The quiet serenity Caleb had come to almost enjoy was broken by the sounds of exertion and resistance. Cracking open his right eye Caleb watched as men, women and children were dragged into the room. They looked like they had been through hell, the men in particular all sported wounds and looked to be in constant pain. Two hunters came in last and stood by the door blocking any chance of escape.
The elite Caleb had insulted moved forwards to speak to one of the elites standing near the front of the new prisoners before splitting up the group and placing them into cells. Quickly counting the rough number of people he sighed, great, he would probably have to share.
The shimmering wall crackled away and Caleb opened his eyes to see a young girl giving the elite holding her hell. She kicked at him repeatedly before he roughly backhanded her and threw her against the far wall of the cell. He reactivated the plasma and moved away. Caleb just lay where he was, ignoring the sobs coming from the other occupant of his cell.
Eventually all of the people had been locked away, Nila and Hujo moving along the sides counting the number of tenants. Caleb moved his head forwards and looked around the corner at the elite standing proudly in the centre of the room. Eventually, when the sobs and cries had died down he spoke.
“Human filth, while you are here you are under my command. Be silent, co-operative and well-behaved and you shall come to no harm.” With that he turned and took up his usual post by the rear of the room. The girl next to him continued to sob and Caleb sighed for what felt like the millionth time today before trying to get more sleep. But before he could even begin to let his thoughts settle something moved over his outstretched legs. Looking up he saw the girl trying to get to the door. She looked to the right and saw the elite standing there. Clearing her throat she called out.
“Errrr, exx excuse me Sssir.” From his vantage point Caleb watched as the elite moved over quickly, trying to intimidate the young girl. When he stood before their door he simply stared.
“Ccc could I hhave some www water,” the girl asked, her stuttering becoming unbearable. The elite looked down at Caleb and sported an unmistakeable grin.
“You’re going to die, on a full stomach or starving I don’t care,” he said, still not moving his gaze from the girl. She fell back crying, but still the elite stared at Caleb. He mouthed the words pathetic before the elite turned and left. The girl was watching the pair of them through her tear-streaked eyes.
“Here,” Caleb muttered, rolling the last of his water bottle towards her. She caught it and finished off the small amount left slowly. Before she could say anything Caleb rolled over onto his side and kicked himself repeatedly inside his head.
Raule walked slowly down the corridors to the dining halls, his mind still screamed at him to do something, anything, to sort that human boy out. Picking up a tray of rations he sat by himself in the corner of the large room, watching the others of his race over the top of a nutri-bar.
A group of elites Raule recognised as the ones who slept in his barracks pointed over in his direction before heading for him. Raule sighed and put his bar down.
“Hey Haw,” the most prominent elite said, “We’ve been hearing a few things from the Ungoggy. You don’t mind do you?” he said taking a piece of meat from Raule’s plate.
“Anyway,” he said, chewing voraciously on the meat, “We heard you’ve been a bit soft on those human dungs. Tell us it ain’t true Haw?”
“I do my duty, just like you,” Raule simply stated, tired of the conversation.
“You babysit those humans like they were infants! They’re scum, destined to be wiped from this galaxy, and you’re no better than them.”
Raule’s hands clenched beneath the table as he locked eyes with the elite in front of him.
“I do my duty,” Raule merely stated again, his voice quavering with anger, the elites standing around him started laughing, “I don’t give a dam how the humans feel.”
“You better,” the elite stated as he and the others left the table. Raule rested his fists on the table, his blue blood dripping slightly from where his fingers had clawed open his skin. Even now the anger coursed through his veins.
Yuk’ Samane stood guard in the cell block, watching over his charges until morning when he was relieved. Ahead of him the doors hummed briefly before sliding apart, stepping forwards he saw his relief walking towards him; nine hours early!
“You are not supposed to be here,” he called to Raule.
“Wait outside,” Raule simply said to the elite.
“But,” the elite started.
“Go!” Raule half shouted, half whispered.
The elite looked back at the room before leaving quickly through the doors Raule had just entered. As they closed shut Raule walked forwards until he was inline with Caleb’s cell. Placing his hand on the panel to the side, the iridescent wall of plasma faded away. A young girl brought in earlier lay against the back, sleeping restlessly. Caleb lay in his usual place at the front of the cell. Grabbing the humans hair Raule dragged him out, shaking him out of any slumber he may have had.
