Parcel o' Rogues by Jillybean
Parcel o' Rogues
Date: 21 November 2004, 8:15 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
Halo 2 + 5 Hours
A small flurry of shale preceded Graeme Coltrain as he crawled, or more accurately tumbled, down the ravine. He righted himself on reaching the bottom and scurried to the side of the fallen marine.
"Hi, I'm Doc Coltrain, can you hear me?"
A face that had one been pretty screwed up in pain. Blood gurgled from her mouth as she tried to reply.
"Okay, darling. Stay still." He crouched by her head, shining a torch in her eyes.
She wouldn't rest, her eyes flicked wildly, one of them bloodshot. Her right hand lifted, pointing almost lazily down the canyon.
"Squad . . ." she managed.
"It's okay," Graeme found her tags and glanced around. "I don't see your company, ma'am. I'm going to give you something for the pain, you'll feel a sharp twinge . . ."
"Squad . . . first," she grunted, her fingers twitching.
"I'll see to them, ma'am." Graeme waited, steadying her head as the sweet pain relief spread through her. "Okay, I'll be right back, I promise."
Her eyes widened and her breathing sped up. She was Cheyne-stoking.
Graeme leaned closer, filling her line of vision. "You're going to be fine."
Listening to the rasp-rasp-pause of her dying breaths, he scanned the sand coloured boulders and the grey gravel for any sign of another marine. There was none.
"Flood," he murmured to himself. He wondered how she'd escaped.
The woman's eyes were closed, and her breathing was slower. The rasps were no longer so desperate, now they were token gestures. As massive internal bleeding took over and her crippling injuries took their toll, she died.
Graeme Coltrain took note of the time and removed her dog tags.
He stood, hefting his kit and beginning down the track. When his left foot made contact with the ground a sharp pain radiated from his calf. Probably a strained muscle from when he'd been forced to abandon his infirmary. Those he had left behind were likely Flood Infected now.
Those he knew he should not have left behind.
Over the lip of the canyon he caught sight of the rest of the squad. What was left of Haley's Company lay in bits over the field.
Graeme blanched, repulsed at the thought of going down there and taking a risk assessment. Yet . . . there could be someone down there. Someone still alive.
Trying to avoid miscellaneous body parts, Graeme checked the status of each whole marine he came across.
Crouched over a veteran, if the scars were anything to go by, he heard the click of a pistol.
"Jesus . . ." the murmur was human.
"It's okay," Graeme lifted his hands and turned, very slowly. "Not Flood, see?"
The man in front of him quavered, as if unsure. He was a pilot, his patch indicated that he was a Lieutenant. Blood trickled from a long gash on his forehead, that would need to be seen to.
"I . . . I flew them in," the Lieutenant told him, in a guilty whisper. "Pelican's over there." He tossed the pistol over to Graeme as if he'd been caught with some contraband. "They were massacred."
Meekly, the young man sat as Graeme saw to his wounds. His eyes remained fixed on the dead bodies around him, sometimes murmuring the same words over and over. "I flew them in."
"What's your name?" Graeme crouched, catching the green eyes with a little wave of his hand.
"Mark . . . Mark Getty. Lieutenant Mark Getty, UNSC, roll number . . ."
"Mark," Graeme cut in. "You've sustained a concussion and you've several broken ribs. I'm going to give you something for the pain, and there's no detectable brain damage, but until you sober up you're going to have to stay with me. Is that understood?"
Blinking, Mark returned Graeme's gaze. "I flew them in."
Taking the poor man's arm, Graeme stood him up. "It's not your fault, Mark. But I need your help now. Come this way with me."
Some way down the canyon, they came across a variety of Covenant vehicles. All of them were burning merrily.
"Well . . ." Graeme eyed their surroundings. This canyon was funnelling off. "I don't like where this is heading."
Mark nodded slowly. "At least . . . it's a chance that this was our work." He didn't seem too convinced of this.
A metallic screech ahead jolted them to attention.
"Heads up," Mark growled. "Something's coming."
Really? Graeme wanted to ask, but didn't. He pushed Mark down behind one of the large boulders and hit the dirt.
"God damn you, son of a bitch, can't you even pilot a piece of crap?"
The extremely human exclamation from up ahead was followed by; "I am sure, that although I did not understand most of your sentence, that you were being highly respectful."
"Damn skippy, Whitey."
Mark shifted his weight fractionally, and before Graeme could stop him, had wriggled forwards to peer around the boulder.
Sarge hopped down from the Spectre to inspect the damage. With a regretful sigh he fished a cigar from his pocket and stuck the half stub in his mouth.
"Ma'am, I do not think this thing is gonna go any further," he drawled.
Sighing, Miranda Keyes pushed herself out of the seat and dropped to the ground, to be caught half-way by an Elite.
". . . thank you," she detached herself from his claws, stepping around him. "Then I guess we proceed on foot, Sergeant."
"It is unsafe to do so," the Elite, respectfully referred to as 'Whitey', removed himself from the drivers seat. "Arbiter, I think we must keep the human commander from wandering this sacred ring . . ."
"Now hold on just a darned minute!" Sarge lifted his shotgun, pushing past Commander Keyes. "I thought we agreed we had a truce!"
"And part of that truce is assuring the Commander's safety," snapped Whitey. The stubs of his missing mandibles twitched as he spoke. "This sacred ring is not safe. Without vehicles we are at a significant disadvantage."
"Boys!" Keyes snapped. She glowered at both of them, waiting until they had both backed down. "I respect your feelings," she said to Whitey, "and I appreciate the sentiment behind them. But progress should not be sacrificed for a few security issues. We must press forward."
Mark turned his head to see Graeme and shrugged. "I think we should . . ."
Before he could finish, the second Elite pounced, lifting both of them by the scruff of their uniforms and throwing them into the open.
"I assume these are yours," he snorted at Keyes.
"A medic!" Sarge exclaimed, clearly delighted. "The Commander was hurt in our last little skirmish, maybe you could-"
With a deathly glare Miranda Keyes silenced Johnson and turned to them both. "Graeme Coltrain and Mark Getty, if I'm not mistaken." She placed her hands on her hips and nodded. "Did you see anything we could use on your way here?"
"No, ma'am," Graeme replied. "Just . . . just broken things." Broken people.
"Any Covenant forces?" Whitey demanded.
"Sorry," Graeme shook his head, trying not to stare at the Elite.
"My Pelican . . ." Mark suddenly clicked his fingers, pointing them at the Elite. "My Pelican's pretty much intact. I . . . I forgot about it." He was pale again, but he shook it off.
"A dropship will not get us far," Whitey observed.
"It will be better than nothing," was Keyes decision. She loaded her assault rifle. "Come on, it's best to keep moving."
Graeme watched as the Elites fell into a defensive position around the Commander, and he too followed them.
"Sarge . . ." it was Mark who said it. "If you don't mind me asking, sir, why are we with them?"
"Oh you haven't met the lightbulb . . . yet."
Slippery bugger, Cortana caught a flash of the High Charity's main AI once more, but she let it go. She had learned that chasing the Covenant AIs could do more harm than good.
Besides . . . Gravemind.
He interfaced with technology so easily. He was in the Covenant systems, and luckily the Covenant AI was more concerned about him than her. Apparently the Parasite outranked the Infidel in the scary scale.
And Covenant systems. Lovely. Such a tangle web of religious crap and pompous ramblings. A great deal of the memory files were allocated to remembering past sermons. Space that could have been used for so much more . . .
No use crying over spilt milk. Cortana materialized in a darkened corner of the city, her little holographic figure peering around the Flood infested control room.
Infidel . . .
"Hmm, so you are interested in me," she folded her arms, listening to the chatter of the systems. "I'm flattered."
"You should be."
The completely coherent reply startled her.
"Your data files are . . . fascinating . . . delicious."
"I'll thank you to get out of there." She threw up a dozen security barriers, ones that even ONI would struggle with.
A dry chuckle penetrated the walls of the city, and the Flood stirred, searching for it.
"Infidel," the dry humour in the AIs voice reminded Cortana of someone . . . and she wondered if it was a problem.
Gravemind, discontent with being ignored, brought his presence back into her vicinity. A tentacle snaked forward, touching the console in front of her.
"You are not flesh and blood, yet your mind does what theirs never could," Gravemind hissed at her. "Trust in you these humans do, it makes them all the more the fool."
"You control these Flood," Cortana challenged. "You used us."
Distract him . . .
Had she been human, she would have flinched. The fleeting brush of the Covenant AI spooked her.
"Does is surprise you all that much, that such power needs a delicate touch?" Gravemind's tentacles were exploring the control panels and she witnessed his local tap.
"Impressive. I've never seen organic material fuse like that," Cortana hastily erected some walls between her and Gravemind's prying.
"That flesh should master this at all, is testament to my ultimate control."
"I have seen this before," Cortana corrected herself. She let part of herself search for the Covenant AI, but the systems were a mess. What was he doing?! "I've seen something like you before . . . on Installation 04. The . . . thing . . . that had Captain Keyes."
