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The Renegade: Chapter Two
Posted By: QuantumSheep<quantumsheep@optusnet.com.au>
Date: 10 December 2009, 6:15 am

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It was not long before Major Kalara had erupted into a full blown talk about what he had done the day before while he had been in the settlement. I sat listening, only fingering the food on my tray because of its somewhat unappetising appearance. By this time in the morning other officers and plenty of Minors were flowing into the commissary, collecting trays and piling them full of the substandard food available before heading to their seats. The noise level had increased slightly as more and more nearby conversations began to pile up upon each other, creating a cacophony of voices, each one trying its best to be heard over all of the others. Every morning was like this here in the commissary and each morning I kept a relative silence, left to ponder over why the food here was so terrible among other things.

The officer's table was only populated by a few other officers for now and so the general noise level was relatively low in our corner of the commissary. Again, I looked down at my tray and ignored the rumbling of my stomach. Oddly enough, I was not in the mood to do much today, especially eat a substandard breakfast.

Kalara was talking, regardless of whether I was actually listening to him or not. He either did not care or did not notice, or perhaps it was some of both possibilities. As much as I liked Kalara as a friend, he had the habit of talking far too much. He and I had both come here, to this world to serve at this military base at the same time, having both been put on the same flight. This had been five years ago and at the time the military base had been barely populated, home to perhaps two dozen Minors and one other Major. It seemed our military had seen fit to pool as many resources as possible into this military base, thus strengthening our presence on this somewhat contested world. I say this because the amount of Minors and other officers increased over those five years since my arrival in a steady but noticeable manner. If the military base's computers were not mistaken (and I highly doubted that they were) it seemed that there were over two hundred Minors serving at this military base, lead by about forty officers (myself included). Strangely enough the humans were not doing the same, as if they could not care less about their own kind that called this planet home. There was, according to recent reports, a human cruiser in orbit but this only seemed to coincide with the arrival of the human officer earlier in the day. Why that human officer was here, I did not know and I had little way of finding out. If the human was here to talk to the Commander it must have been over a very sensitive matter.

The interior of the commissary was often the same temperature as the outside because of a lack of working climate control systems. There had been many complaints made to those responsible for maintaining the base's systems but nothing had been done about it, subjecting those in the commissary to either an incredibly hot and humid environment or one that was incredibly cold. Currently it was the former as it was the beginning of an ordinarily hot day in this region of the world, albeit the inside of the commissary would be slightly warmer because of the many bodies occupying the building. I felt somewhat uncomfortable within my armour but so did everyone else so I did not complain about it. I had learned to get used to such annoyances while serving here on this world, although many of the newer soldiers transferred here from elsewhere could cope very well with the conditions.

Kalara was rambling on to my right and seemed to be far from falling silent. As he spoke he used one piece of cutlery to fiddle with his food, anxiously playing with it but not actually proceeding to eat it. Rather, he seemed to be thinking the same as me: it was not worth eating.
"It is another beautiful day, is it not?" He asked, nodding towards the nearest window. Outside the sky had gone from the eerie orange glow of dawn to one of bright blue vitality. The sun, one that was young and burning furiously, hung over the horizon. The tops of jungle trees were visible from this particular window, their leaves glinting in the bright sunlight. Such a sight might have made a welcome break from the urban cityscape I had been subjected to for most of my life on Sanghelios but even such a nature-oriented view such as the one through the window could grow tiresome eventually.

I did not share Kalara's attitude about the day, especially since I had already deemed this topic as one commonly associated with utter irrelevance. It was no surprise to me that Kalara was capable of bloating an ordinary conversation into an overly rant.

"The sun is bright, hot, young…The air is warm and the sky has a lively, unpolluted glow. I do not believe that we have had such a perfect day for a number of months, do you not agree with me, Ira?"

"I…I…I cannot say…" I was not particularly interested in the matter Kalara was discussing, instead taking the time to spoon a large amount of the nutrient paste on one part of my tray into my mouth. It was typical military base cuisine, providing all the necessary nutrients required for a Sangheili such as I while being cheap and easy to produce in large amounts.

"You never do say much, do you Ira?" Kalara asked. He frowned as he delivered the question. I had heard the same question delivered in the same manner numerous times, almost every day when the both of us sat down at this very table in the morning to eat. He did not seem to recall asking the same question to me every day but I always remembered to deliver the same answer.

"I do not see reason to," I replied.

