I had been holding out hope that I would somehow be able to drag this story out into five chapters, however as I was writing this chapter, I quickly realized - as I didn't want to include anymore combat scenes - that I barely had enough content for this chapter, much less a fifth chapter. So, what you see here is unfortunately all that I could come up with.


Chapter 4

Local Designation: "Pirnah Badlands"
Planet: "Sera"
March 2, 2551 (Standard UNSC Calendar)
Heat, 14 A.E. (Local Calendar)

With her body mostly hidden by the shadows, Kat carefully kept watch of the road below. She was keeping a sharp eye out for these aptly named Locust, even though it seemed unlikely they would attack again so soon. After all, in less than two hours' time, two Spartan-IIIs and two soldiers from the local native resistance army had managed to decimate about a company's worth of infantry without suffering any casualties of their own. Such a skewed ratio would normally deter any attacker from conducting further offensive operations, at least not without serious reconsideration of their tactics. But then again, history had shown time and time again that blind fanaticism had a tendency to override sound strategy, with the Covenant being the prime example, so it didn't hurt to be cautious.

Behind her, she could hear a mute conversation taking place as the two native human soldiers she and Emile had encountered, Sergeant Fenix and Corporal Santigo, spoke to their superiors over their radio, one Colonel Hoffman, trying to explain exactly what they had found. Kat didn't envy them. While she had found herself in strange situations before, none of them quite ranked as odd as this one was turning out to be, and she wasn't sure how she herself was going to explain all of this to her own superior, Colonel Holland. Though, given how far away any potential debrief would occur, if ever, Kat supposed she would have plenty of time to mull it over. Logical thing to do, she supposed, would be to start with the natives.

Kat took a moment to do just that. Specifically, the two soldiers they had discovered. The two… Gears, as they called themselves. They were honestly both rather impressive soldiers. Nowhere near Spartan level, but then again, very few people were. But, they were up there. Kat generally never bothered drawing comparisons between individual soldiers, as combat ability both varied greatly from one person to the next plus fighting alone on the battlefield was practically unheard of, however if she really had to, she would probably compare Fenix and Santiago to the likes of the UNSC Marine ODSTs or the Army Rangers. Which was about as high praise as Kat could give, especially when one took into consideration both those units had nearly half a millennium to refine their craft. And in some cases, more.

Of course, that wasn't to say these Gears were novices to combat. No, it would be clear to anyone who had eyes and a pair of brain cells to rub together that both Fenix and Santigo had been soldiers all their lives, and that they had seen quite a lot of action possibly even before this war of theirs against the Locust had begun. They walked, talked, and carried themselves like combat veterans: always on the lookout for threats, never staying out in the open for longer than what was necessary, and while everything around them was a pile of shit, their weapons and armor, the tools of their survival, were immaculately maintained. All in all, while they weren't Noble Team, they would do for now.

The sound of a rifle getting chambered jarred Kat from her thoughts and despite knowing the source of the noise, she still nevertheless took a glance behind her. Just off to her left, Emile sat on the decapitated head of one of the creatures that had attacked them. Santiago had called them Bloodmounts, though whether that was the scientific name or merely a reporting name used by the Gears, Kat did not know.

At any case, Emile was surrounded by a variety of weapons. At Kat's request, Sergeant Fenix had allowed them to keep some of the weapons they had salvaged from the mountain of dead Locust piled nearby. Given that Kat had no idea how long she and Emile would be stuck on this planet, and given the limited stores for their own weapons, Kat felt it would be prudent to begin using the local arsenal as soon as possible.

Of course, Kat wasn't one to trust her life on a weapon she didn't even know anything about, which is why Emile was currently working his way through them; disassembling them, quickly studying how they worked, before attempting to reassemble them once more. As Kat watched, Emile calmly slipped the slide back onto one of the handguns they had, and racked it a couple of times to make sure it still worked.

"Report, Four," she quietly demanded over their private line. "What have you discovered about those weapons?"

"Nothing that crazy," Emile said as he loaded a magazine into the handgun, what Santiago had referred to as a "MX8 Snub pistol," and placed it on the ground. "Functionally speaking, they're not that much different from what we would have used in the past."

Reaching down, Emile grabbed one of the rifles lying at his feet, the one that had a chainsaw attached to the underside of its forward handguard.