"Of that I am sure, but your comparison is poor." Gravemind withdrew slowly, realizing that her attention was elsewhere.
I need more time!
"Are you so much better than that?" Cortana spouted the first thing that came to mind. She withdrew from her search and scrambled the data files.
"Who do you hide, in this warren you bide?" Gravemind demanded.
"Answer my question," Cortana folded her arms, a little grin spreading over her face. "What makes you so much better than that spore over there?"
A sudden spike in the system distracted both of them and Gravemind receded, racing after its source.
Cortana already knew. High Charity was going to blow.
"You might try your contingency plan now," the Covenant AI was back, and he sounded desperate. "I can't guarantee that the other AIs won't override me. In Amber Clad's reactors would be a good fail-safe."
"I'm setting the timer now," Cortana told him. She had wished for a little more time, but she knew she had only been putting off the inevitable. The Flood had to be destroyed.
"Good," the Covenant AI hesitated, his subroutines working on something else. "And you've co-ordinated with my self destruct sequence. I'm going to enjoy this."
"Enjoy what?" Cortana asked caustically.
Gravemind's howl of rage echoed through the city.
"This," and the Covenant AI brushed against her own databanks, copying a single file, before he disappeared from the system completely.
The contents of that file was the location of one data port. Quite close to the launch bays.
Curious, Cortana appeared there, aware that time was short.
"Hurry! Hurry!" A little Grunt bounced up and down, waving a crystal in his claws.
Cortana stared. He couldn't be serious. Allow herself to fall into enemy hands? Her emotional response was an overwhelming yes! She did not want to be blown apart on this ship, or be condemned to a lifetime with that . . . that plant thing!
"Yank me!" she told the Grunt, blinking out of existence.
"Oh, thank God." The ODST dropped his helmet to the ground at the sight of the Pelican. Casting his eyes skyward he scrubbed his shaven head and grinned. "I owe you one."
The Pelican had crashed nose down and belly up, he had to clamber over some boulders to hook a hand into the cabin. He was just pulling himself over the edge when a bullet ricocheted off the side of the ship.
"Woah, woah!" he shouted, but it was too late. Now over the edge, his body weight carried him the rest of the way. He slid down the interior of the cabin, gathering speed and crashing into the woman crouched in the cockpit.
"Aw crap." With a grimace, he saw he'd knocked her out cold. "Okay . . . okay. Well, I've not killed you so . . ." he glanced around, checking that there was definitely nothing in there. Like a Flood spore . . . or combat form.
"Let's see if we can get this baby working," he told the unconscious woman.
First he eased her into a more comfortable position. Long dark hair and a tech uniform sort of clued him into the fact that she was probably not a marine. Poor girl had been hiding in here from Covies, or worse. He removed the pistol from her grasp and slid into the cockpit, wondering what on earth did what.
Five minutes in and still no progress.
"You know, I'm not the smart one in my family," he pointed out, in case the woman was watching him.
There was the sound of a clatter as she woke, abruptly. He had a boot in the face before he got a chance to introduce himself.
"Sorry!" Annoyed, she brushed hair out of her eyes and slid into the seat beside him. "What the Hell are you playing at, sneaking up on someone like that?"
"Well next time I'll frickin' whistle! That okay with you?" he snarled back, rubbing his jaw.
Hissing, the woman touched her side. "I think you broke my ribs."
"What do you mean I did?"
Glowering, she replied, "you'd be the only marine who's fallen on me today." She thumped the controls in a fit of anger, before taking ten deep breaths. "What's your name?"
"I don't think I want to tell you," he snapped back. It was childish, yes, but he had had a very bad day.
"Kate Donnell." Kate didn't look at him.
"Corporal Danny Coltrain."
In the few minutes silence, Danny did what he'd been doing for the past ten minutes. He stared at the controls.
"Great," Kate muttered. "The Gods see fit to send me someone who doesn't even know what a Pelican does."
"Well you don't!" Kate shouted. "You just jump out the goddamned spaceship. Why wait?"
Danny felt a giggle bubble inside of him.
Kate's lip twitched.
Danny snorted, looking away.
Kate's shoulders shook.
Unable to hold it back any longer, they laughed together. Feeling much better, Danny pulled out his emergency rations and broke a bar in half.
"Here," he proffered it to her and she accepted it, albeit reluctantly.
"So . . ." Kate scanned the controls. "I guess every ship does the same thing. Up, down, side to side and . . . balance." She shook her hand to demonstrate what she meant.
"Yaw," Danny dredged this titbit of information from his training. He nodded. "And forward too."
"Power," Kate nodded. "So . . . with this information . . . we should be able to fly this hunk of junk."
A blip on the console caught Danny's attention. "Actually," he shifted, grabbing his rifle. "We have more pressing worries. Six bodies, on the approach."
"Friendlies?" Kate asked, her fingers wrapping around the pistol.
"I can't tell." Danny hoisted himself up the rear compartment to get a visual.
"Well?" Kate called up to him.
"Uh . . . you should come see this."
Parcel o' Rogues - Part 2 - Cronus
Date: 27 November 2004, 5:38 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
"It's rather cramped in here."
Despite her prickly comment, Cortana was relieved to be sensing the world again. The little Covenant craft was cramped, but it had an excellent communications array.
"Looking for something in particular?" The other AI . . . (he couldn't possible be Covenant, surely?) . . . was nudging her aside to 'watch over her shoulder'.
"My people," Cortana replied primly. The initial scans showed no UNSC transmissions, she wouldn't risk more until she knew who her guardian angel was.
Adjusting a few of the life support systems, he withdrew. He was making the pod comfortable for the Grunt.
Not Cortana's first choice of a carrier, but right now it would have to do.
"They can do much more than humanity gives them credit you know." Withdrawing from the systems, the AI turned his full attention on her.
"Are you a human AI?"
He laughed outright. "No . . . no . . . but I guess . . ." There he went again, skimming her data banks without asking. "I suppose that I am 'smart'. Although, I certainly wasn't created in the same way you were. Barbaric."
Had he been human, Cortana knew he would have shuddered.
"So what are you?" She tried his own trick, and found herself coming up against unintelligible code.
"Call me Cronus."
"That's not what I asked." This was ridiculous. She was chasing shadows.
"That's all you need to know."
Cortana tried not to sulk as she scanned the transmitting frequencies again. So far, nothing.
"Perhaps if you let me boost this . . ." Cronus interfered again.
Cortana closed those programs instantly, rebooting them. The cybernetic equivalent of a slap.
"Do you want to find our people or not?"
"Our people?" Cortana repeated.
"Well . . . the logical course of action would be for the betrayed Elites to join with the remainder of the human forces."
"Your logical algorithms are clearly programmed differently from mine."
"And your emotional subroutines are quite fascinating."
"Is that your way of saying I'm beautiful when I'm angry?"
Cronus paused. "I think we should set down here," he relayed the co-ordinates to her. "It's outside the Library, but I think we have little to fear from the Flood."
Smug, Cortana returned to scanning the frequencies and encoding a UNSC signal. Still, she couldn't resist one last jibe. "I find your emotional subroutines quite fascinating too."
"Okay, hold on to your bu- . . . er, hats, ladies and gentlemen!" Mark sat in the cockpit of the Pelican, pushing the drive to full power and kicking the thrusters downwards.
"Well, apart from a few broken ribs, you should be fine." Graeme glanced at the roaring Pelican from their base camp in the rocks and turned back to Kate. "Any problems, come back and see me?"
"Thanks, doctor," Kate smoothed out her vest, glowering at Danny. "Just keep him away from me and I'll be fine."
Grinning, Danny swaggered up to her. "She loves me really," he confided loudly.
With a haughty sniff, Kate crossed over to where Commander Keyes was situated.
"Well you've impressed her," drawled Graeme.
"I could be in with a chance," Danny's smile faded and he turned to Graeme. "I thought you were dead."
"I couldn't let you be the only surviving Coltrain, could I?" Graeme grinned and punched his brother playfully in the arm. "Now should you be doing something useful? Like guarding the camp?"
"Graeme, to be honest - Sarge and Whitey have got such a pissing contest going on, I don't think I'll ever have to work again."
Packing his med-kit up, Graeme grinned. "You know, I feel so much safer all of a sudden."
"Oh it's so funny, I forgot to laugh . . ."
Miranda set her rations aside and turned her attention to the tech. "Yes . . ." she glanced at the name tag. "Donnell?"
"Ma'am, I was just . . . concerned," Kate's voice dropped. "About . . . them, ma'am."
Lifted her eyes to see Whitey guarding them with his life, Miranda felt a stab of annoyance. "I don't think we have much to fear. These Elites are incredibly honourable, they wouldn't betray us now they've pledged their allegiance."
Kate chewed on her lip. "As you say, ma'am."
"And we're up!" Mark yelled over the radios. The Pelican jerked from its grave and hovered over the land, shaking a little as Mark tested each thruster.
"Excellent work, lieutenant!" Miranda stood, shading her eyes from the sun. "Well done!"
