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Fan Fiction

Not Exactly Human Ch. 4: Rite of Passage
Posted By: QuantumSheep<jasnash@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 12 June 2008, 3:29 am

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Unknown location outside of UNSC space, September 11th. George Golding's Mission Clock: 00:27:27.

The Pelican shook wildly as it passed through the planet's atmosphere, sweat running down George's brow as the interior warmed up.

Most of the ODSTs had removed their helmets to help with the heat. Frank was sitting opposite George and had a hand clutching one of the metal hand-holds on the ceiling. He had a rifle rested across his lap and his mind was obviously on something else, since he seemed to be staring at the floor.

George disliked being aboard Pelican drop-ships. The things were known to get shot down quite easily, especially by the Covenant. There was nothing stopping a Covenant gun emplacement on the surface firing upon them and probably blasting them out of the sky.

The ship buckled and George had to grab a hand-hold nearby to avoid being flung across the inside of the ship. He used his free hand to reach into his pocket and retrieve a packet of bubble-gum, ripping a piece out of the packet and putting it into his mouth. The fruity flavour was of some relief and he believed he looked a little more imposing while chewing it.

Frank gestured at George, obviously wanting one. George passed the packet around and once it returned there was none left. Looking at it, he raised an eyebrow.

'Y'all just a bunch of slack jawed faggots,' he said, discarding the empty wrapper onto the floor, 'you could have at least left some for me.'

Only a short while ago George had traded places with one of the more experienced ODSTs as pilot, and now that particular ODST soldier's voice came through the doorway on his left.

'We're coming down out of the planet's atmospheric cover,' the pilot said, 'I've selected a nice landing spot in a small clearing big enough to fit the Pelican.'

'What about the terrain?' George asked, 'what's it like?'

'This area's mainly jungle,' the plot replied, 'jungle that's been left to grow crazily for what looks like a long time. I suggest we get out some machetes if we're going to go through it.'

It seemed they would all be partaking in some jungle warfare at some point, considering the Covenant had a presence on the planet and would be trying to intercept them. From what George knew, the Covenant preferred to fight the humans in space since they were almost guaranteed a victory. On the ground, especially in thick jungle, George was sure they wouldn't fare all too well.

Only twelve days the battle for Reach had occurred and had ended in a definite defeat for the humans. They could very well have been the only ship to escape, although he had heard that there was a chance that the Pillar of Autumn had escaped as well. With that ship's inferior Slip-space drive, they wouldn't be coming out of Slip-space for another few days.

It seemed funny that the Winter Sunshine and all the experimental technology aboard it would end up crashing and burning into the planet. After that, it would probably be lost forever. Only twelve days ago it had finished being built; now it would crash and utterly trash itself.

The ship stopped vibrating as they descended through the atmospheric cover and down to the planet, probably a really long way up. Now they could easily be shot down if the Covenant had any gun towers in the area, but there was less chance of that happening than of them landing safely.

George looked at the others. They were exhausted from the fighting up on the Winter Sunshine but they wouldn't receive any breaks here. Setting up camp when they landed and scouting the area was the obvious way to go, and being in command, that's what George would be ordering them to do.

He un-holstered Ol' Painless and checked his ammunition supply. He only had a few rounds left, so until he found more he wouldn't be using Ol' Painless.

He checked his MA6 submachine gun's ammunition supply. He would trade it in for something else when he had the chance, considering it wasn't much of a powerful weapon.

He remembered the old revolver he had acquired back on the ship and unclipped the wooden case that contained it off of his belt. He took the weapon out, flicked open the chamber and loaded in six of the powerful .44 rounds. Flicking it shut and giving the chamber a good spin with one hand, he holstered the weapon on his belt and dumped his MA6 on the floor for now. He took out all the .44 ammunition from the case and placed it in one of his ammunition pouches that were on his belt as well.

It better be good at shooting stuff, he thought.

The others in the Pelican were checking their weapons as well. One of them opened a large hatch in the floor in front of him and revealed a rack of sharp bladed steel machetes. He started giving them out along with their holders, George clipping it onto his belt and sliding the machete into it.

Maybe if he ever got the chance, he could let a Covenant bastards taste some cold steel. Those Elites seemed to enjoy close combat, so he may very well end up cutting an Elite up with one real good.

'Are there any supplies on this Pelican?' He heard Frank ask. George looked up and glanced at the several small hatches in the walls.

'Start looking,' he said, 'I wouldn't want to starve to death in the jungle.'

Frank started opening all the hatches he could reach, finding some supplies such as packets of nutrient bars and sachets filled with fresh
water. He began to hand them around, each soldier taking some.

If it was a lush jungle they would be landing in, there was sure to be animal life, some of it edible. Some hunting may very well take place and George would be that man for the job, having hunted deer and other game before both on Earth and on Reach, where deer ran wild thanks to the early settlers who had introduced them to the planet. They didn't run wild anymore, though.

'Area scan indicates a few Covenant patrols nearby,' the pilot announced, 'that means they've probably seen us, unless the jungles too thick for them.'

More fighting, George thought. The Pelican ride had barely been a break, shaking about wildly as the ship had passed through the planet's atmosphere. Most of them were exhausted, but George was used to long periods like this without rest.

'ETA to touch-down five minutes,' the pilot said, 'get ready, people.'

'Alright,' George said, looking around at the others, 'we'll be setting up a camp in the landing zone. The fuel supply for this Pelican's gone low, so we can't fly anywhere else. There may very well be Covenant patrols, most likely small in size, coming our way so we'll get some of us to get moving up ahead and scout the area. Radio contact on encrypted channels only.'

The troops nodded and some began testing their radios. George flicked his into the appropriate channel. The plan would be simple once they were on the ground: set up a strong defensive position and get someone to scout out the area. He would prefer to be one of those scouts, having the necessary experience. The camp they set up at the landing zone would be only temporary, the Pelican leaving once it dropped them off to search for other humans and find some extra fuel.

George realized he had left his copy of A Soldier's Guide to the Jungle back on the Winter Sunshine. Some of the information in that book may very well have been useful to them, although George was sure he could remember some things. Such as how to make the many kinds of booby traps talked about in the book.

He grinned smugly as he thought to himself about planting a trip wire grenade and watching as an unsuspecting Elite triggered it off. It would make quite a mess but they were aliens, not humans, and it was always a lot easier killing something that wasn't the same species as you.

It would be like hunting deer, striking from out of what seemed to be nowhere. George could get to like jungle warfare, especially if it was against the Covenant. He was fairly sure none of the Covenant species were adapted to a jungle environment.

The ship buckled and George watched as one of the ODSTs was flung out of his seat.

'We just took a fuel rod cannon shot in the side,' the pilot announced, steadying the ship, 'we've been spotted by what seems to be a patrol a few hundred meters away from the landing zone.'

'This is it then, people!' George announced, standing up and grabbing a hand-hold in the ceiling, 'as soon as we're out on the ground, I want two mounted guns set up and a portable kitchen set up as well. I feel like some eggs.'

It was his duty to rally the exhausted troops he was stuck with. Frank didn't seem very exhausted, but knowing that guy he was too eager to start killing things to bother with exhaustion.

George felt the Pelican begin to descend, the familiar sound of the auxiliary thrusters firing which had a quiet, whirring noise. He held his Magnum in his right hand while his left clutched the hand-hold.

The Pelican stopped moving and the rear ramp opened up, opening out into a small clearing with long, thick grass and shrubs. They were atop a small hill which looked down onto a thick jungle canopy, native bird-life visible flying over the canopy. It was about dusk on this part of the planet and stars were gradually appearing.

Even from atop the hill George could see a large, temple-like structure in the distance, built into a hill. It was at the farthest reaches of his vision but would be the better place to go to.

'Okay, go, go, go!' George shouted. The ODSTs began rushing down the ramp and out onto the top of the hill. Frank was the last of before George himself ran off.

There were no enemies in sight, and now that he had a full degree of vision of the area, he could already make out more structures on the horizon. This area was filled with them, and they definitely weren't Covenant.

Most Covenant structures had the blue and/or purple metal the aliens favoured. These ones were greyer and from what he could see, had highly detailed architecture to them.

'Area's clear!' Someone shouted.

Glancing around, the area was indeed clear. Two ODSTs went back onto the Pelican and retrieved the needed equipment, throwing the metal crates out of the Pelican and then stepping out themselves.

As the Pelican lifted off and the scent of its fuel faded away, George could smell the immense abundance of plant life, the scents of the flowers and the grass, the feel of the air which was high in oxygen.
The area had a tranquil feel, and the little shiny water stream at the base of the hill added to that feeling.

The pair of ODSTs who had taken the crates out of the Pelican had already opened them and had begun setting up a defensive perimeter, digging holes and surrounding them with sand-bags. One of them began setting up a portable kitchen, consisting of a battery powered stove and table.

George turned to Frank, who was standing nearby, looking out over the jungle.
'Frank, you and I will do some scouting in the next ten minutes,' George said, 'right now I'm hungry.'

He stepped over to the stove and found a carton of eggs stored in one of the crates in a hard case so they wouldn't get damaged. For one, they were better than the crappy military stuff and another thing was that it was hard enough to find them in the UNSC. Eggs were more a civilian food.

George took out a pair of them and switched on the stove, which heated up in a few seconds. He cracked the two eggs on the side of the stove and paired the yolk and whites into the stove. Once they were done, which only took a few seconds, he took a plastic plate from one of the crates and placed the cooked eggs on it.

'Where did you get those?' Frank asked as George came back from the stove, 'you can't exactly find that kind of food in a Pelican all the time.'

'There's always a carton stored in with the stove,' George said, 'I know this from experience. It lets the soldiers have one or two decent meals before they have to rely on military rations.'

'I didn't know that…'

'Now you do,' George said, finishing off the two eggs and throwing the plate back into the crate. The other ODSTs were also making their own food, and considering it was about five o'clock, it may as well have been their dinner.

George snatched a pair of binoculars from Frank, who had been using them, and zoomed in onto the jungle below. There was nothing of interest, but as he stated scanning the structure on the distant hill, he noticed that there were several visible Covenant Ghost vehicles parked outside of the structure. Zooming in and switching on thermal vision, several Covenant troops were easily spotted amongst the vehicles, glowing orange thanks to the thermal view mode.

'That, Lieutenant, is where we should be heading,' George said, giving the binoculars back to Frank, 'that Covenant camp is in a strategically important piece of land. We could use that very structure as a base of operations.'

'Are we still going to scout the area?' Frank asked, 'that was the original plan, right?'

'Screw scouting,' George said, 'once everyone's ready, we're heading straight for that structure.'

'Well, more things to kill,' Frank said, 'we'll get moving in the next ten minutes, I think.'

