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Fan Fiction

Not Exactly Human Ch. 5: Landing
Posted By: QuantumSheep<jasnash@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 24 June 2008, 12:00 am

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Note: I've already written something like twenty chapters of this. I've stopped for now and am busy working on The Last Ranger, but progress is slow. Been caught up playing Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield Vietnam.

Unknown planet, Turnwell's selected region. According to Colonel Vance's out-of-sync mission clock: 41:27.90

Colonel timothy Vance burped loudly as the escape pod shook around him and the others, fire shooting past the front window as they thundered through the planet's atmosphere. The whiskey bottle he held in one hand was almost empty, so he decided he would at least try and conserve the stuff. There probably wouldn't be much down on the planet.

There were about thirteen of them in the escape pod, including the pilot who was sitting at the front, struggling to keep the ship under control. There was an African-American man with a small, styled beard sitting behind him and another guy in a Chief Engineer's uniform sitting to his left. Everyone else was your basic bunch of rag-tag marines in battered uniforms, mostly exhausted.

Vance always had the feeling he should never have volunteered to do the inspection for the Winter Sunshine, having that distinct sense that something would happen. Well, something certainly did happen and now here he was, hurtling down to the surface of an unknown planet in a dodgy escape pod that didn't seem to be holding up too well.

He would have left Reach a day before the Covenant attack if he hadn't volunteered to do the inspection. He was a down-and-out Colonel about to retire and so High Command got him to do the dull jobs.

He had been looking forward to leaving for Earth, which wasn't as populated as it used to be thanks to interstellar travel, but those plans had been blown to shit now. It looked like he didn't have much of a choice on where to go now.

Whatever it was like down on the planet, he wouldn't be going anywhere quickly. What everyone in this escape pod deserved was a short break, and he would be the one to give him that short break, being the highest ranked person in the pod.

'Touch-down in two minutes,' the pilot said.

'Yeah, we'll probably blow apart,' the man in the Chief Engineer's uniform said, 'the pod ain't holding up very well.'

Vance rolled his eyes and then took another gulp of whiskey. He was almost finished now, and being mostly drunk was what kept him going in situations like these. He would have to rally everybody in this pod together, that is, if they survived the crash.

'I say we start getting ready, people,' Vance said, 'after all, who knows what's down there?'

The pod stopped shaking and the flames that had been shooting across the front of the pod disappeared. For a moment they were freefalling before the thrusters kicked in again and they were thundering through the clouds.

From the color of the sky through the front window, it appeared to be dusk. Vance couldn't see much from where he was sitting, though.
About thirty seconds later the thrusters stopped, letting the pod glide from the momentum created for a short time before t started to free-fall, rushing across a lush green landscape. There was a sudden lurch as the chutes activated and they slowed down, hopefully enough so the ship wouldn't blow apart when they hit the ground.

Vance looked at some of the other people in the escape pod. Most seemed fine, although the African-American guy had his eyes closed, muttering something under his breath. Vance just shook his head and went back to trying to catch a glimpse of what awaited them through the front window.

So far in the past twelve days, hardly anything had gone right. Reach was probably a smoldering ruin by now and most of the UNSC fleet was probably a wreck too. For all they knew the Covenant could be at Earth, although something told Vance that wasn't the case.

Only today had things actually gone slightly their way, since the Covenant ships hadn't fired upon their ship and instead had decided to board it. A stupid move on the Covenant's part, since they took heavy casualties and Vance knew for a fact that human casualties had been very light.

Now they would probably survive the landing but get shot at by Covenant ground troops. Vance had never liked the idea of putting his life in the 'hands' of a ship, but right now he was probably going to have to do that.

About thirty seconds after the chutes came out there was a sudden rush of dark green shapes in the front window before the entire ship lurched and bounced violently, shaking Vance in the harness holding him in his seat. He watched the pilot fall forwards, blood smearing across the front window. He could feel that the pod was now dragging along, crashing through trees and lush undergrowth before coming to a stop about twenty seconds later at the edge of a two hundred meter drop.

It took everyone about a minute to gather their senses. Vance was the first one out of his seat, taking off his harness and grabbing the box containing his shotgun, Faith, off of the wall, having strapped it to the wall earlier. He checked if there were two shells loaded into the weapon, and when he saw there was, he tucked the small box into a backpack and slipped it on.

The others were beginning to get up as well. Vance began gathering up supplies and putting them into his pack before stepping over to the door at the back of the pod.

Trying the release lever on the side, he found it was jammed. He saw the door was open about an inch from the bottom. He bent down, slipped his fingers through and pulled up the door, which came up quite easily.

