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Fan Fiction

The Life of Ryau Cinotee by HWPD

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 1
Date: 17 March 2015, 10:31 am

The Beginning of the End

July 14, 2012 1:29 PM
Auburn Washington, Earth
[Civilian] Nick Gentry

The sun shown brightly over the Auburn valley, driving away the moist morning fog. It was one of Washington's moderately warm sunny days. However, close pair of 17 year olds sat snuggled together on a couch in a dim basement, instead of enjoying the sun outside.

A gray pattern sewn blanket covered the two as were silent, no words were exchanged as they battled through the virtual icy canyons of Halo: Combat Evolved. Their mental link was severed when Nick's Mother called down, forcing him to pause the game.

"Nick! Do you or Michelle need anything to drink?" She called from the top of the stairs.

"No Mom we're good." Nick called back and took a sip of his can of soda.

He un-paused the game and finished up Assault on the Control Room with his Girlfriend Michelle. They were playing all the Halo games in order on legendary difficulty to gear up for the release of Halo 4 in the coming months. They had finished the Reach campaign the night before and started on the first game that morning.

Almost immediately after taking the Gravity Lift back into the belly of the Truth and Reconciliation on the next level, the TV speakers filled with static and the screen shuttered like someone had just bumped the Xbox. But then it stopped after a few seconds. As soon as the screen stabilized, they found the Master Chief in a new room and the split screen had merged into one. The camera moved and looked around as if in a cut scene, an aspect of the Halo games that wasn't introduced until Halo 3 ODST. They had never seen that room before.

Then Cortana began to talk. "Strange. I've lost the connection to the Covenant Battle-net. Reconnecting... Wait. What is this?"

"What do you have, Cortana?" The Chief asked.

Nick was confused, the Master Chief never spoke unless it really was a cut scene.

"There was new network, it wasn't labeled and it wasn't the Monitor. But a substantial amount of data was being transmitted over it. Even I couldn't gain access. Its coded very dif-" Cortana was interrupted as the screen flashed and streams of computer code began to fill the screen.

"What the hell is this?" Nick said out loud.

"Uh... I don't know." Michelle replied.

Nick got up and pressed the Xbox's power button, the 360's lights went off but the code continued to display. A few words appeared, August, then twenty-second. But that didn't stay long as Nick pressed the OFF button on the power strip, the screen flashed and returned to black. "Damn, that was strange. I think the console's life is coming to an end." Nick said, waiting for the Xbox to cool down. "Let's skip the rest and move on to the Halo 2 campaign."

"Alright, sounds good. We were close enough to the end anyway." Michelle said stretching out her limbs on the couch.

Nick went up to the Xbox and ejected Halo and placed Halo 2 into the tray. He looked at the disk and it was fine, no scratches or heat marks, he shrugged and set it back in its' case. The next few hours went by slowly. They had gotten through the opening of Halo 2, and switched over to ODST after Regret jumped out of New Mombasa. Their campaign lasted well into the evening and Nick's mother had brought pizza down for the pair.

Once the sun had set outside their window, Nick and Michelle decided to take a break from co-op and play against each other in custom games on Halo: Reach. They loaded up Nick's Forge World map he had quickly named 'My base'. The location they happened to spawn was on the pillar, next to a small house like structure Nick's friends had dubbed The Bang Shack. The name was rooted in an inside joke based on the small nature and secluded location of the structure.

Nick's accidental GUNGNIR clad Spartan and Michelle's Green Minor Elite, dueled it out for a little while and waited to see if one of their friends would get on and join the game. But after an hour and no responses from anyone, they ceased hostilities and just jumped around the rocks.

In the down time, Michelle got the chance to ask; "Why are you a Spartan, I thought you loved Elites?"

"Eh, I was taking some screen shots of my Spartan for drawing reference. I guess I didn't change it back afterwords." Nick said.

Michelle laughed. "Yeah, it doesn't make sense for a Spartan to be called Ryau 'Cinotee."

"Yeah I know. I'll change it in a minute, the game is about to end." Nick said as the game clock clicked down to zero.

Suddenly the screen again glitched and static filled the speakers. But instead of returning to the loading screen, the TV went dark and words appeared much like the code had earlier."Attention. Generating Complete. Inserting targets to acceptable locations. Connection Established."

Then lines of alien text and code scrolled across the screen. It became apparent that some of it resembled a mysterious script from the Halo universe.

Nick and Michelle looked at each other, not sure what to say. Out of nowhere blue rings started to form around them and the air rippled in the room. They were speechless. The room began to fade to black and the last thing they did was reach for each other. And for the moment they touched the next they were pulled apart and thrust through the black void in opposite directions.

The void was timeless, Nick did not know what was happening, and he began to pass away into unconsciousness. However, before he did, he was shocked by an electrical charge. He felt himself being ripped apart. He tried to scream, but not a sound was made in that deep dark void.


Nick suddenly felt something below his body and shot up. He hit his head on something solid above him. There was a reverberating twang of metal vibrating "Ouch," he blurted out. For some reason his body felt different, stronger but yet still slightly smaller. "What the...hell?" He could hardly remember what had happened to him before this moment.

He could hear what sounded like other people sleeping around him. The bunk above him creaked and the lights on the ceiling snapped on. He watched rows of bunks appear out of the receding darkness. It all seemed familiar like a memory, but this was all new to him. Then he noticed a sign painted on the wall, "UNSC Barracks 04B"

A chill ran down his spine. A moment later, other people began to come out of bed. He saw a patch on one of their sleeves, an Eagle talons ready to strike holding arrows in one and a lightning bolt in the other. The word SPARTAN was written underneath the patch. Nick sat on the bed and tried to come up with ways that something like this had happened.

"There is no way this is possible, he mumbled to himself. Yet it felt so real. The idea that somehow he had gotten into the Halo Universe was the only one that somehow felt right. Nick swung his legs out of bed and felt a sudden pressure on his head. Memories, eight years of them, flooded into his mind; the meeting at the ONI amphitheater, the fact that he was 4 years younger than he had been before he appeared here,and years of painful training. All of those new memories flooding his mind, it took awhile to sort through them, but eventually a question pushed its way though the mess. Where is Michelle?

Nick scanned the room; there were about forty other Spartans. But Michelle was not among them He began to question whether or not she really existed. "Was that all a dream? Brought on from head trauma from Mendez's weekly sparring sessions?" He could remember getting beat by none other than Jorge, Spartan 052, the day before. He couldn't tell which set of memories were real anymore.

The person in the bunk above him jumped down.

"Hey, Nick ready to head to the obstacle course? I bet I can beat you to the end this time." Nick glanced up at the young Spartan. Nick remembered his name was Brad, his number was 098. Brad gave him a friendly punch on the shoulder.

"Uhh." Nick replied, he seemed to remember that Brad always lost to him. "I don't think so, I always beat you."

"Well today is different." Brad said.

Nick shook his head and stood up to open the footlocker at the base of his bed. He opened the lid and sitting on top of a pair of sweats was an old, scratched MP3 player. It looked similar to the one in his other set of memories, but this one showed the wear and tear of five hundred years of passed down family history. However, his Spartan memories said that he had found it in this footlocker when he arrived here at the beginning of training.

"Remind me why you like to keep that piece of junk? If Chief Mendez finds out we're both screwed." Brad said looking into the box.

"I..I don't know." Nick said pulling the sweats out from underneath and hiding the MP3 player under the spare training uniform. The sweat pants had the number 102 printed on the thigh, "My service tag?" he thought. "Or was that part of the dream influenced from this too?" He shrugged it off and got suited up in the sweatpants. Nick jogged out of the barracks and onto a field, tall trees stretched to the sky and a massive mountain pierced the clouds. "Wow... amazing..."

"Come on, Nick. You lost?" Brad said, heading along a path.

Nick turned and followed him to a maze of rope ladders and cargo nets. It matched the description in both sets of his memories. The other young Spartans were moving to the shooting range or doing morning stretches and other exercises, he remembered it was one of the very rare days where training was at their own discretion.

"Ready, in three...two...one." Brad counted down. When he hit zero, they both sprinted down the field.

30 Years Later
May 30, 2552 1123hrs
Planet Siberia
UNSC Resupply and Refit Planet

The day was warm, a direct contrast to what this planet was named. Nick lied on his belly in the tall grass as a Covenant Wraith hovered over his head. The Wraith fired and recoiled back into the ground just behind his feet. If he was any further back, he would have been crushed. Nick pulled the anti tank mine from behind him, the ball was larger than the mine he wanted to use but this was all he had at the moment. He activated the magnets and attached it to the Wraiths undercarriage. Set to remote detonation, he would blow the charge once he and Brad get clear.

Nick waved over to Brad who was under an Anti-air Wraith. Brad replied with a flash of his green acknowledgment light, he had just finished planting his bomb too. Nick gave the fall back hand motion and started to crawl out from below the Covenant Mortar tank. He met up with Brad about forty meters out, and behind a divider bush the local farmer had made to divide his fields.

"Piece of cake." Brad said. "Let's fry those beetles."

Nick held his hand up, detonator in his palm. "High five."

Brad returned the gesture, armored gloves clapping together. The detonator beeped. "Ka-boom" Brad said. On the other side of the bushes, twin plumes of fire, plasma and metal exploded into the air.

"Second squad. Fall back secured. Set timers and get the hell out of there." Nick radioed to the other half of their team, two smaller Spartans, Nick guessed they were the Spartan IIIs he seemed to remember existing. Ever since they started working together, Nick and Brad had felt the need to be more loose. Their cold, calm demeanor that they had when they began seemed to bother the regular Marine troops.

"Copy zat, setting timers for fifteen minutes." Dani replied in his slight Germanic accent. Second squad was aboard the Covenant Corvette that sat just a kilometer away, all they needed to do now was get back in their Hornet and jump ship. Marine fire teams were providing a distraction just outside the kill zone and a small artillery strike had taken out the Corvette's sensor array.

Nick scanned the sky, a small ball of fire erupted out of the side of the Corvette. It was too early to be the demolition charges, but likely another distraction to ensure that second squad got out without taking any fire. Soon a small dot shot out of one of the Corvette's destroyed weapon ports. The small dot grew bigger until it grew wings and a figure was standing on the skids. The Hornet flew down and slid across the slick grass. When it came to a stop, figures in heavy armor emerged.

"Welcome back to Siberia." Nick called to them.

"Yeah, with balmy thirty degree temperatures all year round. Whoever named this planet was an idiot." Lindsey replied, with a laugh.

A muffled explosion echoed throughout the farming valley. A massive explosion blew out the underside of the Corvette a moment later. The Covenant ship listed and fell toward the surface, its engines unable to remain active with the loss of their power source. It slammed into the ground in a ball of fire, the shock wave causing the Spartans to almost lose their balance.

A heavy voice came over SATCOM "Spartans, the UNSC Farlow. A whole new Covie fleet just jumped in. Pop smoke and prep for evac, there's nothing we can do now." The Frigate's Captain said.

"Understood, sir. Popping smoke." Nick sighed and grabbed the smoke canister from his pockets. He primed the grenade and tossed it a few yards away.

"Great... another planet lost. This was one of our major victory sites ten years ago too," Brad said in defeat.

"That only meant that they knew where it was and would be back to finish the job later, like Arcadia." Nick said. "It was bound to happen eventually."

A D77-TC Pelican emerged out of the oily smoke billowing from the wreck of the Corvette. "Spartans, this is Echo Five-five Charlie. We're coming in for your pick up. Is the LZ clear?"

"Affirmative, Echo five-five Charlie. The LZ is clear." Nick responded.

"Got it, coming in now." The Pelican pulled around and extended its landing gear. It's jets scorched wheat crop and the rear hatch folded open. The Pelican's armor was scorched and burned, purple blood was dried across the cockpit window.

"Alright Spartans! Lets get out of here." Nick waved them on. The Pelican shook as the four Spartans, in a ton of MJOLNIR step inside. Nick looked in the cockpit and the pilot nodded. "How'd you get Elite blood on your wind screen?"

"We flew through a flight of jump pack Split jaws at mach one." The pilot chuckled. "Bastards didn't even know what hit them." He leaned down and flipped some switches "Now step back sir. We're going to leave the atmosphere soon."

Nick nodded and moved back to the troop compartment. The cockpit pressure door eased shut with a hiss.

"I hate this part, we cant see anything and there could be a Seraph on our six about to take us out." Lindsey said.

"We'll be fine, we've got a Longsword escort, saw it arc around when I was up front." Nick reassured her.

The Pelican soared through the atmosphere, and spun around to dodge a blazing piece of a UNSC Frigate that had detonated in the sky above a few moments before. The UNSC Farlow sat in low orbit, collecting a series of Pelicans and Albatrosses that were speeding from the surface. The Covenant CSO-Class Super Carrier dominated the main video screen. The massive ship had taken out three other frigates, and only sustained minimal cosmetic damage.

"Communications! How long until Admiral Duca jumps out?" Captain Landry barked at the COM Officer.

"Sir, the Mists of Fire is already on an exit vector." The Officer replied.

"Captain, a Pelican from the Admiral's ship just docked. They've got coordinates to our rally point after the random jump." Lieutenant Harvard said from Tactical.

"Engineering, get our drive charged ASAP. Are all our Pelicans accounted for? And the Evac Shuttles?" The Farlow maneuvered around a spinning piece of the planets space tether. The frayed cables scrapped along the side of the Frigate.

"Pelicans are all on board, and the Evac shuttles have just completed their exit jumps." Someone responded.

"There are still people down there, we can't just leave them!" One of the technicians said in the background.

"Recall our fighters. As soon as they're on board, initiate a randomized jump out system." He turned to the technician. "Get off the bridge. If we stay we die too." The ship shook as its point defense guns took out a Covenant Seraph, which proceeded to crash into the side of the Farlow.

The last of the Longswords returned to the hangars and heavy Frigate broke orbit. It accelerated out past the moon and initiated a random slipspace jump out system.

The Covenant Super Carrier detected the jump and broke from its assault on the planet. Four smaller ships also disengaged. Among them was the modified CCS-Class Battle cruiser Mercy and Betrayal. They formed up and jumped, following the course of the doomed Human ship.

26 days later
June 25, 2552 0542
Paris-class Frigate UNSC Farlow FFG-345

The UNSC Frigate Farlow had dropped out of Slip-space over the planet Standard IV half an hour ago. Captain Landry sat in the command chair and watched the refueling probe dock. The planet was home to a decommissioned weapons storage facility. But twenty years into the war with the covenant, there wasn't much left in there. Two other frigates clustered around the Cruiser Mists of Fire as it too refueled.

"Sir, STC saying they're picking up slip-space whispers out by SF-one-seven-one." The COM Officer reported.

"Keep an eye on it, and alert Admiral Duca. We initiated a textbook evac following the Cole Protocol, there's no way they could have followed us."

Space was calm for another few minutes, but then five slip-space ruptures flashed off in the distance. Their bright blue glow contrasting the darkness of space. A massive super carrier emerged first, followed by a small complement of frigates and battle cruisers. Almost the same type of formation they were in, only almost five times the strength. "Sir! Damage and markings confirmed. That this is part of the same fleet we encountered over Siberia." Lieutenant Harvard said from Tactical.

Landry activated the COM and paged the Cryo bay. "Bridge to all Cryo bays. Get everyone thawed out immediately."

"All Hands, this is a combat alert alpha two." The COM Officer announced over the ship wide intercom. "Prepare to re-engage the Covenant."

The Super Carrier ignored the small fleet of Human vessels and headed straight for the planet, dropships and fighters launching from its hangars. However the Super Carrier's escorts did not. The four frigates moved in formation right for the human fleet, plasma glowed along their lateral lines.

"Get those Spartans up and ready now!" Landry shouted.

The leading Covenant Frigate opened fire, the boiling mass of plasma accelerated towards the Farlo. Explosions resonated through the ship as the port side emergency thrusters fired. But it was not enough, the plasma struck, and melted the port side engine assembly.

"Sir! We've lost the port engine, we can not maintain proper forward momentum." The Officer at Engineering said.

"Reduce power to ten percent, use maneuvering thrusters to keep at those Frigates, prepare to blast full power and divert extra to the MAC."

Down in Cryogenics bay three, automated systems came to life and the technicians manned their stations. The pod shook and the deck creaked as Nick came to. The dream was the same one he always had after being pulled rapidly out of cryo sleep. It was him and the girl, around eighteen, he remembered her as Michelle and they were playing a video game version of this universe. Everything was fuzzy but he had all the evidence he needed, there was an old MP3 player that dated back to the twenty-first century with the soundtrack from the game and some pictures of him and the girl. Records showed that the soundtrack never existed.

His eyes opened and the Cryo pod's hatch hissed open. He stepped out onto the deck and his armor systems booted up. His GUNGNIR Helmet sat in the storage bin along with the miscellaneous contents of his armor's pouches. He grabbed the helmet and threw it on, just as the rumble from the ship's MAC blasted through the room.

Alarms sounded as the ship shuttered again. The intercom buzzed. "We've got a hull breach on deck E! Everyone- hold on!" the deck shook again as the port emergency thrusters ignited.

"I sure hope they haven't found Reach." Brad said.

"Doubt it, we haven't been in cryo long enough, check your HUD." Lindsey, A204 said. She was right, the display put their date at June twenty fifth, Siberia had been too far out to get to Reach in that time, they should be about half way there.

Their radios cracked "Spartans, this is Captain Landry, I need you on the ground ASAP. Covenant landing parties are already hitting the spaceport and the planet's cities."

"Understood Captain, what is the estimated Covenant strength?" Nick asked as he ran for the Armory.

"Four Light Frigates, and a Goddamn Super carrier." One of the deck hands answered through the link. Then Captain Landry came back on. "The Admiral sent the Harvest Night to warn Reach and call for reinforcements."

"Understood sir" He and his Spartans reached the armory and armed up. Nick took a DMR and grabbed a few clips out of the crate. Lindsey and Dani grabbed their normal weapon choices, MA5B's and M6C's.

"Sir is this a ground Op?" Brad asked.

"Yes Spartan." As soon as the Captain responded, the ship shook again and another series of alarms went off.

The ship's PA system lit up with alerts. "All hands, abandon ship. Ground teams to your Pelicans ASAP. All crews, stand clear of cargo pods, dropping in ten."

"Time to get out of here," Nick said. Brad grabbed his sniper rifle and followed them to the hangar. Deck crew and technicians ran for the lifeboats. Fires raged and a team of Covenant Elites burst through an airlock. A few firefights later, Nick slid to a stop behind a pillar and opened fire again. "We need to hurry." He said over TEAMCOM.

"Tell me about eet." Dani said, his assault rifle cutting through the Elite's shields. "The Captain called the last evac notice five minutes ago."

"The Pelican is still waiting in the hangar, we're only seven meters from the doorway." Lindsey said. "We just need to get through these covie boarders."

"Cut the chatter everyone. Let's ram through this." Nick stood up and unloaded his DMR into the head of an Elite until it went down. "Come on let's go." They ran the remaining distance and slid into the hangar. A lone pelican remained sitting on the launch pad. A Marine stood on the back, manning the M247, a pile of Covenant bodies lay outside the bay.

"Spartans, about time you got here. Welcome aboard." The Marine moved the turret back into the recess so they could board. As soon as they were on the hatch sealed.

"We left enough bodies back there to swim though ." Nick said.

"Well then, we're out of here." The Pelican lifted off and headed for the planet below. Behind them the Farlow and all its raging fires accelerated towards the Covenant Frigates. It's MAC fired point blank and tore the first Frigate down its spine. The Farlow's bow crumpled and collapsed moments before it exploded in a brilliant flash.

One of the remaining UNSC Frigates broke off the battlegroup and headed planet side. "This is the UNSC Frigate Leron. We're going to escort you up to jump zones." The frigate radioed down to the Spaceport.

Nick and his Spartans got another COM transmission from Admiral Duca. "Spartans, Captain Landry's Lifepod landed near the ocean, he is currently out of radio contact. Your commanding officer on the ground will be Lieutenant Wilson. He's part of Kilo Company tasked with defending the Spaceport."

"Understood sir." Nick said. The COM line clicked off and he turned to the Pelican's Crew Chief. "What do we have on board?"

He pulled a box that was stowed below the crash seat close to the cockpit and popped it open.. "Twelve kilos of C-12, and enough ammunition for twelve MA5Bs." He slid the box back. "All I could grab before the Captain dropped the cargo pods."

"Good enough." Nick took a MA5B and attached it to his back, beside his DMR. He filled his remaining pouches with ammunition. "Dani, take a few satchels of C-12." He nodded and took the materials from the crate.

The Pelican streaked over the spaceport and Nick looked down at the battlefield. Kilo Company had bunkered Scorpion Tanks along the cliff highway that led into the spaceport and space tether, and 30mm chain guns cut down an army of Grunts that clambered up the cliff side.

A Banshee streaked below the tree tops, its Fuel rod cannon charged, and released an orb of plasma toward one of the forward tanks. The Scorpion's coax cut through the Banshee's canopy and it spiraled into a parking garage. However the fuel rod slammed into a Scorpion's gun and melted the barrel, the tank was useless now.

The Pelican spun around and settled on a landing pad behind the parking structure. Nick and his fellow Spartans hit the ground. "Lieutenant Wilson, this is Spartan one-zero-two. We've hit the ground and are coming to your position, where do you want us?" Nick radioed.

"Copy that, We've got Elites chargin' up the south roadway. I had Delta there but they've been virtually wiped out. Get there." Lieutenant Wilson replied.

"Got it." Nick changed directions and moved south. He waved his hand forward and the broke into a sprint.

The south roadway was really just a service road in the forest that lead up to the Spaceport. It was too narrow to use Scorpion Tanks, but that also meant a Wraith would not fit either. Four Marines were all that were left of the original squad here. One of them looked up out of cover and tossed a grenade at a standard Covenant squad that was making its way up the road. Another punched his shoulder. "Hey, Jake, we've got back up."

The first Marine, IFF tagged him as Corporal Gentry, looked back. "What type of .. oh Spartans! Ha. We could really use you right now."

Nick crouched down behind the sandbags and the others set up along the Spaceport's walls. "What's the situation?"

"Elite strike teams are trying to take us out, they're throwing Grunts and low rankers at us to waste ammo and then the heavy guys come up when we're reloading." Corporal Gentry said. "We lost half our squad even when we staggered our shots."

"Alright," he scanned the area and came up with a plan. "If we detonate our C-Twelve below the ground, we can cause a land slide to take out this entrance, sealing it off for now." Nick looked over to Dani. "A103 Plant those charges, get rid of this hillside."

"Got eet sir." Dani nodded and pulled the pocket tool from his thigh and hurried for a manhole cover.

"Cover him!" Nick shouted. They popped up and opened fire on a group of Grunts that started advancing up the bottom of the hill. Their bullets ripped through the Grunts' thin armor and penetrated their methane tanks. Blue fireballs erupted and took out the other Covenant soldiers behind them. Two Jackal snipers fired simultaneously but struck the sand bags in front of the group.

Nick switched to his DMR and sighted them down range. Two shots and both were dead. Dani hopped over the sandbag wall. "Charges set, detonating on your order."

"Everyone, get down. Detonate." Nick ordered.

Dani pressed the detonator and the ground rumbled. The explosion cut through the other sounds of combat around the spaceport and rained burning pieces of moist soil upon the group. Below them, the ground gave way and began to slide down into where the Covenant troops were held up, burying them alive.

"Lieutenant Wilson, south entry has been plugged up, we collapsed the hillside." Nick sent over the radio.

"Good, now they won't be flanking us. We've managed to get this area under control for the moment. Evac Ops in the next city over have hit a snag, I'm sending you over there." Wilson replied.

6 days later
July 1, 2552 Standard IV Highway 042
en route to Standard Central Space tether

The Warthog slid across the black ice on the abandoned highway. It came to a stop a meter away from a charred civilian vehicle and Nick jumped out of the passenger seat. A team of Army troopers and Marines hooked up chains to the massive tracked transport stuck in the frozen over swamp. The highway was too damaged here for an Elephant to roll across so the pilot tried to go around. He chose the wrong direction.

He headed over to the other Spartans gathered at the command hog. Brad stood next to the Spartan III's, Lindsey and Dani. Lieutenant Wilson sat in the passenger seat and stared at a radar screen. A heavy snowfall had blown in and had reduced visibility to ten meters.

"Zulu spotted some Covenant scout teams heading this direction via Spirit. Hopefully we can have this damn Elephant out of the swamp by then,"the Lieutenant said. "If they do touch down I want you Spartans to keep the Covie bastards clear of the civvies."

"Yes sir, we'll get to work," Nick responded with a nod.

A blip appeared on the radar screen and the Lieutenant looked over. "Oh hell, here they come. Two Spirits one klick to the west." He switched to his radio. "All units shut down, we've got covie spirits inbound. Go cold."

Lieutenant Wilson's driver shut the Warthog off and all around the other vehicles went off as well. A few moments later the alien hum of the Covenant Spirits rose above the sound of the snow storm. Searchlights shown through the storm and barely made it to ground level. Nick and his Spartans froze as they passed.

Once the scouts passed, the Lieutenant gave the all clear and everything started up again. The Army troopers and Marines finished hooking up the transport to one of the others and the Elephant was pulled other out of the frozen swamp.

Wilson nodded "Alright let's get moving people. We've got a ship to catch."

Nick hopped back into the passenger seat of his Warthog and the Marine stepped on the gas. The Evacuation convoy rumbled out of the lowlands and onto the crowded raised highway across the forest. The Elephants plowed through the sea of abandoned cars and trucks, clearing a way for the smaller vehicles behind them. "This is going a little easy, don't you think Nick?" Brad radioed from his own Warthog. "Haven't seen any resistance since we left the city."

"Yeah this seems off," Nick said looking around at the forest.

Suddenly the falling snow to the East was baited in blue light. "Incoming!" An Army trooper yelled over the radio. The Plasma mortars impacted the hillside just south of the highway and ignited fires in hundreds of trees. But one of them managed to hit in front of an Elephant, a section of roadway gave way and the rear Elephant fell into the hole.

"Get everyone out of the back. Move!" The Lieutenant shouted. " Any Pelicans in our grid, this is Evac division Charlie we need immediate pickup for roughly forty-five civilians. I know you've got your hands full up there but we can't move these people on foot in this weather!"

"One-zero-two, we don't have anyone covering the other Elephants." Brad said over TEAMCOM.

"On it." Nick replied

Nick hopped back inside the Hog's passenger seat and the Marine stepped on the gas. Another volley of Wraith mortars flew over head and impacted the highway. The roadway broke away as well, as the superheated plasma melted the re-bar supports. A hole opened up and Nick's Warthog flew through narrowly missing the top. The front tires struck the frost covered dirt and the Hog flew down the path that sat just underneath the highway.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me! The next on ramp is twenty Clicks away. I guess taking the highway in the middle of nowhere was a great idea." The driver groaned and slapped the Hog's tactical display.

Nick stared at his TACPAD in disbelief, the Marine was right. An hour later the Highway veered into a tunnel and they still had not found an intact on ramp. "Great. We're lost… Wait, hold up, what's that ahead?" Warthog suddenly stopped and Nick braced himself on the dash.

Chunks of ice and snow flew by as the Hog slid across the frozen ground. Their one remaining headlight revealed a frozen river less than five meters in front of the Warthog.

"Damn it, this isn't on the map." Nick cursed as he checked the Nav-data.

Then everything was quiet, the sound of automatic gunfire was in the far distance and the Hog's hydrogen engine shut off. They sat there for a little under ten minutes, Nick had re-tasked a Stealth Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Satellite to do a live topographical search, and so far, there was no way to cross the river in the Warthog.

There was a flicker of light on the other side of the river, but then it disappeared behind a tree. After about a minute a soft purple light popped out of the trees and glowed in the heavy snow fall. Soon a trio of Elites and about four or five Grunts were illuminated walking along the river bank with their weapons drawn.

They were talking, and Nick's translation software picked up some of their conversation. "They should be... need one... only the Demon."

The conversation was filled with blanks from distance, and Nick's night vision couldn't cut through the snow very well. So they sat there for a little over an hour and the scout party looked as it had passed, Nick leaned over to the Marine. "We should get moving," he whispered to the driver.

"Agreed," the driver slowly reached for the ignition.

As soon as the Hog started up the other side of the river came to life. The Covenant scout party had not moved on after all. Nick saw a flash green light as they opened fire.

The driver threw it into reverse and backed up as fast as he could, but it was no use. The Fuel Rod round slammed into the front and caused the already damaged Warthog to explode. The Marine was killed instantly from the force of the explosion and Nick was thrown clear into a nearby snowdrift. With shields down he tried to fight back. But as he stood another round slammed into ground beside him. The armor on his left was partially blown off and he was thrown into a tree. His helmet was ripped apart, the main cover was smoking at the bottom of a hole and what was left on his head barely functioned.

But yet somehow the translation software still worked as the Covenant moved closer."Hold your fire, hold your fire! Damn Unggoy almost killed it. Major go with a group of the useless runts and retrieve that Demon."

Nick couldn't move his left arm but he tried to grab a Frag grenade. As he reached over he could hear the cracking of the Covenant crossing the frozen river. Finally he had a grenade out of its pouch. But before he could arm it, an Elite pulled him out of the tree and ripped the grenade from his hand tossing it to the river. He passed out a second later.

"Be very careful of our precious cargo, Unggoy. They want it alive," the Sangheili grinned.

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 2
Date: 11 August 2015, 4:49 am

Naki 'Cimutee
First Solar Cycle 192 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation [August 22, 2525]
Covenant Special Sciences Ministry, High Charity
Special Operations Science Student Naki 'Cimutee

Michelle shot up out of the covers. Sunlight streamed though a window with a red hue. The room itself seemed purple and small indigo lights glided over the opposite wall.

"Ugh... I don't remember going to sleep," she thought to herself, absentmindedly rubbing her head in confusion, but then stopped suddenly. Her head didn't feel right, she had no hair. A quiet gasp escaped her and she felt her mouth split apart. Michelle screamed and leaped out of bed. Her legs went out from under her and she fell to the floor. Breathing heavily in panic she looked to her hands, she almost screamed again. Two thumbs and two fingers on each. The hand of an Elite.

"Holy shit, holy shit! This can't be real can it?!"

She flexed her fingers and just stared at her hands as moments passed. She was scared, tears dribbled down her new face and into her palms. But then suddenly she felt a strange feeling of calmness come over her. Like this was meant to be, and that she should stop worrying about her sudden transformation. She sniffled and wiped the remaining tears away and attempted to stand.

Her legs wobbled underneath her as she stood back up fully and she gripped a small table for support. Michelle wobbled over to the bed and sat on the edge.

Suddenly she felt as if something else had control, and there was a ton of pressure. She flung herself onto her back and lied there, pressed on the bed. Memories poured into her mind; moving memories of an Elite child running through deep forests, homes, fields, into the arms of a Father and Mother. Her name, Naki 'Cimutee; her relatives; visiting a shining city called Varo; the culture of the Sangheili. Then there was more; languages and histories from recent times flowed through her head. It was almost as if something was holding back, easing the memories like a refresher as slowly as it could. She took a deep breath as the pressure subsided and the memories slowed. The something that had eased up the flow seemed to step back and fade slightly into the background.

Rubbing her head again she stood up and stretched, after being forced back into that position for a while. When she attempted a step forward, she found that she could walk fine. She could move her mandibles and form words. Michelle, or whatever she was now, could easily read what the alien text had said, and even understood exactly what it meant. She glanced at the window, its color hadn't shifted or changed its angle since she had woken in the room a little over an hour ago. Walking closer she saw an unlabeled holographic control panel floating on the wall.

Curiously, she could not remember what the panel did. "Perhaps whatever held back the memories is still trickling them all in." She thought. "Hence why I can not remember everything about what I am doing here."

She cautiously pressed a green button. The red hue sunlight disappeared and revealed a massive purple city. High Charity sat before her in all its glory. Michelle, now Naki sat on the window sill and marveled at the vehicles flying through the air and at the huge Forerunner Dreadnought in the city's center. Part of her knew this was her normal view, amazing as it was, yet another part made it feel like she was seeing it for the first time. Behind her the door chimed open. She jumped in surprise and hit her head on the window jam. Standing in the doorway was a Grunt pushing a hover-cart. When he saw her standing there he yelped.

"Sorry Miss Excellency! Nipap hoped to have armor cleaned before you rise," he cowered behind the cart, legs trembling.

"Um, go on." She told him, memories slowing coming back from the fog that was her past.

The Unggoy pushed the cart up to a socket in the wall and quickly waddled away. The cart started to rise up the wall, once vertical the lid opened revealing a shiny lime green set of armor.

"Oh that is a very nice color," Naki giggled, Her mind bringing her back up to speed on how to maintain and operate the systems functions.

There was a ping behind her and the wall of indigo lights formed into a computer screen. A message had popped up from her field teacher, SpecOps Science Major Agu 'Roniee. Naki remembered her as a tall female, who wasn't afraid of anything they could find in a Forerunner ruin, however her human half reminded her of the potential existence of the Flood.

Forerunners be praised. Another scouting party has discovered more Forerunner ruins on a planet in the Sanctum system. The Hierarchs want our team to go investigate. I know you need to finish your other studies but I'll have you excused. These ruins look like they still may be in working order. Look at it this way: if everything goes as planned, you might be able to graduate a few months early.

Spec-Ops Science Major Agu 'Roniee

She pressed the reply button and began to type out a proper response. "Sounds exciting Excellency, when and where do we leave?"

A few minutes later the reply came back, "After first meal, meet in the courtyard. The others will be there as well."

Naki walked over to the armor and stripped out of the night gown she was wearing. She slipped the body suit on and looked herself over in the mirror. "Hmm, not bad," she thought to herself, and she gave it a nod of approval, something she always did before suiting up. Putting the rest of the armor on was tricky but once all the straps and latches were secured she was ready to go. Grabbing an old book and a Data-Pad she headed out her door. On her way out she passed a plaque and mentally recited the oath almost as instinct. She smiled as she spoke the words in her mind, what was left of her human self slowly fading away.

"We are here to aid the Hierarchs in the exploration and study of the Gods' artifacts they left behind. To advance and continue the march to Glorious Salvation! For the Journey, for the Covenant"

Naki walked through the halls of the university of the Covenant Special Sciences Ministry, a group dedicated to teach select Sangheili about medical treatments and sciences. To keep things simple, the ranks were copied from the main military. She was training to be a field researcher, someone who goes into the area of interest before it is secured and possibly participates in combat, so she was grouped into the Special Operations division. If she was to be someone who came in after and was at the site long term, she would have been in the standard division.

"Well great... combat." She thought. "At least it doesn't seem that we've met the humans yet." Naki stopped in her tracks. Her mind raced again, her memories continued to conflict and it was hard to remember whether or not her dream was reality. "Gods...was it all a dream? Being Human, growing up as a Human. Nick…was he even real?" It bothered her, she may never know if it had been real or not. However this was real at that moment and required her best attention.

She recomposed herself and continued through the hallway following her memory to the Cafeteria. There were other species of the Covenant in the halls other than her. The part of her that still claimed that she had been human was fascinated by them all and everything she was doing. "Gods, Nick would have loved to see all this. He would be amazed at what it all looks like in real life." She giggled at the thought. "He being that character of his, that Ryau Cinotee and me..." She paused in her steps. "...Naki Cimutee..." Her, Naki Cimutee. Her, Michelle. Naki was her Sangheili persona, now it was her. Both minds called for the same person under different names, one for Nick, the other for Ryau, it seemed that she would know which were real. Both were.

The view off the balconies before the Cafeteria was breathtaking. Much better than that of her small window that viewed only part of the city. These balconies overlooked all of it, the city so large that there was a fog over the middle. She checked her data-pad and hurried into the cafeteria. The room was busy. Sangheili and other members of the Covenant hurried about and got food from a counter nearby.

She walked over and grabbed a plate of Salam'is, Munta sausage wrapped in pancakes. Naki payed the cashier and headed for two other female Sangheili that seemed familiar. Kalo 'Namea and Ser`a 'Veluman, both wore the same type and color of armor Naki wore. She remembered coming here alone and meeting those two in her first class, then she found out they all came from the State of Zelso. She set her tray down and plopped down at the head of the table.

"Well good morning Naki." Kalo said. "You're up late."

"Yes, I did not...sleep well last night." She ate some of the Salam'is and her human mind fell in love with it. "But I am much better now."

"Good, we have that last unit trip today." Ser`a said as she ate her breakfast. "We need to leave soon, Science Major Agu will be waiting at the landing pad soon."

"I'll finish my meal and then we can go meet her." Naki said. She munched away at the breakfast wrap and placed her tray in the receptacle. "Now we may go." They headed out the door and headed towards the courtyard down the hall. In the lush green courtyard, a single Spirit sat on the platform. Two Male Sangheili waited by the lowered drop bay. She remembered the one in dark green armor was SpecOps Science Major Agu 'Roniee and the other was a young Ultra, Ttpa 'Sojomee, their military escort.

"Ah, you three arrived much faster than the others." Major Agu said. "We will be leaving shortly."

Naki nodded and joined her Sangheili self's friends in the crash-seats. She strapped herself into the seat and talked with Ser`a and Kalo about medical classes until the other group of students arrived.

Major Agu signaled the pilot and hopped aboard. The Spirit's doors closed and it lifted off. Ultra 'Sojomee stood in front of the hatches. "The Mercy and Betrayal has just been finished and is fully equipped with artifact storage bays, black-out labs and cell blocks, and hazardous material labs if they are needed. It will be the home of the highest graded student at the end of your learning period."

"Hmm, that seems like something I should strive for. Having a ship's lab resources to myself to find out whatever happened to Nick and I would be useful." Naki thought to herself.

The Spirit flew out High Charity's airlocks and towards a CCS-Class Battle Cruiser with certain markings that Naki understood as labeling the ship as a Science vessel. The Mercy and Betrayal's polished hull glistened in the sunlight of the nearby star. The Spirit glided into the hangar bay and the Battle cruiser sped into a Slip-space jump. They were split into two groups, the SpecOps Science students and standard science students. Other than Kalo and Ser`a, there were only two others in Naki's group. Both, Naki remembered, came from wealthy merchant families in the upper wards of High Charity. Their families wanted them to excel at something different than their families profession.

"Oh I can't wait to see this. Forerunner architecture is so awe inspiring." One of them said, a female named Ream.

"Aw, I know, sometimes I pray that I could paint scenes as beautifully as the Gods could construct them." Ser`a said.

They followed Ultra 'Sojomee as he led them to their Common room along the belly of the Battle Cruiser. Naki set her book and Data-pad down on the bed and sat down around the holographic table. Her friend Kalo went to work on a small Arum, while Ser`a and Ream activated the holographic table and loaded up a strategy game. Naki laughed in her head as the game reminded her of Halo Wars only all Covenant units. Ttpa left the room and a Science Minor entered the room.

"I am Science Minor Undi 'Telotee. I'll be watching over you four." She said with a sigh. "We'll be arriving in the Sanctum system in just a few days. Study up on the common technology and language. That is all." Undi walked through the room and went into the back room reserved for the common rooms chief officer.

Naki flopped back on her bed and took a nap, eagerly waiting for the coming years.

Two Cycles later [2 Days Later]
First Solar Cycle 194 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation
CCS-Class Battle Cruiser- Covenant Science Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
Special Operations Science Student Naki 'Cimutee

The Mercy and Betrayal had entered the strange alternate dimension of slip-space two days before, on its way to a newly uncovered Forerunner structure on the Sangheili colony of Sanctum. Naki sat in her bed to read through her notes on previous ventures to Forerunner ruins. She remembered everything, and it was starting to feel more like her memories, but there was still that steady question in the back of her head.

She joined the Covenant Science Ministry after she turned eleven cycles old, which her human half thought was too young. However, her Sangheili half said that she was not in the military, but in a specialized school and she would not graduate and become a full scientist until she turned eighteen.

Her internal argument was cut short when the room's chief officer, Science Minor 'Telotee, wheeled in a cart with a few dishes of food. The Mercy and Betrayal was not entirely finished yet, the Commons were still unfurnished. So the food was brought directly to the common rooms.

"Alright, dish up." Science Minor 'Telotee said. "They say today's dish is ZupChau'Nia and Iruno bread." Undi took a dish for herself and headed back to her room.

Naki hopped off her bed and dished up her dinner. Her Human mind identified the ZupChau'Nia as a type of clam chowder and Iruno bread was like garlic naan. She scooped the chowder and dumped it on her tongue that emerged from her throat. She thought the food was pretty good, but her mind also told her that she had had better back at home with her parents.

One of the other girls, Ream, called over to her. "Excuse me, Naki? Do you want to play me?" Ream was sitting at the holographic table and had the strategy game loaded up.

"Hmm, I haven't played before, but I might as well." She replied. Naki walked over and took a seat opposite Ream at the table.

Ream started the game and a virtual battlefield appeared on the table. The infantry lances Naki got right away appeared on the back of the map, their projection was angled so that Ream would not be able to see them until one of her units got in visual range. A small screen also appeared in front of both girls so that they could control and move their forces without the other seeing them do it.

"Oh well, I'm not that good either, Ivra defeated me twice yesterday." Ream said.

"Ah, alright." Naki plopped down her base and began to construct an armor column of Wraiths and Spectres. Her infantry scouts moved through the forest, advancing to the large city in the center of the battlefield.

A tone sounded in her headset and announced that her scouts had located a Forerunner artifact, and gained her side three hundred extra credits. She moved the scouts to the top of a mountain and her visual field expanded. Ream's massing troops were revealed just out side the city. Naki guessed she was going to rush with infantry. She guided what Wraiths and Spectres that she had completed to attack Ream's forces. It was a long path, but when they got in range, virtual plasma mortars rained on the infantry. Ream's forces scattered and retreated back into the shadows, only to appear again on the other side of the city. Ream had flanked her armor and counter-ambushed her. With her Wraiths destroyed, Naki pulled her infantry and Spectres back to her base to rearm and repair. After a few moments she sent them in for round two, only with an escort of Banshees and Phantoms.

When she approached Ream's supposed base of operations, she was greeted by an army of Fuel rod wielding Unggoy. "Oh come on." Naki groaned. The Unggoy opened fire and practically vaporized her entire force. Her Banshees were eliminated by Ream's anti-aircraft turrets, all of her forces were eliminated and left nothing to defend her base. Three Locust appeared from behind her base and opened fire. While the base was being destroyed, Naki managed to get a demo team created and dropped in at her scouts' location.

Ream destroyed Naki's base at the same time Naki's demo team blew up Ream's. The once the game clock hit zero, they were stuck in a stalemate. The table winked off and Ream nodded. "Good game," she said.

"Likewise," Naki replied. She was not a strategist, there was a reason why she was becoming a Scientist.

The ship suddenly shuttered and the lights dimmed. "Attention! Exiting slip-space in five..." Again the ship shuddered and they dropped out of the alternate dimension.

Science Minor 'Telotee pressed some buttons and a star map appeared on the table. The voice of their teacher, Agu 'Roniee, played as well. The map moved in accordance with her voice. "The new structure is located on our colony of Sanctum. It's located behind one of the ancient water reservoirs. An overflow of the bowl washed the soil away last week." She said. "The facility is showing some signs of activity. Much better than anything else we've found on the planet, as you know." The projection changed to a scan of the surface, "It seems awfully large and extended far below the local town. However, the active systems are preventing us from managing to get an accurate scan. Whoever wants to go in the first group, meet us in the starboard hangar."

Naki wanted to see this new place and she packed up her gear. She followed Undi down to the hangar bay, Ream and Ivra followed close behind. Kalo and Ser'a stayed behind to investigate the ruins from the scan, they were not as interested in physically going down yet. Ultra 'Sojomee and SpecOps Science Major 'Roniee waited beside the same Spirit as earlier, crates of science equipment in the classic purple cases were stacked along the inside.

"We're ready." Ream said, hopping aboard the Spirit with the others.

"As are we, let us go." 'Roniee said. Agu and Ttpa also stepped aboard.

Naki strapped in as the Spirit left the Mercy and Betrayal's artificial gravity and headed down to the surface. The ride was smooth, it was a clear day on Sanctum, the only clouds were high level and very thin. Screens on the Spirit's hatch showed a city of Sangheili design on the rim of a forest. Just as they approached the landing site, they flew over a large reservoir that had to date back thousands of years, now abandoned, but also the cause of their being here.

The doors opened as they were set to land, and Naki could see the top of a classic Forerunner structure, geometric, but bare of ornamentation. The Spirit bumped the ground and the hatch opened all the way to the surface. She hopped out and was guided by the site's manager with the others to a set of prefab structures where they could stow their gear and rest later.

The site manager did not hold a rank, he appeared to be a civilian, a local most likely. "We have not managed to explore that much of the holy temple, only the foyer. I am glad that the Council has decided to respond to our request of a Science detachment."

"Show us the entrance, we should begin before dark." Agu said.

"Yes Major," the site manager lead them down to the base of the structure, a dirt path had been excavated to a door. "It was open when we found it." He said.

"Set your data pads to mapping, we should get a basic layout from where you go. Explore on your own, it will go faster." Agu told the group of young scientists.

Naki nodded and followed her into the structure. The door was a different type of design than the kind she remembered, both from her Human memories of the video games and her Sangheili memories of past science excursions. It was more ornate, less bland. Symbols were carved into the jam and a single glyph glowed dimly above the door.

They entered on what could possibly be an old balcony, what was left of a railing was protruding from the dirt wall. Naki turned her data pad to mapping and it blipped online. She started down a hallway, heading towards the Sangheili settlement they had flown over earlier.

Ancient windows and skylights had broken away centuries ago, and dirt had poured into the hall, small shafts of light and water dripped through tiny caves to the surface. Some of the planet's florescent cave fauna grew in the dirt patches and in places the dirt had accumulated in the wall cracks. The holes to the surface were perfectly round until they broke out to air, where they became slightly jagged, as if someone was trying to keep this area livable but secret. Naki looked down at her data pad, it echoed a pulse and the area in front of her appeared on her map.

She zoomed out and saw that the others had gone far off in the complete other direction, she was the farthest out too. "Well great... all alone..." She mumbled.

Suddenly something pulsed blue across the top of her vision. Lights flickered and a door slowly eased shut somewhere behind her. Something spoke out of a speaker. Then a trail of grimy green line lights pulsed along the floor. She cautiously followed them, they lead her down another hallway and a ramp. Behind her, another door creaked shut, cutting her off from the last hall. The trail of florescent fauna eased out of existence, the only illumination came from the pulsing green lights.

She came to a room, the line of lights led to a single console on the wall. When she approached it, the screen flickered on with a pulsing dot. Against her better judgment Naki reached out and touched the dot. There was a flash, and she felt nothing. "Strange... feeling nothing... how does that work? But I can think. Hmm." She thought in that nothingness.

She could not tell how long she was in that nothingness, but she suddenly found herself on the floor, in another room. Naki stood back up and looked at her data pad. She was deep below the center of the facility, far away from where she had just been a few hours before according to the data pad's clock. Screens lined the walls, one was displaying a brain, with two graphs slowly starting to match up. Another showed a silhouette of what she assumed was her, it was a small female Sangheili, standing beside a tall female humanoid shape. Data and information on the other screens covered a door that was locked and glowed bright red.

There was a beep as the graphs on the first screen matched up. Naki glanced back at that, but dropped onto her knees as something buzzed in her mind. She screamed and clutched her head with her hands, it was like the sudden memory refresh she got when she woke up on High Charity, but far more painful. Information flooded her mind. She could not make sense of it. Equations, compositions, maps, blueprints and ideas hit her like an Assault Carrier. She curled into a ball and cried.

Time passed and the pain began to fade away. Something beeped. Naki wiped the tears from her eyes and sat up in the room. She took a drink from her water pouch. That pain had been unbearable, but now that it was gone, she started to feel better. She also seemed to be thinking a bit different, her human and Sangheili point of views seemed to have finally merged, she was not getting two trains of thought arguing anymore, but one voice, one her.

Her data pad beeped again, she looked down and saw that she had been transmitting for the last hour on the group's communications channel. Her screaming had been broadcasted to everyone's headsets. Naki switched it off transmit.

Almost immediately Agu called over the channel. "Cimutee!? You've stopped transmitting. Are you alright? Where are you, we can not find a path to your location! Cimutee- Respond!"

Naki waited a moment and keyed her response. "I...I am alright." she said. "I'll try to find my way out of here.."

"What happened? Are you able?" Agu asked.

Naki shuffled over to the door, it blinked to green and slid open. Allowing her exit. "I do not know. I maybe found a teleporter and then I received a lot of pain. That is all I remember" She rubbed her head under her helmet. The hall outside the doorway lead her to a ramp. She walked up and found that the ramp ended at a floor hatch that opened as soon as she placed her hand on it. The hatch opened to the same dirt and flourescent plant-filled hallway she had adventured down earlier that day.

Naki hopped out and bumped into Ultra 'Sojomee and the site manager. "Cimutee, are you alright?" Ttpa asked.

"Yes, at the moment." Naki straightened herself.

"Well Major Roniee wants you to be examined by the local doctor. If you are fine with that." Ttpa said.

"I think that would be a good idea... I do not know what happened down there." She pointed down the passage. Ttpa lead her out of the old ruins and to the prefab tents. Naki laid down on a cot while the site manager went to town to get the doctor. When they returned, the site manager had a female in a tunic and sash with him.

"Hello, I am the local doctor. How are you feeling?" The doctor said. She pulled out some equipment and did some scans.

"I feel...confused. Physically I think I am fine, but mentally I feel like I do not understand something. That I should be remembering something but I can not remember what it is." Naki said.

"Hmm well as you said, you are physically fine. I am not picking up any abnormalities. But I do not have the equipment to analyze your mental health." The doctor said.

Major 'Roniee entered the tent. "It may have been that she ran into one of the Gods' disorientation fields." She said. "We looked in the room you were in. It also appears that you stumbled upon what seems to be a damaged trans-location pad. That may have been the origin of the pain you experienced."

"Do you mean a um...a Dazzler disorientation device?" Naki said slowly. She was confused, she had no idea where she had got the name from. However something was telling her that it was the correct term for the effect her teacher was referring to, but not what she had experienced.

"A what?" Major 'Roniee responded. "What is a Dazzler?"

Again, Naki responded with knowledge she did not know where it originated. "Uh...a Dazzler is a camouflage device...that hmm." Naki paused for a moment. Then continued slowly reciting the information that seemed to appear out of nowhere. "...it causes visual and auditory delusion made by the Forerunners. So as you called it, a disorientation field."

"I...I have never heard of such a thing. Where did you learn of this?" Major 'Roniee asked.

"I am... unsure. I do not know where it is coming from." Naki shrugged, unsure of herself.

"Hmm." 'Roniee glanced at the doctor and the medical equipment in her bag. "You should remain up here for the time being. Until you feel well again and are not spouting random information." 'Roniee said with a nod of affirmation.

"As you say, Major." Naki replied.

"I will also stay here and keep an eye on your monitors." The doctor said. "Just in case something happens."

"Thank you ma'am. May I explore the area around here at least?" Naki asked.

"Yes you may, as long as you stay out of the structure." Major 'Roniee said. "Actually what does the doctor think?"

"Well my scans show no abnormalities whatsoever. As far as I can tell there is nothing wrong with her." The doctor said. "She can do what she wants."

"Very well." Naki stood up and followed Major 'Roniee out of the prefab tent. However, she turned off the path and headed down a smaller one into the forest. She walked a distance from camp to the large abandoned water reservoir. Small waterfalls cascaded over the edge where constant water flow had eroded away the stone.

Naki walked over to a ledge and stripped to her under clothes. "A dip in the cool water should ease some of this tension and help me relax" Naki thought to herself. She slipped into the water and sat along the stepped edge. She relaxed there until the system's sun began to set bellow the forest tree tops and Major 'Roniee radioed her to return to camp.

"Alright Major, I'm on my way back." Naki stood up and stretched. She looked around for something to dry herself off with. A large fuzzy leaf her mind recognized as the type used to make towels and other garments, hung from a vine between some trees. Naki reached up and plucked the large leaf from the vine and held it in her hands. "Well if they make clothes out if it, I think it'll be fine." She said to herself, drying off.

6 Solar Cycles later [8 Years Later: 2530]
Seventh Solar Cycle 112 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation
Covenant Holy City, High Charity
Special Operations Science Student Naki 'Cimutee

Naki itched her sleeve. She still had a scar left from that body wide rash she got from using the Venro leaf to dry off, she ended up itching for weeks. She had not known that the leaves needed to be treated before they were good for cloth. She, and her fellow students, had just completed six cycles of science education and were ready to be dispatched to the various projects and research positions throughout the galaxy.

Naki heard her name being called and walked into the large amphitheater of the Covenant Science Ministry. "Now, Special Operations Minor Naki 'Cimutee. She has passed all tests and earned the right to be stationed aboard the Science Vessel, Mercy and Betrayal." The San `Shyuum announcer said.

Naki nodded, and received her dark green helmet from Major 'Roniee. "Thank you Prophet of Tolerance." Naki nodded and bowed to him.

She had been interviewed by his group seeking out bright Sangheili and Unggoy for the translation of Human communications, but she had to play dumb so there would not be any suspicion and she did not get picked. However that was before the High Prophets, Regret, Mercy and Truth rose into power.

"My pleasure, Minor 'Cimutee`ee. You are now part of the grand Covenant military. May you follow the path to glorious salvation." He said.

Naki joined the group of her fellow graduates to the side of the stage. The Prophet of Tolerance continued to introduce the rest of the graduates and say where they were being sent or stationed. She looked up at the crowd and spotted her mother and father. Most of the other graduates had larger families here since they did not know their parents, just an uncle or aunt, however she was from the state of Zelso, where they put it in law that children needed to know their parents, and be raised by them. It worked well from what the history showed.

Her father, Ryka 'Cimuetaee, wore his fine crimson armor. It signified he was a Major in the Covenant military and he was due to ship out tomorrow. Once the ceremony reached its final event, all the warriors in the audience stood and saluted the graduating class. Naki and the others returned their salute before exiting off stage.

"Attention, all new Scientists should report to deployment points tomorrow, by mid day, to be dispatched to your new locations. There is a war on that hinders the journey." One of the other Science Majors announced to everyone.

Naki checked her data-pad and set a reminder for an hour before she was due there. Her mother had paid quite the sum to travel to High Charity for her graduation, Naki wanted to spend time with them before she was off to where ever she was heading. "Good bye Ser`a. Good bye Kalo." Naki said to her two good friends. "I'll see you two again some day."

"Oh of course you will." Kalo said.

"Yeah, at the meetings and when we visit home." Ser`a finished.

"Oh that is true." Naki said. "I forget that we live in the same state. Well see you two later then." They hugged and Naki headed out after placing her helmet with the rest of her new plain green armor. It was better looking than the lime armor that had signified she was a student. She found her parents waiting outside on the balcony over looking the large forerunner dreadnought in the center of the city.

"Naki, my girl. You did it, you've taken your position in the Covenant as I have." Her father said, placing his hand on her shoulder.

"You have done us proud. Even in Zelso, a female does not have many paths to take that will be as adventurous as this." Her mother, Na`an, said.

"Thank you mother and father." Naki replied, hugging them. "Now that I've finished my class work I'm going to be away even longer. Ser'a and Kalo both are taking positions back on Sanghelios."

"Oh its alright Naki. I'm sure you'll be around to see more of home some time soon. There may be more of the gods' structures still unexplored on Sanghelios. Even after all this time." Her mother said.

"You may be right. However, let us go. We do not need to say around here any longer." Naki ushered her parents out of the amphitheater. Once out the doors, her parents took the lead, and took her to a restaurant overlooking the lower gardens. They were a less prestigious version of the hanging gardens outside the High Prophet's sanctum.

She enjoyed the meal with her parents, as it was the first, and the last she would have with them for a while. Near the end of the evening, her mother sat down at a bench nearby Naki's small flat.

"Naki, your father and I have something important to tell you. We wanted to let you know before you ship off on your ship. Naki, you're going to have a sibling." Naki's mother said.

"A sibling?" Naki was stunned. She never expected she would have another family member.

"Yes, we just learned last week." Ryka said.

"That is great news. When are you expecting?" Naki asked.

"Four months. So unfortunately you and your father will be deployed when it is time." Na`an said sadly.

"Oh, well if I get leave by then, I'll try and come home." Naki told her mother.

"That would be excellent. However now it is getting late, your father and I should head back to our lodging." Na`an stood and payed the meals bill with her credit chip.

"Well I'll see you two later then." Naki said to them as they headed back to their room. Naki sat back down at the table and ordered herself her first strong drink. When it arrived, she paid for it and headed out onto the balcony. "Well, on to life." She toasted to the dreadnought in the city center. "Time to move on." Naki took a swig of her drink and coughed it back up.

The next morning, Naki had packed up the contents of her small room and headed off to the docked Mercy and Betrayal. She pressed her palm against the scanner and it took a blood sample to match against the one on file. The lone guard nodded and let her aboard.

The ship was quiet, just the hum of the power conduits and the echo of her steps could be heard. The Mercy and Betrayal had been completed six solar cycles ago, but it had sat unused as it over went upgrades and periods of no use until this day.

Naki glanced down at her data pad and followed the map to her office and cabin. When she arrived, she ran her hand over the holographic name plate beside her door. It read; Special Operations Science Minor Naki 'Cimutee`ee. Naki walked inside and placed her belongings on her bed. A few hours later, the rest of the crew boarded and took their stations. The ship was released from High Charity and it headed off to where the High Council needed.

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 3
Date: 16 August 2015, 6:31 am

The Device and Recovery
16 Solar Cycles Later [21 Years Later: January 5 2551]
Twenty-Third Solar Cycle 420 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation
Covenant Special Sciences Ministry Operation Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
Special Operations Science Major Naki 'Cimutee[ee]

The Mercy and Betrayal dropped out of slipspace over a lush tropical planet. Unknown debris orbited in the system, enough to be noticeable on the sensors as a navigational hazard. The ship settled into a high orbit over the unknown planet and began to launch various reconnaissance probes. Naki stood on the bridge, in the trench below the command deck. She double-checked the star maps and was satisfied that they were in the right location.

"Does this match the coordinates you found in that ancient temple, Major Cimutee?" The Shipmaster snorted.

"It was not a temple, it was the home of a superb Forerunner Scientist. And yes, this does match the location of the technology cache." Naki responded.

The Shipmaster was referring to the estate Naki had been working at for the last few cycles, the same one where she had gotten lost and received the knowledge transfer from that Forerunner scientist. That was where the coordinates really came from, not a data bank like she had told him. She didn't know everything she had been given, she was still unlocking its many secrets.

Naki brought up the base topographical scan the first probes were sending to the ship's computers. "Do you see these lines, Shipmaster?" Naki pointed to a series of lines and marks across the planet's surface.
"Yes, natural canyons and craters, nothing unusual for a planet." He said.

"Actually, no. Over the centuries, the climate has eroded the edges, but particle data from the probes show evidence that this planet endured large scale, harsh, orbital bombardment." Naki nodded back at the scan. "Something big happened here, and the Gods were part of it in more ways than one."

"Hmm. Well once our probes return, you'll be cleared for landing. If there are any structures down there, they'll be found."

"Yes, I know the procedure, Shipmaster." Naki said, heading back to her cabin to prepare for the landing. She reached above her bed and slid the clear door open to access the small shelf. Naki removed her data pad and headed to the common rooms to meet her interns.

However, just before she entered, the Shipmaster contacted her over her headset. "Cimutee, we've located a set of structures on the planet. You are clear for descent." Naki acknowledged his response and went into the common room.

"Good morning, Major Cimutee." One of the interns asked.

"Morning, Rita. Excited for your first undiscovered site landing?" Naki asked, almost echoing the words her old mentor had said to her, many years ago.

Science Major Roniee had been killed when the fleet she was assigned to was destroyed by the Humans, a rare occurrence in the war. Naki's friends, S`era and Kalo, both retired after fifteen solar cycles and each married an owner of the Nelum-Asaos Joint Farm off the coast of Cleavete. Last Naki heard was that each had a daughter.

Ream and Ivra both disappeared after publicly criticizing the war after they found supposed evidence that Humans were not a real enemy of the Gods. Naki hoped that they had been sent to Geleterose Installation, and not executed. Geleterose was a scientific outpost on a barren ice world. The only reason the outpost existed there, and not on one of the inner warmer planets, was because an ancient Forerunner science facility was buried far bellow the glacial crust. It was the equivalent of 'Patrolling the Vacuum' for the Covenant's vital scientific personnel.

"Yes I am, Ma'am." Rita said with a smile.

"Good, everyone head to this deck's hangar and board the Phantom." Naki said to them, heading down the hallway herself. Once they were on board Naki gripped the suspended hand hold. "Everyone take a seat. Pilot, take us down."
The Phantom lifted off and exited the hangar. The ride down through the breathable yet alien atmosphere was rough as their course took them right through the outer rings of a hurricane. Naki gripped the hand hold in an attempt to steady herself, but it did not help. However, roughness quickly dissipated as they left the storm and headed towards the site. Large trees had grown up, forming around the old Forerunner structures. The alloy landing pad had grass and ferns sprouting out of the classic icons that were engraved in the surface.

The Phantom stopped between trees and activated it's central grav-lift. "All of you stay here while we secure the area." Naki told her students. She unholstered her Plasma rifle from her hip and followed two SpecOps Warriors to the surface. Naki held the Plasma rifle in one hand and moved to the other side of the platform, sweeping across the clearing. "Area clear. 'Vatelmee, 'Netelamee. Secure the forest."

The two warriors disappeared into the forest, and after a few minutes, both returned from opposite ends of the clearing. "Motion sensors deployed, Major Cimutee." 'Netelamee reported.

"Only local wildlife in the area, ma'am. Nothing dangerous in the immediate region." 'Vatelmee added.

"Good, keep watch on the area." Naki waved up at the Phantom. "Pilot, time to land" She radioed.

"Order received, Major. Setting down in the clearing." The pilot responded. The Phantom turned around and settled down a meter above the vine-covered Forerunner alloy. The sides dropped down and Naki's students exited with Ultra Zeik 'Carunmee, Naki's Covenant Military-Science Ministry adviser.

"Feel free to explore the surface structures." Naki pointed down at a ramp that lead deeper into the facility. "But make sure to stay away from that area as we haven't secured it yet"

Her students nodded and spread out amongst the surface. Zeik came over and put an arm around her shoulder. "So Naki, have you thought about what I said the last time we spoke?" He asked as he looked down at her.

"With all due respect, Ultra 'Carunmee, while we have had very nice dinners and evenings together, I don't feel that I am ready for that depth of a relationship yet." Naki replied. A year ago, she had been engaged but the wedding fell through and she did not feel Zeik was actually ready for what he proposed.

"Ah now just you wait until I finally become an Aristocrat, my training is almost complete you know." Zeik chuckled.

Naki smiled suggestively. "Ultra, you know very well that I am a citizen of Zelso."

"Well what's going to stop you. Hmm?" Zeik replied.

"Your status has never influenced this relationship and it will not then either." Naki giggled, pushing his arm from her shoulder. "Now if you excuse me we have work to do... 'Vetelmee, 'Netelame. Follow me down. We need to secure the facility." Naki headed downward into the darkness.

'Vetelmee then activated a light stick and pressed it into a crack in the walls, illuminating the hall in a soft purple glow.

"No more lights or night vision, our weapons give off enough enough for now." Naki told him.

"Understood, ma'am." He replied.

Naki moved deeper inside, light streamed in through small windows in the next room. The windows overlooked the huge vista that the orbital bombardment had once carved out of ordinary plains. While 'Vetelmee and 'Netelmee were looking at the view, a beam of light crossed her eyes. A small trail of green light winked on along the floor tiles.

"Actually, you two return to the surface. I can handle myself down here." Naki told them.

"Yes Major." They replied in unison and headed back out of the structure.

To her left a door slid open, the pulsing green trail flowing through the doorway. Naki activated her night vision and followed the small trail. As she continued into the damaged facility, she ran her fingers across a blast mark that had been scarred into the alloy, another form of evidence of an ancient conflict that had happened across the galaxy.

Naki continued to follow the green lights, until she was suddenly blinded by her night vision, causing her to jump back in surprise. The system shut down and she shook her head and blinked repeatedly. She kept the night vision systems off line and saw what had caused the white flash. Up ahead, an old holographic screen struggled to activate after sensing her approach. Naki calmed herself down and moved past the damaged holoscreen.

The green trail stopped at a sealed doorway at the bottom of a ramp. The door was build like a vault, and it appeared that her small breaching charge would not be up the the challenge. The walls around it also looked reinforced, so cutting her way in could not work.

She stepped towards the door and pressed her palm against it. The metal bellow her hand warmed, to her surprise. As she stepped back and removed her hand she saw that her print was still there, glowing green like the trail she had followed. The door rumbled and slid open to another spacious room. Tables covered with miscellaneous pieces of alloy and other materials were scattered about. The green lights reappeared and lead her to another door, this one had been left open. The path ended inside, at a small safe door that just slid open as she approached.

Inside a small blue object sat on the floor, the room being devoid of anything else. "Hello there..." Naki muttered to herself as she picked the device up.
She took out her data pad and connected it to a small port on the device. There was no wireless signal belonging to the device, likely to keep it from being interfaced with by outside parties. Information suddenly flooded her data pad as the device attempted to take it over as a command interface. It wouldn't be too hard, Naki knew, as most Covenant technology was merely copied from Forerunner base technology.

Naki could not understand all of what the data said, but it soon disappeared, and was replaced by a black screen. The words 'Awaiting Pure Genetic Sample' flashed across in Forerunner script. If it wasn't for the Forerunner imprint she had received cycles, ago she would have had no idea what this information meant. However now it told her that this device in her hands was the pinnacle of Forerunner mutation and alteration technology.

This device could not only advance a mutation, "Whatever that is..." Naki thought to herself, but its primary purpose was to alter the user's very species. Her memories told her that much larger variants of the machine existed at one time, but this was the smallest one ever made.

Naki gathered up the Device and her data pad. When she got back to the ship she would need to get a new one issued. She slipped past the door and hurried back to the surface. She would have to send 'Vatelmee back down to place chem lights down for her students.

She stepped out into the sunlight and noticed a second Phantom had deployed a pre-fabricated science base. A troop of Unggoy was busy setting up the equipment. "Alright, 'Vatelmee, head down and light up the passageways. Be wary of any active systems, we don't know all of what happened on this site."

'Vatelmee emerged from the forest and nodded. "Understood ma'am. I will get right on it." He quickly moved down the pathway.

Naki walked into the science lab and took up a position at a computer console. She began to compose her report to the Prophet of Truth. Perhaps someday, he would authorize a project based on the Device, but until then she would just research it's properties.

1 Solar Cycle Later [1 Year Later: June 19 2552]
Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle 78 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation
Covenant Special Sciences Ministry Operation Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
Special Operations Science Major Naki 'Cimutee[ee]

Naki glanced at the files on her desk terminal and rubbed her forehead. The Super carrier Glorious Retribution had managed to swipe a Human stealth ship before it was able to self destruct or jump to slipspace in the last system. It also failed to delete most of its data, though the Shipmaster was disappointed that the navigational index was cleared.

What they did recover were medical and service records of the Human soldiers who were part of its fleet. Naki was going through the files, selecting potential test subjects should they be encountered still alive, wherever they battled next. She had her desk console hooked up to the data-pad, which was still connected to the Device. As she went through the translated Human documents, she looked for potential genetic markers that the Device had flagged.

There were four subject in the thousands of Humans the files showed. Three were standard Human soldiers, but one was a Demon, a Spartan. Naki could have any of the other Humans easily retrieved if any lances happened to see them, all she'd need to do was send their identification pictures to the Fieldmasters before they engaged in combat

However, for the Demon, a specialized lance would need to be assembled if they were to have any chance of capturing him alive. Naki pressed her finger to her Communications unit. " Ultra Carunmee, I need you to send me the authorization codes for a mass message."

"Understood, Naki. Sending them to you now." Zeik responded right away. He knew that her project had been authorized. In fact, she had noticed that it seemed like many projects similar to hers were being authorized to be tested in secret, and the small board that made up the Sangheili half of the Science department was small enough that secrets like that spread rapidly but never out of their select group. She was pretty sure not even Regret or Mercy knew about Truth's pet projects.

Zeik's message popped into her message inbox. She entered the codes into the message system and began typing her message.

Fleetwide Message Service
Encryption: None
Auth:Special Operations Science Major Naki 'Cimutee. Operation Commander. Project Lead. [C-9]
Date of Message: Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle 78 Cycles 9th Age of Reclamation
I am opening up a voluntary position for recovery of subject for a medical
experiment, Special Operations preferred. It pays well. I will offer more
information upon acceptance.

With the message sent off in the system, all she had to do now was wait. Naki didn't expect many replies, most warriors would stay away from any medical related events. However, there would always be the few that would take up her request. If Zeik was still on active ground deployment, Naki was sure he would have volunteered. Naki looked over her shoulder at the machine that was creating the pure Sangheili genetic sample the device called for. Her eyelids became heavy, and she started to doze off at her desk.
The next morning, a message appeared into her inbox. It was a reply to her request. "Hello, Dr. Cimutee. I am Special Operations Major D`rok 'Tallaham, I am responding to your message, is there a location and time where I should meet you?"
"I'm not a doctor..." Naki muttered to herself. She waited a moment before replying, looking up D`rok's service record. The record appeared, a larger warning alerted her to possible Treason and Heresy charges. She opened the attachment and skimmed its content. "Let's see...tried near the start of the war for unauthorized use of spacecraft, use of Human technology, and suspected heresy." Naki stopped reading and thought about it, did she really want someone like him assigned to her team? "Hmm, that's not something you see everyday, but I guess he's exactly what I need for this."

She quickly typed up a response. "Very well, I'm located in the front end of the Mercy and Betrayal near Armory four-b, my name is on the door. Any time is fine." Naki stood and stretched her back. An evening of sleeping at her desk was not good for her body. A fresh Science Major uniform sat outside her room, in her main office. She changed and cleaned up a bit, but then there was a knock on the door. She pressed a button and the door slid open.

A SpecOps Major stood outside her door. He was not wearing a name badge "Hello, I presume that your are D`rok." Naki asked.

"Yes, Miss Cimutee," D'rok answered. "Would you mind if I took you to N`vek's?" He was referring to a chain of restaurants that inhabit almost all Sangheili ships. A popular place for Sangheili warriors to eat that was not the communal cafeteria.

"Oh." Naki was surprised, most males would not be so straightforward with a scientist. "Of course, just a moment," She headed into her back room and picked up a case she had checked out of the armory a few days before.

When she returned, D`rok gestured out the door. "Let us go." Naki nodded and followed him down the hallway towards an lift. After they entered, D`rok looked over at her. "I apologize for the sudden request, Miss Cimutee. I do not enjoy that we are watched in the halls and offices. I know for a fact that there are cameras placed in every angle of those rooms. However, there are safe places from their view; including the on-board restaurant, personal sleeping and changing courts, and the latrines. To have a camera in those areas is violation of personal documented mandates."

"That is... alright, D`rok." Naki looked at him oddly. They had just left her personal quarters, but perhaps he did not know that.

The lift came to a stop on the commons deck. It was an open space about the size of a hangar located along the ship's spine. Many rooms connected to the multi-level space, such as the exercise room and running tracks, Unggoy methane lounges and a few different restaurants. Most ships did not have this space, but since the Mercy and Betrayal was designed as a science vessel, it held accommodations for non-combatants. Naki and D`rok settled at a table in N`vek's. An Unggoy waiter brought over a few glasses of water and Naki gave him a small tip.

"So, Miss Cimutee. What is it that you wish to do?" D`rok politely asked.

