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Not Exactly Human Ch.3: Boarding Action
Posted By: QuantumSheep<jasnash@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 5 June 2008, 11:54 pm

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Ship Master Dras Amargee stood on the command bridge of the cruiser Justifiable Light, the flagship of the part of the fleet that he was in command of. If it had been up to him, he would have fired upon the human ship which was on the main holographic view-screen now, but a rather annoying but important figure was behind him, observing him.

Dras was an Elite; at least 'Elite' is what the humans called his people. His race was properly known as the Sangheili and Dras was a rather large one for someone of his age (young for a Ship Master). He was muscular and the golden armour he wore made him look even larger than he was, creating an imposing figure which didn't really help him when it came to negotiating with the Minor Prophet sitting on the hover-chair behind him.

Dras had orange-amber eyes with a snake-like pupil running down their centre. He wasn't wearing the standard issue eye covers that most of the other Sangheili troops wore. The eye covers polarized when faced with a dangerously bright amount of light, but since he wasn't in battle, they weren't necessary.

He was young for someone of his rank and he had worked hard to get this far in the ranks of the Covenant, excelling in every form of combat a Sangheili could go through. His muscular build could easily rip a human to pieces, and he had done it many times, suffering wounds but obviously nothing fatal.

Being put in command of a small section of the fleet by the Supreme Commander, Dras had been looking forward to destroying a human stronghold world. What he hadn't contemplated on was this particular human ship which was on the view-screen now escaping into Slip-space, destroying five of his ships before doing so.

There were a few different reasons for following the human ship. One was that it could lead them straight to another human world, although Dras doubted the humans were that stupid. Two, this human ship seemed different to the others and had Slip-space technology almost as advanced as theirs, beating them to this location. Another reason was that these humans could either call for reinforcements or jeopardize other parts of the Covenant if they ever stumbled upon an important installation.

The planet which now took up most of the view-screen was one particular installation.

Dras scratched at one of his lower mandibles and noticed that one of his many sharp teeth were loose. He realized that it was probably from the knock he had suffered during the battle for the human world when their ship had been hit by enemy fire.

He would deal with it later. Right now more important matters were at hand.

Dras turned to look at the Prophet. The Prophet was an entirely different race: frail looking, with a serpentine neck and green eyes, wearing an ornately decorated and large golden headdress and red robes. His legs were crossed, his long skeletal arms resting on either arm of the gravity chair. Despite the Prophet being in control of the Ship Master's seven-strong 'fleet', Dras was beginning to find the alien rather annoying.

Dras was different to most other Sangheili. He wasn't one to bow down before a Prophet's 'greatness'. He just did as he was told and didn't do any of the over-the-top stuff like talk about the Prophets as if they were gods. No, the only gods were the ones who had the many sacred structures on the planet below.

Dras' voice was calm. It was also deep and masculine, as was the case with all Sangheili males.

'I find it strange that you do not want me to fire upon the human ship,' he said, 'it is but one ship, Exalted. How they found this world is unknown to me.'

'The world below is the problem, Ship Master,' the Prophet said, hovering close to Dras. The command bridge was deep within the Covenant cruiser, surrounded by decks and plenty of armour plating. Holographic screens went around the heightened platform, a few other Sangheili standing at their posts and ignoring the conversation between the Ship Master and the Prophet.

'If you were to fire on that vessel and miss,' the Prophet said, his malevolent eyes glaring, 'the weapons fire could very well impact the planet below and destroy either a holy ones structure or one of our installations. That could lead to your execution, Ship Master. I'm sure you wouldn't want that?'

Dras sighed.

'What if we didn't miss?' Dras asked, 'I don't see the point of your worry, Exalted. We could simply call in reinforcements and make sure there is no single trace of that ship left.'

'All the reinforcements in this region aren't available at this time,' the Prophet said, 'you should know that, Ship Master.'

'It slipped my mind,' Dras replied. He was tiring of this Prophet and his pointless worries about the planet below. There was very little chance they would miss.

'How the humans discovered the location of this world is unknown,' the Prophet said, 'although I doubt the answer will be hard to find.'

There were plenty of possible reasons the humans found their world, Dras doubting that it was just luck. The Prophet seemed to think it was.

'What do you suggest we do?' Dras asked, 'we can't just sit here and let the human vermin escape.'

The Prophet paused for a moment, thinking their options over. Dras had a slight idea what he might suggest, though.

'We shall send boarding parties,' the Prophet said, 'eliminate all humans on the vessel and take everything out of its databanks. That way we may achieve more than just making a bunch of floating, smouldering metal.'

There were plenty of flaws in that plan. It was obvious the human wouldn't leave their databanks full. They would erase everything, just like they have done in past battles.

'The humans could easily escape to the surface below,' Dras said, 'it will be hard enough to get aboard and kill every human on the ship, let alone get there fast enough before any humans escape. That is why I must question why we can't just use our plasma torpedoes. I say again, Exalted, there is a very slim chance that we will miss.'

The Prophet just stared at Dras. This Dras didn't like very much.

'It's not that hard to figure out, Ship Master,' the Prophet said, 'send some Seraph squadrons and destroy the human vessel's escape pod bays.'

Dras turned around and keyed in some commands on one of the nearby panels. Statistics and information on the human ship began flowing down the screen above the panel. He turned back to the Prophet, hoping the annoying alien was actually reading the information.

'This human ship is more heavily armed than most we have ever encountered,' Dras said, 'getting any Seraphs close enough will result in several losses. How do you suggest any boarding craft will get through? As you can see on the information we've gathered, this human vessel has two of the large weapons that are effective on our ships.'

'The magnetic shell weapons?' The Prophet asked.

'No one knows the correct term, but you can probably call them that. The human vessel also has more than the usual amount of guns and launchers,' Dras said.

'Then find a way past them,' the Prophet said, 'but under no circumstances is there to be any weapons fire from this ship or any of the others. Do you understand?'
Dras nodded.

'I understand that one of your offspring, a Minor Domo, is stationed in a desert on the planet below?' The Prophet said.

Dras suddenly remembered. He did have a young son from a mate he had long ago left stationed on the planet below. He hadn't thought about it and probably wouldn't have but now that the Prophet had mentioned it, Dras couldn't get the thought out of his head.

'You are a swordsman, Ship Master,' the Prophet said, 'I know the traditions of your people. Under no circumstances are you to go see your son.'

'I understand,' Dras said. All Sangheili males who were swordsmen could not marry, but they could mate with whichever female they wished to pass the swordsman genes onto the next generation.

However, recently Dras had fallen for a young female who worked in the medical personnel on the ship. She was in love with him also and as soon as they could, they would return to the Sangheili home-world, Sanghelios, and marry regardless of tradition.

Dras hadn't planned on ever seeing his son again and doubted that particular young Sangheili wanted to see him. Usually a swordsman Sangheili moved on after having some offspring, never seeing their own children.

'It could cloud your mind,' the Prophet said, 'I wouldn't want one of our best commanders worrying too much about his own son, possibly clouding said commander's judgment. You have to keep your mind on the matters at hand.'

'I understand,' Dras said again.

'Under no circumstances is this ship or any of the others to fire on the human vessel,' the Prophet said, turning around on the gravity chair and heading for the door, 'disobeying this order may lead to your execution.'

It seemed plenty of things would lead to his execution. Once the Prophet had left the command bridge, Dras gave the order to organize boarding parties and prepare to board the human vessel. He would be going too, with his squad of Special Operations troops.

Dras stood in the boarding craft launcher bay, about a dozen Sangheili troops in dark purple armour standing to attention near one of the boarding craft. This was his squad, and all of them had been through many battles with him. All of them were able soldiers and he cared about the lives of his squad members, unlike other Sangheili officers.

He walked in between the two sides of their formation, six on each side, their dedication communicated to him by their unwavering stares.

'We are to board the human vessel,' Dras said, as he took a look at each of his squad members, 'and while the humans are fighting our less important forces, we will go straight to their databanks and get all the information that we can. Of course there will be resistance along the way, but it should not be anything too dangerous. Is this objective clear?'

'Yes, Commander!' The squad members said together.

'Very well,' Dras said.

On the other side of the shuttle bay, he spotted someone he knew standing near a stack of crates. He would have to finish of this briefing before he walked over there, though.

'Once we have acquired everything in the databanks of the human vessel, if we get anything,' Dras said, 'we will return straight to our craft and come back to this ship. We are not to do anything else other than carry out this objective. We are to stay together as a group. Is that clear?'

The squad members nodded their heads.

'Very well,' Dras said, 'go ahead aboard the boarding craft. I will join you soon.'

The squad members relaxed and started making their way to the large purple and blue armoured boarding craft hovering nearby. Dras approached the familiar figure. It was Arna Sulfonoss. Being a female, she was a little shorter than Dras and of lighter build, her hooves more rounded and her mandibles less pronounced. She was dressed in the light blue armour of a medical Sangheili officer, which didn't have a helmet to go with it. Her eyes were light blue with a snake-like pupil running down their centre. She gave the equivalent of a smile with her mandibles as Dras approached.

'What are you doing here?' Dras asked, smiling as well. He put one arm around the female, 'the others may get suspicious.'

'I just wanted to see you one last time before you left,' she said. Her voice was shriller than a male's, as was the case with all Sangheili females.

Arna leant forward and they kissed each other quickly, slipping together their mandibles for a few seconds before pulling away.

'Don't get hurt,' she said, running a hand down Dras' chest, 'I just want you to promise me you'll return safely.'

'They're just humans,' Dras said.

'They're still capable of hurting you,' she said, 'I've heard of how the humans react in close quarters combat. They're unpredictable, some more than others. Some of their weapons are specially made for close quarters fighting…'

'I know,' Dras said, clutching one of her hands, 'and I promise I'll be careful. Even if I do get hurt, I know you'll be here to heal any wounds I may receive.'

There was a brief pause and they kissed each other again before Dras let go of her hand and started for the boarding craft.

Jeff Ganszo approached the doors into the firing range. Jones wanted to introduce him to this other friend of his, the Chief Engineer of the ship. Jones hardly ever spent any time on the firing range and so choosing to now obviously meant he had the feeling they would be going into combat soon enough.

What was also surprising was that the Covenant ships only about ten thousand kilometres away from them hadn't opened fire, at least not yet. There was nothing stopping them that he knew of.

The doors opened and behind them was a large, long room. The doors led into the small area behind the firing booths that looked out over the five hundred meter long range.

Jones was sitting in a chair talking to someone who looked about the same age as him and was in a red engineer's uniform. This was obviously the Chief Engineer. As soon as
Jeff walked in the two of them looked over at him.

'Jeff, you're here!' Jones exclaimed, 'I thought it would be fun to spend some time on the firing range. This here's Heinrich Rommel.'

Jones gestured to the Chief Engineer who got up and walked over to Jeff. He put out a hand.

'You're obviously Jeff Ganszo,' the Chief Engineer said with a slight trace of a German accent in his voice. They shook hands.

'Apparently we've come out of Slip-space near some unknown planet,' Jones said, 'and now the Covenant ships that followed us here aren't bothering to shoot at us, which is lucky I guess.'

'There's nothing stopping them,' Jeff said, 'they could have blasted us all to pieces right about now.'

'Who knows and who cares?' Heinrich said. He paused. 'They're probably planning something, so while we're still alive how about we have some fun while we're at it?'

'Jeff, they have some new stuff on this ship, not just concerning Slip-space,' Jones said.

'Speaking of Slip-space,' Heinrich said, 'Jones here actually helped us out back on the day of the battle down at the Slip-space core reactor.'

Jeff raised an eyebrow. Jones wasn't the kind of engineer-adept person and also wasn't the kind of person who would go anywhere near a potentially dangerous piece of technology.

'He did?' Jeff asked.