"This here is apparently the COG standard issued rifle, designated the Mark 2 Lancer assault rifle," he began. "Utilizing a conventional rifle layout with the action and magazine in front of the trigger group, it comes with a forty-six centimeter long barrel with a one in ten twist, for an overall length of ninety-two centimeters. Lack of stock is fucked up, but whatever. Uses holographic sights which are powered by some sort of phosphor, probably tritium, so, that's pretty standard. Action is a bit weird for us: uses a roller-delayed blowback action, which we haven't used in our firearms for…shit, three hundred years? Still, I guess it's got its benefits: action is reliable as hell, less moving parts theoretically make it slightly more accurate, and no gas system means it can be a bit lighter. Not that it matters though with this fucking bayonet."

Emile pointed at the chainsaw.

"Yeah, that's a fucking chainsaw," he declared with a laugh. "You wouldn't think shit like this would be possible, so whoever invented this thing must have been a fucking genius. The entire thing is complicated, but fucking compact as hell. Energy output is insane, especially for the size of its engine; must be the fuel they're using because I've never seen anything like it."

He popped open the fuel compartment and dipped a finger inside, extracting a small sample.

"'Cording to them natives, they call this shit 'Imulsion.' Weird thing is, my suit is registering it as a biological component, not a chemical compound but whatever it is, it clearly works," Emile said, and Kat could see how excited he was about this entire situation. "Saw what's-his-face, the Hispanic dude, cut one of them Bloodmounts in half and it took just about all my strength to decapitate this fucker here," he patted the head he was sitting on, "so, you get some idea of how tough they are. 'Course, chainsaw still adds something like six, seven kilos to the overall weight but hey: least it helps with recoil management."

"Overall, not quite what you'd expect a society on the edge of collapsing to build, especially when you consider how expensive blowback action weapons are to manufacture, but then again, all these Lancers are supposed to have been from COG's pre-war stock, just slightly modified, so I guess it makes sense. Problem isn't the rifle though: problem is the ammo."

Racking the charging handle, Emile ejected a single round which he tossed to Kat.

"Round uses a bottleneck cartridge with a eight millimeter bullet diameter," Emile explained. "Similar dimensions to our bullets, only their casing is a bit longer, at sixty-three millimeters. Also, unlike our standard rounds which use a tungsten-carbide penetrator with a cupronickel jacket for better armored penetration, Lancers just use lead, which makes sense: lead is easy to manipulate plus with the soft-point nose, the bullet will destabilize and yaw in flight, which results in greater cavitation in flesh. Better stopping power, which is pretty damn important given what kind of bad guys they're facing. But that's not even the problem. Problem is the propellant."

That caught Kat's attention and curious, she pried the bullet out from its brass casing and carefully poured out the propellant onto the palm of her hand. Immediately she noticed what Emile was talking about.

"There's a lot of impurities here," she noted as she ran her thumb over the dark powder.

Emile nodded.

"Yeah, don't know why. Could be they lost most of their munitions factories at the start of the invasion, could be they no longer have access to the raw material needed to purify their powder. Whatever it is, it makes for a very inefficient bullet as they're not getting nearly the amount of velocity they could be with a cartridge this size. They mentioned something about having overpressure rounds, but I don't think it's overpressure in the way we're used to; more like, it's probably the bullets are actually loaded to the original specifications."

Kat nodded and tossed the bullet away before jerking her head to the other rifle laying on the ground next to Emile. "What about the Locust weapons?"

Emile glanced at the rifle. "Those are more standard: stamped-steel gun that's gas-operated with a rotating bolt, using a long-stroke piston. The piston, plus the lack of stock and the higher caliber bullet they fire means there's going to be more felt recoil. Flipside is, I guess 'cause they use a smaller casing, propellant content is more pure, resulting in higher velocities. Which, as you know, means better accuracy and rounds hit harder."

Kat nodded. "Conclusions?"

"This here is a bullet hose and better for close quarters 'cause of its bayonet," Emile announced, lifting the Lancer.

"This is better for long range shooting," he declared as he lifted the Hammerburst.

Kat considered both rifles before pointing at the second rifle. "Give me the Hammerburst."

She could hear Emile snorting.

"Like I was ever going to give you the Lancer," he admitted. "I wanna try this chainsaw out!"