Behind it was thick tropical undergrowth and tall trees, creepers winding up some of the tree trunks and strange insect species scuttling on some parts of the ground.

Vance hadn't been too many jungles so this all seemed a bit new to him. The sounds of birds singing and bugs making chirping noises filled the area. It was a beautiful looking place and Vance was the first to step out of the escape pod, followed by the African-American man and then the guy in the Chief Engineer's uniform.

He remembered that Bob had told him the name of the Winter Sunshine's Chief Engineer. It was Heinrich Rommel, so knowing this meant he didn't need to ask the guy his name. He looked at the marines as they came out of the escape pod. They all looked young and inexperienced, which was just his luck. Getting stuck with rookie marines in a hostile environment wasn't a good thing when he was concerned. He could get zapped at any moment with a rookie watching his back.

Hence the reason he decided to lead this group along. They needed a means of communication, so he snatched one of the small radios attached to the side of a marine's helmet, took it off and began fiddling with the controls.

'Hey!' The marine exclaimed, realizing what the Colonel had just done with his radio.

'Don't complain, Private,' Vance said. He found what he thought was the correct frequency and began speaking into it.

'Does anyone read this signal?' Vance said, trying to get an open signal. There was just static on the other end of the radio. He was ether out of range or no one else was around to hear him.

'Getting anything?' Heinrich asked.

'What does it look like?' Vance said, lowering the radio. He switched some of the controls so it was on a different frequency, but otherwise all he was getting was static and empty channels.

'Couldn't the Covenant lock onto that signal and find us?' The African-American man asked.

'I doubt they're listening to us, Jones,' Heinrich said.

'What do we do now, sir?' A marine asked, turning to Vance, 'we're stuck out here.'

Vance looked around. There was always that small structure in the distance they could go to. They could get a better signal if they were on top of it, although Vance wasn't too keen on risking his life for a radio signal.

'Next clearing we reach, we'll set up camp,' Vance said, 'we'll wait for them to come to us. Someone's got to set up chemical flares so they know where to find us.'

'I'll do that,' Heinrich said, taking out a bunch of dull blue plastic sticks. He twisted the ends of each of them and they began to glow a bright blue color, providing some illumination. He dropped a pair of them outside the escape pod.

Vance looked at how close they had been to falling off the cliff in the pod. The drop was about two hundred meters, the view quite breathtaking. He could see right out to the horizon from where he stood. The escape pod was only a few inches away from going over the edge, so they had been lucky.

'We must be on some sort of plateau,' Jones said, 'that would explain why we're up so high.'

'Let's move, people,' Vance said, realizing he was out of whiskey and had no other bottles, 'we're sure to find other human begins around here somewhere.'

Vance started through the undergrowth, pushing leaves and branches away as he walked on through. Jones, Heinrich and the other marines began to follow.

He had no idea where he was going, but if he led them through the jungle they would hopefully find a clearing. He suddenly felt like one of the early inter-system explorers after the introduction of Slip-space technology. They had landed on planets and had had to chart the entire thing out. They would have had no idea where they were going the first time around.

Vance just went with his gut feeling and tried to make sure he didn't turn, otherwise they may end up going around in circles. Most parts of this jungle looked the same and it would be an easy matter to get lost.

Vance glanced behind at the others. Most did look tired, but there wouldn't be any point in stopping now. There could very well be Covenant forces on their way to check out the crash and they couldn't take the chance of being discovered, since they were underpowered and would be outgunned and clearly outnumbered.

Jones was a few meters behind the Colonel and had noticed that Vance didn't seem to know what he was doing. They had no maps, no navigation equipment of any sort but the middle-aged and slightly drunken Colonel Timothy Vance seemed to insist they all follow him into the jungle. Jones was beginning to question his leadership skills.

Heinrich didn't seem to have a problem with the Colonel. Lately he hadn't seemed to have much of a problem with anything, as if he had been expecting it all along. He was walking alongside Jones to the right, AK-2534 rifle slung across his shoulder. Jones was carrying one of those rifles and an M6D pistol for back-up.

The other marines, which consisted of nine young men with weary faces, were just behind, slowly marching on through the lush jungle. Jones had never been to a jungle quite like this one before. Most of the ones on Earth were in protected areas and there hadn't been many jungles on reach, mainly North American style wilderness.

While Jones was thinking about this, he suddenly almost fell over when his foot didn't step completely onto a large log on the ground. He fell forwards but was able to prevent himself from falling by putting his hands out onto the log. He got up and continued along, the Colonel up ahead pushing away branches and leaves.

