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Fan Fiction

Homeworlds by Mainevent

Date: 27 August 2003, 2:11 AM


Chapter One- The Covies Ain't Got Nothing On This

His mind was lost in the vast sea of space that lay sprawled endlessly before him. It was hard to imagine how anything harmful could exist in the tranquility. The panorama of planets, moons, suns, and an asteroid belt played endlessly on the viewing screen. He was thankful for the slight reprieve he was awarded, even if it was leading up to another battle.

In seventy-two hours he nor his crew may be alive. It was finally time, the UNSC brass had ordered a massive fleet on what would be the first, and maybe last, offensive of the war. They hoped to bait the covenant away from the real attack by sending highly encrypted messages to dummy ships. Hopefully, the covenant would intercept and decode the message, and that would be fewer enemies to face.

The real orders were delivered via stealthy prowlers that ran at high speeds. Captain Richard Capulet, known to his crew as Cap, was standing nervously in front of the large bay windows of the bridge. He was waiting at a designated point for his prowler. The UNSC Enigmatic was scheduled to arrive at 0410 hours today.

"Cap, we have an incoming message from UNSC vessel Enigmatic. Class III Prowler designation. Do you wish to accept"" Ensign Hugh Richards asked cautiously. His freckles and baby face concealed exactly how deadly he could be.

"What time is it ensign?" Capulet questioned.

"Sir, time is 0546 sir, the Enigmatic is one hour and thirty six minutes late sir."

"Scan her for any damage or plasma scarring."

"Scanning sir!"

A large hologram of the Enigmatic appeared above the holo-port. A multi-colored 2D square passed over the ship, and the scan was done. Three patches were red and glowing on the holographic model.

"Sir, scan shows three covered plasma marks in her left engine. Should I open fire on her sir?"

The captain strolled to his command chair and took a seat. He thought for a second and then answered.

"No, give them permission to land in bay F-15. And dispatch three Longsword Interceptors to escort her in." He told Richards Calmly.

"Caprice, send four combat teams to bay F-15 on the double, and have them hidden. If this is a trick I want our little friends to be sorry they ever tried it."

Kimberly Caprice nodded silently and typed the orders into her stations monitor.

"Combat teams Alpha through Delta report to Bay F-15 on the double. Stay out of sight. We have visitors." Was the computer animated voice that blared overhead.

"Give me another scan of that ship Richards. This time for explosives."

Hugh's face suddenly tightened as he realized what the captain was thinking. "Sir, yes sir!" The Enigmatic reappeared on the holo-port and another scan was initiated. The scan took less than fifteen seconds to finish, and came up negative. The command crew took a sigh, as well as the captain, although his was inside.

"Richards, you're in command while I go to greet our visitors. If anything, and I mean so much as a sneeze happens while I'm gone, I want to know." The captain turned quickly on his heel and stood at the large doors leading into and exiting the bridge. They squeaked as they opened before him, and he walked briskly from the room.

The bay was small compared to some of the ones on the ship, and that is what Sergeant Blackwell wanted. A close-quarters battle where his marines would be in charge if anything went wrong; and tonight, everything would go wrong.

The bay was two levels tall, roughly thirty meters wide, and about four-hundred meters long, with a large airlock at one end. On the other end were two large metallic doors from which all personnel entered and exited the bay from level one.

About midway through the bay on either side were stairs which granted access to the second floor. There were several large maintenance clasps overhead for repairing longswords. Throughout the bay were roughly fifty large boxes of machine parts and several loaded rocket tubes that hadn't been installed.

Blackwell ordered his men to place the boxes strategically. With four areas all blocking off the airlock. They were arranged in a rough semi-crescent pattern, usually with stacks of five or six on the bottom, and two or three placed evenly to give the men cover. The setup provided the marines with an excellent area to fire from while concealing themselves from fire.

"Johnson, get Alpha team up on level two, I want some overhead fire if things get messy. And have some grenades at the ready." Came the brutish orders through the headset. Johnson was in charge of combat team Alpha; one of four recently activated teams. They had no orders other than to move stealthily into bay F-15, and remain out of view, and so they did.

"I want teams Bravo and Charlie behind those crates at either end of the bay. Get me some snipers propped up between these boxes." Could be heard over the comm. channel. Sergeant Blackwell was a tough commander, but he sure the hell knew what he was doing. A veteran of ten ground encounters with the covenant, he knew how to handle the tricky aliens.

"I want four heat vision scanners on the hatch in case they decide to camouflage a couple of those elite bastards." He pointed to several areas in the cramped bay, and his men moved methodically to them. "Grenades at the ready, here she comes. From here on out radio silence."

He slipped from view behind a large crate containing an engine for a Longsword. The bay's airlock door slid slowly open; the small spacecraft hovering noisily inside. It scooted inside of the bay and three small legs extended from it's hull. The small feet clanging as metal touched metal. The hatch on the ship opened to reveal a human pilot.

"Thank god it's not the covenant. I was worried for a moment." Johnson whispered to a marine seated beside him. He glanced back around the crate at the pilot. Suddenly, his head erupted into a bluish-green splatter as the plasma bolt pulsed through him. His head-less body falling limply to the floor, and an elite growling victoriously behind him.

"Oh shit!" Johnson muttered looking towards his partner; who was vomiting on the floor. He grabbed his partner"s shoulder and tugged him hard; the go command in an ambush situation. All hell broke loose in the cramped compartment as three elites jumped into the open area.

Three 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds tore through their bodies instantly. One of their heads came rolling by a marine rushing to the door of the craft. He primed a frag grenade and rolled it inside.

He rushed to a nearby container and leaped over. Fire flared from the hatch of the ship and it lurched violently. The cockpit windows shattered and sent shrapnel throughout the room. Body parts from several grunts went flying as the impact hurled them through the air.

"This is Interceptor Tango Five, enemy dropships inbound. Four of the bastards to be exact. we're engaged at the moment. You guys are gonna have to handle it!"

The news hit the combat teams like a brick to the face. Four dropships with roughly 15 elites, jackals, grunts, and if they were especially unlucky, hunters, were about to land right on top of them. Blackwell thought silently to himself for several seconds.

"Our surprise is out the window, those bastards know we're here, so lets give them hell." He gave a loud, "hoorah", and the team did the same.

"Get me some rocketeers in here! I want all of you snipers reloaded and ready to fire as soon as those doors open. Call the Cap, tell him to activate the automated turrets on this area of the ship. If so much as one of them steps their living bodies on this floor you all owe me KP duty for a year. Got it""

"Sir, Yes Sir!" Came the resounding call from his marines. There was a quick rush as several snipers moved to the deck above for easier shots on the covenant as their doors opened. Marines quickly filled their vacancies, and everyone knew what was going on. The all-hands alarm began wailing three minutes before that. A squad of ten rocketeers, all fully loaded, rushed into the bay. They quickly moved into position. Everything was on plan. Blackwell had talked to Caligula, the ships onboard AI, only moments before. And the turrets were online.

"Sergeant, Captain Capulet is on his way to the bay now. He wants to see the visitors." Came Richard"s voice over the headset.

"Negative on that ensign, area is hostile and turning extreme. Get him to safety immediately."

"But sir, he is on his way. I can't reach him in time."

"Damnit man make an announcement."

"All of our communications are busy at the moment."

"Listen son, can you make an exception for once in your life and just tell him to report back to the bridge."

"Negative, Caligula has all control over the comm. channels, and they are all busy at the moment. Advise you send a team to intercept and secure him."

Sergeant Blackwell was furious. He was about to fight an enormous life-altering battle, and now, this. He motioned to a squatting private Johnson who scuttled from his position to the Sergeant.

"Son, you"re in charge until I return. I am leaving you in charge of this battle until I get back. There better be something to get back to or it will be your ass." He turned quickly, and without so much as a salute, left the room.

"Three banshees on your six Tango four. Do a loop and I can fly wing." Came the panicked voice of pilot Vince "Lucky devil" Wilson. Fifteen banshees against a group of five Longsword Interceptors. They sprang forth violently from an asteroid ring between two planets. The UNSC Suncoast"s 50mm high explosive incendiary(HEI) rounds tore through several of the small ships without problem. Suddenly, several Spectre heavy-attack fighters entered the fray.

These covenant space fighters were behemoths for fighters. Easily the size of three longswords, these ships packed enough punch to take out ten Longswords each; and their were only five to start with.

"Caligula, fire ten Argent VII missiles at each of those Specters immediately."

"Affirmative Captain, argent missile"s have been launched at your request."

"I love you Caligula!" He said enthusiastically.

"I know you do sir!" Came the AI"s response.

The argent VII missiles left small plumes of smoke in their wake as they streaked towards their respective targets. The missiles impacted the ships violently. One of the covenant ships erupted into a small thermonuclear explosion as it's power-plant overloaded. The second one"s engines sputtered before finally igniting and tearing the ship in half.

The third one, which managed to sustain only marginal damage hurriedly sped for the asteroid belt"s safety. Two longswords disengaged and chased after it.

"Tango three and one, get back in formation. That is probably a trap. I repeat do not enter the asteroid belt." Vince winched as he watched a plasma missile smash into the side of the longsword. It's extreme temperatures quickly eating through the armor, and explosive decompression happened immediately.

The pilot"s bodies shrunk and then exploded in under five seconds. Their blood boiling in space. Vince screamed into his headset, but it did no good. That wouldn't bring them back.

"Tango two and four, grab my wing. we're gonna save the Suncoast."

"Roger that sir, and let's fry a few of the bastards for Andy and Horseshoe okay commander""

"Roger that Cross, let's take "em out."

The three longswords swept violently from above like hawks on pigeons. Three banshees grouped in tight formation were easy prey for the Excalibur missiles they carried onboard. The missile lurched from it's tube and jetted through the pitch black space.

Vince watched as the small fire-red engine split into five separate pieces, and created a self-contained implosion in the vacuum. All three of the banshees screamed forth as their stubby wings seemingly grasped for something in space.

Johnson had changed the arrangement after Blackwell left. He figured the snipers would get one shot at most before the turrets on the dropships shredded them. He had several spare Longsword rocket tubes moved into place on top of the crates in the middle of the bay. He couldn't wait to see the faces of the covenant as they landed.

The snipers had been pulled down from the second floor and placed on either side of the bay behind the crates with a couple rifleman and an occasional shotgun carrying infantry for close range support. The rocketeers were moved to the second floor and told to hold position until the order was given. At which time they would leap forth and fire into the most heavily concentrated areas, or at high-priority targets.

Considered high-priority at the moment were the elites and hunters that the covenant may have packed into the massive vessels. The small packs of grunts and jackals were also nice targets, their close formations making for multiple kills in one shot.

The ships cruised slowly into the belly of the beast. The docking bay doors sliding eerily open, and the sight of empty boxes and equipment everywhere. They cautiously slid into the metallic encampment, and set slowly down. The large clasp-like doors of the dropship opened and everyone on board hopped out. Hoping to clear the room before the marines were able to firmly implant themselves; causing a real problem.

Everyone except Da "Akazeem, a special forces elite sent into the ship to plant explosives that hopefully would tear through the behemoth. He was a veteran of six wars, and ten battles against humans. He knew how wily they could be; not to be underestimated at any rate.

Either way, his job was to let the invasion party distract the marines onboard long enough for him to slip through the ship unnoticed. Three grunts exited the vehicles pod-like wings ready to scatter for cover. They moved to the small semi-circular perimeter that was to be made for cover until the dropships could leave.

In all, fifteen grunts, seven jackals, four elites, and three hunters had been dropped off; including "Akazeem who was still aboard the rear dropship. He peered around a small corner from the ship he was on. The grunts started waddling their way to the large double doors at the front of the bay.

Suddenly, bullets tore through all four of the elites with deadly accuracy. Three of them tore at the gaping holes now where their throats were. The sudden ferocity and surprise of the attack caught the covenant off guard. Two of the dropships tried to escape in a frenzied panic only to crash into each other and then crash helplessly on the floor below.

Two of the hunters survived the sniper"s round, but even their large shield couldn't stop the force of a rocket. The force of the round as well as the shrapnel cut hundreds of small holes in the brutish figures armor. He reeled backwards flailing his arms wildly. The massive metallic fist of the beast came with astounding force as he sent three jackals hurling fifty meters across the bay and crashing into several large crates.

"Akazeem was still astounded at how fierce of fighters these humans were. Although he learned quickly during his first encounter not to let his guard down. He had done it once and it nearly cost him his head, literally.

In the academies on his home world, they were taught that humans were weak, dumb, and had inferior weapons. The prophets also led in the propaganda, constantly dribbling their nonsense about how the gods willed the destruction of the humans. He had never been one for religion, especially the religion of the prophets.

The original team was reduced to half in a matter of seconds, and the battle wasn't over yet. The grunts were like magnets as hundreds of bullets riddled their fragile bodies every second. During the mayhem and chaos occurring all around them, a marine managed to slip a lone grenade between a group of the remaining four jackals; none of them survived. In only twenty seconds of combat ten grunts, two hunters, and all of the jackals and elites had been annihilated.

"Akazeem was plastered to the dropships interior with fear, his alien claws scratching helplessly at the metal walls of his crypt. Surely he would be caught, but maybe he could bargain with them. NO! That would be betrayal, and he knew better than betrayal. Another academy rule was to never betray the covenant. To leave your physical form for the prophet"s wild illusions was the highest accomplishment. But not to "Akazeem. He preferred his physical form, he liked his physical form, and he was staying in his physical form.

He thought it over quickly in his head, and the flying, flailing hunter that flew by surely didn"t help the process. He decided hurriedly that he would surrender. Suddenly, three grunts waddled past the ship before him, and each fell silently to the ground. A bullet squarely placed in their small foreheads. Their bluish-green blood oozing onto the Suncoast"s hull.

He would try a maneuver that he had seen human marines do before. Put his hands behind his skull, and walk slowly toward the aggressors. It was apparently a sign of weakness, as the covenant had no procedures for surrender, or even considered it. Maybe the prophets had been right after all; maybe the "humans" were weaker than he had thought, but one thing was evident, he was cornered by the bi-pedal primates.

"Hold your fire marines, Blue three, Blue one, move up to investigate that wreckage. Blue two and four, come with us to secure their weapons, and prepare the bodies for autopsy." Johnson ordered calmly, quite happy with his recent and stunning victory over the covenant.

The teams quietly moved from their cover behind the boxes; with the exception of the snipers. They merged into two teams, one headed for the downed dropships, and the other heading for the sputtering dropships that now lay abandoned. Suddenly, two alien arms leapt forth from one of the ships.

Between them was the loudly clacking mandibles of an elite. He appeared to be surrendering, but with the covenant you could never let your guard down.

"Hold your fire teams, give me a concentric circle around him, and get three men in there to secure him. I want double restraints, and a warthog class chain to hold him down. Intel says these mother"s are strong, and fast, so watch it.

Three men cautiously approached the beast. Who"s large body almost dwarfed the three marines by a foot and a half. They clasped the handcuffs extremely tight on his wrists, and then brought in a strong metal crate. They chained him inside with a strange assortment of criss-crosses and "knots"; and then welded the crate shut. A group of welders cut a small slit, large enough for a tube of food to be inserted and the creature to be observed.

"Request the Captain in Bay F-15 Caligula, on the double." Johnson requested pleadingly. He organized the crate in the center of the bay, with all of the bodies arranged in a neat line to the right of it. All of their weapons were lain above the respective owner"s body. And the dropships were being moved into a row as he spoke.

"The Captain is currently on his way to your Bay private, but he may be momentarily delayed. There was an...........unexpected visitor that just arrived."

The pause in the AI"s voice made Johnson extremely nervous. He couldn't be entirely sure if the presence was friend or foe, and from the sound of Caligula"s voice regulator, it was of high priority. An Intel spook perhaps, but here" and now"

Johnson aligned his men in two parallel rows along the walls, at attention. They held this rigid stance for nearly ten minutes before the Captain arrived in the bay. With him was a soldier dressed in fatigues and body armor. He carried an assault rifle in his hands, a shotgun slung over his back, and a pistol strapped to his leg. None of the marines in the bay had ever seen this marine before, and he was quite pail for someone who appeared to have such a high importance.

"Sir, is this our new solar powered weapons system?" Came the quip from a marine on the left, followed by laughter.

"Hell no Berelly, that is the new camouflaged version of the marines. The covenant can't see that spectrum of light." This brought more laughter from the marines.

"Johnson, how the hell are you supposed to run a squad if you won't even discipline them?" Came Sergeant Blackwell's intruding voice. "We have a visitor onboard, and you condone these actions. I am hereby resuming control of the squad Johnson............get back in line."

"Sir, yes sir. But it was a light-hearted joke sir. With all do respect, that marine has enough weapons and ammo on him to outgun one of us. Don"t you think the Intel guys should just leave the fighting to us""

Captain Capulet stepped forth and the entire bay went suddenly silent. He waited a moment and then glanced back toward the granite figure behind him. "This men, is Master Chief.....Franklin Roberts. He will be staying with us a while. So give him some respect!"

"Sir, yes sir!" Came the resounding whoop from all of the marines.

"He will be staying with us for a while, and I want him treated with the utmost respect, or you will regret it. Do I make myself clear?"

"Sir, yes sir!"

"Excuse me, Master Chief, but would you be kind enough to not kill any of my marines while here for your stay?"

"Yes Captain, but am I allowed to defend myself if attacked""

"Of course Master Chief; as long as you don't......intentionally..........kill them."

"Sir, we have enough casualties in this war as it is."

Cap nodded and then disappeared through the large double doors of the bay. Master Chief turned around and saw Sergeant Blackwell and his men forming a small circle around the covenant corpses.

He made his way over to the group, and heard several of the comment the marines were making.

"These grunts must be the weakest things I have ever seen."

"This elite has a box on his back, must be a suicide bomber."

"The hunter ain't deadly as long as you stay away from his shield and gun."

He thought back through all of his encounters with the covenant, and made a couple of corrective comments.

"Actually, the grunts are usually in vast numbers, far superior to any that we engage in a single battle. It isn't uncommon to find several thousand grunts in a suicidal frenzy rushing toward you. And the Elite Grunts are extremely dangerous. That "box" on the elites back is a camouflaging device, and would be used to slit your throats had not you been present when they arrived. The hunter is extremely deadly no matter where you are. And the worst place to end up in a battle with these creatures is behind them. Their enormous spikes can tear through body armor like paper."

All of the marines stared at him with wide eyes and several had disbelief on their faces. Partly because of his explanation, and partly from the gall that this unknown greenhorn had to try and correct them.

"Wait just a damn minute newbie. How the hell can you tell me, a veteran of three encounters with the covenant, what the hell these are for. I bet you haven't even seen a covenant up close before. I mean look at how pale you are, how much could you have fought if you have never gone outside?"

Master Chief wasn't a man of humor, but the irony of who he was talking to caught up with him. Unfortunately, he was under special orders to be silent during his stay, and to get silently to his destination. The last thing they UNSC needed was their star Marine dying onboard a cruiser before getting to his destination. He instead walked calmly from the bay and made his way to the bridge. Inside, the Captain was sitting hunched at his chair, dispatching orders to and fro. The well orchestrated command crew reminded John of a holo-vid titles "opera" he had seen playing during a previous mission.

He pondered his life, or the small bit he knew, and his mind wandered into the space breezing around him. Where was he from" Who were his parents" What would his life be like if he hadn"t been picked" A bounty of questions were running through his mind, and he wanted answers.

"Master Chief! Master Chief!" The captain wailed frantically.

John snapped back into the real world; only to find the tranquil view-screen now full of Covenant spacecraft. Four banshees screamed over the bridge, firing forcefully as they passed. In the distance were blue flashes he could only imagine to be plasma weapons of some sort.

"Launch all longswords immediately. I want all combat teams on full alert. Activate our automatic defenses. Send out this message, "Schip in leed, vereist onmiddellijke hulp van enig surveillancewagen verkrijgbare." I want that at regular intervals, 10 seconds." The captain sent out a distress in Dutch, which he was sure the covenant couldn't speak; hell, he could barely speak it himself.

The captains quick thinking and brash orders reminded him of Captain Keyes. The captain was a brilliant tactician, and demanded full respect from his crew. Something that was apparently evident in both men.

"Master Chief, I need you suited up and ready to go immediately. If the covenant do manage to...........", the captain glanced around and then whispered, "if those bastards get onboard, and take control of the ship. I'm going to have to get you out of here immediately."

Master Chief nodded understandingly and strode briskly from the double doors. In the usually complacent hallways adjoining the bridge were crew dashing about. He entered the armory, and began for the door at the rear.

"Well look who it is boys. The good ole Master Chief has come to save the day. We should be gracious enough to bow in his presence. The pansy isn't even getting a gun. Go hide little boy, run and hide. I guess the real marines will have to fight this battle." Lance Corporal Hendricks taunted viciously. A wry grin crept across John"s face, but he kept on his way.

The doors to the "Storage Facilities" were locked, and under armed guard. He approached the guards, who immediately moved to the side. The keypad to the room had been recently changed. It now not only required a 6 digit code, but fingerprint and voice analysis as well.

"Pillar, Halo, Cortana, One-One-Seven" He spoke clearly into the device. It acknowledged his voice, and the doors slid quietly open. He beckoned the two marines into the room with him. They hesitated momentarily then followed him into the darkness; the doors closed behind them. Inside were several metal boxes, and a bounty of wooden crates stacked neatly against the wall.

"So which one is it sir?" One of the marines queried.

John simply motioned to a crate at the far end of the room, and the marines walked casually to it. They both bent low and grasped it firmly. He chuckled silently to himself as the rather muscular men struggled to haul the box even a few centimeters.

"With all do respect sir, can we just open it here?"

The chief nodded, and approached the box. A rather inconspicuous carrier for such a prized piece of technology, but that is what the UNSC wanted. The wood crackled as the marines shattered it with two nearby hammers. They removed the top, or what was left of it, and were amazed by what they found.

Until then, they had been under strict orders to guard this room, and it's contents with the highest priority, but neither expected to find what they did. Inside the crate was the Chief"s shell. The extremely tough armor was made of a multi-layer alloy with a reflective coating that dispersed a limited number of the covenant energy weapons.

The marines spun around as they heard another crate fall to the deck and splinter into hundreds of pieces. They peered inside to find several more suits. One appeared to be made of interwoven crystal, a skin suit, and a suit that appeared to be filled with gel. They stared on as he removed his clothing, and began putting the suits pieces together rather uniformly.

"Could you help me put this on"" He motioned to the shell, and pulled the boots from the container. The two marines hauled the chest plate, and leg pieces from the box, and laid them neatly on the hull. In a matter of minutes he had assembled the suit; as well as homeostasis inside the suit. He heard a click and felt a small pain in his neck as his helmet was connected to his neural implant.

"This can't be good." Cortana mused to herself as she reacquainted to two in her unique manner. "So what is it this time, covenant, flood, insane constructs""

"Hello Cortana." He said in his peculiarly deep voice.

"Welcome back Chief!" She greeted him with her soothing voice, which he had become quite used to in the past. Cortana had turned from a useful construct into a...........friend. John couldn't really ponder a friend, but he knew that this must be what they were. This was one of the few people Master Chief, although being taught not too, had grown an emotional attachment too; even if she wasn't human.

"We have to go, now!" He told her in his calm yet forceful manner.

Homeworlds II
Date: 31 August 2003, 1:34 AM

Chapter Two- But I Was Just Getting Comfortable.

"Hey Lucky, get this bastard off my tail!"

"Roger Raven!"

The banshee sparked quickly, then imploded violently as the missile impacted the craft. Tango five swept through the debris of the vessel and back into the fray. Thirteen longswords were already engaging the covenant up ahead. He pushed the engines to full thrust and the ship pursed quickly forward. Two banshees converged on the rear of Delta Four, which was one of the longswords from the Delta Squad.

"The hell you say!" Vince muttered as he squeezed the trigger and laughed as one of the vehicles dovetailed violently into a nearby asteroid, and the other began leaking a semi-transparent fluid. Both were rendered combat ineffective, and so he moved on. In only a matter of seconds the ratio went from 3 on 1 to one on one. No matter how powerful the covenant cruisers were, their banshees were no match for the UNSC"s skilled pilots; which these days were becoming harder and harder to find.

The banshees began retreating, and Vince called off the attacks. Sounds of joy and exhilaration were echoing through the comm. channels. Suddenly, they got extremely quite.

"Sweet Jesus." One of the pilots chatted fearfully.

"What in the hell do we do about this Lucky?"

Vince's stomach dropped into his legs as he watched the covenant cruiser slowly come from behind the planet. Her bow lit up from stem to stern along her mid-rift. She was glowing an eerie purple and silently pulling herself through space like a sea creature.

"All teams return to the Suncoast." Came Caligula's voice through their headpieces.

"You heard the man, let's go." Vince pulled a sharp loop and sped toward the ship. The thirteen longswords under his command followed him obediently back to the ship. They docked quickly; the doors to the bay closing behind them.

"MAC guns to 100% Sir" Caprice said squeakily. The fear in her voice was evident, and the Captain could tell, but he would rather leave the crew's fears alone at the moment. He was very afraid at the moment as well. He had fought the covenant before, but never alone. His first experience against the covenant nearly ended in defeat. Two covenant cruisers and a carrier against four UNSC destroyers. His ship was the only one to survive, and she was severely damaged.

However, word of several stunning defeats had spread. Captain Jacob Keyes and the Pillar of Autumn managed to successfully take on three cruisers by herself, and another group at Sigma Octanus VIII. He studied the clips of the battles, and formed several published tactics, which proved extremely effective. His problem; the tactics he published had never been battle tested.

"Sir, we need to attack while she is out of range." Caprice Suggested.

"No, pull us behind these asteroids. Tell those fighter pilots that there going out in ten minutes. I want a HAVOK warhead attached to a missile. Then send them out."

"Aye, Aye Sir!"

The ship jerked suddenly as her engines created over one hundred million pounds of thrust. She moved quickly into place for such a large ship. Her figure hidden neatly behind one of the larger space rocks.

"Keep that MAC round hot and ready. How many do we have ready""

"We have two shots ready to go, Sir!"

"I am going to need both of them."

"Understood! Longswords departing now, may ask what there orders are""

"Tell them to take up positions behind the asteroids, and to not engage anyone unless absolutely necessary."

"Aye, Aye!"

"Caligula, you have point defense."

Caligula's voice came over the intercom, acknowledging the captain's instructions. The automated turrets hummed to life, and the captain watched as the ones directly in front of the bridge activated. They aimed at some invisible enemy before them. Ready and waiting to make one more covenant an orphan.

"The longswords are in position sir."

"Good, now move us along this asteroid belt, and in front of them."


"Damnit Caprice, do what I tell you. Or you will spend the rest of your tour in the brig."

"Yes sir."

The ship pulsed onward, following the asteroid belt in its elliptical pattern slowly into open space. The enemy ship became clearer, and that much more engaging. Her figure was imposing and her weapons were even deadlier; the captain knew he would only have one chance.

"Sir, they're firing on us!"

He watched several blue pulses leave the cruiser, and streak straight for the Suncoast.

"That's right you sons of bitches. Follow me to hell!"

The pulses bit through the still space and tore after the Suncoast. They slammed fiercely into the asteroids protecting the cruiser. The pieces of rock, ice, and metal exploding into millions of shards.

"Give me a trajectory!"

"Firing solution in twenty seconds!"

The captain went quickly to typing into the small computer situated on the armrest of his command chair. He sent the message to an unknown source, and then smiled to himself. He gleamed at the ship before him, and then stood up, folding his arms behinds his back and interlocking his fingers.

"Firing solution ready."

"Fire at will!"

The ship shuddered violently as the first heavy round sped eagerly to its prey. It lurched again as the second round left the ship. The first red blob impacted the covenant cruiser; followed by a shimmer as the shield pulsed into action. It fluttered for a moment then disappeared.

"Shield is still intact sir! Should I ready the MAC rounds?"

"No, there won't be need."

Everyone on the bridge spun to face the captain, and he paid them no attention. The second round impacted the ship, and the shield popped momentarily purple, then blue. It faded altogether and the ship paused.

"She is getting ready to fire sir!"

"Move us away now!"

The ship's port thrusters fired, moving the ship slowly out of the weapon's way. The covenant ship fired at the UNSC vessel, but her plasma once again impacted the asteroids.

"Sir, we can only hide so long."

"I know Caprice, I know."

"Well, we need to do something about it."

"Something IS being done about it!"

"What sir? Those rounds did nothing to her."

"Caprice, shut up. Just watch the screen!"

Caprice glanced at the screen momentarily.

"This is Tango Five, we have lain the egg. It will hatch in ten seconds."

"Just in time Caprice, watch the fireworks."

A small countdown timer came up in the corner of the view screen.

10.....9....8...5...4..3..2..1...The flash was so bright all of the cameras attached to the Suncoast erupted into static. The covenant vessel wavered heavily and began listing to the left. Her metallic hull rippled once and glowed bright blue. Then another flash, this time her core, created a massive explosion which decimated the ship.

"Sir, all longswords have returned."

"Good, get us the hell out of here! Push engines to 150%"

"Yes, Sir!" Ensign Robinson responded.

The Suncoast throbbed to life, and moved forward.

"Sir, the shockwave will destroy the Suncoast."

"Turn us around now!" Cap ordered. The Suncoast spun slowly, too slowly.

"Caligula, random jump vector now!"

"Calculating, 5 seconds."

"We don't have 5 seconds!"



The space around the ship sizzled and popped, and the crew could feel the enormous G-forces which came into play. They could feel their bodies tugging at the floor, and could barely sit up. A bright flash encompassed them all.

In a matter of seconds they had traversed billions of miles of space. The ship exited Shaw-Fukijawa slip-space, and immediately began running dark; per naval code Border-45AJ65. Her longsword fighters departed the ship silently, like ants fleeing for a carcass.

"How are we doing Richards?"

"Ship at one-hundred percent sir. It's amazing! Your tactics were brilliant."

"Get me the nearest UNSC in range!"

"Sir, yes sir!"

His helmet smelled fresh, and pure, unlike the air inside of the Suncoast. He had been inside of his filtered suit so long, that he was accustomed to the pureness of the air. Inside of his armor, he was invincible. The air around him seemed to bow down, grateful to have him in it's presence, and truth be told, he enjoyed it as well. He had stopped by the armory, which had subsided in activity, and picked up some grenades, a pistol, and an assault rifle. The layout of this ship was different from others of the designation. At least by Cortana's schematics. He approached a small sealed door at the side of the room; Cortana opened it instantly. It led to a tiny one-way hall heading to the rear of the ship.

"You know, my statistics subroutines have been trying to calculate how many times you should have died since we have been together."

"Should I be flattered?"

"Well, if it's any comfort, my data comes up inconclusive. By all accounts, you should have died over 476 times by now. This conversation shouldn't be taking place."

"Thanks.....I guess."

He came to a crossing. The signs on the wall all led to somewhere he probably shouldn't be going. A blue arrow pointing to the left was painted on the wall, the words "Shaw-Fukijawa Reactors" written in white. A red square with an explosion adorned the door nestled down the hall before him. A green arrow pointing right had the words "R&D" written on it. Research and Development on a ship of this designation was abnormal, and appealed to his curiosity. Cortana, meanwhile, had an even larger curiosity, seemingly unwritten into her programming.

"We should probably go to the right, that is what my schematics show to be the quickest possible way to the bridge."

"Sure!" he thought to himself, and turned casually down the hall. He had learned from years of training and service to always be prepared to fight. ALWAYS! He jammed a new clip into his assault rifle, and cocked it. He slung the rifle and checked to make sure his pistol was fully loaded; it was. Between him and the door were four obstacles, two of them automated, and the other two holding shotguns.

He could tell that neither would let him simply approach. "This area has been deemed off limits per Captain's order Codec-35A25. You are instructed to depart this area immediately, or you will be summarily executed." The orders sent chills up his spine. He watched the 50mm heavy machine guns auto-target his body, and at such close range, not even his enhanced reflexes and body armor could save him.
The two marines on-station knelt down and instinctively raised their shotguns to his chest.

"Cortana, what should we do""

"Hold on chief."

The voice returned once more.

"You have ten seconds to evacuate this area."


"Hold on chief!"

"Nine, Eight, Seven, Six.."


"Please chief!"

"Five, four, three, two, on...line"

The guns moved away from his body and rotated to face two very surprised marines. Cortana's feminine voice echoed throughout the hallway. Master Chief's heart-rate lowered by twenty beats a minute.

"You are hereby ordered to drop your weapons, and any other materials that you may have, and leave this area immediately."

The shocked marines slowly disarmed, and put several strange objects on the floor beside their weapons. Master Chief approached the marines with a demeanor that made them nearly wet their pants. One of the soldiers broke down and began running down the corridor screaming. The other put his hands behind his helmet and quickly walked away.

"No need for thanks Chief, it's all in a day's work." Came the curt answer to the complement he hadn't even given.

"Thanks Cortana."

"Your welcomed."

He approached the weapons cache and took a knee. He checked the shotguns; in working order, and fully loaded. Next to them were several viles, all filled with a green gelatinous goop. Several small keycards were also present, and he quickly pocketed the viles and keycards, and slung the shotguns. Shimmering metallic doorplates glared off the Chief"s visor as he stared at the small black box which was the lock. He examined the small plastic card in his hand, and it took all of the concentration he could muster to keep from breaking the brittle card. His exoskeleton could, if left unchecked, create a force strong enough to bend a half inch of Titanium-A battle plating with ease; in his hand, a three by five inch plastic keycard.

He slipped it quickly through the designated slot, but to his frustration it didn't unlock the door. He tried it several more times, but it still refused to open the doors. He tossed it to the floor, and decided to take....liberal measures....to open the door. It was time to use his suit for it's true purpose. Something it hadn't been used for in over three weeks, and he was getting antsy to say the least. Not only did he feel a strange, unknown inferiority deep within, but he missed Cortana.

An inferiority complex was the last thing he needed however. The unchallenged, and certainly single most powerful soldier the universe had ever known, with an inferiority complex. Cortana would have a field day mulling that bit of information over, and would most certainly be filed to her memory.

Bones cracked as he balled his fist. He pulled it back, a feat which would for a normal human probably break their back and shoulder blade simultaneously. The keypad fizzled and popped as the lock was rendered inactive. He wrapped his fingers around the locking mechanism nestled behind it, and ripped it forcefully from it's resting place.

"Give me a moment to access the ship"s systems to open the door." Cortana joked, and even made a strange laughing noise to herself.

"You feeling okay?" He retorted.

"Why, I'm fine. What would make you say that?" Her voice suddenly much sharper.

"Never mind," he answered.

"Some things are just too complicated for a replicated Artificial Intelligence to comprehend." He thought to himself. He un-slung one of the shotguns, and took a knee as the doors opened. It was dark inside, and a since of foreboding ran through his normally steel nerved body. The flashlight made a loud snap as he activated it. The small bubble of light that penetrated the darkness was miniscule compared to the pitch black inside. He made a quick sweep of the immediate area; nothing. Suddenly, the room became awash in black light. His shields shimmered spectacularly in the aura created.