Beneath her helmet, Kat quietly shook her head. Of course.

Attaching the Hamerburst to her back alongside her other equipment, Kat took a moment to quickly rearrange the magazines in her pouches.

"How long are you expecting us to remain on this planet anyways?" she heard Emile ask as she worked.

"We were required to transmit a status report to the nearest FLEETCOM sector headquarters once every six hours," Kat answered. "With the understanding that would not always be possible due to circumstances outside of our control. Therefore, we are allowed to miss up to three windows before High Command is alerted. We just missed our first window approximately fifty-three minutes ago, which gives us at least another twelve hours before High Command begins to wonder as to our status. Assuming best case scenario where Colonel Holland immediately assumes something has gone wrong and alerts FLEETCOM Sector Seventeen - who in turn will need to have a battle group ready at the moment – to immediately deploy? Given the fluctuations in slipspace, it could take them anywhere between four to seveteen days for them arrive and begin their sweep. Once they arrive, depending on what sort of equipment they brought with them, figure it will take them approximately three days before they zero in on our location."

"So, what you're saying is: best case scenario, we're looking at about a month?" Emile summarized.

"Best case scenario," Kat confirmed. Left unsaid was the worst case scenario, which was them never being recovered at all.

"Good. I could use a vacation," Emile emphatically declared and Kat resisted the urge to laugh. Only Emile would think being stranded on an unknown planet surrounded by hostiles would be a 'vacation.'

Without another word, Kat turned back to her watch over the street, when she noticed Emile was still staring at her. "What."

"Well?"

"Well, what?" she asked, a bit confused.

"Well, are you gonna explain how two different species on two different planets occupying different sectors of the same galactic quadrant somehow managed to evolve in such a way they're practically identical in appearance, speech, and culture?"

"What makes you think I have a clue?" Kat coyly asked, more out of habit than actual maliciousness.

Emile rolled his eyes.

"You're Kat," was all he said. "You couldn't stop thinking about these things, even if you wanted to.

Kat quietly sighed. It was true; she did have a bad habit of allowing these things to distract her, even in moments where she couldn't afford to be.

"I have a theory," she finally said.

"Of course you do," Emile snarkily said, but Kat ignored him.

"Short answer? They didn't."

She could feel Emile staring at her.

"You're gonna have to explain that one to me," he admitted. "'Cause, I don't know about you, but I'm staring at these fuckers now."

He threw a glance in Fenix and Santiago's direction, both of whom were still animatedly talking on the radio. Well, at least Santiago was. Fenix was practically part Spartan given his near lack of reaction to almost everything happening around him.

"Yes, they're here," Kat confirmed. "But I don't think their ancestors originated here."

"What do you mean?"

Kat carefully considered him.

"How much did you pay attention in history when you were training with the rest of Alpha Company?" she finally asked. "I know Rosenda said that was her favorite subject, but what about you?"

"Not a whole lot," Emile freely admitted. "Didn't care much about history; cared more about learning how to fight."

Kat nodded. "Then what do you remember about the invention of the slipspace drive?"

"The Shaw-Fujikawa Translight Drive? Same as everyone else: invented in April of 2291 by Tobias Fleming Shaw and Wallace Fujikawa. Revolutionized space travel. Triggered off what historians have since labeled as 'The Second Golden Age of Travel' that arguably ended with the start of the Insurrection in 2494. UNSC wouldn't have gotten as strong as it did without it."

"Ever wonder how humanity used to travel before that?"

Emile snorted. "No."

"They used to stick all living beings inside cryo chambers," Kat explained. "Kept them in stasis. Then, using the planets inside the Sol System as slingshots, they would build up enough speed before flinging the ships out of the system towards their destination at max burn using sublight engines. It would literally take decades for them to get anywhere and while most ships at the time had automated programs to monitor the systems, that's still a very long time for things to go wrong. Lots of colony ships simply never reached their destination, and just disappeared into the void without a trace."

"And you think these guys are one of them?" Emile summarized. "Why?"

"There are far too many similarities between our people and their people for us to not have a common origin," Kat explain. "Our shared language for one: syntax, pronunciation, even the meanings behind the words they use are practically identical aside from the small deviations one would expect to arise from cultural differences. The technology they use is very clearly derived from machines and equipment that would have been commonplace in the early 2200's, and their military ranks and structure appears to have been derived from the Commonwealth system that many nations would have used up until the formation and standardization of the United Nations Space Command. Furthermore, they even use Imperial units, which would have been far more commonplace, albeit, rapidly falling out of favor, nearly four hundred years ago."