"Well." Naki thought of how she was going to word the next part. "My project requires a Demon."

D`rok sat up straighter and chuckled slightly. "A Demon? That is a bit of a stretch. Correct?"

"It is required, and I read that you killed one in your file." Naki said, noting back to what she read last night.

He sighed. "That was over... sixteen cycles ago."

Naki agreed. "Still, once you know, you don't forget. It is like a survival instinct."

"I would like to forget it..." D`rok said, and rubbed a scar over his right eye. "How is that supposed to be possible? They never seem to be asleep, which is strange, for Human standards."

Naki nodded, it was a good question. She knew he would go at this tactically and not head-on like any other hot-headed warrior. "I will be supplying you with a heavy tranquilizer. It should be enough to bring down a Mgalekgolo for a few hours."

"Will that pierce its armor?" D`rok questioned.

Naki reached down below the table and lifted an unloaded Fuel Rod Gun. "That is why you will use this first."
"How did you get that in here? Surely you can not conceal that weapon behind your back." He smirked.

Naki glanced down at the crate and gave D`rok an irritated look. "It was in the case that I brought, and it is unloaded.
"Well I recommend you put it away. I am not supposed to handle such weaponry around fellow Covenant."

"That is why I am holding it, Major." Naki countered his response.

"Well then, it is not polite table manners." D`rok came back.

Naki nodded and placed the weapon back in its case as the Unggoy returned to take their order. She ordered a cup of Zupp Chau`Nia, and D`rok did the same. "So, how do you know so much about Human sleep patterns?" Naki asked, wondering about what he said earlier.

Naki noted that D`rok stiffened slightly. "Anyone in that is in my experience and position will have watched their enemies closely... the Humans, as I've read on side of a black Human craft, have a saying: 'Keep friends close and enemies closer.' I...assume I just pay attention," he smiled weakly.

"Hmm, very well." She said. "Bullshit. He's hiding something." She thought.

The next few seconds were quiet. "Are you married?" He asked.

"No," Naki said, remembering the last few males that had taken interest in her. "I do not wish to be right now."

"May I ask why? I am curious." He leaned forward on the table.

Naki leaned back. "Well my marriage fell through, and now I am waiting for someone I know to turn up."

D`rok chuckled loudly. "The silent stalk game I see. Hmm, what is your age though?"

"I am thirty four if you must know." Naki said.

"I apologize, it is not my place to ask." D`rok said. The food arrived and they continued to talk about other small life events, occasionally sipping their chowder. D`rok looked behind him. "It is a bit confusing to me..." He trailed off.

"What is?" She asked.

"I don't know why, but I have the feeling that the title N`vek's is familiar."

"Well it is one of the main restaurants in Sangheili ships. It is also very popular on Sanghelios." Naki said.

"That is most likely it. I just ended my sixth tour of duty."

"Ah, I know. I read your file," Naki said, nodding.

"Alright, what don't you know about me?" He closed his eyes.

Naki sighed. "I only know of your military service, as far back as you seem to materialize out of thin air at the beginning of the war."

"You probably know my hoof size, correct?"

"No, I only glanced at your file. It was only military information." She said.

"Very well," He paused and finished his soup. "When am I expected to retrieve the Demon?"

"We do not know, we are still perusing their fleet." Naki said. "You will be notified when we arrive."

"Understood," He stood up. "Thank you miss Cimutee, I will handle the bill." D'rok took her hand and helped her up politely.

"Very well D`rok. Farewell." Naki nodded and headed back to her cabin in the science sector. She returned to her desk and began to type a message to her staff to let them know that project Leau was still on track. The Demon's records were still open on the console where she left them. Naki glanced over at them. "Something about his number... one-zero two... it seems so familiar."

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 4 and 5
Date: 11 September 2015, 7:43 am

Part 4
Ryau 'Cinotee
July 02, 2552 0:03 [Twenty-Fourth Soloar Cycle, 92 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation]
Orbit of Standard IV: CCS-Class Battle Cruiser [Covenant Special Sciences Ministry Operation Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
Nick SPARTAN-102 [Project Leau Subject 01/04]

Nick shook his head a bit. He was lying on his back on some sort of padded platform. Bright lights shone down onto his eyelids. His left side tingled with pain and something was prodding his shoulder. A faint beeping sound pulsed in his ears, following the rhythm of his heartbeat. He could hear deep voices talking, but he could not understand them.

He opened his eyes slightly and squinted into the bright light. The talking in the room stopped and the object that was working on his shoulder pulled away. "Thank God, someone picked me up before they pulled out." He thought. Nick let his head fall to his left and out of the direct light. However, instead of a Human surgeon standing at is side, a Covenant Elite stood holding a medical utensil. "Oh fuck!" The faint beeping intensified and Nick pulled his right arm free of the restraints. Wincing, he pulled himself up and attempted to launch off the table.

An alarm went off as Nick ran towards the door. It opened as three red armored Elites walked in with some sort of baton. Nick ducked under the first two and punched the third in the mandibles; he could hear a crack as they broke.

The Elite fell and Nick was out the hatch and sprinting down the corridor. As he looked back, a bolt of plasma sizzled across the wall to his right; an Elite in green armor had shoved the red armored Elite's plasma rifle off target. "Alright, I need to get to a hangar, hopefully they haven't left orbit." Nick thought to himself. It wasn't his first time aboard a Covenant ship, but he had no idea where he should be going.

Nick only had his body suit on, the rest of his armor was missing. If he took any fire as he was, he would not withstand anything over three hits. However, the Covenant did not seem interested in killing him, so Nick counted that on his side. A door opened ahead of him and a pair of Grunts wandered out. They did not notice the injured human running towards them until it was too late. Nick swung his good arm and knocked one of them into the wall, and a kick sent the other Grunt flying out of the room.

The room was a dead end. Racks of alloy and other replacement parts were stacked around. He had made the wrong decision and cornered himself. Nick turned back and tried the door, but it had been sealed from elsewhere. He looked over to the control panel and pressed the red button repeatedly. Every time, it buzzed with an angry alarm.

As he hit a smaller button on the pad, the doors slid open, revealing the Elite he had punched in the jaw. Its eyes were filled with rage as it grabbed him by the neck and threw him against the bulkhead. Nick's head struck first and he slumped to the floor. If it were not for his augmentations, the blow would have been fatal. The Elite pulled him away from the wall with its hoof and punched Nick in this face. Pain shot up his jaw and nose as his vision blurred. He saw stars and the soft overhead lighting became blinding.

Once again, Nick began to wake. He noted he no longer felt any pain in his left arm, there was something wrapped around it and most of his side. It was some type of gel packet that was strapped over him. The gel was cool and soothing on whatever injury he had beneath.

He was still on the padded operating bed and, when he moved, it bobbed slightly, indicating that it was hovering. The cell he was in felt very familiar, although he had never been aboard a Covenant ship before and seen their cell blocks. He slid off the bed and approached an energy shield that blocked the doorway. Nick could see other cells, but as far as he could tell, his was the only one that was occupied.

Glancing around the room, a line on a holographic panel jumped with the beats of his heart. A second line below the first remained flat, likely for some unconnected sensor. Mounted on the wall across from the platform he was on, a clear case held a set of jet black Elite combat armor. It was a complete set, except that one of the crystals in the right forearm guard was missing. He approached the armor. He couldn't understand why the armor would have been kept in his cell. On the opposite wall, a screen reflected himself, the screen being a holographic mirror.

A few hours passed, and nothing happened. Nick had pulled off a panel from the hovering bed and accidentally shut off its generator, so now it sat on the floor, askew to the wall. He was sitting on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, when he heard two tones and the tap of footsteps in the corridor outside.

The footsteps stopped outside his cell. Nick looked over to the doorway, and saw two crimson-armored Elites flanking a silver-armored Ultra beyond the energy shield. The leader stepped towards the controls and the two red Elites activated their wrist blades.

"Stand back and then come peacefully, Demon." The Ultra requested.

Nick didn't want a repeat of what had happened earlier. He nodded and moved away from the doorway in the least threatening manner he could.

The leader pressed a button outside the door and the shield dissipated. The other two crimson Elites moved in and dragged him out. The Elite on his right dropped him. Nick could have sworn he did it on purpose. Upon closer examination, he could see the Elite's mandibles were swollen and bandaged under the armor; it was the same Elite he had punched while escaping earlier.

The leader grabbed the injured Elite by the back of its neck and barked at it in its native language, then dropped the crimson one and pulled Nick along itself.

Nick was taken into a cafeteria-like room, with guards posted at every doorway. In the far corner, a green-armored Elite sat with a tablet shaped device, looking as if it was reviewing notes. The Ultra pushed Nick down on a seat while trays of food were brought over. The food was Human, likely taken from a ruined store on Standard IV. Nick was confused, these actions were unlike the Covenant. They never took prisoners, or held any interest for Human things.

"Eat. You will need it." The Ultra growled.

"Understood... " Nick muttered, taking a utensil that looked less like it was used for eating and more like it belonged back in a kitchen on a grill. The food was overcooked, but he didn't want to say anything that would end up with them killing him. Besides, it was better than field rations.

With the platter empty, the Ultra stood and nodded to the others behind Nick. "You are returning to your cell." it said. Nick was shoved off his chair and pushed back towards the hall he had come from.

He sat on the bed in the cell for what felt like half a day before the Ultra returned with a new group of escorts. The Ultra crossed his arms and barked something to the others. The shield disengaged and they pulled him through the ship corridors in the opposite direction of the cafeteria.

They took him up a few decks and into a lab on what seemed like the complete other side of the ship. Nick was held against the a platform on the back wall. The Elites activated energy based restraints and backed out of the room. The exit door glowed red. The lab had a viewing bay behind one way class.

An Elite Major entered the room from the observation bay and approached a platform that began to rise out of the floor. The Elite picked up what appeared to be a compact Needler, and a series of different colored, liquid filled crystals. The Elite looked back at the observation bay. There was an announcement in their language and the Elite loaded the crystals into the Needler-like device.

The Major approached Nick, the platform he was on rotated until he was on his back. The Elite pressed the cool metal into his shoulder. The device went off, something pierced his skin but it felt more like he received a shot than a needle round. The platform rotated again until the underside of his head was easily exposed to the Elite. The device was pressed down there, against the veins of his neck. It went off again, and again it felt no different than a pressurized shot. It never occurred to Nick that the crystals were colored just to show what went next.

The injections went on for hours. The first round had gone fast, but they had taken breaks between every round. Nick's body had become numb after the first hour, losing feeling in his arms and legs. The green armored female Nick had seen in the cafeteria the other day had left the observation bay and now stood beside his platform. She did not take notes, nor did she poke him with strange devices like the others. She just stood there, watching him.

"What… are you doing?" he managed to say, barely staying conscious.

She looked at him, her expression changing to something curious. "Helping you, Nick. Helping you."

Nick woke suddenly, gasping for air. His gaze shot around the room, he was back in his cell. "Must have finished their tests..." he thought.

Oddly, as he gasped for air, he felt his jaw pull apart and then reassemble. He reached up to where his mouth should have been, but his hand instead collided with the underside of his head, that made no sense. "Whaa..."

He felt around his head, it was elongated, and his hand slipped into his mouth from beneath. Nick pulled his hand away instantly. His hands didn't feel right either. Nick looked down and jumped at what he saw. His skin was light gray and they had two fingers and two thumbs. "Oh my God. I'm an Elite!"

Nick threw the blanket covering his form to the ground to see how far the change had gone. It was complete, even the scar tissue across his body had become gray Elite skin. He lept out of bed to see himself in the mirror. Unfortunately he did not get far, his legs collapsed beneath him. He wasn't familiar with the leg structure that now supported him. Nick pulled himself back up against the floating bed and got himself steady. "Why didn't I see that coming..." he thought. He flexed his leg, trying to get a sense for what muscles did what. After a while, he was confident that that he know what he was doing. Nick released the bed and manually commanded the individual muscles. He took a few steps forward and something clicked, he was able to walk without thinking about it.

"Having fun, Nick?" A voice behind him spoke. Only his name was in English, the rest was in the Covenant language, but he could still understand it.

He spun around, it was the female from earlier. The one that had said she was helping him. She was in the cell with him, not standing outside like the others did. "How long have you been standing here?" He was speaking their language too, he didn't understand how or why.

"Oh, just since you woke up. Active camouflage helps," she said.

"Why did you do this?... How did you do this?" Nick had tried to say that in English, but he wasn't able to form the words. "And who are you?"

"Well, that device on your wrist." She said. Nick looked down, he had not noticed it there earlier, a Sangheili Forearm guard with a blue crystal like device embedded on its underside. "It is Forerunner in origin. You do remember the Forerunners, right?"

"Fore… Forerunners?" Nick stopped. The Spartan version of him wouldn't have known what the Forerunners were, but the original him did. There was only one person that knew he would have known about them. "Why would she think I remember them..."he thought.

"I can see you're stumped. This will be hard to believe, but... its me, Michelle."

"It's you... what… how?" Nick couldn't believe it. No one knew about Michelle, even if he said something in his sleep they wouldn't try to pass as her.

"I woke up many cycles ago, on High Charity." She looked back at the shield door, then back to him. "It is so good to see you again Nick. Its like seeing something from your dreams in real life."

"Ye… yeah," Nick said. He sat back onto the hovering bed. "I really can't believe it, I ended up thinking that it all had been a dream… There wasn't any real proof that you existed, our past life was so long ago."

"We can make it work again. I had all but given up on finding you too, but after seeing you again, my feelings for you are beginning to return…" Michelle said.

Nick thought about it for a few moments. "Well I'm willing to try this again, for old times." Nick nodded.

Michelle beckoned him to stand up. "I'm not just here to tell you that, there are things you need to do to stay alive. I disabled the visual and audio monitoring to this cell so we could talk. The Prophet of Truth is going to ask what Earth's defenses are like forcefully or willingly you will comply."

"They should have gotten a Captain or Admiral. I haven't been to Earth in years."

"Well, they do not know that, nor do they car-" Naki stopped and held her hand to her headset. "I was just alerted to a change of plans, they want me to come here immediately. Truth is unable to come so he is going to offer you a deal. It seems they're coming down to ask you to join the Covenant, renounce your heresy and be 'cleansed by the holy light.' If you do not do that, they will probably kill you."

"Oh, well then," Nick said. "Is that what I should do?"

"I think so, judging by recent events, the end of the Covenant and the war is coming." She quickly glanced back at the door. "Do you remember your old Sangheili name, from your drawings?"

Nick had to think, it had been many years since he had even thought about that name. "I really can't say I do... Rye something."

"It was Ryau 'Cinotee. My name actually turned out to be mine, Naki 'Cimutee."

"Ah, so I'll take it that name if they ask, and Naki? It is a pleasure to meet you, again." Nick bowed his head to Naki.

Naki nodded back. "I see you still remember some customs."

"The name jogged my memory," Nick said. "I'm starting to remember things I haven't thought of in a very long time."

"Good, I would suggest that you agree with whatever they say, and... you mi-" Naki stopped talking as she heard the shield door drop behind her.

"Science Major Cimutee, what are you doing here so soon?" A San 'Shyuum priest escorted by a handful of Sangheili entered the cell behind Naki.

Naki turned around and saluted the San 'Shyuum "Just checking on the subject, Excellency."

"And how is it?" he asked.

"Excellent, the transformation went flawlessly. He is speaking and understanding our language without problem as well," Naki said.

"Very good. Step aside Major." The San 'Shyuum hovered closer to Nick. "Kneel, vermin." Nick took Naki's advice and knelt down. "I have been tasked with determining if you can be allowed in our Covenant. If you can be cleansed of your born heresy." A Grunt in a tunic entered the cell. "This Unggoy Deacon will teach you of the Great Journey." The San 'Shyuum turned and left, the escort following. Naki nodded and left as well.

Nick and the Unggoy were left alone in the cell. It sat cross legged on the floor and motioned for Nick to sit as well. The Unggoy spent the next few hours preaching about the Gods, the Forerunners and the Great Journey. Nick listened to it well, it had been decades since he had last heard anything close to this, and even then the full beliefs of the Covenant were unknown. He answered the Deacon's questions correctly and asked his own.

Finding Michelle, no, Naki, had changed him. He appeared to be genuinely interested in the Great Journey and joining the Covenant. Gone was the Human-centric Spartan, the old Nick had resurfaced. To the Deacon that taught him, and the San 'Shyuum that watched, this new Sangheili was not going to be a problem at all.


The San 'Shyuum approached Nick's cell a few days later. When the doors opened, Nick remained sitting on the floor, and the Unggoy waddled over to stand behind the San 'Shyuum. He had put on the bodysuit that accompanied the armor that hung in his room so he didn't have to walk around in scorched and torn clothing. "All non science team members must leave the area at once." A Sangheili ordered. The guards escorting the San 'Shyuum left.

"You have shown promise to the Covenant, and have earned your name. What do you wish to be called?" the Priest asked as he hovered in.

Nick glanced around, Naki, and the Ultra from earlier, were standing behind the San 'Shyuum. "Ryau 'Cinotee. Tee being the suffix, as suggested by Science Major 'Cimutee, Excellency."

The Ultra leaned over to Naki. "He learns fast," he chuckled quietly.

"So the name fits," Naki nodded with a smirk.

The Priest turned back to Nick. The San 'Shyuum raised his hands above his head. "Very well. Rise, Ryau 'Cinotee, Sangheili of the Great Covenant." The Priest set his hands down. "However, there are somethings that need to be taken care of. You must not tell anyone of your transformation, or what occurred here, unless ordered by the Hierarchs, High Council or your monitor."

The Ultra attached a metal bracelet to his wrist, it was small enough to fit under armor. "Any questions, Ryau?"

"Just one right now, who is my monitor?"

"That would be SpecOps Science Major Cimutee here." The Ultra said, "you will be staying with her, here and on Sanghelios." He turned and escorted the Priest out of the holding cells.

After they left the room, Nick turned to Naki. "Who is the Ultra?"

"That is Zeik 'Carunmee, my department's Military-Science Ministry adviser. He is going to get you integrated into the battle-net. Just as soon as we're done with my tests."

"Tests?" Nick asked.

"I was just looking for more time to talk, but we already covered the important things. I didn't know how long we would have, or how you would take it. So I guess you should go to take care of that, just meet him outside the hall."

"Hmm, so that's it?" Nick asked her.

"Yes, I'll see you tonight, Ryau." Naki said with a nod.

Nick, now Ryau, headed out the doorway. The Ultra, Zeik, was standing against the corner reading something on a data-pad. As Ryau approached he looked up. "Are you ready to begin, 'Cinotee?"

"Yes I am, Ultra," Ryau nodded.

"Good, follow me." The Ultra turned and took Ryau through the ship corridors. They went up a few decks and into a room with a painted circle on the floor. Zeik removed his shoulder and chest armor and set it on a rack against the wall. "Step inside the circle and we will begin."

As soon as Ryau did, the Ultra swooped in and swung at Ryau's gut. He attempted to block the punch but he wasn't quick enough. Ryau doubled over and fell to the ground. "Damn," he wheezed. "I should have been able to block that." Ryau thought to himself before pushing himself off the floor.

The Ultra paced around the circle. "Your physical modifications are gone. Once again you must learn to fear neither pain or death. You are no longer one of the demonic warriors. Stand by and be ready."

"Okay..." Ryau stood in a basic sparring stance, a position he had taken many times in boot camp. However, in this body, it felt awkward and off balance, but it was the only one he knew.

"No, no, no. Like this, Ryau." The Ultra moved his body and legs into a stance Ryau had seen many Sangheili take before engaging in hand to hand, but he never did get a chance to study it. "Now hit me, see how this absorbs the impact." Ryau lunged forward and struck the Ultra on his bare chest, a strike that should have knocked Zeik back, but instead the force was absorbed by his legs. His lower center of gravity and crouched legs allowed him to spring out and throw Ryau to the ground. "Now you take the stance."

Ryau imitated Zeik's form and matched him. The Ultra charged, Ryau used his lower center of gravity to shrug off Zeik's attack. Ryau grabbed the Ultra's wrist and twisted it over his shoulder.

Ryau released the Ultras hand and stepped back. "Hmm, good. You learn fast, utilizing your weight and balance to bring down a more experienced warrior." Zeik stood and brushed off his chest. "We will be moving on to weapon analysis." He went into the next room and nodded to a rack of weapons. "Training weapons," Zeik said. "What class do you prefer?"

Ryau looked across the weapons, their purple alloy gleaming in the light. "Medium to long range weapons."

"Very well, the Type-51 Carbine should be the best fit. Perhaps a Needle rifle." Zeik removed a Carbine from the weapon rack and handed it to Ryau. "Show me how you do."

Ryau gripped the Carbine, his new hands fitting its curves much better than his old ones. The range lit up, holographic targets appearing at various ranges. He took a few test shots to get a feel for how it handled. Ryau let out a breath and opened fire. Most of the shots met their targets. He emptied the cartridge and handed the rifle back to Zeik.

"I see that you are already proficient in our weapons, without a targeting assist system as well, good." Zeik glanced down at his data-pad. "A Major would be a good fit for someone with your skill set. Special Operations would be even better. This should not draw much attention. Naki will give you your own data-pad when you go see her tonight, and then your identity before we arrive. And one more thing, how do you spell Ryau 'Cinotee?" Zeik chuckled.

Ryau chuckled too and spelled out his new name from what he could remember. Zeik waved him down a hall and they headed back towards the holding cells. When they arrived, there was a group of Sangheili Minors guarding three Human Marines kneeling on the floor.

"You will kill these vermin, the hierarch demands it!" one of the Minors spat. Another held out the hilt of an energy dagger.

Ryau looked over to Zeik, who had backed away from the group and had his hand up to his helmet, talking to someone in a hushed voice. He saw Ryau looking over and nodded slowly.

Ryau turned back to the Marines on the floor before him and took the dagger. "Are you a coward, deserter?" The Minor mocked.

Zeik scowled at the Minor while Ryau examined the dagger, thinking of the quickest way to get it over with. The Ultra spoke out, "Major Cinotee is no deserter, nor heretic. He had just been in a non-combat position for many cycles."

"Then why does he not act?"

"I am thinking of the best way kill them," Ryau said. "This is not an honorable way to kill another warrior, execution and not on the battlefield." He was pulling at every shred he could remember from his past. The other Sangheili just scoffed. Ryau sighed, realizing that he would not be able to convince the Minor to at least give the Marines a chance to fight for their lives. Instead, he moved quickly, running the plasma blade across the back of the first Marine's neck, severing the spine and cutting through many of the important pathways.

The body slumped to the deck, and Ryau quickly did the same to the others before they had a chance to see what was happening. He didn't like it, he felt cold. The last time he had killed another Human had been years ago, but those were Insurrectionists, these were fellow Marines. He regretted the decision, but he had to do it. He had found Michelle and that felt like all that mattered.

The Minor grinned and took the dagger back, the other two dragging the bodies away. "Good speech on honor, but these worms aren't deserving of it," he said.

"All Warriors deserve a death on the battlefield, Minor, even our enemies. And especially the Humans, for they have shown bravery and courage while fighting us," Zeik said. "Come Ryau, we will get you associated with your new armor."

"Humans also use dishonorable tactics, traps and deception." The Minor added, eager to keep the debate going.

"Were we so different before the formation of the Covenant?" Zeik ended the conversation and lead Ryau down the corridor, leaving the Minor standing there with something to think about. Zeik opened a different door and headed inside. He locked it after Ryau entered. "I am sorry about that, I was not informed that the Hierarch had ordered such an event. Are you alright?"

"Yes, it had to be done." Ryau said coldly.

Zeik frowned. "Well, let us continue then." He removed a lid from a crate and revealed the armor that had been in the cell. Zeik removed the leg armor from the case and showed Ryau the underside. "These quick attachment ports will connect to similar points on your body suit, some pieces have secondary straps and pieces to connect." He pushed the piece onto Ryau's leg and it clicked, a wrap around piece circled his thigh and held the piece firmly in place.

He hefted the shield generator out of the crate. "Put your arms through the straps, it goes on similarly to a backpack and the chest plates attach to it." Zeik informed. Ryau slipped his arms through and clicked together the different harness straps.

"I see now why its called a Combat Harness," Ryau chuckled to himself, his mood lightening a bit.

Zeik clicked in attachment ports around his sides, to which the heavy chest plate was attached. Ryau slipped on a similar forearm guard to the one that had been attached to his right arm since his transformation. The orange light on the new guard changed to blue to match the Forerunner device on his right arm, lines of text streamed across its surface as it interfaced with the rest of the armor.

Once it was all on, Zeik stepped back. "Now just press the flashing icon on your tactical pad," he said. "Its the interface on your left wrist."

Ryau looked down and pressed the icon, the air around him flashed with static. The lenses that he had placed over his eyes flashed with information, the shield bar appeared fully charged and a motion tracker appeared in the corner. "I wonder who inspired who. Or is it just similar gameplay leaking into the real world?"

"Your shields should be online now," Zeik said.

"Indeed they are." Ryau said.

"Good, systems are all working fine. I will assign the system manual to your list of readings. Be sure to finish that before you encounter any combat."

"Erm… Understood."

"Excellent, I'll take you back to Naki's cabin now." Zeik lead Ryau through the many corridors, mostly empty, until they reached the personnel decks. "This ship was not intended for combat operations, it was designed for scientific expeditions. It has a much larger crew deck than other Cruisers,"

Naki stood outside her room. "Well they have yet to set up your bed, or a room divider. You'll have to sleep on the floor for the night."

"Why not send him to bunk in the common rooms, he seems to be catching on quickly," Zeik suggested.

Naki shot him a look that just said,"Shut the fuck up." He backed up a few steps. "I want to keep him under observation for a few nights."

"I see..." Zeik said. "I should get to work on his identity file." He turned around and headed down the hallway.

Naki pulled him inside. "Well I guess I need to get you set up," she pulled a blanket and a pillow and set up a spot on the floor. "Is that good enough for now?"

Ryau looked around. "I've slept in much worse conditions." He sat down on the bed roll and fiddled with the pillow.

"Well it seems Zeik got you set up in your armor, are you planning on sleeping in it?" Naki asked.

"I don't see why not, I'm used to it." Ryau said. "I have a lot of reading to do now."

"While that's true, you and I have many solar cycles to catch up on. My cabin is a secured location, so we can talk about whatever you would like."

Part 5

Welcome To Sanghelios
Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 104 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [July 14, 2552: 1321]
Covenant Special Sciences Ministry Operation Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
Ryau 'Cinotee [Project Leau Subject 01/04]

Ryau had finished reading through his armor manual a few hours before. It was mostly on armor upkeep and how to configure the tactical pad controls, it barely touched on where the armor was made, or when. In all fairness, he and Naki had been spending more time talking than he had reading. At the moment they were in her room going over the terms and meanings of the foods in Sangheili culture.

"Vels leaves are used for tea, which has a cider like taste. I like to use it to keep me awake while working late," Naki said. "Then Zup Cha..."

Naki was interrupted by a ship wide announcement. "Attention, dropping out of slipspace in one minute. Prepare for sudden deceleration." Ryau looked over to Naki. He had never been on a Covenant ship exiting slipspace before. He wasn't sure what it was like to drop out on one of their ships.

"Its not rough, just a warning so you do not kill another accidentally while sparring or conducting maintenance." Naki nodded.

"Ah, I see. The UNSC did the same when dropping out."

A moment later the deck shuttered and the lights dimmed. A cheerful three tone tune played through the speakers. "Mercy and Betrayal, this is SSTC. Welcome to Sanghelios, Warriors. Shuttles are already en route."

Ryau could hear a roar echo through the ship. Judging by that, it had been quite a while since they had been home. "Time to go?" Ryau asked.

Naki pulled a bag from a locker and began to pack some of her gear. "Indeed it is," she replied. "Don't forget to bring your data-pad."

"I won't, Naki," Ryau pulled on the shield harness and hatched the chest place into position. He stuck his data-pad into a thigh pocket and met Naki by the doorway.

Naki headed out and waved for him to follow. "Alright, follow me, we never did get a chance to give you a proper tour of the ship."

They hurried through the increasingly crowded halls of the battle cruiser. They approached one of the nearby hangar bays. When they made it through the door cycle, they found the massive hangar already filled with lines of warriors and ship staff waiting to board large bulbous shuttle craft. Ryau hadn't seen them before, they appeared to be a cross between a Spirit and a Phantom and expanded three times.

"Must be some kind of civilian craft." Ryau thought, noting the lack of weapons visible.

The shuttles' illuminated signs displayed their destinations rotating on a cycle. Naki led them towards a craft in the back. They boarded quickly and sat in the back row of seats. The interior was warm, the seats padded and comfortable. The high-pitched yet muted whine of the craft's engines with the subtle roar of the air circulation systems reminded Ryau of the old Human airliners.

The large doors closed and sealed. Naki tapped him on the shoulder. "Strap in, we will be lifting off soon." She pulled the straps over her shoulders and latched in.

"Seems safety straps are universal for similar physiology." Ryau thought as, he strapped himself in.

The shuttle shook as it lifted off the deck of the cruiser. There was the slight tug of acceleration before the vessel left the CCS-class Battlecruiser's gravity field. Screens mounted on the bulkheads displayed what was below the shuttle.

The view was occupied by the planet. Red tinted continents and seas gave way to blues and greens as they approached the planet's northern pole. The camera darkened as it polarized and reentry flames lapped at the edges. The temperature inside rose slightly as the climate control adjusted to the heat. Ryau reflexively gripped the edges of the seat, it was something not even Spartan training could shake from him.

The shaking ceased and the shuttle smoothed out in its approach. The screens cleared again and Ryau could see land through the clouds. They were over a mountain range, but as the craft banked a city appeared.

A voice, likely one of the pilots, came over the shuttle's intercom. "Now arriving in Koros, Koros State. Transport to Sel'um Spaceport will be provided. Next stop, Varo, state of Zelso." The city was large, easily matching most metropolitan Human cities.

Naki tapped him on the shoulder again. "This is not our stop."

Ryau glanced back to her. "What is it like in Varo? Does it look like this place, Koros?"

"Similar, Koros is a bit farther south. These two states are close trading partners though. Varo… Varo is like Seattle, I guess. It's cool for Sanghelios, rainy at times. It's the largest City in Zelso."

"Do you live in Varo?" Ryau asked.

"I do, though I have not been home for quite a while. They have had me working on this project for the last few solar cycles."

"Oh I know the feeling. Spartan deployment cycles only rotate back for armor upgrades and debriefs. And I haven't been back to Earth since this whole war started. Hell, before you picked me up on Standard, we were headed back to Reach for the first time in years."

Naki nodded as the shuttle lifted off and flew over an ocean. There was nothing around for some time, just a boundless sea. Eventually, a strip of land materialized in the distance. The shuttle banked and approached a spaceport. The collection of buildings was surrounded by a massive forest. The spaceport itself had a flat area large enough to fit a few starships. The shuttle eased down onto a landing pad and its doors hissed open. Cool air drifted in and everyone began to stand.

Naki unclasped her harness and stood up. "Welcome to Sanghelios, Ryau."

Ryau stood as well and glanced around. A pair of Majors a few rows ahead were turned away from everyone else and watching him. "Probably assigned someone else to keep an eye on me, make sure I don't smash the tracker and run," he thought. As he followed Naki out the ship's doors and onto the tarmac, he could see the top of a city peeking out over the tops of the trees.

Naki looked over towards the mountains in the distance, the planet's suns were setting and casting their lights across the sky. "Gods I missed these sunsets. I do not think I've seen any better."

Ryau looked over and nodded. "I have to agree. The only rival I can think of would be on Reach."

"What were those like?" Naki asked.

"It was nice. The illuminated gas giant, the colors..." Ryau trailed off. "I spent a lot of time watching them while we weren't training... thinking about you..."

Naki was quiet for a few moments and she stopped walking. "I did too.." Naki would have hugged Ryau if it wouldn't raise questions with the two following them. She straightened her science uniform. "We should hurry, we need to catch a bus into the city."

Ryau nodded and followed Naki into the building. He assumed it was essentially the terminal. Guards armed with Carbines and Needlers were posted on its corners. Their armor was green, like Naki's, only darker with matching emblems on their shoulders. They were lower tech than standard covenant infantry, the armor was held on with straps and their body suit looked more like clothes.

Naki saw his gaze. "Ah, those are Zelso's own military force. Part of planetside defense."

"There are enough surplus warriors to do that?" Ryau asked.

"Yes, although it's mainly women and recruits before beginning their tours." Naki shrugged. "If I wasn't trained on High Charity, I would have done a rotation with them."

They entered through large sliding doors. The first thing Ryau noticed was that the building was devoid of purple. The structure was made of stone, and the weathering showed its age. The stone, however, was behind glass and metal walls to either protect it or for an interior design add on. Colorful banners and thin cloth over skylights brought color to the stone and silver interior. Holographic displays and chairs occupied either side of the walkway as they headed through the terminal. They headed down a corridor marked EXIT, where groups of warriors stood by a guarded gate, getting processed for entry into the state.

Naki took him to a separate line, for citizens only. She showed the guard in a booth her identification card. "Welcome back to Zelso, Science Major 'Cimutee." The guard said and turned to Ryau. "Identification card?"

Ryau looked to Naki. "Don't you have it?" He asked.

"Oh right," Naki pulled her data-pad out and showed the screen to the guard.

"Ah, welcome Major 'Cinotee...ee... heh, you two have the same suffix." She mumbled that last part. The guard typed something into her console. "I'll just etch out a new replacement card for you. Sorry about losing your old one on that ship." A few moments passed and the guard handed Ryau a strip of metal. His name and a string of numbers were engraved along with a seal that was labeled 'Citizen of Zelso."

The guard nodded and the door slid open. Naki pulled him along, to the transport hub. Waiting vehicles similar to Covenant Shadows were waiting at a large round-a-bout. The buses were labeled with their destinations. They boarded one bound for the Varo Markets just in time, and it silently glided away from the curb a moment later.

"So where are we headed?" Ryau asked.

"We need to get some clothes for you. You cannot just wear your armor everywhere," Naki said. "I know a shop in the marketplace where we can get you something."

Ryau nodded. "All right."

The bus glided down the highway that split the forest. Ryau knew the trees, they were basically evergreens that that appeared on almost every habitable planet in one way or another. In only a few minutes, more structures started appearing, spread out like one would find driving the mountainous back roads on Earth a few hundred years ago. The trees began to thin and the houses became more common. Houses grouped into walled compounds and neighborhoods, Ryau remembered that some Sangheili lived with their entire family in the same complex. The bus crossed a bridge over a deep ravine, and he could see a river flowing across its floor. The city lay ahead, and silver skyscrapers tinted red by the setting suns rose from the other side of the ravine.

They didn't fully enter the city, the bus remained on the outskirts, but still Ryau was impressed. Not only did its size rival Human cities, but its building design did as well. They rode the bus around to the other side of the city, stopping in an area where the buildings appeared to be no taller than three floors. Ryau and Naki got off at an outdoor market. Vendor stalls lined a wide road with suspended lights strung across. It was evening and the crowds had apparently cleared out, but the stands were still open.

"Hopefully the shop is still here, I've gotten most of my clothes from there." Naki said.

Naki took Ryau's hand and pulled him along through the market. She stopped at a larger stand, where a young female stood cleaning up some clothing stacks. When she noticed Naki, she perked up. "Miss Cimutee! Welcome back," she said cheerfully.

"Glad to see you too Auva, its good to be back home." Naki smiled back. "Is your mother around?"

"Ah, she went home early to get started on next week's set of clothes, but she's letting me run the store now."

"Alright, I need to get Ryau here some new clothes. None made it here with him." Naki said.

"Oh, I understand... are you two… together?" Auva asked.

Ryau shook his head and Naki looked over to him. "No, this is Ryau 'Cinotee, he was assisting me on my latest assignments."

"Okay, you two look around and I'll wait here. I'll apply a discount for a returning customer." Auva laughed.

Naki waved Ryau over to a rack of clothes. "Now let us get you something."

"Is this the right section?' Ryau asked, looking over the clothes.

"It doesn't matter much. These shirts are unisex. The bottoms, however, are not."

Ryau held up a shirt Naki handed him. "I understand." The shirt was midnight blue with a hard pad around the neck and on the shoulders.

"Huh, I think the first pick was the right one for once," she smiled. "Now the pants..." Naki grabbed a pair of gray pants, much like Human fatigues.

"Are these..." Ryau began to ask, but decided against it.

Naki looked like she knew what he was thinking and shrugged. "I don't know where she gets her inspiration." He handed him a bag and shoved him into a changing stall. "Change into those and place your armor in the bag. I'll pay for it."

Ryau started to change, unstrapping the armor and placing the pieces into the bag. He stowed the armor in the bag and attached it to the shield pack. He slipped into his new clothes and noted how they fit well. It didn't occur to him until then that Naki must have known his sizes from when he was fitted for his armor at some point. Ryau moved his arms around, the hardened pads moved freely, doing nothing to hinder his movements.

Pulling on the shield pack over his new shirt, Ryau left the stall and joined Naki by the treeline. "So where to now?"

Naki glanced toward the sky, only one of the three suns were still completely visible above the mountains. "Its getting late, and I believe we should get something to eat. I know just the place to go."

"Lead the way." Ryau nodded. He followed Naki through what was left of the evening crowd and onto a path made of old stone. It cut through the forest and soon they were the only two in sight.

The trees cut out all of the city noise, and all Ryau could hear was the creak of branches and some native animal calls. The click of their feet on the old paving stones echoed.

"Its nice out here," Ryau said quietly. "The only quiet time we got was on a ship, but the quiet noises then were quite loud in comparison..."

"Indeed it is... Varo is large enough to have many places like this. We're lucky." Naki smiled slightly. The stone path came to an end at a small creek. A makeshift bridge made of a fallen tree crossed over to where the path continued. "Follow me," Naki hopped onto the log and quickly crossed over. "Now you. I assume your 'training' covered log crossing." Naki joked.

"Well as Spartans, our half ton of armor let us cross the mightiest of creaks unhindered! Any major rivers, though, we'd have to find a way around." Ryau stepped onto the log and it wobbled beneath him. "Rotting trees wouldn't support us."

Ryau wasn't that sure how well he could balance on his new legs. He took a few cautious steps forward, and then hurried across. Unfortunately he tripped on a broken branch and fell to the ground. "Ow…" Ryau pushed himself back up and brushed the dirt and twigs from his new clothes. "Erm... so where is this fish place?"

Naki giggled. "Oh just a few more kilometers along the path. This is the second largest park in Varo." She paused for a moment. "Should we run, just to beat the setting suns?"

"Hmm, alright," Ryau nodded.

Naki slipped into a running stance and took off at a leisurely pace. Ryau started behind her, and kept her pace so as not to overtake her. They ran down the path, alien ferns and familiar looking trees flashing by. Ryau enjoyed it, it had been a long time since he had been able to relax at all. Even if it was some sort of forced relaxation. After a bit, Naki slowed down and Ryau could see the edge of the tree line ahead. He could hear crashing waves and a bit of a drum beat.

"Here we are," Naki said without a hint a fatigue in her voice. They stepped out of the trees and onto a beach. The trees and ferns were replaced with dune grass and rock. If it weren't for the Sangheili on the beach, Ryau could have been on any Human colony world. Further up the beach, a small hut stood surrounded by tables and chairs. Its signs simply said "fish".

Ryau followed Naki up and they took a seat at one of the tables. They were only there for a few moments before a female Sangheili came out of the hut and approached them. Naki handed her the credit chip from her data-pad and ordered two plates of something called Muka fish. The female nodded and took the chip.

A few moments passed and the female returned with two plates of steaming purple fish. Ryau's stomach growled, reminding him that he had hardly eaten since he became a Sangheili. He had only been eating nutrient packets and protein supplements that Naki said he had to eat until he recovered from his transformation. Ryau looked down at the table, the giant fork he had commented on being a grilling tool was proportionately the right size.

"Well, enjoy," Naki said. "This was caught in the Kalo Straight, so it's local."

Ryau picked up the fork and stabbed a piece of fish. As he placed it on his tongue, he found it good, kind of like [a cross between] old Earth Halibut and Salmon. The glass of water the waitress brought out was a bit tricky. Naki showed him how to hold the glass against the underside of his mouth and pour. Ryau spilled a little bit, but eventually got the hang of it.

Ryau saw a male and female Major turned around and watching him from another table. He assumed they were confused about why a grown Sangheili would not know how to drink from a glass.

Naki set down her fork and stood from her seat. "We should get going now, we need to catch another bus to get home."

"You live that far?" Ryau asked.

"Varo is big, I live on the other side of the bay." Naki pointed out at the water.

Ryau followed Naki's hand and saw a thin strip of land on the other side, barely visible in the twilight. He nodded and followed her across the park towards a well lit parking lot. A bus sat in a round a bout, loading up.

"We need to hurry, or we are going to miss it." Naki quickened her pace to a light jog. "We will take this to the Hub, then transfer onto one going over the bridge."

They quickly hopped aboard and sat on the roof deck as the vehicle took off and headed up the hillside towards the city. Ryau would have enjoyed watching the city pass by, but as soon as the bus pulled onto a main road, it took a left and drove down a tunnel. The tunnel was brightly lit and only a few other buses accompanied them. It appeared older than the streets they had gone through earlier that night. Old storefronts lined the sides of the tunnel, most closed or being used as surface access for small stations. Ryau assumed that this had been street level at one time and the roads raised to allow for a transit system.

After riding through the seemingly endless tunnel, they entered a large station, where a holographic display announced that they had arrived at The Hub. A fairly large map on the wall of the station placed their location at the heart of Downtown Varo.

"This is where we transfer." Naki said, pulling Ryau out of his seat and out of the bus. They were on a large circular platform with various bus bays marked around it. A series of staircases and ramps in the center led down to upper and lower levels. If Ryau understood Sangheili transport symbols correctly, there was even a train station on the lowest level. Or rather, there had been at one time; the symbol was now crossed out with a red line.

Naki took him to a bus on sub-level two heading to the Hena-vas Nature Preserve. Naki plopped them down on the rooftop once again. The bus slid away and out up to the main tunnel level. The transport eventually returned to the surface and merged onto the bridge that spanned the mouth of the bay.

When the bus reached the middle of the bridge, Naki pointed out towards the ocean. A few distant lights were visible offshore "That is one of the Varo Military Academy's skirmish sites. You'll be having your training there, away from others."

Ryau nodded, "Makes sense."

When they got closer to the other side, Naki quickly pointed down at another cluster of lights barely visible inside the bay. "That is where I live. You can't see my home, the lights are off, but you can see my neighbor's lights. Its an island just off shore."

"It must be nice to live on an island, good position, away from anything else." Ryau said.

"Indeed it is, we always wanted an island to ourselves, before… it… happened." Naki said.

"Mhmm... I remember that."

"Do you ever wonder what happened to us, I mean the us that was in the other… I've seen research... No, not the time to talk about it. Someone, something, might be listening." Naki looked concerned and glanced around the deserted roof deck. "Would you like to visit a tavern?" She changed the subject.

Ryau understood her concerns and decided not to respond to her earlier question. "Sure, sounds interesting, never did get shore leave anywhere I could, or was allowed to, get a drink."

The bus finished its journey across the bridge and pulled off the highway at an exit marked for Arica Armories and the nature preserve. The area to the left was dark, only a few lights illuminated the roadways and warning lights blinked at the top of darkened structures. He couldn't determine what the lights were from the structures silhouettes. On the right were just rows and rows of different industrial-styled buildings. Naki and Ryau got off the bus at the top of the cliffs, where a road was carved into the side that lead down to the nature park below. At the street corner, there was a small structure called Mik's Tavern.

"This is where many of the factory workers like to go to have a drink." Naki said. "Its also where I like to go, I can walk home from here."

They walked inside and Ryau's nostrils were assaulted by a variety of tangy smells. He could identify some of them as grease and plasma, but the others were a type of food and something else he couldn't decipher. The tavern was filled with Sangheili in red uniforms with reflective tape on their shoulders. Naki sat him down in a booth and ordered them some basic drinks. When the pair eventually left the tavern, the largest sun had already begun to rise over the Sea of Kar'un.

Ryau walked out of the tavern and stretched his back. He had switched to something called Vina beer, it was non-alcoholic and tasted like a soda he had when he was young. Ryau looked to his left and stopped walking. The large unlit area he had seen last night was now illuminated by the rising suns. It was a massive factory complex, from what he could see it was almost as if it was as big as downtown Varo itself. A sign stood in front of a gate, somehow Ryau had missed the sign the night before, it stated that the factory was Arica Armories.

Naki yawned, "Come on, this way to home." They walked along the road, down to sea level. By the time they reached Naki's house on the island, two suns were over the ocean and the third was just peeking over. Naki's house was built into a hill that emerged from the backside of the relatively flat island.

"Interesting place so far." Ryau said, looking over its exterior.

"My home was going to be a museum to pre-Covenant Sanghelios, but I don't think that the Covenant leadership agreed with some of the exhibits... They shut it down and moved me in as soon as I got back from my first tour," Naki said.

"Huh, what did the neighbors think about that?" Ryau asked.

"Well, they weren't happy that their museum was closed down, but when they learned it was given to one of the few Sangheili Scientists, they were glad." Naki said. "I have a lot of the old displays in storage, in one of the unused areas."

"Exactly how big is your house...?" Ryau looked at the above ground structure. It couldn't have been any bigger than a suburban house on Earth.

"Do you see how big this island is Ryau?" Naki said. "One third of it is my land. A couple thousand solar cycles ago there was a major military installation built underneath it, I'll give you the tour later. After we get some sleep."

"I'd drink to that," Ryau chuckled.

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 6 and 7
Date: 30 November 2015, 1:36 am

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 6 and 7
Date: 11 December 2015, 10:12 pm

Part 6
Far Beyond Provocation
Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 118 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [July 28, 2552: 1321]
Varo, State of Zelso. Sanghelios
Ryau 'Cinotee [Project Leau Subject 01/04]

Ryau gripped the side of the old sea-going landing craft. According to its pilot, the boat was a relic from ancient ground-side battles. Ryau was surprised it still ran, but from what he had seen and read recently about Sangheili technology, it was built to last.

The boat slammed through a wave and water splashed through one of the portholes. The day was not one of the clear and sunny evenings he had experienced over the last two weeks. The dark clouds had moved in the night before and brought the rain and wind with them. Ryau's cover story was that he was just re-entering active military service after serving as a lab assistant on the battlecruiser he had arrived on with Naki. All he needed was an approved refresher course to 'retake' his position.

Their objective was to secure a power core that was taking the place of a Forerunner artifact. They were headed for the island off the coast of Varo that Naki had pointed out to Ryau when they had first arrived. They had been told that the power core was located inside a structure on top of the island's mountain, guarded by a variety of the Military Academy's trainers. He looked at the others in the landing bay. Naki was in her green armor and stood there like she had done this countless times before. The other two were fresh Recruits, their only training came from their families and their armor was a matte gray, devoid of any rank.

The landing craft slid up the beach and came to a stop. Ryau's ACI booted up and alerted him to the start of the exercise. A ramp on the side of the craft slid down and waves washed inside. "Move to the trees, let's go!" Ryau ordered.

The small team dashed out of the landing craft, heading for the band of trees and ferns that hugged the cliff wall. A particle beam sliced through the air, narrowly missing one of the recruits and sending a fistful of sand into the air. Stun rounds shot from the cliff top and peppered the ground all around them. Ryau pulled one of the Recruits out of the way of another particle beam. "We need to get below their sight line!" He tore through branches and slammed against the base of the cliff. Slowly, the firing ceased.

"They have the entire ridge line guarded, Excellency!" One of the Recruits said, his voice wavering. It occurred to Ryau that this exercise may affect their training as well.

"I can see that, Recruit." Ryau had not gotten a chance to learn their names before they were placed in the landing craft together. Their identification tags had not yet been set up as well, all that was displayed on Ryau's combat interface was SpecOps Recruit.

"How are we going to reach the objective, they must have all entrances guarded," the other added. He seemed much calmer than his comrade.

Ryau though for a moment, he had been training on the islands for the last two weeks. He took out his data-pad and brought up a tactical map of the area that he had downloaded the night before. Ryau traced a path from their approximate position, around the cliff. "At the end of this island, there are a series of bridges that connect to the others. Since they are so far away, they're likely unguarded. We can use them to go up an alternative path and hit the objective." He sighed and left the map open. "It will take longer, but I suspect that they think we would charge right in."

"Ah, I see. Excellent plan, Excellency." The calmer Recruit said.

Naki just nodded and smiled. "Lets get moving, we need to finish this before Joori sets." She nodded up at the third bright spot in the sky.

They moved quickly, the sound of the storm masking any sounds they made. The ridgeline disappeared into the forest and their path continued on. Ryau's motion tracker was a mess of movement from the wind. However, a cluster of dots moved together, about to cross in front of them before disappearing off the radar. Ryau put his fist up, momentarily forgetting that he was not leading a group of Humans. Naki caught the signal and stopped to ask what it meant, but the jumpy Recruit slammed into her fell forward and hit the ground. Upon impact, her training rifle discharged. The bolt struck a figure in active camouflage square in the face.

The jumpy Recruit suddenly started to fire randomly into the forest. "They know where we are!"

Ryau clenched his mandibles and started to fire in the direction he had seen the dots the moment before. The wind and rain made finding the camouflaged Trainers easier. All they had to do was look for the areas where raindrops splashed on nothing. "Keep moving, don't stand still!" Ryau ordered, shifting position every few moments to dodge incoming fire.

Naki pushed herself out of a pool of water and joined in the firefight. Eventually the Trainers ceased firing back and Ryau ordered his group to hold their fire. They had either won that battle or the enemy was just regrouping for a second go.

Ryau walked up to the Trainer they had shot first. "Nice shot, Naki." Ryau chuckled.

"Thank you, I shoot my best while falling," Naki returned with a laugh.

The two Recruits were unharmed and awaiting further orders. Ryau walked over and pressed his finger against the chest of the jumpy Recruit. "You need to control yourself. If they had not known our position before, they do now. You put us all in danger of failing this mission." Ryau sighed and tried to get into character. "You are a Sangheili, you are training to become SpecOps. Act like it."

The Recruit shamefully bowed his head. "Understood, Excellency."

"Now let's move on, we've wasted enough time already." Ryau pointed in the direction they were heading. The small team marched through the dense temperate forest. In the dimming light, a blue glow appeared through the trees. An energy shield blocked an opening in the ridge that lead up to the top. A cable snaked from the center to a control panel barely hidden behind a fern. The whole set up was likely a trap.

Ryau waved them on and continued on to the bridges that crossed the turbulent waters. It took a bit of time, but they managed to island hop around any of the trap-barricades and slip past any of the trainer patrols. "Its unlikely that they have an overly large group of trainers to use as opponents." Ryau thought as they moved quietly up the main island's hillside.

Through the trees up ahead, there was a wide clearing, the top of the hill. Auto-turrets surrounded a building that mimicked a Forerunner structure. It very well could have actually been a Forerunner structure, Ryau couldn't tell.

"I don't recognize that turret model," Ryau said.

"Sir," the calm Recruit said. "Those are Type-91 training turrets. They target and fire on color differences in their field of vision."

"Hmm..." Ryau thought for a moment. "Naki, your armor is the most like the forest. Do you think you can sneak around and power them down?"

"Yes, I'll head on in." She nodded and disappeared into the trees. Ryau caught a glimpse of her dashing across the open field. She slipped through a doorway and a few moments later, the turrets folded into stand-by mode. "Turret systems offline," Naki radioed. "I had to take down a few guards, hurry across."

Ryau and the two Recruits sprinted across the field. A patrol came around the side of the building and stopped when they noticed the turrets were off link. Ryau had taken cover behind one of the turret stands and the Recruits had just dropped where they were. The rain dribbled off his helmet as he remained still and waited for a good moment to strike.

There was a flash of lightning in the distance, and a moment later the roar of thunder rolled across the ocean. There was a series of green flashes and the three Trainers froze and fell to the ground.

Ryau and the Recruits hurried through the doors and went deeper into the structure. Ryau stepped over a group of Trainers that Naki had neutralized. "What most of these warrior types do not seem to realize is that the SpecOps portion of my rank means that I have been fully trained in special operations." Naki huffed as she leaned against the wall. "The vault is up ahead." She lead them down the corridor. "Either we took out most of them earlier, or they are planning something. I have not seen another since I took down those three."

Ryau turned and pointed at the Recruits. "Head back and guard our exit. If anything comes up, let me know. "

"Yes sir," they replied in unison. The two quickly turned around and hurried back to the door.

The room up ahead was behind a semi-transparent door. Ryau could see the core sitting on a pedestal inside. He looked down at the door controls and noted that they were locked. "Naki, think you can get through this?"

"Of course. You know if this was an actual recovery mission, I would have operational authority." Naki knelt down and went to work on the controls.

"Good to know," Ryau replied. A moment later the door clocked and slid open.

Suddenly, the lights turned red and a low drone sounded through the halls. Ryau hurried in and pulled the core from the pedestal. The sound of gunfire echoed down the corridor and one of the recruits came over the radio.

"Sir, a Trainer lance just came out of the forest, we have them pinned... Wait, there's another one. Sir we are being surrounded!" they said.

"Hold on, we'll be there soon." Ryau hefted the core and charged down the hallway. When he arrived , the two Recruits were taking turns firing out the door.

"Sir, there are three lances outside. We've taken down two Trainers but they have us pinned down as well," the calm Recruit said.

"What color is their armor?" Ryau asked, eyeing the turrets out of the corner of the doorway.

"Standard crimson," the calm Recruit replied.

"Perfect. Naki, reactivate those turrets."

"Got it." Naki moved over to the purple control station and soon the turrets folded out. They opened fire on the clashing Trainers, quickly making short work of the opposition. Once the shooting stopped, Naki shut them back down.

"Alright, you." Ryau pointed to the jumpy Recruit. "Run out to the tree line, tell us if its clear."

"And if it is not?" the Recruit asked slowly.

"Then we will be able to tell," Ryau chuckled. "Now go."

The Recruit sprinted across the open field and safely made it across. Ryau sent the calm Recruit and Naki across next. When they made it across, Ryau placed the core under his arm and ran out after them. Halfway across, there was a burst of training rounds. Ryau dove and avoided them, the core bounced and rolled against a tree. Naki emerged from the trees and provided enough cover fire for Ryau to make it across without getting hit.

"Thanks." Ryau looked to Naki and grabbed the core from beside the tree. "Which way to the extraction point?"

"On the top of the hill," Naki said, pointing up to highest point on the island.

They ran through the forest alongside the road to the top. As they approached, Ryau could hear the sound of a Covenant Spirit. They reached the top and the Spirit opened its side hatch. Ryau had Naki and the Recruits board first, throwing the core aboard with them. When they were all safely aboard, he too hauled himself in. The hatches closed and the Spirit pulled away into the rain.

Ryau nodded to the Recruits and followed Naki's lead, taking a seat on a pullout bench. The Ultra, Zeik 'Carunmee, came into their prong. "Good work 'Cinotee. Everyone, when we land return your weapons to the crates. You will receive further orders afterwards."

The Spirit landed back at the military academy. Ryau and Naki hopped out and returned their weapons to a crate sitting nearby.

The Recruits headed back to their common room while Zeik took Ryau and Naki into another part of the base. They walked into a meeting room and the door locked. The lights in the room brightened and Zeik moved behind a table. "This will not take long. We just needed to be in a secure location to speak about you."

"I understand," Ryau said.

"You did well. That was expected because of your past as a Demon." Zeik paused. "You will be receiving deployment orders by tomorrow. Honestly though, you have already been assigned to an Officer. We were just waiting for your authorization to go through."

"Thank you… Ultra," Ryau said, not knowing what to call him.

"You may call me Zeik when in private, Ultra or 'Carunmee in public, Ryau," Zeik said. "And that is all, you two are free to go." Zeik dismissed them and the pair walked off the base.

That night, Naki took him to one of the smaller towns along the coast called Cleavete. It was drastically smaller than Varo, and home to a thriving fish market. However Naki took him to one of the more expensive restaurants since he successfully passed his 'training.' The restaurant was located on one of the hills just outside town and specialized in food from further inland. When they entered, the smell of cooking meat and diced vegetables filled Ryau's nostrils. It had been quite a while since he had smelled that.

Once they were seated, Naki looked over the menu. "I would recommend trying the boiled Colo, or minced Muka on a bed of Akla."

"Colo sounds interesting." Ryau said.

They ordered by inputting their order number into a holographic console at the center of the table. The food itself, came from the ceiling and arrived by a mini grav-lift onto their table. Ryau nodded, impressed.
The boiled Colo came in a bowl with something that tasted like green onions. Naki gave him a quick rundown of how to have Sangheili soup, he took a scoop of shredded Colo and broth and poured it onto his tongue and down his throat.

Once they finished with the restaurant, they took the bus back to Varo and stopped off at the tavern for a few drinks with the factory workers. Honestly however, Ryau didn't know why he was celebrating anything. He would be deployed against his own, forced to fight. He knew it would be all over in just a few more months. "Live to fight another day," Ryau mumbled to himself.

Ryau awoke the next morning in the small bed. Sunlight barely shown through the hexagonal window. The view was nice, the bay full of fog. He could have been anywhere in the universe at that moment. He had to take in the little things, it was one way he found to deal with the stress of war.

Ryau sighed and walked through the hall to Naki's kitchen. He got himself a glass of water and looked out at the forest on the other side of the house. A shifting mosaic of colors and lights moved along one of the walls. There was a pulsing white dot that did not move with the rest. Curious, Ryau reached out and tapped the dot. The lights shifted and formed the screen of a computer terminal. "Wow," Ryau muttered.

A square light blinked, his name was projected underneath it. Ryau pressed the square with his finger, but quickly pulled it away as there was a burning sensation. The words Identity Confirmed flashed and a message appeared.

T cinotee.zpdn.cmn.s
F cmdm.cmn.hc
Deployment orders Enclosed.

SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee[ee] request back into active duty approved.
Transfer from Covenant Special Sciences Ministry to Special Operations Division approved.
Lance leader is SpecOps Officer D`rok 'Tallaham. Ship assignment Leveling Strength. Your shuttle assignment is Phantom 225 piloted by Meko 'Vekamee leaving evening of the Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 121 Cycles. Standard mission types include artifact recovery for CSSM and specialized combat assignments.

-Covenant Deployment Ministry-

He didn't hear Naki come in. She leaned onto his shoulder. "So you have been assigned to D`rok's lance," Naki said. "If I said I was surprised I would be lying."

"Who is he?" Ryau asked. "Do you know him?"

"Well, a bit. He's the one that volunteered to bring you up from Standard. And from what I've heard, he pulled you out of a tree."

"Er… well what is he like? Should I be worried about him?"

"No, you shouldn't. From what little time I've had to get to know him, he seemed to be alright."

"Hmm, okay. I hope things will get along alright," Ryau said. "Will you be coming along?"

"Yes, I was assigned to be your monitor. I am to be assigned to whatever lance you are." Naki read over the message again. "Oh, that is during the Inspirational March, we should get your armor polished."

"What's the Inspirational March?" Ryau asked.

"The Inspirational March is like... a veterans parade," Naki said. "It will just be more difficult to get across the city at that time."

"Any other things I should know before this?"

"Something about D`rok. I think it may be why they assigned you to him. His records show that he does not particularly like killing Humans. He will if he has to, but… yeah," Naki said. "Let's go, we may need more armor polish."

On the day of the Inspirational march, Ryau and Naki traversed the city through the festivities. Strange music played on drums rumbled through the streets. It was almost like tribal music. Just under the sound of drums, Ryau could hear the constant crunch of armor as the local Sangheili Legions marched through the streets. There was a break between groups and traffic was allowed to proceed across the parade route.

At the next street, they were stopped by the back side of the parade. The state's defense force was marching by, most of which was female, as the male members were also part of the legions. A group of large vehicles Ryau had never seen before rolled behind them. They had wheels, eight of them. They were long and had a turret little different from the one found on an Anti-Air Wraith.

"What are those?" Ryau asked.

"Oh, those are an old model of personnel carriers. They're never used by the Covenant Military, they are regarded as obsolete now. Only the Home Guard utilizes them."

"Huh, that explains why I haven't seen any in the war," Ryau said.

They made it across the city, through the suburbs and then into the dense forest. When they arrived at the Spaceport, Naki dropped Ryau off at the main terminal. "We got through the city much more easily than I thought we would. I'll go load the Phantom with my equipment and call you when we are ready to go," she said.

"Alright, I'll wait here until then." Ryau walked over to a bench in the Spaceport's courtyard and took a seat.

He spent his time trying to identify what covenant military vehicles inspired the civilian model and vice versa. A SpecOps officer walked out of the stairwell that lead down to the underground parking structure. Ryau looked down at his data-pad to see if Naki had messaged him yet. The rapid clap of sandals on the paving stones caused Ryau to look up. A small girl was running for the Officer. The girl ran up and hugged the Officer's leg, then proceed to hide behind him. She was clearly scared.

Ryau glanced over to where the little girl had come from and what must have been her parents were close behind.

"Careless woman! I told you to hold her." the male barked loudly at the woman that followed him.

"What seems to be the problem, Major?" the Officer asked as the two stepped in front of him.

"Not that it is of your concern, but my mate is too imprudent to control her child!" the Major barked.

"Nihn, please..." the woman begged.

"S`hea I said silence!" the Major shouted, raising his hand into the air.

The Officer acted quickly and grabbed the Major's wrist before he could slap his wife. The small crowd of onlookers murmured as tensions heightened. Ryau stood up from the bench to assist if it was needed, he could see other members of the crowd doing the same.

The Major looked over to the Officer that now stood beside him with fire in his eyes. "How dare you stop my actions against my mate?!" the Major screamed.

"I will not allow you to beat this woman shamefully. So yes, I do interfere," the Officer said.

"Let go of my wrist," the Major growled.

"There are two options for you. You can stop this childish behavior, or judging by your current actions, you wish to fight," the Officer warned. The Major tugged at his arm and angrily stared at the Officer's eyes. "Do not look at me in that manner unless you want to fight. You will lose, I guarantee it."

One of the crowd members brought the Major's wife and daughter out of the way. Another went to alert the Spaceport's security staff before the altercation could spiral out of control.

A few silent moments had passed. The silence was interrupted by a series of bleeps from Ryau's pocket. The Officer and Major glanced over and their grips weakened. The Major took the opportunity to twist free and go for his Plasma rifle on his hip. However, before the Major could get the weapon off the magnetic clip, the Officer had already drawn and activated his Energy sword in a loud hiss.

"A drawn weapon demands blood!" the Major yelled. "It is unlawful to draw a weapon in public!"

"Unless with intent of defense, and you drew first!" the Officer countered, twisting the blade into a more comfortable position.

"You restricted my wrist!"

"You were about to commit an unlawful assault on a woman!"

"What does it matter!? It is my right as the husband!" the Major shouted back.

"It matters in the courts of Zelso. You are not in your backwards state, Major. Stand down," the Officer stated firmly.

The Major pondered what the Officer had said only for a moment, but before either took the situation a step further, the Spaceport's security forces arrived on the scene. Their Carbines raised at both, they quickly moved in. "Stand down, warriors!" one of them ordered.

The Officer calmly deactivated his sword. The Major took a bit more time to lower his weapon, the Security team took control of the situation and took statements from both the Major and the Officer, as well as a few of the others standing around. Ryau was not asked.

After it was cleared up, the Major was taken away in restraints. Ryau saw the Officer walk over to the Major's wife and daughter. He knelt down to the little girl and gave her a small necklace from his hip pocket. Ryau could see that it was the Forerunner glyph of hope, there had been a small section on common forerunner symbols in the data-packet Naki had given him for his cover story.

When the Officer moved on, Ryau headed for the entrance. He checked his data-pad, sure enough, Naki had messaged him that the Phantom was ready to depart. He didn't hear the Officer calling his name.

"Major 'Cinotee," the Officer said, walking up beside Ryau.

"Uhh... Yes?" Ryau responded, not sure how the Officer knew his name.

"Ryau 'Cinotee, that is your name, correct?" The Officer asked.

"Yes, Officer. How did you know?" Ryau replied.

The Officer chuckled lightly. "I am the one who recruited you," he said.

"Oh, Sir. You are D`rok Tallaham," Ryau said, walking a bit straighter now that he realized he was in the presence of his new commanding officer. "Its good to meet you."

D`rok nodded and they passed through the security checkpoint. Once they made it to the Phantom, D`rok allowed Ryau on first. They had to stand near the front because the rear was loaded with Naki's supplies. "What is all this..." D`rok mumbled. The doors sealed and the Phantom lifted off.

"Ah there you are Ryau, you took longer than I thought." Naki said, walking out of the cockpit.

"Yeah... there was a situation outside..." Ryau trailed off. He caught a glimpse of their pilot. The Pilot had an emblem on the back of his armor. It appeared to be a mandibled dragon blowing fire, and also seemed to have three eyes on a side.

"Hmm, well I see you have met D`rok already," she said, turning towards D`rok. "How are you doing?"

"I am fine... What are you doing here, what is all this?" he asked.

"I am assigned with Ryau," Naki said. "That is all my equipment."

"You are assigned for what?" D`rok asked.

"He is testing our new Assisted Combat Interface," Naki said. "I need to make sure it works correctly."

"But don't you work in biology?" D`rok seemed confused.

"No, while I specialize in Forerunner sciences, I am well versed in the other sections too. Field testing our new military hardware is also in my list of skills," Naki corrected him.

D`rok rolled his eyes. "Gods, are you going to just follow him around and carry things for him too?"

"I can fight. My rank is not just a title, I have been fully trained as SpecOps." Naki frowned.

"Yes," he laughed. "But why are you not with the Rangers? You clearly shoot better while falling, Naki."

"Wha... Oh, you saw that." Naki looked past D`rok's head and blushed a bit. "I was only making a joke, but I think you understand that,"

"I just heard it from a little bird." D`rok smiled. "Whatever you say, Scientist."

D`rok and Naki took a seat. Ryau sat down next to Naki and they talked a bit about the new Assisted Combat Interface that was installed in his armor for the rest of the flight.

"The system should have a better ability to sync with human systems, should you come into contact with any." Naki said, also an enhanced weapon battery monitor. Low light mode is included and it can be customized with your left wrist control pad." Naki said.

"So essentially its like a Heads Up Display." Ryau asked.

"Exactly, ACI is just our version of that." Naki nodded, taking another small data-chip out of one of her pockets. "This is the instructional presentation, it should help."

Ryau took the chip and plugged it into his data-pad. "Alright, I'll look into it when I get a chance."

The Phantom glided into the hangar of the DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength and settled in one of the landing cradles. The doors opened and a team of Unggoy hangar attendants waddled in to assist Naki with her cargo. Ryau and D`rok debarked the Phantom and waited a moment on the platform.

"I will meet you in my cabin later, we'll run a system diagnostic and check its status," Naki said to Ryau.

"Alright, see you then," Ryau said.

"Ryau, follow me," D`rok took Ryau to one of the ship's cafeterias and went back into one of the open lounge rooms. D`rok had Ryau enter first and locked the door behind them. Ryau looked over at D`rok, who gave him a sharp glare.

"Sit down." D`rok ordered.

Ryau complied and sat in the padded chair on one side of the table. "Oh shit, what is this about..." Ryau thought. D`rok casually tossed a data-pad onto the table. "What is it, Excellency?" Ryau chose his words based on how Naki had said to address superior officers.

"First off. Do not call me glorifying names. I will not hear it." D`rok snarled at the thought.

"Very well, sir. What should I call you?"

"You will address me only by my name; D`rok 'Tallaham. You used it before, so I know you know it." He said, pacing back around his side of the table.

"The entire name?" Ryau asked.

"If it makes you feel better, yes." D`rok chuckled.

"Understood, D`rok." Ryau grumbled.

"Now..." D`rok sat down in his seat across from Ryau and just stared for a few moments. Ryau could tell that D`rok was appearing overly intimidating, trying to get an idea of who and what Ryau was. "What makes me want you to follow my orders?" He smirked.

"Well..." Ryau started, he sat forward in his chair, to appear more professional. "Based off your comment to Naki, you saw the video of my reintegration skirmish. Or, you were one of the Trainers that we eliminated."

"That does not answer my question, Ryau. Now tell me, what makes me want you to be under my command?"

Ryau leaned back again. "You tell me, you accepted me already."

"Good answer, but do not be stupid. I know you are smart enough to answer the question," D`rok said.

"Well..." Ryau thought aloud. "I'm intelligent, good in combat.."

"And?" D`rok motioned for Ryau to go on.

"You know I am someone you can trust." Ryau said.
D`rok frowned. "Correction, youth. You assume I trust you, I do not. However, your first answer was correct." He smiled again and chuckled. "What is the best mistake that you have made in your career?"

Ryau had to think, the cover story he had gotten did not cover any mistakes or many exact moments. "Great... As a Spartan there was that one time I was nearly been vaporized by a Hunter's, no Mgalekgolo's, fuel rod cannon, but that would raise too many questions." Ryau thought.. "I do not... remember."

D`rok stared coldly at Ryau "What do you expect of me?"

"For you to be a good leader." Ryau said.

"Is that by my appearance, or are you just trying to avoid my questioning?"

"Naki shared your service record with me. I say that from experience leading a squad as well." Ryau said.

"Hmm..." He seemed slightly annoyed by something. "Does she openly share my file with everyone?"

Ryau shrugged. "She thought it necessary that I know whose command I was being placed under. I don't know if she shared it with anyone else."

D`rok sat there for a moment, then spoke softer. "What I meant... was how do you expect me to act." He sat forward. "Do you expect someone who is emotionally attached to his squad? Someone who perhaps does not care whether his followers survive? That is what I meant."

"Considering the manner you're speaking, that you're attached to the squad. But more so the members that have been around far longer. I am the new guy, so you're not entirely sure about me." Ryau sighed.

"Hmmm. Could you do something for me?" D`rok asked.

"If I can." Ryau did not know where this was going.

"I want you to look at me carefully... Disregard the file as if you know nothing about me. What can you tell about me. What do you read from my appearance." D`rok asked.

Ryau glanced over D`rok sitting across from him. "Your rank shows that you're experienced, the scar along your eye says that you've had a few close calls, maybe from the earlier, more reckless yea- solar cycles." Ryau gulped, he had just slipped up.

"Okay. Anything else?" D`rok motioned for Ryau to continue.

"The way you handled the Major at the spaceport says you've got a strong sense of morality." Ryau added. "You clean armor shows that you're neat, clean. You're sitting straight, instead of the hunched over posture many warriors seem to get from the combat stance, maybe an effort not to conform to standard operating procedure?"

"Hmm... Decent enough. Good observations." He stopped, "Are you multilingual? I heard you almost said 'years' a few moments ago."

Ryau froze and quickly thought of a way to cover his mistake. "Erm... Yes, I... have been working with the Covenant Special Sciences Ministry, required learning."

"That is alright. How much of the Humans language do you know?"

Ryau mentally sighed "I can translate verbal and written script near instantly."

"Very nice... Very useful... Also hard to come by.
Usually we will have warriors carry translator units."

Ryau nodded. "Is there anything else?"

"No, that is all. Welcome to Far Beyond Provocation, 'Cinotee. You will now need to go to Special Operations room G18." He stood, "Now let's go, it is a long walk and I would like everyone to have all of their belongings strapped down before we jump off."

"Alright, glad to be part of it." Ryau lied. D`rok left the room and disappearance out of the cafe. Ryau sighed and stood from his seat. He was not sure what he had gotten himself into. Heading out of lounge room, the cafe attendants were securing tables and chairs for the slipspace jump.