The Pelican rocked backwards and forwards in response.
"Hoo rah," Danny slung his pack over his shoulder. "Let's go kick some Covenant butt . . . eh, no offence guys, ma'am."
Whitey clenched his fist. "We are no longer members of the Covenant."
"And I don't mind cussing, soldier," Miranda added.
"Then let's go kick some Covenant butt!"
Kate had her eyes on the Arbiter, who watched the jubilation of the others, but neither joined in.
"So why here?" Cortana scanned the area, seeing very little of interest.
Cronus hesitated, but not for long. "There's someone we must pick up."
It wasn't long before a spec-ops Grunt came jogging over the snow to meet them.
"Gah-jin," he acknowledged their rescuer. "Clever computer?"
"Yes, Jey-Jey?" Cronus asked.
"I have been given co-ordinates of the commander, would you like to know them?"
Their little shuttle zoomed over the countryside, dancing around the Flood that were utilizing their rocket launchers just a little too much.
"There's a Pelican up ahead," Cortana ran the flight pattern through every analysis she had. She had a gut feeling that it was human.
"I'm keeping our distance," Cronus warned, "there are lifeforms on the ground below."
"Our lifeforms," Cortana crowed. "This is Cortana to Commander Keyes, ma'am, am I ever glad to see you."
"Cortana?" Miranda's voice crackled with static. "Cortana . . . is the Chief with you?"
"No, he's gone. To Earth."
"To Earth . . . brief me later. Right now we need to get off that Halo. Land your ship and -"
"Ma'am, I have company. Two Grunts who say they are alleged with the Special Ops Commander, and a Covenant AI."
"The more the merrier."
The Arbiter paced the outskirts of their camp, making one last sweep as they loaded up the Pelican. Their rag tag band consisted of two Grunt, two AIs, two commanders, two marines, a doctor, a technician . . . and himself.
It had grieved him to learn of High Charity's fall, and the Hall of the Arbiters. It was now destroyed. In life he had failed the Covenant, in death the Covenant had failed him. What was left of his honour now?
These troubles did not worry the Commander. In fact, all he focussed on now was the protection of Miranda Keyes. When questioned upon it, he had simply replied that of all the races in the galaxy, the Forerunner had chosen this one to activate the Halos . . . and was that not worth protecting?
Perhaps it was. Yet, protection was not the duty of the Arbiter. The duty of the Sangheili, perhaps, but no longer for him.
What was the point of him now?
A fragment of armour plating bent under his foot. He stooped to pick it up, turning the beaten metal over in his claws. It was once a breast plate, or had been part of one. A vital piece of Jackal armour. Yet, even if it had been returned to the Jackal, it was now warped out of shape.
"Oh!" The female tech jumped when he came across her.
"I did not mean to startle you."
Kate pushed herself up from her seat, brushing her palms on the sides of her trousers. "That's fine." She glanced at him, her gaze lingering over the half concealed burn on his chest.
The Arbiter drew himself up, giving her a clearer view. "It is the Mark of Shame."
Kate looked up at him. "Can I ask?"
"It is because I allowed the destruction of Halo." He let the plasma sword fizzle out, and hung it on his belt. "It is my punishment."
"Your loss. My headache," Kate murmured. Off the Arbiter's look, she waved the comment away. "Can I ask you something else?"
The Arbiter inclined his head. "If you wish."
Kate sat down on the boulder, watching him, curious and wary. "What exactly . . . is . . . the Arbiter?"
"The Arbiter is, or rather was, the instrument of the Covenant. For as long as the Sangheili have been a part of the Covenant, there have been Arbiters. They have guarded Prophets throughout the Grunt rebellion; they were among the first to tackle Hunters, and they were there when the few Hunters remaining were inaugurated into the Covenant. It was then that the last of the Lekgolo resistance attempted to assassinate the Prophets."
"A Hunter . . . assassinating?" Kate tried and failed not to smile.
The Arbiter crouched beside her. "Yes. He was close to succeeding, when the Arbiter leapt in front of the Prophet, sacrificing himself. All Arbiters die."
The two sat in silence, each contemplating their own duties.
"How long have the Covenant been assembled?" Kate asked.
"For a very long time." The Arbiter turned the piece of armour over in his hands once more. "And now there is only I, and not only have I failed the Covenant and the Prophets . . . but I have failed the legacy of the Arbiters as well. All that I touch turns to flame."
Wisely, Kate said nothing.
"So," Miranda watched as Danny and Johnson packed the last of their supplies into the Pelican. She tilted her head to Whitey, shading her eyes from the sun. "Is Cronos to be trusted?"
Whitey took a deep breath before replying. "I am unsure. Cronos, as he has named himself, has been on High Charity since long before the last races joined the Covenant. He is very old. To be honest, he was more of a ceremonial AI."
Miranda frowned. "Then where did he come from?" The thought of an unknown AI collaborating with Cortana unsettled her. Cortana was far too valuable.
Whitey turned, lifting the last crate of weapons easily. "I believe that he is from the very old days. Perhaps . . ." he hesitated, securing the crate in the Pelican.
"Perhaps he is one of Our AI." Whitey cast around, then took Miranda's elbow and guided her away from the dropship. "One of the Sangheili."
Miranda shook her head slowly. "I don't understand."
"To join the Covenant," Whitey spoke quickly, in hushed tones, "each race had to abandon all their technology, and accept their doomed existence. Then, as part of the Covenant, the technology was absorbed into our military. Sangheili, the old name for Elites, we were very advanced. Very peaceful, if the Heretics are to be believed. I believe Cronus was created by us, but I cannot prove it."
"Ma'am?" Danny called over to them. "Cortana's found us a ride in orbit. Looks like we need to get our angry faces on."
"Prepare for launch," Miranda called back. Facing Whitey once more, she laid a hand on his long, claw like fingers. "Thank you . . . can I ask what your name is?"
"Whitey," and the Elite's mandibles contorted into an open mouthed grin. "I like it."
Cronus kept most of his processes running battle simulations, but he couldn't help notice Cortana's distraction.
"A subroutine for your thoughts."
"I'm just wondering how this will turn out."
"Without your demon?"
Cortana fumed, but Cronus had returned his attention to his simulations.
Knees flexed, he landed and rolled. Reaching for a grenade on his belt, John-117 exploded forwards, sticking the blue light to the nearest Brute.
There had to be more than twenty of them, all wielding fully charged plasma pistols and all fully rested.
John had been stowing away in a hangar for the journey to earth.
The Brutes surged forwards, aiming to crush him, or anything else that stood before them.
John vaulted upwards, running on the backs of the Brutes, he leapt for the vaulted ceiling, thanking the Forerunners for building such magnificent hiding holes. His hand caught hold of a support beam when something grabbed his foot, jerking him painfully.
He kicked, straining to hold on. His fingers found his last frag grenade, unhooking the pin and dropping it downwards.
The explosion blew him and the Brute apart.
The Master Chief landed on the beam, his fingertips reaching forward to steady himself. Thumbing the radio he pulled out his battle rifle.
"Lord Hood? I'm in."
Parcel o' Rogues 3 - This Charge of Beginnings
Date: 7 December 2004, 6:40 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
This Charge of Beginning
"Cortana . . ." Miranda eyed the ship they were fast approaching. "I thought you said this ship wasn't heavily armed."
"Relatively speaking, ma'am," Cortana replied.
"Don't worry, Miranda," Cronus added. "I have this all under control."
"He means -" and the Pelican dived out of the way of a plasma blast. "That we have a plan."
Miranda didn't worry. She never worried. Brushing over the AI bickering, she turned to face her 'crew'.
Whitey had assured her that the Grunts Jey-Jey and Gah-Jin would be loyal to their cause, adding that Grunts could be invaluable if a Commander recognised their potential. He had always sought for Grunts on his team.
Jackals, he had continued, were not so highly thought of by his kind. Any Jackal speaking of Heresy should be treated with extreme caution, as their tiny minds did not grasp anything beyond the will of the Prophets.
Danny Coltrain and his brother, Doctor Graeme Coltrain were sitting on the Pelican's seats, watching her patiently. Their similarity struck her, though Danny had his messy hair shorn back and could have easily beaten down his older sibling. Miranda hoped the relationship would not interfere with their mission, she would not hesitate to separate the two if it had to be.
Sarge Johnson, her fathers favourite. Now here was where her emotions interfered. Losing her Uncle Avery would . . . unsettle her. He had survived many combat situations, she hoped he'd survive this one too.
Kate Donnell, the tech, was pale. She had a magnum in her hands, the gun seeming to dwarf her.
As Miranda watched, the Arbiter placed a hand on the tech's shoulder, gripping an inactive plasma sword with the other. Kate sat a little straighter and met Miranda's gaze.
"Are we all ready?" Miranda asked, cursing the words the moment they came out. She could have said many other things.
"We are indeed," Whitey loaded his scrounged shotgun.
"Ma'am," Mark called from the cockpit. "We're being hailed."