The air was filled with the sounds of bugs, frog-sounding creatures that didn't seem to be in sight and birds. Looking up, Jones could make out some sunlight through the thick canopy as it filtered through the gaps in between the leaves. It was getting to be evening now, and if he judged correctly, it was the equivalent of five thirty in the evening on a regular Earth day. Stars were coming into view, and since there were obviously no civilizations on the planet, this meant that there would be a heck of a lot of stars visible since no city lights would be there to dim them.

'Hold here!' Vance exclaimed, the sound of his voice breaking Jones' train of thought. They all stopped, Heinrich un-slinging his rifle and switching the safety off.

Vance stepped forwards to a line of undergrowth which seemed to be on the edge of a natural gap in the jungle populated by some slight undergrowth. For a few minutes Vance scanned the area out of Jones' sight. He raised his shotgun, stared down the sights and fired, the shot ringing out throughout the jungle.

For a second Jones thought the Colonel had fired at nothing in particular until there was the sound of a Grunt squealing.

There was movement to Jones' left. He turned around, raising his rifle. He wasn't quite ready for the Major Elite that jumped out of the nearby undergrowth, landing only a few feet away from him, doing a roll and ending up back on its hooves (feet if it were human).

Jones pulled the trigger but in response the weapon made a clicking noise. He tried to think of what just went wrong with the rifle when he realized he hadn't switched the safety off.

Jones reached for the little switch when the Elite jumped at him. A hail of rifle fire followed and bullets ricocheted off of the Elite's shield.

Jones was knocked over by the force of the Elite's large body slamming into him. He found himself half-winded and lying in the soft dirt on the floor of the jungle, his rifle still in one hand.
He rolled over so he was on his back and found the Elite standing over him, about to strike with a plasma rifle it held in its right hand.

On the edge of his vision, Jones watched as Heinrich stepped over and hit the Elite in the chest with the butt of his rifle. The alien's shield gave out and the Elite stumbled backwards only slightly. Jones raised his rifle an emptied half a magazine of the large, armor piercing rounds into the Elite's chest. Dark purple blood sprayed onto him, ending up on his face but he ignored it for the time being, watching as the Elite stumbled backwards as if surprised before crumpling into a heap on the ground.

Jones got up and looked around. Some of the marines were firing into the jungle off to his left at unseen enemies. He spotted some movement in the direction they were shooting, so he raised his rifle and fired.

There was a squeal as the Grunt taking cover there was perforated with the rifle rounds. Jones glanced at Heinrich, who was looking around, alert and with his rifle at the ready.

'You saved me back there, man,' Jones said, nodding over to the corpse of the Elite.

'Don't worry about it,' Heinrich said, 'no need to thank me.'

Vance, who was up ahead, turned around and waved at the rest of the group.

'I think that's the last of them,' he said, 'it was only a small patrol.'

'Maybe we should head for that structure we saw earlier,' Heinrich said, reloading his rifle.

Vance raised an eyebrow.

'To that structure? Maybe, but if we encountered Covenant here we'll encounter Covenant there. It's just a bit suicidal, that's all. I prefer to live,' Vance said, 'so that's why I'm suggesting we set up camp in the next good-looking area that has plenty of space. In the meantime I want someone working on a ways of communication.'

'I'll do that,' Heinrich said, taking out a small radio, 'I can modify this and hopefully be able to emit a signal that has a further range.'

'Then do it, Chief,' Vance said. He opened up his sawn-off shotgun and ejected the two spent shells that were inside, placing two new ones into the weapon and closing it. Why a Colonel would even bother with an antique weapon like that was beyond Jones.

Vance started to walk on through the jungle, so Jones and the others began to follow. They didn't have much of a choice really, considering the Colonel completely outranked all of them. They would have to follow his orders as long as they were with him, which could be a while judging by what was happening now.

Heinrich began fiddling with the radio he was carrying as they continued on through the jungle. Jones came up alongside him.

'Do you think the Colonel knows what he's doing?' Jones asked, 'he seems a bit…'

'Drunk?' Heinrich said, looking up from the radio, 'so what? If he gets killed we don't have someone around to tell us what to do. If he doesn't know what he's doing, it's not like it really matters? How long could we possibly be stuck out in this jungle for anyway?'

'You're right on some points,' Jones said, 'but this is a large planet. We don't even know how far we are off of the Captain's specialized area.'

'We shouldn't be that far,' Heinrich said, pulling a piece of plastic off of the radio, 'I'm pretty sure the plot knew what he was doing.'

