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John Carpenter's

Yeah, It Gets Worse...                                                              
By Steve Davis (aka PolarBear40)

     Even Spartans dream. John-117, the last of his kind, dreamed of horror. Masses of putrid, stinking nightmare forms leapt 50 feet through the air, half-rotted things that once were human or Covenant Elite, swarmed him from all sides, as the never-ending hordes of tentacled, spherical Infection Forms splattered against his shields. He fired and fired, reloading and retreating and still they came, groaning and splattering coagulated blood and chunks of grave-flesh with every shot. On and on and on, sick with the noise and recoil and ceaseless killing..
At last there were no more. Hip deep in the remains, he stood and shook with fatigue. Then one shape stood up. 
It was a Marine, battered and disheveled but still human, and recognizable. Cpl. Jenkins!
The corporal raised his assault rifle in salute, and smiled.
The smile got wider, and wider, until it split his face wide open. His entire head opened like a meaty flower, and all of of John-117's fears spewed out into the light....

He didn't wake up screaming. Spartans were far too disciplined for that. But his sheets were soaked in sweat, and his heart pounded almost uncontrollably. He forced himself to remember where he was..safe, for the moment, aboard a UNSC Phantom-class scoutship. Normally there would be 4 other crewmembers, but for this mission he was accompanied only by Cortana, the spunky Artifical Intelligence that he had carried throughout the harrowing HALO missions.
"Master Chief! What's wrong?" Cortana's voice echoed from the wall speaker. "Your vital signs are far above normal sleep levels!"
The Chief sighed. "Nothing, Cortana. Just a dream. What's our situation?"
A second's pause, then, "We are still 2 hours out from System 31-E, and then another hour to orbital insertion around the target planet."
"I'll be up in a minute." The Chief signed off and squeezed his massive frame into the dinky shower unit, allowing himself the luxury of a two-minute shower. He then shrugged into a light coverall, and negotiated the cramped corridor leading to the closet-sized area glorified by the label "bridge".

When he arrived he found a tray loaded with rations..halfway decent ones, for a change. He grinned at the foot-high glowing hologram of Cortana, standing on the projection pedestal beside the main seat.
"I didn't know you cared," he said, eyeing the hologram's reactions.
"Don't get any ideas. I just want you to be in top form for the mission. After all, my head is on the line too." Cortana tossed him what he could have sworn was a flirtatious wink, digital patterns swirling around her colour-shifing form.
"Your head will be in orbit. But thanks anyway." He attacked the meal, while Cortana shrugged an "any time" gesture.

Whatever it was that had caused Command to order the Master Chief to undertake this mission, it had bought some time for the human race. After the fall of the main shipyards at Reach, it was a foregone conclusion that Earth would have weeks to live at best, before the alliance of alien races known as the Covenant massed their fleets to bring about humanity's exinction, in accordance with their Jihad proclamation.
The Fleet had gathered what it could, while research teams worked day and night with captured Covenant technology to find something, anything, that could save Earth.

Thirty-three other Spartan soldiers had been lost on Reach, leaving the Master Chief as the last of his small regiment, the last of an experiment that had kept the Spartans together since the age of six. All his brothers and sisters, bonded through brutal training, worse combat, and the uniqueness of their situation, were gone now. The Chief didn't have time to mourn, there were more important problems at hand. Revenge would come later.

Humanity had one advantage in that the Convenant were not inventors; all their technology, centuries beyond Earth's, had been scrounged from worlds once inhabited by the Forerunners. These mysterious aliens, extinct since before humans learned to use fire, were also the basis for the Covenant's religion. "Holy Relics" also known as new technology, were always being hunted by the alien alliance. Now that much of it had fallen into human hands, it was being reverse engineered and even improved upon.
One of the results of this crash program was the Phantom scoutship the Chief and Cortana were currently flying. Small and fast, equipped with cloaking devices and shields, it was perfect for infiltration into Covenant space.
It was merely one of the consolation prizes won after the devastation of Reach had led both Humanity and the Convenant to the massive construct dubbed HALO.