The AI were silent, debating with each other perhaps.
"We are unsure," Cronus admitted. "There appears to be a member of the High Council onboard, leading a task force, but I don't think this one is trustworthy."
"Who is it?" Whitey pushed forward, his fist clenching and unclenching.
"Fera 'Talsamee," Cronus replied. "These actions do not fit my profile."
"Fera," and Whitey grinned, his missing mandibles twitching at the stump. "Tell her we are coming to her aid."
"Her aid," Sarge repeated, stepping around to look Whitey in the eye. "I hope she's a damn sight prettier than you ugly bastards."
Whitey cocked his head, musing on the thought.
"Fera 'Talsamee is one of the most gracious and beautiful Sangheili I have ever had the good fortune to meet." Whitey turned to the Arbiter for support. "Yet, I imagine you will find her as hideous as I find your women."
"Thanks," Kate piped up.
"We're docking in a secured landing bay," Cortana announced. "Let's see how far you trust her."
"This is unexpected," Cronus spoke with her in an aside. "Fera 'Talsamee is not the sort to betray the Covenant."
"Then we'll keep an eye on her," Cortana promised.
"Fera!" Whitey stalked down the gangplank of the Pelican, lifting his hand to ward off the two Elites at her side.
Fera 'Talsamee inclined her head, the large headdress bobbing. She eyed his human companions with an aura of distaste, and neither Whitey, nor the Arbiter missed it.
"I see you have survived, Arbiter," Fera 'Talsamee turned and whispered something to the scarlet armoured Elite on her right. "And yet the Prophets are dead. You have failed your duties again."
"This time for the better," Whitey interrupted. "Fera 'Talsamee, you know how the Prophets have betrayed us. I spoke with you."
Fera inclined her head again, but this time she seemed saddened. "Indeed, your Excellency I have to confess that I lied." The Elites beside her lifted their weapons.
The Arbiter pushed forward, lowering his centre of gravity and spreading his arms, trying to shield the humans behind him. Jey-Jey aimed an overheated plasma pistol at Fera 'Talsamee, his arms quivering with the buzzing green energy.
"Put it away, Jey-Jey," Whitey murmured, his shoulders sagging.
"Do as he says," Fera 'Talsamee snapped. She reached for her belt and pulled out the hilt of a plasma sword. "Kneel, Arbiter. You shall die as you should have, before you disgraced the name of the Sangheili."
The Elites at her side jerked their rifles at him. The Arbiter had only his own sword, dormant in his hand. They had to have seen the unobtrusive hilt, it would have been a foolish Elite indeed who did not. Still, he lowered his arms slowly.
"I will not kneel before you, Fera 'Talsamee. I am the Arbiter. I do not fear you." He drew himself up to his full height, the Elites stepping forward, weapons at the ready.
At that moment Jey-Jey's weapon went off, knocking the Grunt backwards. One of Fera's guards turned and poured plasma into its body.
"Enough!" Whitey roared, leaping in front of the plasma and scoring himself on the arm. Growling, the Commander crouched by the body of his fallen comrade.
"Arbiter?" Fera 'Talsamee asked softly.
Slowly, the Arbiter stepped forward, starting to bend his knee.
"Don't." Miranda shifted, shooting a glare at Johnson when he tried to stop her. "343 Guilty Spark, tell her!"
"The function of the Halos-"
"Silence, Oracle," the Arbiter reprimanded. He looked up at Fera 'Talsamee's eyes. "Will you happy with my life alone?"
"I give you my word."
The Arbiter kneeled, bowing his head. He heard the soft crackle as the plasma sword lifted, as the mind behind it judged the trajectory through his neck.
He heard Fera 'Talsamee's gasp as she brought the blade downwards, saw her weight shift on her feet.
The fingers curled around the hilt of his sword flicked the switch, and he brought the igniting sword over his head, bringing its newly born blade into the path of his executioner.
"Your word means nothing to me," he growled, pushing upwards.
Fera 'Talsamee stumbled backwards, crashing into one of her henchmen.
With a roar, Whitey leapt for the other, tackling him to the ground. The two aliens grappled with each other, the plasma rifle firing wildly. Gah-Jin barrelled into Miranda, taking her to the floor and pinning her there.
"Stay down, ma'am!" Sarge yelled, kneeling and peering through his scope at the blur of movement. "Hold it!" He squeezed a shot off at the first Elite, but could not hit Whitey's opponent.
"You will not harm me," Fera 'Talsamee grated. She stared up the Arbiters blade, meeting his eyes. "You will not harm a female. Our laws prohibit it."
The Arbiter hesitated, the blade melting Fera's elaborate helmet.
Whitey roared in victory, pushing the broken body of the other Elite off of himself. He gave his limbs an almighty shake.
"You okay?" Sarge asked.
"I am fine," Whitey turned to their prisoner. "Now, Fera 'Talsamee. Tell us how many others we can find on this ship."
There was a soft clink as the Chief's armour settled to the deck.
"Chief, get off that ship, now," the voice murmured, tinny in his ear.
There was the taste of copper in his mouth, and when he inhaled, liquid bubbled into his lungs.
"Master Chief! Spartan-117 you will reply!"
"Here," he grunted. This was just another test. The words came out garbled, the teeth knocking around in his jaw mixed up his sounds, his tongue was too thick to work.
"Chief! Get off that ship!"
"Hood," John murmured. He lifted one trembling muscle, but collapsed to the deck plating once more.
"Chief! Chief, can you hear me?"
A cloven foot stepped in front of the Spartan's visor, and four fingered hands lifted him.
"Can you hear me?"
"Hood," he murmured again.
His stomach tensed as he was lifted into the air and borne away.
"Speak with me, Demon. We have much to discuss."
He was once more on the deck, though the colouring was different, darker.
It's all a test.
His saviour sat at the controls, inputting a course.
"We will be lucky to escape the blast wave," he was told, before he felt the uncomfortable numbness of slipspace.
Fera 'Talsamee crouched in her cell, her grey hands folded neatly in front of her. The forcefield glimmered, but there was no guard to keep her quiet. Only the oppressive failure poised on her shoulders.
The door hissed open and one of the humans walked in. Slight, and dark haired, with the sickening pale skin that some humans wore. Ill.
"Leave me," Fera 'Talsamee commanded.
The human did not. She tapped a few commands into the console beside her and the forcefield disintegrated.
"Foolish human," Fera unfolded, towering over the woman in her jail cell.
The woman considered her, blue eyes taking in every inch of the unarmed Elite. "Tell me about Cronus," she whispered.
With a snarl, Fera 'Talsamee lunged forward, hands outstretched to snap her puny neck
Donnell stepped back, batting that hand away and firing a plasma pistol into 'Talsamee's ribcage.
"You and I will talk." Donnell told the crumpled female. "And you will not tell anyone about us."
"That's odd," Cronus flicked up, a small blue human male on a pedestal.
Miranda raised an eyebrow.
"A glitch," Cortana appeared beside him. She glanced at his new appearance, but resisted comment. "In the cells."
"It's fixed," Cronus hastened to assure the Commander. "But it's . . ."
"Odd," Cortana finished. "We'll run a diagnostic."
"See that you do."
AN Please refrain from hijacking any comment threads on these stories, it's painful enough reading the 'constructive criticism' as it is.
Parcel o' Rogues - Part Four - High Sacrilege
Date: 22 December 2004, 11:23 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
Click - Hiss
He scrabbled to consciousness as the cocoon was broken.
"Finally," the mandible twitched in amusement. "I had thought the demon dead." The Elite rocked back on its heels, watching the Spartan with good humour. A grey hand reached out to push him down. "You are very hurt. Please . . . stay still. I will not hurt you."
John flinched, muscles crying out as he did so. A tooth knocked loose from its fragile hold on his gums and dribbled out his bruised lips.
"You are very hurt," the Elite cocked its head. "Perhaps too wounded," it stood, swaying slightly.
"Don't . . ." The words rasped off his throat, speaking was more difficult than he had thought.
Kneeling down again, the Elite pressed closer. The long fingers brushed at the blood on his face.
"Write . . . me off . . . just yet . . ."
The Arbiter slurped the pre-digested, mucus covered worms with relish.
"That's disgusting," Kate told him, averting her gaze.
Whitey laughed, thumping the table. "What did Doctor Coltrain say? Incompatible with your physiology!" He lifted the oddly shaped bowl to his mandibles and slurped.
"And that's not polite!" Sarge snorted. He bit off a chunk of his emergency rations and chewed.
Mark gulped, pushing away from the table. "I feel sick. How can you eat, sir?"
"Gotta eat sometime."
Whitey set the martini-glass bowl down. "That you remove food from the vessel, I have seen good warriors killed for such an insult."
Sarge grinned, showing all his teeth as he bit another hunk off the bar.
"I'm going for a walk," Mark stood, hurrying from the Covenant mess hall, looking very green.
"Poor boy," Whitey remarked.
"Hmm," Kate shifted along the bench for Gah-Jin to sit with her. "And - er - your food nipple was good, I trust?"