“You little worm,” Raule whispered holding Caleb’s ear to his mandibles, “Now you’re going to realise just how pathetic you are.”
He dropped Caleb to the floor and planted a solid kick in his stomach, sending him flying to the other side of the room. The boy tried to rise but Raule rushed forwards and brought his elbow down on his back, hard. As he grabbed one of the child’s legs blood fell from his mouth. Raule’s smile just widened.
Caleb tried to speak, but all the wind had been knocked out of him, Raule kicked him again and again, twisting an arm behind the humans back he pulled it up until he heard a scream and then a snap. Caleb fell panting to the ground, but Raule was not done yet.
Many of the occupants of the cells were moving forwards now to watch the brutal attack. Some of the women cried out in pain for the boy, others simply looked out with a sense of hopelessness.
Raule lifted the boy up once more by his hair, pushing his face right next to Caleb’s he whispered, “Had enough?” Caleb’s eyes moved up from the floor to look into Raule’s. “Why, you getting tired?” he choked out, knowing that it would prolong the pain, but not caring about anything now.
Raule roared and smacked Caleb so hard across his face that two teeth came skidding out. Stepping over the kneeling boy, Raule grabbed his neck and pushed his face closer to one of the plasma screens. The people inside looked on in terror as Caleb’s face drew nearer and nearer to the crackling energy.
“Go on,” he spat out along with a mouthful of blood, “I dare ya’”
Raule pulled him back and continued to throw him around like a rag doll, banging of walls, skidding across floors, until eventually, over an hour later, he drop kicked Caleb into his cell. The girl next to him rushed forwards to attack, but Raule hit her full force in her chest. She crumpled to the ground and didn’t get up to fight again.
Placing his hand on the panel Raule turned and walked back out the doors to the brig, his fellow elite returning and looking at the scene of blood upon the floors.
Caleb screamed in his mind. This was pain beyond pain, agony beyond agony. He had felt pain before, but this was an all encompassing, unrelenting, brutal assault upon his senses. His eyes must be swollen for he couldn’t open them much if at all, every breath he took caused a fire to burn throughout his chest and his left arm hung limply by his side. ‘God I was an idiot’ he thought solemnly to himself.
From beyond the darkness a voice cooed to him, he felt gentle fingers running over his wounds. Ribs of pressure stemmed the bleeding and he was grateful to whatever angel was looking over him. He had never been a religious person, such beliefs didn’t put food in your stomach, but right now he knew that someone was looking after him, mortal or god, it didn’t matter.
Ayla gently moved the boy into a more comfortable position, wiping away from the blood from around his head she proceeded to bandage him up using bits of his and her clothing. He groaned slightly as she ran her fingers over his ribs, the blue swelling already lining his skin.
What had he done to deserve such treatment, or did that elite simply want to vent his anger. Maybe he would systematically beat each and every one of them until there was no fight left in them.
No, she couldn’t think like this, always look on the bright side her mother had told her as a child. Gently lying the boy down, she moved back against the wall and fell asleep watching him rest peacefully in agony.
Raule felt liberated that night as he lay in his bunk. His body was slightly stiff from the sudden exertion, but his mind raced. That little piece of filth wouldn’t trouble him anymore and if he did he knew what to expect.
From the doorway two elites walked in, talking to each other in quiet whispers, one of them motioned towards Raule before proceeding down the centre aisle.
That night Raule slept soundly, a grin never leaving his face.
When morning came Raule strode down to the dining halls, he was walking on air, nothing could touch him. Waiting in line for his rations an unfriendly voice spoke up from behind.
“I didn’t know Haws could fight,” the voice spoke, Raule turning to see the same elite that had insulted him yesterday.
“You obviously don’t know many Haws then,” he said, keeping his voice neutral.
“Orica told me what you did to that human,” the elite continued, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” Looking into the bigger elites face Raule noticed a faint trace of approval.
“I said I do my duty,” he whispered.
“And I never said you didn’t brother,” the elite smiled clapping an arm around Raule’s shoulders, “Name’s Naguzi Coghashu.”
“Raule, Raule Fuaz’”
Naguzi cut him off before he could say Haw, “To me you’ve earned the right to lose that part,” he said picking up two plates for him and Raule. “Here, I owe you one,” he said dropping a lump of meat onto Raule’s plate.
“Thank you,” Raule said, walking away with his new brother.
Oh God, the pain was unbearable. Caleb sat up slowly, his head swam in and out of consciousness, his vision blurring.