He walked out to a computer terminal and checked where G18 was on board the carrier. The path suggested had him taking the the personnel lift that ran lateral to the ship's spine. The nearest access point was just down the corridor. He should be to the room in no time at all.

Part 7
Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 120 Cycle: 9th Age of Reclamation [July 30, 2552: 0150]
Covenant DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength: Fleet of Particular Justice [Reinforce and Resupply Fleet]
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau walked over to the doorway that lead into the personnel lift. Beside the door, a holographic panel appeared with instructions for first-time users. The personnel lift was a series of gravity conveyors and grav-lifts that ran along the ships spine, and had exits at major areas. Ryau had not seen one when he was aboard a Corvette back when he was a Spartan, so he assumed that they were only on larger vessels.

He glanced at the instructions, and punched in his destination on a separate control console. The screen beckoned him to place his palm on the top of the console for an identity check. The machine made a whirring sound and he felt a pinch, like when he had accessed the deployment orders on Naki's console the day before. The system cross-referenced the composition of his blood to the one that it had on file and bleeped. The doors to the lift opened and a glowing cyan path of energy appeared before him. He took a cautious step forward and was whisked away into the bowels of the ship.

As he was rapidly moving through the corridor, other members of the Covenant came in and out of the various outlets of the ship. However, soon he began to slow and stop behind a group of Kig'Yar Snipers. Up ahead, two Huragok were attempting to remove an Unggoy that had fallen through one of the service shafts from the deck above. If the Unggoy had stopped squirming, then the Huragok would have had him out of there in just a few moments. After a few moments passed, the way was clear and they were allowed to continue on to their destinations.

The lift deposited him in a double hallway lined with various doors. Deck G was the location of all the Special Operations prep rooms. Ryau wandered down the corridor until he arrived at the room D`rok had told him to go to. The door was locked, the edges glowing a bright red. Ryau raised his hand and knocked on the plating.
The door flashed white and slid open. D`rok stood on the other side at the controls. "'Cinotee," he said.

"D`rok," Ryau responded in kind.

D`rok motioned him to come inside to room. "Did you get lost?" he asked.

"No, an… Unggoy fell into the personnel lift. The path was blocked for a bit." Ryau said.

D`rok motioned around the room. "Welcome to Far Beyond Provocation's private common room. There is a bathroom right there." He nodded to a small stall built into the wall. "Across from that is my private quarters. This is the main bunk area, you may keep the bunk, or if you want, I can find a heightened quality of bedding for you."

"Actually, I believe I have been assigned to a cabin with Science Major 'Cimutee." Ryau said.

"Oh... I was not aware of this." D`rok shook his head. Ryau pulled out his data-pad and double checked his room assignment. Sure enough, it was the same room as Naki's. He showed it to D`rok. "Well... if the lady becomes that of annoyance... you are more than welcome to join us in here," he chuckled.

There was a steady silence for a moment before Ryau spoke up. "She said to meet her there after the slipspace jump, so..."

"Alright... well let's have you meet the rest of the kill team then…" D`rok turned and headed into the main bunk area and Ryau followed. Two more Sangheili were moving bunks around to make more space. D`rok pointed to the taller brown skinned Sangheili. "Ryau, this is K`an 'Retmaree, the lance's second in command." The two working with the bunk stopped what they were doing as soon as they were addressed. "The smaller one is Sig, the third in command. Watch out for K`an, he gets a bit nippy at times. He does not like to baby sit."

"Understood," Ryau nodded.

"Do you two need help?" D`rok asked them.

"Well, we just want to open up the bunk area so we could put in a table... and maybe a couch…" K`an said.

"Why are we really doing this again?" Sig glanced over to K`an.

"So we can look at female sports articles in complete comfort," K`an replied with a grin.
Sig sighed and rolled his eyes. "Whatever, K`an... Do what you will with the space. That is your thing, not mine"

"Maybe we could fashion a pole from one of the bunk supports? We might persuade females to dance in here for us too." K`an said. Sig just grumbled and looked agitated. "And if you wish to go sit in the corner on your data-pad... I am sure that D`rok and... erm…? whatever this newcomer's name is would happily join." K`an waved over to Ryau, having missed D`rok say his name.

D`rok sighed and pointed to the ring snugly set on his secondary index finger. "K`an, I am engaged, remember?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot that you finally got tied down." K`an said, rather sarcastically, causing D`rok to roll his eyes.

D`rok looked over to Ryau. "They will grow on you eventually. Do you have any questions or concerns?"

Ryau looked around at the three other Sangheili, remembering the last time he had seen his Spartan squad. "No, not really. But they are nothing like the group I was with before..." He sighed.

"Well, I have to get some things taken care of. Go ahead and meet them, alright?" D`rok said.

"Where should I put my things?" Ryau asked before he left.

"For now, set them right in the corner of the bunk area." D`rok turned and left, walking into his private quarters.

Ryau nodded and placed his bags down in the corner. Sig walked over and asked Ryau a question. "So, where are you from?"

"I'm from Varo," Ryau said.

"Oh me too!" Sig smiled widely. "What part?"

Ryau had to pause for a moment and remember the districts for Varo, where Naki had said his records showed. "Old Cerva, around the nature preserve."

"Oh… I am from Downtown originally." Sig said. "My name is Sig 'Valhamee."

"Ryau 'Cinotee, good to meet you." Ryau said with a slight smile.

"Hey, when you two are done getting off on each other, I could use some help here." K`an butted in.

"Excuse me?" Ryau said. "I don't understand that." Honestly Ryau understood exactly what he said, but he was confused as to why a sangheili would use it.

"Making love! Trading Feelings! Mouthing each others genitals! Whatever you call it, finish it up and help me with this." K`an barked.

Sig and Ryau sighed and went to help K`an with the bunks. "Do not mind him... He gets upset when I have others to talk to." Sig said.

They moved a few of the unused bunks against one of the free walls. It seemed to Ryau that this room was meant for a much larger group of warriors than the four Sangheili of Far Beyond Provocation. Once the final bunk was moved K`an looked to Ryau. "Hey, kid... If you survive the tour, I'll give you his number so you can get together and start a family." He was referring to Sig.

"I am no child." Ryau said.

"If you say so, kid." K`an said.

"Excuse him, he and D`rok are from the south. So they may talk differently, especially K`an. He is from so far south, it's nearly backwards." Sig laughed.

"Ah! Do not speak of my beautiful home that way! You self-enlightened northerner," K`an said throwing up his hands.

"Come on Ryau, the renovation is finished. Let me take you somewhere away from him. Shall I buy you a drink?" Sig said, turning away from the bunks.

"Sure, that would be fine."

"Come." Sig headed out the door before K`an could say anything, and Ryau followed quickly behind. They walked down the corridor, following signs leading to a cafe. "I have been with D`rok and the, erm, idiot for many solar cycles now. I have no idea how we have managed to continue the same path unsplit. It is nice though... the two are like fathers…" He paused for a moment and blinked. "Well... older brothers to me. I do not think that there is anything that will kill them off… although D`rok being engaged now might be interesting." Sig trailed off. "K`an drinks himself to capacity as soon as he leaves tour and stays that way until the day he must leave for action again… I am sorry for my rambling" He sighed.

"Hmm, I'd say I understand if I could, but those that I called my brothers were nothing like you three." Ryau looked down at the floor as they walked. "I don't think I'll ever see them again, so I might as well start getting used to you."

"What do you speak of? Or would you rather not say?" Sig asked.

"We were a lot more... reserved, even in private. It was from one battle to the next, not much time between them. I don't know where they are now, or even if they are alive... My… erm... transfer was very sudden." He replied.

"I think the lack of reserved mannerisms in private is the only thing that keeps the two going. Who wishes to be just an emotionless drone…"

Ryau sighed, "It wasn't really our choice… sure, we weren't silent, but again, we were nothing like you all."

"Honestly, they grow on you after awhile... They can be fun." Sig said. They arrived at the cafe called 'Beemo's' and stood around the ordering table. "What would you like to drink Ryau?"

Ryau shrugged. "Whatever's plain and simple."

Sig ordered a pair of drinks that he called Etolia. They took a seat at a table, and an Unggoy waiter delivered two cups. Sig took the cups and handed one to Ryau. The drink was creamy and tasted vaguely like coffee. Ryau liked it and took another sip. Sig sipped the drink and smiled widely. "I do simply love these drinks. Do you know what they are called? Have you ever had one before?"

" No, I haven't... I actually never had a drink until a few months ago" Ryau said, taking another sip.

"Never had ... a drink? This… This is it not alcoholic, Ryau." Sig blushed slightly. "I am not one for much alcohol."

"Hmm, well then…" Ryau looked down at the foamy beverage.

"Is that what you were expecting?" Sig asked.

"Usually that's what it means to get a drink, in the sense that you gave," Ryau said.

"Oh... I am sorry for misleading you, Ryau."

"It's fine." Ryau shrugged and took another sip.

"Well, what do you think of it?"

"It's good, I like it."

"I am glad you like it." Sig paused and looked past the edge of the booth.

Ryau turned and saw that he must have been looking at a single Major passing by. He raised an eye ridge, and noticed Sig had a weird look and strange smile. A bit confused, Ryau spoke up. "Er… when are we due to enter slipspace? D`rok acted like we were about to jump."

Sig looked back to Ryau. "It should be soon... I would give it another minute or two."

Almost immediately after that, the ship's PA system activated. "Attention. Slipspace transition in five…" Once the countdown was completed, there was a quiet rumble and bit of static built in the air. There was an irregular, uneasy feeling, which passed quickly.

The Device on his wrist crackled a bit, barely noticeable. "First time in a Covie ship entering slipspace, they are a bit different."Ryau thought. "Hmm, well, I really should get to that meeting with Naki. Thanks for the drink, Sig."

"You are very welcome! Safe travels to you." Sig waved.

Ryau stood up from the table and headed out. "I'll probably be around in the room sometime, later, Sig." He walked down the corridor, back towards the personnel lifts.

Riding along through the system, he was pulled into an offshoot and went up through a tube. The ride was a lot less eventful than his last, he didn't even see any others along the route. The private quarters were located around the core of the ship, near the bridge. Ryau assumed that was because many of the ship's crew members were assigned their own cabins. He was deposited onto a platform and the door slid open.

Ryau checked the console on the wall for Naki's room, and found that it was just around the next corner. He walked over and noticed the door was open. A Sangheili in gold armor, a Zealot, was standing in the room.

"Shipmaster, there are many Forerunner artifacts on board, any one of them could interfere with our transition into slipspace. But I assure you, that there is nothing to worry about."

"The technicians are worried that this interference will damage our drive. I believe you understand how bad that could be." The Shipmaster crossed his arms.

"These fluctuations have been recorded before and there are no recorded damages to any of the other slipspace drives." Naki said. "You have my word that these are harmless."

"Very well, Science Major Cimutee. I will trust your expert opinion over that of the engine teams." The Shipmaster nodded. "However, if something happens I will be sure to hold you responsible."

"Understood, Shipmaster." Naki bowed.

"I appreciate the counsel, Science Major. If you detect anything else, I will be on the bridge." The Shipmaster turned to leave. As he walked out, Ryau gave the Sangheili salute. The Shipmaster nodded and walked past. "Major," he acknowledged.

Ryau walked in and closed the door. Naki looked away from her computer console and glanced to Ryau. "The only piece of Forerunner technology active is the one on your wrist right now..."

"What's going on?" Ryau asked.

"Oh, the sensors picked up some unusual interference with the slipspace drive. It is harmless honestly, but it did not occur last time we transported the Device... Perhaps it is because this is the first time it has been activated." Naki smiled and moved off the subject. "So how are the others?"

"Oh... umm. They're going to be hard to get used to, but I think I can handle it. One of them, Sig, took me to one of the cafes on board for a drink."

"Hmm, that's good. If you can integrate with a squad well, the Hierarchs should be pleased. Perhaps allowing you to leave combat duties." Naki said.

"That would be good. Though I'm sure I'll get use to them, no problem at all." Ryau said, looking around the cabin. There were two rooms set off this central entry way, one for him and one for Naki. "What was it that you needed to see me for?" He asked. His thoughts began to wander, fantasies of them being together again. "I have to keep things focused, if we can make it to the end of the war, then we can start thinking about the future." He thought, shaking his head slightly to clear his thoughts.

"I need to run some tests to see how your changes have taken. Naki walked into his part of the cabin. "Please, take a seat on your bed."

Ryau nodded and say down. He waited patiently as Naki ran all sorts of devices over his body. She eventually removed the Device from from his forearm guard and removed its back casing. The backside was a maze of circuitry and boxes of unknown purpose. They all would have contact with his skin through openings in his body suit.

Nestled in the center was a glowing blue glyph, Ryau guessed it was Forerunner in origin. He pointed to it. "What does that mean?"

"We... don't actually know. It was found at all the locations where information on the Device were found. I would assume it was a manufacturing mark, perhaps even the creators personal seal." Naki said, barely glancing up from her data-pad. Quickly she detached the Device and reassembled its casing. "Now let's see how you are healing. Armor off, remove your body suit as well."

Ryau nodded and removed his clothing. Sangheili combat gear was much easier to remove than a set of MJOLNIR armor. Back on Sanghelios he had been busy training and learning proper Sangheili combat techniques. Naki kept taking him out across the city to learn the culture that had been forced upon him.

His older scars were still all over his body, only now light and dark gray to match his hide. They had transferred onto his new skin, which no longer felt so new. He glanced to his left and saw that his entire left side was covered in dark burns and nicks. Ryau had no memory of where they came from. He had hardly ever bothered to really look over himself, everything that he needed was either the same as when he was human or in a place that wasn't covered by clothing. Where he changed clothes, there had been no mirror to see himself.

Naki poked and prodded the dark scar tissue with instruments. "Healing seems to be proceeding on track, a bit faster than we were expecting but I attribute that to the Device."

"What happened there?" Ryau asked. "I don't remember getting this."

"Uhm... you were heavily injured when D`rok brought you up. The Unggoy almost scored a direct hit on you and half of your armor had adhered to your left side. We had to operate to remove it, which proved to be a challenge. The medical staff had never touched a Human before." Naki set her tools in their case and brushed herself off. "Well that's all I had to do. Want to get something to eat?"

"Sure, that would be good." Ryau said.

Ryau awoke the next morning to a beeping data-pad on the small bedside shelf. He reached out and pulled it over. A message from D`rok was blinking on the screen. Ryau sat up and looked at the message.

"Meet me in Armory G-Two."

Ryau typed out his response. "Why." The response was near instantaneous.

"Because I wish to further evaluate you."

"Uhg..." Ryau groaned and got off the bed and suited up in the clothing uniform he had been issued alongside his armor. He headed out of the room and took the personnel lift back over to G deck. The armory was just the second room on the deck. D`rok stood by a rack of sparring sticks in his armor.

"Good morning, 'Cinotee" D`rok said, in his hands was a container that resembled a thermos.

"Morning, D`rok." Ryau nodded.

"Would you like some Cofea?" He poured the contents of the canister into two cups. Ryau remembered that Cofea was the Sangheili version of Human coffee, the names were pronounced so similarly that Ryau thought something had to be at play here. "Perhaps D`rok knows about what I am... and he's testing me"

D`rok picked up the cup and offered it to him.

"Sure," Ryau accepted the cup and took a sip. It was a bit bitter but fine.

"I am sorry for the sudden meeting." He looked down at his data-pad. "But this is mainly for your convenience..."

"Alright?" Ryau said. "What are we doing?"

"What is your preferred loadout?" He asked.

"Usually ranged weapons, rifles." Ryau replied, he had assumed that Naki and Zeik had put his information into
the system. "Depends on what is available on the ship."

"Hmmm." His finger went down the list on his data-pad. "This ship has the Type-31 Needle Rifle and a very limited stock of Type-51 Carbines. If you had to select one to have, which would it be."
"The Carbine is preferred."

D`rok shifted his stance and typed something out. "I'm sorry those are no longer available... What is your second choice?"

"The Needle rifle then."

"I highly recommend that all in my team carry a sidearm. However, it is not required." D`rok said, noting down Ryau's choice of rifle. "Would you rather the Type-25 Plasma Rifle or Type-33 Needler?"

Ryau thought for a moment. "The Plasma Rifle."

"Alright, wait here." D`rok walked behind the weapons booth and retrieved a case. He placed the case on the table beside the target range and handed Ryau the Needle Rifle that was inside. "Show me what you can do."

Ryau spent the next hour firing at targets with near perfect accuracy. He had been trained to be one of the best humanity could make. None of that skill came from the augmentations. D`rok was impressed and noted some things down in his data-pad again. Then walked over to a sparring circle on the other side of the Armory and began to remove his armor.

"We're sparring?" Ryau asked, walking over.

"Yes, do you have an issue with this?" D`rok pulled off the last piece of his armor.

"No." Ryau simply said.

D`rok picked one of the sparring sticks off the rack and handed it to Ryau. "Have you done this before?"

"There were some small sparring segments in the refresher course I took before returning to military duty," Ryau said, looking over the wooden stick. It was nearly as long as he was tall, and a red ribbon was tied to the end.

"Well... in case you don't remember; Knock me down and you get a point, if my sticks leaves my hands it is a draw... rules apply to you as well."

"Understood," Ryau said.

The two moved to the starting positions on each side of the ring. A moment passed and D`rok barked, "Start."
Ryau and D`rok began to dance slowly around the ring. Every time Ryau attempted to move into a better position, D`rok would follow and counter the new point of attack. Their sticks snapped together, striking back and forth. Ryau began to quickly run through scenarios in his mind. He knew D`rok was a very experienced warrior, and that he wasn't a brute, he was a strategist. The spar would be difficult and he would have to take advantage of openings.

Ryau tested D`rok's position once again with a short, quick charge. D`rok swung swiftly and brought his staff to Ryau's forearm. Ryau bounced back away and growled as he clutched his arm for a few moments. The lack of armor allowed the full force of the stick to smack the bone.

"Are you alright?" D`rok asked, concerned.

"Yes, yes I am, D`rok" Ryau growled again, as he clenched his mandibles together.

"Are you sure? Would you like to quit?"

"No." Ryau shook his wrist and quickly returned to the starting position. Once again, Ryau watched D`rok closely.

"Alright, ready, start." D`rok said and the two once again began the dance.

Ryau altered his strategy, moving onto the defensive instead. He continued to study D`rok's movements, and let him get comfortable in the cycle they were in. After several long and tense moments, Ryau figured out what he should do.

Ryau made a quick dash at D`rok like he had in the last round. As Ryau expected, D`rok countered in the same way, bringing the stick down towards Ryau's arm. He quickly pulled his arm back once D`rok had fully committed to his swing. Ryau the opening and rotated his torso to move his back fist into striking distance on his opponent's face. He saw D`rok suddenly realize his mistake.

Ryau's fist, still gripping the staff, collided with the center of D`rok's face. The power behind the strike sent D`rok off balance and down to the ground. D`rok was thrown back on his ass, clear out of the sparring ring. When he hit the deck, he lost his grip on his stick. He threw his hands to his face and clutched his muzzle. Groaning on the ground and rocking a bit.

"Are you alright, D`rok?" Ryau asked mimicking what D`rok had said earlier.

D`rok just sat there for a minute. "I… is your hand okay?" He pulled his hands away from his face, a bit of blood dribbled out of his left nostril. There was some on his hands too.

"My hand doesn't matter, you're bleeding." Ryau said.

"Your detective skills are quite remarkable as well." D`rok chuckled and wiped the blood from his face. He remained on the ground and took a moment to rest. "Ryau... I have not been hit like that in years... He grunted and spit on the floor. "...I don't think K`an has even hit me like that before." Ryau let out an amused chuckle and D`rok slowly lifted himself up. He walked over to a table and used a towel to wipe himself clean. "Am still good looking?" He gave a sarcastic smile.

Ryau shrugged. "I guess so."

D`rok sighed, "Do you have any questions?"

"No, I don't."

"Okay... Well feel free to come into the room and join the rest of the squad in the barracks. If K`an gives you any trouble just either tell me or flat out tell him off. If you need me for anything else I will be here for awhile... I might head to the N'vek's Grill in the ship plaza... Hmm, other than that I will probably be in the barracks." He collected his data-pad and began to type out a new entry. "You are free to go... I will make sure your loadout is ready for you in the armory."

"Okay, thank you." Ryau nodded and placed his stick back on the rack. He headed out of the Armory and went back to bed in Naki's cabin.

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 8 and 9
Date: 27 February 2016, 6:19 am

Part 8

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 145 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [August 22, 2552: 1459]
Covenant DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength: Fleet of Particular Justice
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau awoke to a loud banging on the door to the shared crew cabin. He opened his eyes and looked through his open door, across the hall and to Naki's closed door. He slid out of bed and shuffled over to the main door and keyed it open. D`rok stood outside, armored up and ready to go.

"What is it, D`rok?" Ryau asked, waking up.

"It is time to don your armor and get your arms from the armory. Do this quickly please." D`rok said.

"Understood..." Ryau said, he turned back into his small room and began to pull the bodysuit and armor pieces over himself.

Ryau pulled his chest plate into position and knocked onto Naki's door. "Naki, are you awake?"

"Yes, just suiting up." She said from the other side. "Go get the weapons for me, I should be ready when you get back."

"Be right back." Ryau headed out the door and hurried through the other warriors towards the armory. The inside was almost overflowing with warriors from this deck claiming weapons from the Weapons Masters. Ryau waited for his turn in line and walked up to the glass between him and the Weapons Master. "I need to pick up the kits for Science Major Cimutee and SpecOps Major Cinotee." Ryau said.

"Place your hand on the pad, Major." The Weapons Master said. He waved to his assistant who went along the racks of weapons with a data-pad. Ryau placed his hand on the pad and once again the pinch sampled his tissue. "If SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee comes looking for her kit, you will be detained." Ryau nodded and the Weapons Master's assistant returned with two cases.

The cases were slid through the opening in the glass and into Ryau's possession. He quickly hurried past the ever lengthening line of warriors waiting to retrieve arms and hurried into the cabin. Naki had her door open and had just finished strapping together a set of Heavy Ranger armor. Its orange color reminded Ryau of something, but he just couldn't place his finger on it. 

"They chose the worst time to take my armor in for routine upgrades." Naki said in a huff. "Did you get my kit?"

"Yeah, I got it." Ryau handed her case over to her. 

She took the case and opened it up. Naki pulled out a Plasma Repeater and a Needler and placed them on her back and thigh. She leaned back and rolled her shoulders. "By the Forerunners, this harness is much heavier than what I am used to." 

"Well it also looks like it'll provide more protection than your usual armor." Ryau said. 

Naki nodded. "True. It's just a full face mask, not what I am use to, but I do see the purpose." 

Ryau pulled his own weapons, a Needle rifle and a Plasma rifle, out of his case. Ryau recognized the scratches on the weapon as the same ones that were on the gun he had practiced with D`rok with. "I guess this is mine, now." Ryau mumbled to himself. He attached the weapons to their holsters and the two headed to the hangar where D`rok was waiting. 

They took the gravity conveyor to cut past the crowds that were also going to their stations. "How are you liking this transportation system?" Naki asked. 

"It's quick, some human ships have a tram/elevator system, but only the large ships. Something this size is just below the usual." Ryau said. 

"You have been aboard one of the Vermin's ships?" a curious Minor asked from behind. 

Ryau rotated in the passage to face the Minor behind him. "Yes, yes I have." 

"I heard that the Humans self destruct if any of our warriors board." The Minor said. "Is that true?" 

"Well, not when they are in close proximity to their fellow ships." Ryau said. "They are under orders to purge their navigation databases and detonate their reactors if they are about to be overrun." 

"I see, I am Minor 'Kisolee, assigned to one of the boarding craft legions. It is a pleasure to meet one who has been aboard one before." 

"I'm SpecOps Major 'Cinotee, I take it you haven't been on board one before?" Ryau asked, deciding that maybe having some conversation would help him adjust into this new life of his. 

The Minor shook his head. "No, I have not. This is my first tour of duty with the boarding legion." 

They neared their destination and began to slow. "Well good luck, Minor. Stay safe," Ryau nodded. Ryau and Naki were pulled off the main line and towards their exit. 

After the Minor had passed, Naki turned around as well. "You're getting good at keeping your cover, having a conversation without stopping to think? You just might not need Zeik after all." Naki laughed.  

The gravity conveyor deposited them into the hallway that connected to the hangar. The other members of D`rok's lace were waiting among the waiting Phantoms

"Ryau, Naki." D`rok acknowledged them.  

Ryau and Naki both nodded and stood over by a pile of weapons crates. 

"Just out of curiosity, have you ever dropped?" D`rok asked. 

"If you're talking about from orbit, then yes. Though it has been awhile and I've been assigned to Naki's detail for the last few solar cycles." 

"Why were you assigned to her?" D`rok asked. 

Ryau was a bit confused, he thought that he and D`rok had already had this conversation. "I was one of her assistants and guards." he said. "It has been a non-combat position for the last few solar cycles."

"Hmm." D`rok paused. "As of now, we are going down with the second wave. The first has already left and is beginning the siege. The target is the heavily populated Human city, New Alexandria. I will be informed of our main objective at the officers briefing and I will fill you in as soon as I am out. Any questions? No? Good. I want you all on your Phantom in five units." 

D`rok turned and left for the meeting that was taking place off the hangar deck. K`an looked over at Sig, Ryau, and Naki. "Alright young and lively, hop aboard!" he ordered. Ryau and Sig headed for the Phantom's lift. "And miss…" K`an chuckled at Naki as she followed behind. 

They were pulled up into the Phantom's belly by the gravity lift. Ryau walked over to one of the harnesses on the wall to keep them steady during a rough descent. The Unggoy and Kig 'Yar had to stand in the center. He strapped in and secured his weapons in the receptacle. Naki hooked in across from Ryau and sealed her helmet. A puff of condensed air blew out of the filters and seals. 

They all sat in their spots for a bit, until the Phantom began to power up. It lifted off from its cradle and started for the hangar door. "Aren't we waiting for D`rok?" Ryau asked. He had not seen him come aboard while they waited. 

"No, he is going to be taking another transport down. I get the joy of leading you," K`an sighed. "The second wave has been ordered to launch early." 

"This'll be fun…" Ryau thought. "Understood." His first actual deployment against his fellow humans, and it would be lead by someone he didn't know anything about. At Least D`rok seemed to be reasonable. He also was worried about the planet they were descending onto. He had known where they were the moment D`rok had mentioned New Alexandria, it was one of the largest cities on Reach, the home of most of the main UNSC military complex and where he had spent all his time training. 

The memories of Halo were still coming back to him, but he remembered how it ended. Reach would fall, but not all would be lost. 

The Phantom shook and rattled as it dropped into the planet's atmosphere. It was more rough than the shuttle ride down to Sanghelios, being a combat drop. Through the Phantom's holographic tactical monitors projected on the side hatches, they could tell that they were in a large formation. A few other contacts appeared out of the Carrier and followed the landing wave. 

D`rok came over the squad radio, apparently in that small group that left late. "Listen, Provocation. As I said earlier, you are heading down towards the Human city of New Alexandria. I will be landing right behind you and with further brei-" The private channel closed suddenly and one of the icons on the tactical monitor winked off.  

After a few moments of silence, K`an unhooked his harness and checked their location on the monitor. Before he strapped back in, he reassured the others on board the Phantom. Turbulence hit the transport, probably UNSC anti-air batteries. K`an was back in his harness in a moment. "Provocation! We are close to our destination. When we touch ground, I will be your lead until 'Tallaham arrives. Understood?" he asked. 

"Understood." Ryau replied, almost in sync with Sig. 

Once again, the only sound was the whine of the engines and rumble of explosions. The Phantom dropped rapidly then steadied out. K`an unstrapped himself and walked in front of the others. "We have received orders to give aid to a downed Phantom on a rooftop towards the city center. Unharness yourselves and prepare for combat." K`an said. 

Ryau unstrapped himself and retrieved his Needle Rifle. He grabbed hold of his harness as the Phantom banked sharply around a building. The side hatches dropped down and they got their first visual of the crash site. The crashed transport had been split in two by the crash. Ryau was surprised that anything managed to survive it, but a small group of survivors were hunkered down behind one of the pieces of debris. UNSC ODSTs were up on a ledge above the crash site, shooting downwards. 

"Provocation, be ready! We are dealing with Orbital Troopers." Kan shouted. 

The Phantom turned behind the billowing smoke and slowed rapidly, its belly thrusters flaring as it's nose rose into the air. It leveled out and K`an and Sig jumped down out of the hatch, hopping down to the rooftop. Ryau followed close behind and hit the ground nearly four meters down. Behind him, Naki jumped out and slowed her descent with bursts from her jump pack. 

Ryau rolled into cover behind a food kiosk as the ODSTs noticed the new arrivals. Naki slid in right behind him. A few bullets struck the side of the small structure and Ryau returned fire, purposefully shooting at the railing instead of the Humans. 

"Female!" K`an barked. "Go to the survivors and provide medical aid if it is needed. Ryau, you will follow Sig and I."

"Alright Naki, I'll cover you." Ryau popped out of his cover and, once again, aimed for the railing. Naki nodded and ran for the forces taking cover in the wreck. She fired her Plasma repeater from her hip and dove into cover with the others. 

Ryau moved forward and joined K`an at the base of the stairs. They moved up the stair, Ryau covering the rear. The stairs led up to a pedway that flanked the Humans' defensive position. The ODSTs had fortified their position with metal barricades and sand bags. It appeared more likely that the Phantom had crashed near their position instead of the crash happening first.

K`an signaled Sig and he opened fire with his Plasma rifle. He was able to hit two of the troopers that were more exposed. There was a high pitched whine as K`an activated a Plasma grenade and tossed it over the barricade. The grenade detonated and part of the barricade glowed bright red and sagged down into a pool of molten metal. K`an stood up on the railing and fired into the Humans' position. 

K`an vented his weapon after the screaming stopped. He turned back around and and stepped off the railing. They headed back down to the crash site, where Naki was pulling a Kig 'Yar from the main part of the Phantom. "Who is unscathed? Say aye." K`an ordered. 

Three Sangheili spoke up. Two Minors and a Major that just seemed to stand in the way of Naki tending to the wounded. The two Minors were Rtik 'Renamee and Vera 'Takalee, the latter of which had a helmet seemed to be dented inward a bit too far. The Major identified himself as Sremm 'Vakrelee, Major of the Covenant. 

"Alright," K`an said. "Naki can you handle this until another Phantom arrives?" 

"Yes, I can." Naki replied, pulling another Kig 'Yar from the wreckage. 

"Okay, stay here. I am taking Provocation and the two minors to the next lower floor to check for Human soldiers." K`an said. 

As they began to move towards the stairs, Sremm protested. "You will not leave me here with this...this woman." 

Ryau glanced over at Naki, her helmet moved as if she was rolling her eyes behind the opaque visor. K`an sighed and and let the Major join them
They headed back up the stairs to where the ODSTs had been eliminated. They found that the Humans were guarding a narrow stairwell. The small team followed it down into a large maintenance area filled with piped and ventilation ducts. The room was clear and Ryau followed the others through the maze to a door on the other side. 

Sig and K`an cleared each side of the door. "We have two elevators at the end of the hall. This is just a maintenance area." K`an said. 

Ryau quickly hurried through the corridor. The only living thing was a small potted plant on a shelf by a mop bucket. K`an called the elevator and the doors dinged open only a few moments later. For some undecidable reason, K`an ordered everyone but Ryau and Sremm into his elevator car, leaving Ryau with the somewhat annoying Major in their own. Almost as soon as they stepped aboard, the doors closed and they began their descent down the buildings side. 

The glass elevator cars left the darkened maintenance passageway and into the main section of the lift. Ryau could see the heavily damaged city. He glanced over at the other elevator car to see the Minor, Vera, licking the glass. "What the fuck........." Ryau muttered.

When he looked back out to the city, two Falcons were hunting down Banshee. The Banshee sped around the side of the building, in an attempt to double back and counter attack. Unfortunately, with six guns between the two Falcons, the Banshee flew into a wall of fire. The left wing of the destroyed Banshee was ripped apart and what remained of the craft flew into the maintenance level of the building. The small potted plant was no more.

The elevators shook and dropped. But the emergency brakes caught quickly, knocking everyone to the ground. No longer attached to the building, the elevator tubes began to lean away from the building's exterior wall. The doors dinged open, following emergency procedures. Miraculously they had stopped in a position that they could make it through into the building.

Ryau scrambled for the opening, but it was too late. The tube pulled away from the building and the elevators brakes failed. They plummeted down the side of the building. Ryau got caught on the railing along the side as Sremm went into the ceiling. Passing through the dense fog, Ryau began to panic. The elevator was not slowing down and no one would survive an impact at that speed. He reached down to the controls and flipped open the emergency access panel. Elevators that traverse these heights were required to have secondary emergency brakes that could be activated manually. He and his Spartans had used that and encountered their use while dealing with Insurrectionists before the Human-Covenant war began.

He grabbed the lever and pulled it down. The hydraulic brakes engaged and the lift began to slow. With the elevator no longer traveling at terminal velocity,  Sremm fell off the ceiling and smacked into the floor. Ryau glanced over to the other elevator car to catch only a flash of K`an standing on the top of his car. There was a crash below and Ryau's car came to a stop at street level. 

Ryau stepped out of the elevator car, Sremm was right behind him, cursing faulty Human engineering. K`an and the other Minor, Rtik were safely on the ground, but Vera was nowhere to be seen. K`an hurried past, towards the smashed car that had fallen from the other lift tube. He tried to move it off of the pool of indigo that began to spread across the debris. 

"Aid me brother!" K`an called. Ryau moved over to help, but he knew that there was a small chance that the Minor had survived the fall. The amount of blood loss was not a good sign either. With the help of Sig and Ryau, they were able to get the debris off of Vera and over to the side.

The Minor's body had been torn up from the glass and impact. Ryau sighed, there was no way that he would survive that. "A death is a death, Human or Covenant." Ryau thought. 

Everyone took a step back as Vera took a shallow breath, now that the weight was lifted off what was left of his chest. "I'll be-… I'll be alright?" The young Minor whispered. "Will I, sir?"

"Yes… yes, you will be fine," K`an said softly. 

Ryau walked off, not wanting to stay around and listen. The other Minor, Rtik, quickly moved to a light post and threw up. There was something strange about him, some sort of energy that felt… familiar. A single shot from a needle rifle echoed through the debris and brought him out of thought. Ryau glanced back towards K`an and the late Vera 'Takalee. After a small altercation with Sremm about wasting time giving Vera a moment peace, K`an moved over to a cluster of Trees. 

"Is anyone else hurt?" He asked. 

"Negative" Ryau answered, walking off to make sure the area was secure. He walked around the deserted plaza, and looked at the street. It was cluttered with abandoned cars and trucks, most were still idling. Other than K`an and Sremm arguing, the area was quiet. He was about to break into a World Cuisine kiosk and make himself something to eat, when a map of the area appeared on his ACI and the others began to come down the stairwell. 

Ryau stepped away from the kiosk and seamlessly rejoined the group. They hurried west, down the street. The mismatched group of Sangheili made it down several blocks before K`an brought them to a halt beside a Police truck. Its lights silently flashed, illuminating the dim area in red and blue. Ryau stopped and slid into position behind Sig and K`an to cover their rear. 

Suddenly Rtik's Beam rifle fell to the roadway, the three behind the truck quickly shifted their view to see that Sremm had shoved Rtik from cover to claim the spot as his own. 

"Check yourself, Sremm." K`an scolded. "We work as a team, not as individuals." 

Ryau had to move over so that Rtik could fit in behind him. Sig moved back "K`an wants us to see what is inside the vehicle," Sig said. 

"Alright," Ryau said. The truck was a police ordinance transport, so Ryau had a pretty good guess of what was inside. Sig activated his wrist blade and cut through the locking mechanism, allowing the doors to swing open with ease. Inside was an array of Human weaponry. Suddenly there was a loud crack of a SRS99 Anti-Materiel rifle. Sremm's shields flared bright blue and broke as the bullet glanced off his chest.  

"Get down before your head is taken off!" K`an yelled. 

Ryau watched Sremm dove behind another emergency vehicle through the small windows on the side of the truck. Sig left the back of the truck to go report to K`an. Ryau looked around, the only other person in the vehicle was Rtik, and he wasn't looking over. He took that moment to search through one of the crates for some kind of communications device. he could at least alert the UNSC to his existence, that he had not perished on Standard. Unfortunately he heard Sig and K`an approaching. He dropped the lid of the crate and went back to looking out the window.

Sig showed up alone and sent Rtik to stand guard with K`an. "We need to inventory the weaponry." He said. 

Ryau nodded and Sig went over to one of the weapon crates. He struggled with the tamper proof locking mechanism. Ryau knew how to open it, since it was a standard issue supply crate. "Here, open those two latches, then press the center button inwards." 

Sig tried it that way and the box clicked open to reveal about six MA5s, blue and silver police colors. The next case held some heavier weapons, M319-D6 SAW. It was a light machine gun based off the MA5 platform. 

"What we got?" K`an asked loudly from the back of the truck. 

"I have unlocked several of the weaponry from their bindings.  We have explosives and we have a long range rifle on the bench there." Sig said. 

K`an picked the Sniper rifle off the bench. "We need to use this weaponry as there is a supply here. Waste nothing that we cannot afford to lose.  Sig, hand me one of the light machine guns and you two pick your choosing." He said. 

Ryau was confused as Sig handed K`an the SAW and took an MA5 for himself. Sig looked over to Ryau to answer for his hesitation. "I thought that using Human weapons was ...forbidden?" Ryau said. 

"First off, it is your decision. In history when we fought all who opposed and as a proud race, we treated the oppositions wielding with the utmost respect, as if they were a fine art or craft." K`an answered. "That demographic was set by the ignorant. I say that if it is your life in your hands, you use what you find and comfort with." He paused as he pulled the bolt of the rifle back loudly, "no offense to our engineering or the forerunners, but our beam rifles are crap to the human long rifles..."

"Hmph. alright then." Ryau said, picking an Assault rifle from the crate. 

"Any thoughts on such a topic?" K`an leaned forward and turned his head to show that he was listening. "No? I didn't think so." He pulled his head back and turned back towards the door of the truck. "They brainwash you for so long, it's hard to see the light. Now... let's get to work gentlemen." 

"My battery is dead, sir!" Rtik shouted from outside.

K`an looked back at Sig and Ryau. "You two are to go that way and fire at the group of Humans," K`an pointed towards the middle of the road, the direction the rear of the truck was facing. "Distract them and I will take care of the sniper and that gunner. Now go!"

Ryau looked over at Sig and he nodded. Taking up the rear, Ryau and Sig dropped down to the roadway and ran along the road. Two Warthogs had shown up, either alerted by the sniper or the gunfire. Ryau pulled the trigger of the MA5, the bullets spraying wildly. He aimed for the spaces between the Army troopers causing them to drop to the ground without actually hitting any of them. 

The gunner on the Warthog turned the turret to them and opened fire. Ryau and Sig dropped behind a car as bullets peppered their shields. The glass shattered and Ryau blindly fired through the vehicles cab. There was another crack from a rifle and the fire from the Warthogs turret ceased. Ryau popped his head over to see the gunner fall back, his arm falling into the empty driver area and landing on the accelerator. The warthog sped off into a convenience store on the corner.  

A second crack came from K`an and the bullet slipped into the rubble of the building the Troopers were covering. Ryau assumed K`an had just taken down the enemy Sniper. The Humans began to retreat into the building and the gunfire ceased. However, Ryau recognized a new rumble that began to rise. Behind another building, a Scorpion tank crashed through the small cars that blocked its path. 

"Armor!" Sig shouted loudly. "Ryau lets go, on the left, back down the street."

Ryau and Sig sprinted down the street perpendicular to the road the tank was traveling down. The Scorpion fired and the round slammed into the building above the police truck. The others in the group soon joined up as the tank rumbled down the street behind them. 

"Do not stop until I say!" K`an yelled as he ran ahead of them.

They continued down the street and around a corner. When they made it around K`an quickly turned around and lined up a shot. The shot was obviously blessed, the bullet found a fault in the armor and passed through the canopy into the pilots head. With its pilot dead, the tank plowed through a department store on the side of the road. Enough critical supports must have been damaged and the entire front of the building crumbled into the street. The cloud of gray dust burst out and filled the street. 

"Nice shot, sir!" Sig called from beside Ryau. 

"Let us not dwell on the past, please," K`an replied. "Let us get moving."

Sremm sat down on a planter box. "No, let us take five, we just outran a Tank!" He complained.

"No," K`an rolled his eyes. "We must keep moving."

"I am not moving!"

"I will only say this once, Sremm, do not forget who is the elder and who is the youth. Who is the shepherd, and who is his flock." K`an growled at Sremm.

"You know not of what you speak of, you crazed senile."

"Child!  I will beat you like the woman you act like. I will break you to the effect that your ancestry shall feel" K`an shouted.

Ryau thought that it was going to go further but K`an stopped and placed his finger to his ear. Listening to something over the COMMs. K`an looked around at the group. "Sremm gets his wish… rest for five" K`an said and walked into an alleyway to get away from them.

After a while Ryau watched Sig approach K`an in the alley. He couldn't hear everything, but the next thing K`an said was louder than the rest. "Tallaham is KIA… his Phantom... was shot down."

Ryau stopped twiddling his thumbs. He hadn't known D`rok for long, but he seemed like someone that Ryau could trust and follow without worry. No offense to K`an but it didn't seem like the same could be said for him.  

"I'm glad he's gone!"  Sremm said. "I never have to see his rotten old face again. I'll finally be promoted."

"What did you just say?"  K`an growled and gave Sremm a stare that made Ryau back away from the Major.

"The commander and I didn't exactly get along." Sremm answered smartly.

"I think I know why," K`an said.

"What are you implying, Major?" Sremm seemed offended.

"You have a big mouth!"

"What I have, Major, is a reluctance to follow orders from someone clearly beneath me!"

"Are you saying that you run this outfit, child!?" K`an yelled, standing now.

"I'm saying that I refuse to follow an old man lost in the past!" Sremm retorted.

"Both of you shut up!" Rtik yelled, clearly agitated by the uproar. Ryau stepped back and away from the loud altercation.

"Oh shut up, idiot.  You were never useful in this entire situation!" Sremm yelled back.

"Maybe I could have helped if you'd moved the 600 unit alloy beam off of me!" Rtik shouted.

"It matters not, you can't shoot!" Sremm said. 

"I'm only a bad shot when you stand in front of my weapon insisting you can hit the soldier on the machine gun from there. I've hit smaller targets from at least fifty times as far and you know it!" Rtik yelled.

"As a higher ranking officer, I am entitled to do whatever I wish with my squad. You have no jurisdiction here." Sremm gave a hard shove to Rtik, pushing him away like nothing.  Sremm pointed a finger at Rtik. "You will face charges of insubordination should you make it out of this alive, I assure you. And you," Sremm looked at K`an. "I owe nothing to you or your idiotic woman that you consider a friend!"

At that moment, Ryau saw K`an snap. He dove into Sremm, taking them both to the ground. K`an repeatedly slammed his fist into Sremm's face. Sremm only able to block some of the blows. Ryau watched the two struggle and fight until a round from a sniper rifle whizzed through the air and stuck the ground not far from his head. 

"Sniper!" Ryau alerted Sig. He caught a glimpse of the barrel sticking out of a buildings window. "Third floor, second window from the corner." Ryau dropped the Assault rifle and pulled his Needle rifle from his back. He and Sig moved to cover and returned fire at the sniper while their commanding officers fought in the background. 

The sound of the fight slowly ceased and was followed by a dull thump somewhere below. Ryau and Sig stopped firing when the sniper rifle clattered to the ground below the window. He turned around to see that they were the only ones on the elevated courtyard. 

"Where did they go?" Ryau asked. 

"They went over the edge." Rtik answered. 

Sig hurried over to the railing and looked down. "Sir, are you alright?"

"Yes, I am fine." K`an called from below. "How are you two holding up?" 

Ryau glanced over and looked down, K`an was standing over what appeared to be an unconscious Sremm. "Fairly well, sir." He answered. 

"Same here, sir." Sig noted. 

"Good…" K`an grumbled. He left Sremm on the ground and hurried up a set of stairs to rejoin the group. "Youth." K`an addressed Ryau. Ryau grumbled and his eye twitched. "How much ammunition do you have left?" 

Ryau checked his ammunition cases along his waist. Not much but if they were using Human guns, they would be able to resupply off the bodies. "Two cartridges for my Needle rifle and three magazines for the human rifle." Ryau said. 

"Good, keep that Human weapon close. As I said before, we may need all we can carry." K`an said, and retrieved his weapons from the ground. "Are you ready to continue on?" 

Ryau nodded. "Of course." The sooner they got out of there, the better. 

K`an glanced up towards the sky and tried to contact someone in command. But judging by the lack of a follow up, Ryau assumed that whatever window that had allowed connection earlier had passed. 

"Alright," K`an looked down at Ryau, Sig and Rtik. "One of you three needs to get to the top of one of these buildings that goes through the fog." 

"Do we not have a visual system that we can use to see which building penetrates the fog layer?" Ryau asked. 

"Negative, sorry." Sig said. 

"Maybe the Humans has some sort of device in one of the lockers?" Ryau had definitely seen one back in the truck. 

"They might… but where to find them." K`an gestured around like he thought Ryau meant in the middle of the road. 

"Sir," Sig said. "If we sent someone to the top of that building, they could act as a midpoint to command on the Battlenet!" He pointed his finger to a nearby apartment complex.

"Very good, Sig. Always good to have a Tech on the ground." K`an said. Ryau rolled his eyes, since that seemed like the very plan that K`an was going to suggest a moment earlier. "Who volunteers?" 

No one spoke up, not wanting to leave the group and go up alone. Ryau glanced around and spotted a tree nearby. "We draw sticks? Shortest has to go up." He suggested. 

Sig tilted his head. "Do we have sticks?" 

Ryau walked over to the tree and plucked a branch off, snapped them into various sizes and brought them over to the group. "Now we do." 

"Let me see those, Cinotee." K`an held his hand out. Ryau passed them over and K`an shuffled them up. "Go ahead, youths." 

Ryau and Sig drew sticks of similar size, while the Minor pulled a small twig from K`an hand. Rtik grumbled and started towards the door to the apartment building. They made their way to the door and covered the lobby as Rtik headed for the stair case. 

"Tell me when you have reached the top. Minor. " K`an ordered. 

"Got it." Rtik called out, letting the door close behind him. Ryau sat behind the cover of the building's front desk and waited with K`an and Sig. First, five minutes passed, then ten. 

Ryau glanced around the untouched lobby. An advertisement for the 2552 Reach Galactic Cup hung on the wall. Being bored, Ryau thought of something to talk about. "Their civilians think they're winning the war." He said. 

"Oh?" Sig said, "that is good!" 

"Really?" Ryau tilted his head. "You think so?" The conversation had already steered in a different direction than had had expected. 

"Yes… If the civilians don't think they have a chance, then they wouldn't support the military." Sig said. "No military support means that it would be no contest. It is just the right thing to do… Don't you think?" 

"It would make our jobs a hell of a lot easier," K`an spoke up. 

"Yes, but if the civilian population doesn't know how they are doing in a fight for their survival, how do they expect to hold out?" Ryau put forward. 

"...That is the game that must be gambled." Sig said.

Finally, Rtik came over the radio. "I'm here!" He panted into his mic, probably having run the entire stairwell. 

Without responding, K`an set up the relay and called Command. After a few moments, a waypoint for extraction appeared on their ACI, seven kilometers away. 

"Alright Rtik, return when possible, good work." K`an said. 

Ryau happened to glance over the desk and out the doors. A Warthog had managed to get through the road debris and was targeting the group of Sangheili in the lobby. Ryau leapt to his feet. "K`an! Incoming hostiles!" 

The Warthog's Gauss cannon fired and punched a hole in one of the building's pillars. "Move! Across the street, into that lobby." K`an motioned out the side door, towards a small restaurant across a side street. 

Ryau jumped over the railing and rolled down the access ramp. They sprinted into the restaurant, the gunner fired twice, but failed to hit anyone.  

"Go deeper into the building." K`an ordered. 

Ryau ran through a doorway into an internal hallway, it turned right and Ryau took cover on the corner. 

"Everyone alright?" Sig asked. 

"I'm fine." Ryau said. 

"As am I. Let us keep moving." K`an said. 

Sig looked back. "What about Rtik, sir?" 

K`an paused. "We will have to leave him. The area just got too heated. Ryau, stay on my left and keep cautious." 

Ryau nodded and moved to his left. "Should we not leave him a message?" 

"I don't think we can. Especially if he is up in the fog." Sig pointed out. 

"Let's quickly write it on the wall, should he come back down. Something like: Had to move." Ryau suggested, he wasn't use to leaving a fellow soldier behind. 

"With what?" K`an asked. 

Ryau waved his hands around him. "There are charred pieces of tree and metal all around, the very least we can do is carve it into the wood paneling." 

Outside a series of explosions went off and the sound of footsteps echoed down the hall. "We do not have time." K`an said. 

"We cannot just leave him," Ryau demanded. 

"First lesson of the fray: Don't get attached." K`an shoved Ryau forward. "Now move, Majors!" He barked. They quickly moved down the hall. Most of the doors were closed, and the ones that were open were devoid of life. It occurred to Ryau that since arriving at street level he had not seen a single Covenant or Civilian casualty. The hall emptied into a small indoor garden. A squad of Army troopers stood guard among the trees, 

"Majors," K`an ordered softly. "Activate active camo." He pressed a button on his wrist and faded from sight. His position was visible by a purple outline on Ryau's ACI. Sig vanished next and Ryau had to figure out which button activated the generator. In just a moment, he too disappeared. 

They snuck along the wall and passed the troopers. The other side of the garden was another lobby for the restaurant, set on a busier street. K`an dropped out of camouflage and Ryau and Sig followed suit. 

"Which direction?" K`an muttered. 

"In the general direction of the marker." Ryau said nodding his head up towards the building that was marked.

"Which street?" K`an asked. 

"Well you're the leader." Ryau responded. 

"Thank you, Major Obvious…" Kan growled. "Now come." He turned away from the restaurant and started up the street. At the other end was one of New Alexandria's sector security barriers. The Army had locked it down and set up a small road block in the intersection. A single Gauss Warthog sat in front. 

K`an activated his camo, so once again, Ryau and Sig did as well. They took cover beside some of the small human vehicles as the Warthog started to roll forward with a patrol of Troopers. "Be at the ready, Majors." K`an softly spoke. 

Thankfully, the patrol passed by without noticing the hidden Sangheili and continued down the street. "Are we clear?" Sig asked quietly. 

Ryau looked up and over the car and saw the Warthog turn a corner. "Yes, we are." He whispered back. 

"Alright, across the street and under that overhang." K`an pointed over to an recess in the front of a building. 

Ryau and Sig looked at one another, Ryau didn't want to be the first across and he assumed the same was for Sig. Reluctantly Ryau moved out and crossed the street in a half crouch with Sig right behind him. He slid into cover in the darkness and saw another Warthog sail down the street, narrowly missing K`an. 

"Is everyone still good?" K`an asked as he too slid into cover. Ryau and Sig nodded, they had made it over without incident. "Alright, is there an entrance through this building?" 

Ryau looked around and spotted a doorway that had been locked with its doors open. "Over here. there's an open door." 

"Okay, 'Cinotee. Take point." K`an said. 

Ryau didn't move for a moment, he was surprised that K`an was allowing him to do something without berating him or calling him a child. He was also confused as to why he seemed to use Human military instructions, although spoken in Sangheili, the words were the direct translation. There was also the small instance of him also using hand signals that closely mirrored those used by Marines. Ryau blinked and then refocused on the task at hand. 

He moved through the open doorway and swept the looted lobby beyond. The building once had been home to what appeared to be a telecommunications company, a competitor to Vyrant Telecom which was also located in the city. Ryau crept forward and completed his sweep of the lobby. He spied a blinking sign that announced that there was an intercity tram station on the thirty-fourth floor. 

"Shall we see if the tram is still working?" Sig asked, which put Ryau's mind in motion. Using a tram to cross the streets would save time and contact with Human forces. 

"Would they still be in operation?" K`an asked. 

Ryau looked around at the two other Sangheili. "At the very least they would be manual. and faster than on foot."

"And what is the possibility of alerting the Humans?" Sig questioned. "Is that worth the risk? For I would rather suffer a sore heel as opposed to another fall from a structural failure." 

"Depends on how damaged its superstructure is. We have yet to begin orbital bombardment correct?" 

"Hmm… Will it be fast enough to be efficient?" 

Ryau pointed over to a map below the tram sign that showed the stations. "That map shows the tunnels going directly to the building that was marked for us. It is far more direct than walking the streets." 

"But what will happen if we are discovered on the transport? Will they destroy it?" Sig seemed to have endless questions. 

"From what I saw while we were outside, the tunnels are enclosed." Ryau said.

"Are you sure?" Sig prodded. Apparently Ryau was the only one paying attention to his surroundings while they enjoyed their pleasant walk through the city. 

However, before Ryau could continue, K`an interrupted him. "He must be Sig. Did you not read his credentials? Ryau was at the top of his class in Combat Intelligence Studies. Even in the margin higher than you, Sig." 

Ryau just blinked in response. "Have I done something that changed K`an's view towards me?" He questioned himself. 

"Very well." Sig muttered. 

"Lead up the stairs, Sig." K`an ordered. Sig started up the stairs and K`an motioned for Ryau to follow beside him. "Come along now, 'Cinotee." They climbed the stairwell of the building, the sound of gusting wind could be heard echoing down the shaft, a sign that this building had not been spared damage on its upper floors. "I will apologize for getting after you earlier, Major."

Ryau glanced over at K`an and then up at Sig leading the group. "Apology accepted…" Ryau said slowly. 

"If you want the honest truth… I never give too much respect to the well-studied until I see them hold their own in a firefight." K`an began. Now Ryau understood the change in attitude. "I have seen many young warriors fall who have excelled in the studies… I never was one much for the studying" He sighed. "I just was always good at fighting… Gods, I've seen the start of this war and all the way through… It needs to end soon" K`an looked to Ryau for his input. 

"Well I… think… it will be ending soon, or else I wouldn't be here right now." Ryau muttered. 

"What do you mean by that?" K`an asked. 

"Nothing…" Ryau attempted to abort that line of conversation." Nothing." 

"...I used to share the same thing…" K`an muttered in return. "I mean, look at history. Look at the number of warriors the 'oh righteous beyond space' Covenant has thrown at the Humans.  It's a bit outlandish, don't you think?" 

"It is only proportional to the amount that have not been sent against them. That will be… our saving grace in this war." Ryau said. 

"Hmm.. well maybe if we sent-" K`an was cut off by Sig. 

"If you two are going to endlessly banter politics, I will turn around and kick you both down these stairs." Sig chuckled. 

"He is right," K`an paused. "We should quiet down a bit." 

The group continued up the stairs, passing floor after floor. Finally, Ryau saw the numbers thirty-four painted onto the wall by an access door. "Here we are." Ryau pushed the door open and they walked out into an abandoned station. The lights flickered as an explosion shook the building below, a few papers blew across the floor, there was not a Human in sight.

"So where is the transport?" Sig asked, looking around the empty station.

"If its not here, then I'd assume it was stopped at another station." Ryau nodded towards a bank of flashing evacuation screens. "Probably disabled because of the Covenant's arrival. We'll have to walk the rest of the distance, or until we find the tram."

K`an glanced both ways down the tunnels. "Okay, lets get going, youths." He hopped down onto the tracks. 

Ryau knew better than to try and walk along the trams rail. He hopped onto the raised maintenance walkway that ran between the two tracks. K`an and Sig both looked to Ryau and joined him on the walkway. They walked along the track for quite a bit, passing station after abandoned station, all evacuated and empty. They had to climb over the burring hull of a Pelican that had been shot down and crashed into the suspended tunnel, other than that there was not much structural damage.

Eventually, the tunnel ended in a maintenance area. Tram cars were suspended for repair and parts strewn about work tables. Ryau nodded over a sigh over a door. SinoViet Center: North Tower Access.

"That's our building, right?" Sig asked. 

"Yes, it is." Ryau said. They passed through the door and found themselves in a similar maintenance passageway as they had walked through hours earlier. The door slid open to a small common room, probably a relaxation area for the buildings employees. A bank of elevators occupied one of the internal walls. 

"Now all we have to do is go up…" K`an growled. "Is there and elevator anywhere?" 

"They're over here." Ryau pointed over to the doors.

"But which one?" Sig asked. 

Ryau, slowly getting annoyed by Sig's lack of understanding how basic technology functions, rolled his eyes. "Press the button and find out." 

"What button?" Sig asked again, looking at the small two button control panel with a concerned look on his face.

Ryau couldn't believe it. He had used an elevator on Sanghelios that operated just like the Humans' did. It was the most basic system there was. Ryau pointed sternly at the button with the up arrow, the button above the one with the down arrow, and at the top of the panel. "The UP button." 

Sig leaned away from the button and raised an eye ridge quizzically. "You do it."

Ryau had to resist the urge to slam Sig's face into the small button. "Fine," he growled. Ryau walked over and simply pressed the button and the doors to Sig's left dinged open. 

"If this is the way then lead on, Major." K`an waved Ryau towards the elevator doors. 

Ryau sighed and walked into the lift. "This is going to take a while…" 

The Sangheili piled into the spacious lift that ran up the center of the office building. Soft music played from the speakers automatically as they ascended. 

"None of you are going to start licking the windows on me, right?" K`an asked out of nowhere. 

They sat in silence for a bit, Ryau just listened to the music until an explosion down below knocked the power to the office out. The elevator shuddered to a halt in between floors and the lights winked out. Ryau tapped his wrist and his ACI switched to low-light mode. His vision flashed and everything was lit up like a night with a bright moon. It was different than the UNSC system he was use to working with. K`an pried open the doors and climbed out onto the floor. Ryau and Sig followed behind him.

"I guess we're taking the stairs," Ryau said. 

"Then lead on." K`an gave Ryau a shove in the back. 

Ryau glanced back with a glare and raised his weapon. He lead them through the maze of cubicles and offices towards a door marked fire exit. He opened the door to a stairwell that went upwards. The elevator had only stopped with five floors left to go. As they approached the final door, Ryau tossed his MA5 to the side, and ditched any ammunition cartridges he was carrying. He could hear the others doing the same as weapons and bullets bounced down the stairs.  

Ryau shoved the heavy door open and took a gust of wind to the face. "Here we are." He said. 

"About time," Sig raised his arm to shield his face from the wind. 

K`an squinted in the wind and glanced around. "Is the Phantom here yet?" 

"I don't see one." Ryau looked around the cityscape, but didn't see a Phantom anywhere nearby. "But we're out of the fog, communications should be back up." 

For whatever reason, Sig took it upon himself to call for their pick up. He walked off to the other side of the rooftop to make the call.
"So…" K`an started and looked to Ryau. "What do you think after your first day with us?"

"Not something I'd like to do again." Ryau gave a small shrug. Working with the Covenant didn't sit right with him, even if though he knew the war was almost over. 

"Aw c'mon, kid." K`an chuckled. "The day would have been more entertaining with D`rok around." He looked down and off to his side.

"And that is one of the reasons why I don't want to. War shouldn't be entertaining." Ryau said. 

"Well... you could be dead." K`an said bluntly. 

"Again, another reason. Doing this again only increases those chances." Ryau glanced idly at the Device that remained attached to his wrist. 

"Its war… it happens." K`an sighed again. "If you stick close to D`rok and keep your head on straight you will be just fine."

"I know that," Ryau said. "I am very experienced in fighting, but I don't plan on staying in a combat position that long."  

"Well, is there anywhere you would rather be?" K`an chuckled.

"Hmm, perhaps back in the Science division." Ryau said. The idea had suddenly struck him that he could ask Naki for a transfer into her division. After all, why would the Covenant want one of their newest toys out on the battlefield.

"I could understand that. Make us some better weapons, kid" K`an said. 

Before Ryau could respond, the whine of a Phantom overtook the wind. The purple craft slowed to a hover over the rooftop and deployed its grav-lift. Sig headed up first, followed by Ryau. Oddly the dimly lit interior was a welcoming feeling to him. He glanced around and placed his plasma weapons in a receptacle to recharge. 

Standing off to the side, was Naki, in her gold Ranger harness. She was spattered with purple and fluorescent blue blood, and paint chips and dents riddled the armor. He had to wonder what she had been through. 

She removed her helmet as he approached. "Glad to see you survived." Naki said. 

"Yeah, you too." He replied. "What happened?"

"Well, its suffice to say… I'm glad I was wearing this helmet."

Part 9
The Hunt

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 146 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [August 23, 2552: 1759]
Outskirts of New Alexandria, Reach
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

After being picked up from the rooftop in New Alexandria they were flown to the Leveling Strength and were able to rest and rearm for the night. Almost immediately they were sent out in the morning to the top of a mountain outside the city.

Ryau stood beside Naki on top of the sparsely forested plateau at near the summit. The team had been assigned to provide protection to an engineering team as they assembled a communications jammer. At first thought, he felt that a team out in the mountains would not warrant a SpecOps team keeping watch, except when he considered that there may be some refugees or Human soldiers that fled the chaos below taking shelter in the forests.

Naki, being the local expert on nearly everything, kept watch over the teams of Unggoy and Huragok to be sure it was assembled correctly. In addition to this jammer, and the ring that surrounded the city, there were many more sprinkled across the downtown area. Naki glanced around and her mandibles formed a frown.

"Something wrong, Naki?" Ryau asked.

"Well it's just that we are saturating the area in communication jammers. Only a few of these placed around the city should be enough to block communications over the entire area." She said, she waved her hand across the view. "Instead, we have clusters of five located in three sectors, inside the ring we are assembling now."

"That is strange... " Ryau said. "Something doesn't feel right."

"No, its not right." She turned around and looked towards him. "Whatever it is, I'm glad we are not going back down there."

"Agreed." Ryau let his face form a rough smile. Beside them, the jammer hummed to life and readouts scrolled across its many interfaces. Their ACIs flashed momentarily as the device interfered with the signals.

"I should go let K`an know they've finished." Naki said.

"Alright, I'll wait here." Ryau walked over to a cluster of empty crates and took a seat. He glanced down at the Device that rested on his arm. He had taken the thing off the night after he had awoken in this new body, it had left two purple bruises on his underarm. Ryau pressed the release and it popped free. The skin beneath was pale grey, no spots from the device. He was distracted as he heard K`an call his name. "What is it?" He called back.

"Pull out some rations for the lance. Naki, go inform the others to feel free to eat their own rations."

Ryau sighed and reassembled the forearm piece and the Device hissed as it sealed against his skin. He stood up and walked over to the Spirit they had rode. Ryau pulled open one of the small cargo holds and retrieved a case of field rations. He drug it out and set it down between everyone.

Sig walked over and took his and Ryau grabbed two for him and Naki. He walked over and handed it to her. Ryau removed activated the meal's heater and the small battery in the case warmed up the food that sat inside. The indicator light turned and Ryau pried the lid open. A puff of condensation rose off the rations and Ryau found he had mutna beef and morla rolls. Where as a Human MRE was a series of vitamin bars and nutritional supplements, the Covenant ration packs were filled with preserved meats and breads that were somehow kept fresh.

Ryau munched on the food and waited for K`an to return to tell them they were going  back to the ship. However K`an came back over. "We need to get going, come on." He nodded towards the Spirit.

Ryau and Naki stood up and followed Sig aboard. There was a bit of commotion outside and K`an came in and closed the drop bay doors without their pilot. "What's going on?" Ryau asked.

"Do not be bothered by it." K`an said and started the Spirit's main engines. "It was just a simple act of insubordination." The Spirit lurched as K`an took off and headed down the side of the mountain.

"No, not that." Ryau said. He assumed that something must have happened between K`an and the pilot for some reason. "What are we doing? We're going towards the city, not the camp."

K`an didn't say anything for a few moments, thinking over what he was going to say. "There was a Demon sighted within the city. We have been tasked with defeating it." The Spirit leveled out and no one said anything. To Ryau, he understood what was going to happen, he had been having memories of his past come back to him ever since he and Naki had reunited. He just hoped that this group wasn't one that the Spartan kills. K`an continued, "I'm sorry... I do not know how you all feel about this task."

Ryau swallowed. "We just need to get it done."

"Do you honestly understand what must be done?" K`an asked.

"Yes, I do." Ryau nodded. "More than you know..." He thought as he sighed.

"Alright, hold on." K`an warned. Ryau gripped a hand rail on the ceiling and the Spirit dropped sharply again. He had to use his leg to hold himself in place as the Spirit neared a vertical free fall. K`an, who was unfazed by their angle of descent, suddenly pulled the craft upwards and narrowly avoided the jungle of skyscrapers below.

The Spirit vibrated from their speed as Ryau pulled himself out of the cargo pod he had been thrown in by K`an's maneuvering. "What the fuck, K`an...." He grumbled, but no one hear him. He stood up and walked over to K`an. The control panel was flashing red and speed warnings flashed across the screen, K`an casually dismissed them with a wave. Their waypoint was substantially closer than it was before the drop.

The air breaks were thrown and the reverse thrusters activated. Ryau was once again thrown, this time face first into the wall besides the communications station. K`an paid no attention to Ryau's adventures in perpetual motion.

K`an reached over Ryau to activate the Spirits comms. "This is Special Operations team, Far Beyond Provocation. We need multiple transports of heavy reinforcements to head to inner city Jammer three. Is anyone close?"

Ryau chose to just stay where he was and listen to what was happening over the radio. A response came quickly. "This is Phantom two-two-Veko Belonging to the Guiding Light. I am currently holding a pair of Mgalekgolo. We are available for deployment." Another transport answered K`an.

K`an glanced around the controls. "Remain on standby for now."

"Understood. Standing by." Two-Two-Veko responded. "We will remain on your tail."

The Spirit banked sharply around a building, passing only a meter from its glass skin. From Ryau's position on the floor, he had a good view of the Spirit's control screens, though the view was mirrored. Their waypoint rested above a building with an illuminated blue medical symbol. He partially recognized it as the New Alexandria Medical Center.

Though before they moved to the landing pad, the Phantom that was following them peeled off. "Far beyond Provocation. This is Two-two-Veko. We have received new orders to reinforce inner city jammer one." The pilot said.

Before K`an could respond, command came over all channels. "All lances. The Demon sighting has been confirmed. Jammer four has been destroyed. Strengthen all defenses."

"Which jammer is it heading to?" We will respond." K`an asked.

"Unknown. Tracking has been thrown off by inclement weather. All jammers are being assaulted by Human forces." Command said.

"Which is in the highest need of aid?" K`an asked.

Another voice came over the radio. "Far Beyond Provocation, you are to continue to provide support to Ultra 'Valnsee at jammer three. Your orders have not changed."

"Very well." K`an sighed.

Suddenly the Spirit vibrated as a CCS-Class Battlecruiser rumbled above. Its repulsor engines causing everything below to shake. Ryau could see it stop out over the city. K`an stopped the Spirit over the landing pad of the hospital. Ultra 'Valnsee's Phantom was lifting off from the rooftop. Sitting on the adjacent pad, was a Falcon, two dead Army troopers were slumped over the side turrets.

"Far Beyond Provocation, this is Ultra 'Valnsee. We are moving to secure the lobby and I have sent my Sangheili Rangers forward to deal with the Demon." The Ultra said over the radio "Standby until we need you."

"Understood" K`an replied. He rolled his eyes, thinking he was the only one in the cockpit. They were hovering near the glass skybridge that connected two of the hospital buildings. The jammer had been placed at the end of the bridge.

To Ryau, the position of the jammer was not a good one, it could easily be accessed by anyone in the other tower. That was probably how the Army troopers had managed to get there behind the Jiralhanae that had formerly been guarding it, and did a terrible job.

The Spirit's cameras peered into the skybridge, they could see the bodies of the Jiralhanae along the path. "Ultra 'Valnsee, this is Far Beyond Provocation. I have a current view of what is going on the pathway to where the jammer is. I will keep you updated." K`an said.

"Attention. Jammer three has been destroyed." Command announced.

Ryau watched the Rangers jump into the massive skybridge. They quickly engaged the Spartan that walked out of the cover where the jammer had been placed. Bullets and plasma went back and forth, the Rangers attempting to flank the Spartan with their jump packs. Unfortunately, as Ryau expected, the Spartan cut down all the Sangheili.

"Ultra, the Demon has slain the Rangers. He is going towards the lobby." K`an urgently warned the Ultra. The Spartan looted the corpses for grenades and a replacement for the Plasma pistol they were carrying on their hip. Then they continued for the lobby.

"Far Beyond Provocation, you're clear for entry!" The Ultra shouted. "The Demon-"There was a gargling noise before the Ultras headset cut off automatically.

Ryau decided to sit up finally, only at that moment K`an also decided to suddenly start the Spirit up at full speed. Ryau slid across the floor and hit the back plate again.

"Command, the Demon has made it past Ultra 'Valnsee and has escaped the area." K`an said.

"Understood. Current sightings place it heading for jammer one. Proceed at you digression." Command reported.

K`an frowned. "Very well." He cut the link and glanced down the left prong. "Cinotee! Come here."

Ryau pushed himself with his legs and slid back between the communications panel and the pilot's seat. He looked up at K`an from the floor. "What is it?"

K`an's head shot around and down towards the floor. He sighed and looked back at the control screen. His sigh was that kind someone makes when in total disbelief. He stared at the screen for a moment. "Whenever you decide to rejoin me from the floor, we need to re-evaluate our situation."

Ryau pulled himself up with both seats and sat down at the communications station. "Alright. What is it?"

"The plan has changed. The Demon got through the jammer." K`an paused as he concentrated on flying the Spirit around a series of buildings.

"So I heard." Ryau said.

"We need to think about how to go about this. I will not have us just running blindly into a building after the Human. Do you still have a record of the city layout?" K`an asked. "The one from when we were on the ground?"

"There are some Beam rifles in the Spirit's field armory. I did not keep the map." Ryau said. "Though we could set up on top of a building." He was thinking of some ways they can stay out of conflict with the Spartan but still seem like they were in combat.

"I mean to ask, how is your memory. Do you remember that Human tower? SinoViet, was what it was called?"

"Oh, yes. The one with the green chevron over there." Ryau pointed at the building on the screen.

"Very good. I want you to play navigator, find a building overlooking the landing station of the building where jammer one is located." K`an said.

Ryau nodded and sat down at the communications station and looked over the controls. Reading their labels, Ryau pressed a few buttons and the communications station switched over to a navigator's seat. He used the various cameras to scan the buildings ahead of them. Most were so tall that their rooftops could only see part of the club's exterior pads. Ryau sighed, "There are plenty of buildings in the area, but they're too tall to see the inside of the landing area,"

"Find me one, Cinotee." K`an ordered.

Ryau went back to work, and as the Spirit rounded a corner, a smaller building sat in a perfect position overlooking the club's landing pads. "Well that's perfect. Hell, it's even lit up purple." Ryau thought to himself with a slight chuckle. "Got one." Ryau said to K`an and placed a waypoint on the building. "Looks like we'll be just at home there."

"Not likely. If there's no women, it's not my home." K`an smirked. "Unless you want to share." That last part was quietly said with a laugh.

"What was that?" Ryau didn't think that he heard the last part right.

"I said not likely." K`an said, suppressing a small grin. The Spirit suddenly turned sharply towards the waypoint. They drifted over the building's rooftop and settled down over its extended landing pad. "Cinotee, grab me one of those rifles and a viewing set." K`an barked and stood out of the seat. "Sig, you take the helm of the Spirit and remain nearby."