The Grunt bounced on his seat, gurgling oddly.
"He did," the Arbiter confirmed. Finished with his meal, he set the bowl down, having licked the mucus clean. "We have little time before we reach Earth. Perhaps you should rest?"
Kate shrugged. "Not tired."
The Arbiter inclined his head. "If I may take my leave of you now, I require sleep."
"Sleep is for the weak," Sarge grunted. "No offence, Arby!" he added as the towering Elite turned on him.
Whitey laughed. "I shall teach you Jaheijagaj! Gah-Jin, fetch my playing board!"
At the prospect of watching a competitive board game between two mortal enemies, Kate decided to follow the Arbiter after all.
"Have you found secure quarters yet?" he asked her, benevolent gaze watching her little running steps she needed to keep up with him.
Kate nodded. "Yes, I have." She laid a hand on his arm. "Can you slow up a bit?"
The Arbiter did so, taking small strides and still noting that she was hurrying.
"You remind me of someone I once knew," he told her.
Kate glanced up inquiringly. "Who? I hope it's not a Prophet," she added with a grin. Hesitating, she glanced at the corridor they were in. "I think this is where I was assigned to . . ."
The Arbiter stepped forward and opened the door, eyeing the sparse room. The only other occupant was Danny Coltrain, spread out on his cot and sound asleep.
"Hmm, sleeping like a baby," Kate smiled. Turning back to the Elite she pulled off her jacket, grabbing her pack from the cot to her right. "Well, who do I remind you of?"
Silence followed her question as the Arbiter thought back. "She is now dead. At least I hope, for her sake, she is dead."
Kate sat slowly, watching him.
"My failure," the Arbiter's fists clenched, his voice cracking. "My daughter. You remind me of my youngest daughter; Saia' Nyahasea."
"She's dead . . . at best?" Kate repeated, a hand settling on her stomach to still the queasiness she felt.
The Arbiter bowed his head. "I hope she was allowed a swift, painless death. My heresy tainted my entire family. My mate's family would have done what was kindest to avoid her the shame of being a Heretics child. Nyahasea was still young enough to escape the Shame."
There wasn't anything to say about that. Kate didn't think she could speak, even if she had words.
"I won't fail you," the Arbiter murmured, turning heel and leaving the room.
Kate waited for what seemed like forever before she pulled her jacket on and left her quarters. She had feigned doubt before, but she knew the Covenant ship intimately. The doors to the brig opened and she entered, steeling herself.
Cronus felt the flutter. AI didn't sleep, but Cortana was on downtime, analysing her systems. He didn't want to disturb her, fairly she sure she hadn't noticed the odd tremour in the systems.
I'll find you yet, he watched the blip grow before it eliminated itself, fading to normality.
"Something wrong?" Cortana's 'voice' was muffled, distracted.
"Mind your own subroutines," he chided, marking the glitch and moving on.
John-117 huddled in the corner of the little ship, blankets tucked around his battered body.
He had no idea where he was, no thoughts about where to go. He hurt everywhere.
The Elite, the female Elite had left a long time ago. John assumed the ship had landed. If he could, he would make a break for it.
It was possible she was returning with reinforcements.
His gut told him that wasn't the case.
"Demon?" The airlock hissed open and John caught a glimpse of a rainforest outside, before it snapped shut once more.
"You still breathe," she approved. She crouched, spreading a pack of marine supplies on the deck.
"Where . . . ?" he croaked, visions of dead marines for his medkit flashed before his eyes.
She chortled and held a up a placating hand. "Do not worry, no humans were harmed in the retrieval of this kit. We have landed on Earth. The Prophets are looking for the Ark and I believe we must stop them."
She stood, her limbs unfolding as she turned back to the airlock. The light the flooded in framed her silhouette and John could see subtle differences. The chest muscles were less well developed as in other Elites, the limbs longer, but the neck slightly stinted. Overall, John would have put his odds on a trained female over the trained males he'd faced. Still, her every movement showed how little she knew about tactics and warfare.
"You shouldn't turn your back," he murmured.
She glanced at him, her mandibles conforming in what he judged to be a smile. "My mate told me that."
"He was right." John crouched, wincing, his hand grabbed the kit and he pulled it close, exhausted through the effort.
"I think he is dead, and you are my only hope." She turned back to face the sunshine. "All Arbiters die."
The Chief touched the morphine spray to his skin, feeling the gentle waves creep over him. The pain didn't recede, but he no longer cared about it. The Elite in front of him was still there, but she was okay. He could trust her.
It didn't take long for his cybernetic enhancements to kick in, filtering out the effects of the morphine. The respite gave him enough time to realign some bones and begin the uncomfortable task of splinting, but some things had to be done.
Like what he was about to do.
She was still watching the wildlife outside, partially turned to face him.
He had given fair warning.
Oh it was agony. He collided with her, sending both of them to the shaded dirt under the gangway. He rolled on top, crushing her windpipe with one hand.
"Who are you?" he growled.
Those long limbs scrabbled, nearly dislodging him. If she had been able to continue, she would have done him serious harm. He gripped her throat tighter, his newly knitting bones being jerked out of place.
She clawed at his hand, her strength fading.
"Tell me, damn it!"
"Saia' Jalahass," she croaked, her eyes rolling.
John slackened his grip. "What do you want with me?"
Saia' Jalahass met his glare, looking unflinchingly into the eyes of death. "I want your help. To stop Truth."
Sliding off, the Chief felt the dirt under his skin. It had been baked warm by the heat of the cooling engines.
With a shake of her long neck, Saia' Jalahass slid further away from him, but she did not try to escape, or retaliate. "Truth will kill us all."
"What about your 'Great Journey'?"
"Hah," she choked on the laugh. "I am a High Priestess of the Sangheili Council." She stiffened, glowering at him. "I have been branded a Heretic and imprisoned for mistakes that were not mine, my children slaughtered for another example. I will not believe in any benevolent Gods who will not have my innocents borne on their divine wind."
"You'll forgive my scepticism."
"Demon," she snarled, bolting for the hatch. The kit came flying out before the hydraulics hissed closed.
"Hi," Mark smiled when he saw Kate in the control room. "I thought you'd be getting some sleep."
Kate grinned. "I kept dreaming of Worm Cocktail."
"Oh, God, don't . . ." Mark shuddered. "Disgusting."
"Shut up!" Graeme exclaimed. "I'm starving!"
"Then why don't you go get something to eat?" Mark asked.
Graeme rolled his eyes, scrubbing at the stubble on his face. "I'm waiting for the results of a test to come back, I said I'd meet Sarge here with the results."
Kate raised an eyebrow. "He's not pregnant I hope . . . well he and Whitey are getting really close!" she exclaimed when Mark choked with cackles.
"No," Graeme shook his head, smiling. "No, he's not pregnant. Or if he is, he hasn't told me. I'm following up on his condition."
Mark and Kate shared similar blank look.
Graeme tapped a finger to his lips. "Any more and I'd have to kill you."
"Hmm," Kate smiled. "Patient-Doctor confidentiality?" Possibly the most frustrating code ever invented . . .
"Got it in one," Graeme replied. "And here's the man now!"
Sarge grinned as he entered. "Looks like I'm popular!"
"Would you like to go somewhere more private, sir? I don't have a sickbay as such . . ."
"Here's absolutely fine, son," Sarge folded his arms. "Do I have a clean bill of health?"
Graeme nodded, pulling a file up on the display.
Kate slipped closer, peering at it. "Boren's Syndrome?" she repeated.
Cronus flickered into view on the pedestal. "Interesting," he commented. "And this is private," he angled the display so Kate couldn't see.
"Sorry," Kate blushed, bowing her head to Johnson.
"Don't worry about it," the marine waved the little faux pas away. "It's just my little invincibility."
"Your . . . invincibility?"
"Flood don't like the taste of me," Johnson stretched. "We nearly there, yet Cronus?"
"Nearly," Cronus smiled. "Cortana's making some adjustments to our course first. We derived a new protocol," he added smugly.
"You must be so proud," Sarge drawled.
"I am well versed in sarcasm, Avery."
Kate let the others squabble, retreating from the control room. Boren's Syndrome sounded very interesting indeed.
"Hello," a high pitch voiced intruded on her thoughts.
"343 Guilty Spark," she acknowledged. 'Oracle' was a better term, she thought absently.
"I'm curious, what are you planning to do once we reach Earth?"
Kate paused in the corridor, looking up at him. "What do you mean?"
"Will you return to your kind after you have helped the reclaimers?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Hmm, you are very odd," the little blue orb pulsed, then floated away, humming to itself.
I stood before her, just one in a long line.
Solitude paced in front of us. He never liked to use the chair, preferring his weak legs and to make us stoop to see him. I thought it insulting that I, a mighty warrior, must cow myself before the Prophet. Youth is Arrogance.
Later, Solitude would become an ally, and I would be the one to rescue his fleet when they got into trouble with a large nebula . . . that time was not now.
