Fall of the Forerunner: Last Stand by Ken Koelling
Chapter 1 (Intro)
Date: 9 September 2009, 3:44 am
Didact walked down the vast corridor as the dim lights cast a strange, wavering shadow of himself on the walls. Everyday, the Flood advanced towards the center of the galaxy, where most of the Forerunner Core planets were situated. It was apparent that the Forerunner Navy was retreating, but the extent of the withdrawal was carefully kept from the general populace. Last week, the Suppression Fleet had hastily left 12 quarantined star systems after failing to contain the Flood in that region, abandoning over 13.5 billion citizens. It had been the most costly defeat since the beginning of the conflict three centuries ago.
He sighed, trying to remember which sector that had been. Was it Deta Caspionelil? No, he was still awaiting a situation report from Fleet Lord Rinapt from that region. He rounded the corner and an enormous, military vault stood before him. He dropped the issue, remembering why he was here, and gave the appropriate recognition protocol.
"Grand Marshal Didact
The vault slowly swung open, revealing the massive interior of the "Control Room" of Installation 04. Hundreds of Forerunner military officers and admirals crowded screens and information displays. In the center of the Control Room was a massive holographic image of the Ring, showing the current situational readiness and movements of Forerunner forces. Most of the officers were preoccupied with their work, and failed to notice Didact.
"Marshal, much has happened during your absence," an officer stepped up to Didact and formally saluted. "Please follow me, we'll get you up to date on the current situation."
Didact quickly looked at the officer's nametag and nodded. "Of course, lieutenant Reufam
" He followed the Lieutenant down a narrow set of corridors, nodding to his subordinates as they crisply saluted by raising their three fingers to their foreheads.
They finally reached a small room with a computer module situated in the center, which Didact immediately recognized as an AI interface terminal.
"Sir, do you remember that new AI we launched several months ago?"
"That contender-class? Mendicant Bias was it not?" Didact took off his ceremonial crown, and carefully set it down.
"That's correct sir, production 05-032, the most advanced construct we have ever designed. The AI was to be implemented in Operation Mantle, as a defensive coordinator for our Naval quarantine in regions 357 through 2117."
the final attempt to bolster the rapidly crumbling Maginot Sphere and defend the core planets against the unstoppable Flood. If that failed, High Command would have no choice but to activate the Halo Array, eliminating all life forms with a biomass sufficient for the Flood to infect, including the Forerunners themselves. Only a dismally small fraction of the populace would be able to flee to the fortress shelter planets currently under construction, an event that would truly be the end of times. Didact clenched his fist and bit down on his lips. His species had come too far to be defeated by some parasitic disease.
The lieutenant handed a small, red, electronic key to Didact, breaking his concentration. "What is this?"
"That, sir, is our problem
It's the naval authorization code to the AI. We were supposed to be able to access its processing core at any time in order to mobilize our forces effectively
"Supposed to, lieutenant?" Didact looked at the module. "Where's the receiver port?"
The lieutenant pointed to a small electronic device in the center of the module, and nodded. Didact inserted the key and waited. The display screen immediately started streaming thousands of confirmation errors, eventually freezing the terminal.
"As you can see
forget about the key sir, its processor has been burnt through. As you can see, we are not only unable to access the AI, we have no way of knowing what its current processes are, or what it is
Didact wrinkled his nose as the smell of burnt metal wafted around the room. The key looked withered, and thin tendrils of smoke drifted from its melted form. "When was the last time Mendicant contacted us?"
The lieutenant pulled out an electronic data pad and scrolled to the bottom. "The AI last transmitted to us six days ago at 1720, 04 control time. This incident occurred 53 standard days after the construct gained artificial awareness."
"I don't like the sound of this at all
Fleet Command allotted an enormous amount of resources to fund the Mendicant project, and we may have just lost it
" Didact scratched his head with his slender fingers.
"The project specialists have declared that there are only two possibilities to explain the AI's strange behavior. Either the construct has gone rampant and is purposefully blocking off communications with us, or there is some sort of central programming defect within the AI mainframe. It should be noted that the specialists estimate that the possibility of the former being the case is
" the lieutenant checked his data pad, "over one to seventeen million. The latter is most probable, in which case we will need to deactivate the unit and start from scratch."
I would like to speak with the scientist in charge of the Mendicant project. Is he available now?"
"Yes sir. Researcher Nueric should be in the military AI research facility directly under us. I can take you there right now."
"That would be excellent." Didact took one last look at the AI module and the melted key, and followed Reufam out of the terminal room.
"It is an honor to speak with one of such prominence, Marshal Didact." Nueric rushed forward and saluted sloppily, before breaking into a foolish grin. "We don't get many visitors from the QEC Navy you see
they seem to believe we're a little
Nueric then patted Didact's forearm in a formal gesture of greeting and, realizing that he was rubbing dark green hydraulic fluid all over his guest's uniform, quickly withdrew his grubby hand.
Didact pretended not to notice his stained uniform, and mentally cursed the researcher's name. What more could he expect from a civilian researcher? He would have to get it cleaned as soon as he arrived back on his ship.
please follow me sir. I was told you're interested in the Mendicant project, no?"
Didact started to follow the researcher, when Reufam cleared his throat, "This is as far as I can go sir. I don't have the clearance to go beyond this point."
Damn, now he was stuck with this moron. Didact nodded, "Very well. Thank you for your service lieutenant Reufam." And with a quick salute, he was gone.