Ryau walked over to the Field Armory and pulled the Beam rifle free, the viewing set that was in the box was the kind designed to fit over a Kig 'Yar's head. Ryau tossed that over his shoulder and found a universal design sitting underneath a set of replacement Unggoy breathing masks. Behind him, the left prong's door opened and wind and rain blew inside.

"Cinotee, you're with me. Lets go!" K`an waited by the open hatch.

Ryau passed K`an the Beam rifle and hopped down onto the illuminated floor. K`an dropped down behind him and Ryau moved to the ledge. "Here we are, good sight lines to the doorway and rest of the deck."

"Yes..." K`an agreed for once. "Now lets get set up." The two moved down a floor to the balcony that had the best vantage point. K`an and Ryau knelt down at the edge and set up their position. The viewing set had a small deplorable stand to steady it. It was supported by an energy field and a small plate descended. Ryau guessed the magnetic fields acted as some sort of spring. Using his finger, he pulled the plate of metal back until it was perpendicular with the viewing set. He released it and it bounced back, but instead of a twang, there was a strange wobbly sound. Ryau looked up to see if K`an had noticed, but the Major was too busy making sure the Beam rifle was in working order.

K`an looked up. "Have you ever used one of the viewing sets before?"

"Yes I have. But they are not commonly used since the Kig 'Yar visors do it all at once. Sangheili sniper teams are rare on the battlefield." Ryau looked the device over once more. While it was true he had received some minor training it its use while in Varo, they didn't go over much.

"I agree, the Sangheili would rather be in the fray than to sit and wait." K`an sighed and dropped down onto his belly. "That is one thing I do not like about us as a species. There is a high percentage in the population that work on a one track system."

Ryau moved down next to K`an. Like the conversations they had earlier, Ryau enjoyed the conversations with actual Sangheili about themselves. "Could you explain? He asked.

"Oh so you are willing to talk on such manners?" K`an asked as he looked down at the building below.

"We touched on it before..." Ryau said. "But Sig threatened to kick us down the stairs."

"Yeah, he gets his panties in a bunch whenever politics are brought up." K`an chuckled.

"Why's that?" Ryau asked, also slightly confused with the phrasing.

"His father is a politician, I don't know, I didn't meet the guy. D`rok would have known..." K`an trailed off. "Anyway, what was your question?"

"Well, explain what you meant earlier." Ryau glanced down the viewing set at the balcony.

"Well…" K`an started. "I think it festers from the extreme religion that runs the entire Covenant. We as a race- Er, all of the races together are raised to follow and not to think."

"Possibly, but there are always the ones that don't follow the flow." Ryau said. "Like you."

"Maybe a part of it is that most of the military is made up of youthful individuals." K`an admitted. "It seems that the ones who are free thinkers have too high of power to be so. Somewhat dealing with heightened benefits. Do you think?"

"I think it's the opposite of that, the free thinkers don't have any power to try and push some of the changes. Like what happened when Zelso changed some of the laws which in turn altered some traditions." Ryau suggested.

"Interesting..." K`an paused to think. "Then I now think it is a mix of both of our beliefs. It makes sense." He shifted his stance and aimed around. "Apologies for talking so much on these social topics."

"Its f-" Ryau's scanning spotted a Falcon accelerating towards the Vyrant Telecom tower. "K`an, here it comes." He tagged the Falcon with the viewing set. It should have been pinged to K`an scope and Assisted Combat Interface.

"I see it," K`an said.

The Falcon lowered and opened fire on the Covenant forces that patrolled the balcony. The VTOLs guns tore the Unggoy and Kig `Yar to pieces, leaving nothing alive. It settled on one of the pads and the Spartan pulled itself out of the cockpit and hurried into the club. Ryau sent a status ping over the radio to the forces inside. He got a single ping, and then a constant tone.

"That was him." K`an muttered. "We will wait for him to exit the building. I have a very well placed shot. Is there an open comlink to the forces inside?"

"No, it seems they've gone dark since the Spartan entered. Either they're dead, of those Jiralhanae don't know how to operate their radios." Ryau said.

"Both are equally possible, but I do not find myself surprised if it is the former." K`an grumbled. The command channel buzzed with an alert that the jammer had been destroyed. Suddenly the CCS-Class Battlecruisers that had positioned themselves over the city activated their glassing beams. The sky lit up and the ground shook.

"The hell!?" Ryau flipped over on his shoulder. The roar of plasma scorching the planet surface shattered the glass on the rooftop. "They've started glassing."

"Pay attention, Ryau! Its coming out soon." K`an called to bring Ryau back to his task.

Ryau fumbled with his viewing set as a wave of static passed over them. He shoved the thought of the glassing out of his head and concentrated. The doors down below opened and he saw the foot of the Spartan step into the threshold. Only the two Sangheili didn't get a chance for the shot, their shields were peppered by bullets from behind. Ryau jumped up and leapt for cover behind the building. K`an turned around and fired his Beam rifle at the Army troopers that had come out of the roof access hatch.

K`an's shields burst and several bullets ricocheted off his armor. "K`an!" Ryau called and returned fire with his Needle rifle. "Get over here!"

Ryau provided suppressive fire and K`an launched himself into movement. One of the Troopers scored a lucky shot with their DMR and nailed K`an just above his right upper knee. His leg gave out as he about to pass behind the wall.

"MotherFucker!" K`an shouted. Ryau reached out and grabbed K`an by the lip of his shield generator. He pulled K`an far enough behind the wall that they would have a few moments of safety. K`an called for Sig to pick them up as soon as possible. "Ryau! Get us some ground." He struggled to get the Plasma pistol free from its clamp on his hip.

"I'm working on it!" Ryau shouted back. He was keeping the Humans suppressed as he pulled K`an along the floor, there wasn't much he could do. They didn't make it that far before Ryau had to reload, giving an opening for the Humans to move in. K`an began to fire with his Plasma pistol and sent a volley of green plasma towards the Troopers.

Ryau drug K`an back around the other corner, firing his Needle rifle one handed. Out of nowhere, the whine of engines grew louder and suddenly the building shook. The Humans were thrown off the rooftop, blood and body parts were behind them. One of the prongs from a Spirit shot by, trailing sparks and bits of metal.

The Spirit circled around in front of them and lowered its hatch for them to board. Ryau pushed K`an onto the hatch and then hopped on himself. He had to pull him further into the troop bay. The hatch closed behind him and Ryau lifted K`an up and put him in one of the crash seats.

"Get us out of here, Sig." Ryau easily transitioned into command mode and began to take control of the situation. . He gripped one of the handholds as the Spirit accelerated away from the site. "Command, this is Far Beyond Provocation. We were unable to kill the Sp-Demon. We were ambushed by...Vermin as we were about to take the shot." Ryau glanced down at K`an's name. "Retmmaree is injured and we are heading back to the Leveling Strength." He clicked off the receiver.

The response didn't come for a few moments. "Understood. This is Communications officer 'Sannwikhee. Report has been logged. S-"

'Sannwikhee was cut off by the command line. "All forces are to evacuate the city. You have five unites to to vacate the area."

Overhead, a trio of Battlecruisers rumbled into position. "Shit. You heard them, Sig. Get us out of the city." Ryau knelt down to look at K`an's wound. The bullet had passed through the leg, shattering the bone.

"Only five minutes?" K`an cringed, the puddle of blood on the floor widened slightly. "That is hardly enough time to get out of the city."

Ryau sighed and pulled a medical kit out of one of the storage compartments. "Its plenty of time, K`an." he assured him. "Do you want me to stop the bleeding?"

"Only if you promise not to flop around the cabin, like you did earlier." K`an chuckled darkly.

"Well Sig is driving now, he's much smoother." Ryau opened the medical kit and looked through the medical kit and found one of the gel pads that he had seen in Varo. He pulled out a specialized tool that glowed blue when it was turned on. If he remembered correctly, it was something that would cut through the bodysuit, but not the skin.

"Sometimes comfort is not always the ideal tactic." K`an said.

"And sometimes we want to get there alive." Ryau retorted and removed the armor pieces on K`an's leg. He cut away the body suit at the thigh and second ankle, then placed a dab of antiseptic and a pain killing paste over the wound.

K`an winced for a second, but then grinned and rolled his eyes. "Whatever Cinotee, I'm an excellent pilot."

"If you say so." Ryau said.

"Hey, don't be so quick to judge.[I] I have placed first in a handful of prestigious completions of aerial skill."

"Bullshit." Ryau pulled the leg brace out and looked it over. It attached at two ends of the leg and had a thick plastic film between the alloy clamps. Glancing at the instructions, he gripped the two halves and easily bent them to fit the natural bend of K`an's leg.

K`an laughed "Yeah, you're right. That would be something would it not."

"I guess, but I really don't peg you as the pilot type." Ryau shrugged. He clamped the brace to the leg, and sealed the other side of the plastic. As he pressed the activation button, the clamps shrunk to fit and created a seal between the metal and K`an's skin. An electrical charge went through the bend and made it stiff. An few moments later the space between the skin and the film filled with a healing gel. All appeared to be working.

"Well, as a child once told me... If you say so." Ryau frowned as K`an burst out in laughter, which quickly died down as he winced from the pain. "Ryau, I like you. Can I buy you a drink?"

"Of course." Ryau chuckled to himself. "Well, I'm done here, don't fuck it up, or I'll knock you on your ass like I did D`rok."

K`an laughed and shook his head in disbelief. "I'll have to hear that story later." He got quiet for a second. "Much later."

Ryau stood up and gave K`an a pat on the shoulder. He walked into the cock-pit to check on Naki and Sig. Sig was concentrating on the controls, and getting out of the city.

"What happened?" Sig asked, glancing over a bit.

"We were ambushed before we could fire on the...Demon. K`an was shot in the leg, but he is doing alright." Ryau said.

"I would surely hope so, it would be devastating if we lost him." Sig said in the most serious voice Ryau had heard anyone use while talking about K`an.

"That it would be." Ryau nodded and walked on to the other prong to check on Naki.

She was at the far end of the troop bay with data-pads strewn about. "Alright, 'Vinika. I got your data here. I'll try to get to your site soon." She spoke into a headset. "Now what kind of site is this?" Ryau knocked on the bulkhead to alert Naki to his presence. "Oh, hold on 'Vinika, I'll have to get back to you.... Yes I will as soon as I can." She took off the headset and looked up to Ryau with a slight smile.

Ryau smiled back and pointed back towards the other prong. "K`an got shot on the leg. He's patched up, but can you go take a look at it? I think I got it on right but I've never used one of those before."

"Oh," she frowned. "Are you okay?" Naki looked around at Ryau's form.

"Yeah, I made it through just fine." Ryau twisted his torso to prove to her that all was fine.

"Okay, good. I'll go check your handy work." Naki stood and went to check on K`an's injuries.

Ryau sighed and sat down in one of the crash seats. He waited there as they ascended into the upper atmosphere to dock with the DDS-Class Carrier they had launched from a few days earlier. Fighting his fellow Humans was hard enough, but now it was the planet he had regarded as home for most of his life. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop it, just do whatever he was told and hope he didn't do something wrong to make this all for nothing.

LORC: ONI Priority Transmission
Date: 27 February 2016, 6:27 am

Office of Naval Intelligence Priority Transmission 55479D-91
Encryption Code: BLACK
Public Key: File/Feros-Beta-Charlie/
From: Field Officer 221-558H
To: COL. Hartford. Office of Naval Intelligence. Section Three. UNSCMID: 5584573 
Subject: Recovered Documents
Classification: RESTRICTED (BGX Directive) 

/Start File/ 

January 24, 2554 (Military Calendar)
Field Report V7746-ONI.Recovery 
Subject: CCS-Class Battlecruiser Analysis. Loc: 45.63325 N 124.71130 W
Reporting Officer: LT. F. D. Ramirez. ONI Field Officer 221-558H

Examination of the assumed CCS-Class Battlecruiser has show that has an extremely modified design. Many of the weapon ports were closed off and replaced with sensors, and much of the lower decks were modified with large cargo holds. Current understanding is that this is the Covenant Science ship known as the Mercy and Betrayal, the ship that Sangheili diplomats have been requesting information on. 

Analysis of the ship's stern shows that it was disabled by a MAC round puncturing through the engine control sector. The cruiser is presumed to have tumbled into the atmosphere and crashed off the coast of Oregon, URNA. Data from the ships navigational systems show that the Shipmaster managed to steady the decent, only to tumble upside down just before landing. It is presumed that any surviving forces that were not killed on impact either suffocated or escaped and joined the Covenant forces over Seattle, on October 30. 2552.

We were also able to locate a functioning Data-hub located in one of the assumed laboratories amidship. Recovered documents show that it belonged to Covenant Scientist Naki 'Cimutee. Head of a Covenant Project, identified only as LEAU. While we were able to recover 70% of the hard data, only two of the project logs were not corrupted. 

Any attempts to recreate Project LEAU currently would be impossible as we would lack the Forerunner device necessary to synthesize needed chemicals and substances. We have Civilian Astrobiologist Mary Philips (CIN: 24680-044-MEP5834) looking through to see if there is a way around that limitation.

Will update you as things progress down here. Requesting that this location remain classified until further notice. 

Attached are the recovered log entries and data documents translated by local experts. 

/Attached File 1 of 3/

Post Examination Review [Ident: 1021355LEAU]
Encryption: 554VEla.Z
Auth:Special Operations Science Major Naki 'Cimutee. Operation Commander. Project Lead. [C-9]
Date of Log: Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle 047 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation
/May 18, 2552 (Military Calender)/
After a thorough examination of the Forerunner Device [Ident: 1021126LEAU] discovered on the unnamed tropical planet [Loc:55477-55411], I am sure that the Forerunner known simply as The Scientist must have been the best in her field. She managed to compact a structure as big as a Corvette into a wrist mounted device no bigger than my forearm. A truly impossible feat, even for the Gods and their technology.

In-depth scans detect miscible micro Slipspace envelopes and a variety of fluids of unknown composition inside the casing. Samples are in the progress of being extracted through careful means. As there is a slight probability that removing the outer casing would render the Device useless as some sort of anti-tampering feature. Since this is a one-of-a-kind piece of Technology, it would be extremely unfortunate if it were to cease function.

I have also moved away from disassembling the Device for fear of exposing myself, or others, to the Slipspace envelopes. Direct contact may have unforeseen consequences I would rather not experience. [IE: Death, Dismemberment, Permanent Blindness...Entire ship imploding from vacuum created by ruptured containment field...]

As our technology is heavily based off of the Forerunner's systems. We were, or should I say; it was able to take control of my data pad as an external interface. Possible evidence of an 'Ancilla' or Associated Intelligence guiding our efforts. 

It displayed the information needed to synthesize the proper chemicals and serums to prep a subject for use with the device. According to the data, it only needs to happen once, and subsequent users will be fine without the injections. [Perhaps just applying the serums and chemicals to the Device would be sufficient] 

I was advised to send the Device to the San Shyuum relic teams; however it is my discovery, and I will not be giving it up so easily. 

I do not yet know what the test would amount to. Subjects would supposedly be turned into a different species. However class lines and so-called honor would make finding appropriate volunteers difficult.

My suggestion would be to possibly capture a handful of Humans genetically compatible with the chemicals for the Device's initial test. I have forwarded the appropriate data to the Covenant Ministry of Science for review and approval of my plan for testing.

End Log. 


/Attached File 2 of 3/
Post Experiment Log [Ident: 1021376LEAU]
Encryption: 554VEla.Z
Auth:Special Operations Science Minor Zee 'Coal. Practicing Scientist. Medical Leason [C-5]
Date of Log: Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 097 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation 
/July 07, 2552 (Military Calender)/

Project Leau is an apparent success. 

The Device [Ident: 1021126LEAU] successfully transformed a Demon [Human], or Spartan as they call it, into a full Sangheili.

Blood analysis confirms 97.6% of DNA conversion. We expect remaining 2.4% to reduce to 0.7% within one solar cycle. Standard shipboard DNA slots found no trace of abnormal or contaminated Sangheili blood, as expected.

SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee recommends that Subject 01 remain under her observation for at least three solar cycles and to remain tethered to the Device in case its body rejects the conversion. I do not wish to be around if that happens.

Subject 01 has been under observation since its change. I can say though...he is very… attractive. The base Sangheili DNA only contained the information for the shape, supposedly the Device converted its Human features into that of a Sangheili. Perhaps we missed some in the scrubbing process? He does not appear similar to the donor though.

After five units, he awoke. Emotional suppressants appeared to have taken effect. Subject's reaction to the transformation was relatively minor.

Current video and audio monitoring has been disabled by SpecOps Science Major Cimutee... She is now going down to the cell to to see if the language transfer was a success without alerting the San Shyuum Priest, strange. I Will test to see if Imprint system was a success after 'Cimutee gets clear.

I believe SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee has already put this forward, but I recommend further physical examinations and blood tests in the following days.

Attached are the results of the first blood analysis and examinations.

End Log

/No attachments were found in the backup/ 

Press ENTER to open attachment 3 of 3 

LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 10 and 11
Date: 16 April 2016, 1:42 am

Part 10
The Storm

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 147 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [August 24, 2552: 0025]
DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

The Spirit settled into the cradle of anti-grav supports and opened its sides. Naki hopped off the door and onto the platform off the side. She hurried over to a waiting troop of Unggoy and retrieved a hover-cart for K`an. Ryau and Sig carried K`an out of the dropship and set him on the padded cart.

"I am, in all certainty, fine. It is merely a flesh wound." K`an pleaded.

"You can't walk, K`an..." Ryau sighed in annoyance. "You need to go to the medlab and get your leg set properly."

"It went through the bone, didn't it?" K`an chuckled, he was on painkillers, so it was unlikely that he felt anything.

"Yes it did!" Sig shot sharply. "You ought to be more careful."

"Hey, hey, hey… you alright, kid?" K`an looked over at Sig on the other side of the cart.

Sig's voice sounded hurt. "I won't be able to handle your loss of you too." Sig sighed. "It would crush me"

K`an gave him a strange look. "It's okay, Sig… I will have a mold of my erect genitals made up for you in case I perish in battle."

"Even in face of horrid injury, the classic K`an was still there somehow." Sig laughed nervously.

Ryau glanced at the two, and took a step away from the cart. It was extremely awkward. "Well... uh here's the medlab. Naki alerted them to our arrival." The small group of medical personnel were waiting just inside the doorway.

A pair of passing Majors glanced down at the SpecOps lance carting K`an towards the Medlab and gave a huff of distaste. Ryau remembered that most Sangheili believed medical attention was for the weak and dishonorable. Though the small booklet Ryau had been reading about the history of the state of Zelso mentioned that those that lived in the region did not believe the same.

As soon as they entered the medlab, the medical personnel took over and pulled K`an over to a station against the wall. They transferred K`an onto a bed and removed the gel pad that Ryau had fitted over the wound. They checked the leg out and discussed if surgery would be needed.

Sig walked over to K`an's bed, but Ryau remained by the doorway. A staff member walked over. "Excuse me, Major. There is someone in the waiting ward who wishes to speak with the three of you." She said.

Ryau shrugged. "I don't think that 'Retmaree has said anything against guests."

She walked off behind a doorway. The other personnel around K`an vacated the area, leaving only one attendant, who K`an was busy trying to get their contact information. A familiar Sangheili entered the room, D`rok had survived.

"How did the ground operation go without me?" D`rok asked as he walked to the end of K`an's bed. "And what happened to K`an?"

No one else responded, Sig and K`an didn't seem to notice D`rok had walked in. For a moment, Ryau feared that he was hallucinating for some reason, and that D`rok was indeed dead after all. Ryau pushed that thought out of his mind. "Well... It was not that bad. Considering that we all thought you were dead. K`an threw a Major named Sremm off an overpass." Ryau chuckled at that, Sremm had been an asshole. "But K`an got shot in the leg just a hour ago on a rooftop."

"Huh.. Sremm was on this op?" D`rok paused. "And pissed off K`an to the point of friendly fire? Absolutely glorious!" he chuckled.

"We picked him and a few others up at a crash site. Unfortunately, Sremm was the only one that we know survived. Well... he was alive after he hit the ground." Ryau said. "I hope Rtik got out." That last sentence was spoken in a whisper. Ryau felt a twinge of guilt for leaving the young Minor behind.

D`rok sighed, at that moment, Sig noticed the person speaking at the end of K`an's bed was their dead Lance leader. "D`rok!" Sig exclaimed.

D`rok turned and greeted the smaller Sangheili. "Hello, Sig!" Sig saw an opportunity and embraced him in a hug of sorts, a bit difficult to achieve wearing the armor they have. "Are you going to be okay?" D`rok asked.

Sig pulled away and went back to standing in a more professional manner. "Yes... sorry. K`an has sustained injuries." he said softly.

"I can see that." D`rok said.

Ryau pulled himself out the the conversation, he glanced down and pulled his data-pad out of his thigh pocket. Sangheili and Humans were very different, but very similar at the same time. This small squad, or lance as the Covenant called it, was another exception to the rule. They acted differently than most other Covenant forces Ryau had encountered so far. "They've all mentioned that they're from the Zelso area.. maybe that has something to do with it."He thought.

"How!?" K`an's screams brought Ryau's attention back to the others. "How do you do that!" K`an was waving his arms at D`rok and then to Ryau, as if he thought that Ryau could be any help in explaining the return of their leader. Ryau did not know either, just that he had returned earlier and no one else noticed, so he just shrugged, assuming that the gesture translated the same thought to a Sangheili. It seemed that it did, and K`an rubbed his face. "I..I cannot take this, ugh. I do not like ghosts."

The doors slid open and Ryau turned his head to see Naki walking into the medlab. She had a pack strapped to her orange armor, her helmet was also attached to her thigh by some kind of energy field. Her eyes went wide when she saw D`rok standing at the foot of K`an's bed. However she did not say a word as she slipped in beside Ryau. He smiled at her and she gave him a nudge with her shoulder.

"What happened?" K`an asked.

"Basically my phantom got hit, got redirected, and we crashed on the other side of the mountain range. Only myself and an Ultra survived." D`rok explained.

"You were that close to us?" K`an raised an eyeridge.

"I suppose so." D`rok shrugged himself, further confirming Ryau's assumption.

Out of nowhere, K`an switched his gaze to Naki. "Hey beautiful," he smiled.

"Shut up, K`an." Naki quickly shot back fiercely.

Ryau glanced over at K`an with a bit of annoyance on his face, though it seemed that was enough for D`rok to put his hand out to prevent Ryau from attacking K`an.

"Aww, that is harsh... What did I do wrong, my sweet doctor lady?" K`an teased.

"You can hit him if you wish..." D`rok told Naki. "However, be warned that he may like it." Ryau glanced over at K`an, who seemed to be grinning at the idea.

Naki shifted her footing and crossed her arms. "No, I'll just let him suffer." She smiled herself, just adding fuel to the fire.

K`an leaned back down in the bed and chuckled. "Damn it."

With that situation over, D`rok turned his attention back to Naki. "Hello once again, miss 'Cimutee. How are your endeavors?"

"They are going quite fine. I was actually coming here to collect Ryau." Naki paused with a slight sigh. "I have been requested at an excavation site by one of my former students. A SpecOps Science Major Alea 'Vinika."

K`an cut in from his bed. "Don't take Ryau for too long... Sig can hardly do without a male partner for a day."

Ryau rolled his eyes. While he was not interested in Sig that way, it was apparent that Sig was, and K`an's bantering made him seem oblivious, or just plain insulting.

"Please do be safe.." Sig said, he lowered his hand and he had trailed off as if there was something left to be said.

"We should only be gone for a few hours..." Naki said.

"Okay, good. I was just talking with the Shipmaster, and we are shipbound for the rest of this operation." D`rok explained.

"Understood, we should get going then." Naki nodded.

"Take care. Report back to me when you return." D`rok waved them off.

"Will do," Ryau said as they turned and hurried through the doorway. "So what are we going down to?" he asked as soon as the doors closed behind them.

"Well I'm not entirely sure. From what she sent up to me it appeared to be a cartographer. However it seemed a bit damaged." Naki said, walking through the corridor.

"A Forerunner cartographer? On Re- this planet?" Ryau censored himself. They were walking through a common hallway after all.

"It is not unusual, we already know of at least two Forerunner locations, there are bound to be more." Naki said. "They would not just place two structures in random places on the surface... though one does appear to be a crashed ship of some kind."

"Hmm. A bit of this is starting to come back to me." Ryau said. While he still had a good understanding of what will be occurring in the coming months, some of the exact details were lost to time.

"Yes, same here.. sort of a bit of San'la..." Naki said.

"What's San'la mean?" Ryau asked, he had not heard Naki use the phrase before, nor had it's meaning been programmed into his mind with the rest of the Sangheili language.

"Is our phrase for... um...Deja Vu." Naki said seemingly trying to recall long forgotten information. They reached the hangar, and she took him to a waiting Phantom. "It is a somewhat regional phrase. Probably why you don't automatically know what it meant."

"Makes sense." Ryau said. Naki stepped into the grav-lift and was whisked away into the interior of the dropship. Ryau followed her up and stepped into the secure point beside her. The Phantom was filled with cargo, and its markings were not that of the Leveling Strength.

"She sent one of her own Phantoms to collect us, diverting from a supply run. I told her that I could get transport to myself, but as she was a former student, she insisted on taking the burden of travel." Naki strapped herself in to the side of the craft.

Ryau did the same, latching the straps into the ports on his armor. "So, how long were you a teacher?"

The Phantom rumbled as it lifted off and accelerated out of the hangar. Naki glanced over at him. "Oh, seven solar cycles, it is somewhat of a requirement of scientists to participate in the guidance of the next generation. I had many great students, none as good as myself I might say," She boasted. "But the way of the Sangheili places military over knowledge and then knowledge in the hands of the San 'Shyuum. I guess it has always been diminishing, but the Ministry of Special Sciences' San 'Shyuum leadership has hardly been accepting new students."

"Probably the San 'Shyuum trying to consolidate the Science and Technology sectors back down." Ryau said. "Its probably has always been their main-"

The Phantom, that had been flying relatively smoothly for the past few minutes suddenly shook and nearly rolled. It's stasis fields activated and held them in, working in conjunction with the straps. "What's going on?" Naki shouted to the pilots.

"There is a large storm approaching the site. We are flying through the leading edge." The pilot responded.

"What is the course of the storm?" She asked.

"It appears to be on courses to strike the site head on., Major." the co-pilot said. "Its eye will pass directly over it."

"Of course it would." Naki brought her hand up to her face and rubbed her brow. "Ryau, we may be there for a bit longer than expected."

"Alright, well its nothing we have control over." Ryau said.

"Very true." Naki sighed.

The Phantom banked and slowed. "The landing pad is currently enduring heavy winds. We will not be able to remain stable for long. Go now."

Ryau unbuckled his harness and grabbed hold of a support strut as he stepped free. The dropship shook as the wind buffeted the side. The doors opened and rain blew inside. It was hard and cold, he could feel it through his body suit. Naki placed her helmet over her head and she hopped down to the pad below. Ryau followed her down and landed on the slick landing pad.

Ryau slid to a halt and looked around at the site. Waves crashed along the pier, raining down on the Human bodies that the earlier team had killed. This was only the leading edge of the storm, it was going to get worse. "Oh what have we gotten ourselves into..."Ryau thought. Being stranded on the surface of a planet that could get glassed at any moment was not something he wanted to be.

Up ahead was a large structure, the triangular logo of the Office of Naval Intelligence adorned the metal doors. They slid open as a Sangheili in green armor strode out into the storm.

She put her arm up to shield her face from the wind and rain. "Science Major Cimutee. It is an honor to see you again. I apologize for the weather, it was unexpected."

"Its fine, it is not like this is another weather control station Naki said.

"So you heard about that..." Alea muttered, "Quickly we need to get inside." Ryau glanced to Naki for some kind of explanation, but there she remained quiet.

Alea turned and headed through the doors, Ryau looked over to Naki and they both followed behind their guide. The door slid shut and sealed, the storm now a near silent rumble outside. The interior was dark, but lacked any apparent damage. It seemed that the Covenant had managed to take the installation fast enough that they either stopped the Humans outside or further into the facility.

Ryau followed Naki and Alea across the onyx walk way. Now that he was starting to remember more, he noticed that ONI architecture was like a dark mirror of Forerunner styles. Up ahead, there was the first sign of a struggle inside the building, the doors had been pried apart and red blood coated the floor on the other side.

"The Humans seemed to be unaware of our arrival at first. We were able to take this facility fairly quickly. As for when I learned of your arrival, it felt like the Gods were listening. It has been difficult to fully unlock the technology below this structure." Alea said.

"Well then lead the way, I will see what I can do." Naki replied.

"Yes, it is just down here." Alea lead Naki down a ramp.

Ryau followed them down, but snuck away down a corridor. His attempts to find communications equipment in New Alexandria had failed, but an ONI facility was bound to have some sort of hardlink system. The corridor was labeled Communications, and the lack of damage hinted that the system may still be online.

He entered a room, only to find that the systems console had been smashed. A dead ONI officer was slumped against the wall, he had died of a self inflicted gunshot wound. Ryau sighed and gave the body a pat down. There was a data pad in their front pocket. He took it out and glanced over it. The data-pad appeared to be in functioning condition. If he could find a working uplink in the server room, he could use the pad as an interface.

The door to the server room was just across the hall, he stuck his head out and made sure it was clear. He slipped across and entered the chilled room. Server stacks had been pulled out of the coolant and smashed, yet there was one in the back that had a single blinking light.

Ryau pulled the cord from the data-pad and inserted it into the open port. The screen flashed and an ONI prompt appeared. He made his way through the system, to where he used to file squad reports. If he had been reported MIA, then a report showing up in the old inbox would be an immediate red flag.

He glanced around to confirm he was alone, he activated the Data-pad's mic and began to speak.

"This is Sierra one-zero-two. Ident: five-five-Seven Beta Gamma zero. Emergency flash transmission. Captured on Standard IV by Covenant forces. Proceed to experiment with Device of unknown origin." He paused on how to word the fact that he had been turned into a Sangheili by the device. In the end, he decided to be blunt. "Device, now known to be Forerunner. Altered me physically and am now appearing to be a Covenant Elite. Currently engaged in deep cover with a Covenant SpecOps team. Cannot leave, being tracked. Location unknown. ONI facility on Reach." He had to pause again, he thought he heard something. However nothing else happened.

"If message received in time, and a recovery mission launched. Enemy troop estimates around two hundred. My appearance is a two-point-five meter Elite in black armor. There is a female Elite wearing orange ranger class armor who is sympathetic to Humans. Will assist us if she is captured. Am standin-"

The door to the server room opened and someone walked inside. Ryau shut off the data-pad and quickly grabbed the body of a Human, another self inflicted gunshot. He unclipped his Plasma rifle and fired once into the bullet hole and twice in the head, to hide that the body had been dead for hours. He tossed the body onto the ground and stepped back.

"What is going on in here?" A Sangheili Major asked, hurrying around a server stack with his own Plasma rifle drawn.

Ryau cleared his throat. "I found this vermin attempting to call for help." He gave the smoldering body a kick. "I think it may have gone through."

The Major glanced down at the body and then back to Ryau. "I have not seen you before, what unit are you with? I did not believe we had any of the SpecOps here."

"I came down with Science Major 'Cimutee. I heard a sound from this room while Science Major 'Vinika was taking us down to the artifact." Ryau explained.

"Hmm," the Major relaxed. "Excellent work Major, my warriors had thought this room clear. I will put them on alert for a counter attack." The Sangheili nodded to Ryau and left the room.

Ryau sighed and looked down at the pad. Message Sent flashed on the small screen. He figured that he should make his way back to Naki. He left the server room and followed the corridor down to where she had gone. Naki and Alea were waiting at a large door.

"There you are." Naki said. "Where did you go?"

"I had to take care of a security breach. A Human had survived the base assault." Ryau said.

Naki's mandibles formed a slight frown. "Well then, okay.... Alea carry on."

Alea pushed open the door and walked through. The corridor beyond was carved in the rock. They walked for a few minutes, the path slowly sloping downwards. The tunnel was not carved by Humans, it was too smooth and the small symbols etched into the walls were a dead give away that this was a Forerunner creation.

The tunnel emptied into a cave. Ryau glanced up and saw that the roof was actually an artificial cap. They were inside a bowl, or more accurately, an impact crater. In the middle of the crater, a Forerunner pod sat, leaning to the side. a single light on the top flashed like a strobe.

Naki walked around the structure, looking it over. She took out her data-pad and made a few notes on the pods general condition. "Okay, so let's see the inside."

Alea nodded and walked up to the structures door. "We know it is some kind of cartographer, though I am having a difficult time deciphering what it says. You should know I never fully understood the Forerunner written language." She looked away from Naki in embarrassment.

"Yes, 'Vinika, I do remember. I almost did not let you graduate for that," Naki said.

"Well I'm glad you did not." Alea said, still refusing to make eye contact with Naki. She tapped a button beside the door and it slid open. The three Sangheili walked into an open chamber. The ceiling danced with colored lights.

A holographic representation of Reach and the surrounding system was projected from the walls. If Ryau had a complete mouth, he would have whistled.

Naki nodded and paced around the outer ring of the hologram. She consulted a map on her data-pad and then tapped a slowly blinking point on the hologram. The point had various lines extending out into space and to a few other points on the planet. "We are here." When her finger passed through the point, it pulsed, and then a series of arrows started pointing north towards a new point that flashed brightly. "...and that is the ship that deployed this."

"A ship, are you sure?" Alea asked.

"I believe so, this pod appears to be an emergency beacon." She pointed to the lines that branched off into space. "These are the current communication lines that received the distress call. The text here does say that the ship crashed in this planet's northern hemisphere."

"We should alert the Fleetmaster at once!" Alea said. "A team needs to secure that area as soon as they can."

"Well, according to our most recent surface scans, the crash site is currently home to a human military installation. Which, as I last heard, is now under our control." Naki immediately had a map of the specific region on Reach projected from her data-pad.

"Then as soon as this storm clears, we will be on our way." Alea insisted. "I really need this discovery, I do not wish to be relieved of duty..."

"Yes, when the storm clears, I'll help you. So will Ryau." Naki said.

"Hmm? How can I help?" Ryau asked.

"You have a particular set of skills and knowledge that will help in navigating the Human installation." Naki nodded her head slightly, out of Alea's view.

"Ah, yes. That I do," Ryau smiled. "I'll be happy to assist."

"Well... Since the two of you will be staying, let me lead you to our quarters." Alea turned and walked back into the facility.

After four days of harsh weather, Ryau stood up in one of the ONI base's outer watch towers. The wind howled and rain pounded the roof. ONI had thought ahead and constructed an effective sea wall between the docks and the main entrance, it had kept the storm surge out for the time being. However, this was the back side of the storm, usually the roughest.

The pilots still refused to fly through the weather, so they remained grounded for now. Ryau had alerted D`rok of their situation, just so he didn't worry about them not returning on time. He continued to look out at the raging ocean, it was hard to believe that there was a planet destroying war going on beyond the horizon. If he remembered correctly, Reach would be lost in just a few more days.

Suddenly two flashes of light appeared in the distance, and a moment later, the sea wall exploded. Water flooded into the courtyard, sweeping away supply crates and Unggoy unfortunate enough to be in the way. Within a second, the courtyard was completely submerged. The main doors to the facility held the water back from flooding the interior, 

Four water craft sped inside the walls, turrets mounted on their rear opened fire on the other Covenant forces that had taken shelter on the catwalks. Ryau ducked behind the wall as a few bullets pinged off the ceiling. 

"The Humans are attacking!" Screamed an Unggoy moments before it was ripped to shreds. 

The boats pulled off to a clear section of catwalk and deployed Marines from a troop bay. Ryau wasn't sure if they were here because of his message or because ONI just wanted their facility back, but he was not going to stand by and find out if it was the latter. He grabbed his Needle rifle and hurried down the ramp into the building. An Ultra was down in the lobby organizing a response to the Human counterattack. Ryau ran passed into the the tunnels. 

"Major, where are you going?!" the Ultra shouted after him.

"My main priority is Science Major Cimutee!" Ryau called back. 

Water flowed down from some other breach in the facilities exterior, there was already nearly half a meter of water in this section. Ryau pressed through the water to the door that lead down to the artifact. He keyed it open, and allowed the water to flood the lower chambers. 

"Naki, Science Major 'Vinika. I need to get you two out of here now!" Ryau called.

The water level dropped and Naki looked up the ramp. "What's going on?" 

"The Humans are attempting to retake the facility." Ryau said. "I'm taking you to a Phantom. Get your data and get up here." 

There was a bit of a scramble from below, and Naki and Alea hurried upstairs. They each carried a crate, of what Ryau assumed was their data and materials. He motioned for them to follow him and headed for the landing zone. The pilots had secured their Phantoms on the back side of the facility, it should have been shielded from the storm surge and the Humans attack. The path to the landing pads took them over the main lobby with a window looking in.

Ryau could see that the Ultra was putting up a good fight against the Humans, but he had already lost too many of his forces. The bodies of Sangheili and Unggoy floated in the flooded lobby alongside the plasma singed corpses of the Marines. More Humans were dropped off by the landing craft, soon they would overwhelm this small Covenant science garrison. The door ahead slid open and allowed the wind and rain inside. The last place Ryau had seen a pilot was sleeping in the cockpit. He grabbed the crates from Naki and Alea, and tossed them into the troop bay of the nearest Phantom.

After pushing the two other Sangheili aboard, Ryau pulled himself into the belly of the ship. He hurried into the cock-pit and gave the sleeping pilot a kick. "Wake up, Pilot."

The sleeping Sangheili grumbled and shifted in the command chair. "By the Prophets, what do you want?"

"The facility is under attack, and you're sleeping." Ryau said, he was truly playing the part of a Sangheili very well. He had already spent nearly a month and a half as one and heavily embedded in their culture. The thought occurred to him that he had begun to act differently the moment he was changed. But he shoved that thought out of his mind, he had to concentrate on the moment at hand. "We're getting Science Major 'Vinika and Science Major 'Cimutee out of harm's way." 

The pilot sat up in the chair and looked at the view screens at the storm outside. "I apologize Major, but I can not take off in this weather." 

Ryau frowned and let out that bit of Sangheili anger. "Pilot, if you do not take off this instant, I will throw you out the hatch and fly this transport myself. You can die with the rest of the stubborn warriors down there." 

It seemed that his intimidation had worked. The pilot put up his hands, "I am sorry. I cannot take off immediately but I will begin preflight procedures. Give me five minutes." 

"Fine," Ryau nodded. "I'll go see if I can give the others some more time." He decided to even the tension he had created by placing his hand on the pilot's shoulder. Ryau turned and nodded to Naki before he dropped back out the grav-lift hatch.

Ryau was really headed back to check to see if the Marines were there to pick him up or just raiding the station. He hurried through the doors and looked down at the lobby. The Marines had managed to clear out the defenders, the body of the Ultra had joined those that floated in the back of the room.

The ground of the walkway began to rumble At the far end of the hall, the door opened to reveal a group of retreating survivors. Ryau waved them towards the door to the landing pads. "Phantoms are that way. Wake the pilots and prepare to move on." He avoided using the word retreat or evac, it really wasn't the Covenant way.

Ryau activated his radio connection to Naki. "I'm going to be a few minutes. Don't worry."

"What could you possibly need to do?" she replied.

"I just need to take care of something. Have to give the other Phantoms a chance to warm up." Ryau cut the comm link. He felt bad leaving Naki out of the loop, but he doubted she would be as open to his idea.  

He crept down the stairs, and found the water had filled the corridor up to his knee. It would be up to a Human's waist. Sloshing through the water, he hid behind the door to the lobby. "If I just walk out there, my shields should be able to hold for ten seconds if they shoot first…"

"Enemy contact!" A Marine shouted from behind him.

"Wait! Hold your fire. I..I think it's him." Another stammered.

Ryau slowly raised his hands above his head. "You're looking for Sierra-One-zero-two, correct?" He asked, switching back to his native English.

"Drop any weapons, and turn around slowly," one of the Marines ordered.

Keeping his hands above his head, Ryau pressed a button on his tactical pad and deactivated the magnetic clamps holding the guns to his back. He turned to face the Marines, they were armed with shotguns, he was lucky that they weren't going to kill him.

"Ugly son of a bitch, Sarge." another muttered.

"We were told there were two of you. Where's the other?" the Sergeant, named Goinard, asked.

"Up on the landing pads, with the rest of the Covenant forces that survived. If I'm getting pulled out, she might not be coming with." Ryau said.

"Don't know about that. The Spooks want to speak to you," Sergeant Goinard lowered his shotgun, and the others followed his lead. "They're waiting in the other room. Go on in."

Ryau let his arms down. "Alright, Sergeant." he turned and walked into the main lobby. The Marine squad followed him in.

There were at least two other Marine squads in the room, most standing out of the water on the raised platforms along the walls. There were two ONI Officers standing up on a platform in the corner, looking at something on a functioning wall console. They were dressed identically to the other Marines, except it was all painted black; typical for Spooks. As Ryau approached, they looked up towards him. As unusual as it was, the ONI Officers were wearing tags. The two that had come to meet him were a Captain Chiang, and Captain Smit.

"Sierra one-zero-two, reporting." Ryau said. "If I'm being pulled out we'll have to cut off a tracking device on my leg."

The two Officers looked him over. "Negative Spartan, we are not pulling you out. In fact, we want you to stay with them. Help assist an operation that is beginning in a few days." Captain Chiang said.

"If that is the case… Then I need to send a message to the Phantom waiting for me." Ryau said.

"Do what you need to." Smit answered and pulled out a data-pad.

"Just a moment." Ryau nodded and reactivated his radio. He cleared his throat and switched back to Sangheili "The Humans are headed to the landing pads with rockets, take off now! I will try and sneak out the back of the facility. Head inland and wait for me there."

"Understood Major! Moving to a hiding pattern. Come quickly, we cannot hold for long." The reply came immediately, the pilot must have bought the fake urgency in his voice.

"Holy shit, what did the bastard say?" One of the Marines, Corporal Guo, shouted, instantly they all had their weapons on him again.

"Stand down Sergeant, all he did was send the Phantoms away." Captain Smit said, having read the translation on his data-pad. "He spoke flawless Covenant, amazing," he muttered to himself. "Colonel Hartford is going to love this."

Once again, they lowered their weapons. "So he's really one of ours?" Corporal Guo asked.

"He is," Captain Chiang said. "That's all you need to know."

There was a general murmur of the word Spartan from among the Marines. Captain Smit pulled what looked to be a Covenant equipment case out of his pack. "This contains a small transmitter you can use to send periodic updates and has a homing function form when the operation launches."

"Is it possible for it to remain offline and not receive or broadcast at all? The Covenant are very good at tracking our transmissions." Ryau asked.

"Yes. It will remain inert unless you activate it." He said.

Ryau took the case and attached it to his back. "Understood, what's the time frame for the Op?"

"Operation Red Flag launches in the next few days. So tomorrow at oh-five-hundred hours make sure to be in a position to receive information over the comm device." Chiang said.

"Got it. Anything else?" Ryau expected them to be very interested in how he became what he was now. Their apparent lack of interest was confusing.

"The Scientist that was supposed to speak to you didn't survive the trip over. Give us a moment to communicate with command." That answered Ryau's internal question nicely.

"Uhm, alright." Ryau shrugged and sloshed through the water to where the Marines waited. "Sergeant, I'd like to thank you for not immediately shooting me."

"Not a problem… Spartan. We were under orders after all." Goinard nodded.

"Now, avoiding any classified information… You got anything cool in that armor?" one of the other Marines blurted out.

Ryau looked over his armor, "I didn't get rid of all my weapons…" He activated the energy daggers on both of his hands which hissed upon contact with the water.

A few of the Marines jumped back in surprise. "Damn, that's fuckin' cool. Think we can get some of those?!" Corporal Guo shouted over to the ONI Spooks on the other side of the lobby.

"We are working on imitating their weapons, but we are still a long way off." Smit replied.

"Damn, those things would cut through Grunts and Elite shields instantly, probably." The Corporal shrugged.

Ryau looked down at his wrists and detached one of the small metal attachments. "Think he could keep it, sir?"

Smit looked up, and then over to Chiang. The two Spooks conversed in a hushed tone, then Smit looked back over. "We will have to look it over, but we suppose we didn't see anything."

Ryau tossed it to the Corporal. Guo caught it and turned it over in his hands. "Thanks, sir. And friendly Spooks, howboutthat."

Another Marine, which had been standing in the back, stepped forward. "What are they like.... like... on a personal level?" Corporal Dijk asked.

"What do you mean, Corporal?" Ryau asked.

"Well... What are they like when they are not fighting?" He clarified.

"Honestly?" Ryau said. "They're not that different than us. Their soldiers are stuck up assholes. If we weren't at war I would say we could have been allies."

That got a laugh from the Marines. "Huh… Well what do their ladies look like?" Dijk asked.

"Not much different from the males, especially when wearing armor. You may have seen one before." Ryau joked.

"Oh! Have you gotten any yet?" Guo questioned. The other Marines looked among one another and laughed again.

"No, not at all. Though if you're interested in that, there's a guy I think you should meet. When we win the war that is." Ryau nodded, thinking of K`an. He wasn't sure if these Marines would survive the fall of Reach, but Ryau hopped so.

Before the Marines could continue to ask their random questions, Captain Chiang called over to Ryau. "Spartan. Command wants you outbound ASAP, we'll have to get an interview as soon as Operation Red Flag is complete. Sergeant Goinard, will you and your Marines escort him to the exit?"

"Affirmative, sir." The Sergeant said. "Spartan, if you'll follow me." Sergeant Goinard waved his arm towards the door and started off down a corridor. Ryau turned and followed the Marines through the flooded base. They finally left the water and walked up to a dry floor.

Before Ryau left, Corporal Guo stopped them and pulled a camera out from a pocket on his boot. "Hey, I want to get a picture of this. No one is gonna believe us."

Sergeant Goinard glanced back down the hallway and shut the door between them and the staircase. "Alright, I want a copy of this. Fall in if you want a copy."

The Marines glanced around at each other and then moved around Ryau. He was in the middle and Guo quickly placed his camera on the ledge before moving back into the group. Ryau didn't know what to do, so he stuck both fingers up in the air in an attempt at the age old 'peace' sign. The camera flashed and imitated the click of a shutter.

"Alright, I need to run. Maybe I'll see you all again someday." Ryau said. "Post the image in the net, when the war is over."

"Likewise, Spartan." Sergeant Goinard said. "Good luck undercover."

Ryau headed out, past the Marines' nods and into the storm. The land outside the facility was mostly forest, he hurried in a half crouch down a muddy service road that ran parallel to the perimeter fence. He activated his radio once again. "I made it out. I'm approaching the clearing above the artifact. Meet me there."

There was silence for a moment on the other end. Then the Phantom flew low over the trees above him. "I read you, Major. The clearing should shelter us from the storm. Setting down now." The pilot responded. 

Before he reached the clearing, Ryau knelt down and covered the upper part of his armor in mud. He had to make it seem like he had been running from the Humans. Ryau entered the clearing and waved at the Phantom. It flashed its searchlight and activated the grav-lift. He ran up and let the lift pull him in. Ryau dropped to his feet in the troop bay and pretended to be slightly out of breath.

"Are you okay?" Naki asked, with a bit of worry in her voice.

"Yes, I'm fine… just had to out run a squad of Ma- Humans with their shotguns." Ryau leaned against a supply crate.

"By the Prophets, I am surprised you survived." Alea said.

"Most definitely." Naki added. "Those weapons can tear through our shield systems."

"Well, anyway now that you are aboard, we can go north to that Forerunner site. Pilot, make it so." Alea commanded.

The pilot huffed in response, and the Phantom pulled up in an attempt to fly over the storm. The flight was rough, but Ryau made it into a harness. "Where did the other Phantoms go?" he asked.

"They returned to their ships. Alea wants to check out the other site before we do the same, it's a half day flight from here." Naki sighed. "Though I am glad you're alright."

"Thanks… It was a close call." Ryau lied. "This is mostly over the ocean correct?"

"Yes it is, thinking of getting some rest in this moment of ease?" Naki asked.

"Of course." Ryau leaned back and strapped into the crash seat. "Wake me when we get there. I could probably sleep for a while." Naki nodded in agreement and Ryau closed his eyes.

Ryau was shaken awake many hours later by the Phantom suddenly dropping altitude. "What's going on?" He asked.

"We just started to approach the area, but we were hit by some kind of shockwave." The Pilot called from the cock-pit.

Ryau sat up and looked over to Naki. She and Alea were standing over a portable console, looking at a camera feed from the main turret. "We should be able to see it by now." Naki said.

"But there is nothing there." Alea said. The Phantom started to circle around a newly formed crater in the ice shelf. Steam and smoke billowed out of the cracks. "It should be directly… below us…" Alea's voice was filled with defeat.

"It seems the Humans beat us to it." Naki said. "They have destroyed the site. I'm sorry Alea, I know you needed this." Naki placed her arm on Alea's shoulder. "Come back to the Leveling Strength instead of your ship. It will be nice to have another member of the Ministry on board."

"Hmm…" Alea looked off at the sky beyond the crater. "I think I will take you up on that offer. I have no personal effects onboard the other ship. Let us go, now," she said.

"Pilot, return us to the Leveling Strength immediately," Ryau spoke up.

"Understood… Major." He responded from the cock-pit.

The Phantom settled in one of the Hangars of the carrier and the pilot shut off its engines. Ryau sighed and hopped out onto the flight deck. He helped down Naki and Alea, who instructed a group of Unggoy on where the cargo would need to go.

"Ryau, go wash yourself down. You've been covered in mud for nearly a day." Naki said. 

"Well… will do," Ryau laughed. "Meet you at your cabin when I'm done." 

Ryau left the two females and walked to the nearest armor cleaning station. It was a glorified shower, but to wash down before a warrior removes their gear, He stepped inside the small stall and activated the water. It was cold and gritty, with some sort of polishing additive to the water.

He scrubbed the dried mud and leaves of his combat harness, careful not to get the water on his face. It wasn't the best design for cleaning, but it made sense if they didn't want to get blood and gore into the more populated parts of the vessel.

With his armor looking pristine once again, Ryau dried off and stepped out. The cleaning bay was empty, and Ryau threw the towel into a receptacle. Zeik had shown him the bay after he had gotten his armor nearly two months ago. Ryau wondered how the Ultra was doing, if he was located on Reach or had stayed behind with the first ship Ryau had been aboard.

As soon as he left the room, the ship's speakers chimed. "Attention Warriors. We are leaving orbit in pursuit of a Human vessel. Prepare for immediate slipspace maneuvers."

Ryau hurried down the hallway towards Naki's quarters, only to duck through a service hatch by the outer hull of the ship. Hopefully, if the Covenant were able to track the transmission, he hoped they would assume it was a passing piece of debris. He popped open the small storage compartment on his back and pulled the transmitter out.

The small device flicked on and received a single data packet before shutting it's transmitter off. The data packet was an audio message, he made sure the volume was down before pressing play.

"Emergency Flash transmission. Operation Red Flag aborted do to Covenant threat. All forces are to redirect to the defense of Reach."

"Goddammit... I should have known this would happen." Ryau shut off the device and placed it inside of an Unggoy cargo container. The box appeared to have come up from the surface, judging on the dirt marks on the bottom. If they had managed to track that quick burst to the inside of the ship, he didn't want to be caught with it and he hoped that they would believe it was smuggled aboard some other way.

Now that the operation was canceled, he no longer had orders from ONI. He was back to just maintaining his new life. Ryau sighed and decided to go to the Far Beyond Provocation lance room instead of Naki's cabin, he should probably check in with them first. Ryau was left wondering where this ship will take him next.

Part 11
A Somber Lull

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 151 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [August 30, 2552: 0646]
DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau walked down the corridor and sighed. The ship beneath him rumbled as it left the system. He reached out and grabbed a wall strut to steady himself. He was halfway to the Lance room, but a sudden thought crossed his mind. The planet he had been trained on, spent many years of his life, the people he had worked with, had all just been reduced to glass.

He had been trained to deal with emotional trauma when he was young, but his world getting turned upside down when he found out Naki was Michelle completely messed with his mind. All that training went out the window. Lost memories had returned and brought the repressed emotions and urges back from the depth of his body.

Those Marines he met on Reach were probably dead now, as well.

Ryau slowly walked down the corridor of the Carrier, wandering the halls until he found what he was looking for. The doors parted into the large open chamber and Ryau looked around. The room was dimly lit and he followed the carpeted path. Objects of Forerunner origin floated on pedestals every few meters and a multitude of hanging fabrics muted the usual open repercussions of the hangar like space. Members of the Covenant were hunched over in prayer to their Gods.

He came to a stop in front of a mural, it was a visual rendition of the war between the San 'Shyuum and the Sangheili. A visual history of the Covenant. Ryau sighed and looked down at the floor.

"Are you alright, brother?" Someone asked beside him.

Ryau glanced up, a Sangheili Major was standing nearby, looking up at the mural. "I believe so..." he trailed off.

"Are you sure?" The Major asked.

"I...I think everyone I know may have just died on that planet." Ryau looked down again.

"Oh.. might you have a seat?" The Major turned and waved his hand over to the benches that ran parallel to the carpeted walkway. Ryau nodded slowly and took a seat, the Major sat to his left. The Major took a breath. "Friends...Friends will always be lost in military engagement... as much as it is horrible to deal with, it is just another factor that one must come to peace with.

"I know... but.. everyone I trained with..." Ryau paused and thought up some sort of lie. "Their ship was destroyed before we left."

"I am sorry to hear that, would you like to talk about it?" the Major asked.

"...There isn't much I can talk about," Ryau got quiet. "I never really considered the thought that they'd all die."

The Major turned his head. "Is your faith being challenged?"

"No... it's just that.. I don't know."

The Major seemed very persistent on helping Ryau. "Do you have any questions?"

"What do we say, what happens to those who die?" Ryau asked.

"Before the Great Journey... those that fall wait until the divine wind guides them to the path with all others that believe. Until then, they remain in limbo. As that is what is taught by the hierarchs."

"I just don't know what to think." Ryau said. He knew that was meant for the Covenant soldiers, and that they didn't believe in the Humans getting the same treatment. Before the Major could continue talking, he shushed himself and nodded up to a female Sangheili that had just stepped onto the platform.

She was a priestess, dressed in hanging fabrics and clothes. She spoke about the history of the Covenant, and the basis of the Great Journey. Ryau recognized a lot of it from what the Unggoy Deacon had said when Ryau had first been captured.

The priestess clasped her hands together. "Thousands of solar cycles ago, the Sangheili and the San 'Shyuum revered the Holy Forerunners, yet as each he their own beliefs of what was sacred and what was not. When our great races met, we clashed and through battle, we Sangheili saw the true light.

The Gods left behind their technology as gifts for their followers. As aids for us to follow their righteous footsteps and transcend into paradise. Not objects to remain in temples, untouched. We Sangheili, and the San 'Shyuum united and formed the Covenant. With the Gods watching above, the ancient words of the Writ of Union were written to combine our great races.

Though as all know, we are not the only kind in the Covenant. Centuries ago The Gods lead us to another group of believers. the Kig-Yar, the Unggoy, and Jiralhanae were brought into our holy empire with the Gods blessing. We all work together to find the path to glorious salvation.

The Great Journeys holy path is windy and full of challenges. The Humans, a species that has fallen too far from the path to be saved, are one such challenge. So with heavy hearts the Hierarchs ordered them cleansed." She stopped and stepped away from the podium. "The path has many temptations and methods to walk... How many of you have come here for the first time?"

Ryau didn't feel like calling himself out, so he kept his arms down. However a few other Sangheili did lift their hand into the air. The priestess nodded, "There is a point in everyone's life where they have not quite experienced their driving force behind their own personal Journey. So, anyone who raised their hand, please come up to the platform."

The handful of species stood and slowly made their way onto the stage below the mural. They spoke together in hushed voices, Ryau couldn't hear what they were saying from where he was, but it was over quickly. In closing, she gave a prayer for all others that have yet to fully experience the enlightenment of the Great Journey to find their personal paths soon.

Ryau sighed as the event wrapped up. He knew that most of the Covenant religion had been formed from a miss-understanding of Forerunner inscriptions and protocol, but there were parts that were adapted from older Sangheili religion, which may have some truth somewhere.

Ryau stood quickly and waved to the Major. "I need to get going... farewell."

"Goodbye, brother. I will see you around here again," he replied.

Ryau hurried out of the room and into the corridors. All that talk of religion and belief was unsettling and made him feel uneasy. He figured he should go to the Lance room where D`rok and the others were, Ryau could probably get some sleep there.

Before he had even reached the next corridor intersection, Sig appeared. "By the Gods! Ryau, There you are!" He was seemingly upset about something.

Ryau stopped walking. "Huh? What is it, Sig?"

Sig sighed. "I need your help, Ryau. K`an has gone out drinking, and he shouldn't. I tried to stop him, but he wouldn't listen!"

"Why shouldn't he?" Ryau asked, as far as he knew, a broken bone didn't prevent someone from drinking if they wanted.

"He was just shot recently! His leg has hardly been set and he demanded a hover chair from the nurse and left!"

Ryau sighed. "Where is he now?"

"He is headed for the bar in the nose of the ship. I believe it is on deck seven." Sig said.

"Alright then, I'll go talk to him." Ryau said, and started walking towards the bow.

"Will you need assistance, Ryau?" Sig began to follow.

Ryau put his hand up and stopped Sig. "No, I can handle this."

"Okay, good luck Ryau." Sig said, he sighed and walked back towards the Lance room.

Ryau found his way through the bowels of the ship thanks to the gravity conveyor. It dropped him off at the intersection of two major corridors. Since he didn't think K`an's hover chair would be able to take the lift system, he should be coming down one of these two halls. Sure enough, after a few minutes had passed, along came K`an in his mobile chair. Ryau stepped out from the wall and stopped him.

"K`an," Ryau said.

He hovered to a stop. "Hello Ryau... are you here to stop me as Sig tried?"

"Well, Sig did tell me to try," Ryau said. "But I'm not." He walked behind K`an's hover chair and began to push it in the direction of the tavern.

K`an just shook his head and resumed hovering forward. "You may have not noticed this, but Sig worries way too much. I mean... really... I am fifty-two solar cycles old! I can go to the bar whenever I wish."

"I don't know why he thinks that going to the bar is a bad idea," Ryau said. "But, I know for a fact that I could use a drink" They came to the entrance to the tavern. The large door slid open to a fairly stereotypical scene, bar table in the center, and various chairs around the room.

"Well it has something to do with the 'recovery' process. And about how 'The alcohol will mess with the bones as they fix back together' as he says. but whatever... I've broken bones plenty of times and no alcohol has ever stopped them from healing."

"Is that what the nurse says? I doubt Sig has medical training," Ryau asked.

"I don't know what she thinks... but I'll ask her later when I get back to the hospital room." K`an wiggled his eye ridges. Ryau chuckled and pushed K`an up to the counter. He took a seat beside him. K`an sighed and looked down. Suddenly he laughed, "I guess I owe you a drink."

"So you say" Ryau nodded.

"Well I do, do I not?" K`an glanced over to Ryau.

"I think so"

"Is it my choice?" K`an asked, a smirk slowly appearing on his face.

Ryau nodded again, "If you think that's fair." He sighed, he was doing plenty of nodding today.

"Of course." K`an chuckled very slightly. "And you'll drink it?"

Ryau paused for a moment to contemplate if that was really a good idea, but then he decided to go against his better judgment. "Sure."

K`an immediately waved the bartender over. The older male walked over. His crimson armor denoted that he was a Major, this was probably his job aboard the ship. "Give us two 'Pelt Burners' please," K`an asked.

The tender nodded and walked over to his work station to craft the beverages. Ryau heard the name and became worried, "Oh God, what's this going to be..."

K`an let out a hearty laugh. "Don't worry, Ryau... You'll be fine. Just remember; you drink with me, you drink for keeps!" The bartender returned with two cloudy red drinks. He set the relatively smaller glasses in front of K`an and Ryau. "Have you ever drank a Pelt burner before?"

Ryau gulped quietly. "No, I haven't."

"Heh," K`an scoffed. "Do you know what they are?"

"No, not at all." Ryau said.

He smiled and sat back in his chair, as if it would help recall the story. "Well... most don't really know why they are named as such, however I am a well versed connoisseur of alcoholic crafts." He reached for the drink and uses his other hand to showcase the red concoction. "A 'Pelt Burner' was the end result of a surprisingly non violent argument between two Sangheili and Jiralhanae brewing companies... Long story short, the Jiralhanae said that the Sangheili could never make stronger alcohol than they could... and after many rounds back in forth... this was created.

It was a drink to completely trump the apes, it was made so well and so strong that the Jiralhanae judges couldn't handle it. It churned them harsher than anything they could make by far, and claimed defeat. That is, one hundred percent, truth and history. Look it up" K`an handed Ryau the other glass. "Now lets drink."

"Is this the kind of drink that you take down all at once, or a little at a time?" Ryau asked.

"For your throat's sake, down it." K`an said.

"Well... here it goes." Ryau held the cup up to his throat, paused for a moment, and then poured it down. The alcohol burned as it traveled down to the stomach. Ryau gagged and coughed, but managed to set the glass back on the bar.

K`an slammed his glass on to the counter. "Yeah!" He laughed. "What do you think, Ryau?"

Ryau coughed again and held the drink down in his stomach. "It really does burn."

He chuckled. "We don't have to have another round." The tender returned to check in on them, and K`an held up his hand. "Something lighter, please.... For what it's worth, Ryau. Tonight's on me, enjoy yourself, alright?"

Ryau sighed, exactly what he needed to do, "Thanks."

"Well... what were you up to before Sig found you?" K`an asked. The tender returned with another set of glasses with a lighter, more pleasant smelling drink.

"I was... in the worship room." Ryau said quietly. He took a glass and a sip of the new liquor.

"Oh?" K`an asked, interested.

"A priest was giving some sort of sermon..." Ryau began.

"Oh, spare me the details." He interrupted Ryau, waving his hand. "I'm not much for the whole 'worship and sermon' stuffing that is involved with the Covenant. It just always kind of bothered me that there seems like there is no freedom for anything else... it's just like..." K`an began to speak in a mocking authoritative tone. "If you feel the need to stomp on our religion, let it be known that you may do so in the privacy of your home, but if you say that shit in public, we'll kill you." He shook his head. "No thank you."

"Hey..." Ryau chuckled. "That's pretty much what they say."

K`an looked around at the other patrons in the bar. "Come on... let's go to the booth in the corner... talk like this shouldn't be so open."

"Hmm... agreed." Ryau said. The two gathered their drinks and moved to a booth in the back corner where they would have more privacy for their slightly heretical conversations..

Twenty days had passed since Reach fell, and Ryau walked with Naki through the corridors of the Leveling Strength. He had been keeping track of how long he had been 'captured by the Covenant, and there was something about the current date that had Ryau thinking. "September nineteenth... Why does the nineteenth feel so important in my head."

He just couldn't place his finger on the source of the importance. Sure, it was D`rok's wedding day, but that would not make him feel like he was missing something. "Naki... does the date September nineteenth, ring any bells?" He asked.

Naki stopped her stride and looked over to him, with a confused expression on her face. "I... I don't know. Something in the back of my head..."

"Same with me. Hopefully something will jog our memory." Ryau sighed.

Over the last week and a half he hadn't seen much of D`rok as he was with his future wife, and Ryau and Sig had battled it out in a holographic strategy game. Though, in that short amount of time, K`an had managed to get with half the females in the medical ward, and Ryau was pretty sure that Alea had been hanging out with him whenever she wasn't working with Naki.

K`an and Sig were already at the wedding area, them being long time friends with D`rok. Ryau and Naki were invited as crowd patrons. The two had gotten their armor polished just before the day, and Ryau thought it was even cleaner than the day he had first seen it in the cell.

The news that D`rok was getting married had spread throughout the fleet, thanks to slipspace communication, something Ryau knew Humans had yet to achieve. Although it was still impossible to travel between ships while they were in the other dimension, the wedding would be broadcasted to the other ships as some kind of entertainment.

Ryau and Naki entered the auditorium and found their way to the seats that had been assigned to them. Since there were so many attendees, everyone that said they were coming got a seat. They took their seats as the ceremony began.

A San 'Shyuum was standing at the center of the stage, waiting for the others two parties to arrive. After a moment, K`an and Sig walked out in front of D`rok. They walked up to the San 'Shyuum and the two Major's moved to flank the Officer. D`rok and the San 'Shyuum shared a nod. "The alter now welcomes Special Operations Officer D`rok Tallaham." The San Shyuum said. "And now I invite M`riana 'Casmee to the altar."

Ryau looked to the other side, as the door slid open. D`rok's future wife came out with her companions. Her bronze armor shone brightly in the lighting of the amphitheater. She took her position and her escorts moved back to their positions on either side, mirroring K`an and Sig.

"Welcome. Sir and Miss." The San 'Shyuum bowed to the two. "Let us begin." He nodded towards the crowd, and began. "A millennium ago, two races from different worlds were in a great feud. But within time, they united and formed a writ of union... Now... today, we celebrated two Sangheili of different keeps to form their own writ of union, a bond of blood and love. 'Tallaham, born of un-unionized Sanghelios territory and by hail of the State of Zelso; and 'Casmee, born of the State of Vadam and by hail of the State of Zelso... Today, the two have chosen to unite their keeps under one name." He paused to smile to the two. "Tallaham? Would you care to share how you two met?" He glanced towards D`rok.

"The two of us came to know each other about two months ago just outside of the Varo-Cleavete Spaceport. I was driving home when I found this lovely female struggling with her luggage on the side of the road. I kindly stopped and offered the service of my vehicle as transportation." D`rok chuckled to himself. "And... we almost got to her residence when the main road was rendered unusable due to a storm. We decided to just stay at my place of rest until I could take her home. The rest is... just childish love and happiness... and no one really wants those details." He laughed, which triggered laughing in the audience.

"Very well..." The San Shyuum continued on with the sermon. "These two have chosen to unite two families in a sacred bond, to walk the sacred path together and go as one onto the Great Journey... D`rok 'Tallaham and M`riana 'Casmee, one, together for eternity. We are gathered here to celebrate their commitment to each other. 'Tallaham, do you take 'Casmee to be your wife?"

D`rok smiled. "Yes."

"And 'Casmee, do you take 'Tallaham to be your husband?" The San 'Shyuum asked.

"Yes I do," She smiled happily.

The priest nodded towards K`an and one of M`riana's escorts. The two stepped forward and offered the two each a small box, with gifts for one another. D`rok took the box from K`an and removed a gold necklace from inside. He carefully placed it around M`riana's neck. She returned the gesture and slowly placed a ring on one of D`rok's fingers.

The San 'Shyuum smiled, and began his closing words. "Now let the two be one." And at that moment, D`rok and M`riana kissed, by what Ryau could guess was locking their jaws together. The crowd clapped and cheered. Alcoholic drinks were handed out from the back and slowly made their way foreword.

Ryau got a glass and passed one to Naki, she smiled and accepted the glass. She took a drink. "You know, this is the the first wedding I've been to as well." Naki said.

"It's a nice ceremony," Ryau said, taking a drink himself. "Once this war is over, we-"

A shot from a Carbine sounded from the stage, followed by by a barrage of more. Ryau turned and saw D`rok on the ground and one of M`riana's escorts with a Carbine, firing on K`an. Another sound opened up as Sig returned fire. It seemed that everyone had still had weapons on them, must have been some kind ceremonial thing, Ryau only had the energy blades on his wrists. He pushed his way through the crowd.

Naki was caught up behind as gunfire erupted from the fringe of the audience. She pulled her Plasma rifle off her hip and fired back. "Ryau, where are you going?" She shouted.

"I have to go help D`rok!" Ryau activated his energy blade and stabbed a bronze armored Sangheili that had begun to fire on Sig from the base of the stage. His blade cut through their neck and they dropped to the floor. Ryau pulled himself up onto the stage, but suddenly there was a rumble from the back end of the ship.

There was a defining wash of static and the ship groaned. Ryau froze, it sounded like a sudden deceleration from slipspace. First came the rumble, then the continued momentum. The ship stopped, and the internal dampeners did everything they could to help, but Ryau was sent sailing across the polished floor.

Ryau slammed into K`an, knocking him away from his support. The two Sangheili slid towards the edge of the stage, and not a moment later, they fell off. K`an landed first, falling into what would stand as an orchestra pit. Ryau went over a millisecond later, landing on top of K`an.

There was a loud crack as K`an's brace broke under Ryau's weight. He screamed and Ryau rolled off as fast as he could. Ryau knelt down to check on K`an's injuries, only K`an growled and slammed his fist into Ryau's unarmored side. "You stupid motherfucker!" K`an screamed in Ryau's ear.

Ryau coughed at the blow, "What the hell, K`an." He placed his hand on the ground to take the weight off his midsection.

Sig and Naki both dropped down from the stage to join K`an and Ryau. The shooting had stopped right before the ship decelerated. "Are you two alright?" Naki asked, catching her breath.

"No I'm not fucking alright! My fucking leg is broke thanks to that fucking fat ass!" K`an shouted through the pain as he pointed to Ryau. "What kind of stupid fucking question is that?!"

Naki knelt by Ryau. "Ryau, what happened to you? Did you get hit?" She asked.

Ryau shook his head, "No, I'm fine. Just gotta catch my breath."

"Naki, Ryau! Help me with his leg!" Sig said from beside K`an. Ryau moved over and held K`an's leg steady as Naki used her own wrist blade to slice through the useless brace. K`an grunted while she removed the torn plastic and metal from around the wound. Sig gave K`an a dose of painkiller just above the broken bone. "Okay, help me rest the leg."

"What!?" K`an protested.

Sig held K`an as Ryau took hold of the leg. With a few quick pulls and jerks, Ryau had managed to get the bone back into place as best he could. K`an growled and clenched his mandibles from the pain, he relaxed when Ryau and Naki moved away.

"What just happened?" Ryau sat against the edge of the stage and slid down onto the floor.

"I don't exactly know." Naki sighed, and joined him. She placed her hand up to her head as if she was listening to the radio. After a few moments. she seemed to have a better understanding. "It was like the whole wedding was just a ploy, after the explosion M`riana and the others fled the chamber. Commander 'Vadumee and the Shipmaster have organized a ship wide search." A silver armored Sangheili dropped down from the stage and began to talk to Sig. "Well, there is Commander 'Vadumee now." Naki said.

"We dropped out of slipspace didn't we?" Ryau asked.

"Yes, thankfully they only sabotaged the drives power supply. The Huragok's are already working on it, though it will take some time for it to warm back up," Naki said. "The fleet continued on without us."

"I knew it felt like an emergency drop out. They've probably left the ship by now." Ryau suggested. "Do we have any slipspace capable small ships?"

"Yes... we do. The search party probably won't find any of them then." Naki commented.

The two had been ignoring what Commander 'Vadumee and Sig had been talking about, until Ryau heard his last name dropped in conversation. "...persuasion towards 'Cinotee, 'Cimutee, and yourself to take him back to your barracks. I would give aid to the task however I am currently required here." He said.

Ryau glanced over to the other group of Sangheili, "What of K`an?" Sig asked.

"A much as it would please me to have him spaced, I will bite thy tongue and make sure that he gets his medical attention." 'Vadumee shook his head slightly.

Naki sighed. "I'll stay with him until the medical team arrives."

"Ooh, I get to stay and flirt with the lady!" K`an joked. Naki responded silently and slowly pressed her boot onto K`an's leg with a smirk. Ryau looked to Naki and chuckled.

"Very well." Sig looked down to K`an while ignoring Naki's retaliation. "I will come visit you after D`rok has come too, alright?"