Frank walked over to the other ODSTs. George stood looking out onto the jungle. This place was an un-spoilt paradise, sparsely populated by Covenant forces. It would be a shame to see it all end up a battle-scarred wasteland, but that's would could very well happen. All they had to do was find a way to communicate to the rest of the UNSC fleet and take control of this world.

If the Covenant had bases amongst the ancient-looking structures, this world was obviously important to them. Making them lose control of it would be a crippling blow to them, and humanity needed a victory after what happened at Reach.

Now that Reach was gone, it wouldn't be long before the Covenant swept through what was left of the Inner Colonies and head straight for Earth. At least that was the most likely thing to happen.

Here, they could at least make some sort of a stand. George looked up at the dusk sky and noticed a large white light slowly moving across his view. That had to be the Winter Sunshine beginning its descent, since there was nothing left to do on that ship except escape to the planet. The Captain was brave, but a tad suicidal, deciding to stay on the ship as it came down. He could at least use an escape pod to get off of the ship, but it seemed that the Captain was taking the old saying seriously. 'A Captain always goes down with his ship.' Heck, if George was a Captain he would have escaped at the first sign of trouble.

George scratched at his moustache and noticed some movement in the shrubs ahead. He took out his Magnum revolver and went to take a closer look.

There was no wind, so it couldn't be that. Everything in the jungle except for the birds flying in circles above it was still. The stream nearby obviously wasn't, but otherwise there should be no self-moving trees.

As he neared the bush, it moved again and he caught a glimpse of something metallic. He raised his Magnum and shot three times into the bush, the shots ringing out loudly throughout the valley. Birds in nearby trees fluttered away in fright noisily and he realized he had probably alerted every Covenant soldier in the area to their presence.

The ODSTs behind him looked at him strangely. Frank walked over, his rifle at the ready.

'What is it?' Frank asked, coming up behind him.

George knew there was something in those bushes, so he put a finger to his mouth to represent silence and slowly began to creep forwards, revolver at the ready.

When he came to the bush, he moved part of it out of the way. Lying dead behind it was a single orange armoured Grunt armed with a Plasma Pistol, three holes in the front of its body. So the Covenant were already coming to them, George thought. They would have to leave now to avoid being surrounded.

He turned to Frank and the other ODSTs.

'Pack up everything and only take the essentials!' George ordered, 'the Covenant's already coming to us! We have to leave, now!'

The ODSTs picked up their weapons and didn't bother to pack up the portable stove. The sand bags were left alone as well and the group gathered behind George.

George took one last look at the area. They would have more cover in the jungle, so he waved the group forwards.

'Down into the jungle, stick close and follow me!' He ordered, beginning to jog down the hill.

He suddenly felt his right foot get caught on something and was sent flying forwards, landing in some wet ferns and hitting his shoulder against a small log.

Ignoring the pain, he got up and found himself standing underneath the jungle canopy. Looking up, thin streams of sunlight filtered through the thick canopy. If it weren't for those streams of sunlight, the entire place may as well have been entirely dark.

Behind him, he could hear the footsteps of the other ODSTs. They obviously hadn't noticed him tripping over.

Seeing that the Magnum revolver was still in his hand, George shrugged off the pain in his shoulder and scanned the area in front.
Thick shrubs and bushes were practically all around, thick tree trunks completely flanked by the smaller plants. The ground was slightly spongy and wet and when George looked down he saw what appeared to be a green and long caterpillar scurrying away from him along a leaf.

There weren't a lot of natural jungles like this left on Earth unless you counted the nature preservations which had been built once
pollution levels had started to decrease a few hundred years ago.

George could learn to like this place. It was an almost un-spoilt paradise. All you had to do was clean it out, in this case cleaning out the Covenant.

He looked behind and saw Frank and the other ODSTs coming up behind him, looking around with their rifles at the ready. He nodded to Frank. The area was clear, at least, that's what he could gather. Anything could be hiding amongst this thick, lush jungle.

George turned to look at Frank, who was standing a few meters away.

'Have we got any thermal gear?' George asked, 'like goggles? Otherwise we could be snuck up on by these Covenant bastards from the bushes.'

'The ODST armour has thermal view,' Frank said, 'but we don't have anything else like it.'

'Right, then,' George said, looking at the other ODSTs, 'if you see anything strange, shout out. We have a bit of a walk ahead of us, men.'

George started on through the jungle, pushing shrubs and bushes out of his way. The others followed, everyone walking at steady pace to traverse the thick jungle and tricky terrain.

Native insects buzzed around, obviously curious as to why there was a new species wandering about the jungle. George suddenly felt a slight sting on the side of his neck and managed to flatten the large mosquito that had started to bite him. From what was left of it, which was flattened across the palm of his hand, they were yellow with orange stripes and were larger than most George had seen.

George hated bugs that could bite and the fact that this was a jungle that was probably filled with them didn't help matters either. He made a mental note to himself to find some bug repellent sometime later.

He wiped what was left of the mosquito on a nearby leaf from a large palm bush and continued on through the jungle. The others followed in a spread out formation, so if one of them was gunned down from a hidden enemy, everyone else would know where the shot had come from and could act quickly enough so that hopefully no one else would get hurt.

George looked down at the wet, spongy ground and noticed a faint trace in the mud. Bending over, he took a closer look. This was definitely the hoof print of an Elite, and they continued along the same path as the ODSTs. Two pairs of smaller prints were nearby, obviously Grunts.

George held up one hand so the others stopped. Having experience from tracking game while hunting, George noticed the prints headed off into some nearby bushes. Following them along quietly, they went to the small stream. As soon as passed through the shrubs, he saw a crimson armoured Major Elite and a pair of Grunts standing by the stream.
The Elite seemed to be filling up some sort of container with the water while one of the Grunts was holding a large, purple Fuel Rod Cannon. It was obviously the Grunt that had tried to shoot them down earlier, unless there were more in the area.

George headed back to where the others were and signalled to them silently to take the right flank. He would be going in on the left and probably wouldn't need their help, although someone would have to take down the Grunts while he took care of the single Elite. There may very well be more in the area, but they had the advantage of surprise.
He snuck back through the bushes and found the Elite drinking from the container, his back turned. At least, he was sure it was male.

George snuck up a bit closer and ducked behind some shrubs when the Grunt with the Fuel Rod Cannon glanced in his general direction. George remained still, daring not too move. He slowed his breathing and stared the Grunt right in the eyes, but it didn't seem to notice him. This was good, considering a well fired Fuel Rod Cannon shot could blow him to pieces and leave nothing but a black smudge on the ground.

The Grunt turned back around and so George crept around the bushes and raised the Magnum .44 revolver. He got the Elite in his sights and noticed movement in the bushes down the stream a little. The ODSTs had taken position.

George had three bullets left in the Magnum, which should be enough, but he reloaded the weapon anyway, hoping the noises it made weren't noticeable. The sound of the water stream seemed to drown the noises of the Magnum out.
He raised it again and fired at the Elite, the shot ringing out throughout the jungle. It hadn't had its personal shield on so the bullet pierced the armour on its back and spurted out dark purple blood. It fell forwards and landed into the shallow stream, getting swept down a few meters before stopping against some rocks.

The ODSTs opened fire and mowed down the pair of Grunts which had only just started to react.

The fight was over as quickly as it had started, so George placed a fresh round in place of the one he just fired into his Magnum. He stepped out of the bushes and walked over to the alien corpses. Stepping over to the Elite's corpse, he checked the body for anything useful and took the water canteen which was still clutched in the alien's right hand.
A Plasma Rifle was holstered on some of the armour covering the right leg, so George took it off and then kicked the Elite's body so it gradually began to flow down the stream.
Frank and the ODSTs came out of hiding and walked over to him. George unscrewed the cap on the blue Covenant water canteen and sniffed the contents. Nothing seemed to be wrong with it, so he took a gulp from it and handed it to Frank. The others had their own, which they were now filling up.

George looked at the Plasma Rifle he had acquired from the corpse of the Elite. It was a complicated looking weapon, but the basis of it was clear: it fired energy of some sort at a rapid rate and tended to overheat if you fired it for too long. There was apparently no way to charge energy pack, so once it was out of power you had to dump the weapon. This could be quite inconvenient, but George preferred the firepower anyway. It seemed far more effective on the Covenant than your basic human rifle.

George started following the stream, which seemed to be taking them in the general direction of the structure. He noticed that the medic, Alan, seemed to be holding up fairly well, a change from what he had been like back on the Winter Sunshine.

George didn't notice anymore tracks left by the Covenant, which was a good sign. Maybe the three they had killed only minutes before had been the only patrol in the area.

The structure which was under obvious Covenant control would make a good base of operations, if they could take it. There seemed to be a heck of a lot of Wraith tanks at the structure, at least from what George had seen through the binoculars earlier.

Time passed and they were eventually able to witness the large shape of the Winter Sunshine, a mere orange streak in the sky, go thundering through the high-up clouds and disappear out of sight. Several smaller streaks followed, obviously escape pods.

'Wow,' Alan said, watching the spectacle, 'I wonder if the Captain's alright?'

'Knowing him, he will be,' George said, 'but that's not our problem right now. Our problem is the structure not too far from here. We take that and we'll have ourselves a nice looking base.'

The jungle undergrowth started to get a bit thicker and so George and the others whipped out their machetes and began to cut away anything that was too hard to move out of the way, such as thick branches from small shrubs and leaves that hung down and tended to get into one's face and otherwise be a major irritation.

As they began to near the structure, George began to notice more Covenant tracks. Covenant soldiers had been through here quite recently, on their normal patrols and making sure the area was clear of enemies.

They could take out each patrol covertly, not all patrols obviously, but only the ones they encountered. There was a chance that they could arouse suspicion and thus have Wraith tanks coming after them, although the jungle may very well be too thick for the bulky vehicles.

As George was summing up his options, he noticed that the ground cleared out up ahead, the stumps of burnt away trees visible in a clearing covered with thick undergrowth. The Covenant had begun deforesting the jungle around the structure, obviously in a bid to make ground forces more visible.

This could give any vehicle the chance they needed to attack, and that meant that George and the ODSTs could end up fighting Wraith tanks. He had no idea how big the force of Covenant soldiers stationed in and around the structure was, but he was sure they were outnumbered and outgunned. They would have to use more covert tactics.

'There's something up ahead,' an ODST said, stepping up behind George, 'I can see it.'

George took a look through the undergrowth ahead. He couldn't make out anything.

'What do you see?' George asked the ODST, 'is it Covenant?'

'I'm on thermal vision,' the ODST said, 'and I can see part of what looks like a group of enemies…I can't make out much through all the undergrowth, though.'

George had to be sure, so he stepped over to the undergrowth and cut some of it away. He was lucky enough to notice the glowing blue-white plasma grenade land on the palm plant to his left.

'Holy shit!' An ODST behind him shouted.

