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Fan Fiction

Not Exactly Human Ch. 6: Settling
Posted By: QuantumSheep<jasnash@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 3 July 2008, 4:52 am

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Jeff and the group had been trekking through jungle for a while now. All their radios weren't getting any signals and Jeff wasn't about to put Windtalker into his head again. Not yet. They would wait a while. There was bound to be some other humans around here somewhere.

He took a glance at the group walking behind him. They were all tired and weary, as well as dirty. Night was beginning to fall and he wasn't sure it would be safe to camp out in the jungle or not.

Jeff stepped atop a small boulder and was able to look through the trees and undergrowth ahead towards a small water stream. The sounds of the jungle at night were getting quite loud, with what sounded like crickets chirping and the growls of native species. No one would be able to tell from the sounds of the jungle and the sounds of any Covenant troops which may be sneaking up on them.

Jeff took his water canteen off his belt and took a few gulps of water. Despite the fact it was becoming night time, it was still quite hot and humid and he could feel himself sweating underneath the standard-issue armor plating and uniform he wore. He would be glad once they were off this planet, although that probably wouldn't be for a long time. There were Covenant ships orbiting the planet and Covenant ground forces all over it. No one would be leaving the planet anytime soon.

Besides, even if they got a ship they couldn't go straight to Earth without risking leading the Covenant there. Things weren't looking too good on the matter of leaving the planet.

Jeff put his water canteen away and started down towards the stream. The marines followed, slowly but gradually. He had to show them not everything was bleak, otherwise they would lose morale. Morale was already low after the destruction of Reach.

'Refill your water canteens in that stream,' Jeff said as they came alongside it, 'we'll take a break here. Right now we have to figure out a way of communicating with any other humans who might be nearby.'

The marines nodded, sitting down by the stream and refilling their canteens.

Jeff sat on a boulder and took off his pack. He opened it and looked through the rations he had scavenged from the crashed escape pod. There were your basic nutrition bars, some flavoured as generic fruits like strawberry and apple. They didn't taste all that good, even with flavour, but they gave you all the nutrients you needed to survive out in the field.

There were a few ready to eat meals packed in heated packaging. All you needed to do was open them, press the heat button and they would heat up. He would save those for later since he wasn't feeling too hungry.

He un-wrapped a mango flavoured nutrient bar and bit into it. It was chewy and had strange after-taste, but it would do for now. Hopefully someone had set up base camp and was storing supplies there. That was if someone had set up base camp. Otherwise there would be isolated pockets of humans that could easily be eliminated by Covenant ground forces. They would need to group together and get organized if they were to survive.

Jeff refilled both his water canteens at the stream and went over to where PFC Jacobsen and the marines were, sitting as a group along the stream. Most were too exhausted to say anything.

'Sir, whereabouts are we headed?' A marine asked, breaking the silence, 'we don't seem to be heading anywhere.'

'We're heading out of this area and hopefully will be able to find other humans,' Jeff said, 'I know it sounds a bit like I don't know what I'm doing, but neither does anybody else. We just have to survive and find any other humans.'

'I understand sir, but what makes you think there won't be more Covenant soldiers along the way we're headed?'

Jeff paused. He didn't know that, and that was what made it dangerous.

'I don't know that, and do you?'

'No, sir, I don't,' the marine replied.

'That's why we're just going to keep heading our way out of this valley and we'll try and find any other survivors from the ship, otherwise we'll just set up camp.'

With those points covered, Jeff sat down with the marines. One of them was falling asleep, head slowly dropping forwards. Jeff would leave him for now since he was feeling pretty tired himself and he could understand why that marine was falling asleep.

He summed up their options. They didn't have many and those they did have weren't all that great and organized. Once they were out of this valley Jeff would reawaken Windtalker because he had a feeling the AI could help.

A few minutes passed before Jeff got up.

'Let's get moving,' he said, 'there shouldn't be that long a walk out of the valley.'

They would be safer outside the valley since they could easily be surrounded while down in the valley, which, in essence, was just a giant 'ditch'. Ground troops could easily come down from both sides of the valley and they would be caught in the middle, making an easy turkey shoot for those ground troops.

They followed the stream along before it turned and flowed down towards one end of the valley. Once this happened, they headed off into the jungle.

Jeff wished he had some form of bladed object to cut through the thick branches and undergrowth that often got in his way, but then again he doubted there were many of those available on UNSC ships.

They pushed on through the jungle, coming close to the edge of the valley when Jeff put up a hand to signal the group to stop. They stopped, crouching low in the undergrowth as Jeff stepped forward to take a look at what caught his attention.
There was something shiny through the trees up ahead, a metallic shimmer that was an easy attention getter. He needed a closer look and so stepped through a line of undergrowth that went out onto a small deforested clearing.