'It wasn't anything major,' Jones said, sounding modest, 'and it wasn't all that exciting either…'

'But if it wasn't for him,' Heinrich said, 'we probably would be scattered throughout Slip-space right about now. He was the one who fixed up the last remaining plasma coil in time.'

Jones rolled his eyes.

'It wasn't hard at all, man' he said, 'but how about we quit talking about Slip-space and get on with what we're going to do.'

Jones walked over to a large cabinet on the wall and inserted his pass-card into a panel next to it. A light flashed green on the panel and a cold, female voice, coming from the computer locking the cabinet, asked a question.

'State your purpose for these weapons,' it said.
Jones took a moment to think up a good reason.

'Recreational use,' he replied loud enough so the speakers could pick his voice up.

'Access granted. Please restrict weapons to the firing range area.'

'Shut the hell up,' Jones said quietly as the cabinet slid open. Behind it was a large rack holding an assortment of weapons, some familiar to Jeff and some he had never seen before. He saw Jones grin as he looked at the contents.

'They have all sorts of new stuff in here,' he said, pulling out an MA5B assault rifle. He placed it on the floor and started taking out one of each different weapon that was n the cabinet.

While Jones was looking at all the weapons, Heinrich turned to Jeff.

'I've heard a bit about you,' he said, 'Jones told me you only got this post since no one else on Reach wanted you, considering you "unstable" or something.'
This was mostly true, so Jeff nodded.

'They think I was a danger to the safety of others as well as myself,' Jeff said, 'but I guess being on this ship was my saving grace, otherwise I would have been stuck on the planet and be dead already.'

'Everything happens for a reason,' Heinrich said. He paused. 'Jones says you're a good shot with practically any firearm you get a hold of. Want to try out some of the new stuff they have here?'

Jeff looked at Heinrich and then at the rack of weapons Jones was standing near. He needed all the practice he could get, and a few of the new rifles looked like they needed a test run. He walked over and grabbed a large rifle, fitted with a scope and partly made with a wooden stock and grip. A grenade launcher was attached underneath the barrel and a slightly curved magazine was already loaded into the weapon.

'I've never seen this one before,' Jeff said.
Heinrich walked over and took a small booklet out of the cabinet. As he flicked through it, he seemed to find the information he had been looking for.

'It's the Kalashnikov AK-2536,' Heinrich said, reading from the booklet, 'using the large but powerful 7.92 x 29mm rounds. It is loud, accurate and powerful. It has a kick to it, though.'

'I thought the UNSC didn't want the AKs in service,' Jones said.

'Apparently they do now,' Heinrich said, skimming through the information on the page, 'since some troops from the poorer countries brought their own variants of these rifles along into combat. It seems they're very reliable.'

'Yeah, you can be sure the UNSC will cash in on any new equipment they can find,' Jeff said. He weighed the rifle in his hands; it was heavy, but usually the heavier the weapon the more powerful it was.

He placed the weapon off to the side and took out a few recognizable firearms: the M6D pistol, using 12.5mm rounds and coming attached with a short zoom scope, it was either the galaxy's largest pistol or its smallest rifle.

There was a smaller pistol but with a magazine that jutted out from the bottom of its pistol grip slightly. Heinrich saw it and looked it up in the booklet.

'The M9TE5 fully automatic pistol,' he said, skimming through the information, 'use 9.72mm rounds and holds twenty in a magazine. Its accuracy isn't that great, apparently.'

'We're pretty much meant to be testing all this stuff out, right?' Jones asked, 'which probably means we're privileged in some sort of way.'

'If the Colonel were in here now he probably wouldn't be happy with most of this stuff,' Heinrich said, 'he'd be busy cleaning his shotgun. Why the hell is he on this ship anyway?'

'Who, Vance?' Jeff asked.

'Is that his name?' Heinrich said, looking surprised, 'I just thought people called him the "Crackpot Colonel".'

'We can call him that as well,' Jones said, grinning, 'and I think he came to inspect our ship when Reach was attacked. We're stuck with him now, and I don't know if that's a good or bad thing…'

'It's not good,' Heinrich said, 'he'll probably end up trying to take command and sending us into battle so we can all get killed.'

It seemed that since the last time Jeff had met the Colonel, which had been about eighteen years ago, the man had changed. He had once been a slightly alcoholic guy who had a good sense of humour and knew how to command but now he had become what most people considered a "crackpot" or a "crazy". It occurred to Jeff that they had an oddball assortment of people on board this ship, which ranged from the so-called "Crackpot Colonel" to the deer hunting Major George Golding.

'So, you're saying with the Colonel on board we're screwed?' Jones asked.

'Not exactly,' Heinrich said, 'there's just a chance he'll try and take command and end up doing something stupid while he's commanding us all.'

'Like what?'

'Well, right now we're in a position over a planet with Covenant installations on it. Seven Covenant ships are ten kilometres away from us. He may decide to fire on the Covenant ships and they might fire back.'

'I'm sure the Captain will remain in command,' Jones said, 'I doubt he'll give up his position without a fight that the Colonel will probably lose.'

Jeff suddenly felt the ship move slightly. They were definitely moving and for what reasons were unknown, although he was pretty sure it was something to do with the Covenant.

'What's going on now?' Heinrich asked aloud, 'if we're moving, it probably means something to do with the Covenant or the Captain is happening.'

'No shit,' Jones said, 'why don't we actually start testing out this new equipment before we get ordered to do something else?'
Suddenly the Captain's voice came on over the announcement system.

'Could First Class Sergeant Jeff Ganszo please proceed to the bridge to meet with the Captain,' the Captain said, 'it's an important matter.'

'What could the Captain want with you?' Jones asked.

'Does it look like I know?' Jeff replied, stepping over to the door. He thought of asking the Captain over the announcement system why he needed to come, but then that would probably ruin the surprise, if it was a surprise.

'I need the Sergeant here on the double,' the Captain said.

'Yes sir,' Jeff replied. He turned to Heinrich and Jones.

'I guess I'll see you two later,' he said as he left the room. He heard the unmistakable thud sound of something hitting the ship, but if he was still alive it probably wasn't a plasma torpedo.

'What was that?'

The Captain stood on the bridge, pacing up and down near the man view-screen and front windows. Something had just collided with the ship but no one had mentioned anything about enemy fire from the Covenant ships nearby.

'A Covenant Seraph fighter just collided with us,' Steve said, 'only minor damage in the starboard section of Deck Six.'

So it wasn't a plasma torpedo. If it was they would have all certainly known about it.

'We have incoming boarding craft, sir,' Goodman announced, glancing at his console, 'lots of them. It seems they would prefer to take the ship without firing upon it.'

'Status on the Longsword squadron?' Bob asked. Only minutes ago they had dispatched a squadron of Longsword fighters to take out the Covenant Seraph fighters. They were being marginally successful.

'All ships register sir, so no casualties,' Goodman replied, 'but they're tied up with the remaining Seraph fighters. They can't help take out the boarding craft.'

'I want all available missile pods to target a boarding craft and open fire,' Bob ordered, 'we can't let the bastards get aboard. In the meantime I want the evacuation drill sounded and a message sent out to repel any Covenant troops that may get aboard.'

'Yes sir,' Goodman said. Familiar red lights around the bridge began flashing and an alarm began to sound. The Captain stepped over to the ship-wide announcement system and spoke into it.

'This is the Captain speaking,' he said, his voice calm and modulated, 'Covenant boarding parties are inbound on this ship. All non-essential personnel are to proceed into their evacuation groups and escape to the surface of the planet below. All combat groups are to follow boarding action Zero-Five Alpha. Good luck to you all.'

As he finished, wondering how the crew on the ship would react, a technician entered holding a small plastic card covered in micro-circuitry. He approached the Captain with the card held out.

'Here he is, sir,' the technician said. The Captain took the card and took a look at it. Engraved on the side were the words 'Specialist AI Temporary Carrier Card'.

'Thanks, Thompson,' Bob said to the technician. The technician gave a casual salute and left the bridge.
The Specialist AI Temporary Carrier Card was a specially designed device which could be put into most human computer systems. On the card held an entire AI or Artificial Intelligence if you wanted to say the full name. The card was only a temporary carrier since it was recommended to get whatever AI that may be on it into a proper computer.
Temporary Carrier Cards were known to make AIs go rampant, which was just another way of saying 'insane', if they were kept on there for too long. Too long could mean a week, a month or even a year. Each AI was different and thus the entire subject of Carrier Cards was unpredictable.

Bob chuckled quietly to himself at the concept. Jeff better be here soon, he had an important job to carry out. He was the right man for this kind of job, especially if it involved fighting the Covenant.

Bob walked over to a short pedestal near the main view-screen and inserted the card. There was a hum and a green light winked on. The twelve inch tall grey-blue holographic image of a twentieth century American marine appeared, holding an M1 Garand rifle.

'Thank God I'm off of that thing,' the hologram said. He looked up. 'Oh, hey Captain.'

'Don't get too comfortable, Windtalker,' Bob said. Why they called him Windtalker was unknown to him, but he guessed t had something to do with one of the many wars in the twentieth century.

Windtalker was a combat AI, specialized in combat which made him sometimes simple minded. He was a 'smart' AI, but was only mainly specialized in the one thing. Sure, you could ask him mathematics problems and get him to calculate ship courses, but he wouldn't have the speed and efficiency of a non-specialized computer AI.

'I just want to know for sure you can't get past the security systems,' Bob said, 'is there a way around them?'

'I've tried and tried again, Captain,' Windtalker said, resting the M1 rifle on his shoulder, 'but I'm not good at hacking ONI security. It's beyond my operational capabilities.'

Another disadvantage of a specialist AI was that it was either specialized in hacking or wasn't. Windtalker wasn't specialized in hacking, that was for sure.

'I have someone coming down to get you to Central Processing,' Bob said, 'a very reliable marine, according to his records. From Central Processing you should be able to purge the databanks.'

'Don't you mean "wipe" the databanks?' Windtalker asked.

'Whatever,' Bob said.

For a brief moment Windtalker's hologram went dark blue, returning to its original colour a few seconds later.

'You guys are sure deep in it,' the AI said, 'you have plenty of Covenant boarding craft heading your way.'
Bob turned to Malcolm, who had been taking a sip out of a cup of coffee. Malcolm looked up.

'I want every Archer missile pod firing at something Covenant,' Bob said.

'Alright sir,' Malcolm said, putting the coffee down. He keyed in some commands on his console and there were distant thuds as the missile pods along the ship opened. On the main view-screen about seventy blips appeared, heading for the incoming Covenant boarding craft.

'Sir, our missile capacitors are down,' Steve said, 'the Slip-space jump took out more power than we first thought. We can't use the Archer missiles again, sir.'

Typical, Bob thought, make them pretty much defenceless against incoming Covenant ships. Bob watched with some satisfaction as the missiles streaked through space, colliding with the Covenant boarding craft, flashes of light appearing ahead. Some of the blips representing the boarding craft disappeared but the majority of them were still intact.

'Status on our nuke launcher, Ensign Steve,' Bob said, turning and looking at the young Ensign, 'can we use those?'
Steve looked at his console, keying in buttons and reading the information.

'No, sir,' Steve said, 'we only have power to our main and auxiliary engines, life support and everything other than our weapons and Slip-space systems.'

'Why's that?' Bob asked.

'The design of this ship put the power systems for Slip-space and weapons together.'

Whoever designed this ship had obviously made a fatal error there.

'How long until the first boarding craft arrive?' Bob asked.

'About two minutes,' Steve replied.

It was now or never. They would all have to help repel boarders and then evacuate to the planet below.
The doors into the bridge opened and in stepped First Class Sergeant Jeff Ganszo. He approached Bob and saluted.