"So, you think these guys are nothing more than some lost colonists from Earth? That makes sense; would explain why they seem to know shockingly little about these Locust they're fighting against." Emile paused. "But you're thinking they left around, what, the early 2200's? Would mean they've been here for damn near three hundred years. You'd think the UNSC would have stumbled across them at some point. Hell, we're not too far from Fumirole; couple dozen light-years. In astrological terms, that's pretty much next door."

"Yes, but consider the reason why the UNSC never came out this way: there were no usable slipstream lanes for us to traverse. We were only able to arrive because the Elise had been equipped with the latest model of the slipspace drive; the drive which the UNSC was only able to build by studying Covenant engines. Up until three decades ago, that was obviously not an option."

"What about transmissions? They had to have had satellites for some time; shouldn't we have been able to pick up on their broadcast?"

"You're too used to the way the UNSC communicates," Kat chided. "Only reason our communications are as fast as they are is because of the network of subspace communications buoys we've established over the centuries. Otherwise, it would take nearly a millennium for the signals to arrive. And again, given the vastness of space, we would only be able to receive the signals if we were looking for it. We weren't looking for this planet."

"Makes sense," Emile admitted. "Guess the only left to do is wonder about the political ramifications, huh?"

Kat shot him a curious look. "What do you mean?"

"You're thinking these guys left around the late 2100's to early 2200's, right? Which means they probably would have left the Sol System just after the Interplanetary War. Just after the creation of the UNSC. Which makes them UNSC citizens… which means, we've got an obligation to protect them," Emile pointed out, before pausing. "See? I pay attention."

Kat couldn't help but be mildly impressed. She sometimes forgot that underneath his brutish nature, Emile was still a Spartan, which meant that not only did he have the combat skills and physicality of one, but also the analytical mind to be able to use said talents to its full effectiveness.

That being said, she had actually considered not just the political, but also the strategic ramifications, of their discovery. And her conclusion was… less than satisfactory.

"Its possible I am wrong in regards to the date," Kat admitted. "Without concrete evidence, it's impossible to determine when these people's ancestors would have left the Sol System. Perhaps they left before the formation of the UNSC. Perhaps after. But ultimately, it would matter little. As the self-proclaimed 'protectors of humanity,' the UNSC would be obliged to protect this world if the leaders of this COG were to ask. Realistically though, would High Command do so?" Kat hesitated for a moment before admitting, "Probably not."

She could see Emile's head jerk in her direction.

"Really?" Emile asked. "Seems to me this world would be really easy to mop up. These Locust clearly have no space force of any kind or otherwise the COG wouldn't be able to use their 'Hammer of Dawn' weapon. A small cruiser group could probably sit in orbit and in a few hours, sweep this entire planet clean of all Locust forces."

"Yes, but what would the point be?" Kat argued. "The years of war have destroyed this planet, rendering much of their natural resources either expended or unusable. The human societies on this world are also on the verge of collapse; based on everything we've witnessed so far, I estimate at this current rate, humanity on this world will be rendered extinct within the decade. The amount of resources that would be required to simply allow this world to exist until the next few decades would exceed that of what we would receive in return."

"What about this Imulsion crap? Almost seems worth looking into."

"We have cold nuclear fusion," Kat reminded him. "Any gains that we could obtain from the study and replication of this Imulsion would be minimal at best. No, it would simply not be worth it. Perhaps a decade ago, High Command would have attempted to save this world, if only for propaganda purposes. However, simply put, we're losing. And we can't afford expending resources on a dying world."

Emile was silent for a moment.

"Well you're going to have to tell them that," he finally said, jerking his head in the direction of Fenix and Santiago. "I don't think they realize how good our hearing is, but I can still hear them talking. And one of their arguments as to why this Colonel Hoffman of theirs should trust us so far seems to be the fact that we belong to the UNSC. And that, by helping us, they might be able to secure our help in their war against the Locust."

Kat sighed.

"Our priority, Emile, is the preservation of ourselves and the information we possess," she quietly affirmed. "A task that would be far simpler with the aid of the COG. If guaranteeing our assistance in their war facilitates that aid, then perhaps it is best we do not dissuade them of their belief."