The shiny thing was a Covenant gun emplacement, a plasma cannon mounted behind a bullet-proof purple metallic shield. The gun was protected on all sides, the shield acting as a sort of bunker. The Grunt standing behind the gun hadn't yet noticed Jeff yet, so using this to his advantage he went prone on the ground and started to sneak around the clearing.

He signalled to the others to follow. As they went around the clearing and out of the mounted gun's field of fire, Jeff could see a few large tent structures positioned behind it. The place seemed mostly deserted save for a few Jackals and Grunts standing around the small camp.

Either they could sneak past it or clear it out. If they cleared it out they wouldn't have to worry about anywhere sneaking up behind them later on.

Jeff once more signalled the marines to stop. He un-holstered the Turnwell Colt pistol, loaded a fresh magazine into it and crouched low, sneaking over and going behind one of the polyhedral tents that the Elites favoured.
The Jackals, who had their good eyesight and hearing, didn't seem to hear Jeff and he breathed a slight sigh of relief. He wouldn't want the entire area alerted to the presence of a small group of humans.

Jeff snuck around the side of the tent, finding the door open and the tent empty. A pair of Jackals was off to his right, their backs turned. They were both chatting in the screeching, bird-like tongue the aliens spoke. It was getting on his nerves.

He started sneaking towards them, making sure there were no other enemies in view. He would try and take care of as many as he could before the marines moved in and secured the area. He knew how exhausted everyone was and would try and make their job easier.

He came up behind the Jackal to the right of the other. He stood up, pulled the alien back, grabbing its head and twisting it at an awkward angle. There was a loud cracking sound and blew flew out of the alien's mouth.

The other Jackal turned around but before it could shout out and alert its allies nearby, Jeff hit it in the face with the butt of his pistol and then followed up with two quick kicks, breaking the alien's fragile frame easily. It fell backwards and crumpled into a heap.

Jeff looked around, letting the body of the Jackal with the broken neck drop to the ground. He could see a pair of Grunts standing on the edge of the clearing, looking out into the jungle but they obviously hadn't heard anything and so no one was alerted.

He continued past another of the tents and found a Covenant uplink crate. It was more or less a purple metallic crate with a screen and communications devices. A blue armored Minor Elite was standing near it, facing an angle so it couldn't see Jeff.

Jeff started towards it. He would have to do this right, since any wrong move and the Elite could easily get the better of him. He would take the chance that it hadn't activated its shield so he started behind it.

The Elite shifted on its spot and Jeff stopped. It didn't turn around and instead started fiddling with the controls on the uplink crate. Jeff continued forwards, coming straight behind the large alien. He grabbed its throat, pulled it back and twisted its neck. It was harder to do on the Elite than it was on the Jackal, obviously, but he managed it nonetheless and the alien fell with its head at an unnatural angle.

Jeff kicked the corpse and found a Covenant Needler weapon holstered on the alien's corpse. This alien weapon was loaded with pink crystalline shards which, when fired, homed in on the target and embedded themselves on it, detonating after a few seconds. They were deadly when clustered in large groups and Jeff could remember watching people get literally blown to pieces after several of the shards had clustered on them and detonated all at once.

Jeff made sure the weapon was loaded when he heard a shout. One of the marines was waving at him from the side of the clearing, pointing at the sky. Jeff looked up and spotted a Banshee heading along at a direct strafing run for him. Screw stealth, he thought, diving behind one of the tents.
Plasma bolts rained down upon where he had standing before the Banshee pilot turned his craft around and started to repeat the process.

By now the marines had begun firing, mowing down the Grunts closest to the mounted gun. A few Elites had come out of the tents and had begun firing at the marines who were crouched among the undergrowth.

Jeff kept his Needler in his right hand and took out his Colt pistol with his left. The Banshee was heading back and had opened up with its dual forward-firing plasma cannons. Jeff took a deep breath and stepped out from behind one of the tents, opening fire with his Colt.

The bullets glanced off the Banshee's armor, Jeff opening fire with his Needler at the same time. Most of the crystals merely bounced off the armor but some found their way onto the Elite piloting it, detonating and stunning the pilot momentarily.

Jeff rolled out of the way of the incoming Banshee. The pilot didn't have a lot of time to pull up and so smashed into one of the tents, breaking it into several pieces and destroying everything inside. There was a large explosion and a large fireball erupted out of the ruined tent, pieces of the Banshee scattering around the area.

Jeff got up and took a look at the destruction. The remains of the Banshee and the tent were smouldering and the charred corpse of an Elite in what used to be crimson armor lay amongst the wreckage.

