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Fan Fiction

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili by QuantumSheep

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Prologue
Date: 17 September 2008, 7:43 am

November 4th, 2552
Delta Halo

For days they had been stuck on the holy Forerunner construct, isolated from the rest of the Covenant due to a lack of a working radio. They were tired, hungry and angry, angry at the way the disgusting Jiralhanae had been favoured by the Prophets than the Sangheili.
They were tired from having fought the Jiralhanae seemingly non-stop for days, ever since the civil war had begun. They were hungry from their lack of basic supplies, water being the only readily available resource.

Sleep was a rarity, a rarity they craved. They dared not fall asleep on guard duty as they could easily be dispatched by a Jiralhanae warrior and leave their comrades vulnerable to a surprise attack. Too many times had this happened and their numbers were dwindling. Soon enough, it seemed, there would only be a few of them left and could easily be finished by the superior numbers of Jiralhanae and Kig-Yar, as well as some Unggoy betrayers.

It seemed ironic to be fighting in such a beautiful environment, especially from the ridge they were on. It overlooked a large, jungle valley with a river and waterfalls cascading downriver, carving their way through the rock. Strange birds flew up high, watching their activities from above but too uncertain to come down for a closer look.

Ominous ancient structures loomed in the distance, most partially underground and sealed shut, having been that way for countless centuries. The sun was low on this part of Delta Halo and it would be nightfall soon, which was often when the Jiralhanae attacked.

The Brutes knew they were here and had known ever since the beginning of the civil war. The Prophets themselves had regarded the Sangheili as inferior and had fully backed up the Jiralhanae uprising, leaving countless Sangheili dead and others on the run, not to escape but to fight another day. No Sangheili warrior would dare run away, that would be cowardice; they would merely find a safer location to continue the fight.

This is what Arla `Sterlefomee had done. Rather than run away in fear and hide away like some animal, he had stood and fought as he watched numerous comrades fall in battle against the disgusting Brutes. He had been wounded himself, a painful wound in the left leg which hampered his movement, but he could get along with it fine. He was still alive, having taken his squad into the hills of Delta Halo's more lush, jungle areas. They had picked up more Sangheili along the way, many in the same position as Arla and many the sole survivors of their original groups. It proved that the Jiralhanae were dangerous, even a single one could take down a squad of Minor Sangheili warriors if those warriors were inexperienced (and often they were). Arla had been a Minor himself once, years ago, and thinking of that now brought back painful memories of battles fought long ago and of friends lost in battle.

They were on the high ground for the advantage it gave over their enemy. From here they could see in all directions, years of training had taught Arla that it was the high ground which gave defenders the upper hand. Years of training had also taught him never to rely on a high position as even the most obvious of enemies could be missed.

This is what had happened the past few days. The Jiralhanae would strike at dusk and at dawn, often coming and going within the dead of the night. Many of Arla's group were asleep from exhaustion by this time, having been kept up all day by Jiralhanae patrols which acted more as a ruse to keep them busy and wear them down so when the night attacks happened the Sangheili were near complete exhaustion.
Arla could feel it now, his muscles aching and this feeling of having no energy at all. He couldn't even be bothered standing up, preferring to sit at the base of a tree which was outside the small Forerunner structure they were using as a base camp.

The structure was small on the surface but larger underground, with wide open rooms and a deep artificial chasm that seemed to go on forever. Most of the group was inside; attempting to get to sleep from the previous day and night's fighting. A large number of the group were misplaced Minor Sangheili that Arla and the survivors of his squad had picked up on their way up here. The Minors were young and eager to prove themselves in battle, often too eager. Arla was getting quite sick and tired of seeing yet another casualty amongst the Minors, another young life wasted because of a civil war that should have never happened.

There were two more experienced Majors, Realas and Terlacè respectively. They were battle hardened and world weary soldiers that Arla could relate to and often found himself discussing whatever came to mind with them. As well as these two weary Majors, there was a Special Operations Officer they had found on their way here, having been wounded in the stomach and hidden himself amongst some undergrowth. Arla and his group had had medical supplies then and had easily patched him up but now they were out of any sort of medical item and often those who were wounded stayed wounded which would lead to infections and yet more pain…

Arla grunted; his injured left leg had begun to ache again. Reaching for his thigh, he ripped off the golden armour plate, dirtied and scorched from the fighting of the past few days, and started unwrapping the three day old bandages which covered the wound. He was worried about an infection but he quickly quashed that worry when he saw that it was already infected. Jagged bits of torn flesh hung around the sides of the wound and pus oozed out, his nerves in that part of his body screaming at him in pain. He leaned forward slightly to get a closer look, a small trickle of dark purple blood oozing from the wound as he moved. He could just make out the bone, the wound having gone that deep. Days before he had managed to remove the Jiralhanae spike which had embedded itself there, having easily pierced his armour but now he was stuck with dirty bandages and no forms of medical chemicals to help ease the pain and kill the bacteria which was obviously thriving inside the torn flesh.

He cursed under his breath and leaned back against the tree trunk, wrapping the bandages back around his thigh and trying to figure out what he should do about it. He could always head to the river and wash it in the hopes of getting rid of the many grains of dirt stuck in the wound but there was an element of danger involved in heading through the jungle to the river, seeing as he could easily be jumped by a Jiralhanae warrior.

One thing that was common around here was weaponry, scavenging what they can from the corpses of both fallen Jiralhanae and Sangheili warriors. Dishonourable, yes, but it was their only way of ensuring they were armed and prepared for the next time they were attacked. Some of the weapons they found on fallen Jiralhanae warriors were human in origin and usually any Sangheili like himself would never use the weaponry of a hated enemy but the times, they seemed, were changing. More and more often they would be forced to use human "shotguns" and rifles.

Picking up the makeshift crutch Arla had built from a thick, fallen branch a short time after receiving his wound, he slowly rose onto his hooves, grunting from the pain which shot through his leg and almost unbalanced him. He felt like an old man with his "walking stick", limping around everywhere he went as if he had some sort of bone condition. An image of his ageing father came into view, since he hobbled around with only half of his right leg, having lost the bottom half in a grenade explosion years ago. Someone like his father would refuse an artificial limb and instead hobble around on a walking cane.

Arla decided he would wash his wound in the river, regardless of whatever dangers awaited him there. As well as that, he was due in for a proper wash since he hadn't done so for about a week and so stunk as bad as a Jiralhanae. He was sure either Realas or Terlacè would be willing to accompany him to the river, although he was fairly confident he could go himself. It was better to let them know where he was going, though, so he started limping his way over to Realas who stood guard by the eastern passage up the hill and to the structure.

Realas wasn't so much as "standing guard" as he was sitting fast asleep. He lay somewhere in between, jerking in his sleep as if ready to wake up at any moment and strike an imaginary opponent. Arla approached him, looking down on the sleeping Major and feeling some understanding for the exhausted warrior. Arla felt the same way but they could not rest for any moment for that would give any watching Jiralhanae scout an excuse to attack.


Realas sat up suddenly, his plasma rifle held firmly in his right hand as he pointed it straight at Arla's head. He frowned, took a quick glance around at his surrounding with his orange snake-like eyes before relaxing, lowering the rifle and looking up at the Field Commander.

"Commander, I am sorry if I looked like I was about to attack you…"

"It doesn't matter," Arla said, Realas trailing off mid sentence. The Major stood up and yawned, opening his quad-hinged jaw wide and stretching his arms.

"I am sorry if I was sleeping on the job…"

"Don't be sorry, Major," Arla said. He paused, waiting for Realas to finish his stretches before continuing. The Major lowered his arms and looked towards Arla, a tired look crossing his face.

"You shouldn't blame yourself for sleeping on guard duty," Arla said. He understood how the Major felt and had made it clear to him many times before but Realas was the modest type who often pointed out his own mistakes.

"We're all tired, Major," Arla continued, "I was also about to fall asleep but I managed to stop myself. Don't feel bad about it."
Realas clicked his lower mandibles, the equivalent of a shrug. He shifted where he stood, looking a little embarrassed but nodded anyway.

"Is there something you need, sir?"

Arla thought about his response for a moment, unsure of what he should say. His memory had begun to falter recently, most likely due to a lack of sleep and the stress he and the others had been under recently. It took him a few seconds to compose himself.

"I…I need to go down to the river…" Arla said, feeling a sharp stab of pain in his thigh as his mind wandered back onto the matter of his injury, "I was thinking…could you accompany me? I'm not in much of a state to fight if I were to be attacked…"

Realas' eyes lit up. He smiled.

"Of course I will accompany you, sir," Realas said, "why would I refuse?"

"I just thought…No…I…Never mind…" Arla trailed off. He didn't know how to respond but Realas didn't really seem to care. He was the type of Sangheili who would follow his orders to the letter, even if they weren't really "orders" and more like "requests".

Realas looked to his left, over at the sleeping Terlacè who lay against a stack of purple-metal crates. A thin trail of saliva hung from one of his lower mandibles, slowly oozing onto his chest armour as he breathed in and out.


The Major stirred where he lay, opening his eyes and slowly sitting up. He looked annoyed at the sudden interruption of his sleep and frowned at Realas.

"Keep watch here while the Commander and myself travel to the river for a while," Realas said, "remember, if you see anything…"

"…alert the others inside, yes, I know that," Terlacè said with a hint of annoyance, "you have told me that a dozen times, Realas. I think I would know what to do if we were attacked."

Realas didn't say anything else; he knew he didn't need to. Knowing Terlacè, the Sangheili had probably been dreaming about females and of home. Arla had been dreaming about his wife and daughter as well as all the friends he had left behind when he had been transferred to the Prophet of Regret's carrier, so it was only natural, he guessed, to dream about what you loved when you hadn't seen them for so long.

Realas started into the jungle, plasma rifle held in a relaxed position, walking at a steady pace so Arla could easily keep up in his limping state.

They trudged through the thick, lush greenery of the jungle for a few minutes, the only sounds being those of the unseen and often distant wildlife. The canopy above them filtered most of the sunlight, allowing it to get surprisingly cool down on the jungle floor.

Realas was the one to start a conversation, although he had guessed just by looking at him that Arla wasn't in much of a mood to have a light-hearted talk.

"It has been only a few days since I met you, sir," Realas said, glancing at Arla who hobbled alongside him, looking around every now and then in a way which implied that he was expecting them to get attacked, "and I barely know you. We have talked, but only about battles, previous operations…"

Arla turned and looked at him as they both walked along the jungle floor, the sounds of flowing water becoming louder as they neared the river and descended the hill. The Field Commander frowned, attempting to make himself look strong and authoritative but emerald green eyes betrayed the true emotions he was feeling. The Field Commander missed home, missed whoever he had there and was obviously sick of all the fighting.

"What do you wish to talk about then, Major?"

Realas paused, suddenly unsure of what to say. One way to start a conversation and have no clue how to continue it, he thought. As they walked along he rubbed some dirt off of his plasma rifle and gave another mandible-shrug.

"I am not too sure, sir, but maybe…Well, we could always talk about home…"

"Home?" Arla said, giving an uncertain expression, "you want to talk about home just so we can both miss it even more?"

Realas realized the Field Commander sounded a bit annoyed and thought he would try a slightly different approach.

"I am sorry if that annoys you, sir, but I thought…"

"Don't be sorry," Arla replied, cutting the Major off mid-sentence for the second time this afternoon, "I've been trying to keep my mind off of home and focusing on the task at hand…The task at hand being our fight for survival until somebody actually finds us…"

He stopped. Realas saw that the Field Commander had realized what he had said, about them being found. It was obvious Arla knew their chances of being located by anyone other than their enemies were slim and Realas had realized that as well, he just hadn't been game enough to say it.

"I just try not to think about what I miss when I'm out in the field, attempting to stay alive," Arla said, "in the past I've found it can hamper your judgement but at the same time give a new boost to your morale. For example, if you have a group of soldiers and they all believe they will be home in a short time, that group of soldiers will fight far more efficiently because they know they will be home to their loved ones soon enough.

"If you have a group of soldiers who all believe they have no chance of returning with their loved ones they tend to fight more aggressively, determined to pull through no matter what the cost. However, this newfound anger can also increase their chances of getting killed because of their clouded judgement during battle.

"So I try never to think of home, I try never to think of my wife, of my daughter, of my ageing parents…I attempt to make sure I don't think of any of this, that way I can think far more clearly in a combat situation and increase my chances of survival. I increase my chances of actually returning home, alive and well, to my loved ones…

"Now that you've mentioned it, of whether or not I actually want to discuss my home and my family, I…I don't know what to do, I don't know what to say…" Arla faltered with his last sentence, trailing off while an uncertain Realas listened on.

The pair pushed through some undergrowth and came to the riverbank, a flock of birds fluttering out of the trees by the river as they came near, flying off into the distance. The sun bore down more so due to the lack of a leafy jungle canopy and Arla could feel the heat through his armour. Realas felt the same, the humidity finally starting to make the two of them sweat.

"I am confident I will return safely," Realas said, "the memories of my wife I keep with me give me more reason to live. I did not think you thought so highly of the matter…"

Arla leaned his wooden crutch against the trunk of a nearby tree and limped over to where the water met the riverbank. Looking down at his reflection in the pristine, fresh water, he could hardly recognize himself. He was battered, bruised and bloody. His armour was scorched and dented and Jiralhanae blood had stained his chest plate in places. His weary eyes proved to anyone who looked upon him that he had been without adequate sleep for a considerable amount of time.

"Different methods work for different people," Arla said, removing his chest and arm plates where he stood. He dropped them to the ground and removed the plating on his legs and took off his boots. Realas had sat himself down on a boulder on the riverbank, resting his plasma rifle on his lap and taking a moment to admire the beauty of the riverside.

"I am sure you are right, sir," Realas said. He paused, glancing over at Arla who had his back turned, stepping into the lukewarm water after removing the bandages from around his thigh.

"You mentioned you have a daughter," Realas said, "My wife wants children but I am worried that I will not be there to see them grow up…"

"You won't," Arla replied bluntly, glancing back at Realas. From where he sat, Realas could make out several scars of differing sizes on his muscular frame and wondered just how much the Field Commander had been through.

Arla began to rub his torso clean with water while he continued.

"You won't be there with your family unless you're in a civilian line of work, such as carpentry," Arla said, "where the military sends you are where you'll spend most of your time. I hardly get a chance to see my wife and daughter. When I do get a chance, it's not for a very long time so I always try and make the most of what little time I get."

Arla started to rub water into his wound, which began to throb dully. He shook his head, annoyed at how stubborn this otherwise minor wound was getting.

"I do not mean to be rude, sir, but you do not sound too positive…"

"I stopped trying to sound positive a long time ago," Arla replied, "when you've been in the military as long as I have, you'll learn that there isn't much to get positive about."

Realas was surprised at how negative Arla sounded but decided he wouldn't argue with the Field Commander, instead attempting to change the subject again.

"I suppose you would not care to hear the details of my family, then, sir?"

Arla turned around where he stood half submerged in the water, frowning.

"Go ahead, I'm listening."

Realas nodded in acknowledgement. It was better, he thought, then hearing the Commander be so negative about the whole thing.

"I met her about seven years ago, just after I returned from my first battle. I was a Minor then, she was there at the spaceport on Sanghelios, assigned as a servant to a high ranking zealot who had arrived at the spaceport the same day. I met her in the bar there, her name was Galena. It went on from there and we got married two years later."

"Two years later?"

Realas frowned.

"Why? Is it a bit long, sir?"

Arla grunted in agreement.

"I met Tilana years ago, when I was only twenty-nine. We married six months later."

"Six months?"

Arla gave a mandible shrug. He didn't seem to think too highly of Realas' reaction.

"Our daughter, Sterlef'a, she's only nineteen. She intends on becoming a priestess, like her mother."

"Your wife was a priestess?"

"She is a priestess," Arla replied, correcting the Major's little mistake, "I met her in my hometown on Sanghelios. She was quite the looker when I met her and she still is now. Very contested over by the other males, but somehow I ended up with her."

Arla sounded pleased with himself and Realas couldn't help but smile as well. Finally the Field Commander actually sounded happy for once and so Realas decided to keep the Commander talking.

"What is she like, sir?"

"What's she like?" Arla repeated, pausing for a moment before chuckling to himself. "She's beautiful, she has a great personality and the most beautiful pair of eyes I have ever seen. Her body's great as well, but that's besides the point…"

Realas noticed how much Arla's mood had changed from the disgruntled Field Commander to the happily married male. His posture had changed as well and he was happily scrubbing away the dirt from his body.

"Our daughter's much the same, albeit younger, more innocent," Arla continued, "she'll grow up to be like her mother, although she has hints of my sterner personality in her. The best of myself and her mother, I guess."

Realas nodded, although Arla wasn't really looking at him as he spoke. He was too intent on cleaning himself and his nasty spiker weapon wound. Realas figured he would keep the conversation going.

"Was she your first one?" He asked.

Arla stopped what he was doing, as if something quite major had just occurred to him. He looked towards Realas, a solemn expression crossing his face.

"My first what?"

"Your first female," Realas said, noticing how the Field Commander had reacted.

Arla took a while to answer, lowering his head as memories ran through his mind, both good ones and not-so-good ones.

"She wasn't the first," Arla said, "she was the second." He fell silent, trying to remember. He couldn't, but he knew the memory would come back soon enough.

"What about Tilana, sir? Did she ever do anything you did not like?"
Arla smiled, gazing at Reala for a moment.

"Never," he replied simply.

"I hear you've been through a lot," she said in a soothing voice, "and I know I'm not the first one... A hand fell onto his thigh and he shifted where he sat, suddenly feeling nervous.
"Yes, I…I lost someone during those times…" Arla said, putting his hand onto the one of hers which she had placed onto his thigh. Tilana sat next to him, sitting at an angle so that she faced him. Her legs were curled up on the sofa and she was in a blue night robe. They had spent the day out together; it would only be another week before Arla was back on duty. Tilana had decided to find out more about him and had dug up his files out of Covenant databases.
Usually Arla would feel that his privacy had been invaded if someone had done this but it was Tilana and her overwhelming sense of curiosity that had done it, not some high ranking Sangheili officer trying to dig up dirt from his past.
"You loved her, didn't you?"
Arla nodded, moving closer to her, able to smell her perfume…
The pair gazed at each other for a moment, Arla finding himself lost in her beautiful blue eyes for a moment before bringing himself out of the semi-trance state.
"It doesn't matter about her, that was seven years ago," Arla said, "you're the one for me now…I know it may be a bit early, we've only known each other for a short time, but I truly love you…I can't think of anyone else to spend the rest of my life with other than you."
Tilana looked taken aback but quickly composed herself. She smiled, putting her other arm around Arla. To her, he looked very, very handsome, especially at this moment in time.
"Do you love me, Tilana?" Arla asked, feeling his hearts skip a beat as he awaited the answer.
She didn't answer verbally, there was no need. Rather, she leaned forwards and put the tips of his mandibles against his. They stayed this way for a few seconds before Arla had his arms around her and they were locked in a complete kiss while Arla slowly began to slide off her robes. She lay back on the sofa, giggling quietly as she started to work on her boyfriend's armour, stripping away the chest and arm plates, letting them drop onto the floor. Arla could feel his heart rate run wild as he put his hands on her sides, smelling her sweet perfume and kissing her on the neck while she tilted her head back.
Arla paused for a moment, reaching down and removing what armour plating was left on him. He needed help with his under-suit and Tilana happily removed it for him, throwing it to the floor as he seductively ran the tips of his mandibles down her chest…

"Everything always went along well with her," Arla remembered with a slight grin, realizing it must have been about a minute before his reply. Realas didn't seem to notice or care and remained where he sat; admiring the peaceful serenity of the river and the many birds they flew overhead. The sound of running water added to the serene feel, easily making anyone who came here feel safe and relaxed. Arla certainly felt that way and so continued with washing himself, deciding he would take his time. He wouldn't be about to return to base camp and go back to waiting around, merely waiting for an attack to be launched by the Jiralhanae.

One of those attacks, he knew, would be the death of him. Unless they received help, he doubted they would survive for much longer. They were all tired and weary, Arla especially. He seemed to have been the one who did the most killing, although it was hard to tell such a thing during the heat of a battle.

It was about ten minutes before Arla decided he would get dressed and he and Realas would return to base camp. Stepping back up onto the riverbank, he promptly put back on his golden armour, clipping his helmet to his waist. It was too hot to wear such a thing and he firmly believed it interfered with his aim, he felt somehow restricted whenever he wore it and it did indeed restrict the movement of his mandibles with the way it attached to them.

The walk back to base camp through the lush jungle greenery was uneventful, although upon arriving at the Forerunner structure they found Terlacè standing behind a stack of crates, staring down at something.

Arla stopped, sensing something had happened. Realas stopped where he was as well and turned to the Field Commander, an uncertain expression on his face.

"There has been an attack…"

"I thought as much," Arla said, cutting off Realas who was only stating the obvious anyway.

The pair continued to where Terlacè stood and found him wearing a grim expression. Lying on the ground at his feet was a Minor Elite whom Arla recognized as the one called Zehras. He lay in a pool of his own blood, writhing in obvious agony from a large, jagged projectile wound in his stomach. He was bleeding to death and Terlacè was powerless to stop it.

"Major, what happened?" Arla asked, looking around at the rest of the camp. A pair of Minor Sangheili sat exhausted behind a stack of metal crates which they had been using as a barricade, ahead of it by several metres lay a pair of dead brown furred Jiralhanae warriors. Another dead brute lay close to where Zehras was, still clutching a human "shotgun" which was the obvious culprit of Zehras' wound.

"It was only a small patrol," Terlacè answered, his voice croaky as if he was about to cry. Too often had Arla seen Sangheili like him break up at the death of a comrade, whether they be friend or not and he was afraid Terlacè would do the same.

"They surprised us," the Major continued, his voice going down in volume. He fell silent and stepped back against the walls of the Forerunner structure behind, slumping down against the wall into a sitting position and burying his face in his hands.

Arla looked down at the dying Minor, seeing the youngster's eye brighten as he bent down.

"Sir…I am sorry…"

Arla had heard plenty of last words in his years in the military but as always he played along with whoever was saying them. Most of the time they weren't anything memorable and Arla was worried that when his time came, he wouldn't be able to think of anything memorable to say.

"Sorry about what?" Arla asked, putting his hand to the youngster's wound, trying to see the extent of it. The blood came back thick and sticky and the Field Commander could see the many pellets from the human weapon had easily torn through the flesh.

"For…for getting hurt…"

Arla's eyes met with the Minor's and realizing the hopelessness of the youngster's predicament but not willing to show it, he smiled. It was obvious Zehras would be dead soon enough, but there was no point making that obvious to him.

"I'll get you something to help with your injuries," Arla said, trying to sound confident but not doing a good job of it, "I'll be able to fix you up and you'll be able to fight another day…"

Zehras merely shook his head.

"No…Don't lie to me, sir…" Zehras croaked, "I know…we have no…medical supplies left…"

The Minor smiled slightly before his muscles relaxed and his head dropped to one side, his eyes closing. Arla shook his head, annoyed at the lack of help they gave the dying Minor and annoyed at himself for not saying anything better.

"Damn it!" Arla exclaimed as he stood back up, "we're down to only five of us! Five!"

He looked at Terlacè, who sat silently weeping at their whole situation. There was no hope for them, at least it seemed that way to the Major who didn't even look up when Arla angrily threw his helmet at the Sangheili.

"I am tired of all of this!" Arla slammed his fist loudly on the top of a nearby set of crates, noticing how Realas and the two Minors stood watching his outburst.

Arla kicked at the dirt in his frustration, pushing over the crates and starting towards the structure's entrance. He would make sure this was their last casualty and if he did actually get out of this whole thing alive, if indeed, he would make sure he never fired a shot, at anyone, ever again.

A big promise to himself, he realized that, but he didn't know how much he could take. The day had been fine up until now, until Realas got him thinking about his family and of home. That was all he needed, thoughts about those things on his mind which would impede his judgement. He swore loudly to himself as he entered the ancient structure, feeling both tired and hungry but knowing he could fix neither of those things up.

Arla woke up with a start, not for the first time today but he noticed that this time, things seemed different. He hadn't realized he had fallen asleep behind one of the barricades, although he knew he was tired enough to simply doze off without him even knowing it.

Looking around, he could see that Terlacè was also asleep, Realas and the remaining Minors inside the structure, probably asleep as well. It was quite dark, the only light being from the stars that shone overhead and the nearby planetary bodies.

The jungle seemed like an entirely different place during the night, the night being when all sorts of creatures came out. He had heard reports of a Flood outbreak on another part of the ring but he wasn't about to let thoughts about that disgusting parasitic race get to him. He needed to concentrate and so standing up, he raised his plasma rifle in a ready to fire position, looking towards the start of the jungle several metres ahead.

He dared not make a sound for he may simply attract whatever had woken him up straight to him. He remained still, aiming down his plasma rifle, attempting to spot whatever it had been which had made the sound.

There was a noise behind him and swivelling 180° degrees on the spot, he half expected to see a Jiralhanae warrior somewhere behind him but was surprised to find the noise had merely been Terlacè's snoring, which tended to increase in volume suddenly before not being able to be heard altogether.

Turning back around, Arla gripped his plasma rifle tight as he saw movement in the trees ahead. His hearts racing, he decided he would break his silence and get this little confrontation over and done with.

"Who's there?" He shouted into the darkness, "come out and maybe I won't shoot!"

There was no response, somewhat unsurprisingly. The only sound was that of the wind blowing through the trees, a simple but ominous quiet rustling of the leaves.

"Damn it, come out!" He shouted again, this time louder. He heard Terlacè stir behind him, the Major slowly opening his eyes and looking towards Arla.

"Quieten down, Commander," Terlacè said, "you will lead the enemy straight to us…"

Arla realized that he was overreacting and so ceased his shouting, merely standing where he was, his plasma rifle still held in a firing position.

He stood there for about a minute, facing the trees and undergrowth, waiting for something to happen. He wasn't disappointed, though, since something did happen, just not what he was expecting.

A sudden white light appeared from amongst the trees and the shaft of light hit Arla square in the face. He grunted, temporarily blinded and put off guard.

Was this some kind of Jiralhanae trick, using light to put him off balance? He soon recovered and was about to readjust his aim and fire when he saw who was holding the light.

It took him a moment to realize they weren't a threat, so lowering his plasma rifle he carefully saluted the familiar Sangheili that approached him, who was followed in turn by a few Minors.

"Arbiter, I didn't know…"

Arla had immediately known it was the Arbiter holding the human flashlight from the grey, ornate armour that the Sangheili had been wearing. Arla had once known the Arbiter, long before he was removed from his command and branded a heretic. You see, Arla was the Arbiter's younger brother.

Unexpectedly, a bunch of shorter but recognisable figures followed the Sangheili out of the trees. They were human marines, many in the armour that their type usually wore. One was darker skinned than the rest and was wearing a cap rather than a helmet, stern expression on his face and assault rifle in hands. The flashlight on the rifle was switched on and he playfully shone it into Arla's face, chuckling.

"You still look damn ugly when it's dark," the human said, chewing on something brown and smoking which jutted from the corner of his mouth.

What was the Arbiter doing with these humans? This was heresy, Arla
knew that, but he couldn't really say anything to protest considering his brother knew all too well about his past and what had happened many years ago, the very events which had convinced Arla that maybe the humans weren't so bad after all…

The Arbiter stopped a metre from his younger brother and took a moment to recognize him. He didn't look too excited; keeping that same, grim expression Arla was all too familiar with.

"Brother, what are you doing here?" The Arbiter asked, frowning, "I didn't expect to find you on this ring…"

Arla gave a mandible shrug. He was glad to see someone he knew well and not be stuck talking to inexperienced Minors which had been the case for most of the last few days.

"You look exhausted, Arla," the Arbiter said.

"I am exhausted," the Field Commander replied, "as well as that, I wasn't expecting to find you on this ring…"

"So we both have a story to tell," the Arbiter added. He paused and turned to Terlacè, who had by now woken up and was standing a few metres to Arla's right.

"What are you doing with these humans, Arbiter?" Arla couldn't help but voice his surprise at the sudden change. What were Sangheili like his brother doing with human soldiers?

The Arbiter glanced at the lead human, the dark skinned one, and that human seemed to take that as a signal to start talking.

"Well four-jaw," the dark skinned human said, stepping up to Arla and carelessly puffing smoke into the Field Commander's face with little care for his reaction via the cigar, "me and my men, we're working with you guys now. So you better get used to it."

"Let me explain it to you in more detail, Arla," the Arbiter said, gesturing to his brother to follow him. He started following the Arbiter into the ancient Forerunner structure, hearing the humans start talking amongst themselves and laughing loudly. Somehow, Arla didn't particularly like the dark skinned human.

They stopped in the main underground room inside the structure, the interior lit up be small lights embedded in the floors and ceiling. The walls were made of a blue-grey metal/stone hybrid and it was rather warm inside, which made a change from the freezing cold nights that Arla had been forced to put up with for the last couple of days.

Arla looked at his eldest brother, who was only about two years older than him so it wasn't a big difference. Of the family, the Arbiter had been the one who had been their father's favourite seeing as their father had believed that the Arbiter would amount to something important in his life.

Arla had been the child in the middle since he and the Arbiter had a younger sister who, thinking about her now, he realized he hadn't seen her for quite a number of years. Arla had been the one who visited his parents as often as he could while the Arbiter had always come up with some excuse for not visiting, always busy or something…

"How is our mother?" The Arbiter asked as they stopped in the corner of the room. Arla pulled up a crate and sat himself down. The Arbiter, as usual, preferred to stand.

It must have been at least five years since the Arbiter last visited their parents. Arla always found time every few months, which he thought just goes to show how estranged from their family the eldest child had gotten.

"Our mother was fine the last time I saw her," Arla said, leaning back against the wall. He glanced up at his brother's face and noticed a tinge of regret showing on his features.

"Do you want to know about our father as well?" Arla asked. For some reason he could feel a bit of anger welling up in him, he wasn't too sure why but now that he had finally come face-to-face with the "popular" child he felt he could voice what he had been thinking for all of these years. How his father had always centred his attention on the Arbiter, leaving Arla and his sister in the dark. Luckily their mother had been there for them and she was always voicing her annoyance at the way her husband made sure that the Arbiter was always getting the best of everything while leaving their other two children in her care.

"He's fine as well, although he is getting old," Arla said, "and do you know how I found this out?"

The Arbiter didn't reply. He was listening, but Arla guessed that he probably knew what was coming.

"Because I actually visit them, brother," Arla said, his voice taking on an angrier tone, "I actually go to see our parents, Arbiter. I'm a Field Commander, I have a busy schedule, but yet I still find the time to see our parents.

"You, on the other hand, always have some sort of excuse, even though you're not much of a higher rank than me. And yet, our father still likes you the most. I simply can't work it out. All of these years and you're still the most popular one, Arbiter."

The Arbiter stood listening and nodded when he felt that Arla was done. He looked uncertain on what to say.

"I…I'm sorry if you feel angry at me, Arla, but…"


The Arbiter simply shook his head.

"If you want to discuss family matters, we can do that later," he said, "now, I think you should know what is going on."

Arla nodded. The anger he had kept inside him for all of these years would have to wait.

"Our beliefs, Arla…They're all just a lie."

Arla clicked his left mandibles, the equivalent of a surprise and a raised eyebrow.

"These rings…they are not gateways to the afterlife. They are merely alien constructs, built to study and contain the Flood."
Arla wasn't sure what his brother was getting at but sat listening anyway. Most of it was already heresy but strangely enough Arla didn't care.

"The very belief of the Great Journey is a lie. If we were to activate this ring, we would all die. All life in the galaxy would be wiped out, just so the Flood have no source of food and go into hibernation…"

"The Great Journey is a lie?" Arla asked. He tried to wrap his head around the thought. He couldn't. All of these years, all of these beliefs pressed onto him and now his brother, who wasn't insane as far as he could tell, was telling him that the very basis of his beliefs weren't true. It would take some time to get used to it if this was the case.

"The Prophets had us all under their control, merely to wipe out a whole race. Everything about the Covenant is a lie, Arla. I know it might be hard for you to accept, but I and my allies know this is true. Now the Prophets want us dead so they can replace us with the disgusting Jiralhanae."

Arla shook his head. He couldn't just accept all of these sensationalist claims on the spot. Sure, he knew how the Prophets wanted them dead, but these claims about their religion…It was all too hard to accept. Arla could feel his left hand shaking, realizing just how mighty these claims were.

Before the Arbiter could continue, a group of human soldiers noisily made their way into the structure, lead by the dark skinned human soldier that Arla didn't really like.

"Who's that?" He asked.


"The human soldier, the one with the dark skin…"

The Arbiter glanced over at the humans, just to make sure he knew which one Arla was talking about.

"He's the one called 'Sergeant Johnson'. He has a bit of a…"

"Attitude?" Arla asked.

"Yes," his brother replied, "but he is a good fighter."

He turned back to face Arla, who looked solemn enough. The Arbiter must have realized how mighty the claims he was making were, so he decided on a different approach.

"If our religion was indeed true," the Arbiter continued, "why didn't the Prophets try and accept the humans into the Covenant?"

Arla mandible-shrugged.

"I never really thought about that…"

"Our beliefs are lies, brother, forced onto us by the Prophets. You will do good to accept what I am saying, even if it takes you a long time."
The Arbiter paused and looked around the room, trying to think of something else to say.

"It's getting late," he said, "I'll talk with you in the morning. Until then, goodnight, brother."

The Arbiter turned around and started to walk away, heading back outside, leaving his brother to squander what he had been told. Arla had never been too faithful in the Great Journey but even so, it seemed very hard to accept that it was a lie.

One of the humans walked over to Arla. He looked young for their species and had light brown hair. Arla half-expected the human to stare at him like some sort of zoo exhibit but instead the human began to talk. Arla didn't think his type would have been game enough to talk to a Sangheili, a Sangheili who really wasn't in the mood to talk.

"You must be in charge here," the human said. He held out his right hand. Arla merely glanced at it and the human took it back.

"What do you want, human?" Arla asked, "I'm not in the mood…"

"I just saw you sitting here, looking like shit, so I thought I'd try cheering you up."

Arla really didn't want to talk to the human and so glared at the youngster, hoping he could scare him off. The last thing he needed was a human, of all things, trying to make him feel happy. After all, it had been a long day.

"Leave me alone, human," Arla said, "I'm tired…"

"You don't need to call me 'human'," the human said, "I'm Corporal Roland Haverson. I'm guessing you have a name…"

Arla really couldn't care about the human's name and he wasn't about to tell this "Corporal" his.

"I don't want to tell you my name, human," Arla said, "now, leave me alone."

The Corporal shrugged.

"You can't please everybody," he said, turning around and leaving Field Commander Arla 'Sterlefomee to his thoughts.

Arla spent most of the next day catching up on most of his missed sleep, waking up at about midday to eat before drifting back off to sleep again. It was another sunny, warm day on this part of the ring and so he slept outside in the sun with no worries about getting attacked. All the Jiralhanae in the area had either been killed or forced away by the other Sangheili and their new human allies. All he needed to do now was to figure out a way to get off of the ring and he had a feeling that's exactly what everybody else was trying to do.

He awoke again in the afternoon and found, to his surprise, that the Arbiter's group had one of the Forerunner Oracles with them, a small, blue metal artificial intelligence with a bright light in the centre and annoying personality. After hearing the truth from the Oracle about the rings and how they could wipe out all life in the galaxy when activated, Arla sat himself down on a crate and began trying to accept it.

For all these years these beliefs of the Great Journey had been forced onto him, he had grown to believe them, just like anybody else in the Covenant. Now, all of a sudden, he was being told they weren't true. It seemed too much of a mental burden and he spent his time sitting outside in silence, busy thinking about it, trying to piece together all the other details.

It seemed that the Prophets had gladly forced him and every other Covenant species to go to war with the humans, claiming them as defilers of holy ground and non-believers. It had seemed all well and good back when it had started, but as the war had worn on and the Covenant became more and more strapped of resources, many had began to voice their doubts on the war. Many of those that had done this had been executed as heretics so Arla had learned to keep his mouth shut about the matter. After all, he had only been doing his job as a soldier.

Arla had always made sure to get himself assigned to the positions that didn't involve fighting humans but fighting the Covenant's other enemies, such as rogue Jiralhanae. He had always had a feeling that something didn't quite add up in their religion and this assumption had been proven correct today.

To top things off, the annoying Corporal from the day before came over to him and sat on a crate across from him. Unlike the other human marines who preferred to keep their distance from the Sangheili soldiers, this particular human had been going around to some of the Minors as well as Realas and Terlacè, talking with them, attempting to befriend them. Arla had to hand it to the Corporal, he was brave but he doubted his attempts at making friends with members of another species would prove to be successful.

"I see you've finally woken up," the Corporal said, "been a long week for you, hasn't it?"

Arla simply glanced at the human, giving him an uninterested look.

"Go away, Corporal," Arla said, "I have got a lot of things on my mind…"

"Doesn't everybody?" The Corporal said, smiling. There was an awkward silence for about a minute, Arla not in any mood to talk. This silence was abruptly broken by the sound of footsteps behind the Field Commander and a familiar voice.

"Arla? Is that you?"

Arla took a look behind him and saw a slightly familiar white armoured Sangheili, with emerald green eyes and one discerning feature: the Special Operations Commander's left mandibles were missing, severed in battle some time ago.

"The Arbiter mentioned you were here," Rtas 'Vadumee said,
"Although he didn't seem too pleased with your presence…"

"Family issues," Arla replied. It had been years since he had last saw Rtas, the last time being when Rtas was a Special Operations Officer, about four years ago. They had been good friends in their early military years, having been born and raised in the same settlement on Sanghelios and growing up together. They had even been in the same unit when they had first joined up.

"It's been a while, Rtas," Arla said. He noticed the Corporal sat watching them, his pistol in his right hand, attempting to spin it around but failing all his attempts, dropping it almost every time he tried. It was obvious the Corporal now felt left out and so had decided to preoccupy himself with some pointless activity.

"I hear you're quite the ladies man, Rtas," Arla said, trying to get the conversation going, "all the females I meet now are always going on about the handsome Special Operations Commander with no left mandibles…I guess the females find that attractive…"

"Is that so?" Rtas asked, acting surprised. He chuckled, obviously aware of his fame amongst the females. "I try not to let it get to my head…"

The Special Operations Commander paused and glanced over at the Corporal.

"I see he's trying to befriend you as well?" Rtas asked in the Sangheili native tongue so the Corporal wouldn't be able to understand.

"Quite an annoyance," Arla answered. Their conversation was then interrupted by the Corporal who sounded rather excited.

"Hey, watch this!" The Corporal exclaimed, Arla turning around to watch the Corporal spin the human pistol around in his right hand, only to drop it.

Arla shook his head, bent down and picked up the weapon, weighing it in his hand. It was lightweight and probably not even loaded with the projectiles that most human weapons seemed to use. It was a bit awkward fitting his fingers through the weapon but once they were through it was easy enough to move them around.

"What are you doing?" The Corporal asked, beating Rtas to asking the question. They exchanged glances and watched as Arla confidently spun the pistol around in his hand, backwards and forwards before launching it out of his hand and catching it with perfect precision. Grinning, he handed the weapon back to the Corporal.

The Corporal frowned and then looked straight at Arla, an eyebrow raised.

"Shit, where'd you learn to do that?"

"Yes, indeed where, brother?"

Arla hadn't noticed that the Arbiter had been approaching as he had done the pistol tricks and he turned to see his eldest brother standing to his left, an inquisitive expression on his face.

Arla and Rtas exchanged glances, the pair only knew too well where he had learned to do that.

"I'm curious," the Arbiter said, sitting down, "I didn't think somebody like you would have proficiency with human weapons. Unless, of course, there's something you're not telling me."

Memories came flooding back into Arla's mind, memories of something he had gone through after he had first joined. Rtas had been there with him for most of the time and the two of them had received many wounds and other types of injuries. It had been the very reason why Arla had vowed never to harm another human again, the very reason he had decided to assign himself to fight the Covenant's other enemies.

"I was only twenty-two years old," Arla said. He was rudely interrupted yet again when the dark-skinned human Sergeant joined the group, puffing smoke from the cigar in his mouth.

"Why's this guy so popular?" He asked, sounding irritated,
"Everybody seems to be sitting with him, so I think I'll do the same."
He was obviously referring to Arla and so sat down next to the Corporal, taking out a rations bar and biting into it. "Everybody seems to be sitting with him, so I think I'll do the same."

"Is this one of those groups where we tell each other funny stories?" Sergeant Johnson asked, "If it is, maybe I should start. After all, I am the funniest man here."

He laughed to himself, expecting others to follow. Nobody did so he nudged the Corporal in the side who started to laugh with him, taking a hint.

"I remember back in '37, we had this asshole of a Major, some guy called Vance, he went missing back in September, but anyway, as I was saying…"

"Johnson," the Arbiter said, interrupting the Sergeant. Johnson looked over to where the Arbiter sat.

"Yeah, what?"

"Shut up."

Johnson laughed rather than fall silent, puffing smoke into the Arbiter's direction.

"That's not something you would usually say, am I right?" Johnson asked, "If I am, maybe us humans are finally influencing you in some way. Before you know it, you'll be swearing like a sailor…"

The Arbiter looked put off, but quickly composed himself, returning to his usual formality.

"Be quiet," he said and this time Johnson did fall silent, busy puffing on his cigar.

Rtas sat on Arla's left, turning to the Field Commander. The two of them knew what this was about and it would be up to them to tell the story at the best of their ability.

Arla noticed that the sun was falling low on the sky and they were rapidly approaching twilight, creating a rather atmospheric mood as the sky turned orange, and the clouds were becoming shades of purple or orange. A lot of things Arla had stored away in the deepest reaches of his mind started coming back, put there so he would never really remember them, usually the more painful memories. Rtas was probably going through the same thing but Johnson, unsurprisingly, interrupted the silence.

"Well, are you going to talk or what?" He asked, "Otherwise I'll just leave and make myself dinner…"

"I'll start," Arla said, "Rtas, be sure to correct any mistakes I make and fill us in on your side of the story. It's been a long time coming, but I think I'll feel better if I let it all out."

"I agree," Johnson said, "at least, my psychiatrist's always telling me that."

For the rest of that night, to pass the time away, Arla and his old friend Rtas sat and told the small group about what had happened on an isolated world where two human factions were fighting it out and how a small Covenant party was to get stuck in the middle…

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Lieutenant Raine
Date: 3 October 2008, 4:58 am

UNSC Marine Corps.
From the desk of Rear Admiral Herbert Smith
Melbourne, Australia
Date: 20th April, 2526

Cover notes for "Report on KV9-X7 operation and request for help"

After all this time of being ignored by High Command, I have decided to make the situation official by writing the following concise report, to the best of my knowledge. Maybe the High Command brass will finally pay attention to me once this report's on their desks. Being ignored by most of those old farts is beginning to get on my nerves, having gone on for so damn long.

Sure, what I'm trying to do with my marines may not be on the top of their priorities list, but it is important enough (and big enough) to be a threat to the security of the UNSC Outer Colonies, at the very least. As I've said time and time again, these rebels must be eradicated to ensure a safer future for the United Nations. We've managed to get rid of most of these groups but I'm fairly certain there are still plenty of others.

I've got about three hundred and fifty assorted types of military personnel on the case and as far as I can tell they aren't doing very well. To be more accurate about it, the rebels are beating them.

For those who don't know much about the trouble on KV9-X7, it started about a year ago, back in February 2525. One of our scouting ships was attacked and subsequently captured by a large rebel force.
Thing is, these rebels aren't much like the common Insurrectionist. The common Insurrectionist force isn't very organized and prefers terror tactics to all out assaults. These guys, however, assaulted the scout ship, eliminated all twenty-five crew members and captured the ship, hacking into the databases and downloading all current clearance codes for every Outer Colony's airspace.

It may not have seemed like much then, but what they did with the ship afterwards proved to me that these guys were not to be taken lightly. Packing the ship with a pair of tactical nukes, stolen years before from a warehouse on the colony world of New Argentina, they managed to use a rapidly built but well designed computer AI to pilot the ship into the airspace of the Outer Colony of Theta Talaxus. That colony was home to a major military manufacturing facility and using the stolen codes the AI easily slipped past security screens and parked the ship on the main landing pad of the facility. It was only a few minutes before the nukes detonated, resulting in a death toll of about 75, 000. The nukes completely razed the facility and destroyed its underground levels before wiping out the nearby populated settlement.
This event, as High Command is aware of, was hard to keep a secret like all the other attacks on the Outer Colonies. Whoever had done it was well organized, well supplied and well led.

So I was assigned to the job of tracking down the perpetrators of the attack using as many marines as necessary. These terrorists weren't the same as the suicidal rebel groups on other worlds: no human had been aboard the explosive packed ship; rather an AI had been in the pilot's place. So they weren't about to give their own lives for what they believed in. No, they were smarter than that.

It wasn't too difficult locating their numerous bases but by the time we had found out who was in charge and where they were located, high Command's attention had been directed to something else. Something to do with some farming colony, I don't know the details. As usual, they've kept wraps on it to bored Admirals like me but apparently some fleet is being assembled for something big. I don't know, it could be anything.

So now I was stuck with limited resources: High Command wasn't willing to spare me ships and troops, I was stuck with the same old marines I had chosen in the first place. Deciding that maybe a direct approach was best, I sent these marines to the desert world of KV9-X7 on the farthest reaches of charted UNSC space. This world was where the rebels had their main bases and supply centres. Unfortunately they were far better organized than my troops and outnumbered them ten to one.

This started a war of attrition. From September up until now my marines have been fighting it out with these rebels on the deserts, causing minimal damage to the enemy but unable to successfully drive to the main base and locate the leader. They simply don't have the numbers and the firepower. Until further notice these marines are stuck on this planet until I can somehow divert a cruiser full of troops to their location to finally finish these rebels off for good.

When picking these 350 marines, I decided to go for the more experienced ones, the ones I knew which could do the job well. I'm happy with my decisions but annoyed at the lack of action High Command is taking in this situation, too intent on focusing on the trouble at the farming colony I mentioned earlier. It's a shame, really, all we need are a few heavily armed cruisers so we can blast the shit out of the rebel bases and force these rebels out into the deserts where my ground forces can make short work of them.

As far as I can tell from the map in front of me, my marines have set up a main base on the top of an easily defended desert mountain, looking down into a rocky valley where many rebel patrols pass through. The rebels have a large base about seventy miles north, heavily fortified and with a labyrinthine tunnel network according to probe scans. These tunnels run for miles underground to several other smaller bases which dot the desert landscape.

My marines are simply outdone on the ground. Sure, they can kill rebels when they find them in small groups, but these guys simply have made the desert landscape their ally, using the open terrain to their advantage, digging tunnels and setting up defensive positions with mounted guns, anti-air rockets and anything else along those lines.
Whoever is in charge of these rebels knows what they're doing and knows the situation we're in.

This brings me to another matter. The rebel leader. The excellent tactician and brilliant strategist who has been guiding these rebels to victory after victory, having already bombed several locations on other colony worlds. Not with nukes, but doing enough damage both structurally and collaterally to scare the populations of the cities they attack. Of the several large scale engagements fought on the ground against these rebels, they have often come out as victors, sometimes suffering heavy losses but not showing a single loss of morale. Their leader keeps them confident and pleased with themselves, no matter what they do. They must really believe in what they're fighting for.

"Independence of the outer colonies" is what I've been hearing. These guys no longer want to be part of the United Nations, they want to start their own government, unite the people of the Outer Colonies and cease the tensions between some of them. The rebel leader, we have determined, is a certain Colonel Timothy "Bright Eyes" Hanley, once an excellent soldier in the United Nations who became disillusioned with the UN somehow, I don't know how but it was something to do with a certain incident in a town on an outer colony world.

I was just as surprised to find out that an ex UNSC Colonel was in charge of this rebel group. An excellent Colonel at that, which sort of reminds me of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now . He had been good at his job and ended up a total crackpot in the end who had a tendency to make good, meaningful speeches. Hopefully Hanley won't end up as crazy as that guy, but I'm beginning to have my doubts.

The man has the intelligence and the charisma to make an excellent leader and he's not wasting these talents. He has followers, plenty of them and he obviously makes the prospect of joining this rebel group seem so good to people that many more are joining up. So far outer colony police forces have stopped about fifteen recruitment drives by this rebel group on various outer colony worlds. None of them were attended by the Colonel but they all smelt of his doing. He had organized them so well and done them so discreetly that many more have passed under our noses, allowing many more people of all walks of life to join up with this rebel group.

Recent intelligence has told us that the Colonel calls his organization the "Outer Colonies Peoples Liberation Front" or the OCPLF for short. Nobody is sure how long the organization has been operating for, but it is presumed it's been in operation since a short time after the Colonel's resignation back in 2520. How he got such a large organization formed in six years is beyond my knowledge but the man is resourceful and probably has his methods.

So, my marines are stuck fighting a superior force and so far all attempts to capture the Colonel have failed. The man has a sixth sense, he knows when something isn't quite right so our last few ambushes on him have failed miserably. He is simply too much of a slippery snake (if you don't mind the crappy comparison) to catch. He's always well guarded by his highly trained units which makes our job of catching him somewhat more difficult. We assume he also organizes the training of his rebel soldiers and so with his knowledge and the loyalty he's gained from his followers these rebels are one heck of a fighting force.
They are probably the best rebels we've ever gone up against since the Communist Koslovics and Fascist Friedans back in the 2100s. This is why I've been requesting help from High Command but haven't been getting it, surprisingly enough. Normally at least a few of those guys would work with me, but as mentioned earlier they all seem worried about something else. Maybe if I knew what it was I wouldn't be so damn annoyed at them. All I need are some ships to blast the rebel positions so my marines can finish them off. Right now these rebels are too heavily fortified where they are and are really just being a nuisance to my marines.

If ships aren't available, maybe a few Longsword fighters would do. I'm not too sure about the new Longsword models, they seem a tad unreliable from what I've heard and seem more suited for dogfight tasks. Maybe some Shortsword bombers? Those things are pretty nippy for bombers and would suit the task of bombing rebel positions nicely. I think I'll be including a formal request for Shortsword fighters in this report if I find the time.

To move onto one more thing, it seems odd that the rebels would choose this planet as their base of operations. Usually rebel groups are restricted to the planets they originate on but it is obvious the OCPLF has access to ships if they are able to set up a base on a distant desert world. Why they chose it is unknown, there doesn't seem to be anything important about it, just the odd energy signature here and there but that could be anything. I'm no expert on that kind of thing but maybe the OCPLF is interested in what that world has to offer. The planet itself is so insignificant that we haven't even given it a decent name, simple the designation KV9-X7. According to my marines there the surface is usually hot and rain is a rare occurrence which is enough to encourage me that maybe living in Melbourne isn't so bad. At least we get rain here.

So, I've enclosed a detailed report of the rebels; the leader, the ex-Colonel Timothy "Bright Eyes" Hanley; the rebel strengths we've determined from intelligence gathering missions; information on past events concerning the OCPLF; information on our marines and the help they need and anything else related to the operation taking place against the rebels.

It is my hope that soon enough we will have these rebels out of the way of the progress of the UNSC so we can turn our attention to more serious mater, whatever they may be. As far as I can tell, the Outer Colonies are doing fine and will hopefully stay that way as long as we get rid of the Colonel and the OCPLF. Nothing can be allowed to get in the way of the expansion of the UNSC and nothing can be allowed to threaten the populations of these distant worlds. The last thing we need is another disaster like that one last year on Tribute. The rebels that caused that disaster I think would be no match for the OCPLF. We're up against the most organized rebel group in this century and all I need is some damn help with getting rid of them.

Rear Admiral Herbert Smith

April 23rd, 2526
UNSC border world KV9-X7
Approx. UNSC population: 367
Approx. OCPLF population: Pending.

Every day was the same on KV9-X7, at least on this part of the planet. The sun, once in its midday position, bore down sunlight onto the rocky, sandy landscape, scorching the already hot ground even more. Heat radiated off of the sand and rocks, creating a hot surface area. The very few clouds up in the sky were the wispy, trailing type that weren't much help in blocking the sun.

According to scientists, KV9-X7 had once been an abundant jungle world. About three million years ago something happened, some sort of atmospheric cataclysm, which obliterated the planet and left it a barren wasteland. Now only desert creatures dwelled on the world, such as lizards and insects. There were no native mammals on KV9-X7 but there were mammals in the form of the humans that had arrived and called the planet home.

The arrangement had meant to be only temporary. Stay on the planet; get rid of the fanatical rebels and leave. That original plan had hit rock bottom when it was found that the Outer Colonies Peoples Liberation Front was far better armed and organized than originally guessed. Now the whole operation had become a slow war of attrition, more boring than anything else.

Little was known about the planet these rebels had called home for about six years. KV9-X7 was on the very edge of charted space, on the verge of the undiscovered regions. There were the few brave explorers who had set out to chart these undiscovered regions but otherwise no one bothered. It was too dangerous and often too expensive to go on such expeditions and so right now the UNSC was limited to the vast expanse of space it had already discovered.

There were three other planets in the system. The one closest to the system's sun hadn't yet been given a name or unimaginative designation; it was simply not worth it. The planet was even hotter than KV9-X7 and near uninhabitable, meaning that no one was ever going to bother trying to colonize it.

The second planet was much further away, about the same distance from the sun as Earth was from its own. This was KV9-X7 and unfortunately enough the sun was a much younger, white hot moderately sized one that burned with ferocity. That helped make KV9-X7 the desert it is now, as well as the yet unknown cataclysm that had devastated the planet years before. It was assumed that it had to do with the sun getting hotter but no one was sure.

The last three planets were gas giants with plenty of orbiting moons. No one had yet tried colonizing the moons so they were unexplored as well. One of those gas giants, a large, orange-brown one with rings, was quite visible in the sky, a large sphere which gave the otherwise cloudless sky some personality.

There had been colonists, a long time ago. Back in 2347, according to records. They had been French settlers who had stumbled upon the world by accident after being knocked off their main course during a meteor shower. The French settlers soon set up a small colony and were never heard from again, their last message telling how they preferred the isolation and how their communications systems would be offline soon enough anyway.

Satellite scans had found the planet to be dotted with suspicious looking energy signatures, at first presumed to be from the settlers but soon this guess was proven wrong. The settlers only had the one main settlement, long abandoned for unknown reasons. Every settler that had been living there was gone, a UNSC scouting party had discovered this only ten years earlier.

The energy signatures couldn't have been the settlers, there were simply far too many of them and they were spread out right across the planet. No scouting parties had yet been able to check out these energy signatures, the rebels had thwarted any attempts. Now the UNSC's efforts were concentrated elsewhere and the secluded bunch of marines that had been sent here a year earlier were only ever receiving supply drops and no reinforcements.

These marines had set up a base and landing strip on an easily defendable hill, surrounded by rocky, winding valleys eroded away by long dead rivers. Patrols were spread out due to the lack of manpower and so often rebel scouts would slip through, scouting out the marine positions and reporting back to their superiors at their hidden bases.

It was only the OCPLF's main base that had been discovered so far, about seventy miles north of the marine base. In between were rebel defence positions, supply depots and just plain desert which was no place for the unwary.

The marines here lacked morale as well as ammunition. Their supply drops gave them food and water but otherwise nothing else, very rarely receiving military supplies such as ammunition crate and fuel. The leader in charge of the marines, General Richard McDougall, had successfully implemented a conservation program at their base, as well as this he had been trying to decrease the amounts of water they were receiving in these supply drops since the base had access to underground freshwater streams and supplied more than enough for everyone. Rather than water, the General wanted ammunition but of course the supply ship pilots simply didn't care and left the marines with the usual supplies.

There was one important region a few kilometres from the base, a rocky, wide valley with easily scaleable edges and plenty of smooth, open terrain for anyone to bring in vehicles. The marines had called it "Hell's Passage" and it was where, in a shallow ditch at the very start of the valley, 2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine and her squad sat around, watching for rebel scouts and patrols.

The group of six had been waiting around for hours, assigned to the boring job of keeping watch on the passage after a marine scout spotted some rebel armour (as in tanks and armoured vehicles) start moving towards the passage. That had been three hours ago, so either the rebels had very slow tanks or they weren't showing up. The squad had seen no sign of any rebel activity and so had decided to catch up on sleep which they had missed.

Lyssa was thirty-four, hazel eyed and with hair that was only just darker than her eyes. For the past year she had let it grow well beyond military regulation lengths and so had tied it back in a neat, but narrow, ponytail. Wearing her grey NCOs baseball cap and dressed in regulation UNSC grey armour plating, she was quite possibly the only female on the planet.

Sure, she wasn't too sure whether the rebels had women fighting for them (she was pretty certain they had, although she was yet to come across one) but she was the only female UNSC marine on the planet. This, at first, had put her at odds with the gawking, drooling men that she tended to come across back at the landing strip and adjoining base.
She had soon showed them that if anybody tried hitting on her she would simply beat them into submission. Many of the previously flirting males now had to think twice whether it was worth trying their rather average skills to get her attention since many had either been punched, kicked or knocked out completely after previous attempts. She was proud that she didn't do this all of the time, preferring to force a man away from her by some snide remark and making it obvious she wasn't interested, but sometimes, especially on those that didn't give up, she would have to use force.