"Welcome Reclaimer!" The voice was like a gunshot to his brain. In an instant a waterfall of images from Halo rushed through his mind. Sentinels, flood, covenant, Keyes....they were locked deep down, and this was the key. He faced the speaker, and to his surprise found only a large metal container. Large metallic tubes and computers adorned the chamber from stem to stern, and there was a strange green shine coming from a small porthole looking into the chamber.

"Well, should we look?" Cortana queried; herself seemingly as nervous.

"Yes." John nodded, more to himself than anyone. Inside, was the small spherical silhouette of none other than 343 Guilty Spark. The monitor of Halo: Installation 04, as he was for over 100,000 years. He couldn't believe his eyes, and wanted to shake it off.

"I require the index reclaimer!" The blatantly artificial voice squeaked emotionlessly.

"Not again!" Cortana mused to herself.

"This is a secured area! You are not authorized to be here. Please leave this room, or appropriate measures will be taken." Came the deep voice of Captain Capulet himself. Master Chief slowly turned to face the captain, who had an entire entourage of Helljumpers; all of whom were aiming shotguns at him. He knew he could take them, but the prospect of fighting an entire ship on the other hand was daunting, and he really didn't want a fight right now.

"We were just leaving Captain." He responded, and strode slowly from the room, taking one last glimpse at the container. Once out of the R&D labs he entered the armory. Where ten more ODSTs had been stationed. All of them were wide-eyed as he entered the room.

"It's him!" One exclaimed.

Lance Corporal Hendricks stood and raised his assault rifle, but Master Chief had already moved behind him by the time he noticed. He took the Corporal's weapon, and bent it with ease.

"Shoot him! Shoot him! What are y'all waiting fo?" Shoot the bastard!" Hendricks yelled violently; flailing his arms back and forth. The other ODSTs began slowly putting their weapons to the ground, and Hendricks turned to face the Chief. He had two shotguns aimed into the small clusters of Marines, and at such a close proximity, would certainly kill them.

"I'm not here to fight." He exerted as nicely as he could in the situation.

"Well you sure the hell fooled us." Jenkins said coldly as he and another five marines entered the armory, and took aim. "We know your not here to fight, so put your weapons down, and we can straighten this out."

"You should do it." Cortana advised.

He lowered the weapons to his die, but kept his fingers on the trigger...just in case.

"So, it's true. There is a Spartan on board. I didn't believe it at first; I had heard all of the Spartans died on Reach. And then there were the stories afterwards, of one being rescued. From what they call a Halo or something. That's what that little ball in there calls it."

"His name is Guilty Spark," Cortana corrected, "and he isn't to be trusted. His protocol is most likely to slit your throats in some way or another."

"Why the hell are we talking to a big robot warrior"" Hendricks questioned.

"What the hell are you talking about Hendricks?" Jenkins asked, quite perturbed by the idiocy of the question.

"The Spartan, he's just a damn robot. And a female one at that!" He sputtered on and on, but no one paid him any attention.

"You obviously have no idea what the hell your talking about! So shut up." Jenkins ordered.

"But.....come on......! You're gonna let this damn mixed up robot experiment take over our jobs. I ain't one to just sit around and let a messed up thing like that take my spot."

"Hendricks, stow it, or I will put you in the brig."

"Yes, sir." He muttered to himself and moved to the far side of the armory.

"So what are you here for, and when did you arrive?" Jenkins asked seemingly interested.

"I'm not at liberty to say." John responded frankly.

"Didn't see that coming." He said with sarcasm.

"This is the fourth time in two days we have come under attack. What the hell is so important about us?" Vince asked the other longsword pilots as they conversed in the ship's lounge.

"I dunno, but whatever it is, it is important." Devilfish answered.

"Maybe it's in our cargo."

"Doubtful, I was talking to Joey down in loading, and he would have told me if there was anything strange going on."

"So there has been nothing new that may have triggered it?"

"If there was, he doesn't know about it. But! He did say something about a shipment of Titanium-A plates, but they weren't as heavy as normal, and he said that the scanners couldn't pick up the contents. Also, it was labeled by the brass as Priority materials."

"Why would they label Titanium-A plates as Priority?"

"Exactly, and why couldn't the scanners pick them up?" Devilfish leaned closer to Vince, "Listen man, if I'm gonna die because of some dick in brass, I'm gonna know why. let's find out what is in that box."

"That would be treason, and treason carries execution."

"Vince, do you honestly think, that they would execute two of their star pilots during this war. NO! They need every man they can get their hands on; especially pilots."

"I don't know man...."

"Come on Vince, I know you want to know!"

"Alright! Alright, I'll do it."

"Yes! Tonight, at 1100, you and me. Meet me in Cargo Bay A."

Homeworlds III
Date: 1 September 2003, 4:28 AM

Chapter Three- PANIC!

"Damnit Marines, get some led out!" Blackwell called, his hand motioning a team of Marines into a nearby room.

"Sarge, what the hell happened?" A panicked marine fearfully inquired.

"Nothing if I kill you first. Now get up to deck nine, they need help now."

"Yes sir!" He jolted down the hall to a small freight elevator. It disappeared into the ceiling, but quickly plummeted to the bottom of the ship. The floor shuddered beneath him as he quickly made a cross across his chest with his fingers.

"Sergeant Blackwell, have all of the marines on this level get to other levels. I'll take care of everything here." The armor-clad Spartan said calmly, and his unwavering gestures somehow calmed the Sergeant.

"But those bastards are crawling all over this place, there's no way you can take them all."

The spartan only stared at the Sergeant, and Blackwell realized there was no hope in changing his mind.

"Alright, but you better not go and get yourself killed." He ran off to the shell of what used to be a freight elevator, and couldn't bare looking down. Glancing around, he quickly spotted a maintenance ladder leading to the deck above.

"All marines to Decks 9, 10, 13, and 15! On the double!" Came the Captain's voice over the ships intercom. He sounded worn out, and Blackwell was moving as fast as he could. Sounds of automatic weapons fire coming from above, and most importantly below.

The hatch popped as the door was unlocked and sprung open. He took a quick glance around the bay. Three marines were fighting desperately in a far corner, and their was a small group of soldiers pinned down by a shade placed squarely in the middle of the room.

He pulled himself up the ladder and rolled onto the floor, pulling his Assault Rifle to his chest as he did. He emptied several small bursts into the grunt occupying the shade. He flailed wildly before his methane erupted into a small bluish-green fireball that encompassed his body. Blackwell tore the corpse from the machine, and hopped into position; his first job was the group of three elites harassing the platoon in the middle.

They spun around to meet their demise as hundreds of bolts cratered their bodies with highly charged plasma. The four jackals fighting in the corner of the room put up no fight as the freed marines quietly snuck up behind them, and slit their throats. The small group of fighters converged in the center of the bay.

"Sir, Corporal Alvarez reporting. We have a serious problem! When they attacked, their first wave was entirely cloaked, and they got into the barracks."

"Damnit! How many are left?"

"We have roughly four-hundred men fighting, but they are coming in force. I haven't seen them this desperate before."

Blackwell knew the answer, but there was nothing he could do at the moment but fight. He split the eight man group in half, and organized a plan. Alvarez was going to get to deck nine, and tighten up the forces frantically holding out there. Black well and his group were going to go back for the Master Chief. He knew he was ordered not to, but he didn't give a damn.

They approached the later and slid down one by one. Blackwell's armor made a slow clank as he hit the deck and rolled backwards. He sighted his rifle, and covered the ladder. The other three marines proceeded likewise down the ladder. The hall was abnormally quiet, and that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

"Two man teams, Rogers and Vasquez, and Stewart is with me." Blackwell ordered, and they moved to opposite sides of the hall. They moved in unison, providing cover fire when crossing a door or other obtrusion.

The hall seemed endless as they slowly hugged the wall leading into Cargo Bay A. Blackwell snapped his flashlight on and swept the room; it was too dark to tell anything, and the enormous quantity of crates and boxes only made it more confusing. A hunter could be hiding two feet in front of him, and he wouldn't be able to tell.

Vasquez quickly forded the passageway and took cover behind a large metal container at the bay's entrance. He jerked his head twice, the signal for entrance. Blackwell and Stewart took positions behind crates at either side of the door. Rogers covered the flank and was knelt in the door.

"It's too dark in here Sarge, we'll never be able to find him." Vasquez said pleadingly.

"Flashlights now!" Blackwell barked as two shadows danced across the periphery. "Stop where you are. UNSC Sergeant Blackwell. Put your claws above your head and step into the light, or we will be forced to fire."

The shadows were motionless for a moment, then slowly moved into the light. The figures slowly formed into recognizable humans as they entered the light's beam. The Sergeant knew both of the men, they were two of the most decorated pilot's in the UNSC's ranks. Vince Wilson, known as "Lucky", and Patrick "Devilfish" Darwin had over fifty recognized kills in battle, and that was astounding.

"Don't shoot, its just two lonely old ladies." Devilfish joked.

"This is serious son, all hell is breaking loose up there and your asses are slinking around in the dark. Why aren't ya'll in your fighters?"

"What? What's going on? We were trying to find a crate of liquor and we didn't hear anything."

"You two must be deaf, because it's the damn apocalypse up there."

"We'll get to our fighters as soon as we can." Vince started to head for the door but Blackwell stopped him in his tracks. "It's too late for that, you're to important to go and get yourself killed by some damn grunt. Ya'll are coming with us now!" Vince nodded in agreement, and the two pilots were handed M6D pistols.

The group zigzagged through the labyrinth of materials, and found the opposite side of the bay. It had been forced open by someone, or something, with incredible strength. Blackwell was pleasantly surprised to find the corpses of two grunts lying face-down on the ground. The back of their heads dented in due to some sort of blunt force trauma.

"It shouldn't be too far now!" Devilfish said sarcastically.

"Stow it marine.....this wasn't caused by our man. No, there are boot prints of some-sort in their heads."

"Gentle Jesus! A hunter!" Vasquez realized to his horror. He had read in a manual somewhere that hunter's, being on the high-end of the covenant caste system, didn't care for any of the weaker creatures that served under them, and had even been known to occasionally walk "through" a hapless grunt or jackal in it's way.

"Great! A hunter, a hunter. What next, invisible elites." Stewart muttered, the fear in his voice making it an annoying tone.

"Don't move!" Came the throaty voice of some unseen source.

Blackwell froze as he noticed the slight distortion in the air slowly stalking him.

"Great damn joke Stewart." Vince thought to himself.

Rogers slowly raised his rifle to face the invisible marauder and pulled the trigger. Bullets peppered the air and the body of a light-blue armored elite jerked violently as they penetrated the metallic carapace. A bloody roar came from Rogers left, and a plasma sword sparked to life. Vasquez jerked Rogers back in time for the sword to miss, and another invisible elite hit the floor, headless. His blue gore spewing onto his armor. The rampant elite raised his sword above his head, and readied for the attack.

"Fire!!" Blackwell commanded as the group showered the bastard in a led. His entrails rolled from his body as the shredder rounds tore the alien body viciously apart. He clutched his midsection and doubled over, the plasma sword hissing as it sparked and defused. Blackwell heard a loud clank and spun around to find two more elites, plasma swords raised, ready to attack. He closed his eyes and began to pray to himself, but soon heard the double smack of bodies hitting the floor, followed by the heavy clank of someone's boots. He followed the ridges and grooves of the Spartan's armor up to his helmet. He had not only killed two elites, but managed to catch both of their plasma swords.

"Hold these." He commanded as two of the marines took a hold of each of the arms. The Master Chief placed his left hand on the chest of the fallen elite, and then with an enormously powerful tug, ripped the arm from the elite. Bone, blood, and meaty flesh all combined to make a truly disgusting sound as the body was torn apart. He did likewise to the other elite's corpse. He pried the fingers from their death grip around the handle of the weapon.

He doled the Assault Rifle and Shotgun he had tightly strapped to his back out to the pilots, himself taking both of the swords. Blackwell was amazed at the Spartan"s strength, determination, and overall fierceness.

"Chief, motion tracker shows covenant in the next room. Size suggests something large, a hunter perhaps." Cortana informed the chief once more with an update on the situation. Her eyes and ears practically removed the fog of war that most soldiers suffered from. He silently detracted the plasma swords, and, hugging the wall, moved to the next opening. He slowly took a peek around the corner, to find six elites, and a strange new enemy conversing inside; their alien tongue he couldn't decipher.

"Accessing all covenant speech databases....one moment."

The six marines all checked their weapons and ammo behind him.

"Hey MC, we got your back man. You just tell us what to do." Vasquez whispered. John only nodded in response.

"So, how about this. Two of us throw grenades in. Then three of us go in on the left, and three of us go in on the right," Rogers went on rambling with his plan, "then the Master Chief comes in with his swords and sliced them to pieces. How about that plan""

The chief meanwhile took notice of a split-second of unguarded time and rushed into the room. He activated the plasma swords and dashed into their midst. Two dead in under five seconds as he bisected the creatures. The other four were momentarily stunned, and a moment the chief used to his advantage. He jammed the swords through the heads of another two elites, and pulled himself up to kick another one in the head. The elite's neck snapped violently and he became grotesquely contorted on the floor.

The marines stormed the room, and set up a defensive ring around the Master Chief and the covenant. Only one elite and a brutish covenant remained, but they were more than enough to take out several of the marines. The chief removed the swords from the elites corpses and held them at his sides.

"Chief, be careful, that covenant is not registered in the database. I don't know what it is, or what it's weak spot is." Cortana advised as the chief eyed the two figures. Chief Mendez and Déjà had been extremely effective instructors, and always emphasized knowing your enemy.

"No matter how many enemies you have fought, there will always be another who uses different tactic, and that tactic will one-day kill you. Always size up your enemy, and never underestimate them. It will be the last mistake you ever make." The chief thought back on a lecture CPO Mendez had given him during his training.

The larger creature was apparently having a hard-time understanding the situation. As if, the appearance of an enemy such as the master chief slowed it's thought process to a crawl. The elite, however, was not to be deterred. He made a quick lunge at the chief, but do to his "upgrades" he was able to dodge him. Unfortunately, Private Stewart was not as lucky. The elite's body made a dull thud as he pinched the writhing human between him and the wall.

"Stewart is dying chief, get that elite off of him." Cortana screamed into his ear. The chief made a large step toward the elite, and grasped him firmly. He used all of his strength and the suit's to launch the elite across the room and into several control panels. The panels burst into a sparking festival and then caught fire; warning lights began flickering inside the small room.

The marines shelled the elite with over four-hundred shredder rounds, and twenty five high-impact eight-gauge three-point-five inch shotgun rounds before turning to the other creature. It glanced back and forth between the marines and the elite several times, and then with an earsplitting roar, charged toward the marines. The chief sped toward a nearby wall, and leapt onto it. He kicked off of it with one foot and spin-kicked the creature in the head. He inserted one of the plasma swords diagonally into the chest of the ape-beast and with a quick spin as he hit the deck, cut it's cranium cleanly from it's neck. He instantly retrieved the weapons from the animal as it squirmed on the floor.

"Cortana, requesting a medic immediately. Waste-works four, deck 7!" Cortana pleaded through the communications channels for Stewart's life. He had sustained five broken ribs, a fractured vertebrate, and countless ruptured internal organs from Blackwell's optimistic estimates.

John, however, was mulling over the body of the unknown creature. It was larger than the elite in height, but much thinner than a hunter. It was muscular, and resembled largely an evolved ape. Master Chief was introduced to apes in Déjà's class, and knew their hunting tactics well. It had lost much of the hair that it's predecessors had, but still retained the general shape of the animal.

The other marines joined the chief around the corpse, and several nudged it with their weapons. It's arm made a sudden twitch and Roger's emptied an entire clip into it.

"Smooth Roger"s, really smooth man. Now how the hell are they supposed to study it?"

"Fuck you man, it didn't try to kill your ass."

"Kill me, it's dead dude."

"Yea, well, when it rips you apart, we'll see who's talking."

Blackwell took a small extinguisher to the fire roasting the elite to their left, it's burning flesh choked his lungs and made him gag. He covered his mouth with his sleeve as he worked to put out the blaze. Wafting the fumes as he walked away from the scene helped, but didn't get that smell off of his uniform.

"Medics are on their way, we should get moving." Master Chief said as he erected him self. He towered a full foot above Blackwell, and his armor only helped make him look more severe. He followed the chief through the door, and to the right. Down the hall were two options, the Diagnostics center, and the Hydroponics room. Hydroponics made 90% of the food onboard the Suncoast, and was an extremely efficient source of it at that.

"Two teams now!" Blackwell's gruff voice broke the air. Rogers, Vasquez, and Wilson, your team Alpha. Devilfish, Chief, and I will be team Bravo. we're going to be in Diagnostics, you guys check out Hydroponics." Blackwell instructed. "Well marines, what are you waiting for, a signed invitation from my boot, get your asses in there."

"Yes, Sir!" Came the response as the three marines rushed down the hall.

"After you Chief." Devilfish bowed and swept his hand into the room. He kept a wry grin on his face as he entered the large room. It was bristling with control panels, computer screens, levers, buttons, and monitors. All came together to create an eerie space feel in the room"s dark atmosphere.

Blackwell slung his rifle, and admired the wealth of computer banks and databases stored in the room. Human history, colonies, songs, weapons databases, tactical databases, marine logs, ship's e-mails; all stored here. The wealth of knowledge at his fingertips was more than enough for the covenant to find everyone of Earth"s counterparts.

Billions of people would die if this fell into covenant hands, and he for one, was not willing to let that happen without one hell of a fight. He un-slung his weapon, and a look of sheer ferocity overwhelmed him. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, and the adrenaline rush was amazing. It was pulsing through his veins, and the endorphin rush made him a walking Molotov cocktail. Extremely dangerous, and very hostile, this marine was not one to piss off.

"Let's go marines, there is more to do here than stare at the pretty lights." Blackwell sounded different as he stormed from the room with his weapon at the ready. The others were just leaving hydroponics as he walked by.

"This ain't an ice cream social ladies, get your asses out here." He barked.

"What's his problem?" Lucky asked Devilfish with only a shrug for a response.

"He just went off into space for a second, got real strict, and stormed from diagnostics."

The group found an elevator at the far end of the hall, and Blackwell pushed nine on the panel. Deck nine was the site of the heaviest fighting on the ship, and Blackwell knew it. He felt sorry for the covenant, because he knew there was no way they would stop him from repelling them from his ship.

They stepped off of the elevator onto a bloodbath of green, blue, orange, and red blood. Hunters, elites, grunts, jackals, marines, and bodies too torn up to recognize all strewn about the fighter bay they came up in.

"Gentle Jesus." Vasquez moaned as he took a knee, heaving heavily from the smell of the gore and stench of rotting meat was so putrid he had a hard time breathing.

"Suck it up Vasquez, there dead, but we're not. let's go save some marines shall we." Rogers tried to act tough as he gave the inspirational speech, but he couldn't hold it. Blackwell and the chief were already heading down the corridors searching for victims, or firefights. They found it in the Rec. Room. Seven marines were holding up against ten elites. Thanks to a shotgun and some very helpful grenades, they were still alive.

The chief and Blackwell slipped two fragmentation grenades into the room. The astonished elites made a load roar as they erupted into columns of fire and shrapnel. Six bodies streaked across the room, and three of the survivors shields were fully depleted. The cornered fighters resorted to suicide attempts, and two pulled out plasma grenades. One raised it above his head ready to fire, and was met with four high-explosive rounds to the temple.

The active plasma grenade rolled from his spiky fingertips and landed on the chest of another elite. A look of fear and surprise ran through his icy eye-slits. Blue-green blood sprayed the walls and took out the other two elites. Bewildered marines slowly came from their sanctuary behind an armored table, and saluted the master chief. He gave a quick salute and then left the doorway. Blackwell followed closely behind him, and put his pistol back into it's holster.

"Follow us Corporal McNamara!" Vince said half demanding and half asking. He knew they had been through a lot, and didn't want burnt out marines in a fight. Burnt out marines are worse than the enemy, because they freeze up, and that gets men killed.

"Invaders have been repelled. Excellent work men. Sergeant Blackwell, Master Chief Petty Officer 117, Vince Wilson, Patrick Darwin, ODST Ronald Jenkins, ODST Franklin Johnson, Lance Corporal Bart Hendricks, ODST Cameron White, ODST Cliff Adams, ODST Samuel Rogers, ODST Matthew Lucedale, and Active Study Jane Dozwell please report to the Captain"s Quarters immediately." Caligula read the list of names, and then clicked off.

Homeworlds IV
Date: 2 September 2003, 9:23 PM

Chapter Four- Blood Gulch

Johnson and Jenkins had been fighting the bastards for easily two and a half hours before help arrived, and when they were called to the Captain's Quarters their hearts were relieved. They strode quickly into his room, and to their surprise were late.

"Ah! Gentlemen, very nice work. Please sit down, I have a very important assignment for you all. Those of you here have all been chosen by both Caligula and I based on your history and your overall survivability statistics. Many of you are ODST, and what would you expect, you guys are the best troops we have. Today, however, I am much obliged to introduce the Master Chief and Cortana. As many, if not all, of you have heard, the Spartan-II project created an elite squad of super-soldiers." Capulet began what many of them could tell would be a long speech.

"What does this have to do with us is what your asking yourselves. Well ladies and gentlemen, being the best has its perks. One of those perks is that you get to go on suicide missions. Isn't that a great perk? Well, it doesn't matter. Brass gave the heads up, and were moving out. I have some crisp new orders for you all, and they smell like shit." He took a seat at the large oak chair at the head of the table.

"With all due respect sir, can we forego this lovely inspirational speech and get to our orders." Johnson asked timidly. The captain ran his large hands through his jet-black hair and then looked up. He ran his masculine fingers across several keys, and a large hologram appeared in the center of the table.

"Sure, alright. Here we go. This ladies and gentlemen is what has been aptly named, Blood Gulch. It's a box canyon on CP-354, known as Cerap. Now what would make brass send a group of some of the UNSC's finest into a box canyon on some hellhole out of the way planet?" The image of a transparent cube, with a large crimson sphere inside appeared inside the box canyons representation.

"This is believed to be some sort of forerunner artifact that scans detected. We don't know what it does, or if in fact it is even forerunner in origin. What we do know, is that we want it. Whatever it is, it has sparked the covenant's interest as well. We have a small platoon already dug in at the site, and you're going to reinforce them," He made a slight twist of his wrist and the hologram changed once more, this time into a representation of the forces and layout of the map, "We have set up a base with ample defenses. Roughly a mile and a half of distance between you and them, farther than any of their known weapons reach."

"How do we get there?" The chief asked in his devil-may-care tone.

"That's why we have Lucky and Devilfish here. They are going to pilot the pelican to the surface." This last comment set several people in motion.

"Sir, ODSTs only go in feet first." Jenkins urged.

"Well, your gonna go in feet first, your gonna walk your asses off of the pelican and like it, and it's not up for discussion!"

"Now, back to the defenses. We have set you up with a nice supply of weapons and gadgets to make sure you don't get bored in the sandbox. Four scorpion class battle tanks for all of your high-explosive needs, five warthog class light recon vehicles, three with light anti-aircraft guns, and two with rocket launchers. That should suffice for any raids you may feel the need to partake. We have also sent in six ATVs, which should help with any moving you may need to get done. The base also has six pelican dropships stationed their to aid you on your initial attack. I thought it more than appropriate to have a little air support. " The captain tapped the keyboard once more, and the hologram disappeared in several shutters.

"You heard the captain, lets move it." Blackwell cocked his rifle after slamming a fresh clip into it. He slung the weapon and then firmly placed his cap on his head. He straightened his ragged gray uniform shirt, one that had seen several hours of intense fighting, and proceeded out the door.

The rest of the room filed out slowly after him, and headed in different directions. The chief made his way to the armory, and pulled a small crate from the wall. He slowly perused through the room, and took what he felt he would need. Ten shotguns, ten assault rifles, fifteen M6D pistols, five battle rifles, four SMG's, several thousand shells for each, and lastly four Jackhammer rocket launchers with twenty boxes of ammo. Jenkins and Johnson strolled into the armory and stared at the chief and his weapons.

"Hey chief, thanks for getting the weapons for all of us, you saved us a ton of time." Jenkins said with a slight bob of the head.

"What do you mean?" He responded. "This is my gear."

The two ODSTs stared in disbelief for several seconds before finally snapping out of their daze and moving to the rack. Johnson had a small metal rack that could carry four or five guns, two assault rifles, two shotguns, and a battle rifle.

"Get five S2s, and several hundred rounds of ammo, and then meet me at the dropships." He ordered before using his armor to help heft up the crate, and walk out the door. He set the crate down inside one of the two pelicans used to transport them to the surface, and then made his way to the vehicles. A mechanic approached him while cleaning his hands with a small oil-stained rag, and then forehead with the back of his arm.

"Well, what can I help you with?" He said with a slight country accent.

"I need some modifications made to this vehicle." The chief said with the slight hint of excitement in his voice.

"I'm here for ya." The mechanic responded and leaned closer to the chief.

"Vince, I just go the orders, we move out at 1200 tomorrow." Devilfish whooped as he jumped over a chair in the mess hall.

"Yea, I know, but don't you think this is out of our league. I mean, I know we're great longsword pilots and all, but I've only had six hundred hours in the cockpit of a pelican. Their slow, and hard to maneuver. I mean I give more credit to pelican pilots then I do to us."

"Shit Lucky, pelicans are easy. Especially for pilots of our," He heaved his chest out and took on a mocking posture, "high caliber and extreme determination to duty."

Vince couldn't help but laugh at how ridiculous his friend looked, and took another sip of his coffee. He sat back casually in one of the hard metal chairs that lined the several hundred square gray tables.

"If I get killed, I'm taking your ass with me. And you remember that." Vince jested.

"And if I get killed, I'll call the captain and tell him off. I've always wanted to do that." Devilfish quipped in response. In the meantime, the Pelican Droppings, as the feet first ODST group had affectionately been named, met several times. They came up with logistical and support data, tactical information, studied maps, gathered intel from the marines already stationed there, and came up with a P.O.A., or plan of action. They met one last time before departure, but strangely lacking was the presence of the Master Chief.

"Okay people, here's what's gonna happen. We leave the Suncoast at 1200 on the dot, if your late, it comes out of your pay. The ride to the surface should take roughly two and a half, so we should arrive at about 1430. We meet the marines their for an update on the situation, and then we retrieve the box before the covenant. Anyone gat a comment?" Blackwell asked the crew calmly.

"Sir, about the name I've been hearing around the ship....Pelican Droppings? Sir. They're mocking us. ODSTs don't go in on the birds."

"Well, I didn"t make it, so bitch to someone else. Oh yea, and Private Jenkins."

"Yes sir."

"You've been promoted. The captain saw fit to move your sorry ass up the food chain. You're now a Lance Corporal." Blackwell threw a small gray box at the LC. It flipped a couple times on the polished brown mahogany table before coming to a stop in Jenkins' lap.

"Th, th, thank you sir." He stuttered.

"Don't thank me, thank the captain. Alright people, lets move out."

The group exited the Conference Room and proceeded to the locker room. The hard clank and shrill dink of the armor ricocheted through the metallic room, and the foul odor of sweat and musk lingered heavily. The marines' armor was custom tailored to the person. It consisted of one half inch of pure Titanium-A armor shaped and fitted to the chest and back.. They also had shin guards, ankle protectors, leg guards, thigh guards, and for the men, groin plates. The helmets were made of a thinner one fourth inch plate of Titanium-A, but also had the added advantage of cushioning, which the rest of the armor lacked.

From there they walked in two uniform lines through the ship, much to the amusement of several passers-by, and into the docking bay. Much to their surprise, attached to the rear of the pelican were two vehicles. Both had been modified and painted.

On Pelican "Delta 436" was a Scorpion class tank. It's standard 7.6mm APT heavy machine gun had been replaced with one a 12.7mm tri-barreled machine gun, the same as the Warthogs. It had a light green and tan camouflage pattern painted onto it, and several large metal "skewers" welded onto the front, to take care of anything it may encounter.

On Pelican "Delta 211" was a warthog. It's heavy machine gun had been removed, and replaced with a large gauss rifle. This big gun could deliver some heavy firepower to any enemy on the battlefield, and was known for its surprisingly high rate of fire. The kinetic energy round was very powerful for the size of the slug, and could make a slurry out of any grunt. It had been painted with much the same pattern, but it's pattern had a more definite design. It appeared to be meant for a stationary position when fired.

"Holy sh--" Rogers began.

"Watch it Rogers. We need him on our side for this one." Blackwell commented.

The master chief walked off of the pelican, and took the short fall with no problem. His armor had also been painted in the camouflaged pattern, but it was far more detailed then that of the vehicles". An ammo belt had been draped across his chest, and another belt of grenades had been strapped to his waste. His ferocity, if ever doubted, was not now. The battle-hardened troops had never seen a soldier that commanded so much fear.

"I feel sorry for those poor bastards now!" Devilfish gulped under his breath.

"Yea, they never had a chance." Vince responded.

"Well, what the hells everyone gawking at, let's move marines."

The pack suddenly snapped from their state of suspended animation and headed for the crafts. They strapped into their seats, and the sound of hydraulics as the large rear doors closed drowned out any sound in the room. The small bubble gun on the tail of the pelican clanked to life, and actively searched for a target. It was manned by the onboard computer, which if necessary, could be controlled by Caligula personally.

The decompression alarm wailed to life as the room's oxygen was sucked into the icy vacuum. The pelicans' boosters hummed momentarily and then growled to life. Their rough vibrations shaking the passengers to the core. She slowly hovered above the deck as her landing gear moved into it's upright position, and then leapt forward. The duo sped from the Suncoast and traveled head-first towards Cerap. Next stop, Blood Gulch.

Homeworlds V
Date: 5 September 2003, 9:00 PM

Chapter five-Pelican Droppings

      The pelicans nose began turning a rosy orange as it entered the atmosphere. Fire licked the hull of the transport on all sides, but it persevered. Her strangely stubby wings flapped to and fro in a useless attempt at controlling the vessel in it's decent. She rocked and rolled from side to side in the torrent of flames.

      "We'll be over Blood Gulch in two minutes ladies. Strap on, and gear up." Came over the speakers in the rear of the craft. The ODSTs checked their helmets and then snapped them into place. Their jet-black suits were aerodynamic and easily spotted in the chrome-colored suits of the normal marines. Their chests were expanded farther due to the small oxygen tank embedded into their suits, but it would last less than 15 minutes, and was highly explosive. Much like the bulbous methane suits of the covenant's grunt troops.

      The meter-tall fighters were more conscripts than actual regulars, but that took none of their deadliness from them. They came in extraordinary waves, and their sheer number, not brute strength, was what often won their battles. The master chief had witnessed countless occasions of several hundred grunts being incinerated, only to have their corpses trampled over by a furious army of thousands more. Their grunts, squeaks, and yelps all combined to make a horrendous noise that could be heard for miles.

      The chief, holding on to the overhead supports, made his way to the cockpit. He tapped gently, as gently as a Spartan can, and waited for the hatch to open. The small wheel made a sudden jerk to the right, followed by a longer and more methodical turn. It made a shrill yelp as it unbolted and swung into the passenger area. The pilot and co-pilot looked almost mechanical with their large helmets adorned with lights and computer sensors.

      "Can I help you?" The pilot asked gruffly. "I'm sort of busy at the moment, piloting this thing isn't a synch you know."

      "I need you to fly us over the enemy before we land, make a quick aerial reconnaissance. I need to know what we're getting into down there." John told the pilot as calmly as possible.

      "You have satellite photos don't you? Mull over those. Let me do the flying. Unless you think you could do better..." He responded almost violently, but Cortana, sensing a hint of challenge in his voice, made her move.

      "Accessing ship controls." Her feminine voice rang out through the ships speakers and the marine's radios. The small gray w-shaped control was ripped from the pilot's fingers, and began moving on it's own. It did a number of dips, dives, and spins as the AI calibrated her programs.

"Can you handle it?" He asked his companion.

"You know me better than that chief. Of course I can."

"Then take us over their base."

      "Roger." The recorded voice of an old friend was ushered through his headset. It was that of Pelican "Echo 419". Foehammer was Cortana and the Chief's ride throughout their duration on Halo, and her demise at the hands of two banshees was disheartening to say the least. "I thought that might cheer you up some."

      "I don't need cheer, I need you to drive." There was a brief silence in the room, "But thanks." He answered more to himself than Cortana.

      He raised himself up between to two pilots, who were taken aback by the presence of a Spartan onboard. The slanted windows didn't leave much to the imagination, but he could see enough. The pelican, living true to it's name, made a sudden swoop to just above water level as it sped down a river. It's distorted image waving eerily in the glassy water. It followed the river for about fifteen miles, through a small forest and into some terra-cotta cliffs. The Pelicans' mighty roar sent several boulders traversing the cliff side and splashing into the water. Plumes of the liquid washed the underbelly and sent a refreshing mist into the cargo area.

      Like an eagle it rose brilliantly into the sky and then made another dive into Blood Gulch. It shuddered as the AI controlled beast stabilized itself. His enhanced sight enabled him to out-view even the remote cameras attached to the Pelican. A small but formidable covenant position had been established in a recession. Two wraiths, six ghosts, a larger vehicle with a top-mounted plasma cannon, and several hundred troops all ran feverishly throughout the area.

      The chief's largest concern however, were the eight banshee assault aircraft and three dropships stationed at a roughly made landing site. The Pelican's sudden appearance had stirred the hornet's nest, and they were about to feel the sting.

      Elites strapped into their fliers and took quickly off. The Pelicans' door gunners immediately opened fire on the incoming covenant troops. The armor-piercing rounds bit and tore at the purple-tinted alien alloy, and sent one of the alien bastards to hell.

      His left wing was torn from the hull and took half of the main fuselage with it. The elite's body was left soaring through the air by his waist where he was attached to the ship via a harness. He frantically clawed at it, but to no avail. It's body impacted first, sending a large spurt of blue-green blood to coat the ground. The craft landed on top of the cadaver, and smeared the corpse, armor and all, along the box canyon's dusty floor. Only it's twitching legs remained, with a small portion of what appeared to be a spinal column left.

      The other four banshees surged ahead, and with renewed vigor began their violent attack. Plasma rounds impacted the pelican from every angle, and turned her rear starboard engine into a molten rod as it cooled.
The chief raced to the rear of the vehicle, and opened one of the small overhead hatches. Inside was a sniper rifle, loaded and ready to fire, for use in case of emergencies.

      He placed the butt of the gun firmly into his shoulder, and sighted the scope. The cross hairs of the rifle were aligned directly on of the banshee's grav pods. He ran the crosshairs up it's stubby wings, and centered it on the large cocoon-like fuselage. He slowly squeezed the trigger, and waited for the blast. A thick air-stream followed the bullet to it's mark. A four millimeter hole penetrated the ship, and it's occupants cranium.