'First Class Sergeant Jeff Ganszo reporting for duty, sir,' Jeff said.

'Just drop the salute,' Bob said, 'no time for that stuff.'
Jeff dropped the salute.

Bob took a good look at the marine. Apparently he was thirty-nine years old, but he looked like someone in their late twenties. He also looked like he had been having some good rest during the Slip-space voyage and seemed refreshed and ready to fight.

Windtalker looked at Jeff and raised one of his holographic eyebrows.

'This is the guy?' Windtalker asked, 'if I didn't know better, this is the one everyone thinks is crazy or unstable.'

Jeff frowned.

'I'll be more than willing to rip apart that AI piece by piece,' Jeff said. Windtalker just laughed a convincing, human-like laugh.

'Look, you two are going to have to work together,' Bob said, 'we have Covenant boarding parties inbound and no doubt some are after our databanks. Due to unforeseen circumstances, someone is going to have to erase the databanks directly from Central Processing.'
Bob looked straight at Jeff.

'That someone is you, but you'll need Windtalker to actually carry out the procedures,' Bob said. He removed the Carrier Card from the pedestal and the surprised looking hologram of Windtalker disappeared. The Captain handed the card to Jeff.

'Sounds a bit easy, sir,' Jeff said.

'Sir, Covenant boarding parties are now on decks seven through to twelve,' Steve announced, 'more on their way.'

'You'll have to deal with any of those Covenant bastards you encounter,' Bob said, 'and I can guarantee a group of their best soldiers is on their way to Central Processing.'

'Is that all, sir?' Jeff asked. He didn't seem afraid at all, but Bob realized he had probably done this kind of thing plenty of times before.

'There are a few things I want you to have,' Bob said, taking out a small wooden box. He held it out to Jeff. 'Take this. It's mine, but for now you can have it.'
Jeff opened the box. Inside was a single pistol with a pearl-handled grip and the name 'Dalton Turnwell' engraved into it. He seemed surprised by the offer.

'I really can't, sir,' Jeff said.

'Marine, thing is, I'm not evacuating,' Bob said, 'that's why I'm giving it to you. I'm confident you'll survive to get off this ship and to the planet below. I would prefer it if this pistol survived the fight. Who knows, we may meet again on the surface.'

'You're not evacuating?' The marine sounded surprised.

'A Captain always goes down with his ship,' Bob said, 'and I'm going to do just that. This ship was meant to be the start of a new era in human ship design, but that ain't going to happen and we'll be stuck with the crap we have till the end of this war. I would prefer if I saw this ship down till the end.'

'I understand,' Jeff said, nodding. He strapped the box onto his belt and took out the pistol. He checked the magazine and saw the silver bullets that were loaded inside.

'Silver bullets, sir?' He asked, raising an eyebrow, 'I doubt the Covenant have werewolves.'

'It's an old Turnwell tradition,' Bob said, 'silver bullets tend to give you more satisfaction when you fire them. Don't worry, that gun can use the M6D ammunition if needed.'
Jeff twirled the pistol in his hand and holstered it, all in one smooth move. Bob noticed that he seemed different than most other Sergeants around.

'Anything else, sir?' Jeff asked.

'Just call me Bob, Sergeant,' Bob said. He stepped over to a small bench nearby where a marine issue helmet was laying. He picked it up and flicked the green HUD on it down. He turned to Jeff.

'This is the new Aswalt 7T54 Marines All-rounder Tactical Heads Up Display,' Bob said. He handed the helmet to Jeff. 'It's only a prototype but it can do practically anything.'

Jeff slipped the helmet on. It was surprisingly comfortable, although he always preferred not to wear a helmet. It was an old tradition of his that began on his very first mission, back in the ODSTs. Wearing a helmet just made your head a larger target.

One eye had the HUD in front of it. Information about the environment in view started appearing, telling Jeff that the room was made out of a steel composite, the glass of the view-screen made out of a specially made computer glass and that Captain Bob Turnwell was standing in front of him.
The information came thick and fast and Jeff started to feel nauseous. He flicked the HUD up and back into the helmet.

'You'll get used to it,' Bob said, seeing the way Jeff had reacted to the HUD, 'if you want, you can stick Windtalker in the helmet and have that irritating AI speak through your mind or something like that. It seems the helmet can monitor brainwaves and that Windtalker can get right into your mind. Not a very pleasant thought.'

'Damn right it isn't,' Jeff said. He was sure not going to stick that annoying combat AI into his head. 'With all due respect, sir, I prefer not to wear a helmet.'
Bob nodded in understanding and just shrugged.

'Do what you want, Sergeant,' Bob said. He paused. 'Before you go, just one more thing. It's about the Colonel.'

'The Colonel?'

'Yes,' Bob replied, 'he's too much of a burden. What I'm suggesting is that we get rid of him somehow, preferably when we're down on the planet.'

Jeff didn't know what to think.

'The Colonel is an old friend of mine,' Jeff said, 'are you suggesting we bump him off?'

'I'll speak to you another time,' Bob said, 'just get moving.'

Jeff saluted and turned around, walking out of the bridge.

Red lights flashed around the ship's corridors and marines and men in tech uniforms rushed about. There weren't any signs of the enemy just yet, although Jeff could hear the muffled thumps of distant explosions in other parts of the ship.

He had been selected to take an annoying AI and use t to wipe the databanks because of some 'unforeseen circumstances'. In other words, since the ship hadn't been completely ready, the security locks in the ships' systems were still there and no one could get past them.

He wondered what it would be like to have the AI in his helmet, monitoring his brain waves and knowing what he was thinking. It didn't sound too much of a good thing to him, especially with this seemingly annoying combat AI.

Whoever had called it Windtalker obviously had an over-active imagination. He had heard the name somewhere but couldn't remember where.

He passed a group of marines who had opened a large cabinet on the wall. Inside was a rack full of rifles and one of the marines were dealing the weapons out. As Jeff walked through the corridor, making sure to not look too casual, he began to notice a lot of gun racks being brought out. In a time of war, it was commonplace to see guns practically everywhere you went. Especially now, considering they were at war with a group of alien races.

Jeff realized he didn't know the way down to Central Processing but when he realized he had left his data-pad in his quarters, which contained the handy map of the ship, he had no other choice but to get the AI to show him directions.

He had the feeling that the prototype helmet system was somehow connected to his neural interface, something all marines got implanted into their skull. It made them able to be monitored, to link up with the systems in many kinds of UNSC equipment and also able to link to their HUDs, if they had one.

Jeff stopped by a door, taking out the Carrier Card. The door opened and a pair of marines rushed out holding rifles and almost knocked him over. He was about to say something but by the time he recovered the marines were already well down the corridor and turning a corner, putting them out of sight.

Jeff couldn't put away the thought that the Captain was planning to knock off Colonel Vance. The Colonel had been good friends with Jeff during his brief time in the ODSTs. Now it seemed not many people aboard this ship liked him. Despite the fact that the Colonel would probably try and take command, a thing the Captain probably wouldn't like, Jeff wouldn't have any part in a scheme to get rid of the Colonel.

He wondered what Jones and Heinrich were doing right now and if Lieutenant Frank Hastings had been killed yet. Probably not yet, although Jeff would be glad once that guy was gone, dead or alive. Hopefully they wouldn't meet each other on the surface, considering that Frank was unpredictable and would probably attempt to kill Jeff first chance he got.

As marines and tech crew raced past and in and out of adjoining rooms, Jeff prepared to slot the tiny card into his helmet. First instant it became annoying and unhelpful and he would remove it.

He slotted the card into the helmet and felt a slight buzzing sensation in his head as the combat AI wired into his neural interface.

'I don't want to be put on that damn card again,' a familiar voice said. The voice seemed to be coming from his very mind but at the same time it was in his helmet. It felt weird.

'Look, all I want is directions to Central Processing,' Jeff said, 'nothing else.'

There was a pause as Windtalker considered his options.

'I sense that your heart-rate has suddenly gone up and that your body temperatures are increased,' Windtalker said.

'I asked you a question, so answer it,' Jeff ordered. He felt like taking the AI out of his head but then that would deprive him of the needed directions to Central Processing.

'Alright, alright,' Windtalker said, 'don't get your balls tangled up. You're currently in Section Two of the Command Deck. You'll be better off taking the elevator at the end of this corridor to the Computer Station Decks. Is that so hard?'

Jeff rolled his eyes and started down the corridor. He thought it would be wise to talk some sense into the AI.

'Windtalker, if that's what you really want to be called,' Jeff said, 'thing is… you're annoying. At the first hint of you becoming more of a burden than a help, I'll remove you out of my head and crush the very card you're stored on.'

'You wouldn't seriously do that,' Windtalker said, some uncertainty coming into his voice, 'that would be millions of bucks worth of military technology destroyed and I doubt you could pay for it.'

'It wouldn't be that hard to make it look like an accident,' Jeff said, 'besides, everyone else has other things to worry about rather than a pesky computer program like you.'

There was a pause. Windtalker was obviously attempting to think up something to say. Combat AIs weren't good at their come-backs.

'Who said I wouldn't be a help to you?' Windtalker said.
Jeff approached the lift. He would be glad to have the AI out of his head as soon as possible.

Major George Golding, prior to the alarms being raised, had been in his office, flicking through a five hundred page book which he had picked up at a second hand book-store on Reach only a few weeks ago.

A Soldier's Guide to the Jungle, written in 2347 by a former Admiral who had fought in his fair share of battles. Of course, he was long dead by now and this particular book he had written was hard to find throughout UNSC space. It chronicled the events the Admiral, a Sergeant during the time the book is set, went through while helping quell rebel activity in the jungles of Africa. It was quite different to anything fought during the Human-Covenant war. The battles fought during the twenty-fourth century at determined rebel forces in the lush jungles of the African continent had been harsh, trying battles for both sides.

The UNSC forces at that time in that campaign area had had to avoid craftily made booby traps set up by the rebels and the dangers of a hidden enemy. There were also the natural dangers of the jungle to begin with, from venomous snakes to parasitic insects. The weather had been hot and humid and often the soldiers would have to hastily erect a tent in the middle of the jungle, being too far from their base camp to go back.

Apparently most people involved had voted against using defoliant sprays to deny the rebels the foliage to hide in, learning from the mistakes of Agent Orange and Agent Blue far back in the Vietnam War.

George was up to the seventh chapter, being twelve in the entire book, when Lieutenant Frank Hastings entered the office.

George looked up, closing the book and placing it on the desk. The Lieutenant was a good ODST, but far too aggressive to be reliable during a firefight.

'What is it, Lieutenant?' George asked. He leaned back slightly in his chair, straightening his cowboy-style hat. Screw regulation uniform, he thought, the UNSC uniforms all looked like crap anyway. Being a Major, he could usually get away with what he wanted as long as it wasn't anything too serious.

'I just wanted to speak with you about some of this new equipment,' Frank said, 'for one, the new ODST armour. I…I'm just not sure about it.'

George raised an eyebrow.

'Son, that experimental armour is almost as good as the stuff those Smartans get,' George said.

'It's Spartans, sir,' Frank said. George noticed the whiteness of the Lieutenant's front teeth. How the hell were they so white? He couldn't even get his own that clean.

'Whatever they're called, son,' George said, 'that armour
is almost as good as theirs. What's your problem with it?'

'The entire damn manual,' Frank said, throwing a somewhat thick booklet onto the desk, 'take a look at page five, the caution section.'

George didn't know what to think of Frank and his problem with the prototype ODST armour. It was state-of-the-art technology, from the same people who reverse-engineered the Slip-space technology on the ship.