A desperate, random slipspace jump had taken the last remaining UNSC cruiser, the Pillar of Autumn, to Halo's system purely by accident. Less accidental was the fact that 3 full battlegrops of Covie cruisers had managed to not only follow them, but get there first!
The aliens had boarded the Pillar by means of its own lifepod hatches, and Captain Keyes gave the Chief custody of Cortana, the most advanced AI yet created. His orders: get off the ship, survive, and keep the AI out of enemy hands.

A long, arduous series of guerilla actions followed, running a race with Covenant forces to learn the secrets of the Halo, and hopefully gain control of it.
The ring world turned out to be a weapon, but not the kind anyone wanted to use; it was a doomsday weapon, intended to erase all living things within a 25,000 lightyear radius!
The reason: to starve to death a form of pseudolife called The Flood. Ravenous, hideous creatures that took the bodies of everything big enough to own a nervous system and assimilated them for their own use, the Flood had nearly escaped the Halo and come close to killing the Chief as well.

He had, with Cortana's help, initiated an overload in the Pillar's reactors. The resulting gigaton explosion had shattered the Halo, and with it the Flood, the Covenant fleet, and every human left on the surface. 
The Chief had escaped in a Longsword fighter-bomber, and was picked up some days later by a UNSC patrol.

Now, with his MJOLNIR armour newly augmented by adapted Covenant technology, the Chief was back in action. And it was, as usual, "Critical to the survival of Humanity!!"

ONI..Naval Intelligence..had learned that the Convenant had found something that posed a greater threat to them than the human race. The alien's leaders, called Prophets, had postponed the attack on Earth to deal with the new menace.
It was puzzling; reports from the Covenant Battlenet suggested that one of their frigates had returned from a previously unexplored world, and immediately attacked everything in sight! They still had no idea why, since the frigate had been vapourized, but more ships were sent and they too had either failed to return or had gone renegade.
Fearing a Flood infestation, the Covenant went into Paranoid Mode...which was saying a lot, considering their normal state of mind.
They pulled surviving ships back from missions to the strange system, and had ordered them to self destruct. Clearly, their leadership was terrified of something, and anything that scared the Covies was potentially useful to humans.

Thus the Chief's presence on the small bridge of a tiny ship, bound into the dark unknown.

"So, what do we know about this system? My briefing was, uh, a bit short on details." the Chief asked Cortana, pushing his food tray into the recycler.
"You know as much as I do. It has an atmosphere, gravity of about .9 gee, and something that scared the piss out of the Convenant." She paused and smirked. "You aren't SCARED, are you?"
The Chief grinned. "Who, me? Never happen. It would be nice to know what I'm walking into for a change, though."
Cortana's eyes turned blue and her body strobed for a moment..."We did get one word from the translators, but I'm not sure if it is correctly interpreted."
"So? Spill it!"
"Xenomorph." she replied. "Whatever is out there, we won't know what it looks like until it comes up to shake our hands."
The Spartan sighed. "Why not? If it were easy, they'd send trainees."

The little ship exited slipspace on schedule and boosted toward the greyish planet on the viewscreen. 
"Cloaking device is working" Cortana reported. "Although I don't see anyone or thing out there to hide from."
"They've got cloaks too, with our luck." the Chief answered. "Check the planet's surface."
"Scanning...uh HUH." The hologram squinted, miming human response to a signal difficult to detect.
"There are two Convenant ships on the surface, base-carrier dropships, and they aren't putting out much energy."
"Not dead then. Life readings?" That sort of scan would have been impossible a year ago but the knowledge brought back from Halo had improved things considerably.
"Uh..sort of." Cortana looked perplexed, and even a bit embarrassed. "The number of lifeforms appearing on the scanners don't match the equivalent biomass readings."
The AI could be exasperating when she wanted to be. "Fine, what does that mean??" the Chief grated.
"I don't know. You'll have to go down and take a closer look."
Good, he thought. I hate being on spacecraft!

Normally it took a team of technicians 15 minutes to fully suit up a Spartan, but the Chief had the help of waldoes controlled by Cortana,and it took ony 10 to dress and test the MJOLNIR armour. It felt good to be back, and with the upgrades the Chief was confident he could handle anything that the planet could throw his way.