George dived off to the right, landing in the damp spongy dirt. The grenade went off behind him. He felt its heat on his back and managed a glance back to find all the plant life in the blast radius had just burnt away, leaving undergrowth half scorched. A hail of plasma fire came from all around and George realized it was an ambush.

To state the obvious, Alan shouted out, 'Ambush!'

Now that the Covenant knew they were there, they would be better off heading for the structure now and killing every Covenant soldier they found.

George got up and spotted an orange armoured Grunt off to his left. He raised the Plasma Rifle and fired, blue blasts blowing holes into the Grunt's side before it had a chance to fire back.

Frank and the others had scattered around the area, some taking cover behind trees. The enemy seemed to be all around, plasma fire coming from all directions. George spotted a pair of blue armoured Minor Elites coming down the way George and the others had entered the area from.

He fired the plasma rifle at them, the plasma eating away at the pair of Elite's personal shields. After cutting down the two Elites, he crouched behind a nearby log and began to lay down suppressing fire on the trees ahead as Grunts tried to break into the group of humans.

The entire area was a cacophony of weapons fire. One of the ODSTs set up a mounted gun which he had been carrying around with him and started riddling the trees ahead with bullets, ripping off splinters of woods and cutting down some Grunts and Elites.

The groups of enemies began to lull and George waved forwards towards the deforested area.

'That's where we're going!' He shouted, 'don't you guys go all soft now!'

He started up the short slope which cut through some undergrowth, running into a Grunt. The little alien raised its Plasma Pistol but George swung with the Plasma Rifle and caved in the alien's skull.

He kicked the corpse down the short slope and then took out his machete, cutting away at the thick branches and fronds that got in his way.

On the deforested clearing, a large, metallic purple Wraith tank hovered at the far side. The ancient structure was up the hill only a few meters away. A large open courtyard looked out from the structure over the jungle, which would be the perfect place for a Pelican landing zone.

George glanced behind him and saw Frank, Alan and the ODSTs making their way over to him.

The ODST at the mounted gun was still firing away at some enemies coming from his right. He cut down a few Grunts before dismounting the weapon and putting it over one shoulder. He started to run towards the group but a Minor Elite jumped out from some nearby bushes and used its Plasma Rifle to club him across the head.

George swivelled around on his spot and blasted the Elite with a volley of plasma rifle fire. The Elite stumbled backwards and went rolling down the slope, very little chance of it getting up again

George watched this occur with some satisfaction before the ground he stood on shook and a blue-white explosion filled one side of his vision. The force of it knocked him over but otherwise left him unscathed.

The Wraith was firing, its plasma mortar launching a large, blue-white ball of spiralling plasma energy high into the air. The mortar blast went over the clearing and landed about seven meters from George. A shockwave went out from the base of the explosion and a two meter wide smouldering crater was left in the ground.

George looked at the others, who were scattering out across the clearing. A group of Grunts was nearby and were the first to cop the combined fire from the human troops, being cut down in a hail of bullets.

'I need an M19,' George said, 'take that bastard out!' He ducked as another mortar swirled overhead and scorched away most of the trees behind them.

The deforested clearing had been purposely made so any ground troops would be easy targets. The entire area within a one hundred kilometre radius from the hill had been cleared, and looking up at the courtyard balcony which went around the structure, he could see the faint figures of what appeared to be the bird-like Jackals with sniper weapons at the ready.

One of the ODSTs came running over holding an M19 SSM rocket launcher, nicknamed the 'Jackhammer' due to its appearance. It was double-barrelled and held two 105mm high explosive rockets at a time.

'Here you are, sir,' the ODST said, 'We only have four rockets for it, though.'

George holstered his Plasma Rifle and took the Jackhammer launcher.

'Just keep that Wraith distracted,' he said, 'I'll sneak around to the right flank.'

He started through the clearing, which was devoid of trees but still had its share of undergrowth. Moving from cluster of undergrowth to cluster of undergrowth, he managed to avoid being sniped by the Jackals at the balcony and also managed to avoid being noticed by the Wraith.

He came to within seventy meters of the Wraith according to the range-finder in the rocket launcher's scope. Zooming in as far as the scope could and swearing to himself when he realized this was one of the earlier models which didn't come with a lock-on system, he fired, the rocket's recoil knocking it both backwards and upwards at the same time.

The rocket stayed on target and the Wraith pilot obviously didn't see it coming since it impacted into the side of the tank and sent it backwards a few meters, blasting away the armour plating on the damaged side.

George proceeded to aim again but the Wraith turned around and fired in his direction. George lowered the rocket launcher and sprinted off to his right, diving in amongst some undergrowth as pink beam rifle shots whizzed past. These were from the snipers, which they would have to take care of soon enough.

He stayed prone for a few seconds as the Wraith fired again, the mortar landing only a few meters away. As the heat from the explosion died down, he crouched up and got the Wraith in his sights. There was a chance it would move out of the way, though.

He fired anyway, the rocket speeding through the air, leaving a brown-ish contrail. The Wraith didn't have time to move, the rocket slamming straight into the already damaged area.

There was a blue, fiery explosion as the top of the Wraith blew apart, purple-black metal flying out across the clearing. The corpse of a Minor Elite came flying out, charred and still burning from the energy explosion.

George glanced over at the ODSTs, who had seen the
destruction of the Wraith tank and were moving out into the clearing.

'There are snipers up on that balcony!' George shouted, 'Take them down!'

One of the ODSTs had an S2-AM sniper rifle and managed to fire three shots at the snipers, gunning a few of the Jackals down before a pink beam rifle shot blasted a hole in his armour's face-plate. George shook his head and made his way over to the group of ODSTs.

There were a few parked Wraith tanks at the base of the hill, underneath the shade of the large courtyard balcony. A few Elites and Grunts were starting to come out of the large doorways at the base of the structure.

It would be a stupid idea to let any get into the Wraith tanks, so George picked up the dead ODST's rifle and loaded a fresh magazine into it. The weapon only held four rounds, but George had worked with single shot rifles before so this should be a piece of cake.

He zoomed in with the scope on one of the Jackals. Jackal snipers never carried energy shields around with them, so he didn't have to work his shot through the shield's gaps. All he had to do was aim and shoot.

He was almost put off by the pink beam rifle shot that breezed past the right side of his head. He took a deep breath and fired three shots, each one hitting a Jackal and taking it down. That was all the snipers taken care of, so he moved his sights down across the deforested clearing and at the Elites and Grunts preparing to commandeer the Wraith tanks.

He zoomed in on a Minor Elite, fired and blasted a large hole in the alien's skull. He waved his troops forward and loaded a fresh magazine into the rifle.

Zooming in, he gunned down the last two Elites that were in the Wraith tank area before moving forward himself. The ODSTs were firing their rifles at the distant Grunts in the Wraith tank area before they themselves were actually there.

At the base of the hill, where the structure started, were several entrances, all leading into the one massive room with stairs and strange geometrical patterns engraved on the walls and floors. The architecture was sleek and refined, mostly a grey metal and stone composite.

Entering the structure, a group of Elites and Grunts were up at the top of the room which sloped upwards, stair wells there to aid anybody who wanted to get right up to the top.

There was plenty of cover, resulting from the design of the room which incorporated many seemingly pointless parts of the walls jutting out more than the others. It was as if this place had been built by somebody who enjoyed making majestic looking structures and wasting their time building seemingly pointless things, such as the short columns with flat lights in the top of them that were set up around the base of the room.

George ducked behind one of the stone columns, Frank, Alan and the ODSTs scattering around the room and peppering the enemies at the top with combined rifle fire. He wondered how much ammunition they had left, since it was as if they hadn't stopped firing those weapons since they landed on the planet.

During the pandemonium, George switched on his radio and attempted to get in contact with any other humans who may have escaped to the planet. There would be plenty of others, but they may be in battles of their own.

'Does anyone read me, over?' He said, trying to get his voice over the noise, 'this is Major George Golding from the Winter Sunshine and we're attempting to take a structure that could very well serve as a UNSC base of operations. Just trace this signal to find it.' He set the message on loop, so it continuously looped on all frequencies. He put his radio away and leaned around the short stone column, his Plasma Rifle at the ready.

Some of the Grunts and Elites were lying dead and Frank, Alan and the ODSTs were gradually moving up the room.
George got an Elite in his sights and let forth with a volley of plasma fire, having to stop the shooting when the rifle overheated in his hands and became intensely hot. He let the thing cool down, blue-white waste energy flowing out of the weapon. The Elite, whose shield had drained, had taken cover behind a part of the wall that came out in a ring which covered the entirety of the room.

George resumed firing once the plasma rifle had recovered from overheating. The Elite leaned out from around cover and fired back, but was unlucky enough to get a plasma rifle shot in the neck. It fell backwards and slumped against the wall.

George got out from cover and started up the sloped room, gunning down any Grunts he encountered as he went. Coming to the top, there were two doors at both the left and right side walls. Frank, Alan and the ODSTs seemed to be at the right-hand door so George walked over to them.

As he approached, Frank turned around.

'The door ain't opening,' he said, 'there's some sort of holographic control panel near it but I'll be damned if I knew how to work it.'

George took a look at the stone/metal door and then at the small holographic control panel on the wall to the door's left. He approached it and keyed in a few random 'button's, although being holographic, there wasn't much in the way of buttons. More like 'keys'.

Suddenly, the door opened into a long, grey-stone corridor with some sort of plexi-glass as its flooring.

Frank walked over to him with a mixed look of surprise and slight disbelief on his face.

'How did you do that?' He asked.

'To be honest, son,' George said, 'I have no idea.'

That was the truth on George's part. It's as if he just knew how to use the panel, although he wasn't entirely sure if this was the case or if it was just a bunch of lucky guesses.

They went into the corridor and followed it along to a large door with red lights on towards its centre. A group of stationary shields had been set up and a few Grunts stood guard. Easily taken care of, George and the squad made their way over to the door. Another holographic panel was in the wall, so George used his gut feeling to work it and quite luckily the door opened.

Behind it was a massive room with about three high levels. Above them were walkways and other things typical of the structure's design such as more of the short columns. White lights were in the floor providing illumination as well as a large skylight in the ceiling.

Elites and Grunts were scattered around the room, some on the walkways above. Upon entering, a hail of plasma fire began raining down in and around the human group.

George dived behind a stone column as the others found cover as well. He leaned around it and scanned the enemy positions. There were quite a few Grunts on the walkways above, so he went for them first, cutting a few of them down with his Plasma Rifle. While he was doing this, he didn't notice the Minor Elite that came up behind him.

Feeling the wind completely knocked out of him, he stumbled forwards. Turning around, he saw the Elite and now it had raised its rifle, pointing it at George's head. Before it got a chance to fire, it was peppered with rifle fire from the ODSTs. It snarled angrily and returned fire, but its shield failed and several bullets hit it in the chest, penetrating its armour and spilling dark purple blood.