"That is typical of you, Ira," he said, "You have always been like this, ever since we arrived here. I would think that you might have a problem with this world, with the very posting with have here…"

"Everything here is as it should be," I said, interrupting him before he could get started proper, "And that is why I have a problem with this world and this base. Everything that occurs here is merely part of a routine, one that happens every day with the only pause being our fortnightly visit to the nearby settlement. It is a monotonous routine, one that I grew tired of years ago. It is a routine I would like to take a lengthy rest from…"

"When was the last time you took leave?" Kalara asked. I paused to contemplate the thought. Leave? It had never occurred to me, especially as leave was the very last thing I would be thinking about at any given time. I would certainly be entitled to a lengthy amount of leave since I had been serving at this military base for five years. Nobody had once suggested the notion of taking leave to me once, up until now. And it was a notion I would exploit immediately, just as soon as I had some spare time. That should not be long from now, as I could easily take the matter to the Commander once breakfast was finished. As a result of these thoughts I grew somewhat more confident in the day ahead, unable to quite fathom why I had not attempted to capitalise on my entitlement to leave earlier.

"I do not know," I replied simply. Before I had been transferred to this world I had served on board a Sangheili carrier, one of the finest in our grand fleet. Serving on board a ship that was on constant patrol on the edges of Sangheili space did not provide one much of an opportunity for leave, hence explaining why I did not think about it even when I was now serving on a frontier world with numerous settlements to rest in. A fortnightly day off seemed insignificant in comparison to the half a year I could take as leave, although I did not know where I would actually go within this time. I realized that I was getting ahead of myself since I had actually not gained the leave I was suddenly excited about. The excitement was only minimal though and was not evident on any of my outer features. I made an effort to present myself as business-minded as possible as did most of the other officers.

Kalara seemed to laugh at my response but it was hard to tell, most probably because of the paste he had been attempting to swallow at the time. He coughed and gagged instead, taking up his container of water and swallowing a sizeable portion of its contents in order to counter the effects of swallowing the food "down the wrong way". There was that brief flash of thought within my mind that the man would choke and if he did I would be the one most ready to aid him. I certainly did not welcome the prospect, fearful that I would error or at the very least embarrass myself…or both. Both were the worst possibility.
Kalara recovered much to my relief and after a brief pause to recover, he turned his gaze back towards me. He seemed to regard me with a carefully levelled expression before talking.

"I did not think that someone such as you could be so single-minded," he said. I did not whether I should take this as an insult or not. I let him continue on without interruption anyway, thinking that he might have something to add to this assumption. I certainly did not think of myself as "single-minded".

"It never occurred to you once that you should capitalise on the amount of time you have served here?" Kalara asked, sounding incredulous, "Not once?"

I shook my head. His eyes seemed to widen slightly but this look faded almost as soon as it had appeared. I could not understand why he was having such a hard time in believing this.

"Ira, I try to acquire permission for leave from here all of the time," Kalara said, "The Commander, I think, does not like me. He never accepts my requests for leave and he always rejects me through his assistant…Not from himself. That is what irritates me the most."

"I thought he was like that to everybody?" I asked. The Commander could be a tough man at times but I thought that overall he was running this base rather well. I had had plenty of less competent superiors during my military career so the Commander, who was both competent and organized, was a welcome relief from those less skilled leaders. He was a likeable man, the Commander, one who commanded respect from those around him. It was not my business to care whether or not he liked Kalara, for whatever reason.

"I suppose he is," Kalara replied, looking thoughtful for a moment. Obviously the notion was enough to get him thinking about the Commander and the man's way of running the base and treating those under him on the chain of command.

"Although, if you requested leave I am quite certain he would not be able to reject," Kalara continued, "You are, after all, one of the more respected Majors on this base."

I frowned again. I had heard this plenty of times from others. Apparently I was quite well regarded amongst those higher-up and some had come to question why ability such as my own was being wasted on a monotonous posting here, on a planet on the edges of chartered Sangheili space where nothing very much happened. However, I did not let such commendations make me complacent and overconfident. Rather, I preferred to remain modest, most likely because I did not know how else to react. I always found it difficult to take the encouragement of others, simply nodding my head when someone told me how good I was at something. How else was I to reply? I did not know and I doubted I ever would learn. I did not wish to appear overconfident.

"Do they really think that?" I asked.

