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M31: First Blood by Greg and Wes Foutch

(Prologue) M31: First Blood
Date: 5 May 2003, 12:35 AM

This story was inspired by Halo.

      The United States of America shared the Earth with one other country: the United Kingdom, and the UK rule was slowly fading. The Russians had provoked World War IV, with the nuclear bombing of Philadelphia in 2747. Using their advanced technology, the United States, with help from the UK, launched an assault on Russia from orbit around the Earth. Missiles fired from satellites, destroying every Russian city of any importance. A Russian space station was completely destroyed. Moscow, along with the Russian dictator, was annihilated. After the abrupt end to World War IV, the US and the UK united to launch an assault on all nations of the world. Slowly, nation-by-nation, the Earth became dominated by the US and the UK. The U.S.A controlled all of North America, Asia, and Australia. The UK controlled all of Europe, South America, and Africa. Yet, even united under two very similar governments, the people of Earth began their ultimate destruction.

      But overpopulation was not the only reason for the secret mission. Earth had essentially become a barren wasteland. The oil resource was extremely low, but that wasn't as much of a problem as one might think; vehicles no longer needed oil, even remotely. A new environmental friendly fuel had been developed, however oil was still needed for energy in other areas. Due to global warming the sea level had risen drastically, and was still on the rise. Key West was completely submerged, as well as many other large seaside areas.

      The stock market reached an all time low in 2589 even lower than the first ever depression in the 1920s - 1930s. World War III started in 2602, putting an end to the 13-year depression. America, once again, emerged as the leading superpower, having the best economic and military stability. The United Kingdom and Russia pursued in second and third. The Space Race continued between the U.S. and Russia, to see who would make the next evolutionary step in space exploration.

      The stock market hit the opposite end of the record books, reaching the highest it's ever been, in the year 2830, about 100 years after World War IV. America still had the most stable economy, and was still considered the most powerful country. However, the Russians had reached the next platform in space exploration, sending the first manned craft one light year past the chunk of ice known as Pluto, completely out of the Milky Way galaxy and back. But the United States was not about to be outdone. With the high-end economy, and the need to prove American technology and society over Russian, the President thought it a good time to act.

      In the year 2850, the Commander-in-Chief, with Congressional approval, ordered the immediate appropriation of funds to step up the secret project. The NASA/SEC (National Aeronautical Space Academy/Space Exploration and Colonization) had been a contemplation of several key astronomers and scientist working in conjunction with the U.S. government for the greater good of mankind. In the year 2853, after 3 years of research, the U.S. government deemed it plausible to construct a mode of transportation to this distant galaxy. Shortly thereafter, 3 spacecraft were commissioned. The U.S.S. Pinta, U.S.S. Nina & U.S.S. Santa Maria were all slated for manufacture and construction immediately began on the U.S.S. Pinta. This behemoth of a cosmic liner, almost 1 kilometer in length, and weighing in at 8 million metric tons, (Yea, she was a little overweight but she could dance like a ballerina.) was being developed specifically for the purpose of exploration and colonization, in short, the crew had to find another Earth.

      This ship had been given the essentials of life. A bio dome held a dense, lush jungle and plots for gardens. This would be necessary to sustain life, supplying food and oxygen for the crew. Horticulture and nutrition experts were summoned to examine what necessary foliage would expend the greatest nutrients and proteins. These same experts were commissioned to MCS, (Military Civilian Status) and would be the in flight guardians of the gardens that would keep not only the crew alive but, themselves also. They had better be right!

      Also aboard was LIFELINE, an oxygen generating apparatus specifically redesigned for the ensuing mission. LIFELINE had originally been developed in the early 28th Century for oceanic exploration. Underwater colonization had been examined for humans and deemed perilous due to the evils of platonic movements, bacterial infections, and the long-term effects of "dome syndrome". An additional self contained LIFELINE ELITE sat in cargo bay twelve for the eventual colonization of a secret planet pre-selected by head brass.

      Due to the great distances to be traveled and the longevity of the coming mission, living quarters were designed on an alien basis so as not to remind even the most homesick crewperson of home. Walls were metallic in nature, bland, without even a hint of color. Blues, greens, and especially yellow's were avoided at all costs for these were the colors of everything considered Earthly. Photographs were strictly forbidden, as were mementos. Each crewperson, civilian and military alike, would be strip searched before boarding. Personal and hygiene products were supplied for them. This was not a weekend cruise to the moon; this was a do-or-die mission of utmost importance. Nothing was left to chance. Lonely civilians and commissioned crewmembers alike have sabotaged many a missions.

      The key substance, H20, would have to be generated in flight, for adequate storage is not an option on a voyage such as this. Fuel Cell Propulsion, (FCP) although outdated, almost antiquated compared to Plasma Drive Propulsion (PDP) of today, fulfilled the critical need for water, for the only drive system to produce H2O as a by-product was FCP. It's ironic that on a 20 trillion dollar project, PDP would only be on board as a backup system.
Solar cells would collect the necessary energy to fulfill the immense bleed on the craft's electrical system. With the most sophisticated flight, weapons, and life support computers, not to mention the sheer numbers of just illumination facilities alone, this ship consumed enough energy in one week that all of New York could operate for a day. Batteries alone accounted for almost 1/2 million tons of her beastly weight.

      In the year 2858, with the completion of the first of three craft, the Pinta was christened for her maiden voyage. Only the best were chosen as command and crew. Due to the duration of the mission, only unattached individuals were considered eligible. A full regiment of tests, both physical and mental, had to be conquered in order to advance in the selection process. Males and females were considered equal on all levels. After several months and the crew selected, the operation had commenced.

      Hopes for a new planet, a new star system, and a new life began with the destination of a single planet in a galaxy known only as M31. The mission had begun, but was far from over...

This is what we have so far. Just wanted to know what you think, email comments and questions to us.

(Chapter 1) M31: First Blood
Date: 7 May 2003, 1:06 AM

22:47 hrs.

Voice Transmission Received 22.47:17 EST, U.S.S.       

Pinta, Data Link 012:357:261

Decoding Transmission...

Process Complete

Hostiles on board...We cannot hold them off. They've taken most of the ship, everything but the weapons cache, where everyone is hiding, blasting anything that tries to enter. We've kept up the battle for near two days, hiding and fighting. It's made everyone delirious; we can't last much longer. As a result, an ESP (Emergency Security Pod) has been equipped with a homing beacon and jettisoned from the Pinta. The pod contains all access privileges to the flight and weapons files of the cruiser. I hope only hope you can get here in time. I... They're here! There are too many of them, too few of us. I'm sorry to say that the Pinta has failed, the mission has been compromised, but you...

Transmission End

      "Christ. It was sent by ansible?" The General stood over the computer; the technician had requested his presence. The ansible was the fastest way to communicate between off world cruisers and Earth. It was, in short, an instantaneous interstellar communications device. That's how the dictionary put it anyway.
      "No, sir," the technician replied. "At the time of the U.S.S Pinta departure, the ansible was still in testing stages. It was deemed unnecessary for a prototype to be installed."
      "So we don't know when this was sent?" the General asked.
      "No, sir," the technician stated. "But we could get a mathematician down here to figure it out."
      "Great," he said sarcastically. "Forward that to the head of NASA/SEC, and send a copy to my office computer within the next few minutes. All hell had just broken loose and he was the only Brass to know. Someone needs to talk to the Command-in-Chief," the General said, and walked out.
      The General walked through the empty corridors of the station, to his office. The General's office wasn't as one might think. Any person that committed his life to the military, came up through the ranks after 39 years of service, served in 2 world wars, bequeathed his hearing in one ear, and walks on a prosthetic should have a huge office overlooking a beautiful landscape or ocean, able to kick back and enjoy his golden years. This office was just the opposite: second floor, drab walls in a nondescript 4-story building. The only window opens to an adjoining brick building not 12 meters away. He sat at his computer and listened to the taped message again and again, striving to make sense of the events that had just unfolded in his lap. He was saddened by the obvious loss of life that had just taken place in the recent past. A veteran himself, he understood the perils of war. He finally downloaded the troubling message on a small disk, pocketed it, and left his office.
[ident]He fumbled in his pocket for his car keys, as he walked across the old runway, into the old hangar, which served as the parking garage at the station. He sat down in his Mercedes, turned the radio to a news station and drove out of the parking garage. The U.S. government, ever since space travel was practical, set up a chain of satellite stations to maintain communications. The one the General was stationed at happened to be in the middle of Nevada, situated in a remote area that was rumored to be controlled by the Air Force in the 20th century under a cloak of secrecy codenamed Area 51. Legend has it that our government had captured alien craft and living, breathing beings and studied them for years. The Generals own Great Grandfather had told him some bone chilling stories that were passed down to him by his Grandfather. Probably just paranoid folklore is what the General believed. But some believed that it is from these same alien beings that we learned the technology capable today, the technology that made space flight practical, with everyday trips to the moon.
      There was nothing even remotely close to the station unless you counted cactus. If so, the General was blessed. It would be at least two hours before he reached the airport, and probably another two before he could get a flight. Like he said, someone needed to talk to the President; The General had to get to D.C. and needed to get there fast. Picking up his satellite phone and hitting speed dial 07, a few moments later he heard the familiar computer generated greeting on the other end.
      "Thank you, please press 1 to enter security pass code," the metallic female voice said. The General punched 1, then without waiting for further instructions, he pressed his 17-digit pass code. He knew all to well what was coming next as he placed the phone's digital camera to his pupil for a retina scan. Shortly thereafter, he was talking to Tech. Sgt. William Langley, the military commander at Las Vegas International.
      "I need a bird to D.C., the fastest you have. What's fueled and ready?" the General asked.
      "Sir, we have several fueled and at the ready, but if speed is what's important, not comfort, then we need to ready the B.A.D. Boy," replied William. Ballistic Air Defense (B.A.D.) was the code name for a series of fighters that would fly mach 6 and deliver 5,000 lb. warheads halfway around the world in a matter of minutes, not hours. A 2 seater that wasn't known for creature comforts though. This aircraft was capable of literally flying the skin from your face if you let it.
      "How soon? I'm en route. Its 23:50 hours, my e.t.a. is 01:30 hours," the General said as he merged his Mercedes onto Rt 51 to Vegas.
      "She'll be locked and loaded when you get here, Sir"
      The General knew he was in for a ride from hell, and was looking forward to the trip. As he passed the last security checkpoint, he swung his car through the gates to the hangar on the far side of the site. Very few people ever got to this point, even if only to look, and he would soon be seated in one of the most sophisticated aircraft ever designed by Boeing/Lockheed. A small thrill before he had to give the President the kind of news that always ruins a person's day.
      Seated on the starboard side, the lines on the runway seemed to become one as the airframe struggled to grab all the air it could muster. With a collective push forward on the throttle controls and a pull back on stick, the bird took flight. Gear up almost before they left the ground as they "clunked" into position. "GEAR UP" illuminated alongside the array of gauges and dials that flooded the small compartment. The pilot seemed to barely notice; although it was obvious he was in full control. Washington D.C. was only nineteen minutes away. The General almost wished he had a couple hours flight time to delay the inevitable.