Jeff reloaded his Needler and holstered the Turnwell Colt pistol. The marines had moved into the camp and were finishing off the last few enemies.

Once the camp was clear he and the marines grouped back together near the burning remains of the Banshee and tent. They would check if the camp was completely clear before moving on.

Jeff searched through the few remaining tents and found lying on one of the alien beds inside a small Covenant data-pad, its screen made out of a strong but thin glass-like material while the bottom of it which had all the buttons and controls was made from the usual purple-blue metal.

He pressed a few of the controls and the device came on, strange alien symbols running along the screen. He could get Windtalker to translate this; there may be something worth checking out on it.

Jeff went back outside and found the marines sitting near the burning and wrecked tent having a few drinks from their canteens.

'I think we should get going,' Jeff said, 'as soon as we're out of this valley I'll get out Windtalker and maybe he can help us with our communications problem.'

The marines slowly got back onto their feet and put away their water canteens. A few groaned at the fact they would have to stat walking again.

They started back into the jungle, trekking along when they started up the sloping ground that went out of the valley and towards more flat land.

As they moved up, Jeff could see a few Banshees flying over
the valley, looking for them. He and his group should be safe for now being under the cover of the jungle.

Moving out of the valley, they arrived in a small area that winded through open clearing and thick jungle, a large set of hills on one side. Fallen trees were scattered around and would provide decent enough cover if they ever found themselves in a gunfight.

Jeff spotted a small well covered area nearby which could serve as a temporary stop-off point for them. He pointed the group over to it and they once again ended up sitting around in this spot, some of the marines even falling asleep.

Jeff took out the AI Carrier Card and put his helmet back on. Inserting the card and feeling a slight buzz in his skull, he felt like throwing up when Windtalker's voce could be heard right inside his head.

'Please, I don't want to go on that card again,' the AI said, sounding worried, 'it'll drive me insane.'

'Probably for the better,' Jeff said.

There was a pause before Windtalker replied.

'If you don't like me, why did you still bring me back out?' Windtalker asked.

'Because I need your help,' Jeff said, somewhat reluctantly. He would be glad to give the AI to someone else once they found any other humans.

'Oh, so you've come crawling back just because you need my help,' Windtalker said, 'how sweet. What do you want?'

'Most of our communications equipment doesn't work and I was thinking, maybe you have some way of communicating?'

'Of course I do,' Windtalker said, 'and I can also translate that data-pad in your pocket.'

'How did you know about that?'

'I'm in your head, remember?' Windtalker said, 'so, do you want my help or not?'

'Sure,' Jeff said, 'just stop reading my mind.'

'Right,' Windtalker said, 'I don't suppose if it's alright if I ask one question?'


'What's it like living in New Mombasa?'

Jeff ejected the card from his helmet and was prepared to crush it against a nearby rock when he realized that probably wouldn't be such a good idea. He shook his head and inserted the card into his helmet again.

'I really got worried then,' Windtalker said, sounding a bit too happy, 'you could have seriously damaged me. As if you would want to hurt your old pal Windtalker?'

'For one thing, we're not pals,' Jeff said, 'now just try and get a signal to anyone who could be anywhere nearby, who is human. I'm not exactly one to speak to a Covenant alien.'

'Alright, that shouldn't be too hard,' Windtalker said, 'I guess you didn't know about the advanced audio technology in your helmet, then.'

'What technology?'

'An advanced communications device is in your helmet,' Windtalker said, 'now; I can simply use this and start scanning all the frequencies for any clues of who might be on the channels. It shouldn't take too long.'

'How come the Captain didn't mention the communications device in this helmet?' Jeff asked, 'he told me everything else…'

'He must have missed a point, then,' Windtalker said, 'and now that you know, you can probably work out how to use it yourself, but knowing you, you'll probably struggle with it…'

'Could you shut up and get on with it?' Jeff said, already tired of the AI.

'It's already done,' Windtalker said, sounding once again way too happy with himself, 'say hello to Major George Golding who's on the channel.'

'Hello? Sergeant?' The Major's voice came on over his helmet's radio.

'Major?' Jeff asked, 'is that you?'

'Of course it is, son,' the Major said, 'who else could it be?' He laughed.

'I'm not sure, Major,' Jeff said, 'so, what's your status?'

'My status? My status is fine. It just so happens my group's taken control of a Covenant outpost, some old structures of some sort. It's called "Camp Golding", after yours truly.'

'So, it's what, our base of operations now?' Jeff asked.

'Of course it is,' the Major replied, 'there are already some groups of marines and personnel here. We have a few Pelicans and some Warthogs, nothing too fancy just yet. I suppose you want pick up?'