'Yeah, that would explain why he's dead,' Jones said.
Heinrich patted him on the back.

'Look on the bright side,' Heinrich said, 'you couldn't have asked to crash on a more beautiful planet. If you thought about our situation and took out the parts about aliens that want to kill us, a possible supply shortage, low ammo and a guy who clearly doesn't know what he is doing leading us we're actually on a nice planet. I mean, as if you haven't wanted top experience a jungle before?'

'I prefer my own home to a hot, humid jungle,' Jones said, 'there's too many bugs here.'

'You don't like insects?'

'I don't like insects that are big and that bite. Everything else is fine unless they're annoying, like flies.'
Heinrich grinned, pushing through some palm fronds as they walked on.

'So, you're not an outdoors man, Jones?'

'Not really,' Jones replied. He paused. 'You seem to be enjoying yourself. Is it okay if I ask why?'

'This is possibly the most exciting thing that's happened for years in my life,' Heinrich said, 'there's plenty of Covenant aliens on this planet and it's our job to get rid of them.'

'Yeah, getting in a firefight is exciting,' Jones said, 'if you try not to think about the fact that you could get killed or maimed. Or if you ignore the fact that people around you are dying.'

'Always look on the bright side, Jones,' Heinrich said, beginning to fiddle with the circuits and wires inside his radio. He had gone into his 'concentration mode' and usually interrupting him would result in him swearing at the person who interrupted him.

They went on through the jungle, crossing some rough terrain. It was hot despite the fact it was beginning to get dark. The sun was starting to set and more stars were becoming visible in the near cloudless sky.

'Damn,' Heinrich muttered to himself.

'What's the matter?' Jones asked.

'It's just more difficult doing this than I first thought,' Heinrich said, 'especially when I'm on the move. Once we set up camp I'll get back to work on it. I need to concentrate in an easier environment.'

'Hey, Colonel,' a marine said. The Colonel stopped and turned around.


'Where the hell are we going?'

Colonel Vance paused. He took a while to answer, and it was pretty much the answer Jones had been expecting.

'I don't know, son,' Vance said, 'but we'll end up somewhere. Like I said, next clearing and we'll set up camp, if that's alright with you bunch.'

'You were right about him not knowing where he was going,' Heinrich said.

Vance started walking again, the others following him. Jones noticed a whining sound which gradually increased volume. He looked up and watched as a Banshee flew overhead, blotting out streams of sunlight as it flew over.

'Shit,' Vance said, seeing it fly over, 'looks like we'll have to keep a low profile.'

'No shit,' a marine said.

'Don't get smart, marine,' Vance said, pointing an accusing finger at the young marine.

'Sorry sir,' the marine said.

Vance looked around and realized that they were making much progress. Jones noticed up ahead there was a large waterfall coming down a cliff, falling into a large, blue lake.

'How about we try and find a cave,' Jones said, 'set up camp in there.'

'Good idea,' Vance said. He stepped through some undergrowth which then led out onto the bank of the lake. Unsurprisingly there was a Minor Elite and two Grunts standing by the lake, oblivious to the presence of the humans.

Jones and Heinrich stepped over to Vance, who was summing up their options in his mind.

'There's three of them there,' he said, 'if I can get close enough, I can blast them.'

'With that antique?' Jones said, raising an eyebrow and nodding towards the Colonel's double-barreled shotgun.

'Don't underestimate Faith,' Vance said.

'I'll just plug them from here,' Heinrich said, 'we can take them out easily. We outnumber them and we can just lay down combined fire. They won't know what hit them.'

'Alright then, how about we just kill them?' Vance said, 'rather than just standing around talking.'

Jones and Heinrich crouched down and raised their rifles. The other marines started moving around to the left flank as Jones and Heinrich readied their rifles.

Vance was moving along behind the undergrowth, making sure he wasn't spotted. He took a position about ten meters behind the three aliens. He put up a hand to signal everyone else to stop as he raised his shotgun.

'Let 'em have it!' Vance shouted.

Jones and Heinrich opened fire, quickly followed by the marines. The Grunts were cut down in a hail of gunfire, the Elite rolling off to one side as it realized what was going on. Under the combined fire the Elite's shield failed and the alien was sent stumbling backwards into the lake, peppered with bullets. It fell into the water, floating up to the surface and remaining there.

Jones and Heinrich got up and walked over to Vance and the marines.

'This is a nice place,' Jones said, looking at the waterfall and the lake.

'The water's fresh, so we won't have to worry about a water shortage,' Vance said. He looked towards the waterfall. 'There better be a cave or something here, otherwise there would have been no point in coming here.'