George got up and kicked the Elite's corpse away. He gunned down a few more Grunts that were up on the walkways before taking out a fragmentation grenade, pulling out the pin and throwing it towards a group of Grunts and a single Minor Elite.

The Elite managed to get out of the way the fastest, the grenade detonating and sending the bodies of the unfortunate Grunts flying about the room like stumpy rag-dolls.

The ODSTs began to press forward, mowing down the Grunts up ahead. Ramps went up to the next level and George came out of cover and started up them. Stairs didn't seem to be all too common in this structure; smooth ramps were preferred by the looks of things.

Passing a corner on the second level, George entered a medium sized room where Covenant uplink crates had been set up. These crates had screen and pretty much everything you needed to communicate on the Covenant signals. A few Elites were standing in the room, weapons at the ready thanks to all the noise that was being made out in the other room.

George began firing his Plasma Rifle, cutting down a Minor Elite before the other Minor Elite in the room returned fire. George stepped behind a crate and leaned around it.
The Elite had done the same, leaning around its cover and firing bat George.

The blasts merely dissipated on the crate's metal, so he took out another grenade, armed it and rolled it towards the Elite's crate. It detonated and sent the crate and the Elite flying across to the far side of the room.

Frank, Alan and the ODSTs had come in. George pointed them in the direction of a sort of stair-well leading up to the next level, except it didn't have steps but rather was more of a ramp. He started up it, finding a Grunt standing on the landing halfway up to the next level.

George whacked the Grunt in the face, knocking it off the stairwell and letting it fall to the ground and probably get killed, although he wasn't sure. Nevertheless, it didn't really matter and he and the others continued up to the next floor.

Coming into what appeared to be another medium sized room where some Covenant made furniture had been set up. An Elite had sat down on an alien chair and seemed surprised when the humans entered. George just shot the alien in the skull considering it hadn't activated its personal shield.

Continuing into a large room overlooking the ground floor room, this level went out onto the wide, open courtyard that looked out above the jungle. A horse-shoe shaped Covenant drop-ship was parked on it, and making some quick calculations in his head, George reckoned that the courtyard was big enough to hold five Pelican drop-ships and still have room for personnel and maintenance crew equipment.

This level seemed to have yet even more Covenant troops on it, Jackals coming down the stairs on both sides of the room, activating their shield gauntlets and making it very easy to see them thanks to their orange and yellow energy shields. A few Elites were scattered around and George felt every alien weapon in the room get trained onto his squad.

'Scatter!' He shouted, diving off to one side. He went sliding across the floor, Plasma Rifle firing as he went. He cut down a few of the Jackals before coming to a stop behind a short stone column. He got up, glanced at the others who had scattered and taken cover, and then cut down a pair of Grunts which were trying to come up alongside his cover.

He fired at a group of Jackals who had created a line of shields to make a stronger formation. George, taking out his last fragmentation grenade, armed it and threw it so it looped up into the air and landed just behind the formation.

The Jackals scattered but weren't quick enough, all five of them being blow away by the grenade's detonation. Their shields switched off as soon as they died and a corpse landed close to George. He ignored it and so continued along the room and outside into the courtyard.

The Covenant drop-ship was just taking off, its main turret firing in his direction. George easily moved out of the way of the slow moving pink-purple plasma blasts. The drop-ship took off and flew off of the open courtyard and out of view, hardly making a sound.

The courtyard was pretty much devoid of life, so George went back inside and went up the stairs to the third and highest level in the structure.

He came into a fairly open wall, small water falls coming down from the ceiling and falling against the back wall, landing in a large rectangular pool. Standing by it was an Elite in armor shaded a dark mix of purple and violet. It was obviously a more bad-ass Special Operations Elite and seemed to be in charge of the forces in and around the structure.

George raised his Plasma Rifle and opened fire. The Elite rolled out of the way and opened fire with the long, rifle-looking Covenant Carbine that had been slung over its back.
The single shot it fired connected with the Plasma Rifle in George's hands and set it flying out of them, now a useless piece of junk with a hole running through its center.

'Crap!' George exclaimed. He went to grab his Magnum revolver, but he had a feeling it would meet the same fate as his Plasma Rifle did, so he took his hand away from the weapon and tried to think of something quickly.

He suddenly remembered he still had his machete on him. Sliding it out of its holder, he held it up, making sure it glinted in the sunlight streaming through the windowless holes in the wall.

'Come get me, ugly!' George exclaimed, holding the machete up menacingly. He wasn't entirely sure on how to actually use the weapon in a fight, though. He doubted the Elite would bother fighting him hand-to-hand, anyway.

He was surprised when the Elite stood up and dropped its Carbine. Most people in the military did know how Elites had an over-inflated sense of honour, so it shouldn't have been much of a surprise when it took out a small, metallic cylindrical object and the two pronged glowing blade of an energy sword appeared from it.

George was beginning to feel uncertain about what he had just got himself into. The machete wouldn't be much of a match to the energy sword, but maybe he could take out his Magnum while the Elite was too busy trying to fight him.

'Come on ugly,' George said, 'you chicken?'

The Elite obviously didn't care much for what he said, but the alien rushed him anyway, charging with the energy sword drawn. George side-stepped out of the way but the Elite was quicker and done one, smooth back-hand movement with the sword as he went past, the sword slicing through the metal of the machete and leaving George with only half a blade.

He swore, throwing the machete away and pacing back a bit. The Elite turned around and seemed to be smiling with its mandibles, but you could never really tell.

George went to reach for his Magnum but thought against it. He needed the perfect opportunity to do it, and now obviously wasn't the right time.

The Elite came at him again and George narrowly avoided having the sword plunged through his chest, diving and rolling out of the way. As he dived, he kicked with both legs and got the Elite in the stomach, making it stumble back only briefly before it recovered.

George went sliding along the smooth floor and into the pool of water. He clambered out and got up, the Elite coming at him once more. This time, George went off to one side of its sword arm and grabbed the arm, bending it at an awkward angle and hearing a few loud snapping sounds as bones broke.

George had trained hard for most of his life, which distinguished him from other marines for being considerably stronger. This Elite was a heck of a lot stronger than he was, but George knew where most of its weak spots would be and bending an arm at an awkward angle often resulted in broken bones.

The Elite roared in pain but still managed to knock George off his feet, sending him sliding across the floor for a few meters. Recovering, he jumped back up.

'That hurt, didn't it?' George asked, hoping the Elite could understand him; otherwise there wouldn't be much point to saying anything to the alien.

The Elite's right arm hung limp now, but its left arm was still fine, as well as the rest of its body. It picked up the energy sword with its left arm and roared angrily. George didn't move an inch, although he did start to reach for his Magnum.

Before he could, the Elite started to close in, not fast like the other time but more cautious, probably because it knew what George could do to it. George kept looking into the alien's eyes, knowing that the moment he stopped looking the Elite would rush him.

This gave him the chance to un-holster his Magnum. Upon seeing this, the Elite charged at him, knocking George over and sending the weapon sliding across the floor and well out of reach.

'Shit!' George exclaimed, getting up. The Elite was already up and was advancing on George, totally ignoring its broken arm. If George's eyes were working properly, and he was sure they were, then he could see a part of a bone jutting out in a gap in the Elite's armor. Purple blood was dripping out. How the alien managed to do anything with an injury like that was beyond him.

George stepped back, trying to get as close to the revolver as possible. There was some Covenant furniture set up in the center o the room, including what appeared to be a Covenant desk. He jumped on top of it and rolled off the side, landing on his feet and turning his back on the Elite.
Where was everyone else? He could use Frank's help right about now, but the ODSTs were probably busy in some other part of the structure.

He glanced around and saw the Elite pacing towards him, pushing the desk out of the way and carelessly knocking the objects that lay on top of it onto the floor. Glass Covenant data-pads smashed into minute pieces on the smooth, intricately designed floor. George realized that information on those pads could have come in handy.

He was only a few meters from where the Magnum revolver lay, but the Elite was pacing towards him quite quickly, the energy sword in its left hand held up in a position which looked like it was ready to be swung.

The desk was still close by and George had a sudden brain-wave. The desk certainly wasn't bolted into the floor, so he grabbed it, dragged it towards him and before the Elite could react he pushed it with all his strength towards the Elite.

It slid along the floor and made contact with the Elite's legs, totally bowling the alien over. The Elite fell over the top of the desk and flat onto its chest, the fail-safes in the energy sword activating and destroying the weapon as it flew out of the alien's left hand. The desk quit moving and the Elite howled in agony, unable to move its legs at all.

'How lucky was that?' George said, casually walking over to where the Magnum revolver lay and picking it up. He checked to see if it was loaded (it was) and he strolled over to the Elite, standing in front of the alien.

Both of the Elite's legs were broken by what George could tell and it lay there, looking up at him and pushing itself up with its one good arm. It looked into George's eyes without a hint of fear. These damn aliens weren't afraid to die.

'You put up a good fight, ugly,' George said, clicking back the hammer on the revolver with one thumb, 'but you didn't bet on a bit of improvisation on my part, did you?'

George grinned. Prolonging the agony on an enemy was always better than just shooting that enemy. What was more frightening than getting shot was the fact that you were going to get shot.

He realized that he had been chewing gum all this time and so spat it out, the blob of the sticky substance landing near the Elite.

'Are you going to say anything, or can't ya speak English?' George asked. He pointed the Magnum straight at the Elite's head. The alien attempted to get up, but let out a gasp of pain when it tried to move its legs.

George was spending way too long pondering on whether to kill the alien, but he guessed if the Elite didn't like it he should keep doing it.

The Elite muttered something in its guttural, deep, warbling tongue. George tightened his grip on the Magnum's trigger.

'Aren't you going to kill me, cowardly human?' The Elite said, its deep voice sounding a bit forced due to the language.

'Oh, so you can understand me,' George said. He pulled the trigger on the Magnum and a spurt of dark purple blood splattered across his sleeve and part of his jacket. The Elite's body fell flat onto the floor.

As this happened, Frank, Allan and the ODSTs ran into the room. George looked out them, rolling his eyes at the time they had decided to arrive.

'Where were you people?' George asked, lowering the Magnum, 'I could have used some help.'

'We were busy clearing out the place,' Frank said, 'you look like you took care of yourself, though. Is that a Spec Ops Elite?'

George looked at the corpse of the Elite and then back at the others.

'It is, Lieutenant,' George said, grinning, 'and I killed him.'

'What now, sir?' Alan asked, 'are we just going to leave?'

'No,' George said, turning around and stepping over to one of the windows. He looked out at the jungle and vibrant landscape. 'This will be our base of operations. I want you guys to start setting up communications equipment and defensive measures. I want every surviving human from the Winter Sunshine to use this structure as the base of operations. I also want someone to do an autopsy on that corpse over there.'

