Boom. Yes, I know. I hate wiki formatting too.

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After more formal introductions had been taken care of, Adrian and Bodark lead Cassandra, Obadiah-A227 and Damein-A149 into the command building. They gathered around the main holotable where a projection of the large, disused air base that made up Camp Hawkhurst was waiting. The abandoned UEG Base had become a hotspot for Insurrectionist activity in recent years, intelligence reports revealed that a well hidden and long active arms smuggling operation had been active for well over ten years, distributing abandoned UNSC gear to insurrectionist cells in the Inner Colonies. At the heart of this operation sat Esteban Carajo, formerly thought to be deceased, but had been spotted in the last few weeks by ONI satellites. However, the situation took a turn for the worse as an abandoned ONI warehouse had been raided on an abandoned colony. Satellite imagery showed Carajo's smugglers in possession of X-23 Non-Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse Cannons, capable of disabling UNSC WMDs. Due to these findings, PERUN Team was deployed to capture or kill the leader as well as ensure the destruction of the cannons and the bases ability to function.

Bodark and Adrian briefed the others on the specifics of the mission, Bodark mostly focusing on her and Damien's role of planting the explosives on their secondary objective, a shipment of X-23 Non-Nuclear Pulse Cannons; as well as noting various threats such as emplacements and vehicle patrol routes. The others asked their own questions, however Obadiah called the entire plan into question, pointing out various flaws with Cassandra's support; rather than reprimand him however, Bodark and Adrian agreed to put his plan into action over their own. Having geared up, Bodark and PERUN mounted up in a Troop Hog and departed at sundown towards Camp Hawkhurst.

As they neared the base, Bodark cut the lights and drove off-road towards a ridge overlooking the base, dropping off Cassandra, before proceeding to the next checkpoint. She dismounted along with Damien to make their way into the base while Adrian and Obadiah moved into position, with Bodark taking point as she and Damien reached the outer wall of the base. The two scaled the wall, dispatching a pair of guards and hiding the bodies, before moving on towards the first bomb location. The two of them moved between cover as Cassandra called out passing patrols and targets which the two bypassed or eliminated as they neared the site. Just before they reached the first bomb location, the fuel dump, Bodark was contacted by Adrian, notifying her as they were entering the main facility. She and Damien pressed forward towards the dump, the two of them taking out the five guards before Damien moved to arm and place the charge with Bodark covering him.

Having planted the first charge, Bodark took point as she and Damien made their way towards the second bomb target, the warehouse. She split up from Damien and took a separate route through the cargo yard between the fuel dump and warehouse, moving across the upper sections with Damien below her. Before emerging at the other end of the yard, she reported their status to Adrian who responded with his own as he and Obadiah neared the leader's position. Coming out at the roof level, Bodark spotted Damien below her, coordinating with him to breach the main doors and clear out the objective. Entering from the skylight, Bodark made her way down and ambushed the two guards at the door, allowing Damien to move in and enter. Once in, the two set about clearing out the guards before searching for the shipment.

Having located the container with the cannons, Damien planted the charges on them as well as support pillars of the warehouse while Bodark covered him. Once all the charges had been planted, the two made their way out, killing the final two guards, and taking a route through a series of tents so as to avoid patrols. As they neared the vehicle depot, Bodark and Damien were notified that Cassandra and Obadiah had secured a vehicle and Adrian was preparing to breach the main room. With Cassandra no longer providing overwatch, Bodark and Damien had to approach the depot much slower, taking out a patrol before slipping though the back door. Once inside, the two made their way through the litany of wrecks while taking out guards until they could safely move to plant the last charges. While Bodark planted the charges, Damien broke off to clear a path for them to link up with the others at the main facility.

As she was finishing planting the final charge, Bodark was caught off guard as the alarms sounded across the base. Looking down the path where Damian had marked, she was alerted that they had been spotted and had to leave. Before she could however, the route was cutoff as a number of insurrectionst fighters flooded towards her team, forcing them to leave her behind. Alone and surrounded, Bodark quickly escaped through the rear of the depot and eliminated a trio of fighters as she made her way through the tents which made up the barracks, eliminating several other fighters. Before she could go further, a series of searchlights lit up the areas ahead of her. She briefly considered her options and opted to make a break for the depot and snuck back in; only to find the entrance being guarded by several fighters. With the base already hunting her, she moved to engage the guards, throwing a couple of grenades and opening fire to force them to scatter into cover. As they did, she threw her last grenade, using the explosion as cover to drive out a Warthog before jumping out an engaging the last few in hand to hand combat.

With the route finally clear, Bodark got back into the Warthog and threw one of the innies grenades into a pile of ammo as a distraction. Within moments the explosion had attracted the attention of most of the innies, allowing her to break through the front gates and escape. Shutting down any pursuers by detonating the main charges and effectively destroying the base.

Arriving back at base camp, Bodark quickly made her way to the command building, moving into the room where she heard her teammates trying to justify their actions. Hearing Obadiah try to absolve himself with Cassandras support, Bodark stormed in and struck him down with her helmet. With Obadiah on the floor and the others not moving, Bodark marched out, neither Major Braughner or Adrian trying to reprimand her.