(Part 2) M31: First Blood
Date: 7 May 2003, 1:19 AM

03:30 hrs.
      "Madam President, the General is here to see you," the President's assistant said.
      "Very well. Lead him in," the President said as she sat at her desk in the Oval Office, waiting as the General was being prepped on what to do.
      "Madam President, sorry about the hour" he said as he entered the room, nodding his head in a slight bow.
      "General," she said. "Don't worry about it. You have an important piece of information for me?" The General noticed that the Vice President was also present, along with the Secretary of Defense. They don't waste any time, the General thought.
      "Yes, I do." He held up the small disk, and handed it to the President. She put it in the small desk computer. The message of distress played for everyone present, relaying the information the General was there to give. The General stood calmly, as he watched the face of the President turn from calm to shock. Famous for being strong willed, it was obvious she hadn't ever been faced with what was ripping through her brain at this very moment.
      "Ansible?" the Vice President, Jason Walters, asked.
      "No, the U.S.S. Pinta was not equipped with an ansible. Even if it had been, it would have been a prototype, an early prototype. I doubt it would've worked," the General replied.
      "So we don't know how long ago this message was sent?"
      "Correct Sir. However, I can get someone to figure it out."
      "What the hell do you mean, figure it out? We spend 20 trillion dollars for 3 chunks of iron the size of Manhattan, and we have to figure it out! Sure as shit don't get much for a buck anymore, huh?
      "Apparently not, sir... Sir, with all due respect, my staff and I had nothing to do with the design or for that matter the cost. We do however have the task of keeping her airborne and track communications."
      "Ok, ok, sorry. Look, it just pisses me off to have to deal with crap like this. What are our options?"
      "There's only one logical option, as far as I see it." the President said.
      "And that is?" V.P. Walters Jason asked, somewhat annoyed. He didn't come here to play games.
      "We constructed three of these cruisers, correct?" The General nodded grimly, knowing what she had in mind. It's crazy, he thought. "So we send a rescue crew."
      "For all we know, the Pinta was obliterated years ago. It could be suicide, and for absolutely nothing! I'm not sending my Marines halfway across the universe to recover a ship full of bodies!" The General was outraged. It was suicide, and she knew it!
      "We don't know that the crew has been killed, General! It's entirely possible that the crew has been kept alive. This just may be the greatest thing human kind has ever done. We've made contact with another species! These may be hostile or friendly; we don't know the whole story. All we have right now is a 46 second transmission. We cannot base the future of deep space exploration on this information alone. This government has way too much invested to just scrap the project, not to mention, we may still have survivors at M31. We cannot just abandon them. We need to determine if there are survivors, that being accomplished, first, and then we must seek out this new species and try to contact them on peaceful terms. I don't see how we can pass this up! Let's not forget the press this will create. It can be good or bad. The decision is ours. Whatever we decide, right here, right now can change our futures."
      Everyone in the room knew what was at stake. The President was right. Throw away 20 trillion and the press would serve you up in central park to be cooked alive. Save all of humanity and achieve the next big step in space exploration, and you will be remembered for centuries to come, like that Hubble guy.
      "Your right. It makes sense," the Vice President said. "Surely you're not going to send in more civilians? They should all be military, preferable
      "Yes...No. We'll have to have several civilians aboard for life support purposes. We'll set them up as MCS. And we need Air Force to go up, too. What if this escalates to a war on another planet? We'll have to send in reinforcements, but I want to have air strikes capabilities. Go ahead, and make a list of the best possible crewmen. This is going way too fast," the Secretary of Defense said. "We still have to get this to Congress, get their approval."
      "Escalates to War? This is supposed to be a reconnaissance mission! Gentleman, I understand the need for military escort, but, honestly, we're trying to show signs of peace. But...go ahead and make the list, our boys will not go in defenseless. Make a list for another crew, to send as backup, if needed, on the U.S.S. Nina."
      "Yes, Madam President, I understand. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll immediately start contacting personnel for this mission." She nodded to him, and he left the Oval Office.
      "Now, General, I thank you for bringing this to my attention. From this moment on, until I say otherwise, this is considered classified information. I want to keep the media away from this as long as possible. I will address the nation once we have all our ducks in a row. Until then, let's keep a lid on this." she said.
      I have a feeling we'll have fucked duck before this is over the General thought. "Yes, Madam President, I am familiar with procedure. The media won't get anything from me," the General replied
      "I'm keeping the disk also, General," she said.
      "Of course. I'll be on my way, get back to the station, and make sure nothing else comes in." The General left, heading back to his car. Today he would get a plane ticket and head back. The General needed time to think and that was hard to do at mach 6.
      "Now, Madam President..." the Vice President started.
      "I know, the media is going to get their hands on this, sooner or later," she said.
      "I can only hope it's later, rather than sooner. We need time to get the details straight."

Some people have had questions, so here goes:
      This story has nothing to do with Halo, but I decided to post it here because we got the idea from Halo, plus it should appeal to the same kind of people.
       Thanks, Steele for the comment, you pointed something out I never noticed.

(Part 3) M31: First Blood
Date: 7 May 2003, 1:27 AM

16:35 hrs.

      "I have hand selected a crew. I just need approval," the Secretary of Defense said to the President. "I'm confident I have made accurate selections."
      "Okay, let's go over the officers, see if we agree," the President replied.
      "Yes, ma'am, that sounds good. The crew I speak of is not the flight crew. I'll leave that to NASA/SEC. I wouldn't have a clue. What I have put together a list of our top personnel just in case this "species" are of hostile nature." Under his breath he added, "Lord help us if they are."
      "I see, go on."
      "The commanding officer is going to be, if he agrees to come out of his recent retirement, four star General Russell McAllister. He prefers Russ," he added as an afterthought.
      "McAllister? The McAllister?" The President sounded shocked.
      "Yes, the McAllister. He led us to victory of Russia, during the World War IV. He's the perfect man for the job." In this case, age definitely brings wisdom; At 49, his knowledge of the T1-40 is unmatched, second only to his bravery, the Secretary thought
      "Will he come without being pushed? He's getting old, maybe too old for this. He may want to kick back on this one."
      "If I know Russ, he'll be there, with all his go-to-war-shit on his back."
      "Okay, next."
      "Senior Airman, Richard A. Turner, a.k.a. 'Rat', will be leader of the Melee fighter squadron. He's reasonably young, 38, and he's a hotshot pilot, but he's the best we know of. Dangerous with a fighter, just the kind of man we need, if things turn hostile."
      "MELEE!? Kind of putting the cart before the horse, wouldn't you say?"
      "I'm not sending anyone in without protection. We don't even know if they want peace," the Secretary of Defense replied. "To our knowledge, they started this thing, and I'm not letting our people go in there without the means to finish it. If the aliens want war, we'll give it to them."
      "Great. We're trying to work peacefully, but we're going in armed with a Melee squadron, and a let's kick ass attitude," the President said sarcastically.
      "I know, I know. Next?"
      "Sergeant Major Turk Keller, a.k.a. T.K., is going to be the second infantry leader. He's 51 years old, but he's never lost his fighting spirit. He's refused to retire, and he's the one man I know that wants to die with a gun in his hand. A true die hard Marine. Tough, hardheaded, he's the true meaning of Jarhead. I bet this son-of-a-bitch would drown puppies just for fun, but he will, I'll bet you a dollar to a donut, come out alive and bring most of his men with him. His second in command is First Sergeant Tara Nicole. She's 34 years old, one of the few women going on this mission. She came to us through Special Ops a few years back. You might remember she was part of the insertion team that went into the U.K. Carried her commander out on her back., if I remember correctly. There's really no one better, she's one of the best."
      "I sure hope so," the President said.
      "We have Private First Class Jake Dade. He's 25, still new to the marines. He's the team's demolitions expert. He's somewhat of a pyromaniac. That's what makes him good, and he'll get the job done, especially if it involves blowing something up."
      "So, whom are you leaving out?"
      "The last person aboard, besides Battalion commanders, is the Master Chief. He's Navy, but he is one of the greatest military minds alive, the greatest living mind known, military or otherwise. A great strategist, and he's not afraid to act. If it has to be done, he does it, not relying on others to do his bidding for him. He's the infantry commander, and he's the most important person on this mission. Should things go hostile, the Master Chief will know what to do, without calling back here to Earth.
      "Sounds like you have it pretty well covered. How many are going?" she asked.
      "Four full battalions with a covert, Special Ops Division."
      "Great. I'll leave you in charge of everything. We will have Congressional approval. Now, if you don't mind, get General McAllister down here as soon as possible, please. I need to speak with him."
      "Yes, ma'am, right away. Though, I can assure you, he's been briefed. And it may be a while. He's still in California." The Secretary of Defense left the Oval Office.
       While he was away, the President played the message again. The commander seemed calm, not distressed. It was like he knew there was no hope; he just wanted to notify the people back on Earth of what had happened, notify them of alien contact. That's what he meant, she thought. By, I only hope you can get here in time. Not in time to save them, but in time to make contact with the aliens and try to make peace. Maybe she was naive to even remotely consider this a rescue mission.