Jeff looked at the marines. There were bound to be other groups scattered nearby.

'Pick up everyone else other than me,' Jeff said, 'I'm going to look for any more survivors. I'll contact you when I'm finished.'

'By yourself? I'll send a few of my ODSTs down there to help out. I'll get a Pelican there as soon as possible to pick up the marines and drop off the ODSTs. This is Golding reporting out.'

The radio went silent and Jeff switched it off.

'We'll stay here until the Pelican arrives,' Jeff said to the marines, 'there's enough room for it to land.'

Jeff sat himself down on a nearby boulder. It was about ten minutes before the Pelican arrived, touching down nearby. About three ODSTS in the new chrome armor came out, the marines stepping into the back of the craft in their place.
The ODSTs stepped over to where Jeff was sitting and saluted.

'Corporal Patterson reporting for duty, sir!' The ODST exclaimed.

'Just drop the salute,' Jeff said, 'we're here to look for survivors, not waste time with this pointless military stuff. Now let's get moving.'

'Yes sir,' the Corporal said, the three ODSTs dropping their salutes, 'sorry sir.'

They started along through the jungle and small clearings, taking it slowly and trying to keep as low a profile as possible. Jeff was thinking whether he should of asked for a means of transport, although it would be impossible to fit any vehicle through the jungles of the area.

As they progressed through the jungle, pushing through undergrowth and branches, Windtalker abruptly broke the silence of the area with his voice.

'There's a signal,' he said, 'it's probably some survivors. It's not too far from here, but judging from how it seems dampened I would say there in a structure or underground or something.'

'Thanks,' Jeff said.

'Your welcome.'

'Now shut up,' Jeff said. The AI fell silent, obviously deterred from speaking for now.

Jeff and the squad continued through some jungle before coming to a short drop which overlooked a river. The river flowed down to the left and a stone structure was on the other side, its side etched with organized, geometrical patterns. A few columns jutted out from the roof of the structure which looked to be only the top of something larger, most of which was probably underground.

Looking around, he saw a short slope leading down to their side of the river and he directed his squad down it.
There was a flash of blue in his peripheral vision and he dived to the ground as plasma bolts flew overhead, a group of Grunts being lead by a single crimson armored Elite on the other side of the river.

Jeff raised his Needler from his prone position and opened fire, the needles homing in on some of the Grunts, sticking to them and detonating, blowing large holes in the small, stubby forms of the Grunts.

The ODSTs opened fire, cutting down the rest of the Grunts. The Elite dived into some nearby undergrowth and lay prone, firing with its Plasma Rifle at the ODST squad. Jeff saw one of the ODSTs take a hit, the regenerative armor quickly repairing itself with the ODST only suffering a minor burn.

The Needler wasn't a lot of help so Jeff put it away and took out the Turnwell Colt pistol, getting up so he was crouched and firing at the Elite, only partly visible through the undergrowth. He saw the alien's shield flare.

The Elite rolled and opened fire, Jeff returning fire while ignoring the plasma bolts that flew around him. The Elite's shield failed once Jeff had emptied the magazine and the squad opened fire, bullets ripping holes in the ground near the prone Elite before one caught it in the back of the head and it lay still.

Jeff and the squad moved down to the bank of the river, one of the familiar horse-shoe shaped purple-blue Covenant drop ships flying overhead as they came down to the river. It stopped over some trees a few hundred meters away and descended, disappearing out of sight for about half a minute amongst the jungle before it ascended and took off in an easterly direction.

This obviously meant more Covenant troops were on their way. Jeff took one final look around the area and saw an escape pod lying down the river on the other side, a thick plume of smoke coming from the engines.

'They must be in this structure,' Jeff said, pointing to the small structure across the river. It had an opening in one side which seemed to lead to a downwards ramp leading underground. According to Windtalker the nearest group of humans was in a structure close by and this was the obvious one to check out.

Jeff went to the entrance and looked inside, down the ramp which went deeper underground. It was getting dark now, night falling on this part of the planet. The ramp was surprisingly well lit, small lights embedded in the stone in the floors on each side of the gradually descending corridor.

Jeff started down it, getting one of the ODSTs to keep a tab on what was behind them as they went down.

Jeff was surprised at the intricacy of the patterns etched into the floors. They formed patterns and were well organized. Whoever had built this place had put a lot of effort into the structures they built. He was aware that there were plenty more on this planet thanks to the information the probe they sent from the Winter Sunshine earlier sent them.

Following the descending corridor, it opened up into a large room, looking much the same in design with the walls and the columns. Lights were embedded in the floors along the sides and there were a few pyramid-like formations in the center of the room.