"Of course they do," Kalara replied rather bluntly, "You have always had the habit of making a name for yourself, especially when we are deployed to control riots within the settlement. You always manage to do something noteworthy, something that gets the attention of the Commander and his associates. And as a result they speak highly of you on their reports. I would not be surprised if you were promoted, but naturally such a promotion would probably require something far more than mere riot control."

Curious, I eyed Kalara carefully and waited expectantly for him to get to the point he was trying to make. I did have some doubt to the validity of what he was saying, especially since most of it was in the realm of mere speculation. Kalara was no stranger to rumours and seemed to have made a habit of collecting the most interesting of them.

"There is something else you would probably need to do," Kalara said, "Perhaps they would wish to transfer you to somewhere else or get you to do some sort of mission. This brings me to my next point, one I am sure you will find intriguing.

"I have heard rumours," Kalara began and immediately I realized he would begin with spreading fairly standard gossip as he often did in the mornings. By now a few other officers had sat down across from us and had begun to discuss a number of things, primarily talking about their respective squads and the troublemakers within them.

"There is speculation that an important operation may be taking place fairly soon," Kalara said, "I say this because of the attacks that have occurred on the settlements farthest north. Have you not heard of them?"

I shook my head. I had not heard of these attacks, primarily because I did not bother to keep up with local news. The media here on Taleria often found it difficult to gather news on what was happening across the colony as a whole since many of the settlements were located in far away remote regions.

"They are mixed species raiders," Kalara continued, his voice taking on a more serious tone, "They first appeared a number of months ago, raiding the farthest northern settlement and seemingly exerting some sort of control over the local population there. Ever since then they have continued to press further south, presenting themselves as a well organized force."

Mixed species raiders? This was certainly intriguing, as it seemed unlikely that any human or Sangheili would find it next to impossible to get along with one another especially in regards to combat. And why would they be raiding the northern-most towns? Were they some sort of enterprising rebel force attempting to exert control over the settlements here on Taleria? Of course, I did not immediately begin to believe it as it was mere speculation. Rumours were all it was, rumours that had been spread from the northern towns and further south down the continent, told from person to person whether they be Sangheili, human or Kig-Yar. And naturally, by the time a rumour had passed through that many people it had mutated into something far removed than what it had began as. Kalara seemed quite serious in what he was saying though, as if he believed every word of these rumours. I sat listening, intrigued and having by now forgotten about the unappetising food on the tray ahead of me.

"These raiders…nobody knows their purpose. According to reports, they simply come out of the jungle, attack and further extort the inhabitants of the far settlements before melting back into the jungle like phantasms. Can you believe that? Phantasms!" Kalara shook his head, as if incredulous to the statement. "The people in those northern settlements have cast an eerie, almost supernatural light on these attackers even though these raiders are clearly insurgents, terrorists…definitely the kind of people who need to be brought to justice. The people of the northern settlements are seemingly far removed from those of the settlements here in the southern region. Here in the south the towns are significantly modern and well populated with people of all species. However, in the north it seems that they are somewhat more…primitive. They have removed themselves from the modern vice of the galaxy, it seems. And some might say that these raiders have become the rulers of the north, almost like the rampaging bands of olden times. Neither of our race's governments cared much about those in the north. Here, in the south, is where the mineral deposits are hence why we are here. We're here to protect those mineral deposits and the bustling mining communities near them. The north…the north is nothing but jungle, filled with dangerous wildlife and ancient ruins."

Kalara fiddled with his glass of water for a moment before clasping and putting it up to his mouth. He gulped the contents down hurriedly, easing the strain all of this talking was having on its voice. I listened to all that he had to say, finding most of it interesting. The mention of "ancient ruins" reminded me of a few reports I had read in recent months concerning the discovery of ancient Forerunner ruins in the north, hidden in the thick of the dark foreboding jungle. The terrain was near impossible to map from above due to the thick jungle canopy, with only the elevations and rivers as a means of guiding someone through it. The further north one went, the further one was removed from the modern galactic community before finally…they were gone, perhaps to never be heard from again, disappearing into a sort of heart of darkness. Those that lived in the north communicated very little with those here in the south, hence why many people here considered those in the north "primitives" as it seems that the inhabitants of the north had gone in this direction. They were nothing but primitives, cutting themselves off from the rest of the world and off from the species-mixing galactic community. Three decades ago and a town where Sangheili and humans both lived would have been unheard of. Now, here on Taleria it was commonplace.