      It slowly glided into a grassy knoll close to the human's base. Two of the other following banshees erupted into flames before the last one retreated. The crippled ships finally made it to their base. It was a bit larger than the covenant base, and had several pre-fab structures and tents set up neatly. It was a rough landing for the marines, but Cortana's expert maneuvering made it as gentle as possible.

      The marines poured from the ships, several kissing the ground when they landed, and all sighed in relief. A group of eight to ten of the marines stationed at the base greeted the group.

      "Welcome to Blood Gulch, Master Chief. we're all you have, so you should get to know us. My name is Grif." The ODST slapped his chest, and then pointed at the other marines as he called their names. "These are Church and Simmons, they complain a lot, but are veterans at what they do. Caboose and Donut are greenhorns we got about a month ago, they need some real action. That over there is Sarge, he was the CO until you guys arrived, and a real hard-ass if you ask me. Lopez here is our mechanic and weapons specialist, and this here is Tex. Tex is one of the best scouts in the UNSC." The private finished with a quick smile."

"Damnit Grif, you forgot me again." Yelled one of the marines in the rear.

"Oh yea, that is tucker. He isn't really important, so I forget to introduce him sometimes."

"Shut up cockbite." Tucker responded.

"Ok girls, enough with the pillow talk. Get to work." The Sarge approached the group apparently unaware of the new arrivals, or at least pretending to be

      The chief's eyes were diverted to the equipment already at the base. The warthogs and tanks were in top shape, and two of them had even been named. Puma was painted onto the side of one of the warthogs in large red letters, and Sheila was placed onto one of the scorpions with large blue stickers.

      "We move out tonight. Prep the tanks and warthogs. Have your gear in working order, and your guns clean." Sarge ordered. "It's time to take it to those bastards, and take it to 'em hard."

      It was time to move out. The five tanks were lined up at the rear of the base, each with a driver, a gunner, and four marines on it's massive armored chasse. The six warthogs were parked accordingly, with the three carrying LAAG"s stationed behind the tanks, and the three with rocket launchers stationed in front. All of them were fully equipped, and armed to the tusk. The six ATVs were manned by soldiers carrying radios, and their duty was to call in the mortars which were being set up on one of the cliff side ledges.

      One-hundred twenty marines were standing single file wielding assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols for their side arms. A small batch of specialists had been pulled to the side, and included were ten rocketeers, eight groups of sixteen UNA (United Naval Academy) trained snipers and sighters, and five engineers. The Suncoast's arrivals eyed the detachment, and were pleasantly surprised.

"Damn fine group of men we have here." Blackwell commented to the Chief.

"Yea, they'll do." He said turning to survey his holo-pad containing the satellite photos.

      "These are all wrong." Vince said jogging over to the photos with several holo-pads in hand. "These are straight from Tex, and he just got back from a recon."

      He slapped the holo-pads on the table, and then clicked them on. He linked the two together with a small black cable, and then hooked them both into a small laptop. He tapped the keys for several moments, and then watched the show. The first holo-pad, with the Suncoast"s orbital photos, had two to three medium-sized structures, and one large stone structure, with roughly thirty covenant troops.

      The second holo-pad, the ones taken by Tex, had fifteen medium-sized structures, two large structures, and the stone structure. The computer readout counted ninety covenant troops visible, and estimated that there were at least fifty more inside. Seventy jackals, fifty grunts, and twenty elites. The elites obviously played a command role, and each of them were apparently in charge of a squad of six.

      "These numbers are a huge increase, and how they got here without any of our sensors, satellites, or even the Suncoast detecting them is amazing. Our satellites are still there, our sensors are in working order, and the Suncoast is in orbit. There is no reason we shouldn't have seen them entering the atmosphere." Vince cried emphatically.

"There already here then." The chief answered.

"You mean there is a larger group of them already stationed on the planet. That means there are probably covenant ships nearby!"

"We have to warn the Suncoast. Get Capulet on the horn, and tell him now!" Blackwell ordered.

"Roger that." Devilfish uttered as he strolled to the radios.

"How many mortars are there?" The Chief queried.

"We have twenty-two mortars ready to go, and six MLRS rocket launch systems with smart munitions."

"I want those MLRSs targeting the barracks, and eleven mortars firing randomly into their base. I want it to be hell in there when we arrive, but wait for my signal."

"Roger that!" McKinley, the chief radio operator grabbed his headset and gave the orders.

      The Sergeants, the Chief, and the rest of the marines readied themselves. He saw the snipers already climbing the cliff wall, and heading for a small inlet in the rock face. They pulled themselves into the precipice, and went prone.

"Cortana to Eagle Eye, Cortana to Eagle Eye."

"Roger Cortana, this is Eagle Eye, what do you need""

"Direct your first salvo at those elites, take out their commanders."

"Will do. Eagle Eye out."

      As he left the Command and Control tent several marines brushed past him. They were heading for the landing pads, and boarding the pelicans. In fifteen minutes they should be heading for the covenant base, and in thirty minutes, it should be over. Assuming that all went as planned.

      "Sir, the Suncoast's pelicans have been patched up, and a new engine put on. We can go in those if you prefer." Devilfish yelled on the run. He leapt into the rear of the aircraft and ran to the door. He rapt it with his knuckles and it opened. Vince was already running the pre-flight checks on the pelican, and she began humming to life.

      The chief climbed into the rear with seven of the ODSTs sent to accompany him. The enormous rear jets screamed to life as gigantic columns of exhaust made the air uncomfortably hot. The mechanical bird-of-prey hovered several feet above the rocky floor, and then pulled into the air.

"Fly low to the ground at about a half mile to the compound, the chief and I are going solo." Cortana radioed to Vince.

"Can do."

      The pelican slowed it's momentum and aimed its nose at a hill. She pulled up before hitting the crest, and the master chief hopped off of the metal and landed on the knoll. The loose soil gave way under the impact of the half-ton MJOLNIR armor and sent him rolling to the bottom. He collided with a boulder at the cliff's foundation, and started a small rockslide. Smaller pebbles and sand clanked as it bounced off of his shields, but a gargantuan stone pillar began cracking at the rear. It finally gave way and a huge piece of rock-hard clay began plummeting toward his face. He pushed hard and spun to his left. The rock impacted the soft soil and sank three feet into it.

"Let's get out of here before that happens again."

      The Chief's heart was pulsing wildly from the adrenaline rush he had just been treated to. "Yes ma'am." He sat upright, and then slowly stood up. About a half mile to his left, the enormous covenant base. A quarter-mile to his right, the entire mechanized invasion force, including the pelicans, tanks, warthogs, and ATVs. He glanced quickly at the covenant fortress, and as if she could read his mind, Cortana called in the big guns.

"Fire at will."

      The ground began to rumble slightly beneath his feet, but his suit's shock absorbers went to work. Several elites and grunts came out of the barracks to see what was happening, but they couldn't see anything. Three more elites rushed from the command building, plasma rifles in hand.

      "The eagle has landed." Came over the radio as eight simultaneous streaks of death slashed through the air. Eight of the covenant present toppled over. Eight were dead. Massive plumes of fire, smoke, and debris were thrown in the air as the rocket launched smart bombs found their target. Limbs and bodies were tossed several hundred meters like rag dolls.

      Surviving covenant forces were scrambling left and right, but the titanic craters left by the bombing only created graves for them. Two bewildered jackals ran for the cliff, but fell into one of the craters. It's walls sparkled and shattered as they clawed at the glassy dirt while trying to escape. A mortar round found them and they were torn viciously apart. One of their shields went sailing through the air like a Frisbee. It found the corpse of a grunt killed by a sniper, and severed the body in half as it dug into the ground. Methane from the grunt erupted in a small fireball, and killed one jackal who was trying to leap over his fallen comrade. Three wraith mortar tanks began slowly moving into battle, painfully slow.

      Three warthogs bounded a small mound and it's gunner opened fire. One rocket, then two, then three, all racing toward one wraith. It began strafing to the left, but the three rockets had been adjusted accordingly with each shot. The rocket fired slightly left of the wraith"s original position erupted with no effect. The center rocket's explosion lifted the strange vehicle onto it's side, and the left rocket impacted head on with a surprised elite.

      Bursts of joy came from the gunner as he watched the flaming hulk sink into the ground. The other two wraiths, however, had targeted the warthog and were powering up their plasma cannons. The warthog"s gunner was loading the third round into the launcher when he heard the sound. The sound of air sizzling and popping as plasma passed through it. His eyes followed it's trajectory, and he tried to estimate where it would land.

      It slammed into the earth only slightly to the right of the warthog, and hit a tree. The explosion tossed the jeep onto it's left side, decapitating the partially ejected driver and ejecting the passengers. The gunner tried to brace for the impact, and felt excruciating pain as his arms broke beneath him. The sound of bone braking and flesh ripping sent him into hysteria. It seemed like forever before his body finally impacted, shattering all of his lower ribs and rupturing his spleen. His head slammed forcefully into the ground, breaking his neck and spine instantly. Blood slowly trickled from his mouth, nose, ears, and eye sockets.

      The side passenger was sent tumbling under the covenant vehicle. The hair on his arms and head began smoking and catching on fire, and his nails began turning black. He rolled out from the underbelly, and was covered in second degree burns. His armor was sizzling and a for a brief moment light orange. His helmet had fallen off during the crash, and he was now clawing frantically at his chest plate.

      Meanwhile, the other two rocket launcher equipped warthogs rumbled into the battle. Their gunners immediately attacked the wraith tanks, and both were smoldering heaps in under fifteen seconds. One of the warthogs came to a grinding halt at the body of the burnt marine.

      The passenger quickly retrieved a medical kit from under the seat, and went to help him. The burn-spray created a thin but strong second skin, to protect from infections. The bodies of the gunner and driver were also visible, and it took all he could do to keep from regurgitating the few pieces of chicken process he had for lunch.

Soldiers Diary: Homeworlds
Date: 6 September 2003, 1:21 AM


(Diary found on the body of one Private First Class Robert Frauft, Ensign aboard the UNSC Suncoast)

Day 1: Dear Honey,
Just wanted to let you know that mom loves you, and everyone here is so happy at what your doing. We hope you kill a couple of them for us, and know you will do your best. Write down some of the stuff you do so we can read about it when you get back.
All the family.

Day 2: Boot is harder than I thought. It's my third month and their pushing us hard as hell. I know they have shortened boot to produce more marines, but damn. This is insane. Probably won't be able to write for a while, but that's ok. As long as I live to write again.

Day 16: Shwoo, I got three days leave. I won't be moving for a week. LOL. My muscles feel like jello, and I don't think I could kill a covenant right now if I wanted too. But you just wait, when I get out of here, I show them. You don't mess with the Fraufts and get away with it. Well, Fraufts........hmm....not exactly the baddest name out there, but it will do. The way this war is going, there won't be anything out there soon.

Day 32: Another colony is gone. Damnit, when will we get a fucking win. They just keep pushing and pushing and pushing. Pretty soon there will be nothing left to push. I hope I can stop that. Fresh out of boot and ready to put it to someone.

Day 43: I just got my assignment. UNSC Suncoast under the command of Captain Richard Capulet to leave docks D-67 from Earth at approximately 1200 standard time. It won't be long til i'm out doing what I always wanted. Killing some of those Alien asses. They've killed so many of us, god knows it's time I repay the favor.

Day 52: These asswipes are combing the ship, I'm pretty sure it's the end for me. I got caught in the shower, and I'm hiding in a corner in one of the storage closets. I've seen several groups of them passing by with some strange devices, and one big motherfucker. It won't be long before they find me.

Day 53: They were all repelled, it's a miracle. There was a Spartan onboard, I can't believe my luck. Pelican Droppings. Hehe. Funny name for the corp's best of the best. I heard they got some special assignment today, goin to some planet named Cerap. We should get there pretty soon. Our reactors are running at 150%, so we'll either get there or be disintegrated in the blast.

Day 58: Cerap is finally in sight. The chief and his group are going down pretty soon, hope they kick some covie ass down there. The chief can take on anything. I gave him one of my dogtags for good luck, I doubt he'll keep it though. You know his types, all those badass types just wanna kill kill kill.

Day 63: This is suicide. Brass are going crazy. This mission is so messed up. We lost the Chief the other day on that damn Cerap, I'm pretty sure he's dead. Not even a spartan could survive what happened there. The Captain let "him" out earlier, he really helped during the battle. We may be able to win this after all.

Day 68: Can't figure out what went wrong. At about 1050 the power cells just went dead. Came on about thirty seconds later though. I must say though, it gave us all a big scare. Luckily, that pet AI of the Captain's reconfigured the controls and got them back running. Poor Caligula though, must have been a Covenant virus, that's what the Captain said.

Day 75: The bastards outflanked us, and are running us down now. Captain has us running dark, but it's only a matter of time. Ever since we lost the Sarge, it's been hell on us. We just came to a planet, I figure he'll try to hide us there by setting her down on the darkside, but no one knows with him and that damn computer at the helm. I miss Caligula, this bastard is just crazy.

Day 80: It's a miracle! The Chief, Cortana, and Caligula are back. We picked 'em up off of a freighter heading for a battle at Serio. We're all heading there now. I'm so glad to see Caligula back, that 343 SOB was messing with everything. The Captain was losing it, it was almost like he couldn't control himself. He just kept acting very strange. He seems to be back to normal now that that little SOB is gone.

Day 85: WE WON!! It was a brilliant victory, and Capulet was heading it up. We only lost 4 ships, and the covenant lost 25. This is an amazing victory. We haven't had a record this good during the entire war. We may just have a chance.

Homeworlds VI
Date: 7 September 2003, 3:34 AM

Chapter Six- Unfinished Business

      The chief cleared his visor with the palm of his glove, and began for the battle which was raging only several hundred yards away. His improvements and suit made the dash in under five seconds. His first victim was a jackal unfortunate enough not to see him sprinting in his direction.

      The chief lowered his shoulder and bulldozed the creature into a near jelly-like paste. Using his momentum, he rolled shoulder first off of the body and onto his feet. He felt for his weapon, but it was gone. The gleaming shotgun was sitting, crushed, under the boulder he had narrowly avoided. A plasma bolt struck his armor and jolted him back into the action.

      The grunt brave enough to squeeze off the round was already chirping and screaming his way back into one of the buildings by the time the chief had turned to face him. Four jackals surrounded the chief, and were charging up their plasma pistols. Four fully charged shots from those would surely kill the Spartan, assuming any of the jackals were alive long enough to hit him.

      There was an explosion yards away, and one of the jackals was momentarily distracted. The chief seized his shield, and whipped the attached jackal into his comrade. John jammed the sole of his boot into the creature and tore the shield from him, arm and all. His near instantaneous reflexes kicked in as he quickly deflected a plasma bolt from one of the two jackals still standing. The shield dissipated in his hand, and the jackal behind him was recharging his weapon.

      The almost silent click of the trigger as he released it gave John a chance. He shifted his weight in the suit, and managed to lean to the side milliseconds before the superheated matter whizzed by. It struck the second jackal squarely in the head, and it fell to the floor squawking and fluttering. The last jackal left was pursuing the futile effort of recharging his weapon.

      The Spartan quickly seized one of the nearby pistols, jammed it into the creatures mouth (which was really more like a beak), and jerked the hammer four times. Fragments of bone, brain, and spinal column spattered onto the grimy blood-stained ground. The pelicans hovered in overhead, streams of gunfire shredded through the enemy encampment and fighters. Large holes punctured something inside of a medium sized tent, and an enormous plasmatic fireball wailed into the air. The shockwave cracked the dirt, which hadn't seen rain in ages. Dust launched into the air and cloaked the battlefield.

      The chief's motion tracker emitted a low bleep as two covenant combatants stole into the cloud, hoping to escape in the chaos. It was not to be, the Chief estimated their location and fired two shots. Barely audible squeaks were heard as two bodies thudded to the canyon floor.

      "Sir, all covenant forces have been eradicated. Two casualties, and four wounded. Nothing major, two broken bones and some rather nasty bruises." 1st Lieutenant Hector reported. "Forces are combing the area for survivors, and setting up a perimeter."

      "Perimeter?" Colonel Jordan asked. "Why are you setting up a perimeter? All of the covenant are dead."

      "Intel suggests a larger covenant base supplying this base sir. I thought it wise that lay a trap for them. I am having a group of marines patch up their buildings, and reconnoiter any weapons or technology they can find."

      The colonel sat his glass of bourbon on the makeshift desk in the command tent. His left eye, while having a large scar running the duration of his face, was functional. He stared into the lieutenants crisp blue eyes, and was reminded of water. Clean flowing water. The base had been forced to purify and cleanse their water for four months, or use any rain water they could obtain.

      Unfortunately this was during a two month drought, and the entire camp was getting extremely aggravated with what had been dubbed "Repiss." Do to the purification process where the urine was cleansed and reprocessed.

      "That's all good, but we won't be here for long. I sent a team into the caves, and when they return, we have orders to board the Suncoast. Our tour in this hellhole is over."

"Yes, Sir!" The lieutenant stood rigid for several moments before the colonel finally spoke.

"Will there be anything else lieutenant?"

"Sir, should I have the men set up a perimeter around the tunnels, or have a team clear it out before the engineers go in?"

"Yes, yes, do what you need to as long as it isn't here. Am I clear?"

"Yes sir."

      The lieutenant secured his gray uniform cap, and pulled himself into the warthog waiting for him. It's wheels spun dust and debris for several seconds before clenching the ground and finally whipping into the wind. The driver grinned as he bumped across the terrain. The gunner threw his hand in the air and gave a loud yahoo as they hit a particularly bumpy curve, on purpose it seemed.

"Sorry sir, but this is the most leave we have seen in three months."

"This isn't leave private, now drive straight or you'll be walking."

"Aye, aye sir.!"

      The warthog's pace slowed and it dodged any further obstacles. The vehicle hugged close to the cliff wall until the tunnel opening came into view. A small group of seven to eight marines were stationed outside of the hole, and waiting to enter. The vehicle screeched to a halt. Hector unsnapped his seat belt, and slid out of the vehicle.

"Here sir, you may need these." The driver held out a shotgun with his helmet hanging loosely off the barrel.

"Thank you son, I'll be sure and get these back to you." He took the shotgun in one hand, and the helmet in the other. He snapped the chin guard and approached the team.

"Welcome lieutenant, my men are ready when you are."

"Then let's go."

      The squad leader turned to his men, and they made two lines on either side of the opening, of four each. The first ones in line tossed fragmentation grenades. They made rather loud clacks as they bounced off of rocks inside, and there was a slight pause. The ground trembled slightly and debris shot out of the perforation. The marines were partnered with at least one other marine, and each were to stay in constant physical contact.

"Go, go, go!" The squad leader screamed.

      The team entered in twos. The first two marines in headed straight for the back of the caves, and knelt thirty meters in. The second and third groups entered simultaneously only seconds after the primary. They each took knees thirty meters to the left and right. The last group backed into the room, and knelt ten meters into the tunnel system.

"Primary Clear!"

"Secondary Clear!"

"Third Clear!"

"Rear Clear!"

      The teams slowly tightened their formation, until each of the groups met. They swept their shotguns back and forth several times before standing up.

"Alright teams, don't get cocky. Comb these halls and tell me if you find anything."

"Roger that."

      The lieutenant entered the cavern several seconds after Primary disappeared into a dark passageway in the back of the cave. Their flashlight's reflections were slowly fading as they proceeded deeper. Hector glanced around the dusty room. Dust, dirt and clay caked everything in the room. The ground crunched as when he stepped, and he stopped. He picked up his right foot, and then lowered it. The noise continued, and he nudged ground with his weapon.

      The gun dug in several inches and then made a metallic noise. The other six marines did the same, and received identical results. The lieutenant went to the warthog, and shuffled around the rear. The gunner stared at him blankly for several seconds.

"Do you know where I can find a shovel in this piece of shit?"

"Yes." The gunner answered, and then stood silent. The lieutenant stared at him, waiting for a response.

"Well, where can I find one?"

"One what sir?"

"A shovel you dip shit!"

"Why didn't you just ask?"

"Listen corporal, I am this close to busting your ass down to private, so watch it."

The gunner shrugged.

"Shovel is secured behind the passenger's head sir." The driver answered enthusiastically.

"Thank you corporal."

"I'm not a corporal sir, I'm only a private."

"You are now!" Hector moved his eyes back to the gunner, "And you are demoted to private first class."

"Whatever, LIEUTENANT. I probably won't even get out of this shit hole canyon."

      He unsnapped the tool, and then turned back to the cave. A .50 caliber round sizzled past him and sent a plume of dirt three feet into the air and covered him in the thick clay soot. He whirled around to face the gunner, who was laughing uncontrollably.

      The driver jammed the hammer to the floor and the vehicle pulsed suddenly forward. Caught off-guard, the gunner"s feet were swiped from him, and he was tossed onto the ground. The driver threw a thumbs up, and the lieutenant entered the cavern. He scraped a large portion of the clay off of the floor, to reveal a glistening metal.

      Crystals of some sort were glowing brilliantly from inside the metallic ground. He walked over to one of the walls, and dug into it with his utensil. A three inch thick terracotta brick nearly impacted his foot as he dug. A light beeping noise was heard echoing throughout the facility. It was becoming apparent that this was far more than any cave, but what was it?

      Several large pillars were situated in the room, and had been overlooked before. One of the marines slammed the butt of his gun into it, and dust spewed into his face. He gagged and spit out the dirt. Hector noticed large glowing panels, and even a monitor of some sort.

"Get me Cortana in here A.S.A.P."

"Roger that sir." The marine grabbed a small radio phone off of the back of his partner. "This is Delta Team to Cortana, I repeat, Delta Team to Cortana."

"Cortana here, I read you. How can we help you Delta Team?"

"We've found ,something, in the caves. We would like your analysis as to what it is."

There was a brief pause, and static filled the line for a moment.

"Roger that Delta Team, on our way."

"This is Delta Team to Cortana, I repeat, Delta Team to Cortana." Came over the MC's comm. channel.

"Cortana here, I read you. How can we help you Delta Team?"

"We've found ,something, in the caves. We would like your analysis as to what it is."

"What 'ya say chief? Up for it?"

"Always." John responded.

"Roger that Delta Team, on our way."

      Spartan 117 double-timed it to the cave, and had humped the half mile distance in thirty seconds flat. His boots dug into the earth as he tried to stop the half-ton armor. He braced himself before slamming into the wall.

"Whoa! That has never happened before." Cortana stated.

"This ground is...strange." John responded.

"Let's investigate, shall we."

"Ladies first."

      Cortana laughed inside his helmet. Large piles of dirt were stacked up in front of the entrance, and dirt was being tossed out of the opening. He peered into the cavern, and saw a large metallic room. Shimmering, glowing, and beeping surrounded them.

"Welcome Chief, Cortana. We discovered all of....this..on accident. Clay and dirt had covered most of it, but it seems to be working alright."

      The Spartan glanced around the room, and noticed several familiar symbols. He approached one of the pillars, and ran his large gloved finger over the ridges and grooves. A large grinding sound thundered through the room as the machinery activated. The all-to-familiar forerunner door slid hurriedly shut, and locked. They were trapped inside of the caves.

      A hologram of the facilities sputtered to life in the center of the pillars. It was a map of the cave system. It outlined the room they were in and followed the tunnels up into a larger cavern, some sort of a control room. The main tunnel had five smaller rooms diagrammed to either side of it. They each had an eerily familiar symbol, but neither of them could remember what it meant.

"I'll search my records for any matching symbols."

"No need, I think I remember what these symbols are."

Cortana paused for several moments, and then gasped.

"You don't mean. Impossible. They were contained on....but how."

      Blood-curdling screams echoed from the tunnels. Shotgun blasts were heard and several flashes were seen in the hallway. The clank of boots scrambling down the passage was heard. All of the marines leveled their shotguns on the hallway, but it was too dark to see into. There were no lights illuminating that particular section of the facility. However, the Master Chief"s implants heightened his vision enough so that he could almost see clearly in the darkness.

A minute passed, but nothing appeared. Several of the marines stood upright, but the Chief held his stance.

"I wonder what the hell that was." Hector said.

"Shit, that was primary. They never came back. We have to go help them." One of the marines said frantically. He rushed for the gap leading into the tunnel, but a large metal arm barred him. "What the hell are you doing? We have to save them!"

"They're already dead private. You can't save them."

      Suddenly, one of the marines rolled into the open. His body had been horribly disfigured, and there was a flood spore buried into his chest. It's comparatively small tentacles writhed around as it tried to dig itself in deeper.

"What the fuck is that thing?" A marine yelled.

"Help me get it off of him."

      The chief jammed his shotgun barrel into the creatures flesh, and squeezed the trigger. The corpse shuddered, and a green and red puss spattered onto his suit. A thin growl echoed from inside the vestibule. Several tentacles jutted out of the doorway. The now familiar figure of mutated human flesh struggled into the light, apparently unaware of the presence of other creatures. A shotgun blast to the torso was evident, and it was oozing a yellow liquid.

"Holy shit, that's Willy."

      The marine's voice sparked the combat form to life. His screeching wail was followed by a whip of his tentacles, cutting the helpless marine in half. The chief leveled his gun to the creatures ear, and pulled the trigger. It's decomposing gray-matter covered the walls, and it fell over lifeless. The constant click of tiny tentacles was heard ricocheting from the tunnels. The chief took several steps back, and aimed into the darkness. Suddenly, hundreds of infectious spore forms poured from into the light. They were on the floor, walls, and ceiling.

"Fire!" Hector ordered.

      Shotgun after shotgun fired. Their deadly pellets punctured the spore's thin membranes, and sent them furiously popping. An acrid smell, similar to that of rotten eggs, filled the area. Shells clanked on the metallic floorboards, and muzzle flashes brightened the room. Pop, pop, pop echoed over and over, almost muting the screams of the bewildered marines.

      The Master Chief fired several shots into the heart of the pack, and then tossed a frag grenade into the tunnel. A chain reaction of bursting spores followed. Two of the creatures hanging on the ceiling dropped onto his suit. He ripped one off, and tossed it into the shaft. He used the butt of his gun to smash the other into a meaty pulp.

      Hector waved his hand forward, and the marines advanced. Gunfire and explosions rocked the chamber. The suicidal bastards were dying in swarms, and the chief was sure there couldn't be many more. Holding his shotgun in one hand, he equipped his standard sidearm. At such a close range, and with so many enemies, his lack of aim with the shotgun was not a problem. He plowed through the enemy with reckless abandon. Pellet after pellet, explosive round after explosive round, each hit a target.

      He couldn't keep the momentum up for long however, he was running low on ammunition, and needed to reload. Hector realized this, and moved up to his position. He kept a constant flow of firepower reigning down on them. Another marine joined Hector as the chief reloaded his weapons. The group kept this up and gained ground, eventually making their way into the adit.

      Unlike his previous encounter with the flood on Halo, these doors were not pried open, but unlocked. Possibly a booby trap for any trespassers. Surely not, as hard as the Forerunner worked on Halo to keep them contained, that would be reckless. Could the covenant have unleashed them during the excavation? Highly unlikely from the fact there were no combat forms inside. What then could have opened the doors, or better yet, who.

      The clay covered walls were musty, and their pungent smell gagged several of the marines. Open doors lined the walls, and there were several odd markings in the room. Hector equipped his camera and too several pictures of each of the markings. An dull blue light flickered at the head of the shaft. It opened into an enormous three-story stone room. Strange machines adorned the walls, and several bench-like tables snaked through the center.

      The alien tongue was scrolling across the monitors. Even though he was unable to speak the garble, he could tell there was a sense of urgency in the messages. As if the characters portrayed some deep emotion inside of him, he knew they needed to leave.

"We're going to check out these computers, and see what we can find." A tall marine said.

"Cortana, can you understand any of this?" Lieutenant Hector asked quietly, almost whispering.

"No lieutenant, this is as foreign to me as it is to you."

      The chief's heavy boots clanked as he walked. Their was an unusual lack of topsoil in this room alone, and that bothered him. The foreign interior was cold and hostile, and it's strange architecture made it uninviting to say the least. This room was never meant for anyone other than the Forerunners themselves.

"This is Charlie Three Four, I repeat, Charlie Three Four. Incoming birds at fifteen hundred and closing."

"Roger that Charlie Three Four, backup is on the way." Pelican pilot Sven Straumberg replied.

      Fifteen covenant drop ships were closing fast, and had banshee support. The marines were already in defensive positions, but they weren't going to hold out long against that kind of firepower. The scorpions roared over the group of small hills and into the remnants of a covenant base. Several of the larger tents had been modified for the behemoths to sit and wait. The marines were laying a trap, and these mechanical monsters were the leverage they needed to gain the upper hand.

      A mine field had been hastily dug, and were going to leave a bad taste in the new arrivals" mouths. The Sergeant watched them blinking merrily through his eyepiece. Every mine had a small invisible beacon that allowed the marines to recognize them. The last thing they needed was for their own men to go running into battle, only to get blown to hell by UNSC mines. He hadn't activated the deadly munitions, just in case.

      The snipers had moved during the break, and set themselves up in a nearly invisible position. Surrounded by shadows and foliage, the covenant would have a hard time tracing the shots. The rocketeers made small booby traps inside of the covenant compound; setting up 102mm surprises for anyone unfortunate enough to retreat hastily into the campus.

      A large cloud of dust was visible on the southern horizon, and approaching quickly. The covenant craft shimmered in the sunlight, and their steady hum echoed through the valleys.

"Keep it tight people, I want a suppressing fire, and don't go easy on the mayo."

      In a matter of minutes they were hovering overhead. They slowly set down on the floor of the canyon. Eight elites sprang from each side of the ships. Four of them had plasma swords, and the other four wielded plasma rifles. Some of them took a squatting posture and sniffed the air around them. They looked oddly similar to a velociraptor, and in many ways acted like the animals of old.

"Oh shit, Suncoast intel suggests another larger detachment ten minutes behind this one. It was a diversion, to get us in the open and run our ammo down. Cease fire, I repeat, cease fire."

      Marines called in their statuses and kept their marines in check. The elites scrambled to the large pits dug by the marines, and several took large leaps into the stash of bodies. They were evidently searching for something, but no one knew what. The others began meandering through the buildings.

"Where do you think it is 'Salemee?"

"I don't know 'Portumee. It's here somewhere though. If those wretched humans didn't find it."

      The elites were furiously scratching at the bodies of their fallen comrades. They tossed the grunts and jackals from the pits as though they were mere rag dolls. The smaller creatures were more of a cannon fodder to 'Portumee, and he had a vile disgust for them. He couldn't deny their usefulness however, and snapped at any chance he got to send them marching to their deaths.

"It's not here 'Portumee!"

"I am quite aware of that 'Salemee."

"Well, where do we search next?"

"We will look inside of the buildings, if they found it, then it will be hidden in one of them."

      The two elites scurried from the bloody hole and shook themselves. The odor perpetuating itself through their nostrils was most foul, and gave 'Salemee a headache. 'Portumee firmly gripped the hilt of his plasma sword, and activated the device. Air sizzled and popped as it bit the ozone.

"The humans may be extremely ugly, and insignificant in the future of our race, but they aren't stupid. Keep your senses about you." 'Portumee advised.

"Yes sir!"

      They circled the base twice, cautiously deciding on which approach would be the safest. 'Portumee did not doubt that the humans had set up countless traps, but that would not deter him from finding the object. They found an area at the rear of the base; a small crack they could squeeze through. 'Salemee went first, followed by 'Portumee, and finally by 'Rendagal. 'Rendagal was a commando elite and 'Portumee's commanding officer. He was the one leading this expedition.

      'Portumee took the lead, and began moving cautiously throughout the compound. But it was taking far too long for 'Rendagal. He pulled 'Portumee back and took the lead. 'Portumee was furious at this, and wanted to attack his commanding officer. 'Salemee noticed this, and held 'Portumee back for a moment.

"If he wants to go blazing ahead like a fool, let him be. See what comes to him."

      'Portumee grinned maliciously at the thought of taking over this elite squad. He watched the Commander blaze carelessly through the alleys. He was no more paying attention to possible booby traps than a grunt would, and that was very careless, especially for someone of his stature and prominence.

      The two elites slowly moved between the compound's many alleys, and checked every possible place for traps. An enormous report echoed through the canyon as a small column of fire topped the buildings. 'Salemee thought he heard a slight laugh from 'Portumee, but his companion was already heading in the direction of the blast.

      'Portumee approached 'Rendagal's corpse, which had been violently shredded from the blast. He knelt down beside the body, and procured from it the plasma rifle he was carrying. 'Salemee waited fifteen meters from the body, repulsed by the stench of roasted flesh, already spreading through the complex.

      'Portumee's attention was pulled from his comrade's carcass by a heavy click, click. 'Salemee had heard it as well, and snapped his eyes onto something distorted hidden inside of the building. Smoke was slowly bellowing from it. 'Portumee knew instantly what the object was, as he had seen it many times on the battle field. The humans held it on their shoulders, and it fired small flying grenades.

      It's double barrels were rotating in the device's mechanism. It was cycling for another fire! A million thoughts raced through his mind, and he looked pleadingly to 'Salemee for a solution. His alien heart pulsing violently echoed through his ears. 'Salemee was pleading for 'Portumee to run, but it was too late.

      The elite was barely on his feet when the rocket slammed into him. It's shaped charge impacted his shields, which briefly shuddered and then failed. The force shattered his skull and chest, and mushroomed into the air. 'Salemee gave out a throaty roar in response to this human deceit. He would have his revenge, if it was the last thing he did.

      First thing first, however, he had to get out of this camp alive. Fortunately, backup would arrive shortly, and then those humans would pay for what they had done. They would learn the wrath of the covenant, and especially of Ramu 'Salemee. He was very weary of this upcoming battle though. Rumor had been spreading that a lone soldier had single handedly destroyed an entire covenant armada at the ancient Forerunner ringworld of Halo. He also had a string of victories following this, but the prophets strongly denied his existence.

      If this human was here, this battle was about to get very interesting. 'Salemee was convinced, either through his own ego or foolishness, that he would prove victorious over this nuisance. He wondered what had happened to the rest of his elite counterparts, they should have long been at the explosion.

"This is Commander 'Salemee, I would like to speak to the lead transport of the reinforcement team."

"This is 'Ahabule. What does the excellency request?"

"How far are you from my position, and can you get here faster?"

"We are two units from your location commander, and we may be able to get there in one and a half."

"Excellent, and be fully prepared for a counter-attack. We will teach these vile primates once and for all."

"Yes commander."

      'Salemee closed his comm link, and slowly backtracked his steps. But the foot prints he was following were not his. They were too large to belong to him, and seemed to be at least four units larger. Glass crackled under his spiny toes as he trudged cautiously through the buildings. One of the doors whammed open in the wind, and startled 'Salemee. Instinctively, he activated his plasma sword, and took several unnerving lashes at it.

      It took him several seconds to realize his folly, and finally calm himself. This was the first time he ever felt nervous, but he wasn't supposed to be nervous. A few pathetic humans making a commando elite nervous was unheard of, but it wasn't a few humans, it was one. They called him "The Green One", and said he was sent by the under gods to destroy the covenant.