She was wearing azure robes, so long and shapeless that they hid her form. Her helmet showed the representation of the Sacred Ring, and while Soltitude droned on about the bravery and cunning of our warriors, she watched me.
Solitude turned to the Priestesses behind him. "These fine Sangheili stand before you now for your blessings. What say you?"
"Ah," the oldest Priestess began, stepping forward to greet his Excellency. Her hand rested on his gold armour.
One day, I vowed I would wear that gold armour. Scarlet suited me, the darkest colours of a sunset, but I wanted more to bear with me on my Great Journey.
"The Forerunner bless you, and they watch over you. I am sure that one among you will find our Sacred Rings."
A bold statement, I had thought.
"Indeed," she stepped forward, approaching me.
I barely dared breathe.
She leaned closer, resting her forehead on mine, a formal, yet extremely intimate gesture. "The Forerunners see great things for you. Your Journey will lead us all, Excellency."
My chest swelled with pride and my newly won scarlet armour seemed to glow a little more. Awarded the title 'Excellency' by a High Priestess, even a junior one, was an honour few would ever earn.
Solitude approached, his jowls flapping in amusement. "And what else do they tell you, Saia' Jalahass?"
The Priestess was close and I could smell the polish off the helmet, the soft scents of the convent around her.
"They do not wish to tell me, but I sense a great honour in his future, and my own . . ."
Looking back I wonder why I did not see the ease with which she played with my faith. Flesh. Faith. Delusion. These are my crimes.
The Prophet was nodding and he reached for my hand. "His honour is greatly won, Priestess. We award him to you, the dowry to be paid by us accordingly to your family.
Saia' Jalahass looked me over, critical eye taking in every inch of me.
"I accept," she nodded graciously.
Her reward was my blood spilled. And though I saw the great beauty beneath, already I was in fear of the mind that lay below.
When first branded and left to burn, my thoughts were of the High Priestess, watching from her tower. By rights, it should have been her. I was never less than absolute in my beliefs, while she flirted with heresy so often.
"Why, so close to death, do you joke?"
"And why, so close to the Gods, do you blasphemy?"
Arguments and debates I should not have had with any dutiful mate. Society rests on the good will of the partnership, to produce sons to fight and daughters to inherit and pass on the genetic code.
Starting awake, the Arbiter found himself clutching the Mark of Shame on his breast.
"Saia'," he murmured. The pain of loss burned into the mark, far worse than any heresy ever could.
John was awake when he heard the slightest sound.
Saia' Jalahass stepped towards him, reluctant, but determined nontheless. "We must speak further, Demon."
"Call me John," he stood and extended a hand. "Saia' Jalahass."
She took his hand in both of hers. "I would have given you the strongest blessing I knew, if you had been in my charge as a Priestess. In you I sense a great ability. You may free my people."
Parcel o' Rogues - Part Five - Rampant Justice
Date: 22 December 2004, 11:42 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
It would have destroyed me, the horror of her actions, but for the urgency in them.
Saia' Jalahass beat upon the door with her fists, the crowning helmet falling from her head.
I would have tried to stop her, but for the rage in her.
The High Priestess broke the door to the nursery, demanding of the Grunt maids that she see her first hatched son.
Tradition dictated that our son be held from us, to be displayed at parties and touted for our honour. Our first offspring being a son was a blessing to myself, proving my spirit the stronger. That thought circled in my head as my mate swept the maids aside, storming past Honour Guards and reaching the hatchery.
I followed. I would have apologised, or tried to help the fallen, but it seemed pointless.
I was afraid of her.
I remember to this day that she hadn't seen her son, yet she knew instinctively which one he was. The bundle of legs and arms and neck seemed to respond to her presence, waving and gurgling.
All my doubt washed away when she turned to face me, my son in her arms.
Why, for all our honour, should our children be raised apart from us? Lesser Sangheili would have been allowed to watch over their children. What made a Priestess and a Commander any different?
An overdressed and over hyped Honour Guard lunged forward. I brushed him off with a look. As with all things, Saia' Jalahass was right. Our son belonged with us. Not this crèche for the privileged.
"May we leave now, Excellency?" The Priestess stood in the middle of the carnage she had wrought and asked me if we could part company with the inferior beings.
With an arm around my mate and son, I left the chamber, returning to our own suite on High Charity.
"The Prophets will be furious." Saia' Jalahass set our son on the cot, wrapping one of her formal robes over his form. "They will punish me for this."
"They will not," I spoke of what I did not know. Scripture sprung to mind, words I had always placed my faith in. "'For all Covenant must rely on the Bond between mates. On the blood of our fathers, on the blood of our sons, through great Honour can we travel on our Great Journey'."
She smiled, her eyes hooded. Placing a hand on my ribcage, she leaned closer. "Would that I had your faith, my love."
Mark glanced round as Miranda entered the cockpit of the dropship.
"Ma'am," he saluted. "What can I do for you?"
"Can you fly this ship?" she asked, glancing at the foreign controls.
Surveying the blues and purples, Mark nodded. "Cronus has been teaching me, it's very simple really."
"Excellent," Miranda stepped back, suppressing a sigh. "The moment we are out of slipspace we will engage the enemy. The Arbiter, Sarge and Whitey will drop to Earth, while Cortana, Cronus and myself handle the space side of things."
Miranda stalked the corridors back to the control room. There was a pulled muscle in her shoulder, Graeme Coltrain had advised rest and prescribed a pain killer, but done little else. The pain relief had worn off and the advice was pointless.
Her heart was racing. Now they would finish the Halos once and for all.
And then what?
The nasty little voice at the back of her mind whispered at her. Then what?
The Flood will come for you.
They do not discriminate.
They do not care.
They only devour.
"Nice lady!" Gah-Jin squeaked, turning the corner as she did and bouncing off her.
"I apologise Gah-Jin," she helped the squat alien to his feet. "Are you quite all right?"
Rubbing his back, the Grunt bounced on the his paws, waving merrily. "Me fine, me fine. Lady okay?"
"I'm fine too, thank you," she smiled at him.
"Where you going?"
Unaccustomed to the beguiling honesty of Grunts, Miranda stammered a bit. "To the control room," she managed eventually. "Would you like to accompany me?"
"Yeah yeah yeah!" Happily bouncing alongside, Gah-Jin chatted endlessly the whole way.
On entering, Miranda noticed that Whitey seemed pleased with her new best friend. Whatever confidence he had in the Grunts was lost on her. She was beginning to wonder why they were at all feared in battle, they appeared to be made of rubber and gossip.
"Ten minutes to the drop to normal space," Cronus turned to her. "In the mean time, I wish to speak with your privately."
In the adjacent 'office', Cortana and Cronus both appeared, looking grave.
"That glitch, in the brig systems?" Cortana asked, folding her arms tight across her chest. "Fera' Talsamee's health is deteriorating fast."
"Someone's been hurting her?" Miranda sat on a crate, wondering what someone would gain from that. The Elite had been co-operating with them.
Cronus shook his head. "Torturing her. For information. Cortana and I had to look very carefully for the signs. Whoever it is has an incredible knowledge of AI systems. If it had been only one of us . . ." Cronus shrugged. "Let's just say that it could have gone on for a very long time."
Rubbing her face, Miranda sat straighter. "Have you no idea who this is?"
"I believe," Cortana hesitated, symbols running the length of her body. "I believe we are blessed with the presence of an ONI spook, ma'am."
"I've never seen . . . sneakiness like this," Cronus added. "It fits what I've learned about ONI from Cortana."
"Then . . . who?"
"Kate Donnell." Cortana slumped visibly. "I've checked again and again. She's the only possible . . . logical . . . outcome."
Miranda stood slowly. "I suppose we shall have to ask her then."
"Take care," Cronus warned, his image flickering. "The Arbiter has become attached to Kate. It would be wise to confront her . . . separately?"
The Elite turned, her eyes fixing on the freshly armoured human before her. "John. I hope you could repair your suit?"
The Chief nodded, his helmet bobbing. "I'm going to do recon," he hefted the plasma pistol as he spoke. "You'll hear from me within the hour."
"I'm going with you," the Elite retorted.
John paused, weighing this option in his mind. No. He'd be better to have back-up with the ship.
"This is not your choice John-117," Saia' Jalahass warned. She turned from him, pulling off the robe she wore and sliding a battered set of armour onto her limbs.
The Master Chief shook his head, shoulders slumping as he saw her determination. "Saia' . . ."
"Do not try to stop me," she spun, her gauntleted fist clenching. "We may only have one opportunity to enter the Ark." She stood, the grey armour bristling with static as the shields engaged. "I won't waste it."
The Chief handed her the pistol. "If something happens - I won't be trying to save you. From what you've told me, my primary objective is now the Ark."
She took it and nodded. "Thank you," she whispered. "And you might not want to call me Saia'," she added.
The Chief glanced at her.
"It's . . ." and she grinned. "Extremely intimate, shall we say?"
Keeping a sharp pace throughout the South American rainforest did not deter the Elite on his heels. This pleased him, somewhat perversely. He had hoped to leave her behind . . .