She had been born and raised on Earth, had had a full education from primary, secondary and finally university. Her parents had been wealthy but once they divorced she was made to live with her not so wealthy mother and lived a middle class life for a while. Joining the military as soon as she was old enough to join up had been the only way out of her boring life. She never wanted a boring office job and her expert engineering skills had caught the attention of UNSC recruiters.
At first an engineer, she got herself into the marine corps as a proper marine and has been since she was twenty-five.

Lyssa was a somewhat athletic woman (you would have to be when you're in the marines) and kept fit by exercising more than the majority of the other marines. The other marines tended to sit around and play cards or something…

Sitting in the ditch, her back against its sandy, rocky walls, she glanced down at herself, frowning at her dirty her armour had gotten. There was hardly anytime to actually clean it and even if you got a chance the people back at base wouldn't let you use the water from the pumps there. They let you drink and wash yourself with it, but when it came to so-called "unnecessary" uses such as cleaning your armour, you weren't allowed. They had plenty of water, it's just the people who kept the pumps working were too damn stingy.

Her MA2B assault rifle laid in her lap, sand caught in the small crevices on the weapon. The rifle was rugged enough not to jam because of sand in its inner workings although the weapon itself wasn't all that reliable. It had a helpful little compass and ammunition counter but the rifle lacked power and accuracy, spraying out its forty round magazine within seconds. It wasn't too accurate if you kept firing it away and so, as with most weapons of its type, short, controlled bursts was the way to go.

Looking ahead she could see the Corporal, Harry Walther, otherwise known as "Joker" because of his tendency to joke about everything and anything at the most inopportune times, asleep against the other side of the ditch. His head was slumped to one side, a narrow trail of drool hanging from the corner of his mouth. He was about twenty-four, brown haired and blue eyed. No matter what was going on he always managed to smile, even if he did look like a complete moron while doing it.

Sitting to his left and wide awake was the easy-going, often intelligent African-American twenty-five year old Private James Reynolds. He apparently had an IQ bordering on the genius level but he never really used his talents, wasting them away on being a Private in the army. Apparently he had joined up to get away from his tough life in Chicago but Lyssa wasn't too sure on the details, she never really talked to him about what his life was like back home.

Reynolds was talking to the Private on his right, Jim Hawker. Hawker was the marksman of the squad, twenty-six years old and a devout Christian. In his spare time he could be found reading the pocket sized Bible he carried around with him everywhere or he was busy writing that book he was working on about his experiences in the war against the rebels. He was yet to give it a proper title though. Lyssa wondered what it would be like, mingled with the violence in the war and his faith in God.

Hawker didn't seem to be paying too much attention to Reynolds, merely nodding at everything the black man said. He glanced at Lyssa, nodded in acknowledgement and she did the same. There wasn't much to talk about on days like these, stuck watching some passage for an armour column that would probably never show up.

"I tell ya, man," Reynolds said, "if there was a God, he wouldn't be letting us humans kill each other all the time…

Hawker nodded in agreement but was completely uninterested in what Reynolds had to say.

Lyssa turned to her left, looking towards the new guy that had arrived about two months ago. That had been the only time they had received reinforcements if you could call them that: four Privates just out of boot didn't really giver her the impression of "reinforcements".

This new guy's name was Lawrence Taylor and he was a colony born boy, twenty-two years old and obviously not the fighting type. He had blondish hair and blue eyes, sitting with his assault rifle in his lap, snoozing away where he sat.

Lawrence was replacing a squad member they had "lost" three months earlier, Private Jack Slatham. Jack had been a bit of a reckless piece of work, charging into situations without thinking. He had been well liked amongst the squad until he had copped a rebel sharpshooter's bullet to the skull during a small engagement with a rebel patrol. It's not like he died a painful death, he died quick and probably didn't feel a thing.

Strangely enough, Lyssa didn't particularly miss him. She did feel slightly guilty, considering the Private had been in her squad, under her command. Reynolds had been the one most affected by Jack's death; he had almost lost it, charging at a rebel fire team and cutting them down.

Reynolds and Jack had been the best of friends and had talked about everything together. Now Reynolds was stuck talking to Hawker who wasn't really interested in being friends with him, or anyone else for that matter. Hawker preferred his Bible over a human being, funnily enough.

Now Lawrence was here to fill Jack's shoes and so far he had made a few friends and no enemies, but still wasn't as popular as Jack had been. Nobody could replace him, it seemed. Lawrence was almost the direct opposite of Jack: Jack had been loud and aggressive while Lawrence was quiet and a near pacifist.

As long as he didn't endanger the lives of other marines Lyssa was fine with him being here. She just hoped that in their next engagement he wouldn't end up dead like replacements tended to do. Not a positive way of thinking, she knew that, but in her experience that was what happened.

The final squad member was the nihilistic Private Clarence Layman. Layman was a good talker, swore a lot and had a Texan accent, having lived there for most of his life. He had never known his parents; he had been abandoned as a newborn and lived in an orphanage for a while before being given over to foster parents. For years afterwards Layman had gone from foster family to foster family and had gone in and out of jail many times for petty crimes. He had stolen cars, dealt in drugs, beaten up people he didn't like and had held up a few convenience stores. He had joined the army after the advice of one of his psychiatrists had given him. If Layman has problems with the world, the army is the perfect place to control these problems and take his anger out on the enemies of the UNSC.

Layman sat at the end of the ditch, using a dry cloth to wipe away the sand from his black M6 submachine gun. He seemed to love any firearm he got his hands on and had a collection of rebel weapons in his tent back at the base. While on display there he kept them unloaded, especially after an incident involving a dislikeable Sergeant and a Private who hated him.

Turns out one of the modern day revolvers that Layman had taken off a dead rebel officer and put on a shelf in his tent had been found by this particular Private who had then used the loaded weapon to put a few holes in the Sergeant. Nobody really liked the Sergeant but the Private was court marshalled and sent off world anyway. You see, down at base, there was a strict weapons usage policy and so the troops at base weren't given their weapons until they were on duty. That's why this Private had gotten one of Layman's souvenir rebel ones, since the Private hadn't been on duty. It seems being stuck on a planet like this was driving some people crazy.

Lyssa almost felt like she was going crazy, having been here for so long, fighting pointlessly against a superior rebel force. Once this was all over she would be requesting a transfer to somewhere far more exciting, although that would be difficult to do since the UNSC wasn't really at war with anyone else except more organized rebel organizations.

"Yo, Lieutenant," Reynolds said suddenly, snapping Lyssa out of her thought induced trance. She looked up, taken off guard.


"For all the time I've been in your squad, you know," Reynolds said, Lyssa unsure on what he was trying to get at, "you've never mentioned anything about your, you know…"

"My what?" Lyssa asked, frowning. She noticed that Hawker and Layman were watching her now.

"Well, whether or not you have a boyfriend or something…That's what I mean," Reynolds said, nodding as if agreeing with what he himself was saying, "we've all discussed this kind of thing but you're the only one who hasn't…"

Lyssa took a moment to answer. The squad had happily talked about their many girlfriends, although Lawrence hadn't really said much concerning this part of his life. She realized that she hadn't said anything of her personal life and her squad obviously were finding this a bit strange considering she knew all about theirs…

"Does it matter?"

"I just find it strange, that's all," Reynolds answered, raising an eyebrow, "you never really talk about your home and well, anything to do with it…"

Lyssa shook her head, feeling strangely cramped from this sudden investigation into her personal life.

"There are a few things I prefer not to talk about," she said, feeling the memories come flooding back, "and whether or not I have a boyfriend and what he's like is one of those things."

Reynolds looked surprised for a moment, quickly returning to his normal expression and sitting up, interested in something for once.

"Did something happen?"

"Obviously," Layman interjected, Lyssa and Reynolds turning to him. The mean looking Private sat carefully wiping down his submachine gun, treating it like a baby almost, cradling it in one arm while he very caringly wiped away the sand that had got caught in the narrow crevices on the body of the weapon. Even now he wore a dark expression, the type that said "mess with me and I'll stomp on your balls". Lyssa didn't particularly care too much about the state of the minds of her squad members, just as long as they didn't endanger anyone else.

"What would you know?" Lyssa asked. She was annoyed at how all these outside stimuli were encouraging memories she would rather have kept forgotten come flooding back.

"I can tell," Layman replied, his Texan accent much clearer now, "anyone with half a brain can tell…"

"Which explains why you seem to understand," Corporal Walther interjected, smiling at his own intelligent remark. Layman frowned in his direction, spitting off to his side and turning back to the others.

"That's why she don't want to talk about it," Layman said, for once sounding like he knew what he was talking about, "that's why she ain't never mentioned it once…"

"And you would know, wouldn't you?" Lawrence had woken up from all the talking and was looking up at where Layman sat. Layman looked mighty annoyed at the sudden interjection by the new guy and carefully cocked his submachine gun, sliding the bolt back and letting it slide into place.

"I know what I'm talking about," Layman replied, "I always know what I'm talking about."

"Right," Reynolds said, nodding. He was possibly the only person in the squad who didn't intentionally poke fun at Layman or make fun of his accent, even though everybody else did. No wonder Layman acted like such a bad-ass, he thought that would deter people. It obviously wasn't working but knowing the Private's history it seemed that he wouldn't be afraid to use force.

"So maybe we should leave the Lieutenant alone," Layman said, "after all, she has a lot on her plate. Like looking after the squad."

Lyssa nodded in agreement. Layman was right; she did have to look after him and the rest of these nitwits, make sure they actually stayed alive.

"I don't need any looking after," Walther said, smiling again, "you're the one who needs the looking after."

Layman frowned, his face contorted into an angry expression as he used his right hand to grip his submachine gun and point it in the Corporal's direction.

"Say one more smart ass thing, I dare ya," Layman said. He did look serious about it and the last thing Lyssa needed was a shooting amongst the squad. Giving Layman a sympathetic look but in reality not really caring, she decided to avert a certain disaster.

"Put the gun down, Private," she said. She turned to the Corporal, who was grinning at Layman, using his hands to gesture at him, urging him to do it.

"And you just quit being a smart ass," Lyssa said. The Corporal dropped his grin and sat back down against the inside of the ditch, although he was still noticeably amused. Layman lowered his gun, his expression back to his usual stern, serious one but the anger was still quite obvious in his eyes.

Lyssa sat back down, thankful that everybody had lost interest in trying to find out about her personal life. Reynolds had gone back to chatting quietly with Hawker and Lawrence had dozed off again, although she found it hard to sleep under such a hot sun. Closing her eyes, she attempted to will herself into sleep, shifting onto her sides, trying to find the most comfortable position. It wasn't working and soon she was back to sitting around, wide awake and bored out of her brains. The surface was just far too hard for her to sleep on.

"Ya see," Layman said after a while, taking out a cigarette and sticking the end into his mouth, "what I hate are punk ass city boys who think they're top shit. I hate getting talked down to just because of my background…"

Lyssa rolled her eyes, she really didn't feel like hearing one of Layman's typical "don't be a smart ass" speeches, most of them being directed towards Corporal Walther, who just took it all as a joke and tended to reply in such a way it infuriated the Texan even more.

"All you upper class folks are the same: ya think people from down south, like Texas and stuff, are all just backwoods and illiterate…"

"That's because you are backwoods and illiterate," Walther replied, chuckling. Layman fell silent, giving the Corporal a furious glance and shifting where he sat, as if about to lash out at Corporal "Joker" but only just containing himself. Instead, he turned to the Lieutenant.

"Ma'am, can I have permission to beat the shit out of this asshole?" He asked.

Lyssa shook her head. Was Layman really expecting a positive answer?

"No, so why don't you and the Corporal stop talking to each other and keep at least six feet away from each other. That way I don't need to deal with anymore shit concerning the both of you?"

Layman shrugged, shot the Corporal a stern glance and went on to light his cigarette, taking out his silver plated lighter and flicking it open. Apparently that was something every man in the marine division he had trained with had gotten: a cigarette lighter with their name etched it into. 'Layman' was written there in all its glory.

While this had been happening, Hawker had sat up and moved to the side of the ditch which looked out across the open plain, walled in with rocky outcrops. The Private took the set of military issue binoculars off of his belt and peered through them, intently looking towards some unseen target.

Lyssa noticed this and turned to Hawker. The Private looked tense and was concentrating on some distant object which had obviously caught his attention. Usually that meant he had spotted something.

"What is it?" Lyssa asked turning around and looking across the open plain. There wasn't too much interesting about it, mostly sand and rock with a few small, but isolated, pale green weeds growing through gaps in the rocks and out of the sand.

"There's someone out there," Hawker replied, taking the binoculars down from his face, "take a look yourself."

Lyssa took the binoculars and put them to her eyes, peering through the magnified view at where Hawker had been concentrated. Amongst some jagged, sand coloured rocks just over one hundred metres away was indeed someone, a man by the look of it, standing amongst the rocks with binoculars at his eyes, looking out across the plain.

The other squad members had noticed what the pair was doing and so grouped around the Lieutenant and Hawker, curious as to what they were looking at.

The man out on the plain was in a desert camouflage outfit, armour plating visible on torso and arms and legs, his head wrapped in sand coloured cloth with a large set of goggles protruding through the mesh in order to protect his face from the desert climate. Lyssa was surprised he hadn't spotted her group yet but then the man wasn't really looking in their direction.

"He's a rebel scout," Lyssa said, lowering the binoculars and turning to Hawker and the others. Lawrence was awake and his attention was focused on the rebel scout across the plain, a nervous grimace on his face. This would be the first time he had encountered the enemy and for Lyssa it would be her first encounter for months. No wonder she and her squad were so bored.

"What do we do?" Reynolds asked, "There could be more of them."
Lyssa nodded. There usually was more of them, but this guy only looked like a scout so he could be alone who with someone else, someone who was out of sight. It would seem strange, sending this scout out alone, although maybe the OCPLF didn't realize where the marines had their base.

"I can get him from here," Hawker said, grabbing the grip of his sniper rifle. Lyssa shook her head and he lowered the rifle, curious as to why she had an objection against his plan.

"If there's more of them they'll just go back and get a whole assault team," Lyssa said, "especially when one of their buddies just got his head blown off. Then we'll have a large firefight on our hands. No, I'll sneak through these rocks with the Corporal while you keep watch on him."

She paused, glanced over at the Corporal who had brought up his assault rifle and was checking the magazine, removing it from the weapon and tapping it against his left thigh armour plate, making sure it was full.

"That way we'll get a closer look and we'll be able to see how many there are," Lyssa said. She slung her MA2B over her shoulder, Reynolds and Layman looking disappointed at how they would be left out. Of the "action", although Lyssa wasn't too sure whether this would be exciting. Lawrence simply sat watching with an uncertain expression as she and Corporal Walther climbed out of the ditch, Hawker setting up his WS2500 sniper rifle over the top, peering through the rifle's scope, watching as the rebel scout disappeared amongst the rocks only to emerge again, this time holding a compass in an attempt to gain his bearings.

While the OCPLF scout was busy getting orientated, Lyssa and Corporal Walther started to the rocky outcrops which walled the plain, making their way between tall, jagged rocks, staying out of sight as the rebel scout remained where he was, too intent on his own activities to move.

Lyssa could just see him through the gaps between the rocks and so crouching, she started forwards, getting into such a position that the scout was only about fifteen metres away and she had an elevated advantage. Still the scout didn't notice, instead he was talking quietly with himself as he took out a datapad and began searching through whatever information was stored on it.

Walther remained a few metres behind the Lieutenant and they glanced at each other, Lyssa giving him the signal to remain behind as she started on her way down the rocky terrain.

This wasn't the first time she had been sneaking up on the enemy. Often she would be the one to do the sneaking, preferring that sort of approach than just simply getting engaged in a firefight. Looking around, she couldn't see anymore rebel soldiers, which was good since it meant less trouble for her and her squad. A narrow passage winded through the rocks from where the rebel scout stood which was obviously the way he had come.

Lyssa realized her mistake when her left foot slipped on some loose rocks, allowing them to roll down towards where the scout stood, making a rather audible scraping noise in the quietness of the desert. The scout turned around and saw her, for a second they merely stared at each other before the scout reached for the pistol that was in his waist holster.

Lyssa unslung her rifle, her heart beating loudly in her chest as the adrenaline kicked in. It was a life or death situation now, especially when the rebel beat her to the draw and had his pistol out and raised milliseconds before she brought her rifle to bear.

The rebel must have hesitated since his shot went wide a few inches, bouncing off the rocks behind her, the gunshot echoing throughout the valley. Lyssa fired, only a single shot from her assault rifle, which was all this guy needed since he twisted slightly where he stood, the datapad in his left hand dropping out of his loosened grip and landing intact on the ground below.

The rebel scout stumbled backwards, a jet of blood squirting from the neck wound he had received, gargling loudly as he fell. Lyssa lowered her rifle, hearing him drop to the ground, a satisfied smile crossing her lips.

"Shit, you got him good," Walther said from behind. Lyssa ignored him and climbed down from her vantage point, putting her rifle around her shoulder and stepping towards where the scout lay, looking down at the serious case of blood loss before her.

The scout was squirming where he lay, making muffled gargling noises through his desert headwear as he clutched at his throat, blood oozing from between his fingers. The sand underneath was already thick with blood, appearing almost brown on the dark ground.

The scout looked up at her, although it was impossible to see his face through the fabrics wrapped around his head. The goggles were dirty which made it hard to make out his eyes, although if Lyssa wasn't mistaken this rebel soldier was trying to get her to help him. He gargled loudly, looking at Walther as he stood alongside the Lieutenant, as if expecting him to help him.

"I don't think he'll live," Walther said, sounding unsure. Of course the guy wasn't going to survive, Lyssa had seen plenty of bullet wounds before.

Rather, she un-holstered her sidearm, a typical M5E pistol, a somewhat bulky handgun chambered with 11.5mm armour piercing rounds. Holding it in her right hand, she took aim down the sights and without even batting an eyelid she fired and blew a large chunk of the rebel's forehead away, allowing blood and bits of bone to spray outwards. The rebel scout stopped moving, his hands resting on where he had been holding them at his throat.

"Is that his brain?"

Lyssa ignored Walther's question, bending her knees so she was low enough to search the rebel's uniform for anything interesting. She found his compass and a few printed notes regarding scout duties but nothing really interesting. She holstered her M5E, removing the rugged looking handgun which the scout still had gripped tightly in his right hand. A lot of the rebels she had encountered were armed with all sorts of weapons, both civilian and military. This particular pistol, a beaten looking chrome weapon with its manufacturing year of 2470 printed on its side, was a civilian weapon, popular among collectors, although firearms history wasn't something she knew too much about. Layman would know more.

Standing up, she noticed the intact datapad lying next to the dead rebel and so bent down and picked it up. The device was still on and seeing the computerised image of a map of the area on screen got her interested.

"Is that where we are?" She asked, turning to Walther who was staring intently at the rebel scout's head-wound.

"Sorry?" He looked up, having not been listening.

"Take a look," she handed him the datapad and he began to search through what was stored on it, which was mainly just a large map, zooming in and out on it, trying to determine the answer to her question.

"It looks like it," he said. Lyssa noticed that the rest of her squad was out of the ditch and on their way across the plain, being sure to keep a low profile, just in case there were anymore rebels hiding in the valley.

The Corporal handed back the datapad and she pocketed the device, being sure to switch it off so as to conserve the battery.

Layman was the first to approach the two of them, glancing down at the dead rebel scout and giving the corpse a gentle kick with the tip of his left boot.

"That's some ugly handiwork right there," he said, looking up at the Corporal and the Lieutenant, "who did it?"

"She did," the Corporal said, nodding towards Lyssa. Layman shook his head but didn't really show any signs of disbelief or disagreement.

"Well, I knew you were too much of a sissy ass to kill someone like that," Layman said casually to the Corporal, "so my bets were on the Lieutenant all the time. This reminds me, Reynolds owes me ten bucks…"

Reynolds and the others had by now grouped around the corpse, Lawrence looking awfully white while Hawker merely tapped his forehand, chest and shoulders in typical Christian fashion before kissing the small inch-long cross he wore around his neck. He muttered a silent prayer and then stood with a neutral expression on his face, unsure of what to think.

"You made bets on this?" Lyssa asked, surprised. Knowing Layman he would be the type of person to do such a thing.

"Yeah, we made bets on who would be the one to kill the bastard," Layman replied, "I bet on you, Lieutenant, although Reynolds wasn't too sure so he bet on Walther."

Lyssa shook her head. Sometimes she wondered how she could possibly live with the types of people in her squad but somehow she managed, she knew that. She looked towards Reynolds, who shrugged innocently. Lawrence, meanwhile, turned his back to the corpse and puked where he stood, Lyssa and the others looking on without at all much concern.

"What do ya know?" Layman said, "The new guy can't handle it."
Lyssa took out the datapad, switching it on and spending about a minute giving the map a close inspection. She did see something which increased her interest, especially since it was labelled as "Supply Depot C2". This was something which would greatly interest the General back at base which was enough to form an excuse to get her out of this boring guard duty.

"Well, I know what I'm going to do next," she said, putting away the datapad, "the Corporal and I are going to head off back to base. The rest of you will stay here and guard the passage. I think the datapad our friend here dropped contains some very interesting details that the General might want to see himself."

"Finally I can get back and take a bath," the Corporal said as he started to walk away with the Lieutenant, "it's been days since my last wash…"

Private Lawrence Taylor sat himself down on a rock and reached into a pocket in his marine corps regulation trousers, taking out an MRE which was wrapped in glistening tin foil which shone brightly in the sun. He frowned at the large red writing which bluntly made out that the bar tasted okay, describing how it would fit anyone's bodily needs for nutrients and taste good at the same time.

He shook his head, stuck with nothing better to eat and so proceeded to unwrap the MRE, pocketing the now useless foil and taking a good look around

The Lieutenant and Corporal Walther had left about twenty minutes ago, taking their time to get across the clearing and disappear behind some jagged rocks. Reynolds and the others were sitting around in various positions on boulders near where Lawrence was. Hawker was sitting quietly as he usually did while Reynolds and Layman talked about nothing in particular. The corpse of the dead rebel scout had been dragged off into an out of sight position, something which Lawrence had had to do himself since no one else had seemed to care too much about the corpse being near them.

Seeing that corpse had probably been the first dead body he had actually ever seen, he couldn't remember seeing any others in the past.
When he had been sent here he had expected to end up engaged in massive battles but he had soon found out the truth: hardly anything happened on this planet and nothing particularly exciting had happened for several months. The conflict had boiled down to small skirmishes here and there which didn't really last very long, neither side intending on making a major move against the other.

Lawrence had also found some of the personalities of the other marines, not only ones in his squad but guys back at base, to be particularly quirky, as if they were out of character somehow. Most had been here for about a year now, facing very little action and left to hang around at base or out on boring patrols like this one. Lawrence had the feeling that some were going just a little crazy.

He had expected to be excluded from the little groups that had formed amongst the marines but was surprised to find that they had been very open, almost grateful to see a new face. Lyssa's squad seemed alright, although Layman didn't seem to like him much. Then again, Layman didn't like too many people and preferred to keep to himself or speak with his really close friends. He knew that to the others he was only a rookie, having been sent here just after getting out of boot.

He had been embarrassed by spewing up after seeing the dead rebel but no one else had really seemed to notice, or care for that matter. He felt less confident after that little incident but hadn't been expecting on seeing a man's brains in such a fashion. The Lieutenant had appeared to be a nice enough woman and Lawrence hadn't expected her to be a type to kill someone like that. He had obviously been wrong seeing as she had killed that scout without so much as batting an eyelid.

Killing was probably something Lawrence would probably have to get used to, although he hoped this whole war against these rebels would end soon enough so he wouldn't actually have to shoot anyone. What a mistake he had made by joining the Marine Corps, he thought.

The one thing he had gotten used to was the weather, which was usually hot and dry with very little moisture. The cooling packs that lined the insides of their armour did little help to save them from the heat but it did keep down how much they sweated, which was a bonus. Lawrence had gotten used to waking up in the mornings feeling hot and rather quite shitty. He had never really been a morning person.

Taking a bite of the light brown nutrient bar he almost spat it out in disgust. Most of these MREs were never any good and he preferred the slightly better food that the chefs back at camp cooked up. No food available to him on this planet seemed to be any good.

"Hey, Lawrence, do ya mind sharing that?"

Lawrence turned to his right, seeing Layman sitting on top of a nearby rock, submachine gun on his lap and his usual disgruntled expression on his face.

"Have the whole thing," Lawrence said, throwing the MRE bar to the Private. He caught it and took a bite, frowning at the taste. After a pause he continued eating, the taste not really having much of an effect on him.

"I saw how ya reacted to our dead rebel friend," Layman said in between chewing, "that ain't a good sign, throwing up like that."

Lawrence raised an eyebrow, surprised that Layman was talking to him.

"What's your point?"

"My point is, you don't want to be doing that when we actually get in the shit," Layman said.

Lawrence failed to see what he was getting at.

"The shit?"

"A shootout," Reynolds interjected, looking up from where he sat against a boulder, "you know, when we end up exchanging fire with some rebel grunts."

Lawrence nodded in understanding. Layman had taken out another cigarette and was busy trying to light it, finding that his lighter was low on fuel and so began fiddling with it.

"It's been months since that happened," Lawrence said, managing a weak smile, knowing his argument was a bit weak, "so, you know, I doubt we'll get into one…"

"Bullshit," Layman said bluntly, finally lighting his cigarette and puffing on it, taking it out of his mouth so he could continue talking with ease, "the reason nothing's happened is because these rebels are planning something, ya know. They're planning something big and so haven't bothered us because of it."

"You really think so?"

"Of course I damn well think so; otherwise I wouldn't be tellin' ya," Layman continued, "so quit it with the stupid-ass questions and listen to what I have to say."

Layman paused for a moment, as if expecting Lawrence to say something. Seeing that the Private didn't, Layman continued, sounding quite sure of himself.

"The very reason these damn fanatics choose this planet out of all the ones they could of chosen from in this area of space," Layman explained, "is because of the shit that's been found on this planet. I heard that there were, well, these are only rumours, that there are actually ancient structures buried underground on parts of this planet."

Lawrence wasn't sure what Layman was trying to get at but decided to play along.

"There have been all sorts of energy sources and stuff detected underground. Who put them there? Nobody knows…"

"Hang on right there," Reynolds said; having been listening to what Layman was saying, "Nobody knows whether these things are true. I doubt they are, man…"

"Why do you think the rebels chose this shithole of a planet then?" Layman asked, turning to look down at Reynolds, "there's nothing here except sand and goddamn lizards. And even those damn lizards are hard to find."

"Maybe, but I think these rebels simply chose this planet for its seclusion and insignificance," Reynolds replied casually, "that's it."

"You can your goddamn big words," Layman said, shaking his head. He turned back to Lawrence, puffing on his cigarette.

"What I was trying to get at before, about you throwing up during combat, or even worse, running away," Layman said, pausing for effect, "you ought to take it in, you know. Because if you even dare going all sissy ass in a combat situation and putting our lives in danger, I will personally kill you myself."

Lawrence was a little taken aback by this comment but didn't say anything. Rather, he turned to Reynolds for support.

"Would he do that?"

"You bet he would," Reynolds replied, sounding sincere and nodding. Lawrence was left to dwell on Layman's words since the Private fell silent after that, busy cleaning his submachine gun. Lawrence sat where he was as they waited for the rebel armour column to arrive. He did spend some time watching one of the native sand coloured lizards crawl from underneath a rock and start on a rather slow walk across some rocks. It did do something to help pass the time away.

Unfortunately for these marines, the armour column they were waiting for never did arrive, leaving them out in the desert sun for another hour.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Excavation
Date: 18 October 2008, 8:00 am

Excerpts from A History of Rebellions in the United Nations: From the 22nd Century to present day, written by Francis A. Hartford and published in 2522. The book is now used as a main textbook in most military history courses in military academies in the UN

Introduction: pages 2-3

From the earliest beginnings of humankind there have always been, and there always be, those that do not agree with the way things are, those that are against the people who lead them and those who decide that they will no longer follow whatever rules they believe are keeping them down. These people are commonly referred to as "rebels", although I do not mean those that you see on street corners, dressed in leather jackets, smoking cigarettes and mouthing off to police officers just to seem "tough" or "cool".

The rebels I mean are those that decide to get organized, those that decide to take action against whatever government/leaders and so forth are keeping them down, in their opinion. These are the types of people that many may consider "fanatics" or "lunatics". However, many more other people may believe in what these people are fighting for, prompting them to aid the rebels in any way possible.

A common misconception is that between the terms "rebellions" and "revolutions". Rebellions, on one hand, are often disorganized violent acts against a governing party and are very often failures, resulting in more harm than good. Revolutions, on the other hand, are often very organized and highly successful acts against a governing party and can involve large numbers of people. Those people could be from all sorts of backgrounds but all share the same beliefs in what they are fighting for. Often, rebellions and revolutions involve violence of some sort, although they do not need to.

Throughout history there have been rebellions and revolutions of all sorts, including the American revolution against the British in the latter half of the eighteenth century to the lesser known rebellions in small African countries in the twentieth century. As well there have been other types of rebellions, such as the French Indo-China war of the mid twentieth century in which the Viet Minh guerrillas rebelled against their French masters. This led to the agonizing defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu and eventually the Vietnam War, but that is another story altogether, having its fair share of books about it.

As has been mentioned, there are always those that disagree with governing parties and this can be for a multitude of reasons, many of the time being believable and understandable ones. Maybe the dictator's letting his country's population starve while he and his officer friends are living in luxury? Maybe the president incorporated a new set of laws which affect certain types of citizens (eg. Lower class, middle class, etc.)?

Anybody can dislike their leaders for any reason, whether it be direct (being made to starve, forced out of their home, to name a few) or are simply carried away in the flow of things, being dragged into a rebel group with everyone else and thus haven't much idea of what they're fighting for but like doing it anyway. The book that follows details well known rebellions/revolutions, rebel groups and the rebel leaders since 2200, this introduction making you, the reader, familiar with some of the things mentioned in this book. It is hard to cover just over four hundred years worth considering so much has happened in that time but I have tried my best and thus the book itself is quite heavy.

Maybe you, the reader, are familiar with some of the items in this bok. It would seem strange enough that a well seasoned citizen like yourself hasn't even vaguely heard of the Jovian conflicts of the 21st century in which Communist extremists following the teachings of Vladimir Koslov, a firm believer in Communism and the author of many works related to the subject, decided to try and usurp the UN government of the time, not so much on Earth but on the settled Jovian moons as well as Mars.

As well as these "Koslovics", the Fascist extremists known as the "Freidans" decided they would try and install a Fascist government on these worlds, much in the image of Benito Mussolini's fascist governments of 1930s-40s Italy and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
These many conflicting points of view and groups led to a bloody and drawn out conflict which the UN only just pulled itself out of, mostly eradicating these Communist and Fascist extremist groups or forcing them underground. There is more on these groups and their leaders later on but I am certain you, the reader, has heard of them, even only just vaguely.

Now, to more recent affairs at the time of writing (the year being 2521 while I write this), it is safe to say that with the expansion of human civilization to once hard to reach worlds which are now easily accessible to anyone who decides to take a ride on a Slipspace equipped ship, more rebel groups have in turn appeared, almost on every colonized world in some way.

Take the Outer Colonies, for example. On many of these worlds it seems that particular rebel groups have managed to set up bases of operations and recruit followers in public or less discreet rallies. Many of the public rallies are shut down by UN police forces almost immediately but there are still the secret meetings, the men on street corners passing out flyers among other things.

It has also been proven that these rebel groups comb a world's records concerning university students, either approaching the more intelligent types for recruiting or merely forcing them into the group. The amount of times of this happening is only slightly decreasing due to UN efforts but it is still happening from time to time as the rebel groups get more and more organized…

"There's a bit about me in here somewhere," the Colonel said to himself, squinting in the light of his desk lamp, not quite sure what to think of the book. It had been enough for the Staff Sergeant to actually get him a copy just so the Colonel could satisfy his curiosity but now the forty-two year old felt obligated to find the section in the book written about him. He flicked back to the contents pages of the book and began trying to find his name or anything that had to do with his organization…

"A-ha!" He quietly exclaimed, finding his name listed under 'Rebel Leaders of recent times'. He recognized another name there, Colonel Robert Watts and remembered having met the man before, well, before they had decided to go their separate ways and get into the business of overthrowing UN control on the colonies…

Colonel Timothy Hanley
Born: 22nd January 2481
Current status: Operating a large and highly organized rebel group in the outer colonies region

Hanley, Timothy, born at about ten in the morning on the 22nd of January in 2481, was raised as an only child, his parents almost your typical outer colonies citizens. They lived on the world of Tribute, then a lesser known colony world which had been settled back in 2347.

Hanley, according to records, lived a rather normal life with his parents. His mother, Alicia Hanley, was a simple housewife, his father, Joseph Hanley, being the one to bring in the income, being a very successful freighter pilot. However, this meant that Hanley hardly ever saw his father who would often be off-world, either flying cargo from place to place who situated on another world.

Regardless, Hanley went through primary and secondary school, often with excellent grades in all but Mathematics. He was in university for about a year and working a part time job as a cargo loader at a nearby spaceport when his mother passed away from a now curable form of cancer.

This compelled his father to start on a downhill ride, if you don't mind the analogy. He started drinking, lost his job as a pilot and so Hanley was stuck with the task of keeping the money flowing in. Unexpectedly his father committed suicide although no one is actually sure whether suicide is the case seeing as his father died in questionable circumstances. Some believe that Timothy, who was eighteen at the time, killed his own father in his frustration at how miserable their lives had become.

Timothy Hanley, being released from custody after very little evidence was found to imply him in the killing of Joseph Hanley, went on to join the local UN Marine Corps, in the 32nd Colonial Marines division. It is believed Hanley did this to ensure that he would have a home and friends for years to come, which is close to what happened. Rather than simply having friends thanks to having joined the army, Hanley had risen through the ranks at such a rate due to his excellent grades and scores on physical activities (both individual and team, as well as either tactical or physical fitness) that he was a Staff Sergeant by the age of twenty-nine and had served fighting rebel groups on nearby worlds.

After this, records go somewhat shady. It is known that Hanley, by the age of thirty-nine, was a Colonel, speeding on up through the ranks with relative ease, but by the year 2519 records about him seem to cease to exist, purged from the databases on a request from ONI, who now keep all later records on Hanley confidential and I was unable to recover them, no matter how hard I tried.

My research, however, led me to other sources of information, including people who had known Hanley during his later time in the UN Marines. It seems that Hanley was sent to negotiate a treaty with rebels at their headquarters in the alpine forests of Tribute but was disillusioned to the United Nations when after the treaty had been set up, the UN Marines who had accompanied him had mercilessly slaughtered the rebel soldiers.

Hanley resigned after that. Now it is known amongst military sources that he is in charge of the well organized, well armed and large numbered Outer Colonies Peoples Liberation Front, known as the OCPLF for short.

The OCPLF is a fairly recently founded rebel group and so far has operated largely on a "full frontal assault" scheme. Unlike many other rebel groups, the OCPLF seems to pride itself on the fact that rather than simple hit-and-run tactics, they launch perfectly planned, timed, coordinated assaults on key UN targets across several Outer Colony worlds. So far they are responsible for the deaths of numerous UN personnel and the destruction of much UN property.

The UN, of course, has made sure that the public is given a much less threatening view of the rebel group despite the large scale the OCPLF has operated on. It was only up until recently that Hanley was discovered to be in charge of the group, gladly calling himself "Colonel" despite the fact that he is retired. Many believe the OCPLF is a combination of many other rebel groups which Hanley cleverly merged to form a large fighting force, a private army almost.

As well as their large numbers, the OCPLF uses some of the most advanced military technology and has access to several ships, including a few decommissioned military cruisers which the OCPLF have gotten hold of and renovated so that they can match or even outdo today's military cruisers. The OCPLF is considered a threat to UN security but to keep the public calm, especially in the Outer Colonies themselves, a less threatening view of the group is being created by the media.
Meanwhile, UN High Command dwells over what to do about this group and how they can apprehend the now rogue Colonel Hanley.

It is a simple enough thing the OCPLF is fighting for. They want the complete liberation of the Outer Colonies from the jurisdiction of the United Nations government, obviously meaning the Earth government which controlled the whole of the UN and its colonies. They want the Outer Colonies to form a whole a new independent government. This doesn't sound all that bad really but the UN knows they will suffer a large blow to their economy and financial state if this happens, leading much of the Earth's civilian population to believe that the UN has vested interests in the control of the Outer Colonies, swaying public opinion towards the OCPLF.

It all seems that for once, things are actually going well for these rebels…

Colonel Timothy Hanley chuckled quietly to himself, closing the textbook and pushing it across his desk to make room for anything that was more important to him, in this case a gold trimmed box of high quality cigars.

Hanley was in his early to mid forties, with greying hair which stood up and narrow sideburns, his eyes with a sort of bright look to them, which is why people called him "Bright Eyes" sometimes, although not often.
Hanley had bought himself the box and the cigars on an off world trip to the Epsilon system a few years back, while scouting for potential OCPLF soldiers and other types of personnel. Hanley had used fake credits, as he did with most things, to buy it. After all, these days money was all electronic, making it very easy to fake if you tweaked a few things in your debit card.

Tilting his small desk lamp in his direction, Hanley flicked open the locks on the box and lifted the lid. Out of the original forty inside, about twelve were left although he was intending on buying more. Taking one and using his cigar cutter to clip off the end, he put the end of the cigar into his mouth and used his silver lighter to light it. While puffing away on the cigar, he closed the box and took a look around his tent. It wasn't so much a tent as it was a temporary building, its mostly thick green fabric while the walls were a sort of strong but lightweight fibreglass, able to withstand even the toughest weather. That made it very useful in a desert environment such as that here on KV9-X7, especially in this region where strong sandstorms were a common occurrence.

Hanley, personally, didn't like the dull grey colour of the walls and the green ceiling which was lined with metal poles to keep it in place. He had done his best to make the tent a bit of a home away from home, putting up bookshelves and placing a few gun racks on the walls. Most of the racks lacked guns but they did do well to fill up empty wall space.

He carefully placed the box of cigars close to the corner of his desk, making sure his papers, datapads and other items were neatly laid out on the table for easy access. He was considered a neat-freak by most of his friends and associates, his tent very much squeaky clean save for the odd shroud of sand that found its way inside. Of course, nobody actually called him a neat-freak to his face.

After reading part of that book which had its very own section devoted to him (he felt slightly amused at the thought), he mulled over what it had said about him in his head. It seemed to imply that he was responsible for the death of his own father but Hanley knew that wasn't true. He had considered his father a drunken nobody sometime before he had died but would never kill a family member, unless of course, they tried to kill him. He would never resort to doing such a thing, although he knew a few people that would.

Most of the information was correct, including the part about the OCPLF winning public favour in the outer colonies. He was pleased with his organization's success although he doubted it would do much in the favour of their long time scheme to unite the people of the Outer Colonies under a new government, one that it is not run by the business minded United Nations but by a government that actually cares about its people. Hanley visioned himself as the leader of that government but he doubted he would be the one considering he doubted this unification would happen during his lifetime.

No, he was simply getting things started. It had been a simple matter to get involved with rebels in the first place; they were always looking for new recruits. Hanley had been no recruit; he had immediately taken charge of his group and successfully merged with many others to form the OCPLF as it is today. Thanks to funding from traitors in FLEETCOM and other various sources, Hanley and his organization was going from strength to strength.

Which reminded him: That jackass Watts had gotten himself captured, not that it worried Hanley too much. Watts had and his group had had very little to do with the OCPLF, preferring to operate as a separate entity. Now that entity would be ripe for Hanley to take control of and merge with the OCPLF now that Watts was out of the way.

He knew the man would give away everything he knew to his captors. The UNSC had a habit of brutally torturing its prisoners and Watts wasn't as strong as people made him out to be. Hanley, on the other hand, would never talk. There was a slight worry in the Colonel that Watts would end up rooting out some of their benefactors in FLEETCOM, but then again they always had more where they came from. Not everyone in the UN disliked rebel groups.

It had been nearly two years since he and a large part of his organization had moved to this planet. They had their reasons, partially because it was secluded and insignificant. More so because of what the planet offered in ancient treasures, none of which were human in origin.

One thing Hanley had been interested in had been conspiracies about governments finding alien artefacts and technology, all that somewhat unbelievable stuff that many dismissed. As he had climbed the ranks of the army, Hanley had heard rumours of what the Office of Naval Intelligence kept secret in its many warehouses and laboratories.

There was also something the textbook didn't mention: how a particular ONI warehouse was raided by rebels back in 2520 and how they escaped with all sorts of confidential items. Hanley had been one of those rebels and he had been surprised at the time at how lax the security there had been.

Now here he was, with some of his most elite soldiers and personnel on one of the least interesting planets in charted space. It wasn't at all interesting to those who knew what secrets it held and Hanley knew it held secrets; this very tent was positioned at a camp located close to one of these secrets.

Hanley was in a heavily guarded compound which surrounded a large excavation site where heavy digging machinery, most of it operated manually to ensure complete control, dug around and down into the surface, going down at least a hundred metres or so to reveal an ancient alien temple and a vast network of underground tunnels. They were still in the process of exploring these tunnels, most of which were blocked by cave-ins and so forth, but even so they had found their fair share of goodies hidden inside the temple.

One particular man, a certain Major Bill Carson, was in charge of taking care of these "goodies" and getting their hired experts on working out what they did and what they were for. You see, Hanley had major plans for his organization, plans which would ensure that no one in the UN saw the OCPLF as a mere minor rebel operation. The UN would grow to fear the OCPLF and what it would become if all went according to plan.

Hanley tried to distance himself from being a bit of a megalomaniac, noticing how some of his men (and women, not all his soldiers were male) had started talking behind his back but nearly always in earshot about how they thought he was becoming a bit crazy, almost like an old style villain from a bad movie. Hanley didn't consider himself one, but then again, those in the said bad movies often didn't consider themselves one even if they were.

The Colonel puffed on his cigar a little more, picked up a small narrow shaft and pulled out the plastic sheet from within the shaft, laying it out on the desk and switching on the device. A colourful computerized map then appeared on the sheet for his easy reference. The wonders of modern technology, he thought to himself.

It had been a while since their last skirmish with the marines stationed on the world. Ever since then they had hardly heard from the annoying UN marines, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good since Hanley and his troops could easily get on with their job, bad since it probably meant the UN marines were planning something big. If that was the case, the OCPLF work here should be finished as soon as possible. Once they had found what they were looking for they would be off this world in double quick time.

The map was using both orbital probe scans and rebel scout records. The marines didn't have any idea that they were being watched from above by probes built by the UN which Hanley's experts had rewired to work for the OCPLF. The marine base was a fairly large compound with a landing strip and a few hangars, although he doubted they had many aircraft. It seemed to him that the UN marines were low on numbers and equipment, which would explain why they were hardly a nuisance.

The map cleverly marked the known "frontlines" in the region. They weren't really frontlines, just an indicator of marine controlled territory and OCPLF territory. He could see little had changed since last week when he had checked, but it was good to know anyway.

He was about to switch off the map when the door to the tent opened, a younger, brown haired and blue-eyed man in the typical armour plating and blue uniform of the OCPLF entered. The Colonel looked up from the map, frowning.

"Ah, Lukas, I was just about to look for you. You see, those damn marines still have Hell's Passage," Hanley said, shaking his head and holding his cigar between two fingers of his right hand, "didn't we send someone there to scout it out a few hours ago?"

"Hell's Passage?" Corporal Lukas Wilhelm frowned. He didn't seem to know what the Colonel was talking about. "I don't know about any sort of 'Hell's Passage', sir…"

Hanley rolled his eyes.

"It's also called Valley 189, if you want to get less imaginative about it," Hanley said, "It's the most direct route to the marine base. It's likely they know that too and have it guarded, but we have to know to what extent."

Lukas nodded, although the Colonel doubted he was really interested. Rather, Lukas had come in to see the Colonel for another reason.

"We can, uh…we can talk about this later, sir," Lukas said, taking a datapad from his pocket and placing it on the desk, "I just came in to tell you about the status of our excavation, as you requested last night…"

Hanley nodded, remembering the meeting last night. He wasn't too sure on how successful their excavation was at the moment but as far as he could tell they were making some progress. Lukas had been the prime candidate to gather information on the subject since he did that kind of thing so well that the Colonel had made the young man his main aide.

Hanley picked up the datapad and skimmed through all the information that was stored on it. He nodded and he read parts of it more thoroughly, pleased to see things were coming away nicely.

"There's information concerning what we've found so far," Lukas said, Hanley looking back at him, "but you never specified what you were looking for and so we've just been pulling out anything that isn't bolted down."

"I'll tell you soon enough," Hanley said. All in due time, Lukas, he wasn't about to spoil everything now.

"Some of the items we've found so far are quite interesting, and I've got details on them saved on the datapad," Lukas said. He tugged at his collar in his usual fashion, a bit of a habit he had formed over the years, usually implying he wasn't sure on what to say. "Major Carson seems very interested in some of them…especially, the one…ah; I can't remember it too well…"

Hanley brought up the photo stored on the datapad and flashed it to Lukas. He nodded and Hanley took a good look at it himself. It was a rather small, cylindrical item, engraved with all sorts of strange symbols, their meanings unknown to them but obviously had once been known to someone.

"You say Carson's interested in this one in particular?"

"Yes sir," Lukas nodded, "he keeps that one and a bunch of the more odd items in a crate in his tent. That crate is kept shut with a keypad lock that only he knows the code for. He spends hours every night trying to work out what they do and what they're for, but I'm not sure whether he's been successful or not…"

Hanley simply puffed on his cigar some more, finding it strange who possessive Carson had become over these items. The man was an expert on ancient items and an excellent soldier, but Hanley had begun to find that this obsession with these important items was getting a bit out of hand. He would have to speak to Bill the next time he saw him about all of this.

"I'll fix Bill up," Hanley said, "He's obviously just gotten a bit carried away with all of this. I wouldn't worry too much about it."

"Whatever suits you, sir," Lukas said. He paused for a moment, thinking about what else he had to tell the Colonel but really couldn't think of much.

"Has our scout reported in yet?" Hanley asked. The last thing they needed was a dead scout, although it would prove that the marines did indeed guard Hell's Passage. Lukas shook his head, obviously not knowing the answer to that question.

"He's taking a damn long time," Hanley replied. He paused, taking another puff on his cigar, taking it out of his mouth a few seconds later and looking straight at Lukas.

"Is there any other news?"

"Now that you mention it sir, there has been something…slightly negative but worth noting anyway," Lukas said, "it appears that three of our benefactors in FLEETCOM have been arrested for treason. We have plenty more but…I, well…I think that we may have to cut down on our spending a little…"

Hanley nodded. He knew something like this would happen, he just hadn't known when. It was most likely all Colonel Watts' fault, after all, he shouldn't of let himself get captured.

"It was probably Colonel Watts, sir," Lukas said, obviously thinking along the same lines as Hanley.

The uncaptured Colonel chuckled as he remembered a little incident that had occurred a few months before. Lukas didn't know why he was laughing and so gave him an uncertain expression, trying to work out what the Colonel was thinking.

"What's so funny, sir?"

Hanley ceased laughing and cleared his throat. When he thought about it, the more satisfying the incident had seemed. Five elite soldiers, dead, all because of him, which was a good thing since they were trying to pull another capture mission, this time on him rather than Watts.

"Did I ever tell you about what happened over on Tribute one time, late last year?" Hanley asked, although he knew Lukas had no idea what he was talking about.

"No, sir, I don't believe you have…"

Hanley nodded, seeing as he might as well tell this little story of his. After all, the Corporal was a very reliable man and he and Hanley were good friends.

"You know what happened to Watts, back on that crappy asteroid base of his?" Hanley asked, "How he was ambushed in his office by a bunch of surprisingly good soldiers dressed in engineer's uniforms?"

Lukas knew about all this, nearly everyone in the OCPLF knew about it. Hanley had made sure everybody knew so that if anything did happen to him, they would be prepared.

"It's common knowledge to everyone here. He was subdued and captured, even the surveillance tapes show this," Lukas said, frowning, "what's your point, sir?"

Well, he may as well get on with it. After all, it was his idea to tell the story.

"I was down on Tribute late last year, about December, just on a routine visit to see how our forces there were going," the Colonel said, the memories flowing back to him. It wasn't like he hadn't wanted to remember them; he just had trouble remembering things sometimes, especially since he was a busy man.

"Turns out that the same people who pulled that stunt on Watts decided to organize another one once my identity had been confirmed. This time it was an attempt to capture my ass and throw it to ONI for interrogation." Hanley laughed to himself, once again Lukas wasn't sure whether he should laugh to or not.

"You know what they did? They ruined a damn good dinner, that's what they did. I was just sitting inside an Asian themed restaurant, just enjoying myself and talking with a couple of friends. There were guards out the front, guards out the back and guards inside, just for security purposes…"


Next half to be posted soon enough.

Note: This chapter's ending may be a bit abrupt, that's because this is the first half of a chapter that looked a little too long to me, so I split it in half. Which may explain why the second half (yet to be posted) isn't a recommended read until you've read this half. So, ah…hope you liked it!

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Carson
Date: 31 October 2008, 5:34 am

December 24th, 2525
0850 Hours
Tribute Settlement 6C

      The atmosphere inside the restaurant was light-hearted, at the very least. The Asian themed interior, with pinkish-red walls, ornate light fixtures hung from the ceiling and armed guards stood at all the possible entrance/exit points, which included five doors and two       windows at the front.

      Four men, one in a Colonel's uniform, one in a Lieutenant-Colonel's uniform and the other two in business suits, sat around a table, being the only customers in the restaurant at the time. It had been a simple matter to reserve the whole restaurant for themselves using a reasonable amount of money to appeal to the restaurant's owner.

      Colonel Timothy Hanley was the man in the Colonel's uniform, sitting at a half-finished plate of lemon chicken. To his right was Lieutenant-Colonel Walter E. Horace and his two business associates sat at the other half of the circular table.

      Tonight was Christmas Eve according to the UNSC calendar and was the perfect time for a "business" meeting. Hanley himself had organized the meeting, another chance to merge the ever growing OCPLF with yet another rebel organization.

      Lieutenant-Colonel Horace was in his mid fifties, a world weary man who had grown tired of the UN's obviously self-centred interests in the Outer Colonies. His financial advisor, Joseph, as well as his lawyer David, had come with him to this meeting. They were highly respected people in Horace's organization and so they deserved to know what would be happening to the organization.

      For the last hour they had talked, eaten and drank, telling each other amusing anecdotes, happy at the arrangements that were being made and the other's hospitality.

      Four armed guards stood by the windows, one by the front entrance, one by the pair of toilet blocks and another one by the rear entrance. This would ensure no unwelcome visitors barged in on the meeting and if they did, there would be some protection.

      There were a few more armed guards outside, out on the street disguised as everyday civilians and a few in the alleys behind the restaurant. None of the civilians outside could care less about who was meeting inside the restaurant and what was going on inside, just as long as they were left alone. Public opinion, was, after all, going in favour of rebel groups.

      "So, to get to the point, I want my organization, the OCPLF as it is more commonly referred to," Hanley said, "I want your organization to merge with us. We are fighting for the same thing and if we unite, we could form a much better, much stronger fighting force and our goal of having the Outer Colonies removed from the Earth's empire will be a little closer, a little more in reach."

      Horace nodded in agreement, glass of white wine held in his right hand. Taking a sip, he nodded some more, almost at a loss for words.

      "I agree with everything you say, Tim," Horace said, "you sure know your stuff. I think we would be far better off merging, as you say." He turned to his financial advisor and his lawyer. "What do you say, you two?"

      "I don't mind merging, just as long as our spending is under control," Joseph said, "the last thing we want is to go bankrupt…"

      "Don't you worry about bankruptcy, Joe," Hanley said, turning to the financial advisor, "we have plenty of benefactors willing to fund us. That's why my men are equipped with the latest weaponry, because of the very money the so-called 'traitors' in FLEETCOM keep giving us." He paused, turning back to the Lieutenant-Colonel.

      "So, what do you say?" Hanley asked, "Is it a deal?"

      "It's a done deal," Horace said, putting down his glass and shaking hands with Hanley.

      While this was happening, the men inside weren't aware of how the guards out the front were suddenly tumbled to the ground in turn, almost silently. The same fate awaited the guards out the bank and while Hanley and the three others sat and chatted, a smoke grenade rolled in through the small window in the women's toilets.

      This didn't particular get anyone's attention, the women's toilet's door was shut. It was only when the first few traces of orange smoke began filtering into the restaurant from under the door did the guard standing nearby take a look, opening the door.

      The whole toilet block was filled with orange smoke, making it impossible to see into the toilets. By now the Colonel and the others had turned their attention to the orange smoke inside the women's toilets and were just in time to watch as the front of the armed guard's forehead exploded, his body dropping to the ground suddenly.

      "What the hell?" Hanley said, reaching for the pistol he had holstered at his waist.

      Before he could draw it, an armed man dressed in civilian clothes entered the restaurant, holding a suppressed M6 submachine gun. He looked strangely tall and quite muscular, but that was the last thing Hanley worried about. He kept his hand on the butt of his holstered pistol, realizing that this whole meeting was being raided.

      Another three of these people came in through the front door. The armed guards inside trained their weapon onto them but the civilians got the upper hand, easily knocking over the guards standing by the windows with surprising speed and coordination. Now there were only two armed guards left in the building as well as the Colonel and his new friends.

      "Who the hell are you people?" Horace demanded.

      There was no reply at first, but one of these "civilians" stepped forwards, submachine gun raised.

      "Colonel Timothy Hanley?"

      "Yes?" Hanley didn't really know what to do, he had four guns trained on him and probably a few more from unseen places, like outside for example. Even now he could make out the sniper on the balcony of the hotel across the street, even if it was sort of dark outside.

      "You're under arrest for being a threat to the security of the United Nations," the man said, "if you come quietly…"

      Before the man could continue, the back door smashed open and a group of four police officers in body armour charged inside. The remaining two rebel guards stood their ground as the new interlopers spread themselves out at the other side of the restaurant. They seemed surprised to see the other four men, in civilian clothes, inside the restaurant as well. Taking a better look, Hanley could see one of the "civilians" was a young woman, her hair cut short, as if she was in the military or something…

      "Okay, this is a police raid!" The head officer shouted, pointing his submachine gun at the other group of raiders, "put down your weapons and nobody will get hurt!"

      "We're soldiers with the UNSC!" The head "civilian" said, "This is our raid!"

      "No it fucking isn't!" The cop shouted, sounding agitated, "this is our raid!"

      "How about all of you put you guns down!" One of the rebel guards shouted, his assault rifle raised.

      The lead cop and the lead UNSC soldier looked at him, unsure of what to do. Horace, on the other hand, had stood up, a rather angry expression on his face.

      "What the hell are you doing Private?" He looked at the rebel guard, obviously angry at the way the guard was acting, "you'll get us all killed!"

      "Yeah, listen to the asshole," the lead cop said, "put the gun away!"

      "You put the gun away!" The other rebel guard interjected. While the shouting continued, Hanley took a look at the financial advisor and the lawyer. The lawyer was looking mighty nervous and looked towards the lead cop, tugging his collar in a nervous manner.

      "Can I leave now?" He asked, "I think I've done my job…"

      Horace turned around and looked down at his associate, a furious expression crossing his face.

      "What the hell are you talking about?"

      "He's wearing a wire," Hanley replied casually, having worked this out minutes before, "that's why he was so damn nervous. Those cops have been listening to everything we've been saying. I was going to say something earlier, but I didn't want to spoil our nice dinner." He paused and looked towards the cops and then the UN soldiers. "Unfortunately, it seems this little raid has gotten mighty screwed up."

      "You shut the fuck up!" The lead cop shouted, "We're taking all of you assholes into custody! You're all gonna get life sentences!"

      "Let us handle this!" The lead UN soldier shouted in response, "Hanley and Horace are to come with us."

      Horace, meanwhile, had started swearing loudly at his lawyer. He wasn't pleased in the slightest bit.

      "You fucker! After all these years, you piece of shit, you stab me in the back!" Horace swiped the bottle of wine from the table, smashing it against the side of the table and letting the remaining white wine dating back from 2507 splash all over the tablecloth. Hanley squinted as wine splashed into his face and eyes, rubbing them clean with one hand as he kept his butt on his seat and his hand on the butt of his pistol.

      As soon as Horace went to charge at his lawyer with the smashed up end of the bottle, the head cop opened fire. Horace spun around a little, bullets peppering his back and spots of blood appearing in his white suit's jagged tears. A stray bullet hit one of the UN soldiers, getting him in the stomach and sending him tumbling backwards, causing him to slump against the back wall.

      Hanley seized his chance. Withdrawing his pistol, he dived off his seat and onto the floor. He watched as the lawyer got up, only to be cut down by the disgruntled police officers, landing in a heap on the floor.

