when they came up from the metro tunnels, but Raul had made a point that the absence of the lights in the opening would alert the Covenant to the Spartan team's presence. So the lights stayed on, casting lines of light through the horizontal bars across the window, onto the neatly mowed grass.
       Just over twenty-eight seconds after Red-Two had reported, Red-One and -Three materialized next to Raul. A quick gesture was all that was needed to get the already risen Raul and female team member moving forward. Michael took point, with Raul covering the teams six; Cassie was sandwiched in-between. The threesome, officially called "Away Team Alpha", moved quickly and smoothly over the grass. Thankfully it had rained that afternoon, and so the ground was wet, lowering the noise output from footfalls considerably.

       Thirty seconds later, the three Spartans were silently trailing the gravity cart. As the transport came to the edge of the grav lift's perimeter, and well lit ground, the cart stopped. The two Jackals who had been guiding the cart were seemingly asked for identification, or orders for the transport. While the Elite was busy looking over what one of the Jackals had handed him, Away Team Alpha moved up onto the back of the cart. The dark shadow cast by the crates on top provided proper visual cover from the three Jackals who had stopped the transport along with the Elite.
       Each of the Spartans chose one of the rearmost crates and opened the containers. The ones opened were all empty, probably coming back from the battlefield, and ready to be refilled with supplies. The Human soldiers slipped inside, unnoticed, and sealed the crates behind them.

       "So you infiltrated the ship in these crates?" interrupted Commander Roy Grant, not patient enough to wait for the continuation of the account.
       Michael was used to such questions. "Yes sir, the enemy transport was brought into the ship, with my team concealed within it, by means of the gravity lift. I waited until the grav cart had come to a final stop before I took action. I checked the room with my optical probe, and managed to observe the two Jackals who had been guiding the cart earlier, walk off into one of the side doors of the chamber. I guessed at the time that they had gone off to report their return."
       "How did you proceed from their?" asked Dr. Freeman.
       Michael began to speak again.

       Michael placed another charge on another one of the vertical beams of the room. He inserted the remote detonator into the C-12 plastic explosive, and checked it was functional and transmitting on his arm mounted tactical information display, or TID. The screen was small enough to be efficient but functional enough to be an addition to the small eye screen incorporated into the Spartans' headgear.
       "Red-Three to Red-One," reported Cassie from the grav lift room. "Charges are set and detonators activated."
       "Team Leader," Raul reported in a second later. "This is Red-Two reporting assembly room A and B charges are set and armed."
       "Copy that," replied Michael over the team freq. "Move back to Assembly Room C."
       Michael took a quick look around to assure that his charges were all still firmly set, and no enemy contacts had entered the room. Assured that the room was clear, the Team Leader moved quickly through the large doors, closing them as he passed through them, into the large passageway back to the grav lift chamber. The grav lift room was still dim; apparently the Covenant weren't planning on any activity in the area for a little while. Michael passed through the room quickly, closing the other set of large doors behind him, sealing the large hall he had just left. He noted that the two doors on the opposite side of the room were also closed, as has been Raul's orders.
       After closing the pair of doors from the hall into "Assembly Room C", Michael moved towards the designated meeting point. The designation "Assembly Room" was given due to the supposed purpose of the four rooms. They appeared to be used for the assembly of vehicles and troops before they went to the grav lift to be deployed. The designations "A", "B", "C" and "D" were given for the fact that their were four rooms, in a symmetrical layout. Assembly Room C was where the team had been brought in the crates when they had first infiltrated the ship.
       Raul and Cassie were waiting by the cart of empty crates when Michael approached.
       "Explosives are set," finalized Michael.
       Raul nodded in agreement.
       "Affirmative," Cassie vocally assured.
       "Observation cameras?" questioned Michael, he wanted to make sure everything was in place.
       Raul had been in charge of that. "Remote Observation Cameras are set and transmitting. The tow we placed to watch the bottom of the grav lift are still transmitting as well."
       "Good," responded Michael, taking a brief glance in all directions. "Time to get the party started."
       "We should probably set a grenade on a remote signal in or near the control room," suggested Raul.
       Cassie flashed over the sniper's face with her brown eyes. "A ship bay would be a good position to set off the alerting charge from," she added. "I could set the nuke on the exterior of the ship from there, too. Close enough to the ship bay so that the hull armor won't dampen the explosion."
       "There would probably be a dropship in there, our escape," Michael said. "We'll use this plan."
       Michael didn't like planning actions of a mission during the missions itself, but it was often needed in these types of operations. It accommodated for mission and location specific challenges and problems better than the most thought our briefing. Still, it added an extra level of danger and uncertainly to the Spartans' missions.
       "Let's move out," Michael motioned towards one of the doors. A different one than the two Jackals had gone down.
       Raul moved to one side, his back to the wall, while Cassie and Michael moved to the opposite side. They were all careful not to trigger the door's opening. Michael prepared his weapon, a MA3B MAWS, and nodded to Raul; Cassie crouched behind Michael, read to offer a covering position.
       With the Team Leader's signal, Raul swung his hand across the door's sensors, quickly withdrawing his appendage. The door flashed and slid open. Raul, pistol in hand, peaked around the corner, only exposing half of his covered face. He pulled his head back and motioned to Michael: all clear.
       Michael stuck his weapon around the corner first, looking into his eyepiece at the image coming from his weapon mounted camera. The passage was still clear, and so Michael swung his body around the corner and moved along the right wall of the short tunnel. He stopped just short of being able to see down the left side of the corridor; then leaned a couple inches over and zoomed his weapon. He checked on thermal before giving the "go ahead" to Raul. The other Spartan moved forward in a crouch, as Michael looked right, down the other side of the passage; Cassie had moved to take up Michael's former position. The hallways in at least this section were not fully lit, and only the running lights cast the little bit of illumination that there was. Apparently, the Covenant didn't waist electricity, and for this, the team of three Spartans were glad.
       With another gesture from the Team Leader, Cassie leap-frogged over her TL and moved quickly into the alcove across the hall. After a second of looking back down both directions of the hall, Michael moved forward into the main corridor, keeping his body pressed against the left side as he moved slowly forward. Cassie waited a few seconds before moving herself down the right side. Raul was quick to move up to Cassie's former position.

       Commander Grant took Michael's two second pause as an opportunity to speak again. "You went through with you plan of action to make a distraction in the command center of the Covenant vessel then?" he asked.
       "And used the hangar from which to escape?" Dr. Schneider added in question form.
       "My team proceeded until reaching a hangar on the port side of the Covenant ship, we decided we would use it in our escape," answered the Spartan. "There was a single dropship docked, and two Banshees on the floor of the room. We marked the room on our radar and continued on to reach the control room. I took advantage of the vent leading between one of the surrounding halls and the control room for setting the devices planned to be used for the distraction."
       "I'm curious," said Dr. Freeman. "What devices did you use?"
       Michael didn't even have to think about the question before he began to answer. "Spartan-108 set two smoke grenades in a position to direct the smoke through the vent and directly into the control room, as well as two Door Sensor Activation Devices to open the doors when the distraction was activated. Spartan-036 set three Live Fire Distraction Devices on each side of both doors, and I set an Automated Firing Assembly facing each of the doors."
       Cynthia Pick listened on without speaking. She had been a part of the creation of the devices that the lead Spartan had mentioned. The Door Sensor Activation Devices, or "Knockers", were designed to open a Covenant door without any team members having to be in close proximity to what might be on the other side. It could be triggered remotely, put on a timer, or even activated and thrown. They were used often as a lure to get the enemy to investigate an area and allow soldiers to pass undetected. Plus, the DSADs could be used and activated more than once.
       The Live Fire Distraction Devices, or "Distraction Gunners", were designed to be used to make the enemy think that a soldier was firing from a false position. They were simple metal, box-like, containers that contained two columns of six bullets. The two columns were on four different fuses, but connected to the same activation device; creating the illusion of four successive three-round automatic bursts. The way it sounded like the Spartans had set the devices up in this case had probably been to connect the three LFDDs on each side of the doors, so only one of the devices was going off in the group at a time. A good way to use the LFDDs, Cynthia thought. She had to give that to the Spartans; they were good soldiers.
       Automated Firing Assemblies, or "Remote Guns", were similar to LFDDs, except they were "smarter" and a bit more useful for taking out enemies. AFAs were light, compact firing assemblies with barrels. They ran off of magazines, and aimed by means of a motion detector. The things couldn't change magazines, but until the ammunition supply ran out, it could keep heads down.
       Cynthia continued listening to the report.
       "All of the elements of the distraction were connected to a remote activator, and we placed a Remote Observation Camera in the same hall; incase our equipment was discovered, it could be immediately set off," Michael went on. "My team made it back to the docking bay unopposed, as our opposition had been dealt with on our way. All the bodies were still hidden on our return trip. Spartan-108 immediately went to place and arm the Havok tactical nuclear device. I thought it time to activate the distraction, and draw troops away from our position, as well as into their own ship.

       "Enemies mobilizing," Raul reported from the live image of the ground-side ROC.
       Michael linked with his teammate and viewed the picture for himself. Sure enough, many Covenant troops were now riding the grav lift into the ship. The aliens were coming from all directions. After a few minutes, the rate of boarding slowed and stopped; a few enemies had remained to guard the grav lift area.
       "Activating gravity lift charges," informed the Team Leader, opening the COM to Cassie so she could hear.
       The feed from the grav lift room aboard the ship switched from rushing Covenant troops to no signal at all.
       "Charges have successfully been detonated," Michael reported for confirmation.
       "I'm getting contacts headed this way," informed Raul. He had set up laser traps in the main corridors coming into the docking bay, as well as in a couple places from the control room. Something was passing through that laser light, triggering a small alarm to the Spartans.
       "Hold bottom floor concealed position," directed Michael, referring to the pile of crates he and Raul were currently behind.
       The Rifleman nodded and positioned himself behind the crates. Michael carefully moved himself to a different location. He had run a rope to the second level, to provide quick access to the Covenant dropship. The Spartan quickly and smoothly climbed up the rope, entering the cockpit of the dropship three seconds later. He would have to wait for Cassie to take off, so hopefully the Covenant wouldn't take much interest in this hangar.
       Michael's hopes were not rewarded, however, and the squawking of a pair of entering Jackals alerted him that the hangar was now occupied.
       To confirm this new event, Raul reported over the COM, "Enemy forces entering docking bay."
       "Copy that, confirm an estimated body count," replied Michael.
       "I count four groups of six on my side, repeat, twenty-four total," Raul responded.
       Michael slid to the opening, looking into the port-side troop compartment. A group of Covenant was headed right his way. The Spartan slowly withdrew into the cockpit, pushing himself into the darkest corner there; but even then, there wasn't much room if someone was to come in. Which in two seconds, they did. A maroon armored Elite stepped hastily into the cockpit, quickly sitting down at the controls. The alien didn't even notice the black figure in the dimly lit corner.
       The Team Leader was quick to come up with a plan of action. The sound of the troop compartment door closing came quickly; followed by an accelerative motion. Michael drew his optical probe and pointed it, through the open cockpit door, and towards two Grunts and three Jackals. The Spartan activated his air filtering system, or simply put: his gas mask, primed and rolled a gas grenade in with the five smaller aliens. With one fluid motion, Michael activated the door control, sealing the cockpit off from the troop compartment, and brought his rifle from its resting place on his back, swinging the butt left and up. The Elite's shields must not have been on, because the rear of the MA3B met only the alien helmet. The creatures head snapped forward, and the body slumped at the controls.
       Michael was quick to pull the body onto the floor behind the seat and take the controls. The dropship was now falling through the air, with the pilot having been knocked out. It only took a few seconds, though, for Michael to get the craft under control. He then turned back towards the Covenant ship, which was now too far away for him to approach without causing suspicion.

       "Red-One to Red-Two," Raul heard his Team Leader call over his COM. Normally it would have alerted the troops around the bay to his presence, but the Spartan was the only body that could hear the voice. Each of the three Spartans had an implant located in their inner-ear that was used in communications. An earpiece was the accessory, not needed, but it improved the clarity of what came in over the radio, and could help to cancel out other noise if wanted. "Escape for you and Cassie by dropship is no longer available. Recommend an alternate means of escape."
       Responding vocally would alert the listening Covenant; however, and so Raul responded by activating his acknowlegement light. The Rifleman made sure his main weapon was secure and leaned out of the crates for a better look. Some of the Covenant had left, but there was still opposition present. An Elite stood behind either Banshee, Raul's second plan of escape. The Grunts in the area were waddling in the other direction, and the Jackals were squawking amongst each other in the far corner. One of the Elites was the only problem. It was looking at the face of the other Elite, which was in the direction of the single Human soldier.
       Raul whistled, directing the sound to bounce off of the wall at the back of the hangar. It worked, and the second Elite looked in that direction; it said something to the other Elite, which must have been to the effect of staying put, and walked toward where he thought the sound had come from. The watching Spartan waited until both Elites' backs were turned, and no other aliens were looking in his direction. Raul moved forward, slowly, in a crouch, not making a sound; he activated his Shield Frequency Disruption Module, attached to his belt as well. When the Spartan was but mere inches from the Elite, he sprung up and grabbed the blue-armored creature from behind. The SFDM, or "Shield Buster", rendered the Elites shields inert for a brief moment, but that moment was all that Raul needed to grab his opposition. The Human's right hand silently drew his pistol, a silenced M9D, and pressed the tip firmly into the Covenant soldier's neck, pushing it between the bottom of the blue helmet and collar of the blue torso piece; the Elite was kept from speaking as the left arm of his assailant had wedged itself below the alien's chin, and was now crushing the Elite's windpipe and larynx.
       By now the other Elite, who had previously been distracted, was not figuring that he probably hadn't heard anything, and was about to turn back around. Some of the Grunts were also beginning to head back in the Spartan's direction, having reached the end of their patrol routes. This required an immediate action my Raul; he wasn't in the dark anymore, so he would be easily seen.
       The barrel of the M9D dug deeper into the incapacitated Elite's neck. The tip of the barrel was quickly guided to the creatures spine by an opponent with an advantage. A short phft of air was the only noise the discharging weapon made, as it put a bullet through the Elite's spinal cord and down into the protective torso section of the armor. The blue clad body went immediately limp, but the Spartan kept the form held up with his, still squeezing, left arm.
       Now the other Elite was turned around, and could clearly see what was happening to his fellow warrior. It roared a challenge at the Spartan, and raised its plasma rifle. Raul, pulling the dead alien in front of him, backed into the rear end of the Banshee; aiming his weapon at the throat of the only living Elite present. A red dot confirmed the Spartan's aim. Apparently, the other alien wasn't concerned with damaging the dead body of his former comrade, and opened fire. Raul responded in kind, but this target still had active energy shields, bouncing the projectiles off with relative ease. If the pistol had been an M6D, it would have punched through the shields with around half a clip; but for stealthier operations, the higher caliber explosive rounds were not a smart thing to use. The rounds that were directed at the Elite were only semi-armor piercing, hardened tip, 5.72mm rounds. Good for Grunts and Jackals in the hands of an excellent marksman, but it only worked for Elites and Hunters under certain circumstances. This was not one of them.
       Raul quickly decided, after a solid two second stream of blue plasma hitting his organic shield, it would be a good time to leave. Not letting go of his once-living shield, now leaking dark purple blood and burnt pieces of assorted organs, he pulled himself into the Banshee's small cockpit and activated the vehicle. It rose and within seconds, was flying out one of the still-open docking bay doors. The Spartan let the dead Elite drop as he cleared the bay; it then became very clear the Covenant ship had obviously begun to rise. A quick look to his altimeter and Raul confirmed his altitude at over thirty-five-thousand feet; and the larger ship was still rising into the night sky.