(Part 4) M31: First Blood
Date: 28 July 2003, 12:37 AM


18:30 hrs.

      Even when living in a small town in Maine, Sergeant Major Turk Keller liked to keep in shape. He had recently worked in the Malaysia area, dealing with the rebellious Malaysian Republic. After the Marines, under his command, and himself, solved the whole ordeal, he declined the opportunity to get involved another rebellion, this time in the Korean area. Having received two bullet wounds, one in the upper leg, another in his shoulder, he took his military leave nine months ago. Ever since the wounds healed, nearly five months ago, he had done all he could to keep fit through daily five-mile jogs and the usual strength training exercises. He spent most of the day every Saturday at the shooting range staying sharp. Otherwise, T.K. had been relaxing and enjoying his leave, although recently he had been sensing a familiar itch. Starting about two weeks prior, he had begun to feel boredom setting in. As much as he hated to admit it, he missed the wartime experiences. The adrenaline, the danger, and, unlike no other feeling in the world, knowing that you had narrowly avoided the inevitable: death.
      He reasoned that this particular quality had been inherited from his father. Raised in a military household, bounced around from base to base, Turk had always wanted to take after the old man and join the Marine Corps. His father had taught him from a young age the values of being a good Marine, and more importantly, a good man. At the age of 11, he traded in his toy gun for a semi-auto, top of the line, paint-ball gun. His father, and some of his Marine friends, while on military leave, joined them on weekends for war games, teaching Turk everything they knew. His mother did all within her power to try and convince her only son not to join. Regardless, at the age of 18, T.K. signed up for the Marine Corps and left home for boot camp, which was much tougher than he ever thought possible, despite the forewarning from his father. He then proceeded to Advanced Tactical Training, where he learned everything there is to be known about military strategy, covert operations, and interrogation. Shortly thereafter, with a new issue Heckler & Koch MP5 Submachine gun, Turk was sent with a Battalion to China, in order to subdue a large rebellion against the U.S. He was there for two tours, until the age of 25. He steadily proceeded through the ranks, attaining Sergeant Major at the age of 43.
      The new Sergeant Major, at the prime age of 47, was then shuttled to Columbia to deal with political unrest, which escalated to a two-year assignment. He was then sent to Malaysia, staying for another 2 years. As much as he enjoyed relaxing, doing whatever he pleased, receiving orders from no one, he couldn't get the Malaysia incident out of his head. He narrowly avoided death, twice.
      It's going to be great, he thought, as he jogged through the gargantuan park. Being back in a wartime situation. Not two hours ago, the Sergeant Major had received a call from the Secretary of Defense, pleading kindly for him to save humanity, no pressure involved. Actually, he had been asked to embark upon a journey aboard the U.S.S. Santa Maria, a rescue mission to the M31 galaxy. "Hopefully," the Secretary had said, "We'll find survivors. But I wouldn't count on it. To be truthful, much to the President's discontent, this is more likely going to be a search and destroy, rather than a search and rescue."
      To which T.K. had replied, "Great! You can count me in, then." Turk was to meet at 07:00 the following morning, in D.C., in order to be briefed by the big boy, in this case the big girl, the President. He planned to catch a flight, a little later. He wanted to get in his jog for the day.
      The Sergeant Major took a left, taking him deeper into the park's forest. Gigantic white pines surrounded him on all sides. Even without a cloud in the sky, the forest was dark, sunlight hardly peeking through the branches. But T.K. found it relaxing; he actually thought it to be quite beautiful. This was the place where he had grown up, along with his father, and the father before him. This is where his family had lived for nearly seven generations now. He lived on a respectable fifteen-acre plot, about half a mile from the nearest town, Monticello.
      He eventually decided to head back to his two-story house and pack his things. It would take about 45 minutes for him to get home, and he still needed to get to the airport. He had already made his hotel reservations; they were expecting him at 22:30. The lobby normally closed at 21:00, but he was on official business, so they made an exception.
      T.K. entered his house at 19:15. His house was enormous, but it seemed empty. It's much too large for me, he thought. And it was true. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two spacious family rooms, with a fireplace in each. Most of the downstairs was oak floors, with the exception of his bedroom. He walked down the dark hallway to his room, fumbling in the closet for the light switch, then flipping it on. As he began removing garments from the hangers and drawers, folding them, and putting them in the open suitcase on the bed, he realized this was just what he needed.
      After he finished packing, he climbed in his old man's 2832 Chevrolet Corvette. He backed out of his driveway and took a left, heading for the Houlton airport. From there he could catch a flight to Portland and transfer to a 747 headed for D.C. At this time next week, he thought, I'll be on the way to M31. But even he could not fathom the hell he would go through.

(Part 5) M31: First Blood
Date: 28 July 2003, 12:45 AM

Military leaves come way too few and far between. Senior Airman Richard A. Turner (R.A.T.) knew this all too well. He had just left Ellsworth Air Force Base six hours ago for the first time in weeks for some long overdue R&R. The Air Force had been good for Rat. Born and raised in Chicago's lower east side, his life hadn't been flooded with opportunity. As a young child, his father left for a weekend business journey, and seemed to forget his way home. The few letters received from him were postmarked from different cities across North America and Richard soon figured it out that "Daddy" was no doubt a drifter. Birthday gifts, after awhile, were never expected, and rightly so.

His mother, a loyal and devout wife whose world revolved around her husband, was devastated by his abandonment. Once he was gone and she finally realized he was gone for good she fell apart. She had totally given up on herself and apparently her only son. At the very immature age of 14, Richard found his mother, submerged in an overflowing bathtub.

The next two years were spent bouncing from foster care providers to Juvey hall. Growing up in Chicago had its benefits though. Some kids have "book smarts" and the really lucky ones are blessed with "street smarts". That's the education one gets from having to get everything the hard way. It starts simple enough, selling whatever a boy can get his hands on for his next meal to pick pocketing watches and wallets as a seasoned pro, or so he thought. At seventeen, his fingers got caught in the cookie jar. This guy damn near beat him senseless, and then... he called the police. Rat was going to the big house, and he knew it. Had it not been for a forgiving Judge, willing to give Richard a second/last chance, he probably would have spent the better part of his life behind bars. He was given the option to trade a cell for an H&K MP5 automatic, complements, Uncle Sam. Richard reluctantly accepted the challenge and has never looked back. This, although unknowing to Richard, was the break he needed to get his life on track.

The Air Force was a colossal change for a street kid. Basic training, at first, almost killed him. He was a tough kid, but 05:00 came early for a late sleeper. Slowly, his body began to change, along with his attitude and outlook towards life in general. It took all the anger that had been building since childhood and channeled it for positive results. Good ole Uncle Sam also gave him an education that would have been unattainable from the cold streets of Chicago. He excelled at every challenge given him.

Shortly after graduating flight training, he was given the opportunity to compete in a training program named B.A.D.A.S.S. Ballistic Air Defense, Assiduity Strategic Strike waged the best pilots in simulated head-to-head combat situations to determine superiority. He had learned well. With the advanced aeronautics and flight controls of the new FZ-44 Tactical Fighter, it was almost easy. This airframe and himself virtually became one. All competitors had the same aircraft but very few were able to make her dance like Richard. The rest is history.