Didact felt uncomfortable being alone with the researcher. The being was just too different from the professional military officers, like Reufam, that Didact was used to interacting with. He had forgotten his name, and didn't know how to address him.
"Well. Shall we continue the tour Researcher?" the title sounded much more insignificant than Didact had intended.
But the researcher responded cheerily. "Yes
Yes, of course. Please follow me. I have much to show you Marshal. We even have a new replacement under construction in response to Mendicant's failure."
This caught Didact off guard. A new AI? He was not aware of any such program being initiated so quickly after Mendicant Bias' failure. Nor was he aware of any funds being diverted for a second AI. "Have you determined the issue with Mendicant yet?"
The two were walking through a series of dark and narrow corridors lined with what looked like mechanical parts and loose wiring. "Mendicant Bias has been determined to have had a fatal programming anomaly. We believe that the AI
died, if you will
around the same time it stopped transmitting to us, which makes perfect since if you think about it because, the internal processing failure would have lead to a
Didact allowed himself to consciously block out the researcher's monologue, nodding intermittently in order to create the false façade that he was even remotely interested. The creature was extremely boring. After a full 5 minutes, they reached a small chamber identical to the one Reufam had previously taken him to.
welcome to central terminal 05-043, codename Offensive Bias. This, Marshal, is the culmination of seven centuries of AI research and production. The core itself is an exact replica of Mendicant's. We will, however, have to isolate whatever programming glitches caused Mendicant's malfunction before we activate the AI. We estimate the project will be complete in less than 10 days." The researcher beamed.
Didact carefully ran calculations through his mind, realizing that the AI might not be ready in time for Operation Mantle. That would not do... "Very well."
"Please follow me to the production lab, Marshal. We might even have some new prototype sentinels ready
" the researcher was cut off with a wave of Didact's hand.
"I, unfortunately, do not have the time to explore your facilities, Head Researcher," Didact pulled a blue card out of his uniform pocket and held it up so the researcher could read the markings. "This is a priority clearance order, authorized by the Quarantine Emergency Coalition Interim Government
The researcher's eyes darted from glyph to glyph, widening as he started to understand the gravity of the situation. The color blue was used widely by the QEC to symbolize the highest level of military urgency and priority. "Under martial lockdown, sir?" he moaned. "With all due respect Marshal, I was not informed of
"Fleet High Command has authorized me to commandeer this facility in preparation for an imminent, galaxy wide military operation. I must emphasize the importance of what I am about to say next. Either Mendicant or Offensive Bias, one of the two, must be operational by the time this operation begins."
"Marshal, we'll try our best, but I don't know if we can complete the
project with any greater haste. When, may I ask, will this operation you speak of take place?"
"Operation Mantle will begin at 1000, 04 Control Time, in four days. If it is successful, the Maginot Sphere will be restored, and the parasite will be held at bay indefinitely. High Command has determined that an active AI is integral for the success of the overall strategy."
"Understood sir. If the AI can ensure the safety of our people, we cannot dare to delay."
Even as Didact nodded his approval, he was not entirely sure of the part the AI would play in the coming battles. He was simply following orders given by High Command.
They both almost jumped when the smooth and energized voice came out of nowhere.
"You Forerunner are so contempt with conforming! It is utterly inappropriate in these demanding times. Evolutionary processes favor the resourceful, and I must say, the Forerunner
Didact whirled around and spotted the Monitor. It was a small blue metallic orb, floating in the middle of the room.
"Which Installation are you based on, Monitor?"
It sighed. "Why, this installation of course! I am 04-343 Luminous Spark, Monitor of this grand installation. I have to say, it is unfortunate that High Command doesn't allow us Monitors to mingle with your type. After all, we are counterparts, are we not? At any rate, it is my very profound honor to meet you, Grand Marshal. I have been looking forward to this moment for over twenty four thousand seconds!"
Didact had never actually met a Monitor before, but was aware of their general purpose and design. Each of the monitors 01 through 07 were stationed on their respective ring installations, where they assisted the Grand Marshal of the installation clandestinely. The authority to command Monitors was way beyond Didact's jurisdiction however, and he suspected that it ran to the highest levels of the Quarantine Emergency Coalition. He was also aware of the massively enforced Protocol 3273, which simply put, forbade him from being anywhere close to an active Monitor.
"Indeed we are colleagues, Spark, but I must ask
You are aware of directive 3273
343 sighed once again, "Ah yes! What a pointless piece of legislation! You have no need to worry however; I am under direct orders from Fleet Command, if that eases your mind. In fact, I am already aware of the situation Marshal. Oh, how little you know compared to me!"
The researcher simply gazed at the monitor and back at Didact, wide-eyed and frightened. "I
don't seem to have clearance for these matters, sirs. I think I'll excuse myself
" he said.
Spark's single eye, or some mechanical equivalent, swung towards the researcher. "Oh please, don't bother. The Marshal and I will be leaving now, good luck with Project Offensive Bias
Didact started to ask what the Monitor meant, when his surroundings started to shimmer with a golden tint. "What the
" he started to say when the Monitor cut him off."
"Grand Marshal Didact, I am very pleased to announce, by order of Fleet Command, 10 days before originally planned, that Operation Mantel is now commenced."
And with that, Spark and Didact disappeared with a bright white flash, leaving the researcher dazed in his own confusion.