He turned around and pointed a finger at the Special Operations Elite's corpse.

'An autopsy?' Alan asked, 'why?'

'So we can work out something that hurt the bastards,' George said, 'the more you know your enemy, the more of an advantage you have. But first, I want more personnel here. I'm calling this place "Camp Golding", because I'm the most important person here.' He laughed at his little joke, but he was sure the name would stick.

Captain Bob Turnwell stood confidently on the bridge of the Winter Sunshine, music playing and his four loyal bridge crew members sitting at their stations, working frantically to set the ship on a suitable course for the planet.

According to what Steve had told him, they would go around the planet twice at high speeds, gradually descending before they came crashing down in an area near the continent that Bob had ordered everyone to attempt to land on.

This meant they could either end up landing in water and hopefully get to one of the ships specially designed for when that happened or they landed on islands. Bob hoped that they landed on islands, since at least they would have some land to run around on and hopefully set up a camp before organizing something more permanent.

The ship was large enough to survive a crash, although he didn't know what it would feel like if you were aboard the ship. Probably be sickening, but a Captain always goes down with his ship. And if you happened to survive going down with the ship, that particular Captain was free to do as he pleased.

Bob glanced around the bridge. The red lights were still flashing from the alarms that had been set off earlier. The smell of smoke was all throughout this part of the ship, having taken hits from Covenant Seraph fighters. The ship was holding up pretty well considering the damage it had taken, which was even better for Bob and his four crewmen. No good going down with your ship if it couldn't survive going down anyway.

'We've made one orbit around the planet already, sir,' Steve said, 'our altitude is slowly decreasing and we're heading along the right course.'

'That's good, Ensign,' Bob said, 'keep it that way.'

'There's still some Covenant forces on the ship,' Malcolm said, 'but every other human apart from us that hasn't been killed has left.'

That was good. Everyone who had survived to go down to the planet had gone. No other human being apart from Bob and the four crewmen was left on the ship. That meant on the planet the human forces could make a formidable resistance to the Covenant. Bob grinned. Things were actually going right for once.

Bob began to think about home, which had been Reach for the past year and a half. He had been married, his wife living in San Francisco on Earth. God only knew what she got up to when he was away, and there was the fact that Bob may not ever see her again.

War did this to people, tearing families apart and destroying friendships. But Bob had a duty, and that duty was to fight the Covenant no matter what was happening to him. He was sure they could it one place at a time. This planet was a sure fire first place to start.

'Captain, should we eject the supply cargoes?' Ensign Turner asked, 'that way any of our guys down there might be able to salvage them.'

Bob thought about this for a moment.

'No, we'll leave them alone,' Bob said, 'once this ship is down they can send salvage teams to the crash site. It'll be easier than hoping that none of our stuff falls into the hands of the Covenant.'

'I understand, sir,' Turner said. He fiddled with some controls at his station, constantly calculating the ship's trajectory.

Bob looked out the large windows in front and could see the planet took up the lower half of the view. They were descending at an alarming rate, but he guessed that by the time they got through the atmosphere they would have lost all their engines.

'About one minute till we enter the planet's atmosphere,' Goodman said, 'putting heat shields up.'
The exterior of the windows was suddenly covered up by sheets of thick metal which extended out of the outside armor plating and covered up the windows. This was to protect them from the heat that would smother the ship once they entered the planet's atmosphere. On the Winter Sunshine every situation had been accounted for and something had been built on the ship to combat those situations. The people who made this ship were geniuses.

Bob stood waiting for the moment that the ship began to plough though the planet's atmosphere, knowing that large ships like these weren't made for that kind of thing. The ship could be ripped apart, but he had confidence in the ship and his crewmen and hopefully it wouldn't come to a ship that was falling apart.

Seconds passed, but they felt like hours, and Bob's mind began to wander. He realized that if this ship crashed, every piece of experimental technology could very well be lost forever. This was the only ship that had the experimental Slip-space drive, the only ship that carried the experimental ODST armor, the only ship that had a dual MAC cannon utilizing a new kind of power cells, the only ship in the whole UNSC that had these things.

He tried to think of other things that were only on this ship but he wasn't aware of any others. This technology could help humanity win the war, but if it was all lost on this unknown world humanity may not stand much of a chance.

His mind wandered to the Battle for Reach and the small part they had played in it. Maybe if they had stayed a while longer they could have blasted away a few more ships, but they had been pushing their luck even when they left the Space Construction Dock. The Winter Sunshine had never been ready to leave; even the Colonel had said that.
Now went humanity's last chance of survival in the war.
There was little chance they would be able to make it off the planet without getting shot at by the Covenant ships. They would have to take control of the planet, inch by inch, kilometre by kilometre.

'Ten seconds till we enter the planet's atmosphere,' Steve announced.

Bob grabbed hold of one of the handle-bars on the wall. They were there so people like him didn't fall over when this ship took damage or lurched wildly, whatever the case may be.

The ship suddenly started to shake and vibrate, the crew grabbing hold of whatever they could to steady themselves. Dull thuds could be heard throughout the ship as major systems failed and explosions occurred. This ship had never been built to enter a planet's atmosphere and come out of it in perfect condition.

'Status report?' Bob asked, letting go of the handle-bar.

'We've lost our auxiliary engines,' Steve said, 'and our main ones aren't holding up too well. We have breaches on Decks nine and twelve, but nothing too severe.'

'It won't matter much longer, though,' Bob said. He was right about that. Once they were in this planet's breathable atmosphere, a few hull breaches were nothing.

Bob looked at the main view-screen as sparks flew from nearby panels, unable to take the heat. Systems were failing throughout the ship. He remembered the discs filled with false data and so clutched them tightly after finding them in his pocket.

The image on the view-screen was a flickering scanned view of the regions they were passing over. It went by fairly quickly, but Bob could make out the solid shapes representing structures in the wired views.

Panels fell off the ceiling revealing the raw circuitry within. Sparks and smoke billowed out and wires broke, dangling from the ceiling and shooting out sparks. Bob ducked out of the way of one as a nearby panel exploded, sending shards of glass flying out across the room. He pulled some shards out when they got stuck in his uniform.

'We've lost nearly all our major systems,' Steve announced, 'auxiliary power's trying to kick in but it isn't working too well…'

'Damage report, give me the specifications,' Bob ordered, steadying himself against the side wall.

'The damage report system's damaged,' Steve replied, 'I'm not getting too much now.'

Bob stumbled across the room to the Captain's console where everything on the ship could be accessed and put up on the main view-screen if necessary. The console screen itself was broken, sparks flying out. Not much was going right as they passed through the atmospheric cover of the planet.

The main view-screen was able to give one last set of scrolling information before it flickered off. The shaking stopped and the entire interior of the bridge went silent.
Bob looked at Steve.

'Are we through?' Bob asked.

'From what this console's giving me,' Steve said, glancing at his intact console station, 'I'm pretty sure we are.'

'Do we still have power to any of the engines?' Bob asked.

'Nope,' Steve replied, 'we're drifting now. I don't know where we're going to end up landing.'

There was no familiar hum of the ship's systems working around them. It was entirely quiet; the only noises were the ones being made by the sparks flying out of most of the broken computer screens as well as the ones from the wires hanging out of the panels in the ceiling.

Bob could relax a little. He could see the others were already, but fairly soon they would end up being part of
what Bob thought could end up a fairly spectacular crash.

'Do you know how long we have till we crash?' Bob asked.
Steve looked up, taking a gulp from a bottle of water in a holder next to him.

'Maybe only a matter minutes, maybe seconds. I don't know, but I can tell you we're well over the ocean.'

'So, there's no land underneath us?' Bob asked.

'Not now,' Steve said, 'but according to the scanners and information we have, there should be some where our angle of trajectory will take us to crash.'

Bob sat against some broken consoles and took a few deep breaths. Now was the time they should be getting ready for whatever may await them outside the ship.

He got up and looked at the four young Ensigns, who did look tired after everything that had happened today but also looked willing to serve. He could tell this in their faces.

'Start getting ready,' Bob said, 'get weapons, supplies, whatever. We need to prepare ourselves for what could be out there.'

Suddenly, there was the incredibly loud noise of creaking metal followed by a massive thud which shook the ship tremendously. Bob was sent flying forwards, the four young Ensigns falling out of their seats. The main view-screen smashed and the metal plating over the windows dented and some broke away, revealing a view of what seemed to be several palm trees and white sand.

Bob didn't get much of a glimpse before the next violent lurch sent him sliding across the room, smashing against a wall and lying there momentarily dazed.

The room began to vibrate as the ship dragged along the surface from its momentum, doing it for what seemed like an eternity before it came to an abrupt halt.

Bob slowly regained his senses and climbed back onto his feet. Wires and panels hung from the ceiling and most of the computer screens in the room were smashed out, sparks flying forth from them. He found the four young Ensigns sprawled across the floor. They were all alive but Turner had received a cut to the forehead. They slowly got up and glanced around the wrecked ship.

Bob stood and looked at the group. He then looked back at the door leading into the bridge. Hopefully there wouldn't be any nasty surprises behind it, such as Covenant boarding parties from earlier.

'Okay, like I said,' Bob said, 'we need weapons, supplies and any other necessities. That means we're going to the armoury.'

Bob approached the door and found that it was locked as he had done so before, but the computer lock was broken. This meant he would need to pry the door open with something. Part of it had slipped open during the crash but only about an inch wide bit of space was between the door and the doorway.

He turned to the young Ensigns.

'Turner, give me a hand over here,' Bob said, pointing to Turner who was rubbing the cut on his forehead.

'Right, sir,' Turner said, sounding as if his deep thoughts had been abruptly broken. He stepped over and stood next to the Captain. Both of them put their fingers through the gap and pulled hard, budging the door another few centimetres before Malcolm came over and began helping as well.

Eventually the door opened enough for them to squeeze through one at a time. The corridor outside was a mess, panels from the walls all over the floor and scorch marks were all over the carpet. The corpse of a marine who had been killed earlier lay nearby.

Bob and his group started down the corridor. The interior of the ship had radically changed since the last time Bob had been out of the bridge. Everything was a total mess and somewhat dirtier, which was kind of what you would expect after a crash landing. This could be the very last time Bob would be on the ship, and despite his entire time serving as Captain of the Winter Sunshine totalled about twelve days, Bob couldn't help but feel part of him was missing already. All the experimental technology that was on board this ship could be lost forever unless someone actually made it off this planet and back to UNSC space alive.

He started down the corridor, knowing his way around the ship fairly well. The group of Ensigns followed. They would go to the armoury, pick up some weapons and rations and then leave. There could still be Covenant soldiers on the ship, and now that they had crashed on the planet there could be more on their way. A large UNSC cruiser crashing down didn't go unnoticed very easily.