The trip back to the ship was uneventful aside from Bodark having a short conversation with the Pelican pilot which helped clear her head. Arriving back on the UNSC Vorpal Sword, Bodark spent some time thinking on what had happened both during the mission and after she came back to the base. She realized that the main cause for her being left behind wasn't just Obadiah and Cassandra's lack of faith in her leadership, but also their distrust in her abilities as a Spartan. Rather than letting her emotions speak however, she decided to let her actions be her words.

After formal introductions, Adrian and Bodark led the others into the command building to be briefed. There, they were presented with a holo-projection of their target: Camp Hakwhurst, an abandoned UEG airbase. Hawkhurst had become a hotspot for Insurrectionist activity in recent years, but it had been covertly supplying Inner Colony insurrectionists with ex-UNSC arms for over a decade. The head of the smugglers, one Esteban Carajo, was thought dead before being spotted by ONI satellites in the past few weeks - and, worse, his smugglers had recently been shown to be in posession of X-23 Non-Nuclear EMP Cannons, capable of disabling UNSC WMDs. These weapons would be PERUN's secondary target, as explained by Bodark. However, as the briefing went on, Obadiah and Cassandra began to call their entire plan into question; and after Bodark and Adrian allowed them to lay out their alternative, the team mounted up and departed at sundown.

They travelled Hawkhurst in darkness, staying off-road - after dropping Cassandra off at a nearby ridge to provide overwatch, Bodark and Damien dismounted and approached the outer wall as Adrian and Obadiah moved into position. Scaling the wall, the two quickly disposed of the guards on patrol, before moving to plant the first bomb as the other two prepared for their own assault. They then proceeded to the second bomb target, splitting up between the upper and lower levels of the cargo yard; Bodark breaching through the skylight and Damien following through the main doors.

Once explosives had been planted on the shipments and the warehouse's structural pillars, the two made their way through to their final targets, hearing en route that the other three were working their way through the base. As Bodark planted her charges in the vehicle depot, Damien broke off to clear a path for them to link up with the others at the main facility - but just as she finished, alarms began to sound across the compound, signalling their discovery.

With Damien's route blocked by the insurrectionist fighters flooding the base, Bodark quickly exited the depot and moved to escape past the sea of tent barracks, but was forced to double back after she was spotted and picked out by guard spotlights. Making a break back to the depot, she took out the guards who were moving in to secure it, and commandeered a Warthog - pausing only to detonate an ammo cache with a grenade to cover her escape, then to set off the main charges before any fighters could take off in pursuit of her.

When Bodark arrived back at base camp, her team had already arrived back well in advance, and were trying to justify their own actions amidst the chaos of the raid. She entered amidst Obadiah trying to absolve himself, but rather than hear anything further he had to say she simply struck him down with her helmet, storming out before anyone could move to calm - or reprimand - the enraged Spartan. Their return to the UNSC Vorpal Sword was more tempered, however, and after a few words of wisdom from the Pelian pilot ferrying her there Bodark was left to think on not only Obadiah and Cassandra's lack of faith in her leadership, but also their distrust in her abilities as a Spartan. She resolved to prove herself to them, with actions as her words.

<snip>

Once explosives had been planted on the shipments and the warehouse's structural pillars, the two made their way through to their final targets, hearing en route that the other three were working their way through the base. Bodark busied herself with planting her charges in the vehicle depot, while Damien broke off to clear a path for them to link up with the others at the main facility. Just as she was finishing, however, alarms began to sound across the compound, signalling their discovery - without any warning or indication that the others were going loud.

Damien was already long gone, his route now blocked by the insurrectionist fighters flooding the base. Thinking fast, Bodark exited the depot and moved to escape past the sea of tent barracks - but she quickly found herself spotted and picked out by guard spotlights. Isolated, without any help from her team or even knowledge of where they were, she was forced back, making a break for the depot and taking out the fighters who had just moved in to secure it. There, she commandeered a Warthog to escape on her own; pausing only to detonate an ammo cache with a grenade to cover her flight, then setting off the main charges before any fighters could take off in pursuit of her.

<snip>








"It's... not so bad."

The breath sucked in through clenched teeth suggested - but didn't quite state - that that was a bare-faced lie.

"Eggheads panicked when word about the Created got through, when the shipments stopped, but - hey, what can I say? I guess we knew more about running lean, about stretching supplies, than most." Spartan Hester sat up, slowly, groaning a little as he did so; his helmet sat opposite him, its red light slowly blinking like a soft, impassive heartbeat.

"Food's bearable. Company's bearable. Plenty of open ground to go out and free-roam when I'm allowed to." And when not bedridden like this, he almost added. "



What's the Deal with Fireteam Kalis?