He opened the weapons locker, and pondered which would be most useful. He reached for the 8-guage Magnum shotgun, which was the most useful against the Flood, but decided two short range weapons would leave him vulnerable. He was already taking the newest weapon in the arsenal, created from Covenant plasma technology. It was a cross between a plasma rifle and a flamethrower, and it spewed a white-hot cone of plasma out to a range of 30 feet. Another 30 feet of radiant-energy damage could be expected, but beyond that it was ineffective.
To fill the gap, he chose the 50 caliber SABOT-round sniper rifle. It was always nice to reach out and touch someone.

He also packed 4 each of plasma grenades and frag grenades, 100 rounds of sniper ammo, and a spare tank for the plasma streamer.
"Okay, take us down!" he told Cortana. "And hold on. This is gonna be a fun one."
She chuckled. "Aren't they always?"

The Phantom drifted gently to the ground, surrounded by mist and fog, about a mile from the nearest Covie dropship. 
"Outside temperature is 18 degrees...not bad. Atmosphere is a bit thin but you can leave your suit's vents open." Cortana reported. 
"Good." the Chief answered. "But lock the doors anyway. Hate to lose our ride home."

The small cargo bad held an ATV, a 4X4 electric motorcycle with a 7.62mm machine gun barrel nosing out from above the headlight. The Chief lowered the vehicle to the ground and dogged the hatch, and mounted up.

He gunned the engine, keeping a close watch on his motion tracker. The targeting reticule for the streamer was a large square, which would expand or contract depending on the size of the plasma stream he fired. It stayed grey..no targets in range.
The ground was squishy and a bit slippery, and visibility was limited to around 100 feet. Patches of fog came and went, and there seemed to be nothing much in the way of life. Just some stunted grasslike plants and a few dead-looking bushes.
A low ridge separated the Chief from the closest dropship, so he hopped off the ATV and crouched low, unslinging the sniper rifle. He racked the scope up to 10X, and clicked on the night vision to help cut the mist.
The squared-U shaped dropship leapt forward in his vision, its side-mounted doors hanging down. He scanned...There! One dead Elite and 5 dead Grunts, all arranged in a line. He squinted involunarily..they appeared to have been burned. 
In fact, it looked like the Elite had killed and cremated his troops, then held a plasma grenade to his chest and suicided.
Not standard behavior for Covies! Satisfied that nothing remained alive, he cautiously moved down the slope and inched his way up to the remains. Where were the other 45 troops this ship had carried??

Those Grunts didn't look at ALL like any he'd encountered to date. It looked like someone had tried to grind them up, or do dissection, something violent and bizarre, before they'd been burned. 
And that Elite...damned if that didn't look like a third arm had started growing from its side!
The Chief swallowed and clicked his radio. "Cortana, I have a very bad feeling about this. Check my helmetcam, see if you can find anything that might explain this."
"Already have, Chief," she sounded like she was at a loss for words. "I have no idea. No idea at all."
Well, better safe than sorry. The Chief hosed the dead with his plasma streamer, flashing them to vapour in a millisecond. 
Returning to the ATV, he headed off toward the second dropship, a chill running up and down his spine.

The second ship was surrounded by a wall of cargo containers, clearly a hastily erected barrier. There were no bodies anywhere. Paranoia building, the Chief parked the ATV behind a boulder and crept toward the barrier, every sense alert for..anything at all.
There were definite signs of battle. Discarded weapons lay scattered, and scorch marks painted the cargo boxes..on the inside of the perimeter, not the outside! Was there some kind of general mutiny here? A mind-wrecking disease, maybe?
It was time to make some noise. 

The Chief flicked the pin off a frag grenade with his thumb, and tossed it to the nearest exit hatch. The explosion boomed and reverberated for several seconds, but did no real damage to the door. He hadn't expected it to..but whatever was inside, if anything, would surely come to investigate.
Ah HAH! The door swung down and an Elite came striding arrogantly out, head swivelling. This one wore the golden armour of a Field Master, a fine catch by any standards. Quickly, the Chief armed his sniper rifle and zoomed the reticule in on the creature's head. Elites don't carry on conversations, but maybe an intact body could provide some clue as to what was happening here.
Gently, he squeezed the trigger, the rifle barked and the Elite's head exploded most satisfactorily. With a slightly triumphant grin, the Chief waited for the body to fall. It didn't cooperate. Rather, it swayed for a couple of seconds, and started..rearranging itself. 