      The UN soldiers opened fire, obviously in vengeance for their fallen comrade. One of the police officers was filled with full metal jacket rounds in seconds, sent stumbling against the back wall, blood staining it as he slumped down lifelessly, the body armour useless against the armour piercing rounds. The two remaining police officers dived behind cover, which mostly consisted of tables and chairs, flipping over tables to act as barricades.

      The same went with the remaining UN soldiers. They flipped tables onto their sides, spraying bullets over the top of the makeshift barricades. Hanley crawled to the side of the room, noticing how the sniper across the street had begun to fire, one of the windows shattering as a few high powered rounds slammed into it. One of them hit a rebel guard, sending him onto the floor, his rifle firing wildly, a bullet hitting one of the UN soldiers in the shoulder.
The other rebel guard ducked behind a table as the UN soldiers retaliated.

      The financial advisor stood up to make a run for it, only to be hit by the next bullet the sniper fired, part of his head blowing outwards as he was sent backwards, landing on the table and into half-finished plates of Asian food. The chefs in the kitchen had disappeared, having left through the back door for obvious reasons.

      Hanley took out his customized pistol, a model often used by colonial police forces. Reaching into his pocket he removed an attachable scope, clipping it into place on the side of the pistol and unfolding the retractable stock. He peered through the scope towards the sniper who was another of the strangely tall and muscular UN soldiers. Adjusting his aim accordingly, he fired, watching as the sniper tumbled off the balcony and landed on the street below.

      "We've lost Leon!" The head UN soldier shouted, sounding both angry and emotional. The one who had been shot earlier sat slumped against the wall, attempting to hold his guts in place with one hand, the bullet having shredded its way through his stomach. He was moaning for help but somehow Hanley doubted he would be getting it anytime soon.

      Hanley saw the female UN soldier make a run for a barricade nearby as the UN and the cops exchanged fire over the top of their barricades. The Colonel raised his pistol, fired twice and watched as red spots appeared on the side of the woman, seeing her tumble onto the ground and roll a fair distance thanks to her own momentum.

      The remaining rebel guard had crawled his way around the side of the police barricade and opened fire, gunning down one of the cops taking cover there. The head policeman turned around and retaliated, the rebel getting at least three bullets in the chest before falling.

      Hanley looked back outside, noticing how a few police cars had pulled up. He swore quietly to himself, deciding to pull his master move. He raised his pistol, fired at the wounded UN soldier who had been shot in the shoulder earlier as he came up to fire some more at the cops. He disappeared behind the barricade with a large hole in his forehead. This further infuriated the remaining UN soldier, the lead one, as he stood up and turned his attention to Hanley, about to open fire when the last remaining police officer stood up.

      For a moment the two exchanged glances but the cop, having been annoyed more at the UN soldiers than at the rebels, finished off the last few rounds of the magazine loaded in his submachine gun, the UN soldier dropping behind the barricade.

      Hanley stood up, raised his pistol and pointed it straight at the cop. The cop, Lieutenant in rank now that Hanley had the time to take in the details of his uniform, dropped his empty submachine gun and reached for his sidearm. With two shots Hanley had gunned the Lieutenant down, one of the bullets having hit him in the throat, the other the forehead. He stumbled back a step before falling, leaving Colonel Timothy Hanley as the sole survivor of the raid. That was until he saw the UN soldier slumped against
the wall nearby, clutching his stomach.

      Stepping over to the UN soldier, Hanley took a good look at the muscular, somewhat young looking man. He must have been at least seven feet tall when he had been standing up. Now he looked as pathetic as a dying animal, blood seeping profusely from the large hole caused by the single bullet from one of the now dead cops.

      The soldier looked up, an angry expression crossing his face. Hanley simply grinned, waving his pistol in front of the man.

      "What are you?" He asked the soldier, curious as to what unit this man was in, "are you a marine? ONI? What?"

      The soldier went to say something but simply coughed up blood. Hanley kicked the soldier in the ribs, hearing him yell and find the muscle there surprisingly thick.

      "You ain't even twenty, are you?" Hanley asked. He knew he wouldn't be getting much of an answer, so clicking back the hammer on his pistol, he raised it, the soldier looking up at the barrel and then at the Colonel's face.

      "This is what happens when punks like you mess with Colonel Hanley," Hanley said, firing and watching as the soldier's face disappeared and how blood sprayed all over Hanley's trousers and waist.

      Now finished, Hanley removed the scope from his pistol and folded in the stock, holstering the sidearm and glancing outside. The police outside looked like they were preparing to charge the building, so heading for the backdoor through the kitchen, Hanley started into the alleys, disappearing into the night. If all went well, he would be off this planet by the next morning. As far as everyone else was concerned, he had never been at that restaurant and had never even met Horace and his associates.

      "I only ever heard about a shootout, but I never knew you were involved," Lukas said, shaking his head in disbelief at the Colonel's story.

      Colonel Timothy Hanley shrugged, proud of what he had done that night. He had been the sole survivor of a botched raid by two conflicting parties, both after him and both intent on capturing him. He ran a hand through his greying hair, dwelling on these memories for a bit.

      "So, the lawyer was wearing a wire for the police?" Lukas asked, "How could you tell?"

      "I have my ways," Hanley replied, "especially since the lawyer looked nervous, as if he was in some serious trouble."

      "And these UN soldiers? They what, raided the very same meeting?"

      "Damn right," Hanley said, remembering everything all too well. It had been frantic but had been over in minutes. He must have been lucky considering the cops hated the UN marines more than they wanted to capture him.

      "Who were these 'UN soldiers'?"

      Hanley paused, puffing away on his cigar. That was one thing which had remained a mystery to him. Five highly trained soldiers in civilian clothes, which must mean that it had been some sort of top secret operation, which would explain why the police didn't know. They had been different than any other specialist marines Hanley had encountered and ever since that night he had been trying to work out who they had been, attempting to find out more about him using various sources. Unfortunately, it was surprisingly hard to find anything on top secret groups such as this.

      "No idea," Hanley replied, "no damn idea. They were different, in more ways then one. You'll be the first person I tell once I find out who they are."

      Lukas nodded. He had stood listening intently as Hanley told his story in immense detail, going as far as to describe the UN soldiers and how they were "different". Lukas had indeed heard of a shootout on Tribute but it had been quickly covered up, the five UN marines being removed from the death count, the media obviously being made to tell the public that it had been merely a shootout with police and the rebels, no third party involved. Information on the Christmas Eve shootout was somewhat hard to find now, probably because of cover-up efforts by whoever had run the group of UN marines.

      "So, that was one hell of a night," Hanley said, "trying to capture me, those bastards. Do they really think I would be that easy to catch?"

      Lukas shrugged. Hanley picked up the thick textbook off of his desk and stepped over to one of his bookshelves, placing it in between his old style hardcover copies of The Catcher in the Rye (in his opinion a dreadfully boring novel) and The Man with the Golden Gun . He turned around to face Lukas, thinking of what he had to do today.

      "Anything else you need to tell me Lukas?" He asked. The Corporal shook his head, saluted, and was about to turn around and leave when the distant crack of gunshots could be heard outside. Hanley almost dropped his cigar in surprise but quickly regained his grip on it, putting its end back into his mouth as he and Lukas exchanged looks. There had only been three shots but it was worth checking out.

      The pair exited the tent and went outside, the sudden heat and bright sunlight temporarily disorienting them for a moment. Hanley's eyes adjusted to the light and he went on ahead, Lukas following.

      The camp was a series of tents and other temporary structures of differing sizes, including a few barracks tents and one large mess hall tent. OCPLF soldiers were wandering around, some having gone to the source of the gunfire which had originated from outside Major Bill Carson's tent.

      Carson's tent was close to the excavation site and so the Colonel took a brief moment to admire their progress so far: a large, dug out structure protruded from a deep, sandy and rocky hole about seventy metres across. Earth-moving machinery was scattered around, both automated and manual (although mostly manual) and several engineers and technicians milled about, hardly noticing the shooting that had taken place so close to them.

      Finding a small crowd of soldiers and other types of personnel had gathered outside Carson's tent, Hanley approached, the crowd parting to let him through. Outside the front of Carson's tent lay Staff Sergeant Henry Lister, the very person who had procured the Colonel a copy of the textbook he had been reading earlier. The Staff Sergeant was a reliable soldier, a good leader and had been somewhat close friends with the Colonel. He felt a pang of regret to see the Staff Sergeant lying with a bullet in his shoulder and a bullet in his stomach. The last shot having missed and put a hole in a barrel of fuel, which was leaking close by but otherwise no threat to their safety.

      Bending over the Staff Sergeant, Hanley glanced at the crowd with some anger. They were simply staring, much in the same way a crowd would form around a suicide jumper who lay as a pulp on a sidewalk after jumping off an apartment building.

      "Somebody get a medic!" Hanley shouted angrily, "And if you're not here to help, leave!"

      Hanley could see the Staff Sergeant was still alive, attempting to sit up but forced down by the Colonel.

      "Stay still," Hanley said.

      Most of the crowd had left or had walked away a bit before turning around to watch Hanley and the Staff Sergeant.

      "Tell me, Lister," Hanley said, a stern expression on his face, "what happened?"

      "It was…Bill…" Lister said, "huh-huh-he…he took the artefacts…he told me he knows what they do…how someone like you can't get hold of them…so he took them with him…I tried to stop him…buh-buh-but he shot me…"

      "Where has he gone?" Hanley suddenly felt angry, especially at how Bill could do such a thing. There had been signs, though, at how Bill had become almost obsessed with the items they recovered from the ancient alien structure.

      "Huh-he took a truck…it was all planned…Frank…Frank helped him…gave him the keys to one of our trucks…"

      "Frank Trautmann?"

      "Yeah, him…"

      1st Lieutenant Frank Trautmann was one of Bill's closest friends and a well respected member of the troops here. It seemed that the battle weary Lieutenant was in league with Bill and his little scheme to steal the artefacts.

      "Is Frank still here?"

      "Yeah…he…he's still here…I think…I saw him go into the toilet block…"

      Hanley nodded, the medic he had called for earlier arriving. Leaving the young medic to get to work on Lister, Hanley stood up and started for the men's toilet block, a moderately sized tent with typical toilets, the kind that required no plumbing for they incinerated whatever was inside them with the push of a button, pumping it out into a large tank behind the tent.

      He was furious. Clenching his fists as he made his way for the toilet tent, he realized just how ruined his plans would be if Bill got away with the artefacts. He knew he should have replaced that guy earlier; the Major had almost gotten obsessive over the artefacts, not allowing anybody else to see them. Now it turned out Frank was collaborating with him.

      He stopped by Lukas, who was standing outside the barracks, trying to determine what had happened. He looked at the Colonel, a frown crossing his features.

      "What happened?"

      "I'll tell you later," Hanley replied, "just get as many troops out searching the surrounding desert. Bill's made a run for it with the artefacts and we can't let him escape. Tell the search parties to be on the lookout for one of our trucks…"

      "I've just come back from a complaint one of our engineers made," Lukas said, "it seems all of our vehicles have been sabotaged, one way or another. None of them are capable of driving."

      Hanley contained the sudden outburst he could feel welling up in him. No use cracking it at Lukas, although they wouldn't be able to pursue a speeding truck without any working vehicles of their own.

      "What about our radios?"

      "They've been sabotaged as well, sir," Lukas replied, "our technicians are on the job, trying to fix them, but it could be a while…"

      "Once they're fixed, get on the line back to headquarters. We need air patrols, ground patrols…the whole fucking lot! We have to find Carson; otherwise our work here would have been for nothing!" Hanley shouted angrily, annoyed at how organized this whole thing was. Frank and Carson certainly knew what they were doing.

      This got Hanley's mind back on the task at hand, the fact that Frank hadn't yet left. Approaching the men's toilets tent he noticed a single quad bike parked outside, obviously for the Lieutenant's use. A few packs were attached to the quad bike, filled with supplies for what would be a long drive if the Lieutenant wasn't stopped from leaving.

      Stepping into the dimly lit interior of the tent, Hanley reached for the light switch, flicked it but found the few lights inside were blown. He opened a few of the flaps on the sides of the tent to let some light in, finding that one of the four cubicles were locked shut.

      Standing still, Hanley waited for the Lieutenant to finish what he was doing, which wasn't long after Hanley had come in. The whirring sound the toilets made when they powered up to incinerate what was inside could be heard, before decreasing in volume and finally ceasing. The cubicle door opened, the Lieutenant whistling a tune to himself as he turned around, saw the Colonel standing there, and stopped whistling. He looked nervous all of a sudden, so to make him even more nervous the Colonel grinned malevolently.

      "Lieutenant," Hanley said casually, "I heard you had a hand in Bill Carson's escape."

      Lieutenant Trautmann shifted nervously where he stood, managing a weak smile.

      "He…he said he couldn't let you have those artefacts, Colonel," the Lieutenant said, "you're going to have to live without them…"

      "Fuck that," Hanley said, pointing an accusing finger at Trautmann, "you screwed up all our vehicles and radios. I doubt you were the only one, but I'm going to track down each of you little traitors and kill each and every one of you. Guess who'll be the first?"

      Trautmann coughed.


      "You guess right," Hanley replied. He had noticed how Trautmann was reaching for his waist holster, for the pistol that was being kept in place there. Instead of letting the Lieutenant get hold of it, Hanley lunged at him, the pair of them falling backwards into the cubicle.

      "Where the hell did Bill go?" Hanley asked; grabbing Trautmann by the hair and pulling his head back so it was inches away from the side of the toilet bowl.

      "Fuck you."

      Hanley slammed the Lieutenant's forehead against the metal toilet seat. The Lieutenant shouted loudly in pain and so Hanley did it again and again until he could feel the blood dripping down the Lieutenant's forehead and onto Hanley's other hand, which held the man at the chest.

      "I'll ask again," Hanley said, speaking close to Trautmann's right ear, "where the fuck is Bill Carson headed?"

      "Go to hell," Trautmann muttered, sounding somewhat weak. Hanley shook his head and used his left hand to grab the Lieutenant's left hand, holding it up and putting it over the side of the toilet bowl. The Lieutenant probably knew what was coming and so started struggling, weakly though, so Hanley could easily hold him at his mercy.

      "You wouldn't…"

      "I would," Hanley replied, standing up from his crouched position and holding the Lieutenant up. Sticking Trautmann's hand into the empty toilet and holding it there via the forearm, Hanley reached over to the switch on top of the toilet and prepared to flick it. He could sense the fear in Trautmann, especially noticeable in his facial expression and voice.

      "One last chance, Lieutenant," Hanley said, "tell me where Bill's

      "I…I…don't know…"

      "Bullshit," Hanley replied, flicking the switch.

      The whirring began, the inside of the toilet heating up rapidly. At first it was endurable, the Lieutenant closing his eyes as his vulnerable hand was held firmly in place by Hanley's vice-like grip, although Hanley's grip was a safe distance away from the inside of the bowl. Then the heat suddenly piked up to such a temperature that the Lieutenant screamed,

      Hanley putting his free hand over the Lieutenant's mouth, muffling his screams of agony. For about a minute this continued, the Lieutenant trying to break free but in such a position that it was far too difficult to even break out of the Colonel's grip.

      Pulling out the Lieutenant's now charred, smoking hand, Hanley threw the man aside, letting him cry and hold his now useless hand with his unaffected one.

      Hanley switched off the toilet, stepping out of the cubicle and watching with slight amusement as the Lieutenant stood up and went bolting out of the tent. Stepping outside, Hanley stood watching as the Lieutenant went running towards his parked quad-bike, using his normal hand to start the engines. He went speeding towards a nearby gate, crashing through it carelessly and getting knocked flat off his bike by one half of the gate.

      Laughing loudly, Hanley started towards the knocked down gate as the Lieutenant climbed back onto his feet, his quad-bike speeding out into the desert without him. Trautmann started running out onto the open desert plains, obviously preferring to try his luck in the harsh climate than with the Colonel.

      A few soldiers stood watching this all unfold, surprised at how the Colonel wasn't acting in any way to stop the Lieutenant from escaping. The Colonel was now just outside the gate, looking out at the desert plain which had scattered clumps of desert plants on it, dotting the horizon for miles. The Lieutenant was running at a rather slow pace, limping because of an injury he received after falling off his bike. He was cradling his charred hand from what Hanley could see, so he decided to take a moment to think about whether or should let the Lieutenant go or not.

      Un-holstering his pistol, Hanley took his time to unfold the foldable stock, using his left hand to take an attachable scope out of his pocket and clip it to the weapon. Taking aim, he took into account the distance and elevation of the escaping Lieutenant thanks to the readouts provided by the weapons sensors and displayed inside the scope. There was hardly any wind, so he didn't need to worry too much about wind direction and wind speed.

      The gun kicked back slightly in his hands as he squeezed the trigger. The Lieutenant dropped into the sand suddenly, not getting back up, a red smear appearing on the back of his uniform. Lowering the weapon, Hanley carefully removed the scope and folded the stock, twirling the pistol around in his right hand and fluidly sliding it into his holster.

      Behind him, the group of rebel soldiers that had been watching him started clapping, just for the fun of it. Hanley turned around and nodded in acknowledgement of the attention they were giving him and smiled.

      It would be a long day, he could tell. He just wasn't sure how long of a day it would be. Using his sleeve to wipe the sweat from his brow, he found that he felt strangely calm, having just been furious a few minutes ago. For now his plans were on the backburner special thanks to Bill Carson and his friends. Soon enough he would start on his hunt for the escaping Major, but until their radios were working again this little camp was cut off from the rest of their forces stationed on the planet.

      Finding Bill would be the easy part. The Major would probably hide the artefacts somewhere if he couldn't get off-world, so finding where they're hidden would be difficult. Well, Hanley was always up for a challenge and he would have a lot of help from his troops if they didn't decide to betray him as well. Smiling to himself, Hanley started back to his tent. He would read some more of that textbook, just to pass the time away. He was curious as to what else it said about him and his organization, although he doubted it mentioned how much of a badass he thought he was.

Note: This chapter wasn't a recommended read unless you have read the "Excavation" chapter, since this is more or less the second half of the chapter.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: R&R
Date: 5 November 2008, 7:34 am

Sol Relative Time: April 16th, 2526

There was a faint beeping sound, not too loud but not too soft either, loud enough for him to hear it and arouse him from sleep but not loud enough to get on his nerves.

Groaning after realizing he actually had to get up and start yet another day aboard the ship, he decided he would stay in bed a little while longer, to see how long it would be before somebody came into the barracks and quite literally had to drag him out of bed. He could hear the others waking up but didn't bother looking, keeping his eyes closed in the hopes he would drift back off to sleep. The beeping had ceased, someone having been intelligent enough to switch off the alarm on the computer clock by the door.

He had only been on the Relinquished Light for about two weeks, having come fresh out of basic training back home on Sanghelios. It had been three months of intensive training to make him reach peak fitness and strength and he was quite pleased with the result, noticing how muscular he was now. Usually females went for big, strong males but this wasn't the reason why he had joined up.

For one thing, a war had recently started against an alien race and wars often guaranteed that if you were in the army you would see some sort of action. He wouldn't have joined up even because of this, firmly believing he would have a better life as a civilian worker, helping others and living an easy life.

His father would never have let him do this, though. From an early age he had made it clear to his two sons that he wanted them to be more like him, a high ranking officer in the military who was well-respected. This was why Arla had joined up, not because he had wanted to but because he had been made to.

His brother was two years older than him and was in an entirely different infantry unit. It had been almost two years since Arla had last seen him, although his father kept making it out that his brother was doing better than him, that maybe he should try and be as good as him. Arla didn't care; he just wished his father would quit concentrating on the one son and give equal time to both as well as Arla's younger sister. Their mother was far more caring, being sure to not play favourites with her children, giving them all equal time. She and Arla's father would often argue, nothing too bad but still quite irritating to listen to as his mother would make it out to her husband that he was neglecting his children. Which often lead to Arla's father leaving for days on end, just to get away from his wife.

Arla knew very well that things at home weren't going too well but if worse came to worse; he would choose to stay with his mother until he got himself a home of his own. Right now though, he would have to put up with a full, year long tour of duty on board the Covenant cruiser Relinquished Light. He doubted he would be getting into any battles; the war against this alien race, the Humans as they were commonly known as, was only in its infancy. Hardly anything had happened since the first engagement with them, which had been in the latter half of last year.

According to the Prophets, the Humans had defiled their fair share of ancient relics and had to be punished. Like most other Sangheili, Arla had been subjected to the beliefs of the Covenant and was a believer, just like everyone else. If he wasn't a believer he would be executed for heresy, which was one reason he chose to go along with the beliefs about the Great Journey and so forth.

Rolling around in his bunk, he did finally open his eyes, seeing that the eleven others in the barracks were getting out of bed (most were, at least). According to the chronometer on the wall it was about morning, the usual wake-up time for active forces posted on board a ship. He really didn't feel like waking up, having gotten hardly any sleep the previous night. It had just been a rough night for him, especially since some of the other Minors in this barracks had decided to spend hours talking about whatever came to their minds.

Putting the sheets over his head to block out the lights and the increasing amounts of noise, he closed his eyes again, trying to will himself back to sleep. It took a few minutes before he felt it was working, until an unexpected voice filtered through the sheets.

"Arla, are you awake?"

Opening his eyes, his attempt to fall back asleep ruined, he stuck his head out from underneath the sheets, opening his mandibles wide, yawning loudly.

"I will take that as a yes."

The voice was coming from the bunk underneath Arla, since he had chosen the top bunk, giving him a good view of the whole barracks. Looking over the edge of his bed and down at the bunk below, he could see another Minor, wide awake and lying on his back, looking up at Arla with the equivalent of a smile on his mandibles. He had somewhat striking emerald green eyes, a rarity in males and was one of the most business-minded of the squad of Minors, always obeying orders.

"I'm trying to get to sleep," Arla said, "I didn't get much of it last night…"

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure, but some of the others were up talking quite a bit last night. Telling them to be quiet doesn't really work."

There was a slight chuckle from the Minor below him. Arla lay back on his bed, now wide awake thanks to his friend lying on the bed below his. Some of the other Minors were already dressed into their dark blue suits of armour and were leaving to head down to the nearby mess hall. There usually wasn't much decent food available, although breakfasts were usually alright, at least in Arla's opinion they were.

He remembered that there was meant to be something happening today, although he hadn't been paying too much attention while the Major, who lead their squad, had been telling them about upcoming events. Maybe Rtas would know, so taking a look back down at his friend lying on the bunk bed beneath him he thought he would strike up some conversation.

"Is there something happening today?" Arla asked, "I can't remember if there was or not…"

"You don't pay much attention, do you?" Rtas asked, looking up at him.

"Why? Is there something going on today?"

Rtas chuckled again; he tended to do that, even if something wasn't all that funny.

"We're being allowed time off on a supply world today," Rtas asked, "We're probably in orbit now, I would think."

Arla suddenly remembered. They would be stopping off for a few days so the ship could be restocked for an upcoming operation, whatever that may be.

"A supply world?"

"A large supply depot is located on the planet, surrounded by some settlements," Rtas asked, "apparently we'll be involved in some sort of upcoming operation recovering ancient relics, so we're getting restocked on supplies here." He paused, clicking his left mandibles. "You weren't listening to the Major when he was talking with us yesterday, were you?"

Arla gave a mandible shrug.

"I thought as much," Rtas said in response, "you've never really been a good listener. I'm surprised you got this far in the military."

"I'm a Minor, like you," Arla said, frowning, "we're not very far in the military at all."

One thing the army had been good for was to introduce Arla to new people and make friends with people he would have otherwise never bothered with. Rtas was often a quiet Sangheili, about the same age as Arla at only twenty-two years. Rtas seemed more a by-the-book type of soldier, always showing the right respect to his superiors unlike some others in their squad, who didn't seem to care. He would follow his orders to the letter and seemed a more gentle type of Sangheili, much like Arla, which might explain they had become friends so easily.

"What are we going to do down on the planet's surface?" Arla asked, "I can't really think of anything…"

"We can just take time off; after all, it does get quite dull aboard this ship," Rtas replied, "We might even be able to meet some females if we're lucky."

"There are some posted aboard this ship…"

"Which we hardly ever see since they're posted on the other side of the cruiser," Rtas interjected, sighing, "and probably for obvious reasons as well. They don't want us mingling with them; it might decrease our efficiency on the battlefield."

Arla laughed. Efficiency on the battlefield? It sounded like something the Major told him.

"The Major told me that," Rtas added, certifying Arla's assumption, "Women can make a very good distraction."

Arla nodded, taking another look around the barracks. They were the only ones still inside the room, everyone else having gotten dressed and left. Maybe Arla should do the same, he thought, but then he thought against it. A little longer lying in bed wouldn't do anybody harm.

"Have you ever had a girlfriend Arla?" Rtas asked, getting Arla's attention. Arla hadn't been expecting an abrupt question such as that and so was uncertain on what to say.

"Well…I…I can't say that I have," Arla replied honestly, "why?"

"Merely asking," Rtas replied.

"What about you?"

"Same as you," Rtas said, "I never really tried getting one. I'm sure I will now, but before I was just…I was just too lazy, I guess."
Arla nodded. He had never really given the idea much thought but being in his early twenties he still had the raging hormones he had had to put up with through his adolescence, the urge to reproduce, just like all males had.

Sitting up in his bunk, he decided he would finally get ready for the day ahead. He was about to climb out of his bunk when the doors of the barracks slid open, a tall, crimson armoured Sangheili with a scar down his left mandibles stepping into the room. He was a typical battle-hardened Major, put in charge of a squad of Minors who had never been in combat before. It was his job to make sure they survived.

Major Kalara 'Texelemee had fought against rogue Jiralhanae and had received his scar from an energy sword being wielded by one of the brutes. He was a surprisingly easy going Major unlike some of the other, much tougher Majors that were posted on board the ship. Kalara had a bit of a sense of humour and was obviously surprised to see Arla and Rtas were still in their respective bunks.

"What are you two doing?" He asked, sounding a little surprised, "I expect to find every member of my squad up and out of bed before I come in to check this room. Do you two think you are special enough for that not to apply to you?"

Arla turned to the Major, and saluted.

"No, sir," he said, "I was just getting out of bed now."

"What about your friend?"

"I was just about to do the same, sir," Rtas said, sitting up. The Major shook his head.

"I've already told the others this, but since you two weren't there and lying in bed I'll have to tell you here," Kalara said, sounding a little annoyed, "once you two have eaten, you are to meet me in drop-ship hangar seven. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir!" Rtas and Arla replied together in unison. They exchanged glances just before the Major turned around, exiting the room.

Arla and Rtas made their beds, got into their standard-issue dark blue Minor's armour and started out into the purple-blue metal corridors of the ship. Being morning there weren't many personnel out of their quarters except for those with early morning shifts, which included some Sangheili ship guards which Arla and Rtas passed by. The pair was mostly silent as they walked the corridors of the ship, arriving in the large mess hall where numerous Sangheili of differing ranks sat at tables, talking and eating.

Stepping over to the food dispensers and grabbing a tray each, Arla and Rtas went to each dispenser, receiving rather peculiar tasting nutrient paste, some animal meat and a small bottle of water, fresh from the ship's storage tanks. Arla knew that if it was fresh from the ship's storage tanks it was going to taste stale and dusty.

Sitting down with the rest of their squad, Arla started on the paste, spooning it into his mouth with the cutlery provided, almost gagging at the taste. Did the people who made this stuff really think anybody would eat it?

On Arla's right was Rtas, who sat fiddling with his spoon, sticking it into the grey nutrient paste, not in the mood to even taste it. On Arla's left sat Sysha 'Relismee, a twenty-one year old member of the squad who prided himself on the fact that he had spent some "good, quality time" with one of the female nurses posted on board the ship the other week. Arla was surprised at how someone like Sysha, who was always trying to be funny but usually failed, had ended up in the army. He was intelligent but never took anything seriously, often annoying the Major who had, on numerous times, requested that Sysha be removed from the squad but had never actually had that request fulfilled.

"I'm fairly certain I could shoot the wings off some sort of winged insect with one of those Kig-Yar beam weapons," Sysha said to the Minor sitting across from him, "and from quite a distance as well."

The Minor siting across from him, Terlas Lytanemee, was the self-titled "sharpshooter" of the group, although there was no official position in Sangheili squads. It was always thought that marksmanship was a bit of a cowardly tactic, shooting an enemy from a long distance, sometimes without them even knowing about the shooter's presence.
Terlas had been trained to shoot by his father, a skilled marksman who had often received ridicule for using such a "cowardly" tactic. It looked like Terlas would become as skilled as his father and was still a bit unconfident in his shooting expertise.

"I doubt it Sysha," Terlas said casually, "you couldn't hit the side of a Wraith tank with a beam rifle."

Sysha frowned, looking a little annoyed. Another thing Sysha was well known in the squad for was being a bit overconfident, occasionally referred to as "cocky".

"I could defeat you in a shooting competition anytime I felt like it," Sysha said.

"Do you feel like it now?" Terlas asked, sounding a little sarcastic.

"No," Sysha asked, suddenly with subdued confidence. He looked towards the marksman of the group and shook his head. "I prefer going up close rather than shooting someone from a mile away. So close, in fact, that sometimes blood gets all over you…"

"And ruin a perfectly good set of armour?" Terlas laughed, "I doubt you would want to do that, after all, there is a chance you will be the one getting killed, not your opponent."

"Could you two stop this pointless arguing?" The Minor sitting next to Sysha said, "It isn't helping anyone. Just eat your breakfast."

"Eat this?" Sysha sounded surprised, sticking a hand into the nutrient paste and sniffing it, "really Kesa, I thought you were smarter than that, considering that this food is disgusting."

Kesa 'Refulemee frowned, rolling his orange eyes at Sysha's stupidity. Kesa was the one member of the squad that was often at ends with Sysha's so-called "humour" and often enjoyed arguing with the young, reckless Sangheili.

"I am smarter than that," Kesa replied, sounding unamused, "So maybe you should just be quiet and let everyone eat in peace. Not many people are interested in whether or not you can shoot the wings off an insect with a beam rifle."

"I'm interested, Kesa, and that's what matters," Sysha continued, "so maybe you should be quiet and let me talk."

Kesa wasn't really listening, instead, he was looking at Arla, who was face down in his tray, breathing heavily. Rtas noticed this as well and took the plate of meat from his friend's tray and shovelled it into his own plate.

"Is he asleep?" Kesa asked, Sysha taking a look at the sleeping Arla. Rtas nodded and started eating his friend's meat while the others went quiet.

"He must be tired," Kesa said, "although, that is understandable. I doubt anybody could have fallen asleep while you," he looked at Sysha, "wouldn't be quiet last night."

"I am a talkative person," Sysha replied.

"You don't need to do it when everybody else is falling asleep," Kesa said, "so take that into account the next time you decide to keep everybody up."

About half an hour later the squad of twelve Minors had gathered in one of the ship's many drop-ship bays, standing to attention in a line while the Major stood before them, looking at each of them in turn. Arla was awake, although he felt dreadfully tired, making sure he tried to not show it. He didn't want everybody else thinking he was weak or something else along those lines.

Through the shimmering blue, but transparent, force field that blocked the hangar entrance/exit where drop-ships flew in and out of, Arla could see the desert coloured sphere of the world they were in orbit of and he could see the silhouettes of many other Covenant ships, both civilian and military, in orbit as well. It looked to him to be a very important supply world although even from here he couldn't see the lights of cities and towns.

"I am sure you all know why you are here," the Major said, as he walked up and down the line of Minors, "if you don't, maybe you should pay more attention.

"I have managed to get this whole squad about two days leave on the planet below. You have all been working hard and it will be some relaxation before you go on your first mission."

First mission? Arla had no idea about any "first mission". He suddenly felt nervous, unsure of what to think. Hopefully it wouldn't be anything too dangerous, and glancing around at the others he could tell that most of them were thinking the same sort of thing.

"Don't look like that," the Major said, sounding pleased with himself, "you will get plenty of warning about what it will involve and where it will occur. Until that day you are free to do what you like in the settlement on the planet's surface.

"There is plenty to do, I have heard. The town itself has been built around a major set of landing pads and supply depots, which means while you are all having a good time this ship's personnel will be loading transports up with supplies. Be glad I didn't assign you to help them do that."

"May I ask a question, sir?"

All heads turned to look at Sysha who had been the one to speak. The Major knew all too well about Sysha and his somewhat annoying personality, so it was very likely the young Sangheili would be asking a stupid question.

"Are there many females down in the settlement?"
There were a few subdued laughs from some of the other Minors. The Major shook his head, almost having given up hope with getting Sysha disciplined.

"I am certain there are plenty," the Major said. He paused, waiting for the effect of Sysha's question to wear off. "I am also certain that there might be a few high ranking Sangheili officers spending some time in the settlement, so it is recommended you do your best not to annoy them. The last thing we need is a brawl with some Special Operations troops."

Some of the squad members nodded. Arla stood trying to figure out what sort of mission they were going to be sent on, whether or not it would be something dangerous. It probably wasn't, after all, they were only Minors but he also kind of hoped it wasn't something dull, like guarding Forerunner artefacts or something.

"I will be going down to the settlement myself," the Major continued, "simply for some time off."

He turned around and gestured towards the Phantom parked nearby, waiting inside the hangar.

"You are free to go aboard," the Major said.

Arla and the others made their way aboard the Phantom, sitting themselves down inside the craft. Sysha, as usual, started up conversation as the Major stepped on board and the rear entrance closed shut.

"I know exactly what I'm going do to when I go down there," Sysha said, grinning.

"Let me guess," Kesa said as the Phantom began to take off, "something to do with women?"

Sysha nodded.

"As usual, Kesa, you guess correctly."

Later that day…

The settlement had turned out to be a somewhat subdued little community with its fair share of pilots, soldiers and a mix of Covenant species to top things off. No buildings were higher than ten stories and most were apartments of some kind, with many restaurants and bars as well as a few of the lesser known places where someone would go to get entertained in some way.

The squad was staying in some apartments in the more residential part of the settlement where most of the Sangheili population lived. There were a few bars and restaurants here and there, as well as plenty of other soldiers taking time off. Sangheili weren't the only species here; there were Unggoy and Kig-Yar as well as some Jiralhanae, although they tended to keep to themselves.

Most buildings were constructed from a typical grey metal/stone hybrid and the roads themselves were grey with the adequate markings on them, not that traffic was very heavy. There were only a few civilian Spectres on the roads at any given time, most of the population preferring to walk seeing as it wasn't too far from any given point in the town. Ships of all sorts flew overhead, although there was nothing too big buzzing around in the clear blue sky, only some transports and civilian craft.

Sitting at a set of seats and tables outside a less populated bar run by an elderly Sangheili who didn't say much, Arla, Rtas, Terlas, Kesa and Sysha wasted what little time they had on the world by drinking and talking. Arla wasn't afraid of drinking alcohol and after a few drinks was feeling a little woozy himself, although Sysha seemed to be the one drinking the most, using his drunken personality to annoy other customers.

They had only been in the town for a few hours, the Major having told them where they would be staying before leaving them do to as they pleased. It seemed they weren't the only ones from the Relinquished Light taking time off, Arla recognized members of other squads from the ship hanging around in various places nearby.

One thing this town wasn't short of were women, the younger ones walking by tem, obviously in a bid to get their attention and to get a good look at the rowdy young male soldiers who had nothing better to do. Arla didn't really say much to any female that actually engaged their group in conversation, Sysha being the one to get their attention, always trying whatever he could think of to get them to talk to him. He seemed to have succeeded in one instance since a young looking Sangheili female in dull blue robes sat on his lap, an arm wrapped around his neck as the pair carelessly downed the alcohol, talking quietly, the female giggling occasionally. Arla could probably make a good guess at what he was saying to her.

Kesa sat quietly, having drunk the least of the group, preferring to drink water instead. He was the one to break the temporary silence that had befallen the group a minute or so earlier.

"Who knows the time?"

Terlas looked at him, an uncertain expression crossing his face.

"I left my chronometer in my apartment…"

Sysha looked up, shaking his head. He didn't think much about this matter of knowing what the time was.

"Who cares about the time?" Sysha asked, "Just have fun. This could be the only chance we get for a while."

"Who's your friend?" Rtas asked, looking up his plate of half-finished meat, turning to Sysha and the female that was sitting sideways on his lap. The pair looked at him, Sysha smiling.

"Someone he met today, I would presume," Kesa interjected, "I doubt he even knows her name…"

Sysha looked aghast at this statement. Shaking his head, he downed the last of his current bottle of whiskey and gave Kesa an annoyed look.

"Of course I know her name!" Sysha exclaimed, "it is…" He trailed off, proving that Kesa's assumption had been correct. Whispering to his female friend, Sysha received the reply he needed to answer the question.

"Her name is Jilira," he said, "and she only arrived on this planet yesterday."

"How old is she?" Kesa asked, looking unconvinced.

Sysha paused to think about this for a moment.

"How old are you?" He whispered to her again, getting the equally quiet reply. Nodding, he looked back up at Kesa, confident he could get his friend to stop with the questions.

"She is nineteen, which would make her bordering on full adulthood," Sysha replied, "why do you ask?"

"I was thinking, maybe she was too young for you," Kesa said casually, "because I am fairly certain about what you two intend on doing…"

Sysha looked aghast once more, although this time it was less convincing. His female friend merely giggled, her right hand going down onto his thigh.

"How dare you guess such a thing!" Sysha exclaimed, although it was obvious he was putting this little act on for laughs, overreacting. His free hand had gone down to the hand Jirilas had put on his thigh and the pair eyed each other carefully. Arla could see from where he was sitting that they were very interested in each other, Sysha having proved that he was a bit of a womanizer, pulling in the females like this. First that nurse back on the ship, now this innocent young girl who probably didn't know better.

"Don't act stupid, Sysha," Kesa said, unamused, "we all know what you're after…"

Sysha shrugged, helped his female friend off his lap and stood up, taking her hand.

"I really think you should stop annoying me so much," Sysha said, starting for the door of the apartment building, close to the bar they were sitting outside of, "I can tell you're jealous…"

Kesa shook his head, still in his calm and collected manner. He turned to Sysha, who was about to step into the apartment building with Jirilas, who was giggling quietly.

"I'm not jealous Sysha, I'm certain about that," Kesa said, "why would I be jealous of someone like you, who treats women as mere objects?"

Sysha turned his back, not bothering to answer. Jirilas didn't look like she cared too much about what Kesa had said, following her new boyfriend into the apartment building, the door closing behind them.
Kesa turned back to look at Arla, Terlas and Rtas, clicking his bottom mandibles in a shrug-type manner.

"How did someone like him get into the military?" Kesa asked, looking a little bewildered, "I'm surprised that incompetent fool got through basic training."

"He's not as incompetent as you might think," Rtas said, getting Kesa to look at him with some uncertainty, "I trained with him. He's determined when he wants to be, and he was determined during the whole of training. I think now that he's in the military as a proper soldier he's become a bit lazy, using his position to attract females."

"Women tend to go for men in armour," Terlas added, "it's a proven fact."

Kesa looked at him strange.

"And how would you know that?"

"I read it somewhere," Terlas replied, "although, I don't remember where…" He trailed off, attempting to remember where he had read this "fact".

Arla sat quietly, deciding to slow down on his intake of alcohol, finishing his current bottle and sitting back in his seat. The weather on this part of the planet was somewhat temperate, often never too hot or too cold. Right now it was warm, a cool breeze blowing through the streets and between the buildings. Arla looked up at the dark blue sky, noticing that some dark grey clouds were forming a fair way away, indicating that there might be rain coming to town some time later on.
He failed to notice the figure walk up behind him until it had tapped him on the shoulder, speaking down to him.

"What are you doing here, Arla?"

Arla turned around, looking up from where he sat at the young female that had come up behind him. He was surprised to see how it was, recognizing the voice and the light blue eyes.

"Yelina?" He asked, unsure of what to make of the encounter.

"Do you know her, Arla?" Kesa asked, "it looks like she knows you."
Rtas looked up from his drinking, glancing at Arla. A frown formed on his face, as if annoyed about something.

"You told me you never had a girlfriend…"

"That's because I'm his sister," the female said, cutting Rtas off mid-sentence. She looked over at him, the pair exchanging glances before Yelina turned back to look down at her brother.

"Are you going to answer the question?" She sounded annoyed, in her typical fashion. She had always been one against small talk, preferring to get to the point of something, such as why her brother was here on the planet.

"It has been, how long?" She began, frowning, "six months? You left without any warning, father dragging you with him to the recruitment office?"

"Did that bother you?" Arla asked. Getting on the receiving end of his sister's annoyance was never such a good thing. Even if she was only twenty, she could be quite stubborn and yell if she didn't get her own way. In other words she was very determined but very short-tempered.

"Not really," she replied, reverting to a calm sense of mind, "but, are you at least going to explain what you're doing here? I never expected to find you in an insignificant settlement such as this…"

Arla could be asking her what she was doing here, but he thought he would be better off answering her questions first. Smiling weakly, he turned his seat around so he was facing her and one thing he noticed were the insignia on her dark blue robes, held together with yellow sashes.

"You finally became a nurse, I see?" Arla asked.

"You could tell by the insignia, couldn't you?" She asked, but didn't wait for an answer from him before continuing, "So, yes, I did become a nurse. Not that you would really care, I think…"

"Of course I care!" Arla exclaimed, "You are family, after all. It would be wrong for me not to care…"

Yelina didn't look too convinced. After all these years of being neglected by her father she had grown to distrust men, even if they were family.

"Even if you did, it would not make a difference," she said. She pulled up a chair, sitting herself down close to Rtas, much to the Minor's surprise.

"Again, maybe you should answer my original question?" She asked, "And then maybe you can ask me…"

"You didn't even say hello," Arla said.

"I'm your sister. Do I need to say hello?"

Arla shrugged. He hadn't realized how annoying his sister was, having forgotten all about her personality during the six months he had spent without seeing her.

"It is preferable if you greet me, just like anybody else would," Arla said.

His sister rolled her eyes, giving in to his minor demand.

"Hello," she said half-heartedly.

"Good afternoon, Yelina, it's been quite a while, hasn't it?" Arla asked smiling. His sister didn't look too amused, so Arla dropped the upbeat attitude and decided to answer her question.

"I and the rest of my squad are here on leave," he explained, "maybe you would like to get introduced to some of my friends?"

Without her consent he started the introductions anyway. He gestured to Rtas and she turned to look at him. The pair smiled at each other nervously, which was something Yelina would never really do unless, well, it was all speculation at this point, Arla knew that…But he couldn't help but notice how Yelina acted when she sat near Rtas, even having sat next to him. There had been plenty of empty seats around but she had chosen to sit next to him out of everyone else. She hadn't even sat next to her own brother!

"My friend, Rtas, is sitting closest to you," Arla said. He turned to Kesa. "That's Kesa, he's quite a nice guy when you get to know him."
Kesa nodded to Yelina but she ignored him. She also ignored Terlas whom Arla introduced next.

After the introductions were complete Arla turned to face his sister once more, now in a slightly better mood than he had been earlier. Maybe it was the alcohol, he wasn't sure.

"Maybe you would like to tell me why you are here?" He asked his sister. Rtas said something to her, quietly, and she replied. Now that he looked at the pair of them, he could see they were engaged in a quiet little conversation, Yelina having not heard Arla's question.

"Yelina? Are you listening?"

His sister turned around, Rtas falling silent. He looked a little disappointed at how their conversation had been interrupted but didn't complain.
"What is it?"

"Why are you here?" Arla rephrased the question, Yelina shrugging in response.

"I was stationed to the hospital here," she replied, "it's only a small one, not many patients, which makes my job easier. Which means I'm not complaining."

Arla frowned.

"How long have you been on this planet?"

She gave an annoyed look.

"I do not count the days I spend here, as if I was sitting in a prison cell, so I wouldn't know," she replied, "but I think it's been about, say, three months? Why?"

Three months and he hadn't known about it? Arla was surprised at the very least and realized that this proved how distant their family was getting, special thanks to their father.

"How's our parents going?" Arla asked, although he doubted things were going too well.

"Father had left a week before I left," Yelina said, "I think he won't be coming back for a while. I also think he has other women, he would have to if he was gone for that long. Why?"

She didn't sound too concerned. Sure, their father was a bit of a self-centred, egotistic male but even so, he was their father. Arla tried contemplating what effect being left alone was having on their mother. The last time Arla had been at home his mother had seemed to have a much more sour personality, as if agitated or annoyed about something.

"How do you know our father has other women?" Arla asked.

"I don't know, I just guessed…"
Arla felt slightly relieved to hear it had been a simple guess by his sister. If their father did have other women, things at home would just get worse.
"This is all Ryla's fault, you do realize that?" Yelina said.

Rtas looked up, interested in the conversation all of a sudden.

"Who's Ryla?"

Arla turned to him.

"Ryla is our older brother," Arla said, "he's always away from home for some reason, and sometimes I doubt the truthfulness of those reasons…"

"He's a liar, to be exact," Yelina said, "He hasn't seen our parents ever since he joined up with your lot two years ago. He's becoming almost as bad as our father…He always makes up excuses, never even tries contacting our parents. I think it's affecting our mother, she wasn't herself sometime before I left."

Arla would have to get in contact with his mother, just to see if she was alright. He could see that their family was gradually becoming more and more distant and if he didn't do something soon it could very well tear apart. That was the last thing he needed, a torn up family.

"I'll get in contact with our mother as soon as I can," Arla said. He paused, contemplating what he should say next.

"Maybe I'll take your sister into the bar, she seems to have some time on her hands," Rtas suddenly said. Yelina didn't object to this and Arla didn't have much choice but to say yes. After all, he could tell the pair were interested in each other in some way. "I would just…well, I would like to get to know her better…"

"I think Rtas has a crush on your sister," Kesa said bluntly, not even looking up from what he was drinking. Rtas' face flushed purple but he managed to keep his cool.

"Well, I think going into the bar with Arla's lovely sister is better than staying out here with a bunch of morons like you," Rtas said. He nodded to Yelina and the pair headed towards the entrance to the bar nearby, which sat on a street corner. The elderly Sangheili behind the bar's counter nodded as they entered.

Arla sat thinking about all of what his sister had said, about home and their parents. He could feel the worry inside him, the thoughts about home firmly stuck on his mind. He couldn't push them aside now, they would be stuck there for quite a while. So much, in fact, he doubted he would be able to get to sleep.

"Who wants me to buy them another drink?" Kesa asked, having spent most of the conversation drinking. He certainly sounded like he had been drinking, slurring most of his words as he spoke. Terlas looked up and nodded, he wanted another drink and wasn't about to turn them down if they were being bought by somebody else. It took a moment for Arla to decide on what he should do, telling his friend to buy him one as well. Better to get drunk and fall asleep easier than to not get any sleep at all.

"You seem less of an idiot than the others," the blue-eyed female said as they sat down, Rtas feeling a pang of nervousness. He had never really spoken one-on-one with a female before, excluding family members.

As soon as he had seen Yelina, Arla's sister, the one thing that he had been thinking about was getting to know her better. She was pretty and if he was lucky, he could use his friendship with Arla to get closer to her. So far it had worked, he had managed to convince her to have a drink with him in the bar while Arla had been trying to talk with her.

To Rtas, it sounded like Arla's family life wasn't going to well. His friend had vaguely mentioned his father's neglect and his older brother's habit of staying away from home as much as he could, but preferred not to talk about it much.

"Which ones are the idiots?" Rtas asked, unable to help but grin. Arla's sister certainly seemed the no-nonsense type, tough even. Unless it was just an act to ward of annoying males, although he couldn't really tell.
The bar they were in was quite empty, save for the others sitting outside and a pair of Kig-Yar sitting at a table in the far corner, talking in their bird-like native tongue.

"I don't like Kesa, or Terlas," Yelina said, shifting on the bar stool she was sitting on. She frowned, trying to find a comfortable position.
"These stools aren't very comfortable…"

"Do they have to be?"

She gave a mandible-shrug, indicating that she didn't particularly care. Turning to the elderly Sangheili bartender she caught his attention, about to order a drink when Rtas interrupted her.

"If you want something, I'll pay for it," he said. She looked a little amused at her new friend's generosity but let him buy her what she wanted.

"What don't you like about Kesa?" Rtas asked; he was interested to find out what she thought of the others. At least she hadn't said anything negative about him, which was a bit of a bonus.

"He is too calm and he drinks too much," she said, contradicting her comment on Kesa's drinking by downing half of the bottle of ale she had ordered.

"What about Terlas?"

"I just don't like him," she said, finishing off her bottle without even wincing at the strong taste. Slamming the empty bottle back down on the bench she took a moment to wipe some residue that had gathered on the insides of her mandibles using a napkin, although Rtas took it from her and began wiping her mandibles with it himself.

"Thank you," Yelina said, smiling. Rtas scrunched up the napkin and left it on the bench, feeling a bit pleased with himself. They were silent for a moment before Rtas decided to break the silence.

"What about Arla?" Rtas asked.

"Arla?" She shook her head, chuckling. "He's my brother, what do you want me to say about him?"

"I don't know…"

"Neither do I," she said, cutting him off. She stopped laughing and the pair stared at each other for a moment, Yelina taking a good look at her new friend, Rtas feeling a little nervous about it. She was trying to figure him out, he could tell, trying to determine whether she liked him or not, whether he was worth her time.

"Tell me Rtas," she said, smiling, "what compelled you to bring me in here, just so you and I could have a drink together? I'm sure there's more to it than just that."

Rtas was unsure of what to say, about to start talking but losing track of his words so all that game out was the first syllable of an undetermined word. Yelina looked at him, an amused expression on her face.

"You like me, don't you?"

Rtas didn't know what to say.

"Don't bother answering, I can tell," she said, "I'm an excellent judge of people, and you're fairly easy to read."


She laughed, Rtas laughing with her even though he wasn't sure what was funny.

"I wouldn't worry about it," she said reassuringly. She paused, letting Rtas feel comfortable again.

"I have to say, I do like you Rtas," she said, "how long are you on leave here?"

"We're leaving the day after tomorrow," Rtas replied, feeling a little flushed after her comment, hoping she didn't notice how his face had gone purple.

"Is that all?" She sounded disappointed, although she quickly changed her tone, "well, maybe before then we will get to spend some more time together. I like your company."

Rtas heard himself laughing, more so because he hadn't expected her to say that, although he hadn't wanted to laugh. She just smiled and stood up, Rtas following suit.

"I have to go, otherwise I'll be late for my shift," she said, glancing at the chronometer she wore around her wrist and looking back up at him.

"Maybe I could walk you to where you need to be…"

"I wouldn't bother, Rtas," she said, "There is very little chance I'll get attacked by anyone, besides, if I do, I always make sure I have a blade with me."

Rtas was a little surprised to hear this.

"You carry a blade?"

She nodded, not too troubled by the fact.

"Just a standard energy knife, nothing too fancy," she said. They were both silent after this, once more she spent a few seconds admiring his features, their eyes meeting. Her striking light blue eyes were what got most of his attention and he inexplicably felt himself leaning forward slightly, enough for her to notice.

Rather than tell him to back off she stepped forward and planted her mandibles with his, Rtas gripping her sides as they embraced and kissed. He put a hand to her waist, the other going through an opening in her robes, putting a hand to her abdomen, feeling her smooth skin and the beating of her hearts. His own heart-rate had shot up and he could feel a trace of excitement shoot through him, but this euphoria ended when she pulled away from his grip, smiling weakly.

"I…I have to go now," she said, Rtas uncertain of what to say. He did manage to say goodbye as she turned around and headed out of the bar, as if embarrassed by what had just happened.

Disappointed, Rtas sat back down on his stool, noticing how the elderly Sangheili bartender had been watching with slight interest. Rtas looked at him and the old man chuckled.

"Would you like another drink?" He asked. Rtas nodded, busy thinking about whether he would actually see Yelina again or that would be the first and last time he would be seeing her during his stay in town. Somehow he doubted that would be the last of her he would be seeing, but until then he could spend his time drinking.

"Where's Sysha?"

Hours later the squad had gathered in a large living area which was connected to their apartments, being on the seventh floor of the apartment building. The large suite also came with two bathrooms and a kitchen, although there was a lack of a dining area for some odd reason. Arla figured the designers of the rooms had actually run out of space to fit a dining area, so the living room doubled as a sort of dining area, although that meant dropped bits of food tended to ruin the furniture and get stuck in the carpet.

Major Kalara stood in front of the seated squad members, a datapad in hand, having called everyone here for not so much a meeting but a gathering. The one squad member that was missing was Sysha, who was probably still in his apartment with that newfound girlfriend of his. Of course, nobody was going to tell Kalara that.

Rtas had been strangely quiet ever since he had left the bar, Arla having noticed how Yelina had left looking a bit flustered. He could gather that something had happened between the two but he couldn't work out what. He didn't particularly care at this time, his head swimming a little after all the alcohol he had digested, unable to focus too well on the one thing. Kalara kept shifting in and out of focus where he stood while he trying to get an answer from everyone else about Sysha's whereabouts.

"Maybe someone should check his room, sir?" Kesa suggested, Kalara looking annoyed at how he hadn't thought of this earlier. He turned to Arla.

"Arla, go and find Sysha," Kalara said, "I prefer it if everyone was here before I started. There have been a few complications concerning the upcoming mission…"

"What is actually going to happen in this mission?" One of the Minors, Kylessa, asked. Kylessa was one of the more quiet, but more inquisitive, of the Minors in the squad, always asking questions but otherwise not having too much of an input.

"I will be telling you that once Sysha arrives," Kalara said, "I specifically called all of you here so I could tell you what's going to happen, as well as tell you about a few other things…" He trailed off, turning back to Arla.

"What are you waiting for?" He asked the young Minor, "Find Sysha."
The Major sounded a little annoyed at the delay so Arla stood up, done his best in order to get focused and started for Sysha's room, which was at the end of a short hallway which the living room broke off into.
Standing by the door for a moment, Arla couldn't hear anything in the room beyond. Knocking on the door, he didn't get a response, so trying the panel next to it he found the door to be unlocked, allowing it to slide open and reveal the dimly lit bedroom beyond.


There was some movement on the bed as a weary looking Sysha sat up. As he did so, the large set of bumps under the sheets next to him shifted and there was the sound of a rather tired female groaning. Sysha saw who it was standing in the doorway and smiled.

"Arla, what is it?" He asked.

"The Major wants you out in the living area in the next few minutes," Arla said, noticing Jirilas, the female from earlier that day, stick her head out from underneath the sheets and look towards him.

"He does? What for?"

"He's telling us about the upcoming mission," Arla said, "so I would recommend you get dressed, get your girlfriend to leave and come out here before the Major gets more annoyed."

Sysha nodded, understanding his little predicament. Looking down at Jirilas, he gave her a smile but got straight to the point.

"I'm sorry, my sweet," he said, "but you are going to have to leave."
Arla didn't bother waiting around, he simply closed the door and went back out to where the others were waiting. The Major glared at him for an answer to whether Sysha would be coming out or not.

"He will be out in a few minutes," Arla said, sitting back down. They had to wait about five minutes before Jirilas came out, dressed in her robes and trying not to look at the Major, who seemed to be annoyed. She exited the apartment, seconds before Sysha came out of his room, dressed in his armour and acting as if nothing had happened.

"Did I miss anything?" He asked as he sat himself down in a seat behind Arla. The Major shook his head in his usual fashion, not bothering to answer. Instead, he got straight to the point.

"Now that everyone is here," he said, "I can finally begin to tell you about the little operation that we will be part of in the next few days. Before I begin, there is someone I would like to introduce." He paused, gesturing towards the kitchen door.

"You can come out now!" He exclaimed.

It was a surprise to see a young looking female in the robes of a medical officer emerge after opening the door, taking a look at each Minor in turn. Arla's eyes met with hers, she smiled but he looked away shyly, not having had expected this.

Looking back at her he could see she must have only been about twenty or twenty-one, seeing that she wasn't a full medical officer but a combat medic (the insignia on the uniform wasn't too different). Some of the other Minors seemed interested in her presence, although when he looked at her their eyes met again, Arla unable to help but smile. Her emerald green eyes were what kept getting his attention for they were beautiful and bright.

"She has been assigned as our combat medic," Kalara said, "and none of you try and…well, flirt with her; that's because she has been told that getting involved with any one of you will make her get a transfer."

He paused, allowing her to sit down in an empty chair close to him.

"Her name is Lirana, she's only new to her job so she might be a bit nervous. She's not only for us but for the other three squads which will be assigned to our operating area in the upcoming mission. Each squad does have its own medic but it doesn't matter if we mix the squads up a little," Kalara explained, "she is actually my…" He trailed off, trying to remember how she was related to him. "She is my brother's daughter, and since my brother knew about my posting he decided to send her here to be put under my supervision. I just had to go to a spaceport in town today and pick her up."

Lirana sat quietly, looking at the young squad of males in front of her. Arla couldn't help but stare at her, admiring her slender frame from where he sat. This must have been the first time in his life he had felt some genuine attraction to a woman, although he doubted he would get very far with it. She was their medic after all and as Kalara had said, a transfer was what she would get if she got intimately involved with any of them."