'Come on,' Bob said when he noticed the group trailing behind, 'we have to get off this ship.'

They continued through more corridors before arriving in a wide hallway with a few scorch marks in the carpet. Here, a large sign on the wall pointed them in the way of the armoury.

Following the hallway, they came to a double door which entered into a medium sized room with several automatically opening cabinets. Seeing that it was the armoury, Bob inserted his pass-card into the panel by the door and unlocked it. Stepping inside, he turned to look at the group.

'Alright, only take one weapon and plenty of supplies,' Bob said, 'who knows how long we could be spending by ourselves.'

The Ensigns nodded and went about collecting military grade rations and taking an M6D pistol each. Bob took one as well as packing a backpack full of rations and a radio with some batteries. He doubted there was anyone n range, but when someone did get in range he would prefer to be able to contact them.

He looked it the group consisting of Ensigns Malcolm, Steve, Turner and Goodman. This was probably the most action they had seen before and he was surprised at how well they were holding up.

'Where to now, sir?' Goodman asked, loading a magazine into his M6D. He holstered the weapon, a small pack filled with rations slung over one shoulder.

'We find an airlock and get the hell off of this ship,' Bob said, 'I'm keen to find out what it's like outside.'

They headed back out into the corridor. It was surprisingly quiet, the only noises being a faint whistling sound as a wind blew through the corridors of the ship, coming in from a nearby hull breach.

That was when Bob heard it: the familiar footsteps of a group of Covenant soldiers, and it sounded like they were coming from around a corner up ahead.

Bob un-holstered his pistol and gestured to the others to get ready. The sounds of fighting would no doubt bring in other Covenant soldiers, but if they had to fight, they would fight. Once they were outside there was less of a chance of them being found.

Bob gestured the others back round the corner. He went as well, only peering around the wall.

From around the corner came one Major Elite followed by three ordinary Grunts. They didn't seem to know that the Captain and the young bridge crew members had ducked back behind the other corner.

The group of aliens was heading straight for them, but Bob signalled the others to keep back. The Major Elite was at the front of the group and as he walked past the corner, Bob struck him in the back of the head with the butt of his pistol. The alien hadn't activated its personal shield and so crumpled into a heap on the floor. The Grunts,
surprised, started running around and waving their arms before one actually bothered to shoot, plasma scorching the wall near Bob.

Bob and his group just cut the aliens down in a hail of pistol bullets. Bob reloaded and signalled to the others to start following him again.

They rushed down the corridor and followed it along before
turning into a narrower corridor. The corpse of an Elite lay sprawled in the corridor and two Grunts were up ahead.
Bob merely picked them off from the other end of the corridor before he and his group continued on.

If memory served Bob correctly, the entrance into a maintenance access way was meant to be nearby, leading along the side of the ship. There would be plenty of airlocks in it which had been used by maintenance crews to go outside the ship (in proper environmental gear) and fix up whatever problems may be on the ship's exterior.

The corridor went into another large hallway. Bob followed it along, the group of young Ensigns keeping close.

The maintenance access way entrance was just up ahead, but when Bob rounded the corner he almost ran into a blue armored Minor Elite which had been standing guard there.
The alien roared right in his face and Bob instinctively clubbed it in the head with his M6D pistol. The Elite's shield flared and the alien struck a retaliating blow, knocking the wind out of Bob and sending him flying two feet backwards.

The Ensigns opened fire, gunning down the Elite under the combined pistol fire. Bob got up, regaining his breath. He looked at the Ensigns and then at the Elite's corpse.

'I'll try and make sure that never happens again,' he said, approaching the metal door that lead into the maintenance access way. It opened as he approached and he stepped into a narrow metal tunnel, pipes and wires running along the side walls. The Ensigns followed and they started through the maintenance tunnel.

It got increasingly dark, so Bob took out a small flashlight and used some duct tape from his backpack to attach it to the bottom of his M6D. He switched it on and a stream of light illuminated the dark interior of the tunnel.
It winded along the side of the ship before they came to a junction where about three airlocks were on one wall. Two were open, giving a view of what appeared to be a beautiful tropical beach.

Bob stood looking at the view for what seemed like a long time. The ship had crashed right on a large tropical island. Thick green jungle started a short way from the beach. Waves were splashing up against the shore and birds flew high overhead. Thing was, there was at least a twenty meter drop from the airlock to the ground below.
Bob looked down and shook his head.

'Damn, we'll have to climb down,' he said. He opened his backpack and took out some rope he had scavenged from the armoury. It was long enough for about ten meters, but he was sure the soft sand would cushion the fall they would have to take from the last ten meters.

'We have to climb down there?' Turner asked; his eyes wide. He didn't seem too keen on doing it.

'Don't worry, this rope will go most of the way down,' Bob said, 'the sand should cushion the fall from the remaining height.'

Bob tied a strong double knot around a handle bar on the wall, making sure there was nothing wrong with the metal bar. He threw the rope out of the airlock and it dangled down the side of the ship.

He looked across the side of the ship. There were large, scorched holes blasted through the armor, created by Covenant Seraph fighters earlier. He had a feeling he wouldn't be returning to the ship anytime soon, so he took one final look around the inside of the ship before starting down the rope.

Once the Captain was at the end of the rope, he jumped down the last ten meters, landing only slightly painfully in the soft sand below.

The others followed and soon enough they were standing on the beach, looking out to sea. There were other islands in view and they seemed to have landed on the biggest one. The front of the Winter Sunshine was in the water. It had left one large trail behind it as it had dragged along, ripping up trees and flattening the lush undergrowth.

Bob took in the scene, noticing how there were chunks of armor blown away on the ship's hull. They should start heading into the jungle now, before any Covenant welcoming parties decided to arrive.

He took out the radio and placed the batteries inside. Switching it on, he began broadcasting on all frequencies but couldn't reach anyone. They were probably too far away from any other UNSC personnel to get a good signal. The planet didn't have any satellites, so they would have a limited communications range most of the time.

Bob put the radio away, making sure he took the batteries out to conserve their power. He looked at the group, who had sat themselves down on the sand. The water splashed up to only about a meter from them. It was quite a beautiful place, but when Bob looked up and saw a Covenant drop-ship moving in their direction from a fair distance away he realized it wouldn't be quite the paradise anymore in a little bit more time.

'Let's get moving,' he said. The group picked up their bags and Bob started into the tropical jungle which was about twenty meters from the shoreline. The others followed and they began pressing through the lush undergrowth. It was hot and humid, but luckily Bob and his group had packed plenty of water and supplies.

God only knew how long it would be before anyone other than the Covenant found them.

They followed a narrow sandy trail along for a few minutes before the familiar whine of a Covenant Banshee, a typical scout-craft for the aliens, could be heard. Native birds fluttered out of nearby trees in fright as the small craft flew overhead.

Bob and the group ducked into some nearby undergrowth and waited for the craft to pass overhead. Evading the Covenant was gong to be harder than Bob originally thought.

Another Banshee followed the previous one seconds after. Bob stepped out of hiding and gestured to the group to start following.

They started along the trail again, coming to the base of a short cliff. Vines hung down the cliff face and it was only about fifteen meters up, so Bob grabbed one of the vines, tested its strength by tugging on it and started climbing.

The others followed after him once Bob had safely climbed on top of the cliff. He looked around and up ahead saw what looked to be a Covenant encampment, although there were no Covenant soldiers in sight at the camp.

'Take it easy up ahead,' he told the group, 'something doesn't add up.'

They went along the small trail into the encampment. Polyhedral tents which were fairly large were scattered around a small clearing. Smaller rounded tents were in the mix as well. Bob guessed the larger ones were for the Elites while the smaller ones were for the Grunts. There was no sign of any enemies, although there could be some inside the tents themselves.

Gesturing to his group to check out the nearest polyhedral tent, Turner and Malcolm walked over to the entrance. It was a sliding door, which they pulled at. It slid open, revealing a large bed in the center and a suit of crimson Elite armor on a rack on the wall. Otherwise there was nothing else there.

'This doesn't seem right, sir,' Turner said, glancing over at the Captain, 'where did everyone go?'

Bob looked around. The only noises were the rustling of nearby bushes as a wind billowed through the clearing. Native bird species were tweeting, but otherwise it was quiet.

'We should just get going,' he said, 'I don't think it's a good idea to stay here for much longer.'

As he said this, there was movement in the undergrowth ahead. Bob raised his pistol and started towards it when a hail of plasma fire came from their front and their sides. He dived forward, landing behind a tent.

A Banshee flew overhead, a large green blast of energy coming from its front. The Fuel Rod Cannon blast landed close to Bob, detonating in a burning green explosion, sending dirt flying upwards and raining down nearby.

Bob looked behind and saw his group moving into the cover. He watched as Goodman was hit in the shoulder by a Plasma Rifle shot, a few Elites coming out of the jungle behind them.

Bob realized it had been a set-up all along. He got up and started moving for the next tent, more and more Covenant soldiers coming out of the surrounding jungle. The situation looked hopeless when a Covenant drop-ship came overhead, hovered for a moment before descending down into an open spot of the clearing.

The side doors opened and a group of Grunts and a pair of Elites jumped out. They saw Bob and opened fire.

Bob rolled behind a Covenant crate, the plasma fire dissipating on the smooth metal. He remained there for about half a minute when he noticed that the Covenant soldiers were beginning to close in on all sides.

The four young Ensigns, well three considering Goodman lay on the ground with an irreparable head-wound, weren't faring all too well. A pair of Elites were coming up behind them. Seeing this, Bob opened fire, taking down one of the Elites and making the other one take cover behind a crate.
Bob considered his options. If he surrendered, they would just shoot him anyway. If he stayed to fight, he would probably get killed anyway. He didn't have a lot of choice, so summing up his remaining courage; he stood up and began moving for the nearest tent.

Plasma fire zipped past from practically all directions. He came to the large tent and took cover behind it. As he sat crouched behind it, he didn't notice the Major Elite come up behind him and press its Plasma Rifle against his head.

'Don't move, human,' the Elite said. Bob turned around and looked the Elite in the eyes.

If the Elite wanted him dead, it would have shot him already. Maybe luck was on Bob's side, he wasn't sure. He would find out soon enough, though.

'Are you the commanding officer for the human vessel?' The Elite asked, not wavering at all while holding the weapon.

'Yes,' Bob replied, unsure of what else to say, 'why?'
The Elite raised the weapon and brought in down on Bob's head, sending him into unconsciousness before he could react to the coming blow.


All he could see were a large amount of flying white lights amongst a back-drop of darkness. He felt he was here, but at the same time felt he wasn't here. It was strange, until the black backdrop went away revealing that of what appeared to be the interior of some sort of Covenant installation, he wasn't sure. Streams of water were coming down one of the walls and through large, built-in hole sin the floor that were over a large pool.