The Master Chief looked on in fearful fascination as the Elite's neck began sprouting shapes, and its armour fell away as its body altered its form repeatedly. 
"Cortana...please tell me you're recording this" he said softly.
"I am..but I wish I weren't. What IS going on down there?" she whispered back, as if the thing could hear them.
He just shook his head. 
Arms were absorbed and replaced by claws, or by tentacles..some thick and dripping gore, others slim and whipping about wildly. Mouths appeared in the Elite's chest..yawning cavities ringed with ragged teeth, elongated snouts, some almost human looking. 
At last, the chest cavity ripped wide open and revealed heads. One of them was human, beyond doubt, and another was a dog. A Husky, if the Chief knew anything about animals at all. 
The noise was hideous. A sick symphony of screams, howls, gurgles and groans, all to the backdrop of a high-speed butcher shop sound..ripping flesh and dripping ooze.
"Oh my God..Chief, I'm sure I saw human shapes in there!" Cortana said, voice quivering. "How can that be?"
"You're the AI, you tell me! Have these things ever been to Earth?"
"Impossible. We wouldn't be here if they had!"
He couldn't argue that. "I'm falling back. We need more information before we can begin to deal with this."
Cortana didn't argue that point, either.

With the new updates to his armour, the Chief was well camouflaged. The monster didn't see him retreat to the ATV, or if it did it didn't care.
"Chief, you promised you'd leave me in orbit!" Cortana whined as the Chief crouched beside the ATV. " I really don't need this!"
"You should talk. That thing can't hurt you." he retorted.
"No, but I could...wait. Wait..motion behind us, maybe 50 feet." her voice snapped back to matter-of-fact, military tone.
The Chief swung around and brought the plasma streamer up, ready to fire. "Any idea what it is?" 
"Yes, for once. The readings indicate Covenant Grunt. Just one of them."
One Grunt? No threat there, if in fact it was what it appeared to be. He was starting to get disoriented; never fear an enemy, but what if you can't tell friend from foe? Not what he'd trained for, that much he knew.

Footsteps trudged toward his position, and a high, squeaky voice called out, "Don't shoot, I have no weapon, please!"
Huh? He'd heard Grunts talk before, usually things like, "Here, more enemy", "No, bad cyborg!!" or "Heads up!". They even used profanity from time to time. He didn't think they could form sentences, though.
"I am friends, don't shoot don't shoot!!" it called again.
"Why the hell not?" he yelled back, through the suit's external speakers.
"Because we have same enemy!" it replied.
"Maybe you should give him a chance." Cortana suggested. "You can always crisp him if he makes a wrong move, and we DO need information."
The Chief grunted. "All right. Come ahead, slowly, hands high in the air. Don't get me mad!" he warned.
"Coming, coming!" the little trooper sounded distinctly relieved.

Sure enough, here it came. About 3 feet tall, with gangly arms and legs, a gasmask-like breather and a high, cone-shaped life support unit on its back, it looked more comical than dangerous. At least until you had to face a thousand of them..
Its armour was red-trimmed, indicating the little alien was a veteran. Which might explain its knowledge of English, he thought to himself.
Its left arm was wounded, dripping pale blue blood. True to its word, it was not carrying any weapons.

"Stop right there!" the Chief ordered. "Turn around slowly." The alien complied, whimpering. 
"Now, what have you got to say?"
"Nasty, killer thing, took my whole cohort, can't tell until too late, makes us explode," the creature trailed off into a series of squeaks and barks, clearly traumatized. 
"Settle down!!" the Chief barked in his best drillsergeant voice. "I'll flame you if you do that again!!"
"Noo, nooo...." snivel, snivel...the trooper began to collect itself. "Been alone with them for so long"
"Talk slowly, tell me what happened. Who killed your troops?" the Spartan asked, more gently this time.