       Meanwhile, Cassie had been busy on the exterior of the Covenant ship. She had decided that it would be best to place the nuke on the exterior of the ship, because of their plan of action, so that the device would not be discovered before it could be detonated. The woman had climbed, with the aid of detachable magnetic soles and specialized climbing gloves, out of the docking bay and onto the exterior of the large ship. Sidling across the outside surfaces to reach one of the parts where the armor didn't cover wasn't very hard, climbing was something Cassie enjoyed. It had been a lot less tense than walking through an alien ship's corridors.
       It had all been normal, until the ship started to rise rapidly up. Now the Spartan team's demolitions expert was riding the outside of the Covenant ship, trying to stick a nuke on the thing's belly.
       Cassie quickly removed the bonding strips, and placed the nuclear device on a flat section of exterior surfacing; the adhesive hardened to the surface. The Spartan glanced down at the earth that was getting farther and farther away. Her altimeter currently read twenty-five-thousand feet. A long way to fall if she made a mistake; but she wasn't in the least afraid of heights. Plus, she was prepared to make a high altitude jump, if the occasion required it. She refocused on her task at hand, pulling the detonator key from a secure compartment. The Spartan inserted the key into a small slot on the black half-sphere's face. Nothing occurred on the exterior of the nuclear device itself. Instead, a tiny message flashed across Cassie's HUD: HAVOK ARMED. AWAITING DETONATION SIGNAL. She slid the key back into its compartment and prepared to make her way back to the docking bay.
       Suddenly, a Banshee sped from the hangar, plasma at its tail. It must have been one of her fellow Spartans. Within seconds, another Banshee started in pursuit of the other. Cassie knew that it wouldn't be a problem though, Raul had planted charges on the bottom of both Banshees when they had secured the docking bay. If she would have listened in on a certain frequency, she would have heard Raul give the verbal detonation signal to the charge on the vehicle behind him. The enemy craft had barely cleared the ship when it burst into a hundred flaming pieces.
       Cassie's HUD displayed a team member designation over the remaining Banshee. It was Raul.
       "Raul, what is Red-One's location?" she asked over the COM.
       The reply came a short second later. "Team Leader is in captured Covenant dropship, and is en route to your position."
       Then, as if confirming Raul's answer, Michael's voice came in over the radio. "This is Red-One to Red-Three. I have your position and am on the scope."
       Cassie glanced at her altimeter, it read her altitude at forty-thousand feet.
       Michael must have been thinking along the same lines has his female teammate. "Recommend making a jump."
       The reasons were obvious. One, the Covenant ship couldn't be allowed to get much higher in the atmosphere, or the plan would not be very effective; that was an issue of time. Two Cassie needed to get as far away from the ship as possible before she set off the nuke; also an element of time.
       Cassie looked down to the end of her safety rope, thirty meters away. She checked her parachute harness, and her carabineer before pushing off the ship, and letting off all the friction from the long dangling climbimg impliment. She fell, the side of the ship flashing by; and within a few seconds, the black rope had reached it end and rose clear of the falling Spartan.
       She repositioned her body in a dive, trying to get to the surface as fast as possible. Then she saw a Covenant dropship bank in at her right side. Cassie again repositioned herself, manipulating her limbs and back to form a spread-eagle position, slowing her decent. The dropship, obviously piloted by Michael, nosed forward into a steep dive, putting a little vertical distance between the falling Spartan and itself.
       "Red-Three, prepare for pickup," the Team Leader said over Cassie's COM.
       "Copy, Red-One," Cassie replied.
       The dropship began to slow, matching the falling Spartan's speed, now opening the troop compartment doors. Then the craft began to decrease its rate of falling ever so slowly, moving towards the dropping figure. Cassie prepared herself to fall into the craft, pulling in her appendages and rotating her legs down. The dropship rolled to the side, presenting an open door to the Spartan. Within a few seconds, Cassie's feet touched the solid materials of the small ship below her.
       "I'm in," she put over the COM.
       The troop compartment doors closed shut, and the dropship rolled back onto its belly. The female Spartan had grabbed hold of a beam of some sort, and kept herself upright as she felt the decent begin to slow. After making sure she was still receiving a signal from the nuke, she moved forwards to the open cockpit door.
       "The nuke is in place," she reported.
       Michael acknowledged her with a nod. "Red-Two, what is you location?" Red-One asked. He already knew that the blip trailing behind him on his radar was the single friendly Banshee, but a confirmation was never a bad thing.
       "This is Red-Two to Team Leader," Raul's voice spoke over the radio. "I am trailing on your six and awaiting orders."
       "Good to see you Raul," admitted Michael. "Follow my craft to the extraction point, and keep an eye out for bogies."
       "Yes sir."
       "That ship is still rising," reminded Cassie.
       "Red-Two," he spoke again into the COM. "Nuclear device is being activated, lower your altitude."
       Raul's acknowledgement light winked on.
       "Red-Three: activate the nuke."
       "Havok detonation signal away," the demolitions specialist responded.
       A sun appeared overhead, blasting through the Covenant ship, and sending thousands of particles of glowing dust and debris into the atmosphere. When the explosion faded, all that was left of the once formidable Covenant vessel was a large chunk of charred and melted alien alloy, falling back to the planet's surface. All the Spartans watched, via their ships' sensors and viewing screen, as the chunk of metal stuck the center of the smoldering city below with the force of a small meteor. Every building within a three block radius was brought crumbling to the ground around central park.
       Michael reported to himself, his voice dry, "Target eliminated. Mission objective complete."

       The large Spartan stood still for a moment after briefly reviewing some of the details he had previously gone over. He tapped a few controls on the podium's computer, erasing the digital mission materials from the view screen. Michael looked at Commodore Ford for a moment, and received the reply he requested.
       "Please be seated Spartan-096," the Commodore said, rising to his feet.
       Michael nodded and walked off the small stage, finding his seat quickly.
       After a few more brief questions and answers, Ford decided to bring the meeting to a close. "I believe that sums up today's mission debriefing," he said. "Dismissed."
       The scientists had no reasons to stay for any longer than necessary, so they were all the first ones out. All of the ship commanders rose at once, breaking off into groups of two or three to leave the briefing room, taking up light conversations. Lieutenant Commander Williams let his steps lead him to Commodore Ford. The two men left in the room caught a glimpse of the Spartans actions. They quickly exchanged glances, sharing much more than could be understood by anyone outside of their elite organization, followed by short and precise gestures, obviously a type of unspoken language the three had learnt long ago. They didn't have helmets on, so they couldn't speak without being heard, but the Spartans were most certainly communicating amongst themselves, if not silently.

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 4
Date: 15 August 2004, 8:43 PM

      "Are you alright?" asked Cassie, walking along side Michael.
       "Yeah, I'm fine," he answered with a sigh. "But I'm starting to wonder if there is more to a mission than completing the objective. Does that always mean that you succeeded?"
       Raul was walking behind his teammates, listening but not speaking.
       Cassie answered the question. "We won. We did what we were ordered to do. What more could have been done?"
       Michael thought for a moment, staring at the deck plates passing under his feet. "I just don't feel right that we couldn't save the colony."
       "We can't fight against a Covenant fleet," put in Raul.
       Cassie's features deepened, showing she felt similarly to the situation. "We can't win every battle, I suppose."
       Michael didn't like to doubt his orders, or think about the moral implications of what resulted from his team's missions. But sometimes . . . it was hard not to let it slip into his thoughts. The Spartan consciously tried to suppress his thoughts as he and his two cohorts neared the elevators. He was a soldier, not a mission analyst. "We can only do our duty," Michael offered as an answer to his own question, his neutral features firm.
       The three Spartans stopped in front of the elevator door. It was apparent that this one was occupied, and was already headed in the opposite direction that they needed to. They stepped to the side and activated the other elevator. All the while, the four Marine MPs looked calm, but their eyes displayed a trace of apprehension, laced with dislike. The three figures stepping inside the lift weren't as frightening without MJOLNIR armor, but someone who stood nearly a head taller than you could be intimidating.
       Michael resumed his thoughts inside the enclosed space. He remembered Jerico VII. On the ground, Michael had killed the enemy without remorse, slaughtering every one he came across. It didn't matter though, what happened on the ground was always governed by the battle above. Spartans were ground soldiers, fighting with something beneath their feet, and air to breath; they couldn't be as efficient in vacuum.
       The female of the three let her face show she knew how her team leader felt, sensing his tension. Raul could hide his emotions with ease around everyone-except his brothers and sisters. He wouldn't shed a tear, or get out of control; he wouldn't get anywhere near an emotional outburst, but Raul still let the slight changes in his face tell what he felt. All of the Spartans felt for each other, saw their comrades as siblings. The most solemn of the three stood leaning in the corner, his face barely thawing out of its hard expression. Michael was the most serious in combat, and around everyone he kept a straight face. Even Spartans had feelings though, no matter what anyone else thought.
       As the elevator doors opened, and the cold silence that had built up faded, the atmosphere became much more relaxing. Now the three were safe in a guarded space station, remote and secret. There wasn't a danger here. All of the Spartans pushed the negative feelings out of their thoughts. It was sometimes good to think over such things, but dwelling on the past, and what couldn't be changed, didn't help anyone. Michael pushed the small worries and questions from his mind; black or white, win or loose, and he and his team had won.

       Dr. Cynthia Pick examined the black suits hanging on stands in front of her. Cables were linked to the suits' computers, running diagnostics. The female doctor squinted at the black material making up the assemblies. It was dark, not jet black, but dark. The overhead lights didn't fully illuminate all the surfaces either. Had the suits been made reflective, a simple sweep of a light or flicker of a spark would have lit up the wearer. The design that had been chosen, however, had dictated that the materials used could not reflect light or sensor energy; they even absorbed some light energy, to an extent.
       The places where the body suits were even remotely dirty were the knees and outer arm areas, as well as on the elbows and parts of the whole front side. It must have been from crawling on the ground, Cynthia conjectured. As a stealth unit, the team had most likely laid flat their stomachs during the recent mission. One suit also had blood on it, only a small amount though; it was barely visible on the left chest area, from an Elite. Dr. Pick shivered at the thought. She had no problem with cleaning or preparing gear, and helping develop new technology for the project; but deep down, she was afraid of the aliens whom the Spartans fought against.
       "Cynthia?" asked Dr. Keith Shoeman. He was the lead scientist is the technological field of things for the Splinter Cell project. He stood across the room, in front of some new prototypes for the three project Spartans. The man was aging, his light-brown hair fading to grey.
       The woman that had been addressed realized she was staring off, and snapped herself back to mental focus. "I'm fine Keith."
       Dr. Shoeman looked back at her through his bifocals for a couple seconds, before turning his head back towards his task and leaning over his work.
       The suits would be cleaned later, right now it was Cynthia's job to make sure that every aspect of them was still working to the peak of their abilities. The other gear that was part of the suits had been taken off, some of it was sitting on a table against a nearby wall. Dr. Pick looked over the diagnostics on the small view screens next to her, and walked over to the other pieces of equipment.
       The first items she began to look over were the three helmets. They were same color as the suits that they accompanied on missions, and even had the same light-absorption effect. Unlike the helmets that the Marines wore, the three Spartan helmets were much more compact, and lacked the boom mounted mike the standard helmet came equipped with. At the thickest point, the outside surface of the helmets were only and inch from the head of the wearer. The material was a flexible polymer, designed to be extremely heat resistant; the material was infused with a reactive element that conducted heat and energy very well under combat conditions. Aiding in the process, a grid of strips, made of the same material, helped direct the captured energy through to an energy dissipater. It had been tested and proved to work well against plasmatic head shots. The strips also helped to absorb impact energy, spreading the force over much more than the point of impact, lessening the hit that the person within the helmet would take.
       Another difference between these helmets and standard Marine headgear was the face. The suits had to have the ability to be sealed, so the helmets covered the whole head, front and back. Over the mouth was a compact respirator, giving the lips their space, but keeping all know air born toxins and chemicals out of the wearers lungs. The visor was a nice feature as well. It was a ceramic material, fully transparent, but maintained a light flexibility. Nice gear, but the woman looking over it would never wear it. Cynthia was claustrophobic, and didn't like things that enclosed her face.

