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LORC: Beginnings Act 1 Pt 4 and 5
Posted By: HWPD<Disaster.nick@gmail.com>
Date: 11 September 2015, 7:43 am


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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.





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