George picked up the booklet and turned to page five. He skim read through the information on the page and didn't have any problem with it at all. The new Mark III ODST Regulation Armor had been put out into proper service for the first time, aboard this very ship. There was nothing wrong with it, George having been reassured by ONI and its spin-off organizations that everything about this new ship and its equipment was safe. Although when he thought about it, all that fuss caused by that damn Slip-space core did lead him to believe that maybe not everything was as safe as it should be.

'What about page five, Lieutenant?' George asked.

'The fact that it mentions that the armour's metal is "regenerating",' Frank said with a hint of disbelief in his expression, 'for one, I find that hard to believe. Regenerating armour ain't possible.'

'Well, I don't know a lot about this new stuff but I would take this booklet's facts as truth,' George said, 'what I don't see is what problems you have with it.'

'It says right there on the page that there is a slight chance the armour could regenerate and mold to the human flesh,' Frank said, 'I don't like that idea.'

George read through the page again and found what the Lieutenant was talking about. Sure, there was a slight chance of that happening if the gel under-layer and bodysuit was penetrated as well.

'That's if everything underneath is penetrated,' George said, 'and believe me, there isn't much chance of that happening.'

'Major, I would prefer to wear the normal armour,' Frank said, 'I like to rely on something that doesn't do everything for you. This armour seems to have everything in it but the kitchen sink.'

'It's only experimental,' George said, 'and we have none of the usual stuff on board. You better get used to living with all this new equipment, since in the long run it'll help us win this war.'

There was a pause. Frank picked up the booklet from the desk and was about to leave when George popped a question which had been bugging him for a while.

'How do you get those front teeth of yours so white?' George asked.

Frank gave an annoyed expression. He opened his mouth slightly and tapped the strangely white teeth.

'They're not real ones,' he said, 'they're false. Almost twenty years ago I got into a fight with someone and they punched them all out.'

'Really, son?' George said, raising an eyebrow. Must have been one hell of a lucky punch. 'Who'd you get into a fight with?'

'Jeff Ganszo,' Frank replied.

'Oh…' George paused. That was some surprise. Jeff didn't seem like that kind of person, regardless of what others said.

'Surprised?' Frank asked.

'Kind of, yeah,' George said.

Red lights in the corners of the room suddenly began flashing. George looked around and Frank seemed a bit surprised.

The Captain's voice came over the ship-wide announcement system. George had been expecting something like this, especially since they were deep in uncharted space.

'This is the Captain speaking,' the Captain announced, 'Covenant boarding parties are inbound on this ship. All non-essential personnel are to proceed into their evacuation groups and escape to the surface of the planet below. All combat groups are to follow boarding action Zero-Five Alpha. Good luck to you all.'

George glanced at the Lieutenant once the announcement was over.

'You better get into that well-liked armour of yours, Lieutenant,' George said, grinning, 'you're going to need it.'

'What about you, sir?' Frank said, 'you're an ODST as well. Shouldn't you get into your own suit of armour?'
George paused. He was an ODST, hell he was the leader of the ODST division on the ship. He could at least make himself be part of them, but then he thought against it. Better to distinguish himself from everyone else so his men could recognize him. He was yet to try on the experimental armour himself, though.

'No, Lieutenant,' George replied, 'I'm the Major and I want you to be able to distinguish me from everyone else. Besides, I don't need any fancy-pants armour. I got myself Ol' Painless right here.'

He pulled open a drawer on the desk and took out a large, scoped pistol which was slightly over a foot long. Frank had never seen anything of its type before. The pistol was dark in colour and didn't seem to have a magazine loaded into it.

'I was expecting something bigger than that,' Frank said.
George raised a surprised eyebrow. He picked up the weapon and slid open a small hatch on the back of the weapon, loading in a single, large bullet into the back and closing it.

'Never underestimate Ol' Painless, Lieutenant,' George said, 'it could blow most of your head clean off.'
George stood up and holstered the weapon. He gazed at the Lieutenant, thinking of what to do next.

'So, if it's boarding action Zero-Five-Alpha, that means we should be repelling the boarders at their points of docking,' George said. The radio on the table suddenly came on, filled with static but the voice was easy to make out.

'We need someone at bulk head door seven, on the double!' The voice exclaimed, 'Covenant boarding craft are beginning to dock!'

'Looks like we're needed,' George said.

Frank nodded and the two of them rushed out of the office, arriving in the soft, carpeted blue hallway. Fire erupted from some pipes in the wall down the corridor, results of the ship taking collisions from Covenant Seraph fighters.
ODSTs in the experimental armour came running down the corridor armed with rifles. They saluted to the Major as they ran past and the Major nodded when they did.

The armour, unlike the normal ODST stuff, was a blue-silver colour, its metal giving off a metallic sheen. The visor was entirely black on the outside and you could see the armour actually shifting shape in the light. George had no idea what it was made out of, but if it could regenerate itself that would be an invaluable asset during combat.
George and Frank started down the hallway, turning a corner into a large hall with walkways above. Tables and chairs had been flipped over to use as barricades and several men in ODST armour stood waiting behind the barricades, all centred on looking at a single, grey door.

Frank walked over to a crate near the wall where several
rifles had been placed upon. He picked one up, loaded it and went over to the group behind the barricades.

George took a look and counted about seven ODSTs now that Frank was standing with them. The barricades were set up in a semi circle formation, all facing the bulk-head door.

There was sudden metallic creaking sound followed by a hollow thud. Through the left wall and past three meters of armour plating was the vacuum of space and the noises that George had just heard indicated that a Covenant boarding craft had docked.

'I want all fire directed onto the blast doors!' Someone shouted, 'don't let up until nothing's left moving!'

George took a position behind a metallic crate, raising Ol' Painless and peering through the scope. The weapon used large, high powered explosive rounds, much like the ammunition the M6D uses but on a larger scale. The weapon had a heavy kick to it and only held one bullet at a time; not that reloading would be a problem considering it was quickly and easily done.

An uneasy silence fell across the room. George stood, the pistol raised and the scope at an adequate zoom level. As soon as that door opened, the tallest living thing behind it would be his first target.

'They're breaking through the barricades!' A voice from George's radio shouted, 'we can't hold them!' The signal cut out and silence fell across the room again.

George was used to this kind of thing, but even so a few beads of sweat trickled down his brow. Either he was feeling the tension or the temperature control in this part of the ship was malfunctioning.

'Is something going to happen or what?' One of the ODSTs said aloud, lowering his rifle and looking at the others.
Suddenly, the door erupted outwards in pieces, followed by smoke and fire as the charges behind it went off. The ODSTs behind the first barricade were knocked backwards and a splinter of hot metal from the door impaled one of the ODSTs. Blood spilled out across the blue carpet. George stood his ground, looking for a target through the smoke. He had seen people die in more horrible ways than that during his time in the military.

The ODSTs opened fire, the entire room filled with a cacophony of gunfire. The smoke began to clear and George spotted the first hint of movement. It was the blue metallic glint of a Minor Elite's helmet.

He had been briefed on the estimated ranks of all the known Covenant species, and the blue armoured Elites were the lowest ranking ones the UNSC knew of in the Elite species.
George guessed the aliens had a proper name, but everyone called them 'Elites' and it would probably stay that way.
George got a good glimpse of an Elite's head through the scope. The smoke was clearing while return fire from the Covenant forces in the doorway was beginning to pepper the room. The barricades were beginning to get scorched and the ODSTs were forced to crouch behind them.

George counted three blue armoured Elites n the doorway, several of the smaller and irritating Grunts in the front. Those little five foot tall aliens were slow, weak and only dangerous in large groups. They wore some sort of methane life support pack which you could ignite if you were lucky enough. You could watch the aliens burn because of the very gas that keeps them alive if the pack with ignited.

George fired; the recoil of the shot making the weapon buckle back and lose his aim. He watched as an Elite's shield flashed and then drained because of the bullet. The Elite stumbled back a few steps, clutching at its chest.

The Covenant aliens were beginning to get into the room, so seeing that the Elite wasn't dead yet, George slid open the latch on the back, shook out the spent casing and loaded in another one. He quickly flipped the latch back and peered through the scope again.

He got the head of the now unshielded Elite in his sights and fired. Purple blood and bits of brain erupted outwards as the bullet impacted the Elite in the right eye. The alien fell backwards and slumped against a wall behind it.
Blue and green plasma bolts singed the crate he was crouched behind, so he ducked his entire body behind it and loaded Ol' Painless once again.

'Hold them back!' Someone shouted.

As he sat loading Ol' Painless, an ODST with an MA5B assault rifle stepped back into his view, firing the rifle. After a few seconds, the rifle stopped firing despite his fingers squeezing the trigger, instead an empty clicking sound coming from the weapon. He went to eject the empty magazine but the front of his helmet erupted in blood as a blue plasma bolt impacted there.

The ODST stumbled backwards and fell against a pair of crates, the rifles lying on top of them falling off and scattering about the floor.

George peeked up above the crate and counted more enemies storming in through the bulkhead door. The ODSTs were holding out fairly well, but George could see that they wouldn't hold out forever.

He raised Ol' Painless again and blasted another blue armoured Elite. He watched with some satisfaction as a large hole was blasted through its breastplate and into its chest, dark purple blood spurting outwards. The Elite fell backwards and slumped onto the floor.

George noticed the many Grunts storming into the room and realized it would be a waste to use Ol' Painless on the little aliens. He stepped back a little, making sure he was still safely in cover and grabbed an MA6 Sub-machine gun, a relatively lightweight and compact weapon built along the same principle as the MA5B but using smaller rounds and holding forty in a magazine.

He kept Ol' Painless in his right hand, opening the latch and shaking out the spent casing. He bent his head down and grabbed another round with his teeth off of the ammo belt strapped down his shoulder and across his chest. He loaded the round into the back of the weapon and then shook the weapon so the latched closed.

He raised the MA6 submachine gun and squeezed the trigger, peppering a group of three Grunts nearby with submachine gun rounds. They were cut down fairly easily and he started on another Grunt a little further back.

A pair of blue armoured Elites raced in through the door, plasma rifles firing. George managing to side-step some of the plasma fire but a bolt singed on the metal of the ammunition belt and burned right through it. He felt the heat against his skin but it didn't burn him, being absorbed by the armour vest he wore underneath his jacket and shirt.

Only slightly annoyed, George raised Ol' Painless and blasted a round through the skull of one of the Elites. The force of the shot propelled the alien a few feet backwards.
The ODSTs, which included Frank, were peppering the enemies that were flowing in through the door with suppressing fire. There seemed to be a heck of a lot of them and George didn't like the look of our things were turning out.

George began the process of reloading Ol' Painless while at the same time released the spent magazine of the MA6. Loading in another round into Ol' Painless, he quickly finished off the other Minor Elite with a shot to the throat and then finished loading the MA6.

He began peppering a squad of Grunts with rounds as they stormed in through the blasted away door. How he hated the Grunts, bloody annoying things they were.

He watched as another ODST was cut down in a hail of plasma fire, the front of his armour's chest regions melting away and burning right through to the flesh, probably burning away a few bones and internal organs as well.
Frank glanced over at George.

'We're taking casualties!' Frank shouted above the noise of the fighting, 'how long should we keep this up?'

'As long as we have to!' George replied. He ducked behind the crate as another squad of Grunts moved into the room, their plasma pistols firing away. Bolts of green energy scorched holes into the metal of the crate.

Another ODST was cut down in a hail of plasma fire and another two Elites ran into the room. There were about four ODSTs left standing and they were beginning to back away, firing their weapons but retreating at the same time.
George stood up and fired off another round from Ol' Painless, hitting an Elite and completely draining the alien's personal shield. He finished him off with a volley of MA6 rounds.

'There's too many!' An ODST behind him shouted, 'we've got to pull back!'

'Fuck this,' Frank said, getting up. He started sprinting away from the firefight, turning a corner. He stopped and looked at George.