With the lights of Miles City, Montana slowly fading in his rear view, home was not far away now. Rt. 59 to Cohagen was one of the few 2 lane travelways left in Montana. Being stationed in South Dakota for the last four years has been a big change for a city boy. While on leave several months ago, he met a sweet Norwegian gal in a dance club in Rapid City. Slim figured and full of spunk was just what the doctor ordered. This relationship, although short lived, brought him to Montana to see her. Richard fell in love with the wide-open spaces of Big Sky country and with the help of a local realtor; he shortly became the proud title-holder of his very own little spread. It really wasn't much; just a tiny, two bedroom house situated on 50 acres of useless, flat, Bentonite riddled scrub brush, But, it was the first time in a long time that he really felt home. His nearest neighbors resides just two miles straight north. On almost any given night, under a moonless sky, he is able to make out a radiant glow of their yard lamp as it burns aimlessly, for no one ever visits this forgotten dot on the map. This is what Richard liked the most. There is nothing like being able to sit buck-naked on the front porch, sucking down a cold one and picking a tune on his old Fender flat top.

Should he wish to shitcan his satellite phone, he would be totally free for the next three days. Should have. The call came in with the agonizing familiarity that always seems to annoy him. I gotta change that damn call alert tone, Richard thought to himself as he held the phone in his right hand, flipped it open with his thumb, and never lost a beat with the beer in his left. Always looking at the digital screen for the relative info on the callers I.D., he saw an "UNAVAILABLE" residing. Should I answer this damn thing or let it ring? They will, if important, leave a message. Hell no... yes... SHIT... three freakin' days, is that too much to ask?

Damn-it...damn-it...damn-it...he thought. He punched the SEND button.

"It's your dime!" Richard sarcastically said.

"Please hold," came a friendly female voice. Whoever this was, they were pressing their luck. Damn lucky I even answered. You got 30 seconds, don't push it, raced through his mind. Immediately a firm commanding voice reached out and grabbed him.

"Senior Airman Richard Turner?" the voice inquired.

"That depends, who's asking?"

"General Charles Neumann, Secretary of Defense" he replied. Silence followed.

Shit... why do I always stick my foot so far up my ass? Richard pondered as he leaned forward and set down his beer. What the hell does this guy want with me?

"Sir, pardon me, I wasn't aware..."

"Forget it... Look, I need to speak with you about a situation.... We need to talk, but not on this open line."

"Yes Sir"

"Do you have a secure line available from your position?"

"No Sir. I believe the closest secure line would be back at base, Ellsworth. I am roughly seven hours away...Sir"

"Knowing this, I must believe you are R&R. Sorry kid, but we need you a.s.a.p. All I can tell you here and now is that this is a matter of global security. Get your shit packed and get back to Ellsworth. A transport will be fueled and cleared for your immediate departure to D.C., and Richard? This conversation never took place. Do you understand?"

"Sir, yes Sir" he replied.

As he heard a solid click from the earpiece, Richard's head was spinning.

(Part 6) M31: First Blood
Date: 28 July 2003, 1:44 AM

General Russ McAllister hesitated when asked to command the crew of the U.S.S. Santa Maria. It was not for lack of courage, ability, or will. It was not even, that didn't want to leave Earth. The fact of the matter was Russ had a family to think of; he just couldn't imagine leaving his wife and kids.

It was not as if he hadn't been away before. No, that wasn't it. He had been away, often for years, the longest being 4. Yet, he didn't want to be away. This was different. This time he wouldn't just be halfway around the world. He would be light years away, in outer space. If something happened, he couldn't just be shipped home, he would have to endure the mission. He would have to face whatever it was he would, good or bad. And whatever happened, he would never see his family again. It would only be a matter of years before the destination was reached. Light speed had been doubled over many times; anything less would be unacceptable.

His wife, Valeri, could easily support their three kids (John, Steve, and Joe). After all, working as an Aerospace Engineer and making 120 grand a year wasn't exactly hard times. It would be hard on her, but Valerie saw that Russ had to go, for humankind. As much as she didn't want him to, she told Russ that he should go. The General reluctantly agreed.

Is this a mistake? Russ thought as the taxi pulled away from his two story, four-bedroom house. For years, he and his family lived in that house. He had been in retirement for three years, and he was enjoying it. Ever since he joined the force, he had been in and out of the U.S., often being shipped to foreign countries to deal with the crisis. That is until he was promoted to General. He was more of a tactician than a fighter, so he was assigned a desk job. That was fine with him; he couldn't get around as well after getting shot in the leg during one particularly bad riot in Iraq. After six years at his desk job, Russ went into an early retirement to spend time with his wife and kids. And he lived happily ever after. He wished. The taxi was leaving the local area, headed for Los Angeles International Airport.

He had declined the opportunity to catch a ride from Beale Air Force Base; he wanted time to think. So he made a phone call and set up the flight for the next 747 to D.C.

As he exited the taxi he hesitated, standing by the door. Russ slammed the door of the taxi shut, and he walked up the steps to the main lobby. He found the area for his flight and grabbed his one bag. He didn't mind walking to the other side of the airport; he took every chance he could to observe, just watch the people. He noticed that the airport seemed empty, well, empty compared to normal anyway. It seemed like the souvenir shops, normally bustling with people, were seemingly vacant, with only a few people here and there. He was sure why, but he knew that he didn't like it.

He looked up. His plane was just down the large corridor. As he approached the service desk, he looked out the window. A 747 took off from the runway, just as another landed on the adjacent strip. A plane was nearing his boarding door, NORTHWEST printed on the side.

The sign above the boarding entrance lit up, and only then did Russ realize that his 747 had attached to the extended hallway. He hand the lady at the desk his tickets and boarded the Boeing. He walked almost as far forward as possible, up to first-class. As he sat down he opened his carry on: a black briefcase containing his notebook PC and important papers. His mission brief was lying on the top of his notebook PC. I've never seen this, he thought. I bet Valeri picked it up off the fax. He quickly read through it, thinking about the upcoming mission. He couldn't even imagine what he would be up against. At least I'll be up there with the best of them.

He was pushed back into his as the plane accelerated to speed. As soon as the aircraft lifted off the ground, Russ heard the faint hydraulic hum as the gears were lifted into the belly of the beast. It's too late now, he thought as he slipped the briefing papers into his carry on.

(Part 7) M31: First Blood
Date: 28 July 2003, 5:52 PM

Private First Class Jake Dade awoke to the all too familiar sound of artillery fire. An explosion shook the Earth beneath him, making his headache even worse. Stationed in the southern section of the Russian area, he hadn't slept for days. Oh sure, a few hours here and there, but it was not nearly enough for any man. Russian rebels, he thought. When are they gonna learn? He rolled over and peeked out the top of his foxhole. He raised his M-16 and fired off a few rounds into enemy lines. He saw one soldier go down, another hit the deck.

"Private!" a commanding voice said. Jake ran to the radio.

"Yes, sir?" he said.

"We're sending in reinforcements. The commanding officer will give you your orders."

"Sir, yes sir!" he said and fired off a few more rounds into the enemy mass. He was rewarded with a high-pitched scream, and a grenade sailing in above him. He hit the ground as the deafening explosion rocked his little hole. Jake was covered with dirt and debris from the blast. That one must have been close, he thought. He retaliated with a grenade of his own. He saw the flash and two soldiers go flying through the air.

The faint sound of a motor was approaching from the distance. Finally, the Private thought, some reinforcements. A large T1-30 armored tank rolled into his view and fired a 90 mm high velocity explosive round into the mass of Russian soldiers. After two similar shots, not much was left of the small group. The remaining fled from the scene, losing all dignity in their hasty escape.


"Sir! Colonel!" Jake was surprised that he had come.

"You are to report back to base camp. A helicopter is
waiting for you there," the Colonel reported.

"Sir, yes sir!" he shouted. "And... thank you, sir!"

"Just get in the vehicle, Private."

"Sir, yes sir!" Jake said and got into the camouflaged Hummer. The driver hit the ignition switch and the vehicle roared to life. He cranked the wheel and put the accelerator to the floor. The monster took off, the gigantic tires spitting dirt behind it.

Arriving at base, Jake climbed out of the military vehicle. He briskly walked to the awaiting chopper. "You will be given mission status on board, Private," the pilot said as he packed the Huey helicopter with emergency supplies.

"Great," Jake replied and climbed in. Then, "General! What a surprise...Sir," he added. For the General was sitting in the passenger seat, seemingly waiting.

"Private First Class Jake Dade. You have been called to go on a secret mission, planned by the CIA and the U.S. government. All that is said in this chopper is to remain in this chopper, until you depart on the secret mission, or are talking with this list of authorized personal." He handed Jake a list. "If you do not want to go on the mission, say so now, and you can return to your post. If so, this chopper will be airborne, heading to Moscow where a transport has been arranged. Yes or no; are you in?"

"Sir, definitely. I'll go, sir!"

"Good." He leaned to the pilot. "Let's get her airborne!" The Huey began it ascent and was heading to Moscow. "This mission is the most secret ever attempted. Nothing of this status has ever been tried, never even been planned. But you have been chosen to embark on the U.S.S. Santa Maria, in order to try and recover the people of the U.S.S. Pinta. You're going to M31, soldier."

"M31? You mean...space? Light years away?"