      The humans had too been sent by the under gods, and this was intolerable. The under gods were vile and disrespectable creatures. In the beginning there were the elder gods and the younger gods. But a horrible fight between the younger gods split them into two groups, the high gods and the under gods. The under gods had lost the first war, but had not been destroyed. The three factions lived from henceforth in disharmony.

      The under gods being the most hostile and resentful because of their loss to the high gods. They betrayed the high gods, and killed them all in a fit of rage. The all-knowing high gods had seen this treachery coming, but also knew it was inevitable. So they created a perfect race, a race that they were sure would destroy the under gods.

      'Salemee smiled to himself, knowing that this perfect race was his. The covenant was willed by the high gods to destroy mankind once and for all, and to rid the universe of any sign of the under gods. This he would see to personally. This had to be true, he had read the holy books himself. He was quite baffled at the texts he had read though.

      The books spoke of another race, created by the elder gods to destroy both the high and under gods. Unfortunately this race was too vicious to be controlled by the elder gods, and eventually turned on them. 'Salemee felt contempt growing at both the flood and the humans for what they had done. The elder gods were the most respectable of all of the gods, and the flood eradicated them.

      This didn't make sense to 'Salemee though. How could a race as devolved and stupid as the flood destroy the elder gods" He wasn't sure what the answer was, but the past was the past. He was looking to the future, and that was now. He could hear the rumbling of plasma thrusters as the dropships neared, and it was a beautiful sound.

"Here they come, get the rockets and mortars ready ladies. Show these bastards some fireworks."

"Rockets ready sir."

"Mortars ready sir"

"Good, wait for my signal. Activating the mines."

      The long scar running down his chin elongated as he grinned readily. They were in for a huge surprise when they landed, and he was ready to welcome them the marine way. With a fine china of heavy explosives and 12.7mm utensils, this dinner was going to be very eloquent.

      The alien transports hovered above the mine field for several minutes, and finally began descending. Their thrusters kicked up dust and dirt on their spiral decline. The long side bays on the ship opened cautiously, and it's occupants were already combing the area. Their visual sweeps wouldn't save them though.

      Plumes of gore-covered clay shot into the air as the enemy poured from their containment seats. Several grunts were taken out at once when a mine detonated all of their plasma grenades, and an elites leg was shorn from his pelvis with a violent passion. He lived though, and that meant he was still very deadly. A small group of four or five jackals tried to created a shielded circle formation, but they all converged on a mine. It was almost sad to see them slaughtered so quickly, and so violently.

      There were more than enough of the alien bastards to deal with though, and the marines were ready to do so. After the initial attack, the covenant forces were stunned, and began to regroup. They weren"t sure if they had just come under fire from active forces, or if this was an elaborate trap. Unfortunately for them, it was both.

      Eight elites systematically dropped dead from forces unseen, and sent the cannon-fodder grunts in a mad dash for the compound. Mortarmen dropped the airborne munitions into their firing tubes and listened to the familiar squeel and plunk of the device as it was shot on it's way. MLRS chassis shook on their foundations with only two metal arms to save them from a disastrous topple.

      Earthquake sized vibrations echoed through the ground, sending fissures erupting throughout. The covenant were getting hit from every angle, and they still didn"t know where it was coming from. Plasma bolts were sent flying wildly into the air only to sizzle, sputter, and pop after they had cooled.

      Covenant tents detonated as small packs of C-4 were tripped by careless combatants fleeing for their lives. Blood drenched the ground, soaking deep into the soil. There were still an enormous amount of covenant to conted with, however, and the marines were ready. Once all of the mines had discharged, it was a simple push into the complex, which had been specifically targeted by a special group of mortarmen and MLRS systems alike.

"Charge!" Came the resounding order that echoed through the canyons.

      A loud war cry went up from the humans, who took the offensive. All of the covenant, if not already extremely terrified, were now. Masses of humans swarmed into the perimeter of the base. Suddenly, 50mm munitions were sizzling in the direction of the alien scum from entrenched marines, who had dug themselves in.

      Shields shimmered as elites tried to dodge the voracious onslaught, and several grunts were torn apart from the large caliber ammunition. One jackal turned his shield to block the rounds, but their impact knocked him several feet back, and then pulverized his corpse.

      The covenant were not to be had though, and a mighty war cry erupted from several elite's mandibles. The retreating force, all stopped and their tracks, and turned to face their enemy. Stubby legs waddled as they returned their human counterpart"s favor. Plasma bolts and bullets crisscrossed the circumference of the valley, with warriors falling on both sides.

      Assault rifles and shotguns thunderous reports reverberated throughout. Plasma bolts made a light thump as they were fired, and the silent killers found multiple targets. Needler ammuniton was shot wildly into the air, hitting as many friends as foes. Columns of debris towered into the wind as fragmentation and plasma grenades exploded.

      "Watch this!" said a sniper to his spotter as three unaware grunts all filed into his sight. He calmly squeezed the trigger and felt the kick in his shoulder as the weapon discharged. The bullet whizzed past several lucky covenant and finally into it's prey. A methane jet shot from one of the grunt's packs. He feverishly clawed at his face mask before finally keeling over.

"Tic-tac-toe." His spotter chuckled.

      "That's all great and all, but watch this." One of the other snipers cocked a wry grin as he sighted one of the enemy. Perfect, an apparently confused elite stumbled into his line of sight, and the sniper let out a hardy laugh. He jerked the trigger, and the bullet fled the barrel.

      All of the snipers watched the bullet head for it's prey, but something went wrong. In a split second, a wily marine, unaware of his tragic mistake, ran into the bullets path. It shattered the young man's helmet, broke into tiny shards, and then proceeded to exit through his face. A jet spray of gray matter and blood evaporated as they collided with the shocked elite's shields.

"Son of a ........"

"Mary mother of........"

      The snipers placed the butt of their guns firmly into their shoulder, and then sighted the alien commander who had gotten away from the first shot. He wouldn't get away from the second. Eight rounds flew steadily to their target, and the elite"s head evaporated. There was no visible trace of his cranium anywhere, and the cut looked like it had almost surgical precision.

      'Salemee was caught offguard by the humans yet again. This attack was very fierce, and his teams were taking heavy casualties. The roars of enraged fighters, and the moans of the wounded wrapped him in an audial blanket. He couldn't get the thoughts out of his head. His world was shrinking around him, and he was blindly walking backwards. Unaware of his movements, he barely missed tripping another of the traps, his front foot even sent a twang through the taut wire.

      The unfamiliar sound of the metal ripple caught his attention and sent him back on track. He surveyed his surrounding and then disappeared down a smaller isle. There was no reason dying here, or dying at all for that matter. He found one of the larger tents, and noticed a strange flap on it. He figured this would be the easiest and quietist to get out of without a door, and pulled the flap up over his head. What he found staring him in the face was one of the human war machines.

      It produced an excruciatingly loud noise as the mechanical servos in the large turret whined to life, turning the enormous barrel to face him. In a matter of seconds it was centimeters from his mandibles, and he could smell the dusty metal. Panic struck, he could do nothing. It was as though he was watching from outside his body as the humans prepared to fire.

      He took a deep swallow, and his saliva felt thick in his throat. Strangely, he leapt onto the barrel, and wrapped his arms around it. Clasping it in a death grip, the humans could do nothing but watch in amusement and confusion. They tried several times to shake him off by moving him abruptly back and forth.

      He slipped halfway off of the machine, and his chest was centered with the large round that was eagerly waiting to tear through him.

Homeworlds VII
Date: 11 September 2003, 9:59 PM

Due to technical difficulties once again, this chapter has seen several re-writes, and none that I myself have felt up to par for release. So instead I decided to go down a new route for once. I took the road less traveled, and in the end, it has made all the difference.

Chapter Seven- Glassed Innocence, Broken Covenant

      "Jason, honey, be careful out there." The shallow voice of his mother was barely audible from his position under the small steel bridge that seperated his house from the neighbors. Jason loved to camp at the small stream brimming with minnows, crawfish, and other small animals. He could spend hours toying with them and splashing around franticall trying to catch them.

      "I will mom." He replied with a quick shriek as one of the larger fish loosed itself from his grasp. He giggled as the refreshing and crisp water soaked him, and chased after it to no avail. No matter how hard he tried, he could never seem to catch them.

      After several minutes in a futile race between him and the fish, he finally gave up. He followed the small beck to where it zig-zagged from under his house.

      His house was one of the older houses on Tendon IV. Built before the new-age Modany style architecture, it had enormous pillars and high-gaping windows. It's two enormous stories encompassed much of the two-tens it was settled on.

      His small fingers followed the crevices until they found a crag suitable enough to maintain his weight as he scaled the small ravine leading out of the creek. Huffing and puffing as he rolled onto the ground, several longswords passed overhead. Too slow to be fighting, yet just fast enough to be heading somewhere.

      Jason had always loved the wonderful flying machines he read about in school and at home. When he grew up, he wanted to be a longsword pilot. Fortunately for him, his dream would probably come true.

      Jason Tillerman was only ten. He didn't know who, or what the covenant were, only that they were the bad people who didn't like his mommy and daddy. But to a ten year old, that means little. He, like most ten year olds are want to do, was an adventurous lad who found pleasure in the simple things in life. His untapped innocence was more than to be admired from a human, who if allowed to grow older, would one day become a hardened killing machine.

      Of course at his age, he never actually thought about having to kill someone, or being killed himself. He just wanted to fly them. The majestic aircraft were sleek and fast, all of the qualities a young male could want.

"Jason, come in honey."

"Aww mom, do I have to?"

"Jason Tillerman, get inside now."

"I'm coming, I'm coming. Sheesh."

      He trudged disheartened inside, where to his surprise several men were standing around the office table. He recognized one of them as his father and wanted to run up to him, but one of the men closed the heavy oak doors. The click of the lock signaling that he wasn't meant to hear anything they had to say.

"Mom, why are those men in there?" He looked at his mom, who had a somewhat contorted expression.

"Honey, don't you think it's time to get a bath?"

"But mom...." He started to protest, but it was a battle he couldn't win.

"No siree. You head upstairs right this instance and get yourself a bath. When you get down here dinner will be ready, so hurry up."

      He rushed upstairs as fast as he could, and in fifteen minutes there was not a speck of dirt to be found on his body. He quickly dried off and ran downstairs, he had left his shoes off in the hopes of sneaking up on his mom.

      The doors to his father's office were once again opened and all of the men inside had apparently left. The voices of his parents permeated through the house, but he could barely hear them.

"But you can't! What about me and Jason, who will be hear to protect us?"

"It's alright, I asked Mr. Zucker down the road to check up on you, and he said he would do so twice a day."

"It's not the same Terence. It's just not. Why do you have to go? Can't someone else?"

"Honey, I don't know if you have watched the news anytime in the last five years, but we're at war. The UNSC is getting their asses handed to them and they need every man and woman they can get. I have to go."

"What about Jason, what do I tell him?"

"Tell me what mommy?" Jason asked as he entered the kitchen.

"Oh! Jason, hey baby."

"Tell me what?"

      His father walked over to him, and took a squatting positiion as he grasped his shoulders. The look in his eye made what was coming evident, and it wasn't good news.

"Son, daddy has to go away soon. I'm gonna go fly one of those Longswords you see outside."

      "NOOO!! Daddy you can't." Tears were forming in the corners of his eyes. He beat on his dad's chest with all of his might, but nothing he did had any effect. No amount of beating would stop him, and his father hugged him tightly.

      "I won't be gone long, I promise. Me and the guys are gonna go help kill some covenant. And when I get done doing that, I'm coming home, and we're gonna take a big vacation. On one of those fancy AeroWak's you wanted to get on. How does that sound?"

      He tried to suck up the his emotions and be tough for his dad, but he was still red in the cheeks and breathing deeply.

"You're going to be the man of the town now, can you handle that?"

"The whole town? What about Mr. Palmer and McCallister?"

      "They're going with daddy too. You'll be the oldest man in the town besides old man Zucker. But we both know you'd win that fight." They both laughed and his dad ran his fingers through his hair. "How bout we get some grub? I'm starving."

      They sat down at the table full of Tendon Turkey's and roast ham. The steaming pot of mashed potatoes and gravy was calling to him, as were the several delicious casseroles sitting at the buffet. He was amazed at how large this dinner was compared to their usual one. His fork penetrated the gooey cheese with reckless abandon, but his dad stopped him.

"You will say grace before you eat."

"Aww dad, do I have to?"

"You were the first to reach for food, and that means you say grace, you know how it works."

      "Alright. Dear lord, thank you for this food which you have provided us, and please kill some covenant for us." He stared at his dad through the slit in his eyelid as he said this, and his dad had a brief moment of regret flash across his face. "How was that dad?" That was great son.

      After dinner his father gave him the longest hug he had ever received, kissed him on the forehead, and then tucked him into bed, even reading him a book before turning off the light and disappearing down the hallway.

      Something was wrong, he had slept to late. He could tell something was different. He kicked the covers off of himself and ran to his parent's room. EMPTY! He ran back to the stairwell and descended as fast as his little feet could carry him.

      The sound of bacon cooking eased his unrest somewhat, and he skipped into the large room. His dad was nowhere to be found though, and his mom had said nothing to him so far.

"Where's dad?"

"He's gone. He left this morning."

"He didn't even tell me goodbye."

"He did, but you were asleep. He left this here for you."

"What is it?"

"I don't know, he told me not to open it."

      Jason was amazed, he was getting a present and it wasn't even his birthday. He ran over to the counter, on which a fairly large tin box was situated. He nearly fell out of his chair as the lid suddenly popped open, revealing the bounty inside.

      There was some paper inside, with something written on it, and some other things. He put the letter next to his mother, and then went back to investigate the box. Inside were a pair of dogtags belonging to his father, several medals, a beret, a patch with two lightning bolts intersecting on the words "Winners never quit, and quitters always die" written on it. He took them one by one out of hte box and set them on the table, and was shocked to find a pistol.

      He recognized it, it was his father's very own UNSC Ace's pistol. The intricate gold lettering along the grip read ACE "Tack". It was heavy in his palm, and he wasn't sure if he would even be able to fire it if the need arose. His gaze on the weapon was broken by the sound of his mother crying.

"What is it mom?"

"This note. It's for you."

"Read it to me."

      It took all she could do to read the letter aloud, and finally took several deep breaths and began.

      Dear Jason,
I have gone off to do something for you and your mother. I am going to fight to the end for you, even if that means I may die. I hope this won't happen, but should the occasion arise, always remember I love you. Take care of mommy, and never let anything happen to her. Stay good, and I hope when you get older you will understand what it is I am trying to do for you. The gifts I have left you are from my stay in the military, and maybe one day you will appreciate them as well. Whatever you do, never give up the fight for freedom Jason, never.

      The battle had been raging for hours, and the losses on both sides were rising quickly. Eagle-Eye had run out of ammo for his rifle long ago, and taken up to the close-range fighting his marine counterparts had been in all morning.

      His aim with the pistol was as deadly as with the high-powered rifle he was so perficient with. Grunts dropped from the single bullets placed into their skulls by his team's hand, and they had even managed to slaughter two elites and a hunter.

      The covenant had retreated to inside of their compound, and many of the booby traps had long gone off. From now on it was going to be a brutal game of hide and seek, and a close quarters game he wasn't used to playing.

"Damnit, why don't they just keep bombing the hell out of this place? Why is the Colonel making us go in there when he can just obliterate it with the mortars and rockets?"

"Johnson said something about a box. They're looking for some sort of thing we've never seen before, and are afraid of blowing it to hell."

"Then why don't they come in here and get it."

"Because brass never get's THEIR feet dirty."

"Oh right, that's just us."

      Eagle-Eye and Quickshot were towards the rear of one of the four huge lines of marines about to launch a strike at the heart of the covenant formation. Although not extremely accurate as a weapon as he would have preferred, he would much rather have a shotgun over the pistol in his hands.

      They started rushing the base in pairs of two, with easily fifty rows in each group. The leader of the attack, Captain Jackson, was speaking into his radio as they entered the base.

"What the hell happened to team four? I want that HE now."

"Sorry sir, scans show that team four has been disengaged. They aren't there."

"Damnit. Well get me Capulet, and tell him this battle just turned ugly."

"Capulet has been engaged sir, I will tell him as soon as possible though."

      The news of the Suncoast's engagement was an even darker page in this ominous chapter of Jackson's week. Without the Suncoast, thousands upon thousands of covenant would embark on the planet, killing everyone on it, and leaving with what the UNSC believed was so important to the war effort.

      The line quickly shortened, and the sound of heavy gun fire and grenades echoed through the complex. It was a helluva day, and about to get a lot worse.

"Dear lord,here I go!" He shouted as he cocked his shotgun and entered the fray.

Homeworlds VIII
Date: 14 September 2003, 3:57 AM

Here we go back to all of your old favorites.

For those who haven't been keeping up, or may have missed one or two chapters, I will briefly go over what has been happening.

Captain Richard Capulet and his Artificial Intelligence Caligula have been sent on a special mission by the UNSC. The Master Chief rendezvous with the ship, and helps fight off a covenant invasion currently attacking the ship. The Master Chief and Cortana also find one 343 Guilty Spark contained in some sort of strange machine on-board the ship. Unfortunately, they are given orders to inspect an excavation site on Cerap to find out about an apparent Forerunner artifact. Once on Cerap they engage in fierce fighting, but the Master Chief and a small group of marines are locked inside of a hidden forerunner compound. Jason Tillerman's father has left he and his mother to fight for the UNSC as a longsword pilot. Jason Tillerman is left to defend his mother.

Where we are now:

The master chief and his band of marines are left looking for a way out of this strange facility.

Captain Capulet is fighting off an unknown number of hostile vessels in the space above Cerap.

The marines stationed at Blood Gulch are fighting off an enormous covenant attack force sent to repel them from the base the enemy had set up.

Terence "Tack" Tillerman is on his way to rendezvous with an unknown ship for his orders.

Chapter Eight-Kinda makes you wonder whats behind door number one.

      The Chief had long given up staring at the forerunner monitor, it was no use. The figures just kept repeating, but none of Cortana's Codebreaker programs could make anything of them. He was replaying the images in his HUD while lying against a stone pillar jutting through the center of the room.

      This ancient text wasn't entirely difficult, nor did it have too many different symbols, but without the slightest recorded hint of what these symbols could possibly mean.

      "These symbols look very familiar, I just can't place my finger on where i've seen them before." He told Cortana angrily. The chief felt it was his responsibility to discover the secrets of this antique script, but he just couldn't. The fact that it somehow appealed to him made it even worse.

"I'm sorry Chief. I'm still running full scans with every known pattern in my systems. None of them have been successful yet. But I'll keep trying."

For some reason, something in the video caught his eye.

"Cortana, rewind video by three seconds, and then pause."

      The repeating text reversed with a slight distortion of the image, but cleared up when she stopped the procedure. The symbol he had his eye on was at the bottom of the screen.

"Zoom in on the third symbol from the left on the second to last row."

      A small box surrounded the piece of text, and enlarged it to fill his visor. He thought quietly to himself for several moments before finally recalling what it was that struck him so familiar about it.

"Is there something important about this symbol?"

      "Yes. During my training Deja taught us the tactics of the ancient arabic, and in doing so had us learn and read their language. This symbol is very similar to one of there letters."

      "I'll cross-reference it with my database. Done. This symbol is very similar to the Arabic word for entrance. My memory bank has this symbol recorded on several documents inside of Halo. I was not able to decipher any of those messages however, and thus did not find any use in storing them."

      "I need you to cross-reference all of these symbols with all of the arab symbols in your databank. Once you've done that, tell me what you come up with."

      Cortana went to work, and it was several minuts before her excited voice rang out through his helmet.

      "Here's what I've come up with based on comparisons made with those on the screen. I was unable to get more than one tenth of the document completed using the arabic symbols, so I cross-referenced them with the ancient Mexican and South-American civilizations, as well as ancient Chinese and Latin. This translated roughly four tenths of the message. The rest isn't even close to human writing."

"So where would the other symbols be?"

      "Our best bet would be the covenant language. It had many symbols closely resembling those of the Forerunner. I'll cross-reference with all of the none figures I have. However, our current database only contains modern Covenant dialect, not ancient."


      "I have a theory. I believe that the Forerunner made contact with both Humans and the Covenant at some point in time, and for some reason spread their language throughout ours. They may have figured that this would be a uniting factor between our species if and when we ever made contact.....they were wrong in their conclusions."

"In english please."

      "We can't truly compare the symbols unless we have the Covenant's ancient text on hand. Once that is accomplished I will be able to cross-reference and decipher the Forerunner language."

"One problem Cortana, we're stuck in here."

"I have a solution."

"That is?"

"I have deciphered enough of the message that I actually think we have a way out of here."

"Go on."

      After a brief discussion on what would occur next, the Master Chief braced himself against the pillar and slowly stood up. This sudden stur of activity envoked a great interest in the rest of the marines, who were all facing them eagerly.

      Hector sat his shotgun against the wall, and approached the Spartan. While nearly a foot shorter than the enormous warrior, he was still a force to be reckoned with.

"Chief, have you and Cortana been able to come to ANYTHING? I can't think of a damn thing that would get us out of here."

"Yes Lieutenant Hector, we have."

"Well, have you figured out the symbols?"

"No, we haven't."

"Then how are we going to get out of here?"

"We're going to blow our way out."

"Oh.....well, okay. But my men don't have many grenades left."

"How many do we have altogether?"

"We took a quick supply count during the break, we counted fourteen grenades minus however many you have."

"That leaves us with sixteen grenades. That should be enough to get us out of here."

"Hell yeah. That's what I'm talking about. Let's go marines."

      The squad turned around and headed back the way they came, still very cautious near the flood containment rooms. They entered the dull light breaking the darkness in the first room.

      "I want you to sit all of your grenades in a pile against that wall." John pointed to the wall with his heavy glove, and the marines carried out their orders. Once that was accomplished he had all of them take cover back in the tunnels.

      He ripped the pin from the grenade he had in his hand, and tossed it squarely into the pile. Rolling behind one of the pillars in the room just as the explosion sent large crags of rock pumelling towards him.

      Bright light broke the darkness, and his eyes took several seconds to adjust. The dust and debris had turned the visibility in the room to zero, and the marines were required to feel there way out.

      The coughing squad exited the tunnel and let out several loud whoops as they were once again free. But the sound of a large battle just over the bend sucked all of the enjoyment out of them. The chief was the last to exit, stepping over several large boulders and jumping to the ground as he did.

"So what's next Cortana?"

"How about we save some marines Chief?"

"And then?"

"Lets just take one thing at a time."

      His headset crackled to life, followed by the Incoming Message alert on his monitor. He opened the channel to find the face of Captain Capulet, exhausted and bloody coming through.

"This is the Suncoast, all hands. Engaging multiple covenant ships *static* unsure if we will be able to *static* off much longer. Anyone who recieves this, may our prayers and best wishes *static* to you should we not make it. Capulet out."

"Chief, we need to get aboard one of those covenant ships. They are probably one of the softest targets we could find to get that information from."

"Not exactly my idea of a soft target."

"Well you'll have to take what you can get."

"Will do."

      The group took off in the direction of the covenant camp, hoping to turn the tide in the humans favor if it wasn't already.

      'Salemee let go of the tank's barrel, and was sent tumbling onto the floor. The four marines stationed with the tanks had already begun firing, and if he didn't find a way out of the tent soon, he wouldn't be leaving.

      He turned to the doorway, and made a rolling jump for it, he barely made it to the flap in time, as it closed seconds after he had escaped. Two frantic grunts had accidentally lowered the wall as they went screaming by. This was the first time 'Salemee had ever thanked a grunt.

      'Salemee heard the grumble of human gears and engines, and knew the tanks were about to roll. He ran to a nearby tent, and ducked around the corner just in time to see the armored behemoths bust through the thin purple material.

      Their massive main guns turned in every direction, and were decimating anything in their way. Heavy caliber bullets buzzed only inches from 'Salemee's head as the humans aimed at his scurrying comrades.

      Two elites actually tried to stave off the attack, but their plasma rifles had little effect as two enormous high-explosive rounds tore them in half. 'Salemee was so frightened he could hardly move. The lower half of a commando elite came rolling across him from the blast, and he quickly shoved it off.

      Weaponless and at the spearhead of the human attack was not 'Salemee's wish, and he looked for a way out. He crawled on all fours to the nearest alley, and headed as far away from the tanks as possible. The trembling ground told him that they were on the move however, and he could hear the heavy stomp of human warriors.

      The body of several dead grunts were laying inches away, and he would have to expose himself to retrieve one of the plasma pistols on their corpses, which he wasn't even sure worked.

      Peeking around the small alcove he had hidden in, he was greeted to a massive column of the enemy charging into their base. One of them kicked the plasma pistol, and it landed inches away from his hand. He clawed at the gun, and kissed it several times as he hugged it to his chest.

      A plasma bolt went sizzling into the foot of a passing marine as he tried out his weapon, sending the injured and confused marine to the ground. Several of his comrades knelt down to help their friend, only inches away from 'Salemee. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes in a desperate attempt to keep from being seen.


Homeworlds VI
Date: 18 September 2003, 2:13 AM

Chapter Nine-And you thought that was all.....

      'Salemee watched as the marines tended the wounded marine only inches from his face. He could even smell their obnoxious odor as they helped their comrade. It would take a lot more than luck to get him out of this if they found him.

      "What happened here soldier?" One of the more experienced humans asked. 'Salemee's translator was working fine, and he understood every word the humans said clearly.

      "I dunno sir, we were just walking and then a plasma bolt came from under there and hit him." The marine pointed to 'Salemee's hiding spot, and he was sure they had seen him.

      Another of the humans, the one who had kicked the gun under the tent walked up and spoke timidly to the leader. "Sir, I accidentally kicked one of their plasma pistols under there when we were marching in, it probably hit the support and discharged, sir."

      The commando elite took a deep, but silent, breath as the humans helped their fallen to his foot and then kept on in their attack. He was curious of their tactics, and hadn't really taken the time to analyze them during battles. These creatures, though vile and disgusting they may be, cared enough for each other to help them during a battle, which was more than 'Salemee could say for his race.

      He felt the ground under the tent beside him, looking for an alternative escape route, and found one. The covenant material made a slight scraping sound as he rolled under it, and the sound of curious passer-byes sent a chill through him.

      A quick prayer was sent to the gods, but he doubted even they could help him now. He braced himself on a nearby support and got to his feet as the small column of light bit into the darkness. 'Salemee could easily put a plasma round into it's cranium, but that would only bring more, and that would be a bad thing.

      He knelt down and backpedalled as silently as possible behind some of the large metallic crates that had been set up. Tripping on a rock as he did so, he went tumbling into one of the containers, tipping it.

      A strange sound stuttered through the room whilst the covenant storage unit rocked tediously to and fro. The ominous click of the enemie's weapons overpowered the fear of being seen. Their other powerful weapon was about three feet long, and black. 'Salemee had seen it rip through even the most experienced elite's shields and flesh in a single shot before.

      A hard slam shook the ground as the air rippled in pain from the shock. 'Salemee curled up into a ball, and noticed four marines, all aiming their weapons at him. Strangely, they were combing them back and forth.

      How could they not see him? He was sitting right in front of them. He glanced around, looking for an explanation, and suddenly noticed that he hadn't even seen himself. His spiny fingers were wiggling as fast as he could entice them to, but were nowhere to be found. THe shocked marines lowered their weapons and then began walking out of the room.

"What in the hell just happened back there?"

"I have no idea, but all I know is that it isn't in there anymore."

"But I mean, that container just fell over, that isn't natural."

"There are a million things that could explain it, let's just go. I want to kill me some scum sucking aliens."

"Amen to that brotha."

      After they had left, 'Salemee stood up as quietly as possible once again. This time, he was invisible. He didn't know how, or even why, but he was. This could come in very handy later on...

      The small band of marines had come to the site of an all out battle royale. Huge plumes of smoke and debris littered the pristine air as explosions thundered through the earth beneath them.

      The familiar zing of bullets and whizz of plasma fire greeted their unnerving ears like so much candy to a baby. Their stay in the underground prison had been enough quiet for one day, and they were ready to kill something.

      Hector was the first to go charging into the mix, shotgun in hand as he did so. He managed to squeeze of five rounds into the back of a helpless elite who had been pinned down by some marines on the other side of the compound. The brothers-in-arms gave a thumbs up and a quick smile and then moved on.

      Two grunts came roaring past him, and he stepped into the alley to get a clear shot. The odd, yet familiar, sound of a heavy diesel motor behind him struck him cold.

      Spinning around only served to prove his hypotheses. Which was that there was a scorpion tank speeding towards him. The saliva hadn't even formed a lump in his throat before the wall hit him.

      Miraculously, he wasn't dead. The wind had been knocked out of him, and he had a ferocious headache, but he was still in one piece. No broken bones called out to him, but the tank wasn't anywhere to be seen. The deep mud trails left in it's wake proved that it had been there, and the body of a crushed elite seemed to clue him into what happened.

      The alien bastard had apparently stumbled into the wrong alley at the right time, at least for Hector. It amazed him that only seconds earlier he could have been the one lying there like only so much ravaged flesh.

      Sorrow was an odd companion during battle, and not one he often wished to have, but now was different. He felt for the unknown soldier who was just doing his duty.

      He coughed several times as dust filled his lungs, and he shielded his eyes from the extremely bright sun that loomed overhead. The sound of weapons fire had lessened, but was none the less present. How this battle managed to subside so quickly was beyond Hector, but that was apparently a good thing for the humans.

      'Salemee stumbled into the open, his translucent skin protected him somewhat from the enemie's sight, but he couldn't be sure. If he didn't get a better weapon soon, it wouldn't matter one way or the other. Plasma pistols were good for one thing, hunting. That was as much use as he had ever found for the slow and laborious weapons.

      He watched one of his comrades brush past him, apparently unaware of his presence, and then proceeded to follow him. The blue-armored elite he was chasing was glancing quickly from side to side as he crossed alley's, but not taking enough time to truly check for enemies.

      He didn't even have time to warn his fellow combatant before he had come crashing into a human carelessly standing in the midst of a walkway. The relatively scrawny human was sent tumbling several times, and his eyes were closed, probably dead.

      'Salemee hadn't even raised his claw in congratulations before the human's armored behemoth covered the ground with the elite's bodily fluids. 'Salemee's feet dug into the loose topsoil as he began slipping backwards, trying to halt himself from a similar fate.

      A sharp pain ravaged his mandibles as his face collided with the ground and his forehead a rock. A troop of three marines came surging to his location, still apparently unaware of him. They must have been checking the condition of their fallen compatriot.

      'Salemee's eyes widened as they cocked their weapons and sighted them to his chest. "How could they see him?" he wondered. He glanced at his scaly fingers, and to his amazement he could see himself again. What had happened he wasn't sure of, but he knew he wasn't going to like what was coming next.

Stay tuned.

Homeworlds X
Date: 18 September 2003, 11:57 PM

Chapter Ten-Run forest, run....

      Cortana had been silent during most of the battle, most likely working on Covenant Encryption or deciphering the alien language, either way, it was nice to have some quiet. Although, he couldn't really call it quiet.

      The battle had been raging on for six hours, and the marines finally had the upper hand. They were scraping up the last of the covenant forces in the vicinity, and occasionally caught a straggler.

      Both wounded marines and covenant were taken to the field hospital, only, the covenant were losing limbs, not having them repaired. The doctors' laser scalpel bit into their tinted blue flesh with a fury. Some of the doctors even had an orgasmic shine in their eyes as they removed body parts left and right.

      The Chief was still at the covenant encampment, helping with the clean up, and also briefly searching for the artifact. Nothing was showing on his radar, and none of the tents provided so much as a hint of whether or not the Covenant had found something.

      Blackwell, who had a large gash down his right temple, and a bio-aid (biofome and several other dissinfectants wrapped with a large gel band-aid)plastered onto his arm, strolled into the room with a fleeting whence of pain.

"How bad is it?" John asked with as much sympathy as he could muster up, and that wasn't much.

"It'll heal."

"Any sign of the target?"

"None, but intel does suggest that we try a small cavern on the side of the canyon. It could possibly be in there."

"It's not, I've already checked the cavern."

"Not this one, intel just popped the lock on this one. A pretty tough nut too, whatever the covenant had in there, they didn't want to get out."

"Chief, if they released the flood, we could have a catastrophic outbreak on our hands." Cortana sprung from her slumber and was doling advice in record time.

"Relax, I doubt the covenant were in there."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I can't, but we'll find out. Sergeant, if you're up to it, would you accompany us to the cavern?"

"I've got a warthog waiting outside."

      A quick five minute ride brought them to a much larger entrance than the one they were at before. Both of the men in the speedy jeep were scanning the perimiter and circumference of the facility. A large round dome-shaped structure was protruding from the top of the canyon, just visible in the glare of the sun.

      This time, there were twice as many men as before guarding the door. The broken lock was visible as Cortana analyzed the situation.

"No apparent covenant tracks and no signs of activity that would indicate tampering. This door has been locked for, for an amount of time I wouldn't even attempt to register."

      As usual, the Chief was at the head of the party waiting entrance into the strange Forerunner facility. Shotgun in hand, and flashligt glowing merrily, the Spartan was waiting for the large mettalic doors to part.

"Open them Chief."


"Interface me with the security-panel, and I may be able to figure the combination out."

      A small fiber-optics wire was strung from his wrist into a small slit on the side of the box. The keypad had been mangled by either time or forces unseen, but either way, there was an eerie feeling about this place.

      It was only a matter of minutes before Cortana had cracked the lock, record time for an AI to crack a system she had never seen before.

"All in a day's work." She chimed in with a rhythmic artificial laugh.

      An un-amused chief only slapped his head with his glove, and Cortana got the point. The air from inside of the facility was calm and stale. The thin beams of light from his flashlight and couple of rays of light lit up a mere shadow of the room.

      The Chief knelt down, picked up a loose stone lying on the floor, and then pitched it as hard as he could to the other side of the room. He listened for the echoe as it would lose momentum and come crashing to the ground, but it never arrived.

      He turned to the other marines, and then brushed past them. Saying nothing as he went, he strapped into the car, and then started the engine.

"Where the hell's he goin?"

"I dunno man."

      Pebbles and dirt all filled the air as the large tires grasped for a foothold. They caught, and the large vehicle jumped forth heading towards the compound. Several shocked marines jumped out of the way moments before the Spartan-warthog duo bounded into the Forerunner foyer.

      Breaks gave of a shrill whine as the car came skidding to a halt several feet inside of the facility, and the large headlights exposed over half of the cavern. There was, shockingly, nothing inside of this empty hallway. The signs of a once used corner were showing, as well as ancient equipment sitting dusty and unused in the corner.

      Time and weather had not been kind, as several large boulders had smashed in a large console at the far end of the room. The dust and suit that had settled over the ages was easily three inches thick.

      John's foot hadn't event hit the ground before a stiff crackle of an unknown transmission echoed through his headpiece.