The Grunt fell into a crouch and peered into the Chief's faceplate. "They looked like Officers. Field Masters. Came from dropship, sounded normal." it said, steadily. It paused for a second, searching for words.
"They did like Flood, only worse. Whips, teeth, and the wounded did the same thing when they were hurt. Joined them, changed sides. I ran, got shot.." it indicated the wounded arm.."they didn't chase me. I ran and ran. Don't want to be turned into those, nasty!!"
Looking at the puddles of blood, the Chief asked harshly "How do I know you aren't one of them? You're wounded!"
"There is a way, if time, if time..there is a..." the Grunt paused again, lost for words.
" A test?" the Chief supplied hopefully.
"Yes, yes, a test! A test, but only if you catch them in time!" the Grunt replied, nodding enthusiastically.
"What sort of test?"
The alien pointed at its wounded arm. "Blood. Hotthings. Bad blood hates heat things. Good blood just goes SSSSSS".
Fine. We'll test you, he thought. The Covenant soldier had the same idea. 
"Look, " it said, squeezing blood out of its wound, "you hotweapon that blood, see I am friendly."

Okay...he goosed the trigger of the streamer, a small tongue of plasma licked out at the blue blood on the ground. It hissed and flashed into vapour.
"So what would happen if you were one of them?" Cortana asked.
The Grunt cocked its head, then screeched and started dancing around madly. "Blood does like this. Tries to get away from hotweapons."
It settled down again, and stared at the Chief expectantly. 
"You know what this means, don't you?" Cortana whispered. 
"Of course not."
"It means this new infectious form is like the Flood but on a much smaller scale. Instead of one Infection Form taking over dead bodies, this takes over living cells, one at a time. Might even be able to imitate them so well that they can fool anyone."
Crap.."So what you're saying is, every cell in the body becomes alien. That might expain what we saw over there" he motioned towards the dropship, "but how did human shapes get mixed into it?"
"That's the real question, isn't it" she replied ominously. "Maybe Laughing Boy here can tell us."

"I guess you're clean" the Chief said to the Grunt, causing it to sigh with relief. "Our medkits' antibiotics and painkillers are probably toxic for you, but let's get that arm bandaged up and we'll get to work.."

The Grunt rode perched on the back of the ATV's seat..his small size allowed plenty of room for him. The Chief rode quickly, anxious to get back to the ship and get off this planet before he encountered any more of those bodystealing nightmares.
The Grunt broke the silence. "Pakyat." it said. 
Distractedly, the Chief looked in the rearview mirror. "What? What's that mean?"
"My name." the Grunt replied. "It is my name. What is yours, do you have one?"
Not that anyone alive knew, the Chief thought. "No, I use my rank. Call me the Master Chief..or just Chief."
"What will Chief do with me?" Pakyat asked, afraid to hear the answer but needing to know.
"Assuming we get off this rock, I guess we'll take you back to Earth. Unless you'd rather we left you here."
The little alien paused. "Do you have methane on Earth?"
Methane? "Huh? Sure..no end of it. Why?"
"I breathe it. My armour feeds it to facemask, cold, very cold."
Well. A bit more information for the Spooks to digest. "Don't worry. You won't run out. It's food that may be a problem."
"Worry about that if I live." the Grunt said, sensibly.

The ATV coasted to a stop a hundred yards from the Phantom scoutship. All eyes were fixed on the figure standing beside the hatch, in a posture of patient waiting.
"No! No! Not now!" Pakyat screeched, " Elite, lower Elite, come to kill me!!"
"Shut up, dammit!" the Spartan growled, "It can't kill you until it knows you're here."
He dismounted and shouldered the sniper rifle. No way a solitary Elite would stand between an angry Spartan and his means of escape!