"Yes. It will take approximately 4 months to reach M31. This mission will be dangerous, but the crew of the Pinta has made contact with another sentient species. Unfortunately, the terms of the first meeting were less than peaceful. The aliens attacked the Pinta, possibly killing all on board. That's why you and a selected crew are being sent; it's the what that we're having trouble with."

"What do you mean, sir?" Jake questioned.

"Well, we have no clue what they are. Come to think of it, we really don't know why they did it either."
So, basically, we're going to M31, and we could make peaceful contact or hostile contact."




"Nothing, sir. Nothing."

"Great. Not get some rest; we'll be in Moscow at 07:30, in two hours."

"Yes, sir." With that, the private leaned back in chair and not quite closed his eyes. He didn't want to sleep in the presence of the general, but his weariness took over and he drifted into a light slumber.

(Part 8) M31: First Blood
Date: 28 July 2003, 6:03 PM

Saturday, August 16, 2865
09:30 hrs.

"About an hour ago, the U.S.S. Santa Maria was launched for unknown reasons," he heard the news reporter say. "As most of us know, the Santa Maria is a colonization cruiser, and immense 1 kilometer long space ship, built with its own greenhouse in order to oxygenate the ship on long journeys. Officials at NASA/SEC, as well as the military officers we have contacted, refused to answer any questions concerning this unscheduled launch. Due to the astronomical expense involved in such an undertaking, defense analysts here at W.D.D.B. speculate a breech of Commstar Security. Commstar, if you remember, was at the center of attention a few months ago, under a watchful eye of congress, as hackers in the remote deserts of the U.K had interrupted a reported downlink. We can only hope we get some answers throughout the day, but for now it remains a mystery, and we can only wonder. Bill?"

"Thank you, Kathy. It certainly is a mystery. Also coming up later today-" Captain McAllister reached over and put the forward mounted external camera on the view screen. Already got it all figured out, do ya boys? He thought. With the power of the ansible, they could get to the point where the Pinta sent its message, or even beyond, and still watch T.V. from home.

"It's amazing boys; they're already talking about our departure back home. Those media types sure don't waste any time taking their stab, huh?"

"Yeah, no shit, Captain. You can't keep anything from the media these days," said the pilot, Airman Paul Senior. McAllister had been promoted to the status of Captain before the mission launch. Although a great military leader, Russ McAllister was rather laid back. After 3 decades of military service, Russ had heard all the "yes sirs" and "no sirs" he could handle. Don't be misled, he still believed in the military's chain of command. He totally expected his men's respect, but he permitted, sometimes actually preferred, the crewmen not to use terms like "sir" unless in the presence of Base Command. This was, after all, an extremely long flight, and was probably going to get pretty tense, so they might as well be comfortable with each other.

The U.S.S. Santa Maria was just as large as her sister ship, the Pinta, if not larger. The inside was no different. She was made of the same bland, colorless walls. The Bio Dome was, by far, the largest area in the cruiser. Containing a dense forest, a lake, fed by a waterfall coming from and opening in the wall, and a large clearing. This was a place where the men could sit back and relax, if they had the chance.

The bridge was extremely large, one of the biggest rooms in on the vessel. A large view screen, 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide, covered the entire front wall of the bridge. It was connected to the vessel's multiple cameras, and the General had the ability to access them all and put them on the view screen. 16 cameras kept a watchful eye on matters externally, while micro-cams watched the full gamut on the interior. Each room, excluding Commander and crew quarters, were equipped with tiny, non-descript digital cameras, so well hidden that many were oblivious of their existence.

Nearly 15 feet behind the plasma view screen, an actual bridge had been constructed about 10 feet of the ground. This was where the commanding officer stood, observing all. From this point, his eye could see everything going on in the bridge, as well as easily giving commands. Under the bridge, and filling the rest of the floor space, were control terminals. These terminals controlled the ship's navigation, radar, weapons, and system diagnostics, just to mention a few. The orders from these terminals were relayed down to Engineering, where they were carried out.

Engineering was certainly the heart of the ship. Orders from the bridge were relayed to the massive room. The crewman at that station carried out the orders; Engineering had double the amount of people on the bridge, in order to work faster and more efficiently. Every possible free space was used for control panels and view screens; if someone entered the room, who wasn't stationed in Engineering, and they needed to do something, it would take a considerable amount of time just for them to find the right control panel, much less know the sequences to go through.

Each person stationed on the Bridge, or in Engineering, worked in 14-hour shifts, with 3 rotations. The Captain stayed on the bridge for 16-hour shifts, and chose a second in command to watch the Bridge for about 10 hours.
The crewmen had, by military standards, generous and spacious living quarters. Each room had six bunks against one wall, three on top, and three on bottom. One wall of each room had a small square window. A small plasma screen television sat in the corner, on top of a night table, so they could keep up with Earthly events. A desk sat on the remaining wall, with a terminal for the crewman.

The officers and high-ranking enlisted men had much more spacious living quarters. A terminal on a desk was set on one wall, and bed inset into the opposing. The terminal could also be used as a television. They also had windows in their quarters, but they were the same size as all the others, for less of a chance of depressurization.

But most crewmembers did not spend as much time as wished in their quarters, often working over 16 hours a day. Other than the subtle color differences, the two ships were the same, equipped with the same supplies. Each consumed near the same amount of energy, produced the same amount of water. The major difference was that the Santa Maria had undergone several changes for her to be used for military purposes.

Major weapons had been produced over the course of the last month, and installed into the cruiser. Forward plasma cannons and aft plasma cannons had been added. The cannon shot a large bolt of plasma, the friction of it leaving the cannon gave the plasma its heat: enough heat to completely melt a large cosmic liner in half. The Santa Maria had also been equipped with four "nukes", each large enough to wipe out one of Earth's continents in a single blast. Many smaller, more conventional, nukes had been stored in the vessel's cargo bay. These were onboard if the situation got ugly: each would surely take out any hostile space cruiser or fighter in a single blast.

After a few hours in space, the U.S.S. Santa Maria sped up to four times light speed and was climbing fast. Even at this speed, it would would be months before the marines would reach the area near where the Pinta had sent her last message. The homing audible was already being tracked from the Emergency Security Pod (ESP) as it drifted aimlessly through space. Little did they know, they would find more than they wanted in the twisted wreckage of her massive frame.

(Part 9) M31: First Blood
Date: 29 July 2003, 2:59 PM

Saturday, October 23, 2865

Outgoing Transmission 09:35:17, U.S.S. Santa Maria, Data Link 313:459:070

Coding Transmission...

Process Complete. Sending Transmission...

Today, October 23, 2 months from our destination, our Fuel Cell Propulsion has shut down. The Plasma Drive Propulsion has taken over. But now we have no way to produce the ever-precious H2O. Storage is at 43%. We are looking for the location of the nearest planet that may be able to sustain life, and water. Tel is scanning the nearest planets as this is transmitting.

Transmission Sent

The spacious bridge was empty, save Captain McAllister, Commander Jacob Lambert, Lt. Warren, Lt. Randy Miller, Senior Airman Richard A. Turner, Airman Paul Goodman, and, although not physically present, Tel, the ship's artificial intelligence. Tel was one of the most advanced A.I.s ever constructed. Her "body", taking the form of a good looking, but not overly beautiful, women, was a holographic projection from a small device on the ceiling. There were thousands of the projectors throughout the ship, so she could appear virtually anywhere, and at a life size.

"Captain, the scan is complete. There are three planets that seem acceptable. All of them are very Earth-like, with near Earth-normal gravity. From the data I have taken, I have concluded that planet number two would be the best choice. Next I would choose planet one, then three."

"Thank you, Tel. Assuming your conclusions are correct, how long will it take us to reach planet number two?" Russ questioned.

"It will take exactly three point four two days to reach and sustain orbit around the planet," she replied. "With the amount of water in storage, that is acceptable. With current supply and consumption, we could travel for eleven point seven zero two days before we would have to obtain water."

"Lt. Warren, set a course for planet number two," the Captain said.

"Plotting course, aye Captain," she said and rapidly hit keys on the control panel. After a few seconds she said, "Course set, sir."

"Tel, scan the planet for life forms, sentient or otherwise."

"Aye, sir. Scanning now," Tel said, her face contorting to a look of deep concentration.

"Lt. Miller, charge all weapons; I want to be ready for anything."

"Weapons charging, aye sir. Weapons at 21 percent."

"Good, good," Russ muttered. A few moments of silence passed until Tel interrupted his thoughts.

"Planet number two shows signs of sentient, although primitive, life. There is a plethora of floral life forms, as well as an advanced eco-system. It's..." she thought for a moment. "It's just like Earth."

"Weapons fully charged, Captain," Lt. Miller said.

"Good. Everyone keep me posted, I'll be in my quarters. Commander Lambert, you have the bridge," he said as he stood up from his centrally located chair. Lambert stood from his, located five feet to the left, and saluted.

"Thank you, Captain," he said.

"Tel, I wish to see you in my quarters." He turned on his heel and exited the bridge. He walked down a virtually empty corridor and paused at an intersection. If he kept going he would get to his quarters. If he turned left he would be in the immense bio-dome, and he would be able to enjoy a nice stroll around the open field and forest. Russ hesitated for a second then turned left.