"This is Office of Naval Intelligence personnel looking for Spartan designate one, one, seven. I repeat, Office of Naval Intelligence personnel looking for Spartan designate one, one seven. Please respond."

      Cortana said nothing as she pondered the message. The chief clicked his headset and spoke out, "This is Spartan-117 speaking."

"Please report to Alpha Base immediately."

"I'm sorry sir, but I have strict or-" He was cut off by the voice of another man, presumably ONI as well.

"I know your orders son, we have retrieved the artifact, and are awaiting your arrival. You are not going to rendezvous with the Suncoast. Please meet us at Pad-7 as soon as possible."

"Rog-" He was cut off once more as the connection was abruptly severed. He had a wierd feeling in his gut telling him not to go, but he knew he had too; he had orders.

      He made the brief drive to the base, and then approached pad seven. What greeted him amazed him. Seven Spartans were guarding the landing pad, Assault Rifles in hand. However, these Spartans were wearing the older Mjolnir Mark IV's, which were much more cumbersome than the suit he had.

"Ah, Chief, nice to see you. Please board the Pelican we're going to take a short ride."

"Yes sir." He knew better than to ask questions, especially of the ONI officials. He hefted his weight into the rear storage manifold, and the other soldiers did likewise. None motioned to him, and he couldn't tell if they were even looking at him, but he had the feeling they weren't.

Stay Tuned

Homeworlds XI
Date: 20 September 2003, 8:17 PM

Since I really haven't thought this chapter out, bare with me. If it's lacking in action, mah bad, but the action will pick up soon. The story is really getting started here. So far there have been little things leading up to the real fun.       Thanks,
                  The Management

Chapter Eleven-You don't say.....

      The pelican made a series of rough maneuvers as she tried to slow her approach. The jerks rocked the Chief, who was holding onto a handrail above his head. The other marines, dressed in the older Spartan suits, were doing likewise.

      The second pelican, who was following closely on their tail, was having a rough time traversing the terrain as well. He could see the pilot of the vessel to their rear holding the violently jerking stick as best he could.

      John began to stand up, but was quickly put back in place by a very stiff thump as the vehicle hit an air pocket. The sound of metal-to-metal collision echoed through the cargo bay, barely audible over the deafening roar of the engines outside.

      "We'll be at the Septagon in five, check your gear, and be ready." The unknown voice of "X-07" came over his personal comm. channel. X-07 was the only thing John knew to call him, based on the numbers and letters painted on his chestplate.

"Cortana, what is the Septagon?" He asked with the hint of confusion in his voice.

"I don't know Chief, it's not registered in ANY of my files, and I have every recorded UNSC facility in the database stored in my memory. There's nothing in this quadrant, much less this system registered as a UNSC facility."

"Then stay alert. Keep me heads up on ANYTHING you hear."

"I always do."

      The pelicans hovered over the thick foliage and canopy of the forest below. A large clearing could be seen from miles away, but no buildings were evident. The Master Chief had Cortana record everything he was seeing through his headset, and store it to memory.

      As they closed in on the obviously man-made opening, four other pelicans were seen parked nearby. His pelican slowed to a grinding halt by performing several sharp turns while nearly on it's side. John was amazed at the pilot's skill over the birds, especially in such close proximity to another pelican.

      A deep sigh of relief was exhaled as they landed safely, and he quickly grabbed his assault rifle and jumped out of the rear.

      The four pelicans were lined up in a single file line. The commanders here apparently had a lot of faith that no covenant would see the enormous gap they had made in the forest.

      The seven Mjolnir-dressed marines he had gotten onboard with filed out behind him, and set up a perimeter around the clearing. Each took a prone positiion at regular intervals around the circle.

      The other pelican's occupents were filing out as well. It contained another group of seven heavily-armed Mjolnir statues, and three uniformed men. The four gold stars on their lapels made their authority absolute, but the ONI insignia made him very uneasy.

      The Spartan Project was an ONI Section Three experiment, and however well it may have gone, the lessons learned by the Chief were crystal clear. These people would do ANYTHING to get the results they wanted. He didn't trust them for a second, but would follow their orders as far as he could.

      One of the men, an older man with slightly gray hair covering his balding head, onfolded his cap and slid it onto his scalp. He tugged his overcoat until he was sure it was taut, and then approached the Chief.

"Hello Master Chief Petty Officer. I am General Abigaid, and this is the Septagon. Don't you worry, we're here to help. This is all a division of ONI, does Section Three ring a bell?"

      This man knew how to strike a chord, and isntantly had the Chief's attention. His face was fox-like, and sly, his thin eyes and arching eyebrows made him look all the more devilish, but there was nothing John could do about it now. He only nodded in response.

"As well you should, section three was in charge of the Spartan Project, under the lead of Doctor Halsey. You remember Doctor Halsey don't you?"

"How could I forget?"

"Exactly what I was thinking. You know she loved you like her children as well, and would do anything for you. As such, she had this facility built in case something tragic should occur."

      Heartbeats went up tenfold as adrenaline was forced into his bloodstream. The Spartan wasn't sure what he was feeling, but he didn't like it one bit. This man, these people even, they were up to something, and he wasn't going to be caught off guard.

"Reach." John answered solemnly.

      "Yes, that was very tragic. Our biggest setback in the war. A very crippling blow to the Spartan project as well. That was probably the biggest problem we encountered from Reach. Sure, there were billions of people lost, and our largest ship-yard was decimated, but the Spartans were a huge tragedy."

"What are you saying?"

      "It takes time to make Spartans, it takes time to train them, and it takes time to get them out and about. We have given these Spartans the training and augmentations, like the ones you recieved." The man obviously avoided references to the over thirty comrades he had lost during the procedure.

"Then why am I here?"

"Because they need more. You have the most extensive record of contact with the covenant in the entire military. You've seen more combat with them, know their tactics better, and have seen them in action more than many of THEM have. What I'm saying, is we need you to give our Spartans the training they'll need out there. We can only give them so much before the real challenges begin. We need your help." His voice was shallow at the end, and a hint of sincerity rolled from his lips. Something this man hadn't had in a very long time.

"I'll do it. But then what? After they're trained here. What then?"

"Then you need to show them real combat. Give them face time with the enemy. See how well your training has worked. We have something very special for ya'll after several tests."


      "Another day, another time Chief. Just get them ready, and make it quick. You have two weeks before you're deployed. Teach them everything they need to know, because they're blood is on your hands if they fail." He turned on his heel and walked away. Into the woods somewhere the Chief never saw, but had a feeling he would get very familiar with soon.

      The man stopped suddenly, before entering the woods, though, and said loosely, "I have something for you as well, I'm sure you'll like it. You'll be getting it tomorrow, take tonight off to rest and get to know your troops." Shadows overwhelmed him as his body faded off into the trees.

      'Salemee felt a sharp pain as he regained conciousness. He woke up in a dark room surrounded by thick metal bars, and more than enough guards for his tastes. A noise in the corner tugged his attention from his surroundings and into the corner of the holding pin.

      He was surprised to find another commando elite, much like himself, coming to his senses as well. The blue armored elite looked stiff, and very grumpy as tried to stand up, apparently unaware of his companion.

      The other elite recognized the unfamiliar sight quickly though, his beady eyes peering coldly at 'Salemee. Neither of the elites had rank over the other, so neither were required to salute or show respect, which neither did.

      "Where are we?" 'Salemee asked as politely as possible, without giving up the dominant stature he was trying to keep. If he lost the dominant stance he had worked up so far, this other elite would never even consider taking orders from him, or much less following his plans.

      "I don't know. A human facility somewhere." 'Akazeem stretched, silently thankful that he was out of the small container he had been kept in on the Suncoast. Ever since the botched attack on that vessel he had barely been allowed to move, and his muscles were very sore from disuse.

      "A human facility you say? I would have never guessed we were at a human facility. The large metal bars and HUMAN guards never gave me that impression." 'Salemee clacked on angrily.

      "Calm down! If I can survive three weeks in a box then you can survive a day in this cell." 'Akazeem showed no sign of emotion as he surveyed his surroundings.

"What do these humans want us for anyway?"

"It's not information, they know that we won't give it to them. So it's for something much worse than any torture that they may have."

"That's reassuring." 'Salemee said sarcastically.

"We can only hope whatever it is happens quickly, I really don't want to spend too much time cooped up in this room."

      Lights, chairs, and a very familiar odor all greeted John as he entered the amphi-theater. The ONI officials had spared nothing in recreating the original settings. Only this time, John was in Mendez's place. He felt strange being out of the metallic skin he had grown so accustomed too, naked almost.

      There was a much larger group of Spartans than his class was left with, and he wouldn't be losing any to augmentations since they already had undergone the procedures. He felt awkward, as he hadn't been very talkative since Reach, and now he was expected to train an entire batch of Spartans he didn't even know.

      All of the trainees were sitting erect in their chairs and staring forward at the podium as he followed the steps to the platform. He stood at attention next to General Abigaid as he began his speech.

"Welcome Spartans. You are here because you are the best of the best, and no one can deny that. You have the best armor, training, and enhancements that money can buy, but it's not enough. We are at war with an enemy like no other, an enemy four times stronger, a hundred times larger, and a thousand times more determined to wipe Humanity from existance than any other in the history of mankind. You are here to show them that odds don't mean a damn thing." His troops continued to sit silently before him, none of them moved a muscle.

"And as such, you get to do the things everyone else can't. We will take the fight to the covenant, and we will win. Over the next two weeks you will have an unparalleled and vigorous training course like no other, taught by the covenant's own worst nightmare, and you get the added bonus of live subjects." Several of the men couldn't help but look at each other and exchange curious glances at the General.

"Luckily for you, you will go out equipped in the best armor in the universe. Better than and elite's, better than a hunter's. You will go out wearing the Mjolnir Mark VI battle suit. Enhanced with Forerunner technology, it will provide the support you need in combat. Any questions, didn't think so. Meet the Chief at the training facility double time, and from there on you are under his direct control, and no one elses. Rank is null and void on the field of combat, as the Chief will be your one and ONLY superior officer. Good luck."

      The General gave a quick nod, and walked briskly from the room. John knew he would most likely never see the General again, but that wasn't necissarily a bad thing.
He left the room as well, and began his trek to the enormous training facilities buried deep underground. The Septagon was truly a miracle of technology, and his men were a miracle in themselves.

Stay Tuned

Homeworlds XIII
Date: 23 September 2003, 1:52 AM

Due to the "problems" that HBO has encountered in the last few days, Homeworlds XII may or may not have been posted. I am writing this as though it HAS been posted, and if at a later date I am disheartenly informed that it has not, I will rewrite and sumbit XII again. Fortunately, if you read XI, you should be able to understand and follow this chapter pretty well.
                  The Management

      John had camoflauged himself over the last hour, taking up a position extremely close to the dormant covenant encampment. Their members were all sleeping, but that was going to change.

      He had given his team strict orders to wait for one hour at Chiron before heading off on the attack. This particular endeavor was mostly a test of what his men already knew, and not to teach them anything important.

      Except for the small fire crackling at the heart of the tent fortress, the forest was dimly lit. John had also taken away another of the trainees advantages, Their Mjolnir armor. They had to complete this phase of the mission with nothing but their modified MA5B assault rifles, and their teammates.

      The idea that his team would just glide into their tents while they slept suddenly struck John as extremely easy, and he had to modify it. He found a nearby rock, and tossed it into their midsts, hitting one of the elites in the head. He quickly woke up, and stared around.

      His plan worked, the small platoon was active in under thirty seconds. The grunts stretched and took several deep breaths of methane before finally picking up their weapons.

      He checked his watch carefully, making sure none of it's lime green light was visible around him, it was 0125, exactly one hour since he had given the command to his team and run off into the woods.

      Elites and grunts carefully combed the periphery, searching everywhere for their hidden agressors. After several minutes of searching, they felt reasonably sure that it was only an animal or other explainable reason for the rock's assault.

      One of the elite's took a long stretch, but suddenly fell to the ground in shock. Waves of electric energy surged across his body, and he was incapacitated on the jungle's floor.

      Yaps and squelches from nearby grunts broke the eerie silence that had been hanging over the platoon for the last several minutes. Six of the grunts met similar fates as the elite, all hit by the stund rounds the Spartans were carrying.

      Two shadowy figures ran through the midst of the chaotic crowd of scurrying figures, tossing two small cylinders into their center. A thick dark cloud of smoke began pouring through their tops, wreaking even more havoc on the disorderly enemy.

      John smiled to himself as he watched his men in action, reminded of his similar training on Reach. The games of Capture the Flag and Oddball that his trainers played to teach them, and the excersises he underwent all helped him in his real battles.

      Four other figures, all adorned with infra-red goggles, crept into the center, and systematically put their targets down. Gunbutts to the head, or a shot from their stun rounds put most of the victims down in a single shot.

      One elite, startled and angry, fired wildly into their midsts, unaware that his weapon had been replaced with a stunned weapon as well. One of the shadowed figures caught a stun round in the side, and he gripped his side in agony. His partner, swept him up over his shoulders, and proceeded to leave the scene.

      Three grunts and a jackal sprinted, if you could call it a sprint, towards the trees in hopes of finding cover, but soon found themselves hanging bottoms-up from several wires. Of the twenty or thirty covenant fighters that had been camping, only ten or so were still active, and losing people every second.

      Unknown snipers picked the group one at a time, from perches unseen. Spartan-117 flicked his night-vision camera on, and was instantly welcomed to the sight of swarming marines. They had set up a perimiter around the group, and five were tied to trees, the snipers.

      They were still apparently unaware of his presence, and he was going to use that to teach them a very valuable lesson. After all of the action subsided, the trainees secured the prisoners tightly.

      A moment of unguarded tranquility was the oppurtunity to pounce on his victims. He tugged two strings, to the welcomed view of smoke grenades. Now his team's world was upside down, several were caught off guard, and a couple panicked.

      The panicked ones were his favorite, they required calm marines to soothe their nerves, but he wouldn't allow that to take place. A succession of blurps echoed from his weapon as stun rounds found their targets.

      The five snipers were left hanging, unconcious, from their tree-top perches. Two more went down, followed by a rapid fire succession of three more. Chaos, fear, and panic spread like a virus through his students. Except for four, who had set up a small square, covering each other's backs.

      He slung his gun, and then took cover behind a tree. He hadn't even needed the night-vision goggles, as his enhancements provided owl-like vision. The four marines had noticed the movement, and began a systematic progression towards the tree he had taken cover behind.

      They split into two-man teams, and sprang forth into a rolling jump firing at the exposed side of the tree. NOTHING. The twick of snapping twigs and leaves was ominous as they felt excruciating pain in their backs and sides. Master Chief, at nearly fifty years old, had managed to single-handedly render his entire squad helpless, at this he couldn't help but smirk. But this lesson was far from over, he would teach the General exactly how deadly his men could be under his command.


Homeworlds XIV
Date: 24 September 2003, 12:16 AM

Since it appears that episode XII is NOT going to be posted, I will fill you briefly in on what happened in that episode. Ahem, chapter, whatever.

The Master Chief and his trainees recieved their armor, and the Master Chief was told that cortana would be given to him after they had finished the training, which due to recent events had been hacked from 2 weeks to one.

Training was a two phase ordeal, consisting of 1) a recon op against recently released covenant prisoners of war (carrying modified covenant weapons that would only stun, not kill) in which they detain all of them and 2) an attack on the heavily defended Septagon by his recruits, with the aid of he if necessary.

All of the recruits and aliens in phase one were carrying stun rounds, and the spartans were not equipped with their MJOLNIR Mark VI battle armor that they had just recieved.
However, in phase two, they would be equipped with their MJOLNIR battle armor, but would be up against opponent's using live-rounds.

They were NOT allowed to kill any of their opposition.

Episode XIII was Phase One
Episode XIV is Phase Two

ENJOY, That's an order.

      He stared at the mess of bodies lying helplessly on the ground, either writhing in agony, or unconcious. The stun rounds worked like a charm. These specially designed bullets would insert a long thin wire into the nerves of it's victim, and would emit a very real shock if nerve synapses fired. The victim would then either lie motionless, or pass out as he tried to fight the shocks.

      One by one he removed the stun wires from the spartans, instructing them to do the same with their comrades. After all of the trainees were active again, he filed them into two seperate groups.

      Teams Alpha and Bravo were temporary assignments, but he was going to teach them what they did wrong none-the-less.

      "Would anyone here like to tell me exactly how ONE, count that, ONE, person managed to take every single one of you and render you battle inoperable? Go ahead, this is all learning, so take a stab at why you failed."

      Eyes were staring blankly at him, and none of the marines rose their hands. Except for four, the same four that had managed to stay calm during the firefight. There were going to be a lot of angry marines to teach if he didn't get more than four hands out of a class of forty-two.

      "Since no one here wants to tell me why you failed, then w-, you, will run ten miles, through the woods, and then do field excersises for three hours. There will be no chow, and you will wake up at 0330 tommorow. I'll see you tomorrow then."

      He hadn't even turned around before every hand in his class shot up. He wasn't sure if they suddenly realised their mistakes, or if the threat of physical excersise jogged their memory, but one of them did. He glanced down at the small notepad he brought with him.

      "Spartans 1135, 1007, 1010, and 1607 please come to the front. Spartans 1110, 1560, 1683, 1646, 1783, 1753, and 1920 please step to the left of the lines. Everyone else, merge into one line."

      One unanimous movement expunged the named marines from the others, and they formed one large line. He admired all of his marines, but there was no room for the sloppiness they had demonstrated. He would sort them out quickly.

      "Ladies and gentlemen, the four Spartans you see at the front of the lines have shown exactly what I am looking for in cadets. They did not falter, they did not run, and most importantly, they did not panic. The spartans to your left panicked, and caused a detriment to your team."

      "As such, the spartans to your left are your new squad leaders. I have divided you into even teams of seven. I will not punish you as of yet, only if you fail your next challenge will you be punished. Trust me, if you think the small assignment I gave minutes ago was punishment, you have no idea."

      Cortana would be proud. Being with the new class of Spartans had brought back some dead part of his soul. He was now with people who had experienced the same things he had. Undergone the same procedures, and taken the same risks, and that, he could be a part of.

      "Now, I will take away one benefit that you would have had if you had succeeded in capturing me. I will not be accompanying you on your mission. I will be watching you. But rest assured, I would not let you go into this mission alone, if I did not believe you had the training, knowledge, and abilities to win it."

      "You know the drill. Stun rounds only, there are to be absolutely zero deaths in this excercise, and should one occur, report it immediately to me. However, this mission will continue until it has been finished. A death on the field is a death on the field. There is nothing you can do to help that man, and trying to do so will only slow you down. Do you understand me marines?"

"WE UNDERSTAND YOU SIR!" Reverberated through the audience of super-soldiers.

      "Very well, I will be monitoring your progress closely, and how you perform here will determine your final rank at the end of this training period. So do your best. The attack will begin at 0330. Can anyone tell me why I have chosen 0330 for this excercise?" All of the hands instinctively went up, a shallow grin crossed John's lips. "Spartan 1454, tell me why I have chosen this time."

      "Sir, you have chosen this time because of several reasons. First of all, it will be dark, and even though the soldiers we are oppositioned against we have full use of night and thermal goggles, we will still have the advantage. Second, the soldiers on duty will be at the end of their shifts, and will most likely be tired, as well as their guard down." The tall dark-haired soldier finished nearly out of breath, but showed no signs of it.

"Very good Spartan 1454. You have your orders marines. Get suited up, grab more ammunition, and get tactical."

0330 Hours, Cerapian Standard Time

      Rockwell, Jack, and Shelly were crouched in the enormous oak tree several hundred meters from the entrance of the facility. Seven guards were all patrolling, albeit haggardly and with very little enthusiasm, but they were still patrolling. Spartan-1683, Rockwell, had been assigned squad leader of Delta Team. He opened a private comm. channel between his team mates on his HUD.

      "Jack and Shelly, I want you two two take out the foremost guards, and then lay down a supressive cover fire. Sparatic as possible and still deadly, got it?"

"Yea." Shelly responded.

"Just tell me when to shoot." Jack responded coldly.

      "Candace, Morgan, Shimmer, and Richards, give em hell from four sides. I want chaos at all points, take them out as quickly as possible, the fewer there are the quicker we eat chow."

"Hell yea, I'm all for chow." Richards winked his acknowledgement lights twice, indicating he understood.

      "Then let's go marines. Three lights is the signal." Rockwell rapelled down the tree cautiously, it shook awkwardly as his heavy armor shifted it's weight quickly.

      Worn and tired eyes stared unknowingly into his attackers. Jack sighted his weapon against his shoulder, and waited for the sign. FLASH FLASH FLASH winked across his heads up display, or HUD, and he quietly squeezed the trigger.

      A hapless marine's body made a dim thud against the ground as he was neutralized. Three similar fates met the guards around him. The three other guards, suddenly awake and aware, went sprinting for cover. Stun rounds activated harmlessly in the dirt and metal as they tried to hit their prey.

      One of the marines ducked into the small alcove at the facilities entrance. Shimmer stalked around the jungle's breakers and stood at the edge. He peered into the hole and found his target, but his prey had seen him as well. Bullets whizzed and zinged over his head and several impacted the tree to his right. Bark and dirt sprinkled his suit as he ducked the barrage.

      The familiar clink of a frag grenade was heard as he combed the forest floor. A primed explosive was sitting only inches away. He made a hard leap into the open, and took several ugly rolls as the blast tossed him. Bullets spared no expense as they traversed the air heading for him.

      He rolled out of the path of several only to face a more dangerous adversary, a shotgun wielding soldier standing above him. Shimmer watched as the seamingly slow-motion cocking of the weapon proceeded before his eyes.

      He swallowed the small lump of saliva that had wedged itself in his throat quietly to himself, and knew that even with his reflexes it was too late to dodge at such close range. The other spartans had their hands busy with the new marines spewing into the battle, he closed his eyes and shielded his face with his hands as he heard the deafening roar of weapons fire.


Homeworlds XV
Date: 27 September 2003, 7:07 PM

      Shimmer stared into the barrel expressionless, the blood had drained from his face and his heart was pumping wildly. Even spartans know death, but Shimmer wasn't ready to know him this personally.

      The marine squeezed the trigger, and the blast filled Shimmer's visor. He clenched his eyes and shielded his face with his hands. The chirpy sound of his alarm was relief to him as it meant that he wasn't dead, at least not yet. How he had survived a shotgun blast to the face at such close range was beyond him, but whatever it was, he didn't mind.

      He rolled into the marine's legs, pinning him under the half-ton MJOLNIR armor. Specialist Robert Harper screamed in pain as his bones were crushed under the weight, he clawed at his feet futily, breaking several nails on the heavily armed fighter situated on top of them.
He finally passed out from shock, and Shimmer couldn't help but feel sorrow for him.

      "Get up Shimmer, we're goin in. It's time to finish fighting each other in training and get to the real deal." Merendez locked wrists and pulled Shimmer to his unsteady feet. Wobbling on uneasy legs momentarily, he exhaled and gave Merendez a quick pat on the back. Shimmer quickly grabbed the nearby shotgun that had nearly ended his life only moments before.

      A group of seventeen or eighteen spartans had fought their way past sentries and were heading for the door. Automated turrets tracked their movements and began their grim dance. Bullets lanced off of several Spartan's armor and the impact knocked two off of their feet.

      Four marines barged into the light, rifles in hand, and began welcoming their guests. Shimmer took a knee and pumped several warning shots at the onslaught. Two slipped behind a static shield that had been hastily set up, and the other two hit the ground with their heads covered. Three Spartans pounced at once, retrieving their weapons and holding them at bay.

      Merendez was securing the door as Shimmer hurried to cover his back. Their was a small staircase leading into the bunker, and the lights were flickering randomly. The duo swept into the thin hallway and jumped half of the stairs in one bound. Merendez slipped as the stair he landed on crumbled beneath his weight. Shimmer balanced himself on two separate stairs while grabbing the handrail, which bent from his strength.

      The shotgun at his waist was combing the hallway before he was. The hall was surprisingly devoid of life, especially the large counter-attack he had been expecting. Several marines were scattering to-and-fro in the hall a distance away. Merendez's head was cocked as Shimmer glanced inconspicuously at him, apparently as baffled as he himself was.

"What's going on here Shim?"

"I have no idea."

      "What are you two gawking at? Move it!" Rockwell blasted the two for their temporary pause. He shoved the two in the back and pushed through their formation. Ten or twelve other troops followed before Shimmer and Merendez finally cut in the line and began their procession deep into the tunnels.

      The teams broke off in two's and three's as they passed each hall; it appeared they would be stuck with Sellers. Sellers was one of the largest members of the team. He was built like an ox and used it to his advantage, and was amazingly smart. Shim cocked a small grin as they cut into a small outlet leading to the labs.

      They passed locked door after locked door in this hall, which was covered in dust and dimly lit. Cobwebs decked the ceiling, and large spiders corpses were caught in their own design.

      A particularly rusty door at the end of the hall caught all of their attention, and their naturally inquisitive nature took over. Sellers tried to pick the electronic lock to no success, it's battery had long died, and the door's mechanical motors were non-responsive.

      The three worked in unison to wedge the door partly open, but it was extremely strong. Sellers moved in between the partitions and pushed as hard as he could, but he was slipping. Merendez and Shimmer crouched under him and into the room with Sellers rolling in behind them.

      Large computer terminals adorned the walls, unused for easily thirty years. The technology installed was a model that hadn't been in production since the early 2500's. Lights in the room made a heavy buzz as they struggled to activate, and several blew out in the attempt.

      A large holographic projector sparked to life, the robed figure of a barefoot greek goddess. The tablet in her arms had scrolling cuneiform trudging across it's face, and Shimmer was awed by the sight.

"Welcome, I am Deja, may I inquire what you have come here for?"

      "Deja, what is this place?" Sellers interupted. Deja hadn't seemed to realise the large man standing to her left, and looked surprised when she realised who he was.

"John, welcome back. It has been a very long time since we last met. How have you been faring against the covenant?"

      "I'm sorry. I don't understand. I'm not John." Deja scanned the Spartan's suits with a subtle hint of interest. Sellers stared at Shimmer and Merendez with obvious confusion.

      "I do not have your names in my roster of Spartans. Your suits are also not registered. Please tell me where you recieved them." Deja pleaded.

      "We're the second group of Spartans, and these suits are new." Merendez answered her with slight remorse. The AI before him had apparently not seen use in an absurd amount of time.

      "Why are you here Deja?" Shimmer asked carefully. He made a slight motion toward her hologram, but stopped short as she turned to stare at him.

      "I am Deja. The Artificial Intelligence in charge of classroom instruction of the Spartan program here on Reach. I am designed to offer lessons on mathematics, biology, history, and warfare tactics that can help my pupils in the field. Chief Petty Officer Mendez is the field instructor, and our program is headed by Dr. Catherine Halsey, Section Three Offices of Naval Intelligence." Shimmer was confused by what she had said.

      "Deja, this isn't Reach. Reach was bombarded by the Covenant and destroyed five years ago. You're on Cerap at a facility called the Septagon. It's the new training facility for the Spartan III program."

      The AI took a detectable pause as she processed the information. A pixelated frown crossed her face and her brow arched. She ran a hand through her hair, and then stared at her room for several seconds. It was as though she hadn't seen this place in an eternity, which truth be told, she hadn't.

"I see. The how can I help you? I have extensive databases on tactical information."

      "That's okay, we have orders, we'll be going." The AI looked frantically around, she had been so lonely for so long, she would do anything to keep her companions for only moments longer.

"Are you sure? Our databases are full of useful information."

"Such as..."

      "We have explicit data on the Covenant units, vehicles, and weapons, detailed battle rundowns, and information on their tactics as of yet. Would you like to review this information to help you in your upcoming battles?" They had seeen all of this a thousand times before in training, but he figured it couldn't hurt.

      "Let's have a look at the battle rundowns, and then their tactics." This brought a visible smile from the holo-form, and she looked at her pad. Please choose one of the battles listed."

      The Spartans stared at the list of battles and information that popped up as Deja scrolled them across the hologram she was standing on.

Jovian Moon Campaigns
Rain Forest Wars
Mars Clashes
Interplanetary War
Faster than light
First Wave
The Odyssey
Inner Colonies
Birth of the Outer Colonies
Artifact Discovery [Classified]
Covenant War
Battle of Harvest
Outer Colony Massacre
Inner Colony Siege

      One of the the entries caught all of their attention. Shimmer ran his finger over the highlighted text that was on her tablet, and it lit up with a chirp. It flashed from black to white several times as Deja's information retrieval systems extracted the information.

      "The Artifact Discovered on August 30th of 2496 by the UNSC Dawn of Dusk is a mystery. Visual data recorded by the UNSC Ark. A massive ring shaped structure is found, with all of the qualities required by UNSC standards for human habitation. It measured in at 100,000 kilometers across, and had an atmosphere of unknown origin."

      "The two ships were ordered by General Harold Redson to investigate the structure for intelligence purposes. Structures on the surface were scattered across the heavily forrested world, and hinted at the existence or previous existence of alien life.

      "Upon setting down on the artifact, a series of strange occurances are recorded on the ship's logs. Marines returned..."infected" with some sort of parasitic creature attached to them and are quickly put into quarantine aboard the ships."

      "The infection soon spread throughout the crew of the Dawn of Dusk. The Ark took onboard all remaining uninfected marines on the planet, and left the artifact's orbit. The Dawn of Dusk was never heard from again, and it is assumed that it is still stranded on the artifact's surface. All information regarding this incident was classified by ONI Section Four Bio-Weapons Division under the command of General Brookes.

      This news hit the team like a brick to the face. Everything they had been led to believe was crushed. Why hadn't they, or anyone for that matter, been told about this. But one thing never made sense, if the Dawn of Dusk was stranded on Halo's surface, how come the Pillar of Autumn never picked her up on her scanners.

      All of the Spartans had been required to intensely study the history of the Master Chief's exploits on Halo, but the encounter of the Dawn of Dusk was never noted. The doors behind them made a ominous hiss as they strained to open, and the team whirled around. Deja also turned to face the entrance with curious interest, and a small slit of light entered the room through the parting doors.


Homeworlds XVI
Date: 1 October 2003, 10:06 PM

      The doors were inched apart by an obscured figure. No, two, three figures. They wedged it apart with a discernable amount of trouble, but finally managed to unseal the room. Sellers' HUD read them instantly as Spartans Johnson, Shields, and Stillings.

      "What the hell are you guys doing in here? We're trying to finish an Op and ya'll are chit-chatting with an AI. Come on, if chief finds out about this we're screwed." Shields motioned for them to leave with a nod as he struggled against the door.

      Deja fluttered several times and then disappeared as Shimmer, Sellers, and Merendez jogged through the opening. Shields and Stillings rolled away from the door before it violently slammed shut again. Sellers knew there was more to Deja then it looked. The brass never put that much security on a door unless it was meant to keep someone out.

      The hallway was bristling with green-armored combatants, all heading for the surface. They passed by a group of two marines who didn't survive the battle, one of their heads indented by a forceful blow.

      General Abigaid was being escorted by Walker and Geran topside, where they would officially be done with training. Shimmer couldn't wait to fight some covenant one on one. He'd fought simulated battles against them hundreds of times, and even sparred with other spartans, but it wasn't the same. There he was restricted, but on the battlefield, he was unopposed.

      The sun had receeded to below the trees, but was still visible as they entered the open air. Merendez marveled at the sight of such a beautiful dusk, the pinks, organges, and blues all combining to form a wonderful color.
Although he couldn't feel it, his suit told him that it was a wonderful seventy degrees with a light breeze.

      Six pelicans were waiting for them as they rounded the facility's corner, and they boarded them quickly. Another trip to an unknown origin, Merendez had gotten quite used to them, but still never cared for them. It was a Spartan's nature to be deployed erratically and without forewarning, but he could handle it.

      The heavy ship took a laborious wide-sweeping turn as it attempted to position itself between a piece of it's hull and the incoming plasma. Capulet wasn't sure how much longer the Suncoast would make it, but he wasn't ready to give up on her yet.

      "Where do we stand Caprice?" Capulet asked the weapons officer solemnly. The mix of sweat and blood that dripped into his eyes stung, but the adrenaline blocked the pain. It had taken him several minutes to realise he had cracked ribs, but his attempt to rest in the Captain's chair made that more than evident.

      "MAC cannon operational, but barely. Recharging at fifteen percent a minute. Currently at thirty percent and climbing." Caprice had learned her lesson in the last battle. She wouldn't make the mistake of questioning Capulet again, and followed his orders unnervingly.

"Where did those bastards come from, and how many are there?" Capulet demanded angrily.

      "They came out of sub-space ready for us. Their plasma torpedoes launched almost immediately. Scanners picked up three medium tonnage frigates." Sahawneh, radar, scanners, and point defense officer replied.

      "What's our status Richards?" Capulet's voice broke as the ship shuddered from another impact. "Full thrust, line us up with that moon. Hide us behind that as long as we can. Their gonna expect us to just sit there, so pull us behind her, then sit us underneath."

      Roger that, heading to coordinates 110 by 255." Campbell responded. Video of Cerap's moon, named Pentagon, came into view. The Suncoast headed towards her at a painstakingly slow speed, Capulet mentally urged her to go faster, but no amount of that would make her do so.

      "Sir, we're in pretty deep. Engines at fifty percent, we only have ten .50-caliber point defense cannons remaining. Reactors running hot, ten percent probability of overload if we continue running them at this rate. Scanning is still operational. Hull integrity at fifty-five percent, and sectors D4 through G6 are uninhabitable."

      Richards finished his diagnostics report with an ominous, "All longswords, save two, have been rendered useless. Four pilots have been retrieved, and efforts are underway to save the other three stranded."

"That's seven pilots Richards, where are the rest?" Capulet asked with a look of confusion imprinted on his face.

"There are no more sir, they've all been destroyed."

      "Very well then, hiding won't do us any good. We have to fight these bastards the old fashioned way. Up close and personal. Campbell, turn us around and head us toward them, Caprice, fire archer missiles A1-B24 at them. Hexobar, clear out any uneccisary rooms and decompress them. Folgers, get me everything you can out of those engines, and Sahawneh, tell me what their up to before they know what their up to."

      "Aye aye!" Echoed through the bridge as the ensigns quickly faced their terminals. Fingers danced and keys crackled as a furious onslaught of commands were processed. Video of three large covenant ships appeared on Capulet's screen, light blue ridges of light eminating from their bows. Several streaked towards the Suncoast, and several of the plasma torpedoes landed their mark.

"Sir, torpedoes landed at our rear. Engines at forty-five percent."

      "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." Capulet screamed, saliva and sweat hurling from his forehead and mouth as he jerked forward to face them.

"Shula, hail the frigates."

      "I'll try sir." The comms officer went to work, and to his surprise, recieved an answer. The hardened face of a commander elite appeared on the monitor, several jackles and grunts scurried in the background.

"What pestulance is this human? Can't you die like the rest of your kind?"

      "I have three words for you. Watch your back!" Capulet severed the connection as the elite began to speak, and was sure that he had royally pissed the opposing ship commander off.

