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The Marine, the Rebel and the Sangheili: The Aftermath of a Dawn Raid
Posted By: QuantumSheep<quantumsheep@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 25 March 2009, 12:36 am

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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.