The dome was empty of people, except a few crewmen scattered around, walking, reading, just sitting and thinking, or sleeping. The waterfall, for reasons of low water storage, had been stopped, but the small pond still remained. The Captain walked around, thinking about the situation, taking in the very Earthly sights. He wished very much that he were home with his family.

"Yes, Captain?" Tel asked as he entered his quarters.

"These life-forms that you have found, how primitive are they?" he said skeptically.

"Well, they're primitive by our standards, but they have flight capabilities. Not space flight, but flight none the less. It seems they are in the early stages of jet development. A jet I observed, a fighter I presume, had reached 567.356 miles per hour. I detected sixteen non-natural satellites orbiting the planet, two orbiting the bigger moon, and one orbiting their smaller moon. The satellites' purpose is unknown; I don't know if we've been detected. It's ill-advisable to land if we have; it may interfere with their culture."

"We have to take that chance, even if it interferes with their culture or lifestyle; it's my crew at stake. If it's us or them, I choose us."

"Yes, Captain."

On the surface of the planet, known as Sansi by its people, a lone creature was patrolling an outpost. It was late in the night, and the twin moons gazed down from opposite directions. Something let out a long high-pitched cry and the lone creature clutched his pistol ever more tightly. He had heard stories of the creatures living in the forest here, but had never seen one of them.

This is stupid, he told himself. I'm guarding an outpost that isn't in use. Why? Little did he know, deep under the outpost was a secret. A secret so important, their survival as a species depended on it.

(Part 10) M31: First Blood
Date: 29 July 2003, 3:15 PM

"Orbit is stabilized," Lt. Warren stated. The Santa Maria was in a tight orbit around the planet's smaller moon. Hopefully, they would be able to hide and send in scout ships.

"Have we been detected?" Russ asked.

"Unknown," Tel replied. "But at the moment, I don't believe so."

"Good. Launch the Eagles and the Melee squadron," the Captain ordered.

"Yes, Captain." Tel appeared outside Rat's station. "You're up. The Captain wants four Eagles to go in, along with a full Melee squadron."

"Thanks, Tel." He walked briskly to the Hanger and signaled for his squadron to be there in five minutes. The Hanger was a very spacious room, filled with 70mm ammunition crates for the Eagle Dropships and Melee fighters. Along the walls were labeled lockers containing flight suits and personal belongings. In the middle, lined in rows, were sixty triangular shaped Melee fighters, four squadrons. The fighters had no wings, the whole thing pretty much served as a wing. The cockpit was centered on the rear of the craft, and on either side were large triangular stabilizers protruding upward.

Lining back were fifteen Eagle Dropships. The Eagles were very large, with short stubby wings protruding for the middle. The nose was aimed downward at a 45-degree angle, which opened to let vehicles roll out. The back had an airtight hatch, for the troops to enter and exit, along with a rear-mounted plasma cannon. On the nose of the aircraft was a 70mm chin gun, for defensive purposes.
As soon as they were assembled Richard addressed his pilots. "You have been updated on the situation. The Captain wants our squadron to go in, along with four Eagle Dropships. Let's move, we'll be there within the half-hour."

With a chorus of, "Sir! Yes, sir!" the pilots jogged to their Melee fighters and hit the ignition. The Hanger was filled with a thunderous roar, and the fighters rose simultaneously into the air. Seconds later, sixty Marines were loaded into the four Eagles, and they too thundered to life. By now, the steady roar was so intense that anyone standing in the Hanger would be at a hearing loss.

"Hit it," Senior Airman Richard A. Turner said over the radio.

"Aye, aye, Rat," another said. The four Eagles took off, followed by the Melee squadron. It was a rather uneventful flight, but they arrived at the planet within fifteen minutes. Although they could have been there faster, they chose to take it slow, taking the time to make scans and observations.

"Power shields to one hundred percent," Rat said to the on board A.I.

"Shields at sixty percent," the A.I. replied. "Eighty percent...ninety percent...one hundred percent. Engine power at fifty percent."

"Entering atmosphere in five," Rat said over the comm channel. Five seconds later, his Melee fighter began to shake violently. Through the view port he could see a red-orange glow as the fighter took stress from the extreme heat. "And...we're through. Scan for safe places to unload the Marines," he said to the A.I.

"Approximately twenty point seven two kilometers south is a safe area," the computer replied.

"You heard her," he said. The squadron turned south and put engines at one hundred percent. "Keep your eyes open," he cautioned. About thirty seconds later someone saw something.

"Sir, I've detected an aircraft on an intercept course. At current speed he'll overtake us in thirty seconds," a pilot alerted.

Without hesitation Rat replied, "Activate cloaking shields, and hover at fifty feet." Within seconds the entire fleet was completely invisible, due to a recent development. Basically, the atoms of the aircraft modeled the light, colors, and textures of what was behind it. It didn't make the craft, or person (the technology was incorporated into gear for troops), completely invisible; it was more like a shimmer in the air. But, as in this case, the aircraft would be traveling fast and not looking to closely; the pilot was likely to miss the squadron.

"Here it comes," someone said. The black aircraft flew overhead, missing them entirely. "That was close."

"Yes, it was. Now let's get to that clearing so we can deliver the Marines," Rat said. Twenty seconds later they were airborne and heading for the destination.

"Hit it, Marines! Go, go, go!" The four Eagles were hovering half of a meter off the ground. Fifteen Marines exited from each bird, weapons at ready. As soon as they exited, Sergeant Major Turk Keller looked around. "It's just like home," he said. They were in a clearing, surrounded by trees that closely resembled white pine. After a few minutes of scouting, the Marines took off into the dark forest; they were heading for a hill they had seen. On top of that hill was some sort of structure. T.K. figured it would be a good place to scout the land. But they would find something unexpected there: a force to be reckoned with.

(Part 11) M31: First Blood
Date: 30 July 2003, 6:43 PM

"The Eagle has landed," Tel said to the Captain. "Actually, five Eagles have landed."

"Thank you, Tel," he replied. Suddenly the Colonization Cruiser shuddered tremendously. "Lt. Warren, report!"

"We've dropped out of orbit, sir! The moon's pulling us in!" she shouted.

"Issue course correction. Get us back on track," he commanded.

"Aye, sir. Issuing correction," she said. Then seconds later, "It's not working, sir!" She was still rapidly punching buttons, trying to get the gargantuan cruiser out of the moon's gravitational force.

"Fire emergency thrusters. Even if we lose orbit; we're not getting stuck on a damn moon!" The emergency thrusters were tanks of hydrogen peroxide and trihydride tetrazine, and when they mixed they produced a powerful explosion. The force from the explosions blasted the Santa Maria out of the way. (Reference, Halo: The Fall of Reach, page 149)

"Aye, sir. Firing emergency thrusters." She pressed a button sequence, and the ship jumped. Those who had not prepared themselves were brought crashing down to the deck. "We're breaking the moon's gravitational field," she said. "And...we're clear!"

"Good, now get us back into orbit," Russ ordered.

"Sir! The satellite orbiting this moon is turning in our direction! I think we've been spotted!" Tel alerted. Her holographic form pointed at a small, gleaming object on the view screen. It was slowly rotating toward the Santa Maria.

"Let them spot us! This is my crew at stake; I don't give a shit about those damned aliens!" Russ shouted, letting his anger get the better of him.

"But, sir?"

"I've already told you; if its comes down to it: I choose us, not them."

"Yes, Captain."

"What is the status report on the groundside team?" he inquired.

"I'll check," Tel said. The bridge was silent. All on deck wanted to hear the news. "Sergeant Major Keller has reported. He has split the Marines into five squads. His squad is heading for a high location to scout the ground. Nothing unusual, yet."

"Good, good. Keep me posted."

"Aye, sir."


An alien creature abandoned his post and ran to his commander. When he spoke, it was unlike any language known to Earth. "Sir! We've detected something. It's orbiting Sansitor, our satellite has just spotted it."

"What is it?" the commanding creature asked.

"It looks like..." he gulped. "It looks like an alien vessel, sir!"

"We've been expecting this," the commander said, "for a very long time." He grinned wickedly and left in order to report to his own commander.


"Who... Who's there?" the creature asked. It was now early in the morning, he could see a hint of light on the horizon. "I'm armed," he squeaked. He looked back at the abandoned outpost, stilling thinking it was stupid for him to be there in the first place.

The alien spun around and fired, in response to a noise he heard in the brush. Private Wallace J. Williams screamed as the low intensity plasma bolt ripped through his innards.

"You s-o-b!" T.K. shouted, raised his HK666 Hellraiser, and squeezed the trigger. Three rounds burst from the barrel. Each one hit the alien in the head, spilling his brains all over the ground. The creature didn't have time to scream in pain; he was dead before he hit the ground. He plasma weapon rolled to T.K.'s feet, and he picked it up, looking it over. He stuck it in his pack.

"Man, Sarge! You know he's dead!" Private Jones said.

"It killed one of my men," T.K. said. For Private Williams had just gave his last rattling breath. His head lolled to the side and he dropped his Hellraiser on the ground.
"Tel?" T.K. asked.