"Sir, MAC rounds red hot and ready to toast." Caprice chirped in.

"Good, get me firing solutions with the frigates. Arm archer missiles C1-M24."

"Already on it."

      The Suncoast edged nearer to her opponents in a suicidal fury. The covenant frigates were charging more plasma torpedoes as Capulet received the firing solution. The Suncoast wobbled dishearteningly as her MAC rounds bit through space. The medium-tonnage frigates only needed one round to expunge their shields, and Capulet was ready to give it to 'em.

      Collison alarms blared to life as the enormous ship neared the covenant frigates. He was gonna run her up their middle, where the Suncoast was safe from fire from the third covenant vessel. Shields flickered as the MAC rounds finally landed, and the archer missiles were released. Rabidly chasing the MAC rounds were the several hundred high-explosive archer missiles.

      They erupted flambuoyantly against the ship's hull, tearning gaping holes in their metallic skin. Capulet could almost hear the commander elite he had spoken with cursing, and he chuckled to himself.

"Pull us up Campbell, let them blast the hell out of each other before they realise we're gone."

      "Gotcha!" Campbell responded as he pulled the ship from between the two beasts. Plasma torpedoes flashed as they discharged from the cannons they were spawned from, and surged for the Suncoast. Unfortunately for them, the large signature they were tracking wasn't the long-gone Suncoast, but the ship adjacent to them.

      Ripples wafted across their sterns as the super-heated matter impacted. One of the two frigates began spurting fireballs as explosions criss-crossed the ship. Her shields choked to life before failing once and for all, and she finally went dead in space.

      Her sister ship was peppered with chunks of debris nearly a half-kilometer across, and was knocked sideways. The single covenant ship left turned in a desperate attempt to flee, but was overcome by the hard knock of a colliding frigate. Both ship's shields flared and died, and the two bows met with a vengeance.

      Capulet whooped as he watched the chain-reaction, but was quickly put in his place as the two crippled ships stopped their deadly dance, and turned to face him.

"Caprice, how are we?"

"At least five minutes."

"That's no good."

      "Sir, it gets worse. Scanners detecting a large presence behind the planet. They'll be all over us in thirty seconds." Sahawneh interupted quickly, afraid of the Captain's response.

      The time seemed to go on forever as the two broken covenant ships before him powered up for another round of attacks, and a larger battlegroup approached from nearby. The covenant bows glared brightly, but something went wrong.

      Their shields flickered and died, and enormous holes dented the sides. A gigantic explosion began on one side and followed through the other as Capulet stared in awe at the screen before him. A similarly confused covenant frigate turned to face the direction of the attack, only to find four MAC rounds slapping her in the face.

      The ship's bow was disentagrated, and her hull began collapsing on itself. A core implosion began, and the plasmid metal of her superstructure shot wildly into space. The Suncoast would live to fight another day, but Capulet still wondered how.

"Sir, the UNSC Barbarian hailing us." Shula nearly screamed at Captain Capulet.

"Well what are you waiting on, patch her through. She did just save our life."

"You bet."

      The viewing screen clicked black, and then slowly tuned in as the face of a general appeared. He had an unusually large bridge for a ship of his size, and the appearance of multiple Spartans on the deck caught the entire crew off-guard.

"This is General Westley Abigaid, commander of the Twelfth Fleet, co-headed by Admirals Yamamoto and Arthur. We were just passing through, and thought we'd give you a hand."

"I'm much pleased you stopped by General." Capulet said with a smile.

"Are you capable of slipspace jumps Captain?"

      Capulet turned to Campbell who nodded, and then turned back to face General Abigaid.

"Yes sir, where are we going."

"You aren't going anywhere without getting fixed. Follow us to the coordinates being uploaded to your communications officer, and there will be much explained there."

"I have to pick up some men from the surface sir, and then we'll be on our way."

"No need for that, we already have them. We'll see you there. Abigaid out."

      The screen winked off, and Capulet turned to Shula.

"You heard the man, head us there. Caprice, your in charge while I'm away. If anything happens, wake me. I'll be in the medical bay."

"Yes sir. Campbell, head us out." Caprice liked the turn of events that had occurred, and was more than happy to be in command of a Cruiser in such a short amount of time.


Homeworlds XVII
Date: 7 October 2003, 11:43 PM

Chapter Twelve-The Dawn of what now?

      The Suncoast sailed gently through the vacuum of space. Undaunted by her near catastrophic encounter only ours before. Caprice was enjoying the frugal benefits of her command while Capulet was away, but not as much power as she would have wished.

      The small fleet, and numerous spartans, were trekking along nearby. The flagship Barbarian was leading the voyage, ready to fight at a moment's notice. General Abigaid was more than ready to give the Covenant a run for their money, and with his new spartans, he was sure he could.

      One of the few people in the military that was still confident in what the Spartan program could actually do, he had been the first to vote yes on the proposal for a second batch of spartans.

      Capulet winced as the large metal needle sliced a thin slit through his epidermus. Tough as nails though he was, he abhored needles. The doctor apologized for the pain and coaxed him through every prick of the instrument.

"Sorry Cap, but it's bound to sting. Just a couple more."

      "Hurry up Sturgeon. I've gotta get back to the bridge before Caprice runs us into an asteroid." The two men chuckled at the thought of Caprice directing the massive vessel, as she was a rather poor driver.

      "I don't know where you're off too, we still gotta fix your ribs. I count three with hair fractures, and one with a clean break." Another quick stab drove the fact ,that Capulet was going to be in the med-bay for a long time, home.

      A technician entered the room quietly, a datapad nestled in between her elbow and busom. She was an attractive and slender woman, who's hair had apparently grown far in excess of UNSC standards.

      "Sir, we're exiting slipspace now. We're scheduled to rendezvous with the Phoenix repair station in thirty minutes. General Abigaid requests you on the Barbarian's bride as soon as possible." Her attention wained from her board only once, and she spent the rest mulling over various information scrolling across her screen.

"How long until the Suncoast is repaired?" Capulet asked with another cringe as Sturgeon poked and pulled at the stitches.

      "Station master estimates a little over forty three hours. However, we're not going to be taking the Suncoast on this mission. For this one, he requests a larger vessel, but insists that you will get her back at a later date."

"Well then what exactly will we be taking?"

      "I'm sorry sir, I don't have that information as of now. You'll have to find out from him." The wiry tech. saluted, was returned the salute, and then turned on her heel and exited the room.

UNSC Barbarian

      Abigaid was sitting casually in the plush command chair on the Barbarian's bridge. If he noticed Capulet's entrance there were no physical signs as he continued to silently stare at the brilliant swirls of galaxies before him.

      "Captain Capulet, please have a seat." Broke the almost eerie silence on the command deck as his throaty voice came from deep within. He was quite a sight with the large group of stitches nestled on his crown and the Plasticair cast around his chest.

      A marine carried a richly covered leather chair and sat it down next to the General. He helped the Captain into his seat, saluted, and then returned to his post beside the various panels that regulated the ship.

      Abigaid turned slowly, almost methodically, to face his company. Obviously in no rush to divulge any information he was going to. His heavy glare sizing up the bruised and bandaged Captain sitting before him.

      "Captain Richard Capulet. Graduate of the UNSC Academy of Flight and Aeronautical Sciences in 2546. First command assignment at the age of thirty-two aboard the Harvest Moon. You've participated in twelve human battles, various pirate encounters, and three Covenant battles." Abigaid had given everything about Capulet except his shoe size in his summation of service.

      "Three star general Westley Abigaid. Graduate of Tour' De For on Chi Ceti 4. Supplemental courses at the Naval Academy on Earth and the Regimental Institute of Technology on Reach. First assignment aboard the Polyphemus. Seventeen human encounters, three major pirate encounters, and five Covenant battles."

      Abigaid gave a hearty laugh and patted Capulet on the back. He felt proud at returning the General's ferocious and somewhat unexpected assault of facts, but never to be outdone, Capulet had researched the General's history meticulously.

      "Very good, but you were wrong on one part, four Covenant battles, not five, but very good none-the-less. Do you have the slightest idea why you're here?"

      "Actually sir, I haven't the slightest. Other than a supposed command change, and briefing, I know nothing about why I'm here."

      "You're here because you've got the best record against the Covenant since ole' Keyes. He took a helluva lot out with him though, an entire covenant armade, but I'm sure you've read all about that so I won't bore you with the details."

      As Abigaid finished the heavy clank of metal boots rattled through the room. A squad of seven Spartans had encircled the two men, but none spoke or motioned. The armor they wore wasn't the same as the Spartan he had seen before his deployment on Cerap, but the fact that there were Spartans amazed him.

      "I've taken the liberty of giving you a new ship for this assignment, don't worry, the Suncoast is being refitted and modified as we speak. I know the value a Captain has placed in his ship. You can tell can't you?"

      Ivory, bronze, and silver were intricately engraved into the panelling and various places aboard the bridge. A heavy and exotic carpet spanned the floor, and several holo-pictures lined the walls. This man apparently admired his ship very much, and his detailed customization reflected as such, but that only added to Capulet's admiration for him.

      "Let me get to the jist of this. Your new ship will be a frigate. I'm fully aware that a frigate is much smaller than the ship your used to, but this is different. This frigate is Covenant." Capulet's face nearly melted at the rainbow of emotions he was treated to.

      "We have security teams combing the ship now, and she is being repaired as well. We've been able to translate most of their controls, but not all. We're going to install a specialized AI to help you with your assignment."

      "You're going to fly her into Covenant space, slip past their defenses, drop the Spartans, and then hold out for as long as you can. Hopefully, you'll be able to get through without supsicion for a while, but once the Spartans hit the groun all hell's gonna break loose."

      "I understand sir. When do we leave?" Splitting pain ran through his broken body, but he was more than eager to bare through it as he listened intently.

      "The Prophet's Will is being restored as we speak. Station Master figures two or three days, you beat her pretty hard, but she'll be in good shape. We're interogating several of their elites, and you're going to need them for security checks that may occur. As soon as she's ready, your crew, as well as the spartans, will slip onboard and then kick some ass."

      The two men nodded, and the Captain strolled from the bridge with a wide-sweeping grin. He was in for one hell of a ride, and he knew that, but it was a ride he was sure to remember.


Homeworlds XVIII
Date: 11 October 2003, 1:41 AM

Four days later

Chapter Thirteen-Are you afraid of the dark?

      The air was chilly aboard the covenant vessel. Water droplets formed on the screen before him, constantly requiring a dry sleeve to clear them. Everything was fine, the mission was go.

      Capulet brushed past Richards and Folgers on his way to the command deck, which had been outfitted with an insane amount of computers and databanks. The battle-scarred and scorched Covenant doors parted before him, a light winking several times before allowing admittance.

      His command chair had been pulled from the Suncoast and nailed to the raised platform that controlled the behemoth. Control panels and chairs had been situated in the two thin aisles to either side of his chair, and his position gave him a sense of power.

      The holopanels that surrounded him had been recaliberated, and now projected easily readable english dialog. The frontmost holopanel displayed crystal-clear video of the space surrounding the ship. The panels to his left and right had detailed diagrams and charts for any situation that he could possibly encounter.

      A large diagram of the Prophet's Will hovered in three dimensions with interactive status panels that he could rely on. Charts of every possible status that his mind could think of were present, and he began to realize why the covenant were winning this war.

      "Sir, where exactly are we going on this mission?" Campbell asked as he slowed his jog catching up with the captain.

      "Head us here. Power up all of the weapons." Capulet handed Campbell a thick clipboard full of notes and starcharts, and the two split apart. Cap sprinted up the small ramp to his chair and took a seat in it as he spun it around to face his monitors. Campbell slid down his ramp and nudged by his fellow officers, handing each of them duty rosters.

      "Status reports; Caprice, Sahawneh, Campbell, Richards, Folgers, Shula" The captain had a noticeable amount of enthusiasm in his voice, and he didn't really need to ask them for the information, but he loved the thrill of hearing it.

      "Weapons charging. MAC Cannons at ninety-six percent, archer missile pods ready, plasma cannons charged, plasma torpedoes ready and waiting. I love this ship sir.!"

"I know you do, Shula, what you got for me?"

"I got nothing. UNSC and Covenant frequencies reporting only marginal chatter, nothing important."

"Well keep me informed. Campbell, move us out."

"We're on our way sir."

"Richards, how we doing?"

"Cap, everythings fine. Weapons fine, armor and hull plating at one-hundred percent, shields steady, everything go."

"Very nice, Folgers, where do we stand."

"Sir, the reactors are at ninety percent and we're hauling more ass than the Suncoast could when I pushed her to a hundred and ten."

"Put it in your next report son, Sahawneh what's on the soapbox?"

"Sir, radar is active, scanners good. I'm picking up the General and his fleet, the repair dock, and several longswords. We're working five by five."

      "Alright ladies and gentlemen, you heard each other, everything on this ship is good to go. The tech junkies did their jobs, and we're on our way. Let's go teach the Covenant lesson number one eighty-two: Don't piss of Capulet before he's had his coffee."

      The whole room bellowed with laughter, and the Captain was glad to have his crew. They had an almost familial bond form over the past several weeks, and his men knew they could talk openly with him. Although, he still required them to salute and show the necessary respect.

      His new ship was a hybrid. The damage to her hull had actually prove beneficial, as it left an gap large enough for the UNSC technicians and engineers to install three MAC cannons and six rows of Archer missiles.

      Six fusion reactors had been added to the plasmid cores the Covenant used, and their supplemental power made the ship nearly limitless in power. The fusion reactors could be used to power whatever needed it, while still allowing the plasmid reactors to take care of the basics.

      And the fact that they worked on a circuit-breakeresque system, meant that the shields could absorb much more abuse than before.

      The unique setup alloted for massive backwash surges of power as the shields deflect and then grasp for more, and as one massive impact would die another reactor would pull the strain of the shield's requirements while the other picked up the previous reactors rather light loads.

      Colors swirled and space sizzled on his monitor as Richard watched the space boil and pop before him. The sizzle was ominous, yet familiar, and their was a lump in his throat he could never manage to get out before the jumps.

      Time seemed to freeze, as the ships around him disappeared, stars seemed to speed by with reckless abandon, and his ships bow surged forward. In an awkward way Capulet felt like an adventurer of olden times, surging forth in his vessel, not knowing who or what he would encounter when he arrived.

      Campbell let out a deep sigh of relief as he slowly released his death-grip on the ship's controls. He had been dumbfounded and amazed at the relative control he had over the massive ship. He was used to the clunky controls and horrible accuracy aboard the Suncoast during slipspace jumps.

      The Prophet's Will came to bear several hundred miles in front of a planet. Scanners under Sahawneh's control pulled up a hologram of Celaco, a jackal homeworld much similar to Mars' terraformed surface.

      The entire crew was aghast at what they found, however. The normally hyperactive space-station and repair center orbiting the planet was completely destroyed. Large chunks of it's superstructure floating aimlessly through vacuum.

      Various objects that were used inside of the station skittered off in every direction, weightless in the icy void. Eating utensils, tables, and other foreign devices pinged and evaporated against the ship's shields, a barely audible clink the only sign.

      Silence was golden in the command center, as neigh a breath was exhaled among the crew. Several techs crowded around Capulet and his computer banks in awe and confusion. Consternation apparent on their faces as they struggled to comprehend what they were seeing.

      Imploded carcasses of various Covenant races were scattered across the life-less field of death. What could have possibly unleashed so much power was beyong anyone onboard. The hulking wrecks and debris of seven previously docked carriers loomed on the horizon, hiding in the small moon orbiting Celaco's shadow.

      Caprice nearly regurgitated her stomach's contents as her emotions formed a putrid smell in her mind. Capulet's lips shrugged several times before the hint of a word came out, and he sputtered on for several more minutes before forming a logical sentence.

"What in god's name happened here?" He mumbled more to himself than the crew.

      "Scanners are almost overloading sir. The Covenant space-station and repair facility Codiap is in ten pieces. Seven carriers are mangled and utterly inhospitable, somehow all moved to the underbelly of the planet's moon. Bodies are off the charts. Whatever hit here, hit it VERY hard sir." Sahawneh replied.

      "Brief splinters of messages, apparently recordings from the surfaces. The battle net in this region is in shambles. There isn't a live voice on here anywhere, only warning and distress signals to anyone who finds this place." Shula interupted as he removed his headset. "Incoming message, clearer than others, translation software in progress."

      A small bar centered itself on everyone's monitor, and it quickly filled before fading. A sweating and panicked jackal's face appeared, his beak jabbering uncontrollably. The facility behind him shaking several times before settling, fires flaring in the background, and several pipes crashing from the ceiling. A delayed translated speech came over the speakers.

      "Them, the gods, they have sent their menions. They took our form, they were unstoppable. Massive, swarming, invincible. We are all doomed, may you have more luck than," Static crippled the message as the screen shook again, a heavy beam striking the person in the picture dead. Several jackals rushed past his position, either unaware or uncaring.

      "I don't know who's in control of this video, but zoom in on that panel over there." Several blurred figures in the feed screamed by, and Capulet analyzed carefully. "Can you rewind and clear that up?"

      Shula quickly tapped the keyes at his post, and the video moved slowly in reverse, then paused. The panel at the bottom left hand of the screen zoomed in on the blurred figure, and then cleared it up. The Spartan who had arrived on the scene, a John-117, had been watching carefully the entire time, and was befuddled by what he saw.


Homeworlds XIX
Date: 17 October 2003, 2:49 AM

Chapter Fourteen-It came from beneath the.....

      The slow pan in the video nearly drove the crew insane. The shimmering metallic object it finally focused on was strange. Neither Capulet or his crew could make out what it was. Some sort of large mechanical creature surged by the window, with a close escort of three or four.

      He had seen enough to know that it was time to go, and go he was. He was fairly sure he wouldn't even be reprimanded, as his mission was technically both a success and over. There was one person on the command deck who wasn't willing to just leave on the spot, as curiosity was a very overcoming adversary.

      "Captain, we shouldn't just leave. We don't know what happened here. You're willing to abandon this oppurtunity?" John asked with a slight step up the centered platform's stubby ramp. The journey reminded him of his time aboard the Truth and Reconciliation, a journey he enjoyed neither the first or second time he made it.

      "Listen Spartan, I value your judgement, I really do, but I've seen enough in my years to know that I'm in WAY over my head. Look at this screen and tell me what you see." The captain spun his chair to face the approaching cyborg, and bent down. It was hard for Capulet to establish the dominance he was trying to, as he couldn't lock eyes with the Chief, who was wearing the thick golden visor.

      "I see an enemy who has been rendered combat ineffective, thus giving us an excellent oppurtunity to secure vital information that could be extremely useful to FLEETCOM in the future." The Chief's parry was brilliant, and the captain couldn't argue with it, but he wasn't going to lose this battle, at least not yet.

      "I understand the urge you'd have for me to sit you down on that planet and let you scamper around like children on a scavenger hunt, but there are three things that make me very nervous. One is the fact that there is NO life here. The other is that whoever did it is gone. And the last is that whatever Covenant forces are en route to answer those distress beacons are going to be very curious when they get here, and finding a modified vessel probably labeled as K.I.A. in the midst of all this will not look very good for us."

      "Sir, sit us down on the planet, and give my men four hours. That's all I ask." Tensions were high as the two men fought a subconcious tug-of-war game for dominance. Neither could establish it, and that somehow struck them as odd deep down. Capulet had never been defeated like this before, and the Chief had never been defeated period.

      Capulet turned to face his panels again, the low beep and hum of sensors the only audible sounds in the room. It had gotten darker it seemed, the only two people in the room were the captain and the spartan. The only two figures who could move or even breathe as everyone else couldn't help but watch on fanatically.

      "Your men get four hours. No more, no less. If they aren't onboard at exactly four hours, not four hours and one minute, not four hours and thirty seconds, four hours, then they will be left. Mark my words. Campbell, sit us down on that planet as quickly as possible. Chief, prep your men." Eye contact, facial contact for that matter, was not re-established between the two after this mind war. Capulet merely stared at his flashing holograms as the chief disappeared down the corridor he had entered from, most likely heading for the barracks.

Planetside (Countdown Clock 31:40:03 Until Liftoff)

      Shim surveyed the area again, still trying to find a feasable excuse as to what had happened. He had established several, but none could stick. Inside of his sealed suit he could feel nothing, but the sight itself was hostile.

      The two large suns orbiting Celaco glared down on the team like beady eyes watching from the shadows. Waiting to pounce as soon as it's victim gave a moment's respite. The few remaining buildings left standing, or partially erect, were ablaze or smoldering. Three similarly-styled ten story buildings were sitting crippled at the edge of the city. Unknown materials the jackals used for glass lay strewn across the sandy earth, several shards blowing carelessly in the wind.

      The small jackal houses they passed were simply crumbles of brick, metal, and plastics. Bodies littered the street as though it was commonplace. So much garbage to be picked up by time, the cruel pardoner of all sins. Flies swarmed over the decaying carasses. His suit's air filters did nothing for the smell, the smell of burning flesh, of rotting flesh, of innocence brutally swept away without warning.

      Stopped in his tracks by the sight of a woman lying hunched over on the ground, holding something in her arms. He crouched down, curious, and carefully turned her over. Cradled in her arms was child. A small jackal of only several months, he began crying as the large cold hands removed him from the warm flesh of his mother.

      Flashes of memory surged through his mind, unwanted or scared he wasn't sure, but the feeling was strange. The video of the Covenant glassing planets, the satellite video of men and women on the ground running for their lives before being turned violently to ash, and then erased from history forever. He was sure there had been millions of children, just like this one, on those planets as well. Though not human, he felt a strange compassion for the helpless creature, it's small eyes staring at him. It was too young to know war, or hate, or famine, it merely wanted someone, anyone, who could take the pain away.

      Shimmer neslted him closely to his chest, and the small arms of the infant clambered in an effort to wrap themselves around him, but they could not. The sound of movement nearby snapped him back to the situation at hand, Sellers racing past excitedly screaming.

      "Hurry up man, get over here. What are you waiting for?" The enormous marine asked with a puzzled look at Shimmer, who had concealed the baby under a piece of building material he had fashioned into a makeshift carrier.

"What, what are you talking about?" Shimmer asked quietly.

      Sellers cocked his head for a moment, and then responded, "You know, the Chief just ordered us to the center of the city, didn't you hear? They found a survivor. Get out of it man, move." Sellers rushed off towards the center of the city, disappearing down a nearby alley and into several looming shadows.

      Shimmer made a short-yet-slow sprint to the location that had marked itself on his HUD. A small blue circle with a huddle of green circles around it. The concealed figure he was carrying with him was settled gently down behind a small pile of rubble, the child inside soundly asleep. Shimmer joined the group just in time, the surviving jackal was lying on a stretcher, being filled with biofoam as he spoke.

      Translation software installed into their neural implants decoded the language with ease and precision, but there was a noticeable delay. His speech was garbled, yet understandable. The fact that he was still alive was a miracle in itself, as many of the other bodies strewn nearby were sawed savagely in half, or amputated in several places.

      "They came from nowhere, I've never seen them before. We got a message over the Battle Net that a ship, a human ship, had come. So our carriers were sent out to destroy you, it. But it wasn't a normal ship, it wasn't human. The things came out of it like huntaks (similar to bees, wasps, or hornets). The carriers took several of them out, but they were very quick. The shields did nothing, they slipped inside, and they avoided our lasers by stitching themselves to the hull. Many headed for the laser turrets, and destroyed them. From there on, they simply sat on the hulls, and cut their way through the armor."

      "First they cut through the main hull, creating vacuums all over the ship. It was like, like they knew where everything was. They were quick, ruthless, and brutal. Then they waited, and when everyone was dead, moved inside, and cut through another deck, and another, and another, until, finally, all of the crew was dead. The grunts managed long enough, but there weren't enough of them to hold them off."

      "What human ship was it that entered your space?"

      "We hailed it as the Sunrise and Sunset."

      The Chief turned to the men, and asked over a private comm. channel, "Has anyone here heard of a UNSC ship by that name?" Most of the men responded no, but three arms stood like gigantic emerald pillars holding up the sky itself. Sellers stepped forward, "I think he's talking about the Dawn of Dusk sir."

      "The Dawn of what?"

      "The Dawn of Dusk, Deja told us about how both her and the Ark set down on a large ringworld. The Dawn of Dusk was infected by something, and the Ark took off. The Dawn of Dusk was left on the ringworld the last I heard."

      "Why didn't you tell me about this?" The Chief took a heavy step forward, curling his fists by his side. Sellers, despite being nearly a half foot taller than the Chief, took a clumsy step backwards in response. Two of the spartans braced their fellow soldier, but the chief still walked closer. "Answer me marine!" His voice was nearly shouting now, no one had ever seen their leader this angry or emotional before, they weren't sure what had gotten into him.

      "I'm s-s-sorry sir. It was just that, I had never heard of this ringworld, and I didn't think it was that big of a deal." Sellers' jumbled words showed weakness, something the Chief would forgive, but not now, and probably not for a while to come. He said nothing in response, merely turning away and walking back to the Jackal.

      "Do you know which way the ship came from, and which way it left?"

      "Your ship came from the east side of the planet, closest to the moon, and it left from the north, towards the other side of the moon." Everyone seemed to stare at each other, their thoughts apparent. Someone had to warn FLEETCOM immediately, if it wasn't already too late.

      "Fall back to the ship immediately, I mean double time it. If anyone stops before they get there, you're left." John turned towards the Prophet's Will's general direction, and began a sprint. One of the spartans holding the wounded Jackal asked what to do with him, he was answered with an emotionless, "Leave him."

      Shimmer looked down, wrapped the child in his arms, and hopped in the back of one of the nearly fourteen Wrthogs or Scorpion tanks they had brought along, unsure of what to expect. Dust sketched out the air as they blazed across the bumpy dirt, the once pristince suburbia that was located here now a ash heap. Whatever these creatures were, they were ruthless, accurate, and unforgiving, for which he had to give them at least some credit.

Prophet's Will Command Center

      "Send a message to FLEETCOM, tell them to get all of their weapons ready, mostly their anti-aircraft stuff. The Chief informs me that these creatures are actually robots, he isn't sure how they managed it, or what they're up to, but he knows it's no good. Inform Abigaid to form a tight group, and he should be able to hold them off, and whatever he does, don't let them break the line, it's their only chance."

      The heavy ship was speeding through Shaw-Fukijawa slipspace as fast as it could, nearly tearing a new hole in the sub-dimension's fabric. At this rate it would be at least several hours before they arrived at the General's position, hopefully that would be enough. Hopefully. All they had right now was hope, it was a desperate race, one they wouldn't be able to afford anything but first place in.

      The Longswords onboard of the make-shift hangar were prepping for takeoff. Getting refueled, armed, and checking all of their flight plans. Two luck pilots were getting the oppurtunity to man the Seraph fighter found unused. It's wings were much longer than the Banshee's, but still looked awkwardly stubby on a ship of it's size.

      The spartans were getting ready, they weren't sure how they could help in the battle coming up, the one downfall of being a land-warrior, in space you were useless, a silent observer in a war so loud. They suited up none-the-less. They had one thing going for them, their suits were made for vacuum. So if those tricky bastards did attempt to use the strategy the Jackal had laid out, they would be able to fight them up close. Just how they liked it.

      Shimmer hid the small Jackal in his personal quarters, making sure that it had food and water nearby. He wasn't sure exactly what it ate, but it could make due on what it had for the time being, he didn't plan on being gone for that long anyway, but you never know what's going to happen when you're a Spartan.


Homeworlds (X)2
Date: 18 October 2003, 3:37 AM

Chapter Fifteen-One link breaks and it all goes to hell...

      She edged through space constantly, never faltering, never grumbling, never asking for leave, she was the impartial workhorse. The Prophet's Will was entering the UNSC space, hopefully it was still UNSC space. After everything he had seen he wasn't sure what to expect anymore. Spartans that came from nowhere, a fleet to magically appear and save his ass, a Covenant ship modified and handed to him, and now an entire Covenant fleet and homeworld destroyed by a single ship. He began to contemplate retirement.

      "She's still there sir, picking her up on radar now." Sahawneh gave a sigh of relief as his scanners picked up the two massive cradles and Abigaid's fleet. A tightly packed group of ships, with hundreds of Longswords, Corvettes, and Prowlers hovering majestically in the void. Their lights emitting almost as much reflection on the nearby moon as the planet it orbitted, a magnificent sight to behold. Capulet found himself many a time wishing he was free of the surly bonds of humanity. That he could be a comet and just sail through space freely.

      The Captain ordered his ship to maneuver into the formation, ready, waiting for the unseen bastards to make their move. He noticed the ample point-defense turrets attached to the fleet's hulls, each rotating, panning, searching. Staring into the blackness, as though a lion was hidden in it's thicket, waiting to pounce. The metallic purple glittered against the reflection of the massive sun nearby.

      A hail came over the frequency, a call from Abigaid himself. Shula patched the four-star officer to the Captain, who was momentarily distracted by a technician onboard. The General cleared his throat roughly, startling the ship's commanding officer, and ordering his full attention.

      "This better not be a baseless call Richard, but I've seen your record, and your not prone to lie. I'm taking a risk with this maneuver of yours. I have ten angry Ship Captains and Station Masters at my throat, and they'll want an answer. Soon!. Now what is this all about? What happened on your mission?" Abigaid relaxed in his leather chair, a glass of some alcoholic beverage, Gin by the looks of it, was grasped in his hand.

      "Sir, we arrived at Celaco as planned, but it was, it was gone."

      "What do you mean gone?"

      "It wasn't GONE, gone, but it had been hit. Someone, someTHING, got there first. The space station orbiting the planet was completely destroyed, we found seven carriers, all K.I.A., hidden on the moon's darkside, and the surface was lifeless. A survivor at the scene said it was one of ours, but I don't know any of our ships that could have done this. The Chief informs me that the perpatrators were some sort of robots. It's very strange, but they were heading this way last we heard." Capulet's throat was dry after he finished, and he took a long sip from the water hose strung through the headrest in his seat.

      "Slow down a second, you say the ENTIRE planet was dead?"

      "Yes si-, incoming transmission sir. Hold on a minute and I'll make it a fleet-wide broadcast." Capulet turned to Shula, and waited. The incoming feed was strange, a mechanical voice came over the speakers, yet it sounded eerily human.

      "This is The Guardian. You have one of ours, and we wish him returned immediately. If you refuse, you will be destroyed, that is doubtless, but we will have him yet. What is your reply?" A split-second long pause broke the voice, which then started again. "I'll take your answer, or lack thereof, as a refusal to hand him over, most unfortunate, but many things we do are."

      Capulet and Abigaid stared at each other over their monitors, confused and bewildered by the one-way conversation. The surprise of being asked to hand over someone they didn't even know they had was one thing, the micro-second to respond another.

      "Sir, the Dawn of Dusk is releasing something, massive sir. No, not massive, tons of small things. Well, their about the size of a banshee from what I can tell, and fast as hell." Sahawneh's stress-filled eyes urged the captain to pull away, but it was a fruitless gesture. The Captain and General turned to each other, prayed for a victory, and severed the connection.

      "Caprice, power up all of our point defenses. Plasma torpedoes, heavy machine guns, point laser turrets, everything. Charge the MAC cannons." A heavy voice gave the crew strength as they began their perilous journey. Capulet crossed his chest with his hand, and began his prayer.

       "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name' sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever." An amen chorused through the small deck from everyone, regardless of creed.

      Vince and Devilfish were sitting restlessly in the Seraph's cockpit. Three hours of practice was all they were getting before taking her for her rounds, but the two veteran pilots had enough faith in their skill to believe they could handle it. They watched through their personal holograms, three-hundred sixty degree views of the battle, with no bulky metal or instruments to distract them from the battle at hand.

      "You heard the man, the Lord needs a rod, and we're more than happy to be his instrument. What's our motto men?" Vince yelled across the pilot's comm. channel. "Sword of hope we brandish neigh today, may god have the mercy we do not!" Roard through his headset. Adrenaline coursed his steel veings, icy to the touch, almost burning.

      Plasma engines whailed hauntingly to life, the occupant's realizing suddenly where the machines had gotten their names. The Seraph pushed forward, several hundred, or was it thousand, fighters stampeded towards him. The two space knights couching spears, and beginning their joust. Sprinting, racing, pulling, Vince's face was tough as diamond, his sturdy jaws clenched together, teeth grinding together. Two hundred longswords on his tail, unrelenting in their pursuit of death.

      A slight beep alerted Vince that he was within firing range, and his targeting reticle automatically focussed on the closest enemy. Turquois spheres of death flashed forth from the Seraph's barrels. The small vessels surprisingly had shields, which flared brightly as they attempted to reflect or absorb the impact. They finally died, and the mechanical monster under the invisible cloak jerked from side-to-side as the blazing energy pulses hit their mark. It sparked at first, but soon exploded from a miniature core-implosion, roughly the size of a football field. Three nearby enemy fighters broke the debris wall that had formed, clearing a large hole in the dust.

      The familiar sizzle of Longsword weapons fire shot through the perpetual night, tracer rounds illuminating the bullets' paths. A heavenly glow eminated from the field as white, reds, blues, and greens criss-crossed the battlefield. Two Longswords swept across Vince's bow, he jerked the stick back, barely avoiding their reckless maneuver. Four of the inorganic bastards were hot on their tail and closing fast. One was peppered with heavy weapons fire, whilst the other three glided undauntingly after their prey.

      "I see him, there he is, lining up, firing, shit where'd he go, do you see him?"
      "No, maybe he's, ohh fu-"

      Vince closed his eyes as the fireball erupted only kilometers away. The Longsword's violent impact into the alien was catastrophic to say the least, as two more pilots lost their lives. Three of them grouped together in his sights, a horrible mistake on their behalf. A large green plasma torpedo carved a path to them before finally erupting in a controlled burst. Two imploded and the other was sent spiraling uncontrollably into the planet's atmosphere.

      Four more Longswords overtook the Seraph from above, nailing two more of them as they did. Devilfish watched the monitor, commanding the small top-mounted turret on the Seraph, an unusually helpful device. His aim was precise as the small slivers of fate handed their recipients unwelcomed packages.

      "Return to sender, BITCH!" Devilfish bellowed uncontrollably, the laughter his only remaining mechanism holding back the tears. A group of twenty smaller mech's ambushed a trio of Longswords, their lasers shredding through the metal like it was tin foil. Explosive decompression pulled chunks of human flesh from the burning chasis, blood boiling before finally evaporating into nothingness. Bits of bone clinked on the Seraph's hull as Vince made a sweep over the pilot's remains, silently cursing himself.

      Three of the larger ones fired their bulbous laser cannons. The first shot tipped one of the Longsword's noses, but the other two were a dead aim. They passed through the metal hull with ease. The AI onboard the Barbarian sent out a small message to each pilot, informing them of the casualties they were recieving, as if the pilots weren't keeping a mental record. "Sixty th-four longwords have been dest, sixty five longswords have been destroyed." The reminder was a vicious barrage, and Vince attempted to turn the comm. channel off, but it was no use. He wasn't used to the ship's layout, so he was forced to listen unbearably to the live-battle report.