       In four hours, Dr. Pick was finished with her post-mission involvement. She took a quick look around and made her way to the door. Just as she reached it, it slid open, and a figure walked in from the other side. It was another scientist, John Hall. He was a newer addition to the project team; having just come in one month previous. The man was fairly young, taller than her at six-foot, and had just enough muscle and bulk to not be skinny. He had his ear-length wavy brown hair parted neatly down the center, the foremost tucked behind the young scientist's ears. John looked like he came from a wealthy family, just the way he acted and walked. The kid was not very serious though, not in a casual setting. Even with a white lab coat on, he still was wearing his necklace, and the dark hair on his lower lip was around half a centimeter long.
       "Good evening Ms. Pick," he greeted, his sharp blue eyes sparkling, accenting his charming smile.
       Cynthia had long since grown immune to such things. "John," was the only reply she offered, only letting a faint smile flicker across her face.
       He moved to the side, trying to be a gentleman, and waved his hand through the air, gesturing for his female colleague to go on by. She glanced back at him, her eyes showing no particular emotion, looking like orbs of ice. Cynthia walked past him, feeling his eyes on her back. Nice to have another admirer, she thought with a sarcastic edge.
       John was indeed busy watching her walk down the hall, looking her over. Good lookin' chick, he thought, nice body. Dr. Hall, as he was officially called, had a single year on Ms. Pick; himself being twenty-nine. Both were young, assistant scientists, but both were real bright, too. John wasn't here for the same field as Cynthia; though, he was a weapons specialist. The former Marine had gone through his training and done a couple years of service, but had decided that the armed forces weren't for him. He still had a desire to serve his race; however, so he decided to used his smarts in a different manner. The boy had already gone to college, for a Engineering major, taken ROTC there and entered the military as a Second Lieutenant; after he had gotten out of the Marines, he stayed with the UNSC as a scientist, and the rest was history.
       "Pretty little thing isn't she?" Dr. Shoeman asked from across the room, noticing his young male assistant was watching Cynthia Pick.
       The answer didn't answer for two seconds. "Foxy," John commented as an answer, as the woman continued around a corner, and the lab doors slid shut.
       "Be careful kid, she'll rip your heart out and tear it into little pieces," the older man across the room replied.
       John knew what his elder was referring to; Cynthia could be quite frigid. John decided to answer on that note, "I'd like a chance to thaw her out."
       Keith chuckled, "I've seen a few guys thinking like you try. And they got shot clean down."
       "Yeah?" John turned to see Dr. Shoeman looking into his eyes, with a friendly look on his face. "I've dated worse."
       "I'd like to see her happy, but she doesn't often trust youngsters such as yourself. Especially newcomers."
       "I didn't notice."
       "I'll be honest, John. Cynthia is in need of a caring man who she can love. I just don't know if she'll ever let anyone get close enough for that."
       "Why?" John walked around the three black suits between him and Keith, he was curious. "Did something happen to her or something?"
       Dr. Shoeman finally put his work down, turning his body and full attention to Dr. Hall. "Yes, but it's not the right time or place to talk about it, son."
       John wasn't willing to give up so easily. "No really, what's she been through?"
       "Take a hint, Hall," Keith's face became serious. "I don't want to see that girl get hurt. Guys like you seem not to know how to really treat a lady. All your lustful thinking and what not, some of you fellows need to wizen up a bit."
       John was surprised with the reaction he had evoked. He might be persistent, but this particular guy wasn't stupid, "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
       "It's fine, you're curious and a little inexperienced, just let things come with time," Dr. Shoeman replied, he relized he had gotten slightly frustrated. "Don't try to make things happen when they don't need or want to."
       "So, what'cha workin' on?" John asked after several seconds of silence, changing the subject.
       "Ring Airfoil Projectiles," Keith turned back down to look at his work station.
       "The Shield Disruption prototype?"
       "Yup. We've only just started analyzing this Covenant Elite combat armor; it'll take a couple days to get the frequency right, and to modify the circuitry."
       John recalled the previous prototype. "And you had just gotten the other ones down," he reminded.
       "But those only used a shifting frequency technique. Now, with something to base the frequency on, we can narrow down the exact range that the Covenant shields work off of, the round will be much more effective."
       Dr. Hall had only been added to the project roster in time to observe the final stages of the old Shield Disruption Ring Airfoil projectiles. They emitted a signal that was intended to counteract the frequency of the Elite shields. The energy shields operate with their own frequency; and if a frequency exactly opposite of it is projected, the shields were rendered useless, as long as they were submitted to the counteracting frequency. Previously, the technique that had been used to accomplish this before was short-range-broadcast fluctuating range of frequencies in the general vicinity of the exact opposite range of the active shields. It worked, but only for a brief moment, making the time requirements tricky to work with in combat situations. Some thought that the airfoils drained the shields, but all the opposing frequency really did was make the shields "go away", canceled them out.
       This brought another thought to Hall's mind, "What about the Electrical Discharge projectiles? I know I helped draw up plans for some new prototypes... but I assume the access to the shield technology changed that?"
       Dr. Shoeman looked up at John for a moment, then pushing a control to his left. A holographic display sprung up in front of John. "Most certainly."
       The younger scientist scanned the readout floating in front of him. "This looks a lot more powerful than the current models, even what we started testing."
       "They are, they have to be. We modified them to not only deliver a shock, but to short out any electrical field they come in contact with; as long as the current doesn't blow the circuit."
       "Does that include energy shielding?"
       Dr. Shoeman smiled. "Sure does, son. A little less stealthy, but if we can get it right, it should short out, or at least drain, the shield's systems. Plus, we're not sure, but it could transfer the shock to whatever happens to be inside the shield."
       John continued to look at the digital diagram, nodding in satisfaction.
       "The lead scientists and doctors, including myself, had a meeting after the mission debriefing this morning," Keith answered an obvious question. "We came up with a lot of questions and ideas."
       "Well," John said, looking away from the hologram and at the smiling man beside him. "Looks like I have some work to do."

       Elizabeth Shanks couldn't slam the door, she couldn't even lock it, but she could close it in her husband's face.
       "Oh, come on baby," pleaded Dick.
       "Just go on and keep on sweet talkin' her!" Elizabeth shouted from the showers of her particular barracks.
       Dick Shanks was honestly shocked by his spouse's reaction, he wasn't sure what to say to convince her. "Libby!" he shouted after her, through the closed door. "Please can we just talk 'bout dis? I know what it must seem like, but-"
       "Quit acting like such a dick!"
       Normally the man to whom the comment was directed to would have made a pun about that last statement, but this husband knew his wife well enough to not make stupid remarks when she was upset. "Briana is just my new squad CO," Dick persisted, trying to reason with a pissed off woman. "Staff Sergeant Wagner, she just got moved . . . er, transferred from da Neptune. I swear!"
       The woman standing in front of the entrance of the barracks looked shocked, maybe a little stunned. "Maybe I should go Corporal," she offered.
       Dick dropped his arms to his side with a slap, shaking his head with a sigh. "I hate for you to have dis bad a start with her," he replied. "She can be a real doll when you get to know her."
       "I'm sure Corporal, but I really should be going. I need to talk to Sergeant Michaels anyway."
       "Yeah, I guess you're right. I'll have to calm her down a bit, introduce you later."
       Briana Wagner smiled lightly, attaching not even a trace of emotion that could be taken the wrong way. She was nearly as confused as Corporal Shanks. "She's just in a bad mood, give her some space. That attitude will cool off in a little bit. I'm a woman too you know, and we can all be that way sometimes," the Caucasian woman offered in a consoling manner.
       Dick pressed his large lips together in frustration, still worried and confused. "Alright, normally coming by would've been a good thing, normally da rest of the crew is here, but most of dem are probably already headed to da mess."
       "I'll see you later Corporal," Briana turned and opened the door, but then stopped. "By the way, who's squad is your wife under?"
       "Neal Farragut."
       Briana turned fully back around to face Dick. "Sergeant Farragut?"
       "Yeah," Corporal Shanks replied. "You know him?"
       "Personally. We're friends from basic."
       "Cool, maybe dat'll give you and Libby sometin' to talk about."
       Sergeant Wagner backed through the door. "Carry on Corporal," Briana replied, dismissing herself, and turning on her heal.
       Dick watched the back of her black haired head as she turned right and headed down the hall. He shook his own head as the door automatically shut behind his new commanding officer and refocused on a different woman. Elizabeth Shanks, his wife for eight years. The husband of the pair was truly in wonderment about why his spouse had gotten so upset with him just talking with another woman.
       The man sat down on the nearest bed, resting his elbows on his knees and his head on his two fists. Maybe it had been his nature, maybe he had gone to far. He had always been bad at discerning a clear line between dos and don'ts. His flirtatious nature had gotten him in trouble in the past.

       Dick had five minutes to think about what he could have done wrong, and what to say to his wife when she came out, before the door to the showers opened. Libby stood there for a second, glaring at her husband with a dull intensity, before walking to her bunk an lying down. Her ten-centimeter-long hair was matted in thin locks against her dark-skinned head; obviously she had decided to actually take a shower, for whatever reason. From the look on her face, she didn't really know what else to do. The man watching her from another bunk decided to make his move.
       He began with a deep sigh, "Libby, can we talk about me and Sergeant Wagner?"
       Elizabeth didn't offer a verbal reply, but the way she at least made eye contact with the party speaking to her acknowledged that she was willing to listen.
       "We were just talking, honest," he started his explanation. "She's my squad's new CO, and she figured she might meet all of us in a more peaceful place than jumpin' in with us in combat."
       "A looker?" Libby offered the question in a slightly accusing fashion.
       "You know, I really didn't concern myself with dat. There's only one woman I need to be feeling dat way 'bout."
       Libby's face softened a notch, but she still wasn't content.
       "I was flirting again wasn't I?" asked Dick, trying to get some kind of conversation out of her.
       "I suppose it's a habit for you," Libby turned her head and looked in another direction.
       "It might be hard to believe right now, but I don't mean it seriously at all when I do it."
       That caught enough attention to get Elizabeth's head facing towards Dick's again.
       "It just how I talk to women in casual situations."
       Libby's face suddenly softened, thinking about the kind of reaction she had displayed. Maybe she had overreacted, maybe she should have trusted her husband more with some random other woman. Dick might have been a bit of a player, maybe even overly flirtatious, but his wife knew where her husband's heart was. Eight years; she should know him by now. But this damn war . . .
       "I was in a shitty mood," she began with a sigh. "Assumption got the best of me."
       "Briana didn't think you made an ass of yourself," Dick let slip out before he realized he had thought it.
       "I'll have to talk to her later."
       "We all have bad moods," but only women have PMS, he didn't add. "I'm goin' to get some grub."
       Libby moved only her eyes as Dick stood up, her face displaying her answer to his discreet question.
       "See you later, babe."

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 1-Chapter 5
Date: 18 September 2004, 10:40 PM

       "So, ah, you on good terms yet?" asked Lance Corporal Isaac Pearls, scooping up another bite of mashed potatoes. "Like, um, are you mates chattin' and such?"
       "Well, I guess, some. We got to a little bit of talkin' after it happened," answered Dick Shanks, himself biting into a piece of breaded chicken.
       "Will she be alright?"
       "I hope so. Maybe we'll make up more," was Dick's response, looking around the large mess for a moment before noticing the approaching body.
       "Yeah right," former Captain Hall sarcastically cut in, his tray slapping the table's surface, and himself sitting down next to Isaac.
       "Hey Johnny boy," casually greeted Shanks.
       "What's there for her to be alright about?" questioned John, having overheard the last two pieces of dialogue. "Come on, what's the shit?"
       "Notin' too serious, bro. Me and Libby just got in a fight; she saw me with da new squad CO," said the Corporal, looking down at his meal. "Don't know what was up her ass, I just hope we make up a little better."
       The former Captain was just shoving a large mouthful of dressing drenched salad into his mouth. "Why? She not talkin' to ya or some shit?"
       "Well, we're married, ya know? So I like to be on good terms with da wife."
       The off duty Lance Corporal looked on for the time being, finishing up his gravy lathered potatoes.
       "Aw, you know you just want some more of that black puss," Hall jested, just swallowing and letting out a light laugh and a smile.
       Dick shrugged, a half-smile tugging at his mouth. "Maybe, but I ain't got none of that in a while. What with da war and crap, just no time for that kind of stuff, bro."
       "Give it some time, mate," put in Pearls. "I've seen this kind of fuss before, it'll blow on through in a day er so."
       "I can hope. So," Dick paused to pick up a medium sized packet of milk and gulp down the full continents. "What 'ave you boys been up to?"
       "Well," Isaac managed to answer first, through a mouth filled with corn. John was busy sucking up the last of his salad, and moving his fork to his pasta entre. "Just been hangin' out 'round the place since we all got back."
       "What's goin' on with da guys who don't have a ship to go back to?" the Corporal wiped a drop of white milk off his dark skinned face.
       "Haven't heard?"
       A shake of the head from Shanks. "Just rumors and stuff."
       "Some of 'em are gettin' reassigned to the 'station. I guess the rest just get moved into new squads on another ship," Pearls had been lucky enough to have been on one of the ships that hadn't taken a hit, and so was fortunate to be staying on the vessel he had grown accustomed to. Right now, many of the shipboard military personnel were getting a little visit on the station; a little R and R. "Suppose part of that is what got Libby in a fluster, eh?"
       "Right," said the Corporal, grabbing his cleaned tray and standing.
       "Leavin' already?" asked Hall, just managing to swallow a fork-full of spaghetti and speak.
       "You're the one who just got here, bud," replied Shanks, taking short steps away. "I'll be in the gym."
       "See ya in a few, mate," assured the Lance Corporal.
       The former Captain just nodded a dismissal, again stuffing his face with tomato-sauce coated food.
       Pearls took a drink from his beverage packet and smirked, slowly shaking his head at the retired Marine still next to him.
       John watched his old friend leave for a second, chewing his over-sized mouthful, before noticing Isaacs eyes on him. "What?"