"Tell the Captain that we have made first contact. It wasn't peaceful. The alien creature killed Private Wallace J. Williams at 05:12. I returned fire and killed the creature. It seems he was guarding some sort of structure. We're going to check it out."

"Yes, I'll inform him."

And so, down one man, T.K.'s squad entered the abandoned building. It was made of a shinning, reflective blue metal. It stood just over ten feet high, with a proximity door in the center. The remaining nine Marines went into the structure and turned their night vision on.

"Whoa! What is this place?" a Marine wondered aloud. There was a path leading down, it seemed. None of it was made out of the same metal from the outside; it seemed as if it was just tunneled out.

"I dunno where the hell this leads, but let's go," T.K. ordered. So, in single file, T.K.'s squad was led downward into the unknown.

Sorry this one was so short, but I think I was at a good stopping point. I need a break anyway.

(Part 12) M31: First Blood
Date: 31 July 2003, 11:29 PM

Hours later, they found themselves entering a large rectangular room. Along the sides were crates made of the same blue metal as the outside of the structure. Along one wall was a large computer console. It was covered with buttons. "What the hell are those?" Private Jones asked, pointing to one of the crates.

"Beats me," Private First Class Jake Dade answered.

"Rip one open," T.K. said. Jake and Jones hastened to do as told. Jake reached for his belt and unsheathed his 30cm, Titanium A combat knife. He jammed it into the top and pried off the top. He kicked it aside and looked inside. "Holy shit," he said in a very audible whisper. Each Marine moved a bit closer to get a glance, but they were careful to keep their eyes on the dark corners.

"What is it, soldier?" T.K. said as he walked over. He looked inside and was just as shocked; the whole crate was filled with Human assault weapons. "Those weapons are standard Marine issue weapons from nearly 15 years ago. I should know; this one," he picked up an HK660 Battle Rifle, "has saved my life many times." He glanced around. "You three," he pointed to Private Jones, Private Dalton, and Private Myers "get back to the exit, secure the perimeter. They might know we're here. You two," he pointed to Private Dade and Private Jenkins, "secure this room, make sure nothing's hiding in here. The rest of you, tear the remaining crates open. I'm going to check that computer."

He walked over to the console and whispered into his mic, "I said I'm going to, but Tel, actually you're going to. I don't the slightest clue." Tel had the ability to transfer herself from the ship's mainframe to any U.S. Marine computer, so long as they were connected. In his helmet, T.K. had a special RAM drive for her, with a chip for her to be uploaded onto. He also had a miniature screen that flipped down over his left eye, so she could show him vital information.

"Upload me into the mainframe, I've already checked with the Captain. They can manage without me while you're down on the ground." T.K. pulled the chip from his helmet and put it in the only slot that looked acceptable in the mainframe. Instantly the screens came to life, and the lights in the room lit up.

"Haha, that's better!" someone said.

"Well?" T.K. asked.

"Give me a few minutes," she said. Her face had appeared on one of the screens. T.K. nodded and went to check on the men opening the crates.

"We've found three more filled with old weapons," Private Abbot said. "We've also found two filled with ammunition for the weapons. Three have been found with the same sort of weapons we saw used up there. This is the only one unopened."

"Well, hurry up." T.K. said.

"Yes, sir!" Abbot said and started to open it up. But before he got the chance they were interrupted.

"Contact! Lot's of contacts! We're outnumbered ten to one!" The voice came over all of their helmet radios.

"C'mon, let's move!" T.K. shouted. He pointed to Abbot and Jenkins. "You two stay here, protect that mainframe; Tel's still in there!"

"Yes, sir!" the Marines chorused. Four Marines raced out of the room, trying to help their comrades. "Hold on, Marines! We're on our way."

Up top, the three Marines had their backs to the building, rifles raised. Thirty aliens had plasma weapons leveled at their heads. One rather large one, dressed in dull gray armor, said something in his alien tongue. It was about four meters tall, with small cat-like eyes. It had sharp, jagged claws, and its exposed skin was a pale red color.

"I can't understand you," Private Dalton said. He pointed and the alien, then to his mouth, and shook his head. Just then T.K. and the three Marines burst from the door. Jake raised his HK666 Hellraiser Battle Rifle and leveled at one creature's head.

"No!" Dalton said. "They're not shooting."

"Lower your weapon, soldier," T.K. said. Jake lowered his Battle Rifle to his hip. However, it was still pointed squarely at the alien's head. T.K. did not contradict this move.

"They're trying to communicate, but I don't know what they're saying."

"Well, it's our job to figure it out. Private Abbot!" He was speaking into his mic. "Get Tel to try and translate this. They're trying to talk to us, but we can't understand it. I'll keep this one so she can hear what they say."

"Copy that," Jenkins said.

"I'll try my best," Tel said over the radio.

"How?" T.K. began.

"There's a radio in this mainframe," she said before he had a chance to finish his question. The alien began speaking; he seemed angry.

"It seems that he is angry that you killed one of his men."

"Your man fired the first shots!" T.K exclaimed. He pointed at the dead alien on the ground and made a shooting motion. He then pointed to Private Williams, laying ten feet away on the ground.

The alien started talking again.

"He says this is their planet and we don't belong here. He has been sent to destroy us." As soon as she finished, the alien raised his weapon and pulled the trigger.

Heh! You don't know what's going to happen! Any guesses as to what was in the unopened crate?

(Part 13) M31: First Blood
Date: 1 August 2003, 3:05 PM

From the last installment:

"He says this is their planet and we don't belong here. He has been sent to destroy us. They are called the Dominians" As soon as she finished, the alien raised his weapon and pulled the trigger.

Part 13 of M31: First Blood

T.K. ducked and the plasma soared over his head. The alien laughed, but was cut short when Private Luke Dalton put three rounds in his head. The creature fell in a heap, dead as a doornail. One bullet went completely through his skull and hit another in the neck. He made a strange gurgling sound and hit the ground, dead; it seems he drowned in his own blood.

T.K. thumbed a switch and put his Hellraiser on fully automatic. He squeezed the trigger and two aliens were down. "Inside, now!" he cried, firing his weapon. The Marines went through the door as T.K. distracted the aliens by throwing a grenade into the midst. No less than eight aliens crowded around the explosive to see what it was when the thing exploded, sending their bodies sailing through the air. Private Myers turned and shot the control panel to the door, disabling the proximity sensors.

"That will only work for a minute, until they pry the door open," he said.

"That's all we need. Reload your weapons; we'll kill whoever tries to open the door. Once they do get it open we can hold them at bay. In this tight space only three can get in here at a time." Turk brought the Hellraiser up to his shoulder, aimed at about chest height on the door. After about a minute, it started to come open. "Hold fire," he whispered. The door was only open a few centimeters.

Slowly, ever so slowly, it opened wide enough. Turk fired and hit the creature right between the eyes. He fell backwards, giving Turk a clear field and the ability to toss another grenade outside. Not realizing what it was, one particularly stupid alien picked it up and looked closely at it. He pointed and put on a facial expression that could be taken as a grin of pure joy when the grenade exploded, killing seven. What was left of the stupid creature (three toes, a finger, an eyeball, and a chunk of brain) landed in a smoldering heap, filling the air with a rotten stench.

"Ughh! That's horrible," Myers said. He quickly slipped the barrel in the crack and opened fire, killing three. So far twenty-one aliens had died at the hands of the Marines. The Dominians returned fire through the door, causing the Marines to take cover on either side of the small gap. Private Dalton backed out of the range of the weapons and lay flat on the ground. He activated the 2x zoom on his Hellraiser and found a target. He pulled the trigger, but the Dominian dove out of the way. The 7.62mm round hit him in the foot, causing pain. The result: one very pissed off alien.

He roared with pain and fury and charged the door. Careful to stand to one side he ripped it open and fired into the darkness of the tunnel. A beam of plasma hit Myers in the left shin, causing him to scream and fall to the ground. Fighting through the pain, he raised his Hellraiser and ended the alien's petty life.

The rest of the Dominians fled in terror, forgetting dignity, honor, responsibility, and territory. They only knew one thing: they weren't going to be killed by a group of unknowns.

"Quick, back inside. Reinforcements are bound to come," T.K. ordered. "We need extraction, on the double!" he said into his mic.

"Roger that. This is Eagle 419, responding. We're on the way."

"Wait here," he told the Marines. "I'm going to get Abbot, Jenkins, and Tel."

"Sir! Yes, sir!" they chorused.

Turk ran down the tunnel and entered the large room. "Tel, I'm going to extract you."

"But, I haven't got all the information from the databank," she said. "Here, download it to your extra disk." T.K. pulled a disk from his pocket and slipped it into the mainframe. After a few seconds Tel reported, "Okay, I'm done. Yank me."

Turk extracted the A.I. and slid her in the slot in his own helmet. "Okay, Marines. Time to go topside, double time! Extraction is on the way."

"But what about that unopened crate?" Jenkins asked.

"It's probably the same as everything else. We're coming back for everything; we'll open it then."

"They're about five minutes away," Dalton said as they made it do the door. They've activated the camouflage mode, and the Melee squadron is escorting them."