“Whoa, lie back,” a voice spoke through the mists. Caleb could not resist and so slumped back against the cold hard metal of his cell.
“Www what happened,” he asked, pressing his hand against his forehead and feeling several bruises across his face.
“You got the crap beaten out of you,” the voice answered quietly, “You’re lucky he stopped,” the voice whispered. Even in his weakened state Caleb could tell it was a girl, it must have been the one from before he thought groggily.
“Lucky,” he finally whispered, “yeah that’s me.” He rolled his head to the side and looked at the girl next to him. Her dirt streaked brown hair was cropped to just above her shoulders, her face showed a history of what she had been through, dirt, blood, sweat and tears all streaked the delicate skin beneath.
“My name’s Ayla Mikailis,” she said softly, looking into his face sweetly, “But everyone just calls me Eli.”
“Caleb,” he replied, “Just Caleb.”
“Well hi Caleb,” she said setting her back against the wall next to him, “So how long have you been in here?” she inquired trying to break the ice.
“A while,” he replied, truthfully unsure of the time that had elapsed since his capture. She just grinned sheepishly and rubbed at her chest. Opening his eyes a bit more, Caleb looked at the bruising beneath her thin shirt.
“Oh this,” she said, looking down where Caleb was staring, “Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. Honest.” She moved her hand up to her face and flicked a few loose strands of hair out of her brown eyes.
“You think we’re gonna make it out of here?” Eli continued, already bored of the drab prison.
“No,” Caleb answered, his eyes shut once more.
“That’s not very optimistic,” Eli replied.
“That’s life,” Caleb retorted.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Caleb trying to overcome his pain and Eli thinking about her hopes for actually surviving this ordeal. The more she thought about it though, the more the boy next to her seemed to be right.
“You have a family?” Eli asked quietly, hoping to change the subject.
“No,” Caleb answered, still not looking at her or anything else.
“Covenant get em?” she enquired carefully, not sure how he would take her prying.
“No,” he answered once more, but before Eli could ask, Caleb continued. “My father was in the rebel forces, he was fighting for the freedom of our colony when the UNSC sent in a strike force. My father died in hard vacuum when some marine big shot thought they would blow the main airlock on the asteroid he was stationed on to escape. He’s still floating out there, preserved, sick as that is.”
Eli winced listening to the story, she never expected this.
“My mum and I were relocated to a civilian settlement here. She started drinking, got addicted to tranquilisers and overdosed one day. No letter, no kiss goodbye. I came home from school one day to find my mother slouched across the sofa, vomit down her chest, her eyes rolled back into her head. I was only six.”
“Woah,” Eli quietly whispered, never taking her eyes from Caleb. He turned to look at her, his eyes looking straight into hers. The blue was a shocking contrast to the darkness around his face.
“I ran away that night from a temporary orphanage. I’ve been living on the streets for over a decade now, more than half my life.”
“Haven’t you ever wanted a family though?” Eli asked, looking imploringly at Caleb.
“I had one,” he answered, “You can only ever have one true family. So, what’s your story,” he asked looking around at the other cells, “Anyone here related to you?”
This time it was Eli who slunk back against the walls, closing her eyes to stem the tears. Caleb was unmoved by the show of emotion, his face remaining solemn.
“By that I’m judging you had one and then it was the Covenant that got ‘em” he followed up. Next to him Eli nodded her head slowly, wiping away at the tears tricking down her cheeks.
“Well think of it this way,” he continued, “Soon we’ll both be with our families again.” Eli turned on him, her face showing disbelief.
“Are you serious! Christ, you’re such a bastard. We’re stuck in some covie’ cell and you’re acting like we’re already dead and that it’s no big deal!” Caleb grinned slightly at her outburst.
“Number one, my parents were married so I’m not a bastard. Number two, we are going to die in here so get used to it. And number three, I don’t care whether I die or not because either way I have nothing.”
Eli sat against the wall shaking her head, glancing between Caleb and the cells outside their own. “How can you live your life thinking that,” she finally whispered, as much to herself as to Caleb. After a long pause Caleb finally rested his head in his hands and spoke.
“I lost everything that’s ever mattered to me. That can throw your life in perspective.”