"Yeah, yeah. You should be there anyway. We wouldn't want him to cry too much, would we?" K`an waved them all off. Naki rolled her eyes as K`an wiggled his eye ridges as he passed an intoxicated smirk towards her.

As the group began to disperse, Ryau pulled himself onto the stage and reached back to help Sig up. They pulled D`rok off the ground and took him out of the auditorium. As they passed other Sangheili, they offered condolences to the unconscious figure. They had made it halfway to the Lance room before Sig decided to speak.

"I still have no idea what really happened. It was so quick.." Sig said. "What did you see?"

"Not much at first, Naki and I had just received our drinks when the shooting started. Out of the corner of my eye, she seemed to shove something underneath his chest piece... that's it," Ryau said.

"What after that though? Like, where did all the other militants come from?" Sig asked.

"They were with her..." Ryau said. "...like her bridal escorts and some of the crowd were responsible for the attack."

Sig sighed and looked down at the passing floor plates. "Well... what do you think the motive is though? Why would they do this today, to D`rok?"

"I don't know," Ryau admitted with a grumble. He didn't understand who the militants were supposed to be. They could possibly be Covenant Heretics, but why would they group on a ship and then sabotage a wedding.

"Okay then. Let's get him back to the barracks and then you may return to the amphitheater, if you wish," Sig offered.

"There isn't really a need to go back." Ryau shrugged.

Sig perked up. "Well I would love to actually have another male to talk to..." He paused to readjust his grip on D`rok.

Ryau's train of thought stopped, he didn't want to get into another session of long conversation with Sig. Just a few days ago, Sig had tried to inquire about Ryau's 'preferences.' While Ryau had nothing against Sig, he didn't like him that way. "Wait... Naki is back there, and I should probably apologize to K`an."

Sig gave a quick but saddened nod. "Yeah... you're right."

They finally reached the Lance room and carefully set D`rok in the cot closest to the door. Ryau and Sig used the quick release on the chest plate and removed all his armor above the waist. With a final nod, Ryau left Sig to treat D`rok's minor wound.

He walked back through the ship, and saw some of the damage the sudden deceleration had caused. The Gravity conveyors were out of service ship wide, Ryau had a twinge of sympathy for whoever was inside them when the ship dropped out. Panels had been thrown from their brackets and wires hung from exposed maintenance passages in some places. A trio of Unggoy walked by complaining that the Methane suites on a lower deck had been ruptured.

Ryau ran into Naki and a hover-chair riding K`an midway through the ship. "Is D`rok okay?" K`an asked.

"Physically? Just a small puncture wound. But mentally? I don't know." Ryau said.

K`an parted his mandibles to speak, but before he could respond, an announcement came over the ship wide speakers. "Attention, Slipspace drive has been repaired. Resuming jump operations... brace for sudden acceleration." The ship shuddered as its systems returned to working order, and it slid into the other dimension. K`an just sighed and glared around the room.

Ryau turned and walked behind the two as they headed back the way Ryau had come. The speed that the Huragok worked was apparent. Many of the broken panels had already been replaced in the five minutes since Ryau passed through, the pink creatures cheerfully floating back into their maintenance passageways.

Sig was alone in the Lance room when they returned. "Where's D`rok?" Ryau asked.

"He awoke and went into his private room to be alone." Sig said with a slight frown. "Commander 'Vadumee arrived while you were gone, they are talking."

Once again, the overhead speakers crackled to life. "Attention, Dropping out of Slipspace in 5..." The intercom began to count down in its usual fashion.

"Didn't we just re-enter Slipspace, just half an hour ago?" Ryau asked Naki.

"We must have caught back up with the fleet." Naki suggested. "They might have either dropped out to wait for us, or we arrived at the destination."

"All hands! A...Attention to Forward camera!" The communications officer spoke quickly.

Naki activated the holographic window for the Lance room and tuned it to the forward camera's display. They all saw it, and Ryau realized why this day was so important. What they saw on the screen made Ryau whisper a long forgotten tune.

Naki looked to him, with her mouth agape. But she did not speak a word.

It was a Halo ring.

Note: D`rok, K`an, Sig and M`riana belong to my fellow co-writer sgtlegedkiller. Writer of the Fate Twister series which runs parallel to my own. Many scenes in the last few chapters with his characters were co-written with him,

LORC: Beginnings Act 2 Pt 1 and 2
Date: 30 May 2016, 8:52 pm

Act II

Part 1
Installation 04

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 172 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 20, 2552: 2209hrs]
DX-Class dropship Cicada-227
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

The Spirit arced down to the surface of the ring. In the minutes following their arrival to the fleet, Naki had been practically jumping with excitement. A Halo was one of the most holy objects the Covenant had ever spoke of, not even mentioning the technological value in such a discovery.

Unfortunately her excitement had been cut short. "I can't believe that San 'Shyuum barred me from going down to the surface." Naki growled. "He just wants his teams to get all the credit for any discoveries."

"Well I can see that hasn't stopped you." Alea said. "How did you get us clearance to leave?"

"I went over his head, while the Prophet of Stewardship declared this a religious matter, the Supreme Commander wasn't so happy relinquishing command of his assets." Naki let out a small smirk.

"So we're disobeying the orders of a Minor Hierarch, but following the orders of the Supreme Commander?" Ryau asked from his spot along the wall of the dropship, obviously worried that this may somehow bring his secret to light to the wrong people. As far as Naki knew, Ryau had been a good warrior for the Covenant in his new life.

"In a way, yes. I heard that they weren't able to make contact with High Charity, so there is no proper chain of command." Naki said. "I took advantage of that."

Ryau stepped out and pulled Naki aside. "You do remember what happens here, right?" Ryau said in a hushed tone, just barely audible over the sound of the engines.

She glanced over to Alea, who was walking towards the other prong of the dropship. Probably to check on the supplies. "Yes, that is why I deliberately asked the Supreme Commander not to place me on the control room search teams... if they sent me, the Covenant may actually activate the ring..." She sighed. "I'm too good at my job."

"Well, where did you have him send us then?" Ryau asked.

"We're going to an island down spin from where that Prophet's teams located the Silent Cartographer. I'm going to see what we can get out of this ring before, you know what, happens." Naki nodded and stepped away.

"We just need to-" Ryau was, as usual, interrupted by an announcement.

"Science Major, we have received a message from the landing zone. As you requested, SpecOps Major 'Valhamee is already on site and secured the area."The pilot announced.

"You had Sig go secure the island?" Ryau asked. "I thought you went in on the first run?"

Naki sighed, "I needed to get Sig off the ship, with D`rok's wedding disaster and how he seems to worry too much about K`an, Sig needs something to take his mind off all that."

"So you do care." Ryau chuckled.

"Yes, and it's good to know that you do as well. Considering your predicament."

Ryau sighed, "Well ever since... this...happened." Ryau gestured down to his body. "I've felt...different. Mentally, like I've lost some of my training." He looked back towards the door to the prong, to be sure that no one was listening. "It might just be that we're back together, but it's just something I've noticed."

Naki looked down at the Device on Ryau's wrist, she had been worried that her assistant had ignored her and followed the Prophet of Truth's orders. He wanted her to use the Imprint function on the subject to make them more cooperative, but once she realized it was Nick, she called that part off. However, her assistant must have gone around her back. "Well... perhaps you have."

Ryau gave her a look, like he knew she wasn't being entirely open about the project. He was about to say something, but stopped. He shook his head, clearing whatever thought out of his mind. "Well… At least we can actually be together now."

"Yes... It will just be me, you, and Alea for a few cycles." Naki joked.

Ryau just shrugged slightly. "But you two will be mostly busy with the technology and things."

Naki nodded slightly. "Well, if you are not enjoying my company then I can always stick you with Sig on some patrols." She gave a sight, teasing grin, knowing full well how he tried to avoid being alone with Sig.

Ryau groaned. "Please don't... I like Sig, but I do not want to be impaled by his length… as K`an would say."

Naki had to giggle at that, "You're even starting to sound like a genuine Sangheili."

"Well, no thanks to you," Ryau smiled back. The conversation went quiet as the two thought on what they once had.

"Ryau..." Naki spoke softly with a sigh as she crossed her arms and looked down slightly. She really didn't want to bring it up now, but she was sure that they were both thinking the same thing. With another sigh, she decided to go for it. "I know we had something special back then... but it was a long time ago." She sighed very softly as she looked up at him. "I do not know if we still would have that fire. So much has changed."

"I understand, but what's to stop us from trying again?" Ryau asked as he tilted his head slightly.

"It is because we are different now..." She looked over her shoulder to see if Alea was still gone. "I am different now..." She looked down once again and tightened her arms in front of her.  

Nick had been her life once, and at a sudden moment it had all been taken away. For years she had yearned for her to find him, but she had grown older, and found others that filled the hole she had. But relationships that never held, failed proposals, and deaths of the ones she cared about, kept it open. When she had found Nick on that planet, it was like he was back from the dead, now that he was standing before her, she didn't know how to handle herself. She wanted him; she was single and so was he. Despite whatever arbitrary policies the Prophet of Truth had placed on the aftermath of the Project. Ryau was hard to resist. She would admit that he appeared far more attractive than he was long ago, whether that be because of her different perspective on her past, or some other reason.

"Naki..." Ryau's hands tenderly gripped her shoulders. "I don't mind you know."

"Still..." She looked up unable to put her feelings to words.

"Oh, quiet..." He spoke soothingly. "I want to make us work again."

"But I am far from who I was..." Naki looked back on her past  "I no longer have the hair or the body you loved..."

"You have nice hips..." He smiled a bit stupidly, causing her to blush slightly.

"That is quite flattering, Ryau, but we can not base a relationship on..." Naki was about protest against her own hips until Ryau did something she did not expect.

Ryau suddenly took their moment of privacy and leaned into her, kissing her deeply on the mouth. This was bold for Ryau, even as a warrior and with his hardening from his training. While it seemed like he didn't know how to properly kiss as a Sangheili, it was only the catalyst he knew he needed.  Naki's internal defenses instantly melted from such an unexpected act, "To hell with procedure."

As Naki was pulled against Ryau's armor, she silently guided Ryau's face into the correct position for a kiss. Things continued down the swiftly tilting slope as she inturn pressed herself against him. The kiss elevated slightly as her mandibles spread his so they would be interlocked. She wanted this, she had thought about this ever since she had seen D`rok and M`riana begin going through their early bonding before their marriage. She realized, as she deepened the kiss as she embraced his neck with her grasp, she would have what she wanted by the end of the war.

"Excuse me!" Alea interrupted the two from the door of the prong.

"What is it Alea?" Ryau pulled away and asked her quite sternly.

"Nothing..." She answered, clearly questioning even speaking up.

"Then silence yourself." Ryau said, appearing even more out of character.

"Uh… very well... I did not realize I was interrupting something." She turned quickly and returned to the other prong.

"Now... Where was I?" Ryau looked back to Naki with a grin before leaning back in for another kiss.

Roughly half an hour later, the Spirit circled the island and began to settle in front of a building with a red glyph. Naki glanced over to Ryau with a slight smile, now that they were leaving the dropship, they had to be all business once again, and unfortunately they needed to continue to hide their feelings for one another until the war reached its conclusion. For if information made its way back to the Prophet of Truth, they would have a big problem.

The hatches dropped open and Naki dropped down onto the ancient metal platform. The Spirit fit the U-shaped opening almost as if it was made for it. Sig approached, being flanked by part of the Unggoy detachment that went down with him, "Hello, Naki." Sig smiled as he reported in.  "I have explored the majority of the surface of the island with my Lance and have deemed it to be safe, as you requested." He beamed at a job well done. 

"Thank you, Sig." Naki said. "Have you seen any ways into the deeper structure below?"

"Negative.  We were told not to venture below the first level of the facility as per previous orders.  I know things changed when you took over but there was no change to that standing order." He stopped in thought. "We did not want to upset you so I decided to follow the original orders."

"Okay, we'll get started right away. I want you to divide your Unggoy into three teams and send them over to the other structure, Alea will lead them there. You, Ryau and I will take your Kig-Yar down into this one, understand?" Naki looked towards the ocean, there was a sound rising in the distance.

"Yes. Yes of course." He turned with his finger to his ear so he could begin to give orders to his Lance only to turn back after a moment, hearing what Naki had noticed. "Do you hear that?"

Suddenly, four Human dropships appeared off shore behind one of the massive sea stacks. Their nose guns opened fire, sending bullets across the landing zone. Naki dove behind the Spirit for cover, as a spray of bullets struck where she had been standing moments before. The dropships continued on, heading for their real target further up the ring.

"Naki, are you okay?" Ryau asked from where he had taken cover.

"Yes, Ryau I'm alright." She glanced around, it appeared that no one had taken fire. "Change of plan, Sig. I want all your forces on patrol up here. I don't want any Humans interfering with us down in the installation below." Naki peeked out behind the dropship.

"Consider it done!" Sig stood before giving the appropriate orders to his troops.

"Alea, Ryau, let's head inside." Naki reached back into the Spirit and grabbed her field pack and data-pad from the floor. She pointed to a trio of Unggoy. "You three, take the cart and start delivering the cargo crates into the structure."

They nodded and went to work, the Unggoy each pulled a small hovercart out of the Spirit. The cart split in half and clamped around the cargo pod, lifting it off the ground. Naki led her group into the structure embedded in the cliff.

Naki looked up at the roof, the ceiling went up, high. It appeared that all of the superstructure above this room was empty space, the overall size was just for architectural expression. Ahead of her sat a door, and on either side of the chamber, green walls of some sort of energy pulsed.

"Are these teleporters?" Alea asked, approaching one of the green energy walls.

"I would presume so." Naki replied. "Once we are fully set up, we'll send a probe through, see where they lead."

"So what will I be doing here?" Ryau asked.

"You are our security detail." Naki winked. "I would rather have you, than a team of Unggoy to clog the halls. Let's see what lies beneath the surface, shall we?"

Naki approached the doors on the far end of the structure, they parted to reveal a long ramp down into the bowels of the ring. She placed her hand to her ear and contacted Sig. "I'll need two of your Kig-Yar as well."

"Of course, Naki." He confirmed before ordering two of his minor scouts to join her side.

The first batch of crates arrived from the Spirit, and Naki had the Unggoy drop them off in one of the open alcoves. She pulled off one of the lids and removed a set of lights just as the Kig-Yar entered. She handed each of them a cluster of adhesive lights and pointed up towards the ceiling. "I need you two to set these up near the top, at two unit intervals. When you finish this room, follow us down into the installation with lights every eight units."

The two Kig-Yar nodded and went to work, they would use the varying support struts and decorative carvings to climb up to where they needed to work. Kig-Yar scouts were good climbers, there was a reason they were always in hard to reach areas.

"And down we go." Naki said, heading down the ramp. The ramp turned and deposited them into a small narrow room, The walls glimmered in gold and black plating, small blue status lights blinked behind small openings, signifying steady operations. Naki smiled, she always appreciated Forerunner ascetic.

Alea stepped towards a wall and ran her fingers across the golden surface. "Even in such a small space, the Gods' always have such magnificently simple style that brings out beauty." 

Naki nodded. "Yes… it's always calming in their spaces." She glanced up the ramp and radioed to the Unggoy. "I need one of the Uplink crates placed here. The spot will be marked by a light stick." Naki pulled a stick out of her pack and tossed it on the ground, the stick lit up a bright blue and rolled against the wall. 

She walked into the main room, it was some sort of observation area for a large device. The upper level was empty from what she could tell, either it had been cleared out millennia ago, or the tools were hidden by some other Forerunner technology. The device in question was just sitting in the middle of the room. Electricity arced from one plate to another, and occasionally struck one of the nearby support pillars. 

"Stay clear of that. We don't know what that is." Naki said. "Do not want either of you getting electrocuted." She trusted Ryau, but it was Alea, Naki was worried about. Alea was far from her best student, and the only reason Naki approved her graduation was to get her away from the life she once had. 

As Naki had learned, Alea 'Vinika came from a small state east of Zelso called Vanik. It as a poor and conservative state in a region that was traditionally wealthy. If Alea failed Naki's course, she would return to her state a failure. Naki could not allow that. Alea didn't excel anywhere, and unfortunately, even at the end of two solar cycles, was unable to pass the Forerunner language exam. Naki passed her anyway, and wrote a transcription program for Alea's ACI. 

Grateful for Naki's help, Alea graduated and went to work in the field. The next time Naki heard from her, was nearly four solar cycles later on a report about a failed experiment. Alea had uncovered a Forerunner installation on a Sangheili fringe colony, which turned out to be a weather control station. Naki assumed Alea had hoped to use her discovery to prove that she was worth her rank. Only when she activated the system, she had failed to stabilize a weather system and instead caused a series of vortexes that wiped out a series of farms and destroyed the ship of the attending San 'Shyuum adviser. Thankfully, one of Alea's assistants managed to shut the system down before they struck the city-state.

Naki shook the memory from her mind and looked back to the unknown device. "We will save that thing for last."

"Understood, ma'am," Alea acknowledged.

Naki walked through the rest of the room, setting lightsticks in places where she the Unggoy to set crates up. Another doorway led out onto a balcony overlooking what seemed to be a bottomless shaft. 

"Long way down…" Ryau peeked his head over the edge.

"Indeed it is, I don't see any way to the bottom...if there is a bottom" Naki said, glancing at the sides. The depths of the shaft were shrouded in a dense fog, hiding whatever lay below. "Perhaps there is a lift beyond that other door." They walked back into the main room and approached the door on the far side. The glyph on the door flashed green and opened. Beyond was another series of ramps that continued downwards. 

"Well, it's not a lift," Ryau said. "I'll take the lead," Ryau moved ahead of the group and began down. 

Alea quickly ran her hand over her armor's pockets and pack, before heading back towards the exit. "Sorry, Naki. I left my data-pad in the Spirit. I will meet you after you've gone deeper." 

"Okay, do hurry though." Naki waved her off. "Let's go, Ryau." 

Alea up the exit ramp as Ryau and Naki started down into the deep unknown of the Forerunner structure. Suddenly there was a deep warning tone and the door behind them slid shut. "What the hell?" Naki muttered. She approached the door and waited for it to part, only it remained closed. The green glyph had turned red. 

Ryau had his Needle Rifle up and was watching down the ramp. "What just happened?" He asked. 

"We just got locked in…" Naki hit the door with her palm. She switched on her radio. "Sig! What happened up there? I think the security system was activated." 

"I am not entirely sure... but I am hearing reports that the Humans are attacking the teams on the other island." Sig paused for a moment. "Why, what happened down there?"

"Of course it would be the Humans.." Naki mumbled. "The door locked behind us, Ryau and I are stuck in a ramp room."    

"Is there anything we can do to get you out?" Sig asked.

"Alea may be able to get through the doorway. The security may not be too hard." Naki said. "If there was a terminal on this side, I would do it myself."                 

"Alright, Naki. I shall send her your way as soon as she gets her…" He paused as he sighed annoyingly. "Data pad…" He could be heard telling Alea to head back down quick as she was needed. "Seriously. How in the Gods do you forget that?" Sig then turned his comms off.

"Okay well.. Alea is on it." Naki sighed and hoped that the security lockdown would be lifted by some other way.

"What do we do?" Ryau placed the Needle rifle on to his back. 

"We wait." Naki said.

"Since we have some time…" Ryau spoke affectionately, and slowly stepped up to Naki only to turn around as he pointed pointed to one of the maintenance ports on his shield generator. "The ACI has been giving heat warnings. Think you could check it out?"

Naki laughed and looked to the ground. "That ass." She thought. "Yes, Ryau, I can. Take a seat on the ground and I'll take a look."

Ryau sat on the ramp and set his Needle rifle and service pack to the side, clearing his back of obstructions. Naki popped the seal on the generator and used a wire from her data-pad to make a hard connection. Most of the status lights blinked good, however the temperature regulator was sending a warning sign. 

Naki pulled a small tool kit from her thigh, the ultra thin pieces were meant to slide through Forerunner seams so she could get access to the hard wires, but they would have to do for working on Sangheili armor. She popped the secondary cover off and used a small magnifying lens to get a good look at the sensor. A metallic black paint flake had managed to slip inside the system, it had adhered to the small sensor causing it to report a higher temperature than normal. 

"It looks like some paint slipped through the plating before they gave it to you, or most likely when we had it sent to the smith for cleaning." Naki said. 

"So I wasn't in danger of my back exploding?" Ryau chuckled.

"No, your armor is fine. Just let me patch this backup." Naki used a different micro tool to carefully scrape the paint away. Almost immediately the status light changed from a rapidly blinking orange to a steady blue. Naki quickly replaced all the shielding and plates, then closed it back up. 

"All good?" Ryau asked.

"All good." Naki confirmed, There was a bang on the door, and Alea waved through the small window. Naki sighed and took a rations pack out of her pack. "With Alea on the door, we might be here a while." 

"What? You don't think Alea can do it?" Ryau asked. 

"Ryau, there's a reason why Alea called me to that Forerunner beacon on Reach. She is not very good at her job. The only reason she can do it is because I gave her a transcription program for her ACI."

"So how long do you think it'll take her to get through the door?"

"I would say… maybe another twenty minutes. Unless she realizes she could patch my data-pad wirelessly into the system and have me open it. But who is in a hurry here?" Naki smiled. 

A high pitched beep echoed through the corridor and the door turned green once again. It slid open and Alea's data-pad dropped to the ground. 

"Or not… I guess not all of her brain was in her ass…" Naki muttered. "Good work Alea." 

"Uh… What happened? I did not finish breaking through security." Alea asked, quite confused.

"Well… never mind then," Naki sighed. "Either way, thank you for trying." 

"You are welcome," Alea retrieved her data-pad from the ground.

With the installation reopened, they continued on down into the building. The U-shaped ramp sent them into a smaller room, as Naki walked on inside, she could see the massive shaft through a window. A small holographic interface flashed to life as she walked past. On her left, a second room was host to a large trench with some sort of pipe at one end, whatever that was for was currently beyond her. A metallic grate blocked access to a ramp that must have led to another level. 

The last section was a small booth that extended out into the shaft, the windows allowed full view of the top and sides, as well as the bottom. A holographic representation of the shaft gloated in the center of the booth. "This must be the control room for this area." Naki said. 

"I agree, something here must open the ceiling access." Alea said.

"We'll take a look at that later. It's not a priority until we see everything here." Naki nodded and walked over to the stairs that continued further underground. "I need the cutters to get through this grate." 

"I will take care of that." Alea said. She turned on her heel and walked back up the ramp. She was only gone for a few moments before coming back with a crate in tow. 

"Mhmm." Naki popped the lid off and removed the plasma cutter from the case. "Shield your eyes." This would not be the first time Naki had used a plasma cutter before, it was actually very common for her. Many Forerunner installations favored thick metal grates over ramps that led deeper into the installation. Commonly, caches of technology were tucked away behind them. She placed the eye shield over her face and activated the cutter. The super heated plasma sliced through the ancient metal with ease. 

The grate clattered to the ground and slid down the ramp. "Alea, you are to remain here and act as a relay. Until the uplink crates are set up, we'll need someone to relay messages up to the surface… it is taking the Unggoy a bit long to set them up…" Naki muttered. 

"I will look into it, Naki. While you are Ryau are exploring below, may I look at the control room?" Alea asked.

"Yes, you may. Be careful, we don't know all of what this place controls." Naki said. 

"Understood, ma'am." Alea walked over to the control booth and synced her Data-pad wirelessly. 

"Onwards, Ryau." Naki pointed on. She wished, that she and Ryau could have more personal time, but the Supreme Commander had requested that all their time on site be recorded by their helmet cams, so they had to continue to act like nothing had occurred on the Spirit.

They walked on beneath the grate, not knowing that they had inadvertently doomed the patrolling warriors above.

Part 2
Isolated Infinity

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 172 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 20, 2552: 2327hrs]
Installation 04. [Alpha Halo]
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

Naki and Ryau walked up the ramp. The series of tunnels had panned out to nothing important, just leading even deeper into the inner workings of the ring. It was a job for one of the mapping drones Naki had brought along. They had been below for nearly ten minutes, and it appeared the the Unggoy had finished unloading the cargo crates marked for this part of the installation. 

"Well the crates appear to have been fully unloaded. Let's go up to the main level and take a look at those teleporters." Naki said. 

"You're just going to send a probe through, aren't you?" Ryau asked. 

"That is usually how it starts off with teleporters. Tests to see where they go, the effects on passage, basic things like that." Naki started up the ramp, out of the basement. "Teleporters of this design are quite rare across Forerunner installations, the most common are black pads that run throughout a facility."

"You know… if I'm remembering this correctly… the type that's here was only found in one kind of place…" Ryau mumbled. 

"Yes… they were most commonly in the 'arena' areas." Naki said. "Never in any mainline sectors." She knew exactly what Ryau was referring to. In her oldest memories, she could remember that the multiplayer maps from the original Halo game were the only places that the style appeared.

The two left Alea behind on the lowest floor and made their way to the entry area on the ground floor. Naki opened a supply crate and took out a small silver sphere. It was similar to a holo-drone, they were manufactured by the same Armory. She thought about using the Kindler mapping device, only that would be good if the teleporter exited inside a cave. 

Sticking with the first probe, Naki walked over to the portal and tossed Ryau the control pad from the case. "Sync up with the probe." She turned it over in her hands. "It's probe Thirty-two."

Ryau glanced down at the control pad and swiped through the screens. "Alright… and…done." 

The small light on the side of the probe lit up and it hovered a centimeter above Naki's hand. With a light push, she sent the drone into the green wall of energy, and in a flash it had vanished.

"Let's see the pad." Naki said, holding out her hand. Ryau quickly passed it over and she got a look at the readings. The probe registered a 148.3 millisecond delay between points, indicating that the receiving end was quite close. The positioning system pegged its location less than a hundred meters above them. Naki looked up and saw the probe's icon appear on her ACI. 

Ryau glanced up where Naki was looking. "So it's close then?" 

Naki activated the camera on the probe and was greeted by a fish eye view of a Sangheili rear. "Erm…" With an accidental tap of a key, the probe accelerated forward, lightly booping them on the ass.

At the moment of contact, the Sangheili jumped in surprise, the microphone on the probe even caught an audible "Eep." Immediately after he landed, the Sangheili spun around to face the small drone. With a solid kick, the probe was sent spinning out of control off the side of the cliff face.

Naki furiously tapped the stabilizers in an effort to save the probe. Thankfully it stopped mere centimeters from the sand and water below. Running a quick diagnostic, the probe indicated that it was still intact. Naki took control and piloted the small, grenade sized drone back up to the top of the cliff.

As the camera came back into focus, it revealed that there was a single Sangheili standing nearby the teleporter receiver node. Sig was clearly not pleased and his confusion could be sensed through the link. He looked around quite bashfully before vacating the spot. Naki guided the probe forward and began to follow Sig.

Unwilling to continue the charade, Sig drew his Plasma Repeater and fired a burst of plasma at the drone, missing all of his shots on purpose as he hoped to get his point across.

"Sig. I need you to inspect the drone. If it's damaged I'll have to send another through." Naki said through the intercom speaker built within the drone.

"Naki!"Sig answered with a soft growl. "Be more careful with where you try to place your drones. My posterior is not a landing pad!"

"Well, Ryau was flying it when I sent it through." Naki looked over at Ryau and gave a teasing smile. She knew about the awkward interactions between Ryau and Sig. It was cute to watch.  

Sig gave quite the blush at this. "Please let it not be true…"He groaned in annoyance. "He could not wish to tease me that badly."He grumbled lowly.

"I'm sure it was an accident, those controls can be very sensitive." Naki said.

"And I am sensitive to his actions!" He barked out angrily as he picked up the drone in his hand to inspect it. "Your imbecilic toy looks of the most pristine condition, your majesty. Now fly it away from me!" With a few quick taps, the drone hovered out of Sig's hand and zoomed away.

"Why would you say that, Naki?" Ryau pleaded.

"Well you were the one piloting it when it went through. And besides, I think that Sig is good for you.. just not the kind of relationship he wants."

"Oh, but why can't he have that kind of relationship with somebody else?" Ryau groaned. "You took the controls from me, anyway." 

"That kind of relationship is frowned upon in most Sangheili states. So in turn, it's not so common out in the fleets." Naki said.

"Surely with the amount of connected societies, Sig is bound to find someone." Ryau said in turn.

"And Sig thinks that someone could be you." Naki tapped Ryau on the nose.

"Great…" Ryau sighed. "Well I suppose that he would look better in a dress than you." he play

"If that is what you want, then have at it." Naki giggled.

Ryau just responded in silence. A moment later, the probe flew back through the doorway and then landed back in its case. Naki popped open a small compartment on the drone, and used the cable inside to make a hard connection with her data-pad. She downloaded the hard data to her personal data-stick for later analysis.

"Don't worry, Ryau. This is all just me poking fun at you two." Naki said. "Especially after what we did in the Spirit."

Ryau grumbled and rolled his eyes. Naki ignored him and laughed to herself. Over the next few minutes, they tested the other portal, to find that it led to a metal platform on the other side of the island. It really seemed like this place was a closed system. Other than the shaft they had found below ground, there did not seem to be any way off the island.

Sig walked into the room, and Ryau avoided eye contact with the other Sangheili. After just a moment, Alea came up the ramp, staring intently at her data-pad, Naki was about to ask if everything was alright, but Sig beat her to it. "Miss… Do you not understand that?" he asked with a raised eyeridge.

"I have not been the best at reading the Forerunner language… and my interpreter program is not functioning at the moment." Alea answered.

Sig blinked at this several times. "Wait a moment… You are in the Science Division, more specifically the Forerunner Exploration ranks… And you can not read the Forerunner language?"

"Well...I am actually no longer part of the Forerunner division… I was only with the Fleet of Holy Respite to oversee the installation of a replacement reactor system on a cruiser. They sent me down to the surface of that planet because one of the Lances found a Forerunner site and I was the only person with any kind of experience…" Alea said. "I got caught up with Naki and ended up aboard the ship with you all."

Naki glanced over, Alea had not told her that she had left the exploration division over the last few weeks that they were catching up. "Why did you not tell me, Alea?"

"I was worried that you would be disappointed in me. I always wanted to work in the same division as you… to do the things you do... but they revoked my status after the accident." Alea fell silent.

Sig sighed heavily at such a predicament "Alea… You still should not even need an interpreter for the language." he looked her over in a faint bit of disbelief. "Here… Look." He began as he moved beside her and pointed at the large blurred out character in the top left corner of the panel. "This is the symbol for the word 'open.' Notice how it is blurred out? That means it is inactive for use." He looked to her for a moment to see if she was following.

"Yes… I got that far." Alea said with a hint of annoyance. "What I am having difficulties with is this." Naki walked over as Alea pointed to a string of Forerunner characters on the image she had captured. Naki knew what they said, but she was interested to see how far Sig's knowledge went.

"This line of text right here…" He pointed out the lightly highlighted line of characters on the other side of the control screen. "It reads. 'Surface Access control. Maintenance rate identification code required. System access prohibited to all lower rates.'" He read it again slower as he traces his finger along it to subtly try to imprint some teachings onto her.

"Hmph… thank you." Alea turned on her heel and headed back down into the lower structure without another word.

"I did not know that you could read Forerunner, Sig." Naki said.

"Yes… I can…" He shook his head as Alea left.

"Where did you pick it up?" She asked.

"Well it is simple really… I read it from several books. You know I like to read; what else do you think  I do all day on my data-pad?"

Naki laughed. "Oh, I always thought you were looking up pictures of males on duty." Honestly, she thought it was fifty-fifty, Out of the corner of her eye, she spied Ryau walking through the teleporter to get out of the room, the quickest point of escape.

Sig's face grew quite colorful as he stammered slightly in protest. "No! Of course not!"

"And how exactly can we be sure?" She asked with a giggle.

"Do you know how much of an uprising would happen if K'an found out I... was homosexual?" He exclaimed nervously. "He is taller and stronger than I…" He waved his hands suddenly. "No. no. no. no. no, absolutely not! Naki, please… You seem to not really care that much of my preferences, but in the name of the Gods be hushed! I do not need such a thing to be open for the universe to know."

"Well, it's all in good fun here. I wouldn't say it to anyone that didn't know already." Naki said, getting serious.

"I would greatly appreciate that… I usually keep it quiet… I would be surprised if D'rok even knows…" He looked down, thinking.

Before Naki could respond, there was a loud clunk which echoed across the island, followed by metallic grinding sound. "Alea what did you-"

Alea came over the radio before Naki could finish. "I don't know whats going on the controls lit up and suddenly the surface hat-"

Ryau cut her off in turn. "Naki! Get up here, you need to see this. The top of the shaft is opening."

Without missing a beat, Naki turned and stepped through the teleporter, For a split second, a wave of nausea flashed over her, she felt the familiar feeling of being stretched and then knitted back together that she had come to associate in the many times she had interacted with the Forerunner teleportation systems. In a flash she was standing above the structure, in the open air.

Ryau stood at the edge of the small canyon that cut the island in two, and she quickly approached him as the grinding came to a halt. In the valley below, the massive hatch covering the maintenance shaft had slid to the side, completely opening it to the weather.

"Ryau…" Naki asked. "Do you think that is big enough for a Spirit?"

Fifteen minutes later, their Spirit had been fully loaded with the supplies Naki believed they would need at the next location. Sig was currently on the line with a mission handler trying to get additional warriors and support brought down so Naki could take some with her. But from where Naki was standing, the conversation did not sound like it was going well.

"Naki!" Sig called. "Could you get on the line and help me deal with the dispatch?"

Naki sighed and activated her headset. "What is the problem?"

"Who am I speaking with, now?" The Handler asked as if annoyed.

"This is SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee, I'm in charge of this operation." Naki said.

"Alright… What would you like?" The Handler asked.

"What SpecOps Major Valhamee asked for. He was relaying my request." Naki sighed. She does not usually deal with mission handlers, in most of her experiences, she had a direct line to force deployment on any ship.

"Yes… about that. We can not allocate what he is request. The most I can send to him is two Type-twenty-six Shade Turrets."

Naki grumbled. "Well I need the additional forces. We located a tunnel that leads elsewhere on the Ring and I do not wish to split my forces here."

The Handler sighed heavily. "Very well… I am sending a lance Unggoy and a file of Kig-Yar on top of his Shade turrets. That is all I can do."

"Why is that? What is going on that prevents me from getting my requested numbers?" Naki felt a slight growl rise in her own voice.

"We are very busy up here, miss 'Cimutee, and there are much more pressing matters than what you and Major 'Valhamee are currently doing." Naki let out the growl when the Handler did not use her rank, she had worked hard to achieve her position

"There are thousands of warriors up there that are not deployed, and each ship has hundreds of dropships, Explain why you cannot task one of the thousand you are not using to come here," Naki complained. "Gods, I miss Zeik." She mumbled under her breath.

"No, we can not do that. I am sorry." He sighed, maybe he hated his job. "There are very important events going on right now that are very well above your grade."

"Do you even know what this rank allows me to know?..to do?" Naki asked. "I have a direct line to the Hierarchs. If there is something going on, then it is not because it is above my rank!" She spat. "Fine. Just send what you can." If something was going on, which prevented her from getting her forces, and she had yet to be notified, it must be bad. And there was only one really bad thing on this Ring.

"See, Tair'ee? This is why I hate doing this job!" He angrily barked off of the mic. "...Yes… Yes I know! The budget does not allow for me to so what I want!" There clearly was some internal issues with the ship's mission handler staff today. "You don't do the budget, Tair'ee, I do!" The sound of the headset being placed back over the Handler's head was heard through the connection. "Cimutee?"

"What?" Naki sighed.

"I am sending you exactly what I told you I would. If it is still an issue I recommend sending another request in an hour or so."

"Fine, thank you." Naki cut the connection. "Well Sig, did you hear that or do I need to repeat what they said?" She was a bit irritated now.

"No… I shut it off as I hate dealing with those idiots."

"Well, you are getting Shade turrets and I am getting only six replacement units to take with me." Naki said. "When they get here, send them into the Spirit, I will be waiting inside."

"Yes, Naki. Thank you." Sig said, as Naki walked back into the Spirit.

The Spirit was fully warmed up and ready to go by the time that the reinforcements arrived. As she had requested, Sig directed them into the ship. "Alright, pilot. Let's go." Naki waved into the cockpit. 

"Yes. Major." The copilot said, tapping the switch to close the hatches. 

The Spirit lifted off and circled the island, Naki found her way to a seat beside Ryau and strapped herself in. "Ryau, I don't know how much more time we have." She whispered to him. Alea and the other warriors were in the other prong.

"Well.. neither do I. I don't remember enough." Ryau whispered back. "But we know the signs, right?"

"Yes, we'll keep a good look out while we're down there." Naki pulled a screen down from the ceiling and set it to view the Spirit's front camera. 

The dropship did a single orbit over the open shaft as the pilot assessed his options before coming to a stop directly over top. The main camera tilted downwards and they began to descend into the hole. It was a close fit, but the shaft widened out after they passed the lip. "Just continue downwards, Pilot" Naki radioed. "It should bottom out into a larger tunnel network." She pulled out her data-pad and began to track their progress down the shaft with the Kindler scan she had done while they were loading the Spirit. 

It was a long, and slow descent. Naki spied a few interesting landing zones that piqued her interest, but she wanted somewhere with a view of the sky. It was a mystery to how many experiments were conducted on a Halo, let alone what they did. From what she had learned on other Forerunner installation, the Halo rings weren't used as laboratories for long, but the time scale of the conflict with the parasite was skewed beyond understanding. Being part of the Ministry of Special Sciences let her have access to some very privileged information.

In fact, they were responsible for locating much of the information that would later help reclassify much of the Forerunner language over the past centuries. Which was probably why the Ministry was shrinking so much. The San 'Shyuum did not like being corrected. If anyone was to speak about the information they uncover, they are either; killed, disappeared, or sent to the Geleterose Installation. Naki always treaded the line between acceptability and deviance.

"Ma'am, we have reached the bottom of the shaft." The pilot said over the ship's speakers. 

Naki returned her attention to the camera screen. The shaft had bottomed out into a massive, wide tunnel. There was a thick layer of fog, and Naki could even see the curvature of the Ring make the tunnel appear to disappear into the ceiling. "Head up spin." Naki tapped the screen to put a directional indicator for the pilots. "Actually hold on a moment. Open the doors to the right prong. I need to send set something up."

"Uhm. Understood." The Pilot said, bringing the Spirit to a stop.

The hatch dropped open and Naki pulled the Kindler mapping drone from its case. She guided it out of the ship and had it attach to the right prong magnetically. It activated and began to map the tunnels. "You are good to continue."

The Spirit continued on through the tunnel, and the continually updating map showed hundreds of small outcroppings and secondary tunnels branching off. "How far do you want us to go, Major?" The navigator asked.

"Let us continue on until we find another vertical shaft. I will send the mapping probe up to see if the shaft goes all the way up." Naki wished she would have more time on the ring. She wanted, desperately, to unlock the secrets of its construction, but Naki knew their clock was ticking. 

They flew in silence for quite a while. Ryau was silent, looking at something on his data-pad. Naki glanced over his shoulder, the top of the document read; The State of Zelso and the Verano region, an in depth history. It appeared that Ryau was looking into the history of the area he was supposed to be from. Naki nodded to herself, it was a good idea for him.

"Major Cimutee, we have found a vertical shaft." The navigator announced. 

"Very good." Naki made a few adjustments to the Kindler and sent it up the shaft. As it ascended, about mid way up, it detected something in the middle of the tunnel. It was only a partial scan of something large, "...so that either means that there's something hovering in the middle," she mumbled to herself. "Or something is on its way do… Pilot move us away now!" 

The Spirit violently reversed, knocking Naki sideways into a seat. A dark grey craft dropped out of the shaft and accelerated towards the Spirit. The Human dropship screamed by, its nose mounted gun strafed the hull of the Spirit, punching many holes in the left prong's plating. The co-pilot returned fire, scorching and melting the exterior plating of the Human ship's engine pods. 

"Alea! Are you okay?" Naki shouted to the other side of the dropship. She leapt out of the seat and ran over. 

There was a fit of coughing, as Naki opened the door between sections. Smoke poured out of the doorway and the pilots activated the fans to clear the air. "Yes, Naki. I am still well." Alea called back. 

"Is anyone hurt?" She asked. Naki received an all clear from everyone. The Kig-Yar squawked in response. She nodded and checked the damage, the shots had passed clear through the upper plating, and embedded themselves a bank of empty crash seats They would need to close off this prong if they hoped to make orbit.

"It's all clear, miss Excellency." An Unggoy reported. 

Naki gave a sigh of relief and supported herself on the bulkhead. "Very good… Pilot, once the Kindler returns, continue on. We will not be going up that tunnel. When we regain contact with the surface, alert them of the Human activity."

"Understood ma'am." The pilot nodded from his seat beside her. "How is the damage?" He craned his neck to see around the controls.

"They shot through the hull. Everyone survived." Naki nodded. There was a slight beep from the Kindler's control panel as it returned down onto the front of the dropship. "Looks like it is back in place."

The pilot nodded and slowly continued down the tunnel. Once again, there vertical shafts were few and far between. The first two the had come across were capped at the top by some sort of dome. However, eventually they came across a tunnel that looked nearly identical to the one they had come down in the first place. 

With a clear exit at the top, they rose up the shaft. Naki noted that this area did not seem to have a control station for the surface access, it felt unusual. They returned to the bright sunlight of the system's star in a vast, rocky plateau. It was broken up by various box canyons and rock piles. Either the Ring's designers wanted a large desert, or the unchecked weather systems took a real toll on the area. 

She scanned the horizon for any clue to why the shaft had been placed in the region. A flash of light caught her attention, and another one a half kilometer away. Naki pointed at the pilot's screen. "Go there." 

He nodded and flew towards the canyon the beams of energy had originated. The canyon in particular was shaped like the Human number eight. If one was to walk a channel, they would never reach an end, an infinite cycle. There were two towers on either side of the canyon, occasionally blasting energy into the sky. 

"Find a place to land, we'll set up here," Naki ordered. 

The Spirit located a clearing and set down. When the doors opened, Naki was one of the first to step out. From the air, they had not seen any signs that there were any Humans around, so it seemed relatively safe.  

The Unggoy and Kig-Yar massed beside her awaiting her commands. "Alright, you all split up and search the area. If you find any doorway, or signs of activity, alert me immediately." They all nodded and fanned out across the area. 

Ryau dropped down from the Spirit. "From the look of this place we got from the air, we should have really brought along a couple of Ghosts." 

"In the long run, yes that would have been a good idea." Naki laughed. 

The Spirit's engines powered down, and the pilots stepped out into the warm air. "Ah, just like home," the pilot smiled.  

"More comfortable than the island we were on." Their co-pilot agreed. They must have been from a more arid portion of Sanghelios.

"Then you two can set up the tents." Naki said, "I'm sure that you'll pick a good place." 

"Fine, Major 'Kisovaiee and I will set up the camp." The pilot nodded and returned to the interior of the dropship.

Naki glanced around at the site, there was a large structure that was identical to others found across the ring. Each one shot energy into the sky for some unknown purpose, Naki had not yet gotten the chance to look into one to figure out why, and she did not have access to the data from the Prophet of Stewardship's science lances.

It appeared that the site was some sort of compound, the buildings and exits to the canyon were semi blocked off with the a strange pipe wall and there were towers near every opening. Naki looked up at the cliff walls, nestled into the rock were metal platforms, "Perhaps at one time, turrets were mounted over top." Naki thought to herself. 

She placed her hand to her headset. "Make sure no one touches anything. This appears to have been a secure site at one time."

The string of acknowledgments came from her warriors as Alea walked up to her. "What would you want me to do, Naki?" 

"You're to head go to the top of the beam emitter. See if you can find an entrance into whatever this place was. Take an Unggoy file. Ryau and I will check that bunker behind the Spirit." 

"Yes, Naki." Alea nodded and started for the tower's ramp. She waved to the Unggoy file and took them along. 

"Ryau, take a bedroll and enough rations for a few days. We may be down there for a while." Naki pulled a bedroll and a sack of supplies from the Spirit. She clipped the bag to her back and handed a similar pack to Ryau.

The small bunker had ramps on two sides, but a there was a doorway on the back side. The small square room had a sealed door on the other side. Naki took out her data-pad and searched for an open network of any kind. The door control glowed red and was not showing up. "So I will have to do this the old way…" Naki mumbled.

"Well let me see if I get lucky." Ryau reached out to tap a random button on the panel. Only when the Device on Ryau's wrist came into close proximity, a new symbol appeared on its screen and the control panel flashed green. "Erm… is that normal?" 

Naki walked over and pulled Ryau's arm away from the controls. She looked over the Device, the new symbol read as Override. Something that was not expected from it. "That's new…" Naki mumbled. "It appears that the Device will override some Forerunner security systems." 

"You didn't know that it could do this?" Ryau asked. 

"No, when it was recovered, the only information it gave was how to synthesize the serums required for species change. Nothing mentioned that it could unlock doors." Naki tapped the blinking symbol and nothing happened. 

"Uh, please don't do that, I don't want to turn back into a Human in the middle of a Covenant science camp." Ryau looked back towards the door. 

"Do not worry. If you don't turn back by accident while in combat, this won't cause that either." Naki joked and tapped the open button on the door's control panel. The heavy doors parted to reveal a downwards ramp. Following it down, they were led into another square room with another ramp. The various other doors were sealed and their control surfaces were blank. 

Ryau and Naki continued downwards and deeper into the ring. It was almost like they were undoing the vertical progress they had made with the Spirit. As they went deeper, the air became cold and damp, and the ancient metal was wet with moisture. A faint rumble could be heard from somewhere deeper in the tunnels. 

In the depth of the installation they found the source of the rumble and why the surface was so dry. At some point in the history of the Ring, a river must have found its way into the corridors below and rerouted itself somewhere completely different. The chamber ahead was entirely flooded, a waterfall fed the underground reservoir at the far end of the room. It left down a raging torrent an equal distance away. 

"Up there," Ryau pointed up towards a ramp that lifted out of the water. A green lit door sat at the top. 

"Well all we have to do is get across this." Naki took her pack off and held it over her head. "It doesn't seem that deep."  

Ryau removed his bag as well, as they began to wade through the water. Their path took them across the center of the room, there was a vertical shaft that appeared to go straight to the sky. Naki stopped when she felt the ground begin to tremble.

"Get back!" Naki pushed Ryau backwards and leapt forward. A burst of energy shot out of the water, filling the air with steam and breaking their energy shields. They were directly under one of the beam emitter towers. 

"Ryau, you alright?" She asked, trudging through the water and giving him a hand back to his feet. 

"Yes… I'm fine, but my bedroll is soaked." Ryau grumbled.  

"It'll dry quickly," Naki said. She looked up the shaft quickly. "Alea, send down two of the Kig-Yar. It's a pretty straightforward path to us. We've found a series of tunnels." She said over the radio.

"What about me?" Alea asked.

"I need you to keep the line open and investigate the compound above, send a Transceiver node down to the flooded room. Hopefully then we can remain in contact." Naki said.

"Yes, miss 'Cimutee." Alea replied. "Sending the Kig-Yar now."

Once the Kig-Yar arrived from the surface, they started off again. The water came up to the Kig-Yars' chest and they squawked in annoyance of having to get soaking wet. The one T'vaoan, named Tik, held his Needler above his head, a move that was not actually needed for many Covenant weapons. Thankfully, the corridor on the other side of the room was dry. They walked for hours, Naki using the Kindler to map their path so it would be easier to find their way out when the time came. 

Eventually the endless series of doors, hallways, and sealed off rooms opened up into a large hexagonal shaped lab. They were on the upper catwalk. It seemed that this was indeed the end of the facility that they had access to. The catwalks ran around into another separate corridor where a ramp went down to the main floor. 

Naki came to a stop at the base of the ramp. "Well it seems that we've gone as far as we can." She took a look at her data-pad's clock. "We'll stay here for the night." 

"I don't think we'll be able to communicate with the surface down here." Ryau commented as he removed his bag from his back. 

"No, we passed the dead zone as soon as we went two floors below the relay. If we found another shaft to the surface that would be another story." Naki said. She slowly approached a curved wall inset between the the two catwalks. As she got closer, the entire wall lit up with holographic screens. Her data-pad blinked in her thigh pocket as it automatically connected to the Forerunner network that just came into existence. 

"Interesting…" Naki mumbled. It was unusual for something to automatically connect, the last time it had happened was when she had first found The Device. It forced a connection and downloaded the necessary information right onto her system. However, this one only seemed to give her access to a long dead system.  

The network hosted a collection of logs belonging to whatever Forerunner scientist had called this certain location home. Naki tapped a few buttons and began to copy them onto her personal data-stick. The logs were encrypted and whatever had come before had become corrupted over the millennia. With the network's files downloaded to her data-pad, Naki stepped away from the control surfaces and set up her bedroll beside Ryau, underneath one of the catwalks. 

Ryau was on the ground, fiddling with his own data-pad. "Is your data-pad running slow?" He asked. 

Naki looked down at her own system. She tapped an icon, and it did indeed take a few seconds longer than normal. A few taps later and she had opened the data-pad's processes and her screen was suddenly filled with lines of code and information. Only it was not being downloaded, but sent away. Something was pulling information off her data-pad.

They were disconnected from the Covenant Battle-Net so this was not a tap by Hierarchs nor was it compromising the security of the fleet. Naki's eyes shifted over to her wrist armor controls, whatever was going through her data-pad was doing the same to her armor.

She ignored the intrusion and took a closer look at the network. Naki sent a ping to the system to explore the connections. It appeared to originate in the room, but all the data it was siphoning off was being sent somewhere else.

"Yes, it is running slow. I'll find out why." Naki said. She stood back up and walked over to the control surface. Scouring over the words and panels, Naki found the stations standard signal analyzer.

With the press of a button, a map of the region flashed before her. An icon appeared above her location on the map, with a line extending off towards the gas giant the Ring orbited. Curious as to what could be there, Naki tapped the end of the line.

The hologram shifted and zoomed towards the planet's surface. It highlighted some sort of station that hung into the planet's atmosphere. "I wonder what's there…" Naki mumbled. "Ryau, is anything else behaving strangely?" She glanced back over to him on the floor.

Ryau checked his data-pad and then his armor like she did. "Well… The Device, there are a lot of panels that just appeared, just scrolling some sort of information" 

"So this is scanning our armor, data pads and even another Forerunner Device… What could this want?"
Suddenly, a voice came from one of the screens. It was a soothing, almost nice voice. "my Goodness!" It said in Sangheili.

Naki stepped back from the wall. "By the Rings?" 

The voice spoke again. "Finally… a scientist," It paused. "You are a scientist, right?"
She still was not entirely sure what she was listening to was not a recording. "Yes… yes I am."

"Very good! I am quite pleased to find a scientist… Why is this a rarity for your species?" The voice asked.

She sighed. "Uhm, well they mostly do not favor the knowledge aspects of life." Naki looked back towards Ryau, he rose from his bedroll to see what was going on. He walked over and silently stepped behind her.

"That is not very desirable… Either way,I will be quite direct with you. I need your help, Sang-heili." It was definitely a male voice on the other end of the communication line, however it sounded semi artificial.

Naki was suddenly curious, "With what?" Whatever this creature or Associated Intelligence was, it appeared to be very old. Perhaps even Forerunner in nature.

Almost immediately, the latter idea was put to rest. "Well, unlike the wretched Forerunners who built these idiotic mass extinction devices, I have nearly completed a project that would completely solve the issues with the crafted enzymatic compound that everyone seems to label as the Parasite."

With the implication that the entity on the other side of the com-line was not Forerunner, yet appeared to be just as old or older, made Naki even more curious into the thing's final point. "Well, how can I help with something like that?" She asked.

"I need someone to put the final pieces together." The voice said.

Naki wanted to know what she was talking to, and she wanted to know it as soon as possible. "And, who and what are you?" 

"My name is Prey'Teir…" There was a rumble from the other side of the com-line. "Actually… It would be best that I told you in person."

Naki glanced to Ryau to see what he thought about it. He just shrugged and shook his head. "Okay… when can we expect you?"

"Within a little while. Before the planet completes a full rotation." And with that, the communication ended. The line between the Ring and the Gas Giant disappeared and all the screens winked out of existence.

Naki pulled up her data-pad and checked its systems, whatever had been going through them had ceased as well, along with the network that had been in the room. Though the files were still there. "So… we'll be getting a visitor tomorrow." Naki said.

"So it seems… that was weird though. It talked like it wasn't Forerunner." Ryau glanced over to the Kig-Yar who had also had their interest piqued, the two had gathered just below the slightly raised platform the control area was on. 

"It might be older… a construct from before the reign of the Gods." Naki suggested. She knew Ryau was not a scientist, but he did know quite a lot about the lore of the universe in the time before they were taken into this reality. However, that had been over thirty solar cycles ago, he may have lost much of that knowledge. 

Ryau looked up, trying to remember something deep in his mind. "I… maybe the Precursors?" He rubbed his forehead. "I don't remember much about them." 

"Right… I didn't think about them." Naki smiled at Ryau, being as smart as she was, there were still things that she forgot. "There have been sparse mentions of them across the Forerunners' worlds. In our religious texts, they were noted as being a rival to the Gods, which the Forerunners vanquished in an epic battle millions of solar cycles before we came to being." Naki walked off to the side of the platform, as if moving would help stir thought. "They are also sometimes mentioned as the Gods of the Gods. It honestly depends on which teaching of the Great Journey you look at." 

"Is that what we be meeting?" The other Kig-Yar squawked, Naki made note that his name was Yun, though telling the two apart would not be difficult at all. 

"It seems possible." Naki said. "Good thought, Ryau. Either way, we'll still stay here for the night. We will prepare in the morning." 

The two Kig-Yar nodded and went back to their bedrolls, chattering excitedly about the prospect of meeting such a religious figure. Naki walked back to hers and removed her helmet. Ryau sat beside her and tapped her data-pad. "What kind of things did you get?" He asked. "Maybe it might explain what we just heard." 

Naki slapped herself in the head. "I completely forgot about that." She pulled her data-pad from her hip and ran an auto-decryption program on the entries she had pulled from the network. 

The program broke through the encryption of the first three entries fairly fast. The others remained locked, she would have to work on them herself. The dates for each entry were lost to time, Naki had no way of recovering them, or the amount of time that had passed between them. 

ENTRY ONE"Today has been very exciting for my assistant and I! We have been working on performing different types of pings throughout the galaxy and we received a response. While I know this may not be all that important or safe as finding a way to destroying the Infection, but we have found that the entity that replied was of non-organic make up; something that could definitely not be the Flood."

ENTRY TWO "To much of the surprise of our facility, the entity I had mentioned in my previous entry had somehow discovered our location and joined us in person. We now have the pleasure of meeting an actual Precursor ancilla. It has been several millennia since any Lifeworker has recorded one of these ancilla's in operation. What seems to be the most amazing thing is that it seems to be excited to work with us... We are going to see what it has to offer."

ENTRY THREE "By the Mantel, he has a lot to talk about. Prey'Teir, the name he identifies himself by, has told us much about somethings I, myself, did not know and do not fully understand. It is quite amusing to me though, as vast as his knowledge is, his vessel of choice seems quite subpar to what we have seen in the Domain. He claims to have built his own body chassis from parts of ancient armor and the components of other exotic machines. Strange, but it is acceptable I suppose."

Naki scrolled through the short entries. She was somewhat disappointed to find that they held very little actual data, but a look into the life of a Forerunner was still interesting nonetheless. 

"Well?" Ryau asked from his own bedroll.

"You were right, Prey'Teir is Precursor. It seems like the Forerunner that wrote these entries had come across him and he wanted to work with them as well." Naki glanced over. "I wonder what prevented them from finishing, was it the Halo activation?" 

"It probably was that. I seem to remember that the activation was not known by most Forerunners." Ryau said. 

Naki looked over to the Kig-Yar, they were busy watching some sort of holo-vid on a data cube. "You know, Ryau. If we didn't come into this world in the middle of a war, we could be the two leading Forerunner scientists. We could revolutionize what the Covenant know about them." Naki laughed. 

"There is always the reality that comes after this war is over." Ryau said. "We will be able to do so much," he laughed as well. 

"We will… But in the immediate future, we'll probably have a busy day tomorrow. We should get some sleep." Naki lied back into her bed and held a tab. The pillow inflated beneath her head, to her desired size and firmness. She sighed and closed her eyes, quite a busy day indeed.

LORC: Beginnings Act 2 Pt 3 and 4
Date: 28 August 2016, 10:32 pm

Part 3
The Parasite

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 173 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 21, 2552: 1404 hrs]
Installation 04. [Alpha Halo]
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

Naki awoke to a strange gurgling sound echoing down the corridors. She glanced at her data-pad's clock, it had not even been a full sleep cycle. Only five hours had passed since they had called it a night. The two Kig-Yar were up chittering from their end of camp.

The sounds began to trail off, then were followed by some sort of banging sound. Naki rolled over and shook Ryau. "Wake up, Something is going on."

Ryau slowly rose up. "What do you mean?"

"Listen, there's movement out there." Naki grabbed her Plasma rifle from her other hip.

A loud screech echoed from the halls above, causing Ryau to snap his Needle rifle up at the walkway. "We're too late. I didn't think that they would get here this fast."

"What is that sound?" Tik asked, his feathered plume twitched as his eyes darted around the lab.

"It's the Parasite, the Flood." Naki said. "Do you know what that is?"

"From the holy texts?" Yun, the Ruuhtian Kig-Yar, asked frantically.

"Yes." Naki glanced over to them. "We need to get back to the surface. Immediately."

"Grab your things and meet us on the upper level." Ryau moved back towards the ramps. Naki followed and the Kig-Yar stuck close. A foul smell began to flow through the corridors, causing Naki and Ryau to gag.

"By the Gods, that smell..." She frowned. Naki took Yun's bedroll from his back and tore off strips for everyone. The Kig-Yar squawked in annoyance, but then accepted the strip to cover his nose. Naki tied it around her head, it smelled like a Kig-Yar, yet that was better than the smell of rotting flesh.

They moved through the corridor as a group, following the route Naki had recorded with the Kindler. They made it up two flights of ramps before the air became completely green and foul. Ahead, a door that was sealed had been blown open. It was a mystery how that had happened without alerting them while they slept. There were globs of rotten flesh caught on the jagged edges, blood stained so green that it was impossible to tell what species it had come from.

A wet slapping noise came from they way they needed to go. The group turned towards the source of the sound. At the other end of the corridor, the mangled body of a Sangheili stood in another formerly sealed doorway. Tentacles quivered from random points on its body, and strips of flesh hung loosely from bone.

The grotesque abomination 'looked' towards them, its center mass facing them while the head dangled limply over the shoulder. It groaned from deep down what was left ofits throat and began to charge for them. With every step a wet clap of swollen flesh sounded out from its twisted proportions.

They all hesitated for a moment. Naki had never imagined it in this kind of detail. Ryau fired first, the needles striking the flesh and detonating, blowing the former Warrior into bloody chunks.

Red blips began to appear on her motion sensor, swarming into the corridor above and heading for the ramp down to their level. "Ryau-" Naki began to warn him.

"I see it!" He yelled swiftly "Let's go- down the hall, into that room. There looks to be an elevator there." Ryau said.

The group sprinted the length of the hallway. They had to make it into the other room before whatever was on the level above made it down the ramp. "This one died quick, why not fight through?" Yun asked.

"This one was alone, and they normally swarm. We just alerted them to our position," Ryau said.

They passed the corpse, what was left of it was splayed out across the wall and floor. Naki looked away as she stepped over the former Minor's mutilated leg. The body suit had been torn to pieces by tentacles and chunks of bone that had emerged from the body. The Flood was so much more terrifying in person.

Naki was deeply scared that they would not make it off the Ring. It was all her fault; she had wanted to explore the Ring and not be trapped in the fleet with the rest of the team, she had used her influence to get them down on the surface.

The other door was torn apart almost identically to the one on the opposite side of the corridor. The same kind of gore adorned the ancient metal's fresh cuts. It was repulsive. The room was another lab area, which thankfully housed an elevator. They scrambled onto the platform just as the corridor outside began to fill with hundreds of small fleshy creatures.

Naki slid to a stop and examined the control panel as fast as she could. "Get this thing moving, Naki!" Ryau shouted from behind her. He and the Kig-Yar opened fire, in an attempt to keep the Parasite at bay.

"I am working on it!" She sped down the command lines and made a horrifying realization "Ryau, this lift only goes down!"

"That doesn't matter, anywhere is better than here," Ryau shouted back. There was an explosion as all the needles that had been embedded in the biological mass that now coated the entrance way, detonated.

Naki slapped the activation button and the lift lurched. They began to descend down the shaft at a rapid pace, the top of the shaft became filled with the green fleshy monsters. Naki fired upwards, followed by Ryau and the two Kig-Yar. Thick green globs of what use to be blood fell down and rained upon them. Naki turned her head away to avoid getting any of the substance on her face. She really wished she was still wearing the Ranger harness.

The Flood forms ceased throwing themselves down the shaft as the elevator passed a seventh exit platform. Naki tapped the switch and it came to a halt eight levels below the origin. "Let's get out of here," she said.

The chamber appeared to be untouched, except for the green twinge of the atmosphere that filled the area. "Appears to be clear," Ryau stepped off the platform and scanned the room.

Naki took the Kindler off her shoulder and sent it off in search of a way to reach the surface. Its automated tracking system had it searching for any vertical paths, The small group moved onwards through the winding tunnels and corridors, following the path the Kindler was mapping. They managed to get up one floor, though unfortunately its condition was far worse than any of the other levels they had been to thus far.

The level must have once been one of the large maintenance corridors that ran along the spine of the Ring. Every door was blown open, and strange masses of flesh were adhered to the walls. Once again, the air was filled with the putrid stench of rotting flesh.

It would take an eternity for the Kindler to fully map out each and every tunnel for a passageway out. Naki made some last moment adjustments to the search pattern, it would look for any vertical shafts that had the characteristics of an elevator. "Follow the drone, it's searching for a lift." Naki said in a hushed tone. She could not risk alerting the Flood to their location.

Ryau nodded and signaled for them to continue on. This was a side of him Naki had not seen before, Thankfully, she only got to really spend time with him in non-combat situations. Though even in the few she was part of, he had at least been vocal. This situation must have him worried if he was falling back on his old training. They were in the same state of mind if that were true.

They slowly crept through the sunken walkway between the bloated piles of biomass. The Parasite must have been using the local wildlife, all the forces the Covenant deployed would still not allow for this much infection across the entire ring this rapidly. The sounds of the Parasite made it extremely difficult to differentiate what was the Flood and what was just the harmless hum from forerunner machinery.

The small drone zipped in and out of passageways, its purple lights flashing over the walls and flesh. Naki hoped that it would not be the reason for their downfall.

A different sound began to become audible over the gurgling and constant animalistic screams. It sounded similar to the anti-grav engines that held the Kindler aloft, but more metallic and much louder. Ahead, the tunnel turned towards the edge of the Ring. The bend was hiding whatever was making the sounds that were soon joined by gunfire. Human weapons, more specifically their Assault rifles, and what might be shotguns.

Ryau motioned for them to slow down even more. "Are there Humans ahead?" Yun whispered.

"You think Humans could survive this?" Tik slapped Yun across the back of his head.

"We could only hope to be so lucky," Naki sighed.

They rounded the corner, the Flood was thankfully preoccupied with fighting off scores of flying machines. Naki recognised the silver machines from debris she had encountered on other Forerunner installations. "Those are Sentinels, they'll take care of the Flood." She sighed, the first twinge of good news since they had awoken.

The Flood managed to down one of the Ring's Holy Warriors. The Machine's anti-grav emitter failed and it crashed to the ground. Infection forms and Combat forms swarmed it, before it detonated in a blaze of fire and shrapnel. The explosion launched one of the Human Shotguns through the air, and it was embedded in one of the Biomass blobs near Ryau.

He leaned over and yanked it free. Giving it a good shake, he expelled the rotten goop. "It looks like it's still in working order..."

"But that's a Human weapon," Tik said. "You're a Sangheili."

"The Parasite appears to be very susceptible to projectile weapons. Plasma takes too long to kill them," he said. "At this point if you want to live, find a Human weapon."

Naki glanced around, there was an Assault rifle sitting beside what could have been a female Human. The corpse was mostly burned away below the collarbone. She picked the gun off the floor and was immediately thankful that her bodysuit had included gloves. The other side of the weapon was covered in blood and pus. Naki checked the torn pockets and found a few ammunition cartridges, but the corpse was fairly stripped of anything else of use.

The Sentinels were just moments away from wiping out the nearby Flood forms, when Naki's data-pad bleeped. The Kindler had found an exit. "Ryau, there appears to be an elevator shaft just around the next bend. It may look far away, but it is our only option so far." Naki whispered.

"Then we wait for the Sentinels to move on. Then we go." He said.

Naki sighed, "the Sentinels run with bio-sensors. They probably know where we are already, but the Flood require their priority attention."

"What do we do then?" Ryau asked.

Before Naki could suggest that they just make a run for it, Yun squawked and sprinted down the corridor. "Yun!" Tig shouted after him.

"Go now, he gave us away!" Ryau sprinted after the Ruuhtian.

The Sentinels that were not immediately occupied with the Flood turned towards the group of Covenant charging through their combat zone. The energy beams fired at the leading Kig-Yar, but Yun's reflexes allowed him to leap sideways to safety. Ryau fired his Shotgun at a Combat form that had emerged from one of the side passages. The Infection form controlling the former Human's body was torn to pieces and the host collapsed to the ground.

The waypoint marker on Naki's ACI appeared to get further away, the closer she actually got. The Sentinels and an ever increasing amount of Combat forms made crossing a simple corridor into a challenge worthy only of Sanghelios' greatest warriors.

Naki unloaded a full cartridge of bullets into a swarm of Infection forms that threatened to overtake Ryau. It was only when a Sangheili Combat form dropped down from the upper deck, that Naki realized she did not actually know how to reload. "Damn them," Naki muttered as her shoulders dropped.

The Flood form screamed and charged for her. Naki panicked and threw the Assault rifle at the creature, snapping the bones on its left arm. She dove out of the way, and was slapped along the side by its good arm. Sliding to a stop, Naki rose to her feet and activated both her wrist blades. "Well, I'm not a swordsman, but this will have to do."

It had been ages since she had actually used them to do anything other than cut alloy, but they were all she had. The creature had knocked her plasma rifle elsewhere when she jumped. The Combat form turned back around and ran for her again, both it's now broken arms slapping wildly through the air. It was pure nightmare fuel. Naki gambled, and ran at the abomination. She slammed into its mass, and swung her blades, severing its flailing limbs before it could react. Quickly, Naki kicked the armless Flood away.

It stumbled back and began to convulse. The Infection form inside began to pull out of the host. Naki lunged forward and jabbed her right arm into the space between chestplates. Her blade sliced through the soft spongy flesh, her hand followed. Pulling upwards, she sliced through the escaping Infection form. With the Parasite dead, the full weight of the body dragged her to the ground. Naki pushed the body away from her and wiped the green slime off of the makeshift facemask; the stench was already soaking the fabric.

She retrieved the Assault rifle and slid it onto her back. When they reached the elevator, she would need to have Ryau show her how to reload. Naki reached up and pulled the face covering away and vomited up her last meal as she ran. She was sent to the ground again after rolling to avoid a Sentinel beam cutting through the air. While still on the ground, she reached out and sliced the legs off another Flood form shambling by. It fell and she stabbed it in the chest for a final blow.

Naki took a look towards the waypoint ahead. The two Kig-Yar had already turned down the lift corridor, they must have kept running instead of engaging the Parasite. Her motion tracker was swarming with 'unknown' dots, the only friendly icon was Ryau's emblem, and even that was making a bee-line for the other end of the corridor. Naki rose and sprinted after her allies.

She could feel the heat coming off a beam of energy that flashed by her side. A swarm of fresh Sentinels descended from a vent on the wall, burning away all the Parasite in sight. Naki banked around the corner, she could just feel that there were still creatures chasing her down. "Fifth passageway on the left!" She shouted. Ryau fired into the air above her twice more before discarding the Shotgun and switching to his wrist blades as well.

The hall went into a lobby styled chamber, the elevator sat on the far end. Ryau slapped the door controls and the door slammed shut, "That should buy us some time to clear out," he said.

Yun and Tig waited patiently on the lift platform for she and Ryau to get aboard. Tig had been shot in the arm, purple blood dribbled into his feathers, but it was not a life threatening injury. Naki practically leapt onto the platform and slammed the pad with her fist. Immediately, the lift rose up the shaft, there were no balconies or exits other than the top of the shaft thankfully. They came to a halt in a small room, much like the many they had passed through the day before. The Kindler hovered between the group, before moving on, Naki took the device and re-attached it to her pack. According to its scans, they were only one ramp away from the surface.

There was no sign of the Flood as they made their way up. The doors parted and sunlight flooded in. Naki took a welcomed breath of fresh air. Yun dropped to the ground, praying to the Gods for keeping them alive through the challenge.

Ryau hurried over to Naki's side and embraced her in a hug. "We made it out, just call for the Spirit and get us off this damned Ring."

Naki smiled and placed her fingers to her headset. "Major 'Kisovaiee," she hailed the Spirit's co-pilot. "This is Major 'Cimutee, we have returned to the surface and need immediate extraction." There was no response from the ship. "...perhaps this canyon is blocking the signal... We need to get off this Ring!"

"There looks to be a path leading up to the top, over there." Ryau pointed towards an old, weathered path that wound up one of the cliff faces.

"It does appear to go all the way up, let's hurry up there." Naki pressed on, up the red rock. The path was long and treacherous, but surviving the Flood below made her feel more adventurous and less vulnerable. It took nearly twenty minutes to make it up off the cliff face. She glanced around at the horizon as one of the beam emitter towers fired off into the sky.

Gunfire echoed across the plateau. Plasma sizzled along the edges of the canyon they had set their camp in. The Flood must be on the surface by now. A moment later, their Spirit shot up and blasted towards the sky. "Are they leaving us behind?!" Yun shouted.

Naki was speechless for a moment as Ryau growled into his mic. "Pilot! Turn around immediately!" There was no response, Ryau repeated himself twice more before giving up.

"Wait, I have an idea." Naki reached around and pulled one of the teleporter drones from its cradle on her back. She tossed it into the air and used its control pad to launch it towards the Spirit.

The drone was designed to cross the vast distances between teleporters in Forerunner installations in a small amount of time. Crossing the distance between the ground and the dropship would be simple. Naki guided the probe straight towards the back end of the Spirit. The plating on the backside seemed to have been damaged by plasma fire. She pulled the drone back for the small drone to gain , she sent it forward at max acceleration.

The grenade sized probe punched a hole through the compromised hull and slammed into one of the cockpit screens. The drone's camera scanned the space and Naki was relieved to not see Flood at the controls, but two horrified Sangheili pilots.

She activated the external speakers. "Hey! Turn around, you left us behind."

The pair looked at the drone and the co-pilot pried it from the screen."Major 'Cimutee..?" His voice had a slight quiver to it, "You're alive?"

"Yes, thank the Gods, we are." Naki sighed. "We are on the surface up spin from the canyon."

"How do I know you're not one of them?" He asked.

"Come by and see for yourself. The Infected show obvious signs of mutation, and I would very much like not to look like that." Naki said.

There was a fair bit of debate between the two crew, Naki did not blame them, she would doubt herself too. "Major, we are coming back. Hold your location."

Naki paused before she asked her next question. "...What happened on the surface?"

"The monsters attacked shortly after sunrise, we were cut off from the dropship. We lost the three Unggoy holding them off. Then these machines from the Gods arrived, Major 'Vinika called them Sentinels. They took the Parasite's attention away from us long enough to make it to the dropship." He sighed.