On the far side of the room a pair of Jackals stood at the alert. Jeff directed the ODSTs around the left flank as he went around the right.

The Jackals were easily brought down into the combined fire before Jeff and the ODSTs moved through the open doorway the Jackals were standing near. They followed a hallway past a corner and into another room. Here, about five marines, one of then in a Sergeant's uniform and two men in technician uniforms were waiting.

Satisfied that they had found the missing group of humans, Jeff approached the Sergeant. The marines seemed to be on the alert, a few dead Grunts lying near the open doorway across the room.

'I'm glad somebody was actually looking for us,' the Sergeant said as Jeff approached, 'there were thirteen of us but six of us were gunned down outside. The Covenant has this area fairly well secured.'

'Do you think it's safe if we head back to way we came?' Jeff asked, 'a drop ship only came by a few minutes ago…'

'We'll head through here,' the Sergeant said, pointing over at the open doorway, 'we came in from there. I'm not sure if there are any enemies that way, but there's only one way to find out.'

The group headed out through the open doorway, following a hallway as it turned corners and started to gradually ascend before they were outside, this time on a hill surrounded by more of the structures, most of them made up of large, metallic pipes which went in and out of the ground.

Jeff looked around the area and could see the river a fair way behind, Covenant Grunts and Elites entering the structure through the entrance by the river. Looking down the hill and into the jungle below, he could see a few Grunts and Elites taking position amongst the undergrowth and trees.

'They're surrounding us,' Jeff said, 'we'll have to get the ones that come through this exit, as well as the ones at the base of the hill.'

'You want me to call back-up?' The Sergeant asked, 'all we need is a Pelican with a really big gun.'

'Do it,' Jeff said. He turned to the ODSTs.

'Plant some charges in that hallway,' Jeff said, pointing at the exit of the structure, 'make sure nothing comes out of it.'

The ODSTs nodded and went back into the structure, some unpacking C12 charges.

The marines and the Sergeant opened fire on the Grunts and few Elites that were amongst the jungle at the base of the hill. The Sergeant was talking into his radio, asking for a Pelican to get here. Hopefully none of the Covenant ground forces in the area had anything capable of taking down a Pelican.

Jeff crouched down and noticed a few Grunts moving up along the river towards them. He opened fire with his Needler, taking the Grunts down. Reloading, he watched as a Pelican drop ship came over some hills off to his left, the rocket pods located on both its wings opening fire.

Rockets whooshed through the air and zoomed down to the Covenant infantry in the jungle. Dirt, leaves and splinters of wood erupted into the air as the rockets made contact with the ground, the Covenant ground troops disappearing from view.

The Pelican began to descend at the side of the hill, the marines and two technicians clambering aboard. The three ODSTs came running out of the hallway as they were followed by a thunderous explosions, smoke shooting out through the open hallway and the ground shaking beneath Jeff's feet.

The Pelican drifted off, its engines hardly making a noise. Jeff got up and surveyed the area. The jungle in front probably had few stragglers left in it after the rocket strike, but it would be their safest bet to continue on. Jeff tapped his helmet and tried to get Windtalker's attention.

'Hello, Windtalker?' Jeff asked, 'are you still there?'

'Why wouldn't I be?' The AI replied, 'it's just that you don't seem to want me talking…'

'You don't know when to shut up for one thing,' Jeff said. He paused. 'Are you picking up any more signals from UNSC personnel around here?'

It was a few seconds before Windtalker responded, obviously checking the airwaves.

'As a matter of fact, I am,' he said, 'just follow the river upstream. That Chief Engineer guy, Rommel, he's sending out a strong signal from somewhere up the river.'

Jeff raised an eyebrow. If Rommel was there, Jones would probably be as well. That meant they were fine, although if it was just Rommel on the signal that could mean anyone with him could be dead…

He doubted that fact, though.

'Anyone else?' Jeff asked.

'No, not that I can tell,' Windtalker said, 'although there's one other thing: whoever's leading the Covenant here is doing a pretty intelligent thing.'


'Because he's encrypted the Covenant battle-net,' Windtalker replied, 'but since I'm such a marvel of computer technology, I've managed to hack into it and I've also managed to decrypt most of the important crap, like…'

'Like what?' Jeff asked. He wasn't too sure what the AI was getting at.

'Like the fact that the leader of the Covenant forces seems to be after you,' Windtalker said, 'there's been a description sent out throughout the battle-net letting everyone know to be on the lookout for you.'

Jeff was surprised. He was actually wanted by the Covenant. It made him feel somewhat special considering they now all seemed to be watching out for him.