      Two HE Anvil-II missiles streaked by, a close call for Devilfish, who muttered something to the pilot's in the Longsword. They had a clear lock on their target, who moved uncaringly through the void. At the last second, the missiles spun wildly out of control, and jetted harmlessly into the moon, into space, or burned up in the atmosphere. No one could believe what had happened. Their clear lock and open line-of-sight were uninterrupted, so why did they miss? The vehicle who fired the missiles met a tragic fate as another six fighters converged on him. "One hundred Longswords remaining." Calistro declared..

      Hundreds of the critters were still zipping merrily across the field, unchallenged and unparalleled by the relatively laborious Longswords' wide sweeping turns and slow throttle. They made a curious decision though, as over three-fourths broke off the attack, and skittered back toward their ship.

      "Ha! I think we did it, we scared the little buggers of-, oh hell." Were Delta Sixer's last words before the super white-hot Tungsten steel pulverized him on it's heading for the UNSC fleet position. Were they crazy, or just that ballsy? Twenty of the mechanized demons erupted from the MAC round's firing, as well as an entire formation of Longswords. The UNSC hadn't opened fire with their MAC weapons because of two reasons. First, there was the chance of killing UNSC spacecraft, and the second was the fact that it would do very little. The enemy's command ship was simply sitting unchallenged at the opposite end of the warfront, useless except for the single MAC round it dislodged.

      Three more Longswords were taken out of commission amidst the chaos that ensued, and it suddenly hit Vince. That MAC round wasn't supposed to do any damage to the Fleet, but break up the Human's fighter formations, which it did a damn good job of. "Fifty longswords remaining." Calistro warned with discernable interest in his programmed voice. "This is Abigaid, all forces pull back to the ships, use our defenses to supplement yours, you'll need it." A welcomed gesture, but one that couldn't have been issued any earlier. The enormous numbers of vessels that would have been targeted was above the tracking computer's capabilities, and when it finally shorted, would simply begin targeting the closest moving object and labeling it as enemy.

      He turned the Seraph around, the sight of four or five crippled Longswords struggling to keep up a disheartening sight. The much more agile and speedy "Sentinels" as their targeting computer suddenly read, attached themselves to their hulls. The ships' engines were sawed off, and the Sentinels disappeared inside. Bodies were discarded like old news into the icy cold, one being ground to a bloody concoction as a sentinel ran carelessly into it. The other marines were floating, dead from explosive decompression, wildly towards Heaven.

      Devilfish couldn't hold them back any longer, and his tears flowed freely. His fingers wouldn't release from the trigger, as bolt after bolt of plasma scorched the sky. Three Sentinels flashed red before imploding, a sadistic chuckle coming from somewhere deep inside. Two sentinels were on Vince's tail, he couldn't shake them. The creatures were smart as well, and had quickly adapted to the Covenant vehicle's weakness. They struck quickly from the underbelly, and the vehicle's grav-pods were dislodged from it's body. The heavy machine collided with the Stringent's hull, digging itself into the Titanium-A plating.

      The same two sentinels hovered demonically above the Seraph, seemingly relishing in their victim's helplessness. Vince could only watch as their weapons powered up, and readied to fire.


Homeworlds XXI
Date: 21 October 2003, 1:22 AM

UNSC Stringent's Hull

      Vince stared coldly at the mechanical beasts hovering above him. Their metallic shimmer reflecting the sun into his eyes, burning at his retinas. He had seen enough in his days, and if it had not been for the saddened state of the UNSC's pilot status, he would have wished for death. The small golden scanner that was it's eye, stared viciously at him. Slivers of pink super-heated matter slammed into the closest of the two, and it quickly backed away. The now disturbed Sentinel, showing a discernable reaction that appeared to be emotion, charged it's laser and steadied it's gyroscopic aiming device.

      Twin beams of light burned at the ship's hull, methodically cutting it to pieces and decimating the turret on the rear. Vince and Devilfish were now totally defensless. It could have easily killed the pilot's and returned to the battle, but this one, this one was different. It was almost as though, it liked it. That it got some erotic pleasure from taunting it's victims, making them wait and sweat out thier death's, especially while in the super vulnerable state.

      Vince closed his eyes as the beam finally began cutting into the personal compartment. Beads of sweat drizzled lazily down his forehead and onto his chin, finally freefalling onto his jumpsuit and soaking into the synthetic material. The beam finally entered the small cabin and sparks flared. Ozone in the small craft quickly drained, a warning audible to it's occupants. Vince's skin was heavy, pulling, tugging at him. His being was stretched and torn before finally tearing from his form and into space.

      The pressure in his body tried to stabilize itself anyway it could, which included ripping through his organs, skin, and bone. The molecules stored on his hemoglobin dislodging, causing the cells to boil and pop. His lungs expanded to twice the size of normal before being violently torn apart. He tried to scream, but the vacuum made it impossible, the pain coursing through his body unbearable. His eyes finally exploded, sending the jelly-like substance cradled at their center to stain the vehicle's walls. The entire segment had lasted under ten seconds, but it seemed like an eternity. Devilfish squirmed as he tried to avoid a similar fate, but it was no use. His body was soon no more alive than his partner's.

      The Sentinel hovered closer to the chasis, and peered inside, it was assured that the occupant's had experienced a traumatic and painful death, and sputtered away to deal it's deadly cards to another human.

UNSC Prophet's Will

      Capulet watched his view screen with visible displeasure. It had been less than an hour and three-fourths of the Longswords had been destroyed. The Corvettes'and Prowlers' weapons were no match against the Sentinels, and Abigaid had long since realised that. He called the under-armed ships back to the Barbarianand prepared for the barrage of mechanized devils that were coming. The Sentinels Longswords had finally made it within range of the ships' heavy cannons, but the Sentinels wouldn't bite. They floated just outside of the weapons' maximum effective range, toying at them.

      "Shula, get me Abigaid now." He turned to face his Communications officer, who was furiously typing at his keyboard. Shula gave a thumbs-up response as his only answer, keeping his eyes on the screen before him.

      A fired-up Abigaid turned to Capulet, a hint of enthusiasm in his voice. "What do you need Richard?"

      "Sir, we should use their tactics against them."

      "You're not the first person to think of that, but what do you suggest?"

      "Use our MAC cannons to break their formations, and get that control ship to move. I don't know how they work, or what form of command they use, but I figure if we attack the hive, they'll have to protect it, and that means get close. Then we can blast 'em with our remaining Longswords and point defense cannons, as well as our Archer missiles."

      "Well that's a damned good plan, one you might get a promotion for if we survive this. I'll run it through the other captains, be prepared."

      "We already are."

      Abigaid's face disappeared from the viewscreen, and the picture of the fleet snapped back into place. Two shudders from the Barbarian sent white-hot MAC rounds speeding towards the Dawn of Dusk. It's aft thrusters fired, pushing it out of the round's way. Several dozen Sentinels erupted into flames as they attempted to flee their fate, but destiny would have none of that. Repeat performances from the other ships resulted in similar outcomes, with one MAC round landing heavily on the ship's top. Thirty of the super "bullets" had been discharged in the last two minutes, and over three hundred Sentinels perished from the battle field. The rest were sent scurrying towards their opponent's in a desperate race to protect their ship. It was working exactly like Capulet had planned.

      "Hand point defense to Lee and let him handle them as best he can. Target those Sentinels with our Archer's, when you have a clear lock, fire at will." The Captain ordered to Caprice.

      "Yes sir, handing weapons to Lee now. Arming Archer missile pods A1-A27 now."

      The well dressed figure of a bearded man in a heavy Confederate coat flickered to life in the small holo-tank adjacent to Capulet. He turned to his commander with a wily grin, and assured the Captain that everything would be fine. His calm demeanor and sincerity put the Captain at ease, and he strongly wished was deserved. He would soon find out.


Homeworlds XXII
Date: 24 October 2003, 9:55 PM

      Lee folded his arms behind his back, locking his fingers, and absorbed the info as it poured in. Through his artificial eyes came dozens of video feeds, all being watched simultaneously through his electronic brain. He launched the Archer missiles one at a time as they found a target, and their ominous hiss rattled throughout the hull.

      The missiles arced and curved on their target trajectories, eager to destroy whatever they could find. Curiously, all of the heavy explosive devices made a sharp bank before finally erupting into a harmless massive fireball. Lee's brow wrinkled on his bridge as he contemplated what had just occurred.

      "Captain, these machines have a jamming device, making our auto-targeting systems useless. Peculiar for such small craft. The only way I can conceive of ending this, is with a rather risky maneuver. I suggest that all of the nearby ships fire their archer missiles, all of their archer missiles, and set them for a remote detonation. Then fire their MAC cannons, and when the little bastards scatter, set the explosives off."

      Lee's request received a silent nod of approval, and the AI went dilligently to work. Receiving approvals from the conglomerate of other artificial lifeforms currently engaged, they set the plan in action. He armed archer missiles B1-G27, and unlocked their tubes. Their metallic coverings slid quietly open in the vacuum, the golden rays of sun reflecting off of the missiles' tips. A chemical reaction in their solid rocket boosters propelled the deadly cargo on it's way, destinations unknown.

      "Setting a four thousand meter trajectory, retrieving weapons controls. Controls confirmed. Establishing inter-ship communications...established. Coordinating attack roster...coordinated." His husky voice was heard throughout the massive bastard vessel, the plethora of speakers and microphones that comprised the intercomm system doing their job.

      "FIRE!" His voice slammed through the silence, shattering several small speaker's cones from the heavy bass. As his voice finally began dying, three successive ground-shattering reports stung the night, and reopened the ear-rattling wounds. The heavy rounds broke the Sentinels' formations once more, and Lee smiled to himself, the little bugs hadn't even cared about the missiles, presumably because of the fact that none detonated. A mistake they would soon regret.

      Thousands of acre-sized eruptions gutted the space, crushing the Sentinels' lines as they did. Thousands of the small-statured life forms were destroyed instantly as the force whiplashed their bodies into oblivion. Still hundreds more were heavily damaged, and were only managing a weak "limp". Fingers ran through his thick beard as the Confederate General smiled to himself.

      "Mary mother of, they're retreating. I can't believe it, they're retreating. It's a damned miracle." Capulet literally leapt from his chair, nearly tripping on the edge of the command deck and plummeting several feet into the pits his officers were nestled in.

      "We can't be sure until they actually leave. Estimated time before MAC cannons are fully recharged, ten seconds." Lee responded with the hint of pride. Capulet loved, and still marveled at, the fact that even though not real, they could still think and act as though they were. Plasma fire was still trailing the cowering enemy, but was quickly becoming useless as they exited it's maximum effective radius. The Prophet's Will's lateral ridge glistened a firey red, glowing with hatred and disgust at the lives taken that day. Six plasma torpedoes sprang forth, undeterred by the fact that they couldn't directly lock with them, Lee hadn't planned on them too. The plasma fire imploded deep in their ranks, breaking massive holes in their retreating lines.

      A second salvo of Tungsten-steel bullets edged ever closer to the Dawn of Dusk. One violently impacted her starboard side, sending a heavy ripple through her titanium plating. The second missed by a hair and continued hurling unchallenged until it ran out of momentum or collided with something. Skimming the top of the modified UNSC carrier, several small explosions spewed from the vessel's top as the final MAC round barely missed. The gaping hole in the Dawn of Dusk's side revealed a strangely hypnotic view. Hundreds of Sentinels swarmed from inside the ship, hustling to repair their hive.

      "Incoming message from unidentified Covenant vessel, patching her through." Shula's head was bent awkwardly as he reported the situation. The view-screen faded from the swarming metal menace to a living one, neither of which Capulet preferred to see.

      "You imputant humans have made your last err in judgment. We shall destroy you now for Celaco. Our bretheren will be most excited to drink your blood." A jackal squawked with a threatening posture. Oddly, he didn't end the connection, as though he were waiting for a response. Capulet would be more than happy to give him one, whether he wanted to hear it or not.

      "Ahh, but that's where you are most sadly mistaken. How dare you have the gall to think you're invincible, we've more than proved that false. But there is one thing you should know, that we aren't the ones who destroyed your planet, the heavily damaged ship to your left is. It is my sincere regret however, to tell you that you won't have the chance to ever pass that message on." A nearly orgasmic rush ran through his body as he severed the line. He said nothing to Lee, the AI had already read his mind. Four separate ships fired at the Covenant intruder, destroying it quickly. The first round dissolved it's shields, and the second and third dislodged it's nose. The fourth impacted at the rear, sending her spiraling into space.

      "Now finish off that other damned ship before she returns for more."

      "Unable to comply, scanners have revealed that it has departed from our space. They don't pick the Dawn of Dusk up anywhere."

      "How can that be? She was heavily damaged, and right there. It's impossible that it could have moved into slipstream in that amount of time."

      "As highly illogical as it seems, that is the apparent state we are in."

      Three quick klaxons caught the two men off guard. The picture of an enormous Covenant fleet entering the space as it popped and sizzled around them. Their shields glimmered gloriously before fading away as they finished their jump.

      "Showing five carriers, six destroyers, and seven frigates. They came ready to fight sir, and without that ship, you're going to have a hard time talking them out of it." Sahawneh said.

      "You do your job, let me do mine." Capulet answered.

      "Will do."


Homeworlds XXIII
Date: 7 November 2003, 3:24 AM

      Five carriers, six destroyers, and seven frigates; all staring the human fleet in the eye. None dared fire first, and surprisingly, the Covenant witheld their fire as well. Abigaid sent out a private communique over the private inter-ship channel, a small note scrolling itself onto a miniscule datapad affixed to the Captain's Chair.

      He established the link, and read the message carefully before responding.

>>>Communications Link Established<<<
UNBarbarian:>>Hold Fire, Wait till fired upon. Do not attempt hail.<<
UNBarbarian:>>Whatta you think?<<
BNProphet:>>...Don't know what to anymore<<
BNProphet:>>Perhaps they're sizing us up<<
UNBarbarian:>>Maybe, doubtful. Estimatations?<<
BNProphet:>>A hail. Then it's in the air.<<
UNBarbarian:>>Lemme talk this time. Your manners are horrible.<<
BNProphet:>>Yes sir.<<
>>>Communications Link Severed<<<

      Capulet chuckled to himself. He found it strange that a Jackal was piloting the Covenant vessel they'd just blown to hell. That went against everything he'd been taught, or learned, from past experience. Perhaps a sympathy jesture for the loss of their homeworld, but either way a poor decision. Richard knew why the Elite caste woulnd't let them take high-ranking positions after all.

      The mechanized pod of shimmering purple whales before him sat motionless on the horizon. Adrenaline coarsed through the steel-veined crew, but the moldy stench of sweat was the overwhelming swath that entered his nose. He regretted forgetting deodorant that morning, but it was a minor nuisance now. Boots clinked on the corrugated alien floor and a shallow succession of chirps alerted him to the entrance of yet another person. The silence that followed inched the presumption that it was a Spartan into his mind. Several minutes passed before the overwhelming profile of an armored warlord was parked beside him, the mammoth chestplate easily the size of Capulet's head.

      "Speak." He said, not sarcastically, but with the miniscule hint of annoyance on the tip of his tongue.

      "I only came to watch, sir." Spartan 0110-Shields responded.

      "Spartans never only come to watch. I'm sure you'll have orders soon enough." A thin grin meandered it's way across Shields' lips, and he turned back towards the view screen.

      "Shipwide connection, incoming Covenant hail." Shock and awe filtered through their nervous system as they attempted to comprehend the enormity of what lay before them. The enigmatic and shadow-strewn figure of a curled beast hovered on the panel. The voluminous headpiece nestled on his cranium was brimming with rare gems and glowing from the precious metals it was engraved with. Python-sized ribbons of material fluttered down his back, dragging along the floor behind him. The piece's weight seemed to be contorting his body slowly, pushing his neck down and hideously arching his back. Enormous beady eyes struggled to hold their lids open as it glared at it's enemy.

      "I find it most unlikely that this should be happening. A cease-fire will be honored by your species as we contend with this newfound threat. Should you fail to accept this agreement, your entire caste will be eradicated. Do you accept this proposal?" A heavy voice with scratchy barking noises echoed off of the heavily-paneled walls, the translation devices in their neural implants going to work instantaneously. The seeming lack of diversity amongst humans must have led the Covenant to believe that they were either a weak caste or casteless, another sign of their unorganized primedal splotch on the universe.

      "We will uphold the cease-fire, but you must give our people at least three days to spread the orders."

      "You will have the requested unit. If after that time you fail to uphold the agreement, the attacks will resume with renewed vigor. You will not survive."

      Abigaid was cut off as the Prophet motioned to some offscreen source and the hail was disconnected. Out-of-system vectors removed the looming threat from the human's presence, and Capulet could feel a collective sigh of relief and confusion throughout the command team.

      "Did what I think just happen actually happen, or did I just wake up?" Sahawneh asked running his hands through his thick black hair. His dark-complection reflected like gold in the luminescent room.

      "I think it did, I'm not quite sure myself."

United Nations Head Quarters, New York
Two days later.

      The weight was unbearable as the multitudes of eyes bored simultaneous holes in him. His flesh felt strange, as though he were being eaten alive, pulled apart, and digested all at the same time. Abigaid made a concerted effort to look as respectable as humanly possible before his peers while hastily maneuvering to the podium situated before the "Big Ten". The United States, France, Russia, China, Germany, Japan, Colombia, Antartica, South Africa, and Australia all had their Presidents or Prime Ministers in attendance. The usual consortium of ambassadors was far insufficient for the session.

      "I've read your report on the events that transpired two days ago, and I have to say I'm both amazed and confused. You describe a new creature that seemed to be more powerful than even the elites, is this true?" The Russian President asked under a heavy accent. His english was fluid, but the accent labeled him as unmistakeably Russian.

      "Yes sir. You've no doubt seen the video recordings, so I have no need to tell you what he said or what he looked like, and as of now, you know exactly as much as I do."

      "This new enemy, I've seen the video, it appears powerful enough, but your men handled it well."

      "I woulnd't say well sir. I lost over three-fourths of the Lonswords under my command. Several of our ships were Heavily damaged, and one of the cradles is out of commission. All of that from one ship. The Covenant haven't even given us that much trouble."

      "Do you think that this single ship is responsible for the destruction of Celaco?" The French Prime Minister interrupted.

      "No sir."

      "Do you think that single ship and the loss of the Jackal homeworld is why the Covenant have come to the cease-fire?"

      "No sir, I don't. I believe that a series of other ships are out there, and that they've cause a lot more damage than we've seen. For the Covenant to request, more correctly order, a cease-fire, they must be desperate sir. I never expected them to, and that means more to me than you know. If they've gotten so low that they would do this, than the enemy amongst us is more powerful than we could imagine. The Dawn of Dusk was only a warning I believe. If they had wanted to destroy us, they would have."

      "What are you saying? That these, things, that they are planning something?"

      "The Suncoast, a ship that was being refitted because of an earlier battle, was attacked the most severely of any ship during that battle. They took something that we had sir."

      "What exactly did they take General?"

      "They took a floating artificial intelligence that Captain Richard Capulet encountered while on a routine patrol. We believe that this was the "one of ours" that the new enemy referred to in it's brief contact with us. We also believe that this contact between us was with an artificial intelligence as well, due to the extreme lack of time it used for our response."

      "What do you think they'll use this new AI for?" A familiar voice interjected, breaking the slurry of foreign voices previously pelting him.

      "Possibly to command more ships that they destroy. They could be creating some sort of fleet."

      "Will there be anything else, if not the Assembly will resign and discuss what we've learned today."

      "There is one thing I would like to add, I don't know if it means anything, but our scanners didn't pick them up as mechanical. It picked them up as living. I found that odd."

      "As do I. We've no doubt honored the Covenant request for a cease-fire. Please discuss with your fellow Admirals and Generals a way to defeat this new threat, or I fear we may all be destroyed. You are dismissed."

      Abigaid snapped a salute, was returned the gesture, and turned on his heel. The pin-drop silence that had covered the room moments before suddenly exploding into a frenzy of discussion between the massive crowd of men gathered in the amphitheater. Abigaid ignored them as he exited the heavy bronze doors into the foyer, where he hurriedly plopped down on one of the wooden benches along the wall and sighed. He had gotten out of the frying pan, but had he stepped into the fire?


Homeworlds XXIV
Date: 23 November 2003, 4:40 AM

Chapter Sixteen-Who'da thunk it...
UNSC Barbarian

      Apocryphos was a cold place. An enormous giant space station floating alone in space. Her massive circumference was roughly forteen Cole-Class cruisers long. Her central hub was a gargantuan docking port, incoming capital ships and the like could get much needed repair while her crew, often dreary eyed from battle, got some rest. For the first time, they may have even relaxed as well. The Covenant threat was temporarily gone, there was no one to fight, at least not now. Abigaid was semi-glad to receive a week for upgrades, replacements, and overall down time, both for his ship and his men. The only thing keeping his happiness in check was the unsurmountable feeling of dread that always stuck with him.
      "Sir, would you like a full maintenence scan and diagnostics check run on all core systems while we're on Apock?" The diagnostics officer asked standing hunched in front of his computer.
      "Just let Narses handle it."
      "Yes sir. Permission to go portside sir."
      "Granted, get the hell out of here, go have some fun for a change. And be safe."
      His words had a double meaning, but they were welcomed none-the-less. The stocky man laughed as he strolled from the room, tapping the bulkhead as he passed under the heavy doors. Abigaid was struggling not to pass out while he finished his tedious log entries and several official reports. The holopanel shivered and stuttered as it was remotely activated, and the figure of a seventy-four year old man in roman regalia, Narses.
      "General I'll take over the diagnostics while you get some sleep. You look like you need it."
      "Your damn right I need it. I haven't slept in over forty-eight hours. I'm running on protein sticks and caffeine. I'll finish this in the morning. Although, if you wouldn't mind, would you be as kind as to fill out my logs for me. I really have neither the time nor the patience for those meddlesome reports. Also, there are I believe six queued requests for relocations throughout the ship. Scan their background, and if you see fit approve it."
      Abigaid interlocked his fingers, and arched his back. Audible pops resounded through the now empty bridge. It was strange to have the silence, the lack of humanity. The peace. This is how it's supposed to be, no worries, just peace, serenity. He thought to himself.
      "Will that be all General?" Narses asked.
      "Also, when running the diagnostics, keep weapons systems online. I want to be prepared for anything."
      "That is impossible sir, as it would require one or more persons to manually control those systems."
      "Well how bout you use one of those subroutines you have stored up there and trick the system into thinking it's manually logged on?" After a noticeable pause, he responded.
      "Very good idea. I'm quite surprised I hadn't thought of that. By all means I should have."
      "It's your age catching up to you Nar."
      "I believe you could be correct in your presumption, but we may never know. At least, I won't for too long." Narses laughed to himself, as did Abigaid. Narses was well over five years old, nearing the max life expectancy for an AI of his calibre, but his self-perception gave him an almost human quality that many of the other Intelligences lacked.


      "Glover, where's my cover!" Shields screamed over his comm link. Three sniper rounds cracked the air and threads of fate were brutally snipped, or at least would have been with a different enemy. Blue team was racing up a hill roughly fifty meters high, with only sparsely strewn rocks for protection. Fleshen monstrosities lay in wait at the precipice, starving for blood.
      "What the hell are these things, they just keep coming. We're gonna run out of ammo soon." Glover yelled, forgetting that no one outside of his suit could hear him. He chinned the mouthpiece and asked the question a second time, this one much calmer. His HUD winked in response, three times for "Understood". He had just began palming a fresh clip of ammo when one of the human combat forms bound over the rock he was stationed behind. Hiding wasn't technically correct, as he wasn't running from his opposer, merely using the boulder for cover. His head jerked to the left as the rocked chipped and cracked from the tenticle's force. An upercut landed on the nearl-liquified remains of the human jaw, sending a gelatinous ooze into the air and ripping the head clean off of the body. It wasn't done though, it just kept coming.
      Another slash from it's appendages totally depleted Glover's shields, and he barely ducked the third swipe. They're fast as hell, I can't keep this up for long. He heaved his weight in his suit, wrapping his arms around it's poor excuse for a waist, and crashing to the ground with it. It smeared along the earth like so much jelly on toast, and Glover slid head first down the hill. He collided with a large boulder and came to a painful halt. Three more of them were bounding down the hill after him. They weren't too terribly smart, but they were smart enough, and sure as hell strong enough, to be deadly. He fiddled for another clip, but his pack had come loose during his tumble and was snagged helplessly on a branch a good four meters away. Where the hell are they all coming from? Pulsed through his mind.
      "I got you Glover, go for it." Shields told his team-mate with confidence. The barrel of his M7AB battle rifle carefully tracking it's quarry. Several successive shots sent one of the bastards flailing into it's compatriot, but didn't kill it. It did manage to slow them down, which was just what he had intended it to do.
      "Watch your ass!Sarahn said enthusiastically as Shields ducked. A trained response which had become almost auitomatic to everyone on the squad. One of them cought itself mid-whip in an awkward position, but was too late to stabilize. It collided at it's waist into him, sending it head over heel onto the ground. Shields punched it's face in, before pumping three rounds into whatever heart it should have had and blowing off it's feet.
      Six of them had straddled Glover, he could barely move. They were so strong. Two had his arms, and two had his legs. The other one had it's tentacles wrapped around his neck while the last one beat him repeatedly. First his shields failed, then his suit ruptured, then the darkness.
      "Blue-three, blue-three, respond!" Shields said elbowing one of the flood attempting to bum-rush him. It's chest caved in and it reeled backwards, the strange fleshy sac attached to the host's chest erupting violently. Shields turned to see his partner's corpse being ravaged by the beasts, who were still senselessly attacking it. He squeezed off four rounds, catching one in the head and sending him crashing down onto Blue-three, covering his bloody wounds.
      An awkward rustle behind him was ominous as Shields turned to face it. Two heavy feet landed in his visor, pushing him backwards into the ground. He attempted to stop himself, but it was no use. He slid further than Glover, and with twice as many on him. It was only a matter of seconds before they had finished him off as well. Sarahn was having more luck, at least for the moment. Her heavy machine gun was making short work of the small infectious zits, and giving the larger ones a bit of a time, but there were too many. Half flanked while the other half gave her a full frontol charge. She picked the weapon up and tried to cut a gap in their ranks, but they weren't human, they weren't scared. Their club-like fists slammed into her head, cracking her visor. She flopped onto her back, only for seven of them to hijack her.

Glover, Patrick G.
Sarahn, Kendra H.
Shields, Billy K.
Moody, Logan T.

      The post-excercise report was always useful. The Master Chief studied it intently, and shook his head. They were better than when he had gotten them, but not perfect. Especially against an enemy they hadn't seen before.
      Shields and Sarahn were only now pulling the heavy VR helmets off and pushing themselves out of hte large bucket chairs, a crowd of hungry onlookers watching with fascination. They would all have a chance soon enough. But now it was time for the lesson of the day.      "This is horrible. I mean this is some really sorry stuff. All of Blue-team dead, flag in enemy control. Why did this happen Shields?"
      "Sir, there were too many of them, sir! We were outnumbered and out of options. We ran low on ammunition, and it got us beaten sir."
      "No, what got you beaten was fear. You'd never seen your opponent, and you were afraid. Afraid of it's grotesque face and hideous eyes. But let me tell you all a secret, if you've never seen him, he's never seen you. So you have the surprise. He'll, I know If I was fighting and I saw any of you I would sh*t myself. Use that too your advantage. And as far as this bullshit about being outnumbered, you don't know what outnumbered feels like..." He drifted off momentarily, but recomposed himself quickly. "I want you, all of you, in the Battle Room in fifteen, suited and ready. We'll do this until you get it right." He beckeoned to a large metallic door at the far end of the room, with the words LOCKERS written on it.

Fifteen minutes later

      The chief was suited and ready. The battle room was a football field sized section of at the center of Apocryphos that could either have gravity or not. It was at the epicenter of the HUB. He was going to take full advantage of the week he had free, and teach his men as much as he could. They'd need it. They were fighting something much worse than the Covenant now, they were fighting the Sentinels. While not all that deadly alone, in swarms they were voracious.
      The Battle Room was a training center for any marines who needed it, but was strictly Spartan property for the week. It was an enormous rectangular prism with strangely paneled walls, floors, and ceilings. John stared at the control panel at the room's entrance. It was his first time using the room, and he wasn't quite sure how it worked.
      "Pick a layout, and the room will replicate it for you." Cortana chimed in.
      "No kidding." He had been staring at the monitor and it's multitudes of layouts for five minutes, and wasn't sure which one he wanted the most. Then, he found one he liked. It was almost an exact replication of the hill in the virtual capture the flag game. He accepted it and watched through the small transparent port on the door as large and small rods raised themselves into various positions, and then stopped. Once finished, their arrangement was solid enough to support the weight, and a hologram of dirt, rocks, and trees appeared.
      "We're using lasers today. No one can get get hurt, but anyone of you "dies" in this simulation, you don't get to eat until you single-handedly beat this simulation. If you can't work as a team, you'll work by yourself, and to death. Teamwork, I want to see teamwork. I've pruned you as much as I can, but you are all still acting alone. I saw you occasionally cover each other, but that's necessity, not teamwork. Do you understand?"
      "We understand sir!" Coursed through the small corridor leading into the Battle Room.
      This simulation is slightly larger than the one in the VR missions. Commanders of Blue, Red, Gold, and Green teams stand behind me." He ordered. The five Spartans passed him uniformly, and spaced themselves out evenly.
      "This is Team Silver. We are the opposers for this excercise. Your objective is to take our flag. That is all, leave the room, we'll start the game in thirty seconds."

      "This'll be a piece of cake, I mean, how many of us are there?" Sellers asked rhetorically.
      "Thirty seven of us, against the best six there are." Shimmer was still cautious. He didn't know the Chief well, but he knew one thing, he wouldn't go down without giving one hell of a fight.
      "Simulation on." Came the femenine computer voice through the loudspeakers. The Battle Room's doors slid open, revealing a seemingly empty room, with the flag hanging loosely at the top of the large mound. The team was forced through the bottleneck that was the only way in, so it wouldn't all be on their side.
      Stilling and Merendez rolled carelessly into the room, bringing their laser weapons to bare. Merendez's suit emitted a low humm and his right arm went stiff as he was essentially frozen from the shot. He dropped his weapon and caught it with his left hand, turning to face his agressor. Poor choice on his part as his helmet wailed to life, blaring in his over-sensitive ears. He was dead. "Shit!" He muttered to himself.
      Stillings hadn't had much better luck, he had been hit twice in the torso and once in the thigh, and was taken out more quickly than Merendez. The next few members of the group took it slower, but still weren't as coordinated as they should've been. They worked in two's, a duo covered the front and left, and the other duo covered the front and right. Instead of waiting to get shot, they automatically took three shots, with the hopes of accidentally hitting something. Their shots either flew into the wall and disappated or ricocheted off of a boulder into nothingness.
      One of the Spartans rose his arm, ushering two more into the room. The moved in, and made two groups of threes. A cumbersome metallic clank is never a good sign, and it proved still not to be, as a grenade-shaped red ball rolled into their formation, and then shot out a bright light that registered everything within five meters dead.
      The next four were cautious, but too cautious. They hurriedly skittered behind a boulder for cover, and saw Rockwell make a lunge dive towards him. A Spartan just coming in the door had the quick-mindedness to fire several rounds before being taken out himself, but he had still done what he was aiming for.
      "Five to twenty nine." A succession of lasers and he regrouped his thoughts. "Twenty six." Shimmer couldn't stand it any more. He was tired of losing, and was going to take action before he was the only one going out.
      "You three, get in front of me. You and you, and you two, get the sides. You three in back. You five will go in to the left, you five to the right, and you five charge the hill. We'll take this flag yet. On Zulu." Shim commanded. One of them was going to challenge his authority, but checked himself and went along with it.
      The five man fireteams rushed into the battle. The ones taking the sides took kneeling positions and went prone, exposing as little of themselves as possible to their enemies. The frontal force stormed the hillside, jumping from rock to rock as they ascended. Cover fire towards the tops and potential hiding spots kept most enemy fire to a minimum.
      The first man made it to the top, and looked for the enemy. He found none and went prone, covering the position and his squad as they moved in. The larger taskforce bounded up the hill, their sheer mass was just asking for a grenade, which was exactly what they got; except this time they were ready. Enhanced senses kicked into action as the marine caught the replica and tossed it back from the small hole it came from. A surprised Rockwell began clawing for an exit, but he was too bulky to get out effectively. The light flashed and he was frozen.
      "Red team has the flag." Came the heavy male voice of a computer anouncer, but it was short lived. A sniper round took Shimmer down. "Red team flag dropped." Echoed off the steel environment. "Blue team has the flag." This time Blue-four had cover as three teammates formed a small shield around him. They made it as far as the boulders, and he took it from there. He rolled from behind his escort and made a running start. Jumping off of the crest he landed on the edge and began a sparking slide to the floor. Metal screeched as he rolled to avoid the obstacles, and several lasers pinged off millimeters away from his head.
      Four Spartans followed him, fortunately, becuase one of the lasers managed to stick, taking him out of the game. A nearby squaddy snatched the prize on his slide by but was quickly frozen as well. The next attempt to grab the flag failed, and the third man in line was forced to retrieve it. Deciciveness kicked in as he jammed his boots into the floor to slow his descent, a maneuver that ended him up on his stomach. Peripheral vision told him that the sniper wasn't having it easy, as blue, green, and red lasers all let out a barrage.
      As he came to a grinding halt at the bottom, he let out a short-lived sigh of relief, as a heavy foot was placed on his chest. Not hard, but enough to get the point across. He looked up to find himself staring through the barrel of a gun. His single escort was on it though, his gun already leveled at the opposition's head. He had backup though, and the escort found himself in a similar scenario. The cat calls and whistles from above changed the stance though, as twenty or so guns were all steadily aiming for the two Silver Team members.
      Better than Helljumpers, but that ain't sayin much. I want Spartans. In a week, that's what I'll have. He thought silently to himself as his weapon was requisitioned from him, and he was put in a false custody.

Homeworlds XXV
Date: 16 February 2004, 3:08 AM

Author's Note: Sorry I haven't written in a while guys. School's been a bitch, and I've been swamped with work. It's shorter than usual, but hey, what can you do. Hope you enjoy. It'll pick up soon, action that is. Good luck.

      Three Covenant fleets had arrived in the past hour, surrounding Apock and its entire escort. Luckily, their weapons were offline, and they didn't appear hostile. The peace treaty was holding-for now. Apocryphos hesitated to warm up the six MAC cannons along her outer rim for fear of appearing hostile, but she did so anyway. The Covenant wouldn't have come for idle drifting. Something was up and that had everyone nervous.