Jones started towards the cliff-face, going along a thin set of boulders which went behind the waterfall. There was a cave here, and it went into the cliff for about fifteen meters, leaving plenty of room for him and the others. It would provide perfect protection from the Covenant patrols, which seemed to be searching the area quite thoroughly. Jones waved over at the group and they walked over.

Jones stepped into the cave and sat down against the wall. It had been a long day, and all he would need now was some rest. Vance, Heinrich and the marines came in, Vance taking one good look around the cave before he reached into his backpack and took out a folded up portable chair.

'Well, this place seems alright for now,' he said, unfolding the chair and placing it near one of the walls, 'but to make sure we're not risking ourselves being found out, there's going to be watch duty shifts. Two hours each, in pairs. Jones and Heinrich, you two are first.'

Jones raised an eyebrow. More work, he thought.

'Why me?'

'Because I said so,' Vance said, sitting down. Two of the marines set up a small portable table and a few chairs, one of them taking out a pack of playing cards. A few of the other marines sat around the table.

'Come on, Jones,' Heinrich said, 'it'll be a good opportunity for me to work on this thing.'

Jones went back outside and sat next to Heinrich on the bank of the lake. There wouldn't be much to do unless they were actually found by the Covenant.

Heinrich began fiddling with the radio again. He was good at working technology, and you would have to be if you were Chief Engineer on any ship.

Jones looked around the area and could clearly see the structure up on a hill overlooking the entire valley. It didn't seem to be populated and looked ancient, having been untouched for centuries. He wondered who could have possibly built it without leaving any other trace of themselves behind. It definitely wasn't Covenant.

'Who do you think was here before us?' Jones asked, 'like, our probe found all these structures scattered across the planet. Who do you think built them?'

Heinrich looked up from what he was doing and turned to Jones.

'Well, the Covenant certainly didn't build them,' he said, 'it would be more likely if another race of aliens did. This planet was obviously important to them, but not important enough to set up full fledged cities, otherwise we would have been able to find said cities.'

'Yeah, but what kind of aliens were they?' Jones asked, trying to get a picture in his mind, 'they were obviously intelligent, intelligent enough to build majestic looking structures like the one on that hill.' He pointed over to the large ancient structure.
Heinrich glanced at it.

'Judging by that building, they were obviously a race of aliens who liked refined, mathematical based architecture. That building is symmetrical, and I can also say it contains a lot of angles important in mathematics.'

'Really?' Jones raised an eyebrow.

'If you had done as many engineering courses as me, you would notice them too,' Heinrich said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pair of binoculars. He looked at the building through them for about a minute, carefully examining the building.

'There's all sorts of geometric patterns etched into some of the surfaces,' he said, putting the binoculars back into his pocket, 'these aliens were capable of everything we are, but possibly capable of things only we could imagine.'

'Are you sure?' Jones asked.

'I'm just making assumptions based on what information I have now,' he said. He paused. 'I'm curious to find out whether those aliens are still alive and on this planet.'

'Do you think they would be friendly?'

'Let's hope so,' Heinrich said, 'we're already doing pretty bad fighting the Covenant.'

Ship Master Dras Amargee stood in front of the mirror, looking at himself with thoughts running through his mind.

Not much had gone right since they followed the humans to the planet, and as a result of this they had lost many troops and Dras had almost been killed. He stood with his armor off in front of the mirror, trying to decide whether he should take off the dark blue bandages that had been put on his wounds.

He didn't know what to think of the vision he had had earlier, but he was sure it had some kind of meaning. It could possibly be a premonition of Arna's death, and he couldn't bear to think about this. He would protect her, whatever the cost.

He could still feel some pain in the wound in his chest, but whatever Arna had done to it was making it heal faster than normal.
Dras reached for the large dressing that had been put on the wound and slowly started to peel it off, feeling a stinging sensation as he did. Arna had told him earlier to change the dressings every few hours, so he would do that now and check up on how the wound was healing.

The other one in the side of his stomach which had resulted from a large piece of shrapnel getting stuck there had turned out to be only a minor wound. This one was bandaged up as well with a longer lasting, more durable dressing.

Dras had peeled off the large square blue bandage. It stunk of chemicals, having slowly released them into the wound to help heal it. He looked at the ragged hole that had been torn through his flesh in the mirror. It had healed enough so it wasn't bleeding anymore, and he could see the little incisions Arna had made to remove the projectile.

He would get back at the human that had done this. Maybe not today, but he would. He knew he would. He would make sure it happened.