       The dried dark-purple blood came off fairly easily with each wipe of the soft cloth, returning the surface of the silencer back to its usual matte-black. All sorts of parts and equipment were spread across the table over which the work was being done. Barrels, stocks, firing mechanisms, grips, scopes; some reflecting little light from their dark hue, others glittering in the light; anything that one could image a modern warrior taking to work was there. All of it was in pristine condition, kept up with and maintained by a careful and deliberate owner.
       This was the first time since the fight on the planet, that this soldier had gotten a chance to fully clean and inspect his weapons. Around him, and through an open door, was the rest of the Spartan Armory, stocked with plenty of weapons and ammunition for the team's missions and training exercises. It was similar in shape and layout to a standard Marine Armory, but it had its differences. The room still had its two long weapons racks running down the center, but instead of many sets of standard weapons, more personalized sections had been created; all the components of the specialized weaponry neatly organized and set in their places.
       Spartan-036 sat in the back, within the small room at the end of the Armory, in front of the table, where all his gear lay next to all the cleaning supplies. His hands gently caressed and cradled the cylindrical silencer, removing the final traces of the last alien he had killed with it. The elite soldier could have let someone else clean his equipment, could have assigned some weapons specialist to do it; but that was not the way of a sniper. No, Raul wouldn't have trusted his weapons to anyone but himself, and maybe his fellow squadmates.
       The Rifleman set the silencer down on the surface before him, next to all of the other disassembled gear. Making sure that all of the pistol components had been dealt with properly, and arranged together, his eyes moved to another piece of equipment. He grabbed his favorite, and still assembled, weapon: his S2 AM. He hadn't gotten to use the capabilities of his main weapon on the last mission; the stealth measures on the ground preventing him from firing the powerful device, and the confined spaces in the Covenant ship keeping him from effectively implementing the Sniper Rifle. Still, he would clean it; make sure no dirt or dust would hinder its performance, and that everything else was still working properly.
       Skilled hands quickly took the weapon apart, the different components finding themselves arrayed on free spaces in front of the precise soldier. The parts wouldn't be put back together the same way to be stowed. Raul had customly configured the setup of the weapon before he had embarked upon his last operation. When he put the device away, however, he would do so with it set up in a standard fashion.

       Within another hour, Spartan-036 had neatly put his weapons and other equipment back in their places, about the room. He didn't mind that the task of cleaning weapons took him long. Actually, this soldier rather enjoyed it. Raul had always been one to spend time alone, by himself, with no distractions. It gave him a sense of peace and relaxation. Besides, that was what it was like in the field anyway.
       He was a sniper, and so often spent hours in a single place, not taking his eye from his scope. Single shots could make the difference in a battle; determine who ultimately lived and died, won or lost. Taking out the commander of an army of Covenant troops would throw the forces into temporary dismay, creating a distraction for the other two team Spartans, or a time of weakness for an attack.
       Of course, then there were those times when the combat became much more tense. Raul might still be on his stomach, covered in a camouflaging ghillie suit, with his long-range weapon trained on the enemy; but the battle conditions were what could change. He could have to fire between friendlies to score a hit, or engage in firing upon very active foes. Then he could come under fire, a smart or observant Elite commander having noticed or guessed at his position. This Spartan had been forced to continue firing with Wraith plasma mortars exploding around him, or heavy plasma and Needler fire peppering his location.
       Then there was another test of his skills that Raul might have to endure: his camouflage. He was trained in the art of blending into his environment; an obvious sniper wouldn't be an effective one. With the aid of suits and his own setting, the Spartan would disguise himself. The ability to blend in was often the only thing that kept him alive in many circumstances. This Spartan sniper had experienced many close calls; Covenant soldiers walking withing touching distance of him, lights shown right upon his form, he had even had a Grunt step on his back before.
       Yes, the battlefields where he fought could become excessively dangerous; but did that sway him? Did that make him question his resolve to fight for the UNSC? Did that frighten him to the point of just running away? No, it didn't; because Raul new his duty, he knew what he was trained to do. He had been raised as he had for a reason, he had been selected and trained for a reason. Mendez, Doctor Halsey, his fellow Spartans had all helped him become what he was: a highly skilled soldier.
       Spartan-036 liked his "job," too. For him, nothing could beet the thrill of combat; a hand's breath away, or a mile away, fighting and killing any enemy that would oppose him was what he did best. But still, he preferred working as a whole with a team. Knowing that his friends weren't far away.

       The last of Raul's equipment slipped into place, held securely in one of the several weapons lockers. His post-mission acts were complete, now came the time where he could do what had started to become exceedingly rare in his career: rest, and just take a break.

       "So, Commander, has anything interesting happened while we were away?" asked Commodore Ford, looking at one of the many view screens offering a view of space.
       Williams sighed, putting more of his weight against the brass railing as he leaned further, relaxed. "Not much, sir. Just the normal anomalies one would expect out here."
       "I've been lacking of a good 'normal' report in a while," responded the Commodore, looking over at the station's commander. "Go ahead and tell me everything."
       "Everything sir? Well, to tell the truth, even everything won't last a while."
       A grin from Ford.
       "A comet passed by a few days ago, and we had a star go supernova a few light years away, a real sight, if I may say so myself. Other than that and a few large masses in the slipstream, we just had to watch the stars flicker."
       Morgan Ford watched the last mentioned event on the large view screen, millions of pinpoints of light dimming and growing brighter in the darkness. It had been a while since the Commodore had been able to just stand and observe the quite vacuum filled spaces. All the times in that recent past that he had viewed it had been under different circumstances; engaging a Covenant fleet, exiting a random jump and hoping that the enemy hadn't followed them, returning to the Lambert Space Station and wondering if everything was still okay. There was a big list of things to be concerned about when traveling in space. One could never be assured that they were safe.
       "Commander," he began again, a thought entering his mind. "What about those large masses in Slipspace?"
       "What about them, sir?" asked Williams, standing up a little straighter.
       "Did any of them look like they were out of the ordinary?"
       "You mean, did any of them look like Covenant?"
       Commodore Ford's face answered the question.
       "No, sir. None of them had signatures that struck me as a semblance to any known Covenant ships. They only scanned as a comet and a large asteroid."
       "Good. I just like to be sure."
       "I understand, sir."
       Morgan let himself relax a notch.
       "Well, wait a minute," Brent said, getting to thinking. "I did pick up a rather odd signal a day ago."
       Ford's face became serious again, turning towards the Commander, and standing erect.
       "It had a strange energy reading, like it was powered, but it was not that large at all. Not even large enough to be a dropship; and besides, even Covenant don't send ships that small through Slipspace."
       "But you don't know what it was?" the Commodore was not assured.
       "No, I'm sorry sir, I'm not sure," Williams looked over at the Slipspace monitoring station. "But I can show you."
       "Please, Commander. Do."
       Brent quickly proceeded in bringing up the readings from the aforementioned time and date. "There. See?"
       "Hmm, interesting indeed," commented Ford. The object was small, only about the size of an HEV, but that wasn't what was curious. Instead of reading like a rock or mass of ice and gas, it was metallic. It moved, too; the object hadn't just gone in an curved path, or even a straight one, it had actually stopped and turned around. All of it was highly irregular.
       "It couldn't have been a ship, sir. For one, the size is an obvious reason; and two, we've never known of a ship simply showing up and leaving. They always attack, whether it's a good idea or not."
       The Commodore nodded. "I agree. I can't remember this type of occurrence-" Morgan's heart fluttered. "-except for a probe."
       "A Covenant probe, sir?" Commander William's face lost some of its color.
       "What would an unidentified Human probe be doing out here, son?"
       "But, that would mean . . . it could mean they are going to attack. Couldn't it? I hope . . . maybe, just maybe, it was just an anomaly, nothing serious."
       "Well, we'll just have to keep an eye out for this kind of thing. For all we know, this could have just been some reactive element that found its way out here in Slipspace. But, for sure, keep alert. We don't need any Covenant forces surprising us out here."
       "Yes sir."

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 2-Chapter 6
Date: 26 September 2004, 12:47 AM

0730 hours (Standard Time), August 28, 2552 (Military Calender)
Palestine System, planet Caucus IV, Conifer Mountain Military Complex Territories

The body of the LRV shook and rattled with each bump in the path. Lance Corporal Mark Smith bent his knees and gripped the mounted turret in font of him more tightly. Both the Warthog he was riding on and the other, riding ahead several meters down the dirt road, were on one of the evening patrols. All to make sure that nothing was out there, and to keep tabs on all that happened around the vast forests and mountainsides.
Lance Corporal Smith thought the possibility of an attack out here very un-likely. If the Covies were gonna glass Caucus Four, they would have already done it, was his reasoning. That meant that all operations on the planet could proceed without hindrance. The military base was the most prominent settlement on the surface of the globe, the Marine commanders in charge of everything not controlled by the research and mining teams. That was the other population in the Palestine system; a few cities of civilian personnel to keep everything working.
A line of white light outlined the foremost rattling 'Hog, its powerful headlights set to maximum at the late hour, the beams casting their illumination on anything that was in their proximity. Long, dark shadows receded into the surrounding maze of coniferous tree trunks and assorted bramble. Mark caught a glimpse of a type of rabbit-like creature as it hopped into the safety of darkness. The two light reconnaissance vehicles rolled on.
Within a few minutes, the two Warthogs would be arriving at the outermost guard house. From there they would drive easy through the innermost 'house, and into the base. Most of it was buried in solid rock, deep within the mountain. It offered security, and provided a safe haven and center of operations for all of what went on about the "colony."
"Ahh," mumbled Smith, as a small rock from the cut path impacted his already stinging-from-cold cheek. He looked up and saw a series of the projectiles erupt from the left-rear tire of the first 'Hog. "What the hell was that?"
"What's that Smithy?" shouted Lindsey Hawkins, the Assault Rifleman seated in the passenger's seat, over the rumble of the engines and tree-reverberated truck sounds.
"Just got pegged in the face," replied the Lance Corporal, bring up his right hand to wipe away a trickle of blood.
Lindsey looked forward for a second, then back at the showy face of her squadmate. "From what?"
"The other 'Hog, tire spat one right at me."
Hawkins gave a laugh, half muted from the sound of the tires thudding over a small log. "Hey Sarge," she nudged the driver. "Corporal Fucker just hit Smithy with tire spray."
Staff Sergeant Burton kept his sharp brown eyes on the road, navigating a turn. "What? How, Private?"
"Must have hit a rock pocket in the path."
Burton smiled, a little bit of fun brought to the routine patrol.
"Corporal Fucik, watch were you send those rocks," he put in to the other driver over the COM.
"What, sir?" came the delayed response, the voice laced with a Russian accent.
"You just nailed my gunner in the noggin with a rock."
A pause. "Oh, copy that. Well, sorry sir," a laugh on the other end. "Give my regards to Smith, would ya?"
Private Hawkins exchanged looks with her Sergeant. "Just keep it on the road, Fucker," she put in.
Burton gave her a glance but otherwise remained silent. That is, until the first Warthog was jerked into a fishtail, through a patch of thick mud and rocks. Brown splattered the windshield of the Sergeant's vehicle, and rocks pinged from the metal body.
"That one got my helmet," commented Smith, bouncing on his legs through the same liquid filled pit, now sporting natural brown face cover.
"Calm down, Corporal," corrected Sergeant Burton, activating the windshild wipers and liquid cleaner for a moment.
The initial response was a minor decrease in the foremost transport's speed. "Alright, alright. Copy that, sir," said Fucik, his fun put to the side.
The rear driver smiled slightly in the dark behind the dash, continuing onward on the patrol.