"At least you made it." Naki said. "...I see you, I don't have any way to signal, but my green armor should stand out against the landscape." The dropship appeared in the sky, quickly growing larger as it approached.

"We have you on the system, your probe missed that screen. We will see you in a moment."

The Spirit passed overhead, the pilots getting a visual confirmation that Naki's group was not infected. It came back around and dropped the hatch on the right side. Alea appeared when it dropped, her armor was badly burned and covered in the fluorescent blood of the Unggoy, "N-naki, Ryau, come on!" She shouted. They hurried aboard, Ryau waited for the Kig-Yar to climb on before boarding himself. The doors shut and they lifted off.

Alea collapsed back into one of the crash seats, Naki would have stopped to see how she was handling this, but she needed to check with the pilots. The co-pilot was applying a patch to the hole she had created with the probe. "Why did you do this?" He asked.

"We attempted to make contact as you left, there was no response." Naki crossed her arms.

"The ship's antenna must be damaged, without that we have no communications system." The co-pilot remarked. "We will not be able to contact the fleet."

"And they will shoot us down." Naki said. "That's why I came in here. Are there any Communications Nodes still held in the cargo field?"

"There may be, we most certainly did not load any before we left," the pilot said.

"Before we leave Halo's atmosphere, open the central access port to the cargo hold. Lets pray that there are some." Naki walked around the control console as the pilot keyed open the hatch. She attached a metallic belt to herself and pressed a button on the side. A small band of energy appeared to tether her to the Spirit. The door on the floor slid open, revealing the underside of the ship. While it was not a cargo hold in the traditional sense, it was a space where the crates and other equipment was stored on the exterior with energy fields.

Naki lowered herself down into the wind. She was not afraid of heights, but dangling out of a Spirit approaching space would give anyone the chills. There were three crates still held in. "Thank the Gods," Naki muttered. There was one Comm node still there.

She lowered herself onto the bottom energy field and shimmied over to the top of one of the transmitters. The field would definitely hold her weight, the tether was more for moving around on its slick surface. Naki disconnected the top of the node and removed the transmitter. The energy tether reeled her back into the hatch and Naki pulled herself into the craft.

"Got it, close the hatch," she said. The pilot nodded and sealed the Spirit back up. "We should be able to communicate now." Patching the transmitter into the dropship's communications system was not something that she had taught at the Ministry of Special Sciences, but if it worked, it would when she got back.

As soon as the antenna powered up, the ship was reconnected with the Covenant Battlenet. The speakers were overwhelmed with radio traffic about the Parasite across Halo. Naki sat back and listened in, it seemed that the Flood had gotten out onto a few ships in the fleet, most notably their fleet supply ship the Infinite Succor. As a result, any vessels leaving the Ring would have to go to one of three ships acting as Quarantine Zones.

The co-pilot leaned over and tapped the transmit switch. "This is dropship Cicada-two-two-seven. We have just escaped the surface. Please advise."

The Comm channel was anything but silent, though none of the traffic was directed at them. They did receive a direct hail on the ship-to-ship channel. "Cicada-two-two-seven, divert to Thrice Given Grace for immediate quarantine."

The co-pilot acknowledged and placed a waypoint on the ship they had been assigned to. The ship itself was a CCS-class battlecruiser, it had been holed in multiple places. Thrice Given Grace looked more like it had been scuttled before it was given a new purpose. The dropship weaved around what appeared to be various kinds of small craft engine components drifting in the vacuum

The Spirit passed through the hangar bay's energy barrier and came to a halt above the deck. Fleet Security was out in force, white armored Kig-Yar and Sangheili were spread across the hangar, They were wearing Ranger harnesses, probably based off the misassumption that the infection was airborne. A Kig-Yar waved them over to a proper landing zone with light sticks. The Spirit settled and they were directed to open their hatches.

"Slowly exit the vessel, leave all weapons behind." One of the Sangheili ordered.

Naki stood up from the communications console and made her way out with the others. She deactivated her weapon hardpoints, and the Assault Rifle dropped to the ground. Fleet Security had set up barriers across the hangar, sectioning it off into areas. They were armed with everything from Carbines to the rare Type-17 Incendiary Gel Projector. Naki would liken the weapon to a smaller, two handed version of the Mgalekgolo's arm cannon. There were actual Mgalekgolo pairs on every exit to the hangar as well.

"Continue forward into the cruiser. You are being quarantined until you have been deemed free of infection. A medical scan will be done before you leave the ship at the end of quarantine." The Security Officer ordered.

Naki sighed. "Signs of infection are quite obvious, extreme mutation of the carrier's form." She was pulling at whatever strings of memory she had from her past. "It is not something that can slip by unnoticed."

"It matters not," the Officer said, pulling Naki forward through the checkpoint. "We have explicit orders from the Supreme Commander."

"Has this ship has been disabled?" Ryau asked as he too passed the checkpoint.

"Yes, Major. All of the ships chosen for quarantine use were damaged beyond use by the Humans." Another Officer replied.

As soon as the Spirits crew were clear, a team of Kig-Yar disconnected the engine system and chucked it into space. A Mgalekgolo pair moved over and pushed the now useless dropship into a pile of other vessels.

"Good thing I pulled off my personal belongings..." Their pilot mumbled. Naki reached back just to make sure that her drones and data were still attached to her back plate.

"Cleaning showers are directly ahead, decontaminate and then continue into the general area." The Sangheili Officer pointed down the corridor towards two doorways.

Naki walked through and chose one of the decontamination suites to clean herself off. Without removing her armor, she stepped below the hot water. The disgusting gore and blood sloshed off her armor and body suit, and fell through the grate below. The showers were a three step process usually; the initial wash-off, armor removal , and then an unclothed shower. As Naki stepped out of the first step, she already smelled better. However, step two would have to be ignored, it appeared that the armor cleaning station had been stripped from its housing.

"Well at least the personnel showers are still there..." Naki mumbled. She began to remove her armor and place it into the nook beside the shower.

Someone behind her fumbled with their helmet and dropped it to the ground. Naki turned to see Ryau leaning down to pick it up, and she realized this was the first time he would have seen a fellow Sangheili without any type of clothing, Sure Humans also utilized unisex crew spaces in the military, but Naki understood that the Sangheili body was still 'alien' to him. It had only been barely three months since he had been changed.
"I...I'm sorry, Naki." he said, shifting uncomfortably,

"It is perfectly alright, there is nothing to show." She was still wearing the body suit below her waist, and Sangheili females had nothing on the chest to hide, "If you feel uncomfortable, just go to another stall, quickly."

Ryau nodded and hurried over to another along the same wall instead of directly across from her. Unbenounced to Naki, the suppressants and restrictions on Spartans had been removed by Ryau's transformation. He had been experiencing vastly new feelings and instincts from both his former human mind, and his new Sangheili body.

Naki finished cleansing herself of whatever residue remained from the Flood. Her armor still felt dirty as she suited back up, but it was all she felt safe in at the moment. The hall outside the decontamination showers had, at one time, led directly into a cargo bay, but the interior had been nearly completely stripped. Wall plates were piled in various stages of disassembly and Naki could almost see the hangar bays on the other side of the cruiser. There were groups of every Covenant species spread across the massive open space.

If this ship had been deemed unrecoverable, it had been in the process of being stripped for resources when the Supreme Commander ordered it used for quarantine. Ryau came up behind her. "...So... Sorry again, but where are we going to wait this out?"

Naki sighed and glanced around the area. "We should head up to the private rooms on the warrior decks. If an infection does break out here, we would have a better chance of surviving there,"

"Lead the way, this is different than the Leveling Strength." Ryau said.

"Alright, let's just hope the grav-lifts are still active." Naki took them through the disassembled corridors, the only parts that appeared to not be in any stage of removal, were the deck plates and the ship's superstructure. Up ahead, the grav-lift tubes hummed with life and their door slid open. Naki punched in the code for the upper decks and stepped inside.

The slight tingly feeling of the gravity beam carried Naki and Ryau up to the warrior deck. She was gently deposited onto the metal surface, thankfully the disassembly crews had not made it that far into the ship before they were recalled. "There are individual crew rooms on this deck, at least there should be. Just pick one." Naki said, waving her hand ahead.

"Well, why don't we just use the one in front of us." Ryau pointed forward at the crew door across the hall. The door opened to a room very similar to Naki's back on the Leveling Strength. Ryau walked in a lied on the bed. "What do you think happened to that Prey'Tier thing?"

Naki sat on the other bed and pulled her data-pad from her thigh pack. "I had completely forgotten about that... He probably showed after we left, or was deterred by the Parasite..." Naki said. "To get your mind off those things, would you like to read the documents I recovered?"

"I suppose, who knows how long we'll be aboard." Ryau sighed. Naki sent the decoded logs over to his data-pad.

She decided to spend her free time on the ship unlocking the other logs. They would require a more direct approach. Naki would have to go into the file's data-strands and pick apart the encryption line-by-line. It took hours to break some of the most minimal Forerunner security manually, and Naki had spent days working on the doors to the most basic Forerunner installations. Sometimes her lock breaking applications just refuse to work.

After hours of work. Ryau had fallen asleep with his data-pad on his chest, and Naki had finally cracked through the millennia old encryption. The final entries appeared on screen in all their untranslated glory. She smiled at her prize, sure it was not as good as meeting an ancient being, but the logs were very interesting themselves.

ENTRY FOUR "My assistant and I have tried to pluck some deeper meaning from what he has told us. He has been acting very vague about many things, but he has been referring to some very interesting things; most specifically, and I quote: "While you may feel as you have rendered yourself alone as the only remaining transentient species, your reality is only one of many"... We will try to get more information with time."

ENTRY FIVE "Well, it has been at least a week in a half since my last entry. My assistant and I have been hard at work trying to decrypt Prey'Tier's crypticism. Our newest needle from the haystack of what he has taught us is quite exciting. He apparently would like us too try to build a portal rift key that would lead us to being able to connect, according to him, an existence where more of the Precursors reside in great numbers. He has gone into far detail, even to the effect of going the length to preset blueprints so that we may build it. Its design is complex, but I do believe that we could fabricate such components here on Installation 04. It might be difficult to get this cleared by my superiors, but I think we will just build it anyway.

ENTRY SIX "We have finally done it! After a week of diligent work we have built the gatekey he spoke of. The device has been built to his detail and specification. I have dubbed this device as 'The Raift Key' or more simply as 'Object Raift'. Unfortunately, while he has given me great praise on my construction of the device, he has told me that it is not quite complete. It apparently requires more finely made components than what can be made here on Installation 04... He says he knows of a place that these components may be made, however he has deliberately kept this detail from me.

ENTRY SEVEN "We have placed him and his device into a transport under his directive so that he may travel to wherever he has the ability to create the final needed components. I wish him great luck, and sadly will find the rest of my time here lacking as I wish I could accompany him on his quest. The Parasite have been drawing closer and closer by the day..."

Naki set her data-pad down. "So the Precursors are from another reality..." She mumbled. "Perhaps us being here wasn't magic after all." Naki thought about discussing this with Ryau, but she decided against waking him. She would share it with his data-pad and talk later. Her eyelids began to feel heavy, the negative aspect of staring at a screen for hours. It wouldn't hurt to get some sleep like Ryau. She placed her data-pad on the table and slipped into a well needed slumber.

Naki shot off the bed to an echoing screech. After a moment, her ears recognized the tones as the ship's announcement chime. She was drenched in sweat, her experience on Halo had triggered a wave of nightmares while she had slept. Naki sighed and rubbed the top of her head. The announcement cracked across the speakers.

[I]"Attention, quarantine has been removed. Proceed to all hangar bays for transport back into the fleet. Recovery of weapons is also cleared." The announcer began to list off where each transport would be located. The Leveling Strength had a vessel in hangar seven on the starboard side.
"Ryau, wake up," Naki shook his shoulder.

Ryau sat up rather quickly and reached for a weapon that was not there. "What is it?"

"The quarantine has been lifted, we're cleared to leave." Naki said. "We're safe, let's get off this ship." She pocketed her data-pad and started for the door. Ryau was close behind, just as eager to get somewhere safer than this.

The gravity lift took them back down to the hangar level,. It was a flurry of commotion as warriors came out of the nooks and crannies of the vessel to find their way back to their ships. Naki led Ryau through the masses to the pair of Phantoms waiting to take them back to the Leveling Strength. There were a few others on board, but Naki only recognized one Sangheili on board the Phantom.

"Sig, you're alive, you made it off!" Ryau exclaimed, much to Naki's surprise, and apparently Sig's.

"By the gods! Ryau! Naki!" Sig exclaimed delightedly. "We thought you had perished in the tunnels below!"

"It was quite difficult to make it to the surface, but we managed to get out intact." Naki said. "They are not something that should be engaged in close quarters."

"I would not imagine..." Sig paused as he lightly shook his head. "We barely had made an escape and we were on the surface! I have never seen anything like those... things." A bit of a worried look grew over Sig's smile.

"They are... meant to be a challenge for those that find the Sacred Rings. It is something that has been overlooked on many accounts," Naki sighed.

Sig paused for a moment as he thought. "Yes... The 'Flood' as they were called... I had forgotten such a minor detail." He sighed heavily. "Curse the Forerunners..."

As the Phantom closed, Sig walked over to the others on board. Naki realized they must have been his lance from the ground.

"I suppose we're headed back to our ship, so we're finally going to be safe." Ryau leaned back into a wall seat.

Sig rejoined them with a sigh as he sat against the harness besides Ryau. "One can only hope so..." He looked down and toyed with the heat vents on his Plasma Repeater.

Ryau shrugged. "I'm quite confident in saying that things will be coming to a conclusion, very soon."

"Well," Sig chuckled slightly. "Would it be cliche to say that I think this might only be the beginning of what we faced?"

"For us," Naki looked to Sig. "I do hope that it isn't." She glanced to Ryau who was sighing in his seat.

"Well... This was only one Ring." Sig pointed out.

"And I don't want to be anywhere near the next, if the Covenant finds another." Ryau said. "I know for a fact, that I am not going down to this one again."

"I second that notion." Sig nodded. "However, it would be best to stay far from D`rok, K`an, and I if that is your goal. Such situational luck seems to follow us."

"What? I'm not going anywhere else. I've already grown use to you and K`an's sense of humor." Ryau chuckled.

Sig leaned back heavily against the side of the Phantom with a pleasant smile. "I am glad you have... You and Naki make for good company."

"How did you handle leading a group, Sig?" Naki asked, she nodded over to the survivors on the other side of the Phantom. She decided against asking him about losses.

"I seem to be doing an alright job... though I would prefer a less stressful situation next time," He said.

"Wouldn't we all..." She sighed. The Stasis fields activated, holding Naki in place, as the Phantom braked to enter one the Leveling Strength's hangar bays. The craft settled into a landing cradle and its side hatches opened. Sig once again went to talk with his lance, and Naki and Ryau exited the Phantom.

Ryau sighed. "I need to go check in with D`rok."

"Okay... well back to the Lance room then." Naki turned and waved off a group of medical personnel that were coming by to check on the survivors. The others needed it, not her or Ryau. Fleet Security did however, require a medical scan before they were allowed to reenter the ship.

After they were cleared for access, Naki noted that the halls were virtually empty. There must be some sort of mandatory restrictions in place on traveling across the vessel. As such there was no traffic on the gravity conveyors.

As soon as the door to the lance room began to slide open, K`an was alerted "My gods!" He exclaimed. "It took you long enough to get back here!"

"Ah, well if it isn't the cripple." Ryau said, following Naki inside.

"Ha ha, funny," K`an was unusually serious. "What the fuck is happening out there?" He demanded.

"It was the Parasite..." Naki said, she looked down to the side. Sig pushed past them and went to his bunk, he just took a seat.

"What does that even mean?!" K`an seems quite agitated. "I have spent the last eight hours trying to figure this shit out! The security on the ship has been jumpy and frantic as hell, everyone is evacuating the ring, and all anyone has mentioned is a very sparsely heard 'oh it is the Parasite.'
What the fuck is this parasite!?" He wobbled very slightly as he stood up from the chair in the corner of the room.

"K`an, have you never read about the Halo Rings?" She asked. "The Parasite, the Flood."

"Read those inflated and bastardization of the holy texts they give to the public? Ha, to hell with reading that dry shit!" K`an mocked loudly.

"K`an... back off." Sig tried to ease the situation.

"And why the hell should I do such a thing?!" K`an demanded.

"Maybe we would not wish to speak of what happened." Sig tried to defend himself.

"Sig!" K`an pointed with a slight growl of annoyance. "Shut your fucking mouth and let the grownups talk." He looked back to Ryau and Naki. "I'll ask again. What the fuck is going on?!"

"Look up 'the Flood', K`an." Naki said. "I don't want to go around explaining them and throwing up."

K`an stared at Naki in total disbelief. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"K`an, stop it." Sig tried once again as he stood from his bunk, clenching his fist firmly at his side.

"Absolutely not! Sig you need to quit being a little dyke!" K'an shouted at Sig before looking back towards Naki and Ryau.

K`an opened his mouth to once again demand some sort of explanation he did not deserve. However he was silenced as Sig lunged forward and punched K`an across the mandibles. K`an dropped to the floor and yelped in pain. Even after he had fallen to the floor, Sig spent a few moments repeatedly hitting K`an in the face.

"What the fuck!?" K`an yelled, trying to shield himself with his hands.

"I told you to stop it, you bigoted, womanizing piece of shit!" Sig growled. "None of us wish to relive what happened on that disgusting Ring! And you are too insistent!" Naki had to agree. K`an was prying too far into topics that should be left untouched at the present time.

"Alright..." K`an said quietly, finally realizing he may have gone to far. "Calm down."

"No! You do not call someone something like that and expect them to be just fine with it!" Sig yelled at him. "Now you stay there and think about how much of a dick you are!" He stood back and walked to the door. "Naki, Ryau? I am heading to the tavern to drink myself to oblivion with my previous Warriors. Would you two like to join me?""

"Uhm... sure," Ryau said.

"I actually need to check on my Lance..." Naki said, thinking back to Alea and the others. "They told me they would be down in the one of the old lab bays."

"Very well. I promise not to get Ryau too drunk for you." Sig headed out of the Lance room's door, Ryau following close behind. Naki sighed and rolled her eyes at K`an before walking through the door herself.

After meeting with Alea and the others from her group, Naki had walked back to her cabin. The others were all recovering just fine, thankfully. Alea had apologized again for lying about her standing in the Ministry of Special Sciences. Naki let her off easy, and just made sure that she would be emotionally stable. Alea would need some time away from the frontlines again, Naki ended up writing her a transfer request to send her back to the Ministry on High Charity.

When she returned to her cabin, she found Ryau just sitting on his cot. He had turned her wall console onto the camera from a probe watching the Halo ring. "Waiting for the event?" She asked, taking a seat on her own bed.

"It's only a matter of time now..." Ryau mumbled, he seemed to have had a bit much to drink.

"Indeed, I do hope our ship is clear of the debris." Naki replied.

"Well the view from the ship's cameras are blocked by the planet. So I think we are," he said.

They spent the rest of the day watching the screen, waiting for what they both knew what would happen, a one of a kind explosion. Naki made sure that her systems were recording from all other probe cameras. They would likely be destroyed by the debris so recovering the hard-data would be virtually impossible. After nearly four hours and a welcomed meal from the ship's cafeteria, the far side of the ring blossomed a brilliant flash. The massive fireball overtook the width of the Ring, it appeared to be over four hundred kilometers across.

Naki could not look away from the spectacular view, but she sighed. She felt sadness, but relief as well. Such a loss of technology and data, but the Flood had been wiped out and the Covenant could not wipe out the galaxy. "Sometimes I wish I could change things." The Ring began to tear itself apart, massive pieces of the superstructure twisting and shattering into space. "But then this universe would probably turn out worse than it will be."

"I feel the same way, sometimes. But things need to happen, and people need to die..." Ryau said.

"I know... I just pray that no one we know is one of them. It is hard enough being sent to these places and seeing the events take place." Naki continued to watch the pieced fly by the probe. "Why are we here? Is it some kind of mistake, or a damned Precursor experiment?"

"What are you talking about?" Ryau asked, tearing his view from the screen.

"Did you read the second batch of logs I sent you? Take a look," Naki crossed her arms. Perhaps she was getting too far into it, though she did just see one of the largest technological marvels she had ever seen become a massive debris field.

Ryau sat up in his cot and pulled his data-pad off the night stand. Naki waited for him to finish reading. "So, this means we're like the Precursors?" he whispered.

"Kind of, whatever brought us here wasn't magic, it was technology. I..I do not know why, it being on purpose makes me feel worse than thinking it was by chance." She sighed again.

Ryau calmly got up from the bed and embraced her in a hug. "We'll figure these things out. We just need to get through this war. I don't think its much longer now, maybe a year." he said in a soft voice.

He was comforting her, she smiled a bit. All she needed was a hug, she had been through so much psychological trauma and stress. It felt good to have someone again. "We survived a Halo... you are right. We will make it."

Part 4

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 173 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 22, 2552: 1214hrs]
DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau shrugged off the blanket and sat up in the ruffled sheets. He rubbed his forehead and sighed, the night before had been one he would never forget. Though there was one thing he was certain of, Naki had much more experience than him.

He rolled off the side of Naki's bed. Reaching into his backpack, he retrieved a vacuum sealed package that had been sitting at the bottom of the pack since he received the pack itself. He tore it open and pulled out a fresh set of cloth uniforms. His other uniforms were dirty as well, Ryau would need to learn how to do laundry someday. The fresh package contained a set of white shirts rimmed with green, quite different than his usual black with red details.

He held one of the shirts up in front of himself. "Why is this one different than my other uniforms?" Ryau asked.

Naki groaned and threw her blanket off of her face to get a look at what he was holding. "Oh... that's a Science Major's uniform..." She sat up and began to pull her own uniform from one of her nightstand drawers.

"Oh, um. Here, I guess its yours." Ryau began to hand the shirt back to her.

"No, no, it's yours. Back when Zeik and I were working on your backstory, we weren't sure what background to give, so we went with something similar to his and gave you both." Naki yawned, mandibles going wide.

"So it's alright for me wear this around instead of the SpecOps black?" Ryau pulled the shirt back and rubbed the gold and red logo on the left side with his thumb.

"Yes, perfectly acceptable." Naki said. "Your science background is not a major one, so I still outrank you in that division," she giggled.

"Whatever," Ryau chuckled. He pulled the shirt over his head and smoothed out the creases. His armor had yet to be cleaned and he would not be wearing it until it had been fully sterilized

Less than three hours ago, Naki had received a summons from the Prophet of Regret. He apparently wanted Naki and her science team, which would mean just Ryau now that Naki had put Alea's transfer in motion, to join his fleet for some major discovery he had found. Naki had commented that at the time, the Prophet had been furious about the Halo's destruction, but it did not distract from his desire to retrieve her. The Mercy and Betrayal had been dispatched from Sanghelios and would be arriving within the next few days.

After the Ring had been destroyed, the fleet had moved into the shadow of the gas giant's largest moon to avoid the debris that were being spread across the planet's orbit. Fleet operations were essentially halted while they waited for an all clear from the High Council.

Ryau didn't know what he would do for the next few days, Far Beyond Provocation was basically in a period of disuse. D`rok was on leave, and spending time on the Seeker of Truth recovering from some kind of psychological trauma. Ryau had heard talk that the lead position would fall back to K`an for good.

"Well, we should go get some food. The dining hall should have some limited selection." Naki said. With the Fleet's supply ship gone, all of the eateries across the fleet went into conservation mode. Food and water were being rationed out. No one seemed to know how long the fleet would remain stationed in the system without support.

They passed a group of Fleet Security Officers patrolling the hallways, everyone was still concerned about the Flood. It had only been seven hours since the Ring was destroyed, and at least five since the last dropship had arrived from the blast area. Ryau nodded to them as he walked by.

Being on a Covenant ship, and being around his enemy of twenty-seven years, still made him uneasy at times. It was a completely justified feeling, but spending time with Naki eased the transition. He glanced over and smiled at her.

They reached the nearest cafeteria and found that it was closed. The holo-screen on the door said that they had closed for rationing purposes, and that the tavern on deck seven was still serving food on an uncontrolled schedule. With a sigh, Ryau turned around and started towards the gravity-conveyer.

Their trip through the vessel showed that much of the crew were still residing in their common rooms, or as Ryau assumed, massed in the ship's worship halls. When the Halo had been destroyed, the various species of the Covenant had flocked to the halls in an attempt to find some sort of solace from the 'horrors' they had witnessed over their viewing screens. They had overrun the Warriors that were already there looking for sanctuary from the real horrors they had experienced on the surface of that Ring.

The gravity-conveyer deposited the pair onto the lower deck, closest to the tavern. This sector's off-duty area was mostly closed up, many of the eateries with their lights off and doors displaying red status lights. However, the small tavern was still operating. In what seemed like a ghost ship, this was a welcomed flurry of activity to him. Ryau pushed through the crowd with Naki trailing close behind. Space at a table had cleared up and Ryau laid claim as soon as its former occupants were clear.

He plopped down in the seat and sighed. "This place is quite busy."

"Yes, it is indeed. I think this might be one of the last places still serving food." Naki pulled the menu up on the table's console. Ryau glanced at the screen on his side. Many of the menu items were greyed out, they must have been running out of the food they had stockpiled.

"What are you feeling like, Ryau?" Naki asked.

He scrolled through the list for something he recognised. "Maybe...um." Ryau had to think on how to pronounce it properly. "Vamna Hazal?"

"Oh, that's a good choice. We have better order it before it sells out too." Naki pressed the order button on the menu twice. "Should we get anything to drink?"

Ryau sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Nothing alcoholic. My head was spinning for hours after spending time with Sig. I would have never thought he could drink so much..."

"Okay, two Vena ale's. They're non-alcoholic, don't worry." Naki giggled at Ryau's frown.

After a fair bit of time, an Unggoy walked out from behind the counter with a tray. He deposited two dark drinks onto the table, followed by a pair of steaming plates. The Unggoy walked away to help serve some other table without a word; he looked exhausted.

Ryau picked up his glass and sniffed the contents. A familiar scent filled his nostrils, something he had not smelled for decades. "Could it be..." he mumbled before taking a sip. It tasted just like flat, non carbonated, root beer from his childhood. The ale was served warm, which was an odd sensation conflicting with the expectations his mind had from his past. He smiled, letting his mind go back to the time before all the fighting and training. Back when he and the woman in front of him spent most of their time together.

Unfortunately, his reminiscing was interrupted when the sound of a hover chair approached. "Hello you two," The voice of K`an said.

"Evening, K`an," Ryau said.

K`an sighed heavily and tapped some buttons on his hover chair, lowering him to their table level. He didn't say a word though.

"What brings you over?" Naki asked.

"I just want to be around good people... Everyone is scared out of their minds. Sig is asleep and D`rok is on another ship." K`an sighed again. "I only know half of what the hell is going on."

"Well it's basically calmed down now," Naki nodded.

"Could either of you perhaps explain to me what happened?" K`an asked as he sat up attentively in his chair. "And do you think you could give me a bit more detail than whimpering the phrase 'we let it loose'?"

Ryau glanced over to Naki. "The Flood, a parasitic lifeform was released on the ring by the Prophet's science lances by accident."

"And the Flood...is like a... what is the word... A carrier strain?" K`an stammered.

Ryau watched Naki pull her data-pad up from her thigh pocket and bring up her helmet camera footage with the audio muted. He guessed it was so she would not scare the other patrons in the tavern. She slid it over to K`an on his end of the table.

He lifted the data-pad and pressed play. K`an watched the data-pad with interest, until the first scene of gore appeared on the holographic screen. He dropped the pad on to his lap. "Nope, yuck, nope. No thank you."

"Now do you see why we do not want to talk about it?" Naki asked.

"Yeeeah, what the fuck is that?" K`an leaned back into his chair with a blank look on his face.

"The Flood." Naki stated fairly plainly.

"I hope D`rok didn't see any of that." K`an rest his head in his palm and sighed.

"I'm quite sure he did..." Naki said.

"What do you mean? He transferred out for psychiatric leave..." K`an said.

"Which sounds like a thing that happens after dealing with the Flood." Naki said with a sigh.

"Uh, no. He took that because of his wedding... He transferred to Rtas' lance." K'an said.

Naki sighed and glanced over to Ryau. He knew what had happened with Rtas' lance, but it was apparent that K`an had not. "K`an.. have you not heard about what they did?"

K`an glanced at the two before him. "No?"

"They were responsible for taking out the infection on the Infinite Succor." Naki said.

K`an's movement stopped. "Is he okay?!"

Ryau decided to take his turn in talking. "He's alive. But that's all I've heard."

"Has he contacted either of you?" K`an asked.

"No, we just heard the reports," Ryau said. He wished he could do more for K`an, but he honestly had not heard anything different. Just that Rtas and his lance were instrumental in getting the quarantine lifted with their first hand reports of what happened on board the Succor.

"...This is too much..." K`an sighed. "I need a drink."

"Well this is a tavern" Ryau mumbled.

K`an looked down at the table console and swiped through the menu before stopping and tapping his choice. They all remained quiet in the noisy tavern as Ryau and Naki finished up their meals. The Unggoy waiter brought K`an's drink by.

He took a sip and set the cup down rather heavily. "I think I am about done with this war stuff."

Ryau stopped sipping his own drink. "What?"

"I'm tired of fighting, I'm tired of killing Humans for some religious cult." K`an grumbled. "I just want to get a house in the northern regions and just be alone."

"Well, as our conversation on the last planet went, it seems to be coming to an end," Ryau said.

"I hope." He looked into his glass of alcohol in reflection of his thoughts.

"What do you mean, alone, K`an? I thought you always had good luck with the females," Ryau asked.

"I have good luck laying with them, but I've never found one that really is all that compatible with me." K`an said.

"Ah..." Was all Ryau said.

"I am not like you and Naki... You two make a great couple," he smiled.

"Well um..." Ryau stuttered a bit. They needed to keep the story about them priority.

"We're not actually together." Naki answered.

K`an just gave them a smug look. "Do not lie to me, 'Cimutee. I know you two are at least slightly intimate."

"K`an, I can assure you, we haven't done anything like that." Ryau interjected. That was a boldfaced lie, considering the night before, but K`an had no proof.

"Ryau, shut up." K`an just waved his hand in Ryau's face without taking his gaze away from Naki. "I have been doing this whole mating game for almost as long as you have been alive. I know intimacy when I see it. It is not in what you have done, but rather in how you two look, act, and speak with one another."

Ryau sighed at K`an's dismissal. "We work closely, but we aren't involved in anything."

"Professional relationship can look that way to people outside the science community." Naki said.

"Yes, because women having a dreamy look in their eyes are very professional," K`an said.

Naki rolled her eyes. "K`an I think you're just getting old."

"You said so yourself," Ryau chuckled.

"What if this old man thinks you two are hiding a secret?" K`an retorted.

"Then I would say that it is classified by the High Council." Naki smirked. She grew the look on her face that said she was about to outmaneuver a target.

"Oh?" K`an raised his eye ridge. "Thank you for confirming what I thought."

"Oh, its not like that. The project we are working on does include the upgraded ACI unit... but the reason that we are working together is indeed classified by the High Council, punishable by death without trial. So K`an, keep your nose out of our business."

"Would you rather my nose be placed elsewhere on you, other than just your business?" K`an asked seriously.

"Do you always resort to sexual innuendoes when you've been cornered?"

"Maybe." K`an winked. "It is part of the 'Retmaree' package."

"I think we've discovered why you haven't found anyone, K`an." Naki said.

K`an's smile faded and he looked beyond his cup.

Naki reversed her destructive rampage."There is probably only one woman in this galaxy that could handle you."

"Maybe..." K`an placed his glass on the table. "I guess I'm just looking for one who will spit similar jokes back."

In an effort to interject some comedy back into this conversation, Ryau spoke up. "Just watch it be a Kig-Yar."

"Hmm, or a fucking Jiralhanae." K`an tilted his head at Ryau with a slight smirk. "I mean... I wouldn't mind. I have spent a few evenings with a Kig lady."

"Well, with your luck, it would be a Human." Ryau changed his statement to something more unusual.

"Who knows... that might be nice." K`an smirked again. "What alien species would you sleep with, hmm?"

Ryau sort of pushed away from the table. "I would prefer not to answer that..."

"Oh come on! Fine... name the alien species that you would not sleep with." K`an demanded with a chuckle.

"I-" Ryau began, but he was saved by the ships announcement system.

"SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee, SpecOps Major 'Cinotee. Report to the bridge immediately."

Naki looked up at the ceiling. "What could this be about..." She swiped her credit chip over the tables console, paying for the meal before standing. Ryau followed her lead.

"Oh look at you. You seem to be quite important." K`an said, backing away from the table.

"Well I am the lead scientist on board." Naki said.

K`an chuckled. "If that is what they tell you."

"You have not met Alea if you think I'm not the lead." Naki huffed.

"Well, I know for a fact she is good at... somethings." K`an winked.

Naki just sighed and left the tavern with Ryau trailing behind. Their table was quickly snatched up by the next group of warriors that had been lurking through the tavern for a place to sit. Once outside, Ryau noted that the line to get in had grown dramatically. Every other eatery must have closed already. They ended up taking the Gravity conveyer through the ship.

As they approached the bridge, traffic in the tube began to build up. Word came down from warrior ahead of them that Fleet Security had a checkpoint around the bridge, and they were scanning everyone that was passing through the area.

Ryau sighed and waited for the line to clear before he and Naki were able to get out of the conveyer system. The bridge area was cordoned off by Fleet Security as well, they were requiring the usual DNA slot check. The slot check was not anything unusual to him, but it still made him nervous. There was the tiny chance that the fact that he was a former Human would somehow contaminate the reading against the one Naki provided the system.

He stuck his hand into the reader, as instructed by the Fleet Security guard by the machine. There was a small pinprick as the machine took its sample and the results appeared on the guard's data-pad.

"You are clean." The Officer said, waving him into the corridor that was acting as an airlock for the bridge.

Naki was scanned next, passing as well. Same with K'an, which made sense as he never set foot on the Ring. It would be more surprising if he had come back positive.

The airlock was cycled and they were allowed into the command deck with an escort.

The Shipmaster had exited the bridge and was waiting for them by the door. When they met, Ryau and Naki saluted, the Shipmaster returned the salute. "Science Major Cimutee... it seems that the Mercy and Betrayal has arrived..."

Naki cocked her head slightly. "Wasn't it supposed to arrive in five cycles?" She asked.

"Yes, that is why it is so unusual... The bridge crew ran their clearance codes and identification which came back as correct, and I spoke with the Ministry and confirmed codes with them as well. The Shipmaster 'Vacumai is as confused as I am."

"Hmm," Naki stepped back and tapped her mandibles with her forefinger. "There was a plethora of Slipspace technology on the Ring, it is possible that its destruction may have caused a distortion to Slipspace..." She stopped tapping herself. "Did they experience travel for five cycles or was it cut in half as well?"

The Shipmaster placed his hand to his helmet, likely getting confirmation from another source. "They say that they experienced a normal five cycle transit time..."

Once again, Naki took a few moments to think. "Interesting... I see no reason that this... issue would cause any long term harm. We should only worry if more ships start experiencing such an anomaly. Is it possible that I could stay for a few more cycles and observe, Shipmaster?"

"No, the Mercy and Betrayal is preforming a hard dock with the top of the ship to transfer supplies as we speak. Shipmaster 'Vacumai was very insistent that he wants to get underway as soon as possible. Something about making a deadline." The Shipmaster sighed. "Gather your cargo and transfer, it has been a pleasure having your expertise on board."

"My transfer orders for Alea 'Vanika?" Naki asked.

"I already forwarded it to the Ministry. I will dispatch a lance of Unggoy to your cargo hold to assist with transport." The Shipmaster nodded.

"Thank you, Shipmaster." Naki saluted and headed off the command deck. Ryau did as well, following her out. He could hear the sound of K`an's hover chair keeping up. The Slipspace anomaly was something of interest, there was some sort nagging in the back of his mind from his past. Ryau had always wondered what had caused it.

It seemed that it was on K`an's mind as well. "Do you think that is the next step?"

"What?" Ryau asked.

"The Slipspace dilation stuff." K`an elaborated. "Do you think that is the next step in achieving faster travel?"

Naki sighed. "No, I don't, this is some sort of accident. This event is not something that can easily be replicated.

"Naki... you're a scientist... You should be asking the question on how could we easily replicate it." K`an said

"Replicating the destructive power that was released here and the amount of Slipspace technology that was destroyed would likely surpass the cost of constructing High Charity." Naki stated

"It could be a thing though... yes? It would be quite a bound."

"Its not a feasible thing to make" Naki seemed to be growing impatient with K`an. Ryau would be too if he kept insisting something be pursued.

K`an asked again. "What if it was though?"

"K`an, its not worth the cost. It can be done but its demand for resources and funding far out weigh it usefulness." Naki finally snapped.

K`an just seemed to ignore Naki's burst "Hmm... you're probably right."

They arrived in the cargo hold, Ryau could see that Naki's cargo crates were cordoned off from the others. Likely from having been on the ring. There were quite a few. "Is this everything, Naki?" Ryau asked.

"No... I lost quite a few on the Ring." She sighed. "Nothing that cannot be replaced though." She waved the Unggoy to start loading the crates onto hover carts.

"What is inside all of these anyway?" Ryau asked.

"Sensor equipment, drones, biological sensors... everything from lab equipment to field rations." Naki said. The Unggoy finished loading the crates onto their carts and started out the door.

"I didn't mean to challenge you like that, Naki. I do greatly enjoy astrophysics." K`an apologized.

"Very well then, K`an." Naki rolled her eyes. Ryau went to follow the Unggoy through the ship, they probably knew where to go and Naki was busy conversing with K`an.

"You know... if you ever want to talk in depth about the sciences I will, you know? Well... regardless... I wish you guys didn't have to leave."

Naki made an amused huff. "We live in the same state. I live on the only inhabited island in the bay of Varo."

"I do greatly enjoy you two's company." K`an nodded.

"Then why don't you stop by after this war is over?" Naki suggested.

"Alright... I guess I'll see you guys off then." He floated on behind them. Ryau looked to either side of the corridor they had turned down, floor was slightly inclined and there were articulation points every few meters. They must be on one of the other ship's docking armatures already.

K`an randomly spoke up again with another question. "Do they have you stationed on a big ship?"

"Not really, the Mercy and Betrayal is a modified CCS-class." Naki said.

"What guns do they have on it?"

Naki sighed. "The usual."

"They didn't rip out the Energy projectors or anything?" K`an was just full of questions today.

"No, we still roll with the regular fleet occasionally." Naki explained.

"Alright, any modifications to the engines or anything? Is its speed of any match to the Pious Inquisitor?

"It doesn't have any upgrades to its engine systems, so no." Naki was again becoming impatient.

"Hmm... Would you ever want to pilot a ship like this? I would."

"Good luck, these require whole crews to move," Naki scoffed.

K`an laughed. "You know what I mean."

"The ship is upgraded to have more cargo space and lab space, along with an additional dedicated reactor for the labs, but that is the extent of the upgrades." She said.

"I might have to make a point to explore this ship later." K`an hovered alongside them.

"Maybe after the war." Naki nodded to the side. Ryau took note that they had just passed what looked to be a pressure door, and the articulation had stopped a few meters back.

Suddenly, there was a thump that reverberated through the deck plates. Followed by the subtle hum of the engines firing at the back of the ship.

K`an's hover chair stopped. "What the hell is that?"

"I... think the ship just detached." Ryau slowly said, looking around at the corridor. "Or we were ejected from the ship."

"No way, they wouldn't be that stupid to just leave after docking." K`an said.

Naki turned to a wall console and began to type into it. "Well, we were told this pickup was on very strict time constraints."

"Still." K`an stopped and turned around to look at the airlock. The door was sealed and it's light glowed red. "Are you fucking serious?"

"Well I am," Naki said.

"Did I just get locked on this ship?"

"I think you did."

K`an let loose a growl. "Come on... let's get up to the bridge and stop them before they leave." He turned and started to zoom off into the ship.

However, he did not get far before the speakers cracked. "Prepare for immediate slipspace operations."

"Fuck..." K`an came to a rapid halt and gripped one of the corridor braces. Ryau was not quite sure why K`an loved to use Human profanity and terms, he was not even sure that he had ever heard Sangheili profanity from K`an in all the time they had spent together; It was quite strange.

The Slipspace jump was unusually smooth, almost like it did not happen at all. The only indication were the 'Active Slipspace' lights that had come online along the corridors. Before Ryau could even ask Naki about it, the ship's speakers sounded again. "Major 'Cimutee to the bridge immediately."

"I suppose he has no time to meet me on the ramp, typical." Naki sighed, and started back towards the bridge.

Ryau did not know where he was going, but he had been on this ship once before. He wondered if he would see the Ultra, Zeik, again. K`an sped up next to Naki. "You're not good friends with this guy, yes?"

"Well he is the Shipmaster." Naki nodded slightly.
"That is not a yes or no." K`an prodded.

Naki sighed, looking down, and then looking back up at the ceiling with a flop of her arms. "I sort of technically outrank him on this ship."

K`an smirked. "Mmm... that sounds like an ex-boyfriend"

She shook her arms. "No, it's not like that. I've not had any relations with him, the ship was awarded to me at graduation. It just required a shipmaster, as per regulation, but I still get to tell him what to do."

With a shake of his head, K`an muttered under his breath. "Don't you just love our Hierarchs?"

"What was that?" Naki must have missed what he said.

K`an waved his hand. "Forget it, let's go."

The path to the bridge was much shorter than on the Leveling Strength, as the Mercy and Betrayal was three times smaller than the DDS-class carrier. They passed quickly through the lax bridge security, and walked into the cavernous space. A golden armored Sangheili stood on the raised platform.

Naki simply walked in like she owned the place, and judging by what she had said earlier, she did. "What is it 'Vacumai?"

The Shipmaster turned from whatever the screens were displaying. "Ah, Science Major 'Cimutee... welcome aboard."

Naki placed her hands on her hips. "Why did you not meet me on the ramp?"

The Shipmaster clicked his mandibles and shrugged. "I was charged with getting you and this ship to the assembly station in an exceedingly strict timeframe. Making the mandatory maneuvers required my presence on the bridge."

Before Naki could retort the Shipmaster, K`an hovered his way into the conversation. "So let me get this straight... You are under such strict orders, that you just ignored proper and almost required pre-docking and post-docking tests and protocols?"

'Vacumai smirked to himself. "When the orders come from a Hierarch, we do."

"Well... aren't The Hierarchs the ones who spent a whole bunch of time and research due to the fact that several ships in the past had suffered substantial pressure loss from careless docking?" K`an challenged.

"In case you have not noticed, Major, we followed proper rapid supply-transfer-docking protocol Five-seven-seven-gee. The docking corridor you passed through was the only pressurized docking port used."

"Well what about the protocol One-zero-two-dee... You know, the one that states that you have to, at least, identify all of those that enter each of your docking tubes, Shipmaster?" K`an simply crosses his arms.

The Shipmaster chuckled. "Ah, and I assume you have forgotten about the Mk-III Personnel Identification Disk you have embedded in your armor. Which, as I will remind you, tags you as soon as you come aboard. The same way that you are identified when boarding normally?"

"Oh? So you're fully admitting that you willingly withdrew a warrior under the command roster of another commander? I would assume that Supreme Commander 'Vadamee would not be pleased."

"I am fully admitting that I took aboard a crippled rifleman under orders to accept all personnel transporting cargo." He reached down and plucked Naki's datapad off K`an's lap. "Which I thank you for bringing."

"You are lucky I am chairbound." K`an growled under his breath.

The Shipmaster just ignored his comment. "Though I do not know what I'll do with you..." He turned back over to face Naki and Ryau. "Naki, you know we are in Slipspace, correct?"

Naki sighed. "Yes, I do."

"Well so do our sensors, but I hope you will be able to explain, this." 'Vacumai pulled a holographic screen from behind him and enlarged it so Naki could see.

The screen appeared to be showing the view from an external camera. However, instead of the black void of Slipspace, the cameras took in a view of blue wisps of fog against a dark background. The puffs flew by at speed, showing the cruisers momentum.

Naki was dumbstruck. "I...I don't know what this is." She walked up to the platform and began to type away on a screen. Naki looked down to one of the bridge officers. "The sensors confirm the translation?"

"Yes, Science Major. Sensors confirm that we have entered the Void." The bridge officer responded.

"Well, it's not much of a void right now." Ryau muttered.

K`an hovered up to the platform and pointed to a screen. "What are those lines across the graph and why are they bending around the middle?"

Naki stopped what she was doing and looked at the screen K`an was talking about. "That screen is supposed to be showing the topography of Slipspace, those lines should not be showing any deviation from straight... these are saying that its bowing out around us, like a bubble. Perhaps the detonation tore open a new dimension of Slipspace... It's so strange."

The view of the outside was also familiar to Ryau, another connection to his memory of the past. There's another link to that other world he used to know.

Naki sighed and looked away from the screens. "I should get to my subordinates..."

"I would love to sit in on that to hear why... this is weird." K`an said.

"Well I don't know why yet, as I said earlier. This might be a different layer of slipspace." Naki placed a finger to her mandible. "Let's go." She turned and headed for the door.

K`an stopped and turned his hover chair around to face 'Vacumai. "Just a quick note; I will be making a report on your forced transfer to the Supreme Commander."

"Have fun with that. He will not be a Supreme Commander for long." The Shipmaster laughed under his breath.

Before K`an could respond to that, Naki had spun on her heel and reentered the bridge. "And you will not be commanding this ship any longer if you keep up this attitude."

K`an smirked, "By the Gods..." He slowly backed out the door and into the hallway.

Naki decided to add one more thing. "I will be keeping him on my security staff until we reach the end of the deployment cycle. Thank you 'Vacumai."

LORC: Beginnings Act 2 Pt 5 and 6
Date: 7 January 2017, 6:26 am

Part 5
The Mercy and Betrayal

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 174 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 23, 2552: 0024hrs]
CCR-Class Research Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

"So, how are you adapting to life as one of us?" Zee 'Coal asked Ryau excitedly.

Ryau sighed, "I believe I have been doing well, there haven't been any slip-ups yet."

Zee was one of Naki's graduated students, she had also assisted her with the project that had made him what he is now. When the three of them had entered Naki's lab decks, Zee had practically swarmed Ryau with questions. Naki just had enough time to shove K`an out of the area before he had heard anything. Naki was now off elsewhere giving him a tour, leaving Ryau to be questioned by her overzealous subordinate.

She had the Device hooked up to a variety of sensors and monitors while she questioned him, she was constantly looking over to it and jotting down notes. After what felt like hours of interrogation, Zee sighed and gave off the impression that she was about to ask the final few questions."Now, have you experienced any blackouts or lapses of memory?"

Ryau shook his head. "No, everything has been pretty clear. I don't recall any."

"Good... good." Zee jotted down a few more notes on her data-pad. "Have you been feeling like yourself?"

Ryau did not respond immediately to that question like he had with the others. He had been feeling more emotion, yes. All this time with Naki sort of restored who he had been before the Spartan project, and then more. Though, then there was some sort of drive in his mind that was saying he should do what the others were doing, follow the Covenant, very unusual thoughts for him. "...I had agreed to join them pretty quick...." he thought.

After a few more moments of thinking, he finally answered. "Well... That's hard to say. Who I use to be was not allowed to show much emotion, or individuality, it was all suppressed. Now that the suppressants are gone, I am more free. But then there are other thoughts and ideas that don't feel like they're from me at all at times."

"Interesting... that may be the imprint taking hold in certain situations." She said almost like she was making an offhand remark, something he should know of already.

"Imprint?" Ryau asked.

"A mental snapshot of a Sangheili was imprinted onto your mind with the Forerunner Device. It is what gave you the ability to speak our language, and is likely driving the new urges and thoughts that feel alien to you."

"Naki didn't tell me about this..." Ryau did not know what to think now. If the decisions and urges he had been acting on had not been his own, had he really decided? Did the thoughts he was thinking now, belong to whoever had been used for the imprint, was he even who he thought he use to be? Ryau rubbed his forehead."Slow down, are you telling me that there is another person in my head?"

Zee waved her hand. "No no no, The imprint was only a language transfer and a minor bit of cultural understanding. It is only you in there, no need to worry."

Ryau leaned back and sighed. That was good to hear. All this new information caused his mind to spin faster than he thought it was capable of. "That's... honestly a relief to hear."

She nodded."As for why Science Major 'Cimutee did not tell you... she probably does not know. A near complete imprint was ordered by the High Prophet, but 'Cimutee refused, citing that it would skew the results. It was my doing to expand the imprint to culture and societal understanding from the host scan, so that they would think a complete imprint was performed and not take action against her." Zee stood and removed the cords from the Device. "Though I am quite glad that you have not betrayed the trust 'Cimutee and I placed in you."

"That explains why they've given me so much freedom..." Ryau thought. They must have believed he was fully indoctrinated to follow the Covenant. Though she was right; his actions so far have not shown otherwise. She waved him over to an alcove with a holographic backdrop displaying height markers. Ryau followed her over

"I will need you to disrobe and stand against the dashed backdrop." She said.

"Uhm... yes ma'am." Ryau stripped down and stood against the backdrop. She pulled down an apparatus from the wall. Some kind of machine on a mechanical arm, she aimed it at him and powered it up.

"Stand with your arms out like this." She demonstrated a T-pose for him. Ryau imitated the pose and stood still as the machine rotated around him, scanning his form. "...That's enough." Zee turned off the machine and it slid back into the wall. "We'll be comparing it to the scan taken immediately after your transformation, to see if anything has changed." She said.

"Alright. I see no problem with that." Ryau sighed. He honestly did not care what she did with the scan. It was not any different than the routine medical scans he had to sit through for the UNSC. At least from what he could tell, Zee was the only member of Naki's staff that actually knew what he was. That made the total amount that knew about him on this ship around seven, even less if the San'Shyuum and the Deacon did not actually know why they were speaking with him.

"Well.. Ryau... that is all for now. You can return to whatever you were doing," Zee said.

Ryau looked towards the door. "... I don't actually know what I'm supposed to do next."

"Well, you are wearing a Science Major uniform. Can you actually do what that rank entails?" Zee asked tapping her mandibles with the stylus.

"If you're asking if I can read Forerunner, I can't." Ryau shrugged. "I know some things, but not enough to form a solid knowledge base. However, if you need me to do something with a Human system, I'm your guy."

"Hmm, interesting. I'll be sure to let Naki know to mark you down in the Human specialty then, so you do not end up on any Forerunner missions." Zee laughed. She glanced down at her data-pad and swiped over to the clock. "Ah, well it's actually quite late in ship time. I think I will make my way to my quarters. I will see you around, 'Cinotee."

"Alright... 'Coal?" Ryau replied, not sure if he was getting her last name right.

"Yes, very good." She smiled and walked out.

Ryau just shrugged to himself. He figured he would do a bit of exploring before he retired for the day as well.
A few days later, Ryau walked through the corridors, looking for someplace to relax without being pulled aside by another one of Naki's associates. First Zee on the first day, and then Zeik on the second. His meeting with Zeik had gone much better than with Zee, though most of his questions were about his military experiences and asking how Naki had been doing after the whole Halo incident.

Zeik had been nice enough, considering he knew that Ryau had been Human, and was the one to drag Ryau around while he was unconscious. He did not have anything against the guy, but he was an Ultra, and Sangheili did not achieve that rank without doing something big in combat. He was glad when Zeik had finished his questions and left.

Ryau had gotten a tip from an older Major about a small lounge near the nose of the ship, apparently it was not well known to those on the crew. The ship lacked gravity-conveyors, which made the trek to the nose a bit of a long one. However, eventually he spied the small doorway ahead in the junction.

This part of the ship was located in the Unggoy sector. He knew methane was odorless, but none the less, he could smell something. Probably one of the recreational drugs they used, and it was definitely colder there.

Ryau keyed open the door to the lounge and stepped into the small space. A few couches and a table were all that was inside, sitting on a simple rug. Beside the door, a holo-panel beeped. He turned his head and saw that the room's climate control was currently set for an Unggoy. He ran his finger through the options and selected Sangheili. Immediately, the lighting in the room switched from a harsh blue and became a warm yellow. The temperature shot up to a nice comfortable level.

With a smile, Ryau sat down into one of the couches and closed his eyes. He felt the most alone at that moment. Finally getting a time to relax and forget about all that has happened. Sure, spending time with Naki was nice, but nothing beat being alone in a warm, quiet, room.

He did not know how much time had passed, just sitting around in the lounge, but the door suddenly opened and someone hurried inside.

"Ryau! There you are!" Naki said.

Ryau shot up from his slumber and looked over at her. "What the hell? How did you find me here?"

Naki pointed down to the bracelet on his wrist. "You're wearing a tracking ring, remember." She shook her head. "Come with me, I need your help." With that Naki hurried back through the door, at a half run.

He sighed and moved to follow her, easily catching up. "What's going on?"

"Well... some of my students were dissecting your... " Naki glanced around and whispered. "...human armor. One of them triggered some sort of self-destruct mechanism. I was hoping you'd have a way to disable it before it blows a hole in the side of my ship."

"...Oh shit, well the good news is that I do know the disarm code. But the bad news is that it could definitely hole your ship." Ryau said. If they had his MJOLNIR armor and the self-destruct was activated without an arm code, it meant that someone had tampered with the reactor seals. They had about fifteen minutes before the armor detonated in an explosion large enough to take out half a city block.

"Well how long do you think we have?" They were making good time, running through the ship's corridors. Naki had sent an alert through the ship's announcement system for the crew to remain near internal pressure zones. On this ship, Naki's word was law.

"Well we had fifteen minutes since activation, how long did it take to get me?" Ryau asked.

"About five minutes... so I think we'll be fine." Naki sighed. "The armor is located in one of the hazardous materials labs. Which are just down a few decks." She hopped into one of the nearby grav-lifts and disappeared. Ryau hopped in after her and they were deposited onto a lab deck. One of the doors near the lift blinked with a red symbol his mind recognized as a Radiation Hazard warning.

Naki passed through the first set of doors, into an airlock like room. "The micro-fusion reactor in the armor is exposed and leaking radiation so we will need to wear these." She reached into a crate and pulled out two gray suits. "These will fit over your clothes, so don't bother changing."

Ryau took one of them and pulled it on. The rubbery clean suit fit loosely, but had a hard seal around the neck. "Is this what I think it is?" He asked.

"A radiation suit? Yes." Naki said, grabbing two helmets from another case. They resembled the dome like Ranger-harness helmets, but with a silver visor instead of blue. "We use them to check in on the reactor when it's running." She passed one of the helmets to him.

"Alright..." The helmet sealed with a hiss and a slightly altered ACI came online.

"I was so stupid... I forgot to check the armor for security features before letting my students at it..." Naki grumbled as she placed her helmet on her head.

"It's fine, Naki. That armor will not initiate an immediate self destruct without my code." Ryau said. "We're lucky that they included a disarm code though, apparently they had a technician once open the casing without entering the clearance code in testing before the codes had been implemented," Ryau chuckled.

"Ah... okay... " Naki shared a nervous laugh and opened the other door of the airlock.

As soon as the door opened, Ryau's helmet lit up with a radiation warning and a series of pulsing waves was overlaid onto the scene before him. Several Huragok floated around his MJOLNIR armor, which was suspended in an energy field in the center of the room. The armor itself rotated slowly, the back panel of the reactor casing had been removed, and floated a few centimeters away from its connection point. Many components on the armor had been disassembled, but looked like an 'exploded' diagram in 3D. A faint beeping came from the TACPAD on the arm.

Ryau hurried over and flipped the sun shield off its screen. He entered the deactivation code and powered down the self-destruct system. However, he flipped through the menus and found an option he had forgotten about. With a few taps of the screen, Ryau stood back from the armor and waited.

"What are you doing?" Naki asked.

"Just a second..." A second later, electricity arced between the shattered pieces of armor and the body suit, the hydrostatic gel layer and liquid crystal glowed bright and dripped to into the gravity field, becoming free floating bubbles. Ryau had initiated a system purge which had caused the power supply to overload, shorting the system. Finally, the shield emitters burst in small spouts of flame. At Least he was still complying in partial to the Cole protocol.

With the reactor offline, the radiation leak ceased, and the ACI reflected the change. "Ryau, what did you do?"

"I had to... purge the power build up. If I hadn't, it would have exploded anyway." Ryau lied. It was plausible though. If the armor remained powered up without an outlet, it might have overloaded.

"Oh... well good." Naki waved to the Huragok who hovered back over to the armor set and began to disassemble the suit of armor.

Ryau cocked his head. "Naki... I thought you said your students were working on this?" he asked.

"Well.. yes," Naki nodded. "They were, but I think they were too scared after they triggered the sequence. I will bring them back in once the armor is broken down into components."

"If that's the case, then..." Ryau leaned past the Huragok and slapped one of their tentacles away from the TACPAD. The Engineer gave an agitated whistle and moved onto some other component. Ryau pulled the wrist computer free and then ejected the helmet cam's data-card for safe keeping. Thankfully, they had both survived the energy purge. He placed them into a collection plate to be decontaminated or whatever method the Covenant use to clear radiation.

"Saving some souvenirs?" Naki laughed from behind the silver faceplate.

"Well... yeah. I can't let your students have everything, can I?" Ryau replied. He walked around to see the other side of the armor, the side that had taken the fuel rod round. The titanium shell had been blasted apart beneath where his left arm would have been. The body suit had been melted and torn all across that side, down to the wrist gauntlet. Ryau was honestly surprised still had his left arm.

A Huragok poked about inside the armor's pockets, pulling out stray ammunition and a few pieces of shrapnel. It gave an excited whistle as it retrieved a small black object from the bottom of a pocket. The Huragok's tentacle lit up with energy and wirelessly powered on the small object. For the first time in probably five hundred years, the screen lit up.

Ryau glanced over and saw the thing in the Huragok's grip. "Ah, ah, ah, that's mine." He plucked the music player from the tentacle and received another angry whistle. He had to turn it over a few times to actually find the power button so he could shut it off.

"What... is that?" Naki asked. The way she had turned her head, Hinted that she might have remembered what it actually was.

Ryau glanced over and shrugged. "It's nothing. I'll probably tell you later." He placed it into the collection plate with the other things he was keeping.

Naki crossed her arms. "Ryau, I do not like you keeping se-" He placed a single finger onto her helmet. The Human signal for silence. Then pointed towards the airlock. Naki slowly nodded and Ryau took her into the room.

He placed the collection dish onto some conveyor that was labeled as a tool decontamination unit. The door to the Hazmat lab closed and some sort of gas was blown into the room through vents. A small icon on his helmet turned white and Naki removed her own helmet.

She walked over to the conveyor and pulled the music player out of the collection plate. "What is this?"

"That... is an old Human music player. Probably from around five hundred years ago," Ryau said, after powering down and removing his helmet.

"Why would you- Oh." Naki stopped herself as she realized what he meant. "How did you get this?"

"I don't know, I just had it when I woke. Must have been in my pocket... when they brought me in, and then missed it during inspection." Ryau said, keeping his explanation vague, but still enough that she would understand.

"...I see..." Naki slowly set the music player back down into the dish. "We will talk about this later."

"Will do." Ryau pulled the suit off and stuffed it into a receptacle before following her out.

Another day passed and Ryau found himself in the back row of the small amphitheater, surrounded by either Naki's students or her subordinates. He could see K`an across the room, also sitting in on Naki's presentation on why the Mercy and Betrayal had arrived much sooner than expected.

He had finally figured out where to get his uniforms and armor washed properly, so he was back to wearing a freshly pressed SpecOps uniform. If what he was seeing before him was what Science officers did on a regular basis, he had no reason to wear their uniform.

Naki paced around a holographic representation of the ship's current Slipspace wake. "And as we continue to speed through this new layer of the void, we are tearing it open even further. As we can plainly see, Slipspace is not affected in front of us, but it is around, and behind. Fifteen hours ago, one of the hull mounted cameras recorded this:"

She clicked something on her data-pad and the screen switched to a previously recorded camera feed from outside the vessel. A large object slowly rotated through the shot, before disappearing back into the fog. It looked like a comet of some kind. "From this interaction, it shows that we are actually intercepting other active Slipspace transits."  

The video repeated itself on a loop, and the graph returned beside it. "Though it appears that it is only briefly, and the effect we are leaving behind in our wake does not affect the item traveling in the opposite direction."

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and an announcement came over the amphitheater's speakers. "Attention: dropping out of Slipspace in three minutes. Off ship activities may be available."

Naki glanced away from her presentation and addressed her students. "When we drop out of Slipspace, I want you all to pay attention to the readings. We will see if there is anything else that can be attributed to this abnormality. Send me your notes an analysis in three cycles."

The display turned off and Naki collected her data-modules. Her associates stood and filed out of the room, returning to wherever they needed to be for the drop. Ryau made his way down to the stage and saw K`an motoring on down too.

"That was quite the presentation..." Ryau said.

"It's quite an interesting subject to research," Naki smiled. "I haven't had a project lately I can use all my staff on."

K`an came up and lowered his hover chair. "So... we only created more questions than we hoped to answer."

Naki sighed. "Honestly. we do not have enough real data to provide a good understanding. All we can do is make an educated guess."

K`an replied with a simple,"That sucks."

"We are still in Slipspace. So once we drop out, we should know more once we analyze the data." Naki said.

K`an turned his chair towards Ryau. "Hmm, and what are your thoughts, Ryau?  

"To be honest I didn't really understand much. It's not my field." Ryau chuckled a bit.

"I figured... this is all a bit of a surreal line of circumstances, " K`an said.

"Yeah..." Ryau said. "Well we should probably find a place to wait, the Slipspace drop is in like thirty seconds."

They moved over to the bulkhead in case the deceleration was turbulent. They just continued their conversation through the event. "What are you two going to be doing when we make our stop?" K`an asked.

"Well it completely depends on when we drop out." Naki said. They had been in Slipspace for four days but ultimately, how much time had actually passed in real space. At least that was what Naki had implied in the seminar.

"Well it is one of the what, market... midway... stations, right?" K`an asked.

Naki nodded. "It's a waystation."

"Yeah... That's what I was looking to say. There will be markets and trading and stuff on there... so there will be things to do."

"Well.. don't expect luxury, it is likely run by a lot of Kig-Yar traders." Naki said, with a shrug.

"Nothing wrong with that, just stick with me. I have a way with slinging deals with those people." K`an smiled.

"I am just saying, it is not going to be one of those fancy stations the hierarchs visit. Though... it might be cleaned up because one is going to be there very soon." She said.

"I would figure... But before we go, I got word that my brace was fixed. Would you care to join me getting it before we leave the ship?" K`an asked.

Ryau shrugged. "Sure."

"Naki? I assume you have other duties to attend too before you leave the ship. Where would you like us to meet you?" K`an stopped after he began to hover through the doorway.

"Yes, I need to look at the data before we leave the ship. I will be at docking arm seven," Naki said. K`an turned to go and started back through the corridor. Ryau nodded to Naki and followed K`an along through the ship.

The medical wing of the Mercy and Betrayal was much more expansive than aboard the Leveling Strength. There were multiple labs, where equipment sat unused and untouched. The equipment was draped in some sort of plastic cover. Ryau had seen maybe forty of Naki's students and associates in the seminar, and if that had been most of them, then the ship was seriously understaffed. As far as he could tell, there were also a fair amount of warriors aboard, probably taking up the rest of the ships space.

K`an hovered through a doorway into an occupied medical bay. A Medical technician was standing by a table with his brace sitting on top

"Hello again, K`an," She said.

"Hello, M'ani," K`an replied.

"I just finished your leg brace this morning. So it is ready," M'ani said.

"Thank you for letting me know," K`an smiled.

"Alright, I just need you to get out of your hover chair." She said.

K`an turned, "Ryau?  Could you give me a hand?" He moved over to K`an's side with a nod and lifted him out of the chair, then set him down on the table. "Ah, I always knew you would be my hero." K`an held Ryau's arm as he tried to back away.

Ryau rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Kan."

K`an just shrugged. "I hate those Human rifles. They are probably one of the more deadlier weapons they possess."

"What?" Ryau asked him to elaborate.

"They perform quite well, don't you think?" he replied.

They did indeed, but that was another thing Ryau couldn't favor anymore. "I suppose they do, Never used one."

K`an sighed. "I love using them... hate being shot at by them."

Ryau glanced around. "You know, that's not the kind of thing you should admit to onboard this ship... with that Shipmaster and all."

K`an just waved his hand at Ryau and rubbed his eyes. "We're also not supposed to wounds treated, yet here I am."

"That's an honor thing, you're allowed to get things treated." Ryau shrugged.

"And you're allowed to defend yourself from an enemy."

"But not with human weapons." Ryau added.

"Fine. I 'ran out of ammo'." K`an used a human gesture, the finger quote, in his reasoning.

"Even that is not allowed." Ryau added once more.

K`an looked up from the bed and chuckled. "Who are you, Ryau? My mother?"

"Well I'm just saying, we're about to meet up with a hierarch."

"I know." K`an sighed.

The medical technician finished her work and stepped back from K`an's leg. "There... it is better now."

K`an slid off the bed and tested the leg brace. After a few cautious steps, he smiled. "Thank you miss, this will work just fine." He shakily started for the door. "Now come on, Ryau." K`an made good time walking through the ship, towards the docking tube they were to meet Naki at.

As they arrived at the tube, Ryau looked at one of the view screens showing what they had docked to. The station was a mess of modules mashed against a teardrop shaped core. A few smaller ships were attached to small spindles haphazardly attached to the station. The ships themselves were not much to look at, almost as patchy as the station itself, probably belonging to Kig-Yar.

Ryau noticed that the ships Fleet Security officers were standing by the entrance to the tube. They did not say anything to K`an and him, but Ryau noted that there was no one else in the tube as they crossed.

Naki stood, waiting on the other side like she said she would, but something was off. She looked distressed, her arms were crossed and she looked back towards the station nervously.

"What's wrong, Naki?" K`an hobbled to a stop.

"We... found an additional effect of this Slipspace anomaly..." Naki said with unease.

K`an raised an eyebrow at this. "What is there now?"

Ryau peered out at the station to see if there was anything out there that could hint of what she could be talking about. Naki glanced to Ryau and then back down at the ground, almost unsure if she should even tell them about this.

"We've gone back in time."

Part 6
Time Matters

Timestamp Error: Last confirmed Twenty-fourth Solar Cycle, 178 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation
CCR-Class Research Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

"We've gone back in time." Naki finally just blurted out. Ryau was speechless, how was this possible. This was not something that could even remotely happen. K`an's mouth just hug open and blinked. A few silent moments passed between the group at the end of the docking tube.

"We went so fast we went back in time?" Ryau hesitantly broke the silence.

Naki took a few moments to respond. "...No, travel time between points remained normal for us."

"I wouldn't think so..." K`an shook his head. "I don't believe it."

Naki sighed. "Well, according to this station's calendar, today is the One hundred and Seventy-First Cycle of the Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle. That is seven cycles ago."

"So what? Maybe their clock is behind." K`an said.

"K`an, look at tonight Slipspace events." Naki pointed to a reader board just outside the docking tube's airlock.

K`an walked over and peered through the glass doors. Ryau looked over from behind him. At the top of the board, announced that a Slipspace broadcast of a wedding would be taking place today. "The Bonding Ceremony of Far Beyond Provocation's Special Operation Officer D`rok 'Tallaham will be broadcast at third meal bell on channel seven."

K`an's mandibles dropped again. "What." He looked back at Naki, nearly knocking Ryau back. "How is this possible?"

"I am not sure, this is some side effect of that new layer of Slipspace." Naki sighed. "I will have to research this with a select few..."

K`an turned to face Ryau now, with a weird look on his face. "Want to go into a bar and watch the wedding to see how soon we could have noticed the bitch turning?"

"That's not a good idea, for now we need to avoid anything that happens in the past." Naki said.

"Why not though... Let's get drunk and watch for shits and giggles!" K`an laughed nervously.

Naki shook her head. "We do not want to do anything that endangers the time line. You might do something that causes our current selves to cease to exist. What if someone recognizes you from the stage?"

"That's bullshit," K`an utilized his English vocabulary to show his distaste. "What are we going to do from here?"

"I do not want to find out what could happen, nor what would happen to us if certain Hierarchs found out that we have passed through time." Naki waved her finger at K`an. "Because of the Kig-Yar, the records on this station can be easily forged and I've already had the Shipmaster bar all off ship activity and outgoing communications. I trust you two to behave for the next few days. Understand?"

"Can't I at least watch it on board our ship?" K`an seemed to be very focused on watching wedding that he had been part of.

"That is fine. Just don't talk to anyone about it." Naki sighed.

"Alright, come on Ryau. " K`an turned and limped back towards the ship. "I want to get a good seat in the bar."

"Hold on, is there anything else, Naki?" Ryau asked. If she wanted to talk about anything. They had not spent much time together lately.

"No, that is it. You go with K`an, I need to go analyze more data." Naki sighed.

Ryau shrugged, and followed K`an back into the ship. They would end up sitting around and enjoying a few light drinks for the day.

Once the dates of the Halo event had passed, which was nearly a week, Naki had cleared some crew access to the station. Though since the Mercy and Betrayal had yet to arrive to the Halo debris field in the main time line, hardly any of the crew had gotten that clearance. She had also decided that since they technically did not exist at this station for the time being, they could rent out a room and spend some more time together.

However that had been the morning of the day before. After spending breakfast together, Ryau had not seen her at all. She did not even show up that night.

"Probably working late again..." Ryau sighed, he walked out of the room and down to the concourse of the station. He sighed again and rubbed his polished chest piece with a knuckle. He had gotten quite skilled in maintaining his Sangheili gear over the last few days, it was not so different than making sure his MJOLNIR armor was in working order while in the field.

Ryau walked through the open space, there were plenty of Kig-Yar around, a few Sangheili and Unggoy. K`an was supposed to meet him down here, they were going to check out the trading deck on this station. Though there was one problem, there was a Sangheili making their way towards him.  The problem was that it was not K`an, it was Zeik.

"Cinotee!" Zeik shouted. Ryau stopped and waited for the Ultra to approach him. Zeik pushed through the crowd of station goers and grabbed Ryau's arm as he passed, taking him into an alleyway between some of the internal structures.

Ryau pushed Zeik off of him. "Whats going on?"

Zeik growled and pulled Ryau close again, "I do not know what it is between you and her." He shoved him away suddenly. "You are lucky I am a tolerant individual. I will not report her to the council, nor will I expose you. This is a personal matter."

"What are you talking about, Zeik?" Ryau asked, taking a few steps back.

You, Ryau." Zeik said. "Last night, Naki and I were able to spend our first real time together for the first time in nearly a solar cycle. In the morning, she told me that she could no longer do it, that it was off. I respect her decision, but I do not approve of who I have been replaced with. An experiment, a test." Zeik said that last word with a hiss. "I am an Ultra, a swordsman, an aristocrat, and you have only held your rank for three months!"

"I'm sorry... 'Carunmee." Ryau thought it best not to call him by his first name right now. "But you know I have no choice in this matter."

"You always have a choice. What does she do, tie you to the bed?" Zeik said.

"No, nothing like that. Not yet that is." Ryau smiled slightly and braced himself for Zeik to hit him or something. "Goddamnit K`an, you've ruined me" Speaking of the devil, it appeared that K`an had finally found him.

"I wager that he is waiting for such a treatment from her too." K`an walked over to them at the end of the alley. "I for one would enjoy such an endeavor from the good doctor." He chuckled.  

"Who are you, Major?" Zeik asked, shifting his attention, and probably his anger to the new arrival.