She glanced at Emile with a significant look. Emile nodded.

"I understand," was all he said.

Their conversation was abruptly cut short by the sound of footsteps approaching them. Without even looking up, Kat could tell it was Santiago, just by how he walked.

"Man, you guys are like statues," he commented as he drew near. "I don't think you guys have moved a muscle in the last twenty minutes we've been on the radio. You guys still awake?"

Kat nodded, this time making sure to actually move her head so that Santiago could see it. Obviously as an outsider, Santiago would not have been able to pick up on the subtle Spartan body language she and Emile had been using for the last few minutes.

"What news, Corporal?" Kat politely asked.

"Colonel Hoffman would like to talk to you, ma'am," Santiago said before glancing at Emile. "Both of you."

Kat nodded once more before climbing to her feet. Though silent and emotionless as ever, underneath her helmet, Kat's mind was ablaze with activity. Hopefully, over the course of this conversation, she would be able to convince this Hoffman to aid and assist them during the course of their indefinite stay here, at which point, she and Emile could work to maintain a low profile, at least until High Command finally arrived to extract them.

The last thing she and Emile needed were any more complications.

XXXXX

Nexus, Inner Hollows

"Tell me once more how they arrived."

The two Drones that laid prostrated in front of her glanced at each other, uncertainty clearly written in their faces. Despite only hesitating for but a moment, it was enough to immediately attract the ire of several standing nearby.

One of the Drones was sent squealing in pain as the High General of the Locust forces, Skorge kicked him.

"SPEAK!" he rasped out. "THE QUEEN MOTHER DEMANDS IT!"

Before further violence could break out, the small figure sitting on the throne abruptly rose to her feet, and all assembled immediately fell silent as Queen Myrrah gracefully walked down the steps. With a mild look of disdain gracing her youthful features, she stalked forward until she was standing over the wounded Drone.

"High General Skorge."

Myrrah's commanding voice echo through the throne room.

"Your enthusiasm for our cause is much appreciated," she began, "however, there is no need for violence. These Drones, like all Locust, are my children. And as children know…"

Myrrah dropped to a crouch and cupped the wounded Drone's chin with her small hand.

"…they must not tell their mother lies," she finished as she lifted the Drones head up so they were facing each other only, the Drone refused to meet her eye, attempting to pull away out of shame.

Myrrah stared at the Drone for a moment, seeing if he would eventually come around, but he never did and abruptly, she jerked his head away and stood up with derision.

"Now," she declared as she returned to her throne. "Tell me again: how did these humans arrive?"

This time, without hesitation, the Drones began to tell their story. And Myrrah listened. Again. For the fifth time. For she had to ensure the information they were telling her was truthful.

As much as Myrrah would have wanted to accept the word of these Drones without question, there was no denying that her children, her beautiful children, were but simple beings. As cunning and efficient as they may have been on the battlefield, they were still but children, prone to fanciful stories and flights of fancy.

As a mother, Myrrah dared not stifle her children's imagination. However, as a queen and savior of her family, she dared not act on mere fantasies. Not while the humans continued to desperately cling to the surface with little regards to their actions. Not while the monsters from below clawed at her very doorstep, stealing and corrupting her people.

And so she listened. Carefully and deliberately, she listened to what they had to say. Their story involved the son of Fenix, as usual - much like his father, this Marcus Fenix was proving himself to be quite the thorn in Myrrah's plans – however, unusually enough, he wasn't the main subject this time. Instead, the focus was on two other humans. Humans that these Drones were claiming to have –

The Drones fell silent as they finished their story, and Myrrah deliberately regarded them. For the fifth time, they had regaled their story and for the fifth time, their story had remained consistent. Myrrah had no choice but to accept their story as true. But how could it be? For these Drones had repeatedly insisted that these… humans… came from –

"'From beyond the stars,'" Myrrah quoted out loud, and the Drones started squirming uncomfortably, but she ignored them. "No humans have ever left this world. How could any come from beyond? What evidence do you have of this feat?"

The Drones shuffled uncomfortably, before one of them reached behind his back. He froze as every single one of Myrrah's royal guards reached for their weapons, but one look from her and they immediately relaxed: no Locust would ever dare even think about raising a hand against their mother.