Sergeant Davis watched the white mist, that was his breath, rise and become illuminated in the bright flood light attached to the side of the guard house. The chilled water vapor drifted through the air in an amorphous cloud, vanishing after a couple seconds. The temperature was cool, not freezing; but it was brisk at five degrees Celsius. The Sergeant's fingers had started to go numb about two hours previous, gripping the cold stock of his rifle. Gloves and a quick cup of Joe, compliments of one of the Privates also standing 'round, had solved that problem quickly.
With the cool temperatures came something that was rewarding enough to endure the uncomfortable outdoors. No clouds drifted into the evening sky, meaning that there would be an unobstructed view the upcoming night. Lamar Davis like evening and nighttime duty, it proved to be quiet and uneventful. He had a chance to think and enjoy the wonderful views that the billions of stars, orbiting natural satellites, and the aurora borealis if he was lucky. Even if he had to shiver a little.
Sergeant Lamar Davis had been on Caucus IV for the last few months; sent in by a supply ship, along with some others. They hardly ever sent anyone out here now, with most of the ships engaged in protecting the inner colonies. An out-of-the-way system like Palestine just didn't get noticed as much anymore. By Humans, and seemingly, also by the Covenant.
Davis went back to examining the dimming sky, trying to find something to focus on. That was one of the downsides of working later shifts, you barely had anything real to do. The slowly rising moon already in the sky was in full, glowing like a opal lit from within. In actuality, the moon, having been dubbed "Frost", was a satellite slightly larger than the moon orbiting Earth. It had a surface of ice and rock, with a thin atmosphere composed of water vapor, much of which was constantly falling to the surface in frozen form. The gravity wasn't great, and so the snowfall rate wasn't heavy, and the atmosphere wasn't that dense either; but it was still a nice sight.
Lamar knew that the second moon, a rock with high concentrations of iron, would rise later in the night.
The dull roar of engines slowly broke the silence, as the sound grew in the distance. The tone changed as the gearbox downshifted for the approach to the outer guard house.
"Who's scheduled for evening patrol?" Davis asked of the Private sitting within the small structure beside the road.
"Staff Sergeant Burton and his quad, sir," came a slightly delayed reply, the less experienced Marine having to look a moment for the information.
Two minutes early, thought Lamar.
Within a few moments, the first dull beams of light crept around the farthest curve in the un-paved road. A M12 LRV was quick to follow, the distinct outline of the weapon-mounted vehicle visible from the headlights of the second truck. After a few seconds of drawing closer, the LAAG and Gauss Gun mounted transports slowed to a halt a few meters before the bar that was presently lowered over the road.
"How you boys doing tonight?" asked Sergeant Davis, patting the left side of the first vehicle, and looking over at the second.
"Cold as shit, sir. Otherwise, we've been peachy," replied the passenger of the leading Warthog, looking back at the MP.
Davis ignored the negative tone the response had been given, knowing that this particular Marine, one Private Mainz, always spoke in the rough manner; it had offended many ignorant personnel in the past. "Good," he said, moving around the back of the foremost jeep and onto the drivers side of the next. "Good evening, Sergeant Burton."
"Feeling social tonight, Lamar?" asked the squad leader and driver.
"It's been quiet, just wanted to see a friendly face."
"Well, I hope you find one," a smile. "We all clear here, Davis?"
Lamar smiled back. "Yeah. Let me report you in and open up the gate."
"Hurry it up, it's cold enough already out here."
"Supposed to get down to at least twenty-five later," the Marine MP shouted over his shoulder, already walking back in front of the rear 'Hog.
"Damn," commented Smith from the back. "I forgot my mittens."
"You know where the warmest spot on your body is," Lindsey shot back as a type of joke, laughing lightly. "Just shove your paws down there."
"Alright, but only if I get to share some of your body heat; unless you want to warm your hands with mine. Hell, why not just share some pants?" the gunner jested back, trying to match his squadmate's attitude.
The Staff Sergeant shook his head at the conversation. "Just make sure you wait 'till we're back at base to fool around."

"Lift her up," ordered Sergeant Davis, looking into the guard shack with both hands on the open door's frame.
"Yes sir," replied the stationed Private, punching a few controls.
The pair of metal rods rose quickly out of the path, signaling the drivers to get a move on. The engines soft growl changed to a roar as the wheels spun for a brief second, then caught traction and sent the two transports on their way.
"When's the next patrol set to come back in?" questioned Lamar.
The Private looked over his charts. "Looks like Sergeant Pickles in three-hours; another patrol is supposed to go out at oh-eight-hundred, too."
"Well, Jimmy, looks like we will just have to sit and wait."
"I suppose so, sir," the Private looked thoughtful for a moment. "Another cup of coffee, sir?"

A shout and small cheer went up from around the circular table, two of the five people sitting around its circumference allowing a light clap. Four others were also in the immediate area of the rectangular room; two in a corner playing chess, and the other two leaning over the table, trying to get a good look at what everyone was doing.
The five around the table were playing a round of five-card stud. They were all in the rec hall of the base, passing the time while they were off-duty. Those around the circular piece of furniture were composed of members from two squads, most others in the room were just random personnel. One man in particular, at the poker game, had just won.
"Read 'em and weep, baby!" announced Lance Corporal Martin, pulling the twenty-six dollars and seventy-two cents of credits from the center of the table.
"Friggin' A, boy," exclaimed PFC McCall, another one of the players, his voice drowned in a southern-country accent. "Lucky son-of-a-bitch."
"How'd ya pull that one off, Greg?" asked another Marine.
"It's all skill, guys; all skill," the winner replied, looking down at his royal flush.
"Bull shit, Martin. You must have cheated or somethin'," another voice commented.
"Just luck," put in one of the chess players, an ODST, gaining a brief glance from the table.
The laughter and clipped discussion died down as the Lance Corporal looked around and nodded.
"But fellas, I think that the kind Corporal still owes me something," he said, a smirk spreading across his face.
Everyone smiled and looked to the referred-to woman across the table: Ashley Biggs. Everyone there held the opinion that her last name might as well be her nickname, too; the reason easily spoken for when an ignorant individual would first see her.
She sat there with her arms crossed, her losing hand, a flush, laying loosely on the surface in front of her, next to her quarter-full beer bottle.
"So? What'll it be Ash?" questioned Gregory Martin, getting some supportive tones from the other men present.
"I lost," she admitted, her arms uncrossing. "And I did make a bet..."
The Lance Corporal smiled at her half-playful look.
Biggs looked around quickly, making sure none of the stricter COs were around, grabbing a couple handfuls of the bottom of her black shirt. She found almost every eye in the room gazing at her, waiting for her to follow through on her end of the bargain.
With a final look around, a biting of her lower lip, and her stomach exposed, her hands had found the innermost layer of clothing. Tensing her arms, the sports bra came free, and her shirt lifted. Two pale, fair skinned, protuberantly bulbous appendages fell down loosely over the unembarrassed woman's chest.
A few looks of slight shock spread over the faces of the other personnel present, mixed with smiles, smirks, and glances of appeasement.
Murmurs and comments were quickly shared.
"Holy shit."
"Man, their even bigger in person."
"Them's some nice titties," McCall stated unabashedly.
Ashley gave a final smile of satisfaction, bounced once on her seat, then worked her shirt and supportive undergarment back over her now publicly viewed breasts.
"Wouldn't mind tangoing with them sometime," admitted one of the present Privates, not thinking about his comment before he spoke it.
"Heck, Pullman," Martin glanced at the Private. "I'd just settle for a bed session."
"Maybe if you give me a good enough reason, Martin," Corporal Biggs said, looking on through the comments, straightening her clothes, and sardonically smirking through the spoken thoughts. She took a gulp from her beer as well.
"You're all just boob obsessed perverts," the previously unspoken chess player, also a ODST, threw into the mess of staring eyes at the table.
That got a laugh from everyone, and a few more words.
Private Reynolds walked in during the peak of the post-incident laughing and jesting. He had been sent on a drink run, and was confused, curious, and wondering if he wanted to know as he took a few timid steps into the room.
The Lance Corporal noticed him through the bottom of his own beer bottle. "Come on over, kid."
The eighteen-year-old young man walked over with a suspecting and bemused look upon his face. He took a seat on a spare stool.
"Yeah boys," said Billy McCall, grabbing a icy fresh bottle of beer from the now arrival. "Hey, where's the whiskey at?"
"What I miss?" the youngest Marine, now present, asked.
"All the fun," answered one of the onlookers.
"And a good view," added another.
"Of what's got ta be the best thermometer 'round these parts," elaborated Billy, in his own fashion.
The newer Marine wrinkled his eyebrows, slightly confused.
"Temperature was flippin' good, too. Just a bit of a chill."
Ashley grabbed another beer, her old bottle now empty. "Next time make sure you're hear, Reynolds," Biggs put forward. "So you can wash 'em off for me."
General laughter.
The youngster got it. "No pictures for me?"
"Sorry, Josh. It was a one time deal," replied Greg.
"So," Ashley began to mention. "Who's for another round."
"Hell yes."
"Deal me in."
"Let's get 'er done."
-Came some of the responses, as all five previous players proceeding in anting up.

"Thank you, son," said the General, accepting the fresh cup of hot coffee from his subordinate.
Colonel Johnson sat back down. "You're welcome, sir. Good evening."
The control room of the base blinked around them. Hundreds of indicator lights fluctuating every second, several displays on the monitors, and a few random radio communications from around the complex.
"It's morning of you go by standard time."
"I suppose so, sir. Does wonders for your internal clock."
"How are the troops, Colonel?" asked General Swots in his Boston accent, taking the first drink of his black coffee.
"They're well, so far at least. The newer recruits seem to have been absorbed pretty quickly, even the younger ones," Zachary Johnson replied in his own Texan accent. "The ODSTs were a little rough mixing when they first got here, but I think that new boundaries and such have been set between them. Jesus, watching them interact with each other is like watching Tasmanian Devils fight for a scrap of meat."
Swots chuckled.
"We'll be good though; just normal operations."
"Be glad of that, Colonel. We're damned lucky to not have been attacked out here."
"I know, sir. But I'll admit that I still worry about it."
The General leaned back. "Well, don't stress yourself out. Leave that kind of thinking to me."
"No problem there, sir."
"Good. So, you began some testing with the new weapons today."
"Yes. They're some nice pieces of technology. They'll even out the overall munitions line-up."
"That will be good."
"It'll take some time for the soldiers to get used to the feel, but I'm sure that things will go just fine once the weapons get settled."
"When, do you think, will they be ready for standard issue?" General Swots questioned Johnson.
"Well, technically, they already are. It won't take long for the men, and women, to get proficient. The things are standard weaponry, just newer models."
Wesley Swots nodded, accepting the answer. "It's about the end of your duty today isn't it, son?"
"Yes, I know sir. Do you need anything else?"
"Don't worry about me, Colonel; I have everything under control."
Zachary sighed at the reply, standing. "Good night, General."
"Have a good afternoon."

Author's Note: Some of you may have noticed the Date/Time Stamp at the beginning of my story. This has not been my style in the past, and so I am new to creating an appropriate time and date for each of my chapters. Now, for this particular story, in an attempt to make it fit reasonable in the current Halo story (because I like to when I can, and because of what I plan to do with the story in the future). I had trouble creating this date because of the oddity of the dates from H:tFoR and H:FS. If anyone that reads this has any information or speculation on what was involved with the time distortion mentioned in First Strike, please post your opinion(s) along with your comment.

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 2: Chapter 7
Date: 2 October 2004, 8:03 PM

Part 2: The Calm Of The Sea

Chapter 7: Red Sky In The Morning

1900 hours (Standard Time), August 28, 2552 (Military Calender)
UNSC Space Station Lambert

Main Officer's Meeting Chamber

       "So, where do we plan to go next?" asked Commander Grant, seated next to the end of the table. "Will we go back to the Lestos system?"
       "In my opinion it wouldn't be practical at the moment, Roy," replied another officer, Captain Williams. All of the surviving officers sat around the large ovular table in the Officers Meeting Chamber. New plans needed to be made, and there was much to think about after the events that had transpired. "Go to take back a decimated planet?"
       "We don't leave people behind," put in Captain Locke. "What if there are survivors? There could be people stranded out in space. Can you even bare the thought of dying like that?"
       "I'm afraid I agree with Captain Williams for now," a voice boomed from the other end of the table. It was Commodore Ford.
       "Why can't we take back that system, sir?" asked Captain Marker, confused at his CO's response. "Our men fought and died for that system, and the least we can do is-"
       Ford held up his hand, silencing the Captain. "I'm sorry, I really am; but we just cannot afford to return to Heilos. There may be some survivors, but by now they have probably already been found by the Covenant.
       "To be honest, we don't have the resources to go back. We would just be spending more lives; and that is something that I cannot bring myself to do."
       "What purpose does a dead planet serve us anyway?" said Captain Williams, his voice void of emotion.
       "So those Covenant bastards can't have it!" growled Locke, pounding a fist on the table's surface.
       The Commodore gave him a corrective look. "That will be enough, Captain Locke."
       "I would like to know the answer to my first question," continued Grant, seemingly unfazed. "Where to next?"
       Ford watched as all of the men seated around the table composed themselves, knowing real business did need to be attended to. "Our options are running low in this part of space, gentlemen."
       "Sir, if I may, perhaps we could take a short leave here," suggested Commander Yen. "All of the men are tired from the attack and battle efforts."
       Some of the men smiled at the thought of a few days rest; others frowned at the Commander's attempt to get out of his normal duty and operations.
       "As much as I would like that myself, I'm afraid that is not an option to us either," was the Commodore's reply. "Every day we sit and wait is another that the Covenant have to attack or advance towards another Human held planetary system.
       "I am also concerned with keeping the project going. We need to remain conscious of the need of training and real field exercises."
       "With all due respect, sir," began Commander Grant. "Are the Spartans really making a difference? Or are we just wasting our time with them?"
       "I believe they are, Commander," responded Ford, almost defensively. "And it is not just for the sake of them. They acquire more Covenant technology every time they return from a mission. They also have been responsible for many adaptations and improvements in our weapons and equipment."
       "But will it do any good?" pressed Grant. "Will this new tech really make a difference in time? You know as well as I that the Covenant forces have continued to press inward towards more of the inner colonies; and Earth."
       The Commodore's face became sour, his tone serious, grave, and slightly aggravated at the same time. "I don't need to be reminded of the Covenant's progress, Commander. This war is bad enough as it is without bitching from the likes of you. We all have to believe that there is something worth fighting for, and it is, and will be, worth it. Is that clear?"
       Grant sank back into his chair, surprised by his CO's direct rebuke of his opinions. "Perfectly sir," he mumbled back.
       "Good; I don't want anymore of those negative comments from you, or-" Ford looked around the table. "-From anyone else. We have real things to worry about right here, and right now."
       The tense atmosphere changed as the lights dimmed and a star map appeared on the wall.
       "Now," started the Commodore. "We have a couple options to consider for our next operation. Any good ideas? I want to here them."