"Now to get on with the mission details," Kalara said, putting away the datapad he had been holding which most likely contained information regarding the mission, "it seems for your first proper assignment, you and three other squads from the Relinquished Light will be travelling to a world on the very edges of Covenant space. It isn't populated from what we can tell, so it should be a very simple matter of finding what we've been assigned to search for."

"And what's that?" Kesa asked.

"We've been assigned as the advance landing party for an operation concerning Forerunner relics, some very important artefacts to be more exact, that have come to the attention of one of the Prophets," Kalara said, "all we have to do is find the area where the Forerunner structure is believed to be, secure it and wait for the excavation team."
There were some unimpressed scoffs from some of the Minors. Arla didn't like the sound of it, to him it seemed to be a rather uninteresting mission which would be, most probably, a waste of time.

"Is that it?" He asked.

"As far as I've been told, that's it," Kalara said. He didn't sound too pleased with it himself. "I know how it sounds, how it's a rather dull guard mission, but there may be promotions in it for all of you. After all, one of the Hierarchs themselves wanted us to organize the expedition."

There was a brief silence, Lirana busy taking a good look at her fingers and then her uniforms, trying to see if there were any noticeable creases.

"I gather the Relinquished Light will be the only ship sent?" Kesa asked. Kalara nodded in reply.

"You gather correctly, Kesa," Kalara said, "there shouldn't be any sort of enemy presence of the world, but we have been told to be on the lookout for survivors of a transport ship that crashed there many years ago."

He paused, realized his little mistake in what he had just said.

"Not survivors, but descendents," Kalara said, "apparently, about two hundred years ago, a Sangheili vessel carrying about fifty settlers disappeared in that region of space. It is very likely that if there were survivors they would have built some sort of camp on the world and tried to live out their lives as best they could. If this is the case we may very well find descendents of these settlers, although that is unlikely."

"Unlikely, sir?" Arla asked. Kalara didn't sound too sure of what he was saying himself but was obviously obligated to say it.

"It is a desert world," the Major explained, "with no visible sources of water. It will be very hot on the surface, which is why I doubt there were any survivors of this long ago ship crash. Those that would have survived probably perished in the harsh conditions of the planet."

"It Sounds like a nice place," Sysha said. Kalara just frowned at the young Minor before continuing.

"That is all for now," the Major said, "you'll learn more on the way there. In the meantime, be sure to make Lirana feel at home. I'm sure she would like to get to know some of you."

Lirana looked up, gave a shy smile to the Minors, her eyes meeting with Arla's once more. The Minor had decided he would talk to her before any of the others did, so as the Major turned around and left the room, he stood up, walked towards her and invited her to come and have a drink with him at the bar on the ground floor, the very one Arla and his friends had been sitting outside of earlier. Lirana, to him, seemed like a nice enough female, although she was quite shy. Rtas did decide to accompany them as well, although Arla did notice how solemn Rtas seemed.

The elevator trip down to the ground floor was uneventful, although Arla did manage to introduce himself to her. Lirana did introduce herself, sounding a bit nervous while doing it.

Arla didn't know it right now, but tonight for him would be another long night, spending hours at the bar until late, talking with the squad's new medic. The pair would fall asleep in the bar, their heads resting on the bench in front of them, only to find that morning was mere hours away.

Note: Sorry about chapter length, I just didn't think cutting this in half did any good for its flow. Other than that, I hope you enjoyed it!

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Leon
Date: 25 November 2008, 5:45 am

May 15th, 2526
UNSC Military Complex, Highland Mountains, Reach

Morning sunlight filtered through the gaps in the blinds over the windows, casting down streaks of yellow and orange onto the cheap metal desk, providing some illumination to the small meeting room, the very room primarily used for psyche-evaluations in the complex.
An ashtray lay close to one side, the stubs of old cigarettes lying against the sides of the glass tray, black and grey ash having gathered inside it. One of those cigarette stubs was only recently added, the end still glowing with orange heat, a thin trail of smoke wafting from the end, only to be filtered away by the room's venting system.

That very venting system was providing some heat for the otherwise cold room, a typical morning on this part of Reach often brought close to zero temperatures which often carried over into buildings such as this. The heating system itself was unreliable in this part of the complex and had heated the room to such a degree that the business-suit clad figure sitting at the end of the desk, close to the ashtray, found himself sweating at the brow.

It was cold outside, hot inside, giving the man a very annoyed expression as he mulled over these thoughts. If he stayed in here for much longer he would have to get someone to turn down the whole heating system, if he went outside for a break he would probably freeze solid. Both were equally inconvenient.

Contrary to what someone like him should be doing, he felt the craving for another cigarette, taking a moment to pause and remove the package from his jacket pocket, flipping open the lid and picking out a reasonable looking cigarette, sticking it into his mouth and putting away the packet. Picking up his box of matches from the table, he scraped a single match against the side, put the pinpoint of flame to the tip of his cigarette and puffed away at it, feeling some more heat wash through him. Maybe this hadn't been the best thing to do; he was just beginning to feel hotter.

Unlike what the large, shaven man sitting across from him was wearing, the cigarette smoking man was wearing a navy blue business suit and white shirt, the matching blue tie hanging loosely from his undone collar, giving him a very unkempt look. Hell, it was hot; he didn't have to look as tidy as he usually did.

Not many people tended to think he was a doctor, for that matter most didn't think he was a doctor well versed in psychology, hired by the UNSC to run the standard psyche-evaluations on some of its soldiers. The way he smoked, the way he looked even, didn't seem to have a very "doctoresque" feel about it. Wearing a name badge often helped, but he never really needed one. Everyone in this complex, which he had been hired to work at only a few months back, knew who he was.

The soldiers that came through here for basic testing were hardly ever loose cannons; most had never fired a shot in anger before. They were all mostly green, fresh out of boot camp, stuck in a time when the only wars being fought were against damned rebels on far out worlds. Who cared what happened out there? He didn't, for all it mattered to him the rebels could take over, that would save a lot of marine a lot of trouble. The only people who cared were the higher-up UN folk, worried that if they lost the Outer Colonies they would lose all the resources from those worlds and the economy would be ruined. To the doctor, this didn't really affect him: he would still have a home, a job. Problems out on the Outer Colonies didn't do shit.

Today had begun as a rather uneventful day; he had been put down to give some of the more special soldiers tests, starting with evaluations of their mental states. This meant he would be stuck in his office for hours, questioning soldier after soldier, trying to determine if they weren't loose cannons or not.

The devices laid out on the middle of the table did all manner of things, although most of the readouts meant nothing to him unless there was something out of the ordinary going on. All these devices were linked to the person being questioned by a handy wristband with wires running from it and to the machines.

The devices themselves measured heart rate, read brain waves and watched eye movements. Some of the devices were just there to please the people who ran these soldiers, to make sure they were thinking straight; others actually did something useful.

The almost uninterested, chronically smoking doctor squinted in the dim light at the large man sitting at the end of the tables, sitting with a neutral expression on his face, clearly waiting for the doctor to begin. Well, the big guy could wait for another minute for all the doctor cared, as soon as he had finished enjoying his cigarette he would start evaluating this soldier.

The soldiers that the doctor had begun to interview today were different to the green, freshman-types that he was used to. These guys (and girls, he had noticed a few female names on the list sitting in front of him) had actually seen some combat, more than others although they were still mainly new to the whole mission and combat thing. Fighting rebels had been the majority of what these people had done, so to aid the doctor in his evaluations, a large stack of printed folders and a few datapads, each of these things containing information on each of whom he had to question, were lying on the desk on his left. A lot of it was stuff he hadn't even bothered to read, the information being detailed descriptions of the person, their histories (both combat and medical) and anything else that even remotely related to these soldiers.
However, there had been a few things he had had to read up beforehand, just so he was familiar with just whom these people, if "people" was even the right word, were and where they had come from.
He knew that calling them soldiers was too general a descriptor; "Spartans" is what the documents called them. Whoever had come up with that name hadn't been too creative, he thought, from where he sat he could see the man sitting across from him didn't look at all related to the Spartans of ancient Greece.

Rather, the man sitting across from the doctor was a big, imposing figure, highly attentive, neutrality on his features and obviously disciplined well. He could see that maybe the people in charge of creating these "Spartans" had chosen the name because it brought up in one's mind a big, imposing warrior, which was just what these people were.

He had read up on the history of the so-called "Spartan-program", the scheme to train a breed of genetically and bio-enhanced soldiers to fight the enemies of the United Nations and its affiliates (if it had any, he wasn't too sure about these "affiliates" when he thought about them some more").

What had surprised him about this whole scheme had been the history behind it. Six, seven and eight year olds, selectively chosen for their physical and mental attributes, had been taken from their homes and trained at that age. Their parents would never have noticed what had happened, simple clones replacing their beloved children, only for these clones to die from neurological disorders a few years later. The doctor couldn't believe the nerve some military folk had, taking kids from their parents and raising them to be near-unstoppable killers. Looking at the man across from him now, he couldn't even determine if the tough looking, muscular soldier had even been a child once. They had been conditioned in such a way, both physically and mentally, that the only lives they knew were those of the military.

The doctor cleared his throat, stubbing his cigarette inside the glass ash-tray, able to smell the stench of burnt tobacco. A thought occurred to him that sitting here with his tie half-undone and collar open, smoking a few cigarettes probably wasn't giving these "Spartans" a very impressive look of him, but it didn't matter. All he had to do was question all forty-something (or was it fifty? He couldn't remember) of them and he could get home, make dinner and watch some TV.

"Spartan 073," he said in a dull sounding tone, reading the name from the list he had in front of him, "otherwise known as 'Leon', am I correct?"

These Spartans didn't even have full names, merely a number and first name. This made them seem even less human than before, although the doctor reminded himself that he shouldn't let this kind of thing get him biased against these elite soldiers.

The Spartan, Leon, looked up at him attentively, although the man failed to give much of an expression, still keeping the neutral gaze he had had ever since he walked into the room.

"I'm Doctor Theodore Milliner," the doctor said, giving the Spartan a glance and trying to sound interested, "I'll be giving you a sort of psyche-evaluation today, with the help of the machines on the table in front of you and some carefully constructed hypothetical questions. These will test your response times, the way your body reacts and the way you answer."

Pausing for a moment, he noticed the Spartan give a bit of an uncertain grimace.

"It may sound a bit daunting, but trust me, it is very hard to fail," the doctor said, giving the Spartan a slight grin, "so, if you could put the available wristband on, we can get started. This should only take five minutes, maybe ten depending on how we go."

The Spartan nodded, picking up the metal wristband with the many wires going from it to the machines on the table and clipped it around his right hand, frowning as he did so. A streak of light caught the Spartan's face, revealing blue eyes and light brown hair, although it had been shaved down so the scalp was quite visible through the many short strands of hair.

The doctor took a look at the machines on the table which had whirred into life, beeping and clicking as they began taking readings, an air sampling device on one of them breathing hollowly, as if it were alive. That particular machine would take samples of the air around the Spartan, reading the amount of pheromones and sweat, as well as anything else secreted from the Spartan's body.

"Okay," the doctor said, making sure each machine was working well and the readings were reasonable, "but before we get started, I just want to let you know that it was Halsey's idea to do this, not mine. I don't enjoy it and you probably won't as well."

The Spartan didn't reply, sitting with a bland expression, the machines whirring and clicking and breathing, creating a sort of electronic symphony.

The doctor flipped a page on the clipboard in front of him, revealing the many questions he had written down prior to the tests, just so he wouldn't have to make them up on the spot. Some were fairly dodgy but were enough to give readings on the state of the Spartan's mind.

"Okay, let's start with a few of the more obvious questions," the doctor said, unable to help but glance from the corner of his eye at the surveillance camera up in the corner of the room, filming everything it saw and recording everything it heard. It would take many viewings of what it recorded to determine the results, as well as reviewing the readings on the machines.

"Picture yourself, at say, a coastline of some sort, with seabirds flying up high, the sky blue and slightly cloudy, the sun shining down on the white sand of the beach," the doctor said, unable to help but think that these questions seemed a little stupid. Hell, they would give him the readings he needed.

The Spartan sat there listening, although he didn't even manage a slight nod to imply that he was acknowledging what the doctor was telling him.

"It's a common fact at that beach that the sea tortoises there are easy prey for the many seabirds that try to catch and eat them, and so one day, perchance, you come across a small, most likely young, tortoise that has rolled onto its back. It is obvious it cannot roll back onto its feet and thus will make easy prey for the birds flying overhead. What do you do?"

The Spartan seemed uncertain, taking a moment to glance down at his lap before looking back towards the doctor.

"What do I do about what?"

The doctor avoided the temptation of rolling his eyes but did manage to let out a slight sigh.

"The tortoise," the doctor replied, "do you help it or leave it?"

"I would…" The Spartan paused to consider his answer. "I would help it…I would make a difference in that tortoises life, doctor."

The doctor nodded. Sure, that was the typical answer but he had sensed a slight hesitation in the Spartan's response, as if the man had been unsure. The Spartan shifted where he sat, a sweat appearing on his brow, which was happening to the doctor as well, special thanks to the unstable heating system.

"Okay, next question," the doctor said, "something a little more up your alley.

"You're alone in a forest, which is deep inside Insurrectionist territory," the doctor explained, "you end up being ambushed by a superior number of rebels, who are also well-armed and well-trained. The rebel in charge gives you a chance to surrender. Do you?"

The Spartan dwelled on this question for a moment, his face changing slightly to that of annoyance, as if he didn't like the question.

"I would kill them all," the Spartan replied bluntly.

"Really? You would prefer to die than to surrender?" The doctor made sure he didn't sound surprised, the last few Spartans he had questioned had given the same sort of answer, "they have superior numbers and firepower. They could easily get the upper hand."

"I would do as much damage to them as I could before they killed me or rendered me unable to fight back," the Spartan said, a slight grin forming on his face. One of the machines picked up a jump in the Spartan's heart-rate, the machine beeping loudly.

The doctor wasn't sure of what to think of it and ignored it for now, assuming that the Spartan got a kick out of killing rebels, as many regular marines he had questioned in the past did.

"What do you think about the war against the rebels?" the doctor asked, "do you think it's worth fighting? Or do you think that maybe the UN is using you and your comrades to suppress attempts for independence on the Outer Colonies for their own ends?"

This question seemed to have the Spartan confused for a moment, the muscular soldier looking down at the table, a hand going to his lap, scratching at his thigh through the regulation trousers. Leon looked up, gave the doctor a slight grin and prepared to answer. More of the machines started giving out erratic readings and it was then that the doctor realized there was something wrong with this Spartan's mind, as if he had dug too deep into the Spartan's mind.

"I hate those fucking rebels," the Spartan said, "and I also hate annoying doctors like you." His right hand came back up from his lap, holding a large, black metal shape. Before the doctor had a chance to react, had a chance to call for the security guards outside, there was a sudden crack, deafening almost, as the heavy duty pistol went off, a white flash filling the doctor's vision.

The first shot knocked the doctor and his swivel chair backwards, letting the chair slide against the floor, the doctor getting bumped forward slightly as they both hit the back wall hard. The second shot was what killed the doctor, spraying blood onto the plaster wall behind him and leaving a large gaping hole in his chest, just above where the first shot had hit.

Seconds later a pair of security guards had barged into the room, but both were easy prey for the Spartan, the first guard getting grabbed by the head, his neck being twisted and snapped as easy as a breadstick. The second guard received a shot to the gut before he was knocked flat onto the floor by the unstably minded Spartan. In the next five minutes, the Spartan had single-handedly slaughtered four more security guards and two MPs.

April 23rd, 2526
Marine base on KV9-X7

As soon as the Spartan on screen had shot the second guard, General Richard McDougall had switched off the recorded video and mulled over what he had just seen inside his head.

Wiping the sweat from his brow and picking up the remote for the air conditioner, he fiddled with the controls, trying to get a reasonable amount of cool air billowing out of the unit positioned in the corner of the command tent to cancel out the heat that had filled the tent.
Damn, the General hated days like these.

The tent itself was large, his desk at one end and all sorts of personal effects scattered around, more in an attempt to show off to anybody who walked inside than to fill the space inside the tent. Outside, it was yet another scorcher of a day on KV9-X7, sunlight filtering through the gaps in the window panels on the sides of the tent. Temporary rubber flooring squished beneath the General's boots and an almost annoying voice kept talking at him from behind, but that voice was the least of his worries about now.

The General had been on KV9-X7 from day one, overseeing the operation to eradicate the OCPLF rebel forces from the planet, the very forces which were led by the traitorous Colonel Timothy Hanley, a man the General had met a few times in the past before the Colonel decided a career in the UNSC military wasn't for him. He had been somewhat surprised to discover the Colonel was the leader of the well-armed, well-trained and pretty much well-everything OCPLF forces stationed on KV9-X7. He had never thought that someone as sensible as Hanley, nicknamed "Bright Eyes" by most people because he always had a bright, optimistic look about him, especially in his eyes, would turn his back on the UNSC and become the leader of a dangerous rebel group.

Then again, public opinion was swaying in favour of the rebels, most likely because most people thought the UN wanted the rebels gone because they threatened the interests the UN had in the Outer Colonies. The General, of course, was merely doing his job and didn't let rumours get in his way of things.

The landing base here which the General had set up with the marines when they had first arrived here was only a small affair, a guarded and fenced compound with its own runway (necessary for plane-type aircraft) and landing pad, with a few hangars in the mix as well. The runway would have been a lot of help if they actually had any craft that used it; the UNSC had become too stingy to lend them anything.
The Rear Admiral in charge of funding this operation from Earth hadn't been able to get much good stuff for the General, including necessities like reinforcements and heavy duty supplies.

So here he was, the General stuck running about three-hundred and seventy marines and other assorted military personnel when they didn't even have enough ammunition to share around. The lack of necessary supplies wasn't doing anything good for morale, which had been decreasing of late, no matter how hard the General tried to get things sorted.

Dressed in his green General's uniform lined with the necessary cooling materials to provide great insulation and keep him from heating up like a kebab on a barbecue in the thick uniform, Richard McDougall was a man of medium statue, just over six feet tall, his dark brown hair cut into a neat buzz cut and lined with grey hairs, the General being in his early fifties. Standing by his desk and frowning at what he had just watched unfold on the monitor at the wall, having played a surveillance tape that had come with the file concerning the Spartan, the General was having a mighty hard time thinking of what he should do concerning this Spartan, considering that very same man who had shot the doctor and gone on to kill a bunch of Reach security personnel was going to be arriving at the base within the next hour.

"I'm telling you, General, we can't allow that fucker to come here," the voice from behind the General spoke with an angered tone, tinted with worry, "he could kill us all…"

"I doubt that, Parker," the General said, removing the frown from his face and turning around, grinning at the African-American man standing behind him, "If he tries anything, our men will be on him in seconds."

Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Parker didn't look convinced, standing his ground and shaking his head. The man had lines of age in his face, a greying beard and short, greying hair, topped off with dark brown eyes. He looked like a stern character, the way he never seemed to smile, but the General had known the Lieutenant-Colonel for some time and knew that he was actually a good man to be friends with.

"This guy…this Spartan," Parker said the last word with some noticeable distaste, "he's crazy. Couldn't you see that, the way he went nuts and shot the doctor…"

The General shrugged, he really didn't see too much of a problem with them having the Spartan as an able member of their combat force. After all, he wouldn't be the only one they would be getting…

"No need to get your balls in a knot," the General replied with a slight grin, "this 'Spartan' as those folks over at Reach call them, they are very able fighters, almost having been born to kill…"

Parker gave him a surprised grimace, as if he thought the General was crazy.

"Have you even read the files on this whole 'Spartan' program?" parker asked him, sounding a little agitated, "They weren't 'born to kill'. They were taken from their homes when they were only…what? Six? Seven?" Parker didn't seem to like this whole idea of taking kids from their families and training them to be killers. Not many people probably did think very highly of it, hence the whole program was confidential to public. The General and his marines had been told about the Spartans only because they were getting two of them to complement their dwindling combat effectiveness and hopefully boost morale.

"That is an absolutely despicable thing to do," Parker said with distaste, "taking kids from their parents and homes and training them to be adept at killing things? Whose idea was that?"

"War can often make desperate things happen," the General said solemnly, thinking about all the things that he had seen during his time fighting the rebels, most of these memories being rather bad ones, "so that's why this program was thought up. The UNSC was desperate…"

"Desperate for what?" Parker still wasn't convinced and probably would never be convinced, being as stubborn as he is. "They want a bunch of unnatural soldiers to do their dirty work? Is that it?"
The General shook his head but kept smiling. He always enjoyed a good argument, especially with Parker since that guy was so damn hard to sway into your opinion.

"General, do you realize how many of these Spartans died or became crippled after they received their enhancements?" Parker asked, although he knew the General knew all the details and was merely asking the question for effect, "Almost half of them died or became crippled. How inhumane is that, altering these people just so they're better fighters? It's such a waste of life…"

"But it's worthwhile," the General replied, bringing himself out of his self-induced trip down memory lane and turning to Parker, who didn't looked swayed in his argument.

"Really? Do you think so?"

"Did you read the files on previous operations?" The General asked, "There aren't many, but did you notice how they had an almost perfect combat record?"

Parker frowned, still unconvinced.

"General, people tell me I have a near perfect combat record," the Lieutenant-Colonel said, "so, you know, it's not exactly news to me…"

The General rolled his eyes. Parker always seemed to have some sort of answer.

"Parker, a group of these Spartans single-handedly captured Colonel Robert Watts from inside his highly secure rebel base which was inside a goddamn asteroid," the General said, keeping his grin, "so maybe people with that sort of record would do well here on KV9-X7. Hell, maybe they could fly in and capture Colonel Hanley from right under his force's noses…"

Parker managed an intentionally fake laugh.

"Yeah, and when pigs start flying out of my ass I'll start eating that bacon," he said jokingly, quickly reverting to a frown. The General shrugged, stepping around to the seat at his desk, pulling it out from underneath the desk and sitting down. He opened a drawer, withdrew a yellow cardboard box intricately decorated with illustrated leaves and other nature type things and flipped it open. Sliding the box to the middle of the desk with one hand, he looked up at Parker, offering him whatever was inside the box.

"Would you like a chocolate?" The General asked. Parker looked uncertain, as if the sudden change of mood had put him off-guard.


"A chocolate, Parker," the General said, sterner this time, "would you like one?"

"What type of chocolate?"

The General shook his head.

"A yes or no answer would have sufficed…"

"What type of chocolate?"

"All kinds, actually…" The General paused, reached into the box with his other hand and took out a rounded, flat-bottomed chocolate about the size of his thumb. Putting it into his mouth whole, he took a moment chewing it before speaking, sounding a bit muffled as he tucked the remnants of it to one side of his mouth so he could speak without making a mess.

"That was caramel with hazelnut…" The General said; he swallowed whatever was left of it. He shook the box with his other hand invitingly. "So, do you want one or not, Mr. Sourpuss?"

Parker shook his head.

"How about we quit talking about chocolates and get on with what we're meant to be talking about?" Parker asked, raising an eyebrow, waiting for an answer.

"But my sister sent me these…" The General began, only to be cut off.


The General closed the box reluctantly and slid it to one side of his desk so it was out of the way, rolling his eyes again.

"You want to hear more about these Spartans, then?" The General asked, giving the fingernails on his left hand a close inspection, not bothering to look up at Parker until he was done.

"I know as much as you do, sir—"

"I doubt it," the General said bluntly, interrupting the Lieutenant-Colonel mid-sentence, "did you hear about that business with Harvest?"

"Harvest?" Parker obviously had no clue what the business with Harvest had been, indicating that he hadn't read all of the files supplied to them by the people who organized the Spartans.

The General frowned, opening another drawer in his desk and taking out a datapad, sliding it across the desk towards Parker who snatched it up in one fluid movement.

"You obviously didn't read that file," the General said, "because if you had, that would have been the first thing you brought up. You know why?"

Parker skimmed through the information on the datapad, giving a disbelieving look as he did so.

"What? Alien contact?"

"Yes, my friend, alien contact," the General said, leaning forwards where he sat, "you know, contact with aliens…"

"I know what you're talking about, General," Parker said, more or less to get the General to stop talking, "but I find it hard to believe what's on this datapad."

"Everything's on there, from what happened to Harvest to the involvement of the Spartans last November, which included contact with an alien ship," the General said, taking on a more serious tone of voice, "because you see, these aliens aren't the friendly types most people would expect. They're bad ass types, responsible for torching the farming colony of Harvest and killing the three million people living on it."

Parker looked aghast for a moment, although he didn't seem to sure what he should think, or say for that matter.

"They torched Harvest?"

"You bet your ass they did," the General replied bluntly, "they have technology far superior to ours, which makes them one major threat to the security of the human race. You ought to read up on what's on that datapad, maybe then I won't have to tell you all about it."

Parker nodded, pocketing the datapad and then turning to the General with a worried expression on his face.

"Why haven't I heard of this before?" Parker asked.

"Because, it's been covered up, something which the United Nations Space Command does extremely well," the General said, nodding to add emphasis on his point, "if this got out to the public, we would have panic all around, especially on the Outer Colonies which are the most vulnerable. Hell, if these OCPLF rebels knew about these aliens, maybe they would stop fighting us and start fighting the aliens. Fight against humankind's common enemy, if you know what I mean."


"So far, it seems we're fighting a phoney war," the General continued, "ever since last November, next to nothing has happened between us and these aliens, allowing us to concentrate on more immediate matters, such as these damn rebels."

Parker nodded again, listening as the General ranted on about whatever came to his mind.

"These rebels, Parker, they're fanatics," the General said, "most ain't afraid of dying, as long as it gets them closer to their goal of independence. Usually we would be calling them Insurrectionists but it has occurred to me that these guys aren't your usual Innie. These guys, they are so much more organized, so much better at what they do, they deserve to be put into a separate group."

Parker frowned.

"What group would that be, General?"

"Assholes," the General replied, grinning. He let out a bit of a laugh when he saw Parker's expression change from the frown to one of bewilderment.

"Parker, have you noticed how our men here are low on their fighting spirit and bored with being stuck on a shithole of a world such as this one?"

"I think so…"

"What do you mean, 'you think so'?" The General asked, sounding a little annoyed at Parker's uncertainty, "it's either 'yes' or 'no'. Christ Parker, sometimes I wonder how you survive here."

Before Parker could say something to combat the General's mostly unserious remark (the General was smiling when he said it), the middle-aged man had started speaking again.

"We need these Spartans, Parker," the General said, "even if one is a little crazy. The other one, the female one, she'll be keeping him under

"You think that'll work?"

The General shrugged, he didn't seem to care too much.

"I hope it does."

A silence fell across the room as the General sat thinking about what he had just said and Parker stood trying to work out what he should say next. The silence ended when the General brought up something else, something he had never heard of before.

"Parker, I need you to organize two tents," the General said, "one for five people and one VIP tent."

Parker raised an eyebrow.

"What for?"

The General grinned.

"We're not only getting Spartans," he said with some amusement, "we're getting five Shortsword pilots and their aircraft. Five, Parker (the General held up one pen hand to make the amount of five with his four fingers and a thumb) can you believe that?"

"You never mentioned this before…"

"I know, it slipped my mind," the General said, although he didn't seem to be fussed about it too much, "they won't be arriving until sometime after our Spartans arrive, but I want the tents ready for them…"

"Hang on a minute," Parker said, interrupting the General, "you said two tents, one for five and one for some VIP. Who's the VIP?"

The General thought about this for a moment, nodding to himself as he remembered what he had been talking about concerning the VIP.

"Major Lance Kilgore, that famous Shortsword pilot, is coming down as well," the General said, "we need to make him feel right at home. He's bringing along a camera crew as well to film his exploits, so make sure you have a tent prepared for them as well, eh?"

Now it was Parker's turn to roll his eyes, although he did salute and look down the General with a casual expression.

"I'll see you later," he said, turning around and leaving the tent. Happy with what had just occurred, the General sat back in his chair and took a moment to reach over and grab the box of chocolates sitting on his desk, opening it and reaching into it, grabbing another rounded, flat-bottomed chocolate but with a slightly different design on the top than the last one he had eaten earlier. Putting it in his mouth, it was easy to discern what flavour this one was.

"Pineapple flavoured filling," he said to himself, "my favourite." As he sat chewing, he took some time to admire the interior of his tent, noticing the old United Nations flag that was hung up in the far corner. One other thing that caught his eye was the small sand-coloured lizard with the prickly thorns on its back, much like the thorny devil lizard from Earth but slightly different. The lizard was staying motionless on a metal crate stacked by the corner and remained that way for about another minute while the General sat watching it from his desk.

What uninteresting creatures, the General thought, the damn thing wasn't even moving. It did move when the door of the tent slid open, the lizard hurrying for the space behind the crate to hide from the sight of the sudden interlopers that had invaded its domain.

Looking towards the two figures that had stepped inside, the General managed another smile.

"My favourite marine, for more reasons than one!" He exclaimed as he saw the young, light-brown haired woman approach his desk, followed by the smiling Corporal hanging back at the far end of the tent.

"What brings you out from your patrol, Lyssa?" The General asked, looking up at the 2nd Lieutenant, "something happen?"

Lyssa had never been one to smile often and so kept a dull expression as she approached the General's desk, throwing a datapad onto the wooden desk so that it caught the General's attention for a moment.

"Not exactly," Lyssa replied casually, "I couldn't say that anything really exciting happened…"

"But the armoured convoy was on its way right there…"

"They didn't come," she replied, "the only contact we had with any sort of rebel force was some sissy-ass scout that decided to poke his nose out at the other end of the clearing we were guarding. I took care of him, searched his pockets and found that datapad."

The General nodded, listening to what the Lieutenant had to say, taking the datapad with one hand while reaching into his box of chocolates with the other. The datapad looked like an older model, battered and scratched with age but otherwise still working. It seemed to be displaying some sort of map, and Lyssa had helpfully zoomed it in on a certain point of interest.

"What's this?" The General asked, looking up at the Lieutenant. She had been here on KV9-X7 from day one, as the General had been. He had gotten to know her for her somewhat bad-ass attitude and ability to get any job he gave her done. Which was why she was his "favourite marine", although being the only woman on the planet in the marines also had helped her reach this status with the General.

The Corporal, Harry Walther, hung back at the other end of the tent, letting Lyssa do the talking while he stood playing with his hopefully unloaded sidearm. That guy was the idiot of Lyssa's squad, even the General knew that, but even a fool could tell that having spent so much time in Lyssa's squad the man had developed a liking for the female squad leader. The General could see it in the way he was eyeing Lyssa from behind while he twirled the pistol around in his hand like some Wild West gunslinger, humming quietly.

"There's a map on that datapad," Lyssa explained, taking off her NCO cap and running a hand across her sweat coated brow. Being out in the desert for hours on end did take its toll on the body, the General could tell. For one thing, she smelt of sweat, as did the Corporal, although the Corporal was considerably worse in the body odour department.

"I figured that out, Lieutenant," the General said. He used his other hand to hold out the box of chocolates, shaking it invitingly, as he had done with Parker when he had been inside the tent.


"What type of chocolate?" Lyssa asked, peering into the box from where she stood.

"All kinds," the General said.

Lyssa shook her head.

"Not right now..."

"What about the Corporal?" The General gazed over to the Corporal who had been intently gazing at Lyssa's backside from where he stood. He looked up when he had heard his rank said, ceasing his twirling of the pistol.

"Somebody call me?" He asked.

"You want a chocolate?" The General asked. The Corporal looked interested, gazing towards the box.

"What type?"

"What type?" The General shook his head, rephrasing the Corporal's question, "maybe you should come over here and find out."
Corporal Walther shook his head, not interested in the offer.

"No thanks," he said.

Taking the box back and placing it on the side of his desk, the General took himself one more chocolate as he took a good examination of the map stored on the datapad. After about a minute he looked back up towards Lyssa, who had taken out a water canteen and was downing its contents with a relived expression.

"So, what exactly am I looking at here?" The General asked, putting the datapad down. Lyssa put her canteen away, taking a moment to answer, looking a little flustered.

"There's an OCPLF supply and vehicle depot a fair distance north of here," Lyssa said, "I was thinking you would be interested in doing something about it."

"You left your guard duty just to tell me this?" The General asked, frowning.

Lyssa shrugged.

"Is there something wrong with that, sir? The rest of my squad is still out there…"

The General smiled.

"Don't get worried about me getting pissed off," he said cheerfully, "I'm glad you told me this. Any old excuse to get out of the sun, eh?"
Lyssa nodded in agreement, managing a weak smile.

"Well, that's good, real good," the General said, "because it just so happens that today we're actually receiving some proper reinforcements. I'm sure you heard my talk about the Spartans the other night, am I right?"

"Yes, sir, I was listening," Lyssa replied. Of course you were, the General thought, you always listened.

"Well, the two we managed to get are arriving today," the General continued, "and might very well arrive in the next ten minutes. One of them is a bit of a crazy, though, so we managed to get a squad-mate of his to come down as well, in an effort to keep him under control. Hopefully it'll work out."

Lyssa was unsure of what to think: a crazy Spartan? She hardly knew anything about Spartans, but what she did know had lead her to believe that maybe a crazy one wasn't such a good thing.

"Crazy, sir?"

"Well, you could say that," the General replied, "you know, he went nuts, killed a doctor and some security guards last month while he was on Reach, something like that…"

"And I guess rather than kill him the UNSC has sent him down here so we can get stuck with him?"

The General nodded, smiling while he did.

"You're certainly good at figuring things out, Lieutenant," the General said, "because that's precisely the reason they sent him down here. I never requested Spartans, but once the people in control of them all found out about our secluded little operation here they decided that rather than kill him and lose morale amongst the others, they would stick him down here with us so that he was out of the way.

"When I heard about this, it was only when I requested a means of keeping him in check did they bother to send his female squad-mate. You see, there are a few theories about why he's mentally unstable, but from what I heard, there was a botched raid involving Colonel Timothy Hanley on Tribute last December."

"The Christmas Eve shootings?" Lyssa asked, aware of what the General was talking about.

"Yes, I see you're well read up on the subject, as you usually are," the General said, with a smile, "except the public story never mentions any dead Spartans. It merely mentions dead cops and dead rebels, Hanley also being kept out of the picture."

"So I guess the Spartans that were there, the one we're getting is among them?"

"His name's Leon, by the way," the General said, "he was acting as a sniper for the raiding team when the cops barged in and screwed things up." He shook his head, obviously thinking that the whole screw up could have been avoided. "Leon was shot by Hanley himself, according to surveillance and forensic evidence, taking a bullet to the gut and tumbling from his vantage point, which was about four floors down onto solid concrete."

"So, he's never been the same since then?" Lyssa asked, having been listening intently to what the General had been saying. She put her NCO cap back on, making sure it fit snugly onto her head.

"Uh-huh. I think the whole screw-up was a lack of communication between whoever was running the Spartans and the Tribute police, although we later found out that the cops had convinced somebody at the meeting of the rebel powers to wear a wire so he could stay out of prison. That's how the cops found out, they just weren't expecting the Spartans to be there."

"And so things went bad from there?"

"Yes, they sure did," the General replied, sounding a little excited, obviously thinking that it would have been quite exciting to have been in the restaurant when it had all happened, "there was just this one, big shootout which ripped up the restaurant and killed three of the five Spartans that were there. The other survivor, a female by the name of Kyla, had received two bullets to the side thanks to Hanley's crackshot shooting skills. She's the squad-mate accompanying Leon."

"Hopefully she isn't mentally unstable…"

"She isn't," the General replied, "she passed her psyche-test, unlike Leon who decided he didn't like the guy giving him the questions and so started shooting up the place. We have the video of that happening, if you're interested…"

Lyssa managed another weak smile.

"I think I'll pass…"

"Understandable," the General added, "anyhow, we're getting both of them to complement our dwindling fighting ability. Hopefully Leon won't decide he doesn't like us and so shoot up the place…"

"Hang on a minute," Lyssa suddenly said, realizing something, "you said that Hanley wounded both of these Spartans, right?"


"Don't you think they might have some sort of personal vendetta against the man or something?" She asked, "Or am I wrong?"

The General chuckled, finding the idea kind of funny.

"Maybe they do have a vendetta, considering the rogue Colonel gunned down one or two of their buddies," he said, "but then that may just compel them to do their job more effectively, in the hopes that they can get back at the Colonel for what he did last Christmas Eve. I think that either way we will have two very competent fighters with us."

"You'll still need us marines…"

"I know that," the Colonel said, "and I'm not forgetting you. Besides, two Spartans isn't going to do too much against the rebels, which is why we need every marine we on this planet. This supply depot that belongs to the OCPLF, I think that maybe we can assault it tomorrow morning, since our Shortsword pilots will be coming today as well…"

Lyssa raised an eyebrow, having been completely unaware of this. Shortsword pilots? Maybe the Rear Admiral's requests to High Command back on Earth had finally gotten through to someone.

"Shortsword pilots?" She asked, "We're getting Shortsword pilots?"

"Five pilots, one Major and five of the Shortsword fighter/bombers," the General answered, smiling, "so that way, before we attack the supply depot we can soften it up with the Shortswords."

"Who's the Major?"

The General laughed, although Lyssa failed to see the joke. She took a look back at the Corporal, who had been listening to the conversation, spinning that pistol of his around in his right hand.

"This Major's Lance Kilgore, a highly decorated guy who is probably so far up his own ass he hasn't seen daylight for years," the General said jokingly, "which is why we're setting up a tent just for him. He's even bringing a small camera crew just to film him doing what he does…"

"Is he a pilot?"

"Yes, but he hardly does any flying anymore," the General explained, "He just tells the other pilots what to do. He's one of those people you know will make it through this war without as much as a scratch."

Lyssa nodded, agreeing with the General on this point entirely. She had vaguely heard of Major Kilgore, a veteran pilot who had seen his fair share of battles but had never gotten hurt in anyone of them. He had a tendency to wear cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, walking around as if he owned the place, punching up anybody he didn't like.

"So, Lieutenant, since these people will be arriving within the hour, the Spartans due to arrive any minute, maybe you, being my favourite marine here on the base, should go out to the landing strip and greet the newcomers?"

Lyssa looked taken off guard by this request, but she quickly composed herself.


"Just greet the newcomers and guide them to their accommodation," the General said, "it can't be that hard, can it?"

"No sir, I guess not…"


There was a brief silence as the General took another look at the rebel datapad, frowning as he saw the marked gun emplacements near the depot.

"I think I'll send some scouts to, well, scout out this supply depot. I'm willing to attack it, Lieutenant, I just need to know what we're up against. I do know, however, that attacking this depot will bring us right back into this war and show the rebels that we haven't gone on vacation."

Lyssa nodded and saluted.

"I think I and the Corporal will get going," she said, "is there anything else you want to tell me before I go?"

The General grinned, putting the datapad down, looking up at the young Lieutenant.

"I would be careful when dealing with the Major and his pilots," the General said, "flyboys can be extremely cocky, thinking they're better than us regular marines. I would also be careful with our unstable Spartan, but hopefully his female friend can keep him in check."

Lyssa nodded, understanding the General's point entirely. In the past she had met a few pilots and one thing that had always annoyed her was the way most of them considered themselves superior to ground marines, probably because flying some sort of aircraft needed some extra skill. She didn't care too much about it, if there was something that reassured her it was that most of these pilots she had met had never actually been in proper combat, unlike her: she had been in quite a few engagements, from fighting basic Insurrectionists to taking on these new OCPLF types.

"See ya later, Lieutenant," the General said. Lyssa saluted once more, turned around and the Corporal, taking the hint, followed her out of the tent and into the sun. The General, alone once more, started to get to work on finishing his chocolates, noticing how the lizard in the far corner was out of its hiding space. It was kind of cute, when he thought about it.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Arrival
Date: 5 December 2008, 2:08 am

Quick Note:It's a good idea to have read the previous chapter (entitled "Leon") before reading this one. This one is more or less the second half to that chapter.

"I think the General's an idiot," Corporal Walther said as soon as he and the Lieutenant were out of the tent, "what's he thinking, bringing in an unstable super soldier and that prick Kilgore?"

Lyssa did understand what the Corporal was trying to get across; she just found that she wasn't really that bothered about it. The Corporal didn't look too pleased with the ideas he had just mentioned, an annoyed expression on his face, flipping the gun in his hand and sliding it into his waist holster.

Wherever the Corporal had learnt all those fancy gun tricks was beyond Lyssa, although it wasn't the first time she had seen him do it.
Sometimes he would just sit and play with that pistol of his, which wasn't standard military issue but something he had bought from a colony world before he and Lyssa had arrived here on KV9-X7. It was a lightweight weapon, chrome silver with a wooden stock, something that she would expect to have been obsolete by now. It obviously wasn't if the Corporal had even been able to find one to buy.

"I don't like the idea of this super soldier being here," he continued, squinting in the bright sunlight, his eyes taking a moment to change to the lighting conditions which were far different than those inside the tent, "the General did say the one we were getting was a bit…"

"Fucked in the head?" Lyssa suggested.

"Yeah, that's it," the Corporal said, looking towards her with a grin. They were standing outside the General's tent, in no hurry to head over to the landing strip and greet the newcomers which were supposed to be arriving soon. Lyssa certainly didn't feel like greeting anyone, especially the Shortsword pilots.

It was just after midday, so the sun was at its highest in the sky and the weather was at its hottest. The cooling systems in Lyssa's armour did little to help her from feeling hot at this time, so she took a step under the shaded area outside the General's tent, a temporary shade-cloth having been hung over the doorway.

"I mean, sure, we're hard-pressed to fight these rebels," the Corporal went on, taking a glance at their surroundings, "but if we were going to get some type of super soldier, maybe we should be getting one that isn't crazy."

"The only reason we're getting this one is because he is crazy," Lyssa said, "you heard the conversation I had with the General. The UN is sticking us with him rather than kill him or lock him up. If they did lock him up or kill him, I'm guessing that would be a big morale loss for all the others."

Walther looked up, raising an eyebrow.

"How many of them are there?"

"No idea." Lyssa shook her head; she only knew what the General had told her concerning these 'Spartans'. According to his briefing the other night, many of the Spartans weren't even twenty but had been accelerated through their adolescence thanks to the many sorts of chemicals and surgical procedures they had been through.

"I doubt there's many," she said.

"I hope so," the Corporal replied, "the last thing we need is for these guys to replace us marines. I would really hate that, you know?"

Lyssa nodded. She did know what point the Corporal was trying to make, how if these 'Spartans' were considered good assets there would be a very good chance that, in time, they would make marines obsolete. She doubted it would happen in her lifetime, but in the long run the situation of obsolete marines was inevitable.

"Some of them aren't even twenty," she said, "which is pretty screwed up, if you ask me." The Corporal shook his head, putting his hand to his forehead as he thought this all over.

"How old's the one we're getting?"

"Probably eighteen or something near that," Lyssa replied, "I doubt he would look eighteen, though. He's probably got the body of a fully grown man. Same sort of thing would apply with all the others."

The Corporal looked back up, frowning and mulling over the ideas inside his head, as if it was hard to believe. It probably was hard to believe, but Lyssa didn't let that kind of thing bother her, it would end up clouding her judgement so if they did get into some sort of fight, she doubted she would do as well as she usually would.

"This whole idea of super soldiers is bullshit," the Corporal said bluntly, "what would the parents of those soldiers think?"

"I doubt they even know their parents," Lyssa answered, "for all we know, they were probably grown in a test tube or something…"

"They probably were," Walther replied, giving a weak grin, trying to make a joke about it. Lyssa shrugged, if the Corporal wanted to know so much about them he should ask someone who actually had all the answers, such as the General.

The General, to her, had always seemed lie a bit of a dag, spending most of his time in his tent or spending time with the few other officers around the camp, smoking cigars and eating chocolate, or ice cream, the General had a whole freezer full of the stuff hidden in his tent behind all the junk he had inside there. He did know what he was doing when he was commanding troops and devising strategies to use against the enemy, but the man himself didn't know what he was doing otherwise.
No wonder the Spartan idea appealed to him so much, he wasn't bothering to think about the long term implications that came with it. After all, how much help could two super soldiers be? You would need a whole army of them to be certain you would be able to get rid of the rebels.

"Maybe the General's planning a 'Watts style' operation," the Corporal suggested, "you know, how he told us the Spartans had captured the rebel leader last year?"

"What about it?"

"Well, maybe he's going to use these two Spartans to pull the same kind of thing, this time on Hanley. After all, Hanley is a lot like Watts: he's the leader of a large rebel operation and has plenty of information concerning their operations. Capture him and you get all that information, as well as send his entire force into disarray. Easy picking's for us marines."

Lyssa thought this over. It certainly seemed probable, which could explain why they were merely getting two Spartans, although there could be plenty f other reasons why. The simplest to her seemed to be one for morale purposes: bring in the best fighters you can find and soon enough everybody will be feeling a whole lot better about this conflict.

"I doubt Hanley wouldn't have somebody willing to replace him if the need ever came along," Lyssa said, "he's probably got a dozen people waiting in line to get into his position, each one almost as good at leading the group as Hanley himself."

The Corporal shrugged, accepting her idea but deciding to argue about it some more.

"Watts didn't have any replacements," he said, "in fact, as soon as he was out of the picture that rebel organization went quiet. Nobody's heard anything from them since."

Lyssa didn't see the point in having this conversation, preferring that they move onto matters that were more interesting to her, although the Corporal was being stubborn, as usual.

"Maybe Hanley's smarter than Watts," she said, "so far, he's doing a better job than any other rebel organization this century. He's bound to have replacements and he's bound to be heavily guarded, so maybe these two Spartans will have some trouble getting into his tent and capturing him."

The Corporal had stopped listening by the time she had finished her last sentence, instead looking up at the clear blue sky, his eyes following the shape of an Albatross drop-ship as it began its descent towards the landing strip which lay on the other side of the base. Lyssa followed its shape as well, the large drop-ship disappearing behind a row of tents.

The pair started on their way past the tents, passing all kinds of military personnel, some of which Lyssa knew and others she hardly saw. Most were busy on whatever it was they were doing to notice the Albatross touch down on the side of the landing strip, hovering about a metre off of the ground as its occupants stepped out onto the landing strip.

The landing strip itself had been a last minute addition to the base, after the General had realized they might actually get aircraft someday during their time on the planet. It wasn't cement or tarmac; it was merely a flatted strip of land, sandy but otherwise kept well maintained to ensure it was suitable for an aircraft to land on.

Lyssa and Corporal Walther stopped about ten metres from the drop-ship, watching as an engineer climbed out of the open rear ramp, removing a few packs of luggage and climbing back on board. He was soon followed by the two passengers that Lyssa and the Corporal had been expecting.

They were surprised when they saw a pair of almost seven feet tall figures step out of the rear of the Albatross, both clad in bulky green armour, their helmet's visor going a dark golden-yellow colour to compensate for the sun's glare.

"Shit, would you look at them?" The Corporal said as he and the Lieutenant watched as the pair of armour clad soldiers picked up their packs of luggage and started towards them.

They certainly looked imposing and Lyssa found herself suddenly nervous, as if she had been thrown on a stage in front of a huge crowd and told to improvise. However, the crowd in this case was a pair of armour-clad soldiers walking up straight and tall, years of military training having made them more like machines than the humans they actually were.

The armour itself certainly gave the impression of a machine. For all she knew, they could very well be part machine, like some sort of cyborg or something. She found herself having no clue on what to say to them, shifting uneasily where she stood, suddenly feeling quite hot.

"You do the talking," the Corporal muttered to her as the pair of Spartans stopped in front of her. One of them was hanging back a bit, taking a look around at the base and the military personnel who had started watching the two armour-clad soldiers. He was obviously the male, the so-called "unstable" one, lacking the formality that the other was showing the Lieutenant.

The other Spartan stood rigid and snapped a salute.

"Lieutenant!" A female voice exclaimed, "Spartan 092, reporting for

"Great, they don't even have proper names," the Corporal muttered, although Lyssa wasn't quite listening. She was put off guard for a moment by what the Spartan had said; addressing her in a way the Lieutenant hadn't received from anyone else ever since she ended up on this planet. She composed herself, pleased at how she was in some sort of position of power.

"At ease," she said, allowing the female Spartan to drop her salute and relax. She glanced at the other Spartan, who wasn't paying attention to the conversation and was fiddling with the latch on his luggage pack. They didn't seem to be carrying much with them, although that didn't matter right now. They probably only had a few changes of clothes inside their cases, little else.

"Do you have a name, soldier?" Lyssa asked, noticing the Corporal snicker from the corner of her eye. Whatever he found funny right now, she though the opposite.

The Spartan nodded.

"Kyla, ma'am," she replied. She reached up to her helmet and pulled it off of her head, a slight hissing sound coming from inside as the interior of the armour adjusted to the new atmospheric conditions.

Kyla certainly looked young, her blonde hair cut short so it wasn't infringing UNSC Marine Corps regulations, her blue eyes resting on Lyssa. The Lieutenant thought how much of a rule-breaker she looked with her hair grown long and tied back.

"I'm 2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine," Lyssa said, introducing herself. She nodded towards the Corporal, who managed to look up at the Spartan and attempt to give a welcoming expression. It looked fake.

"That's Corporal Harry Walther," Lyssa said, turning back to the Spartan, "I and the Corporal were told to be your welcoming party." She paused, glancing towards the other Spartan, the one hanging back a few metres who was yet to say a word.

"I'm guessing that's Spartan 073?"

Kyla nodded, turning around to look at her squad-mate. She gestured to him, getting him to step alongside her. He looked down at the Lieutenant, his face impossible to see through the helmet's visor making Lyssa unable to determine what he might be thinking.

"Spartan 073, I'm 2nd Lieutenant—"

"I heard you before," the Spartan said abruptly, cutting off Lyssa mid sentence. She felt a little uneasy in his presence, although he didn't seem to be too bothered be her. 073 looked up, turning his attention to the Corporal who gave him a weak smile.

"I don't like him," the Spartan said simply, before returning his gaze to the Lieutenant, "and by the way, if you're going to call me anything, call me Leon."

Lyssa nodded in response, she and Kyla exchanging glances.

"And you might want to work on the defences of this base," Leon continued. He pointed to the fence running along the other side of the landing strip, beyond it being desert hills and rocky terrain. "Anybody could launch a minor attack there and be in here without much trouble. Hell, maybe you should work on this whole base. From what I saw flying in, it needs one heck of a makeover…"

"Leon, I don't think she's the one in charge of that," Kyla said, distracting Leon for a moment, "maybe you should save your complaints for the man in charge…"

A voice from behind the Lieutenant and the Corporal broke off her sentence. The group turned around to see General Richard McDougall standing behind, a smile on his face as he laid his eyes on the two Spartans.

"I'm the man in charge," he said. Kyla, seeing him, snapped another salute, standing to attention.


"At ease, Spartan," the General said casually, taking note of how Leon didn't show him any sort of interest. He didn't seem worried about it too much, opening his arms wide as if to welcome long lost friends.

"Finally, the two people I've been waiting for!" He exclaimed, "you'll find yourselves right at home in the tents we set up for you. As a matter of fact, the timing of your arrival couldn't be better."

"Why, sir?" Kyla asked.

"Because we're launching an attack tomorrow morning on an important rebel supply compound," the General said, "what better chance for the two of you to show us what you got?"

Kyla didn't seem fazed by the idea. She managed to form a smile and saluted again.

"Sounds good, sir," she said, turning to Leon, "what do you say, Leon?"

The Spartan looked at her and then the General, his expression impossible to determine through the helmet.

"Sounds like fun," Leon said, "although, if you don't mind me asking sir, how long has it been since you last engaged the OCPLF forces here in proper combat?"

The General frowned, a hand going to his chin as he tried to remember. It was another half a minute before he could come up with an answer, racking his brain to find the facts.

"Hmm…I would say, maybe four months? Three at the very least?" He said.

"It sounds to me you and your troops aren't doing your job," Leon said, his voice deep and serious. The General shrugged, not at all affected by this comment, although some noticeable annoyance had appeared on Lyssa's face. The Corporal just shook his head, swearing quietly under his breath.

"This guy arrives and starts telling us how to do our job," the Corporal muttered, "how did I know this would happen?"

Lyssa didn't like Leon's attitude, although the man was meant to be emotionally unsound so she let it slide for now. She would simply have to put up with the man's crap, she knew there was no use complaining to the General later on, he would simply tell her to live with it.

The General kept his smile as he gestured to the Spartans to follow him, beginning to tell them about the OCPLF and how long the marines had been fighting them. He was obviously taking them to their tents, allowing Lyssa and Walther to sit themselves down on a few empty crates left nearby. Walther looked annoyed, his face scrunched up into a scowl as he dwelled over what had just happened.

"The girl ain't bad, but that Leon guy, he just pisses me off," Walther said, "I had a feeling it would be like this. They obviously seem to know they're better than us, at least, he does."

Lyssa shook her head.

"Leon hardly said anything," she said, "you're just too touchy."
Walther looked at her, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm too touchy?" He asked with some surprise, "Look who's talking. You're the one who's too touchy, refusing to tell us more about yourself earlier…"

Lyssa shot him a furious glance.

"That's because I don't want to talk about it, okay? Is that so bad?" She was angry now, her sudden anger taking the Corporal off-guard. He held up his hands jokingly, acting like he was afraid he would hit her but laughing.

"Easy there, miss!" He exclaimed, laughing a little, "I didn't mean to piss you off." He rested his hands back into his lap, taking a thorough look at her from where he sat. There was something he wanted to say, Lyssa could tell, but he obviously couldn't bring himself to say it.

"I might be a little easier on you if you weren't always staring at my chest," she said. The Corporal looked up at her, noticeably embarrassed.

"I wasn't…"

"Yes, you were," Lyssa replied bluntly, unable to help but smile. She had him now, she thought. "If you like me that much, why don't you just say it?"

"Say what?"

"That you like me?" Lyssa said, shaking her head at his stupidity, "don't think I can't tell, Harry. I've seen that look in your eyes, ever since you were assigned to my squad the first day we were here."

"What if I didn't say it?" Walther asked, an uneasy grimace appearing on his face, "maybe I don't like you in that way, you know…"

"If you didn't be honest, I'd think you were a chicken shit," Lyssa said, enjoying the noticeable twang of annoyance that appeared on the Corporal's expression, "and then I would tell everybody else here you were a chicken shit and then everybody would be calling you a chicken shit…"

The Corporal stood up, having had enough of their conversation, gazing down at where Lyssa sat.

"Why don't you just sit here and wait for those pilots and that prick Kilgore to arrive while I go and get us a drink," the Corporal said, trying to change the subject, "I'll be back and hopefully by then you would have forgotten about this whole 'me liking you in that way business'."

"Yeah, right," Lyssa said sarcastically, watching as the annoyed Corporal turned his back and walked away, disappearing around a corner and behind a row of tents.

She had always known had had a thing for her, she could tell, the way he looked at her, the way he attempted to get a get a good look at her backside without her noticing (she usually did notice, however). The thing that struck her about him was the way he wasn't making it entirely obvious, unlike most of the other men at the base who tended to whistle as she walked past or throw her some sort of one-liner that would lead to her punching said man in the face. The Corporal was different, and funnily enough, she liked that about him.

Sitting back against the side of the tent behind her, she gazed out at the landing strip and desert beyond the perimeter fence. She wondered how long it would be before the Shortsword pilots arrived in their fighters, knowing that there wasn't anything stopping her from going back to her tent and wasting time rather than greeting a bunch of cocky flyboys. She didn't want to annoy the General though, so she decided to stay, taking out her water canteen and downing the remaining contents, attempting to lean back in the shade to protect herself from the harsh glare of the sun.

The pistol was bulky, not as easy to fit into a common waist holster unlike a basic military sidearm, such as an M6A pistol. He weighed it in his right hand, noticing that despite its bulkiness, the weapon was perfectly balanced. Removing the magazine from its grip, he noticed a slight unbalance but that was understandable, the weapon being unloaded.

Peering at the bullet resting on the top of the magazine, he noticed the hollow tip and silver ring across the back end, indicating that it used an advanced sort of miniature explosive. The bullet would impact the target, unable to shred apart like a rifle round and eviscerate the flesh of who was hit by it. Rather, this bullet would get lodged in the victim and detonate less than a second later, causing tremendous damage, enough to take a person's head clean off.

The sheer thought of this gave the holder of the weapon a grin, able to imagine what would happen if he shot a rebel with this at point blank range. It would leave a nasty mess but that was beside the point. With such power in his hands he would have no trouble in any skirmishes with the OCPLF forces…hopefully. There would always be unforeseen circumstances, as in any mission.

Sliding the magazine back into the dark grey metal weapon, he brought the slider back, letting it click back into place. Satisfied, he took a moment to admire the three-barrelled design, capable of emptying its magazine in seconds unless the weapon was set on semi-automatic. Semi-automatic was the sensible setting to leave the weapon on, allowing him to fire it as quickly as he pulled the trigger. The three-barrelled design rotated as the weapon fired, which would explain why it emptied its magazines so quickly.

To top things off, there was another, slightly longer but wider barrel underneath the main one, connected to a separate, revolver-style holding mechanism which lay just in front of a second, smaller trigger. This barrel fired shotgun shells which were loaded into three available slots in the rotating chamber. The presence of this addition allowed the user to blast anyone at close range with a shotgun shell if the need ever came along.