'Is that true?' He asked.

'Yes, and that's not the only thing: I've managed to get into the profiles of practically all the high ranking Covenant officers, most of them being Elites, and I've discovered that there's a Prophet on board their flagship.'

'A Prophet?'

'Yeah, one of the big main guys of the Covenant,' Windtalker said, 'if we can capture this Prophet alien guy, we may be able to interrogate it and find out loads about the Covenant. As well as that, I've discovered the fate of the Captain.'

'Where is he?'

'He's being held in a Covenant outpost on a plateau about fifty kilometres eastwards,' Windtalker said, 'and the flagship, the Justifiable Light is hovering over the outpost under minor engine repairs. We have everything we could want in the one area.'

'Tell this to the Major when we get to Camp Golding,' Jeff said, 'he'll organize something.'

Jeff looked at the three ODSTs, who had been standing around waiting for him to say something. They were eager to do their job, he was sure of that.

'We'll be following the river upstream,' Jeff said, 'so just stick together as a group.'

Jeff and the ODSTs started down the hill, entering the thick jungle and moving through it so they were close to the river. The rocket attack had left large craters in the ground and the corpses of a few dead Grunts and Elites lay scattered about them.

Moving along the river and pushing through bushes and other forms of underbrush, Jeff was able to see a waterfall down the river, a large lagoon below it. It was a fair walk and he reckoned that this was the area Windtalker had mentioned.

Pushing through the jungle, they came to a small area where a few cut down trees were located. A pair of Minor Elites sat on a purple metallic bench at one end of the small cleared area, talking in their native, guttural tongue. They hadn't noticed Jeff and the three ODSTs yet, so holding up a hand to signal the ODSTs to stop, Jeff went down low and started to move around the two seated Elites.

Coming up behind them, he thought of what to do next. He would get the ODSTs to open fire on them while he fired from behind, staying low so the ODSTs wouldn't shoot him by accident.

'Fire, now!' He shouted.

The Elites barely had time to react before they were peppered with rifle rounds from the hidden ODSTs, slumping where they sat and falling silent.

Jeff got up and pushed one of the dead Elites off the bench. Switching his Needler for the dead alien's Plasma Rifle, he nodded to the ODSTs that the Elites were dead and it was safe to get up.

Continuing through the jungle, they finally came close to the waterfall and found that the humans taking shelter there were under attack by a group of Grunts and Elites scattered along the banks of the river. Rifle fire was coming from a familiar figure in a yellow and grey technician's uniform who was crouched behind some boulders on a ledge running near the waterfall. Marines were scattered across it and were laying down constant fire on the attacking Covenant soldiers.

Heinrich was the familiar figure and seemed to notice Jeff and the ODSTs arrive since he waved at Jeff before immediately resuming firing at a pair of Minor Elites on the other side of the lagoon.

Jeff directed the ODSTs to the left flank while he took the right. There were a few Grunts on the banks nearby and Jeff gunned them down with his Colt pistol before moving along the banks.

He came to the pair of Elites, both of them with their backs turned, busy firing upon the humans on the ledge. Jeff fired quickly and repeatedly into the back of one of them, bringing the alien down. The other turned around but its shield failed as it took combined rifle fire from the people on the ledge. Jeff fired a shot in the Elite's throat. It put a hand there, making a gargling sound as it fell onto its knees and then fell forwards onto the ground.

Jeff moved along the banks, taking down the last few remaining Grunts. Eventually the area was cleared of the small Covenant presence and the people in the ledge and those that had been in the cave behind the waterfall came out to greet Jeff and the ODSTs.

Jeff was glad to see that Heinrich and Jones were okay. They approached him, the slightly swaggering Colonel Timothy Vance standing a few meters behind them, leaning against a boulder and mumbling to himself.

'I didn't think anyone would find us,' Jones said, 'but Heinrich managed to conjure up some sort of powerful signal emitter or something…'

'It was just some modifications,' Heinrich said, 'I'm glad you came. I was afraid we would be stuck with the Colonel for, well…as long as we spend on this planet.'

'Did someone mention me?' The Colonel asked from where he was.

'No,' Heinrich replied, not even looking back at the Colonel. He grinned.

'So, what now?' He asked.

'I'll get a Pelican to pick us up and take us back to base camp,' Jeff said, 'apparently Major Golding and his squad have taken control of a Covenant outpost in some ancient structures. It'll be our base camp from now on.'

'Well, let's get the hell out of this jungle,' Jones said. He lowered his rifle and wiped the sweat off of his brow. He glanced up at the early evening sky and then back at Jeff.