"I am but a good associate to this fine warrior that you are harassing." K'an seemed quite defensive already, his hatred of authority clearly making an appearance. "What is your qualm with Cinotee?"

"It is nothing to concern yourself with, Major. This is a personal matter between Cinotee and I." Zeik growled.

"Well, if you can't tell already: I am already concerned." K`an firmly said. "What is your qualm with Cinotee?"

"As I said, it is personal." Zeik said again. "You have no business interfering. I suggest you drop it and let us finish."

K'an chuckles a bit defiantly. "How about I drop you instead. Leave him be."

Zeik scoffed. "Are you threatening me?"

"K`an... I appreciate the help, but I don't think you should..." Ryau muttered.

"That depends, Ultra. Do you feel threatened?"

"This is not worth it," Zeik turned back to face Ryau. "We will pick this up later." With that, the Ultra shoved his way beyond K`an and left the area.

Ryau watched Zeik leave. "Huh... thanks, K`an."

"You're welcome. Let's get going before any more dickheads appear."

"Well... Zeik isn't really that much of an asshole. Naki seems to have just broke it off with him." Ryau said

"Ah... so he is mad that you are fucking his lady." K'an bobs his head a little bit. "Nice."

Ryau shook his head. "I'm not doing that, K`an."

"Bah, whatever." K`an waved his hand as they approached the first market module on this side of the station.

They passed through another set of internal airlocks and onto the trading deck. It was inside of one of the pods tacked onto the side of the station. Ryau stopped for a second; the tan metal was familiar, but not Covenant familiar. He turned around and looked back at the entrance into the space. That was definitely a Human door on this side.

They were inside a Human station. More specifically a Habitat module from an orbital tether station. The Kig-Yar must have salvaged this piece form one of the post-invasion planets. They had done a good job scraping any of the identifying insignias or words from the interior, even mounted what looked to be a modified control room up in one of the balcony areas. The Kig-Yar likely detached this module and towed it to wherever they're doing business.

Ryau shrugged and went back to following K`an. There were little stands set up all over, selling anything from fish from planets Ryau had never heard of, to straight explosives. K`an walked ahead and panned his arm across the market. "Places like these are always great to check out while you can. You can find some pretty cool stuff here."

"This does look interesting" Ryau said, glancing over all the stands. Just past the fish was a standing selling various Human weapons and armor pieces. "And a bit illicit."

"That is the thing... No one cares about it on the station." K`an chuckled. They walked over to the stand to get a better look at the equipment.

"I still don't think that I should buy anything to take home," Ryau replied.

"If you do, I would be very careful with it. What would you buy?" K`an asked.

Ryau sighed. "Maybe one of their rifles... but that's too big to conceal easily."

"True, true." K`an looked across thee selection himself. He stopped and reached for a M6C on a rack. "How about this one?"

As he retrieved the pistol from the table, the vendor protested, but then backed off after K`an did not try to leave with it. K`an inspected the weapon and then passed it to Ryau. "With the Prophet arriving soon, it may not be a good idea to purchase anything though," Ryau said. He turned the pistol in his hands, it was chrome plated and had a leather grip. It was a good looking weapon, most likely a civilian's sidearm. Ryau was surprised that it was so clean.

"Well, would you like me to hold onto it for you?" K`an offered.

Ryau looked up at K`an from the gun. "K`an, you're going to be on the ship with us..."

K`an raised his eye ridge sarcastically. "Do you not think I know how to smuggle contraband?"
"I'm just saying... You're not in your hoverchair anymore"

"Tell you what..." K`an smiled and began to barter with the Kig-Yar in some sort of dialect Ryau was not familiar with. The exchange was rather heated but in the end, K`an came out with the purchase. "This is for saving my life." He continued to Ryau, back to speaking Sangheilian. K`an took the pistol from Ryau and placed it into a small bag. "And as a fee for smuggling... I will give it to you as a present when you and Naki inevitably get married."

Ryau rolled his eyes at K`an insistence on his relationship with Naki that was not officially official, yet had been made semi official with the Zeik incident.

"Deal?" K`an asked.

Ryau sighed heavily. "Sure."

"Well, shall we go on?" K`an asked.

"I suppose so." Ryau answered.

They walked through the narrow path between the many Kig-Yar stalls that filled the space, just window shopping for anything else that caught their eyes. Almost immediately, K`an steered them towards two booths where the owners were fighting over what looked like an old disposable digi-brochure. A few Human travel agencies used them for promotions when new routes to colonies opened, obviously they became a rarity as the war progressed.

"What are they fighting over?" K`an whispered over to Ryau.

"Well, it looks like a book..." Ryau said. An average Sangheili probably would not know what it actually was.

"Well lets check it out" K`an said with a nod and walked up to the two stands. "My goodness. Is that what I think it is?"

"What is it, K`an?" Ryau asked. There was no way that he knew what that was.

"Just shut up and let me do my thing." K`an muttered and threw himself into the Kig-Yar's argument. "What do you two have there?" He asked neither in particular.

"It is mine." One of them answered quickly. "25,000 Gek."

"No!" The other Kig-Yar growled. "It is at my shelf, so it is mine to sell. 23,750 Gek, Sangheili."

"If you you buy it from me then I will sell it to you for 20,000. Special time price." Since this Kig-Yar immediately offered a much lower price, he probably did not actually own it.

"That is way too much money." K`an frowned. Ryau remained a few steps back, just watching this conversation take place. K`an glanced back at Ryau and smirked, the bastard was purposefully haggling them down in price.

The original owner seemed to be concerned. "Sir, I will sell it to you for 18,000. Please ignore this idiot., he always is trying to sell my things."

"You are just not a good salesman." The other Kig-Yar said.

K`an simply smiled. "I'll tell you what. I will give you 5,000 for the item and make sure that this idiot never undersells you again."

The Kig-Yar's head perked up. "You would really do this?"

The other Kig-Yar's face turned to a frightened expression. "You wouldn't dare."

"Deal?" K`an smirked.

"Yes, yes!" The owner agreed.

K`an quickly drew the Plasma rifle he had attached to his good leg and aimed it at the other Kig-Yar's head. The entire market suddenly went silent and all eyes turned to K`an. The Kig-Yar in front of the weapon had lost all color under his pale tan skin. However, K`an just gave another smirk and nodded to the Kig-Yar. "Run."

The Kig-Yar took off and fled the market module and disappeared into the station proper in a mess of fearful squawks. "You let him go?" The owner asked.

"No, I enjoy a hunt." K`an sighed and holstered his weapon. He pulled out a small bag and gave the vendor the agreed upon 5,000 Gek.

"Oh, of course. Thank you!" The owner quickly took the money and handed black pad to K'an.

"Have a good day. Good luck with your sales." K`an nodded before quickly returning to Ryau. "Let's get the hell out of here."

"Are you really going to get that guy now?" Ryau rolled his eyes.

"Fuck no. I am not doing a damn thing. We aren't supposed to be here at this point in time anyway." K'an chuckled.

"So then what is that?" Ryau asked, Of course he knew, but he was curious how much K`an knew.

"If I recognised this right..." K'an said, "It is a planet brochure. Probably recovered from an assault or something."

"But why did you want it so bad?" Ryau was interested now.

"Ryau you don't understand..." K'an sighed. "This has constellations... planets... other... cool space shit. I love this stuff."

Ryau shook his head, "Probably not, or else they wouldn't make it in this war."

"What?" K`an looked up from his new toy.

"They really restricted the stuff that can have that kind of content when this war started." Ryau said.

"Well I know that..." K`an's eyes squinted slightly at Ryau. "But these just have pictures and a brief bio of each thing... Smart humans." He simply sighed as he flipped open the front of the tablet's case. He attempted to turn it on, but was disappointed to find that the battery the device had been depleted beyond use. "Ryau?"

"Yeah?" Ryau responded.

"Do you think that Naki can fix this thing?"

"I'll ask her about it when I find her, I'll see you later." Ryau shrugged, he headed off with the pad, in search of Naki.

Nothing else happened over the next few weeks, Ryau managed to avoid Zeik and Naki continued her experiments and analysis of the Slipspace anomaly. Finally, after almost a month, the Prophet's ship arrived in system and docked with the station.

"Should I really be going here with you, should I even be on this ship?" Ryau asked after they had been cleared to board the Solemn Penance. As soon as the ship had been successfully docked to the station, word had come down that Naki had been ordered to meet with Regret aboard his ship.

For some reason, Naki decided it was best to bring Ryau along with her. Either because she thought he would get a kick out of it, or there had been something in the order about bringing key personnel with her. Though he had not seen Zee or any other science officers with them on their way over.

"The Prophet of Regret should have no knowledge of Project Leau. However, if he does then this will be seen as me bringing you to a Hierarch as was the original procedure. Before the Prophet of Truth decided to have you deployed instead," Naki said.

That was the first time he had heard about that. "Truth put me in the field?" Ryau asked.

"Yes, he decided that we should see if you would remain loyal to the oath you took. I am sure that he would be thrilled to find out that you did." Naki winked and continued on.

"Well... that's an interesting snippet of information. The only reason I stayed was that I knew what might happen soon." Ryau said.

"Of course," Naki nodded. "But it looks good to him either way."

"Er... probably the best course of action if we don't talk about this on board this ship..." Ryau mumbled.

"True, true..." Naki giggled.

This was a CAS-class Assault Carrier, one of the largest ships in the Covenant fleet. Traveling through it would take some time and the Prophet was in a hurry. They ended up taking the extensive Gravity-conveyor network to get as close to the Prophet's Security Zone as they could. Naki and Zeik had managed to make up enough to forge the berthing documents to say they had actually arrived on time and not nearly a month early. As far as anyone checking on the database would be able to tell, a small Kig-Yar merchant vessel had been there before they had arrived instead.

The grav-conveyor dropped them out just outside the security checkpoint to enter the Prophet's Inner Sanctum. Instead of Fleet Security at the checkpoint, it was a collection of Honor guards. Their red armor was highly polished and the bright orange plates glowed in the dim light the Covenant favored to illuminate their interiors. They definitely looked intimidating. Ryau was not sure if he should follow Naki into this part of the ship.

"Halt." Demanded one of the Honor Guards. "What is your reason for coming here?"

Naki pulled up her data-pad with the orders she had received. "I am SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee, I've been requested to meet with the hierarch. This is my plus one, SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee."

The Honor Guard looked down at his own data-pad to cross reference with his own information. "I see, you are slightly early. Both of you need to place your palms on the DNA slots before being allowed into the sector, and hand over your identity disks for verification."

Ryau and Naki nodded and followed the orders to the letter. The small pullar accepted Ryau's tissue sample and the guard waited for him to hand over the disk while Naki submitted her hand for the machine to sample. Ryau pressed a side plate under his left arm and the small piece of metal ejected from its slot. He handed it over to the Honor guard, who inserted it into his own data-pad to verify its contents. It was the first time Ryau had to physically hand over the military identification, every other time it had been automatically read by sensors.

The Honor guard looked down at his pad, and then back up at Ryau. He nodded, "How is Sanghelios fairing, Major? It has been many solar cycles since I have seen home."

Ryau just nodded in return. "Just fine in Zelso. The weather was quite nice,"

"Ah, you're a Zelsoan? I visited there once. Quite a large state, strange customs you have there... But I do not judge." The Honor guard handed the disk back to Ryau. "You are cleared for entry."

Ryau nodded and thanked the guard, sliding the Identity disk back into its slot. The doors parted to allow Naki and himself to enter. As soon as they slid open, it was revealed that the area was beyond was quite elegant. The hard metal deck plates had been covered in what looked to be soft carpet, colorful banners hung from the ceiling.

Stepping onto the carpet, Ryau's boots sunk a bit into the floor. However, it triggered a thought to enter his mind; if he remembered correctly, Regret rode around in a hover-throne all day. He would not feel it at all. Perhaps occasionally Regret did actual walk on his own legs. One thing the carpet did do however, was mute the constant rumble of the ship.

The long walk through the corridor was lined with strange plants on pedestals, and holograms displaying either the three Hierarchs or various artifacts. It was an easy walk, Ryau should not have been so nervous. He was not going to be doing any talking, he was there 'just in case.'

Operation: RED FLAG's mission was to capture one of these Hierarchs, and take one of them back to human space to force a treaty. While that was not an option now, he was probably the closest any of the Spartans had come yet.

The next corridor had Honor Guards standing at regular intervals along the entire length. They stood still as Ryau and Naki walked towards the tall door at the other end of the hall. "Well that should be the main chamber," Naki said.

They walked inside and found more Honor Guards lining the path. There was a cluster of purple robed San 'Shyuum standing near a bank of holographic displays.

As Ryau and Naki approached, one of them turned and scoffed. "Oh look, a Sangheili."

"Oh look, the San 'Shyuum perpetual subordinates." Naki shot back.

The San 'Shyuum grimaced at Naki's comment. "Why are you here, 'Special Scientist'?" His tone was taunting, like her position was one of shame.

"I do not know yet, just that the Hierarch requested my presence, probably to fix something you broke." Naki laughed.

One of the Honor Guards, in silver armor, approached the two of them. "His holy one awaits you on the balcony." He waved towards the doorway.
Naki nodded, "Thank you captain." They continued out, onto a balcony that extended into what looked to be a massive habitat on the inside of the ship.

Ryau had never been on board a ship of this size before. The CAS-Class Assault Carrier was larger than any ship the UNSC had ever made, to his knowledge. The nature habitat was a dense rainforest, after passing through the doors, Ryau's face was blown with the thick humidity. Some sort of light energy field must have kept the warm air inside the habitat. He glanced over the side of the platform and spied a river snaking out of a culvert. Further downstream appeared to be a Sangheili hunting party tracking some sort of unseen beast.

At the far end of the platform, flanked by Honor Guards, hovered the Prophet of Regret. With a simple tap of the control, Regret spun his chair around. Immediately Naki bowed and Ryau followed her example. "Ahh, hello miss Cimutee..." His eyes glanced over to Ryau and he gave a look of annoyance. "I see you brought a friend."

Regret waved his hand and Naki and Ryau stood. "Reporting as ordered, Noble Hierarch" She said. "And yes, this is my field assistant, SpecOps Major 'Cinotee`ee."

"I requested your presence as you are one of the best experts in your field. Also, surely someone so ravishing as yourself must come with smarts to be in such a position." The Prophet said.

Naki's expression shifted with a hit of confusion. She had heard that Regret held some admiration for Sangheili, but she had not heard his admiration to be that kind of liking. "Why thank you, Hierarch... What have you found that you would need me for?"

Regret gestured to a Forerunner artifact on the platform besides him. "Do you know what this is?"

Naki nodded "Why yes... of course I do. That is a Luminary."

"Correct... It was recovered a little over a solar cycle ago. We believe, I believe it to be the one spoken about in the sacred texts. Just recently my stewards were able to unlock its secrets and show the path to the sacred rings"

"It took your Stewards a solar cycle to break the encryption on this?" Naki cocked her head a bit "I could have had it unlocked in half that time."

"Yes, well my Stewards were not chosen for their expertise. They are more like advisors, but alas I wish to have kept this discovery to myself." Regret said. "As for why you are here; I have chosen you, one of the best of your species to be my envoy to your people and guide my Stewards' hands in commencing the Great Journey. I trust that I have made the right choice?"

Naki did not say anything for a moment. Though, then she nodded her head. "You have, Hierarch. I would be honored."

"Good, good. The Luminary has shown us the path to the final home of the Gods. We will need you when we arrive at the portal. I do not wish to wait so long for my stewards to grant us access." The Prophet said. "We will be departing as soon as you return to your vessel, so hurry along. I wish to get there as soon as we can."

"It will be done, Excellency" Naki bowed her head and then started for the exit. Ryau followed behind her, since he had no real reason to be there at that time.

They cleared the doors and back into the steward's room. Ryau glanced over at Naki, who sneered at the San 'Shyuum before walking off. Ryau thought he might have seen one of the Honor Guards chuckle. As soon as they returned to the Mercy and Betrayal, the fleet broke off and their ship joined up. They accelerated into Slipspace, bound for their mysterious destination.

They had left the waystation a few days ago, on their way to whatever grand discovery the Prophet of Regret had uncovered. Naki had finally finished repairing the old Human digi-brochure. Turns out the thing's battery had died. She had been reluctant to actually work on the device, but K`an had managed to convince her.

Now that it should be functioning, Ryau was headed to the lounge in the ship's nose. There seemed to be a lack of stench in the air as he walked through the Unggoy sector. They must be steering clear of their recreational drugs while they were in the Fleet of the Hierarch.

Ryau walked up and keyed open the door and was blasted in the face again with a wall of humidity. The theme screens showed a tropical forest beneath a orange sun. There was a large gas giant just beyond the horizon. The lounge was obviously set for a group of Kig-Yar.

With a few clicks to the control panel, the room was reset to a Sangheili standard. The humidity was cleared and the temperature actually went down. He flipped off the notifications option, so that any non-emergency alerts would be blocked.

"Hmm, setting the mood, Ryau?" K`an chuckled and walked into the lounge behind him.

"No, just setting it to something better fitting of a Sangheili." Ryau pulled the digi-pad out of his thigh pocket and tossed it over to K`an. "She got it powered up."

K`an caught the pad and looked it over. "Very nice, I have been extremely excited to look through it."

"I know you have, you haven't stopped talking about it since we got back on the ship." Ryau said.

"It is unfortunate that it will not really have that much information on it. But hey, it is going to be quite the trip down memory lane if anything." K`an nodded and flipped it over, rubbing th back half of the device.

Ryau was a bit confused. "Why would a Human pad bring up memories?"

"I have most likely been to a lot of these planets." K`an explained.

"Ah, I didn't know that you got around that much," Ryau said. He knew that there had to be so many Sangheili warriors that it would be rare for a regular soldier to be hopping fleets and seeing all the planets. But K`an was not a regular warrior, so Ryau guessed it made sense.

"I have been active in the war since the beginning... How could I have not done so?"

"There are plenty of groups that did not go to many Human planets." Ryau pointed out.

K`an grinned and took a seat. "I haven't seen any of those groups."

They sat at a table just in front of the window connected to the main view camera. Though it displayed the void of slipspace at the moment. "Well I hear they are quite common."

K`an ignored Ryau's comment and flicked on the digi-pad. The device clicked and its display surface flashed on with the logo of the issuing company and a speaker chimed. "Karsmo Space Lines, serving All Inner and Outer Colonies. Twenty-five twenty Travel season brochure."

K'an smiled and set the device on the table. A planet came up on the screen and he began to swipe through them. "Been there... been there..." He told a few stories about his time with the Covenant Fleet of Glorious Interdiction. "This planet, Arcadia, is where D`rok got the scar over his eye from that Spartan."

"So that's where he got that scar...." Ryau nodded.

The next planet made K`an wince. Ryau recognized the planet as well. Draco III. "This was the one that they blockaded the planet off and let the Kig-Yar and Unggoy eat the Humans."

Back when Ryau was Human, he had been with the fleet that tried to get to the planet in time. But they were too late to do anything, ONI decided that they only needed to deploy blue team to the surface to take care of the Covenant. "Why would they do that, that's worse than what... we... usually do."

"I have no idea. It was just disgusting though, it probably had to do something with the Fleetmaster being a dick." K`an said.

"I take it that you requested a new stationing after that?" Ryau asked. K`an nodded. "Was there any fallout? I know the ground forces were wiped out by the Humans. but what about the Fleetmaster. I don't think that we Sangheili would think that it was a very honorable battle..."

"I don't remember.... nor do I care. I wasn't on the ground long enough to see more than a few Humans." He sighed. "I only briefly met with the Fleetmaster. He was commending me on nearly single handedly foiling a small assault of ODSTs on one of the on ground stronghold. He was impressed, though it wasn't really anything. There had been about 30 of them and a pair of trucks." K`an bragged a little. "He was kind of a scrawny bastard. Seemed off his rocker and had jagged teeth... Probably was a fucking shipborn."

"Huh... I take it he didn't last long after that. Though I'm surprised that he made Fleetmaster in the first place."

"Not from what I heard. I hope he died of dysentery." K`an sighed and swiped to another planet. This was turned out to be the planet Reach. "Hmm... You were there."

"Yeah..." Ryau sighed, he felt the loss of his adopted home returning. His fellow Spartans. He sighed again, putting up that wall again.

"I hope my list of visited planets continues... honestly... but not as streaks on my war record." K`an said. "As a traveler, or explorer instead."

"Once this war ends..." Ryau looked off into the void. "Heh, that there is what all our conversations end in."

Before K`an could respond, the ship shuttered and the lights dimmed as they decelerated out of Slipspace. The viewscreen flashed with stars and a massive tan and brown gas giant rotated to the right. "Well I guess we've arrived. What do you think we will find at this new place?" K`an finally said.

Ryau recognized the planet, it was impossible to forget. The camera shifted, whoever was on the bridge was taking control and switching it to telescope mode. It automatically shot from planet to planet. A tan and orange ringed gas giant, icons showed up on its moons, and it is tagged as having a Human presence. Then a red planet, with a massive canyon and Human icons all over. Oceans dotted its surface. If Ryau did not know exactly what it was, he would think it resembled a smaller Sanghelios.

His hearts began to beat faster, he knew where they were, what was about to happen. The camera zoomed into the next planet. A blue marble with more icons than Ryau could count.

"I've been there..." Ryau whispered.

LORC: Beginnings Act 3 Pt 1 and 2
Date: 28 June 2017, 8:27 am


Part 1
I've been there...

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 20, 2552: 1205hrs]
CCR-Class Research Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau's comment seemed to have gone unnoticed as the ship's announcements were made. There was a bit of confusion in the voices of those over the intercom, and the ships all remained where they had dropped out for the time being.

"K`an. I should go." He wasted no time. Ryau turned and ran out of the room, in search of Naki.

She should be somewhere near her labs. Though the fact that every lab on this ship was technically hers, and those labs occupied half the mid-decks, that will be difficult. He did not know how much time he had; those facts had been lost to him over the years.

The ships announcement system chimed again. "Attention warriors, prepare for deployment. Report to muster stations immediately."

Hopefully he would only have to search one place, so he made his way to the room they shared. That announcement made getting through the personnel decks difficult. Every warrior was flooding out of their common rooms and into the halls. Ryau utilized his elbows, but it had little effect against armored targets.

He managed to squeeze through the crowds and made it onto the less densely packed officer deck. Ryau barged into the room. "Naki, we need to turn this ship around immediately."

Naki turned to face him, fully armored and with bags in both her hands. "What do you mean? Why would we need to turn away from this artifact?"

Ryau walked over to the viewscreen and looked for the controls. "Do you even know where this artifact is? Where we are now?"
"No...?" Naki slowed at Ryau's apparent worry.

He managed to get the screen switched to the front camera source. It was still focused on Earth, scanning the orbital defenses. "We are here."

Naki dropped her bags. "It can't be..." She muttered, "Oh Gods, how could I have been so blind? I walked right into this."

Ryau shook his head. "That doesn't matter right now, we just need to get out of here before we get caught in the crossfire."

"Agreed, but I cannot turn this ship around. The Shipmaster is basically under orders from the Hierarch." Naki paced around the room. "...but what I can do is get us off this ship. The Hierarch's ship will be the only one to escape, right?"

"I think so... I don't remember that much." Ryau sighed.
"I can get us over to the Solemn Penance." Naki picked up her bags again. "I just need to go to the lab and get the rest of my research."

Ryau gathered his few personal belongings, the recovered TACPAD and a few small booklets, and stuffed them into a pack of his own. "We need to hurry then. The fleet is accelerating towards Earth, bypassing everything else." He pointed towards the screen, still centered on Earth.

Naki headed out the door, Ryau trailing close behind. The speakers chimed again. "Prepare for tactical Slipspace maneuver." The ship lurched and was only in transit for a few moments before dropping out once again. "All prepped boarding craft, Launch, launch, launch. Glory to the Covenant!"

They made it to the lab just as multiple thumps reverberated through the deck, missile impacts. The first battle of Earth had begun.
The doors to the lab slid open and Naki hurried over to one of her work terminals. She connected a data storage cube and began to work. "I just need to transfer my data..." The ship shook again, more violently, probably light a MAC round. A series of alarms sounded. "The shields are down..."

Ryau grabbed her shoulder. "Let's go. We need to get out of here."

Naki stopped him. "Hold on, I'm setting up a timer to sound the evacuation alarm in five minutes." She tapped some symbols on her screen and a countdown appeared on the screen. "I've set the escape pods and insertion pods to hone in the Solemn Penance."

"Alright, that's great. Now let's get to one of those escape pods before we get blown up." Ryau pulled her back towards the doorway again.

"Fine." She hurried out before him, leading down a hallway. "But the escape pods are too far away, there's a hangar in the next sector on this deck. It's our best bet."

"That sounds fine to me." Ryau nodded and continued to follow her.

They made it through the corridor quite quickly, as most of the warriors were already down in dropships or boarding craft. The hangar bay was different than the usual multi-level bays. It was not as tall as the others he had been to during his brief visit on Covenant ships, it was much more spread out and linear. A group of unlaunched Seraphs were prepped for launch, hovering in a line. Their pilots were standing outside of them, probably waiting for their order to engage.

Ryau glanced out at the shield doors, the starscape was flashing by and flipping rapidly, The Shipmaster was engaged in some intense evasive maneuvers.

Naki walked up to one of the Seraph pilot teams. "I apologize for this but I am going to have to commandeer your craft on orders from the Hierarch."

The two pilots looked from one to another and the lead spoke into his com-piece. "Dockmaster, 'Valiklee and I require a new Seraph, the Science Major is taking ours." With that said, he and the other pilot stepped away. "It is all yours Major."

Naki nodded. "Thank you pilot, now get in your craft as soon as it is ready, we will need an escort to the Solemn Penance." A few meters behind them, a Seraph came out, suspended on the ceiling, and was lowered to the deck by energy fields. Naki waved to Ryau and climbed into the cockpit, He followed her quickly. "Now you do know how to pilot one of these?" She asked.

"We were trained on a bunch of these ships, but with simulators. Never flown one myself." Ryau said. "You want me at the controls though?"

"Yes, simulation is better than nothing. I do not fly my own ships." Naki shrugged and slipped into the back seat. "I should probably learn."

"Yes you should, but I'll take care of it for now." Ryau hopped into the pilot's seat and started up the craft.

Naki activated the radio and connected to the hangar's commander. "Dockmaster, requesting clearance to transit from Mercy and Betrayal to Solemn Penance."

Ryau glanced over at the Dockmaster's station, a small bubble room protruding out of the wall. "Are you sure you wish to transit during the battle?" The Dockmaster asked.

"Yes, we need to get there immediately." Naki said. An alarm began to sound inside the ship and was also displayed in the Seraph. Evacuate. The timer on Naki's computer had expired, and the order was being broadcasted across the ship.

The Dockmaster glanced up, probably at the alarm. He then looked down and shut down the defensive shield to the hangar. "Very well, you a-"

A second later there was just a flash and an ear shattering roar. Where the Dockmaster had been a split second before, was now just a hole in the floor and ceiling a few meters across. All the air in the hangar, and the compromised sectors blew out the hole. Anything that was not secured to the deck followed the air.

The Seraph shuttered and pulled at the gravity constraints holding it to the deck. A few others were torn free and smashed against the interior hull. Alarms sounded inside the craft, warning of sudden pressure loss. Ryau worked quickly and sealed the interior fully, there was a hiss and the alarms stopped.

"Oh gods! What was that?!" Naki shouted.

"MAC round. Tore right through the ship." He released the gravity constraints and accelerated out of the hangar before any more hit the ship. A few of the Seraphs whose pilots made it into their ships before the air was evacuated via projectile, followed.

They flew into the battle beyond the ship. The few Covenant ships were dancing with the massed UNSC Home Fleet. The Mercy and Betrayal slid down towards the planet, engines flickering and fading. A MAC round had torn right through the middle of the ship. Crippled, it succumbed to the pull of Earth's gravity. A few Frigates fired missiles and then peeled off to engage other ships.

"...I...I hope my interns made it off the ship in time..." Naki muttered, sadness in her voice.

"I'm sure that they will be able to get off before it goes down, Naki." Ryau said, a bit softer than usual.

Ryau just saw her nod in a reflection on the screen. She was looking down at the console. "This is war... I expected this to happen someday..."

"I'm sorry." Ryau sighed. He guided the ship towards the Assault Carriers accelerating towards the planet. However, the Human defense was too strong around the Carriers, preventing Ryau from getting close. One of the escorting Seraphs took down two Longswords that took shots at their ship. Unfortunately, one managed to land a few hits, its 110mm gun tore holes in the tail.

"Ryau, forget it. Get us to that city he will land in." Naki said. "This is too heavy to get to the ship."

Ryau turned the Seraph and banked down towards the surface. "Got it... Taking us down now." Smoke poured from where they had been shot as they entered the atmosphere.

"Major Cimutee, your Seraph is damaged, I do not recommend that you enter the atmosphere." The radio transmission came from a Seraph commanded by a Major 'Vadalum and Major 'Valiklee. It seems that they had made it into their own ship before the explosion.

"Negative, we will proceed. If you can, get yourselves to the Solemn Penance when it breaches their orbital defence line." Naki responded. "Stay safe, do not take any unnecessary risks."

"Understood, Major. Disengaging." 'Vadalum returned. The Seraphs guiding them in broke off and returned to orbit.

Meanwhile, the rough entry was felt inside the small craft. Ryau gripped the controls as parts of the tail began to shake loose. "Maybe we should have listened to the other pilot..."

"We will be fine. These things have flown with more damage." Naki said.

They dropped below the cloud layer and the city was there. New Mombasa and the old city spread out before them. Though there was not much time to take in the view, a loud thunk from the rear of the craft was the shattered tail breaking off.

The Seraph began to spin and fall towards the city. "Naki, this is not going to be good." Ryau held tight.

"I've already prepped the stasis fields to activate before impact. They should keep us intact." Naki replied.

They dropped rapidly, tumbling through the air. Ryau watched through the viewscreen as the ground approached. Buildings flew by and then he suddenly could not move. The next moment, all he could see was black.

Ryau blinked, his ears were ringing and he was not sure how long he had been out. A burst of blue sparks broke the darkness. He blinked again and the holographic displays began to fade back into his vision. There were multiple alarms sounding inside the cockpit. Ryau did a once over of himself to make sure that he was fully intact, and everything seemed to be in place.

"...Naki." He groaned. "Are you okay?"

There was a muffled gasp from behind him as she stirred. "..Y..yeah... I am alright." She replied. "The stasis field did its thing."

Ryau ejected the cockpit cover and it slammed into the ceiling of whatever room they were now inside of. More dust and debris collapsed into the cockpit. Ryau unhooked his restraints and climbed down the side of the craft. Naki landed beside him in a cloud of dust.

They had crashed into a small convenience store and demolished a fair bit of the display shelves. Bags of chips and candy were scattered all across the floor, Ryau was a bit tempted to collect some for memory sake, but he shelved the idea. He did not see any bodies, so the store must have been empty when they crashed. Ryau tuned his radio to the battlenet and got a mess of com traffic. The Solemn Penance had reached the surface and started deploying ground troops not too long ago, and spread across the city. How long had they been out?

"Naki. is your radio working?" Ryau asked, he was unable to transmit for some reason.

She tapped her armors controls and then hit the side of her helmet. "...No, I am only receiving. The crash must have damaged our systems."

"Both of us having the same failures though?" Ryau asked.

"Unusual, yes, but not impossible." Naki nodded slightly.

Ryau hopped off the pile of debris and to the tiled floor. The front door was gone and replaced by the Seraph, so that way was off the list. He pushed a smashed shelf out of the way of the corridor to the store's storage area. "Well we should get going then. There's a long walk ahead."

"Indeed... It looks like we crashed into the old city." Naki followed him through the space.

Ryau found what he was looking for, the back door. With a swift kick, it fell out into the alleyway between buildings. He stuck his head out to check if there was anyone outside. The alley was clear, but there were mobs of civilians flowing down the street away from where they had crashed. Ryau was not sure if the civilians would attack them or run if they saw Naki or himself.

"Well... there are a lot of civilians out there," He said.

Naki tapped his shoulder. "There's a rubbish can over there, we can climb that to get to that road up there. That looks empty."

He hopped up onto the bin and climbed up to the next road. It was indeed empty, probably because the gate on the other side had collapsed. A pile of rubble covered a bus, but Ryau could see light from the other side. That was their way out of there. Ryau pulled open the back doors and walked through. It was a cramped space, and the crumpled ceiling in the middle made it even more difficult. Thankfully the front door was also poking out of the rubble.
Ryau emerged from the wrecked bus, and into a street filled with civilians. No one noticed Ryau and Naki at first; there was already enough happening around the people. He tried to sink back into the shadows, but the armor he was wearing had lights, which was probably a flaw the Covenant never had to worry about since they either were assaulting or had active camouflage. He placed his Carbine onto his back, trying to appear the least threatening as possible. Though, being a Sangheili was counter to that ability.

Then he had a thought, he had the Device. He could turn himself back into a Human. But then what to do about Naki. "Hey, Naki." Ryau whispered. "We have the device. Why cant I turn us both into Humans?"

Naki was hiding partly in the bus. "I never had a chance to see if it can affect more than one person at a time." She glanced to the oblivious crowd.

"There is no better time to try." Ryau said.

"I would not recommend it... there needs to be more testing." Naki whispered back. "Trust me, we do not know how this will work."

Before Ryau could reply, an elderly Human glanced into the alley. He stumbled back, stammering. "C-c-covenant!" The Human pointed at Ryau.

Ryau pulled his Carbine back out. He did not want to kill civilians, but he would not stand by and let them kill him, or Naki.

The civilians, instead, reacted exactly like panicking people. None stepped up to be the hero. They ran, faster than they had been moving before, in all directions away from them. People even abandoned their cars in the streets. Within moments, the road was empty.
"Well, at least there was no shooting." Naki said.

"Not yet, I don't think any of these civilians even had guns." Ryau replied.

"Well hopefully we do not encounter anyone who does them." Naki walked beside him, now that the streets were empty. None of the surface streets were direct lines to the downtown, they needed a faster route.

There was a tram station up ahead. All express trains servicing Downtown Mombasa canceled scrolled across the reader board in bold yellow letters. "I think that's the best option." He pointed up at the station. "We can use the maintenance corridors and get to the city."

"Then let's go, I'll follow your lead while on this planet." Naki said.

A pair of New Mombasa Police vehicles were parked out front, lights on, but left alone. Ryau did not see anyone around, or hear anything except for the occasional explosion or distant gunfire. He crept up the escalator, to track level. Bags and luggage were strewn about, but still no people.

The stations public announcement system cracked. "Next train to-" It fizzled. "-arriving in... five minutes."

There was a burst of radio noise from the other, it sounded like a Police radio. A conversation was heard coming from the other side of the station. "I hear the commissioner gonna have us set up in the emergency bunker. Just us cops." A female voice said.

"I know he's dirty, but you gotta hand it to him. He's really looking after us." The other Officer, a male replied.

"We're all dirty, remember that. I saw you take that cash from that refugee smuggler." The first laughed. "And then you got that commendation for busting him down in the harbor."

"Well, what can I say, I needed the cash, and don't want those refus' messing up my streets. I hear some got deported back to Coral before it was glassed, poor bastards."

Two officers appeared from behind a partition, armed with M7 SMGs. The woman spied them first. "Shit! Covies on the platform." She grabbed her partner and pulled him behind a support column.

Ryau slid into cover himself, though cover for a creature of his size on in a Human scaled space was a bit difficult. He had the same problem while he was a Spartan. He gripped his Carbine, feeling the curves. The last time he had shot at other Humans was on Reach, but it was probably going to be him, or them.

"Two of them, Elites. Think they saw us." The woman said. She probably did not think that Ryau and Naki understood what she was saying. "I'll toss a flash, then you roll out and spray them down."

"Why does it have to be me that rolls out?" The man asked. "And what if they know what you're saying?"

"Because I have the flashbang." She said. "Besides, everyone knows they don't understand English. Now go on my mark."

Ryau sighed and closed his eyes just to make sure, and Naki had hopefully returned to the stairwell for cover. There was a tink, and then a bang.

The man rolled out of cover, SMG up, but he did not see anyone else in the station. "Hey! I don't see anything. It’s gone."

"What do you mean, it’s gone?" She asked.

"I'm sayin', the aliens are gone." He replied.

The woman left cover, Ryau watched through the reflection of a newspaper stand. He chose that moment to pop up. Two Carbine rounds to each of them. Their ballistic vests provided little protection against miniature radioactive missiles. The bodies dropped to the floor. "Alright, Naki. It’s clear."

Naki popped her head up from the stairs. "Well that was quick."

"Efficient, and it helped that they were uninformed about the Sangheili," he sighed and then dropped down onto the mag-lev tracks. "We've got a long walk ahead of us."

They walked between the tracks, along the maintenance catwalk. The tracks gradually descended into a tunnel that ran beneath the old city. According to a map in a small maintenance office, the tunnel would continue through a few underground stations, and then turn and go beneath the river. While on their journey, two crowded trains rushed by, leaving the area. Their passengers pressed against the window, staring at the two Sangheili walking the tunnel.

After passing the first station, which was empty aside form a group of looters who scattered when they saw Ryau and Naki emerge from the tunnel, there was a large explosion farther ahead. Dust and bits of concrete fell from the ceiling and the lights flickered for a few moments.

"Well that doesn't sound good..." Ryau mumbled.

As they rounded the next corner, they came into the second station. The tunnel ahead was blocked by a recent cave in. Light shined down from the roadway above. The semi-molten remains of a Scorpion tank sat atop the pile.

"I guess we are returning to the surface then?" Naki asked.

"Yeah," Ryau nodded and climbed onto the station floor. The escalators led up into an small shopping center. There were a few civilian bodies scattered across the concourse, and a team of Marines were set up inside one of the storefronts. The smoldering remains of a Wraith was across from the hole the Scorpion was in just outside the mall.

There did not appear to be any way passed the Marines other that backtracking down the tunnel. Though that option quickly went away, Ryau heard voices coming from the station below. He surveyed the open area. One part of the floor was littered with dead Unggoy, Kig-Yar and the occasional Sangheili. A pair of Marines were throwing them into piles. Sitting on the ground, between the dead and Ryau, was a single plasma turret. It looked like the Unggoy carrying it never got to deploy it.

He sank back down beneath the floor. "Alright, Naki. Here is what we're going to do. I am going to run for that plasma turret. I need you to toss a grenade into the storefront and then suppress the two Marines by the bodies."

"I got it." Naki nodded and pulled a Plasma grenade from her hip.

"As soon as you throw, I'm going." Ryau said.

"Well then, ready... and... go." Naki primed the grenade and chucked it into the storefront.

"Grenade!" One of the Marines shouted, as they all dove away.

Ryau sprinted out of the stairwell and slid to a stop beside the plasma turret. He ripped the stand away and tossed it aside. As he squeezed the grip, a torrent of plasma bolts was released from the front and cut into the store. Naki dispatched the two Marines by the bodies with her Plasma rifle, and then joined him in attacking the storefront.

The Marines inside the store organized and began to return fire. Bullets pinged harmlessly off their shields. When Ryau's shields dropped too low, he rolled for cover behind a box planter. He risked a glance and saw one of the Marines was slumped over the windowsill with his upper body blown away. Naki was behind another planter box, just a meter or so from the storefront.

"Frag out!" One of the Marines called. A Frag grenade bounced and slid to a stop beside the box Ryau was behind.

He dove away, tossing his own grenade in the process. It sailed through the air and adhered to one of the Maine's chest plates. "Oh god, get it off, get it off!" He struggled with the latches, before one of the others just gave him a sharp shove to the ground. The grenade exploded taking the Marine, and the other that was trying to help with the latches.

The frag grenade had taken out Ryau's shields as soon as they had recharged and now he was out in the open. Ryau had ditched the plasma turret when he had jumped away, so he drew his Carbine. There was one Human left alive in the store, a Navy pilot. He was in the back, unarmed, bandages around his hands.

Ryau lowered his Carbine, he was not about to kill an unarmed Human. He had only attacked the others because he did not have an option, they would have killed him should he have just tried to walk out. "Come on, let’s go. He isn't a threat."

"Naki sat up from her spot and glanced over. "If you say so."

They walked out of the mall and back into the narrow streets of Old Mombasa. Once again, deserted of all Human life. The road began to widen as they got closer to the coast. A sign indicated that there was an on ramp to a Highway just ahead. That would likely be less hazardous that walking along the surface streets. Ryau and Naki glanced at each other and unanimously agreed to take the Highway.

It was not that high off the ground, barely poking above many of the building of the old city. Cars and trucks littered the road deck, none occupied. High intensity plasma had damaged the deck all over the place, it was almost as if the Solemn Penance had sent Seraphs out on bombing runs to destroy key infrastructure. Some of the buildings on either side were gutted, and burned; allowing thick smoke to fill the sky.

As they walked, Ryau began to notice a constant thumping. It was getting louder over time, and the vehicles that littered the highway were also beginning to respond to it. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a giant walking machine stomping towards them. A Scarab. Just at the sheer sight of the machine, his initial reaction was to dive for cover. But then he remembered that he was now on the same side as the craft. Though then another sound became apparent. The scream of a thousand Warthogs.

Well, more like five, but there was definitely the recognizable whine of Warthog engines. Gunfire erupted at the base of the Scarab, The Warthogs' bullets bouncing harmlessly off the Scarabs armor. The massive walker halted, and aimed its gun down at the vehicles. They broke off, but the Scarab fired. Two of the Warthogs were caught in the beam, but the others had jumped off the highway and onto the flanking side streets. The Scarab resumed its march down the Highway.

"We could wave it down and catch a ride to the city center." Naki suggested.

"That would save us a lot of walking." Ryau nodded. "Sounds like a plan."

"I suppose then, we should wait here. It is getting fairly close now." Ryau leaned against a smashed Genet vehicle to wait for the Scarab.

After a bit, the Scarab was almost on top of them. Two of the Warthogs took an on ramp up to the highway, the road they were taking below must have been blocked and their only choice was to return to the Scarabs path. The Scarab halted again and prepped its beam once more.

The two Warthogs sped down the highway, right for Ryau and Naki's position. The lead Hog's gun turned and fired at them. Two bullets slammed into Ryau's shields, and threw him back against the car. He only had a moment to roll away as the Warthog smashed through the place Ryau had been moments before. The Scarab fired at the Warthog as it flew down the highway, blasting a hole into the expressway below. All that was left was a semi-molten frame and some bits of carbonized organics. Plasma runoff dripped from the main gun, and sizzled across the concrete road surface near Ryau's arm.

Ryau sat up and coughed. His shield bar was completely depleted and warnings flashed across his ACI. Thankfully his shields had taken all the damage, he was lucky that the gunner was not a better shot.

"Ryau, are you okay?" Naki knelt down and looked him over.

"Yes... I'm in one piece. I feel like I was hit by a sledge hammer though." He got to his feet and steadied himself against another car.

The Scarab remained where it stood, then it readjusted its footing before lowing itself closer to the ground. It was still thirty meters tall though, there was not much room for it to easily spread its legs to lower any further. A Sangheili Major stuck his head over the side and waved down at Ryau and Naki.

They waved back, and their radios cracked on a local channel. "Majors, do you require assistance?"

Naki waved back and attempted to shout over the sound of the Scarab's engine. "Our headsets are out. We could use a lift!"

The Major disappeared back behind the Scarab's side. Ryau was not sure if they had heard Naki. But after a few moments, a small hatch on the side of the Scarab opened and a grav-lift appeared. Without wasting a breath, the two of them hurried over and took the lift up into the belly of the walker.

The grav-lift deposited them onto the command deck of the Scarab. It was quite crowded with soldiers of the Covenant. Ryau glanced around the room, two Majors and an Ultra operated the craft, the most notable fact was that the Ultra was actually a female. It must have been quite the journey for her since females were rare in the military.

They stepped away from the circular door as it sealed. "Thank you, Ultra, for the lift." Naki said.

"Oh yes, definitely." The Ultra turned away from the screens. "Science Major? What brings you aboard?" She was quite surprised.

"Ah well... My ship was destroyed in orbit, we took a seraph but we did not make it all the way to the Solemn Penance." Naki looked down momentarily. "We landed a bit off this highway, and have been looking for somewhere to catch a Phantom to the ship."

"I may be able to give you a ride then, my orders are to patrol this city and proceed back to the ship." The Ultra said.

Ryau glanced to Naki, they should not ride this Scarab for its entire path, if it does turn out to be the one boarded by the Master Chief. Naki returned Ryau's look, she understood his concern. "Is there a landing zone along your route, somewhere you can drop us off at?"

The Ultra nodded. "Yes, we shall be there just after we cross the bridge."

"Alright, thank you." Naki nodded. "Is it alright if we go up on the deck?"

"Go right ahead, but beware. There are snipers in the area." The Ultra said, and turned back to the screen.

"Very well, we will just remain in the covered area." Naki waved to Ryau and took him up to the Scarab's upper deck. There were a few Kig-Yar snipers along the edges, but that was really it.
"So we get off at the landing zone, and then what?" Ryau asked.

"Well, I am sure that we will be able to catch a Phantom there." Naki said. "I doubt Regret would want to lose his best scientist."

"I suppose you're right." Ryau walked over to a small bench built into the top deck support and took a seat. The Scarab was not a stable platform to stand on while crawling over buildings. It dropped down onto the Expressway's toll plaza. The UNSC had set up a roadblock at mid-span, but the Marines in the plaza had already started to open fire. Rockets thumped on the Scarab's underside, they just left blast marks on the undamaged alloy. The Scarab disregarded the Marines at its feet, and began to march across the bridge.

The fortifications the Marines had set up were obviously temporary and hastily made. Sandbags and overturned vehicles with Machine gun positions and a Scorpion tank were all that stood between the Scarab, and the City of New Mombasa.

Ryau saw what was coming, and opted to go back down to the command deck, Naki agreed.

As they passed the doorway, the first volley from the roadblock struck the front of the Scarab. It had no effect. Ryau regretted that he could not do anything to stop it. He had his own self to protect now, and changing the course of this battle might have a domino effect for the rest of the future.

The Scarab's gun charged and fired upon the Scorpion. The torrent of plasma obliterated the tank, and cut through the road deck to the water below. Plasma turrets across the hull made short work of the Marines on foot. The Scarab's crew did not seem fazed by the battle, simply continuing the march into the city.

Ryau had to grip a handhold as the Scarab climbed the seawall and dropped into an Amphitheater on the other side of the bridge. One of the Majors in control of the walker turned away and made his way to Naki and Ryau. "This is the closest active landing zone. You should be able to find a Phantom to take you where you need to go." Once the Scarab came to a stop, he activated the grav-lift for them.

"Thank you, Major, Ultra." Naki addressed the two. The Major nodded, and went back to his station.

"Of course. Take care, science major. There are far too few of you these days." The Ultra did not turn from the controls, but bid them farewell anyway.

Naki assured the Ultra she would, and proceeded down the lift. Ryau followed close behind. The Amphitheater was crawling with Covenant troops, and a Wraith idly guarded the exit point. There had been plenty of chatter across the Battlenet about the 'Demon' making its way across the bridge, and into the tunnels. Everyone there seemed fairly confident that they would be able to stop it, or that they would be the one to get the kill.

Ryau knew, though, that everyone here was going to likely be dead very soon. He did not want to be anywhere inside this amphitheater when the Master Chief showed up. But, Naki needed to talk with someone about a Phantom transport to the Solemn Penance. The Scarab crew had thought that this landing zone would be a good place to start.

Naki walked over to what looked to be the Officer in charge of the area, another Ultra. "Excuse me, Ultra?"

The Ultra turned from his examination of a recently delivered stack of weapon crates, to face Naki. "Yes, what is it Science Major?"

"My assistant..." She motioned towards Ryau. "...and I require transport to the Hierarch's ship as soon as possible. We were told that this was an active landing zone."

"Well... I apologize, ma'am. It was an active landing zone. With the Demon closing in, you just missed the last Phantom." The Ultra said.

"Is there any way you could request a ship to come back to pick us up? I would ask the mission handlers myself, but our headsets were taken down in the crash."

"They have already turned down my requests for more reinforcements and armor in fear of the Demon. While my warriors here are overly confident, I fear that we do not have enough here to stop it." The Ultra sighed. "I can point you in the direction of the Carrier's landing site."
"That would be a big help as well, thank you." Naki nodded.

"Good, I would offer you a ride with a Shadow convoy, but I lost contact with them twenty minutes ago..." He walked them over to a double door alongside a large water fountain. "You will need to travel through the buildings; we have a path clearly marked. There is a Human stronghold down one of the streets that our armor is suppressing, however they are being harassed by the Vermin's fast attack vehicles."

Naki gave a salute to the Ultra. "Thank you, Ultra. Good luck."

Ryau followed Naki's lead with the salute and then into the building. The doors shut behind them and Ryau glanced around. They were in the lobby of a Cascade Stronghold Technologies satellite office. The path through was indeed clearly marked. The Covenant forces had smashed through every wall in a straight line.

"Well, they could have at least used the doors..." Ryau joked, there was a set of perfectly fine doors right next to many of the holes.

"At least this should get us past the Humans." Naki said, she moved over to the reception desk and pulled her data-pad out. A layout of the city appeared on the screen, a dot showing their location relative to the Carrier popped into place. "This avenue we are next to, it should take us right to the grav-lift"

"Sounds good," Ryau said. They walked on through the smashed cubicle farms and the claustrophobic maintenance ways between buildings.

They passed through a small police precinct. Human bodies were piled on the other side of the front desk, mostly NMPD officers, but there were a few civilians as well. They must have tried to hold out in their building. Ryau thought back to their journey across the city, and realized that he had only seen a few bodies in the first place. It was a curious thought. He paused to silently pay his respects before hurrying to catch up with Naki.

The next few buildings were just basic offices, a few industrial pump rooms for the sea wall, and the occasional break room. Ryau had yet to see more bodies, thankfully it looked like the civilians were able to evacuate quickly.

It certainly felt off to be back on Earth again. As a Spartan, he had only been there once, and his old life had been so clouded before finding Naki that he did not really care. Now, he wondered what was happening to his old home town. Sure, it had been five hundred years, but he still felt connected to the place. While he was off in his own mind, thinking about his old life once again, Ryau walked right into Naki.

He took a step back. "Oh... sorry about that."

"Ryau," Naki sighed. "You need to stop going off in your own little world."

"Yes... I know." Ryau sighed as well.

"You were a Spartan, I'd expect you to know better than that." Naki said. "Especially in a warzone."

"Yes, yes. I know! I never use to do this, not until I started remembering the old us." Ryau explained. "I'll try and save this for our ship time from now on." He really should, it was causing a problem now. Naki was right, no more thinking like that while in a warzone.

"Good, and it seems we are here at the end of the corridor they made. I think this means that we are expected to walk alongside the road now." Naki walked over and pushed open a door.

The road ahead was more of the same, with cars and trucks abandoned across the area. Ryau heard the Scarab fire again in the distance, probably that Scorpion at the command post. "Naki..." He stopped walking. "I don't think we have enough time left..."

Almost on cue, a tone sounded across the Battlenet, and a countdown timer appeared in the corner of his ACI. "Attention All Units; the Solemn Penance is leaving this planet in ten minutes. Extraction points will be uploaded to your ACI. If you do not reach an extraction point in time, you will be left behind."

Ryau glanced back in the direction of the Amphitheater as the waypoints appeared, but it was not one of them. The nearest waypoint was half a kilometer North of their position, in a waterfront courtyard alongside the canal.

"Shit. We need to run!" Ryau took off down the avenue towards the extraction point.
Naki tried to keep up with him. "What happens if we do not make it? I... I do not remember what happens next."

"I don't remember much either. We just need to get out of the city." Ryau rounded a corner and saw three Phantoms waiting along the seaside boardwalk. Covenant troops from all over the area were making their way to the Phantoms in lines. The caste system of the Covenant was quite obvious here, the Sangheili were being allowed onto the first two Phantoms, while the Kig-Yar and the Unggoy were relegated to the last.

Ryau and Naki filed with the other Sangheili towards the lead Phantom. They got aboard, but then out of nowhere, a series of explosions shook the ground. A squad of Marines emerged from the buildings across from the courtyard and opened fire on the evacuating Covenant forces. As the Phantoms pulled out, many Sangheili jumped out to continue engaging the Humans. Of course, Ryau and Naki were not part of that group.

Their Phantom turned and accelerated towards the carrier. A Marine with a rocket launcher locked on and fired. It was a pointless attempt, two shoulder fired rockets would never bring down a dropship. However, the first rocket burned through the air and slammed into the side of the craft. The shockwave knocked Naki back, and out of the Phantoms side bay door. Ryau dove and grabbed her arm.

"I got you!" he grunted as she swung against the hull of the Phantom.

"Ryau..." She looked back behind the Phantom. "There is another rocket! You have to let go, I'll get out of the city some other way."

He glanced back, torn that he could not pull her up in time. But she was right, If he did not let go, the rocket would kill them both. "I'll come back."

Ryau let go and rolled back away from the door. The rocket spiraled through the sky and struck the corner plate of the Phantom. He was thrown against the opposite wall and he saw stars, and then black.

The Phantom accelerated towards the Assault Carrier as it was joined by others from across the city. The Solemn Penance turned and accelerated away from the space tether. The arcs of energy and distortions of spacetime fluctuated across its nose. In just a few more moments, the Carrier jumped into Slipspace, leaving Earth behind.

Part 3
Alone in the City

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 20, 2552: 1559hrs]
New Mombasa, Earth
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

Ryau let go of her arm just in time. She was well outside the blast radius of the rocket when it detonated against the side of the Phantom. Thankfully, the ship had been flying low away from the extraction point, so Naki probably had nearly fifty meters to fall. It was going to hurt, but there was nothing she could do about it.

Naki hit the water, and pain shot up her leg. She struggled to swim up to the surface, her armor was dragging her down. Every kick she made continued to bring pain to herself, but she had to break the surface. Her lungs burned and the salt water stung but she could see the waves above her, so close.

After a few more moments, she breached the silver sheen. The air was gladly welcomed. Naki turned to face the city, a short swim away. It was at that moment, however, that the Solemn Penance jumped into Slipspace.

The reaction between the air and the exotic radioactive particles of the other reality, was quite an amazing sight. The light given off from it was almost blinding and the wave of energy passed across the city with a defending roar. The blast shook the Space tether, knocking it out of alignment. In atmosphere Slipspace jumps were extremely rare, a feat only a handful of Shipmasters would ever attempt. This was one of only two Naki had ever even heard about, and one of them had been done by a stolen flagship.

She dove back under the water, unsure of what the pressure wave would be like at the surface. Squinting her eyes, she could see the water becoming turbulent as the blast raced across the water. Within a heartbeat, it was upon her. It was like some giant hand had forced its way through the water around her. The calm waters of the inlet had been transformed into torrential rapids. She was thrashed about under the surface, thankfully she managed to remain near to the top. Quickly, Naki swam back up into the waves.

The shore was closer now, which allowed her feel a bit more at ease. She swam through the waves and foam to a ladder built into one of the concrete pilings. Climbing up was clumsy and awkward with her legs, but she made it work. Naki flopped onto her back, laying on the cold pier. Her radio was screaming with interference, so she lowered the volume until it was just a whisper.
While she had seen plenty of combat, she always had support around. Now that she was alone, that was the most frightening event she had ever experienced. Naki rolled over and pushed herself back to her feet. Linking up with any other Covenant troops was her best option to make it out of the city.

The old her on the inside gave no clues as to what was to happen next. Admittedly, she had not been a fan of the game that covered the upcoming events, that was Nick's thing, not Michelle's. But he was on the ship, flying off towards another Halo, and she was alone in a Human city on the Human's home world. It would have been ideal if they had switched places.

As the adrenaline in her system faded, ever step hurt. Naki assumed she had bruised something in the fall. It would be a hindrance, but one she could endure. Her hand went to her hip where the data-pad should have been. She only felt an empty, soggy pouch.

"Vea-tk! That was my favorite data-pad!" Naki swore. "At least my data is backed up..." She felt the data-crystal in its protective case in another pocket on the pouch.

With her data-pad gone, she now lacked a map of the city. Admittedly it was not the best plan of hers to not upgrade her own ACI with the latest firmware patch, or the last three. Naki had relied on her data-pad for all those functions. But if her position relative to the Space tether was any indication, she was now on the northern side of the city, but on the southern coast of the canal. If she headed back towards the other side, where their extraction point was, Naki should run into fellow Covenant. That was her best bet.

The air held a blue tinge, as strange particles drifted through the air. Naki was not sure what they were, but she made a point to find out in the future. They may be hazardous to her health. There was much more damage on this side of the city, than the other. She walked through a shattered window and into an open office space. There were Human bodies on cots all over the room, all dead. The Humans must have been using this space as a triage center during the battle. The Humans seem to have been killed in similar fashions. Spikes to the chest, or limbs torn from the corpse. Brutal deaths.

Naki shook her head. She tried to avoid places like this, specializing in Forerunner technology granted her the ability to contribute the least to the war. The doors on the back wall had been forced inward by an explosion. Spikes embedded in the wall and in the bodies of Marines around the door showed that it was indeed Jiralhanae. The area beyond was a multilevel mezzanine, there were more bodies scattered, civilians, police and Marines together. Her motion tracker pinged with Jiralhanae signals just ahead.

As she crested the stairs, Naki spied two Jiralhanae standing across the mezzanine beside a water feature. She went to place her hand on her Plasma rifle, but found that she had lost that in the fall as well. Jiralhanae and Sangheili did not get along well at all. Naki just wanted to pass through, hopefully they would not give her any trouble.

She was half way across the space when one of them sniffed the air and turned to face her. He chuckled. "Where is the rest of your lance, Female?"

"I am just going to meet them, Jiralhanae." Naki replied.

The two Jiralhanae exchanged glances and chuckled again. "So you are alone then, Good."

They approached her slowly, and Naki took a step back. One took out a spike grenade and twirled it around in his hand. "Shall we help her along then?" The other asked his friend.

"I think we should." The lead Jiralhanae grabbed for her, but Naki activated her wrist blades and swung in the air while she jumped back. Unfortunately a third Jiralhanae had appeared and had maneuvered behind her. He grabbed her arm and yanked her back. Naki's wrist blades were torn from her armor and tossed aside. The Jiralhanae held her up by one arm.

"How should we dispose of this one, brother?" the Jiralhanae asked.

Naki looked around, desperate for some sort of weapon to defend herself with. Hitting the Jiralhanae with her free arm was out of the question, she was just not strong enough. But he had left his Needler fastened to his hip within arms reach.

She reached out and grabbed it. Naki pulled the razor sharp needles across the Jiralhanae arm holding her up. He howled in pain and released her. When she hit the ground, Naki rolled away and fired. The needles stuck into the Jiralhanae back before detonating. What was left of the body dropped to the ground and Naki took off running. She did not stand a chance against the two other Jiralhanae's Spike rifles at that range.

Naki crashed through a window and dropped down to the road below. She could hear the two others perusing her through the building. When they reached the window she had jumped from, Naki fired again. The next volley of needles struck the others forehead, while the initial penetration was more than enough to break through the abnormally thick skull of the Jiralhanae, the resulting explosion of pink definitely made sure that it was dead. Naki sprinted down the street; there was not enough ammunition in the Needler for a real firefight with the last.

Her radio buzzed with some sort of communication. Someone was talking, however all she heard when she turned it up was several Jiralhanae roaring on the channel.

"Listen, you furry bastards: Take your communal breeding circle to another channel!" Then a voice Naki recognized, it was none other than K`an. That asshole had made it off the ship, which meant that some of her students probably made it as well.

"This one has a mouth!" One of the Jiralhanae proclaimed.

"Hold your tongue, squid, for my pack shall tear your limb from their wretched sockets!" another replied. Several other Jiralhanae came over the channel with a 'death to all Sangheili' chant.

"Alright… I see what you are all saying." K`an groaned. "When you all decide to evolve and act maturely, you may return to speaking terms with me."

"Your wretched species is doomed to fall by our hands, Sangheili." One of them laughed.

"Even so. The completion of such a goal would still not be enough to change the fact that your mother is a sloppy whore." Classic K`an, Naki shook her head. He did not return to the radio, and the Jiralhanae continued their chanting and the like, so she just turned it off once more.

Suddenly, there was a thunderous boom; Naki turned and watched as explosions blossomed from the city's space tether base. The cable tore free of its' foundations and flashed into the sky, tossing pieces of rings through the sky like they were paper. Thankfully it seemed that none were going to fall on her position, but more than a few crashed nearby.

It appeared that she had lost the last Jiralhanae through the tether incident and the last few buildings. She limped across the avenue, her arm was sore, in addition to her leg, where the Jiralhanae had grabbed it. But she just pressed on in the opposite direction. There were debris all over the roadway from a marina that had been trashed by the energy wave. She was passing a small urban beach park when her ACI's motion tracker was pinged by a friendly unit. The dot was not far, but it appeared purple, the 'in distress' alert.

She pulled the requisitioned Needler up from her thigh and slowly made her way towards the stairs. Jiralhanae did not have the ACI's status feature, but that did not mean that they had acquired one and were using it to lure Sangheili to an ambush.

At the bottom of the stairs, under an overturned beach shelter, was an Ultra. It was the Ultra, from the Scarab. She had a Plasma rifle drawn and was aiming towards Naki. The Ultra seemed to wince and lowered the rifle a bit. "Is that you, Science Major?"

Naki holstered the Needler and nodded. "Yes, it is, Ultra." As she got closer, she could see that the Ultra was hurt, bad. Her armor was punctured in many places, it looked like damage from a Human Shotgun. Purple blood dribbled out of a few of them. Naki knelt beside the Ultra and removed her medkit from her back. While she already had an idea, she needed to ask. "How bad are you hurt?"

The Ultra spat out a bit of blood, not a good sign. "Well.. the Demon took my Scarab. How did your Phantom ride go?"

Naki gave a nervous laugh. The Ultra had avoided her question. "Not well, obviously... Now, where are you hurt?"

The Ultra looked up at Naki, with a confused look on her face. Naki winced as she noticed a significant dent in the Ultra's helmet. "I can't seem to pinpoint the pain, it is everywhere. Though I think I broke my wrist when the Demon blocked my sword attack."

"Well..." Naki pulled out a small syringe from the kit. "I am going to inject painkillers. Then, I need to remove your chest plate to check the wounds."

"Those...shot... guns. The Demon made it look like child's play to take down my crew..." The Ultra winced as Naki stuck her with the needle.

Naki reached around to the Ultra's side and unlatched the chest plate. The armor had captured most of the pellets, and the body suit stopped the others. Except for a small cluster where the blood was coming from. "Those weapons are quite effective against us."

"Indeed... how bad is it?" The Ultra asked.

"Well... you are going to need to find some proper medical treatment after I am done. But you should be able to last a day with this..." Naki pulled out a container and applied a jelly medical cream across the wounds. As soon as it made contact with blood, it flowed into the wound and expanded; sealing up the cavity. The medkit was supposed to be applied to ones self, but the Ultra did not appear to have one of her own. Hopefully, Naki would not need it later. "I can not do anything about the ribs right now, sorry."

She removed the Ultra's wrist guard and applied a brace to keep it immobile. "You have done well." The Ultra seemed to be breathing better now that the holes were sealed. She started to get to her feet. "Thank you."

Naki got up beside her and helped the Ultra get steady. "Hey now, you should not be moving right now. But you are welcome... The streets are not safe right now. I think I should get you to a structure."

"Humans on patrol?" She asked.

Naki shook her head. "No, Jiralhanae. As soon as the Hierarch left, they turned on us."
"Traitorous bastards! Why am I not surprised."

"Come on, let's go." Naki nodded her head over to a warehouse across the beach. "That looks like a good place to rest."

The Ultra held her Energy sword in her good hand and walked beside Naki. She noticed Naki's limp. "You are limping."

"I fell from the Phantom, and hit the water wrong." Naki clicked her mandibles. "It's nothing."
"Must have been quite high up. I am Osala ['Moramee], by the way." The Ultra introduced herself as they reached the warehouse door. Naki pulled it open, and swept the space with her Needler. It was clear.

"Good to meet you, I'm Naki 'Cimutee." Naki returned the gesture.

"I definitely owe you one if I make it off this planet, Naki." Osala said.

"Well I can hopefully improve our chances, I should go see if I can find some other Sangheili to help." Naki helped Osala sit on a couch in the warehouse's staff room.

"Yes, that would be a good idea. I shall wait here." Osala set her Plasma rifle onto the couch beside her good hand.

"If I do not return within two hours, you need to leave this city on your own." Naki said. "By any chance, your last name is Moram, is that of the state on Decided Heart, or Sanghelios?"

Osala winced, probably from her rib injury. "Sanghelios, why?"

"Hopefully then, we will meet again. I am from Zelso." Naki walked over to the door.

"Very well, good luck." Osala nodded.

With that, Naki ventured back into the downtown area. She followed the road that traced along the coast of the canal. Naki came across the Water treatment complex. The bridge across was partly crushed by the smoldering hull of the Scarab, but that still meant that she could get across.

The part of the city was in now was heavily industrial. Gone were the slim gray skyscrapers and fancy public plazas, now the buildings were wide and brown. Massive pipes crossed overhead, connecting buildings to one another and to the water.

There was thick smoke across the avenue here, it smelled of burning tar and ozone. Naki jogged across the next block, but the road came to a stop at one of the city's security doors. The cross street had a group of Jiralhanae at one end, and the other way led further into the industrial sector. Naki thought she could make out the fin of an active Wraith down the empty street, however she was not sure that she should take the chance for it being one of her kind driving it.

She glanced to the buildings to her side. A factory of some sort, its face adorned with a massive logo of two horned animals. Hannibal was boldly written underneath the logo. The building's doors all appeared securely locked, however the roll-up door to the loading area was still up just enough to slip under. There were bodies strewn all over the warehouse, both Humans and Covenant. Yellow lights flashed as forklifts sat empty on the dock, their forks still holding cargo ready for transport. Trucks idled, waiting to be loaded.

Naki knelt down and retrieved a Carbine from a dead Kig-Yar. He looked a bit like Yun, from the Halo ring. She had a ping of regret about them, she hopped that they were alright after she left. Naki made a mental note to check in on them once this war was over. A digital note would have been better, but alas her data-pad was at the bottom of the bay. The Carbine's cartridge was half empty, and a there were three more on the Kig-Yar's body.

The crates around her were heavy metal, their markings indicated that they were filled with human ammunition. A few of them were unsealed, smaller boxes and bags inside were torn open, and bullets littered the ground. It seemed that Naki had found herself inside of one of the UNSC's munition factories. With the plethora of ammunition around her, Naki thought about collecting a Human weapon to use. Though, all the bodies she found seemed to be missing their guns.

She climbed up onto the dock and briskly walked towards one of the doors that lead further into the building. One of the roll up doors behind her was forcefully pushed up. The Jiralhanae pack walked in, its leader sniffed the air. "I smell Sangheili. It came this way."

Naki turned away and hurried back towards the door. She could not take on a whole Jiralhanae pack by herself, it just was not feasible. But then she stopped, and looked at one of the crates still held by one of the forklifts. Stenciled onto the side was: M9 High-Explosive Dual-Purpose Grenade. x56 case [224 unit count]. An idea began to form in her head. Naki pulled the crate off the forks dropped it to the ground. She ripped the top of the crate off and pried one of the metal cased open. Plucking one of the Frag grenades from the foam. She pushed the crate over to the edge and kicked it off the dock, it slid right into position under one of the trailers.

Alerted to the sound, the Jiralhanae roared and rushed the dock. Naki stuck her head out from behind the trailer; her sudden appearance must have surprised the Pack, as they slid to a stop. They had not expected their prey to voluntarily show itself.

Naki just smiled. "Hey Brutes-" She used the Human word for them, it was fitting. "I'll see you bastards in hell." With that, she primed the grenade and dropped it into the crate.

She ran like hell for the doors. Naki hoped that whoever had built the building had thought ahead and put blast protection between areas. With a dive, she rolled into the checkpoint. The doors swung shut right as the grenade detonated. There was a split second between the first boom, before the rest of the grenades went off in a chain reaction. The trailer was lifted by the force of the explosion and deposited on top of the Jiralhanae pack leader. Bullets in the other crates began to cook off and other ordinance exploded. The fire suppression system activated, with foam rapidly spilling from ducts on the roof.

Thunderous explosions shook the building beneath Naki's boots. She did not dare risk a peek into the warehouse. Suddenly a forklift crashed through the wall, blackened from fire. Its pressurized fuel tank spraying out into the air. Naki dashed through the next block of doors before it too exploded.

Alarms sounded as she walked through the internal hallways of the factory. If any Jiralhanae had survived that, they would have a hard time following her. A smooth feminine voice spoke from the speakers, "Code Seven. Fire in Warehouse. Evacuate. Evacuate."

There appeared to be no one there to evacuate as Naki walked through the empty corridors. The employees seemed to have vanished from their stations. If there was any sort of procedure to follow upon leaving, they appeared to have ignored it. Automated assembly lines continued to churn out bullet after bullet, dumping them into overflowing carts.

Some of the conveyor belts held weapons Naki had never seen before. They seemed smaller, more light weight than the guns the UNSC utilized. She guessed that they might have been civilian class weapons. The concept of a separation between weapons for Civilians and Warriors was completely lost to the Covenant. If it was employed on the fields of battle, it was available for use by anyone at their home. Her family had several rifles when she was growing up, She had even seen a Plasma caster in her father's office.

Naki stopped in the middle of the doorway. Her Father. He had been in the fleet with her before Project Leau, assigned to the Fleet Support Ship Glorious Retribution. It had not returned to Sanghelios with the Mercy and Betrayal, and she had not heard anything from him. Granted, she had been distracted with the project over the last few months, hopefully he was okay.

She shook her head, she had just berated Ryau for doing this earlier. No letting her mind drift in this city. Naki glanced around at the room, she was inside some sort of clean room. Massive machines moved large cylindrical objects. Orange plates and hazard warnings were bolted to the side. The Human symbol for radiation was stenciled on the side of large crates. They were not nuclear weapons, Naki had to guess that they were the slugs fired by the Human's Magnetic Accelerator Canons.

If she had time, she would like to see if it was really just the sheer mass that made such a weapon so effective. Unfortunately It seemed that she would not. There was a roar of a Jiralhanae from behind her in the factory. Some must have survived the blast.

"Oh come on..." She sighed. "I thought they would be deterred after I dropped a truck on their pack leader." hurried through the next set of corridors, following the overhead 'EXIT' signs.
If she had time, she would like to see if it was really just the sheer mass that made such a weapon so effective. Unfortunately. it seemed that she would not. There was a roar of a Jiralhanae from behind her in the factory. Some must have survived the blast.

"Oh come on..." She sighed. "I thought they would be deterred after I dropped a truck on their pack leader." hurried through the next set of corridors, following the overhead 'EXIT' signs. They led to a large open lobby. A small icon reappeared on her ACI's Lance roster. K`an 'Retmaree.

LORC: Beginnings Act 3 Pt 3 and 4
Date: 1 November 2017, 6:24 am

Part 3
Two Misfits Too Many

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 20, 2552: 1701hrs]
New Mombasa, Earth
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

"K`an..?" Naki muttered. He made it to this part of the city, he was nearby.

She holstered her Carbine and ran for the doors. The automatic sensors beeped and slid open, and she slid to a stop at the end of K`an's weapon.
"Naki?" He asked.

"K`an!" Naki laughed, she was glad to find someone she knew in this city.

He quickly lowered her weapon. "Naki, hush. There are Humans nearby."