Observation Room B-3, Medical Section

       "How's our subject?" inquired Dr. Schneider, looking over a digital information pad.
       The other doctor looked up from the displayed readings. "So far, so good," she replied. "It is alive and well so far. Doesn't look very pleased to be here, but I wouldn't be either in its position."
       Both medical professionals looked down through the thick glass window at the lone occupant of the adjacent room.
       "How are the readings off of the thing?" asked Schneider, making a couple notes and stepping to the side of his colleague.
       "Similar to any living thing you could find. But, of course, seeing what kind of creature it is, we have a few differences."
       The other doctor, Sheila Reins, swivelled a nearby monitor to face in a more convenient angle. "Like heart rate, metabolism, EEG, organ function and placement, and that kind of thing."
       Manny Schneider inadvertently flashed his eyes over the wires and tubes hanging from, some of them implanted in, the alien specimen on the medical bed a few feet below in the containment chamber.
       "Well, it was awake a good part of yesterday, and this morning; but it conked out a couple hours ago. We've been feeding it intravenously, but it would be good for it to ingest some foodon its own. We all would prefer some interaction; start to build a foundation upon which to communicate with it."
       Schneider nodded, licking his dry lips. "We have translation software."
       "True," said Sheila. "But the trouble will be getting it to talk at all."
       "As much as I would like to steer clear of it, I don't think that the military commanders of this station would have any problem using torture to interrogate it."
       "Yeah," a sigh. "I know."
       Both doctors looked again towards the large creature lain out on the medical table. Wires were carefully placed over the alien's body; their purpose to gain data on the electrical signals emitted by nerves and brain tissue. Then there were the tubes that were strung around; some were providing the Prisoner of War with hydration, others with liquified nutrients, and still others were placed where thought best to take care of any waste products. If nothing else, the Humans would now have a specimen to learn anatomy off of.
       "Bet the tech team is having a good time with everything that it came in with, eh?" remarked Manny. He was an older man, his once beach-blonde hair turning silver with the years. His title was Doctor, but not only from his status as a MD. He had gone for a doctorate majoring in Human Anatomy and minored in Biology. Plenty of knowledge to examine a foreign species, but it was still an interesting thought. "A full set of armor; I heard it was intact?"
       Sheila checked yet a few more readings and let herself focus on something other than her work for a moment. "That's the rumor; not much gets confirmed around here though. We have a lot to learn; not just about their technology either. Remember the Heart Beat Detection Device brought up at our last big briefing?"
       Dr. Schneider took a couple seconds to remember. "Yes, I believe so. A good idea; I could only imagine how incredibly useful that would be in the field."
       "Well, that thing there-" she pointed at the large form in the other room. "-Could be the key to make it work much more efficiently. I'm not sure how much you know about how it was supposed to work, but, having a live heart to measure does wonders to make things more accurate."
       "If I'm not mistaken-I've done some work with similar devices in the past-it works by keeping track of the steady pulse of the heart beat along with the electromagnetic field it emits. But, like I said, I've only done work with prototypes in the past."
       "Well, you're right on. That's the basic principle that the things are suppose to work off of. 'Cept, the problem is that in the past we have never had the real thing to calibrate our equipment to; but now..."
       "I see your point."
       "Well, I will personally be very interested to read how it preforms in the field if we get an operational prototype for the project team."
       "Most certainly."
       A low beep came over the speakers, catching the two doctor's attention immediately. With a quick look over the various screens scattered about, displaying the various pieces of medical data of the alien creature in the form of digital lines, numbers, and graphs, the source of the alert was located. It wasn't an emergency, but it was important. Just a few meters away, now clothed in a thin cloth gown, laying face up on a medical bed, the restraints attached firmly over strategic areas; a Covenant Elite warrior was just waking up from its rest cycle, once again finding itself in a strange environment.
       Some calls were made, more systems were brought on line, and several people aboard the Human space station moved quickly to converge in the observation room. There was an alien present, an there were many things to be done.

2113 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Palestine System, Surface of Caucus IV, Conifer Mountain Military Complex

Indoor Base Firing Range A-2

       Muzzle flashes strobed through the air, and spend casings dropped to the ground in slow, graceful spinning motions. Bolts slid explosively back and forth as triggers were pulled; arms and shoulders vibrating from each bullet-let-fly.
       It was just about a normal practice session in the firing range, soldiers testing their skills or trying to top their friends' personal bests. This session was slightly different than most; however, for this time, new weapons were being handled and put through their paces. All the shooters present enjoyed every moment of the improved sighting, efficiency, and punch of their new firearms.

       Corporal Campbell watched as the last round of his triple-burst completed the hole in the thin target's forehead. He lowered his weapon and punched the control set to bring his target back to his firing station. While the bullet-ridden human-form shape started moving, the Corporal looked over his weapon.
       As an ODST, Lance Campbell had dealt with many weapons in the past; during training and on the battlefield. Most of them had been great allies, proving to be durable, easy to use, and a regular tool; the new Battle Rifle seemed to be starting out in the same fashion.
       With a slightly longer barrel, sighting rail with scope, and higher caliber bullets, the freshly shipped firearms were looking good; Lance was already in love. He was a Marine, and a highly skilled one at that. He knew when a weapon was good and when it was bad; whether it would preform and pull through in battle, and he was confident his new favorite weapon would do just that.
       It was certainly an improvement to the, formerly, standard MA5B Assault Rifles. With more accuracy and much more versatility on the field. It might not fire at fifteen-rounds-a-second, but, its other advantages more than made up for that slight inconvenience.
       While Lance enjoyed the high fire rates of the Assault Rifles and Sub Machine Guns, he was a marksman at heart. So, the sole fact that the new standard issue ODST rifle had a four-times power scope attached gave him chills. Now he could sight in and casually pick the head off of just about any target-moving or not. This he had just assured himself of with two full magazines of the new weapon's ammunition.
       Rifles and pistols still cracked and spat bullets around him, but Campbell wasn't fazed. The target finally came to a stop at the front of the soldier's station. With a quick release of the ruined material, the old stiff paper dropped into a receptacle. Within seconds, a new mass of bullet-ready plastic was ready to be used for shooting practice. This one was distinctly different from the previous generic target, made of a denser material, and a more solid shape.
       With another button-press, another track was in motion. This time it wasn't a rifle of any kind that was to be used against the half-mannequin; it was time for another one of the Corporal's favorite toys.
       A solid recoil smacked against Lance's palm, sending a shockwave up his braced arms. This other new weapon was a winner as well. More heavy shots rocketed from the barrel of the relatively small firearm, impacting devastatingly into the target downrange. Hardened slugs pushed through the polymer like it was no more than gel, sending soft fragments into the protective shield lining the rear of the room.
       As the bottom half of the second ruined target hung from only a few strands of structural material, Corporal Campbell hit the familiar target return switch.
       He had found his favorite sidearm this day as well. This pistol was a beauty; thirty-percent larger than a standard M6D HE Pistol, and the rounds were as equally massive. A magnum, Lance noticed, and a powerful one at that. He wondered how much stopping power it would have against a Grunt, plenty to knock it dead with a head shot; but what about the energy-shield wearing Elites? It would be an interesting thing to find out when the time came; but Campbell didn't want that chance to come anymore than the next man. In fact, as much as he enjoyed the new weapons, he wished he would never have to test them.
       Of course, with all such thoughts came a sinking feeling that somehow, the Corporal's wish would be quick to reverse itself.

UNSC Destroyer Moscow, in orbit around Caucus IV, Command Deck

       The space around the Palestine system was quiet, void of surprises or anything to cause worry. This made all the bridge personnel lax about their duties. Everyone moved slowly, precisely, but without motivation. They had yet to be attacked at this place by anyone. Be they foolish rebels or a fleet of Covenant ships.
       That last thought sent a chill up and down Commander Brights' spine. The lazy command station of his ship was just what he liked. He actually enjoyed being able to float about, not having to put much thought into the possibility of an attack.
       To him, it seemed like the enemy had just overlooked the system he called home. Brights paused to look over the message that just came in from the small Slipspace monitoring station around the perimeter of the system. No anomalies, was the report's primary statement. Continuing standard scans.
       With the new information, the CO of the Moscow let himself relax even further.
       "Lieutenant McCallister," he addressed.
       The navigation officer swivelled in her seat, greeting her Commander with a smile. "Yes, sir?"
       "You have the bridge," Brights replied. "I'll be going to my quarters. I am not to be disturbed unless an emergency arises."
       "Understood, sir. Aye."
       The Commander nodded, pleased with the response, and walked off of the command deck and into his personal quarters a short distance away. For him, it was just another uneventful day.

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 2-Chapter 8
Date: 24 October 2004, 2:41 AM

Part 2: The Calm Of The Sea

Chapter 8: Storm On The Horizon

2302 hours (Standard Time), August 28, 2552 (Military Calendar)
UNSC Space Station Lambert

Observation Room B-3, Medical Section

       The large alien form looked extremely odd in a Human medical gown; its form pressing against the thin material. The sleeves barely covered the shoulders of the beast, the largest sized garment not big enough for the creature. At present, the captured Elite was sitting - or rather reclining - upright in its bed. It didn't look happy.
       "Hello, sir," started a newcomer to the current "interrogation" game. "I am First Lieutenant Adam Jordan of the United Nations Space Command, from the Office of Naval Intelligence. I am here to tell you that you have the rights of a Prisoner of War and will be treated with the utmost respect and care while you stay with us in our facilities."
       The Human's cordial smile was met by a menacing stare, the creature keeping its dark-black eyes focused on the other prominent figure in the room. The glowering expression was punctuated only by an occasional growl or gurgling sound. Subject-E3 sat still, its muscles occasionally tensing against the restraints; it had tried three times already to break free, unsuccessful on every account. The occupants of this station were smart enough to have gone over every precaution.
       Lieutenant Jordan looked back with a undeterred, yet still passive, expression on his face to keep himself in control of the situation; gazing back with his clear, calm, and sharp blue eyes, sparkling like emeralds in the overhead flourescent lights. He had been taught that when questioning an enemy prisoner, first give them respect; for most likely they had been told they would have been treated harshly. Giving them a kind appearance often softened tongues and loosened wills; but this was apparently not the case with the alien, it sat composed and aggravated across the room. "We have food for you, and you are free to request for whatever you may require within our limits," the translation device took a brief moment to convert the languages, before again emitting an odd combination of guttural sounds. "Do you understand me, sir?"
       The Elite's response to the question was a loud snarl and an opening of the mandibles; obviously a sign of aggression. It was almost like dealing with an indignant child with the mind of an animal. Since the beginning of the second communication attempt, the alien's skin had darkened, from a placid mottled dark-blue to a purple-black hue. Elite, S-E3, was obviously becoming increasingly aggravated by the second.
       Adam sighed, venting his frustration. While training to be an ONI officer, he had experienced much better results from Human subjects; these Covenant types were proving to be a totally different book altogether. While he knew that the enemy soldier was part of an elite class, and had trained to fight; no knowledge was known on the rank or duties of the scoundrel, preventing any kind of personal connection. "Thank you for your time, sir. We will come again to speak with you," he waved his hand and a male nurse entered the room, carrying a tray of food. The Naval officer stood, delivered a respectful nod to his "patient", pairing it with a meaningful smile, and proceeded in exiting the room.

       "No luck, Lieutenant?" asked Commodore Ford, glancing briefly at the younger man. He stood in an erect posture in front of the observation window, a cup in one of his hands, his arms crossed. The nurse had just sat down next to Subject-E3.
       "I've had better luck with stone walls, sir," replied Jordan with a shake of the head. "I just don't think it wants to talk to any of us. And I could tell it was almost offended by our 'use' of its language."
       "Well, we'll just have to give the thing thinking time," Ford took a loud sip from his mug, a steaming cup of mint tea. The aroma had been filling the room for ten minutes.
       "Actually, sir," Adam said, facing his superior. "From the doctors' observations, it is apparently a 'him.'"
       "Oh? The sucker has balls then, eh?"
       The lieutenant smiled at the light humor. "In a manner of speaking. It's actually quite interesting to see what these aliens actually have in means of reproductive systems. Surprisingly, things look similar enough to our own. On this male at least."
       A growl and anger filled stare caused the man attempting to feed the Elite back away; his apprehension visible on his face. He looked up at the talking pair and shook his head. The Commodore pushed his lips together and moved them higher up his face, displaying his thinking process; he nodded to the MD currently manning the observation room.
       "Come on out Devon, it looks like he'll be eating by tube again tonight," the observing doctor's voice said over the speakers in the bare adjacent room.
       "No problem there," the nurse replied.
       "When will we continue?" asked Adam, offering the Commodore a seat.
       Ford let his weight sink into the supportive piece of furniture. "Soon, I should think. We need to keep trying, that is for sure. This is a major opportunity to gain intelligence from an enemy."
       "That's what us 'spooks' are for, sir. We specialize in making these types of things sing."
       "Not much of a canary, though, Lieutenant."
       Jordan finally sat down into a chair of his own. "True, true. What about interrogation? Where are we drawing the line here? After all, he isn't Human."
       "Our POWs have their rights, alien or not, son. But, we may have to resort to that type of tactic," another drink from the navy-blue cup. "It will prove to be a challenge, though. The way I have seen these things fight - from mission reports anyway - they would die rather than give us a chirp."
       "I think that we may just give it a little more time. We know the thing, excuse me, he is intelligent; we have seen how they can react on the field. It is logical to assume that given no option, maybe he'll figure out he has a better chance with us."
       "To a life of imprisonment?"
       "Maybe so, but he doesn't know that," a look at the scowling Elite. "Like I said: time, we need some time."
       "I will go with that for now, Lieutenant," Ford took a deep breath, letting it out slowly in thought. "For now, though, let's keep working on the stuff that came with it."
       "Aye, sir."
       "Good," the Commodore stood and walked towards the exit of the room. "Good luck with it."