Roster (as of training/graduation)

  • Kalis-1
    • Team lead, rifles.
    • WIA during Danger Close?
    • KIA at some point during Battle for Earth


  • Kalis-2: Hari-G055 [Harriet McVey]
    • "Combat" - CQC, close assault
    • "Utility" - Piloting
    • "Adjacent" - Urban/close recon


  • Kalis-3 -
    • "Major" - Overall recon
    • "Minor" - Hacking, operational support


  • Kalis-4: Lyzander-G276
    • "Combat" - Heavy weapons
    • "Utility" - Demolition
    • "Adjacent" - CBRN


  • Kalis-5: Avila-G??? [Avila Reichnau]
    • "Combat" - DM/sniper
    • "Utility" - Long-range/field recon
    • "Adjacent" - Ranger, escape & evasion


Youth

Middle-class family, nominally resident on Alluvion but travelling between words. Decide to settle down when they do eventually need to raise her - plan ended up torpedoed when their assets were seized by UNSC and they were forced to settle on Miridem.

  • Grew up as a city rat, particularly good at navigating the urban spaces of the city
  • (Look okay I'm just a slut for parkour and urbex in general)
  • Young, small runt relative to the other kids, often looked down upon
  • Resentful over it, strong competitive streak from insistence on "proving herself"


Miridem attacked in '44; parents managed to get her a seat on an small off-world transport via "I know a guy...", but they themselves were consigned to normal UNSC evac transports which promptly went splat.


Fun fact: Lyzander was also on Miridem when it fell, and was also picked up in its aftermath - in fact, that's where his Certified Ballista Moment [TM] came from. Maybe? Not sure. Talk this out more with Even.


Gamma

Induction & Conditioning (July '44 to ??? '45)

  • Just doesn't address losing her parents/home/etc.
  • Ends up weirdly just fine with it - either it doesn't register or she just doesn't accept it.


Individual Development (??? '45 to ??? '47?)

Team Assignment (??? '47 to July '48)

JAILBREAK (July '48)

Kalis JAILBREAK Sequence:

  • Beneath Artificial Stars
    • While escaping, Hari & Ly share a moment in the makeshift bivouacs of theirs.
    • Hinting at something, but mostly discard in favour of childish jabs.
    • Ly has the transponder but continues to hide it, internal conflict.
  • Still In The Woods
  • Two simultaneous stories.
    • Hari and Ly in an uncomfortable pelican ride after capture (or "rescue"); both sides repressing a lot. Feelings? Haha what are those?????
    • Touching moments during the waning hours of their escape, and finding the entrance to the Zone 67 complex, with Hari escaping inside.


  • INTERMISSION: Recursive Function
    • Hari lost inside Zone 67
    • Malfunctioning portals create duplicates of herself scattered throughout the facility.
    • Most meet untimely deaths and otherwise bad ends. But not all...
  • [MAYBE further intermission to explain this more properly? Not sure.]



  • [MAYBE further intermission about retrieval of other "copies"?]

The Haunting of Block AC417-F

Block AC417-F was haunted. Everyone knew that. Well, all of the rest of the Rats knew that, at least, and Harriet had never really gotten around to asking them how they knew. It was just a thing that was known, that was accepted, that was constant - like how the sun rose each day, how the tap water in her flat always tasted of metal, how her mam always dusted down the blank, empty holoframes every day, even though they had been dead as long as she could remember. Her family was just like any other on this dustball, at least as far as she knew - and the idea of worlds beyond this one were nothing more than far-off dreams, fairytales about how her parents had roamed between the stars once; how she had, too, for the first few precious years of her life.

She dismissed those stories as casually as she dismissed the laughter of the rest of the Rats when they thought she was out of earshot. Sure, she was a kid, but so what? She was just as good as any of the rest of them, and today was her chance to prove it. Plenty of them had talked about planning, trying to explore Four-Seventeen-F, but none of them had had the guts to do it so far! Well, that was hardly for want of trying. She knew that Jacks had been making plans to, or at least thinking about it - well, if he hadn't been, then she wouldn't have been able to pinch his makeshift grappler, would she? She wouldn't be scaling the side of the block, scampering between ledges, climbing rusted fire escapes and shaky scaffolding left behind from maintenance projects forgotten long ago. Here and there were she could still find scraps of the life the building had once held - toolboxes jammed shut with dirt, their mag-lock keypads cold and dead; ventilation units and security cameras still, silent, gummed up by dust and cobwebs. She wasn't particularly worried about the latter, though. They hadn't moved in the long hours it had taken her to get here and climb up this high



These are Not Your Skies

High in the skies of Requiem, one iteration of Harriet McVey is about to have a very bad day.


"Opportunity Knocks, Sabercat 2-1 here. Strike package of three F-41 Echos checking in, fully loaded and ready for tasking." The pilot seats weren't just reinforced to withstand the weight of an armoured Spartan in the cockpit, they were designed for it, and aided by inertial compensators governed by an algorithm that was only slightly too dumb to be formally classed as an AI. Yet somehow, Hari always felt like there was the slightest of creaks whenever she pulled any hard turns. Hell, there probably was. She just didn't like thinking about it.


"Sabercat 2-1, Opportunity actual. You've been scrambled to provide cover for Fireteam Buckler and their support elements, around 30 klicks north of your position." At the mention of directions, Hari's eyes flickered down to the cockpit tacmap, then back up again. COM was cracklier than usual, but nothing to really worry about. Probably. "Buckler reports that Promethean forces are supported by CAS elements, specifically VTOLs of a type unknown at this time. How copy?"