Naki shook her head, there was no way they could hear them from where they were. "I know, their command post is right there."

"Are you alright?" K`an sighed.

Naki sighed herself. "Yes... I'm fine. I have just run into my fair share of Jiralhanae lately."

"I haven't yet... I haven't run into anyone yet actually..." K`an glanced around the area. "Have they actually turned on us?"

"Yes..." Naki answered. "I have encountered two different groups."

"Damn it, that makes this whole scenario interesting." K`an lowered his gun further and rolled his eyes.

Naki nodded her head back towards the doorway. "There was a pack following me through the building, but I think I may have thrown them off."

"Let's hope you have... Do you have any idea what is going on, or why the Prophet left with such haste?"

Naki just shrugged. "The Demon was getting close, I think they panicked.

"Indeed..." K`an hummed.

Naki paused for a moment as if to collect her thoughts. "So, where are you headed?"

"After the Phantoms all left with the ship. I didn't really have any plans." K`an said. Naki sighed and thought about what they should do. There were too many Jiralhanae to get back to Osala, and she could make it out on her own, Naki was sure. The only viable option was to get as far away from this place as possible. "Tell you what." K`an started. "You placed me on your roster for security, I intend to continue that. I am all yours 'Cimutee."

That was an amusing thought. She almost managed a comeback, but the door to the Hannibal building opened again. The Jiralhanae she had thought she lost had returned. They scanned the roadway and focused on the two Sangheili. With a series of roars, the Jiralhanae raised their weapons and began to fire.

The super-heated spikes sizzled passed K`an and stuck into a box truck behind him. "Shit." He pulled up his Human weapon, a Battle Rifle, and returned fire.

Naki threw her Carbine up as well, but K`an moved in between her and the Jiralhanae. It was a stupid move that prevented her from firing too. She took a few steps back and got her chance to shoot, but the Jiralhanae kept coming out of the doorway. They did not have the firepower to take this many. "Now we run!" she yelled, all the while backing down the ramp.

She spun on her heel and ran down the incline. A large building was across the avenue and one of its roll-up doors was raised just enough get under. Only they had to cross that large open area right in front of the Human command post; either way, it was their only choice. They sprinted across the roadway, and thankfully the Humans did not open fire. Naki slid under the doorway on her thigh, K`an following her in. The Jiralhanae were just across the median when the Humans spotted them, and opened fire.

Naki rolled back to her feet and grabbed the door handle, K`an taking hold as well, and slammed it shut. The sounds of gunfire and dying Jiralhanae were muted through the heavy metal door.

"You okay?" K`an asked as he reloaded his Human weapon.

"Yes," She leaned against the wall to adjust the clips on her boots. "I am fine. You?"

K`an exhaled. "I'm good. The humans didn't shoot at us, did you notice that?"

Naki shook her head. "Probably for no specific reason."

"Probably not..." K`an sighed. "Now, if I know humans as well as I think I do, those few Jiralhanae will not fulfill their attention span for too long. I would suggest that we get moving before they want to find out where we went."

Naki shrugged. "Where do we go?"

"I have no idea." He looked down at his rifle. "Anywhere but here."

They started to walk onward, through the loading area of the building. The Tterrab Industries logo was plastered above the doorway that led further into the complex.

"How did you get left here?" K`an suddenly asked.

Naki nodded her head in a half shrug. "The Phantom I was in got hit by a rocket. Ryau had to let me go."

K`an snickered. "Let me guess, you fell into the the water, right?"

"Well of course." After Naki replied, it suddenly clicked what K`an was getting at.

"I was going to say..." He chuckled. "When you found me, I don't think I've ever seen you so wet."

Such an inappropriate joke, but it was exactly what K`an has done for the last few months she has known him. Naki just shook her head. It was not a good idea to egg him on.

"Sorry," K`an cleared his throat. "My humor hasn't died."

"That I can tell, K`an," Naki sighed.

"Anyway," K`an moved to change the subject. "I was on my way across the large city bridge. I had commandeered a vehicle and was halfway across to the extraction point when the ship took off without me."

"Okay?" Naki waved her hands for him to go on.

"I also found out first hand, that FTL jumps in atmosphere create quite the shock wave." K`an scratched the back of his neck through his bodysuit.

"You did not know that?" Naki cocked her head slightly at him. "I thought you liked ships and space."

"Oh I do. I've just never seen it first hand. Forgive me for not being just a few kilometers from an in-atmosphere jump more than once in my life. It is a bit of a new experience for me." K`an scoffed. Naki noticed that his rate of speech had been picking up, like he was hyped up on something.

"I have never seen one before either. But the way you said that implied that you have not even heard of it either." Naki said.

"Apologies, my words are getting a bit mixed up with all of the excitement going on around us." He took a few breaths to calm himself down. "Anyway... Do you have any sense of direction as where we need to go?"

"I am not sure. With the Jiralhanae here, it would be best to get out of the city," Naki said.

"That is what I was thinking too..." he sighed. “Though the nearest bridge is out; it is not structurally sound and there are a lot of Humans on the other side, I just came from there."

"Best to head that way then," Naki pointed out the buildings doors and down the main thoroughfare.

"Yes, ma'am." K`an nodded in agreement.

They continued out into the city, heading southbound. They re-entered the downtown corridor that Naki had done a small bit of exploring earlier, however she steered them clear of where she had encountered the Jiralhanae. It was not long before K`an began to strike up another conversation.

"So, what do you think our chances of getting out of this city alive are, Naki?" K`an asked.

"Quite high," Naki said. There seemed to be a lack of anyone in this city, and anyone they had run into had been fairly close to the major combat areas.

"I'm not so convinced," K`an responded. "How do you figure?"

"There were not that many Jiralhanae in this city before. Even if they caught our brothers off guard, and killed them, they cannot block all our routes out."

"The issue is that I am not worried about the Jiralhanae themselves," K`an argued. "I am worried about them- all of the other Covenant- that align themselves with the Jiralhanae, and the Humans on top of that. We are literally alone on this battleground."

Naki simply shrugged. "You said this city. Not the planet."

"You know what I mean." He rolled his eyes at her.

Naki decided to answer him directly. "I think that we will be able to make it out as the humans have probably evacuated this area and pulled back in case we glass the city."

"Well that doesn't make me feel any better." K`an grumbled. "Whatever, we just need to pick a direction and stick with it."

Naki looked over at him. They had covered this already. "As we agreed on earlier, away from here."

"Alright..." K`an sighed. "Maybe we should keep heading south, deeper into the city. There is bound to be a few Humans left and I would wager that we should encounter many Sangheili to aid, don't you think?"

"That sounds well enough," Naki said. The Solemn Penance's had made landfall at the southern end of the city, so the logic of more Sangheili that way held true.

The duo once again returned to silence as they walked through the abandoned streets of New Mombasa. Security gates and empty military checkpoints made traversing the avenues difficult, they had to rely on alleyways and through deserted buildings for a simple path. Thankfully whoever had evacuated, had left most of the doors unlocked; though locked doors gave way to plasma fire just as easy as a boot. Stepping into an alley through the loading dock of a clothing store, Naki noticed the sound of gunfire up ahead.

In a traffic plaza ahead, she could see plasma fire and spike rifle fire being exchanged between two sides. A panicked group of Human civilians blindly ran down the alley, pushing passed K`an and Naki without a thought.

"What the fuck?" K`an muttered.

A Sangheili's voice echoed down the narrow road. "Stand firm, brothers! We shall destroy each and every one of these blasphemous Jiralhanae! Keep fighting, for glory!"

K`an and Naki hurried to the end of alley to assist their fellow Sangheili. This was why they continued south. Five Sangheili were fighting off a large pack of Jiralhanae across the traffic circle, they were highly outnumbered.

"Well, I guess we found the fight." Naki brought her Carbine up and moved to cover the other Sangheili.

"Yes, shall we give them a hand?" K`an asked and he too moved with her.

One of the Sangheili took a trio of spikes to the throat and dropped to the ground. Naki and K`an moved in, firing at the Jiralhanae pack. She took cover behind a Human vehicle
and fired across the hood. The Sangheili had better cover than the Jiralhanae, and that worked towards their advantage. Naki and K`an had managed to tip the fight and the pack was killed in just a few moments of intense fighting.

Naki dropped back behind the vehicle and set her Carbine down across her legs. Fighting like this was not as bad as running from the Jiralhanae, but it was not something that she did often.

"Are you alright?" K`an asked, standing up from his position.

She looked up at him. "Yeah... you?"

"I am just peachy." K`an looked over at the other Sangheili that were coming over to their position. He leaned over and offered his hand to help her up. "That was some nice shooting."

Naki grabbed his hand and was pulled back up to her feet. "Thanks."

The Ultra looked over the two of them. "Hello brother... and sister. It was quite the blessing to have your aid in that fight, thank you."

She nodded. "You're welcome."

There were only a few of the Ultra's forces left, Naki only counted three survivors. The others were firing shots over the heads of the Human civilians that had stuck around. "Are you two alone?" the Ultra asked.

"Yes," Naki answered. "Though there was another Ultra in a warehouse north of us, but she may have moved on already." She hoped Osala had.

The Ultra huffed slightly at the notion of the other Ultra being a she. "That is not good news. I had nearly a whole garrison of warriors when the Jiralhanae first turned on us. Now these Sangheili are all I have left."

"I have not seen any others..." Naki replied.

"Damn, and now we must not only deal with the Humans, but now the Jiralhanae as well."

K`an shook his head. "For now I think we should focus on the Jiralhanae, sir."

The Ultra snapped his attention to K`an. "Excuse me?"

"The Humans are not a threat anymore," Naki defended K`an. "Their forces in this city are scattered and broken. Right now, all we need to do is survive the Jiralhanae's betrayal and regroup."

The Ultra disagreed. "Not a threat? This is their homeworld. Of course they are a threat. Even their civilians in numbers are dangerous. Have you soaked your head lately?"

Naki shook her head. "What I am saying is that there are not enough of their forces in this city to cause worry. Most of their civilians have fled or have been killed already." She shrugged, she was really looking to persuade them not to hunt down civilians and let them get out. This war was about over. "I walked from one side of this city to the other and I encountered only Jiralhanae, no Humans."

"Well we just saw several." The Ultra growled. "I believe it is best that if I or my warriors see any Humans, they shall be gunned down."

Naki frowned. "Ideologies like that are the reasons this war is stretching on."

"It is not your place to argue the politics of this war, miss. How about you return to the keep and stay out of our way," the Ultra snarled.

She growled at the Ultra and the need to pull rank upon him rose. The deployment was still classed as artifact recovery and that was her domain. But then K`an brought his attention upon himself. "How about you shut your fucking mouth."

The Ultra spun on his armored heel. "Watch your tongue, Major."

"Watch your own privilege, dickhead." K`an replied.

The Ultra stood up against K`an, trying to show that he was larger than the rifleman. "What kind of heretic are you, Major? Do you really wish to trample in my path?"

"Take your path elsewhere."

"I will not allow you to make a fool of me in front of my underlines," the Ultra growled.

K`an smirked slightly, "Too late." Naki sighed and stepped back, once again K`an took things a bit far. She was angry but would rather get out of this city with numbers.

"Very well." The Ultra turned to the warriors behind him. "Watch the perimeter. I will be but a minute." The other Sangheili began to walk off and the Ultra's hand slid down to his leg, where Naki saw the hilt of an Energy Sword.

Without waiting for the duel, K`an pulled up a Human pistol and shoved it into the Ultra's face, bypassing the energy shield. He pulled the trigger, blowing the back of the Ultra's head off.

"Goddamnit K`an." Naki cried, but not in sadness, more of annoyance.

The Ultra's dropped to the ground and one of the Majors aimed their Carbine at K`an. "What is the meaning of this?!"

"It is better to have lived a day as a Wise Man than live a lifetime as a fool." K`an answered as he lowered the Magnum back to his side.

"Sir?!" The Major did not understand what K`an was talking about.

"I have survived this entire war in the thick of things and I will not have some deranged officer be the death of me," K`an said. "If you wall want to survive this: you will lower your weapons at once, listen to me closely, and follow my lead. Do you understand?"

The other Sangheili lowered their weapons and talked among one another. "Fine, Major. We will follow your lead." They did not seem pleased.

"Good. You have a minute to gather your thoughts before we head south." K`an nodded, turning to Naki. "Anything you'd like to add?"

"No." She was not entirely happy with the way K`an handled things, but there was nothing she could do about that now.

K`an sighed and looked down at the Magnum in his hand. "That was exciting..."

"I guess... If you like shooting your own kind." Naki sighed. "You know, we can try changing minds without shooting for once."

"I doubt he was one of those who would change." K`an humphed.

"You never know..." Naki argued.

"He also was in appropriately speaking to my female friend. That was unacceptable."

"Still, not a reason to kill someone though..."

K`an rolled his eyes. "Then press charges. I regret nothing."

Naki crossed her arms and grumbled. "Well what now, K`an?"

"Like we said, we head south." K`an nodded and turned to the others. "C'mon Sangheili, it's time to move!" The remaining members of the Ultra's group did not complain, and they fell in line behind K`an and Naki.

They made their way deeper into the denser part of the city. The structures blocked out the sun, leaving them all in a perpetual shade. They only stopped walking when they came to a fork in the avenue they had been following. K`an walked down them each for a short ways as he thought aloud about which way to go next. Naki was fine with letting him lead the way now, she would rather not be responsible for getting them stuck somewhere. Having the ability to blame it on him would come in handy in the future.

He chose a route and waved them along to follow him down. Naki found it strange that they had not seen anyone in the city this far in. Other than the civilians at the roundabout, the city seemed dead. There should have been some sign of the Human military. Though then something began to echo around a building. Engines. Three of the Human's Warthogs drifted through the intersection and then stopped.

"Get inside!" K`an ran for a doorway and slammed through the sliding glass door.

The turrets spun and began to fire down the roadway. Naki wasted no time sprinting for the door. She dove in and then rolled out of the way so that the others could follow. The space was a small lobby for a printing office of some kind. It offered very little in the department of cover. "This is not good."

The Minor pointed out the doorway. "What are we going to do? I saw one of their tanks down the road!"

"Shut up and follow me." K`an ordered. "Let's get upstairs!"

The staircase was obvious, just behind the receptionist's desk, and went up into a fairly open cubicle floor. "We should find another way out." She suggested. "Their tank can't be everywhere at once."

"From the look of the building, there are windows all around it. We could exit pretty much anywhere from the second floor. Don't you think?" K`an replied.

Naki took a look around the cubicle area and hummed slightly, "Yes" They remained at the top of the stairs for a moment, just to be sure the Humans did not attempt to pursue them. The vehicles moved on and passed, but Naki did not hear the tank.

"Okay, let’s just wait a moment and think. Take a bit of a breather, it doesn't seem like the Humans really care much for us." He looked towards the three Majors. "Stand guard here."

Naki walked towards one of the interior doors. The doorway led into the print shop and its windows faced an alley, which was probably their best option to get out of the building. Her eyes caught the Minor wandering towards the windows that overlooked the street. "Hey, don't-"

He disregarded her and continued to peek through the tinted glass. K`an sighed. "We just need to keep track of them. As long as the Humans are not in the building, we are fine." Naki gave him her 'seriously' look.

"Sir," the Minor called. "Their tank is just outside."

"Thank you, Minor. Now stay away from the windows." K`an looked back at Naki and returned her expression with a silly gesture. "My only concern is that we probably will hit an influx of Humans while we head south. I would imagine most of their important sectors are at that end of the city."

"Yes, except that is where the Prophet landed." Naki said.

"Still... If I know Humans well enough... they like to put their ONI build-" K`an was interrupted by an explosion tearing through the air. She was thrown into the print shop as the ceiling collapsed and part of the floor gave way.

Naki pushed herself off the floor; the air was thick with dust and smoke. "K`an!?" she called.

There was no response and her ears were ringing.

She focused on the Lance roster in the corner of her ACI. K`an's name was still there, and the bio monitor indicated he was still alive. He must have jumped clear, or was pushed by the debris. Naki heard a faint yelling, but it was soon drowned out by the Human's machine gun tearing through the wall from the street side.

"I'm getting out of here, K`an!" She yelled over the sound.

There was not much she could do to rejoin them. Humans on the street below and Jiralhanae spreading into the city, and she could not stay here. Naki retrieved her Carbine, which had slid against a fabricator of some kind. She fired twice and pushed the shattered window out of the way, before dropping into the alley.

The alley led back towards the road, and she could hear a Human yelling at their Tankmaster about how he could bring the building down on top of them. They were distracted. Naki put her Carbine on her back and sprinted out and across the street, into another alleyway. Her best bet was to get out of the city by the eastern bridge, if that had survived the Space Tether collapse, and that was on the other side of the city. A city that was now extremely dangerous, even more so than earlier in the day when there had been a larger Human population.
She kicked open a door, into a small convenience store. Traveling through the buildings would hopefully be safer than the streets.

Part 4
Mombasa Streets

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 20, 2552: 1901hrs]
New Mombasa, Earth
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

Naki crept under the jammed security gate in the shopping plaza. Much of this part of the city was locked up tight, and the doors refused to budge. She was lucky to find this gate open. Her ration packs had been lost in the fall, and it had been almost a full day since she had anything to eat. With all the running she had been doing, she strongly desired some sustenance. The place she just entered, however, would not provide food, but it will give a means to gets some.

The small speakers in the ceiling chimed a greeting. "Welcome to African Trust, Banking with pride. An Associate will be with you shortly."

The Humans had vending machines all over the city, but they too were built to last. That Jiralhanae had torn off her wrist blades and the locks held up to her slamming the butt of her Carbine against them. The polymer glass over the teller stations in the bank was broken down. Naki leaped up onto the counter and swept the space beyond for any Humans. It was clear, at least of any live Humans. There were three dead bank employees. All sporting gunshot wounds, not plasma burns. Other Humans were the killers; even during the end of the world were Humans greedy creatures.

She hopped down to the other side of the counter and set a duffel bag she had procured from one of the nearby stores onto the ground. Naki began to fill it with small bills from the tills.

The only realistic source of food on this planet would be vending machines. No self-respecting Human would serve her food once she got out of the city. "I'm already part of a genocidal group of religious extremists... Adding bank robbery to the list is just adding to my impressive resume." Naki joked to herself.
Once the tills were empty, Naki moved on to the back. The vault was wide open, and bills were strewn all over the floor. Naki set her bag on a cart and began to scoop them up off the floor. She stopped to look at one of the bills and realized that the amount of Human currency in her bag would probably be enough to buy herself one of their small ships.

"I...think that's enough," Naki muttered. "I must be approaching my annual salary." She was well paid for her position in the Ministry.

She zipped up the bag and climbed back over the counter. Naki made a bee-line for the nearest vending machine. Hot-n-Cold, Straight from Boston, URNA was printed across a board above the machine. As she approached, the machine chimed "Hello, Welcome to Hot-n-Cold. Please place your thumb on the transaction plate."

Naki hesitated for a moment and then shrugged anything could happen. "What the hell, why not," she said while pulling off her glove and placing her thumb on the metal plate.

The Machine buzzed. "Error, unrecognized thumbprint. Checking data-connection... Error. Unable to connect to network." The small screen flashed and shut off. It came back on a moment later. "This machine is in cash-only mode. Sorry for the inconvenience."

"Oh, on the contrary, this is better." Naki laughed.

"Unrecognized dialect. Please speak clearly in English." The machine chimed again. "What would you like, customer?"

"Oh, right." Naki mentally switched over to the English language. Being multilingual from 'birth' always came in handy. She had to think deep into her mind to remember what she use to get, a number began to jump out at her. "Yes, I would like a coffee, five creams, and five sugar."
They did not have coffee back on Sanghelios; the closest thing she could find was Vela tea. But that did not have a flavor close to what she remembered.

"One Coffee. Would you like any thing else? Customer?" The machine asked.

"Uhm..." She scanned the menu. "Two burritos."

"Thank you. That will be... Fourteen Fifty." The cash slot lit up green and waited for her to pay.

Naki pulled a twenty dollar bill from her bag. Well, technically it was not a dollar; it was a UEG Credit, which was such a generic term for currency. At least the Covenant kept the name Sangheili had used; the Gek. She inserted it into the slot, and the machine took it.

"Thank you. Dispensing products." A small slot opened up containing a cup of coffee, and another held two paper wrapped burritos.

She took the coffee and sniffed it, the aroma definitely smelled right. Naki held the cup up to her mouth and poured it over her tongue. Immediately she spat it out and wiped her tongue with her hand. "Gah, that tastes terrible." The coffee was bitter and tasted like burned roots. She looked at the cup and tossed it over her shoulder. Naki should have known better, coffee was an acquired taste as a Human, and it had been decades since her last cup.

"Could I get a water?" She asked the machine, still reeling at the disgusting flavor.

The machine beeped and a complementary cup of water was dispensed. Naki took it and the plate of burritos and walked over to a small table nearby. The table only came up to her knee and sitting in the chair looked comical. Naki was glad that no one was around to see her sitting like that. It was like sitting in a chair made for children.

Naki was glad that the burritos were at least edible. They were not made of the same things she remembered, Soy alternatives to the beef and cheese. Not that she would have noticed if she had not read the package. Nothing tasted the same anymore. Whether that was due to five hundred years of change, or being a different species now, she had no idea.
With her hunger sedated, Naki made her way out of the shopping center and out to the streets. The area she had just entered was well sectioned off. There were not any Jiralhanae in the sector she was currently in, but large security gates prevented her from walking on into another sector.

She managed to find a doorway into another office space. The narrow corridors and cubicle farms dumped her into a large courtyard. Debris from the orbital tether were all about, hanging from buildings and crashed on the ground. There were plasma canisters scattered across the plaza. She sniffed the air. Kig-Yar were nearby.

A step forward and beam rifle fired, just barely missing her shoulder. A series of squawks echoed from somewhere above, they were angry but not directed at her. Another cackle, a different voice. Her radio cracked, and she turned it up.

"Sorry, Sangheili, Ren thought you were Jiralhanae." It was one of the Kig-Yar. "I set him straight. We will cover your progress through this sector. The path ahead is clear. This place is cursed."

Naki stepped out and waved to them, then motioned to her COM piece to signal that she understood.

"The gate to right is locked. Path through alley open." The other Kig-Yar said.

She nodded her head and ran up the stairs. The smoldering remains of a Wraith sat beside the melted hull of the Human's Scorpion tank. The alleyway passed through a small residential area, no Humans around as far as she knew. Her motion tracker pinged an unknown nearby.

Naki swung her head, rifle up, and saw a Human trying to back further into the shadows. As their eyes connected, Naki wished she could have overlooked the Human. She was tired of fighting them, and the Human was probably thinking that there was only one way of saving themselves. The Human ran, screaming, out of the darkness.

The Human female jumped at Naki with a small knife. Naki knew that this Human did not have the strength to break her shields with that blade, but she did not want to kill another. The female landed on Naki's arm, and tried in vain to stab her in the neck. The blade just slipped off the shields.

With ease, Naki pulled the Human off of her left arm and pushed her away. "Stop, you cannot harm me with that weapon."

The woman looked around wildly. "W...what? You're not going to kill me? You speak English?!"

Naki slowly nodded. "I am tired of this fight. I am a Scientist, not a warrior."

"What do you mean..?" The woman mumbled. It was obvious that she was terrified.

"The lines in this war have shifted and my compliance with the Covenant is no longer needed." Naki lowered her head. "It will not last and your kind will be safe, finally." The Human's face was full of confusion, and Naki tossed her Needler to the Human's feet. "Take that, it is low on ammunition, but it is better than your blade. Head north, but do not go the way I came, there are Snipers there."

The Human looked at her and then down to the weapon. She grabbed it and stumbled up from the ground. "Th...Thank you." The woman ran into the building and disappeared.

Naki sighed and re-shouldered the duffle bag. The alley ended alongside a main road. As soon as she stepped out, the security gate to her right began to open. She immediately raised her Carbine and prepared to fend off whoever opened the door. However, as the doors fully parted, she saw that no one was there.

One of the screens nearby flashed with an arrow. "Lanes open to all traffic." chimed from an unseen speaker.

"Well... I guess I am going this way..." Naki muttered, walking through and the doors closed behind her.

A big 6 was painted over the security gate. It appeared that the power to this sector was out; thankfully night had not completely fallen yet. There was a lot of structural damage in the buildings around her, fires burned and papers fluttered around. Walking along the road, all she had found were bodies. It looked like someone had come through in the last hour or two and killed all the Covenant in the area.

At the far end of the road, a portable shield emitter had been set up; effectively blocking that end off. The controls for that class of shield were usually synced up to the commander's armor, so it was unlikely that she would be able to disable it. Jiralhanae did not have the codes for such a thing. A high ranking Sangheili must have set it up before the Jiralhanae attacked.

That left her available path options down to one, back into a small alleyway. There were Human bodies here, Marines. But also more Covenant corpses, these Humans did not go down without a fight.

As she crested a hill, she spied something beneath a pedestrian bridge. A dead Sangheili was lying face down in a pool of his own blood. Naki approached cautiously. He had been dead a while, probably a victim of the Jiralhanae surprise attack. There were more bodies in the alcove. Naki counted at least nine spread out. Each of her fellow Sangheili had been killed by the spikes that stuck out from their wounds and the walls around them. The human word Believe had been written in bold letters above them.

She sighed and knelt down in the middle of the massacre. Her fellow brothers, cut down by the Jiralhanae, back stabbed by their fellow Covenant. Sure the Sangheili and Jiralhanae were always at each other's throats, but her kind would never betray that mutual trust in a warzone.
Naki was relieved to find none of her students among the bodies. But it led to another question, where had they gone. Had they gotten off the Mercy and Betrayal before it was too late? She hoped so. Perhaps they had made it aboard the Solemn Penance.

If she had a working headset, then she could make an announcement for them. But her radio had been damaged in the Seraph crash. Then it hit her, there were headsets all around her. However wrong it felt to scavenge from the dead, it would be a leg up on where she was now. Naki pulled the helmet off of an Ultra nearby and disconnected the headset. It was a different model than the one she had, with incompatible parts; she would have to put the whole thing on her head instead of fixing hers. Thankfully the power receptor was universal.

Naki took hers off of her head and plugged the other in. Her armor's communications system indicator went from amber to green, meaning that it was functioning correctly. She tuned the radio to the Ministry of Special Sciences' encrypted frequency, any of her students or interns would have that channel open at all times. "This is Science Major Naki Cimutee of the Mercy and Betrayal. Are there any fellow survivors on this channel?"

The channel hissed and popped, there was nothing answering her call. Naki sighed, it was a long shot, but it was possible that they were somewhere else. The planet's sun had begun to set, casting the city in an orange glow. She should probably be on her way. Naki did not plan on spending the night with the dead.

Naki reached down and retrieved the Ultra's data-pad. It should have the command codes necessary to bypass the energy barriers. She followed her footsteps back down the ramp, though before she could reenter the alley, more signs lit up with arrows pointing towards a maintenance doorway. "Please walk, please walk."

Naki decided to follow them again. Whoever, or whatever, was controlling the signs was not a Jiralhanae, so she believed that it could be trustworthy. Even a Human would be better at this time. The passage way led to the other side of the roll-up gate. The lighting in this area was still out. A massive piece of metal dangled out of the building she was next to and hung down against a garbage truck.

She looked out over the open area and spied a group of Jiralhanae and Unggoy in a small garden area in the middle of a traffic circle. Turrets were mounted behind railings and they had communication towers situated around them. It appeared to be a small field command post. Naki ducked back into the shadows, hoping not to be seen by them.

"I cannot go that way..." Naki muttered.

Beside her, a small ticket kiosk flashed and she glanced over at it. A camera view of her was displayed, but then it switched over to another camera showing a series of energy barriers that were surrounding the traffic circle. A yellow square highlighted them and indicated the barriers as an 'Illegal Traffic Obstruction.'

A small speaker chimed. "Unlock... Unlock."

Naki cocked her head at the screen, how did whatever that was controlling this know that the Ultra's data-pad could do that. Had she been guided towards the pad in the first place?

She took it out of her pocket and brought up the controls. Jiralhanae could not do this, whatever it was had to be on her side. With just a few taps, Naki shut down all the energy barriers in the sector. The Jiralhanae in the traffic circle were confused, they did not understand why their protection had vanished.

A faint rumble beneath Naki's boots started to become more noticeable. A security gate nearby chimed, signaling that it was opening.

A few moments later, a massive Human vehicle rumbled down the hill. It was heading straight for the traffic circle at speeds she did not think a vehicle that size could achieve.

Before the Jiralhanae and Unggoy could react, the tracked vehicle slammed into a cluster of cars. They acted as a ramp for the crawler to roll up, and slam down upon the Covenant. The Jiralhanae were crushed beneath its mass, and the machine destroyed the communications array that was just beyond. It came to a stop, resting on the traffic circle and carnage.

A follow up crawler skidded to a stop, with sparks shooting out from its tracks just behind the first. Naki blinked at the scene. That was not what she had been expecting to see. The screen chimed with a simple circle and two half circle eyes, playing some cheerful tone. "New Mombasa Police thank you for your cooperation."

The screen winked off, and the music stopped. Naki was alone again it seemed.

She hopped over the railing and back down to the roadway. Jogging over to the traffic circle area, Naki glanced back up the road the crawlers had come from and saw the gate was locked once again. Though now that the energy barrier was off, it opened that roadway for her to continue down. Naki did not walk down that street for long, as she soon recognized the position of the cars and the bodies in the street. "Oh gods damn it. I went in a circle..."

The gate ahead she had gone through to get in the sector was locked, but it appeared that the security gate up an incline just behind her was open. "Why does it feel like I am being funneled somewhere..."

Naki walked up to the big security gate, hurrying passed tall barriers and sandbag fortifications. They had been abandoned for a bit; judging by the look of the cooled pools of metal from plasma strikes. The Humans had wished to defend this area for a reason. The small control console flashed while awaiting manual activation, so she slapped the big override switch and the doors slowly hissed open.

Hugging the close wall on her right, Naki crept through the shadows. A massive 10 was painted on one of the walls; Humans had a strange way of numbering their sectors, six led to ten? In what world does that make sense? "Earth... apparently..." she thought.

There was heavy damage to the area, the Humans and the Covenant had fought a sustained battle in this sector and this was a small one. She crept through the Human defense line, one of their Scorpion tanks sat disabled at the top of the rise. It was partially buried in sandbags, turning it into some kind of stationary turret.

That was when she saw it, stamped into the metal of a security gate was the symbol for the Human's Office of Naval Intelligence. Usually she would have panicked, but maybe ONI would be able to get her out of the city... if she surrendered herself that is. Naki was alone, and it was getting less likely that she would be able to get out on her own.

She would be taking a big risk; they could just shoot her on sight. Though, there was that thing that had been guiding her path. Perhaps it was the Humans. Naki stepped around the Human corpses that sat behind their fortifications. The security gates were sealed tight, so there was no way she could get in that way. To her left, the sliding doors sensed her and automatically opened.

"Well, I guess that is the route I am going..." Naki turned and slipped into the building. It was much less imposing than she had expected from monolith that was the Humans' ONI. The lighting was warms and the walls were an earthy granite. A stark contrast from the other ONI installations she had been in. Though, she knew all too well that there were hidden security devices all over the place; and without her data-pad she was going in blind.

She soon realized that this was no more than a large entryway, all the stairs lead down to a single set of doors. They also slid open upon her approach, opening up into a small lobby. Several elevators lined the walls, probably to get to offices in the wall that surrounded the complex. Naki walked in with Carbine raised, there was still nothing here. Slowly, she crept through the empty space. The next set of doors were ahead, but their glass was cracked and polarized to its maximum settings. A faint glow of orange pulsed from the cracks.

Naki deemed that there was no threat in the lobby and quickly pushed on. The doors ahead refused to open. She attempted to push them aside, but it did not move. With a grumble, Naki lifted her foot and kicked the door out from its track. It slammed to the ground; the thick blast proof glass remained intact.

"Well... Shit." Naki sighed. "There went that plan."

The Office of Naval Intelligence building burned. Its facade shattered and crumbling, as massive fires raged inside. She would not have been able to make it there anyway; the bridge had been destroyed by way of demolition charges as far as she could tell.

"...Forget it... I'm going to rest here for a bit." Naki fell back against the wall, and slid down onto her rear. It felt good to finally be off her feet, but she needed a new plan to get to safety now. However, that was a thought for after a little nap.

LORC: Beginnings Act 3 Pt 5 and 6
Date: 24 February 2018, 10:07 am

Part 5
Mombasa Streets II

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 20, 2552: 2249hrs]
New Mombasa, Earth
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

The Orbital Drop Shock Trooper crept through the security gate, and walked to the edge of the roadway. The ONI building burned at the other end of the Security Zone. He took in a breath and let it out slowly. The yellow outline on his HUD laid at the bottom of his vision, another clue to the whereabouts of his squad. All he had found so far were hints and bits of ordinance shown to him by the Superintendent; the city's AI custodian.

The Super was a 'Dumb' AI, and was really difficult to get a cohesive answer out of. Instead of just telling him where his squad was, the Superintendent just took him places they had been. Not to mention it only communicated in pre-recorded messages. Honestly it did not make much sense if he thought about it; they've had text-to-speech software for like five hundred years.

He knelt down and picked up the piece of metal; it was the arming handle of a M168 Demolition Charge. If the Super was showing it to him, it was probably armed by one of his squad, Mickey's handy work if he'd guess. With a slight push of a finger, it spun freely. He tossed it out and it skipped across the water before sinking below.

A pair of Phantoms flew across the area, their searchlights scanning the platform. He dove behind a pillar and waited for them to pass. Ever since he had woken up after the crash, he had been dodging Covenant patrols all over the city. The ODSTs were the best of the best, but there is only so much one man can do alone against the Covenant. The dropships moved on, either they did not see him or they were disinterested in a single Human. The Rookie sighed again, finally a break.

The blip on his compass updated and moved back to the city. He accessed the map on his VISR and scanned until he found the next waypoint. All the way back north; at least everything had been steadily moving in the same direction. But was the Superintendent trying to get him killed?

As the Rookie turned to leave, the visor outlined something else nearby. He approached slowly, and suddenly it became apparent what it was. A Covenant Elite was sitting against the wall. It wore green armor, a color he had never seen on them before. It was outlined in yellow; much like the other objectives he had been given.

The Rookie glanced around was there something on this Elite's corpse that he needed to grab? The ODST quietly stepped over with his gun raised. All the Elites he had seen so far were dead. Why would this be an exception? He stepped over its legs. Where are the pockets on these things anyway? He didn't even know where to look. There was a pouch on the alien's left leg, if there was something on this corpse, it would be there.

Naki's sleep was disturbed by something moving her leg. She woke with a jolt, only to see a Human Trooper stagger backwards, raising their weapon. The Human fired, their SMG spewing a burst of small bullets that were harmlessly deflected by her energy shields. Naki scrambled for her Carbine, which had previously been resting on her lap. But she found that it had been moved near the Human instead. However, she suddenly became aware that she was still alive and the Human had only fired once.

The Rookie could not see anything. As soon as he opened fire on that Elite, his visor was completely filled with the Super's avatar. The expected death never came; the Rookie opened his eyes to see that his HUD had returned. ONI Tier One Asset. Capture Alive. The words were bold and in bright red and displayed alongside the Elite's yellow outline. The Super really was trying to kill him!

Though he did not understand why the Elite remained on the ground and why he was still alive.

An unseen speaker chimed somewhere nearby. "Reminder, this sector is a gun-free zone. Violators will be prosecuted with force."

The thought suddenly occurred to him that this Elite might be in on it. It had been sleeping inside the ONI security zone after all. Plus it remained on the ground, instead of rising to challenge him. It could have made its way here to surrender, only to find the building had already been sacked by its comrades. But there was no way he could take this Elite with him, it would be dead weight and he sure as hell was not going to trust it with a gun of its own.

Naki glanced in the direction of the announcement, and then back towards the Human Trooper. She was still alive, so that was a good sign. It was a bit of a stretch, but Naki raised her hands with the Human signal for surrender. She heard the musical chime of the speakers come from inside the Trooper's helmet. The sounds were muffled, but she could hear what sounded like a one sided conversation with whatever computerized voice and the Human's body language in response. There was a lot of No being projected here.

The ODST shook his head and signaled her to stand with the movement of his SMG. He seemed reluctant to allow her to move, but Naki complied. The Human walked towards her and pulled her arms down; tying them together with some kind of restrains.

"I don't want to, but I don't have a choice here. You keep quiet and stay in front." The ODST said quietly. "You understand that?"

Naki nodded her head. "Yes..." She really got the feeling that he was not up for any kind of conversation. Though as far as she understood, ODSTs worked in squads. He probably is taking her back to them. She wondered if ONI was behind this, something had been watching her in the city and she was not entirely sure what.

The Rookie grabbed the Elite's restraints and pushed her forward. "Move," he muttered. After a bit of thinking he had determined that if the Super was so intent on him taking this Elite with him, he might as well use it to his advantage. The Elite was taller than him, bigger, and it had energy shields. Using it as a meat shield would get the best results as long as she cooperated.

Naki was pushed along in front as the ODST guided her back out into the main part of the city. There was no sign of the rest of this Trooper's squad outside the gates. She was then pushed toward one of the security gates, still nothing. "You do have a squad, right?" The ODST did not say anything as he continued to push her along. She realized that this might be the Rookie, the ODST. Her chances of getting out of this city were now even more up in the air.

He pushed her a few more times, until Naki settled into his walking pace. Since her legs were so much longer than his, it was borderline uncomfortable; the ODST wanted her crouched in a hunched combat stance, one that she was never fond of. Suddenly, she was shoved down behind a planter box. The Rookie pulled her confiscated Carbine off his back and targeted a glowing spot on a rooftop; a Kig-Yar sniper. Naki was surprised that the Kig-Yar had not seen them first; with all the different sensors and optics on their visors. The Carbine fired and the Kig-Yar on the rooftop fell to the ground in a heap. And as soon as the corpse hit the ground, they were on the move again. She was pulled and pushed along again. If she wanted, Naki could easily overpower the Human, and that was quickly becoming an attractive idea.

The security gate slid open and into the next sector and it was much more 'busy' compared to the others Naki had visited. There was a destroyed Scorpion tank just outside the door, and the debris from large roadway barriers littered the area all the way until the next traffic circle. It was not busy in hostiles, just in stuff. This sector looked like a war had gone through; not like the still pristine sectors on the other side of the ONI building. The Rookie walked through, keeping an arm on Naki's restrained arms as he held his SMG around her.

Naki wanted to complain about being a meat shield, but the ODST projected a sense of anger towards her. The Rookie walked briskly; there was still no sign of enemy activity in the sector, just lots of dead bodies.

The road into the next sector lead into a traffic circle with a small covered pay phone plaza. A dead Mgalekgolo was collapsed over the stairs, a few surviving worms wriggled on the ground beside it. The Rookie walked them over to collect a few magazines of ammunition from an ammo crate on the ground.

Naki heard it first; a dull thumping running towards them. She glanced around and could not find the corpse of the other Mgalekgolo anywhere. "Oh no..." Naki turned and then dove out of the way as the massive armored creature swung its shield through the air where the ODST had been standing moments before. He had seen the Mgalekgolo as well and moved in the direction opposite her. Unfortunately the Human's weapons were insufficient against the armor of a Hunter. The Human term fit well.

Breaking the restraints was simple enough, Naki just pulled her arms apart and the plastic snapped. She looked across the traffic circle for something, anything to fight the Hunter with. An overturned truck had slid against the small center structure and spilled some of its cargo. Gardening equipment. Naki spied a long metal tool, small bits of sharp metal attached to a chain, a chain saw. She lifted the machine with ease, and it thankfully whirred to life. With a few pulls of its trigger, the chain spun around. It had been ages since that sound had graced her ears. However it was a bit disappointing that it lacked a gasoline motor.

The Mgalekgolo was busy trying to smash the ODST, but the Human was quite the acrobat; they were dive rolling and jumping every time the massive creature came close. Naki recognized that the Hunter was in a berserker mindset, with its' bond mate dead, there would be no calming it down. It showed its back to her, the orange worms exposed along its midsection. She revved the saw and charged at the massive lumbering creature.

The Lekgolo worms that make up a Mgalegolo were very soft and fleshy compared to the heavy armor they wore, and the bladed chain cut through the exposed worms with ease.

Orange blood and chunks of gore splattered across the ground and up Naki's front. The colony howled in pain and reacted. Whole worms fell from the traumatized form, spilling to the ground. The alloy spine that helped the worms maintain their shape for days snapped as the metal chain cut through the delicate material.

With a mighty groan, the Mgalegolo collapsed into a heap of writhing worms.

It would not last forever, this colony and any survivors from its bond brother would unite and repair the damage inflicted upon it. That was, until the Human ODST primed a frag grenade and tossed it under the torso plate. The remaining Lekgolo worms were completely annihilated, leaving nothing but a scorch mark and some orange gore.

With the current threat taken care of, Naki tossed the chainsaw aside and offered her hands to the Rookie to restrain again. This was a moment of trust. She had to show the Human that she was not out to harm him. The ODST took a new set of restrains from his belt, but then stopped.

The Rookie sighed and put the plastic zip-ties back into the loop on his belt. The Elite had broken free of the last pair. He was preoccupied by the Hunter and it had not run off. Then it had killed the Hunter for him in one of the most bloody methods he had ever seen, and then offered itself back up to be restrained. He wasn't sure if it was showing that it could be trusted, or placing its trust in him. Either way, every human part of his mind was telling him this was a bad idea, but having another gun at his side would make this night a hell of a lot easier.

The ODST reached back and placed Naki's Carbine back into her hands. It was honestly not the response she was expecting. "Uh... well thank you?"

The Rookie grunted a response. "Same rules apply as before."

Naki nodded, "understood."

The ODST resumed pushing her along; though this time she had the means to defend herself. The road was clear again for a while. The occasional car fire still managed to smolder under the constant drizzle of the rainstorm. There were two directions they could go, hostiles either direction according to her tracker. The Rookie guided them right and up another uniform incline. A familiar whine came from around the corner; the engine of a Ghost.

The Rookie's reaction was almost instantaneous; he grabbed her and moved into the shadows of a doorway. The Ghost slowly hovered by, an Unggoy on patrol. The ODST popped out of cover and fired a burst of his SMG into the Unggoy's head. Its body slumped over against the controls and accelerated into an overturned police vehicle. With another nudge, they were on the move again.

Naki glanced around the roundabout the Rookie had led her to; broken trees and cables strung between buildings. A bent Sniper Rifle was dangling on one of those cables; how it got there she had no clue. The rookie probed the rifle with a metal pole and knocked it free. He picked it up, and just stared at it. She shifted her footing and inspected the area a bit more closely. There was no Covenant activity nearby that she could tell, and her radio on her Ministry channel had been dead ever since she landed. This ODST was looking for his squad too.

The walk to wherever the Human was being lead to next was quite quicker than the last. Mostly due to the fact that there had been little Covenant forces on the route he had chosen to take. The object at Kikowani Station was just one of the Humans' Biofoam canisters. They had walked across half the city tracking down two seemingly random pieces of UNSC equipment, yet they all had some sort of significance to the Human. However, judging by his reaction to finding them, Naki would guess that he was getting frustrated with the lack of meaningful progress. The sector they were in was a dead end, so any further exploration would be back towards the other end of the city. Again.

She glanced back as he tossed the canister onto the ground. "Another bust," he muttered. The Rookie suddenly placed his hands to his helmet, like he was listening to something, and a Phantom Naki had been keeping an eye on suddenly changed course and snapped its searchlight on. "Follow me," the Rookie started moving again.

They rounded a building and quickly wiped out a lance of Unggoy that had the unfortunate idea to check out the street over. The ODST moved with purpose, unlike the slow and stealthy trek across the city; they were going loud.

There was a lone lance of Jiralhanae in the courtyard ahead. Just a normal lance would be a challenge, unfortunately this one was led by a Chieftain. Naki dove for cover as soon as she saw its' golden helmet.

"Sangheili!" one of the Jiralhanae shouted, pointing over to her position. They seemed to ignore the smaller Human entirely.

A live Spike grenade slammed against the planter box she had chosen for shelter. Too many guns were trained on her to move, so she grabbed the grip of the grenade from around the corner and gave it a healthy toss back towards the Brutes with seconds to spare. The ensuing shower of spikes gave Naki the distraction she needed to gun down one of the closest Jiralhanae with her Carbine. Killing them quickly took unloading a full cartridge into the Brute's head in quick succession; unfortunately they move a lot so that strategy only works when they're surprised or distracted. While they were still distracted, she moved behind an overturned bus.

Naki glanced around for the Human as she ran, maybe a two pronged attack would work better with communication. Though, much to her surprise, the ODST was not nearby. The Human had used the distraction she caused and slipped past the Brutes and was entering a building on the other side of the courtyard.

"That bastard..." While she was slightly hurt at his abandonment, she was just his prisoner; she did understand that to him, she as an alien responsible for destroying his species.
Though now she had a new dilemma. Naki was alone against four Jiralhanae and a Chieftain with a Fuel rod gun. The odds were not in her favor. She could disable the Fuel rod, it would only take a few well-placed shots, but then the others would be on top of her.

Without taking her eyes fully off the Jiralhanae reflection, she brought up the local roster list of Covenant forces in the area on the late Ultra's data-pad. She had to know what she was dealing with. The list took a few moments to come up and displayed the forces in the area. There were a lot of Sangheili in the 'perished' category. Naki flipped the list over to living forces; if any Sangheili were still in the city, they must have disabled their identification disks. What remained were Jiralhanae, Unggoy and Kig-Yar, not to mention the occasional Mgalekgolo pair. One of those pairs were nearby.

According to the local sector map the Solemn Penance had made, the Mgalekgolo was just up the next street. A somewhat... risky plan was forming in her head.

Naki picked a plasma grenade from one of her pouches and glanced out at the Jiralhanae. They had spread out a bit, looking for her. She quietly pulled open the rooftop hatch of the bus and stepped inside, being mindful of the broken glass the littered the ground inside. There wasn't much inside, some Human bodies that had probably been killed by the initial invasion force. Naki payed them little mind as the Jiralhanae walked just outside the vehicle.

"Where did it go?" One of them asked, standing just outside the hatch.

"The coward must have just fled. I can still smell its scent." The two Jiralhanae walked back towards the Chieftain.

"Do we follow, brother?"

"No, my belly aches and the meat has finished cooking."

She slowly crept to the shattered windshield and looked towards the courtyard. The dumb Brutes
had actually clustered back together to share some sort of unidentified meat. Tossing the plasma grenade into them would take them out, but they would scatter immediately; unless she disguised the grenade somehow.

Naki checked the ground around her feet and picked a briefcase that had fallen onto the floor. It was thankfully unlocked. She inched back towards the windshield, being mindful of the broken glass that littered the floor. It would have to be fast; she had to disable the Fuel rod gun immediately after tossing the case. The Chieftain was off on its own, still sweeping the streets with his gun at the ready.

She pushed open the hatch and left the bus behind her, dropping the lit Plasma grenade into the case. Naki threw the briefcase at the Jiralhanae group and shouldered her Carbine; dumping another cartridge in the Chieftain's direction. The Brutes were confused by the black leather box flying towards them, until it landed with the high pitched whine of a charging grenade. They attempted to flee before it exploded, but it was too late. The pack was engulfed by the searing plasma; all-the-while Naki's Carbine shots connected with the Fuel rod in multiple places.

The Chieftain threw the useless weapon away and roared a challenge at Naki. Just as she had planned, which meant she could probably start running. She took off down the street, heading for the Mgalekgolo markers. The growling from the Jiralhanae was a good signal to her that he was chasing her down. Of course, her entire plan relied on the behavior of different species to match up to stereotypes. So far things were working, but anything could mess up and lead to her death.

Naki rounded the corner and there was one of the Mgalekgolo, standing in the middle of the roadway. If she timed it right, there would only be milliseconds between her diving out of the way and a spray of incendiary gel. She fired a few shots into the armored back of the massive creature, gathering its' enraged attention to her. However, instead of its cannon, the Mgalekgolo raised its heavy shield into the air with a roar.

"So much for that plan!" Naki thought. She waited until the apex of its swing and dropped to her knees and slid across the road surface. There was a wet smack as the Mgalekgolo's shield connected with the Chieftain's form. Naki could not stick around to see what happened; the intersection was filled with more Covenant forces. She threw herself off the ground and booked it back towards the courtyard area. The ground rumbled at the Mgalekgolo chased her down; or tried to, there were many drawbacks of being a creature of that size.

She slid around the corner and ran into the building that the Human had disappeared into. With any luck, she would have just lost the Hunter. Naki hid against a wall inside the entry way and let the Mgalekgolo wander into the now quiet courtyard. Frustrated that it had lost its attacker, the Mgalekgolo swung and smashed the side of the over turned bus, crushing the front inwards. It stomped off, back to its bond brother.

Naki sighed and started to walk further into the building that she had dashed into. It was a maintenance corridor of some kind, leading down into the building below. There were papers strewn all over the floor. A sign over a security checkpoint identified her location, only a little bit: Superintendent Data Center Maintenance Access. Small blips of memory were popping into her head; she followed the passageway until it ended in an open elevator shaft.

Glancing down the shaft, she was greeted by an endless hole and a cable gently swinging back and forth. "Great... I know where he went."

Naki stepped back and ran her fingers across her head, taking off her helmet a bit. It was not the best way to descend a shaft. She would have prayed for a jump pack if she believed in the gods. This Human was her only chance at getting out of the city with the possibility of surviving. She took a few steps back and then leapt across. Gripping the cable with both hands, Naki was glad her gloves were thick. She slid down into the darkness below.

Note: Like half of this is a sort of Novelization of DataHive... I wanted to avoid it but I sorta walked into this one.
Part 6
Now leaving New Mombasa

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 201 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [October 21, 2552: 0012hrs]
New Mombasa, Earth
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

The friction between her gloves and the cable was starting to heat through. Naki tightened her grip, however, when she saw the elevator car rapidly approaching. The armor on her legs prevented her from using them to adequately slow herself, so she slammed into rooftop and rolled off the side.

"Damnit," she muttered. Naki rose to her feet and surveyed the area she had ended up in. It was another maintenance area, security doors on the other three doors. The Rookie was there, and was leaning against the wall. "Oh, so you waited!?"

The ODST simply nodded once and turned to walk through the security gate. She had been making a lot of noise up top, which he had taken notice of even seven levels down.

Naki pulled her Carbine from her back and moved to follow him once again. She was inside one of the Humans' massive Artificial Intelligence data centers; the machines that ran their cities. Getting a look at it would be fascinating. She walked over towards one of the screens that were displaying various readouts and other information from the system. However when Naki got close, the screen was replaced by the emoticon of the Superintendent. Operation Terminated scrolled across the ticker bar on the bottom of the screen.

With a hint of annoyance, Naki slapped the screen with the butt of her Carbine, leaving a sizable crack in the display. She was this close to learning the secret inner workings of Human Artificial Intelligence, not that it was really an end goal of hers; Forerunner machinery was still superior in almost every way.

The Rookie led the way, and Naki provided what help she could. The twisting corridors of the data center were wide, but filed with various forms of cover. Unggoy and Kig-Yar easily hid behind them. While ammo for her Carbine was rare on the surface, it appeared to be plentiful on the bodies of Kig-Yar down below. The fighting was relatively easy with just the small cannon fodder that the Covenant typically employed. The Jiralhanae were strangely absent.

That was until they entered the Data Stacks; a tight series of corridors where the memory cores of the AI were located. As soon as they had entered, Naki nostrils were assailed by the stench of Jiralhanae. They pushed deeper into the Stack chamber, fighting through the lances of hostiles. They came across a Human police officer fending off the Jiralhanae with a shotgun.He racked back another shell and took aim at Naki as she walked through the doorway. "Woah, Trooper, watch out."

The shotgun fired and smacked against Naki's shields. They flared and burst, but none of the small pellets made it through her armor and bodysuit. Stunned for just a moment, she jumped into the connecting corridor and hugged the wall. After a few moments, she shouted out to the Officer. "I know it's hard to believe, Human, but I am actually on your side!"

The Rookie waved at the Officer, barely stepping between him and the corridor. "It is telling the truth, believe it or not. I am taking it in as a tier one asset."

"You're letting it run around with a gun though?!" The Police officer stammered, and waved his gun towards Naki's position.

"Well, desperate times call for desperate measures..." the Trooper mumbled.

The Officer grumbled, "As long as it stays in front of me..." He nodded back towards the large data storage core "So I've been trying to get to the next level to check on my team, but this stack is locked down tight."

Naki waited for her shields to recharge before stepping back out into the room, the Officer had his weapon raised slightly in her direction the whole time; Naki kept hers down and away instead of returning his action.

The Rookie stepped up to the console, but before they could do anything, the locks clicked and the Superintendent chimed over the center's announcement system. "Welcome, access granted."
While his eyes were hidden behind a golden mirrored faceplate, the Officer turned slightly to the Rookie. "Huh, guess you have the magic touch."

The stack slid up, releasing a hiss of freezing air. Only a rising buzz came from the darkness beneath. "Buggers, look out!"

The NMPD officer and the Rookie opened fire with their shotguns, blowing the insectoid creatures apart. Naki never worked with the Yanme'e much, hive creatures which the Covenant used when Huragok were not available. However they were likely the easiest of the client species to kill. In seconds, the swarm of Yanme'e was obliterated.

The next level down was dark; the lights were out for whatever reason. Naki wished she had night vision on her ACI system, yet another upgrade she had forgone. At least the police officer had a flashlight on his weapon. As the light illuminated enemies, Naki fired. It was not the best arrangement, but it was the best she could do.

Thankfully her identification tag system still worked, her ACI identified Jiralhanae everywhere; active camouflage keeping them hidden. The Rookie must have noticed as well; shotgun blasts sounded thought the corridor making extremely short work of the Jiralhanae.

They passed through another series of data-stack which allowed them access to level nine. The police officer seemed hesitant as they dropped down; like he didn't want them going down there with him for some reason. The air was cold and everything was coated in a thin layer of frost. The lights were muted but functioning, unlike the level above. The enemy forces here were quite varied at first, but then the variety dissolved back into a single pack of Brutes.

Naki did her best, but Chieftain had forced the Humans back to cover leaving her out in the open. She attempted to slide behind a column only to meet a Jiralhanae Major there instead of a safe haven. "Oh... shit."

The Brute roared and smacked her across the helmet, sending her world into spiraling darkness.

Naki coughed and opened her eyes. Her arms were bound and she was on her back, lying on some sort of cart, something Humans called a pallet-jack if she remembered correctly. Her arms were bound again, this time with something stronger than plastic ties. She was inside some sort of control room, all Naki could see were a series of computer stations. "Hello?" Her voice was hoarse and throat was dry. She doubted that she had naturally been knocked out for as long as it seemed.

The Human trooper walked over from around the computer console; there was another Human with him, a female in similar armor as him. The woman stepped in front of the Rookie. "So she's awake... While I trust this Troopers judgement, I was not about to let you into this secured area unrestrained." The Human took a small folding chair from the wall and spun it around to face Naki. "So, who are you, and why would you surrender to this ODST."

Naki shifted herself to sit up further. "I am... former... Special Operations Science Major Naki 'Cimutee. And... your artificial intelligence guided me to your headquarters in this city, I thought that this Trooper was sent to collect me."

"Artificial intelligence?" The woman mumbled, "The Superintendent?" She looked back towards the Rookie, who nodded subtlety.

"The Super blocked up my VISR when I went to shoot it." He spoke in a reserved manner. "Said it was a Tier-one asset."

"Hm... strange." The woman said. Naki looked over her armor, and spied a name on the chest plate. Dare. Dare spoke again, "Anyhow, We've heard of your kind before. Green armored Elites hunting through ONI facilities before the glassing begins. What do you do?"

"Well... I study Forerunner technology; you know what that is do you not?" Naki said, cocking her head slightly. "Though others do anything from studying your kind to planetary survey; but few reach the level I am at."

"Forerunners; those ancient ruins out there in the galaxy right? Yes, I know of them." Dare kept a flat face, still not giving away any emotional hints. "What makes you so special then?"

"I am... was... one of the highest ranking Science officers in the Covenant. My mission here was given to me by the High Prophet of Regret, to investigate the artifact located somewhere on this planet." Naki looked away, wondering if it was a good idea to reveal what Project Leau was. She would, only if this officer needed more convincing.

"What would it take to get you to tell me what you know about this, artifact?" Dare asked.

"I am just looking for transport out of here. This city will not last long at the rate the Covenant up there are going" Naki said.

"I can see what strings I can pull, but I don't think we'll be able to take you with us when we make our move." Dare said. "You've just got to tell me some to see if ONI will bite."

Naki nodded. "Very well, the High Prophet came into possession of a device which showed the location of this planet. I was brought in to oversee the Science operation and I have in-depth knowledge of some military research projects. If you get me out, I will tell more." She offered, holding her hands out in a motion of giving.

"Hmm... We'll see what ONI thinks about that." Dare stood up from her seat and walked to the other side of the room with a data-pad in hand. She was out of view, but Naki could still hear her voice. "At least the data-net connection survived those idiots... now to see if anyone is listening..."

She looked up at the Rookie and offered her hands up to him. "Can I have my hands back, please?" The Rookie shook his head and walked back to Dare. Naki grumbled and dropped her hands back into her lap.

A few minutes went by, just sitting in the corner with nothing interesting to look at. There was the occasional beeping from the consoles all around, and buzzing, lots of buzzing. There was a fresh Yanme`e hive nearby; that explained all the Drones in the tunnels. She glanced down at the mission clock on her ACI, and saw that she had been out for more than a few hours. What were they waiting for, more troopers to arrive? And what happened to that Police officer? Her throat was still parched and her water bottle was under her arm, impossible to get to with her hands restrained.

It was not the most comfortable ten minutes she had endured, but it seemed like it was coming to an end. Dare returned from the other side of the room and directed the Rookie to cut her restraints off. "Well it looks like more aren't coming. So I am going to need your help to get down there and secure the asset in the core." She stepped back as Naki stood up to her full height of two point five meters and stretched. "I, um, managed to secure an exfil outside the city limits, one that should be able to take you as well. We just need to get through this next part... the Hive."

"I can do that, Human." Naki nodded and then took a long drink from her canteen. "Did you bring my weapons in with me?" The Rookie shook his head, and tossed her one of their small SMGs. "Oh... I guess this works... its small."

"That will have to work." Dare said, "There will be plenty of ammo in these tunnels. NMPD retrofitted their security stations throughout this facility back when the Insurrection had threatened Earth infrastructure. They added M7s when the Covenant war began."

Dare headed towards a door that led deeper into the data-center. They formed up and followed her through another set of winding and twisting corridors that looked the same as the last four Naki and the Rookie had fought through. Somehow it appeared that the ONI officer had managed to memorize the exact path they needed to take. Naki was impressed, this facility was as insane as a Forerunner installation, if not more so.

They passed down into the ventilation tunnels, the Covenant had set up a few supply crates along the corridor. Naki found herself another Carbine to supplement the SMG the Humans had given her; though the Carbine proved virtually useless while they fought through the Yanme'e hive.

Somehow, enough of the insectoid creatures had been unleashed from the Hierarch's ship and had managed to construct the rudimentary tunnels of a hive in the last few hours. It was quite a feat, but Naki wondered if the Yanme'e knew that this area was going to be glassed anyway in the end. She was covered in slime and guts once they made it through, the Yanme'e virtually exploded whenever they were struck with enough bullets. It was not a pleasant sight.

Naki dropped down another shaft, as soon as the Dare and the Rookie had cleared the bottom; apparently the elevators for this area were offline. The bridge over to the Artificial Intelligence's core was arcing over a vast pit of coolant. A group of Jiralhanae were on the other side, trying to cut through the door with their plasma weapons with no visible effect other than a few scorch marks.

"It won't be long before they smash through that door. Let's take them out. Now!" Dare dropped down to the main floor with the Rookie close behind. Naki stuck to her position and switched over to the Carbine. Her energy shields had kept her safe this long, they deserved a break.

She waited until the Humans began the engagement, and then started to hammer the Brutes with radioactive ammunition. The Jiralhanae were caught by surprise from both at range and close up. With three guns, it was a quick fight. Naki's shots overloaded shields and the Humans' SMGs cut through the armor and flesh with ease. The Trooper tossed a grenade towards the crate the last Brute had fallen back to. It exploded, sending the crate and the Jiralhanae off the side into the coolant below.

Dare glanced around the site. "That's all of them."

The doors to the core lit up green. "Welcome, Access Granted," chimed the speaker nearby.

Dare glanced at the Rookie, and then to Naki. "You, stay out here and hold off any reinforcements that come our way. Trooper, with me."

Naki nodded and pushed over an empty weapon crate and took cover behind it. Anything that came after them would either come from the way they did, or from above. Either way, this was the best place to wait. Dare and the Rookie headed inside of the Core chamber, so she waited.

It was not long before a pair of Phantoms appeared from the burning hole above. They settled down to the sides of the bridge and began to deploy their complement of troops. Naki looked at the two plasma grenades and last few cartridges for her Carbine. "Oh gods... this is more than I am prepared for..." She prayed to the Gods, that if they somehow existed, that her shields would keep her alive through this encounter; they had not given in to the incoming fire just yet.

The lance of Unggoy and Kig-yar marched into defensive positions across the bridge. Naki fired the SMG across the bridge, and a few Unggoy fell, but the Kig-yar stood strong. Switching over to her Carbine, she placed shots through the small hole on the Kig-yar's shields. An Unggoy waddled over and tossed a plasma grenade into her place of cover. She leapt out and slid in behind another place of cover. Coming from above, Jiralhanae wearing jump-packs slammed into the bridge deck to reinforce the other forces.

Naki fired the SMG and send a hail of bullets into the back of one of the Jump-pack Jiralhanae, and the backpack exploded. It sent the Brute spiraling up into an overhead support beam with enough force to crack its neck. A trio of plasma bolts from an Unggoy splashed across her shields, causing them to pop. The meter atop her ACI flashed and warned her that the system had to cycle, unfortunately all that was left of her cover was just a half melted pile of slag.

She unloaded a small burst into the attacking Unggoy's head, just as its last volley of plasma seared passed her waist. Naki hissed as her bodysuit blistered and melted in multiple places, but it took the brunt of the damage like it was designed for. There would still be skin damage, at most she would have what humans called second degree burns, but it had to wait.

Suddenly her body was enveloped by a teal overshield. It came just in time as glowing red spikes were deflected from her form by mere milliseconds. The Human's had emerged from the data core and they had a Huragok in tow. "That's right!" Naki shouted inside her head. "The target was the Huragok in the AI's core!"

The Humans charged forward, boosted by the Huragok's shields, and laid waste to whatever Covenant forces remained. It was a welcomed relief to Naki, their stay in the core felt way too long. "Protect the Engineer!" Dare shouted as they moved swiftly across the bridge.

Naki hurried across behind them, keeping the Huragok covered from behind. She held the SMG in one hand, and held her last gel pack to her waist; it was not enough but she had used most of her kit on the Ultra Osala earlier in the day. At least it numbed some of the pain. Another ODST trooper waved to Dare.

"Veronica! Over here, hurry," he shouted. However, he paused and lifted his rifle at Naki. "Woah wait, is this what you meant by green?"

"Yes, let's go." Dare hurried by the trooper strolled to the door.

The Huragok, however, did not follow. It hovered over to Naki and whistled, its tentacle patted her helmet. Naki did not interact with Huragok much; they generally stayed with the San'Shyuum and were hoarded by their expedition ministries. "So you were the one that was guiding me to do that stuff." She rubbed its head and it squealed in delight.

Her small sentence in her native language must have spooked the ODSTs. "Hey, back away from that purple... thing!" Buck ordered. "Rookie, you get between the two. Don't want any colluding."

Naki stepped back and let the Rookie take the Huragok through the doorway, following Dare. "I was just thanking the Huragok for saving my life. It is the one who guided me to your trooper's path."

"Yeah, well do it later. I don't have time to police the two of you." Buck muttered and guided Naki into the next room. They dropped down into another service corridor. "So Veronica, about these assets, feel free to fill me in whenever."

Dare gave him a look. "Not now, Buck." The next door slid open and her tone changed to a whisper. "Quiet, don't wake them."

Naki saw why seconds later. There were dozens of Yanme'e latched to the ceiling, fast asleep. She, being the tallest of the group, had to crouch down and slowly walk across to the next room. Any Yanme'e would jump at the chance to kill a Huragok, whenever one was brought in nearby, it would displace the Drones' pecking order in the Fleet.

Once they had a few doors between them and the hive, the only thing blocking their escape from the Data Center was a locked door. Dare's passcode did not work, but the Huragok did not need one. It went to work on the door, interfacing with its electrical systems. It was always a wonder to watch them work.

Buck nodded his head over to the Engineer as it worked. "I've seen hundreds of these things today, why is this one so important?"

"This engineer knows what the covenant is after, if I could safely capture more I would. What they know can win the war." Dare replied.

"...Oh," was Buck's only reply.

Dare shot him a look, "You haven't killed any of them have you?"

"No..." Buck slowly started, but he gave up half way through. "Okay, maybe one... or two."

Dare scoffed. "Nice work."

Naki's attention was drawn away from the conversation as the Engineer let out a series of delighted whistles. The door flashed green and slid open; there were more Drones, a lot more. However, they slept, blissfully unaware that this small team was making their way out right under their sensory nodes. The door on the other side led to something good, the elevator. It took a few seconds for the Huragok to power up the system, but once it did they were home free, atleast that was Naki thought was the proper saying.

The doors slid shut and the lift began to climb. Buck removed his helmet and got a whiff of the Huragok's gas sacks. "Oh lord that thing stinks..." He laughed. "Kinda' reminds me-" Out of nowhere, Dare walked up and punched the Trooper right in the jaw. Buck was stunned for a second, as was Naki and the rest of the misfits. "Hey! What was that for?"

Dare took a step back and shook her hand from the pain. "For abandoning the mission," she stated.

Buck waved his hands in the air. "What mission?! You dropped off the grid, my squad was scatt-" He was cut off again, this time by a passionate kiss. Dare leaned back to allow him to breath. "...And that?"

She laughed, "For coming back."

The Engineer glanced to the Rookie, who in turn glanced back, and then the two looked to Naki. She could definitely sense the awkwardness that was shared amongst species. The two Humans noticed the trio's reaction and buck cleared his throat. "You did good Rookie, no doubt, but we're not out of this yet. I've got a warthog out on the waterfront highway, and there 'aint room for all of us... so we're gonna' have to figure something out."

Dare glanced to Naki and then to the Huragok. "The Engineer is the priority asset. There is a secondary evacuation point that we were going to use before. Can you make it there on your own?" She asked Naki.

"Well, how far is it?" Naki asked. The entire point of staying in the city for this long was a guaranteed way out; having to find her own way, irked her.

A data-pad was produced from one of the ONI officer's pockets. She handed it over to Naki, showing their current location on the lower half of the city. A dot pulsed on the mainland, just on the other side of the river; it would be a long walk, but not as long as yesterday. "This is the location. You can keep the pad, and if we make it out of this city with Buck's plan, I'll let the recovery team know it will be only you."

Naki grumbled and slipped the small Human data-pad into one of her ammunition pockets. "Fine, that will have to be acceptable... I will part ways once we reach the surface then?"

"Yes, that'll work." Dare nodded. "Speaking of..." The lift slid to a stop, level zero.

The streets outside were abandoned. Naki did not hear any sounds of fighting like she had the night before. Either they were all taking a break, or the Covenant had successfully overpowered the remaining Human resistance. If she was going to go off on her own, she might as well do it now.

Naki took the data-pad out and looked at the map layout. She plotted a course and nodded to the trio of ODSTs. "I suppose I am leaving now. Perhaps I'll see you again soon."

Dare was the only one to reply to her and that was a simple maybe. The Engineer whistled and waved one of his tentacles at her as she headed into a nearby building.

Now that she had an actual map to guide her escape, it went much quicker. There was a bridge just to the north which should lead her over to the base of the Space elevator and then into a section of city on the mainland called; Kongowea. Sneaking passed Jiralhanae checkpoints was easy, their attention was drawn back on themselves as the most common topic for discussion Naki heard was the perfect temperature at which a Human roasts the best; not really something she wanted to know.

The late Ultra's command pad proved to be an invaluable tool as well. The Jiralhanae had not revoked its command codes or access to the upper echelon of the Battle-net. The Sangheili division however, was dead. There were some queries from hours ago, but nothing new; and her ministry had not had any activity except her own. It made her sad, that all her interns that she had been teaching for the last four years had been likely killed.

"Fuck!" Naki shouted. Her hopes of a speedy escape were destroyed as she took a few cautious steps up to the road deck of the bridge. When the Space Elevator had collapsed, some of the massive support rings had fallen directly down around the base of the tether, one was now barely peeking out from the waves where there should have been a bridge.

She glanced from side to side, looking for any way to make it over to that side of the river. There was something in the water, near the other side. Naki brought her Carbine up and utilized its zoom to see what the object was. There was a boat, chugging along towards inland, and there was a Sangheili on the boat... She zoomed to the max level her ACI and Carbine would allow. It was K`an... And there was a Human on the boat with him?

"What the hell?" She muttered, lowering the rifle. What was K`an doing with a Human? "K`an!" Naki yelled, waving her left arm in the air. "K`an, come back!"

However, he did not seem to react, or even hear her. The boat kept heading up river. "Why did I think he was going to hear me from here...?" She muttered. With another sigh, she stepped back away from the edge and checked the Human data-pad for another route.

There was apparently another highway, only an underground tunnel that led over to the mainland. She would have to back track along the last avenue, and find an onramp down to the lower level. Naki walked through the nearest set of security gates. Much to her surprise, a Spectre was crashed up against a highway divider. Plasma burns seared the side, and the corpse of a Jiralhanae sat in the driver's seat.

She walked over and pressed the release on the cockpit; the restraining cage slid up with a hiss. Naki pulled the corpse out of the seat and sat down herself, taking a second to adjust it to her stature. Pressing the ignition switch, the motor rumbled to life. "Oh thank the gods..." She backed it away from the divider and headed towards the tunnel. The Human data-pad held the command codes that allowed her to pass through the highway security barriers that sat every thousand meters. If Dare had not given it to her, she would have been trapped.

The Tunnels were partially flooded, but thankfully the anti-grav Spectre meant that it didn't hinder her progress. By the time she returned to the surface, Naki found that she was now quite close to the massive column of smoke that was the Slip-space crater. Glancing back over her shoulder at the city, her eyes were drawn to the new wall of smoke. The entire northern half of the city was gone, burned away by a fleet of Battlecruisers digging into the surface. This was an important moment; they had uncovered the portal.

Oh what she would give to be part of the exploration team that will go into that structure; but it was the Jiralhanae in charge now. The task would be given to San'Shyuum and Huragok. Not that it's unusual, but the fact that she had been a member of the team that would go down. She sighed and started again, headed out of the city.

The highway turned towards the coast and out of the old city, and gradually it became less and less dense. The marker for the extraction point was located inside a Marine preserve. Naki had not seen any evidence of the Covenant yet this far from the city center, however there were no Humans either. The people out here had enough time to evacuate.

There did not look to be a road that led further into the Marine preserve, so Naki brought the Spectre into a spot alongside the waterfront boardwalk. There were posters and stands advertising some sort of animal tours later in the day.

She took a deep breath and looked out at the water. "Almost out of here..."

There were footsteps behind her. Naki turned to face a pale Human, flanked by a team of ODSTs. He looked up at her and smiled. "Doctor Cimutee, I presume?"

Naki nodded but frowned. "How many times do I have to tell you people, I am not a doctor."