Secondary Project Personnel Meeting Chamber

       Doctor Shoeman fiddled with the remote-control for a brief moment, ironically still not fully accustomed to the controls. The button was soon found and the screen over the wall hummed to life. "Well, let's get this meeting started," he said, looking over the few others in the room. Those present included Cynthia Pick, Manny Schneider, Pauline Wesson, John Hall, and the three project Spartans. "Since the fleet returned from the previous mission, we have accomplished a few things. These improvements and upgrades will be very helpful in the field, and it is best that we all are accustomed to them before they are issued."
       The previously bland light-blue image faded into a three-dimensional display of the newly acquired set of Covenant armor. Everyone present perked up at the subject matter.
       "Currently, efforts are being made to extract information from the captured alien specimen; however, meanwhile, some of us have been working on understanding further the systems that compose the shielding mechanisms of the armor that was brought back by our Spartans," the doctor continued. "As most, if not all, of you know, several of the developments we have been working towards were hinging on a further understanding of these systems. We still don't know everything, but we have gotten the systems working, and have been able to run several tests and diagnostics. As we already knew, they do run off of a specific frequency to operate; but now, we have that frequency."
       Next to the suspended representation of alien armor, a series of graphs and active displays sprung up; showing the many setting that made the delicate systems operable.
       Doctor Shoeman went on, "This means, of course, that the Shield Busters will work with much more efficiency. Eventually, this could enable us to add a disruption system within a set of MJOLNIR armor, but this would be long term. Also, a couple of the projectiles that the Spartans use will also be affected by this new technological intelligence. The Ring Airfoil Projectiles will have disruption circuitry incorporated in them, like before, but again, to a much more effective degree; knocking out enemy shields for a moment from somewhat of a distance. The Electrical Discharge Projectiles will also be improved on this new technology. Now-" he looked at the three Spartan soldiers present. "-They will work against enemy shields; even through them."
       The holographic display again changed to other items, these being the aforementioned pieces of combat gear. Through all this, the three project field operatives sat quiet and still, listening intently.
       "This is not all, though. It may seem like a lot for a single meeting, but with all the things we received, I, personally, cannot help but be excited. Doctor Schneider please."
       The other man stood and walked to the side of the screen, letting his colleague take a seat.
       "As Keith already stated, we are in the process of getting anything we can from the alien now in our possession. Even still, merely the body functions of the creature have already aided us in yet another development," Manny Schneider explained. "As many of you are aware, the medical team had been working with the technological team involving Covenant tech on the station. One of the many things we have been working on is a device t o make it easier for a special operations team to detect and located an enemy with more than their eyes and at a considerable distance.
       "The way we have to gain this ability presently is with a new device designed to located and track a heart. Since the heart emits a unique electromagnetic field we have something to track different species or even individuals. We currently are calling the device the Heart Based Life Tracking System, HBLTS, or as one of the younger assistance of mine dubbed it, the "Beat Finder." Regardless of the devices name, it operates on two primary actions of the heart to locate a living body.
       "The aforementioned electromagnetic field is the main factor, since it can be tracked with electric systems to a high degree. Also, the rhythm of the heartbeat itself will be trackable with sensitive acoustic monitors, calibrated to sense the aural - plus the air born shockwave - of each contraction of the heart. Now, while we do not know the exact electromagnetic field that every species of Covenant heart creates, we can still locate these signals with great accuracy."
       An MRI of an Elite appeared on the holographic display, turning transparent for the audience to view in detail. It rotated slowly in the air, readings and a smaller representation of the device over to the side.
       Schneider continued, "We have an advantage now, though. Since we have a living heart to monitor and collect data off of, we can set the system to recognize the distinct heart-signal of an Elite. But, not only will the system display alien heartbeats, it will display all other heartbeats that it picks up. This includes, of course, Human hearts. This will give our field operatives that use this system the improved ability to distinguish friend from foe in a cluttered battlefield. Also, seeing as our particular team relies on stealth and extreme coordination, this will help them to maintain a knowledge of the status of any particular team member at any time. You can know how stressed a team member or enemy is, as well as be informed when they really die. This will virtually eliminate the possibility of an enemy tricking you into believing they are dead when they are not.
       "Now, as for how this new system will display it's information-" a mock image from a Heads Up Display sprung to life on the display, with lined labels pointing to every detail. "-Instead of trying showing the new data in a new display, all of us agreed that the best place to incorporate the data would be in the motion tracking display. The contacts that were previously blurred an non-solidified will be with great clarity. The new system will discreetly distinguish between friend-or-foe, as well as what species, or at least side, an unknown contact is on. This means that if you have any question over the species of something approaching you that may be a friendly, you now have a better means of finding out.
       "So, the display will still show when a contact is in motion. But, instead of fading out when the motion stops, it will continue to show up from its pulsing heart and electromagnetic field. We have worked out all the major display types to indicate to you every possible piece of information, but you-" he looked at each of the Spartans. "-Will ultimately be responsible for deciding which display and setup of the systems you will prefer.
       "Unfortunately, without triangulation, even this system can't tell you exactly where a heartbeat is coming from. It can give you a very accurate direction bearing, and fair estimation, from signal strength, of the distance, so each registered contact in the estimated area will be considered as a possible source of the signal. This means, that if you are in a very busy battlefield, the system may not be of great use; the exception being in finding a friendly soldier in the mass of enemy. Now, the problem with exact coordinates and location of a contact can be solved with proper coordination and planning, as well as strategy. Since there are three team members that often work in close proximity, you can use a form of triangulation to zero in on a contact. If two - or more - people with this system are arranged in a particular fashion, the radio - or suit-to-suit digital communications - can be used to coordinate the two persons' systems to help increase the accuracy of this system.
       "This is all currently in a stage of testing; soon to be field-testing. So, the next mission that our team is sent on, will be the true test of these systems. And, if I am correct, that operation is planned to occur fairly soon."

Station Commander's Quarters, Command Deck

       "When's the briefing?" asked Commander Williams, from his leather-clad chair. Two cups of liquor sat on the desk before him.
       Commodore Ford downed the last of his small serving of the alcoholic beverage and looked back up at the Lambert's CO. "Tomorrow morning; o'-seven-hundred hours."
       "And it's pretty close, too."
       "As was discussed in the briefing," Ford leaned back in his own chair, opposite that of Williams'. "We need to check out the system. The last ship to go in there was for supplies, and they never really check up on anything; just unload and head back. Besides, we could use it as a launch to another operation, or check on any reports of recent attacks or news. That is one disadvantage of stationing in a remote sector in a secluded space station: news always comes late."
       "I hear you, sir. But, let me just confirm this for myself; how many ships are you leaving behind to watch the space here?"
       "Ah, we did not really cover that in the meeting did we? Well, I need as many ships as I can, and the next convoy scheduled to come out here isn't for another month or so. I'll leave you with three-quarters the usual reserve."
       The smell of cigar smoke tickled Brent's nose, still hanging around from the occasions that Commodore Ford smoked the things in this office. It wasn't a bad smell, just a little odd to the younger officer's senses; the Lieutenant Commander didn't smoke.
       "That's six, sir," he said, not comfortable with the low number; even though it was only down by two.
       "I can do math, Commander. But, I could use them. My fleet took a lot of damage this last mission, and I want my total number up to at least ten. The damaged ships are still being finished up on the Cradles."
       Williams was almost still surprised that two of the large refit vessels were even out in this system. They were large, ungainly, and of almost no use in combat, but they were necessary. If a ship became crippled or injured in space combat, something had to fix her up. The Cradles were the only things that could do the job effectively out in this part of space.
       "I am heading back to my own quarters now, son. If you can handle the bridge, which I know you can; I'm off to get the rest I have been lacking for a week now," the Commodore said, closing the conversation.
       "Yes, sir. Everything is under control. And, I have fortunately had plenty of sleep for a while now."
       "Good night, Commander."
       "See you tomorrow, sir."

0327 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Palestine System, UNSC Space Station Herold, controlled system orbit

Command/Primary Operations Deck

       The usually quiet rooms and halls of the Slipspace monitoring station were jolted awake as the alarm claxons buzzed into every crew member's eardrums. All hands jumped from their present tasks - playing a game of cards, watching an out-of-date movie, getting regular sleep - and wondered what the emergency was. Several bodies ran through strobing-red halls, trying not to run into each other.
       Was it just a drill? was the question running through all the non-command personnel's minds.
       "Repeat: all hands to station. Possible enemy contact. This is not a drill; repeat: this is not a drill," the electronically synthesized voice blared over the speakers. One question answered.
       But with the answer came a whole slew of other questions: Was it the Covenant? Were they going to attack? Was anybody going to live to see their question's answered? All this and more sped through men and women's minds, along with all the drilled operational procedures that they rapidly put to practice.

       "Where was the last contact?" questioned Commander Parson, his hands gripping the back of his Slipspace Monitoring Sation officer's chair tightly.
       "Alpha probe put it fairly distant, still waiting for a signal from the Beta probe," reported the Ensign. "Should I send out a retrieval drone, or dispatch another probe?"
       Parson sighed, his face contorted in worry. He had read all the reports on all other Covenant attacks from the Slipspace monitoring stations. While the aliens were starting to use different tactics, in this case, they were becoming predictable. This frightened the young and inexperienced commander of the Herold to the core.
       "Scan local space, make sure that-"
       "Sir!" shouted the Navigation officer. "I'm getting a contact at bearing one-eight-six."
       The Commander released the chair of his other officer and took a shaky step towards the main view screen. "On main display."
       An initially dark image flashed onto the display screen, showing nothing special. That was, until motes of green light faded into existence, replacing the black of space with a hellish glow. Soon, five blue-purple ships had appeared one-thousand kilometers from the UNSC station.
       Eric Parson felt his legs begin to buckle. He was faced directly with death, and he didn't know what to do. The five ships apposing him were powering up.
       "Orders sir?" asked the calm voice of the Communications officer.
       Eric shook his head free of his terror, he knew his duty. "Start a message to Caucus Four, and initiate the Cole Protocol," he said, beads of nervous perspiration building up on his skin, before looking to his Engineering officer. "Lieutenant: prepare the reactor for a self-destruct sequence."
       The room grew still for a second, all eyes on the Commander. Then, as if an electric shock had struck every one of the Command Deck personnel, all the officers got to work. This was a grave situation, and they all knew that the fate of the main planet in the system was laid on their shoulders. It was their lives, or the lives of millions. None of them could look away from the comparison.
       On the display, the enemy ships' engines flared blue, pushing the masses closer. Lateral lines of red plasma started to form, and the first bits of alien electronic intrusion started its attempt at hacking the Human systems.

Halo: Stealth Combat Evolved: Part 3-Chapter 9
Date: 3 December 2004, 2:23 AM

Part 3: Red Tide And A Stormy Sea

Chapter 9: Breaking Tide At Night

0333 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
UNSC Destroyer Moscow, in Orbit of Caucus IV

Command Deck

       "What was it?" asked Ensign Gillian, swiveling in his chair to face his friend.
       "I don't know, Freddie," replied a concentrating Lieutenant McCallister. Gillian and her had gone to OCS together, and had shared many of the same classes. Six months of separation later, they got placed in the same crew. "Freddie," as McCallister called him, was mor excited over the development than she was. At any rate, she didn't want his normal pestering at the moment. "I have long-range contacts at the edge of the system. They seem to be . . . oh God!"
       Frederick Gillian's face went pale, instantly worried. He had been assigned to this post just a month previous; and was only twenty-one. "Don't scare me like that, Ali; what the hell-"
       "Bridge to Commander Brights," spoke the Navigation Officer, her solid stare focused on her screen.
       Heads turned around the command deck, exchanging glances and looking at the frazzled woman. It had only been a few weeks since this particular bridge crew had been assigned together, but they knew their Navigation Officer well enough. Her expression showed all that they needed to know: something was wrong. The woman's sharp blue eyes were surrounded by furrowing brows, one of her lips twitching in anxiety.
       "Will you just friggin' answer me, Ali-" continued the persistent Ensign, leaning forward in his chair; his face was one of frightened curiosity. Ali Jean McCallister didn't have time for his questions; she had her duty to perform.
       "I told you I was not to be disturbed, Lieutenant," came the ship commander's tired and annoyed voice over the shipboard COM. He had obviously been sleeping, just like he always did when he wasn't on the bridge.
       "Sir, I'm reading Covenant contacts at the edge of the system."
       At first the channel was silent, only the slight breathing of the man on the other end audible. The actual reply came several seconds later, breaking a dry silence on the bridge; the voice between fright and uncertainty. "Are you sure?"
       "Yessir," Ali responded urgently. "With all due respect, sir, you need to get to the Bridge now."
       In his quarters, Brights took a brief second to contemplate the situation. After ten seconds, he made his decisions. "I'll be there immediately-"
       Whatever else the Commander might have had to say was cut off by another rushed bit of speech from the Communications Officer, an Ensign. "Ma'am, I have a burst transmission from the Herold incoming."
       "Put it on my display-" began McCallister, brushing away a stray strand of cropped red hair, before her captain entered the scene. That was one "advantage" of being a ship's CO; your room was always close to the bridge.
       "My console, Mister Evans," he ordered, straightening his wrinkled uniform. His eyes lacked the spark of alertness that was usually at least half way there; his expression told everyone that he was not happy at the possibility of a real exercise.
       The Commander might have been tired, but he still read over the message quickly. Not here, not now, he thought, pushing the vain request to the top of his mind. As his eyes followed the words to the end, he received the negative response to his subconscious's rhetorical question. All the observant members of the crew couldn't have missed his body stiffen.
       The communique read:

United Nations Space Command Priority Transmission 09894H-97
Encryption Code:
Public Key: file/lightning-matrix-six/
From: Commander Eric Parson, Commanding Officer, UNSC Herold (UNSC Service Number: 01065-19251-EP)
To: All UNSC Personnel
Classification: RESTRICTED (BXG Directive)

      /start file/
      All UNSC Personnel,

       Five Covenant ships have been detected and visually confirmed on the edge of the Palestine system. Herold in immediate danger and commencing self destruct as per the Cole Protocol.
       Prepare for Covenant assault. Probable location Caucus IV.