The creature spoke, before the Chief could draw a solid bead on it. Its voice was very low, like the aftermath of a thunderclap, but still intelligible. 
"No need for fighting, human." it rumbled. "I am unarmed."
The Chief was taken aback. Far too similar to the meeting with Pakyat. "What is this? Cortana? Any ideas?"
"No..I know Elites can talk but they hardly ever do. It probably isn't an Elite at all."
"No...well, we won't let it get close. Let's find out what it wants."
The Chief turned on the external speaker. 
"Why not, slimebag? Your kind has shot at me often enough!"
The Elite shifted its weight, lowered its arms. "We are in danger here. We must work together."
"Why couldn't you have been that sensible when I was on Halo? The Flood would have been a lot easier to kill."
"Our enemy is more dangerous than the Flood. I am the last survivor of many veteran troopers."
"No you're not!!" peeped Pakyat. "I lived too and you can't order me around now!"
The hulking alien ignored the Grunt. "Our dropships were disabled to stop the infectious ones from leaving this planet. I require transport."

It didn't take much thought. One Covenant passenger was enough, and there was no room for error. The rifle's scope ramped up to 10X, and the small circle flashed red as it centered on the alien's head.
But Pakyat's sensitive ears picked up a liquid, oozing sound that the Chief had missed.
"Behind us! Chief! There are enemies!" he gabbled, head whipping from side to side.
At the same time, the Elite charged forward. It couldn't close the distance fast enough, though, and the 50-cal round passed through its neck. One problem solved, now...

But the Elite didn't entirely stop. It reeled back, and sprouted a forest of whipping tentacles from the wound. 
"You were right, Cortana. It's one of them." 
"So are the smaller forms coming up behind us!" she replied tensely. 
"Damn!!" the Chief slung the rifle and pulled out the plasma streamer. A dozen shapes burst from the scrub and rocks, none of them recognizable but every one of them intent on reaching the Chief and Pakyat. 
"I need a weapon!!" the little trooper screamed, and the Chief pointed at the ATV's cargo carrier. He had no choice but to trust his new ally. "There's a pistol in there. Cover my back!" he ordered. Pakyat srabbled into the cargo box and produced the pistol, which looked oversized in his small hands.
"Pull back the slide, yes..like that. Now kill!" There was no further time for talk.

One of the attacking things jumped from a rock and splattered against the Chief's armour, wrapping tentacles and segmented limbs around his chest. He glanced at the Heads Up Display..the armour's shields had two lines of indicators. The top one, green, showed the reactive half of his defenses. He hoped fervently that it worked!
It did. While the indicator line dropped by half, the slimy creature trying to find a hole in his suit shrieked in a multitude of voices as powerful electrical charges pulsed into it. Grey fluid and groping tentacles steamed and fell away.
He raised the streamer and released a long burst, panning from right to left. Four of the obscene things flashed into steam before they could cry out.
Behind him the sharp reports of pistol fire echoed as Pakyat kept suppressing fire on the Elite thing, causing it to collapse in a heap of chaotic protoplasm. The Grunt hid behind the ATV, just missing a spray of digestive fluid.

"I can see why the Covies lost this one." Cortana said, "they must have been taken by surprise."
"And we weren't??" the Chief replied sarcastically. "Whoa!!" Another creature had flung itself at him and slammed into his helmet. A dog's muzzle, blood-soaked and teeth bared, filled his vision. He reached up and threw the thing away, then vapourized it. Now he'd have to decontaminate before boarding the ship..
Another long blast from the streamer singed the infectors hanging back at the edges of the battle. They whimpered, cried, and cursed as their creeping flesh was blackened.
"Pakyat! Situation report!" the Chief ordered.
"The Elite thing isn't Elite now." the Grunt replied. "Don't know, it's ugly and it's not coming at us."
"I can sense more of them coming from the dropship vacinity." Cortana urged. "We better finish this now!"
Best idea he'd heard in years, the Chief thought.

The smaller forms had retreated from the intense heat of the plasma streamer, and he had a moment to deal with the Elite form. Pakyat had stopped firing, smart enough to conserve ammo. Besides, bullets probably didn't hurt....that..any more than raindrops.
A mass of organic material sat next to the scoutship, with blood of several colours spattered copiously around and on everything. The mass writhed, seeming undecided as to what form it should take. Grotesque, but fascinating nonetheless; the eggheads back home would just love to study this monster!

The Chief changed plasma bottles on his streamer while had the chance. They had to finish this large creature and regain the ship before the hordes arrived from the Covenant landing sites.
"Chief, look..." Cortana sighed, voice full of revulsion. He grimaced at what the creature had done.