Nevertheless, the reach of those who had been corrupted ran deep, so Myrrah waited until after Skorge had verified the object was not a weapon before taking it.

Much to Myrrah's surprise, the object was nothing more than a lump of melted metal. At first, she couldn't understand why she was being given this… scrap of refuse, but the moment she touched it, she knew.

As the queen of the underworld, Myrrah was intimately familiar with all manner of rocks and minerals that could be found in the earth of this planet, to the point she was able to identify them merely by a single touch. Therefore, it came as an immense surprise when she lifted the small, misshapen piece of metal and felt… nothing. No sense of familiarity, no warmth of recognition. All she felt was the cold, and a sense of the void that was empty as the sky. There was no denying: the material that had been used to forge this object, was not of this world.

Involuntarily, she left out a gasp as the implications of the truth hit her. If humans had returned from the stars, then it meant they could reach it in the first place. And if they could reach them, so too could the Locust. And if the Locust could leave this dying world, leave the corrupted and the sick behind –

"There would no longer be any need for the war…" Myrrah whispered.

"MY QUEEN?"

Myrrah jumped and turned to Skorge, who was staring at her with a concerned look on his scared face. She ignored him, and instead, focused on the Drones in front of her.

"These humans, the ones that came from beyond the stars," Myrrah said, her heart racing. "Where did they go?"

The Drones looked at each other before, through the psychic bond she had with all her children, an image of a dark, noisy aircraft appeared in her mind.

"A Raven," she whispered. "The COG have them. They are going to Jacinto."

At once her eyes narrowed and she turned to Skorge.

"High General!" she barked and Skorge immediately snapped to attention. "Rally the Swarm and begin preparations to march on Jacinto! I want those humans! For if they have indeed come from beyond the stars, then they surely know how to return to them. And they will enlighten us as to how they managed to accomplish this feat."

"And once they do –

"- we can finally rid ourselves of this cursed world!"

XXXXX

Somewhere in Deep Space

"Play it again."

"But sire! The image hasn't finished rendering yet!" the Unggoy technician began to protest, but one look, and the creature instantly shut up and returned to work.

Behind the Unggoy, Jiralhanae War Chieftain Lepidus let out a low growl. If this pathetic creature continued to defy him in such a blatant manner again, Lepidus didn't care how skilled he was: Lepidus would shove the sniveling worm out the airlock himself. Lepidus needed answers, and if the Unggoy had spent more time working and less time complaining, then perhaps Lepidus would have already gotten the answers he sought.

This disaster had all began when six of Lepidus' Type-27 interceptors had simply disappeared on a training mission three systems away from where Lepidus had, at the orders of the High Prophets, begun to establish a repair yard for warships that had been damaged in the Great Crusade against the humans. Under normal circumstances, the loss of six interceptors was no tragedy as accidents occurred all the time, especially when the pilots had been nothing more than mere pups. However, to lose six of them simultaneously with no warning - not even a single call of distress - was unusual. And Lepidus needed to know why. Especially given the vulnerability of this facility, as well as the cunningness of the humans.

And so, he had commanded one of his ships to investigate. And what they had found only deepened his concern: no traces of the interceptors had remained. No wreckage, no bodies, nothing… save a single, heavily damaged flight recorder.

With the recorder in hand, Lepidus immediately had the Huragoks assigned to his forces begin data recovery. Restoration of the flight recorder had been trivial for the simple creatures; reconstruction of the data that had been stored on the recorder was proving to be considerably less so. Which was why Lepidus was standing here, watching fragments of videos, trying to piece together what had happened, all the while the Huragok worked on recovering more files.

"Stop," Lepidus abruptly demanded, and the Unggoy immediately stopped the recording on a single frame. Lepidus leaned in close. He thought he had seen something suspicious, but upon a second glance, it turned out to have been nothing more than his imagination.

He let out a low growl. The lack of answers was beginning to wear on him.

Without warning, the Huragok began whistling in a rather excited manner.

"What's it saying?" Lepidus demanded to know from the Unggoy before the Huragok even had a chance to finish.

The Unggoy gave a fearful squeak and started whistling back to the Huragok while at the same time, he waved his hands around in a wild fashion. Lepidus waited impatiently for the response.

"Shipmaster, Huragok says it able to restore more footage," the Unggoy translated.