He saw Arna, kneeling only a few meters away. He tried to move but couldn't. It was as if his brain couldn't send the signals to the muscles.

He tried to speak but couldn't. He watched as Arna turned around. Blood was across her chest and she seemed to be dying. His felt his hearts beat faster and a significant amount of anguish. Arna was hurt and there was nothing to do…

'Please wake up,' a soothing voice called out from seemingly nowhere, 'don't die on me now. Wake up, Dras, wake up…'

The image abruptly disappeared revealing one of what Dras Amargee usually saw when he shut his eyes. He opened them and found himself looking up at a dm light in a blue-purple metallic ceiling. The beautiful face of Arna Sulfonomee was looking down at him.

Dras tried remembering how he got here but he had no memory of the events that incorporated in how he had come to this particular room. He was lying on a soft bed in what was obviously the officer's sickbay for Sangheili.

He was out of his armor and bed sheets went up to his waist before wires had been stuck onto his chest and bandages stuck on his wounds, which included the one in his chest and the other in his side. He put a hand up to his mandibles and noticed that he had lost a few teeth, although they would grow back soon enough.

'You're awake!' Arna exclaimed. She put a hand on Dras' chest, 'you almost died. I…I did all I could…'

Dras started to remember how he had received the wounds. A human, more resilient than most, had sent him in a daze onto the ground from a grenade explosion. That had been followed by finding a painful shard of hot metal shrapnel in his side before the human had stepped over and shot him in the chest. He put a hand to where he had received the wound.

'Who brought me here?' Dras asked, sitting up. Arna forced him back down gently.

'Try not to move too much,' she said, 'I'm still not sure about some of your injuries.'

She paused and looked Dras in the eyes.

'Your friend, Adros, he managed to send you back here,' she said, 'you do remember what your flagship is?'

'Yes, the Justifiable Light,' Dras said. He looked at Arna and placed a hand on her side. She seemed slightly upset.

'How close was I to dying?' Dras asked.
Arna paused. She didn't seem too keen on thinking about this matter.

'One of your hearts was damaged by the projectile,' she said, 'I managed to save it but you came close to death. As soon as you came aboard I volunteered to try and fix you up. Your hearts stopped beating twice but I managed to revive you both times.'

Dras suddenly realized what had happened only moments before. The vision he had, with Arna, had been part of some sort of near-death experience or dream. Knowing about others who had experienced the same thing, often there would be premonitions in them. If this were true, that meant Arna would die.

'Arna, I don't want you to go down to the planet,' Dras said, trying to sound as calm as he could manage, 'I sense that something may happen to you.'

Dras was sure that Arna wasn't going to go down onto the surface of the planet anyway, but he had to be sure.

'I've already volunteered to lead the medical teams in one of our more important installations,' she said, 'why do you think I'll get hurt?'

'Because I saw it,' Dras said, suddenly feeling uneasy now. He sat up. 'Don't go down there, please.' He put a hand to Arna's face. 'Just don't—'

He felt a sudden pain shoot through the injured side of his chest. He groaned and fell backwards into the bed.
A look of worry crossed Arna's face.

'Take it easy,' she said, 'just calm down. You don't want to put too much pressure on your injured heart.'
Dras lay still, keeping a hand on Arna's face. The pain subsided and he breathed heavily.

'Just listen to me,' he said, 'I saw you die, Arna. I was sure it wasn't just a dream. It meant something…it meant something would happen to you.'

'I wouldn't believe every dream I had,' Arna said, giving the equivalent of a smile with her mandibles, 'besides, I know how to look after myself. I'm adept in four of the seven sword…'

'…fighting styles,' Dras said, having heard it before, 'I know that, but this is different. I just don't want you to get hurt, Arna. You have to listen to me.'

'I'm sorry,' Arna said, 'I've volunteered and I won't step back from that position now. I have lives down on that planet to save from the humans. I saved your life. I would think you would give me more leverage because of that.'
Now she was being difficult. Dras sighed and couldn't help feel a sense of worry for her.

'Just be careful,' Dras said, 'I want you to take a sword with you when you go down there.'

'I'll take what I need,' Arna said, 'and a sword is one of them. I would have thought you would do better on the human ship, rather than almost end up dying.'

'Whereabouts are you going?' Dras asked. He had to be sure.

'An outpost near the disabled cruiser, Justifiable Light,' Arna replied, 'why?'

'No reason,' Dras said, 'I just wanted to know.'

Dras remembered the face of that one human male. How he would have liked to disembowel that particular human, but that probably wouldn't happen…for at least a while.

'I just let my guard down,' Dras said.

'You never let your guard down,' she said, leaning forward so their heads were almost touching, 'why did it happen on the human ship?'

'There was only one human,' Dras said, moving a hand along Arna's side, 'but it…I mean, he, I'm sure it was a male of the species, he wiped out most of my squad. This I don't understand. It's not meant to happen, especially because of one human.'

'Well, maybe next time you see this human, you should…'

'Kill it?' Dras said.

'Exactly,' Arna said, sounding like she wanted something from Dras. She stood back up.

'I would also be careful if you encountered that human again,' Arna said, 'if he almost killed you now, he could kill you completely next time.'

Dras sat up slowly, clutching his chest wound.

'I'll make sure that human's head is no longer on its body, if I ever encounter it again,' Dras said, 'it almost killed me and took me away from you.' He looked at Arna and gave the equivalent of a smile with his mandibles.

'I need to speak with someone, about something urgent,' Dras said, changing the subject, 'can I leave?'
Arna looked at him and seemed to run her gaze down every length of his body.

'Just take it slowly, Dras,' she said. She leaned forward and the two of them locked mandibles in a kiss, Dras reaching around her head and pulling her towards him. They stopped and Arna stood back up, seemingly pleased with herself.

'You can leave if you want,' she said, 'I have other things to do anyway. Just don't push yourself too hard until your wounds heal.'

She started for the door, which opened as she approached. She took one last look behind at Dras.

'Maybe later we can get together?' She said, 'I don't have to leave till much later today.'

'I'll find you,' Dras said. She nodded and walked out of the room. The door closed behind her.

Dras slowly climbed out of the bed, looking around the medical room. A table with surgical implements was nearby, some covered with dark purple blood. He had a feeling that was his blood. He wondered what Arna had had to do to save him. He still felt a dull, throbbing pain his chest every time that heart beat.

Dras would make sure he found that human, although the Prophets seemed to look down on personal vendettas. He wasn't dead, and he should be grateful for that, but the human that had harmed him and killed most of his squad wouldn't get off lightly.

The planet they were orbiting was an outpost world, rich with Forerunner buildings. Here the Covenant had been searching for Forerunner technology and artifacts. They were yet to find anything useful, though.

There was one artifact, however, that Dras himself had made sure t would be found. He knew from ancient texts what it did and he was the only one who knew how it worked. It would be a vital asset to him and Arna when they left.
Dras got changed into his armor, noticing that it wasn't a new suit but a cleaned and slightly damaged one, a ragged hole in one part of the breast plate. Perhaps the crew was getting a bit stingy on supplying new suits of armor.

He thought about the raid on the human ship. Most of it had been a failure. He hadn't been able to access the databanks and get the information required. There had only been light human casualties to a large amount of Covenant ones, and since the Prophet had ordered them to raid the human ship rather than just destroy it, everyone would be blaming him. Including Dras.

If the Prophet had listened to him about just destroying the human ship, maybe they wouldn't have to worry about humans on the planet now and tell mainly Sangheili families about their lost loved ones.

He scratched at the bottom of one of his mandibles while in thought. He did hope that there was information about the artifact's location by now. He was making sure only he and his most trusted friends knew about it. If the Hierarchs ever found out what he was doing, he would be executed for sure.

Dras, being the commander of this relatively small fleet, was in charge of alerting the families of Sangheili soldiers (since they were the only species that had close-knit families) about their lost loved ones. He noticed that someone had left him a data-pad on a table by the door. He picked it up and began to read through the names of the deceased soldiers.

He put the data-pad away and stepped through the door. A few Grunts walked past in the corridor outside, ignoring him. Two Jackals were on patrol down the corridor while two Minor Sangheili soldiers were standing nearby, one leaning on the wall and talking to the other. They were obviously taking a break.

Dras stepped out of the medical room and the two soldiers saw him and stood to attention. He nodded to them before signalling them to be at ease.

He knew his way around most Covenant ships, since they were all mostly built around the same design. Each kind of ship, including frigates, destroyers and cruisers had a relatively same design for each class. This made it easier to build them, though.

He wasn't sure about human ships, since the one they had raided seemed to be quite different than other ones he had encountered. Its Slip-space technology was at the same level as theirs and some of the humans he had encountered had been using different equipment than usual. He would have to find out what the status of the human ship was now.

He made his way down to the command deck where he could see Major Adros Demargee standing in his place, ordering the bridge crew around. As he approached, Adros saw him and stood to attention.

'Ship Master, you're alright!' He exclaimed, 'everyone thought you would die…'

'I didn't, Major, and that's what matters now,' Dras said. He looked around. The few Sangheili that were on the bridge didn't seem to have noticed him come in.

'What's the status on the human ship?' Dras asked, looking at the screens at the front of the deck. There didn't seem to be much on them except for boxes of information and statistics.

'It's gone down to the planet, Ship Master,' Adros said, 'we weren't able to take control of it. Soon after you were injured we pulled out most of our forces.'

Dras shook his head. This meant there would be a lot of humans down on the planet, and a planet was often a big place and would be heard to find anyone on it if you were looking for a small minority group.

Most likely the humans would group up so they could fight better. Dras looked at Adros, who didn't seem quite so worried.

'Are there troops down there looking for the humans?' Dras asked.

'Yes, but a lot of humans made it off the ship. We didn't eliminate many of them.'

'I want all our efforts concentrated on finding and destroying those humans. I want every one of them dead,' Dras ordered, 'I don't care how long it takes or how many soldiers will be needed, but we cannot let these humans escape.'

'Would you like me to signal more ships here?' Adros asked.

'Yes, but they would take too long to get here,' Dras said, 'this planet is holy and must not be defaced by the humans. We cannot simply destroy the planet, although that would make our job a lot easier.'

'I understand, Ship Master,' Adros said. Since they were both on duty, military etiquette applied and that meant they addressed each other with their ranks rather than names. He and Adros were good friends and that's why Dras had him as second-in-command.

'Major, is there any news on the artifact?' Dras asked; his voice only loud enough so Adros could hear it, 'I haven't heard much from the excavation team.'

'They're close to finding something,' Adros replied, 'if we both go down to the planet's surface we can take a look for ourselves. Are we going to go?'