The weapon had been manufactured in the many manufacturing facilities located on Mars and was a rare enough weapon which was in very limited production. It was called the Costanza Model 23, Costanza being the name of the manufacturing company, a recent addition to the Mars manufacturing industry, the company itself only having been formed in 2501. For short, the weapon was known as the "CM23", but regardless of what name it had, the weapon took pride of place in Spartan 073's arsenal. He didn't have much of an arsenal, always having to make-do with what his mission organizers gave him, the CM23 being a bit of a personal addition to what he used. To get a hold of a CM23, Leon had had to purchase it off a private vendor on Reach, having done this a few months before. It had been quite expensive but he did have credits stowed away in places, receiving his military pay, just like any other soldier.

Spartan 073, otherwise known as Leon, was only eighteen, older than most others of his kind but still in the reasonable age group for the Spartans. Apparently he had only just pulled through the augmentations he had received but had soon recovered, more because he was determined to make it through than any other more logical medical reason.

Putting the pistol in the holster at the waist of his armour, Leon moved on to removing the changes of clothes he had brought with him to KV9-X7 from his luggage pack, neatly folding them into the footlocker at the end of the bed that had been supplied.

One thing that had struck him was the seemingly casualness of the marines stationed here, as well as the tech and engineering personnel. Many of them, he had seen on his way to the tent, had been lounging around inside or outside, talking, playing cards and any other sort of leisure activity, including a baseball game he had passed by taking place in an empty corner of the base, close to the perimeter fence. No wonder he and Kyla had been sent here, maybe their presence could motivate these slackers to do their job.

Leon took off his helmet where he stood, able to hear the General, Richard McDougall, talking with Kyla in the doorway of the tent about what skirmishes against the rebel forces had happened during his time spent on the planet. From what he could hear, Leon determined that the rebels were winning most of the engagements but, over time, slowly decreased the number of engagements they started against the marines. It seemed to him that the rebels were holding back from the marines, probably on orders from their leader, as if they were planning something or they were simply sparing their forces…

"So, what I said to him, you know what I said?" The General had been droning on for a while now, having spent the walk to the tent talking with Kyla mainly, although he did try and start a few conversations with Leon, all the attempts being unsuccessful.

"I said, 'You fuck with me again and my troops will be picking you out of the sand'…" The General chuckled loudly, Kyla laughing nervously in response.

In his peripheral vision, he could see Kyla was trying to get a break from the General's talking, nodding politely and replying if need be. She glanced at her squad-mate with an expression that told Leon she needed some help in getting out of the General's conversational grasp. Leon gave a slight grin and thought he would leave her with the General for a few more minutes.

One thing that caught his eye then was the small pocket mirror sitting on the end of the bed, left there by whoever had last slept here. He picked it up, taking a look on the back and finding the name "WALTHER" scrawled on the plastic casing in permanent marker.
Walther was the name of that sissy looking Corporal, he remembered, obviously the last person to have used the bed. Leon smiled to himself, the Corporal seemed to be a very self-conscious person if he had his own mirror, but he was very careless if he left his belongings lying around like this.

Leon took a moment to admire his own reflection, surprised at how pale he looked. A typical side effect of being in this armour for too long, but being on this shithole of a planet ought to fix it up, thanks to the harsh sun.

His hair was cut short, but not too short considering he hated looking like a skinhead. He did have a crew cut which was high enough so that his scalp wasn't visible, his dark brown hair finishing abruptly at his forehead. His green eyes certainly looked weary, which was understandable since he had been having trouble get to sleep in the past week or two.

"Hey, Leon!"

The Spartan felt a hand grip his shoulder. Turning around, he had to look down at the shorter General, who was smiling at him, a white box held in his other hand. He shook it invitingly.

"Would you like a chocolate?"

"No thanks…"

The General took the box back, tucking it under his arm as he thought of something to say next.

"Do you mind if I call you Leo?" The General asked, although he gave a look that told Leon he wouldn't be taking the Spartan's answer into account. The Spartan answered anyway.


"Whatever, Leo," the General said, pausing a moment and nodding back over at Kyla, who was unpacking her changes of clothes, "you see, I was just talking with your lady squad-mate, and well, I was wondering…Maybe you could tell me a little about you Spartans. Sure, I know a lot already, but that's just stuff from the files I've been sent. I would prefer to hear it from one of these 'Spartans' themselves, because that would be a more reliable source of information…"

"If you want to learn more, ask Kyla, not me," Leon said, about to turn around and disregard the General's presence entirely but the middle-aged man's grip stopped him.

"I'm just trying to have a conversation, that's all," the General said, still keeping his smile but he quickly lost it as he started thinking of something else to say, "maybe you could tell me about the…uh, well…the incident that occurred last month. I know about it, but I think hearing you're opinion on the matter will prove to be a far more reliable source…"

"The doctor," Leon said simply.

"Which doctor?"

The Spartan rolled his eyes, turning around fully so he could look straight down at the General.

"The doctor at the psyche-exam was annoying me," Leon said bluntly, no emotion creeping into his voice.

"Really?" The General paused, giving a look of uncertainty. "Am I annoying you?"

"Yes," Leon replied.

The General took a step back and turned to Kyla, who had set up a dressing screen alongside her bed so from where Leon stood, he couldn't watch her get dressed (or undressed). She wasn't doing that now but she would have to soon enough, not that Leon cared too much.

"Well, unfortunately I have work to do so I'll be leaving now," the General said, sounding a little flustered, "I wouldn't worry too much, we'll be seeing each other around plenty of times during our stay on this planet. So, uh…see you two later." He glanced back at Leon, managing a quick wave before he stepped through the flap acting as the tent's door and disappeared from sight.

Once he had gone, Kyla came back out from behind the dressing screen, shaking her head.

"What a General they have here," she said, stepping towards Leon, sounding amused, "no wonder these marines are slacking off. Their leader isn't much better…"

"That's why the brass sent us here," Leon said, "not only to get rid of me but to make sure this guy and his soldiers don't all get killed." He paused, looking towards Kyla, who had lost her smile and was looking a bit more serious.

"What you said about the doctor annoying you…"

"It's true," Leon said, remembering what had happened that day. Funnily enough, he had no regrets about it, having sincerely felt that the doctor had been annoying him somehow, although he couldn't really remember why he had shot him, or what had compelled him to bring the gun with him. Thinking about it now, he couldn't even remember taking the gun in with him, only having it in there, in the room…

"Why shoot him?" Kyla sounded worried, she obviously cared about him, and he was a fellow soldier and squad-mate after all. Leon managed a shrug.

"I had the gun, he gave me a reason," Leon said, frowning, "so maybe we should just quit talking about this, alright? We have more important things to go on to…"

Kyla nodded, understanding that maybe Leon didn't want to talk about the very thing that had made High Command plant the "UNSTABLE" stamp on his file.

Leon sat down on the bed, noticing that the mattress was hard and not very bouncy. Comfortable beds were probably the last thing the people running the base had in mind when they set it up, although it was certainly better than sleeping in a hammock, at leats, in Leon's opinion.

"Remember, Leon, we can't let this whole Hanley thing get in the way of our judgement," Kyla said. Leon looked up, a little annoyed but otherwise remaining calm.

"Hanley almost killed you," Leon said, "He almost killed me. He is the very man we've been after ever since Blue Team captured Watts last year. He is the very man who slipped out of our grasp last December, ruining a perfectly good Christmas."

Kyla nodded, but she seemed to be more worried about him than anything else.

"I don't want you to get carried away with revenge, Leon," Kyla said, "part of me wants to track him down and kill him but I'm not doing it. I'll only kill him if we encounter him, such as in a future operation…"

"But you'll still do it, won't you?" Leon asked, "You wouldn't try and capture him, would you? Despite all the information he holds, you and I, against our very orders, would kill him?"

Kyla shrugged.

"It's human nature…"

"It fucking well is," Leon continued, "I wouldn't let the bastard live, not for everything he's done. He organized an attack that left seventy-five thousand people dead, merely to prove that his forces were not to be fucked with easily. And yet the UNSC, rather than launch an all-out operation, sends a bunch of shitty marines to fight a superior force of enemy soldiers. The whole thing is FUBAR, that's what it is."

Kyla didn't have an answer. She most certainly agreed judging by the slight nod she gave and the solemn gaze she kept. The pair of them was silent for a moment.

"I'm not only going to kill the bastard," Leon said suddenly, standing up and removing his combat knife from a compartment in his armour, starting to move the blade around in a slow, cutting motion, "I'm going to cut him up. I'm going to let him bleed while he's simultaneously trying to hold his guts in and his balls on. He ain't going to go the easy quick-and-painless way, not if I get to him first.

"You have to understand, Kyla, I no longer care about getting court marshalled for this shit. I'm just going to find him the first chance I get and I am going to make the fucker suffer like he never has before."
Kyla stood silent as she listened to what her squad-mate had to say. She shook her head, almost in pity.

"I'm really worried about you, Leon," she said, "I really am worried."

"Don't be," Leon said, lowering his blade, "if killing Hanley is going to be as hard as I think it is I'm going to end up getting killed one way or the other. But I will get Hanley, even if it could be the last thing I do."

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Leave
Date: 11 December 2008, 9:05 am

Sol Relative Time: April 17th, 2526

One thing Arla had decided to do was make the most of his last full day of leave before he and the others were to head back onto the Relinquished Light, although he wasn't too sure how to go about it. Nice again he was sitting in the same seat as yesterday outside the bar on the ground floor of their apartment building, Kesa and the others sitting around with him as they talked about whatever came to mind. Rtas was nowhere in sight, having left about half an hour ago, probably trying to find Yelina.

Arla had noticed his friend's interest in his sister but thought better than to mention it in front of him. He had never really thought anybody would actually be into his sister, considering she had a bit of a short temper and a distrust of all males, although Rtas was obviously making some progress with her.

On the other hand, Arla was making some progress with their new medic, the female Lirana, who was shyer than anything else, preferring to sit quietly across the table from him than talk. Arla sort of felt the same way, especially when he noticed that Kesa and Terlas had voiced their interest in the female to him. Right now though, she was his to talk to and spend time with and hopefully, for him, it would stay that way for a while.

Lirana certainly seemed the silent type, sitting with a bit of a flushed face, looking down at the table and downing the contents of the drink she had ordered, occasionally looking up towards him but not saying anything. Arla did manage a smile when she did look at him, although she wasn't going to say anything unless he started the talking, he knew that.

Sitting around in various spots, Kesa, Terlas and Sysha were happily talking about something to do with women, the female that had been with Sysha yesterday was back, having sat herself next to her boyfriend, occasionally whispering to him, Sysha giggling at whatever she was telling him.

Arla sat back in his chair, picking up the bottle he had ordered earlier and finding it just about empty. A little annoyed, he put it back onto the table and thought of getting up to buy another one but realized he couldn't be bothered.

He looked straight at Lirana and thought he would break the silence that had come up between the two of them, intent on finding out more about the young woman.

"What do you think of the weather?" He asked, shaking his head when he realized how stupid that question sounded. Lirana looked up, gave a mandible-shrug and replied in a timid voice.

"It has always been like this," she said, gazing up at the cloudy blue sky a moment, "the day begins sunny but by the time it's evening, the rains have come and are drenching the streets. Why do you ask?"

At least she didn't think what Arla had said was a bit stupid. He shrugged as well, having no reason why the weather cared to him so much, primarily because he couldn't care less about the matter.

"You've been here longer than I have, so I was thinking maybe you had a better idea about the climate," Arla replied. He paused, noticing that Lirana had opened up a little now; he could tell by the way she was looking at him and listening.

He thought maybe they should move onto a more interesting topic of conversation. He certainly didn't know too much about her, so maybe if he told her some things about him maybe she would tell him the same kind of things, except about her. It made sense, but it took a moment for him to get rid of the nervousness he felt and start talking.

"Maybe you would like to know some more about me?" Arla asked, "seeing as we're going to be in the same squad together, we should try and get to know each other well."

"Usually I wouldn't want to do that, but I think I can make an exception for you," Lirana said, leaning forward slightly where she sat, listening to what her friend had to say, "Go on."

Arla didn't know where to begin, although he had told her his name earlier, so that was one thing he didn't need to bother about.

"I…well…uh…." He struggled to start, Lirana grinning as she realized he had no clue what to say.

"Maybe I should start?" She asked, "Seeing as you're having so much trouble."

Arla simply nodded, he would find it easier to talk back if she was talking to him. He sat listening as Lirana started, beginning on where she was born.

"I was born to a single mother on the colony world of Salia, in the main city of Isaled," she began, taking a moment to remember these things that had been so long ago, "I never knew my father, he was merely a passing swordsman, attempting to pass those genes onto the next generation by picking and choosing any female he wished.

"He probably would have stayed if he had had a son, but when I was born instead he left in a hurry, probably embarrassed at how he now had a daughter instead."

Arla noticed she didn't seem too bothered about this fact, although if she had never known the man who was her father, having left her when she was born, she probably didn't have any emotional attachments to him.

"My mother raised me herself for a while, getting married when I was only two. My step-father never really appreciated me, since I wasn't his own, but my mother loved me, which is probably how I got through such a childhood," she continued, "I now have a younger brother who's training to be in the military, like you are. My parents are still together and still living in Isaled, if you're wondering."

Arla sat listening as Lirana told him so much about her, so much he had figured would be a bit personal to her, but she obviously trusted him if she was giving him all this information. It was his turn now, although he was curious about something.

"How did you end up a medic?"

Lirana shrugged again.

"I just did," she replied, "my stepfather wanted me to become a Priestess but…well, I guess that profession just didn't appeal to me, so I decided to get into something which was more active."

"Such as the military?"

"Such as the military," she reiterated what he had said, "and I'm pleased to be getting my first posting, which is with your squad."
Arla gave her a look which told her he was interested on learning more behind what she had just said.

"This is your first posting?"

"Couldn't you gather that from what the Major told you and your squad-mates?" She asked, frowning, "although, you never did seem like the type who listened well…"

Arla was a little taken aback by this comment but he was told by the smile she was giving him that she was merely playing around with him.

"I listen!" Arla exclaimed, "I'm listening to you now, aren't I?"

Lirana smiled wryly, taking up her bottle of whiskey and put it past her mandibles, downing its contents easily without a hint of being a little put off by the strong taste. Arla sat watching as she put the bottle down and used a napkin to wipe the residue off of her mandibles, taking note of the way Arla had been watching her and gave him a frown.

"What is it?"

Arla just gave an innocent shrug. He could tell that Lirana wasn't an average young female by the way she downed strong alcoholic drinks in seconds, although she seemed the shy type.

"I didn't think women like you were into alcohol…"

"Maybe I'm not like all the other women you know?" She asked, making it obvious in her tone of voice that this was the case. The question itself didn't require an answer, so Arla sat quiet for a moment before he continued.

"How old are you, Lirana?" He asked. She gave him a weird look, as if she thought he was intruding somehow. Arla quickly fixed up his mistake.

"I'm twenty-two," he said, "so maybe you would care to tell me yours…"

"Twenty-one, why?"

Arla didn't have much of an answer for that.

"Just curious…" He gave an innocent look, Lirana disregarding it and standing up. Arla was unsure of what she was doing, until he saw her heading for the bar again. She didn't seem like the alcohol enjoying type but rather than voice his uncertainties concerning her on this matter, he stood up and followed her inside. She was at the bar counter before he was and got the attention of the elderly Sangheili bartender, ordering another bottle.

He came up behind her, sitting down on the stool closest to her and unable to help but move his gaze over her backside, following her slender frame all the way up to her face, finding that she was watching him.

"Could you stop that?" She asked bluntly, "I would prefer it if you didn't look at me that way when I'm watching."

It took a moment for what she said to register in his brain.

"So I can do it when you're not looking?"

She simply shook her head in response, as if giving up entirely on the matter, turning around and unscrewing the lid on her bottle of whiskey. About to start drinking, she was stopped when Arla spoke.

"Maybe you would like to know a bit about me?" He asked, Lirana turning her head and looking down at him where he sat. She nodded.

"I'm listening," she said, sitting down on the bar stool behind her. She gazed at him with some slight attentiveness, waiting for him to begin. Arla wasn't too sure where he should begin, deciding to start from around about the same kind of thing she started at.

"Well, I was born in the city of Dylikth, on Sanghelios," he said, distant memories of a childhood gone by flowing through his mind, "My mother was a housewife while my father was a Ship Master. I was the second child, my older brother having been born two years before me. We got along well during our childhood, as far as I can remember.

"My mother gave birth to my sister, Yelina, two years later," he continued, looking down at the bar counter as he sorted through all the memories that had come back into his mind, many of which he had forgotten. He could remember getting into a bit of a scuffle with his older brother when he was five and his brother was seven, which resulted in a broken table. What was funny about it was how his father hadn't really cared too much, but his mother had gone berserk.
Then the more recent memories of his neglectful father and older brother who was always away from home came into his mind, and from there he took on an angrier tone, knowing that their family was falling apart.

"My father always cared more about my brother rather than my sister and I," Arla said, turning to Lirana, who looked genuinely understanding, "he would always spend the most time with him, training him and sending him off to military college when he was old enough.

"He never did that with me," Arla continued solemnly, "and as the years went by, my mother became less and less of the adoring, likeable person she had once been. She was the one to send me to military college when I was old enough she made it out to me that she wanted me to be better than my brother. Knowing that this would be something she could rub in my father's face, I cheerfully obliged."

Arla didn't realize how downbeat he was sounding, although Lirana shook her head and put a gentle hand onto his back as he sat with his head down.

"You don't need to tell me all of this…"

Arla looked up, noticed she had a hand on his back and somehow felt a little better, although he certainly wasn't on the brink of tears. For all these years he hadn't told even his closest friends all of this but now here he was, telling it all to some female he had met only last night.

"My father's now left home, apparently to spend time with other women," Arla said, "that's how my family is now, my mother spending time alone at home while her husband forgets she exists and her three children have headed their separate ways."

"Maybe you should visit her," Lirana suggested, taking her hand off his back, managing a soothing smile, "she could be depressed. You certainly seem that way."

Arla sat up, shaking off the sudden feeling of being miserable that had overcome him. He had other things to do, especially since they would be leaving tomorrow. He would make the most of the remaining time he had on this planet before they were back to the monotonous routine of living on board a Covenant cruiser.

"I do visit her when I get the chance," he said, "but I am, after all, in the military. I don't get much of a chance of seeing her…"

"The next chance you do get, maybe you should find that father of yours, convince him to come back home," Lirana said, trying to act cheerful, "I'm sure he would listen to his own son."

"I'll try," Arla replied, "but as I said, he seems to have more of a liking for my older brother than for me, or my sister for that matter."
Lirana didn't say anything in response, she didn't have to, and instead she stood up and nodded towards the bar's open entrance.

"Maybe we should go for a walk," she said, "there are a few places we can go to take our minds off of such downbeat matters. This town doe shave some good shops; maybe you could find a souvenir of your stay here. I know I will."

Arla nodded, standing up while Lirana paid the bartender for her drinks. Once she was done the pair headed outside, in time to receive some parting words from the young Sangheili sitting outside.

"Arla, is that your girlfriend?" Terlas asked, trying his best to
intimidate his friend, "our new medic is your girlfriend?"

"You pounced on her the first chance you got, didn't you?" Sysha asked as Arla stepped over to the curb, preparing to cross the street, trying to ignore the teasing he was receiving from his friends.

"If that's the case, Arla, you certainly were successful," Sysha continued as the group laughed. The young Sangheili playfully put the tips of his mandibles against the female he sat next to, the pair of them giggling as they exchanged glances.

"Is she really your girlfriend, Arla?" Kesa asked, sounding as calm and collected as he always was. When Arla didn't answer he spoke again, this time trying to be as serious as he could.

"An answer would be appreciated…"

Arla turned around, glanced at Lirana who was trying her best not to laugh, clenching her mandibles tight in an effort to stop but the look in her eyes gave it away. He looked straight at Kesa, trying to contain his anger.

"No…" Arla replied, somewhat weakly. Kesa wasn't finished at that question though.

"Is she a girl?"


"Is she your friend?"

"Yes…" Arla realized what Kesa was getting at but didn't realize this until after he had answered his friend's questions.

"Then she is most definitely your girlfriend," Kesa replied, making the last word rhyme with his previous question. He laughed, Terlas following suit.

"Just ignore them, Arla," Lirana said, returning her gaze to him. Arla saw that there wasn't point in getting angry at his friends, seeing as they were just trying to annoy him and weren't really being serious about it. He turned to Lirana, saw she had stopped laughing and was trying her best to distract him from his friends.

"I know of a place not too far from here," Lirana said, "it's just the place to find souvenirs of your stay here. A souvenir would certainly help you remember your stay in this town and probably get your mind off other things."

Arla nodded, he didn't think much of her idea but decided it was better than sitting around with nothing to do. Crossing the street, the pair started along the sidewalk, passing all sorts of civilians, ranging from Unggoy to Sangheili, with many Kig-Yar in between. Most of the civilians and other military personnel didn't seem to think much of the pair, too intent on their own business.

Passing several apartment buildings and a few shopfronts, they turned a corner into a less residential part of the town where restaurants and shopfronts were more common than apartments. It was a nice enough day for civilians to be eating outside, so the pair passed many groups of dining Covenant species, eventually coming to a small, windowed store with many sorts of seemingly pointless trinkets laid out behind the window on display. Lirana stopped him here and gestured to the door.

"This is it," she said, stopping by the window and peering inside at the many sorts of jewellery and other trinkets laid out on display, trying to find something of her liking.

Arla glanced through the window, noticing the rather unkempt look of the store which indicated to him that it wasn't so much a souvenir store but some sort of junk shop, selling items that other people had no use for. He took a look at the pointless trinkets laid out in the display cases behind the window, not really interested in what the shop had to offer, although he could tell Lirana was looking intently for something to purchase. She tugged at Arla's arm, pointing at something in one of the display cases behind the glass.

"I like the look of that," she said, "I think it would suit me fine. What do you think?"

"Ah…" Arla didn't know what to say, taken a little off guard by her sudden wanting of the jewellery piece behind the glass. He looked over at it, seeing that it was some sort of necklace, an intricately detailed symbol carved out of a shining type of stone, a sort of stone that looked familiar to him but he wasn't sure where form.

"It doesn't say how much it costs," she said, frowning, "I don't exactly carry much money around with me." She looked at Arla and he realized what she wanted of him. He was a little taken aback by the way she bluntly made it out that she wanted it but he wasn't about so say no, so he nodded.

"I'll go inside and if it's something I can afford, well, maybe I will get it for you," Arla said with a trace of uncertainty, "although I think we haven't known each other long enough to start asking for gifts from the other…"

"I'm seeing if you would buy it for me," Lirana replied, "because now that you are, I can tell that you like me. If you hadn't, I might have just left you standing here and gone back to spend time with your friends." She smiled, finding the fact slightly amusing. Arla realized he had been conned by her but thought better than to change his mind, smiling back weakly before heading into the small shop.

It wasn't too big a shop, with shelves of more pointless trinkets taking up most of the room inside. It was strangely quiet inside the store, which smelt of incense candles, a few laid out on the counter over to one side if the store. As Arla was walking over, the door behind the counter opened and a rather elderly Sangheili male entered the store, dressed in robes typical of his age group. One of his bottom mandibles was missing, having been lost long ago. The elderly man had obviously been far too proud than to get prosthetics, leaving the stump of the missing mandible as a lasting reminder of whatever had caused it. He gave Arla a typical customer-service smile, although this Sangheili seemed sincere about it.

"Good morning," he said, taking a moment to glance at the armour Arla was wearing, "a military boy, am I correct?"

Arla nodded, a little unsure of what he should say.

"What brings you here to my modest store?" He said, his pale green eyes gazing at Arla, as if trying to figure him out, "looking for something in particular?"

"As a matter of fact, I am," Arla said, nodding over to the display case behind the window, "I was interested in getting that symbol carved out of the stone…"

The elderly Sangheili smiled.

"Obviously not for you, I can see that," he said, turning to look out of the window. He saw Lirana waiting outside and turned back to Arla.
"It's for her, am I correct?"

Arla nodded, worried that the next few questions would be about her.

"She's a good looking girl; looks to be just your type," the Sangheili said matter-of-factly, "that necklace would suit her well." He paused for a moment, thinking over what he should say next.

"The necklace is carved out of the lightweight stone onyx, the very sort of stone the Forerunners themselves used to build many of their structures, some even here on this planet. Of course, the ones here have long since been ransacked of all their relics, leaving some chunks of useless onyx for people to do what they want with.

"Hence the reason some thought making jewellery out of it would be good business. That's the only one I have left, a simple Sangheili Mark of Youth, represents youth and vitality."

"How much is it?" Arla asked, figuring he would get straight to the point. The elderly Sangheili grinned.

"Usually six hundred and fifty, but since you're going to give it to your beautiful female friend, I'll put that down to five hundred."

"Five hundred?" Arla couldn't help but contain his surprise, the elderly Sangheili noticing and giving a mandible shrug, "that's a whole month's pay!"

"Do you have a better offer?" The elderly Sangheili asked, "Or are you going to leave and let me lose your business? Come on, don't be shy…"

"You look to me you served in the military," Arla said, taking off his helmet and putting it on the counter, the elderly Sangheili glancing down at it with some noticeable wanting of it, "maybe you would like a genuine Minor Domo helmet? That's worth at least two hundred, and then maybe I will throw in three hundred with it. How's that sound?"

The elderly Sangheili thought about the offer for a moment, Arla taking out three hundred credits and placing the money on the counter. He had no idea how the Major would react when he saw that Arla was missing his helmet, but it didn't matter, he could always get a new one when he was back on board the Relinquished Light.

"I did serve, and I did lose part of my jaw serving," the elderly Sangheili said, giving an annoyed expression, losing the customer-service equivalent of a smile he had given with his remaining jaws. He paused and glanced down at the helmet and then back at Arla, frowning.

"You would really give me your helmet?" He asked, sounding unsure. Arla nodded.

"I've got nothing to lose…"

"I suppose you don't," the elderly Sangheili said. He turned around and stepped over to the display case, reaching in through the open top and grabbing hold of the necklace, pulling it out and turning back around. He handed it to Arla, who could now get a closer look at the shiny, lightweight stone that the intricate symbol was made out of, being comprised of circles and curved lines. He closed his hand, clutching the necklace tight as he looked back towards the shopkeeper.

"I suppose you accept the deal?"

The elderly Sangheili nodded.

"I certainly do," he said, taking the money Arla had left on the counter and picking up the helmet, taking a close look at it, "I could easily sell this. People do like military memorabilia…"

Arla didn't bother staying any longer. With a simple farewell, he turned around and left the shop, stepping outside into the warm late morning air, seeing Lirana give a pleased look.

"Arla, you bought it for me!" She exclaimed, stepping towards him. Arla held up the necklace and smiled, feeling somewhat good about himself, a feeling he hadn't felt this way for quite some time. His face flushed purple and he tried to figure out something to say.


Arla let the necklace hang from his hand so she could see the main body of it. She smiled at him, aware of his sudden embarrassment. Arla shrugged, clasped the chain of the necklace with both hands and stepped forward, putting it over her head and letting it hang around her neck. Their eyes met and they both smiled. He suddenly felt his heartbeat pick up, a shot of excitement flowing through him. They way she was looking at him, the way their heads were close…

"No," she said simply, shaking her head and taking a short step back. Arla couldn't help but feel disappointed, but he did understand why.

"I know what you're thinking Arla," Lirana said, sounding a little strained, as if having been restricted somehow, "We can't be anymore than just friends, you heard what the Major said. You're a generous, understanding man, but I really don't want to rush into anything anyway."

Arla stood thinking about this for a moment before nodding. He understood where she was coming from concerning the matter and the smile she was giving him told him he shouldn't be too disappointed. After all, they would be seeing each other a lot in the future.

It must have been about midday judging by the height of the sun and the sudden increase in the temperature, from a rather warm summer breeze to a slightly more intimidating, uncomfortableness inducing hot air. Shifting where he sat, Rtas 'Vadumee tried his best to get comfortable in the new heat, his dark blue Minor armour not really helping him get cool in this sort of weather.

Picking at his nearly finished plate of animal meat which had a side of vegetables, he looked across the table towards Yelina, who was in a lighter coloured set of robes this time which were also shorter, probably to suit the day's weather better. She looked back at him and they both exchanged smiles, although Yelina quickly glanced back down at her plate of salad, unsure of what to say.

They had decided to meet up this morning outside the hospital where Yelina worked, she having called him earlier that morning, seemingly having forgotten the way she had left yesterday. Rtas had decided to play it safe by not mentioning it, preferring to get to know the girl better, although ever since they had met up they really hadn't said much, both of them either too shy or unsure on what they should say.
It had been his idea to spend their lunchtime eating in a restaurant, Rtas paying for it using the credits he had stored away in a compartment in his armour, having been smart enough to bring money from his locker on board the cruiser down to the planet once he had known they would be going on leave.

He remembered asking Arla when they had been back on the ship, about whether or not he had a girlfriend. Arla's answer had been a no, and so had Rtas, but now here he was, sitting with someone he genuinely had feelings for, having only met her yesterday. He had been planning on asking Arla to tell him more about his sister; the information would probably come quite helpful in getting to know her.
Rtas had forgotten to do this, too distracted the previous night by the arrival of their new medic and how Arla had been busy spending time with her in the bar. It seemed to him that Arla had found himself a girlfriend, although knowing him he probably wouldn't admit it. He could be quite stubborn sometimes and very moody, being happy one minute and almost depressed the next. The young Sangheili certainly had a lot on his mind, it seemed.

Rtas hadn't been too big a fan of the meat they served here, having come from some large desert roaming rodent that could be found outside of the town. To him, it had seemed a bit tough and a tad stringy, although the vegetables had been fairly tasty contrary to the processed ones he received back on the Relinquished Light. He had never been one for simple salads, unlike Yelina, who seemed the type to be into that kind of food.

Rtas picked up the glass of water on the table, swirling it about in boredom, trying to figure out how he should break the awkward silence that had fallen upon him and Yelina.

"How was your food?"

He looked up, noticing that Yelina had been the one to break the silence, although she did look nervous, uncertain almost. She seemed changed than the brash, smart-talking female that Rtas had talked to yesterday. It was as if something had changed her, most probably what had happened yesterday between the two of them.

"The vegetables were fine but the meat was stringy," Rtas replied, digging his fork into another strip of meat and finding that it was quite tough to get the fork into the meat itself, "How was yours?"

Yelina dug around the remaining salad in her bowl, thinking about her answer for a moment.

"It needs improvement," she said, looking back towards him, "but otherwise I found it alright." She paused, Rtas seizing his chance.

"I was meaning to ask…"

"Ask me about yesterday?" She said, finishing his sentence before he had a chance to, Rtas nodding slightly. She sighed, looked down at her bowl for a moment, thinking her answer through before saying it.

"What do you want to know about yesterday, Rtas?" She asked with a hint of agitation in her voice, giving him a pained expression while poking at her salad with her fork aggressively, obviously annoyed about it all. Rtas hadn't been expecting this reaction and so sat listening, not answering her question considering she never gave him a chance to.

"Rtas, yesterday was an accident," she said, shaking her head, "I let my feelings overcome me, do you understand? I really like you Rtas, I just…"

"What? What is it?" Rtas felt himself a little surprised at the way she was talking and couldn't hide the disappointment from his voice. He had been expecting her to be a little more subtle about the matter.

"Rtas, I grew up with a father who neglected me, preferring to concentrate on his first son and not even my brother and I, leaving the two of us in the care of our mother," Yelina said, her voice returning to a more normal sounding tone, "I grew up disliking my father and I'm afraid to say this, but that neglect filled childhood has shown me that no man can be trusted for anything, and that includes you."

Arla had never really mentioned his family life to him before so this fact came as a bit of a surprise to Rtas. He frowned, listening intently, realizing that maybe Yelina was more sensitive than he first thought.

"I find it hard to trust any man, and I'm afraid that if I do get involved with you anymore than I already have, I will find myself let down by you, probably left for some other woman," she said, "that's the truth, Rtas. I can't bring myself to trust you, I hope you understand…"

Rtas nodded lightly, but he wasn't about to give up on her yet.

"What happened yesterday was something I did not mean to do," Yelina continued, "I don't know about you, but I lost control of my feelings then. Maybe you enjoyed it, I don't know, but I really can't bring myself to trust you or any other man. I know it might sound a little stupid, but it's the truth, so if you're trying to find a girlfriend, maybe you shouldn't start with me."

Rtas had been intending to argue her point ever since she had started telling him about all of this, starting with the most obvious.

"Maybe you might find me different," Rtas said, trying to sound as sincere and honest as he could, after all, he was trying to win her affections, "not all men are the same as your father, and I hope I never end up like him…"

"That's not the only thing I'm worried about," Yelina said, shaking her head, "Rtas, we've only known each other for two days, not even that. You're leaving tomorrow and there is a very good chance you might not even bother returning to find me. I just don't want to get involved with you if that's going to be the case…"

"It isn't," Rtas replied, "I don't get much time off, but when I do, you'll be the first person I come to see. I won't forget about you…"

Yelina didn't look too convinced. She was proving harder and harder to reach, clouded by her distrust of all males, which included Rtas. He was no exception, but if he wanted to stay in some sort of relationship with her he would have to prove to her that he was an exception.

"You might mean what you say," Yelina said, "but there is a chance you might find someone else during your time away. I can't believe that you'll remain faithful to me for all that time; it's just far too long. If you were looking for a girlfriend Rtas, you've started with the wrong person."

Rtas struggled to find words as Yelina got up and left the table, the way she walked telling him that she was indeed flustered and attempting to forget that she had had any involvement with him. He wasn't about to let her walk out on him like this, so leaving an adequate amount of credits on the table he followed her into the midday heat outside where a few patrons were dining at the outdoor tables. The restaurant itself was by the side of the large town square, a small reserve in the middle holding plenty of greenery such as bushes and trees, a few birds singing from within those trees and providing some peaceful sounding background noise. A day like this was awfully quiet, seeing as not many civilians spent their time outside in such heat.

Yelina had walked over to the fence around the reserve, staring out at the greenery, obviously with a lot going through her mind. Rtas walked up behind her, stopping alongside her although she didn't take much notice of him.

"I know what you're thinking," Rtas said, watching as a few brightly coloured birds flew from the roof of a nearby building and into a tree ahead, "you think that once I'm gone, I'll never come back."

Yelina didn't answer, although she did seem to be listening by the way she was watching him through the corner of her eyes.

"I'm not going to do that," Rtas said, "ask anyone who knows me well enough and they'll say I'm a man of my word. I would never forget about someone like you, and that's the truth."

Yelina turned her head so she was looking straight at him, trying to determine if what he was saying was the truth or not. She could tell that Rtas was honest enough, but she would never be too sure.

"You sound honest enough, Rtas," she said, "but I can never bring myself to trust you, regardless of how you feel about me. It's just the way things are and it's hard for me to change that…"

"It isn't hard," Rtas said. He knew there would be a way to get through to her; he also knew that it was going to be hard to win her trust, "I know how you feel, but as I said, not all men are the same. I would never abandon you, and I would never forget about coming back to you."

Yelina thought about this for a moment, knowing that if she did indeed trust him he knew he would never be able to let her down. He wasn't planning on letting her down and he hoped he would never have to.

"The thing is Yelina; I had never felt this way about anyone before until I saw you for the first time," Rtas said. This was the truth, when Yelina had come into his sights for the first time he had never felt the way he does about her for anyone else. If he wasn't mistaken, he could very well be in love with her, but they hadn't known each other for very long, so he was far too nervous about expressing his feelings for her, in case she didn't feel the same about him.

"Really?" Yelina asked, looking a bit unsure of herself, "is that true?"
Rtas nodded. Of course it was true, he would never make up something like that. He suddenly felt a hand against his, and looking at where his right hand had been sitting on top of the short fence, Yelina had put hers on top of his. They shifted theirs a little so that they were holding each other, and strongly gripped each others hand.

"It's the truth," Rtas said simply, noticing a faint smile appear on Yelina's face. He smiled back and they stood there for a while, in silence. He hadn't known her for very long at all, but right now that was the least of his worries, more worried about keeping his word of not abandoning her than anything else.

As the day wore on so did the drinking, with Kesa, Terlas, Sysha, Arla and Lirana having their fair share of alcohol, having spent most of their day outside of the bar as they had done yesterday, Arla having returned with Lirana an hour earlier, the medic somewhat happy at what Arla had done for her. Strangely enough, Arla didn't get much ridicule from his friends who were far too busy drinking and talking amongst themselves. He had always thought they would have had room for teasing him, but the three of them were so filled up with alcohol that Sysha had fallen asleep where he sat, Kesa and Terlas looking and sounding a little woozy, talking about anything that came to mind.

Rtas was nowhere to be seen and this had been the case for nearly the whole day. Arla didn't have much of an idea of where he could have gone, although it probably had something to do with Rtas' liking for his sister. Whatever was going on between them had been important enough for Rtas to leave his friends alone for a while, which was something he didn't do too often unless he had a good reason. Rtas was the loyal type after all.


Lirana sounded tired, her voice soft and her eyes half-open. Arla turned around to face her, feeling a little tired himself.

"Do you want to go inside?" Arla asked, glancing up at the darkening sky, the first pinpoints of stars appearing to signify the coming of night but wasn't quite night yet. He guessed it was more like the twilight hours as day merged into night and the town itself became quieter, unlike the cities on his home-world of Sanghelios which seemed more active at night than any daylight hour.

It seemed a refreshing change, staying in a quiet settlement on a lightly populated planet. It was better than being cooped up on board the Relinquished Light, that was for sure.

Lirana nodded in response to Arla's question, managing a yawn, opening her jaws wide and moaning slightly. It had been a long day for the both of them for they had gone to almost every part of the town and even spent some time outside of it, going to the many Forerunner temples that were out in the woodland, just for something to do.

Arla stood up, his muscles aching from all the effort he expended in his tour of the town and surrounding woodland, helping Lirana up with one hand and turning to look at Kesa, who seemed to be the least drunken of the three Minors.

"Lirana and I are going inside for an early night," he told Kesa, "maybe you would like to do the same?"

Kesa gave him a frown and then glanced at the half-finished bottle of whiskey in his hand. Thinking about what he should do for a moment, he dropped the bottle, letting it roll off the table and land loudly on the ground, although it didn't break. Instead, the remaining whiskey poured out, forming a moderately sized puddle as Kesa stood up.

"I think I will…" He said, swaying on the spot slightly. He steadied himself and followed Arla and Lirana into the apartment building, passing through the entrance lobby and entering one of the elevators. As the door closed behind them, Kesa spoke.

"Do you know where Rtas is?"

Arla shook his head, pressing the appropriate symbols on the holographic panel by the elevator door. Back home on Sanghelios most buildings had gravity lifts, which made it feel a bit strange using an old-style metal lift. He figured colonies such as this one weren't up to getting the more advanced technology in yet.

"He's been away all day," Kesa said, staring towards the holographic panel as the elevator started up, as if there was something fascinating about it, "has he forgotten about us?"

Judging by the way Kesa was staring at nothing in particular Arla assumed all the alcohol the Sangheili had consumed was beginning to mess around with his vision. Kesa held out a hand in front of his face and slowly clenched his fingers as his vision swayed in and out of focus before him.

"I wouldn't worry too much about Rtas," Arla said, the elevator coming to a stop at the correct floor, "he will return soon enough. Why do you ask?"

Kesa shrugged as the three of them stepped out of the lift, Arla putting an arm around Lirana to help her long. She put his head onto his shoulder, almost falling asleep right there but Arla managed to keep her awake by shaking her slightly.

"I thought he might have liked to know that I saw his father earlier

Arla stopped at the door of the apartment, finding the door unlocked and letting it slide open before him. Helping Lirana over to the couch, he sat her down, sitting down next to her. It took a little while before what Kesa had said registered in his brain.

"You saw his father?" Arla asked, feeling Lirana place her head back on his shoulder. He could feel her warmth against him as she shifted slightly, closing her eyes and drifting off. He also felt a little pleased at the fact that she was actually getting this close to him, feeling that maybe there was something between the two of them indicating more than just a regular friendship.

"He stopped by the bar while you and Lirana were gone," Kesa said, racking his brain for the memories which were blurred by the alcohol he had consumed over the course of the day, "I am fairly certain it was his father. He was a large, green-eyed Field Commander which looked quite like Rtas. He seemed to be desperate for liquor and quite drunk."

Like you, Arla thought with a grin. He turned his head to face his friend who was standing by the now closed apartment door.

"The bartender refused to give him service and the Field Commander left soon enough, but not after he had yelled and swore at the bartender a little." Kesa paused for a moment, grinning slightly. "I don't know what he would be doing here…"

"He's probably just here for some time off, like us," Arla said, although he somehow doubted that Kesa had really seen Rtas' father. "Are you sure it was him?"

"I might be wrong, but I think it would be better if I told Rtas," Kesa said.

Arla had seen Rtas' father a few times in the past and it was also the case that his father and Rtas' father were close friends, although it seemed that his friend's father wasn't as neglectful as his own. If it had really been Rtas' father, the young Sangheili deserved to know.

"I think it would be better if you told him," Arla said, "if Rtas ever does return."

Kesa shrugged, heading for the sofa across from Arla, sitting down and laying back a little, staring up at the ceiling.

"I'll wait for him," Kesa said, "hopefully he won't be too long."

Arla nodded, Kesa remaining awake for another twenty minutes as darkness fell outside. Soon Arla himself was asleep and Terlas had come and retreated to his room, Sysha being left outside where he had fallen asleep sitting down. Kesa did get up and turn off the lights, leaving the room with only the dim light streaming through the windows, casting an eerie blue glow across the room. Sitting back down, he waited some more.

Soon enough his patience was rewarded, Kesa watching Rtas arrive with the female he had met yesterday, Arla's sister, in tow. The pair seemed excited, Rtas gripping one of his new girlfriend's hands as he dragged her towards the door of his room. Kesa stood up and followed the pair inside, stopping in the doorway as Rtas and Yelina stood facing each other a few metres ahead.

"Rtas, there is something I was going to tell you, but you weren't around…"

Kesa didn't get to finish, Rtas totally ignoring what he said as he leaned forwards and brought his mandibles to Yelina's, the pair putting theirs together as they kissed, Rtas wrapping his arms around her, Yelina doing the same so they stood embraced and passionately kissing, Rtas moving his hands along her back, feeling every curvature of her body, Yelina doing the same.

Kesa watched with a strange fascination as this all unfolded before him, the pair seemingly oblivious to his presence. He didn't think that Rtas would listen to what he had to tell him for now, so Kesa, quite reluctantly but probably for the better, turned around and left the room, the door shutting behind him. He could only guess at what exactly the pair were doing.

The next morning arrived Rtas was up later than he usually was, sunlight streaming through the shutters on the windows, Yelina still asleep in the same position from the night before, her head resting on his chest as she breathed steadily.

He took a moment to look down at her, admiring the way she seemed so peaceful, her eyes closed and body relaxed, her warm breath against his chest as he thought back to their activities the night before, unable to help but grin.

He may only have known her for now just over two days and for a moment he had been filled with doubt over whether they should not rush into their relationship, but now that seemed insignificant. He had never felt the same about anybody else before and it certainly didn't seem to him that he was making any sort of mistake. He wondered what Arla would think; it was obvious he knew about his involvement with his sister, although Rtas doubted if he knew about this particular aspect of their relationship. He would prefer it to stay that way, if possible, although privacy was a difficult thing to find in these apartments. Funnily enough, no one had bothered trying to get into Rtas' room, which was perhaps a bonus.

Rtas sat up, gently resting Yelina's head on the pillow beside him. She shifted in her sleep, sensing that something had changed but soon settled where she lay. He smiled, she looked so beautiful while she was asleep and he couldn't help but put a hand to the side of her face, caressing her mandibles.

This woke her up, Yelina slowly opening her eyes, looking up at him. She still looked half asleep, but now that she was awake she would find it hard to fall asleep again. Sliding slightly closer to him, she put her head by his side, her gaze meeting his.

"Did you have a good night's sleep?" Rtas asked, although his question was obviously the type to cause more of an effect than an answer. She smiled, a hand going for his chest as she ran her fingertips down his muscular bulk.

"That would depend, Rtas," she said, "did you?"

Rtas gave a mandible-shrug. It had certainly been one of his better nights, though.

"I slept well, considering you were right here with me," he replied, "and since we're both awake, I was thinking…"

Yelina cut him off, wearing a grin.

"Somebody might hear us…"

"They would have heard us last night, so either they don't care or they didn't hear us," Rtas said, moving onto his side so he was facing her, bringing his head close to hers, "as well as that, all of this talking is making me bored…" He put a hand to her abdomen, moving towards her a little. She frowned, using a hand to hold him back slightly.

"Rtas, we're both running late for where we need to be," Yelina said, glancing at the chronometer by the door where the time was displayed in large, visible symbols, "I was meant to be at the hospital an hour ago. You, on the other hand (she poked him playfully in the stomach) were supposed to be packed and ready to leave half an hour ago. I'm sure your friends are wondering where you are…"

They could wait, he thought. Using both hands to grip her sides and lie her down before him, he leaned forward and began to kiss her, Yelina refusing to put up any more resistance as he ran his mandibles across her chest in a seductive fashion, bringing his weight forwards, Yelina letting out a slight gasp.

Unexpectedly, the sound of the door sliding open broke Rtas' concentration. He rolled off her and sat up, watching as Major Kalara walked into the room, gazing at the pair of them with an uncertain expression. He stopped a few metres from the end of the bed, shaking his head.

"Minor Rtas, you're late!" He exclaimed, trying his best to ignore Yelina, who had pulled the bed-sheets over her so they met her at the
neck, "what are you doing?"

Rtas felt his hearts jump a beat as he realized he might be in a bit of trouble. He saluted, jumping out of the bed and standing to attention. Kalara clenched his mandibles tight in an effort to keep from laughing.

"Sorry sir," Rtas said, "I merely slept in…"

"No excuses, Minor!" Kalara barked, "Put some clothes on and get your gear packed." The Major snickered quietly when he finished the sentence, doing his best to keep a straight face. Rtas nodded, his face flushing purple with embarrassment. The Major turned around and exited the room, shaking his head as he went.

Yelina sat up in the bed once he was gone, Rtas hurriedly attempting to put on his under-suit, too much in a hurried state to do it efficiently. Yelina sat watching him for a moment.

"Do you still think nobody heard us?" She asked. Rtas shook his head, his face still a deep purple from embarrassment. What a good start to the day, he thought while trying to fit into his under-suit.

Hours later, the Minors had boarded a shuttle and headed back for the Relinquished Light which lay in orbit around the colony world, several other ships in the same sort of position. All of them were feeling a little disappointed at how short their stay had been, but according to the Major, the following mission was important and must keep to schedule.
Arla wasn't too worried about what the mission would be like, even the Major himself had told them there would be no combat involved, which could mean it was going to be as easy as the leave they just had or as boring as their lives aboard the ship. Either one was better than getting shot at, although Arla was yet to be in that situation, Minors like him always getting stuck with the least exciting operations unless you were really unfortunate, being put into large combat operations.

He couldn't work out why Minors like him were needed to do such menial tasks, but that was the last thing he was thinking about, his mind set on Lirana and how she was staying in another room close by. He hoped he would be seeing her soon, he was already getting bored with what they were doing now, which involved sitting around the barracks and talking about whatever came to mind. Sure, that was alright every now and then but not all the time, considering they had just been doing it down on the colony.

Rtas, in the meantime, had been quieter than usual, sitting in the seat closest to Arla, his head down as if he was miserable but he was wearing a bit of a smile, not a noticeable one but every now and then he would chuckle quietly to himself, as if having thought of something funny. Arla was trying to figure out what, although it might have something to do with what Kesa said last night.

Kesa, sitting nearby, had been quiet as well, obviously a little disappointed at how they were back on the ship so soon. He was the one to break the silence that had fallen over their group for a little while, everybody too deep into their own thoughts to say much.

"I think it would be a good waste of time if we went to the firing range, just for a while," he said, "it would certainly be better than sitting here moping just because we're officially back on duty. What do you think?"
Sysha was the first to answer, looking up from where he sat and giving a shrug.

"I'll go with you," he replied, "I did my fair share of sitting around down in the settlement."

Kesa nodded, turning to Arla.

"What about you, Arla?"

Arla shrugged as well. He wasn't too sure whether the firing range was the most exciting thing they could do, but he didn't have much else to choose from. Covenant cruisers weren't built with boredom reducing activities on board, troops would have to improvise or make do with what the ship had.

"I may as well," he said, getting up. Rtas stood up as well, obviously with the intent on coming as well.

Kesa nodded when he saw that nearly their whole group had decided to come along.

"We could have some sort of shooting competition," he said as the group started for the door, "although I'm fairly certain Terlas would win…"

"I would win," Sysha boasted before Terlas, who was walking next to him, could utter a reply, "besides, marksmanship is a cowardly form of fighting…"

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Terlas said, the group starting their way through the winding purple-blue metal corridors of the ship.

"How so?"

"Because there is no such thing as a 'cowardly' form of fighting, Sysha," Terlas explained, "it's the Sangheili who fights that is the coward or not, not how he fights. I doubt your miniscule brain would be able to make much sense of this…"

Sysha frowned, insulted. He grunted in annoyance.

"I know what you're talking about," he said, "not that it matters. I could beat you with my eyes closed…"

Terlas laughed, playfully patting Sysha on the back.

"I doubt it, friend…"

"Could you two stop arguing?" Kesa said, "you were both fine when we were down in the settlement but as soon as we get back on board, you're at each other's throats again." He shook his head at the hopelessness of getting the pair of them to get along.

The group came to a set of double doors which slid open as they approached, revealing the long, wide open room beyond. Several booths and benches were a few metres ahead, facing out across the long firing range, holographic targets at varying distances. A pair of Special Operations Sangheili, at the lowest Special Operations rank judging by the insignia on their armour, were standing at a pair of booths, firing at a few of the targets with plasma rifles, the targets flashing red and an alert beep sounding from the panels in the booths.

Now that the group was here it occurred to each of them that they didn't have much of an idea of what they should do. Kesa was the first one to come up with something, breaking the silence that had fallen amongst the group for the second time.

"If there is one thing that we may as well get good at, it's shooting," he said, stepping over to a closed rack of weapons and flashing his standard passcard over the panel, the shield protecting the rack switching off, allowing access to the weapons behind.

Arla stepped forwards, grabbing one of the plasma rifles, weighing it in his hands, taking note of its lightweight. It occurred to him that he hadn't fired a weapon since basic training, which had been a few months ago, so he had a feeling he would probably be a bit rusty. It was up to a Minor like him to practice and so far Arla hadn't gotten round to doing such a thing. It was the same with the others as well, maybe with the exception of Terlas, who grabbed himself a particle beam rifle, stepping over to one of the booths and fiddling wit the holographic panel there for a moment which in turn activated a target sequence. As he began firing away, Kesa put a hand on Rtas' shoulder to get his attention, stopping the Sangheili from getting a weapon.

Rtas had no idea why his friend had stopped him but Kesa spoke before he could protest.

"Rtas, there was something I was going to tell you last night," Kesa said, Arla standing by the pair and listening to the conversation, "but when I saw you were busy with Arla's sister…"

Arla realized how this related to him slightly and interrupted the talk, curious as to what Kesa was talking about.

"What was Rtas doing with my sister?" He asked, his voice tinged with uncertainty. He noticed Rtas turn his head slightly in an effort to hide the way his face had flushed dark purple. Kesa kept a straight gaze as he told Arla.

"I found them kissing and…well…" He paused, unsure of how he should say this. "They were kissing passionately, feeling each other in all sorts of places…"

Arla couldn't help but smile when he heard this. If Rtas had actually gotten lucky with his sister, he was keen to know how. He had always thought that the girl wore a tough mental shell which prevented most males from getting that close to her, always warding them off somehow. Then again, Rtas wasn't like most males.

"Rtas, is this true?" Arla asked, his friend turning to face him, looking a bit embarrassed.

"How did you know this, Kesa?" Rtas asked, glancing at Kesa who also looked as amused as Arla was, "were you actually there?"

"Didn't you see me?" Kesa asked, sounding surprised, "you two returned to the apartment, went into your room and began to get really close. I went in to tell you something, which is why I started this conversation now, but obviously we've gone off track slightly." He paused, shrugging. "I did leave soon after, if you're wondering…"

"What did you do last night, Rtas?" Arla asked, curious about the matter but knowing Rtas probably wouldn't talk about such a thing, "just how 'close' did you get to my sister?"

Rtas shook his head, embarrassed and a little annoyed at the way his friends were throwing him question after question. He shifted uneasily where he stood, trying to think of something to say.

"I…I don't think that is really any of your business, Arla," he said weakly, "I really don't want to say…It is my business, after all."
Kesa laughed, realizing that Rtas was hiding something. Arla didn't laugh but let Kesa interrupt the Sangheili, slapping him lightly on the shoulder in a playful manner.

"You frisky thing, Rtas," Kesa said, not really being serious but making sure he did get on Rtas' nerves, "you really couldn't help yourself, could you? I expected better from you…"

"Could you just stop talking about it?" Rtas said, a hint of anger coming into his voice, his face having receded from its flushed state back to its normal state, "It is really not your business…"

"She might regain her virginity but you would just take it right back, wouldn't you?"

Rtas didn't reply, rather he turned around and walked over to the steel bench against the back wall, sitting down with a rather annoyed look on his face. Kesa exchanged glances with Arla, the two of them chuckling quietly so Rtas wouldn't hear them.

Kesa went on to one of the booths to begin shooting at the holographic targets. Arla thought he would actually engage Rtas in a proper conversation, curious as to what really had gone on between his friend and Yelina. Stepping over to the bench and sitting himself down next to Rtas, who didn't even bother to glance at him as he sat down, ignoring his sheer presence, he rested the plasma rifle in his lap and sat back.

"You shouldn't let what he says get to you, Rtas," Arla said, "after all; he's just trying to get on your nerves."

"I know that," Rtas said without turning to look at him, "I don't care much for what he says, or anybody else for that matter."

"What's your problem then?"

Rtas sighed, turning to his friend, making it obvious there was something on his mind by the downbeat expression he gave.
"It's nothing too major, but it is something that will keep on my mind for a while," Rtas explained, "I didn't think much of it when it happened, but now…"

"Now it seems a lot more important?"

Rtas nodded in response, Arla having finished his sentence for him. For a second the pair sat in silence, hearing the sounds of weapons fire as the others fired their weapons at the targets, noticing that another two Special Operations soldiers had entered the room, and grouping with the two that had already been inside when Arla and his group had entered. It seemed there would be a small crowd gathering in the firing range son enough.

"I made a promise to Yelina that I would return for her," Rtas said, Arla returning his attention to his friend, "that I wouldn't forget about her, living down in the settlement. I made that promise without thinking too much about it…"

"Is that what's on your mind, Rtas?" Arla asked, unconvinced, "that's it? Nothing else…?"

Rtas shook his head, annoyed at his friend's ignorance.

"You don't understand, Arla," he continued, "I'm worried I won't keep that promise, for whatever reason. Something might happen by the time I get some more leave…As well as that, I've been having this strange feeling about this mission we're going on."

Arla's interest level increased slightly. He leaned towards Rtas a little, curious on hearing more, although his friend kept his downbeat tone of voice.

"There's something we're not being told, I can tell," Rtas said, "I doubt the Major's being told the whole story as well. This mission, why send a pack of Minors like us to secure an excavation site? It seems utterly pointless, considering if there's going to be nobody there to fight nobody needs to secure the site…"

Arla found himself nodding in agreement to what Rtas was saying. It made sense, why send soldiers in if there was going to be nobody to fight?

"Is this all?"

"I think somebody's not telling us on purpose, Arla," Rtas said, "I have no idea why they would do that, but I am certain we're not being told the whole concerning this mission." He frowned, glancing back at Arla. "I am sure that when we do arrive on this desert planet we will end up doing far more than securing a vacant site."

Rtas fell silent, leaving Arla to dwell on these words, whether what they told was going to turn out true or not. With some reluctance, Arla stood up and stepped over to one of the booths, finding that he would feel much better if his shooting skills were up to speed if what his friend said was going to be true.

Note: Couldn't find a way to break this up, hence the reason it's a bit long. Sorry if that, ah...ruined your day or something...

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Kilgore
Date: 23 December 2008, 7:17 am

April 23rd, 2526
KV9-X7, UNSC Marine base camp

It had been about half an hour since the pair of Spartans had arrived, been greeted and then shown to their accommodation. One thing Lyssa didn't think too highly of, concerning the Spartans, was that male one, Leon. The one that was apparently the "unstable" one, who enjoyed killing, didn't say much and when he did he was usually insulting someone.

Stuck with the job of making sure the pilots who would be arriving soon enough were given a good first impression, Lyssa hadn't much else to do but sit and wait, having come back from filling up her water canteen since water was the only real decent drink on the planet, although she knew some of the officers had stronger stuff hidden around. Not that it really mattered now; the last thing she wanted was whiskey on a hot day like this.