"Solid copy, Opportunity. Tell 'em we're flooring it, Sabercat out." With a little more pressure on the throttle, the Broadsword's engines rose from a rumble to a growl, and Hari felt a touch more acceleration pushing her back into that seat; only a fraction of what she should have experienced, but the compensators always let some of the G-forces through to provide some force-feedback. For the briefest of moments, she wondered how her wingmen were handling things - on one hand, their constitutions weren't anywhere near as tough as her own augmented biology, but they also didn't have half-ton titanium shells to lug around. Hell, why

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Hari-G055
G055.png
Biographical Information

REAL NAME

Harriet McVey

ALIAS

"Moz" (Callsign)

DATE OF BIRTH

Jan 11, 2538

HOMEWORLD

Miridem

Physical Information

GENDER

Female

HEIGHT

6'7" (in armour)

6'1" (out of armour)

WEIGHT

96 kg

Political/Military Information

SPECIALTY

  • CQC
  • Urban Mobility, Reconnaisance
  • Piloting

SPARTAN TAG

G055

CLASS

Spartan-III

(Gamma Company)

UNIT

Team Kalis (former)

Team FORTUNE (current)

AFFILIATION

UNSC

[Source]

Harriet McVey, known primarily by her service tag Hari-G055, is a SPARTAN-III supersoldier of Gamma Company, who served in the final year of the Human-Covenant War and into the post-war years. While her promising individual performance in her early years marked her as a promising candidate for transfer to more specialised training, the competitive streak responsible for it was seen as a potential liability, and instead she continued training with the remainder of the Company. While deployed too late to see action in the Fall of Reach, Hari and her team, Kalis, were diverted towards Sol, arriving in time to see action in numerous battles in the Asia-Pacific theatre of the Battle of Earth, although this exacted a devastating toll on the still-green Spartan team.

Following the armistice and the end of the war, Kalis was disbanded, ostensibly due to the casualties suffered in the numerous battles towards the end of the previous year. While some of her surviving team members were swept up by ONI, Hari herself was bounced between a number of low-risk postings by Spartan Branch, before eventually being paired up with another former ally and transferred to the Category-II Spartan Team FORTUNE.

Biography

Childhood

Main article: The Haunting of Block AC417-F

Harriet McVey was born on the 11th of January, 2538, to a pair of relatively wealthy interstellar traders. Nominally resident on the major port world of Alluvion, the couple often drifted between worlds, delegating the day-to-day running of their company to others and dealing with the bigger picture from the bridge of the cargo ship they had used since the earliest years of their business. For the first few months after Harriet's birth, they were content to continue this practice; thoughts of when and where they would settle down were far off in the distance, and there was always one more run to be done before then.

However, this world of reasonable comfort came tumbling down within the year; the shipping company and its assets were seized under UNSC emergency law for use as troop and materiel transports, and with the token sum they were given the family were forced to settle down on the inner colony world of miridem. With almost nothing left to the family name, Hari grew up on the densely packed streets as a city rat, soon picking up a particular talent for navigating her way around the walls and roofs of the run-down housing blocks. In spite of this skill she was still often derided as the runt of the group given her age - and in return, her resentment grew into a drive to prove herself to them, to be just as strong or fast or smart as the bigger kids. Unfortunately, this, too, would be denied to her - when a Covenant force arrived in the system, there was little her or her parents could do to get through the panicked, chaotic crowds surrounding the handful of UNSC evacuation transports available. Instead, a few contacts and final favours called in allowed her parents to secure her a seat on a small, barely slipspace-capable cargo hauler out of the system, and she would eventually be picked up by ONI at a refugee processing facility and acquired for the SPARTAN-III programme.