      /end file/

       Christopher Brights froze where he stood, every muscle tensed beneath his pale skin. When he had heard the report from Lieutenant McCallister over his intercom, he had not believed it in full. He had been shocked, yes; but it had not seemed as real as it was at this moment. What now Chris?
       "I've got an explosion on the edge of the system, Commander," reported Lieutenant Jackson, the Weapons Station Officer. Her brown hair was cut short; only four centimeters, and wasn't often styled neatly. She also had a bad habit of addressing her superiors by their rank, which was more a problem of thinking she deserved the same amount - or more - of respect; and had been rebuked for the action more than once. Right now, however, this superior didn't have the time or desire to notice. "It was the Herold."
       "From these readings, it looks like it was a self-destruct, sir," added the Navigation Officer. She was alert and ready for an order; she always was. That woman was the one who set an example for the rest of the crew; but shouldn't the ship's own captain?
       There was no question that the Covenant was in the system and preparing to attack. They didn't just show up, destroy a station, and then leave. No, if they were here, they had plans, and were going to follow them as best as they could.
       The Palestine system was not a very substantial location in the UNSC territories. It was just outside the edge of the Inner Colonies, and had yet to have contacts with any enemy forces - until now. Many had thought that they had just been ignored, or had experienced a lucky break. The mining operation on Caucus IV was all that the system was worth; the titanium was part of what went to REACH.
       There were ten Human ships stationed around the system, keeping everything running smoothly in orbit, and watched over. None of them could have missed the explosion of the former space station.
       "Contacts?" questioned Brights, gritting his teeth, looking into the main display; it showed only stars.
       "Five moving in system from the explosion site. They seem to be - wait..." McCallister paused, consulting her readouts. Then her shoulders sunk, "I lost them. Must have made a jump in system."
       "Evans, get a message to Admiral Pearls," said the Commander, he had to think fast. A Slipspace jump within a star system would get the enemy to the Human defenses in mere minutes, probably less.
       "I'm receiving a message from the Pacific Gulf now, sir."
       The weathered face of fifty-three year-old Rear Admiral Keith Pearls sprung up into the main holotank, located directly next to the main display. "All ships, I have detected Covenant contacts on the edge of the system. Many of you may have as well. Our guess here is that they are currently in a 'jump. Your orders are to pull back and create a perimeter around Caucus IV. Engage enemy ships on sight. Admiral Pearls, out."
       Damn. Brights had wanted to announce it himself, and actually be someone for but a few minutes. Still, he had to do something; and following orders would be the best option on his list.
       "Ensign Gillian: get the reactors up to one-hundred percent. Lieutenant," he looked towards McCallister. "Bring us about on heading zero-eight-nine declination zero-one-zero. Lieutenant Jackson: charge the MAC guns and arm a nuke."
       A triple chorus of "Aye, sir"s were shouted out around the bridge. Within moments, status reports were being vocalized as well.

0340 hours (Standard Time), August 29, 2552 (Military Calendar)
Palestine System, Surface of Caucus IV, Conifer Mountain Military Complex

       "Go, go, go!" shouted a Sergeant above the blaring of alarm klaxons and warning announcements, waving his sleepy squad out of their barracks.
       "Enemy contacts in system. This is not a drill; repeat: this is not a drill," the hundreds of speakers blared at the startled and somewhat confused Marines. "All personnel to stand-by stations."
       Men and women were jolted from sleep and nightly activities. Every one of the current Fire Teams rushed through the linear armories and to the embarkation staging rooms. Back-up units followed; gearing up and double-timing it to the reserve unit chambers.

Command and Control Center

       "What's the status up there?" questioned Brigadier General Wesley Swots, setting his thick black mug down violently. Just minutes before, an emergency message had come through from the Herold orbital space station. Then, a minute after that, the land-bound Communications Officer had picked up a fleet-wide transmission. The nature of both messages had constituted bringing the Conifer Mountain Military Complex up to Defcon Two - high alert, stand-by - immediately.
       "Admiral Pearls on FLEETCOM for you, sir," reported Second Lieutenant Jacobson. Around them all, the center of operations for the military forces on Caucus IV was ablaze with activity.
       "Get Colonel Johnson up here," the base CO ordered.
       "Yes sir."
       "General Swots," he spoke into the powerful communications gear.
       "Good to hear your voice, Wesley," answered the Admiral. Swots and Pearls had been friends from college. They had both joined the Marines at the ages of twenty-two and -four, respectively. Wesley had stayed in the Corps and jumped for the opportunity to hit OCS. Keith had decided otherwise; transferring over to the Navy and working his way up from there. The two had kept in touch. Admiral Pearls had been responsible for the most recent reunitement, having requested to lead the fleet in his old friend's neighborhood.
       "I don't have time for that now, you Swab; I need to know what is happening in this system."
       The Admiral was almost taken aback. "Alright, calm down, Wes. We have five Covenant ships inbound towards the planet. That's the good news."
       "We don't know what type they are. We could be up a fleet of destroyers or a group of frigates."
       "When do you expect contact-"
       Swots heard the frantic announcement of "short-range contacts" from one of the bridge crew interrupt him on the other end. "We've got company up here. I'll keep you boys notified. Admiral Pearls, out."
       The General put down the phone. He knew all he really needed to. The Covenant was in system, and there was a possibility that an invasion could take place. "Lieutenant Jacobson: tell all outposts to prepare for possible attack. We need to get those civilians to shelters."
       "Yes sir."
       "Reporting as ordered, Sir!" announced Colonel Zachary Johnson from the room's entrance. The man was holding a clean salute, his matching woodland camouflage garbs and cap adorning his form.
       Swots returned it. He was wearing his black dress uniform as he always did; to remain presentable for those under his command. "At ease, son."
       "If I may ask; what the hell is going on?" asked the alert Marine, dropping his arm. He apparently wasn't fazed by a disturbance to his sleep cycle.
       "You may. Admiral Pearls says that we have a small Covenant fleet in system. They just exited Slipspace real close."
       "Five ships, Colonel."
       "Hot damn," somehow, Johnson managed to change his personality when duty arose. When he was off duty or relaxed, he was calm, kinda quiet, and quite polite. However, when emergency conditions came about, he turned serious and mouthy. The man broke the intervening silence, "What do you need me to do with my Marines, sir?"
       "We don't know if the Covenant will be able to land forces on the surface of this planet or not. God willing, and by the skill of our Navy friends, that won't happen and we'll be able to turn off the alarms and start cleaning up space debris. But, we have to assume that things won't go perfectly. I want your men ready to defend this planet."
       "Understood, sir."
       "Now move out, there's enough people in this room already."
       "Yes, sir." Johnson performed a crisp salute, which was returned in kind; then, turning on the heal of his combat boot, he strolled briskly out of the room.
       "Sir," called Lieutenant Jacobson, he was on the ball today.
       "Major Grossum reports that the evacuations are going smoothly."
       "Good," replied the General, finally taking up his cup of coffee. It wasn't hot anymore.

Armory C-4

       The four squads of soldiers filed smoothly into the rectangular room, a chorus of muted rubber-on-metal footsteps obscuring the many small conversations within the group. Armored heads bobbed in the well formed lines with each movement of the attached bodies, dully reflecting the overhead lights of the chamber. Grenadiers and Rifleman moved off to the side to the heavy weapon lockers, taking up their more powerful armaments and accompanying ammunition with practiced ease and efficiency.
       All the others moved down the grey sides of the two adjacent gun racks - holding rifles, sub machine guns, and shotguns - selecting their weapons. "Medium to long-range combat," everyone had been told by their squad COs during the clipped and shortened briefings. No one wanted to get up close and personal anyway. Everyone already had their standard sidearm, the M6C magnum pistol, in its holster, however.
       Being the front-line force, these men and women had to be the ones to confront the enemy on solid ground. Some of them had done it before and moved forward with a confident resolve; others did so wondering what things were really like in combat. Whether the vids and simulations were anything like reality. The worst part for them all was the lack of information and knowledge of the current situation. Only officers got the current news, and then the non-coms had to go out and fight. Everyone in this room wanted to know if - or when - the Covenant was coming to touch down.
       Either way, informed or not, all of these Marines knew they had a job to do. All that was left to find out was when they would finally have to go about doing it.

       Lance Campbell followed his four-man squad's Sergeant into the smooth but confining armory; one of many in the base. His two other teammates moved casually behind him, moving like it was just another day to "do crap," or go about their duty. They were right.
       Their squad wasn't just some other green group of soldiers; though, they were among the few that wore the golden comet insignia on their shoulders: "Helljumpers." They tended to go in first and come out last, doing all the hard work and special missions for the "pretty boys and girls". In fact, this squad of elite soldiers was to take point for the other Marines in their assigned platoon; to provide support.
       Well, they weren't going into the armory first today. All of the base's occupants had been alerted to the possible threat at the same time, so a single squad had beat Sergeant Durham through the entrance. It didn't really matter; however, as the four-some moved through the room as if no-one else was there, in the way. Grumble as they might, or even act as if they thought otherwise, the "normal" Marines respected, and, in a way, feared their highly-trained brethren; so the "bigger boys and girls" got treated with a sort of seniority. The quadruple-bodied team wearing the enhanced black battle armor waded through the area without hindrance, on the way to their desired weapons.
       Being only twenty, Lance wasn't a big rough and in-your-face type of guy the average recruit would think of when he heard the letters "ODST." No, Corporal Campbell might have been lean and fit, a wonderful specimen of a soldier, but he was basically just following in his family's footsteps. His father had been in the 'Shock Troopers when Lance Carlock Campbell had been born, and his grandfather had been in the Marines before him. He had grown up with stories of war and death; but it hadn't scared him. Those little tales were the kind that he heard before going to bed, and only served to excite him as a child along with the antique guns hanging in glass cases on the wall.
       So, it had been the only obvious choice to enlist straight into the Marines after his quick rise through school. This young-man had only been sixteen upon leaving for basic; having been bumped forward two levels for his grades and excellent academic status. It had also made him an excellent candidate for the Orbital Drop Shock Troopers.
       None of that, however, was in Lance's mind as his hands pulled a new weapon towards his muscular frame. The sound of palm-against-metal was only a fraction of the assorted clatter throughout the stretch of constantly moving soldiers. He had trained with the Battle Rifle a bit before - during its' testing phase and after its' release as a standard firearm - and now chose the weapon with pride and personal choice. He was just smiling with satisfaction and about to take a few more steps forward along the rack when a familiar body nudged him, slightly forcefully, from the side.
       "What yaw doin', Buck?" asked the other soldier, drowning out any semblance of decent speech with his "deep-south" accent.
       "Nothin' much," was the customary reply, coupled with a grin from the use of the Corporal's nickname. Ever since the pair had met, the country-boy had called his city-boy friend "Buck."
       The PFC grunted warmly in response, knowing his gesture had been taken in the right way.
       "So, McCall," addressed Corporal Campbell, raising his gun slightly. "What do you think about the new 'Rifle?
       Billy finished securing his single SMG and picked up one of the referred-to weapons before him, looking it over as if for the first time. "Man, my deer rifle back yonder done has a scope that be twice this size."
       A laugh from the Corporal. He had known William Alexander McCall since basic. About a year or so back, Lance had volunteered for the "Helljumpers;" his friend hadn't. "Sure, buddy," he replied, grabbing ten extra thirty-six round magazines and moving on closer towards the exit. The next weapon on his list was the M90 Shotgun; "no close-range combat" his ass. If he was taking point, he was gonna be prepared.
       Private First Class McCall, however, stayed for a second, gathering up his second weapon and a handful of magazines; before looking to his right at the young Marine that had just sidled up next to him. It looked as if the inexperienced young-man was in a daze.
       "Hey, Greenhorn; you awake, boy?" he asked, elbowing the Private where his ribs would be, had he not been wearing body armor.
       Joshua Reynolds jumped, jerking his newly acquired BR55 Rifle against his chest. His face was red and skin sweaty. His hands were trembling slightly, along with his knees.
       McCall pulled the small Marine out of the line of men and women by his chest armor, and off to the side between the two weapon lockers on that side of the room. He would have to give this one a talking to.
       "You a'ight, son?" the older of the two asked, making room for the passing members of the other squads behind him.
       "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine, really," Josh answered in his cracking voice, shrugging and attempting, rather weakly, to pull away from the man talking to him. He didn't even start to make eye contact.
       "You've never seen combat 'fore have ya?" asked McCall, keeping his grip on the piece of protective armor.
       A shake of the head that was already downcast, and a flutter of glazed-over eyes.
       "Well, look here; we all got worries, Greenhorn. But, sometimes, we done just gotta put 'em aside and do what we done gotta do. Ya understand, son?" Billy took the kid by his shoulders, giving him a small shake. "Well?"
       "Yeah. Sure. It's just . . . I don't know if I can do it."
       A small group of passers-by gave the pair on odd look. "Quit makin' love; move it!" said the highest ranking of the bunch.
       McCall ignored them. He had given such "pep talks" before.
       "Then why the hell did ya join the Marines?" he asked.
       No answer.
       "Look, just do what done feel natural to you'ins. Remember back to your training; this ain't no diff'rnt."
       "Yeah. I know. I will."
       "Good, boy. Now, go get your ammo and haul A to the rest of the squad."
       The Marine shook his head in understanding of the suggestion and pushed his way back to the rifle rack.
       McCall nodded with a smile, stroking his "handlebar" mustache. The kid might not be ready. He had been fun to mess with off and on duty after his recent arrival; but not now. This was the time that proved if you really had what it took to be a real, honest-to-God Marine. Fighting for an actual reason, having real bullets or plasma flying by your head, witnessing good men and women die in front of you; some just couldn't stand up to the pressure. Others found the man within them and experienced something that happened once in a lifetime; a thorough changing of their attitude towards life and their duty.
       Well, Billy thought, moving back into line himself, that boy'll find out soon 'nuff.