The Corporal had returned with a pair of lemonade bottles, a grumpy look on his face from their previous conversation. He sat himself down on the seat next to her and handed her the lemonade bottle, although now she didn't really feel like it. Instead, she thought she would try and get on the Corporal's nerves a bit.

"So, chicken shit," Lyssa said jokingly, "you going to tell me that you like me or will your new nickname stay?"

The Corporal shook his head, frowning as he opened his bottle of lemonade. To her, he did look mightily annoyed, so she felt obligated to see how much he could take before he finally burst.

"I do like you," the Corporal replied confidently, "for one thing; you have a nice ass…"

Lyssa frowned at this remark but didn't do anything to stop him, the heat having sapped most of her energy for the day. The Corporal trailed off, unsure of whether he should continue or not.

"Is there anything else you want to add?" Lyssa asked, "Or is that all?"

"Well, I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes you. Besides, you're a young, pretty athletic woman. You have the looks, although your personality…"

Lyssa felt a little insulted by the way he trailed off like that, as if he didn't know what to say about her personality. The Corporal paused to think about what he should say, trying his best to find a least insulting way to describe it.

"The way you act…It scares off most men, you know," the Corporal explained, "you punch a guy in the face if he comments on your ass, which, if you weren't sure, isn't such a big turn on for some guys. Others, sure, they like that in a woman…"

"But they would prefer it if the girl they got involved with was some vulnerable, good looking one who would need their protection, am I right?" Lyssa asked, years of experience having taught her this, "most men like to feel superior to their girlfriends, not the other way around."
The Corporal nodded, smiling when a particular thought crept into his mind.

"You know, if I wasn't mistaken, some men would think of you as a bit of a 'bitch'," the Corporal said with a grin, obviously finding this quite funny, "didn't you ever realize that?"

Lyssa had always had that kind of thought in the back of her mind, that her actions indicated that she was some sort of bitchy marine, but it had never really bothered her. The way the Corporal was snickering about it now did annoy her, though.

"Do you think that's funny?" She asked, the Corporal shrugging, "what if I kicked your ass, Corporal? Would that be funny?"

"This is what I've just been talking about," the Corporal said, "your anger, Lieutenant. That's your problem. You have a bad temper…"

Lyssa hadn't been too serious about her previous threat but what the Corporal did say about her temper struck a chord with her somewhere. She knew that was mostly true, others having commented on her temper before.

"You're a short tempered woman, Lieutenant," the Corporal said, "but that doesn't keep me from talking to you, like I am now. Some men, after all, do like girls that have a fiery temper…"

Lyssa didn't reply, instead she sat back in her seat and looked across the landing strip, noticing how a familiar looking shadow had fallen across part of the strip. Looking up, she saw a Pelican in descent, coming down over the landing strip at a steady speed, placing itself about twenty metres ahead of where she and the Corporal were sitting.
Hovering about half a metre off of the ground, the pair watched as the rear ramp extended and a lone figure, tall and somewhat muscular, stepped out of the Pelican, his features hard to make out at this distance. The figure paused to gaze around at his surroundings, put a hand up to his round, cowboy-style hat and spat off to the side.

"Is that him?" The Corporal asked, nudging Lyssa slightly, "that's got to be him. I mean, look at the guy, he's only been here for a few seconds and he's already standing around like he owns the place."

Lyssa didn't reply, she knew she didn't have to, as Major Lance Kilgore, forty-eight years old and veteran of all kinds of wars, all of which had been against some form of rebel organization, stepped out of the Pelican wearing his trademark cowboy hat and boots, a short-sleeved desert coloured shirt and light pants made him almost blend into the desert background. His brown hat and dark sunglasses stood out though, having not gone for the complete camouflage image. The guy probably wouldn't even be going into the thick of it anyway.

Lyssa had seen this guy's photo on datapads and in books before, as well as seen him on the news every now and then. The Major had a thing for cameras, when there were a few journalists nearby he would come along and hog the limelight, not that anybody complained since he was good at boosting the ratings of any television show he appeared on, most of them news programmes although he had been on a few talk shows, talking about his experiences in the many conflicts in the last twenty-something years.

Unlike most war veterans, he wasn't traumatized by his experiences. Rather, he seemed to have enjoyed them, flying around or walking around killing rebels, whatever suited him at the time. He had won a few war medals but never the Colonial Cross, the highest UNSC declaration, which was something a few people teased him about. No matter how hard he tried, the Colonial Cross was always just out of his reach. It was always in sight, but never out of reach.

Stepping out onto the sandy landing strip with what looked to be a toothpick sticking out of his mouth as he pointlessly chewed on it, giving him some sort of macho look. He gazed around at the camp, keeping his expression neutral, although he did seem to notice Lyssa and Corporal Walther's presence.

Following him out of the Pelican were three other people, one an older, bearded man in light coloured clothes and the other two younger men, one of which was holding one of the new, lightweight video cameras which filmed straight onto a large sized hard-drive built into them. The other was holding a datapad and entering information as the Major began to speak, although Lyssa and the Corporal were too far from them to hear what they were saying.

Soon enough, the cameraman held up the small camera and began filming as Major Kilgore walked over to Lyssa and the Corporal, gazing down at the pair and noticing that a few army engineers were watching him as well. Giving a piercing gaze to the trio of engineers, they promptly scattered away, heading back to work. Returning his gaze at Lyssa and the Corporal, who kept his expression neutral while he chewed on his toothpick.

"Where the hell is everybody else?" The Major asked, sounding annoyed, "are you the only two that the General sent out to greet me?"
Lyssa nodded, trying not to feel intimidated by the Major's manner. He didn't look amused by the fact and kept talking, the cameraman filming while the note taking guy kept on taking notes.

"I was expecting a much bigger welcoming party," the Major continued, holding his hands at his hips, a hint of a Texas or some other Southern state accent in his voice, Lyssa couldn't work out what. "Not that it fucking matters anyway."

"Where are the pilots?" Lyssa asked, noticing that Major Kilgore almost looked insulted by this question.

"I come here and all you can do is ask me where everybody else is?" Kilgore asked, sounding slightly annoyed, "well, for your information Lieutenant…" He gazed at the insignia on her uniform to find out her rank before continuing, "everybody else, as you so put it, are on their way, they were just held up on the cruiser, that's all. Now, I'm sure you know who I am…"

"We do, sir," the Corporal interjected, the Major turning his gaze over at the Corporal, "I'm pretty certain everybody in this base knows who you are…"

"I'm glad to hear that," Kilgore replied, taking the toothpick away from his teeth for a moment and moving it around in his right hand, "I would be surprised if any of you hadn't heard of me in some way…" He gazed around at the camp once more, frowning with some discontent at the way the place looked before returning his gaze to Lyssa.

"Who the hell are you two anyway?" He asked. The man didn't seem to have too many manners, although manners were something that many people these days were lacking. Lyssa felt she should better give him an answer, Kilgore was known for sudden violent outbursts, something of which would be funny to watch, especially since his camera crew were filming, but probably not as funny to actually bare the brunt of.

Lyssa stood up and gave the Major a salute.

"I'm 2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine, this is…" She gestured to the Corporal, who had also stood up and saluted, "that's Corporal Henry Walther."

"Raine, huh?" Kilgore regarded her with some uncertainty, trying to work her out. Lyssa stood still as his gazed moved from her feet and back to her face as Kilgore took her looks in.

"What is a pretty lady like you doing in a shithole like this?" Kilgore asked, "I would expect to find your type in much better places than this."

"I was sort of dragged here," Lyssa replied.

"How long you been here for?"

"Since day one, last year in September," Lyssa replied, "why?"
Kilgore shrugged, merely curious as to why Lyssa was even on the planet.

"I just wanted to know," he replied, turning to look at the Corporal and regarding him with some apprehension. "What about you, Corporal? You been here since this whole load of shit started up?"

The Corporal looked up, having not been listening. He stuttered for a moment, trying to form words even though he had no idea what the Major was talking about.

"What load of shit, sir?"

"This whole fucking operation, moron," Kilgore said, a hint of anger creeping its way into his voice, "have you even been listening to me?"
The head of the camera crew, the bearded man in the red shirt, smiled appreciatively and started nodding.

"Good anger Major, good anger," he said, before glancing at the man with the camera, "be sure to record everything…"

The Major ignored them as he waited for an answer from the Corporal. The Corporal looked a bit nervous though and stammered slightly.

"I…I…Yeah, day one for me as well," he said, "why?"

Kilgore didn't reply. Rather, he reached into a pocket on the chest of his shirt and retrieved a box of cigarettes, dropping the toothpick from his right hand and letting it land on the sand and most likely remain there for as long as the environment would allow. He held out the box to the Corporal, who shook his head.

"I don't smoke sir…"

"I thought so," Kilgore said, "you do look like a sissy ass…" The Major left Corporal Walther to digest this remark while he lit himself a cigarette, puffed lightly on it and put the box back into his pocket.

"Call him 'chicken shit', sir," Lyssa said with a grin, the Corporal managing an annoyed glance, nudging her in the side slightly. Major Kilgore simply nodded in complete agreement to this suggestion.

"Corporal Chicken shit, that has a good ring to it," Kilgore said. He turned to the red shirted head of the camera crew and frowned, deciding to move onto more important matters.

"Where the fuck are my bags?" Kilgore snapped, the director taken aback by the Major's sudden anger, "are you just going to stand there or are you going to go back to that Pelican and fetch my fucking bags?"

The director nodded, turning around and running back to the hovering Pelican, climbing back on board and returning with two large suitcases which he seemed to be struggling with. He stepped out of the Pelican and almost fell over when he took a step off of the rear ramp, only balancing himself on the suitcases which he planted firmly onto the ground. To Lyssa it seemed Kilgore had made this camera crew, and the director especially, some sort of servant service or something, she wasn't sure what to call it but Kilgore seemed the type to take advantage of anyone he could.

While the director was taking his time returning with the suitcases, Kilgore turned back around and faced Lyssa, his expression hard to read due to his eyes being hidden behind the sunglasses he wore.

"That idiot director guy is Kyle, he's directing some sort of documentary…" Kilgore nodded to the director and then trailed off, trying to remember the facts.

"What was it called again…?"

"Diary of a Shortsword pilot," the note-taking man said, Kilgore nodding in approval.

"Yeah, that was it," he said, nodding over to the note-taking man, "don't mind Kevin, he's just writing everything and recording everything I say and do for the book that's going to be released. He's almost as much of an idiot as Kyle…"

The note-taking man lost his smile but kept writing.

Lyssa exchanged glances with the Corporal while Kilgore droned on about the documentary. This man certainly seemed self-centred, regarding everybody else, including she and the Corporal, as inferior. He walked around as if he owned the place and demonstrated this as he started past the tents, leaving Lyssa and the Corporal behind.

"Could someone direct me to my damn tent?" He asked, stopping and turning to look at the pair of marines, "or do I have to find it myself?"
Lyssa turned to the Corporal, who had turned to her, expecting her to be the one to direct him to his accommodation.

"Fucked if I do it," the Corporal said, "I can't stand the guy…"

Lyssa smiled when she saw Walther's reaction. He didn't have much of an argument against doing it and she was his superior, after all.

"Who's in charge here?" She asked, expecting more of a reaction than an answer. The Corporal shook his head, defeated and walked up to where the Major and his camera crew were waiting. The group disappeared behind a row of tents, passing several other marines and engineers that were milling about the camp, concentrating on their own thing.

Lyssa returned to her seat and decided to have the lemonade the Corporal had gotten her, unscrewing the lid and drinking the chilled, sweet drink which was a welcome change to drinking water all of the time. Gazing out across the landing strip, she watched as the Pelican that had brought Kilgore and his camera crew ascended, its engines quieter than most other aircraft, managing a soft whooshing noise as the craft accelerated away from the landing strip, disappearing across the horizon.

It probably wouldn't be long before the pilots arrived, about five of them apparently, probably all cocky, young men who enjoyed blowing things up with the help of the heavy ordnance available for Shortsword fighter/bombers. She was certain most of them, if not all, hadn't seen any combat, doubting that the UNSC would send them experienced pilots. They were far too stingy to do that, preferring to keep such pilots for more important operations, whatever they may be.

It was just after noon, planet-wise time according to the watch she wore on her left wrist which she had tuned to be as accurate as possible to the planet's day and night cycle. It was the equivalent of an Earth half-past one time now according to it, which meant she still had plenty of day left ahead of her. Not to mention being assigned front gate guard duty for tonight. Not only would she be made to stand in a guard booth (or sit, she would be bringing a chair with her) but she would be made to do it in the very dead of the night, from eleven pm to one am. Maybe not a very long time, but at that time of night an hour seemed to go on for four hours.

One thing she knew she needed was a decent wash. Her face was sweaty and grimy from having been out in the desert for so long and she really just felt dirty all over, as well as a bit smelly. She wasn't the only one, but in a desert environment it was hard to get a hold of water to wash one's self. There was of course the water pumps bringing up water from underground streams but otherwise showers and baths were hard to come by.

Taking off her NCO cap and wiping her brow with her sleeve, she considered taking off the armour plating that seemed to be the main cause of her sweating, reaching down and unclipping the armour vest off of her torso so that she was down to her army fatigues, reaching down and taking off her leg plating, followed by her armour plating.
Feeling only slightly relieved, she finished off the lemonade and attempted to get back into the shade, but the way the sun was positioned in the sky now had made this side of the tent lose its shade so she was sitting in the full brunt of the sun's heat.

Sunburn was the least of her worries considering that, every day as part of a morning routine she had adopted when she first arrived here, she made sure to cover herself with layers of sunscreen. She wasn't the only one who did such a thing considering nearly everybody in this camp would be spending a lot of time in the sun.

Tugging at her collar, a thought occurred to her concerning Kilgore's camera crew and the Spartans. If the camera crew filmed the Spartans in action, or even at all, wouldn't that be violating the secrecy of the Spartan project? She had a feeling somebody would be around to stop such a thing from happening, though.

She wondered how her squad was doing, whether or not the rebel armour column had showed up or not. If it had she would have expected them to call for some backup since anti-tank weapons were something which they had lacked for some time and were a rarity around the camp. The General had made sure such weapons were conserved for more important combat missions and so only a select few had access to them. Unfortunately, nobody in her squad were one of those select few.

Now, for some reason, the uselessness of this whole operation was something she was beginning to realize entirely. For months they had been out here without getting many reinforcements or supplies and for months they had been forced to fight a superior enemy. Even fighting the rebels hadn't occurred since late January, so staying on this planet seemed pointless. It's not like being away from home was getting to her, she didn't have any family and the one person that she might have even remotely wanted to be with had abandoned her years ago. The whole pointlessness of the situation occurred to her right now, right where she sat, baking in the heat of the sun and suffering from the first symptoms of heat stroke, a headache creeping into her head.

She began to laugh about it all as beads of sweat dripped from her forehead. She laughed loudly, not that anybody nearby was within earshot and those few that were didn't care.

She was so into her near delirium that she didn't even hear the roar of the engines of the Shortsword fighter/bombers that zoomed overhead, beginning a circle of the landing strip as they awaited the non-existent air traffic controllers to grant them landing clearance.

She stopped laughing a short time later, watching as the wing-shaped, aerodynamic grey-blue fighters kept circling the landing strip, trying to get into contact with whoever ran the landing strip who turned out to be a bored NCO who was busy outside the air traffic control tent, Lyssa could see him as he stood talking casually with a large, middle-aged moustached man who looked familiar to her, probably because she had seen him somewhere before.

If no one was going to grant landing clearance to the Shortsword fighter/bombers then they probably weren't going to land, which she thought was a bit of a good thing since the last thing she wanted was to talk with a bunch of cocky flyboys, especially when she was beginning to feel nauseous. Maybe water would help, she thought, although she couldn't be bothered getting up from where she sat and thought that maybe she would take a nap, not the smartest thing to do when she was lying in the sun but she didn't care anymore. Her whole presence here was pointless, anyway. Nobody here was doing anything worthwhile and it would probably stay that way for some time to come.

"Okay, change of plan: we just land, screw their air traffic control," the pilot said, shifting his gaze onto the landing strip below. He heard a few affirmative grunts from the other fighters over the radio and so, being flight leader, adjusted his aircraft's speed and flaps, heading in for landing.

It hadn't been his idea to get assigned here, rather the head of the 342nd Shortsword Squadron, otherwise known as the "Lightning Hawks", had made him and four other pilots, all with only slight experience, be the ones to get assigned to some dull posting on some shithole of a planet. According to what he had been told and the briefing, the marines here were fighting some rebels which had set up bases in the desert wastes and hadn't had much luck with routing the rebels from the planet. The pilot knew he could have gotten far better postings, but being the black sheep of the squadron the Major had decided to send him down here.

The cockpit of a Shortsword was quite roomy and the controls and readouts were laid out in easy-to-use fashion, after all, over five hundred years of aircraft design had come to this, the pinnacle of aircraft technology. The cockpit allowed excellent visibility for an already reliable aircraft which could either be made for bombing or dog-fighting, either way it done its job well.

Captain Rick Palmer had always had a fascination with flying, ever since he had been young, and so it made sense that he had decided to become a pilot. He had been a pilot for about ten years and had seen a few large scale operations against the rebels and so was used to air combat. The other four pilots he had been put in charge of though were mostly green and fresh out of flight school. They did know how to fly, but he was yet to see how they did in actual combat.

When he had first heard that Major Kilgore was going to select five pilots to be posted at the UNSC base on KV9-X7, he had half-expected him to be chosen. After all, the last mission he flew hadn't gone all too well and had made many others in the squadron make him out to be the 'black sheep' of the group. He was trying to make amend for past mistakes but he hadn't had much of a chance to do so, this war against rebels going into a slight lull, unlike last year which had been full of raids on important rebel installations. 2526, it seemed, would be an uneventful year.

Palmer was thirty-seven, older than most of the other guys in the squadron except for the Major, who was the oldest out of all of them. He had green eyes and dark, brown hair cut short but not too short and Palmer himself was, like all people in some sort of military service, quite fit, strong even. He had been born on Reach and had grown up with only a single mother as a parent, his father having left before he had been born. He had no clue what had happened to the man and didn't particularly care, having lived fine without him.

One main reason why he had decided to be a pilot was that his childhood home had been located close to a UNSC airbase, so nearly every day he was able to watch all sorts of aircraft take off and land, doing training exercises and whatnot. That airbase had been the very place he had first joined up after coming out of basic flight school and had worked on the base for about a year before he was called to be posted in the lesser known Outer Colonies region. Apparently that's where all the action was, and that had been proven correct when his first operation had involved 'softening up' rebel positions in a mountainous region on some insignificant colony world. The planet itself may have been insignificant but the action he had seen there hadn't, especially since these rebels had somewhat older models of aircraft but had modified them to make them equal to today's military aircraft.

During that operation he shot down three rebel planes, no easy feat, especially since there hadn't exactly been too many planes to shoot at in the first place.

Now here he was, reduced to being put on an even more out of the way planet to hopefully help out the slack marines stationed there. It was an absolutely uninteresting task and the only reason Kilgore himself had came down to the planet was so the documentary crew could film what he did here. Kilgore himself hadn't flown in a Shortsword for months and Palmer had heard rumours that maybe Kilgore wasn't as brave as many made him out to be, but as long as it didn't concern him, Palmer wouldn't care too much.

The base certainly looked insignificant. From this low altitude it looked like a bunch of green tents and a few solid, makeshift structures surrounded by a wire fence on top of a desert plateau. The landing strip looked only just suitable for a Shortsword to land on, being more or less a stretch of hardened desert ground.

All attempts at contacting the base via radio hadn't been successful, although even from where he was Palmer could see a set of radio antennas and even people milling about outside in varying uniforms. There were the grey uniforms of the marines, the yellow of the technicians and the red of the engineers, many watching the Shortswords approach. There didn't seem to be anybody waiting on the landing strip itself, Palmer taking note of all this as he started on his way to land, going in line with the landing strip and shifting his aircraft downwards slightly, pulling up at the right time so the landing gear that extended from the underbelly of the aircraft were in line with the ground.

It seemed to him that this whole business of getting Shortsword pilots was so poorly organized on the part of the marines that they didn't even have people listening in for incoming radio messages or teams waiting near the landing strip to direct the aircraft on where to park and so forth. Palmer decided he would have a good talk with the guy in charge of this base, who was some General according to what he had been told, although he couldn't remember the name…

"I don't see any landing party," a voice said through the radio in Palmer's helmet. Damn right there was nobody waiting for them, as he came closer to the ground he could see a few technicians watching as the fighters came in for landing.

"That's because there isn't any, Hank," Palmer replied, pulling up slightly as the gear touched the ground. The plane bounced slightly, rocking him in his seat but otherwise it landed perfectly, driving along the landing strip and leaving a billowing cloud of dust behind it.
Looking around for somewhere to park, he noticed a pair of large, open hangar-type structures, obviously intended for any aircraft but both were empty, with crates and barrels of fuel the only objects occupying them. Directing his fighter inside one of the hangars, he parked to one side to allow room for the other fighters and switched off his fighter's engine, the interior hum the engines made dying. Of course, it sounded a lot louder outside the aircraft.

Shutting down the controls and readouts in front of him, Palmer reached up and unclipped the standard pilot's mask from the bottom half of his face, taking off his helmet and goggles and placing them in the small space behind the seat. From that same little storage area he found a small metal box, once used to hold high calibre bullets but now it held something far more important to him. Seeing that it hadn't moved and sat snugly in its little spot, he left it alone for now, reaching over to one side of the cockpit and finding the switch that opened the cockpit. Flicking it, the cockpit canopy opened slightly to his left, allowing him to put a hand through and push it open the rest of the way.

The air outside was hot, a soft breeze billowing through the hangar. Immediately he felt stifling, thankful that the cooling systems inside the Shortsword were still in working order. Behind the hangars was the perimeter fence, and behind that was merely desert, with valleys, wadis and badlands, as well as some small valleys lined with jagged rocks, mesa and buttes sticking up on the horizon. The sky was pale blue with almost no clouds; the ones that he could see were the wispy cirrus type that lay at high altitudes. It seemed just the place to fight a war considering its almost inhospitable conditions, with heat and desert. There didn't seem to be any water around in the immediate vicinity either, which was something he felt a sudden thirst for.

Behind him the other Shortswords were coming in for landing, one at a time while the others circled around until the landing aircraft was well out of the way. The Shortsword fighter containing Hank rolled up beside him, leaving enough room in the hangar for one more.

Shortswords were built to carry heavy ordnance but present as small a target as possible; hence the reason for the tear-drop shaped fuselage (when viewed from above) and the short wings, hence the name "Shortsword". The tail lay at the very tip of the teardrop fuselage, the cockpit standing out against the dull-grey colour of the aircraft because of its lighter blue, almost transparent tone.

The cockpit on Flight Sergeant Hank Williams' aircraft opened up, the twenty-five year old pilot taking off his helmet, goggles and mask whilst turning to look at Rick who still was on the verge of exiting his cockpit, deciding whether or not he should subject himself to the insane heat.

"Some place this is," Hank said, shaking his head, "I mean, where the hell are the landing teams? What about air traffic control…?"

Rick glanced over his shoulder at the Flight Sergeant. The fresh-faced pilot had been one of his more favourite new pilots in the squadron but was a little too green for his own good.

"Who knows?" Rick said, "They obviously haven't planned this whole thing well. They certainly know we're here…"

He trailed off when his eyes fell upon the person sitting by the side of the landing strip on a folding chair, leaning back a green tent and dressed in the standard grey army fatigues. She must have been in her mid-thirties with hazelnut coloured hair which was tied back in a neat ponytail which widened out towards the end. She looked to be asleep, only just in the shadow of the tent although the sun was more on her side now.

The last of the Shortswords touched down and Hank went on to climb out of his fighter and go and talk to the other three pilots. Rick didn't care much about talking to them and getting to know them better, he wasn't interested in the new pilots. Rather, he climbed out of his Shortsword and started towards the woman, trying to work out why no one had come out to greet them.

He stopped in front of her, now in the light of the sun which just made him feel hot. He would be getting out of his flight gear soon enough, having stored some luggage in a compartment underneath his fighter. That suitcase contained some more suitable changes of clothes for this kind of climate.

He was now able to get a closer look at the woman, who sat with her eyes closed and head lulled to one side slightly, breathing gently. He watched the up and down movement of her chest for a while, noticing that some armour plating which obviously belonged to her lay on the ground by her chair. She was actually quite good looking, Rick deciding to take things slow as he reached over and grabbed her shoulder, shaking her slightly.

"Hey, girl, wake up…"

The woman, a 2nd Lieutenant according to the insignia on her uniform, sat up and opened her eyes, frowning when she saw Rick, having no idea who he was. She looked a little pale and she gulped slightly.

"Who are you?" She asked sheepishly, looking up at him, "I've never seen you before…"

"That's because you haven't," Rick said, "but I think I might have seen you before somewhere…"

The woman shook her head, seeing through his lie.

"Uh-huh," she said, unconvinced, "maybe before you begin trying to flirt with me you should actually tell me who you are."

Rick felt a little embarrassed at the failure of his admittedly half-hearted attempt, but quickly composed himself and gave her the reply she wanted.

"Captain Rick Palmer of the 342nd Shortsword Squadron, otherwise known as the 'Lightning Hawks'…"

The woman scoffed when she heard the squadron nickname.

"'Lightning Hawks'?" She said, shaking her head, "that sounds really lame…"

Rick laughed weakly, the name of the squadron not really much of a concern to him. It was obvious this woman had gotten her fair share of men hitting on her and had developed a sort of smart-ass attitude, warding off guys like flies.

"The name of my squadron doesn't really matter right now," Rick said, losing his smile, "but your name does. Go on, tell me…"

"2nd Lieutenant Lyssa Raine," the woman said, sounding bored. She looked past him and at the other pilots who had grouped behind him, taking note of the single, blonde-haired female one amongst them.

"Who's the girl?" Lyssa asked, nodding to the younger woman. Rick didn't look back, he knew who she meant.

"Relieved to see your own kind for once?" He asked, although the joke was lost on Lyssa and so he decided to continue to the point, "she's Katherine Tyler and this is her first posting. Why?"

"What about your other guys?" Lyssa asked, looking at the group of three men who stood silently, unsure of whether or not they should speak, "have any of them actually flown in combat before?"
Rick shook his head.

"No, but they do know how to fly a plane…"

"If they didn't, they wouldn't be here," Lyssa replied matter-of-factly.
She eyed Rick carefully, probably trying to figure him out. She probably did this to all the guys she met.

"Well…" Rick tried to think of something to say, "Maybe you could show me around?"

"Maybe I could," Lyssa said, rising to her feet but swaying unsteadily. She certainly didn't look well, her face had gone more pale than when Rick had first seen her.

"Then why don't you show me and my pilots where we'll be staying?" Rick said, "Somehow I doubt we'll be having much fun during our stay in this shithole."

Lyssa gestured to them to follow her as they started on their way through the path between tents, heading into the main area of the base. Some of the marines and other personnel watched them but many simply weren't interested. They passed a large tent, obviously the mess hall tent where talking and laughter could be heard coming from within. At least some people were having a good time during their time here. Rick would try and do that, but deserts weren't exactly his favourite holiday locations.

That was when Lyssa stopped, putting a hand to her stomach. Rick glanced around, they didn't look to be near any vacant tents so he had some uncertainty as to why she had stopped.

"What's going on? Is there something wrong?" Rick asked, walking up behind her. Rather than reply, Lyssa bent over and threw up what she had eaten for lunch that day, including bits of breakfast. Rick hadn't been expecting this and stepped back slightly, although he did grab her to help her steady herself.

"You alright?" He asked before realizing the stupidity of that question. Lyssa was finished vomiting but had relaxed in his arms, her head lulling backwards as she fainted. Glancing back at the other pilots who stood watching, it was Katherine who spoke for them.

"Maybe you should get a doctor?"

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Kilgore's Tent
Date: 9 January 2009, 8:37 am

"What kind of place is this?"

Kilgore stood in the doorway of his tent, looking around with some contempt at the interior. The red-shirted director, Kyle, walked in sweating and exhausted, placing the Major's luggage in the tent with a sigh of relief. As well as that, the cameraman was still filming everything.

Corporal Walther didn't particularly care what Kilgore had to say about his accommodation, he just knew he had better things than act as a tour guide to the Major. Stepping into the tent, he failed to see what was so bad about it; after all there was a bed, a table with chairs and pretty much everything else someone needed. If he was expecting anything more than he had obviously set his expectations too high.

"What were you expecting?" The Corporal asked, frowning, "an en suite bathroom?"

Kilgore smiled.

"Yeah…Where is that?" He didn't seem to be serious in the way he said it, although he obviously didn't like his tent.

"The toilets are the wooden buildings outside, well out of the way of everybody's tents," the Corporal explained, "after all, they do smell like shit, for obvious reasons. You were lucky enough to get a tent to yourself; everybody else has to share…"

"You have to share because yer a shit-ass Corporal, that's why," Kilgore interrupted bluntly, turning to look at the Corporal, his usual stern, 'no-shit' expression on his face, those cold, hard eyes hidden behind the sunglasses he wore, "idiots like you don't get tents to themselves. They have to share with the rest of the idiot marines so you can watch each other get dressed in the mornings…"

The Corporal stood listening as Kilgore ranted on about how much of an idiot Walther was as well as the other marines at the base and how his presence here was only because of bad luck since he hadn't been planning on coming down anytime soon.

Corporal Walther glanced at the three-man camera team and then back at the Major, who had walked over to his two large suitcases and propped one open. Looking at the changes of clothes inside, all consisting of different sets of shirts and trousers, the same types he wore now, albeit in slightly different colours, he bent over and found a smaller compartment in the top half of the suitcases, unzipping it and pulling out a bottle of old whiskey. This whiskey dated back from 2490 according to the sticker on the bottle. What got the Major's attention, however, was the fact the bottle cap had come off and part of the drink had spilled inside the suitcase, leaving a large brown stain on one of Kilgore's green shirts which was much the same as the one he wore now, just lacking the desert colour.

When Kilgore saw what had happened to his beloved shirt, his expression changed to that of anger and he turned to Kyle the director and who had been the very man who had been handling the two suitcases.

"You fucking moron, Kyle!" Kilgore snapped, placing the now topless bottle of whiskey on the table to his right and picking up his ruined shirt, "do ya know how to handle a pair of fucking suitcases ya sissy? Huh?"

Kyle stood still, sweating and shaking nervously.


"Don't even bother answering my question," Kilgore said, shaking his head, his sudden outburst having seemingly ended as quickly as it had begun, "I don't have time for idiots like you. If you ever fuck up like this again, I'll be sticking that bottle of whiskey up ya ass, do yer understand?"

Kyle nodded but didn't reply verbally, preferring to stay silent.

Kilgore, satisfied with the result of his outburst, threw the ruined green shirt onto the bed and closed the suitcase, frowning with some noticeable annoyance.

A thought occurred to the Corporal, something of which he decided to ask the Major about.

"Hey, Major," the Corporal said, Kilgore looking towards him, giving him a look that communicated that he didn't have time for stupid questions, "tell me, why the hell would anybody want to make a documentary about you?"

Kilgore stood up and thought for a moment, not for too long but just long enough for him to form a credible answer, smiling as he did so.

"Because I'm so fuckin' good," he replied, sounding pleased with himself, "that's why. I got me one-hundred and seventy-two dead rebels once, all of them confirmed. And fifty-seven deer too." He raised an eyebrow, sensing some doubt in the Corporal, who obviously didn't believe a word he said. "Why? You think I'm not as good as I make out to be?"

The Corporal simply nodded, unconvinced about Kilgore's validity in the matter. Either the man was telling the truth about his impossibly high kill amount or he was an excellent liar.

"You city boys don't know shit," Kilgore replied, "ya all come out here, expecting war to be some sort of video game and then yer the ones who end up running away to hide when the shit starts happening. Have ya ever run from a fight, Corporal?"

The Corporal shook his head.


"Then maybe yer different, but that's just a maybe," Kilgore replied. God, this guy was moody, the Corporal thought, the Major seemed to have a habit of changing from some really nice guy to some extremely angry fifty-something year old.

The Corporal realized the camera was trained on him, the camera crew obviously expecting some sort of answer from him. He racked his brain for something to say, just so he didn't look like an idiot in front of it.

"So, Major, are you actually going to fly a Shortsword?" Walther asked, knowing that this probably wasn't the case, "or are you just going to walk around and tell dull anecdotes to the camera?"

Kilgore frowned when he heard the last part of the question, although he wasn't at a loss for words, he was the kind of person who always had some sort of reply.

"Dull anecdotes, huh?" Kilgore said with a smile, unfazed by the Corporal's little remark, "well, now that you mention it, I am going to tell a few anecdotes to the camera, which would allow future viewers of the documentary to relate to me better.

"Oh yeah, about the Shortsword," Kilgore continued, pausing to think over his answer for a moment, "you see, I stopped flying Shortswords a few months back. Hell, I prefer being on the ground where the real shit actually is. I leave all the flying to the rest of the squadron."

The Corporal frowned with some uncertainty, although he wasn't surprised to hear that the Major wouldn't actually be flying any Shortswords.

"So, you're just here to film a documentary about yourself?" Walther asked. Kilgore nodded with a slight grin but quickly lost it when he realized that the Corporal was still in his tent. Frowning, he nodded towards the door.

"Why the hell are ya still in here bothering me for?" He asked, sounding annoyed. The Corporal simply got his message and headed out of the tent, able to hear Kilgore going off at Kyle some more about his ruined shirt. That guy is REALLY moody, Walther thought, stepping out into the heat again, squinting in the sudden sunlight. A few marines shuffled past, talking amongst themselves. His eyes following them along, he saw a certain group of people he had been looking forward to seeing again, the group standing outside the mess hall tent, their uniforms dirty and their moods weary and in need of excitement. Being out in the desert heat for hours can get on someone's nerves.

As he approached the rest of his squad the group looked up, relieved to see a familiar face although Private Layman didn't even manage a glance at him, preferring to fiddle with that submachine gun of his, taking care of it like it was some sort of child. Hell, Layman probably couldn't look after any kid of his own, even if he tried.

"Henry, you actually came out to see us," Reynolds said, starting for the entrance into the mess hall tent. Reynolds was sweating all over, the uniform underneath his armour almost drenched in the stuff. The same went with the other squad members, all of which were in no mood for expending anymore energy.

"I would have come out sooner if I wasn't stuck with Major Kilgore," the Corporal replied, following the rest of the squad into the mess hall. As usual the place was occupied, although not crowded, with only two groups of marines sitting at separate tables, the cooks themselves nowhere in sight as they dwelled somewhere round back in the kitchen tent. Hawker was the first to sit down at a table, the rest of the squad following suit. Walther sat down next to Lawrence, who seemed to be as subdued and quiet as he normally was.

"Major Kilgore? Who's that?" Private Reynolds asked, looking towards the Corporal.

The Corporal realized that hardly anybody knew about the arrival of the Shortsword pilots and their prick of a leader Kilgore. He sighed and told them from the beginning, mentioning the arrival of the Spartan soldiers…

"What are they like?" Lawrence asked, always the one with the most questions, "especially the crazy one. What's he like?"

"He doesn't like me, that's for sure," the Corporal replied, "hell, I don't like him either. The other one, the girl…" He trailed off, trying to remember what the female Spartan was like. "Well, she's definitely more likeable…But, being a genetically enhanced killing machine I doubt anybody on this base is going to be interested in her."

"Is she good looking?" Reynolds asked, having been intently scraping the dirt from underneath his fingernails. Corporal Walther merely shrugged, unsure of what to think concerning the matter.

"I don't know…It's hard to say, really…" The Corporal trailed off, he had no idea what to think of the female Spartan. She was far too young, not even twenty years old judging from her looks.

"The pair aren't even twenty," he said, "they're in their late teens; they just seem older than they are. It's what they have in them, like their enhancements…"

"Those enhancements are pretty much an insult to God," Hawker interjected, having been silent up until now. This comment got the attention of the rest of the squad, Hawker continuing with his point.

"He created us the way He thought we ought to be," Hawker explained, Layman rolling his eyes when he heard the religious mumbo-jumbo creep into the conversation, "in His image. And now we have people altering themselves in such a way that they're not, you know…"

"Human?" Reynolds suggested.

Hawker nodded in response.

"I don't think you'll be getting along with these 'Spartans' very well, then," Layman said matter-of-factly, "I can't blame you. I haven't met them and already I hate them, it's like some sort ah, whaddya call it?" He paused, thinking for a moment. "Some sort of impulse, ya know, like ya feel yeh have to hate them…"

There was a brief silence among the group as they each dwelled on these thoughts. Surprisingly, Lawrence was the first one to speak up and break the silence.

"The very fact they exist makes me feel alienated somehow," Lawrence said, "because, it just seems to make sense that they'll be the ones replacing us marines…"

The Corporal noticed the familiarity of this argument, relieved to hear that it wasn't merely the Lieutenant and himself that thought the same on the matter.

"That makes sense," Layman said, nodding in agreement.

"So, I guess you guys won't be taking too kindly to these 'Spartans'?" Corporal Walther asked, glancing around at the rest of the squad. They all seemed to be thinking the same thing.

"If they want our respect," Layman said, placing his submachine gun on the table, making sure the safety was on, "then they're going to have to kill some rebels for us. A lot of rebels. And maybe then we might like them a little better…"

"That reminds me," the Corporal said suddenly, remembering something important, "we're actually going to attack a rebel supply depot tomorrow morning. Can you believe that? After all this time, we're actually going to do something."

There were some mixed reactions from the squad members. Hawker kept a straight face, Lawrence went a little pale, Layman grinned with some satisfaction and Reynolds shook his head.

"Really?" Lawrence asked, "are we actually going to attack the OCPLF, after all this time of inaction?"

The Corporal nodded, feeling a little excited himself.

"According to the General we are. He'll probably tell us later tonight what it's all about."

"Good, I've been waiting for this kind of thing for ages," Layman said, grinning still, "after all this time of sitting around on our asses doing nothin' while those pansy-ass rebels run around digging holes in the dirt, we'll finally be going off to blow some of them away."

"Yeah, maybe so, but we might not even be selected to attack," Reynolds said, keeping a calm tone as he always did, "I mean, we aren't exactly the best marines here…"

"I think we'll be the ones leading the attack, after the Shortswords soften up the OCPLF positions," the Corporal said, "hopefully there will be some people left to shoot after they've done their jobs…"

"No pilot can do a marine's job," Layman said simply, making it sound as if it was holy truth, "and that's a fact. If you want a job done well you have to send in the ground troops, give 'em some tanks and some air support and you'll have an easy battle, unless the enemy has the same sort of thing as you."

There was a brief silence before Layman continued, noticing how everybody in the squad seemed to be listening to him.

"I know who Henry will be standing behind the whole time we're out there," he said with a grin, "staring at Lyssa's ass like he usually does…"

The Corporal felt himself going red-faced. It wasn't often the others teased him about his obvious liking to their female squad leader, but when it did happen it really got on his nerves.

"Don't think we don't see the way you look at her," Reynolds said, "sure, she's hot and all, but you really have a habit of making your liking to her noticeable…"

The Corporal shook his head, feeling flustered but otherwise not answering. He couldn't tell them he didn't like her in that way, they would know he was lying.

"Maybe you should actually tell her," Hawker said, "after all, you've known her for months. It can't be that hard to tell her…"

"Henry's just a chicken shit, that's all," Layman interjected. This remark got Henry's attention, causing him to turn and shoot the Private a nasty glance. Layman wasn't fazed by it, sitting where he was in his usual cool manner, hardly noticing the Corporal's reaction.

"He'll never tell her," Reynolds said, "he'll only make it obvious when some other guy takes her, and by then it'll be too late…" He shook his head, as if it was some sort of tragic story. The Corporal knew this made sense, but deep down he knew he could never bring himself to tell her, all previous attempts having either ended in him choking or the Lieutenant interpreting what he told her wrong, usually making a joke out of it. Maybe he was a chicken shit after all…

"You'd better get to expressing your love for her soon," Hawker said with a slight smile, "otherwise you'll regret it when she's involved with some other guy. It's now or never…"

Maybe it was now or never, but he knew he could never bring himself to do it. He could shoot rebels, he could keep his wits in the middle of a firefight but when it came to the opposite sex he always went wrong somewhere. Thinking about this reminded him of where Lyssa actually was and whether or not she was talking to the pilots. Why would she be spending any amount of time with a bunch of cocky flyboys anyway?

Maybe the others were right about him needing to tell her he felt about her. Usually such romances were looked down upon in the marines for a multitude of reasons but his squad didn't seem to be showing any doubts, they were actually telling him to do something about this crush he had on their squad leader.

"Yeah, like we've said, the only time you'll end up telling her is when some other guy is fucking her up the ass," Layman added bluntly, "although I doubt a woman like her would let any guy near her. Yer could just look at her and know she ain't the type guys fuck around with. If ya really do like her, chicken shit, ya better be good at getting her attention. Otherwise it's all just gonna backfire on ya and she'll want to beat the crap out of ya."

Usually Layman wasn't one for such wise words, but this time he actually made some sense. Lyssa wasn't the type who let very many males near her, probably with her reasons why. It would take a lot to get her to like him as more than just a friend or squad-mate, especially since she talked off every compliment she received with some sort of smart remark. Yes, it would be very tough indeed to get through that tough exterior and into the presumably softer, lovable interior.

"This would have to be the fifth time you've almost dehydrated yourself in the last two months," the camp doctor said, frowning down at Lyssa who lay on the hospital bed, having only just woke up.
Lyssa couldn't remember much of what had just happened, but it was getting to be a familiar thing, having done it in the past before.
According to the Dr. Gunther, she wasn't drinking enough water compared to the amount of time she spent in the desert. Looking around, she seemed to be the only one lying on one of the beds, with Gunther the only medically qualified person in the tent. He put a hand to his chin, thinking for a moment, while Lyssa gathered her bearings.

"You're going to say that you drink enough water, am I correct?" He asked, sounding as if he knew the answer. Lyssa nodded, although there was something she wanted to know first.

"How long have I been out?"

"About ten minutes," Gunther replied matter-of-factly, "but as I was saying, are you going to tell me how much water you consumed today? Or do I have to guess?"

"I had enough…"

Gunther shook his head, almost in pity. Lyssa failed to see what he was
in pity about, although she did have some slight idea as to why.

"That's where you and I always disagree, Lieutenant," Gunther said, his white hair shining in the light inside the tent, "you always say you have enough, when in fact you obviously don't. Unless, of course, there's something you're not telling me…"

Lyssa shook her head. She was telling him everything, she knew it, but as usual the doctor was always in disagreement.

"Tell me Lyssa, did you kill anybody today?" Gunther asked bluntly, "as in, shot someone so that they actually died?"

Lyssa was a little taken aback by the question and the matter-of-fact manner in which Gunther was asking it, but she nodded in response.

"What about the previous four times? Did you kill anyone then?"
Lyssa thought back for a moment, trying to remember. It was hard enough to remember such insignificant happenings, but she did remember maybe shooting a few rebels, but never in full scale firefights. It had been months since the last big shootout had occurred.

"I think I might have…"

Gunther nodded, thinking over this for a moment. He managed a smile when he came to his conclusion.

"I think you're having a delayed response to the killing you've done, and coupled with the heat of the planet you're actually getting sick when…well…" He trailed off; trying to think of how he should explain it. "I'm no psychologist, but this killing you've done is making you sick. It probably just takes some time for what you've done to sink in."

She gave a disbelieving look, unable to even fathom the idea. After all her time in the marines, it was only now she was beginning to have an adverse affect to what she did? Killing people was actually making her sick? The idea seemed stupid, but then again it also seemed quite probable.

"Are you saying I'm going to get sick every time I kill someone?" She asked, "Because if that's the case…Then maybe I shouldn't even be on this planet…"

"Don't be like that," Gunther said, managing a noticeably fake smile,
"I've dealt with plenty of other cases like yours before. Everybody reacts differently, and you just take some time. Maybe you should find out what triggered it and when you do, have a good talk to our psychologist…"

"I don't need to talk to any shrink," Lyssa replied. That was the last thing she wanted to do.

Gunther shrugged, unsure of what he should do to help her. He took a step towards one of the medical cabinets nearby, opened it and took out a plastic jar with a white sticker on it. Turning back around, he held it out to her, Lyssa taking it and glancing at the sticker.

"What's this?"

"Something which I think would help you not react in the way you have been," Gunther said, "it's a relatively new drug, made for military use."

Lyssa frowned, unsure of what to think of it. Taking drugs hadn't been something she had wanted to start doing, but if this was going to help her she might as well do it.

"It was created to help soldiers under pressure, such as you," Gunther said, "helps someone to concentrate and keep their cool. Hopefully it will help you from getting sick again, but it does have its side effects."
Lyssa raised an eyebrow.

"Side effects?"

"You have an overdose and you can react in one of two ways," Gunther said, frowning, "you can either go into cardiac arrest or you can go berserk, thinking everyone's an enemy. Either one isn't very good for you, so I would stick to the recommended dosage."

"Which is?"

Gunther paused, thinking for a moment.

"If you're going into a combat operation, you should take two of the capsules. No more than two a day, I would think, otherwise you mightn't have the helpful reaction you would want."

Lyssa nodded, although she wasn't sure about taking this drug. If Gunther was right about her not being able to react very well to killing anymore she might as well just quit the marines. Being stuck on this planet wouldn't easily allow that, so she would have to put up with taking this new drug, even if she could have a heart attack. She shook the plastic jar, heard the rattle of capsules inside and glanced at the label, covered with the ingredients list which was full of long, chemical names which were hard to pronounce.

"You think I should give this a try then?" She asked, glancing up at Gunther, sitting up on the bed. The doctor gave a carefree expression.

"I'm saying that you should take it if you want to stay in the marines," Gunther replied, "I'm not saying you have to take it. It's up to you."
Lyssa nodded, placing the small jar into her trouser pocket, although it did bulge a little.

"Can I go now?" She asked. She had never liked being in hospitals, even a field hospital for that matter. Gunther nodded, allowing her to do as she pleased.

Lyssa left the medical tent feeling a bit annoyed at the fact that she, all of a sudden, seems to have an aversion to killing. Sure, she didn't feel that way but her body did. Maybe the doctor was wrong; she didn't have any idea why it was starting to happen to her now and the doctor's explanation just didn't seem probable to her. She would be taking the pills just to make sure, but otherwise she would stay adamant that it wasn't her that was screwing up. It was merely the heat, that was all. The heat was finally getting to her.

She decided to head to her squad's usual meeting place inside the mess hall tent and was on her way towards the entrance when a mildly familiar figure stepped in front of her. Funnily enough she didn't try anything to avoid the pilot, stopping and looking towards him.

"Are you feeling alright now, Lieutenant?" Rick asked, sounding only slightly concerned, "what did the doctor say?"

"It's nothing," Lyssa lied, "just the heat, alright. I don't know why you would be concerned, we only just met…"

"You can't blame me for being concerned about a pretty lady like you," Rick said innocently, giving a slight shrug, obviously trying to appeal to Lyssa. She wasn't too convinced, although she had to admit, he was quite good looking.

"Right…" Lyssa paused, trying to think of something that could end the conversation and get her into the cool interior of the tent and out of the sun.

"The tent we got isn't very good," Rick said, a little more downbeat this time, "I doubt there are many luxuries around here…"

"Not really," Lyssa replied, deciding to play along with the pilot. He seemed to be having a good look of her from what she could tell.

"Another thing, Lieutenant," Rick said, remembering something, "I just heard there's going to be an attack tomorrow morning, and me and my Shortsword pals are going to be involved. Did you know about that?"

Lyssa nodded, realizing how quickly word spread around the camp about such matters.

"I knew about it," she replied casually, "why? Don't you want to get shot at?"

Rick managed a smile, unfazed by this little remark.

"I enjoy getting shot at," he said, "gets the adrenaline going, you know? I don't know about the other pilots, but I think there's nothing more exhilarating than a bullet passing by you without result…"

"Winston Churchill said that, you do realize?" Lyssa interrupted, unimpressed. Rick merely gave an innocent look, something of which he did a lot. There was a brief silence between the pair, Rick scratching at the back of his neck before speaking.

"We really didn't get to find out more about each other, since you fainted," Rick said, "and since we'll be seeing each other around, I think it's good if we know at least some things about each other, doesn't that make sense?"

Lyssa knew what he was trying to do but contrary to what she usually did, she decided to play along.

"Go ahead, flyboy," she said, "tell me more about you and maybe I'll tell you a little about myself."

Rick nodded, deciding to start on the more obvious points of interest.

"Well, I was born on Reach with only a mother as a parent and I…"

"Really Captain, I think you can tell me something a little more interesting than that," Lyssa said, knowing now that she was caught up in this conversation with him, which probably wouldn't be finishing for a while. What she really needed right now was a drink.

Rick stopped talking and looked at her, surprised at the way she had interrupted.

"What do you want to hear about then?" Rick asked.

"I want to know whether or not you like me," Lyssa said, smiling with satisfaction. Rick looked a little nervous when he heard this but kept his cool manner and replied.

"I like you," he said, "I think you're hot. Why?" He was smiling and Lyssa, no stranger to this kind of comment, merely laughed.

"You're not the only one who thinks that," she said, Rick managing a weak smile in response.

"Do you like me?" He asked, causing Lyssa to frown as she thought this over for a moment.

"Hard to say," she said, giving him a good look over, "you seem nice, but you're a pilot and pilots have never been the type I'm interested in. After all, you're all just a bunch of cocky idiots who think they're better than everyone else…"

"Bullshit," Rick interrupted, annoyed at her comment. He had to be, he was one of the pilots in question. "Maybe the ones you've met in the past are, but you'll probably find me and the rest of my group different."

"How so?"

"Because we're not cocky idiots, as you say," Rick replied, taking a more casual tone, pausing for a moment and taking a glance down at her chest, "and you'll find that I really think you're quite the looker. Trouble is, you seem a bit, uh…"

"What?" Lyssa wasn't sure what he was trying to say but didn't like the way he was dragging out this sentence of his.

"How should I put this?" He said, "you're a little…well…you're a little hard for any man to get to, if you know what I mean…"

Lyssa didn't know what to think about this comment, although she did know what he meant. She knew that plenty of other men thought of her as a 'tough bitch', as one of them had so put it. It hadn't been in a good way, either.

"Usually someone like you would be a little softer," Rick continued, a grin forming on his face, "so, tell me Lieutenant, about one thing…"


"When was the last time you were fucked?" Rick asked, grinning wildly. It took a second for what he said to register in Lyssa's mind and she immediately shot him a fearful glance.

"You asshole, what kind of question is that?" She asked, furious at him. She decided to turn around and leave the conversation at that, leaving the Captain laughing quietly to himself as she stepped inside the mess hall, suddenly feeling very angry at not only him but everyone else. It had been three years, after all.

Note: Okay, okay, this is one chapter I'm not too happy with but without it the next one probably won't make much sense. Anyway, I was thinking of putting this story on hold after I finish posting what I've done so far and moving on to something else to further my creativity. I was thinking of something to do with Mass Effect maybe...
Yeah, I'm the kind of person who starts things but doesn't finish them. It's an awful habit of mine.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Disembarkment
Date: 8 February 2009, 12:46 am

April 24th, 2526

Early hours of the morning

"Hey, Lieutenant, wake up…"

The first thing Lyssa knew when she was conscious was the fact that Corporal Walther was standing by her bed, dressed in his usual suit of armour plating, a grin on his face as he looked down at the squad leader who was lying sprawled on her bunk, the sheets having been moved off of her during her sleep.

Lyssa rubbed the sleep matter from the corners of her eyes and looked up at the Corporal, frowning and trying to figure out why he was up so early as she glanced at the watch lying on the bedside table. She had her own section of the tent which was "walled" off from the rest with flaps and dressing screens. After all, she was the only woman living in a tent filled with men…

"Why did you have to wake me up?" Lyssa asked, sitting up in the bed, noticing how her uniform was sticking to her from the night's sweat. One thing she knew she needed was a wash, which was something she had gone without for about a week so far. No wonder she smelt so bad, bad enough for her to be able to smell her own sweat…

The Corporal shook his head, some noticeable amusement crossing his face. Looking around, Lyssa could see that the rest of the tent's occupants were up and gone, having left a little earlier. Something cropped into her mind, something which she probably shouldn't have forgotten in the first place.

"The attack…" She said, trailing off, her memories muddled after a rough night's sleep. The Corporal nodded, seeing that she now actually remembered why he had woken her up so early.

Lyssa huffed in frustration, having preferred to sleep in as she usually did, especially after a night consisting of a few hours guard duty at the main gate, which constituted as sitting in a guard booth doing nothing and overcome with boredom. She lay back down in the bed, thinking whether or not she should wait a little while longer.

The Corporal didn't seem to care too much, although he did make a valid point when he spoke.

"We're going to be one of the first squads in," he said, trying to keep the excitement from creeping into his voice, "we're actually going to be doing something, Lieutenant, after all this time…"

Lyssa knew this was what she, at least, had been waiting for. Right now though, she really couldn't be bothered getting up. The Corporal would have to drag her out of bed…

This was what he did. Rather than ask politely, he grabbed her by the right arm and yanked her off of her bunk, Lyssa steadying herself by planting a foot on the floor. Sitting up and now wide awake, she shook her head when she saw the Corporal grinning in his usual manner and decided that she would probably be better off out of bed than wasting anymore time than she already had.

"Where's everybody else?" She asked, gesturing to the rest of the empty tent, "they all excited enough to wake up early?"

"I can't say that they all are…" The Corporal trailed off, trying to remember the details, "but they all decided to get up early and spend some time on the firing range, especially the new guy…"


The Corporal nodded.

"Yeah, him," he said, "I don't think he's looking forward to this too much…"

That was understandable, considering Lawrence had only been here for about three months and had never actually been in any large scale firefights. The guy, from what Lyssa could tell, was a bit of a sissy, having probably been forced to join the marines be someone else, probably his father, especially since if said father had been a marine once. Now that she was thinking about it, Lyssa determined that if this father-son thing was the case, she could easily imagine Lawrence's father to be some grumpy middle-aged war vet in a wheelchair.

"He'll be fine," Lyssa replied simply, "we're always fine, aren't we?"
The Corporal wasn't sure how to reply and took a moment to come up with an answer.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean us," Lyssa said, "that we're always fine during operations like this. That's what I mean."

Corporal Walther nodded, although he didn't look too sure.

"Remember what happened to Jack?" He asked, "He wasn't alright then…"

Lyssa felt a pang of guilt at the mention of the young Private's name. Usually she hadn't felt much guilt over his death but now she felt strangely responsible, after all she was the squad leader. So far six people had died under her command and she was hoping that number wouldn't increase, but then again this was war and death was common and often unavoidable.

"He had half his face blown off, what do you expect?" Lyssa asked, sounding a little scornful, "you try living when your brain's sticking out of your head…"

The Corporal shrugged, he hadn't been too close a friend to Slatham and so didn't particularly care much over his death. Being a part of the squad he was obligated to, but being Corporal Walther he didn't feel like it. He seemingly never felt guilty about anything.

"I would if I could," Walther replied, managing a grin which was more unnecessary than anything else. Lyssa, figuring she should get ready, stood up and stepped over to the bedside table, finding her armour plating neatly stacked in a pile on the floor close to it. Beginning to place it on top of the uniform she had slept in (changing clothes wasn't too common an occurrence at the camp), she adjusted the tightness, making sure it fit snugly on her, allowing for room to move but ample protection. This armour had so far saved her from copping a few bullets but to top things off, some of the rebel soldiers wore the same kind of armour plating and were being equipped with armour piercing bullets.
Which was why Lyssa preferred the philosophy of "aiming for the head" since most rebels didn't wear much protection on that area. She didn't either, picking up her NCO cap from the bedside table and gladly placing it on her head so it sat snugly. She liked the look it gave her but it otherwise didn't have the ability to absorb the impact of bullets, which didn't particularly matter at this time…

"You look good in that outfit," Walther found himself saying. He didn't seem to realize what he had said until he had finished speaking, giving an unsure expression, although Lyssa just nodded.

"Thanks," she said. Usually she would ignore such comments, but what that pilot, Rick, had said to her seemed to have had more of an effect on her than she had first realized. She was beginning to think he had been right about her being too "tough" and hard to get through to, although she knew that was how she had survived her time on KV9-X7. She supposed that if Rick had a problem with it he would have to put up with it.

The Corporal took in Lyssa's look for today before gesturing to the tent exit.

"Everybody's meeting outside," he said, "we better get out there…"
Lyssa nodded, following the Corporal out into the sunlight and the heat, squinting as her eyes adjusted to the sudden excess of light. The sand crunched beneath their boots as they made their way past rows of tents, other marines heading to where the Pelicans had gathered on the landing strip, a few familiar figures already there.

"Kilgore's been telling everybody his life story," the Corporal said jokingly, "and that camera crew's been filming the whole thing."

Lyssa could make out Kilgore, dressed in the same outfit as yesterday but probably a clean set of it. He seemed to be chewing on something, probably gum, as he stood in front of the four parked Pelicans, standing on top of a closed weapons crate while facing the group of about thirty marines that had gathered around. He was strutting around in his usual manner which seemed to indicate he thought he owned the place.