Dras threw the used bandage into a nearby waste disposal chute and picked up a new one that was wrapped in a disposable clear wrapping.
He took it out, noticed that it stunk even more so with chemicals and gently placed it over the wound.

He stood for a few minutes, staring at himself in the mirror. He knew they would have to act to make sure the humans didn't survive on the planet, and every Covenant soldier on the ships and down on the planet below was under his command.

He got dressed into the leathery under-layer that went underneath his armor before he got back into his golden yellow armor. It had been custom fit for him, which was a privilege that Sangheili over the rank of squad leader received.

Making sure it was all on correctly and fit snugly, he started for the door. His quarters were large, mainly because he was the commander of the ship. There was a bed on one side while the other had tables and chairs as well as a food processing unit that prepared meals and beverages.

He was about to leave and return back to his duty aboard the command deck when an irritating beeping sound caught his attention. It was the alert panel on the wall, showing that there was an important message for him.

Pressing a button, the screen displayed the message. He was wanted in the Prophet's chambers to discuss the matters at hand. Obviously this meant the Prophet would start telling him how to do his job again. Dras shook his head and switched off the panel.

He unlocked the door in his quarters and stepped out into the corridor. A pair of Kig-Yar (Jackals) walked past, chatting in their bird-like chittering language.

Dras started for the Prophet's quarters, which were located deep within the ship for maximum protection, not too far from the command deck. Along the way a few Sangheili soldiers nodded to him as he walked past them, acknowledging their commander. He nodded back, knowing how important it was to be friendly to his own troops. They were all good soldiers; otherwise they wouldn't be on the ship.

Taking a gravity lift down to the command deck, Dras made his way to the Prophet's chambers, the entrance being a large set of double doors at the end of a large hall. A few Honor Guards stood outside, and a familiar Sangheili Major was standing nearby, leaning against a wall in a casual manner.

Dras hadn't been here too often and was grateful he wasn't, since whenever he was here it was always something about the Prophet disliking his command methods. It didn't seem to be all that different this time, but Dras wouldn't know until he was actually in the Prophet's quarters.

As he started down the hall, the Major, Adros Demargee, waved at him to come over. Dras walked over to the Major. Usually the Major wouldn't be down here unless he was wanted by the Prophet as well.

'Adros, what is it?' Dras asked.

Adros didn't seem all too happy. He nodded over to the double doors leading into the Prophet's chambers.

'I just had to speak with him,' Adros said, 'he's not too happy. He wants to speak to you, and from what he told me, he thinks you're not doing your job well enough.'

Dras just shook his head.

'Out of all of the Prophets, we get stuck with the most annoying one,' Dras said. He sighed. 'What did he say?'

'He wants me to start working harder otherwise I might be replaced,' Adros said, 'apparently there are a lot of good Majors down on the planet below…'

'What else?'

'He's annoyed by the fact that most of the humans are now on the holy planet,' Adros said, 'he's planning to have you removed from your position if you don't prove your worth.'

'I'll deal with him,' Dras said, 'is there anything else I should know?'

'A group of humans, about twelve of them I think,' Adros said, 'they've taken over one of our command posts down on the planet. They took over a set of structures that we had been using as a supply depot and refueling point for our tanks and drop-ships. A friend of yours, a Special Operations officer, he was the commander there.'

'Teras?' Dras asked, remembering how he used to know this Sangheili officer, 'he was there?'

'Apparently our scout craft discovered that a group of humans had attacked the command post and had taken control of it. There are no reported survivors from the forces stationed there. That means…'

'Teras is dead,' Dras said, finishing Adros' sentence. Teras and he had been good friends when they had been at the main War College on Sanghelios. Dras felt a pang of regret that he couldn't have done anything to help his old friend.

'Try not to annoy the Prophet too much,' Adros said, 'like I mentioned, he may try and remove you from command of this mission.'

'I understand,' Dras said.

He glanced over at the double doors. It seemed that the Prophet wouldn't be too happy. At least he knew why.

'I'll see you soon, Adros,' Dras said. The Major nodded and started out of the hall.

Dras walked over to the double doors. The pair of Sangheili Honor Guards that were standing guard there stepped in front of them, putting their pikes in a sort of arch to stop him from entering.

'You do know who I am, right?' Dras asked.

'New security measures were put in place yesterday,' one of the Honor Guards said, 'it doesn't matter what rank you are, everyone must be checked before they enter.'

Dras felt a sharp sting in his arm and looked to his right to find a medical officer had just stuck a syringe through a gap in his armor.

'What was that for?' Dras asked as the syringe came out, filled with his own blood.