Training

Main article: Beneath Artificial Stars

Upon arrival at Onyx, Hari was immediately


Service History

  • On deployment with OPERATION: NIGHTLIGHT during the Fall of Reach - while recalled, her and the remainder of Team Kalis were too late to assist and diverted to Earth’s defence en route.
  • Upon arrival at Earth, Kalis was assigned to Battlegroup Juliet, given responsible for the defence of the Asia-Pacific region.
    • OPERATION: GLASSWARE - the protection of Hanoi Station’s ground-based generators. Static defences were abandoned, and units reassigned to OPERATION: CORKBOARD, once it became clear that the Covenant were bypassing them and attacking the stations directly.
    • OPERATION: HANGING GARDENS - defence of vital SinoViet ground facilities during their evacuation. Teams Kalis, Dagger and Kukri specifically chosen due to urban warfare proficiency. Heavy casualties suffered due to slow and delicate nature of evac ops - two members of Kalis incapacitated, one other WIA but still combat-capable.
    • OPERATION: KEYSTONE - three remaining members of Team Kalis, as well as Team Scimitar, assigned to secure LZ for ODST drop, as part of a counter-offensive against the Covenant beachhead in Hong Kong. One member of Kalis dies from previous wounds.
    • Diverted from KEYSTONE clean-up for OPERATION: PORTCULLIS, an emergency defence of [REDACTED] - mission aborted en-route, due to Bloody Arrow signal and subsequent thermonuclear sterilization of area.
    • Remains of Fireteams Kalis, Gupta, Kukri and Dirk mid-withdrawal to Sydney as part of last-line defence of UNSC FLEETCOM when armistice announced.
  • Postwar: S-III Gamma Company dissolved, Team Kalis assigned to Spartan Operations
  • Subjected to heavy assessment by ONI and SpartOps, ostensibly due to concern over psychological trauma, but also to monitor extent and danger of Gamma augmentations.
  • Assigned as protection for UNSC Planetary Geology team sent to assess post-glassing Reach - a relatively “safe” assignment during which the monitoring would take place.
  • Took part in OPERATION: FOCUS LENS 2555 (simulated second Battle of Sol exercise) alongside other Spartan operators.
  • Temporarily assigned as a trainer for Spartan-IVs preparing for F-41E Broadsword certification, due to familiarity with prior versions of the fighter.
  • OPERATION: RUBBER BAND [PENDING] - concurrent with the New Phoenix Incident.



Early Deployment

Battle for Earth

Main articles: Danger Close and Another Night on the Town

During

Post-War

Personality & Traits

Relationships

Physical Profile

IRONSIDE-class MJOLNIR

"Sculpted energy shields? Forerunner signature bafflers? Twelve fuckin' AIs? Look, boss, kick out all these crutches and a suit of armour still needs to be a suit of armour - and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you can’t hack a quarter-inch of Titanium-A. "
―[UNKNOWN]


IRONSIDE-class Mjolnir is a variant of MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armour [GEN2] developed and produced by Hannibal Weapons Systems. Originally developed as a simpler, stripped-down design for ease of manufacturing and training, it later saw usage in contested electronic environments, where more sophisticated designs were hobbled by interference and jamming.

Development

Early Concepts

As the expanding Spartan-IV programme began to draw on more and more recruits, a logistical problem swiftly presented itself; much of the industrial capability and design expertise behind the existing GEN1 Mjolnir suits had been lost or destroyed in the Siege of the Inner Colonies, meaning that new Spartans were being augmented and trained without armor for them to wear.

In Which Alaska-013 Possibly, But Probably Doesn't, Die.

The mess hall was filled with ODSTs and Marines gathered around tables; eating, talking, resting. Through the din, one voice - old, worn, raspy - cut through the others.

"Well, you can call me an old bastard, but they don't make 'em like they used to." He gestured down at the reheated portion on his plate, pausing to let a laugh ripple around the table before he continued. "No, I mean it. Even Spartans, y'know? The first batch we all figured were freaks, probably grown in a tube in some ONI lab somewhere - but these lot are more... helljumpers with implants and titanium-A bones. They’re all hard talk and bravado, but I've seen more of a few of them getting tossed around like the rest of us. Don't mean to talk them down, but... well, you know, maybe the others are just a better vintage."

He glanced around, watching the young faces of his table-mates, and cleared his throat,

"Now, I know you’ve heard stories 'bout the first Spartans. If I had money, I’d bet you’ve all, at the very least, heard of the Chief - and if not, I’m gonna have to ask my CO when we started recruiting folks who lived under rocks. There's stories that've been going around longer than some of you lot have been alive, though. Some that stick with you more than others."


"So, how many of you kiddos have heard 'bout a certain Alaska?"




Spartan Ruiz cleared his throat - sounding a little hesitant, even awkward, over comm. "You, uh, you guys hear that?"

The other two members of Team Heads paused, instinctively; their weapons raised, their eyes scanning the burnt-out city around them for long, tense moments.

"Nothing." Yenko let out a sigh, eyes rolling behind his polarised visor. "You just hearing things, or should I go fetch a Grizzly to scare these Innie rats out of their-"

-and he froze. His suit did, at least - inside, all he could do he could do was glance down at the armour restraint attached firmly to the chest plate, locking him in place.

"Motherf-"




A sizeable group of ODSTs, Marines and even the odd brave sailor had gathered around the table where the scar-faced man sat, now listening intently to the tales being told.

"...hell, I think I still can't tell ya about most of what happened, but that’s probably for the better. Aleria, though? That was one helluva mess. Me, the rest of my team, we were dropped in to push back the split-lips, and we had about as much luck as there is air in space."

He paused for effect, watching the reactions of the younger troops around him, the faint outline of a wry smirk growing on his face as he watched them rapt with attention.

"We'd made a little progress, pushing down to the old spaceport, when this massive Brute Chieftain showed up. Must've been, what, ten feet tall? Twelve? However big he was, the bastard shrugged off MA5 rounds like rain - me, I thought we were dead men walking 'til something tackled the damn Kong, slammed it to the ground." Another pause, the veteran Helljumper gesturing as if coming around to the punchline of the joke. "Alaska, of course."




Oops, Reality Machine Broke

You know, you never really realise how much you take gravity for granted until it's swept out from underneath your feet.