"The ancient ruins?" I asked, "I read somewhere that they are Forerunner in origin…"

Kalara clicked his lower mandibles, the equivalent of a shrug. He obviously was not too sure in regards to the ruins themselves but he continued speaking anyway, portraying his opinion on the topic.

"That is what the researchers say," Kalara replied, "But no one can be sure until one of the expeditions that have been sent north return. And very few of them return from the north. Very few indeed. It is as if the jungle merely swallows them up, occasionally spitting out a few exhausted and near-dead survivors. Some might even say that the jungle is a living entity, one that cares little about those it consumes. They say the jungle can make someone mad…"

"If they are Forerunner in origin," I said, "Then that could indicate that this world was once inhabited by that long, dead race. And if that is indeed the case it would only be a matter of determining the purpose of the ruins. And I suspect that there are many people, humans especially, who would be interested in ruins such as the ones on this world. It could cause further tension, especially since many of the older Sangheili I know of do not believe that the humans should be allowed to step upon holy ground."

"Those beliefs are obsolete," Kalara said simply. I nodded in agreement: it was common knowledge amongst our race now that the Forerunners, who had once been seen as gods were in fact far from being so. They were merely an extinct race, wiped out over a hundred thousand years ago by a galaxy-wide cataclysm. All across the galaxy they had left behind artefacts and ruins, all of which our society had once been built around. The post-war galaxy was a very different place to the one it had been before and during the war had raged.

"The reason I speak of the matter is because of the indication that there could very well be a joint military operation between us and the humans," Kalara continued, "They suspect that there is someone in the north organizing these raiders, someone dangerous who has to be brought to justice. The only way I can determine to remove the threat is a full-scale military assault. I suspect that it is over this matter that the human officer has arrived at this base, earlier this morning…"

I remembered the human officer I had seen arrive shortly after I had woken up. It had struck me as strange that a human would come here but I did not think much of it then, nor do I think much of it now. It would be mistaken for having this attitude, especially as the morning wore on. For now, though, I could look forward to the prospect of another monotonous day.

"The humans would need our help in order to remove the problem," Kalara said, "They have little in the way of a military force here and this base is the only military installation on the planet. The problem of the raiders is a problem for both our species I suspect, thus a joint-species military operation seems the most logical way to be rid of these raiders and whoever is leading them."

"The humans do not care much about this world," I said, remembering something I had read a number of weeks earlier concerning the matter, "It was their idea to jointly colonize it, but I suspect that one of their leaders has determined that the effort is in vain and has promptly stopped wasting resources on it. Obviously, our government does not think the same way."

Kalara simply nodded in response. Over to one side of the commissary the door opened and a familiar Sangheili stepped in, one who I recognized as the Commander's aide: Deranth 'Ursala. It was unusual for him to be in the commissary as he often ate in the administration building, a place where the food was far better than the substandard offerings made available to the normal troops and officers. He seemed to be looking around for someone but I did not find out who as my attention was diverted back to Kalara.

"The humans are the type who would think they are in the right," Kalara said, "While in fact they are clearly in the wrong. I think that the idea to jointly colonize a world, such as what is being attempted here, is a plan doomed to failure from the very beginning. What has been done here has simply lead to the creation of a number of crime-ridden settlements that are wracked with violence and unrest. It is typical for the humans to have thought up of the idea, only to be the first ones to abandon it. I would not be surprised if our own government stopped wasting resources on this venture. If that happened I would like to think that we would all be transferred over to a far more exciting post in another part of the galaxy, but I doubt it. We would probably be forced to remain here and keep law and order as we have been trying to do.

"The humans, they are careless expansionists. Did you notice that as soon as the war was over they were quick to reclaim all of their lost territory, as well as some beyond that? Already they have started creating new colonies on worlds far from their home, while we Sangheili are left to remain in our own corner of the galaxy to our own worlds. The one time we try and colonize a new world and it just so happens the humans have beaten us to it." He was of course referring to this very planet, Taleria. I could not help but agree with what Kalara was saying and nodded as he spoke.

He continued after a brief pause.