'Come on, we'll lock them in here!' Frank shouted.
George looked at the several Grunts and Elites storming into the room, most of them gunning for him now considering that everyone else was retreating.

He hated to leave a firefight but even he had to know his limits. They would have to keep holding off the boarders and pulling back when they began suffering too many losses.
George fired one last shot from Ol' Painless and blew a Grunt's head apart with it, fluorescent blue blood spraying about where it stood.

The Elites and Grunts started pursuing, George following the fleeing ODSTs as the enemy trailed behind them. He spotted Frank standing by a control panel at the wall. He was going to close the blast doors but was waiting them to get through first.

Further down the corridor, marines crouched and stood in wait, rifles raised. Two frightened technicians in yellow uniforms ran across the corridor holding pistols. George had the feeling they didn't know how to use them very well.
Behind them, a volley of plasma fire cut down another two ODSTs. The new armour was helping only slightly against single, non-critical hits, but by the looks of it, getting pummelled continuously by a whole bunch of plasma fire didn't help too much.

George got past the line of the blast doors as the rest of the ODSTs behind him were cut down in a hail of plasma fire. Frank flicked the switch and the large, metal and thick plexi-glass doors began to slowly descend. An Elite, followed by several Grunts, came down the corridor and began firing.

Frank ducked behind a part of the wall jutting out from the rest. The doors came down and prevented anymore plasma from getting through.

George peeked through one of the door's small windows and saw an Elite standing behind it.

'Haha!' He laughed, giving it the finger from the window before turning to look at the others.

'What do we do now?' Frank asked. The marines behind them eased up a little, standing up and wiping the sweat from their foreheads.

'Get someone, anyone, on your radio and check the ship's status,' George said, 'we have to find out how everybody else is faring.'

Frank took out his small radio and began fiddling with the controls, attempting to get someone on the signal.

'We have boarders on Decks three to twelve and fifteen to twenty-one!' A voice on the radio crackled, 'we can't hold them off much longer! We have to evacuate!'

'Boarders on the Recreational Decks!' The Captain's voice announced over the ship-wide announcement system, 'we need a security team there now!'

George paused to think about it all for a moment. They didn't stand much chance fighting off an overwhelming Covenant force in the ship. They would evacuate, just as the Captain had ordered earlier. He supposed that some people would want to remain on the ship and fight, though.

'We're going down to the Pelican bays, everybody!' He exclaimed, 'so there ain't any point standing like a bunch of morons here. If you want to live to fight another day, follow me!'

George knew his way about most of the ship, and besides, there were usually helpful signs about the corridors pointing people in the right directions.

He started down the corridor, Frank and the group of marines following. George checked Ol' Painless, loading the weapon and then holstering it. He reloaded the MA6 submachine gun and kept that held in his left hand as he and the others progressed through the ship's corridors.
Near another blast door, a set of panels flew off the wall, followed by bouts of flame and smoke. The ship was getting damaged from all the fighting occurring inside and outside of it.

They turned into a narrow corridor, following it along and passing the bloodied corpses of some unfortunate marines who had come through a little earlier. George could hear weapons fire nearby and at the end of the corridor he could see a group of marines fighting it out with an out-of-view enemy.

George directed the others through a corridor turning right off of the one they were in, bringing them round to the rear of the Covenant group.

Here, George counted about three Elites and several Grunts, busily fighting the marines at the end of the hallway and not yet noticing the humans who had snuck up behind them. The marines spread out and opened fire with their rifles, bullets filling the air and cutting a swathe through the Grunts easily.

George readied Ol' Painless as a disgruntled blue armoured Minor Elite charged at him. As the alien closed, he fired, making it stumble backwards, clutching at a large hole that had been blasted in its chest. It didn't seem to be dying, so George stepped over and kicked it in the head, knocking it backwards and flat onto its back.

He watched as one of the other Elites fell under the combined assault rifle fire.

The last one was crouched behind a Covenant stationary shield. These were simply shields that were about eight feet high and were set up to provide troops more cover. George emptied an MA6 magazine into the Elite, killing it.
He reloaded both of his weapons and then holstered Ol' Painless. The marines were all mostly fine, although one had suffered a plasma blast wound to the leg.

The quickest way to the nearest Pelican bays was through a large service elevator not too far from where they were. It would be interesting to see how many Covenant troops would be in their way.

George and the marines continued through an adjoining corridor and into a large room with emptied racks of rifles that ran along its centre. A bloodied but alive marine sat slumped against the side of one of the racks, coughing up blood and obviously in no condition to continue on.

George and the marines continued into another large corridor, this one with a group of about three yellow and grey uniformed technicians armed with pistols trying to hold off a large group of Grunts with two Elites. They seemed relieved to see the marines arrive.

The marines scattered about, taking cover behind some of the makeshift barricades. George stood casually amongst the marines. He enjoyed his job, despite the obvious dangers. Peering through the scope of Ol' Painless, he got the head of one of the Elites in his sights and fired, blasting a hole clean through its head. It slumped and almost landed on a nearby Grunt.

The marines as well as Frank had taken up firing, assault rifle fire peppering holes into the Grunts and flaring off of the Elite's personal shields. One of the Grunt's methane life-support packs ignited, flames billowing off of the small alien as it rolled along the floor, shouting stuff in its high-pitched voice which was obviously in some kind of alien language.

A marine to the left of George caught a plasma rifle bolt in the head, his helmet only covering up to the top of his head and not the face. Blood spurted out across the back of the barricade he had been standing behind and a now faceless corpse landed next to George.

Ignoring it, George opened fire with his MA6. The lift was at the end of the corridor, but in their way were plenty of Covenant Elites and Grunts. He cut down a few Grunts before having to reload. He checked his ammunition supply for both of his weapons, finding that he was low on ammo for Ol' Painless. MA6 magazines were easy to find around the ship, so he didn't worry about them too much.

He remembered the Magnum .44 revolver he was going to sell at the auction a day or two before and realized that the small box it was in was strapped onto his belt. He would use that if he ran out of ammo for Ol' Painless, which wouldn't be for a little while yet.

'Die, assholes!' Someone shouted, sweeping their assault rifle fire along a line of three Grunts and filling the aliens with lead.

George stepped out of cover and began to move forward, an Elite coming out of an adjoining corridor. It turned around and prepared to fire its plasma rifle, but George was faster and blasted a hole in the Elite's throat. It made a deep, gargling sound and slumped onto the ground.

'I'm already sick of these guys,' he said, stepping over the Elite's corpse. The others followed, eradicating a few straggler Grunts that were running about and shouting in their high-pitched voices.

George couldn't help thinking back to his times out hunting deer and other game back on the preservations on Earth and the few that were on Reach. Thing was, the Covenant were smarter and they shot back.

He and Frank walked over to the elevator. The marines decided to stay back and remain on the ship for a little while longer, despite the fact it didn't sound like such a good idea.

Stepping aboard the maintenance elevator, which was just a large metal platform with grating, George pressed the button for the Pelican bays as explosions erupted in the shaft above them. Frank looked up and shook his head.

'This ship isn't holding up too well,' Frank said, ejecting an empty magazine out of his MA5B assault rifle and loading in a fresh one.

'How about you just keep quiet for now, son?' George said, checking the magazine in his MA6, 'there's bound to be plenty of those alien bastards in the Pelican bays.'

The elevator started to descend at a steady speed, eventually stopping at a large bulk-head door. The door slowly opened into a large hallway, makeshift barricades cluttering its space and a group of a few Grunts and a single Elite standing guard.

As soon as the doors opened the group of aliens had turned around and George and Frank dived to the floor as a volley of plasma fire shot overhead, passing through the space where they had just been standing.

George raised Ol' Painless and fired at the single blue armoured Elite, depleting the alien's shield and making it stumble backwards, stunning the Elite.

Frank jumped up into a crouched position and fired a wild volley of assault rifle fire. The Elite was peppered with high calibre rounds and slumped to the ground, dark purple blood seeping out of the wounds and onto the floor.

It was a simple matter to finish off the few Grunts that were now running around wildly. Once they were dead George got up and he and Frank continued through the corridor, a colour-coded sign on the wall pointing them into a corridor labelled 'Pelican Bay A9'. Moving through the corridors, the sounds of a large firefight grew in volume and the corpses of marines were becoming more frequent.

George approached a glass and metal door which went out onto a walkway overlooking the large Pelican bay. Looking through the window, he could see troops in ODST armour on the walkway firing down at the Covenant forces below. Judging by the colours on the shoulder patches on the armour, they were part of Frank's squad.

'It's your men out there,' George said, 'so we can gather them and get to hell down to that planet. You know how to fly a Pelican?'

'Err…' Frank paused.

'Damn, we haven't got any pilots,' George said. He grinned just as he stepped through the door. 'I'll fly us there. If I can drive a car I can fly a Pelican.'

'You sure about that, sir?' Frank asked.

'Don't worry Lieutenant, I do have some experience,' George replied.

'You do?'

'Yeah, a flight simulator computer game. Now let's get in there and help those men out.'

Frank had no other choice but to follow the confident Major out onto the grey steel walkway. There was only one Pelican docked in the bay, big enough for three, and Covenant Grunts and Elites were all over the ground floor of the bay, a Covenant boarding craft having burnt its way through the thick glass of the bay doors.

George walked over casually to the ODSTs busy firing at the Covenant enemies below. Plasma and bullets filled most of the air in the bay but George didn't have much of a problem with that. Instead, he approached the highest ranking troop there, a Sergeant, and tapped him on the shoulder.

'We're taking this Pelican out of here,' George said, 'Captain's orders. You're all welcome to come, if you want.'

George couldn't determine the Sergeant's features through the face-plate but he had sensed they were a mix of relief and determination.

'We've got to clear these rats out first, sir,' the Sergeant replied, pointing to the Covenant troops taking cover amongst the metal crates below.

A marine with the recognizable medic arm patches came into view, dragging an ODST along, the helmet of the ODST's armour having been taken off. A large, bloodied hole had blown in the front of the soldier's chest.

George ducked down behind the walkway's railing as a volley of plasma fire pummelled their position, some of the ODSTs taking hits but otherwise standing their ground. He started towards the medic, who was preparing to give the half-dead ODST an injection. It looked like a hopeless case though.
George placed a hand on the medic's shoulder. The medic seemed exhausted but was still keeping up doing his job.
The half-dead ODST wasn't conscious and it didn't seem he would ever wake up, judging by the wounds he had received.

'Leave him, it's no good,' George said as the medic turned around.

'No, he still has a chance,' the medic said, removing plates of armour of the ODST's left arm. He cut away the gel under-layer and bodysuit underneath, exposing bare skin on the arm and then stuck the needle through the skin.

'What's your name, son?' George asked.

'I'm PFC Alan Reynolds,' the medic replied, 'and I'm obviously a damn medic. Now leave me alone.'
George placed a hand on the ODST's neck and checked for a pulse. There was none.

'He's dead, Alan,' George said, 'now get back into the fight.'

Alan looked at him but continued trying to revive the ODST, injecting him with some more liquids. Minutes passed without result and the medic slumped against the nearest railing.

'Help us out, Private,' George said, 'we're going to escape to the planet below and hopefully not end up losing as many people as we would if we stayed on this ship.'
Alan glanced at him and ran a hand through his hair.

'Fuck it, I never expected this,' he said, 'I thought I could help people but the weapons the Covenant uses just do too much damage…'

'That ain't your fault,' George said, 'now get a weapon and help us clear this bay of assholes.'

'So we'll be shooting Frank?'

George laughed. It was good to keep some humour in the mix, despite the fact they were in the middle of a firefight.

'Probably not.'