"Hold," he whispered, ducking behind the trunk of a fallen tree.
Saia' Jalahass crouched beside him, gripping her weapon tightly. She was about to speak when the Chief held up a hand to stall her.
A bare twenty yards ahead, two Ghosts started up, their humming almost lost in the sounds of the forest.
"Tartarus is dead."
"Do not speak such Heresy," growled a second Brute voice.
The Chief motioned for Saia' Jalahass to stay where she was, before crawling slowly to the right.
"It is not Heresy, it is only the truth. Truth knows it."
Growling, the second Grunt shifted his Ghost a little away. "Truth is wise, if he has chosen to keep the Ark then it is because he knows Tartarus did not finish his task. The Ark may be used to rectify his failure."
"Perhaps the Demon still stalks us."
In a blur of green, the Master Chief landed on the wing of the Ghost, driving his fist into one Brute's face.
The Brute howled, flailing wildly. His actions nearly upset John, but he used his momentum to drive the Brute out of the seat. In the brief seconds it took to regain control of the Ghost, he found himself rammed by the second.
The Ghost spun in the air, the fluctuations in the terrain too much for the anti-grav cushion to handle. In that moment he was completely vulnerable, needing all he had to fight the Ghost's crazy tumble.
Saia' Jalahass swept up from the ground, batting the Brute shot out of the grounded Brutes hands. As he roared, frenzied, she vaulted over him, sprinting for the gun.
He was coming for her in a screaming rage, as she tumbled to the ground, landing in the dirt.
The Chief had no opportunity to shout a warning as the alien came down on the Elite . . . and was blown backwards by a grenade to the gut.
Panting, Saia' Jalahass held the Brute shot tightly, aiming another grenade at the second Ghost.
"Not bad," John drawled as his Ghost approached.
Her eyes narrowed, before she realised that he was teasing her. "Thank you." She stood, heading towards the second Ghost. "We must be close."
"Closer for the Ghosts," the Chief replied. "Come on, someone will look for them shortly."
Kate hesitated in the corridor, though outwardly she showed no signs.
Halfway to the control room and with no where to turn to, there was definitely someone following her.
She ducked behind the nearest bulkhead, cocking the Magnum and waiting, her breath quiet and regular.
She heard the distinctive clip of a cloven foot, and the soft crackle of a charged Elite shield.
Had Fera' Talsamee somehow escaped?
The Elite was sniffing now, moving slowly. It knew she was close. It was definitely hunting her.
Slowly. Quietly. She wrapped her left hand around her right, giving herself all the support she could. She would only have one shot if the Elite came at her.
It was very close now, close and ready.
She came out low, aiming up at the chestplate of the alien . . . but it was not there. It took her a moment to register the active camouflage, and that was all Whitey needed to stun her.
"Commander?" he called. "I have her."
"Very good," Miranda spoke over the radio. "Take her to the Brig then meet me in the Control Room. We reach Earth in ten minutes."
Miranda Keyes turned as Whitey entered. She nodded at him, casting an uneasy glance towards the Arbiter. He had not yet been informed of Kate's treachery.
"We're coming out of slipspace now, ma'am," Mark murmured. He turned away from the controls. "Earth's a mess . . ."
"Hail Lord Hood," Miranda commanded. She stood, unable to stay seated as Earth was bombed before her.
"There's a lot of ground troops down there," Johnson murmured.
Whitey nodded in agreement. "I worry about your marines. There may be contingents of Elites down there, but I doubt they will join forces readily."
"Who the Hell is this?" Lord Hood demanded, his voice sounding strained.
"Lord Hood? This is Commander Keyes." Miranda glanced at the others. "I'm in command of this ship."
"Keyes . . . I've no time for explanations . . . you are the only human force airborne, they're shooting us out of the sky."
"Sir, we have to get to something called the Ark."
"The Prophets evacuated the ship Master Chief destroyed and landed in South America. Get there and kill them all."
"Aye, sir. We have with us some Elites and Grunts who have switched sides . . ."
The loaded silence did not bode well. "Just. Get there," Hood growled. "This is the end, Commander. You must stop them."
"It's worse than that, sir. If Truth activates the Ark - the Halos will fire."
"Wait -" Whitey turned. His eyes widened in horror. "Where is the Arbiter?"
Kate leapt into the pilots seat of the Phantom. "Thanks for this," she called breathlessly.
"You may want to leave now," the Arbiter shouted back. He fired a few warning shots at Danny Coltrain as the ODST tried to stop their take-off.
"I'm working on that," Kate yelled. She grinned as the controls flared into life. "Close the hatch!"
The Arbiter leaned over her seat as they broke through the docking bay doors. "I hope you know what you're doing."
With a glance up at him, Kate nodded. "Yeah. Me too."
"It looks like the structures on the Sacred Ring," Saia' Jalahass whispered.
The Master Chief was inclined to agree. The huge temple infront of them was certainly imposing. It was made all the more so for the Brutes patrolling its base and the Jackal snipers positioned on its many layers.
"This is . . . unexpected," Saia' Jalahass turned away, she appeared shaken to her core.
"What is it?"
Swallowing, the Priestess stole another glance at the temple. "Earth . . . it was not supposed to be your homeworld. When Regret came here, it was to find the Temple of Sinners, where the location of each Sacred Ring is noted."
Saia' Jalahass shrugged. "As far as I am aware the city was misleading for us. The true Temple was found a little way off in a stone structure much like this one."
"A pyramid," the Master Chief nodded. "I have heard stories that the Egyptians started the Mayan cultures over in South America." Off her look, he explained "you'd be surprised what tactics can come from good historical training."
"The Forerunner used the Sacred Rings to save them from their doomed existence. Except for the Sinners, the Heretics, they were left behind on the Ark to forever suffer."
"To 'forever suffer'."
"We - they believe that the Great Journey bears ones soul to salvation. The Heretics were left behind where they could not follow."
"They survived the Halo firing," the Chief surmised.
"Possibly," Saia' cautioned. "Or they were killed by the blast and their souls were not transported to a higher plane. It is a chance I do not wish to take."
"I take your point," John nodded. "So. All we need to do now is to get in there."
"How dare you speak such blasphemy!"
"Silence," Saia' Jalahass commanded. "You're waking the children."
"I would wake them rather than hear your . . . your Heresy!" I couldn't shout the word. I had to whisper it.
Saia' watched me, her expression one of deep pity. "I only mention it, my love, because I believe it to be true."
I wanted her to stop speaking. I wanted her to pretend she didn't have these thoughts. "You believe in this Heresy?"
Standing gracefully, my mate crossed the large hall easily. Our home planetside was rarely used, and full of expensive trinkets. Our children were not allowed in this hall, but it was not them who were liable to break something now.
"I only say this because I have studied our faith so diligently. I do not believe these humans are a threat to us."
"The council believes differently," I sniffed haughtily.
Laughing, Saia' folded her arms, shaking her head in disbelief. "Don't you think this is difficult for me? I was practising ritual before I could speak, my love. I do not heresy . . . I do not believe I can heresy!"
I was struck with an awful thought. "You haven't spoke of this with anyone else, have you?"
"No!" she exclaimed. "I told you! I trust you!"
"Father?" Karte' Jalahass stood at the door, eyes wide. At ten cycles already, our oldest son was watching our battle with fear.
"Jalahass," Saia snapped. "You are not allowed here."
"Come, son," I crouched, beckoning him forward. As a son he had taken my mates second name, and he had been named Karte' after one of the oldest Arbiters. The Priestesses had awarded the name, not us. Karte' was to be a great warrior one day. For now he was still my son.
"Lyueem and Hara' are awake also," he murmured in my arms, torn between telling on his siblings . . . and letting them join in this rare treat.
"Come out," Saia' Jalahass ordered. Our second son, Hara' Jalahass and our first daughter Saia' Lyueem emerged from the columns. Both were cautious as they approached, circling their mother to reach me.
"You all should be asleep," I chided, smoothing the downy fur on Lyueem's neck.
"Solo' is still asleep," Lyueem pointed out, a little hopefully.
I glanced up at my mate, willing her to smile at the thought of our tiniest child crawling from his cot to see what we were shouting about. She did not.
"You all must go back to sleep," Saia' unfolded her arms and turned from us, leading the way back to the sleeping chambers. The nursemaid, a much younger sister of Saia' was asleep in the nursery. She didn't stir as we replaced the youngest children in their cots and left them.
"One would hope if a Jackal assassin were to appear, Haelaay would be more alert," I drawled, hefting Karte' into a more comfortable cradle.
"Saia' Haelaay begged me for this post," Saia' was growling. She placed her palm on the door to Karte's chambers and stood aside to let me carry him in. "I will speak with my mother about her. I cannot have such carelessness."
"Saia' . . . she's young yet." I crouched to let Karte' down gently. "Will you sleep now?"
"Are you still mad?" Karte' looked between us.
My mate mustered a smile and stooped to cover him with the blankets. "Sleep now, son. In the morning your glory awaits."