In a moment, I was weightless; in two, I was starting to drift off the floor. Halfway through the third, instincts were beginning to kick in - I reached down, fumbling for the switch to magnetize my boots like I had practiced in a hundred training exercises dealing with loss of artigrav onboard a ship.

Except, of course, we weren't aboard a ship. Nobody ever expected gravity to fail when you were planetside.

By the fourth moment, panic gave way to planning - I reached out with one arm, hoping to push off the wall to my side and give Ollie some breathing room. Hoping we could orient ourselves and figure out what the hell we were gonna do with ourselves in zero-gee.

Of course, all of that evacuated our minds the second gravity returned to us. Then it was an unceremonious drop to the ground, the

2nd December, 2557


"Respectfully, sir, I'm not having her on my ship any longer."

"Captain Chen, I'm aware that Kadia's actions are a significant departure from the behaviour of your previous shipboard AI, but-"

"Significant departure? Did you see what she had us do?"

"You were still in command at the time, Captain; not a single thing was done without your approval. In fact, I do believe your very own words were-"

"I know what I said, sir. And I know what I signed off on. But it was the kind of Hail Mary that either halves an officer's lifespan or doubles his pay grade, and I can't help but think that thinking the unthinkable to that degree could probably be put to better use elsewhere."

"Away from the UNSC Penumbra, I assume you mean?"

"Well away from the Penumbra, yes."




14th November, 2557


The bridge was always quiet at this time of night; or at least, at this point in the Penumbra's artificial day/night cycle. All there was was the background hum of her drive and power systems, the soft clicking of keys and switches at the few duty stations still manned; and other glow of background lights and instrument panels, the brightest source of illumination was the holotank mounted in the bridge's centre. There, Kadia sat in a meditative trance, a bright-cyan serpentine outline making slow, lazy loops above her head.

The sharp, pneumatic hiss of a hatch opening broke the stillness of the scene, a figure striding in with confidence that came from practice as much as it did experience.

"Evening, Boss," Kadia chirped; the projection flickered for a moment, the dragon fading away and replaced by the avatar, now at her feet. "Bad day, huh?"

The executive officer glanced over as she passed, settling herself down at the command console before turning around to face the holotank. "You can tell?"

"Yeah, of course. Your psych-eval file says that that little head-slant is a stress tic of yours, not to mention the elevated breathing rate and cortisol levels your implant's feeding me." The XO levelled a glare at Kadia for a few moments before she relented, the flickering lights of her eye-roll hard to miss.

"Come on, Boss, I'm just messin'. You know pulling medical data like that's locked off for me, and I couldn't crack my way past that if I tried." She paused, before adding, "Actually, not sure about that last bit, since I haven't actually tried before - they'd probably pack me up and ship me back off to Sydney if I did, anyways."


Rondo

The air was cold. Dry. Sterile, somehow, in a way Hari couldn't quite put a finger on. Behind her, the puddle of light flickered for a moment, crackling with ozone, before dissipating and leaving behind an dead stone archway. Ahead, the passage opened up, the hexagonally-cut walls growing into a broad, tall hollow, one broken up by almost tombstone-like slabs at irregular intervals. A cavern, she would have said at first glance, had it not been so obviously man-made.

No, not man-made. Artificial, maybe - but the sheer faces, the sharp angles of the hollow was too perfect to be made by human machinery, never mind hands. The tired polycrete towers she had once called home, the drone-built prefabs of Camp Currahee, even the vast UNSC ships she had occasionally been shown during zero-gee exercises; none of them were quite this geometrically perfect. Either this place had simply been left untouched from the day it was built, or it was made of sterner stuff than any materials humanity used when building to endure.

Hari paused for a moment. The urge to call out - to throw a simple Hello? into the void - rose, unbidden, but she suppressed it. It shouldn't even have been risen, not after years of drilling in to her juvenile brain that the easiest way to get caught was to make your presence known. Then again, who couldn't have spotted the shimmering blue gate that had spat her out just moments ago? Cautiously, hesitantly, she reached out with one hand, running it gently against the wall to one side as she walked forward. There was a certain grain to the material; it ran upwards, as if strands had all crown towards the sky in unison before being packed together, crushed by some vast external hand.

Well. Perhaps she was letting her imagination get the better of her. Maybe her mind wasn't quite coping too well with the sheer emptiness of the place. Even when on her own back home on Miridem there was the light, the noise, the living city around her; and on Onyx, she was never far from the wildlife of the jungle. More importantly, she was never far from her team. Far from...

...from Ly. The bruised knuckles of her left hand were more than enough to tell her whose fault it was she was down here alone, but still - Lethe, she missed him already. Had it been only minutes ago that they came to blows? Hours? It was hard to tell down here, deep beneath, well, wherever she was. All she knew was that she was alone down there, kept company only by her own nervous breathing.

And by a faint, golden light that silently blinked on through the gloom.