George left the medic to his own devices, turning around and surveying the Covenant forces below. There were a few Elites and plenty of Grunts, using the metal crates scattered across the floor of the hangar as cover. A few corpses of some unfortunate ODSTs were on the floor as well.
George peered through the scope of Ol' Painless and spotted one of the Elites, a Minor in rank, peering around a crate. George fired, blasting a hole through the alien's skull and making it fall backwards a few steps.

He reloaded Ol' Painless as an ODST with a large machine gun in his hands, the majority of the weapon resting on one soldier, came running in. He was cut down in a swathe of plasma fire and the portable mounted machine gun went clattering across the metal of the walkway.

George checked his ammunition for Ol' Painless. It wouldn't be long before he had none left on him, and ammunition for Ol' Painless was hard to find on UNSC ships, considering it was a kind of ammunition not used very much by the UNSC.
He holstered the large pistol and crouched behind a crate, gradually making his way to the fallen mounted gun. He picked up the heavy weapon and made his way back to a gap in the railing, setting up the weapon and lying prone on the walkway.

He peered down the weapon's sights, loading a large cartridge of ammunition into its side. He pointed the weapon at a group of Grunts and opened fire, the weapon having hardly any recoil thanks to the mount.

The Grunts were easily ripped to pieces by the weapon, the life support pack on one of them detonating in a small but powerful incinerating explosion which blew the Grunts standing nearby away, tossing their small bodies around like rag-dolls.

'That's the way it's done!' Someone shouted.

George kept the trigger held down as he cut a line of fire through the Covenant troops on the floor below. It was over in less than a minute but every Covenant soldier on the floor lay dead, riddled with bullet holes caused by the high calibre rounds.

Satisfied, George got up and dismounted the steaming weapon. Resting it on one shoulder, he looked at Frank and the other ODSTs.

'What's the matter, men?' He asked, seeing how exhausted they were, 'I thought you all liked this kind of thing?'

'How about we get down to the planet and do it some more?' One of them said.

'That's the spirit, son!'

George wiped the sweat off of his brow and he, Frank, the medic named Alan and the rest of the ODST squad climbed down onto the floor below. A few of them kicked about the bodies of Elites and Grunts while others wiped off a few straggler Grunts at the end of the room.

Stepping into the back of the Pelican, George approached the door leading into the cockpit. If he remembered correctly from his time of the flight simulator game he had on his computer back on Reach, he would need to put in the command to open the bay doors and start the engines.

He stepped into the small cockpit and sat himself down in the pilot's seat. In front of him was a view looking out into space through the glass of the bay doors, the blue-white shape of the planet taking up most of it. He activated the panels and controls in the cockpit by flicking a switch to his left. Looking back, he saw that the surviving members of the group were aboard. Flicking a switch to close the rear ramp and sealing the ship, he took a look at the main console.

He selected the command to open the bay doors and very steadily the large door in front of the ship slid open. Crates and corpses in the bay were sent flying out into space due to the vacuum created.

George took a deep breath and placed a hand onto one of the main moving controls, setting the main thrusters to medium and moving the ship out into space.

Remembering the Captain's orders about going to one particular part of the planet, he keyed in the information for the course and the ship began to fly towards the planet.
In the room behind the cockpit it seemed that most of the ODSTs had forgotten about the previous firefights and were talking about normal things and doing what they usually did: brag.

George smiled to himself. It seemed they could very well be the first humans ever to set foot upon this planet, not that it would be that great considering the Covenant had some installations on the surface. More rats to clean out, he thought.

Ship Master Dras Amargee stepped out of the boarding craft and into a relatively large, carpeted hallway. The air was mainly oxygen and carbon dioxide mixed with the smell of smoke and burning flesh.

Human ship design wasn't entirely clever, their command bridge always being easily exposed to direct fire and their engines quite large targets. It just made the job of killing them easier, but thanks to the Prophet they had to come aboard and risk their lives eradicating the humans aboard the ship.

In the hallway there weren't any humans, luckily enough, just a few bloodied corpses of some. This area had already been cleared out by the spearhead parties and the humans had already begun to flee the ship according to reports, anyway.

He remembered his orders: find the human databases and take everything from them. Hopefully there would still be something left inside of them considering that the humans always erased everything off their databases during an attack.

He glanced at his squad who was coming out of the boarding craft behind him. There are about twelve in his squad, all the best of the best. One of them in particular caught his eye.

'Keras, come here,' Dras said to the young Sangheili soldier. He looked up at Dras and walked over.

Keras Forlumee was their stealth specialist, possibly the stealthiest soldier Dras knew. He was brilliant at what he did, sneaking around and the like. Dras had some special orders for him which may determine the success of their mission.

'What is it, Excellency?' Keras asked. He was the youngest of the group, being young to be in a Special Operations squad but was the best at what he did.

'I need you to find and secure the human commander of this vessel,' Dras said, 'it is integral to the success of our mission. If the databases are empty, maybe the human commander may have some information.'

'Are you sure, sir?' Keras asked, 'wouldn't it be better if I just killed him?'

'No, I wouldn't do that,' Dras said, 'we need him. Then once we're finished with him, we can kill him.'

'I understand, sir,' Keras said. He activated his armour's active camouflage systems and disappeared from view, appearing as only a faint, smooth shimmer against the wall. He ran down the hall and disappeared out of sight around a corner.

Dras turned to the rest of his squad. They still had their orders, and considering that much of the human crew would be busy fighting other troops to worry about a single squad of Sangheili soldiers, this mission could very well be their easiest yet.

First, they needed to find their way to the databases. Finding out a ship's schematics was easy, hacking into practically any computer console on the ship and getting all the information you needed about the ship's schematics. They couldn't access to the proper databases though thanks to some powerful human security measures in their computer systems.

Dras looked around the hallway. There were a few adjoining doors in this hallway and Dras knew they needed to start somewhere. He directed half his team to the nearest door, which was some sort of storage room. One of the computers in there was still operational, so while somewhere was attempting to access the ship's schematics, he and the rest of his squad began to scout the immediate area.

Around a corner at the end of the hallway were the corpses of a few Grunts, otherwise known to the Sangheili as Unggoy. The bloodied corpse of a Major Domo Elite lay in a doorway and upon entering the narrow corridor; Dras could smell the humans nearby. Some were hurt, he could tell by the red blood stains on the floor.

He signalled to his team that there were enemies ahead and they activated their armour's active camouflage systems. Becoming nothing but clear, shimmering figures in the air, they made their way through the narrow corridor and into another large hallway.

Here were about four humans in grey armour plating, armed with the usual human weapons that weren't so much a threat unless a Sangheili was hit by conjoined and accurate fire.
As they entered, the humans began to move down the hallway, oblivious to the presence of the squad of Elites behind them. Dras and his squad tracked the humans along when suddenly the voice of one of Dras' squad mates infiltrated his helmet's radio systems.

'Sir, I've downloaded this ship's schematics,' the voice said, 'it's different in design to other human ships we've encountered. I'm sending them to you now.'

On Dras' data-pad, information began streaming down the screen. He ignored it, since it was camouflaged as well and there wasn't much point to looking at it if you couldn't see the screen.

One of the humans they were following glanced behind and looked straight at Dras and the others. His eyes suddenly widened and he turned right around.

'I can see them!' He shouted, 'they're right fucking there!'

Dras turned off his active camouflage and the others quickly followed. Rifle fire glanced off his personal shield but Dras simply raised his plasma rifle and cut down the first human, the armour the human was wearing not doing a lot to help absorb the weapons fire. The other three were cut down as well, the fight being over seconds after it started.

Stepping over to the bodies, Dras kicked one gently to see if it was still alive. It wasn't, so he took out his data-pad and looked at the information a squad mate had sent him.
The ship's schematics showed that the databanks main frame room, known as 'Central Processing', was located several decks down towards the back end of the ship. That meant they would have to find a human elevator of some sort.

He put the data-pad away and watched as a pair of his squad mates rolled over a human corpse that had landed face down. The first thing they saw was the grinning face of the human male underneath and the grenade in his right hand.

The explosion knocked Dras backwards and sent the pair that had been closest to the explosion slamming against the wall, bloodied and missing a few limbs. The human was scattered about the hallway and the other Sangheili dived to the floor in an impulsive move.

Dras should have remembered from his experience that some of these humans did get a bit suicidal when they knew they would die. This was the first time anything of that kind had happened before, so he couldn't blame his two squad mates for not knowing.

He slowly got up. They would continue, but Dras had no idea what he would tell the families of those two squad members. It wasn't much of a glorious death they had been in.

'Come on,' he said, gesturing to the others to follow, 'don't touch anymore human bodies. Just leave them alone.'

They continued on through a narrow corridor. The sounds of a firefight nearby could be heard but they weren't meant to be drawing attention to themselves unless absolutely necessary, at least until they got what they needed from the databanks.

Captain Bob Turnwell stood on the bridge as the ship buckled from another fighting colliding with it. Crewmen Goodman, Malcolm, Steve and Turner were the only other people left on the bridge. Everyone else had headed off to evacuate.

Bob turned to Steve.

'How are our security parties holding up?' Bob asked. It seemed that a lot more Covenant boarding parties had arrived than originally thought.

'A few decks have gone silent; otherwise everything else is alright,' Steve replied, glancing at his console, 'but as more and more personnel begins to leave, the Covenant will be all over this ship in no time.'

'Understandable,' Bob said, 'but hopefully they won't be in the bridge until we're down on that planet below.'

Bob stepped over to a small table near the main view-screen and picked up the three small data discs that lay on it. These discs were a security precaution, full of false information that was to be loaded into the databanks in place of everything else if there wasn't enough time to carry out the Cole Protocol. Thing was, there wasn't much use to them until the information they would be replacing was gone; otherwise you would have two lots of information about the same thing in the databases.

Bob hadn't remembered to give them to Jeff, since it was impossible to install the false information from anywhere else but Central Processing. He was confident Jeff would get the job done, having read his service record and knowing fully well he could do any job you gave him.

The discs could also be used as a bit of a bargaining tool if Bob was ever captured, but he doubted that would happen. After all, he was Bob Turnwell and a Turnwell never fell into the hands of the enemy, no matter what war it was. His great-great-great-great-great as many greats as it took to reach the one that served in the Second World War served in the Pacific theatre and never surrendered himself to the Japanese, instead fleeing when everyone else was and ending up living in the jungle by himself until the war ended.

The Covenant didn't take prisoners, Bob knew that, but if they ever ended up doing it for whatever reason, he would rather die. He wouldn't be confined to an uncomfortable cell and forced to do as the enemy told him. Knowing the Covenant, being a prisoner of theirs wouldn't be very pleasant.

Bob would remain on the bridge with the four loyal crewmen and hopefully take it down relatively softly, saving all the supplies and equipment stored aboard the ship.

According to the information on the view-screen, boarders had breached the recreation decks and the living decks, some making it down to engineering but being held off by whoever was down there. He would make sure everyone aboard apart from him and the four crewmen were off of the ship.
At least, he would hope most people were off of the ship. Everyone would have to rally themselves in the area he had told people to go to. It was the area which should have the least amount of Covenant soldiers on it. That was what he hoped, anyway.

Bob pocketed the data discs and watched as a pair of Longsword fighters flew past the front windows, pursuing a single Seraph fighter. Those Longsword pilots would probably go down to the planet themselves now that the ship was being overrun with the Covenant.

There was a tapping at the door and the intercom on the wall came on. A familiar Texan voice spoke through it.

'Let me in damn it!' Colonel Vance shouted through the intercom.

Bob looked at Steve.

'Should I let him in, sir?' Steve asked.

'Better do as he asks,' Bob said, 'don't know why he would be coming here, anyway.'

The doors unlocked and slid open. The Colonel, in his green Colonel's uniform with the bands from medal he had won on it, stepped into the bridge, that large wooden case of his tucked under his left arm. He stepped over to the Captain.