Eli didn’t reply, she looked lost in her own thoughts and emotions. She eventually moved back over to the far corner of the cell and lay against the metal wall, her knees pulled tight to her chin. Caleb hadn’t moved, his body was half asleep and half restless, the wounds still fresh and sore, though the bandages had helped. A startled gasp from Eli pulled Caleb from his peace, looking up he saw the elite standing before the plasma field, grinning at Caleb upon the floor. Shaking his head, Caleb returned once more to his own peaceful slumber.
“What’s the matter human,” the elite spoke up, its voice jubilant yet quiet, “no retort or insult? Maybe you’ve learnt that you are pathetic.”
Caleb shook at the elites words, yet he knew he could not survive another beating like before. As the elite turned and walked away Caleb was struck with a sudden thought.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered quietly after the monsters retreating back. There was the tiniest pause in his stride, and then the elite was gone from view. Caleb sighed slowly and rested once more. From behind him, Eli spoke up.
“Why did you say that?” she asked softly. Caleb sighed, the old memories he tried so hard to repress, to make himself seem less humane, came flooding forwards.
“Five years after I ran away I was doing alright. When you’ve been out for that long you learn how to survive, you learn not to trust or rely on anyone, you care only for yourself.”
“Sounds kind of lonely,” Eli commented, listening intently.
“My mom always said ‘we live as we dream, alone’. But when you’ve been out that long, you just accept it, scavenge what you can, steal the rest. It’s not pretty, but it’s a living.”
“Anyway, five years in, doing ok, and this little kid came up to me one day. He said he had been moving from city to city, looking for someway to survive. He wanted to partner with me, work together so we could both do well.”
“And what did you say?” Eli asked, already knowing the answer.
“I told him to shove off and make a nice home in a ditch,” Caleb answered.
“You could have been nicer,” Eli said softly.
“I needed to survive, I couldn’t spend my says watching and feeding some little kid. Besides, he took my advice literally. I saw the police pulling his body from a road-side ditch a week later. He had been beaten up by one of the rival gangs in the area, what little he had taken from his bleeding body. That was the first time I had felt emotion since my mum died and I vowed never to let it happen again.”
“I don’t get it though,” puzzled Eli, “What does this have to do with that elite?”
“All he wanted to do was help me, and I as good as put him in another ditch,” Caleb answered looking down at the floor, “what he did to me… I deserved it.”
“Don’t say that,” Eli spoke moving closer to him, “you didn’t ask for that attack, no matter what you said or did it couldn’t of been cause for what he did to you.”
Caleb smiled looking up at Eli’s face. “Thank you,” he finally said.
“What for,” she asked with a grin, “I’m just saying the truth. Besides, that kid was innocent and that elite is…”
“What?” Caleb interrupted, “Just because he’s fighting on the opposite side makes him a criminal.”
“I didn’t say that,” Eli replied.
“But you were gonna’ say that.”
“Why are you defending him, them even, all of a sudden. You of all people should hate their whole race right about now.”
“I just don’t care any more,” Caleb answered with a sense of defeat in his voice, “I’ve got nothing left to fight for anymore.”
“You’ve still got yourself,” Eli said shifting closer to him, “and now you’ve got me.”
“And that’s incentive enough to live?” Caleb asked with a smirk.
“More than,” Eli whispered, snuggling up against him. Caleb drew in a sharp breath as Eli touched his bruised ribs, but quickly pulled her closer to him with his right arm.
“Anyway, you never did tell me what happened to your family,” Caleb spoke softly into Eli’s ear, brushing away her hair.
“Dad was UNSC, killed at Reach. Mom was killed when our group was ambushed as we were moving to the evacuation point. So was my little… so was my little bro,” Eli finished, a small tear trickling from her eye.
“How old was he,” Caleb asked, with actual concern for Eli now.
“Six,” she said quietly, placing her head on his shoulder, “Tim,” she whispered into Caleb’s chest.
“You miss him?” Caleb asked.
“You really want to live, even though you’ve lost ‘em?” Caleb said slowly.
“They would of wanted me to,” Eli replied.
“Wish I could feel like that,” Caleb said.
“Maybe you can.”
“Yeah,” Caleb said with a small chuckle, “and maybe we can get out of here alive.”
“You never know,” Eli said with a grin, “I’ve heard of people escaping from these places.”
“Sure, with the legendary Spartans,” Caleb said nudging Eli lightly, “you really think we got a chance in hell of getting out.”
“If I haven’t got hope, what else can I hold on to?”
Caleb gently stroked his hand through Eli’s hair and spoke with determination for the first time since he had been captured.
“I’m going to get us out of here.”