'I'm not surprised that you're still alive,' Jones said, patting Jeff on the shoulder, 'you know how to look after yourself.'

'I just do what I usually do,' Jeff said. He wasn't exactly sure what it was that kept him alive through everything that had happened to him through his military career, but every time Jones had asked he had said the same thing.

'I just wing it,' Jeff said.

Major George Golding had set up an office where the Special Operations Elite he had killed earlier had had its desk. He was using that desk right now. It was kind of higher than the ones he was used to, but it would do.

Ever since they had started broadcasting for any other humans to get to Camp Golding marines, technicians and just plain anybody who had escaped the Winter Sunshine had been arriving, bringing with them crates of supplies, fresh water, weapons, equipment, Warthogs, a few Scorpion tanks and about three Pelicans. There was plenty of room in and around the set of structures for all the survivors. George had set up a bunk in the corner of the large open room, using some portable radiators as a heat source and a few fans as his office's 'air conditioning'. The fans were on now; set up so one was on each side of his desk and another behind where he was sitting. It was still hot despite the fact it was getting to be night time. The Captain had wanted them to all land in the one particular area, and that area had happened to be near the planet's equator.

This meant they wouldn't be getting a lot of rain but they would be getting a lot of sun and heat.

He had a stack of papers in front of him, partly because they didn't have very many data-pads and so had to use the equipment they had to make old fashioned print-outs on paper. They weren't using proper paper, either. They were using paper towels and other forms of hygienic papers since they had no proper paper.

The stack of paper towels piled on the purple-blue metal desk were concerning the amount of supplies they had. Thanks to the many mix-ups that the Winter Sunshine had gotten into back at Reach, they were now the lucky owners of over two hundred frozen dead chickens, a few chainsaws and more basic food supplies. One of those chainsaws was currently lying upon a small wooden table near George. They had obviously been for the loggers at Reach in the Pike's Creek wilderness but now they were here and George had decided to put them to good use. He had already sent a few people outside to start clearing the forest around the structures so they had a more open view of the area.

A technician walked into the room, dressed in the yellow and grey technicians uniform they all seemed to wear.

'Major, a Pelican's just landed on the balcony,' the technician said, 'there's a guy there who needs to talk to you.'

The balcony was the large outdoor courtyard which overlooked the jungle. It was big enough for most of their Pelicans to land and be refuelled and repaired and would be the base's landing strip.

'Who is it?' George asked, 'is it the Sergeant?'

'He was a Sergeant, so I suppose it's the one you're looking for,' the technician said, 'should I let him speak to you?'

'Yes, just bring the man in,' George said. The technician left and Sergeant First Class Jeff Ganszo came in, holding the prototype helmet in one hand.

'Here,'' he said, putting the helmet on the desk and sounding irritated, 'you can take care of the AI that's in that helmet. I really don't want it anymore.'

George raised an eyebrow.

'So, you made it here,' the Major said, 'I guess you found some survivors?'

'About twenty-five,' Jeff said, flicking a catch on the helmet. A small plastic card covered in circuitry popped out of a small slot in the helmet. Jeff let it fall onto the table.

'Whoever built that AI must have wanted it to be annoying,' Jeff said.

George picked up the card and slotted it into the portable AI pedestal on the desk. It was a holographic image projector to be precise and was usually used to project an AI.

'I also managed to find the Colonel,' Jeff said, 'he's outside looking through some supply crates. The guy's probably looking for alcohol.'

'What about the Captain?' George asked as the image of Windtalker, a World War Two American GI, appeared from the projector.

'That's what I wanted to talk to you about,' Jeff said, his tone lowering, 'he was aboard the Winter Sunshine when it crashed, and that ship is apparently about fifty kilometres east from here.'

'What the Sergeant is trying to say,' Windtalker said, 'is that I've found out that the Covenant has captured the Captain and murdered the other commanding staff that was with him. He's being held in an outpost about sixty kilometres north-west of here, on a plateau amongst some light forest and grassland. There's the Covenant flagship hovering over it as well, the Justifiable Light it's called. That means if we want to rescue the Captain, we'll have to do it so the entire complement of Covenant troops on the ship doesn't come down and ruin the rescue mission.'
George paused for a moment, obviously thinking about all of this.

'Is there any way to the outpost without alerting the Covenant?' He asked.

'I can play around with their signals and, if we flew a Pelican there, I could make them think it was one of their own.'

'How does in the next two hours sound?' The Major asked.

'I could do it now…'

'No need,' George said, 'we'll give everybody some rest.' He turned to Jeff. 'You'll be leading that rescue mission, Sergeant.'

'But I just got back—'

'Don't complain, son,' George said, 'you're the most able man for the job. Get some rest.'