'Why haven't you evacuated yet, Colonel?' Bob asked, 'too busy drinking?'

'Don't get smart,' Vance said, 'I've been killing some Covenant sissies. I just came here to get my chair.'
Bob rolled his eyes. He watched as the Colonel folded up the fold-up chair and slid it into its narrow canvas bag. He slung the bag round one shoulder.

'Why would I want to evacuate anyway?' The Colonel asked, 'there's too much fun to be had up here.'

'Evacuate, Colonel,' bob said, 'that's an order.'

'But I'm your superior and you can't tell me what to do,' Vance said.

'You're unfit to be a Colonel, Vance,' Bob said, 'so I'm doing you a favour and telling you to evacuate.'
Vance paused. He looked a little annoyed, but had obviously had an idea that something like this would happen between him and the Captain.

'Alright then, boss,' he said, 'I'll just have to kill some Covenant sissies on my way to the escape pods.'

'Damn right you will,' Bob said, grinning, 'now, you could leave the bridge so I can lock the doors again.'

'Afraid some alien will just come in and whack ya?' Vance asked.

'Precisely,' Bob replied, gong along with the Colonel's comment, 'now just leave, Colonel. There's nothing else that can be done on this ship.'

'Aren't you leaving?' Vance asked, starting for the door.

'I'm taking this bird down to the planet below,' Bob said, 'it'll save the supplies and practically everything else on this ship. Do you have a problem with that, Colonel?'

'No, I don't,' Vance said, 'just have a fun time committing suicide.'

Vance left the room. Bob turned to Steve, but before he ordered the Ensign to lock the doors, he noticed something in front of a panel in the wall. A shimmer in the air, something peculiar.

'Is something wrong, Captain?' Steve asked.
Bob turned away from the anomaly and looked at Steve.

'Just lock the doors, Ensign,' he said.

Keras Forlumee had looked directly at the human commander. He could have been discovered, but there weren't a lot of places to hide in this command bridge.

Once the human had lost interest, Keras started for the door. It was gradually closing, so he squeezed through the shrinking gap and back out into the corridor.

His orders were to secure the commanding officer, but considering that there appeared to be two commanding officers on the ship, he was unsure of which one to secure.

The one in the grey uniform and colourful bands back on the command bridge had been the first one he had seen and was going to kill everyone else on the command bridge and secure the human, but when the older looking one in the dark green uniform wearing plenty more colored bands walked in, Keras suddenly had no idea which one to choose.

He had decided to go for the one in the green uniform, and he could see the human walking down the corridor, about to turn a corner. He started following the human, tracking him all the way to a white tiled corridor with three different doors space apart from each other.

Colonel Timothy Vance had the urge to take a leak, and quite conveniently the toilets were nearby. Entering the men's toilets, he had known he was being followed the very moment he had left that bridge. He knew this from experience out in the field and so he would take his leak hopefully without interruption.

Keras followed the human into a white tiled room with several white things bolted into the walls shaped like sinks but not quite sinks. There were sinks on the opposite wall, though.

Two cubicles with wide open doors were nearby and Keras stood by the doorway as the human stepped up to one of the white sink-like things, unzipped his pants and began to urinate.

Not interested in watching, Keras turned away and began thinking about home and how glad he would be to be back there.

The Colonel finished urinating, zipped up his pants and stepped over to one of the sinks, placing his wooden case on another sink on his left and watching his hands.
In the large mirror on the wall in front of him, he could just make out the Elite that was standing behind him, camouflaged but quite noticeable against the shiny white tiling.

The Colonel knew he would have to time this right, so bringing the wooden case in front of him and out of view of the Elite; he opened it and took out the three hundred year old double barrelled shotgun with a wooden stock. He flipped it open and loaded another two shells into it, having fired a few off earlier. He held the shotgun in his right hand, turned on the tap and cupped his left hand, collecting some water.

He swivelled around and threw the water at the Elite. It splashed off of its mostly invisible figure and the Colonel pointed the shotgun.

Keras only had time to deactivate his active camouflage systems before the human blasted him in the face and abruptly ended his life.

The Colonel looked down at the corpse of the Elite with some satisfaction. Half of its face was missing, which was amusing in some way. Purple blood had spilled out across the white tiles. The Colonel bent down but when he sniffed, the smell of the blood, which was like fresh tar, made him stand back up.

'You guys sure are ugly,' he said, loading a fresh shell into his shotgun and placing it back into the case. He turned off the tap, shut the case and carried the case with him as he walked back out into the corridor. Before he did make it to the escape pods, he would drop by the mess hall and pick up a drink, preferably whiskey.

First Class Sergeant Jeff Ganszo had been making his way to Central Processing, trying to avoid as many firefights as he could and also trying not to pay much attention to the voice in his head. Windtalker had been talking to no one in particular since Jeff had put him in the helmet and was beginning to get tired of it.

'So, I heard you were considered "unstable", Sergeant?' Windtalker asked as Jeff walked through a narrow corridor. A few corpses of some unfortunate marines were scattered about the corridor as well as the body of a blue armoured Elite. Sensing that there may very well be enemies up ahead, Jeff un-holstered the Turnwell Colt pistol and loaded in a fresh magazine into the weapon.

The weapon had a bit of a kick to it and a loud, recognizable gunshot sound. It held about eight rounds in a magazine and there was plenty of the .45 ACP ammunition in the case that had come with the weapon.

The narrow corridor went left and came out into a larger hallway with grey steel flooring. Jeff slowed down his pace and peeked around the doorway down both sides of the hallway.

Two stationary shields had been put up at one end of the hallway and a group of a few Grunts and one blue armoured Elite were standing guard.
Jeff heard Windtalker sigh.

'Looks like there's no way past these guys,' he said, 'you better know what you're doing. I count three Grunts and two Elites, the other being just behind that half open door at the end.'

Jeff glanced down at the enemies and saw the door behind them was half open and could make out the bottom half of a crimson armoured Major Elite, the door obviously jammed and unable to open the full way.

'What I suggest is that you use a grenade,' Windtalker said, 'I know I would.'

'I haven't got any,' Jeff replied, which was true. He wasn't carrying any grenades on him.

'Then you'll just have to shoot them all,' Windtalker said.

'No shit,' Jeff replied, leaning around the doorway with the Colt pistol in his right hand.

He took aim at one of the Grunts, fired off a few rounds and took it down, repeating the process on the other two Grunts. Plasma fire scorched holes in the side of the doorway and the blue armoured Elite took cover behind a stationary shield. The Major Elite behind the door crouched and came into the hallway.

Jeff took cover in the doorway and reloaded the pistol, ejecting the used up magazine and inserting a new one. He leaned back around the doorway and began firing at the exposed Major Elite, four hits taking down his shield and a bullet through the skull after that.

Jeff hated Elites. There were reasons for this, but most he had forgotten. He just hated them and got some satisfaction from killing them. They were the main enemies in this war, being in command of the ships and the fleets.

The Minor Elite came out of cover from behind the stationary shield and fired the plasma rifle it had in its right hand. Jeff couldn't tell whether it was male or female, considering he had never seen a female before and guessed most Elites were male anyway. Not that it mattered, he would kill them regardless.

He gunned the Minor Elite down and went across the hallway and through another narrow corridor. He could hear weapons fire coming from somewhere up ahead.

'There's an elevator close by,' Windtalker said, 'but there are enemies as well.'

'Why don't you stop stating the obvious and shut up?' Jeff said, coming out into another hallway. The bodies of a few dead Grunts were scattered throughout this hallway and a door leading into a familiar room was ahead.

Jeff entered the mess hall to find about seven marines fighting it out with a large group of Grunts and Elites at the other side of the mess hall. Tables and chairs had been overturned in the fight, some being used as cover. Discarded fragmentation grenades were lying on the floor nearby, so Jeff rushed over and picked a few up, clipping them onto his uniform's belt.

'Watch out!' Windtalker shouted.

Jeff looked straight ahead and saw a Major Elite standing only a few meters away, plasma rifle raised having somehow snuck up past the other marines.

Instinctively Jeff rolled to one side, the pistol in his right hand firing away. The bullets glanced off the Elite's personal shield before it finally collapsed, the next shot getting it in the chest. The Elite fell to its knees and then onto the floor, its head landing close to Jeff.

He glanced at it and shot the corpse in the head just to be sure it was dead, getting up and reloading the pistol. He looked at the enemies on the far end of the mess hall, which was pretty much a mess itself. Discarded food lay on the floor next to overturned tables and food trays had been carelessly discarded on the floor.

The marines were slowly moving forward, firing their assault rifles and keeping up a constant stream of firing, bullets bouncing off the personal shields of the Elites and just making them angrier.

'We're pushing them back!' A marine shouted, 'don't stop now!'

Jeff raised his pistol and began firing, cutting down a Grunt and a Minor Elite, jumping over a table and sliding across the smooth floor and firing away the remaining bullets in the current magazine as he slid. He cut down another two Grunts and reloaded, now lying on the floor, the momentum that began his slide having worn out.

'Nice one, sir!' A young marine said, stopping near Jeff. The marine crouched and began firing his MA5B assault rifle, peppering the remaining Grunts with high calibre rounds and taking the little aliens down.

Jeff got up and crouched behind an overturned table that was in front of him. He looked down the sights of the Colt and gunned down a Minor Elite standing at the far end of the mess hall. Jeff continued through the mess hall with the marines, helping eliminate a few straggler Grunts before coming to a door in the far corner.

'The lift is through another few hallways,' Windtalker said, 'I'm getting some information that the Covenant's trying to break through to the command bridge. They're taking heavy casualties.'

'The Captain knows what he's doing,' Jeff said, 'he wouldn't let the aliens onto the bridge. What we should be worrying about are the damn databases. We have to get there before any Covenant soldiers do.'

Jeff stepped out into another large hallway, found it clear and went across into another narrow corridor. He lowered his pistol and continued to an door which slid open and put him face to face with a Minor Elite.

The Elite roared at him in the typical fashion of the species. Jeff went to raise the pistol but the Elite swung and knocked it out of his hands, sending it clattering down the corridor.

'You were meant to shoot it!' Windtalker exclaimed.

'Just shut the fuck up, damn it!' Jeff shouted, ducking below another swing that the Elite made. Jeff rolled off to one side and kicked out with one leg, catching the Elite across both legs and knocking it over.

Jeff reached over and picked up the Colt, getting up and firing it repeatedly into the Elite's head until there was only a purple bloody pulp left. Almost breathless, he reloaded the weapon and kicked the body of the Elite off to the side.

'Couldn't you have at least warned me?' Jeff asked.

'I was too busy thinking about something else,' Windtalker said.

'Like what?' Jeff asked, continuing through the narrow corridor and into another large hallway. A lift was at the far end and no other enemies seemed to be in sight.

'Where to direct you to next,' Windtalker replied. Jeff rolled his eyes and stepped aboard the lift, pressing the button for Central Processing.

The lift started up and began to descend. There may be enemies in Central Processing, so Jeff reloaded the Colt and made sure it was at the ready if he ever did meet any enemies.

After about half a minute the lift stopped, opening out onto a cat walk looking over large banks of computers. Jeff stepped out and looked around, making sure the room was clear of enemies.

It was clear for now, so he started along the cat walk, heading for a ladder that was on the other side of the room and went down to the computer banks below.

'Which one do I go to?' He asked Windtalker, coming to the ladder and beginning to climb down.

Down below, Jeff could see a large door which obviously led back out into other parts of the ship. As he was climbing down, the door open and two technicians in yellow uniforms came in, firing pistols at an unseen enemy through the door. The two technicians were cut down in a hail of plasma fire and upon seeing this; Jeff took out his pistol and held it at the ready as he came to the bottom of the ladder.

'There's a large group of Elites coming this way,' Windtalker said, 'about ten of them.'