UNSC Barbarian

      "What'a we got Nars?" Abigaid asked as he stormed onto the bridge. The long overdue sleep he was attempting to get wouldn't be happening now. He'd barely managed five hours, but that was enough. At least now he didn't feel the ton of bricks pinned to his eyes.
      "Three Covenant fleets have amassed around our location sir. They appear amicable at the moment. None of their weapons are charged, and they've made no movements outside of their original positioning."
      "Has anyone attempted communications?"
      "Colonel Robinson attempted a hail roughly three hours ago. Nothing. Battle Net is completely quiet as well. They're either masking their transmissions with highly-sophisticated devices or not talking. For now I'd assume it's a radio silence. Nothing about this seems random. Whatever it is they're doing here, they've had it planned."
      "Three hours ago! Why the hell wasn't I notified?"
      "I calculated from your maneurisms and tone, as well as the multitude of spelling mistakes found in your logs, that you were in need of rest. I allowed you as much time as I saw fit to sleep."
      "So why'd you wake me? They haven't done anything they already weren't." He took a seat in his very comfortable captain's chair. His crew was just now entering the bridge. Apparently everyone on Apocryphos not stationed there was being hastily sent back to their ships.
      "Signal an all hands alert. I want fleet formation Sigma double time. No one is to engage the Covenant for any reason unless instructed too. That doesn't mean they can't warm their weapons up. Get all non-essential personnel off of Apock as soon as possible."
      "Yes sir. Sending transmission now, priority Charlie."
      "No. Alpha priority, no encryption."
      "You do know sir that the Covenant will intercept that." It wasn't so much of a question as a statement. The computerized life-form-if you could call Narses that- was arguably the best combat AI out there, but he wasn't always the most forethinking of them.
      "I know that Nars, just send it."
      "I want a full report on exactly what all I'm working with, full fleet readout ASAP." The orders were to anyone, but directed at his Radar operator.
      "Fifteen ships sir: Carriers Barbados, Libya, Sounder, and Thermoclyes; Frigates Robert E. McMullen, Olympia, Verona, and Prophet's Will; Destroyers Bullion, Boxer, Brazil, Bandoleer, Crystal Lightning, and Rabid Fate. All fit and ready to go sir. Fifteen acknowledgements, they're moving into formation now. Estimating six minutes."
      "Thank you Hudson." Abigaid stood up again, he was too nervous to simply sit. "Contact the Suncoast, full encryption, priority Zulu."
      Time ticked by before the AI responded, which was odd. Narses responded and reacted with electronic ease, and in seconds the face of the Prophet Will's captain was on screen. The thick bags and ruffled hair showed that he had about as much sleep, if not less, than Abigaid.
      "Richard, you're sitting this battle, if there is one, out. Get going immediately. I don't care where, just go. Too much is riding on your precious cargo to let it go to waste here. On second though, you will report to HighCom, they have orders for you. Your men are going on a mission named BOXWOOD GREEN, it's been planned for a while now. It's time to get the ball rolling."
      "No buts captain, do it."
      "Yes sir."

      The screens of both ships disappeared in a veil of black. Abigaid nodded to himself as the small blip that was the Prophet's Will turned from the fleet and headed towards Earth. It would take several days at lightspeed, but they'd get there safely. That was the only thing important.
      BOXWOOD GREEN was the defining operation of the entire war. Years of culling and finally waiting had come together for this moment. There were finally enough trained and able Spartans to carry out the mission successfully.

CSS Prophet's Will

      Shimmer passed the oppurtunity to work out for "rest", much to the befuddled amusement of his counterparts. The Propet's Will was large enough that everyone onboard had their own quarters, which in this case was the best thing he could have hoped for.
      His eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness that enveloped his cabin, but the sound of shallow breathing gave the child away quickly. The orphan Jackal child lie sleeping on his cot, taking small breaths. In the dull purple shimmer that constantly reflected off of the Covenant walls, the body could easily be mistaken for a human child.
      His mere presence in the room seemed to be enough to wake the creature, who began a squawking cry immediately. Shimmer was an instrument of war-albeit one with a heart. Nevertheless, he still had no clue how to calm it. He held out both food and water, but it would have neither. The bed was unsoiled, it obviously didn't need to use the bathroom. What more could it want? There was nothing to give it. It had food, water, protection, shelter, and didn't need to go. What more was there?
      His eyes searched the room for something, anything, that would calm the child's wails. There were suppression tablets on the small table in the corner, but they might be too strong. It hit him. He removed his weapon from its holster, removed the clip and chambered round, and handed it to the toddler.
      It chirped in acceptance, and took the toy in it's small hands. He was amazed at how small and how fragile they were. The scaly fingers traversed the surface curiously. It turned the weapon over, looking down the barrel, and even sticking it in it's beak-like mouth. It apparently didn't taste especially good, and was quickly removed.
      "We've gotta name you little guy." Shim said aloud. The small but colorful crest on his head told him that it was a male, but that didn't really help him. He wasn't sure how the Covenant named their children, so he would have to take a human name.
      "John...no. How about Terrence? I know, Sam. Yeah, Sam. That's a good name. The Jackal dropped the weapon out of boredome and began crawling around his bed. Sam was its new name, and hopefully the war would be over soon enough for Sam to grow up and lead a somewhat normal life. Though Shimmer knew that could never be.

      The train steamed out of the tunnel at eighty miles per hour. The entire Covenant command was aboard, and their vehicle was befitting that of the royalty they were. Throughout the Covenant this particular train was called "tslein aog shaon", Train of the Holy Ones. Undoubtedly the most well armed and heavily fortified land-craft possible Many of the Prophets actually preferred to be in the 'Tslein' than in a bunker, because it was just as strong as well as mobile.
      Whoever had designed the machine obviously had a fascination with turrets, but for protection that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There was a turret on top of every one of the sixty-eight "cars" that comprised the train. Two turrets on each side of the front and rear cars also helped insure protection. Six inches of Inatium armor plating stood between the passengers and the elements. Outside of the Inatium armor were two separate shield systems, both with four backup power supplies, insuring the train an ability to take extreme amounts of punishment in stride.

      In the extremely rare possibility that someone or something was able to board the train, they would have an entire company of special operations Elites, Hunters, Brutes, Jackals, and Grunts to deal with. The black-armored special ops units were the best of the best. There was no mistaking that. They are only equaled by Helljumpers, and only surpassed by Spartans. There's no job they can't handle. The small numbers of both Helljumpers and Spartans also gives them an advantage, one they'll exploit whenever possible.
      Field Master 'Hozaa approached the prophet slowly. To do otherwise would be a great sign of disrespect, and disrespect was not tolerated. The Prophet of Holy Truth turned in his large room to face 'Hozaa, who quickly saluted. In his hand was a small data crystal. He took the object in his bony gray hand, and turned away wordlessly.
      The information was about a predicted pattern that the Sentinels had developed, and that the Covenant had uncovered. The pathetic humans surely didn't have the same information, but how could they? They hadn't lost seven worlds to the damned machines, they hadn't lost over thirty billion people. It hit him singularly then, that the humans had lost that and much more; only they had lost it to the Covenant. It was clear now why they fought so hard. At first he had mistaken it for foolishness and stupidity, but now he knew better. It was an unbridled hatred and passion to kill the enemy that drove them. One he felt now.       The initial invasion of Earth had been repelled by the 'Speertuns', the armored green warriors that had caused them so much trouble in so many other battles. Spies throughout the human network-he could hardly believe there were any- had given them valuable information to work with. The vile primates had ignorantly placed all of their 'Speertuns' on a singular ship, which happened to be a captured Covenant vessel. He would see to it that it was returned to Covenant control as soon as possible. There was finally a chance to severely cripple the humans, and one he would surely take; even if that meant breaking the treaty with their species. They hadn't really done much anyway; at least nothing the Covenant couldn't handle.
      "Field Master, what is this ship's name?" He tapped the display of the ship's schematics, a standard Covenant frigate of medium tonnage.
      "That is the Prophet's Will your holiness. It was transporting vital information when it was captured sir, but from what the humans have done it is feasible to say that they have not found it."
      "What exactly was this vital information?" He snarled. "And why weren't we told of it immediately?"
      "I was not directly linked in the investigation, but preliminary reports detail very important schematics, plans, and lists.. There's enough there to ruin us sir. I only learned of this yesterday myself your holiness." His attempt to keep his head on his shoulders was one born in desperation.
      "What exactly was on it Field Master? I am growing very impatient with you very quickly."
      "There were plans for all of our new weapons systems, how they operate, and how to assemble them. Star charts of every Covenant controlled planet, military instillation, and Battle Net encryption software as well. There was also..." 'Hozaa turned his head as he searched for the easiest way to say what came next.
      "Also what?" The Prophet of Holy Truth slammed his fist down with a surprising force; a glare of anger in his oversized eyes.
      "We also had the names of our spies. If the humans find that information, they will not only set us back years worth of technology, but also destroy all of our internal assets and utterly decimate our security protocols."
      "All of this on an extremely powerful ship that we can't destroy, with over eighty of their most powerful warriors aboard it!" He was furious. Whoever had failed would see more hell than they had ever wished, and even if they were dead, someone else would.
      "There is only one way to handle this, we must establish an even more peaceful relationship with them. Held on that ship, and no other. Make up whatever excuse you must, but get a team on that ship. Find that information, but under no circumstances whatsoever are you to destroy it. Just do whatever you have to, to make sure they do not get that information and we get it back. This is not only disastrous in the future, it is disastrous now. This sets our plans back far more than before."
      "Your holiness, there is another problem."
      "This surely seems to be a day for them, doesn't it?"
      "We sent three of our fleets to intercept and destroy the fleets at one of their space docks, but when the Prophet's Will was sighted there, it was temporarily canceled. It obviously spooked the humans,."
      "Get on with it!"
      "The Prophet's Will has left their space. It made a blind jump. After the incident with the Ascendent Justice, the humans are almost impossible to track in slip-space. We have no idea where they are, or where they are going. But there is an almost one hundred percent chance they are heading to Earth.. Which poses another problem entirely. " His throat lumped as he swallowed the bodily fluids that comprised his alien saliva, and his scaly skin was suddenly very dry.
      "I've had enough bad news today; can this wait?"
      "I doubt it your holiness. Our predictions have the entire Sentinel fleet moving towards Earth. If the Prophet's Will is heading to Earth..." He didn't have to say what they were both thinking. Earth's defenses were still battered from the first attack, and the Covenant had even been preparing the second invasion, but the recent events with the Sentinels had that plan come to a screeching halt.
      "Get out of my sight now. Get out!"
      'Hozaa turned very quickly, almost falling, and scrambled out of the door of one extremely mad Prophet. Everything that could be going wrong, was going wrong. Hell the humans wouldn't even have to attack to hurt the Covenant, they seemed to be capable enough of doing that to themselves. It would be a very tiresome future, he could see that already. The Prophet of Holy Truth muttered his foreign curses aloud, and had to immediately report what he had learned.

From the Other Side: Homeworlds Tie-In
Date: 21 March 2004, 4:49 AM

From the Other Side: Old Wounds Reopened

      The Dawn of Dusk exited slip-space with a jolt. She was undergoing extensive repairs for the damage the humans had inflicted, but she wasn't near done. Monitor 343 Guilty Spark sputtered silently near the ship's control center. Silence wasn't something he was prone to be, and neither was the control panel. He could access the ship and gain control from any panel he chose, he had already inserted data miners and local taps at several key points, so that he could remotely pilot it if need be. Something felt odd to him, he couldn't place it, and it scared him. His attempts at turning off his emotions subroutines were successful, but whatever was bothering him moved on to his logic subroutines. Nothing he did could shake the feeling. It wasn't normal.

      He ran another system scan while his lesser Sentinels carried out the task he had assigned them: continue repairing the hull and return to the Local Nexus. The scan took the better part of three hours, but time was nothing to a machine; especially a machine that had an operational record of over 100,000 years. He didn't like the power on the human's ships though. It tasted strangely odd, like the difference between hard and soft water.

      The scans came up negative, he knew they would. He'd run three already. Always negative. He had even checked his virus definitions with Monitor 384 Early Dark; they matched. What was it? What was there? Nagging at him, biting at his heels. Tugging on his arm like a needy child. He turned his logic subroutine off momentarily, and then restarted it. Hopefully tripping any bug in the program up, and screwing it up enough for him to detect it. It didn't though. For now the emotions subroutines would stay off.

      The Local Nexus was operating at full capacity, and its massive signal readings emanated as far out as his ship was, three hundred million miles away. It was an enormous structure built by the Forerunner to be the forefront for any communications. It operated consistently through both slip and normal spaces, and any relay it sent out could be received within an hour. The speed of light in slip-space was thought non-existent by both the humans and the Covenant because they couldn't see it. It was in reality quite the opposite. Light traveled much faster than normal, and was in essence turned into something altogether different. Combining the upgrade in light speed with the extremely complicated understanding of how sub-space operated gave the Forerunner an incalculable advantage.

      With the dissolution of the Forerunner race came an emptiness. The Local Nexus sat unused, much like many other Forerunner artifacts, for over 100,000 years. Then, just as abruptly as it had been decommissioned, it was restored. Displaced Sentinels and Monitors flocked to their "home" for operational reports after Installation 04 was destroyed. Finding it vacant, they reactivated it. It slowly grew into their command center. All of the Monitors from across the expanse of the universe were gathered in the Nexus. Guilty Spark was no exception, his return to the Nexus was 'Objective Alpha' on the various sensor arrays and processors that constituted his being.

      He couldn't pull himself to link up to the Nexus however. The possibility of an undetectable risk infecting the entire Sentinel core was unacceptable. No, it was acceptable. Was it acceptable? His logic subroutine was malfunctioning to an extreme degree. There was definitely something inside of him. Something playing dirty tricks on him. His electronic mind pulsed violently with information. Data cache after data cache passed back and forth in desperate attempts to discern the correct course of action. He couldn't do it. He could do it. He didn't know. Every time he made a decision his mind would change.

      The Subroutines he had pre-installed on the ship correctly asserted from his actions that he was undergoing a level-4 system error. It would immediately send out an assessment and halt discontinue the Dawn of Dusk's progression towards the Nexus. How the virus had gotten into his systems he wasn't sure, but what was sure is that nothing he knew of could erase it.

      The Dawn of Dusk exited slip-space twenty million miles off Local Nexus' port. The virus didn't stop the monitor from a quick-progress scan. In fact, it welcomed it. The virulent spicules unwound themselves for him, releasing its grasp on his system. Whatever was inside of him wanted to know what it was going to have to face just as much as he did. He couldn't feel it holding him back anymore, but he could feel it peering out through his eyes. Taking in everything there was.

      Elsrik Andagall could never have anticipated the far reaching effects his plan would have. He'd only meant to save the Forerunner on Eden. But now, nearly 120,000 years later, in a remote region of space, his work was once more paying dividends. Could the actions of one well-meaning youth's hasty decision really save a race he couldn't even know existed. One in its infancy at the time of infection. If it couldn't, than it sure the hell could help; and they would need all the help they could get.

Homeworlds XXVI
Date: 9 April 2004, 11:01 PM

      Slipspace was a cold place. At least it seemed that way to John. The void that comprised its being. The sheer nothingness that constituted this vital lifeline for both humans and Covenant. He often wondered how something so dead could be so important.
      The sudden evacuation from Apock had actually caused some degree of fear in him. After all, he was in space. He was powerless in the gravity-less vacuum. A powerless Spartan is a useless Spartan. He hated feeling useless. All of them did.
      Details on their upcoming mission were sketchy, but Cortana had uncovered several interesting 'eyes only' files for Captain Capulet. Under the name Dorothy and Toto, the files were completely random. They were also completely blank. They had been installed for a reason though. Most likely installed for a 'quick-dump' large-scale transfer. She'd tap it now so that if it's encryption was revamped, she wouldn't have to work to get through all of it.
      The Spartan's stomach rose into his throat as the ship decellerated into normal space; a feeling much like that of a roller coaster. It was time to assemble the teams. They still weren't ready. Not ready enough for whatever HighCom could have them doing on short notice. They had the training, stamina, and passion needed; but he wanted experience.

      "Welcome home Prophet's Will, nice to see you again." Came the surprisingly jolly voice of the HighCom staffer on the other end of the line.
      "Nice to be back." Capulet responded with sincerity.
      "I regret to inform you that there's no leave for you just yet though Captain. Orders are uploading as we speak. General Abigaid has your files in a quick-dump under Dorothy and Toto. Security card Zeta, Charlie, Bravo, Alpha. PIN is where the pig sleeps Captain. Rendezvous with the Salvation's Army for supplies and be on your way. Good luck and God's speed. HighCom over and out."
      As quickly and startlingly as the conversation had begun, it ended. HighCom was waiting for them when they arrived. Instant transmission relays had been established, and the upload/download took less than ten seconds. A battery of information such as the file name, security card order, and pin number had all been given in order. The 'PIN is where the pig sleeps' reference was just one of many things the UNSC used to keep prying Covenant ears from hearing something important.
      Capulet rotated 360 degrees in his chair and slid to a large well-secured box. The marine stationed to protect it quickly saluted and stepped aside. After a retinal scan, thumb and voice print analysis, and personal transponder check, it opened with a click.
      Inside were two small books; one red and one blue. The red book contained twenty six alphabetized security cards, each with a different encryption key. Four locks, four cards, four keys. The blue book contained a list of animal names. Beside each name was three six-digit PIN numbers used for accessing the unlocked information. The three codes were under separate titles: eating, grazing, and sleeping.
      He removed the Z, C, B, and A cards, and memorized the six-digit password before relieving himself to his personal quarters.
      "Lockdown the system Lee." He ordered sternly.
      "The entire system sir?" His AI responded quizically. A shipwide lockdown was extremely rare, and for good reason. The lockdown aborted and booted any logged personnel and non-essential systems for the duration of the lockdown. Essentially killing any maneuvering or defensive options available should they be required.
      "The entire system."
      "Lockdown in 3, 2, 1...Signing off."
      Capulet removed the heavy steel chain from around his neck and used the attached key to open his bottom drawer. Inside was a computer with four keycard-sized slots in numerical order. He inserted the cards in their designated positions and typed in the six digit passcode. His monitor instantly switched on and a message appeared in uniform UNSC code software.

            Priority Alpha
            Security Code Veronica

      To: Capulet, Richard C., 917-52-5672
      From: 'Wicked Witch', N/A
      Subject: Bozwood Green

Dear Richard,
      Sorry for the security protocols, you know how it is. Neither of us are patient men, so I'll get straight to the point. Boxwood Green is the fruit of six years' labor. The Spartans aboard your ship are being sent to deliver a highly-sensitive package to the Covenant leadership. On a Covenant homeworld nonetheless. If that doesn't wet your whistle, this will. Your ship will be going in alone. So will your Spartans. The Salvation's Army is waiting with supplies required for this mission. That's not the juciest part. The real kicker here is the target. Through private sources we've recently uncovered a train [details on Link A] that just happens to hold every Prophet the Covenant have, save three. We want those Prophets destroyed. In the last several days we've received special requests for inter-species meetings between the Covenant and humanity. Luckily for us, and through some damn fine negotiating, we were able to get them to hold it onboard your ship. Not only that, but it will be held in their space. All you have to do is knock on the door and let them open the package. Lets just hope the light's on but nobody's home. For their sake. For your sake. Further details in Link B. Good luck.
                  'Wicked Witch'

      Capulet downloaded the information from Links A and B to his personal handheld and destroyed the remaining information. He ran an eight-tiered information wipe on the files' previous location before unlocking the system again. The Prophet's Will turned towards the Salvation's Army and the crew was put on high alert.
      He carefully combed the detailed schematics of the transport ship the Spartans were going up against. But then again, they weren't actually getting on it. Their mission was to plant a series of weapons known as NOVA bombs. The lithium triteride casings of these nukes were forced together into a superheated and pressurized center which boosts the yield a hundredfold.
      All the Spartans had to do was to slip unnoticed past hundreds (if not thousands) of Covenant warships, enter the planet's atmosphere, land in one piece (and in the right location), place the bombs near the most heavily-fortified and well-guarded vehicle ever assembled, and then get the hell out of Dodge before the fireworks went off. Sounded simple in theory, but execution would tell the real story.
      Capulet's attention turned to the small statistics bank at the bottom of the report. Casualty estimates for the Spartans' mission was at ninety-eight percentile. After all he'd seen, he wasn't sure if he could do it. He'd grown to love the Spartans, and didn't know if there was strength enough to send all of them to their deaths. Especially while the two races had a treaty in place. It would take soul searching to discover that dark truth, and he wasn't sure there was enough time to search that far.

      Field Master 'Hooza checked his weapons as the train entered 'Sle Aliman. The industrial city was a thriving metropolis, as well as hotspot for protesters and rioters. The war against humanity was a very controversial one indeed. Three Prophets had felt very strongly against the war, and pulled themselves from the collective. Their millions of followers followed loyally behind them.
      If it hadn't been for the similar but not as strong feelings of several other Prophets, immediate military action would have been taken against the rioteers. The recent appearance of the Sentinel threat was seen as a sign from the Gods.
      A punishment for tresspasses committed against the humans. They would all be destroyed. Hundreds of thousands more began siding with the dissidents, and further riots ensued. Intense propaganda wasn't enough to calm their nerves though. Not this time. They had seen the charred corpses of the billions of dead. The burning hulks of their once malevolant masterpieces of architecture. Entire cities were reduced to smoldering ashes.
      Three fleets had lost their battles, as well as their lives, defending the planets. Reports estimated over seven billion casualties, and no survivors. The machines didn't take survivors. But the religious zeal the Covenant put on everything befuddled the simple fact that machines didn't have a use for survivors. It instead turned it into the opinion that redemption wasn't applicable. It was the appocalypse for them.
      'Hooza and the rest of the personnel onboard waited eagerly as the train came to rest. They stepped onto the cold metallic surface as one; their thousand foot tromp shaking the earth as they did. The screams of protesting citizens drowned out time itself as they all chanted in unison.
      "Antifada ungt 'candisa, 'andtha, 'antimud!" Echoed throughout the majestic city streets. 'You've brought us no salvation, no hope, no life." They blamed the Prophets for what was happening.
      Despite the relative technological superiority the Covenant had over humanity, they had gained it all through warfare. Socially they were only at the point of a pluralist absolute monarchy. Nobility was granted only to the elites, who in turn kept the rest of their subjects in line.
      'Hooza approached the door of the House of Light and Truth cautiously. It was a spectacularly religious building. The hostility of the crowd swelled as three High Prophets floated off of the platform. The beings ignored the pestulant cries of the lesser and weaker peasants.
      Suddenly, two massive green lobs of plasma traced damning paths through the sky. A brute quickly rolled in front of the first, absorbing the impact in its entirity. His body was ripped in half by the explosion. Blood splashed across the sidewalk in pools. The second blast landed directly on the prophet it was intended for, detonating on the shield that covered him before it died. The resonating impact pushed air with the ferocity of a jackhammer into the being's weak skull; crushing it under the pressure.
      'Hooza realized now that this had all been planned, but it was too late. The entire front row of peasants were all pulling out weapons, and another volley of plasma streaked above his head. The train had been compromised. There were far too many of them to control.
      "Field M--aster -H--za! Dis--ent Prophets onboar--- security compromised. I sa--," The line died. 'Hooza had heard enough though. He spun towards the train in time to see its gravity generators powering up. The heavy blast doors closed quickly, too quickly. Whoever had taken control was being sloppy. None of his men had enough time to get back onboard.
      Turrets activated and began rotating. He smiled as the thought of the weapon's massive firepower tearing through the peasants entered his mind. They would get what they deserved. Confusion struck as the turrets continued rotating past the peasants and to his very group of men. With their backs turned, they were both unaware and exposing their weakest points.
      The last words struck him like a ton of bricks. Security compromised. The peasants, with the help of the three Prophets, had taken over the train. He was helpless, outgunned, and outnumbered. The last thing he saw was the blinding white flash of plasma before his body was pummelled by one of the hundreds of bolts that sizzled instantly forth.

Homeworlds XXVII
Date: 24 April 2004, 3:12 AM

UNSCProphet's Will Bridge

      "What were the supplies?" Capulet asked Lee quietly. It wasn't a secret, he was just out of energy.
      "Eight crates of weapons, specialized to the Spartans' specific needs. Ammunition. Oxygen tanks. Space maneuvering packs. And the NOVA bombs are in bay six. Along with a small contingent of ODSTs assigned to protect them." The A.I. responded casually. Lines of code scrolled down his beard's silky smooth strands of hair.
      "Good. How long until we arrive in Covenant space?"
      "Sixteen hours."
      "How exactly are we getting them to the planet again?"
      No response. Capulet raised an eyebrow curiously. He hadn't even noticed his foot tapping the floor uncontrollably. Was it his nerves, or was he just trying to keep awake. The mission reports had been very unsettling.
      There was never a ninety-eight percent casualty rate. He knew that. Ninety-eight percent? How the hell did that happen? All of the Spartans would be together. If something went wrong, they all paid for it. There was no ninety-eight percent.
      He could refuse the order. Meet with them in private. See what they wanted. No need to make a rash decision. It was the first, and most likely the last, time humanity would actually have a chance to sit and speak on peaceful terms. If you could call the terms peaceful.
      Capulet didn't want to send his Spartans off to die, but he didn't trust the Covenant an iota. His Spartans? How had that happened? He rubbed his temples with his thumbs and closed his eyes. He wasn't thinking straight. Sleep. He needed sleep.
      "Sir. Sir!"
      "Yes Lee?"
      "Did you hear me sir?"
      "Hear you what Lee?"
      "I don't know sir. I don't know how they're getting to the planet."
      "How is it possible that HighCom overlooked that? They couldn't have. That's what they're paid to do. Unless they know something we don't. But how could they?"
      "It would seem that everyone knows more than we do at this point sir. You may get some rest. I'll wake you in eight hours."
      "No, I can't sleep. I have to...I have to prepare. Get the men ready. Supplies, logistics. I have a million things to do."
      "I can handle them sir. After all, what's a battle A.I. good for when a silly human goes and takes over?" Lee smiled to Capulet and gave him a friendly salute. It was amazing. They really did have a life of their own.

UNSC Prophet's Will Barracks

      John stared as his assembled squads. Forty-two bodies working for a single purpose. To win. Several were field-stripping their weapons; others were cleaning them. A couple of the more tech-heavy units were mulling over the specifics of the MJOLNIR Mark VI.
      The Mark VI was truly a magnificent beast of burden. It increased his operational payload twenty times higher than he could perform normally. It's software suite updated his neural implants, giving Cortana more room to breathe. Nightvision and thermal vision modes were now standard, and his reflexes were heightened even further.
      Word had gotten out that there were NOVA bombs on board. He'd heard of them, but no one had seen them in action. Whatever they were for, he had the eerie feeling his team would be finding out soon. An entire contingent of ODSTs had even been assigned guard duty. They were tough as nails, as far as regulars went. But they were no match for a Spartan; they were far from regular. They were as alien as the Covenant were.

Tslein aog Shaon, Train of the Holy Ones

      Prophet Jorn sat on his pedastle silently. He'd led an attack against his fellow men; his fellow Prophets. But it was necessary. He knew it was. They were going to foolishly continue defying the gods' wills by attacking the humans, and incurring the mechanical demons' wraths. Two had survived the attack, and for that he was glad.
      "Master Jorn, we are underway. We found papers of a clandestine meeting between the Humans and the Prophets. it would appear that they were going to betray the Humans."
      "I'm not surprised. Very little surprises me anymore."
      "You'll know why if you listen."
      "Was that contempt?" Jorn turned to the elite standing before him. Former Field Master, now a rebel, 'Zak was a very strong Elite. He was also very powerful. He'd instilled a fierce loyalty into his men; who were constantly at his side. Especially so the two Brute twins Aron and Aros.
      "No sir, merely a statement." 'Zak didn't fear the Prophets. He never had. Even less so now that there were only five known Prophets still around. He was the only one who knew their secret. They couldn't get rid of him if they wanted to. He'd set them up. It was perfect.
      The Prophets were a dying breed. They lived an extremely long time. Unfortunately, there were no more females of their species. When they died, they all died. That's what made the Forerunner technology the Humans possessed so valuable. That's what made the whole war. There was nothing religious about this slaughter. It was purely the Prophets' own vanity that had almost wiped out an entire intelligent species.
      'Zak had come close to being killed before, but one quickly understands how important blackmail can be in a tight situation. He'd made up an ingenious system of keeping his secret a secret, but there never was a system. No one besides him did know, or ever would if he died. That's what made his system so perfect. Not having a second man meant that the Prophets could look the second link all they could, but they'd never find him.
      It bought him time, but most importantly, it bought him power. He was able to speak with relative impunity to the Prophets, as long as he still retained an outward air of solemn respect. A respect he never held. 'Zak was intuitive, and by nature, hated the Prophets. He wasn't sure if she should just put an end to all of them and let their pathetic species die out once and for all.
      Once they found the replication technology they were after, his information wouldn't matter much anyway. He only existed because his information mattered. When it disappeared, he had the strange feeling he would too. A feeling he couldn't shake off no matter how much he tried.
      "What exactly is it I should know?"
      "I'll make it short and sweet. They have data about us that we can't risk losing. We have to get it back. Even if that means breaking the treaty."
      "We cannot break the treaty! It will be the doom of us all. That is why we are like we are in the first place. Because of our dirty and backhanded policies. No more. We will not break the treaty. You will have to find another way to get what you need. One that requires no one is hurt. That is all, you may leave."
      "Yes sir." It was no use argueing. 'Zak bowed, turned, and left. Those very same policies he was using were created by the Prophets. First they go to war because of their ignorant vanity, and now they refuse to win it because of their surprise enlightenment. When would those fools realize that they were still at war? When would they realize that their religion was all bullshit, and that they had to finish what they'd started with impunity, or they'd take every species in the Covenant down with them?
      'Zak didn't know, but it chilled him to the core that there would be a day he'd have to find out. Or would he have to make sure that the day in question never came? Yes, that sounded very good. Very good indeed.

Homeworlds XXVIII
Date: 15 May 2004, 12:03 AM

UNSC Barbarian

      "They're under way." The voice crackled through the intercom unsteadily. The open transmission wasn't entirely safe, but that wasn't too important now. What was important was important was the Prophet's Will cargo, and the devastation it held.
      "Good, good. I trust the supplies arrived securely?"
      "Yes, they were secure. I saw to that myself. I even had a team of ODSTs guard it to make sure."
      "We can't take any risks with the delivery. It has to be perfect. Do you know how much that delivery cost me? I lost three platoons on that damned mission."
      "It'll be worth it. And the delivery will be perfect. After all it has an entire generation of Spartans guarding it. Dr. Halsey's freaks can handle anything, remember? Anyway, they only have to get it to the planet, it doesn't really matter from there. They don't call them planet-killers for nothing."
      "Listen Ackerson. I remember Giomat, I still have nightmares about that place. Seeing my men again like that after the incident on Cerap only brought that back. This better go down perfectly, or you're ass is in a tighter sling than you ever thought possible."
      "I understand General. You and the Barbarian just do whatever you need to do. The Covenant will become a nonentity very quickly."
      "Good bye Colonel."
      "Good bye General."
      Abigaid turned the monitor off. It was a perfect plan on paper. He was surprised the bastard Ackerson had been able to come up with it without hurting himself. He had a personal distaste for the man. He was a weasel who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. Abigaid didn't like those types.
      However, given the current circumstances, he was going to have to trust the man. If...no, not if...when. When it worked the Covenant would be broken at the spine. The rampant Sentinels were a bit of a worry however, and they worried him. That was an unexpected complication in the plan. The Covenant were having trouble fighting the Sentinels. Luckily, the Sentinels hadn't attacked Earth yet. He mulled the plan over to himself. The whole plan.
      The Barbarian had been sent to Cerap after a survey discovered Forerunner facilities there. That's where it started. After Halsey's unexpected death, the Spartan III project was on the verge of collapsing. Then, the most unlikely thing happened. Colonel Ackerson took control of it, and pulled as much funding for it as possible.
      But that was all for his big plan. Abigaid admired him for his foresight. That scared him somewhat too. What did Ackerson plan for Abigaid in the long run? He shuddered and shook the thought out of his mind. No time to think about that now.
      Spartan training was established at the Septagon, also on Cerap. Ackerson liked to centralize his projects. This way he could keep an eye on the Spartans and the rest of his project.
      Ackerson now had both parts of his project brewing to completion, but no way to deliver the package. But fate seemed to follow the man with a handout basket outstretched. The NOVA bomb was created at a Section Four laboratory on Earth, and it all fell together.
      The Flood spores captured by Abigaid's men on Cerap were perfect. The NOVA bomb was the perfect cover. Ackerson was going to have the Prophet's Will, with the full contingent of Spartans, deliver the parasites to the Covenant's main homeworld.
      There again fate intervened. The Sentinels turned from a threat to a gift. Covenant treaties even allowed for the Prophet's Will to move unchallenged into Covenant space. It just kept coming, and coming. Now Ackerson had the package, the delivery boy, and the truck. Now he even had a friendly neighborhood to deliver too. It was too easy.
      Abigaid didn't feel right though. Not for the Covenant, he despised the Covenant. He felt for the Spartans. Ackerson called them freaks, but they were no freaks. Abigaid spent a good portion of his career on Cerap, overseeing the various details of Boxwood Green. He'd seen the Flood in action, and by all means the Covenant deserved that. Yet, he'd also seen the Spartans in action.
      They'd done nothing wrong. They were the most loyal and best trained soldiers the UNSC had. Now they were being lied to and sent on a mission with damn near zero chance of surviving. It wasn't right. It just wasn't right.
      "Sir, I have some interesting news." Lee interupted his thoughts.
      "Go on."
      "Colonel Ackerson and the Lady Luck are leaving the inner colony's perimeter now. Current heading will take him to the Covenant homeworld."
      "That son of a bitch. Lee, follow him. But not too close."
      "Will do sir."
      Was that rat bastard possibly doing what Abigaid thought he was? Was he going to erase any loose ends that might possibly pose a threat? It made sense to Abigaid now.
      Ackerson was going to jump to the Covenant homeworld just as the Spartans set off the bombs. The Covenant would naturally break the treaty with humanity. But if Ackerson could destroy the Prophet's Will and blame the actions on a rogue ship, there was a chance it could be resolved.
      After all, Boxwood Green's only written orders were to send Spartans to the Covenant homeworld to capture a Prophet. Ackerson could say that Capulet was disobeying a direct order by employing the use of what they thought were NOVA weapons.
      But Abigaid knew. Shit. Abigaid had signed the orders for the requisition of those NOVA bombs. Ackerson was going to pin all of this on him. Ackerson's plan would have destroyed the Covenant, gotten rid of the hated Spartan program, and wiped out the only people who really knew what was going on. That bastard's plan really was perfect. But his luck had also just run out.
      "Lee, order an all-hands alert. This is going to get messy. Make the necessary preparations for full assault. I want to see my squad leaders in the prep room immediately."
      "And Lee, if you have any failsafes that won't allow you to attack human ships...deactivate them."
      Lee hesitated through his holographic eyes. Then nodded accordingly. "Yes sir." He wasn't sure what was going on, but Abigaid was right. This was about to get very messy.