In an instant, Hari dropped to the floor, reflexes acting before her brain could point out the futility of the act. There was no cover here, no concealment, nothing but the rattle of her near-empty pack broadcasting her position to anyone there listening. And from the faint hum starting up, it most definitely sounded like someone had heard. The light drew her eyes to its source; an orb, hovering maybe a dozen feet off the ground, an unblinking eyeball flanked by a trio of rods, rotating slowly as if spears waiting to be thrown.

It stared at her.

She stared back.

Rolling over, she drew her training pistol, loosing three shots at the drone in quick succession. All three hit the drone square-on, the anaesthetic paint splattering across its "eye" - but by the time the shots had landed, she was already on her feet, pack shrugged from her shoulders, breaking into a sprint as fast as her weary legs could carry her. Never mind a way out - right now all her brain sought was to put something between her and the drone. A run turned into a dive, into a slide, with Hari managing to pull herself behind one of the inert slabs before a searing heat cut through the air.

Any other time, training and attention-to-detail would've asked - why wasn't the edge of the slab singed? Burnt? Charred? But right now, all there was was a fear. A primal fear of being alone in the dark, of being hunted - but also a fear that Ambrose was right. That she was too soft. That she wasn't ready. A fear that she really wasn't anything, not without-

Another blast of heat, one that she could still feel, even from behind cover. Lethe. Half of her knew she didn't have the energy to keep running, not after days on end fleeing through the wilderness. The other half figured that, either way, she should get this over with. That was more her style, wasn't it?

An adrenaline-fuelled dash propelled her from her cover, silently pleading with strained muscles and aching bruises to pipe down for precious seconds. Once again her sidearm spat fire; but this time, only two TTRs hit their mark before the trigger clicked dry, slamming into one of the floating spars and knocking it off balance. Only for half a moment, but it was enough; the beam flew just wide of the mark, this one close enough for the sting of a burn to cut across her shoulder, but there wasn't time to think about that. There wasn't time to think about the sharp edges of the slabs cutting into her hands as she vaulted one, sprinted across to another and hauled herself atop it. There wasn't the time to think about whether she could make the leap or not, or even whether or not she could hold on to the drone once she grabbed it.

Hari did it, anyways.

Her pistol clattered to the ground, spent; it hadn't been much use, and right now her hands were busy scrambling for purchase on the smooth chrome sphere, grabbing onto one of the spars and hauling herself into a better position. There hadn't been time to plan, to prepare, but now she moved on trained instinct alone, reaching to her waist with one hand and fumbling for her multitool. If its blade could wedge open a Warthog's fuel cell to the point of unusibility, like she'd been taught... well, you don't have to know how it works to break it, Harris had said.

She jammed the tool's edge into a seam, twisting it with all the force she could bring to bear with her hands. Her tired, dirtied, scraped hands, Her tired, dirtied, scraped hands, bleeding from some scratch or another, trembling with one last effort. Only a few hours ago they had held his, had said that it was all going to be alright. Said that they'd make it back home. Said that-

The housing gave.

Hari's blade sparked, crackled, the jolt shaking her grip on the floating boom loose and sending her tumbling to the ground below. The drone lasted a few seconds longer, wobbling in mid-air as its eye flickered, before the glow - and whatever was keeping it suspended in the air - gave out.

For a few, long moments after, there was nothing but her own ragged breathing, and barely-suppressed grunts of pain as she tried - and failed - to get to her feet. Then, above her, another golden light flickered on. And another. Three, four, five of them.

She really wished she wasn't alone down here.

There was a flash of light, of burning heat=


The air was cold. Dry. Sterile, in a way Hari couldn't quite put a finger on. Behind her, the puddle of light flickered for a moment before dissipating, leaving behind a dead stone archway.

"Hello?"


Naturally Formed

(With apologies to David Eick, who did this far better than me.)



With its rear hatch sealed, the Pelican's engines were barely a background whirr, and Hari was stuck with the unenviable combination of a long flight back to Curahee with an inquisitive-yet-concerned boy sitting opposite.

"Haych... you wanna talk about what happened down there?" It was the seventh time Lysander had asked, the seventh time she looked away without responding.

Somehow, she would've preferred the deafening turbulence of a Falcon ride instead.


"Hey! You guys think anyone's ever been out this far before?"

"Dunno."

"Well, I mean, it's - it's real pretty out here. Feels so - what's the word - fresh? Clear? You know what I mean, right?"

"Yeah, whatever."

Hari could tell just how tired her teammates were of Lysander's pestering, just from their tone of voice. She couldn't blame them, really; trudging through a shin-deep muddied stream hundreds of miles from "home" really put a damper on the beauty of Onyx's wilderness. Still, the questions kept everyone's eyelids from sagging too heavily, kept them from noticing the sharpness of the morning chill through their fatigues - and at least she could tell there was still a twinkling of wonder in his voice. She shortened her strides a little, dropping back to the rear of the group where the smallest of the five trainees trailed them. A light elbow in the arm caught his half-conscious attention, and with it she offered the best approximation of a smile she could manage.

"You managing alright, Ly?"

"Wh- hm? Yeah, I'm - I'm all good."