"Will it be more footage of the pre-flight or will it actually show me something useful!?" Lepidus demanded to know, staring at the video's he'd been watching over and over again for the last half cycle with distain.

He waited with forced patience as the Unggoy quickly translated the question, before waiting for a response.

"The Buoyant One… I mean, the Huragok say, footage extracted from end of data stream," the Unggoy translated.

"Then show it," Lepidus demanded.

He watched as the Huragok extend a tentacle and press a button. At once, his screen changed.

At first, Lepidus wasn't sure what he was looking at, as all he saw was a bunch of light. As if the recorder had been pointing directly down the muzzle of a Type-25 blood-hand. He was about to snap at the Huragok for wasting his time, when the screen shifted slightly, revealing the edge of space, and Lepidus abruptly realized he was actually staring at a planet. Then he noticed the single blurry black dot in the center of the screen.

"Stop!" he barked and at once, the screen froze. "Magnify on that object in the center."

The dot rapidly expanded to fill the screen, though it was still rather pixilated.

"Enhance."

The image abruptly cleared up, revealing –

A small ship, colored as black as the void itself, its sharp angles and straight edges standing in stark contrast to the more spherical and bulbous designs of Covenant warships. Harsh blue lights dotted the outer hull and although there were no visible weapons on the outer hull, it would be clear to any observer that this ship was designed with one purpose in mind: war.

Lepidus felt a thrill of excitement go down his spine as he stared at the ship in question. Not only could he recognize the ship as a distinctly human vessel, he also recognized what that ship was.

And more importantly, what the arrival of the ship herald.

"What is that planet!?" Lepidus roared, unable to completely mask his excitement.

Out of the corner of his eye, Lepidus could see the Unggoy jump in surprise, before quickly accessing the computer in order to compare the image of the planet to those in the navigation database.

"Sensors indicated planet is second planet in the Utus System, sire!" the Unggoy reported.

Lepidus growled in acknowledgement. The second planet in the Utus System. He recognized that system. When the fleet had first arrived to the sector, his sensors had immediately taken note of the artificial constructs around the second planet within the system that would later be designated as the "Utus System." It had been cause for interest at first, but then sensors had also indicated that the planet was in the midst of a destructive civil war, and as a result, Lepidus had decided to simply leave the planet alone. However, if the humans had been traveling towards that planet, then clearly his decision had been made in error.

"Continue reconstruction of this data," Lepidus snapped. "I want to know everything about that ship! Report to me the moment you have discovered more."

"Yes, sire!" the Unggoy barked out, however at that point, Lepidus was no longer paying attention. Instead, he had reached up to activate his communicator.

"Bridge."

"This is the Shipmaster," Lepidus growled and over the communicator, he could hear the speaker on the other end abruptly coming to attention. "Assemble our finest warriors, and prepare to deploy a corvette to the second planet in the Utus System."

"Of course War Chieftain," the Jiralhanae on the other side eagerly replied. "What shall I inform the warriors?"

"Tell them to bring their guns," Lepidus said simply.

"We're going hunting for Demons."


And that it, that's all I could come up with. That's not to say I was running out of ideas; most of my other ideas though, I felt would be more appropriate for an actual Gears of War/Halo crossover such as

- maybe having a scene where Chairman Prescott hears about Kat and Emile, and starts plotting to have them kidnapped and brought to Azura where they could make a spaceship that would save him and the rest of the elite that are hiding out the war on the islands

- depicting the Locust and the COG Army having one massive battle where the Locust are trying to break through to Jacinto in order to grab the Spartans (sort of a novelization version of a game of Horde)

- at that point, I was thinking the Covenant would finally show up and just start killing everyone

- whereupon, the Locust and COG make a temporary alliance to try and halt the Covenant's rampage

- at which point, due to being weakened by the attack on Jacinto, and then the Covenant invasion, the Locust find themselves unable to truly hold back the Lambent invasion any longer and completely lose control of the Hollows, at which point the Lambent break out onto the surface and start killing everyone, thus forcing an alliance between all three parties on the surface (human, Locust, and Covenant)

- and then, maybe then, the UNSC finally shows up?

Obviously, none of these ideas have been fully fleshed out, and probably won't for some time as I don't actually plan on turning this into a full-fledged story. (At least, not for now...)

Thanks for reading.