"Good." He sighed. "Jenkins, go get Williams; we're not leaving him here. Myers! Grab that alien s-o-b. A couple of the scientists on board will probably want to look at it," he sighed again, but showed a hint of a grin, which came from his mode of kill first, ask questions later. "Or what's left of it."

"Yes, sir!" they said together and hastened to do as ordered.

Five minutes later, the Marines and one dead Dominian were heading back to the U.S.S. Santa Maria.

(Part 14/15) M31: First Blood
Date: 13 January 2004, 10:46 PM

From the last installment:

Turk ran down the tunnel and entered the large room. "Tel, I'm going to extract you."

"But, I haven't got all the information from the database," she said. "Try to download it to your extra disk." T.K. pulled a disk from his pocket and slipped it into the mainframe. After a few seconds Tel reported, "Okay, I'm done. Yank me."

Turk extracted the A.I. and slid her in the slot in his own helmet. "Okay, Marines. Time to get topside, double time! Extraction is on the way."

"But what about that unopened crate?" Jenkins asked.

"It's probably the same as everything else. We're coming back for everything; we'll open it then."

"They're about five minutes away," Dalton said as they made it do the door. "They've activated the camouflage mode, and the Melee squadron is escorting them."

"Good. Jenkins," he sighed. "Jenkins, go get Williams; we're not leaving any of my men here. Dalton! Grab that alien s-o-b. A couple of the scientists on board will probably wet themselves at a chance to look at it." He sighed again, but showed a hint of a grin, which came from his mode of kill first, ask questions later. "Or what's left of it."

"Yes, sir!" they said together, failing to see the humor of what had just been said. They hastened to do as ordered.

Five minutes later, the Marines and one dead Dominian were heading back to the Santa Maria.

Part 14

"Captain, we need to fix the Fuel Cell propulsion, and quickly. If they weren't mad now, we definitely pissed them off with our first encounter. If we try to get water into our ship, they'll hit us with everything they have." Turk was standing on the Bridge, explaining the situation to Russ.

"The engineers are working on it as we speak," the Captain said. "But we're going to need water in ten days, according to Tel, and I don't know if the engineers can fix it by then."

"And another thing; how are we going to get any water from the surface up to the Maria?" T.K. asked. "How'd they get it on in the first place? I mean, we started the journey with enough water to last six months; the Fuel Cell Propulsion hadn't even been activated, except for testing."

"We'll send the Pelicans in to collect it, escorted, of course, by Melee squadrons."

T.K. was shocked. "We have Pelicans on board?"

"Twelve." The Pelican was a large craft, one hundred meters long, fifty wide, and two hundred tall. Most of the two hundred meters was a giant empty tank, capable of holding a massive amount of liquid. They had special hoses attached to them for vacuuming the water from a lake. The Pelicans had been designed specially for the mission, just in case this exact situation came about. The folks at NASA/SEC thought of nearly every possibility.

"That's good. If at all possible, I would like to return to the outpost. There were crates full of old human weapons and ammo, as well as a few filled with alien technology. There was also one crate we didn't have the chance to open, but we assumed it would contain the same thing as the rest. I would like to retrieve them."

"Granted. Make the preparations; you can leave as soon as you're ready," Captain McAllister said.

"Thank you, Captain." T.K. turned and left, surprised the Captain agreed so readily. He was going to leave as soon as possible. First he had to choose two members to replace the dead Wallace Williams and the injured Mark Myers. He scanned his list of Marines and chose Private First Class Sammi Sonchez and Private Second Class Jack Johnson. After making sure they knew that they would be going on an away mission, he went of the weapons list. He needed to have his men armed to the bone.

After going to the Cargo bay, and making sure the supplies were transported to the Hanger and set out on a table, he went to his quarters to catch a few hours shut-eye for the operation.

Sorry for the really long delay on posting the M31: First Blood series. We moved at the beginning of this school year and now is the first time I've even thought of my story in 6 months. Actually, for a while, I could find it (I had it saved on a floppy disk instead of on the computer). Hopefully I should be able to keep the updates coming.

Part 15

Two hours later, ten Marines were in the Hangar. Nine of them were standing at attention to Sergeant Major Turk Keller. "Men...and women," he added, nodding at Sammi Sonchez. She nodded a silent thanks. "We're going back to the outpost. Seven of you know what it's like. Sonchez and Johnson, you will know soon enough. Now select your weapons and get into the Osprey. We depart in ten."

The Marines stepped to a table loaded with guns, grenades, knives, and ammunition. Everyone but Johnson chose a HK666 Hellraiser and a MER18 Offensive Pistol, along with four grenades; a 30cm combat knife, and extra ammunition. Johnson chose a HVAPR21 Sniper's Rifle and a light assault weapon: the APR7 Battle Rifle, also known as the Armor Piercing Rounds 7.62mm Battle Rifle. He grabbed four grenades, a combat knife, and extra ammo and rushed to the Osprey. Each Marine was also equipped with night vision.

"Hit it," T.K. said to the pilot of the Osprey as he climbed in. The dropship roared to life and lifted off. The rear doors closed, making the craft airtight for the space journey. This time only five Melee fighters were escorting them. They lifted off after the dropship, activating the cloaking shields, as did the Osprey pilot.

"Jenkins, man the rear gun. Lord knows the Dominians will be waiting for us. Johnson, prepare your rifle, see if you can pick any off." The Osprey rumbled as it entered the planet's atmosphere. After a few more minutes of flight time the craft came to a stop, hovering fifty feet in the air above the outpost.

"They're in the brush, trying to ambush us," T.K. said. "Fire at will." Jenkins opened up with the rear-mounted tri-barreled 50mm chain gun. Small trees and shrubs were ripped apart in his search for targets. Johnson was laying flat on his stomach, looked through the scope. He found a target and fired. The Dominian dropped like a stone. He located another and another. Alien after alien dropped dead, one bullet hole through their skull.

"Touchdown! Go get 'em, Marines!" The ten soldiers jumped out of the Osprey, firing their weapons. Two aliens were killed, and three more were wounded.

"Get into the building! Once we clear the LZ of these bastards another Osprey's heading in to pick up the cargo." The Marines backed into the outpost, still firing at the Dominians. Dalton killed three of them and injured another. "You and you," T.K. pointed at Private Brown and Private Allen, "get down there and start sealing the crates."

"Yes, sir!" They shouldered their weapons and jogged down the tunnel into the darkness.

"The rest of you," he said as he slammed a new clip into his Hellraiser. "Let's get these s-o-bs." The Marines responded with a hearty yell and opened the door. All except Johnson and Jenkins move around the backside of the building.

Jenkins, once again, disabled the proximity sensors; it seems the Dominians repaired it. He pried the door about 30 centimeters, so he and Johnson could fire through it. Johnson moved back into the darkness and set up the tripod for his Sniper's Rifle. He activated the zoom and began his dirty work. Seven aliens died at his hand within thirty seconds. Only one shot in his clip had missed its target. As he reloaded, Jenkins stepped up and opened fire. He unloaded the full sixty round clip in a minute. He took out six aliens in his run, but seven would never walk again if they survived the encounter.

T.K. had split the group of six into two teams. They had move down the hill in order to come up behind the Dominians. It only took two minutes, as the hill was very small. "Tel," T.K said as they came behind the creatures. "How many are there?"

"Sensors are showing twenty alien life signs," came the female voice from his helmet.

"Twenty," he said over the radio, so everyone knew. "And I think I hear the Osprey coming in." Suddenly he had an idea. "Osprey 419?"


"Have your co-pilot man the rear-mounted chain gun."

"I'm no Marine," he heard the co-pilot argue.

"You don't have to be. Just aim and pull the trigger. You're bound to hit one or two of them. Right now even that would help."

"Okay," he said and crawled into the cargo bay of the Osprey, behind the chain gun.

"Sergeant?" the pilot said. "I'm picking up six alien aircraft on the way. ETA: thirty seconds." In the distance, over the fighting, jet engines could be heard.

"We're on it," Senior Airman Richard Turner said. "Come on, let's take 'em." Five Melee fighters left their positions and set and intercept course for the fighters. Rat shot down one with a long-range plasma torpedo. Two flew right in front of his fighter. "Poor dumb bastards," Rat said, grinning wickedly. He pulled the double triggers and the 50mm chin gun opened up, ripping through both fighters. One exploded, while the other spiraled out of control.

Twenty-two point seven seconds later the threat was neutralized, and the Melee fighters returned to their positions. "We've taken care of it," Rat informed.

"Copy that," T.K. acknowledged. He turned back to his squad. "Let's take these guys out." Each of the six marines tossed a grenade into the unsuspecting alien troops. Still firing at the Jenkins and Johnson inside the outpost, no one noticed the grenades. Simultaneously they exploded, cutting the group down to eight; each grenade had taken two lives.

Each marine, including the two inside the structure, took a target and fired. The remaining aliens died within a tenth of second of each other. "419? Drop zone is clear," Keller said. "Brown, Allen?" he said over the team frequency. "Are you almost ready."

"Sir, yes sir!" Brown replied. We just need some hands to help get these crates topside."

"We're on the way. Sonchez, Jenkins. You've got guard duty," he ordered. "The rest of you; the crates await." Leaving Sonchez and Jenkins outside, the marines headed into the darkness.