It was human, standing naked in a vast pool of blood, and unidentified liquids. It stepped gingerly forward, mouth agape.
"There is..NO..way.." the Spartan blinked rapidly, hoping this apparition would vanish. "NO WAY that thing is human."
"You don't have to convince me!" Cortana agreed. "Blast it!!"

He raised the streamer..and the human figure exploded, a huge arm firing from its chest like a crossbow bolt. It was as big as a Covenant Hunter's arm, but without the fuel rod cannon. It slammed into the Chief's chest armour with the force of a meteor, knocking him flat on his back. Both of his shield indicators went red and an insistent beeping began.
Oh NO...had his armour been pierced?? He scrabbled backwards, while Pakyat fired frantically at the arm flopping about on the ground.

The rising buzz of the "armour charging" signal was music to the Chief's ears; he'd been hit hard, but the armour held.
The creature had expended much of its biomass producing the missile, and it stood swaying and dripping blood.
Sore from the impact, but energized by the urgency of the situation, the Chief got to his feet and jammed the streamer's trigger down. He held it for ten seconds, twenty..spraying the arm, the blood puddles, the imitation human with star-hot plasma.
The weapon display indicated low charge, but still he hosed down the entire area, sweeping 360 degrees while Pakyat ducked for what cover he could find.
At last the weapon fell silent, its emitter tip glowing white, while the scoutship's hull glowed a dull red. He'd managed to scorch the blood off it, at least.

"Let's get aboard while we can" Cortana said, "and get OUT of here!"
"One thing to do first." the Chief mumbled. He handed the streamer to Pakyat, who stood panting with reaction and barely suppressed panic.
"Aim this at me, and just hit the trigger a little. I know, it's empty but there's some residue left in it."
"Why?" Pakyat asked, puzzled. "You want to die?"
"No. It won't get that hot. But I need this blood and bile burned off me."
The Grunt shrugged, and complied. The HUD's shield bars started dropping as the "fumes" from the plasma tank heated the armour. The Chief turned a slow circle, making sure he was cleaned completely of the deadly stuff.
"Okay, that'll do it. Your turn now."
"What? No burning me!" Pakyat yelped in alarm.
"Have to, at least a little. Now stand still..." 
"Ow ow hot hot hot!!!" Pakyat screeched, as the streamer's residue scorched his thin combat suit.
"Now, don't you feel better?" the Chief said, smiling at the indignant alien's glare.

He hit the airlock and both stepped inside. As a further precaution he activated the decon routine, washing both human and alien with powerful universal cleansers. Fans removed the fumes, and they entered the ship.

Pakyat settled into his coldsleep chamber with a small tank of methane attached to his life support system. There he would stay, dreamless and timeless, until the craft reached Earthspace. 
Cortana did the same for the Master Chief, storing his armour in a vacuum-sealed locker...just in case. She would fly the ship, and navigate, until they were home.
Be nice to have some quiet time to catch up on her reading, she thought. The ship jumped into slipspace, and headed for home.

     Cortana browsed the vast databanks contained in the ship's "dumb" computer, for anything that might expain what she and the Chief had just endured. It would take hours but she had weeks to kill...
Early spaceflight...hmm....
22nd Century, the new nuclear engines driving humanity out to the Solar System's rim...one notable disappearance. A mining ship had just boosted for interstellar space at full gees. No one ever found out what happened..
This was before they'd learned to capture cometary ice, and they needed to import it from Earth.
As reaction mass, it carried ice harvested from Antarctic ice sheets. Interesting...didn't spacer legend say they found a UFO in one of the blocks of fuel-ice? Yes..a commonly held superstition.
A lesser known talltale claimed a body was found in the same block, some versions said several bodies. 
An electronic chill ran through Cortana's mind...human shapes where no humans had ever been, it connected all too well with the drunken spacer's tales.
The alien had been to Earth before..and now, with the help of the Covenant, it was coming back.
She sighed..for her, it would be a very long trip home, and no certainties as to what they would find when they got there.
Sleep well, Chief, she thought. You have a lot of work ahead of you...


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