'Ten?' Jeff asked. That was a heck of a lot to be in the same place at once.

'Must be an entire squad,' Windtalker said, 'you better hurry up.'

'Then which computer terminal do I go to?' Jeff asked.

'Just place me into that pedestal over there,' Windtalker said. He obviously meant the short pedestal near the large white pillar with the computer in it which was on the other side of the room. Jeff hurried over and took the AI out of his helmet and inserted him into the pedestal. The holographic image of Windtalker appeared.

'This shouldn't take long,' he said.

The door nearby opened and Jeff watched as about four
Elites in dark purple Special Operations armour came running inside. The Special Operations Elites were the more bad ass types and were more experienced and capable warriors, their armour coming with stronger shields.

Jeff took cover behind the white mainframe computer as plasma rifle fire peppered the surfaces around him. He leaned out of cover and fired at the nearest Elite, having to unload an entire magazine into it before he brought it down.

Reloading again, he watched as another two Elites rushed into the room followed by a golden armoured Elite, most likely a Commander of some sort. They were obviously after the data stored on the computers.

'How long, Windtalker?' Jeff shouted above the noise of the fighting.

'Give me a few minutes!' Windtalker replied, 'there are still some security measures I have to get past!'

'I may not have a few minutes!' Jeff shouted. He managed to take down another Special Operations Elite when a glowing blue plasma grenade landed next to him.

He dived off to one side as the grenade went off, blue-white flame shooting upwards and outwards and scorching a large hole in the floor. Jeff felt the heat against the side closest to it but managed to avoid taking any damage.
He reloaded as he slid along the floor, resuming firing and taking down another Elite. He slid right behind a computer mainframe and got up, reloading his pistol again and taking out a fragmentation grenade. He took out the pin and prepared to throw it.

Ship Master Dras Amargee hadn't expected so much trouble from a single human, he and his squad having made it to the ship's main computer room without much incident. Now they were attempting to kill just the one human, who was proving to be a bit of a hassle.

Three of his squad members had already been killed and the two that were with him now weren't proving to be much help.

'Just move in and kill it!' Dras ordered, 'I'll go to the main computer!'

He and his two squad members were about to move when a familiar looking round object bounced nearby and came to a stop near Dras. Realizing what it was, he dived and was sent flying an extra three meters by the force of the explosion, which drained his shield and killed the other two squad members.

Dras felt a sharp pain in his side and lay dazed on the floor, struggling to regain his senses. He felt along his side and found a long shard of sizzling hot shrapnel sticking out of the side of his stomach. He ignored the pain and slowly got up, only to find that the human was closer now, his weapon raised and pointing at Dras.

Dras reached for his plasma pistol which was holstered but the human, who was obviously a male, simply fired a shot. Dras felt a sudden pain in the right of his chest and put a hand there, able to feel his own blood begin to spill out. He was suddenly short on breath and could feel his strength leaving him. He fell forwards and was only thinking about Arna when he lost consciousness.

Jeff was about to empty another round into the golden armoured Elite's head when a shout from Windtalker got his attention.

'It's done!' Windtalker shouted, 'the databanks are empty! Now let's get off this ship.'

Jeff walked over to Windtalker and took him out of the pedestal, placing him back into his helmet. They would have to head for the escape pods by now, so the best way to go about that would be to head back into the elevator.

Jeff climbed back up the ladder and onto the catwalk, entering the lift and taking it down to the nearest escape pod bays. The lift opened up into a white walled corridor, one wall lined with locked doors, which signified that the escape pods there had already launched.

Making his way through the corridors, Jeff encountered some groups of marines who were obviously there trying to escape as well. Continuing through the deck a little more and encountering some small Covenant groups, Jeff eventually ran into a group of about nine ODSTs in the new silver armour.

A group of about two Elites and four Grunts were behind some makeshift barricades ahead and the ODSTs were doing their best to clear out the enemies. Jeff helped them gun down a few of the Covenant aliens before he decided to jump over the barricades and try his luck in finding an escape pod.

He kicked a Grunt in the head and found an un-used and still docked escape pod. The last remaining Elite in the corridor was taking cover behind a nearby stationary shield, so Jeff just threw a grenade and flushed the Elite out of hiding. Gunning him down, Jeff entered the escape pod and gestured to the ODSTs to follow.

Getting strapped in, he and the ODSTs prepared to leave the ship.

The entire cruiser shuddered from torpedoes launched by the Seraph fighters buzzing around outside. Jeff wondered if the Longsword fighters were still out there, because if they were that would lessen the chance of the Seraph shooting down escape pods.

A female ODST sat herself down in the pilot's seat and, obviously knowing how to fly the thing, flicked a few switches and prepared to launch the pod from the ship.

The door at the back of the pod closed and sealed shut.
Jeff hated the idea of being launched in a stupidly small craft and into a planet's atmosphere, but there was no other way readily available. Besides, it would be better once they were down on the planet below.

'Hold on!' The ODST exclaimed. There was a sudden lurch and the thrusters propelled them out of the ship, on a direct course for the planet below. Jeff closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable crash.

Major Adros Demargee, who just happened to be a close friend to Dras Amargee, had heard about his friend and the squad making their way to the human ship's databanks. He thought they could use the extra help and so he and the two Minor Elites who were under his command had begun on their way to the ship's computer room.

Adros was about the same age as Dras but hadn't been in as much action as the Ship Master, but had always been a close friend, ever since their days in the War College on Sanghelios.

Adros was about average height for a Sangheili and had amber eyes with the snake-like pupil down their centres. During the battle on the ship, his forces had taken heavy casualties from the surprisingly strong human resistance. He had heard that the Prophet on board the flagship had forbid Dras to have their ships fire upon the human ship, since they were in orbit near a holy world which once belonged to the holy ones themselves.

Having made his way through the ship and only taking light wounds, Adros arrived at the mainframe room and found most of Dras' Special Operations squad lying dead in the large room. He felt a sudden pang of regret that he wasn't there to help them out, walking around now and checking if they were all actually dead or just incapacitated.

When he came to Dras' body, he was expecting to find his friend dead, since the wound he had received appeared to be close to the location of one of his hearts. He was about to check for a pulse when he heard Dras speaking quietly to himself, obviously in a daze.

'No…Arna…Don't hurt her!'

Adros exchanged glances with one of the minors. He knew that Arna was a female medical officer on their ship, but why Dras was talking about her in his near-death state was unknown to him.

'He'll die if we don't get him back to the ship for treatment,' Adros said to the Minor standing behind him, 'I'm curious to know which human, or humans, managed to kill most of them.'

Adros picked up the half-dead Dras, who was still muttering to himself, obviously having some kind of dream or near-death experience.

'I love you, Arna…' Dras said.

It was fairly likely Dras was speaking the truth there, considering Adros had seen him together with that medical officer far too many times for them to be just friends. He had always sensed something between the two but had never really taken much notice of it.

The Minor helped Adros carry Dras out of the room. They set up a makeshift stretcher and ordered a group of Unggoy to get the Ship Master back into a boarding craft and back to the cruiser. The group of about five Unggoy slowly walked off all holding part of the stretcher; Adros surveyed the situation they were in. They were taking heavy casualties in all parts of the ship they were attacking, especially in the assault on the command deck. The humans weren't giving up easily, and he knew that groups of them were already escaping the ship. This mission was only a slight success, but they hadn't even been able to get any information out of the computers. The only way it had been a slight success was that they had killed quite a few humans.

A Minor approached Adros, clutching a wound that was in his side. Purple blood dripped onto the floor but he was ignoring it.

'Major, we're taking too many casualties,' the Minor croaked, coughing up some blood, 'there's no point in us staying here any longer.' He coughed again and fell forwards. Adros caught him and felt the Minor's muscles relax. Checking the Minor's pulse, he found none.

Another casualty, Adros thought. Around him Minor Sangheili and Unggoy were transporting wounded back onto boarding craft. The entire hallway was a makeshift medical bay.
Adros rested the body of the now dead Minor on the floor. He looked around at the weary troops and made his decision.

'We're moving out,' he ordered, 'gather anymore wounded and head back to your boarding craft.'

The troops nodded and the Unggoy left the room, carrying stretchers of wounded Sangheili. The Minors gathered their equipment and proceeded to leave as well.

Looking back at the corpses of the Dras Amargee's Special Operations squad, Adros was very curious to find out who killed most of them. Very curious indeed; and maybe Dras might have an idea if he made it through the rest of the day.

Jones Marshall and Heinrich Rommel had fought their way through the ship and now, in an escape pod corridor, were desperately trying to search for an un-used escape pod.

When the alarms had been raised, they had still been in the firing range. This meant they had access to all the new equipment and had only been two eager to take a powerful AK-2534 rifle each as well as an M7E Covert Silenced Pistol as well. The M7E used high calibre rounds but was fitted with a muzzle suppressor which made the weapon relatively quiet.
The ship shook again and Jones almost stumbled, putting a hand on the wall to balance himself.

'We have really got to get the hell off of this ship,' he said, standing back up, 'it's going to fall apart.'

'I don't think it'll fall apart,' Heinrich said, 'I just suggest we find an escape pod before the Captain pilots this ship into the planet's atmosphere.'

Jones looked through the locked glass and metal doors that would otherwise lead into an escape pod. There was nothing behind it but another glass and metal door leading into the blackness of space.

'They've all been taken,' Jones said, 'that's kind of obvious. What do you suggest we do now?'
Heinrich looked around the hall, not at all worried.

'We just keep looking,' he said.

They continued through the hallway and turned a corner, coming into another escape pod corridor, this one with a man in a green Colonel's uniform holding a wooden case under one arm and a bottle of whiskey in his free hand. A group of marines were fighting it out with a group of Covenant soldiers at the far end, but the man in the Colonel's uniform didn't seem to notice this. He stood drinking whiskey and crouching to avoid enemy fire every now and then.

'Is that the Colonel?' Jones asked.

'Must be,' Heinrich said, 'I think we would be better off getting into an escape pod without him.'

The Colonel saw the two of them coming and waved at them to come over.

'There's one last escape pod past those Covenant sissies!' He shouted, 'now come on!'

Jones and Heinrich exchanged glances and went over to the

Jones raised his rifle and fired at the Covenant soldiers at the end of the corridor, taking down some Grunts before some return fire made him crouch.

The ship shuddered and they felt movement. The Colonel took another swig from his whiskey bottle and looked around.

'The ship's moving,' he said, stating the obvious, 'I think we should get into that escape pod right about now.'

The marines began to move forward, finishing off the remaining Covenant soldiers. The Colonel began following them and Heinrich and Jones didn't have any other choice, following the marines to the escape pod.

Stepping inside and strapping themselves into a seat, the Colonel walked in and found there weren't any seats left. The pilot glanced behind at the passengers.

'Why don't you sit down, sir?' He asked the Colonel.

'Just get us out of here,' the Colonel said, 'I would prefer to stand, anyway.'

The doors closed and sealed shut. The main thrusters fired and the entire pod went spiralling out of the side of the ship, heading for the planet below. The Colonel clutched hold of two seats, one with each hand.

As they were flying down towards the planet, Jones managed a glance through one of the windows back at the Winter Sunshine. The ship was getting hit by torpedoes from Seraph fighters but it was gradually heading for the planet, blue-white explosions erupting from parts of the ship. It was suicidal, taking the ship down like that. The Captain must really want to see it down till the end.

Jones glanced at Heinrich, who didn't seem to be worried at all by anything that was happening around him. Jones looked at the ceiling as fire began to rush past the view-screen. They were entering the atmosphere of the planet, the entire ship shuddering and shaking all over the place. It had been one heck of a long day, but things were only just beginning, considering they would have one hell of a fight on their hands on the planet below.