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Posted By: Mainevent
Date: 7 March 2008, 6:04 am

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June 30, 2574

      It was the closest thing to a shark in the darkness. Some had said the Covenant ships, with their smooth lines and bulbous exteriors, looked imposingly predatory. To Fletcher they'd looked like killer whales. His ship was quiet and gray with jagged lines and a slim, sleek profile that cut through the waters of oblivion that she'd been bred for. The "Butcher of Kanai" stood stone still, his eyes peering into a void as icy as his soul. There was no air for sound or smell to travel through, yet he could tell. A single drop of blood across fifteen light-years.
      "Admiral Fletcher, we believe we know where they are." Ensign Plutarsky said stoically.
      "Yes Mr. Plutarsky, I know exactly where they are. They ripped a sub-space hole big enough for a junior cadet to find." The imposing figure didn't move a muscle while responding, his thick rust-colored beard masking his lips as he spoke.
      "Indeed sir. Shall we proceed immediately?"
      "Send a probe through first. I want tactical reconnaissance first; we can't afford another incident like last time. Wherever General Archer went he did so for a purpose, and I will not stumble headlong into one of his traps."
      "Right away, sir. We should be able to have an update within twenty-four hours." The ensign nodded and began to turn away.
      "Mr. Plutarsky," Fletcher asked with a slight cock of his head.
      "Yes sir?"
      "What would you do to someone who's taken everything you'd dreamed for?"
      "I'm not sure I've given it much thought sir, but I'm sure it would be measurable."
      "Think on it would you, and tell me when you come up with something."
      "Yes sir."
      Fletcher took three steps to his command console and had a seat. His admiralship was nothing as he'd wished. His flagship was a miniscule Liberty cruiser barely a quarter of the size of the lavishly designed fleet destroyers. The command console was slim and metallic with synthetic rubber armrests that rubbed his skin raw from only a few minutes' touch. What fleet he had been able to command had been decimated not by rabid ideological collection of xenomorphs, but by another Academy graduate. He was not a man without morals, as some had painted him with fantastical pseudonyms and gruesome tales; instead, he knew that it would be his determination to do what was necessary that would save the universe. His lips parsed into a thin smile, and the smell of blood was in the air.

      Probe twenty-two exited sub-space as quietly as it had entered. The spherical, three meter ball of antenna arrays and scanning equipment tumbled into normalcy without a fuss. Within seconds an electronic tendril shot through the solar system, and just as quickly it wrapped around its prey. A UNSC technical satellite was still operational above an uncharted planet. Probe twenty-two sent out a hand-shake protocol laced with an intuitive counter-measures package. UNSC Tech-Map Satellite 34's outbound transponder was non-functional.
      Twenty-two carefully moved into position and attached to the dysfunctional orbiter. It's low-frequency receiver was in working order and picking up signals twenty-two had not been equipped for. Repeating low-band radio signals from the planet below. P-22's systems cross-checked for known inhabitants and all reports yielded negatives. With as much fervor as an autonomous super-orbital and sub-space RecSat could muster it recorded the message through four loops and synthesized them together to clean up any distortions.
      Satisfied, the probe detached from thirty-four and fell back into sub-space, eager to report its findings.

      "I am First Lieutenant Robert Neville, and this is my warning. This planet is to be considered extremely dangerous and equally contaminated for Flood specimens. Against my personal wishes, I must advise that no form of rescue attempt to land on this planet, nor any attempt be made to fight this infection by conventional means. Turn away from this space immediately. May no man tread in this, Death's gray land. I am Lieutenant Robert Neville, last survivor of this planet, and this is my warning."
      Fletcher gritted his teeth anxiously as he listened to the raspy, ominous recording. Ensign Plutarsky approached silently and stood to his side.
      "Yes Ensign?"
      "I've thought about it sir."
      "And what would you do?"
      "I, I'd go after him no matter what sir. I'd take everything he had and then I'd take some more."
      The air in the Tactical Command room was as silent as space. Fletcher listened one more time as this lonely, scared voice cried into the darkness to nothing. Wounded bait. Engines flared briefly before the Tiburon blinked from existence and into the ethereal dimension of sub-space.

Plaza Neville Bunker

      He swirled the amber liquid in the cup before him, it's white foam long fizzed away. He sniffed it, acrid and pungent as always. It was warm now, swirled for at least an hour as he sat and watched the sun go down. The visitors were standing outside, smoking and waiting. They could stay out for at least fifteen more minutes before it was unsafe. Neville downed the bitter concoction and it warmed his esophagus and seemingly fell with a thud into his stomach. Robert never had adjusted to dehydrated apple juice synthate. It'd been six days since he'd read his report or checked the same news again. Six days since he reminded himself of the pain. Most importantly, it'd been six days since he had a drink.
      The crimson red blip of light overhead nearly gave him a heart attack. He leapt from the chair and dashed into his operations room. All of the monitors were blanketed with alerts and reports. Another ship, much bigger than chiroptera. This one was a Liberty class; and then a second, and third, and fourth. Fletcher.
      "Hello," crackled the radio visciously, "are you out there Neville? I know you're out there."
      Neville's hand moved for the panel, but he stopped. This was a murderer, a destroyer of worlds. He stayed his nerves and waited.
      "Please, Mr. Neville! I just want your friend Archer. Give me that and your safety is guaranteed. Don't prolong your misery anymore. There's no need for solitude or loneliness. Just come out. Come out, Neville!"
      He stumbled to the wall and slid slowly down. The voice just kept repeating, and there was no way to make it stop. It's subdued authority was transfixing. Come out, Neville. Come out. No more hiding. No more running. Just one move, and the world went back to normal. Slowly, weakly, he crawled to the keyboard-- and stared.
      "Come out Neville, oh won't you come out?"
      His hand hovered hesitatingly above the keys. Won't you come out? Go out Neville. Just. Go. Out.