'DNA testing,' one of the Honor Guards set. The medical officer stepped over to a panel in the wall and squeezed the contents of the syringe onto a small clear slide. Slipping it through a slot in the panel, information regarding what was in it started appearing on the screen. The medical officer turned around and nodded.

'Sorry for the inconvenience Ship Master,' one of the Honor Guards said, 'but your identity checks out okay. Since we know you, we won't be subjecting you to a full body search for any possible weapons.'

Dras couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. He would have to speak with someone about these new security measures.

The Honor Guards stepped off to the sides, one of them keying a few commands into a holographic panel into the wall. The double doors slowly slid open, revealing a large, dimly lit chamber behind.

'Have a good day, Ship Master,' one of the Honor Guards said.
Dras nodded and stepped inside, the doors closing behind him. It was quite dark, the only light being from a small bench, an energy sword lying on it.

Dras waited a few seconds to see if anyone would come, and when no one did he continued further into the chamber.

He almost ended up punching a blue armored Sangheili officer in the face when he had come up behind Dras and placed a hand on his shoulder. The officer just managed a weak smile with his mandibles when he saw Dras' clenched fist.

'Sorry, sir,' the officer said. Dras recognized the officer as Rezus Armenee, an aide to the Minor Prophet aboard the ship.

'Where's the Prophet?' Dras asked.

'In his quarters, through the next door,' Rezus said, 'he's not too happy about the way you took care of the human vessel.'

'I was just following his orders,' Dras said.

'You tell that to him, then,' Rezus said. The lights came on and the door ahead opened into a slightly less large room. Sitting in the center on his floating chair was the Prophet, a frown on the alien's face.

Dras stepped into the room and the door closed behind him. The Prophet gazed at him, the alien's eyes showing some malevolence.

'Ship Master, it has come to my attention that your forces failed to eliminate the humans,' the Prophet said, leaning forward slightly. Dras didn't move, standing his ground. He couldn't let the annoying, frail alien annoy him.

'Your forces boarded the human ship,' the Prophet said, 'and failed to prevent the humans from escaping to the planet. They're probably down there now, defacing the holy Forerunner structures. All because you and your troops couldn't kill a bunch of humans.'

'Your Excellency, they were surprisingly ferocious fighters,' Dras said, 'and there were a lot of them. I myself was almost killed—'

'I am aware of what happened with you on board the human vessel,' the Prophet said, 'a single human managed to injure you and kill most of your squad. A single human. How could that happen?'

'This human, he, well…' Dras struggled to find something about the human that could help him describe it. There didn't seem to be anything special about the human.

'What about this human?' The Prophet asked, expecting Dras to have no good answer.

Dras didn't have a good answer.

'It was just a human,' Dras said, realizing it, 'a single human…'

'Which you in turn failed to kill,' the Prophet said, 'which I find strange considering your almost perfect combat record. You've won many awards and been promoted many times, but that situation on the ship…Well, I am beginning to doubt your fighting abilities…'
Dras decided he would just go along with what the Prophet said for now.

'You could have gotten all the information about the humans from their ship's computers,' the Prophet said, 'but you couldn't even do that. I am thinking of contacting High Charity and having them arrange you to be transferred…'

'Excellency, I won't let the humans escape again,' Dras said. He wanted to remain on this mission, as well as find the human that had almost killed him and also make sure that Arna was safe.

'That's not the point,' the Prophet said. The alien paused.
Just to let you know, I have ordered the crew to take this ship down to a particular installation. In this installation, the human commander is being held captive. As well as that, this ship needs minor repairs. It'll be positioned about two hundred meters over the plateau, a kilometer from the installation. The human was carrying information discs and says they contain the location of the human home-world.'

The Prophet reached into a small hatch in one arm of his hovering chair and retrieved two small, shiny round objects.

'These are what the human says contains the information,' the Prophet said, 'I am putting you in charge of making sure that other humans don't manage to rescue their commander. I also want you to take all the information off of these discs and store it onto our computers for later research.'

'So you're not going to replace me?' Dras asked, taking the discs.

'No, I'm giving you one last chance,' the Prophet said, 'and don't fail this time.'

There was a pause before the Prophet said something else.

'There's another matter: a group of humans has taken control of an important outpost used as a landing zone for scout craft and drop-ships, as well as a supply depot. I am leaving it up to you to decide whether it should be taken back or left to the humans. Let me say that leaving it to the humans will make them stronger, no doubt.'
Dras nodded. He was surprised the Prophet would even want to give him a second chance. He wasn't one to turn down this kind of thing.