"It is their expansionism that made them catch the attention of the Covenant in the first place," Kalara said, "The humans create all of these colonies but have no means to keep all of them defended and secure. We Sangheili, on the other hand, ensure that every world we have colonized is well protected…save for this one, strangely enough. The only ship in orbit is the human cruiser. That is just more evidence that not even our own leaders have much faith in this 'peace planet' scheme. It occurred to me a number of years ago that the humans are fools. All of them, especially the ones that call themselves the 'leaders' of the human race. They are the ones who come up with these ideas to colonize worlds far from protected space and naturally they are the ones who complain when something happens to those colonies. And you know what I think about this, Ira?"


"I think the humans deserve anything that happens to them," Kalara replied sternly, "Their reckless expansionism is simply going to get them in trouble, as it has in the past."

"Does that mean you think they deserved what happened to them in the war?" I asked, curious.

Kalara shook his head, a look of annoyance crossing his features. I seemed to have struck a nerve by asking the question but I was perplexed as to why. I had not intended it to be an insulting question, merely one that I was curious about…

"No race deserves to lose billions over a cause that was a lie," Kalara replied, somewhat sternly, "And, with the way things are now, I would not be surprised if another war broke out…Although this time it would be between us and the humans and we would be fighting over territory such as this very planet. This time it would be a proper war for a proper reason, not a mass extermination such as the Human-Covenant was. It would be a far more conventional war."

"You believe that there will be another war?" I asked. There had been such speculation made before, but I had been rather doubtful in regards to it. Another war, when both our race's militaries were still crippled from what had happened over three decades ago in the Human-Covenant war, seemed to be an exercise in futility. It was for this reason the idea of Taleria being the "Peace Planet" had been created. It would probably be over planets such as Taleria that a territorial conflict would be fought out. It seemed both our races were causing more problems in an effort to solve already existing tensions. Some might even say that we were digging our own graves.

"There will be another war," Kalara said, his tone serious. He genuinely believed in what he was saying and the way he was putting it unnerved me slightly. I did not see why there had to be another war, not after all the lives that were lost in the last one (the life of my father included).
"Maybe not this year, maybe not the next…Maybe not even in the next decade. However, there will be another war. I am sure of it."

There was a brief silence as both of us pondered the matter. Around us the commissary was gradually filling up with both officers and Minors, the noise level increasing suitably. By now my food had gone cold but I cared little about it, instead using one piece of cutlery to prod at it half-heartedly. All of this talk about raiders and another war was somewhat depressing…what good would another war be? It would just lead to more death and destruction, just like in the last one. I was a Major and I had seen combat against all manner of rebels and insurgents but a full-scale war seemed to me a pointless exercise.

My train of thought was broken when a familiar voice sounded from behind me. I turned around, finding that the Commander's aide, Deranth, was standing behind me. He was dressed in typical military robes that denoted his rank and position as aide.

"Major Matrak?" He asked, inciting me to turn around.

"The Commander, he would like to see you," Deranth said, his demeanour no-nonsense and business-like.

"What is this about?" I asked, feeling a tone of uncertainty creep into my voice. As far as I knew, I had not done anything wrong to need to talk face-to-face with the Commander. The thought crossed my mind that I was being transferred but I could not think of a reason why, especially on such short notice. Often there was at least a week's notice before a transfer.

"A sensitive matter," Deranth replied. I frowned, trying to think of what the "sensitive matter" could be. Kalara was sitting and listening, noticeably interested in what was being said.

"You should request leave," Kalara said quietly so only I could hear, "This is the best chance to do so."

I ignored him and instead stood up and out of my chair, feeling the tendrils of anxiety creeping through my psyche. What could the Commander want with me? It must have been about something quite important if he was pulling me out of breakfast…not that I cared too much about not having finished eating. The food here was not worth finishing.

"Can I at least be given some idea of what this 'sensitive matter' is?" I asked. I did not expect much of an answer and thus I was not surprised by what Deranth said.

"No," he replied bluntly, "The details will be given to you when you reach the Commander's office. Now, please, follow me."

Deranth started towards the door of the commissary. I followed, feeling rather hot underneath my armour. Outside the air was already warm and humid, my under-suit clinging to me like an unnatural second-skin. It was not a long walk into the administration building and thus I had little time to try and think of why the Commander wanted to see me. It could have been for any multitude of reasons so I shortly gave up on trying to make a guess. Deranth walked at a brisk pace, as if unaffected by the heat. I tagged along behind him by a few paces, not at all interested in whatever irrelevant talk Deranth might have begun if I were walking along side him. It was a relief to enter the climate controlled comfort of the administration building, but this relief was soon replaced with sheer uncertainty as I entered the Commander's office.