He switched off Windtalker and put his hand into a small tray that had been placed on the desk. From it he took out a thick, hardcover book titled A Soldier's Guide to the Jungle.

'Sergeant, if we're going to be fighting in jungle and forests,' George said, 'maybe we could take a few ideas from this book here. You know about the Vietnam War, don't you?'

'Not really…'

'It was back in the twentieth century, fighting Communism in Vietnam. Wasn't a very popular war, but I've been thinking about it and I believe it's possible we could gain the upper hand on the Covenant by using the tactics employed by the Vietcong soldiers in that war. Same goes with the rebels in this book.'

'I don't think I know what you're getting at…'

'Traps and guerrilla tactics,' George said, 'we have the environment on our side. I don't think the Covenant is quite used to organizing ground engagements and they obviously don't want to toast this planet. I've gotten some of my men to start setting traps up in the jungles around the base. Trip wires with grenades, pit traps, you name it.'

'And why are you telling me this?' Jeff asked.

'Because if you're going to be going out there tonight against a large Covenant force, you may want to read up on how to set up these traps. They're in this book right here.' He slid it along the desk. Jeff picked it up and flicked through it.

'Another thing before you go,' George said. He got up and walked over to what looked to be a few objects covered in a black tarp about nine feet across. Stepping over for a closer look, he noticed that it was just the one object and seemed to be bumpy in places.

'What is it?' Jeff asked.

'Before I answer that, just answer this question,' George said, 'do you know anyone authorized in, say, surgery? Medicine even?'


'Because I've gotten my medic friend Private Alan to set up a bit of a chemistry set in a back room. We're going to start making homemade weapons, and I want to find something that will hurt these bastards a lot, something along the lines of gas.'

He lifted up part of the tarp and Jeff could see the empty stare of a dead Special Operations Elite, a large hole in the front of its head.

'Why are you keeping that?' Jeff asked. The Major was probably used to this kind of thing from hunting deer and other game, but keeping a dead Elite wasn't something you would usually do.

'Say, where's that Chief Engineer guy?' George asked, ignoring his question, 'if he's an engineer, he would probably know how to handle a scalpel.'

'You want an autopsy done on that thing?' Jeff asked, raising an eyebrow, 'why?'

'So we find out what they're vulnerable to,' the Major said,
putting the tarp back over the Elite's head, 'that way we have the upper hand in a fight. As well as an Elite, I've got a few dead Jackals around the back.'

'I'll talk to Heinrich,' Jeff said, 'but I don't think he's the kind of person you're looking for. Haven't we got any doctors?'

'No, we're short on medical staff,' George said, 'Alan would do it but he gets sick just looking at the hole I blasted in its head. I want to find out if there's anything they're vulnerable to. I would prefer to make nerve gas that affected them and only them, if you get my drift…'

'I understand,' Jeff said, 'why not just stick with normal nerve gas?'

'We haven't got much of the stuff and it affects us humans. I don't want to let some off and then end up killing myself with it.'

'Is that all you wanted to talk about?' Jeff asked.

'Well, this place was belonged to the Covenant,' George said, 'it acted as a supply depot. You want to see what kind of supplies they kept in here?'

George walked over to a crate near the small pool of water at the back of the room. Opening it he took out a small blue wrapped package which glinted in the light. It smelt kind of sweet.

'I have no idea what this is, but Frank assures me it tastes alright,' he said, unwrapping it and taking off a chunk of what appeared to be a thick, white looking meat. 'You want some?'

'Frank? He's here?' Jeff asked. He probably shouldn't be too surprised that Lieutenant Frank Hastings escaped from the Winter Sunshine. Despite the fact that the man was a loose cannon, he could get through a fight.

'So, do you want some?' George said, putting a piece in his mouth and chewing. 'It's chewy. Hell, it tastes like lemonade.'

He put the package back into the crate and looked at Jeff.

'The Lieutenant doesn't seem to like you much,' he said, 'apparently you knocked out all his front teeth. Must have been one hell of a punch.'

'Yeah, he was asking for it,' Jeff said, 'I'm over it, but it seems Frank isn't.'

'I don't see what's so bad about having fake teeth that are twice as strong as the ones that grow in your mouth originally. It's like having fake legs that run twice as fast as the ones you had originally. I wouldn't care too much.'

'Is this all, Major?' Jeff said, wanting to leave so he could take a nap, 'I'm feeling kind of tired.'

'Yeah, you can go Sergeant,' the Major said, 'just don't forget to tell your Chief Engineer friend about the offer to do the autopsy. I'm sure he wouldn't mind. It's not like we're cutting open a dead human, am I right?'