Lyssa didn't feel like listening to a middle-aged man drone on about past experiences but he was standing in everybody's way and was in charge of the whole operation by the look of it. The General was nowhere in sight, probably in his office smoking cigars with the other officers.

Lyssa heard the crunching of boots on sand behind her and she turned around, coming face-to-face with Rick Palmer. She formed an annoyed expression, frowning at him, trying to figure out why he would be bothering her now. Rick merely smiled, keeping his cool as always.

"Hey Lyssa," he said, "You know what's happening today, don't you?"
Of course she did, Lyssa shook her head at the stupidity of the question but tried not to let him annoy her too much. The Corporal was looking on from behind Lyssa, unable to hide his dislike of Rick, giving the man a rather distasteful glance. Rick was hard to like, even if the Corporal hadn't met him before. Lyssa knew she was having trouble liking him as well.

"Of course I know what's happening today, you idiot," Lyssa said, a hint of authority creeping into her voice, trying to intimidate the pilot and hopefully get him from annoying her much more, "I am in charge of one of the squads going in first…"

"After I and my buddies lay waste to the place," Rick said, attempting to signify the flight of a Shortsword with one of his hands, swooping it down in front of him like a fighter and giving adequate whooshing sound effects, "there won't be much left when you people get there, I tell you now."

Lyssa wasn't convinced. All the pilots she had met so far had been like this, boasting about this kind of thing, how they could do the job themselves and there wouldn't be any point in sending any marines, that kind of thing.

"Uh-huh," she said, humouring the overconfident pilot, "what if someone gets shot down? You know as well as I do that the OCPLF has good anti-air defences…"

"Those will be the first things we take out," Rick said, smiling in pleasure at the thought of blowing something up, "and besides, it's only a supply depot; there couldn't possibly be that many anti-aircraft emplacements."

Lyssa shook her head. Rick obviously had no idea what these rebels were like.

"You underestimate the OCPLF," she said, Rick failing to believe her, "even if it's just a supply depot they will have it heavily defended. You can bet your ass on that."

Rick shrugged, as if it didn't matter. It probably didn't matter to him very much at all; he and his pilot friends would be flying up high, out of the immediate danger zone while Lyssa and the other marines risked their lives to fight some pointless battle.

"Screw the OCPLF," Rick said simply, "I and my friends, we're just going to come swooping down with Elvis Presley blaring from the speakers, just wasting the rebel punks…"

"Who's Elvis Presley?"

"Never mind…" Rick managed a weak smile and changed the subject, glancing over at the Major, who had stopped speaking for now and was allowing the marines to start boarding the Pelicans. Rick looked back to Lyssa.

"I think I should get going," he said, but before he could Lyssa asked him a question.

"What did you mean yesterday, with that question you asked?" Lyssa asked, intent on working Rick Palmer out. He was obviously trying to get through her "tough" outer shell and to the softer person underneath and she hated to admit it, but Rick seemed to be succeeding. She had always had a feeling that one day somebody would try their best to get close to her and it seemed that Rick was that someone. No matter what he said, Lyssa couldn't help but, well…like him.

"What question?" Rick said, but he realized what she meant by the time he finished his sentence. He shrugged, giving a smile.

"It was more of a joke than anything else…"

Lyssa wasn't sure what she should think, although it was obvious that Rick was the kind of person who would have that sort of humour. She didn't have much of a response and Rick seized his chance to get out of the conversation.

"I should get going now," he said, "you better get going as well. It would suck to be late to your own battle." He smiled again before turning around.

Lyssa didn't say anything as he walked away and turned a corner, disappearing around a tent. She was having too hard a time trying to work out what he was trying to tell her and how he seemed to be enjoying himself as he annoyed her and subsequently got closer to her.
She couldn't shake the feeling that he was probably one of the only men she knew that actually had some idea of how to work with the opposite sex.

The Corporal's voice broke her concentration, especially since he sounded annoyed.

"Is that the lead pilot?" He asked, Lyssa turning to face him. The Corporal shook his head, showing an obvious disliking to Rick. "What a jerk."

Lyssa wasn't too sure whether she should agree with that but decided it was best not to say anything. Glancing over at the parked Pelicans, she caught sight of Hawker and Layman stepping up the rear ramp of one of the Pelican drop-ships and so figured that would be the one she and the Corporal were flying in.

The Major, meanwhile, was standing outside the Pelican, having a discussion with Kyle, the red-shirted head of the camera crew while the note taking man and the cameraman stood nearby, watching and listening as Major Kilgore started to take on an angrier formality, easily discerned by his body language and the way he was pointing a finger at Kyle.

Lyssa and Corporal Walther decided not to wait around any longer, heading over to the weapons crates scattered outside the Pelicans and selecting from the limited variety there. Picking up an MA3K Carbine rifle, which resembled a shortened assault rifle with semi-automatic and three-round burst firing rate, Lyssa stocked up on ammunition and slung the carbine around her back, preferring a controllable weapon to anything fast firing and inaccurate. The chrome civilian pistol she had recovered from the dead rebel soldier the day before was in her waist holster, having chosen that over the standard M5E.

Stepping on board, the faces of Hawker, Layman, Lawrence and Reynolds turned to look at her, most looking relieved to see her. Layman, however, didn't really seem to take much notice of her after the initial glance, returning to cleaning the rifle he had brought with him for this particular operation.

Sitting down next to Hawker, the Corporal stepped on board and received a rather unhappy glance from Layman although Walther, being the "Joker" that he was, merely smiled in an exaggerated fashion towards the disgruntled Private as he sat down next to Lyssa.

Hawker was the first to properly speak, leaning forward slightly and resting his WS2500 sniper rifle on his lap. The weapon was one of those still in service that was constructed of some wood, the brown finish the most noticeable aspect of the old looking rifle, although the gun-metal grey parts seemed to fit well with the outdated look. The weapon used high powered rounds and held magazines of six, coming with a scope capable of magnification levels up to 20x and thermal vision. He was Hawker's favourite sharpshooting weapon.

"Do you know the brief, Lieutenant?" Hawker asked, raising an eyebrow, his blue eyes surprisingly piercing. Lyssa shook her head, she had woken up too late to catch what exactly they were doing.

Hawker nodded and then continued.

"We're going to be inserted in the south-eastern part of the compound, where the anti-aircraft batteries are at their lightest," Hawker said, "this will be after the Shortswords have done their job…"

"And they will do that job well, I can tell you that for sure," a familiar voice said from the open ramp. The squad turned around, seeing that Major Kilgore stood with his hands at his hips in the doorway, the camera crew milling into the Pelican from behind, sitting a fair distance from Lyssa and the rest of the squad, preferring to keep to themselves. However, the cameraman was keeping the camera rolling as Kilgore went on in his usual manner.

"You should never doubt a Shortsword squadron," Kilgore said, the Pelican's engines starting up, the craft ascending slightly as the rear ramp closed up. The exterior sunshine went when the ramp shut loudly, the lights inside the passenger area coming on automatically. Lyssa could tell most of her squad weren't too amused by the fact that Kilgore had decided to take the trip to the rebel supply compound on this particular Pelican, but as she would have expected, nobody was actually complaining verbally.

"Those people know what they're doing," Kilgore said proudly, the camera rolling and taking it all in. The Major reached into his breast pocket on his sand coloured short-sleeved shirt, taking out a miniature data disc and glancing up at the ceiling, intently searching for something in particular.

"I selected them myself, especially that Rick guy," Kilgore said, spotting the panel on the ceiling which consisted of a small liquid crystal display and a few buttons and dials. Finding the slot built for the disc, he slid it inside and almost immediately what sounded like old-style rock music came blaring from the speakers. Kilgore looked mighty pleased with himself, adjusting the volume so it wasn't too loud and nodding his head to the beat in a subtle manner.

Lyssa didn't particularly mind a bit of music although Reynolds was shaking his head when he realized how old the song was. Layman simply swore quietly under his breath while the Corporal began singing along quietly.

"Ya'see, they're all good pilots," the Major said, the Pelican now fully airborne and soaring over the desert landscape in formation with the other three transports, "though the only one that's actually seen any real action is Rick. He may not be too bright, but he knows what he's doing, except for that time a few months back…"

"What time?" Lyssa heard herself asking the question, interrupting Kilgore mid-speech. The Major looked down at her passively as he stood with a hand on one of the ceiling hand-holds while Suspicious Minds blared from the speakers.

"Rick was an idiot," the Major said, attempting to reminisce as he racked his brains for the memories, "got five pilots killed due to his shit-ass belief that he should 'fight for what's right'." Kilgore scoffed, shaking his head. "This is war, and in war there ain't no right or wrong. There is what just 'is'." He paused for a moment, looking around at the marines and the camera crew. "Isn't that right?"

Nobody nodded except for Kyle, who had already copped enough from the Major already to even think of disagreeing with him again. Lyssa was curious as to what had happened concerning Rick and him being responsible for the deaths of five other pilots. If that was the case, Lyssa was surprised if anybody was flying with him anymore.

"Lucky enough, being such a good pilot, he kept his job," Kilgore continued, "the other pilots don't actually really know about this aspect of his career and I think it's better they don't know."

The Major didn't seem to care that nobody was paying much attention to him, preferring to drone on some more and probably intent on doing it the whole trip. Lyssa figured she should just put up with it, the others seemed to be doing the same although Reynolds and Layman didn't look too pleased.

"The other really good pilot I can think of in the group, off the top of my head…" He paused to think for a moment, trying to remember a certain name.

"Katherine Tyler, that's the one," he said, remembering who it was he was talking about, "nice girl, she is. She can also fly a Shortsword, although she ain't never seen any real combat, just the simulations in flight school." Kilgore shook his head, as if pitying the fact. "She could do with some kicks, if ya know what I mean."

There was a brief silence, the camera crew deciding to turn their attention to the other passengers, zooming in on the faces of the marines in Lyssa's squad, the Corporal happily lapping up the attention.

"My father was a pilot," Kilgore went on, regardless of whether anybody cared or not, "and my father's father, as well as my father's father's father…"

"Have you got anything more interesting to talk about other than yourself?" The Corporal asked, Kilgore stopping mid-speech and frowning at him.

"I'm the most important person on this Pelican and I think that gives me an excuse to talk about myself," Kilgore replied, smiling, "why?"
The Corporal shrugged.

"Nobody really cares what you have to say…"

"That may be the case, Corporal, but I care," Kilgore replied, pointing a thumb towards himself briefly, "and when I care, it doesn't matter who else doesn't. Because if I wanted to, I could whup your ass right here, right now."

The Corporal, as usual, wasn't fazed by what the Major had to say. Before he could reply, Layman interjected.

"I think I'll be whupping his ass," Layman said, "not you, sir. I've wanted to whup his ass for quite a long time…"

"Shut up, Private," Kilgore snapped suddenly, not in the mood to hear about it. The passengers fell silent again, the Major standing confidently in the middle of them all, the old music blaring from the speakers in the ceiling.

Lyssa glanced to the Corporal, who was sitting quietly, rifle on his lap as he stared into space. There wasn't much else to do; Pelican rides always one of the dullest aspects of the military.

"How long till we get there?"

The Corporal turned to face her and shrugged, obviously with no idea.

"How would I know?" He said, answering a question with another question, "I doubt it'll be that long, although I really don't see the hurry…"

Lyssa didn't reply, turning back around and sitting quietly. She remembered the pills the doctor had given her and decided that if they were heading into combat it would be best if she actually took a few.
Taking out the plastic container from her trouser pocket, she opened it and shook a few out onto the palm of her other hand, placing them into her mouth and swallowing each one whole. Putting the container away and getting a few strange glances from the others, she merely shrugged.


"Are you taking drugs, Lieutenant?" Reynolds asked, curious. Lyssa frowned, shaking her head.

"It's just something to help…"

"Uh-huh, that's what any drug-user would say," Reynolds said, unconvinced. Lyssa didn't feel like arguing about the matter with him and didn't reply, Reynolds going silent. Layman, on the other hand, decided to have his say.

"What is that shit ya taking going to help ya with?" Layman asked, "It doesn't look like much to me…"

"Probably because it isn't much," Lyssa replied, annoyed at how her squad-mates were trying to milk her for information, "and that's all you need to know, so how about you just shut up?"

"But I want to know…"

"Shut up, and that's an order."

Layman rolled his eyes and sat back in his seat, deciding it better not to disobey orders. The rest of the trip from then on was mostly done in silence, with the occasional talk from Major Kilgore but otherwise it was very solemn indeed, the squad too intent on their own thoughts to worry about talking.

Spartan 073, regular name Leon, sat close to the open rear ramp of the Pelican as the craft, flying in formation, sped over the rocky desert landscape, the desert plains with scattered dry shrubs and the occasional skeletal dead or dying tree. It was a rather bleak landscape, reminding him of the Sahara but with far more rocks and less life.

He had only been on KV9-X7 for one full day and was only just into the second day. Already he was feeling weighed down by the bleakness of the surrounding landscape and the downbeat moods of most of the marines were affecting him, making him feel a little hopeless. The very battle these marines were fighting didn't seem to be just against the OCPLF but against the landscape, the marines being subjected to harsh sun and stinking heat every day. Leon wondered how the rebels possibly coped, but he guessed they were more used to it than the marines, preferring to fight a guerrilla war against the marines by using the desert as an ally.

Leon had read up on the enemy they would be fighting, the Outer Colonies Peoples Liberation Front as it was known in full. Many OCPLF soldiers would prefer to die than surrender, making them a very tough enemy to beat. They were obviously smart enough not to die needlessly, such as in their bomb attacks on civilian targets but they would not surrender, no matter the situation.

An enemy who didn't fear death would be a tough enemy indeed, making the task of apprehending Colonel Hanley that much tougher. The man would always be guarded and in a hard to reach place.

Leon didn't think too highly of attacking a supply depot, it just didn't seem too important a target. The rebels probably had transport routes going to and from the depot which could make tracking down their more important bases easier which did seem to be a bit of a bonus strategically speaking, although a supply depot just didn't seem like such a big deal. Many of the marines seemed genuinely excited about it, having been out of action for a few months according to the General.

This brought Leon's thoughts to the marines themselves. Many seemed weary, almost tired but even so they didn't seem to like his presence or Kyla's. Their arrival had seemed an intrusion to most of them and as such Leon and Kyla had received very little in the way of words from the marines.

Maybe it was because he and Kyla were different to them; he knew as well as any Spartan that they were different from ordinary humans and were told that they would probably receive some resentment from other human fighters, marines in particular. It was human nature to be uncertain about someone who was different and so Leon was used to it.
He hadn't exactly met any other human soldiers before except for those at the bases on Reach. In reality this was merely his second proper mission, the first having been the attempt to capture Hanley. He could remember that night better than any other and how three of his best friends had been killed in one of the most poorly planned operations against the rebels this century.

Some of the others contributed Leon's noticeable "unstable" mental state to the fall he had received that night, after taking a bullet to the chest. He thought otherwise, knowing well enough that it was the deaths of his three friends that had contributed to his so-called "instability".

He knew very well that many thought of him as crazy, but he knew himself better than anyone else, knowing that others could not simply make judgements about his mentality after a few tests and examinations. He was well aware of his habit of having sudden outbursts and he could remember him shooting the doctor, having been overcome with so much anger to the human race itself he had had to take it out on someone, somehow.

Now here he sat, flying to some routine operation on some shithole of a planet, the Mark-IV armour he wore almost stifling as the cooling systems attempted to adjust the interior settings so he wouldn't sweat so much. It was useless right now though since he wasn't wearing his helmet, which was sitting it on the seat beside him while he went through a weapon's check, something of which he had been trained to do before going into a potential battle. Kyla, who was sitting beside him, her helmet off as well, was doing the same.

Loading his CM23, Leon made sure the weapon felt "right" in his hands, weighing it and making sure all potential to jam had been taken away. His rifle, a standard MA4B assault weapon, lay beside him on the seat, leaving a little bit of space between him and Kyla. The assault rifle used a 7.62mm round, armour-piercing as standard (these days everything seemed to be armour-piercing in some way) and held forty rounds in a magazine. The weapon had a stable rate of fire, making it good for suppression and close quarters.

He glanced over at Kyla, unable to help but admire her surprisingly graceful movements, even if she was just loading her M6 submachine gun. She had been the squad's recon specialist, having been the quietest of their group, but since there wasn't much of a squad left she had been assigned to help "control" Leon here on KV9-X7. He hadn't liked the idea of being "controlled" but so far Kyla hadn't forcefully controlled him, only merely distracting him from potential outburst situations.
She glanced at him when she noticed how he was looking at her in an admiring sort of way, managing a wry smile.

"You want something?"

Leon's thoughts about her wore broken as her voice cut through them; shattering his concentration and making him create eye contact. He was unsure of what to say for a moment but Kyla spoke before he had a chance to.

"You look like something's on your mind," Kyla continued, which was true enough.

"There's always something on my mind," Leon replied in his usual no-nonsense manner, "but right now I was just…." He trailed off, realizing he didn't know what to say about the matter.

Kyla didn't seem to be too certain about what Leon was trying to imply but she spoke regardless, preferring to talk rather than spend the trip on board the Pelican in silence.

"Is it the attitude the marines have towards us?" Kyla asked, making a slight frown, "Because I noticed it as well. We try and talk to them, they don't want to talk to us but when we walk past they're all talking amongst themselves, obviously about us…"

"It's not that," Leon said, not particularly worried about what the marines thought about him, "It's just…"

"Go on, tell me," Kyla said, smiling once more, "I'm your friend. You can tell me anything, after all, we're in the same squad…"

Leon didn't know what to say. He was silent, Kyla noticing this and becoming aware of what Leon might have on his mind. She changed the subject, obviously a little uneasy about it as Leon was.

"Let's make sure this operation goes like clockwork," Kyla said, placing her M6 submachine gun on her lap and sitting back, "let's make sure it goes better than the last one…"

"I don't want to hear about the last one," Leon interrupted, sitting with his head down as he fiddled with his CM23 pistol.

Kyla nodded in understanding, it was as painful for her to think about as it was for Leon. She had lost three friends as well that night and she had also taken two bullets in the side which had brought her close to death.

"I don't want to put any dark thoughts into your head, but it's safe to say this is our first chance to get back at the rebels responsible for what happened that night," Kyla said, sounding a little solemn, staring up at the ceiling as she milled over the thoughts in her mind.

Leon nodded; he liked this idea and was surprised to hear Kyla say it. Usually she was the one attempting to talk sense into him but now she obviously liked the idea of getting back at the rebels, even if it was only a supply depot they were attacking.

What he and Kyla had been told concerning the day's operation was that the pair of them would be brought into the north-western section of the base which was where surveillance had determined the main offices and vehicle depot to be located. They were to sweep the area and recover any enemy intelligence they could find while the marines kept the rebels busy on the other side of the compound. The area itself was probably well guarded but they knew their abilities, Leon confident they could do this without any drawbacks. It certainly seemed more straightforward than the last operation.

All Leon wanted were rebels to kill and it was very likely there would be plenty where they would be going, which made the operation seem far better than he had first considered it. Kyla seemed more careful though, preferring not to get too confident.

"It would be convenient if Hanley was at this depot," Leon said, breaking the silence that had befallen the pair. Kyla glanced at him, shaking her head.

"I doubt he would bother with an insignificant depot," she said, Leon's slight spark of hope for revenge dimming, "he would probably be somewhere far more important, like the main rebel fortress."

"Way to crush a man's dreams," Leon said jokingly, Kyla shaking her head but smiling anyway.

There was a brief pause in the conversation, Leon sitting back and turning his head to watch the landscape below fly by, noticing that they seemed to be flying over a dried out riverbed. It only looked like it had been dry for a few months, as if water had been flowing there sometime in the recent past. Somehow he doubted it but to him it just didn't seem right. Maybe there was something he didn't know about this planet, it seemed likely.

He went to place the CM23 pistol into his waist holster, only for the Pelican to jump suddenly, having hit some slight turbulence, the pistol falling away from above the holster and onto the floor. Kyla bent over to pick it up at the same time Leon did.

Their hands touched and for a second the pair exchanged glances, both of them obviously nervous at the sudden development. Leon pulled the pistol away, sitting back in silence as Kyla sat back as well, flushing red in the face.

"Sorry," she managed to say, getting Leon's attention.

"I…ah...," Leon struggled to find words, shifting where he sat in a slightly nervous manner, "I…I…I'm sorry as well." He could see Kyla had forgotten about the "mishap" already, so reaching over for his helmet, he grabbed it and placed it over his head, the suit hissing faintly as the helmet connected with the rest of the suit. Kyla did the same and the pair sat in silence for the rest of the journey, both unsure of what they should say to the other.

Flying a Shortsword was easy if you had enough practice and the craft itself was very welcoming to beginner pilots, easy to fly and maintain. That was partly the reason why Rick had chosen to stay as a Shortsword pilot and not move onto something better, such as a Longsword or Rapier-class fighter. Those two were a little harder to fly but quite rewarding when you got the knack for it, swooping into battle and pummelling enemy positions with whatever the craft had loaded on it.

Being such an easier craft to fly than the other two would explain why there were so many new, inexperienced pilots in the squadron. They were joining up in the dozens every month and most would never see any combat, which was a shame really. They join up only to discover all the "good" jobs are being taken by the experienced, veteran pilots such as Rick, although the four that were flying in formation with Rick's Shortsword now were the lucky ones.

There was Hank Williams, possibly Rick's favourite of the bunch. The young guy had potential; he just seemed a little cocky. Katherine Tyler, the woman of their little group, seemed to have some potential but she tended to keep to herself more than the others, not much of a talker and a bit too much of a gentle type of person to be in a squadron of fighter/bombers.

Jose Chung was another of Rick's group, a loud-mouth guy of Asian-descent who had never been one for following orders too closely. He was Rick's least favourite of the bunch and so didn't have much to do with him unless they were actually flying. The last guy of the bunch, Dirk Pitman, seemed to be close friends with Hank and so the two shared some similarities and was higher up on the list of Rick's favourites amongst the group.

Below them, the desert landscape moved by at a quick pace as they flew at a low altitude, the reason being to avoid rebel radar and scanner sweeps, although there was a good chance they'll be detected regardless of how they moved in. The whole operation seemed poorly planned but Rick and his group had their orders: fly to the rebel compound and "suppress" it until the Pelicans containing the marines arrived. This meant taking out any anti-aircraft batteries the rebels had set up as well as eliminating as many of the rebels as possible, although the General had told them to try and keep the main office tents intact. This was to avoid destroying any intelligence which may be inside them but Rick knew trying to keep a few buildings intact would be difficult so he figured they could get away with destroying a few. Besides, how could they possibly tell them apart from each other? All the tents probably looked the same.

Rick had been smart enough to make sure they had rockets rather than bombs loaded onto their aircraft. Rockets were far more accurate and easier to use than any bomb and a Shortsword could carry far more of them anyway.

The rockets themselves were standard high-explosive, fitted with armour-piercing casings in case anything they encountered at the rebel compound was armoured, such as a tank or armoured building. He doubted there would be many of these things at a rebel supply depot but it was better to be prepared. Preparation was always important, that was something he had learned in his years of experience.

Managing a glance through the cockpit shield and at the craft on his left, he could just make out Hank seated in his fighter-bomber through the glass. Rick turned back to the panels and controls in front of him, everything reading out as normal as he shifted his craft at 60% engine power, the standard cruise speed being around fifty or sixty percent. The others, who were flying in an echelon left formation, adjusted their speed accordingly so they could stay in formation.

Rick hadn't been expecting to be sent out on a sortie the day after their arrival, but it had happened thus leaving very little time to get used to their new place of stay, which wasn't all that good anyway. In reality it was just a bunch of tents in the middle of the desert and deserts were something Rick wasn't such a big fan of.

Inside the Shortsword the climate systems were making his flight as comfortable as possible, the interior very cool and sitting at a reasonable temperature. Below, the dry desert sands and rocks went by, giving the whole landscape around them a very bleak, sunbaked look. He was surprised that any rebels would have chosen such a place to set up a base of any kind; it didn't look like there were very many natural resources anywhere on this planet. The planet itself didn't seem to be of much strategic value, well away from the nearest population centre on the Outer Colonies. To put it in a frank tone, they were in the ass-end of space on a dreary, desolate planet. The only animal life Rick had so far encountered was alien flies (no larger than a common Earth fly) and lizards.

At least now there was something interesting to look forward to: blowing stuff up. That was something a lot of Shortsword pilots like him enjoyed, being one part of the job that never got old. Many who weren't pilots thought that Shortsword pilots like him were a little crazy, almost pyromaniacs, tending to blow things up they didn't need to and just making a nuisance of themselves. That was true in Rick's opinion; he just didn't think he was much of a pyromaniac. Sure, he enjoyed seeing things explode; he just didn't think he was a maniac about it.

"Some place, huh?"

Rick's train of thought was ended abruptly by the familiar voice that crackled over the radio. It took him a moment to realize it was Hank, trying to start up a conversation. Fair enough, thought Rick as he replied.

"I wouldn't like to live here for too long," he replied, "the heat would make me go nuts…"

"You're already nuts," Hank replied jokingly. Rick managed a weak smile beneath his breathing mask, hearing a few slight chuckles from the others over the radio.

"Right…" Rick didn't bother trying to reply with anything too intelligent, rather he reached into a pocket on his pilot's vest and retrieved a small disc, placing it into the correct slot on the panels in front of him. Almost immediately ancient music started blaring out of the speakers in the cockpit, as well as the ones under the craft's wings.

"Lord Almighty, I feel mah temperature risin'!"

This seemed to make the other pilots go quiet as Rick cheerfully turned
up the volume, anyone down on the ground able to hear the "rock and roll", as it was known back in the centuries it was popular, very clearly and very loudly.

"Maybe you should turn that shit off."

Jose's voice broke in over the radio, Rick rolling his eyes at the man's remark. It was always Jose who had the negative outlook on things; he probably thought he was actually going to get killed on a straightforward sortie such as this. Rick had lost that worry years ago, especially if their job was as simple as pummelling a ground target.
Death was something that was no longer a worry but more like something that was just "possible". The others probably didn't feel the same way but this was their first proper combat mission anyway, Rick being the only one of them with any previous experience in this line of the military.

"Turn it off yourself, jackass," Rick replied, quite bluntly. There wasn't a reply, which worked for him, allowing him to concentrate on the readouts in front of him. The electronic map on one of the screens indicated that their target would be coming into view soon, allowing him to increase his speed a little, and the other pilots adjusting their craft's speeds to keep up with him.

The four Pelican drop-ships appeared on the map, close behind and flying low. They would fly in when the area was considered safe for aircraft, although Rick had his doubts about the strengths of the rebel defences. How many anti-aircraft batteries could these rebels have? Everyone seemed to be making a big deal out of it except for him and his group of pilots.

He didn't think too highly of the capabilities of any sort of rebel organization he had gone up against and he wasn't expecting these guys to be any different.

A voice crackled over the radio, this time from one the pilots of the Pelicans.

"I would be careful out there, squadron," the male voice said, "I heard this place has heavy defences…"

"We can handle it," Rick replied, rolling his eyes. There was a pause before the pilot continued, not sounding very sure about the subject.

"Uh-huh, of course you can," he said, managing a hint of sarcasm, "just make sure all their gun batteries are down so I and my friends can fly in the ground troops without getting shot out of the sky. Is that clear?"

"Clear as glass," Rick replied, the Pelican pilot falling silent and closing the channel. How hard could it possibly be?

He was pondering the thought when a warning beep began sounding inside his cockpit. Looking at the appropriate panel, he saw a rather blunt warning message flashing in bright red letters against a dark background.


It took a moment for the message to register in Rick's brain, considering he was a little surprised by it. Glancing down at the map and scanner screen, he could see they were closing in on the compound and that a small, but obvious, red blip was on its way towards his craft. He felt his heart skip a beat when he realized just what was going on, grabbing hold of the aileron control stick and thumbing the rudder control on top of it.

"Shit!" He exclaimed into the radio, "Disengage formation! Now!"

The other Shortswords parted into different directions after a moment's hesitation, giving Rick enough room to manage a quick ascent upwards as the missile, now clearly visible, trailed through the air towards him. It glowed like a light, leaving a white, smoky contrail behind it, as it wound its way through the air and came up behind his craft at a fair distance, seemingly intent on knocking him out of the sky.

Rick, suddenly sweating at the brow and his heart pumping wildly, thumbed the button to drop a flare, taking a millisecond to decide whether he should or not. There was a faint thump as a hatch on the left wing opened and closed, a bright, white flare floating out of the hatch and getting the attention of the missile. Rick rolled his craft to the right, moving away from the flare and the missile, the missile detonating and rocking his craft slightly as it came into contact with the flare.

"Flight One, I need you all proceeding to the target!" Rick said through the radio, bringing his craft level, "Take out any launchers you find! Don't bother with a formation, everybody's on their own!"

Rick turned his craft back onto course, the rebel compound coming into view. From here the whole of it was visible, a walled compound made up of metal and stone structures, nestled on top of a ridge overlooking a dry riverbed. Rick could make out the shapes of rebel soldiers in desert camouflage uniforms scattering around the base, many running to man the several gun emplacements situated on concrete banks by the perimeter fence. A few of them were ground to air missile launchers and were probably about to fire.

Rick spotted Hank's Shortsword coming from the right, the craft's high calibre cannons opening fire, the rounds leaving smoking trails behind them and sending up dirt and sand as they impacted the ground. Rick watched as a few rebel soldiers were ripped to shreds by the high powered rounds, one man caught in the stomach, his legs tearing away from the rest of him.

Rick decided his best option was to destroy the gun emplacements, his targeting computer locking on to each of them. He thumbed the button to release a rocket, pressing it and feeling a wave of satisfaction wash over him as the rocket was released from the left wing of his Shortsword, watching as it left a smoking contrail behind itself, trailing towards the first of the launchers. He hadn't been the first of his flight to do the same, already he could see Jose's Shortsword had launched a pair of rockets, each one locked onto a different gun emplacement.

Many of the rebel soldiers had stopped where they were, standing outside the structures, raising their rifles up and attempting to hit the Shortswords as they zoomed overhead, Rick coming to the edge of the compound and banking to the left, bringing himself around so he could make another pass on the compound.

Three of the ground-to-air missile launchers went up in balls of fire, Rick unable to help but watch as the rockets in the launchers ignited, creating a thunderous explosion as each launcher was blown to smouldering pieces. Nearby rebels were knocked onto the ground by the force of the blast, a few having been hit by fragments and weren't getting back up.

Rifle rounds pinged off Rick's fighter as he lined himself up with a high calibre cannon, being manned by a pair of rebels who were swivelling it about on its axis in an attempt to bring its sights onto his fighter. Rick bet them to the trigger, pressing a grey button on the control stick, the cannons built into his aircraft's wings opening fire, high powered rounds whizzing through the air, leaving grey, smoking contrails as they peppered the ground near the gun emplacement. The rebels manning the gun spun and fell, the gun itself being shredded into an unworkable state.

A trio of rebels down on Rick's left had run out of a small tent, one of which was holding a large, bulky long shape. Rick made a guess that it was something that wouldn't be good for his craft, so banking into their direction he prepared for another strafing run.

One of the rebels stood behind the one holding the launcher, loading a long object into the back of the launcher, most presumably a rocket. Rick started firing but the rebels stood their ground as dirt and sand was kicked up around them, the soldier holding the launcher firing, just as a bullet ripped its way through his chest and dropped him to the ground.

Rick saw the heat-seeking rocket turn into his direction, so pulling up abruptly, he banked to the left, the rocket giving chase. Taking a moment to look around at the carnage being caused, he could see that the other four of his flight had laid waste to the rebel gun emplacements, Katherine having been smart enough to put a rocket towards the communications dish on top of a caravan type vehicle. That was now a smoking, flaming ruin, preventing the rebels from calling for help, a good move on her behalf.

Rick glanced at the rear view screen in front of him which was linked to a camera on the back of his craft, giving a decent enough view of whatever was behind him. He could see the rocket coming and confidently pressed a familiar button, another flare, this time dropping out of the right wing, was released. Banking away from the flare and the rocket which was now zooming towards it, Rick turned his craft back towards the compound, some of the structures there now in a smoking ruin. The rebels below were now scattering, running for cover and a few were attempting to set up mounted guns.

Rick looked at the smoking remains of the compound and managed a slight grin, satisfied that this was a job well done. All that was needed now were the marines to come in and mop up as well as collect intelligence, intelligence which Rick hoped he and his flight hadn't destroyed. He didn't really care if they had or hadn't, it wasn't like he would be getting in trouble for this kind of thing.

Rick was about to contact the Pelicans when he saw a rebel run out of cover holding a launcher, pointing it in the general direction of Katherine's fighter. The rebel fired the launcher and started running back into cover, the rocket turning onto a course so that it was behind Katherine's aircraft.

"Tyler, you have a bogey on your tail!" Rick exclaimed through the radio, "Drop some flares! Do it now!"

Katherine hadn't noticed the missile as she flew over the compound, only becoming aware of it when the warning appeared on one of her screens inside the cockpit. From what Rick could see, there weren't any flares coming out, rather, she banked to the left, the rocket following in her wake.

"Drop flares, damn it!" The last thing Rick wanted to see was a smoking wreck and a dead pilot. Katherine should have done something about the rocket on her tail by now, but nothing was happening. Rick decided to pull up behind the rocket, following it as it followed her aircraft, trying to get a clear shot. It was near impossible to get a clean shot and not hit Katherine's Shortsword in the process.

"It's not working!" Her voice spoke over the radio, sounding desperate as she banked the craft to the right suddenly. The other pilots were busy strafing the rebels on the ground to take too much notice, leaving Rick with the problem of taking care of the rocket.

Rick guessed maybe the flare release mechanism was jammed, although it could be any manner of reasons, aircraft were never always reliable. He decided he would try and shoot the rocket out of the sky, which was beginning to catch up on Katherine's Shortsword. He took a deep breath, allowing his targeting computer to make adjustments and alert him to the best time to fire. He wouldn't be able to do it without hitting her aircraft but hopefully he wouldn't hit any important systems.

The targeting computer suddenly beeped, the reticle on the gun sight in front of him flashing red as it locked onto the rocket. Rick pressed the fire button on the control stick, firing for only a brief second, enough for a pair of high powered rounds to fire. One hit the rocket; knocking it off course and making it detonate in the corner of his vision, rocking his aircraft slightly. The other went on to punch a hole in Katherine's aircraft's fuselage, a stream of white smoke suddenly pouring from her aircraft.

"What was that?" She sounded agitated, as if annoyed at Rick's life saving intervention.

"Me saving your ass," Rick replied, breaking off from his pursuit of her, "it looks like you'll need some slight repairs now."

There was a sigh over the radio, Rick glancing down at his scanner screen, seeing that the Pelicans were well on their way to the compound.

"I'm going to make a landing in that nearby clearing," Katherine said, "you busted a hole in my fuel tank."

Rick only smiled; there was no need for a verbal answer. He figured it was time to head back to base, opening a line of communication with the lead Pelican. It was time for the marines to disembark.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: Morning Raid
Date: 11 March 2009, 1:18 am

Lyssa had been sitting quietly for most of the trip, deep in her own thoughts, thinking about the past day's events and what could very well happen today. There was a chance she could very well die today; there was always a chance when you were in the marines. Anything could happen, she knew that well enough. Having been in the marines for over a decade, she had gotten used to the feeling of impending death that came whenever she was sent out on an operation like this one, she had learnt how to put it to the back of her mind and concentrate on the task at hand.

She glanced at the rest of her squad, trying to figure out what they were thinking. Corporal Walther was sitting with a neutral, but noticeably solemn expression on his face, Lyssa almost able to hear his heart thumping quickly in his chest.

Hawker was quietly muttering under his breath, the cross on his necklace held tightly in one hand as he muttered a quiet prayer. He didn't seem too worried about what was about to happen, he never seemed to be, confident that God would protect him.

Reynolds was sitting quietly, not looking either worried or happy, instead holding a combat knife in his right hand and twirling it about every now and then. He seemed to be masterful with the implement, something of which Lyssa found no surprise in learning.

Layman was sitting quietly, almost with a grin on his face as he checked his rifle once more, slid the bolt back and letting it click loudly back into place. He noticed the way Lyssa was looking at him and grinned at her, as if eager to start killing.

Lawrence, on the other hand, was suffering from an uncontrollable shaking fit of his left hand as he held it on his thigh, trying to make it less noticeable to the others. Nobody else had seemed to notice yet or they had and just didn't care. Lyssa didn't really care, just as long as his nervousness didn't endanger anybody else.

Kilgore stood in the middle of the Pelican's passenger area, casually chewing on a toothpick and humming quietly to himself. He glanced at the camera crew of three, frowned and turned to face the rear of the Pelican. The rear ramp had begun to extend, revealing the smoking rebel compound as they descended towards it.

Several of the metal and plastic structures that had once been part of the depot were now flaming hulks, dark smoke billowing into the air and creating a dark cloud over the compound.

"Okay squad, get ready to disembark!" The pilot's voice sounded through the passenger area, Lyssa immediately standing up as the Pelican descended towards the ruined compound. Already the distant reports of automatic rifle fire could be made out amongst the ruined structures and the smoke, bullets pinging off the Pelican's armour.

Lyssa looked at the others in her squad who had already begun to stand up, bringing their weapons to the ready. From what Lyssa could see outside, the Shortsword pilots had overdone their job, having laid waste to more than they had needed to. The problem was that there still seemed to be plenty of rebel soldiers entrenched amongst cover out in the compound, firing away at the Pelicans.

Lyssa ignored the shooting as the Pelican came to about half a metre above the ground. Bullets were pinging off the interior of the Pelican and regardless of this; Major Kilgore casually stepped outside, disappearing from view as he did so. His camera crew followed, disappearing from sight as well.

It then took Lyssa less than a second to issue her first proper order of the day.

"Go, go, go!"

The squad began sprinting out of the Pelican, Lyssa following closely behind, planting her feet on the sand below. Ahead she could make out a few flashes of automatic weapons fire coming from amongst the ruins of a metal building, the rebels there having taken cover near a crate filled with ammunition, allowing them to fire away crazily.

Dirt and sand kicked up around her feet, Lyssa running for cover which came in the form of some metallic crate. She could already see the other marines from other Pelicans running out into the firefight, a few getting cut down from concentrated rebel weapons fire.

Lyssa was almost to the crates, able to see Reynolds there, his rifle raised as he fired towards the entrenched rebel soldiers, attempting to suppress their positions. Adrenaline surged through her as she felt bullets hit the ground around her, sand flying up from the impacts. What happened next was a bit unexpected.


Somebody shouted the word, she couldn't tell who, but she glanced in the direction of the rebels who were in cover about forty metres ahead and managed to catch a glimpse of the incoming rocket which was leaving a smoking white contrail behind it. It went past her by less than a metre but was at such an angle that it hit the ground behind her. She barely heard the explosion since it went off so close to her, the force of it knocking her flat into the ground, leaving her dazed and with a high pitched ringing in her ears. She was only just barely aware that the back of her
armour was burning from the heat of the explosion.

She raised her head, the ringing in her ears droning out everything else as she slowly climbed back up, kneeling on the ground, unable to concentrate on anything in particular, her senses a mess from the explosion. Around her the hot yellow-white streaks of bullets whizzed by, a marine ahead of her copping one in the face and falling flat into the ground. A grenade went off a safe distance to her right and pieces of shrapnel came raining down all around, almost like confetti, getting stuck in the sand around the centre of the explosion. She felt a sticking pain in the lower of her back, burning almost which she had always known to be there since the missile explosion but now only causing her some grief.

The ringing was at its peak now, so looking around, almost dumbly, she could see the rest of her squad in a ditch ahead, Layman and Hawker firing their weapons while the camera crew filmed from behind. Lawrence was crouched behind a crate, his eyes closed as he swore quietly under his breath, bullets ricocheting off of the front face of the crate.
She was now only just barely aware that someone was yelling at her, seeing Reynolds crouched in front of her, yelling at her but to her there was no sound coming out. She looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out what he was saying, the ringing in her ears beginning to die down, allowing her to make out some of what Reynolds was shouting.

"…orders, Lieutenant?" Reynolds shouted, almost annoyed at the lack of an answer he was getting from her, "what are our orders, Lieutenant? We're pinned down, for fuck's sake!"

Lyssa, with her hearing now returned, took in the situation around her, noticing that most of the marines were either dead or pinned down. She picked up her rifle which lay in the sand close to her and gave Reynolds a stern expression. It was time to actually get her mind on the job, which would prove hard considering there were bullets flying all around her and the others.

"You see those guys up ahead?" She asked, nodding in the direction of the muzzle flashes from amongst the ruins of the portable office. Reynolds nodded; ducking down slightly as a grenade went off several metres away, knocking a marine onto the ground. He looked back up at her.

"What about them?"

"I want you to go around their right flank and take them out," Lyssa said, ignoring the explosion and keeping her eyes focused on Reynolds, "I'll provide cover fire, just gather the squad and make your way past whatever buildings remain so you're in a good position to fire. Once they're down we'll press forwards."

Reynolds nodded, heading back to where the rest of the squad was sheltering in the ditch. Lyssa ducked behind a stack of metallic crates as the rebel's weapons fire came frighteningly close, the Lieutenant managing to quash all her fears about getting killed. Rather, she reached down to where the now dull throbbing pain was, finding that her hand came back sticky with her own blood. She sighed; the inconvenience of getting wounded was something all too common for her. Right now she knew there was adrenaline surging through her system; almost blocking out the worst of the pain entirely but once this whole firefight was over it would start hurting a lot more, especially since she could feel a metal shard inside the wound. She would deal with it later, when there wasn't much risk of her getting shot or blown up.

Reynolds gathered the others, leading them past Lyssa and towards the set of mostly intact metal shelters and sheds that were down the right of the compound. So far, the other marines were slowly edging their way forwards but weren't doing very well, getting pinned down behind cover for prolonged periods of time. Lyssa would fix that; at least she hoped she would.

Watching as Reynolds and the squad started for the nearest shelter, Lyssa crouched up slightly so she could see above the crate in front of her; bring her MA2B Carbine to bear. She caught sight of the muzzle flashes and even less so the rebel soldiers themselves, clad in armour plating similar to what she wore but more concentrated on the chest than anywhere else. They were typical desert soldiers, raging from the lowly Privates that had their heads protected from the desert conditions by layers of wrapped cloth and goggles so they could see and then there were the higher ranked Sergeant, these guys with no headwear but varying degrees of body armour.

Lyssa brought one of the soldiers into her sights, only just able to see the guy, this one a Private, headwear and some plating on his torso. She fired, feeling the rifle kick back against her shoulder slightly, seeing down the sights that the rebel was still firing away, the bullet having harmlessly gone by the rebel. Lyssa swore quietly under her breath and decided she would just do what she had said: suppress and not kill, unless she was lucky enough to score a hit on one of the rebels.

Lyssa began squeezing the trigger rapidly, firing away at the group of rebel soldiers, seeing the soldiers themselves duck back into cover, the amount they were firing decreasing. Reynolds and the others were now down the right flank, taking cover amongst the ruins of a portable office as they found a decent position from where to open fire on the now exposed rebel soldiers.

Lyssa's rifle suddenly clicked on empty and she ducked behind cover, the rebels having seen this and coming back up into firing positions, spraying away with their rifles, bullets pinging loudly off of the crates she hid behind.
Ejecting the spent magazine and inserting a new one, she heard the rifle give a satisfying click and so managed a glimpse around the side of the crates, watching as Reynolds, Walther, Layman and Hawker opened fire on the rebels from their exposed flank, cutting the group of soldiers, silencing the rebel guns. Even from where Lyssa was, she could see Lawrence hanging back behind the rest of the squad, seemingly refusing to fire his weapon. That kind of behaviour was bound to get him killed but Lyssa knew from experience it was hard to change someone like that, so she decided she wouldn't bother.

The other marines were pushing forward from cover to cover, marines clearing out the portable offices by throwing grenades in through the doors or windows before charging in themselves and killing anything inside that wasn't already dead. The rebels themselves were holding their ground, very rarely falling back and seemingly fighting to the death.
Lyssa started forwards, moving from cover to cover, coming to the set of portable offices and shelters that ran down the right flank, noticing the large amounts of supply crates under some of the shelters. There was one set in particular which wasn't labelled but were all marked with 'IMPORTANT' labels, although God only knew what was inside them.

Cautiously making her way past a few noticeably empty portable office, empty because the doors were wide open and they had large holes busted in their sides, Lyssa was only slightly surprised when a pair of rebel Privates came charging out of an office ahead, the two running for the nearest cover which came in the form of a parked Jeep. Lyssa steadied her aim and fired a few quick shots, both rebels dropping suddenly, tumbling a short distance from their own momentum. Satisfied with her work, she continued, passing some more shelters where crates and other types of containers of supplies were kept, finding her way to where the rest of her squad were, and firing their weapons at some unseen targets.

Lyssa stepped amongst them, finding that a large, but scorched, open area was before them, having once been some sort of landing strip. The Shortswords from earlier had left it with scorched, blackened craters and had laid to waste the few cargo transports that had been parked under flimsy, now flattened, metal shelters. Rebel soldiers, a few dozen of them, were scattered across the landing strip and amongst nearby tents and shelters, firing away at the marines which were working their way down the left and centre of the compound.

"What's the situation?" Lyssa heard herself asking, although she was more intent on finishing the job than anything else. Reynolds was the one to reply, still in his usual calm manner, although Lyssa had sensed a bit of frustration when he had been yelling at her earlier.

"They ain't giving up their ground, that's what," Reynolds said, Lawrence coughing loudly behind them as he managed a glance over at a charred rebel corpse, the victim of the Shortsword attack earlier. Lyssa ignored Lawrence and the corpse, surveying the heavily defended zone ahead of them, catching sight of the marines on the other side of the compound pressing forwards.

"There's a whole bunch of important looking offices beyond this landing strip but we can't get to them," Reynolds continued, glancing at Lyssa, "what do you say we do, Lieutenant?"

"We'll make our way around the side, like we've been doing," Lyssa said, starting back in the direction she had been going, the squad following behind in a staggered formation, "those offices would hold the intelligence we're looking for, so it's our job to get inside them."

Ahead were a set of shelters and a bunch of marines, using some barrels as cover as they fired wildly and swore loudly at the rebel soldiers taking cover inside the large, desert coloured portable office ahead. The windows were open and every now and then would be the report of automatic weapons fire in the open window, bullets bouncing off the barrels the marines were hiding behind.

One of the marines, a man with a slightly foreign accent, was manning a thirty calibre gun mounted on a tripod which itself was mounted on top of the barrels. He was the one doing the swearing as he strafed the weapon across the windows, forcing the rebels inside to take cover.

Lyssa made her way behind the group, the rest of her squad scattering throughout the vicinity behind varying types of cover. The marines barely noticed her arrival, much more intent on finishing off the rebels inside the portable office. There was one thing that Lyssa thought of that would probably end their predicament that they obviously hadn't come up with yet.

"Grenades…" She began to speak but she was interrupted when the soldier manning the mounted gun, a Gunnery Sergeant by the look of the insignia on his uniform, spoke aloud.

"We ain't got no grenades," he said, his voice tinged with what sounded like a Western European accent, she couldn't be too sure. Accents weren't her specialty although now that she thought about it, he did sound sort of…Austrian, maybe German.

"What if I said I had some?" Lyssa asked, the Austrian continuing with his shooting, punching holes into the office but not actually hitting the rebels inside.

"Den I wood ask you to throw one through a window," the Austrian continued, pausing in his firing of the mounted gun as he began to reload. As soon as he stopped firing the rebels retaliated, muzzle flashes filling the open windows and bullets pinging against the metal barrels. The marines there ducked, Lyssa doing the same, as her squad opened fire from their positions behind them, although Lawrence seemed hesitant, taking longer to react than everyone else.
Something fist sized and oblong shaped landed close to the marine on the Austrian's far left. It only took one look to realize what it was, a rebel inside the office having managed to through it out of the window. The Austrian shouted and the marines abandoned their positions, Lyssa diving to the side as the grenade went off. There was a brief instance of deafness but this time Lyssa's hearing and her other senses recovered faster, although something red and sticky landed on her back, making her grab hold of it. It was stiff but squishy and so lifting it up and getting back on her feet, making sure to duck behind the set of barrels in front of her.

The stiff and squishy object was now in full view and she almost dropped it with surprise when she saw what it was. It was the arm of one of the marines, torn off at the elbow so that red and ragged strands of flesh hung from where it was once connected to the rest of the marine's body. Lyssa dropped it, letting it fall to the ground, suddenly feeling queasy.

For a moment she thought it was the arm of the Austrian but she saw him, the sole survivor of his group now, climbing back up onto his feet and brushing himself down. Now that Lyssa could properly see him and not just the side of his face she could see that he had well chiselled features and a rather bulky frame, built of muscle and not fat. He grinned at her, revealing near perfect white teeth. He lost that smile when the rebels inside the office opened fire, the Austrian searching for sight of his mounted gun but finding that it had blown up along with the barrels it had been mounted on.

Lyssa ducked behind her set of barrels, the Austrian running towards her and leaping behind them. While he was recovering, Lyssa reached for her waist and retrieved a standard fragmentation grenade from there, pulling out the pin with her thumb and throwing it towards the office. It passed through one of the open windows and disappeared inside, its arrival followed by a few shouts before there was a sudden boom! Part of the office exploded outwards, fragments of plastic and metal flying out of the epicentre of the fireball, the rest of the office being knocked either way and literally falling apart, like a badly constructed house of cards.

The Austrian, by now, was up on his feet, admiring Lyssa's handiwork. Walther had stepped up from out of cover and towards the ruined office; his rifle raised as he surveyed the damage done to the office, seeing that no one inside had survived. He breathed a sigh of relief and lowered his rifle, glancing back at Lyssa.

"Well, that worked out well," he said with a slight grin. Lyssa shrugged before remembering something important, pointing towards the severed arm as to bring the Corporal's attention to it.

"Corporal, do me a favour," she said, Corporal Walther giving an uncertain expression, "pick up that arm and find out who it belongs to."

With the rear ramp open Leon could take a good look at the compound, with smoke billowing from the buildings that had been destroyed in the Shortsword strike, many of the others still standing. The landing strip in the middle of the compound was pockmarked with craters, both big and small, rebel soldiers scattering throughout the smouldering remains of the compound with squads of marines pressing on them from the other side. There were several garages down one side of the landing strip, mostly intact and closed shut, as if the rebels were hiding something inside.

Leon knew he would find out soon enough but decided to concentrate on that task at hand, holstering his CM23 sidearm and readying his assault rifle, his training beginning to take over as the Pelican descended.

Unsurprisingly, the rebels amongst the portable offices below noticed them coming and so opened fire, the sound of bullets hitting metal ringing about the Pelican. Leon remained unfazed, as did Kyla, the Pelican coming to about half a metre off of the ground, allowing them to disembark.

Leon was the first out, his rifle at the ready as they landed on the sand close to a line of portable offices and shelters. Kyla followed him out and the pair broke up, Leon heading for cover which was in the form of a parked rebel truck, Kyla taking cover behind some crates outside one of the offices.

The sounds of nearby shootouts were quite noticeable in the silence that followed, the Pelican that had brought the Spartans to their destination taking off and flying away. The rebels up ahead, a large group of them, had lost track of the Spartans and were slowly moving their way forwards, Leon able to see an officer leading the group, this guy wearing only light armour and an officer's cap which denoted his rank in the OCPLF.

Leon leaned around the side of the truck, bringing the officer into his sights. His training had taught him that if you had trouble killing something, it was better to think of it as something that wasn't human, since it was far easier to kill something that was different to you. Leon, however, would have no trouble killing any of these rebels, human or not, because of what they did to him and his squad last December.

He managed a glance at Kyla, saw she was laying low, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. The rebels were slowly moving forwards; looking around cautiously, as if they knew there was somebody around here somewhere but didn't know where. Whoever had come out of that Pelican had disappeared like some sort of ghost.

This was the way Leon liked it, knowing that it was better to bewilder your enemy so you could gain the advantage over them. He brought the officer into his rifle's sight, taking a deep breath as to steady his aim, knowing that as soon as he fired his position would be revealed so he knew that he couldn't stuff this up. Kill the officer and it was very likely the others would go into disarray, although Leon wasn't too sure, he didn't have much experience fighting the OCPLF. The way they were fighting the marines on the other side of the compound, refusing to fall back, obviously showed high levels of discipline.

"Spread out," Leon heard the officer say, stopping and giving the signal to his squad to scatter. The group did so, and Leon seized the perfect opportunity to fire.
The rifle bucked back slightly but he kept it controlled, part of the officer's face disappearing in a spray of red. The officer twirled slightly where he stood and then fell into a heap, going down like a sack of potatoes. Kyla opened fire with her submachine gun, strafing the weapon across a pair of the rebels, cutting them down and letting them drop to the ground in the same sort of way their officer went.

The remaining trio of rebels started running for cover, now completely aware that they were in trouble. Leon and Kyla opened fire, the rebels going down within seconds, tumbling this way and that from their own momentum, almost like rag dolls. The pair of Spartans exchanged glances and Leon gave the signal to move ahead, Kyla watching his six.
With the rebels down, there were still plenty of portable offices and shelters to check out. Rebels were known for dirty tactics, at least from what Leon had read and heard about them. They would play dead, hide for hours, waiting for the right moment to strike. Playing dead was one thing Leon wanted to be sure about, carefully checking the bodies of the rebels they had just taken down, seeing that they were all genuinely dead, only slightly relieved they wouldn't be getting back up again.

There were about five of the grey-green portable buildings, these ones mostly intact and lined up neatly, although the ground near them was marked with varying sized craters. Desert camouflage netting was set up to cover the buildings and walking close near them, Leon could see that they were being used as a substitute for tents where the soldiers could sleep, although these ones were vacant for obvious reasons.

The main objectives rung in Leon's mind as he scanned the compound, taking note that there were a few larger, but not entirely intact, structures ahead. The remains of a caravan type trailer, this one being used as a communications centre, lay outside a large tent-like structure, part of which had been damaged by the nearby detonation of a rocket from one of the Shortswords. That damaged part was flattened and torn, blackened by the heat of the detonation, a pair of rebels standing guard outside the entrance of the partially demolished tent, remaining oblivious to the nearby firefights.

Leon gave the signal to Kyla to stop, stepping ahead by himself as he came to an intact Jeep, obviously belonging to the rebels inside the tent. The pair of rebel NCOs waiting outside didn't immediately notice him, nor Kyla, who had crouched into a darkened blast crater, surveying the situation before them.

Two guards outside, Leon assumed that most likely they were there because something important was happening inside the large tent, probably the command tent for the compound from where the head officer kept everything in the compound running. That meant he (or she, there was no way for Leon or Kyla to know) could still be alive and could be in that very tent.

Capturing someone like that would aid the fight against the rebels immensely, even if the officer wasn't willing to talk. There were always ways to get someone to talk.
Leon glanced at Kyla, signalled her to come to where he was. She did so, crouched, creeping forwards and glancing about every now and then, making sure the area was clear. She stopped behind the Jeep with Leon and the male Spartan nodded towards the tent.

"What do you think they're doing out there?" He asked, although the answer was obvious.

"We should check it out…"

"Damn right we should," Leon said, interrupting her mid-sentence. She didn't seem fazed by it and remained silent as Leon prepared a quick approach to the tent. He signalled towards the left flank of the tent, obviously for Kyla to go along.

"You go along the left flank, I'll come in through the front," Leon explained, "I'll take out these guys. If there's anyone inside the tent, we have to apprehend them, not kill them. We only kill them if it's absolutely necessary…"

"You won't shoot them, will you?" Kyla asked; a hint of amusement in her voice. Leon kept a straight face, although he knew what she meant.

"Only if I have to," Leon replied, Kyla starting on her way to the nearby shelter, taking cover amongst the crates stacked underneath. Leon got to work on the task at hand, watching as Kyla stealthily moved from shelter to shelter, keeping out of sight of the exterior guards at the tent.
Leon took a look around, figuring that the portable offices on his right would make the best cover. Crouched, he moved behind one of the portable offices, making sure there weren't any soldiers around. There weren't, most of them preoccupied with fighting the marines that were pushing into the compound from the other side, so Leon had a relatively clean route to the tent.

He got to a position about twenty metres from the exterior guards before one of them glanced around and caught sight of him. In one fluid motion Leon had his rifle up at his shoulder and fired a few rounds, both rebels falling to the ground abruptly, not twirling about in romanticized ways but merely falling into a heap and not getting back up.
Leon began running towards the entrance, his rifle raised as a rebel soldier stepped out of the entrance flaps, pistol in his hand as he scanned the immediate area. He saw Leon coming but the Spartan was much quicker on the trigger, merely firing a single round and feeling some slight satisfaction when part of the rebel's face disappeared in a spray of red, his body crumpling onto the ground and kicking up some sand which floated in a short, wispy cloud around the body before diminishing within a few seconds.