'Yes, but not to the excavation site,' Dras said, 'first, I have some important business to attend to on this ship. Have you heard much from the Justifiable Light?'

The Justifiable Light was a cruiser which had gone down to the planet for repairs, having had its systems disabled during the battle on board the human ship. Dras suspected it was a human computer program or something along those lines, so now the ship sat hovering a few hundred meters off a jungle clearing.

Adros stepped over to a nearby panel and started keying in commands. Information appeared up on the screen above it, Adros reading through it. He looked back at Dras.

'I've just received some information concerning the human ship,' Adros said, 'it's crashed on a tropical island close to the continent where much of the human forces have been detected. Some of our troops there say they have captured the human commanding officer. This is according to your original order, Ship Master.'

'Where is the human prisoner now?' Dras asked.

'They're taking him over to an outpost near where the Justifiable Light is. Do you want to go over there and interrogate the human yourself?'

Dras paused for a moment. The human would talk if he was interrogating him, but Dras had a few other things planned first.

'No, not now,' Dras said, 'like I said, I have other things to do.'

He remembered what Arna had said about her going to that outpost. He would go there soon enough, when Arna left. He had to be sure she was safe.

Now Dras would go and start sending the messages to the families of fallen Sangheili. After all, being Ship Master, it was his responsibility.

Jeff couldn't remember much about the landing, except there had been a failure in the chutes as they came thundering down over the jungle landscape. Now he lay sprawled out on the grass as a few marines were standing around, checking their weapons and firing at distant targets.

He could feel a pain in his neck and his left arm as he slowly sat up. The escape pod lay half buried in the ground about ten meters in front, a few dead marines lying on the grass outside of it. Someone had obviously dragged him out of the wreck, and he was certain of this fact when he noticed a marine sitting on a rock just behind him.

'You took quite a knock to the head, sir,' the marine said, 'there's only about six of us now, the others died in the crash. Our radios went as well.'

Jeff glanced at the marine, who looked to be in his twenties and seemed exhausted. Jeff then looked down at himself to check for any injuries. Something had a cut through his left trouser leg and had made a nasty gash in his left leg. His helmet lay on the ground next to him. He realized that Windtalker was probably still on it, so he
picked it up and put it on his head.

'Finally, someone actually notices me!' Windtalker exclaimed, sounding relieved, 'I was afraid I would be stuck down there forever—'

The AI didn't finish talking, Jeff ejecting the card holding the AI out of the helmet and put it in his pocket. He didn't need that AI talking into his head every minute of the day.

The other four marines were standing at the edge of the small clearing, firing their rifles into the nearby jungle. It was dusk by the look of it and looking around, Jeff could see they were in a valley, a waterfall at the far end. Birds were flying up overhead, the entire area providing a tranquil feel.

Where the other four marines were, he managed to catch a glimpse of a blue armored Minor Elite come falling through some bushes, riffled with bullet holes. The marines stopped firing, one of them searching the dead Elite's corpse for anything worthwhile. He found nothing and the group returned to where Jeff and the other marine were.

Jeff looked at the marine who had helped him out of the escape pod, despite the fact that Jeff couldn't remember it.

'What's your name?' Jeff asked.

'I'm Private First Class Clive Jacobsen,' the marine replied, 'and you're First Class Sergeant Jeff Ganszo.'

A lot of these marines seemed to know who he was, which surprised him considering he had doubted how many people actually cared about the so-called 'heroes of the UNSC'.

'Where are we?' Jeff asked, getting up. He saw Bob Turnwell's silver pearl-handled Colt pistol lying on the ground near where he had been lying, so he picked it up, checked the magazine that was loaded into it and holstered it.

'Where on the planet's surface, about a kilometre off from the area the Captain wanted us to land on,' the Private said, 'that means we have to get out of this valley and try and contact any other humans who may be in the area. We have no radios or means of communication, so we're going to have to improvise.'

Jeff checked himself for a radio and found his where he had left it. The thing was crushed and useless, however, so he threw it on the ground and took a look around.

They would have to scale the not-so steep sides of the valley and try and find other humans who may be in the area. This would be difficult, considering some of the jungle was probably so think you could walk right past somewhere who was behind some undergrowth and wouldn't even notice them.

'We'll have to take it easy,' Jeff said. The five marines, including Private Jacobsen, had sat down on some nearby rocks and boulders and were all waiting for Jeff to give them an order. He could tell by the way they were looking at him.

Jeff summed up the situation in his mind: they had crashed
in a jungle area on an unknown planet, only being six of them against an unknown amount of enemy forces. They had no means of communication, although Jeff could probably use Windtalker for this. He was stuck with a group of inexperienced young marines and he outranked them all. They were his responsibility for now, and he had to make sure they made it safely to the majority of the human forces which may be on the planet as well.

'Okay, which direction is the specified area?' He asked, turning to the marines, 'I wouldn't know, I just woke up.'

'It's West, sir,' Jacobsen said, pointing to the nearest side of the valley, 'if we had any working radios we could contact the others, but we don't and we have to find them ourselves.'

'I know that,' Jeff said. He took a look at the corpse of the Minor Elite.

'Has any other contact with Covenant forces been made in this valley so far?' He asked.

'No, although they're probably on their way to check out the crash,' Jacobsen said.

Jeff paused. They should get moving before anymore came. It wouldn't be too hard to get out of the valley.

'Let's go, then,' Jeff said, 'get your stuff and we'll get moving.'

The marines started gathering their things, loading packs full of supplies and ammo and checking their weapons. The sides of the valley were covered in jungle as was the rest of it, and if he wasn't mistaken he could hear the sound of water rushing down a stream.

The marines grouped up behind him, their rifles lowered but they were still alert.

Jeff wondered if Jones and Heinrich were okay, but knowing Jones they would have been the first ones on an escape pod. Hopefully they weren't dead, but Jeff was confident they were alright.

It wasn't often you ended up on an unknown planet scattered with ancient ruins, alien in origin. Jeff could see a ruined structure up on the side of the valley several hundred meters down to his right. It was made out of what looked to be a grey-marble like stone and the architecture was well designed, containing mainly symmetrical shapes and design. They could go and check it out, but he wasn't sure on whether or not it would be a waste of time.

'Let's move,' he said, 'I don't think we should stay here much longer.'

As they began to move into the thick jungle, the familiar whine of a Banshee engine could be heard over the quietness of the jungle. Jeff looked up at the dusk sky and could see a pair of Banshee scout-craft coming over the valley.

The marines obviously spotted them too since they had raised their weapons and were preparing to fire once the craft came close enough.

Jeff signalled them to lower their weapons. There wouldn't be much point shooting at it if the pilots of the two craft hadn't seen them.

Jacobsen and the marines went prone onto the ground, crawling into the jungle. Jeff moved behind some undergrowth as the pair of Banshees circled overhead a few times, gradually descending until they only cleared the top of the jungle canopy by a few meters.

The two scout-craft flew right over but didn't seem to notice the humans who were hiding amongst the jungle. Jeff realized they had an advantage when it came to hiding.

Depending on the amount of Covenant forces in the area, they would have to take it slowly so they didn't alert any of the enemy. Jeff knew that the Covenant were still formidable enemies on the ground, not just in space battles.
Once the Banshees were out of sight, Jeff came out of hiding and Jacobsen and the other marines came out of their hiding places as well.

'We'll take it slow,' Jeff said, 'if anyone sees anything suspicious, just shout out, okay?'

The marines nodded and followed Jeff into the jungle, pushing through undergrowth and around the trunks of tall, possibly one hundred year old trees.

The terrain was your typical jungle terrain, with logs, sticks and leaves covering up most of the ground. Bugs scuttled into hiding as the humans treaded by. Jeff wasn't keen on finding out if the bugs could bite or not, remembering that most tropical diseases were spread by insect species. This was one of the disadvantages of being in a jungle like this one.

After about five minutes Jeff stopped the marines, having come to a small gap in the jungle which had been cleared down by something other than nature. A few tree stumps were scattered around and in the center was a large, purple-blue metallic Covenant gun platform. There didn't seem to be any Covenant aliens around, but often in the jungle, there was more than first met the eye.

'Stop here,' Jeff said quietly, putting a hand up signalling the marines to stop. He started forward, Colt pistol at the ready, as he moved out into the small clearing.

He kept low and moved quietly, heading for the gun platform. If there was an important piece of military hardware out in the middle of nowhere, the Covenant obviously had something important nearby.

Jeff came to the large gun and tried to think of what to do next. He didn't have any explosives to destroy the gun, but he could always sabotage it. He found the corresponding control panel for the gun and used the butt of his pistol to smash it out.

That's when a pair of Minor Elites came onto the clearing from the jungle to his left. He heard one of the marines shout and he turned around, saw the pair of Elites ready their Plasma Rifles and raised his pistol.

He fired the first shot, the bullet bouncing off of the personal shield of one of the Elites. The alien ignored it and opened fire, a plasma bolt hitting Jeff in the chest.

Luckily Jeff had been wearing the standard-issue armor of a UNSC marine, but since it was only smoothed over metal plating which didn't do much to absorb plasma, that part of his armor melted away. He felt heat against his skin and fell backwards, momentarily stunned.

Ignoring the pain in his chest he got back up, fired another three rounds and dived behind the mounted gun. The other marines had opened fire now, rifle rounds tearing through the jungle and making contact with the Elites. One of the Elites fell in a hail of bullets, the other taking cover behind a Covenant crate.

Jeff was at an angle to fire at the Elite, emptying a Colt magazine into the alien before it fell.

Pausing to reload, Jeff looked down at the hole burnt in the chest plating in his uniform. Most of the blast had been absorbed, leaving a smouldering, ragged hole that was hot to the touch. His skin that had been underneath was partially reddened but otherwise unharmed.

The marines rushed over. Jeff got up and looked around, making sure there were no other Covenant soldiers nearby.

'Are you alright, sir?' Private Jacobsen asked, 'you took a direct hit.'

'I was lucky,' Jeff said, 'besides, I shot the bastard first.'

Jeff had been lucky, considering without the minor armor plating he would have been killed. Too often had Jeff been 'lucky' in a firefight, but he guessed it was just who he was.

'What do we do now, sir?' Jacobsen asked.

'We're not out of the valley yet,' Jeff said. They were close to starting up the side of the valley, though. All they had to do was find a means of contacting anyone else who might be in the area.

That's when Jeff remembered the AI Windtalker, who was currently on a holding card in his pocket. That AI could probably find a way of communicating, but Jeff would do it later when there was less Covenant around.

'We better get moving,' Jeff said, shrugging off the wound he had received from the plasma bolt, 'since I doubt the Covenant slack off when it comes to hunting humans.'

Jeff didn't like the fact that he and his group were the ones being hunted by the Covenant on the jungle landscape. He preferred it the other way round.