"You're a terrible liar, you know that?" The fatigue on his dirt-streaked face had betrayed him, although Hari knew she wasn't in much better shape herself. She reached down with one hand - grabbing his, firmly pressing a stim-tab into his palm. Precious cargo, from ration packs used up and discarded long, long days ago. "Keep it. You look shattered."

"I, uh - thanks."

"All good." She watched him pack it away - clumsily, almost fumbling the pill as he slipped it into his jacket. "For what it's worth? I don't care what Avi says - maybe she had her fill of the wild growing up shovelling Redfur shit - but I think it's really cool here too."

A couple of heads turned around sharply at the vulgarity; Hari returned their gaze for a few seconds, before bursting into laughter. Tired, hoarse laughter, but laughter nonetheless. It was a moment of normality, however brief - and when she clasped his hand again, this time she didn't let go.


Finally, she spoke. "Why'd you do it?"

"Do wh-?"

"Oh, you know exactly what I'm asking." There was a harshness to her voice, a steel beneath her words; hard, yet worn. Dulled. Fatigued. "You want an answer from me? Tell me why you turned us in."


"What do you think it is? It goes on for klicks and klicks - how didn't we see it before?"

Hari ran one hand along the cliff face, intrigued at its smoothness. The stone was perfectly flat as far as the eye could see, broken only by a single, doorway-sized hole, one that seemed to disappear into darkness barely a yard past the threshold.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Avila shot back. The girl's wiry frame had only grown skinnier since they had escaped; foraging had helped fill the gap after their rations had run out, but not by much. "We were headed North-West, but we started to veer sunward after splitting up from Bolo..."

There was a pause - fatigue and hunger slowed every thought, tired and hungry as they were, things took a little longer to process than normal - before she blurted out. "You think - you think we're in the Zone?"

Nobody really wanted to answer that - but for one of them, even the possibility of it was a step too far. The others were already busying themselves with unpacking their things, gathering water, finding a spot for camp - but the moment their back was turned, Lyzander gulped the stim-tab down and started digging into his pack.


"You got scared?"

He nodded silently, looking away.

"Don't-" Hari stumbled on her words momentarily, struggling to bring venom to bear on Lyzander in spite of all her anger. "Don't bullshit me!"

"I'm not!"

"Ly, I know you. Lethe, we were in the Trials together - you wouldn't chicken out of it getting tough for you. I know it, you know it."

"I... I was scared for you, too. For all of us."

Once again, he couldn't meet her gaze.


They came at night, of course.

Everyone knew they would, but the wilderness had taken its toll on the escapees, and desperation to get some semblance of rest overcame their caution. Lyzander took first watch - he had volunteered, he was the most awake, and nobody really had the energy to question it. Eyelids were already drooping by the time Onyx's sun was touching the horizon, and one by one they curled up on their makeshift bedding before falling asleep.

They all looked so small there, so fragile. He knew he was, too, in spite of everything. He knew that this was the only way to protect them.




The roaring of engines woke them from their slumber; dogs barking, voices shouting through the forest. The darkness of night told them they had been asleep for hours, but on the cold hard dirt it may as well have only been minutes of rest. Bleary-eyed, disoriented, they scattered - some running right into the path of their pursuers, some stumbling on rocks and roots until they were eventually caught, with barely an ounce of energy left in them to resist.

One figure was already up and gone, though, and Ly knew exactly who it was. He knew how quick she was on her feet, darting through the darkened woodland almost weightlessly. Even with the stimulant coursing through his veins, even with her exhaustion, it took everything he had just to keep pace; and he only caught up when they both reached the cliff, the sounds of the search not far behind.

"Haych! Hari, wait!"

"Ly?" Confusion. Panic. Undertones of betrayal. "What - what's - how did they-?"

"Look, they're here - it's over."

"No!" She blurted out the word on impulse, as if it would make any difference.

"Come on! We have to go back!"

"We - I can't-"

"Hari! It was me, okay? I called them." He reached out, grabbing her hand-

-she swung around, turning back to him-

-and all of a sudden he was sprawled on the ground, head pounding, tasting blood. Watching her flee into the doorway set into the cliff face.

Watching her disappear into the darkness.


"Why?"

"Because - because you're my friend, Hari, and I love you."

Something, deep inside, knew that she really was out of her depth this time.

"I just wanted to keep us - to keep you safe-"

Once again, she panicked; once again, she chose to escape. To run away, to flee into the comfort of flippancy and lighthearted jabs. Away from the memories of what she had found down there in the tunnels - scorched scraps of clothing, copies of her tags, even a sidearm with the same wear markings as her own. Away from those images burned into her retinas.

"Awww, really? You love me? You really do?"

"Hey - Haych, no, I mean-"

"Nope! No backsies!" Her voice was playful now, shrill, the sing-song tone hiding any trace of hurt. "Ly-zander loves me, na-na na-na naa naa!"

"Come on, I didn't mean it like-"

"Hey! HEY PILOT! You think we could build a Chapel back at camp for lover-boy Ly here?"

Of course, she didn't get a response, but she wasn't expecting one - and when she turned back to the boy, he had fallen silent.


This time, it was his hand that reached out.


This time, it was left ignored.


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