Leon arrived at the entrance of the partially intact tent, forced his way through the green flaps and entered the tent, finding the interior relatively intact save for some fallen ceiling and wall beams at the damaged area. A lone rebel, this one in full officer's garb and female, her dark brown hair tied back in a low ponytail, was frantically typing away at a keyboard at a desktop computer which was on a battered silver desk, seemingly oblivious to the Spartan's presence. Leon raised his rifle, noticing that the readout on the computer's screen mentioned something about "transferring files", something of which he would have to take a closer look at later…

"Hold it right there, lady," Leon barked, a sly grin forming at his mouth. The female officer paused in her work, Leon almost able to feel the fear in the officer as she slowly turned around, her hands close to her waist. Leon noticed the pistol holstered on her right and the hand that was close to grabbing it.

"Don't try it," Leon said bluntly, the woman's hand coming away from the holstered pistol. She managed a sharp movement with her left hand but Leon didn't catch the extent of the movement, instead putting his finger closer to his rifle's trigger.

"Hands up lady, the game's over," he said, watching as the silent rebel officer slowly raised her hands, "don't even try any fancy stuff…"

He saw something clenched in her left hand, dark green and oval shaped. She had a malevolent grin on her face, as if she knew she had foiled his attempt at apprehending her. Leon dived to one side as the grenade in her hand detonated, the explosion thundering through the interior of the tent, blowing a hole through the structure's ceiling and throwing Leon onto the ground, sending smoke and dust into his visor, rendering him dazed and blinded.
He regained his senses and rolled onto his back, raising his rifle into the cloud of smoke and dust but knowing there wouldn't be anything left. A few charred red chunks were scattered around what remained of the tent's interior, although there weren't many of them compared to the amount of scorched computer parts left lying around, the desk nothing but a metal sheet lying half buried in the ground.

Getting back onto his feet, Leon looked around the ruined tent, noticing a small blackened crater through the rubber matting where the female officer had been standing; one charred severed leg lying a short distance from it. He shook his head, not because he felt any pity on the rebel, he was far from that. He was shaking his head because they had just lost two vital forms of intelligence: the officer and the computers. He stepped over to what remained of the computers, bending over to pick up what remained of the desktop, merely a hulk of metal and circuits which were charred and blackened beyond repair. He heard footsteps ahead, looking up to catch sight of Kyla, who was had entered the tent through the newly formed hole in the side of it. He couldn't make her features out behind her visor, but he could tell she was a little annoyed.

"I gather things didn't go according to plan?" She asked, managing a slight tone of amusement.
Leon threw the useless hulk of circuitry to the floor and managed a glance at the crater where the officer had been standing. He hadn't been expecting a mere rebel to prefer to die than be captured, but then again he had never really had many previous encounters with these OCPLF types in the past.
"It certainly didn't," Leon replied, kicking the useless hulk of circuitry to the side.

The smell of gasoline and various other fuels, both environmentally friendly and not, were thick in the air, a mix of petroleum and burning ethanol creating some sort of pungent, hybrid smell which hung around the air of the compound, Lyssa inhaling the smell through her nose as she and her squad moved their way past a few tents, heading down towards the crater marked landing strip where the majority of the fighting was now taking place.
The muscular Austrian marine whom Lyssa had encountered earlier was now tagging along with the squad, a high calibre assault rifle in hand as they moved their way through the compound in a staggered formation. The Austrian's name was Quentin Limburg, a Gunnery Sergeant and specialist in heavy weapons. Apparently his squad were all dead; save for one whom Limburg hadn't seen around and had assumed him to be dead as well. Whether this guy was dead or not didn't particularly matter right now, their job at this time was to secure the compound and recover any intelligence they could find. So far they had been doing a reasonable job, at least in Lyssa's opinion they had.

Passing by a flaming rebel corpse, set on fire thanks to the remains of the gas barrels nearby, Lyssa raised a hand in a "stop" motion, the squad behind stopping and spreading out while Lyssa surveyed the landing strip ahead. They were at one end of it now, able to look across at the landing strip and the adjacent structures in one whole. Unclipping a pair of binoculars from her waist, Lyssa brought them to her eyes and peered through the lens, zooming in on the group of marines at the far end who were fighting it out with an equally large group of rebel soldiers who were taking cover amongst some shelters across the strip. A few mostly intact sand coloured garages were down the right side of the strip, about halfway down the strip itself, probably containing rebel vehicles. None were open and would be the best place to look for any hiding rebel soldiers, although there were plenty of rebels at various positions of cover on the landing strip, a pair of them having set up a mounted gun on some crates, firing away at a small squad of marines across the strip, pinning the marines down.

Lyssa lowered the binoculars, clipping them back onto her waist belt. She turned to the squad and gestured them forwards, pointing over to the garages and then the rebels manning the mounted gun.

"We're going to those garages over there," she said, turning to Hawker who was standing at the front of the squad, sniper rifle in hand. "Hawker, before we go, I need you to stay here and provide some covering fire," Lyssa said, "take out the two machine gunners first while we move around the edge of the landing strip."
Hawker nodded, stepping up to the stack of crates that Lyssa was standing behind and readying his sniper rifle, bringing the compact WS2500 up to his shoulder and peering through the scope. He muttered something under his breath, Lyssa unable to hear what it was exactly but guessing it was something to do with God as he fired, twice, both rebels at the mounted gun falling down.

Lyssa started out onto the landing strip, the squad following, Limburg tagging along from behind, a rebel soldier up ahead turning his attention towards them but tumbling backwards when Hawker fired, a bullet punching a hole through his chest and sending him tumbling into a nearby crater, kicking up sand and dust as he went down. Lyssa and her squad came into cover around the side of one of the garages, Lyssa trying the handle on the door in the side but finding that it was locked. The sound of an explosion caught the group's attention, sand and dirt flying upwards in a column as some sort of explosive shell landed close by, punching another crater into the landing strip.
Peering around the edge of the garage, Lyssa could just see the trio of rebel soldiers manning a portable mortar down the other end of the strip, protected from the marines across from them by a barricade of sand bags. The mortar fired again, this shell landing a lot closer and sending sand and dirt into Reynolds' face.

"I think we should get to cover," he said, stepping around the side of the garage, peering around the other side and towards the rest of the compound. The sound of the mortar firing caught the group's attention once more, the shell landing a short distance from Reynolds, knocking him over and into the sand, dirt and sand raining down onto him as he swore loudly. Lyssa gave the signal for the squad to scatter, pointing to Walther and Limburg, giving them the signal to stick close to her.

Lyssa stepped back from the side door of the garage, hearing the mortar fire again, this time the shell landed a short distance behind her, the force of the blast knocking her forwards and into the door, the door itself breaking off its flimsy hinges and falling into the garage with her on it. Lyssa lay dazed for a moment, taking a look around the interior of the garage, finding that it was mostly dark, the only source of light being a small window close to the ceiling which was sending sunlight straight into her face.

She became aware of several rifles trained on her, able to make out the silhouettes of about four rebel soldiers of varying outfits as well as the silhouette of a Jeep parked inside the garage. She remained lying there; knowing that standing up would be a rather silly thing do to, especially since the sound of rifles firing came from behind her.
The rebels were shot down within seconds, blood spraying out of a variety of hit locations as they went down, their bodies making subdued thumps on the floor of the garage. Standing up, Lyssa brushed herself down, her injury from earlier managing a painful throb through her as she turned around and looked at both Walther and Limburg who were standing in the doorway, rifles raised and the barrels smoking.

"You're losing your touch, Lieutenant," Walther said, lowering his rifle, Limburg doing the same and managing a wry smile, revealing his pearly white teeth. Lyssa bent down and picked up her now sand covered rifle, shaking the grains loose and checking the magazine.

Losing her touch? What was that supposed to mean? She wasn't sure, but maybe Walther was indicating that maybe she wasn't as good as she used to be. What would he know anyway?

Turning around, Lyssa surveyed the mess inside the garage, noticing that the interior was mainly bare save for the Jeep and the rebel corpses. Turning back around, she pushed her way past Walther and Limburg, coming back outside and finding the rest of the squad scattered amongst the crates and other junk that was available as cover.

"I think we should take care of that mortar," she said, hearing the weapon fire again, the ground shaking slightly as a column of dirt and sand exploded upwards to her left, a few metal shards landing in the ground close to her. She ignored the fact she could have just been killed then and peered around the garage, seeing that the marines further down the landing strip were slowly forcing their way ahead, having killed a few of the rebels that had engaged them.

She turned to her squad, noticing that Layman was missing. She swore quietly, looking around for the Texan but unable to see him at first. Looking back down the landing strip she saw him, only a short distance away and crouched in a crater, his rifle raised as he fired away at the few rebels up ahead, scattered amongst the craters. What the hell was that guy doing? He was going to get himself killed like that. She shook her head but directed the squad out onto the landing strip anyway, once again telling Walther and Limburg to stay with her as they want around the back of the garages.

Another complication arose from the fact that the next garage had opened up and from what Lyssa could see there wasn't just a group of rebels inside but a multi-purpose field gun, a rugged, scratched looking weapon that was usually transported via truck and trailer. There were three rebels manning the weapon, all protected from fire by the large shield that was part of the gun itself. The weapon looked to be the outdated 77mm variant, often found being used as an anti-tank weapon in battle. Right now though, the rebels were employing it as an anti-infantry weapon, the rebel with the binoculars who was part of the gun crew pointing over to the marines further down the landing strip, the pair manning the gun itself slowly turning the weapon to point towards the marines.

As soon as it was obvious what they were doing, the rest of Lyssa's squad that were taking cover amongst the craters and rubble strewn across the landing strip opened fire, bullets being deflected by the large shield, the three rebels ducking behind it as they started loading the weapon.

Lyssa caught a glimpse of what type of shells they were using, able to tell by the red circle underneath the tip: anti-infantry shells, the type that exploded on contact and send hundreds of metal pieces flying in all directions, slicing through armour and flesh. Being shredded wasn't a pleasant way to die so Lyssa decided that since they were in the best position to take it out, they would be the ones to do so.

She turned to Walther and Limburg, the pair keeping neutral expression as she pointed in the direction of the gun. Another mortar shell exploded nearby but there was no time to take any notice of it, they just had to take the gun out.

"We're going round the back," she said, starting around the side of the garages, Walther and Limburg following as they found their way to the back of the garage containing the gun. Just as they got there the gun fired, blowing away a pair of marines that had been taking cover behind some crates, razor sharp metal shards raining down around the blast area and shredding their way through another marine unlucky enough to be caught in the shower.

Lyssa, Walther and Limburg stopped by the manually operated door, this one in the back of the garage as they prepared to attack. Lyssa was the one to have a go at the door, kicking it in and breaking it off of its flimsy hinges, the door slamming down loudly inside the garage. The rebels manning the gun hadn't heard the noise, busy placing another shell into the weapon. Lyssa merely raised her rifle, felt a surge of adrenaline shoot through her and squeezed the trigger. Blood sprayed against the back of the gun, the rebel spotter spinning about where he stood as Lyssa kept the trigger depressed, Walther and Limburg stepping inside and standing alongside her, doing the same with their rifles. Once Lyssa's magazine ran empty did she order them to stop shooting, taking a moment to admire their handiwork, the three rebels having been literally shot to pieces, chunks of ragged and torn flesh where the bullets had impacted. It was payback for killing the three marines, that's what it was. And to Lyssa, it felt good.

It ceased feeling good when a familiar voice broke her concentration, causing her to look out through the open garage door and at the three figures crouched outside, one of which was holding a camera and intently filming the carnage.

"Good work you three!" Kyle exclaimed, "That'll make a great addition to the documentary! No need to censor it, hell no…"

Walther gently nudged Lyssa in the side and whispered to her.

"How about we kill them? Make it look like the rebels did it…"

Lyssa shook her head. As annoying as the camera crew was, she really didn't feel like killing them. Besides, there would be too many witnesses in the form of both marines and rebels.

"Don't look at the camera!" Kyle said, a hint of frustration showing in his voice as Limburg's eyes moved to the camera lens but quickly away again, "just act natural! Keep fighting!"

Lyssa turned around, Walther and Limburg following her back through the now wide open doorway and back outside. By now the other marines had forced their way across the landing strip, now onto clearing out the tents and other structures in this half of the compound. Lyssa felt some slight relief when the camera crew lost interest in them and went on to film a group of marines who were throwing grenades into the portable offices and tents, blowing the temporary structures away and charging inside to clear out any survivors. As far as Lyssa, Walther and Limburg could tell, the battle itself was almost over. The smell of burning fuel and other materials was as strong as ever, especially since a marine wielding a flamethrower came running past, stopping out the front of a small green tent and squeezing the weapon's trigger, a long stream of orange and blue flame shooting out, the marine coating the front of the tent with it, almost as if he was painting something. A rebel came charging out of the tent, himself on fire, as he ran around frantically, screaming and shouting for someone to put out the flames.

Lyssa suddenly felt exhausted, stepping over to a pair of dark coloured barrels and slumping against them, feeling the pain from her shrapnel wound earlier getting worse. She winced as she tried to ignore it, trying to concentrate on something other than pain. Rather, she started watching the clean up operation take place around her, the flaming rebel being gunned down by a marine and his rifle, his flaming corpse falling onto the sand, lifeless and free to burn to a crisp. The rest of Lyssa's squad arrived just as Walther and Limburg sat down themselves. She was annoyed at Layman for leaving the squad like that to do his own thing, but he was alive and so were the others in the squad, including Layman, who slumped against some metal crates outside a nearby tent and went pale, as if realizing the extent of what just happened.

Distant sounds of gunfire rang out from other parts of the compound, surviving rebels still intent on fighting it out with the marines to the last one. Lyssa doubted that any of the rebels were captured, all of them preferring death than capture. A pair of medics milled by and Lyssa raised her hand, shouting at them for a little help. The pair stopped and quietly and quickly argued over who should help the woman, the one on the left, a young looking guy who didn't look any older than twenty-five, came running over, helping Lyssa up and directing her to where the aid station had been set up.

While Lyssa sat and the medic tended to the wound she had received, first attempting to remove the metal shard in her lower back and telling her that any more to the left and it would have severed her spine, the Lieutenant began wondering just how many marines had been killed this morning and wondered even more so if the benefits of taking over a compound such as this outweighed their losses. She somehow doubted that, though.

The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: The Aftermath of a Dawn Raid
Date: 25 March 2009, 12:36 am

Major Lance Kilgore admired the scenes of devastation around him, memories of battles fought in the past flooding back to him, closing his eyes and inhaling the thick scent of burning fuel through his nostrils.
People would say he got off on this kind of thing, but he wouldn't agree to that. He more or less just enjoyed the feeling, the feeling of victory, despite the fact that the very compound was a mess of ruined tents and offices, smoke billowing from several points of fire around the compound. The corpses of rebel soldiers lay scattered in the vicinity, victims of the attack and their own devotion to their cause. Kilgore opened his eyes and gazed around at the smoking, ruined offices and tents around him and the many marines that were milling about, exhausted and in no mood for any more fighting.

Kilgore hadn't had an exact role in the battle, having watched from a safe distance with only the camera crew as company and a sidearm holstered at his waist. The camera crew had left him alone earlier, deciding to head off and film the battle in progress, probably intending to use such footage in the documentary. He didn't particularly care about that, he was more intent on surveying what destruction had been caused against the filth known as the OCPLF.

He had been told, and he had learnt, that if you considered someone who was human no longer human, it was a lot easier to kill them. Hence the reason Insurrectionists were known as "Innies", in the sense that this made them out to be an entirely different race or species, almost like scum. Most people didn't have a problem killing scum, that was for sure, even though said scum was very human-like.

Kilgore felt something hard under his boot when he took a step forwards, looking down to find several empty shell casings, the types that spewed out of the sides of assault rifle, clinking about on the ground or just falling down silent into the sand. He bent down and picked one up, peering at it closely, only just able to make out the serial number and manufacturer engraved on the side in miniscule writing. He knew that every bullet had a story to tell, from its creation to its "death", whether that be in a wall, the ground or someone's brain. If only the bullets could speak and tell their stories, that way there would be plenty of different stories to be heard. Or something like that, he didn't really give a shit.

He let go of the casing, letting it drop back onto the sand and dirt, landing silently. Just ahead was another of the green tents, a small one, having been used as the living quarters for a group of rebel soldiers. The tent was mostly intact save for the bullet holes torn in its sides, as if someone had decided to strafe the entire thing, attempting to kill whoever was inside it. That plan had seemed to work, the flap wide open and beyond were two bullet ridden corpses of rebel soldiers, their limbs sprawled into awkward positions. Death, it seemed, was never always comfortable.

Kilgore stood up; a few cracks of gunfire echoing from some distant part of the compound, signifying that not all the rebels here were dead. The differences between your regular Innie and your OCPLF types were that the Innies weren't so organized and well-trained, as well as that they would occasionally surrender, although for an Innie there was no mercy in the UN forces. These OCPLF types were definitely not the type to surrender, fighting to the last man and then that last man would fight to his death. It seemed a good enough strategy, seeing as they especially believed in their purpose.

Kilgore knew what that purpose was and he knew it was a rather righteous purpose, but the thing was, he was merely doing his job. If somebody wanted independence and they weren't allowed to get it than that wasn't his problem. His problem was killing these freedom fighters when told to, since that was his job.

As every other soldier in the UNSC, Kilgore was doing what he was told to do: kill rebels, regardless of whether he thought what the rebels were fighting for was "right" in any way. Killing was his job, and a job he enjoyed but not up to the point that he could be considered a sadist. He wasn't necessarily a sadist considering he hadn't killed anyone during the raid on the compound.

Kilgore heard footsteps behind him, part of his mind thinking that it was a rebel soldier but he convinced himself otherwise, turning around and seeing a familiar looking marine, probably in his early thirties, standing behind him, his face dirty and what may have been a happy mood reduced to an exhausted, gaunt looking personae. The insignia of a Corporal were visible on the sleeves of his uniform.

"Do I know you, Corporal?"

The Corporal frowned, but managed a reply.

"Henry Walther, sir," the Corporal replied, "I met you at the landing strip when you first arrived…"

This rung a bell within the Major's mind and he nodded slowly. His mind wasn't as sharp as it had used to be, but it was still good enough, at least in his opinion. So what if he couldn't recognize this guy on sight? It was the prick Corporal who thought he was funny, he remembered, nodding slightly.

"Well, what the hell do you want, Corporal?" Kilgore asked, frowning, annoyed that this marine had broken his private reverie, "it better be somethin' important…"

The Corporal shrugged, not really caring for the fact that Kilgore was a little bit angry. Looking closer at the young marine Kilgore could see a few patches of blood, not his own but from someone else, probably more than one someone else when he thought about it. These marines certainly had it tough, getting sprayed with blood every time they got up close to someone and shot them. Pilots, on the other hand, never really had to worry about such a thing…

"You're the commanding officer here until the General arrives," The Corporal said, his voice communicating just how tired he was. Kilgore frowned, unsure of what the Corporal was getting at by merely stating the obvious facts.

"Yeah, I know I am," Kilgore said, a warm breeze rippling through his sand coloured shirt, grains of dirt and sand blowing against his trousers. The heat was another thing he disliked about the planet, since everywhere he went, there was always some kind of heat, and it was never really cool anywhere he had been during his short time on the world. The insides of tent and buildings weren't much cooler, the heat always somehow finding its way inside and rendering the air conditioning systems close to useless, except for the General's tent, that always seemed cool when he went inside it for whatever reason, as if the General had taken extra care in keeping his tent cool and well ventilated.

"We have wounded," the Corporal said, "maybe you would like to come and see them for yourself…"

The Major shook his head, his mind on other things, things that were important to him and the success of the operation. He peered towards the Corporal from the corner of his eyes as he started down this section of the compound, able to see several marines milling about and several smoking tents as well as the harder structures, such as the small offices, many of which were riddled with bullet holes or reduced to their component frames.

"Corporal, tell me something," the Major said, turning to his right, able to hear a few distant cracks of gunfire from that direction. Something exploded on the other side of the compound, a fuel tank by the look of it, a billowing fireball mingled with smoke arose over the rest of the compound and several shouts were heard. "Did we take any prisoners?"

The Corporal simply shook his head.

"No sir, no prisoners were captured," he replied, shifting where he stood, obviously a little uncertain of what he should say, "Every rebel found was killed. All attempts at taking prisoners didn't end too well, I think…"

The Major swore under his breath. No prisoners meant no intelligence, and since it was a team oriented operation it meant that everybody was to blame for the failure in capturing any. However, he knew as well as these marines that the regular OCPLF soldier never surrendered and certainly wouldn't allow themselves to be taken prisoner by UN forces.
He shook his head, mostly because of his own thoughts and the lack of any outright success achieved this morning, although he was pleased to see that they had successfully seized control of a rebel compound.

He looked towards the battle-weary Corporal, managing a smile as he did so. He sniffed in the gasoline-ethanol-burning flesh hybrid smell and memories of battles fought in the past, during his younger years, came flooding back, recalled by the stimulus of a familiar smell. The stench of all these things, all sorts of fuels, both fossil and alcohol, was enough to get him remembering a few skirmishes such as this one, and before he knew it he was rambling on about something.

The camera crew stepped out from behind a tent and walked towards him, the camera having filmed the whole battle, Kyle noticing how the Major was talking and telling the cameraman to film him. The Major didn't take much notice of them, concentrating his speech on the Corporal, the eyes behind his sunglasses staring out at the rest of the crater marked, corpse ridden, burning compound and the landing strip that ran down its centre.

"You smell that, don't ya?" The Major said, glancing back at the Corporal, "that sort of hybrid smell, ya know? From all those different fuels, burning away, getting mixed with each other. It's like some sort of hybrid smell, don't ya think?"

The Corporal shrugged, unsure of what he should say, wiping the sweat and dirt from his brow with his right sleeve, not in much of a mood to care for what the Major had to say.

"You got your fossil fuels, like oil and petrol. They smell and they burn the most, wouldn't you say so Corporal?" He continued speaking, not giving the Corporal much of a chance to reply, not that he was going to anyway.

"Then you have your alcohol and your hydrogen, that shit blows up real good," the Major said with a grin and sudden laugh, as if remembering some incident that had occurred in his life some years ago, when he was younger and his hair wasn't turning grey, but not actually telling anything about the incident, "they're all burning at the same time, and those smells are just coming together, sort of like when you walk into the men's change rooms at a gym or somethin' and it smells like a mix of sweat and piss. That's what's happening here, and every time I have been able to smell these hybrid smells, and I mean every time, Corporal, I have associated it with victory. Victory, Corporal, because when this stuff's burning away in all manner of forms and blowing up stuff, somebody must have done something mighty good to set it all off, ya know what I mean?"

The Major paused for a moment, the Corporal standing where he was, trying to figure out what the Major was going on about, something about fuels and smells, he wasn't sure. Kilgore took off his cowboy-style hat and brushed a hand through his greying light brown hair, cut short but not too short, just over regulation size but well-kempt anyway.

"What we achieved today was just that: Victory. Victory over rebel bastards who try dying before capture, and when you face an enemy that is not afraid of death, Corporal, you must make them suffer.
Which is why the best way to do that is to burn the fuckers alive, that's how. Are you listening to me, Corporal?"

The Corporal looked as if he had just come out of a daydream, his eyes resting on the Major as he quickly regained his senses.

"Sorry, sir?"

The Major shook his head, as if in disgust, continuing with his speech regardless of whether the Corporal was listening to him or not. The camera crew were filming it though, which would do well for the documentary, Kilgore knew that.

"Yer make the fuckers suffer; you make their beloved feeling of death horrible. Ya burn them alive; you use napalm, flame throwers, anything that will burn their flesh. You don't let them off the hook too easily, you just accept the fact that if they're willing to die, than let them die. But yer make sure that they suffer before then, yer make sure that for every man of yours they kill, you make ten of the enemy suffer for it. Ya don't show any mercy, even if they are just rebels you still do not show any goddamn mercy.

"That's why, every time I smell these fuels burning and the smell of burning rebels, I associate with victory. That's because every time this kind of thing occurs, it is because we have won Corporal, that's why. That's why I personally love the smell, and on mornings like these it's even better. Because ya know ya have a whole day ahead of ya, a whole new day waiting for ya to cause more of these fuckers to suffer. Yer use their preference for death over capture as an excuse to make them burn; make them die in agony, even more so if they have killed a friend of yours."

The Major paused for a moment, letting his words hang in the air, the Corporal taking them in but not actually too keen on following them. It sounded a little bit sadistic to him, but the Major was right about one thing: if the rebels did ever kill a friend, a squad member or something else along those lines, you would make them suffer with as many of them as you could.

"I remember, a few years back, we ran an operation on the colony world of New Argentina, having been told about some rebel forces hiding out in the jungle there. They were using old style guerrilla tactics to bust up our ground forces, so we sent in some Shortswords with napalm laced payload: they dropped the burning shit right on the tree-line where the main extent of the shooting was coming from and the guns all just fell silent.

"I remember walking through that scorched, gasoline smelling jungle, where all the fucking trees were sticks, every goddamn leaf had been burnt away, almost like they had been vaporized or somethin'. The great thing about it was, we couldn't find any trace of any of the rebel fuckers that had been there, it was like all of them had been vaporized as well, reduced to nothing but ash scattered through the trees." The Major managed a slight chuckle, remembering this all too well. "And the smell, it was like nothing yer've ever smelt before. It was so fucken intense, more than just gasoline. Hell no, that shit smelt so strong you could have died if yer breathed in too much of it." He laughed again, although the Corporal wasn't able to find anything too funny about it.
The camera was still rolling, filming everything the Major had to say, which would probably make an excellent addition to the documentary.
Corporal Walther realized something about the Major's little anecdote, about the fact that there were no rebels or rebel bodies to be found in the jungle. The fact of the matter was that the rebels there had probably escaped unharmed, having gone back into their hidden bunkers or merely just having fallen back into the jungle. The Corporal thought twice about voicing this fact though, noticing that the Major was too far deep into reminiscing about times past and would probably crack the shits if he was disturbed.

The Major picked up what appeared to be a piece of metal shrapnel, jagged and near razor sharp, the Major holding it in such a way so the jagged edges didn't scrape against his skin. He peered at it while deep in his own thoughts, managing a heavy sigh and glancing towards the Corporal, his eyes unreadable through his expensive sunglasses.

"I was told you marines here hadn't engaged the rebels in a proper fight for about three months?" the Major asked. The Corporal shrugged, the Major raising an eyebrow as he stood up, gazing at the scene of destruction around them. He smiled, making a slight chuckle.

"Well, you're back in the shit now, I can tell ya that!" He exclaimed, almost happily, giving a heavy-hearted chuckle, a tent some distance behind them blowing apart as a marine threw a grenade through its entrance.

The Corporal managed an uneasy smile, deciding he would change the subject to something a little more important and didn't involve the Major telling about his past.

"We have wounded, sir," the Corporal said, the Major's laughs dying down as he frowned at the young Corporal, a little put off by this statement, "maybe you would like to take a look? See how bad things are yourself?"

The Major stood up, thinking about this for a moment. Since he was in command here for now, it was his obligation to see the extent of their casualties, which was something he probably didn't enjoy. He nodded and the pair started back in the other direction, towards where the other marines had decided to set up a makeshift meeting point and aid stations.

The interior of the command tent was the same as it had been left earlier, with a hole blown in its ceiling and its side, as well as a large crater just outside which had knocked down another section of the tent. Inside, the rubber matting on the floor had been burnt and blown away, a table now half-buried in the sand and dirt as well as several scorched computer monitors having gone with it.

The place was a mess to say the least, the remains of the female rebel officer still scattered around the interior, mostly just scorched tattered chunks of flesh, although there was one scorched, partially clothed leg lying near the small crater caused by the grenade explosion. That leg was kicked to the side as Leon made his way back inside the tent, determined to actually find something useful which they could use against the rebels.

The heat was near unbearable now as the sun had begun its ascent into the sky, morning beginning to turn into midday and then noon, the amount of heat causing Leon to reach up to is helmet and take it off, a few hisses and clicks being heard as he disconnected it from the rest of his Mark IV armour.

He didn't feel much better, but deciding to keep the helmet off, he placed it on an intact table to his right, stepping towards the scorched and mostly destroyed computer monitors and other components, most of which would be absolutely useless to him and the marines in their current state. The officer had made certain that practically every computer that had been on the table which now lay partially buried in the sand through a scorched gap in the rubber matting had been put beyond repair.

It certainly seemed these rebels knew what they were doing; having gone to lengths like these to ensure none of their information would fall into enemy hands. If only Leon had gotten here a little earlier, or he could have shot the officer in such a way that she dropped the grenade, these computers may then be intact. He shook his head at the thought though, there was no use trying to change the past since that was impossible.

He wondered what kind of secrets the rebels were hiding; it seemed to him they were certainly hiding something, having simply decided to set up base on an insignificant world such as this. That meant there must be something important about it; he doubted they would have just chosen it for its out-of-the-way location and status. Whatever reason the rebels had been here for, that information would have probably been on those computers and now was irretrievable, although there was always a way for someone to get what they wanted. If he wanted information, he would get it, no matter what it took.

The faster they got rid of these rebels the faster he would be able to get off this shithole. He had only spent a day and a bit here and already he was sick of the heat, sick of the alien flies that tended to bite harmlessly, but quite annoyingly, at his flesh. He was sick of the lizards as well and sick of the General who ran the marines. He was surprised someone like that had gotten so high up in the marines; the General did seem like a bit of an idiot, always eating some sort of sweet, whether it be chocolate or ice cream, or chocolate ice cream for that matter…

Leon gazed around the ruined interior, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of one gloved hand, a warm breeze billowing in through the holes in the tent's sides and ceiling. A silvery glint caught his eyes, originating from somewhere in the tent's far corner, something that looked as if it belonged to a computer or some other device.

Stepping across the burnt rubber matting and to the corner, his eyes drifted to the silvery PDA that lay on a table, partially hidden by some loose papers and folders. Brushing them aside, he picked up the silver PDA, weighing it in his right hand while he stepped back to where his helmet lay, placing it back over his head and finding the correct slot in the side of the helmet. Sliding the PDA inside so that it mingled with the helmet's circuitry, a display appeared on his helmet's visor of what information was stored on the personal data assistant.

The security systems on the PDA were no match for his helmet's hacking systems, easily getting past the password protection and encryption that was in the way of the information stored on the device. When he was actually able to access the PDA's information, he found that there wasn't much on it, the majority of the information having been moved over to one of the destroyed computers and deleted from the PDA itself.

Despite this minor setback he continued sorting through the various bits and pieces of information, which included timetables for shipments of weapons arriving at the depot in the future and a few emails, one of which caught his attention. Something about digging machinery for an excavation site, so opening it, he began to read the short email, which was asking for several digging tools and machinery intended for an excavation site up north somewhere. The coordinates for the excavation site were at the bottom of the email and the name that signed off the email made Leon's heart skip a beat: Colonel Timothy Hanley.

The Colonel himself, the very man that was the sole reason for Leon having been put on this shithole of a planet, had signed this very email. He grinned slightly, realizing that if he had signed this email that must mean he was at this excavation site, it seemed like a logical assumption after all.

Leon removed the PDA from his helmet, keeping it in his left hand while he stood thinking about what they could achieve if they struck fast and with efficiency. If this excavation site was where the coordinates said it was, and it seemed very likely this was the case, then that meant they technically had directions to the Colonel himself.
Almost like a road map straight to the guy's doorstep, this would make apprehending him, or killing him for that matter, a much easier task. Leon clutched the PDA firmly in his grip, a part of his mind worrying he might drop it and lose it, although he knew this was unlikely. There were some things that had to be done before he went after the Colonel, which included alerting the General to the fact that this should be their next place to attack.

The excavation site would be far more heavily defended than this supply depot, which meant that Leon, contrary to what he wanted to believe, would have to have some help. Sure, Kyla would be a very helpful someone to have with him, but two Spartans against what could be the best enemy troops on the whole planet and plenty of heavy military hardware backing them up seemed very unlikely odds. If the Colonel was there at this excavation site, he would be guarded with elite soldiers with the best weaponry available to these rebels as well as tanks and heavy guns.

Leon figured he would be better off actually telling the General about this, but part of him didn't want to reveal his little discovery. Maybe, if only he knew about it, he could use the information to get close to get to this excavation site and kill the Colonel? It would be a fitting form of revenge, killing the man responsible for the deaths of the rest of his squad, excluding Kyla of course.

There was no way to stop Kyla from getting involved if he did keep it a secret, she would find out soon enough and would probably try and convince him that maybe this vendetta wasn't such a good idea. Leon shook his head, of course it wasn't a good idea, he just felt compelled to do it, compelled to go off and kill Hanley. Revenge was a funny thing, a feeling that tried to take control of whoever was feeling it, whoever wanted it, and before he knew it he it would be out of control unless of course, he quashed this notion of a one-man war against the rebels and actually told someone about his findings.

Leon stood thinking about this for a minute, the many parts of his conscience trying to gain an advantage over another, trying to push one train of thought in front of another. Should he do it or not, that was the question. Either way had its benefits but either way had its risks as well, including the fact that he might not be the one to kill, or at the very least, capture Hanley.

The differing options begun to annoy him, the Spartan becoming frustrated at what he should do, whether or not he should formulate some sort of plan to do it by himself or actually get the marines in on it as well. If he let the marines get involved there was a much higher chance of Hanley being captured alive, which was the scenario he wanted least. Rather, a bullet through the man's skull delivered by Leon would do nicely.

The amount of information the Colonel had would be large and would benefit the cause of the United Nations greatly. With the help of what he could tell them the UN could very well wipe out any rebel resistance in the Outer Colonies, after all, it was very likely Colonel Hanley knew about every rebel organization in existence and had operated with them in the past.

What good would information be when the rebel cause would still be around? Public opinion was well in favour of the rebels in the Outer Colonies; after all, they were fighting for their freedom. Leon knew as well as everyone else that the UN merely wanted to exploit the vast resources the Outer Colonies had, as well as exploit the people of those far out planets that people on Earth knew hardly anything about. He doubted a regular Earth citizen knew that the planet of New Argentina existed or that Tribute had a rebel problem. The thought brought a wry smile to Leon's face, when he got thinking about this kind of thing the whole war, to him, seemed pointless. All this killing for nothing, except in Hanley's case, whose death would provide immense satisfaction.

Leon was still thinking all this over when the sound of footsteps, boots on rubber and sand, came from behind. He glanced around, alert, half-expecting a rebel soldier but finding it was Kyla, her helmet tucked underneath her left arm, having just returned from the "mopping up" phase of the attack.

Her usual pretty, well refined features were covered with dirt, sand and sweat, although she did manage a slight grin when she saw Leon's overly alert reaction to her entrance. Her short blonde hair was dirty, as well as the rest of her, the slight gaps between the parts of her armour caked with sand, a few scorch marks across her front and back but obviously nothing serious.

"Something on your mind?" She asked, always somehow noticing this kind of thing. She was good at reading people, Leon especially, since the pair had known each other for a long time.

Leon shrugged, removing his helmet, unsure of whether to reply or not. Tucking his helmet under his left arm, he glanced down at the PDA still gripped in that hand before looking back towards Kyla.

"Not really…"

Kyla shook her head, easily seeing through this little lie. Women like her could always tell when men like Leon were lying; it was as if it was one of their innate abilities.

"Don't bother lying, I can tell," she said, stepping out of the doorway and taking a look around. She had left after the rebel officer had blown themselves up, as well as the tent's computers. She had gone back outside, helping finish off whatever resistance had been left in the rebel forces remaining inside the compound, some of which had begun to fall back into surrounding desert, although they had been easy targets out in the open desert, picked off before they could get to the safety of the nearby rocky valley.

Leon had decided to come back to the tent and take one last look around before anyone else did. That's why he was here now and that impulse to search the tent had yielded a reasonable result since now he knew where Hanley was.

Kyla seemed to notice the PDA in his hand, her eyes shifting to the device and then back up at Leon, forming a frown while she did so.

"What's that?" She nodded towards the PDA, Leon holding it up and looking at it himself. No use lying about it, he thought, holding it out so she could take it and have a closer look. She did so, taking it from him and examining both sides of the device.

"I found it in the corner," Leon said, nodding towards the corner of the tent where he had found the PDA, "it…uh…has some info on it, but not a lot."

Kyla raised an eyebrow, curious as to what "info" Leon might be talking about. She flipped open the lid of the PDA, although it was a miniscule device, only the size of her palm. When she saw the password protect screen she closed it, allowing the device to switch itself off while she thought about what could be on it.

"You could tell me what you found out…" She began, but Leon interrupted her, unable to help but blurt out his find.

"I know where Hanley is," he said, surprised that he had revealed such a detail but decided to continue anyway, realizing there was no use stopping, "he's at an excavation site some distance north from here, deep inside rebel territory. At least, that's what I figured from one of the emails on that PDA."

Kyla seemed unsure of what she should be thinking, taking a moment for the information to register in his brain. She looked towards him, that same feeling Leon had earlier showing through despite her attempts at hiding it. She wanted him dead as much as he did, even though she had told him personal vendettas weren't the best thing to take to a fight. Maybe she was just trying to make him see the better light of things so she didn't end up feeling the same way about Hanley as Leon did.

She must have realized the extent of what they could do with this information now known to them. However, she decided to voice her thoughts aloud, deciding that maybe a two Spartan war against the rebels was the last thing they needed.

"We should tell the others," she said, throwing the PDA back to Leon, Leon catching it with ease with his right hand. He could see that Kyla wasn't too happy about her suggestion but they both knew it was the logical, the right, thing to do. The pair exchanged glances, Kyla turning around a few seconds later and heading back outside, Leon following her into the sunlight.

The compound and its many structures were a mess, with tents ablaze and portable offices reduced to nothing but scorched sheets of metal and plastic, their foundations and frames the only things left standing of them. Marines milled about aimlessly outside, many having decided to take a break, sitting themselves down under whatever shelter they could find and spending the time either resting quietly or talking.

The corpses of rebels were strewn about the compound, some mostly intact save for bullet wounds, other not as much, a leg less corpse lying only a short distance from the dead, the result of a grenade explosion. The pair of Spartans ignored it, as well as ignoring the other mangled and not-so mangled corpses they walked past as they headed to where the majority of marines were. As soon as they approached they noticed nearly all the heads (those attached to living marines and not those on the corpses nearby) turn in their direction, all eyes trained on the pair of armour-clad warriors as they walked past, casually, ignoring the eyes that followed them.

Something took the marine's attention away from them, something which came in the form of a desert coloured Jeep which turned around an intact row of tents and speeding into the area, coming to an abrupt stop near the clustered groups of tired marines, a heavy cloud of dust having formed in the trail of the Jeep. Leon and Kyla stopped a short distance from the now parked Jeep, the two figures on it quite different in appearance and mood.

One was the African-American Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Parker who doubled as a soldier and the General's aide. He was bald but had greying facial hair and never seemed to smile, always with a serious expression on his face which also indicated his serious mood.

Sitting next to him was the General, dressed in his usual green uniform with the many coloured fabric bands attached to one breast of the green jacket, these bands from medals the middle-aged General McDougall had won in the past. He was holding something box-shaped and metal on his lap, tucking it under one arm as he climbed out of the open-top Jeep, not bothering to open the door, merely climbing out much to Parker's annoyance.

He noticed the Spartans, smiling as he approached them, taking a look around at the mostly destroyed, crater-marked, bullet-hole ridden compound and its buildings around them. He had to step over the bullet-ridden corpse of a rebel soldier to get to the Spartans, managing an uneasy glance down at the corpse as he did so. However, his smile was soon back on his face as he approached Leon and Kyla, his smile wide and beaming as if he had just been reunited with two long lost friends.

"My two favourite Spartans!" He exclaimed, stopping a conversational distance from them. We're the only two Spartans you know, you moron, Leon thought, having been about to speak this thought but deciding not to. The General held out the silvery metal box which turned out to be a cigar case, filled with half a dozen or so expensive cigars. He opened the box and offered the Spartans one.

"I brought these as a celebration in this marvellous victory you and the marines achieved here today," the General said, gesturing to the brown tobacco filled objects lying in the box. Leon didn't change his serious expression, Kyla pretending not to notice the cigar box and its contents. "So, maybe you would like to join me in a celebratory cigar? There's champagne in the Jeep…"

Kyla was the one to interrupt, Leon subtlety rolling his eyes as they exchanged glances. It seemed the General was well prepared for whatever "celebration" he had planned.

"General, we came here to tell you that we actually did find something helpful," Kyla said, Leon taking a hint and holding out the PDA. The General gazed at her and then the PDA with some slight bewilderment for a moment before the notion hit him that this was the intelligence he had told them to retrieve. He nodded, taking the PDA and placing it into his jacket pocket, forgetting about it as soon as it was out of the way.

"It reveals the likely location of Timothy Hanley…" Kyla continued, but the General interrupted her, as if he didn't want to hear about it.

"We can talk about serious business such as that later on," he said, Parker having come up behind him, dragging along two large boxes which he had unloaded from the Jeep. The stern Lieutenant-Colonel didn't look too pleased with the job he had been given, his face formed into a tight frown, rolling his eyes as the General continued speaking.

"What we ought to do is have fun," the General continued, brushing past the Spartans and walking into the middle of the scattered groups of exhausted marines, Parker following him along by dragging the two boxes (which had wheels attached) behind him.

General McDougall looked around at the dirty, tired marines and gestured to the two boxes which Parker had brought along with him, the Lieutenant-Colonel opening them up, revealing bottles of beer and champagne as well as glasses, footballs, a few baseball mitts, a baseball, a baseball bat and a soccer ball. The marines seemed to notice these things and a few had begun to get up, grouping around the boxes, eager to get at their contents. The General smiled, obviously enjoying himself.

"Since you all worked so hard this morning I decided that you all deserve to enjoy yourselves for the rest of today," the General announced, stepping over to one of the boxes and picking up a typical brown, but brand new, football. He threw it, in a well paced and well placed manner, towards a group of marines a fair distance ahead of him, one of the standing marines in the group crumpling to the ground as the football collided with the side of his head. The General ignored this incident, managing an embarrassed grin and turned to the marines grouping around him as he gestured to the boxes and their contents, "so help yourselves, men! You have all day to stuff around!"

Kyla and Leon stood watching as marines fought over bottles of beer and champagne, a few of the marines grabbing the baseball gear and heading off to the landing strip to start a makeshift game of baseball.
The General seemed to think what he was doing was all well and good, since it most certainly was, but there was something that struck Leon about it all. He probably wasn't used to it, having been put through such harsh training when he had been younger, not even in his teens, but it occurred to him that even in the military people had to have some fun sometimes. He just never had experienced having fun in the military and so he just wasn't sure what to think of the General, whether he actually knew what he was doing or not. Even if he didn't it no longer mattered, since Leon was determined to be the one to take out Hanley, even if it was the last thing he did. It probably would be the last thing he did.

"This is going to hurt…"

Lyssa rolled her eyes, not in much of a mood to care, lying face down on a hard, steel bench inside one of the intact tents of the compound. The medic stood behind her, ready to remove the piece of shrapnel which was embedded in her lower back using a pair of surgical looking pliers. Lyssa had had to take off her top, allowing easy access to the wound, but had kept her bra on for obvious reasons. The medic didn't seem to care too much, clicking the pliers together and grinning at the same time.

It occurred to Lyssa that maybe the medic was forgetting something, something rather important.

"Haven't you got any anaesthetic?" She asked, turning her head so she could look at him rather than stare at the wall ahead of her. The medic shrugged, giving a rather irritated expression.

"I did have some anaesthetic, but that was being carried by a medic friend of mine, who in turn was blown to pieces with a grenade," the medic said with noticeable annoyance, "so either you want me to yank out this metal or it can stay in there and give you gangrene…"

Lyssa shook her head, telling him to just get on with it. The medic nodded, losing the irritated expression and getting to work. As soon as the pliers were inside the wound Lyssa felt a sting of pain shoot through her as the medic began digging around, trying his best not to touch the bloody, ragged fleshy inside of the wound but doing it anyway. She heard herself grunt, trying not to yell out, the medic too intent on his work to really notice.

"You're going to need to wash this once it's out…"

Lyssa just frowned angrily, annoyed at how long the medic was taking.

"Just get on with it!" She exclaimed angrily, the medic falling silent and continuing with his digging around the wound. He must have found something because Lyssa felt an even more excruciating feeling of pain shoot through her from the wound, writhing where she lay, able to feel the jagged piece of metal as the medic got hold of it with the pliers. He began wiggling it out but this just caused more pain, Lyssa yelling out at him to stop. He did stop; looking mighty worried that she might hit him.

"That really hurts…" She said, without glancing back at the medic, not noticing the flap of the tent open as another person stepped inside.

"I told you it would," the medic replied matter-of-factly, "but I also said that if it stays in there, you're going to get a nasty infection…"

The other person, a man who would have been familiar to Lyssa if she had turned around, stepped over to the bench and nudged the medic gently, whispering in his ear. The medic shook his head but the other man remained adamant in whatever point he was making, the medic placing the pliers back into Lyssa's wound and getting hold of the piece of shrapnel with them.

Much to Lyssa's surprise, she felt a sudden, but quick pain run through her, shaking her to her core. The pain itself only lasted a few seconds and the wound she had suddenly felt strangely empty, as if something had been pulled out of it. Turning around, she saw a grinning Rick Palmer holding the pliers, a bloodied piece of dark metal held in them. It took her a moment to realize what had just happened and she couldn't help but get angry.

"What the fuck, Rick?!" She exclaimed, both in surprise and anger, the medic standing next to Rick stepping back slightly, once more afraid she would hit him. Rick merely laughed, opening the pliers and letting the piece of shrapnel land on the rubber matting on the floor of the tent, handing the pliers back to the worried looking medic. He shrugged at Lyssa, who simply shook her head.

"I still need to wash the wound…" The medic began, but the frustrated Lyssa simply cut him off mid-sentence.

"I'll do it myself," she said, rolling onto her back and sitting up. She reached over to the table nearby, grabbing her top and hurriedly putting it back on, Rick watching her every movement. Once her top was back on, she placed her NCOs cap back on her head and shot Rick another angry glance.

Rick smiled innocently, the medic taking the pliers from him and placing them back into a first aid kit that lay open at the end of the bench.

"Your medic friend here was taking too long, so I figured I'd have a go," Rick said, shrugging, "it worked, didn't it?"

Rick had obviously just yanked the shrapnel out of her rather than take it slow and easy like the medic had been. She had to admit, it had worked, and she just didn't know whether it had caused more harm than good, deciding that once she was out of this tent she would find a more private place to wash the wound. Rick, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to talk, but right now Lyssa didn't feel like it.

There was a feeling nagging at the back of her mind, something to do with the pilot. So far any chance he had gotten he had come to talk to her, obviously very interested in her, in more ways than one. To her, it seemed Rick actually liked her, and she did feel kind of the same about Rick, she just hardly knew the guy to really decide on how she felt about him.

Rick could tell she was deep in thought by the frown on her face and her silence. He broke her train of thought, quite deliberately, in the effort of trying to start a conversation.

"I heard you got hurt, so I decided to pay you a visit," Rick said, giving her an innocent smile, "it seems like you're alright, though…"

Lyssa frowned, not too interested in having a conversation with him. She had been through a lot this morning, the first proper firefight in three months of doing nothing. No wonder she felt so tired.

"Why are you still here, Rick?" She asked, realizing that Rick should be back at base camp with the other pilots, "aren't you meant to be back at base camp with all the other pilots?"

Rick shook his head.

"Not me and Katherine," he said, "probably because Katherine's Shortsword got a little shot-up and had to land in a clearing outside the compound. I'm helping her fix it up."

Lyssa nodded, although she didn't really care too much about what he was doing here. Rather, she slid her legs off of the bench and stood up, preparing to leave. Rick stopped her, stepping in front of her and blocking her way to the door.

"Hey, I'm not finished talking with you yet," he said with a slight smile, "you have to tell me what happened down here. The place looks like more of a mess than when I and the other pilots left it."

Lyssa frowned, thinking about this for a moment. She wasn't too sure how it had become more of a mess, Rick and his pilot friends were the ones who busted most of the holes and flattened most of the buildings in the compound. They hadn't killed many of the rebels though, which said something for their skills. They were able to destroy stationary buildings but couldn't gun down a few moving rebel soldiers, which didn't seem a very good show of piloting skills to her.

"You and your piloting friends didn't kill many of the rebel soldiers, you just blew up a whole bunch of buildings," she said bluntly, Rick looking a little uncertain about what he should say to this. Lyssa decided he would try insulting his piloting skills some more.

"You guys destroy some buildings but can't kill rebels," Lyssa said, smiling, "maybe you should go back to flight school or something if you can't do your job right."

Rick could see she was just trying to annoy him and smiled, pointing an accusing finger at her.

"You and your marine buddies have enough trouble taking a single supply depot. Maybe you should go back to boot camp or something."

"I think we do a good job at what we're told to do," Lyssa replied, unfazed at Rick's rather shitty remark, "you pilots just can't shoot straight, that's all. How do you survive dogfights when you can't even shoot at crowds of enemy soldiers and hit anything?"

Rick chuckled, but it sounded forced and his annoyance had begun to show in his voice. It took him a moment to come up with something to say, racking his brains for something even remotely smart-ass.

"You jarheads are all the same," Rick said, "you don't care for anyone else except yourselves and your jarhead buddies. You might do your job, but you are, in reality, just a bunch of self-centred morons…"

Lyssa didn't care much for what he had to say and simply grinned in response. His comment was wrong, she knew it and he knew it as well. He just couldn't come up with anything better since she had got him where she wanted him: in a position which could lead to him actually shutting up for once.

"I doubt you could survive what we do, Rick," Lyssa continued, "you're too used to the safety of that cockpit you sit in, flying high and out of range of the enemy's guns. All you have to worry about are enemy fighters and ground-to-air missiles. You have no idea what it's like to be on the ground where the action actually is, and I doubt you'll ever have an idea of what it's like to get shot at and see people you know die in all manner of ways."

She paused for a moment, letting the effect of her words sink in. Rick stood silent, the regret of what he said showing on his face. That quickly disappeared, however, when he put his mind on other things, his eyes gazing down to her chest and then back at her face, Rick seeing how Lyssa noticed him do it. He smiled, taking a step towards her, their eyes meeting.

"You know," he said, pausing to think about what he was going to say for a moment, "I could really get to like you. After all, you're pretty, young, feisty, intelligent…"

Lyssa rolled her eyes as he started throwing random compliments at her, although she could see that he was sincere enough about it. He could see that she wasn't impressed by what he was saying and stopped, although he did reach out and put a hand to her abdomen, gently clutching there as he brought himself closer to her.

Strangely enough, Lyssa didn't find herself being intruded upon by this man. Rather, she felt comfortable, although she still found him to be a bit cocky, as many pilots were. He was taller than her by a couple of inches, so she had to look up into his eyes and admire his well-chiselled good looks up close.

His other hand went higher up her back and for a moment they stared into each other's eyes, Lyssa unable to help but notice the smell of his and her own sweat as it mingled in the warm interior of the tent. The medic was over in the corner, packing away his first aid kit, paying no attention to the pair while they got close top each other.

Lyssa hadn't been this physically close to a man for little more than three years and the feelings it brought on had almost become lost to her. She had distanced herself from this part of life, being even remotely involved with a man, after what had happened the last time…

"You like me, don't you?"

This question interrupted her thoughts, Lyssa looking straight into Rick's brown eyes, caught off guard by the question. She had to admit, Rick was a handsome man, but she wasn't sure whether she could bring herself to like him, seeing as he was a bit of a cocky pilot and she had only known him for little less than two days.

"You would have to, after all, you have let me this close to you."
Rick was smiling, she could see it. Within seconds he had planted his lips with hers, at first Lyssa was taken aback but soon she had her eyes closed, her hands going around him as they pressed close together, able to feel her own heart beat wildly as they kissed, her instincts telling her to take it to the next step.

It lasted for about half a minute before a voice called from the tent's doorway, a familiar voice, not of the medic but someone that Lyssa actually knew by name.

"You like him more than you like me?"

The feelings that had developed between the two in the half a minute of kissing suddenly disappeared, as if they had been a burning candle, the flame blown out when someone had opened the door and let a breeze inside. Lyssa opened her eyes, Rick releasing her from his grip, Lyssa removing her arms from around him and the pair turned to look at the figure in the doorway, the rather annoyed looking thirty-something year old in marine gear, his helmet tucked under one arm as he stood looking back at the pair.

"Henry, I…" Lyssa trailed off, able to tell the Corporal was angry. He certainly looked it and shot Rick a hateful glance, the pilot turning around so he completely faced Corporal Walther, giving an innocent expression but obviously quite full of himself after what had just happened.

"I…We…You…just…" Lyssa struggled to form a sentence, realizing that she had just created a potentially volatile situation. She had always known the Corporal had liked her, he had never actually completely revealed that to her or admitted it but she had known, as did the rest of the squad. Now he looked like he could have killed someone other than rebel soldiers, his normally smiling face had changed to one of immense frustration and anger.

"I was just going to tell you about job the General just assigned our squad, but I think you can find out yourself," the Corporal said, turning around and leaving the tent. He would have slammed the door, if the tent had had a proper door and not merely a pair of flaps that kept the heat out.

Lyssa glanced at Rick, who looked back at her, looking as innocent as possible. She didn't feel the same, somehow intent on blaming him rather than herself, pointing an accusing finger at the pilot, making her anger noticeable in her voice.

"This is your fault," she said, Rick surprised to hear this as she started for the tent's entrance/exit. He was about to say something that voiced the innocence he believed he had but Lyssa was out of the tent and out of earshot by the time he started speaking.

Scanning the battle-scarred area outside where buildings across from the tent still smouldered in the heat, she saw the Corporal walking back to where the rest of the squad, including their new member Quentin Limburg, who sat talking with Reynolds and drinking from bottles of beer. She started pacing towards the Corporal, catching up with him, although he pretended not to notice her.

"Please, Henry, I…" Lyssa still struggled to form any sentences, racking her brain for something to say but unable to find anything meaningful or truthful. The Corporal glanced at her from the corner of his eye as he stopped by a smouldering, bullet-hole ridden portable office. Lyssa stopped as well, turning to face the Corporal directly.

"I'm sorry, Henry, but the truth is…" She trailed off; trying to figure out some way, a way that didn't insult the Corporal, to say what she had realized was the truth.

"Sorry? Sorry about what? That you like that prick better than you like me?" He didn't sound as angry as he had back inside the tent; he had obviously let that emotion subside for now, allowing Lyssa to attempt to get through to him, although she doubted it would work.

"He started it…"

"You seemed to be enjoying it," the Corporal interrupting, making a good point. Lyssa had been enjoying it, although perhaps more than she had had expected.

"Look, seriously Henry, what is your problem?" She asked, feeling annoyed at the Corporal's needless jealousy, "you've known me since day one, when we arrived on this planet, and you never mentioned anything, you never actually admitted that you liked me. Never. And all of a sudden, I go kissing some other man and you react in this way? Why is that? Tell me Corporal, why?"

The Corporal seemed to falter in his stance, taking a moment to reply. He certainly looked put off by these questions that Lyssa was throwing him and so she patiently stood, awaiting an answer from him.

"It's because I like you Lyssa," he said, looking down at his feet as if embarrassed, "that's why. You wanted me to admit it yesterday but I was too much of a…a…"


"Yes, a chickenshit. I was too much like one of those to tell you the truth." He paused, letting his words sink in, although Lyssa couldn't say she felt the same way about him. This was something she had to tell him to settle the matter, probably once and for all.

"Henry, I like you, you're good at what you do," Lyssa said, smiling but the Corporal could obviously tell that the smile was a little forced, frowning at her, "but I can't actually say that I like you the same way as you say you like me. I value you as a squad member, Corporal and a friend. Nothing more."

There was a brief silence, the only other sounds that of distant shouts and conversations from other marines, either sitting and drinking or playing with some of the sports equipment that the General had brought out for them. The Corporal shook his head, turned around and began to walk away, without saying anything, much to Lyssa's surprise.

"Henry, what's wrong?" She asked, deciding not to follow him as he disappeared around a large tent, probably to have a sulk. After all, he seemed the type and what Lyssa had told him, about him being nothing more than a friend and squad member, had probably put a large dent in his pride and their friendship.

Looking around, she saw Rick standing outside the tent she had been in earlier, her sighting of him reminding her just how stupid she had been. She had just ruined one of the most valuable friendships she had had, that being her one with the squad's second-in-command and most reliable, well, maybe second-most reliable, squad member. Hawker would have to have been the most reliable, then the Corporal, followed closely by James Reynolds.

The Lieutenant kicked angrily at the sand, deciding that if the Corporal wanted to have a sook somewhere out of view he could. It didn't bother her, she had things to do, like wash her shrapnel wound and find out just what this "assignment" the General had assigned her and the squad was. One thing she had realized recently was that the General favoured her and the squad for a lot of the smaller operations, probably because they were all too good at their job. That was the trouble with being in the marines: if you were good at what you did, someone always had to get you to do something against the enemy, and it never was a nice something.

Turning around, she spotted the General by his Jeep and started walking.