'How long till we are near the installation?' Dras asked.

'Not long. I suppose you wish to interrogate the human prisoner?' The Prophet asked.

'Yes, of course I do,' Dras replied. He put the discs into a small 'pocket' in one of his armor plates and bowed his head slightly to show respect.

'I won't fail you again, Excellency,' Dras said.

'For your own good you shouldn't,' the Prophet said. The doors opened and Dras started back out.

Everything seemed to be fine now. The past failures had been almost forgotten about and now he could concentrate on what had to be done: re-take the outpost on the planet, interrogate the human prisoner and find out what was on the data discs.

Dras made his way out of the main hall and back into a corridor. He would head back to his quarters and store the discs there until later. He had other things to do.

Arriving back at his quarters, he found the door unlocked. No one else apart from Arna and Adros knew the code to get into his quarters, so he wasn't too worried about the unlocked door. He stepped inside and found Arna sitting on one of the chairs. She was in the regulation robes of an off-duty medical officer so that anyone hoo saw her knew that she was qualified in medical fields.
She looked up at Dras as he entered.

'I…I heard you were speaking to the Prophet, so I came in here to wait for you to return,' she said.

'Arna, what are you doing in here? It would seem a bit suspicious if anyone saw a medical officer in the Ship Master's quarters,' Dras said, placing the data discs on the corner desk, 'besides, you haven't been in my quarters for a while.'

Arna seemed only a little worried. Dras could sense she was happy about something and also a little shy.

'Anyone who saw us in here together would just think I'm checking on your wounds,' she said, 'besides, how are they?'

'They're fine,' Dras said, stepping closer to Arna, 'now, did you want to tell me something or is something wrong?'
Arna stood up and stepped close to Dras, putting a hand just below each shoulder.

'I'm in here because there's something important I need to tell you,' she said, 'it's private, only between us, and I thought your quarters would be the most private place.'
Dras turned around and locked the door. Turning back to her, he placed a hand on the side of her neck.

'What is it?' Dras asked.

'I…I've wanted to tell you this for a while, but I didn't now whether it was the right time or not,' she said. She paused, a long silence before she spoke again.

'Dras, I'm pregnant,' she said. She looked at him, giving the equivalent of a smile with her mandibles.

Dras didn't know what to think. He leaned forward so they were touching foreheads, one of his hands going on her abdomen.

'You are?' Dras asked, just trying to be sure.

'Yes, and it's definitely yours,' she said.

'How long has it been?' Dras said, 'I can't notice anything different about you…'

'About three months,' she said, 'I'm sorry if it's a bit of a shock…'

'Don't worry about that,' Dras said. Dras was surprised, but then he wasn't surprised at the same time as well.
Arna sat herself down on the bed. She looked up at Dras.

'I think it might be a male,' she said. Dras sat down next to her.

'Once were back on Sanghelios,' he said, touching foreheads with her again, 'we'll get a nice house and we'll raise him together, teach him everything he needs to know. I'll stop serving for the Covenant once we're back. I'll be a good father and I'm sure you'll be a loving mother.'

Dras remembered his other son that was apparently serving as a Minor on the planet below. That son was from a long gone relationship, an unwanted child in what had been a turbulent relationship. Arna knew about this and didn't seem to have much of a problem with it.

There was a short silence before Arna leaned forward and they locked their mandibles in a 'kiss'. Dras put one arm through her robes and slowly undone the knots keeping them on. Arna brought Dras down with her so they were lying on the bed. She grabbed at his armor plates and began taking them off.

He ran a hand down her beautiful, slender body. She helped him remove the leathery bodysuit that he had been wearing underneath his armor. She was at least a head shorter than him but she moved up in the bed so their heads were level. Dras moved closer, feeling the warmth of her body against his. She set the pace, putting a hand on Dras' back and pulling him forward ever closer. Dras removed his mandibles from hers and ran them across her chest, taking in her beautiful physique and feeling the warmth of her skin. One of her hands went down to his waist, pushing the lower half of his body forwards slightly. Dras moved in, feeling her twitching beneath him. She began to move with Dras, her muscles tensing and relaxing with each movement. He could feel his hearts thudding wildly in his chest as he pressed his body against hers.

Their movements had warmed the bed's mattress, Arna's breathing at a faster pace than normal. Their eyes met once more, this time Dras moved alongside her in the bed, letting her climb on top of him.

She let him in once more, trying to fight off her exhaustion. Soon they were lying side by side in the bed, Arna soon falling asleep, the only other noise being Dras' slow, easy breathing as he wrapped an arm around her.