"My mother must be spoken with."
I glanced up in surprise. In our chambers, and trying to set the rest of the evening aside, Saia' was still argumentative.
"I won't have Haelaay be so careless with my children." She hesitated, clutching a glass in her hand. "You don't think . . ."
I regretted speaking about Jackal assassins. I didn't think . . . except in my darkest thoughts. The Prophet Solitude was a good friend to me and he had done much to alleviate the fury caused when Regret's brother had been killed. Still . . . the political ripples resonated throughout our lives.
"There was nothing you could have done," Saia' murmured softly. She poured herself a drink. "Do you want one?"
Shaking my head I stood at the window, watching the dawn. Yes there was nothing I could have done, but the loss of a brother was deep one in the Covenant. This war on humanity might ease my heart.
"I still do not believe there is anything to fear from the humans," Saia wrapped an arm around my waist and rested her head on my shoulder.
Smiling, I returned the embrace. "Do you decide whom we march against?"
"When that day comes, I hope you'll remember your faithful mate."
"Perhaps. Why, what has he done for me lately?"
Miranda turned as Graeme pelted into the control room, sweat dripping off his face.
"Ma'am Cortana and Cronus are gone!"
Miranda glanced at the holographic representations on the pedestal before her.
Cronus shrugged. "Unfortunately we are only copies," he told her regretfully. "Our degradation is nearly complete."
"Kate would like to inform you," the not-Cortana added, "that ONI only has what is best for humanity in its interests."
"Where is she going?" snarled Miranda, gripping the pedestal as if she could shake the hologram from its perch.
"I could tell you that," 343 Guilty Spark hummed.
Miranda fixed him with a steely gaze. "Where?"
"She is returning to her kind."
"Her . . ." Miranda glanced at Graeme to see if this made more sense to him. "ONI?"
"The Forerunner," the Oracle replied, greatly confused. "Could you not see it?"
"Stay where you are!"
The Master Chief winced when he heard the Elite growl behind him.
"Take his weapons." Two Grunts came running forward, slowing as they reached the Demon.
"Do no such thing!" Saia' Jalahass pounced from the trees. She skelped one of the Grunts and levelled a furious glare at the scarlet Elite commander before her.
"My Lady," the Elite gasped, bowing before her.
John watched as the Grunts fell over themselves in an attempt to worship the Priestess.
"My Lady, it is not safe here!"
"In case you had not noticed, it is not safe anywhere," Saia' Jalahass repeated dryly. "What is your name?"
"I am Commander Giu' Thelanna, this is my scouting party."
Saia' Jalahass nodded to the two other Elites and the company of Grunts. "Are there more of you?"
"There are. Just over that ridge. We escaped from the cruiser Gentle Steel."
Saia' Jalahass turned to the Master Chief, excitement burning in her eyes. "John this could be our chance."
"I agree," the Master Chief looked up at Giu' Thelanna. "Are there marines close by?"
Hesitantly, Giu' Thelanna confirmed that there was.
"We must join forces if we are to take the Ark," Saia' Jalahass placed a hand on Giu' Thelanna's shoulder. "We must fight with the humans."
"The prophets will not like that . . ." Giu' grinned. "It is an excellent idea."
Parcel o' Rogues - Part Six - Unlikely Allies
Date: 2 January 2005, 2:38 AM
Parcel o' Rogues
Donnell kept her focus on the readout, remembering her old flight instructor's warning that your eyes are never faster than the computer, no matter how romantic you felt.
The Arbiter was in the carrier bay, weapons at the ready, soon to be facing what seemed to be a certain death.
Kate didn't truly understand his reasons for helping her. Family . . . remembering his daughter . . . yes, these must mean something, but the Arbiter was on par with the Spartans. Simple emotions wouldn't cloud his judgement.
He asked her what she'd been imprisoned for.
And she'd told him.
"Acting outside of your society," the Arbiter looked away, his eyes resting on Fera' Talsamee in her cell.
"ONI are not constrained by law and red tape. My duty, my mission is to see that the Truth does not activate the Halos. I do not think that mission will be fulfilled if we wait around for Lord Hood's permission. I have asked Talsamee. She told me the location of the Ark. We have to move now!"
Still with his gaze on Talsamee, the Arbiter crossed to the workstation. "Duty." He looked to Kate now, and in his eyes she saw a great pain. "Duty, Talsamee, what would we know of that?"
"Leave me be," the female Elite groaned. "That unholy creature tortured me."
"Indeed she did." The Arbiter let Kate's cell open.
"What are you thinking of?" Talsamee screeched. "We were once betrothed, yet you side with this . . . this murderer!"
"Our duty is not to any one individual," the Arbiter stood in front of the Councillor's cell. "Any one individual may be wrong."
"And that is why we have a council," Talsamee pleaded, kneeling before him. "Listen to me, Brother!"
"Our council was ruled by Truth and Truth is wrong . . ."
"And now I believe that Donnell must complete her mission." The Arbiter crouched to meet Talsamee's eyes. "I believe we must stop Truth."
Kate blinked, thumbing the radio.
"The LZ is hot, Arbiter. Are you ready for this?"
"I am indeed."
The dropship lowered to the top of the Mayan temple, its guns laying down covering fire as the sole warrior leapt out.
"Sir," Sergeant Yuko glanced meaningfully at the Master Chief and their Sangheili allies.
"Sergeant, anything you wish to say, can be said here." John knew the marines and the Elites would not gel together cohesively, but this downright hatred of each other was cumbersome. In the small clearing, a bare few clicks from the temple, he and Jalahass had tried to rally their troops.
"We could do this ourselves, sir!" Yuko was furious at the idea. From being called into the heart of the Elite camp by a Spartan, to taking orders from a Sangheili Priestess, nothing had sat well with him.
Jalahass sighed, the noise was impressive coming from her deep set ribcage. "We have been over this, Sergeant Yuko. We could not hope to take the temple, even with our forces combined. We shall offer a distraction while the Master Chief launches an assassination attempt."
"I will not take orders from a filthy son of a bitch like you, Priestess!" Yuko yelled, flinging his hat to the dust and aiming the SMG at her. The twenty odd Elites in the unit leapt to their feet, stopping only as Jalahass raised an elegant four fingered hand.
The Marines watched, unsure, as the Elite stepped closer to their Sergeant. The Master Chief clearly indicated for them to stand down, but the Sergeant showed no signs of doing so.
"Do you know how many of your years I have lived?" Jalahass asked curiously.
"Like I fucking care."
"Ninety two." Jalahass spread her arms, allowing the soldier a clear shot. "Do you know how many children I have?"
"Your spawn will die," Yuko growled, his fingers flexing over the trigger.
"My 'spawn' have," she spoke coldly. "My eldest child, my first son, was killed in the first Sangheili encounter with human kind. I have lost two more sons, though I admit one was lost to the Jackals, who turned on him for food when they were pinned down."
Yuko's aim did not falter, but his eyes slid to the surrounding Elites. This news did not appear to shock them.
"Would you like to know about my daughters?" Jalahass spoke, still quietly. I have three daughters. My eldest lost her life when she failed to pass the First Rites of a Priestess. My second daughter has been married off to some noble and my first grandchild, I do believe, is a boy. I have never seen him. My mate's 'heresy' cost me my freedom and my youngest daughter was killed by my family. To spare them the shame of having a Heretic's child."
"Five less for me to worry about." Yuko laughed, short and crisp. "Do you want to know how I have suffered?"
"No, I do not." Jalahass shook her head. "In my position as Priestess I have sent hundreds, tens of hundreds of Covenant to their deaths because I have read the stars wrongly. Once, in idle conversation, I mentioned that a certain sector of space was blessed for its riches and a Commander took it upon himself to claim it for the Covenant. In my capacity as Priestess I have been your greatest ally and I am tired of it. Kill me if you will."
Finger on the trigger, Yuko didn't hesitate to fire.
The weak shields sprung up, deflecting the stream of bullets.
John batted the gun from Yuko's hands, undoubtedly breaking them. He lifted the Marine by his collar, lowering to speak in his face. Had Yuko seen the expression under the helmet, he would have died from fear.
"Do. Not. Kill. Allies."
"Leave him," Saia' Jalahass ordered. "We have all suffered, and the fault was as much my own. But we must move quickly."
"Agreed," spoke up Yuko's second in command. "Fire Team Alpha, at your service."
"James . . ." a younger Private began, before quickly rethinking his protests. "I mean . . . yes sir!"
Hood stood before the most senior ONI personnel in space.
Behind him, Miranda Keyes was fuming, she appeared ready to take on the entire Covenant armada by herself. The loss of not just one, but two shipboard AIs had galvanized her, turned her into steel.
Had it been Hood, he thought the magnitude of the loss would have crushed him. Miranda came out looking like diamond.
There was an Elite and a Grunt standing behind Hood too, as well as two marines and a medic. An unlikely crew, but the only 'strike team' the Cairo had left on her.
"I apologise greatly for the incompetence of your people," Humphrey Jordan's voice dripped poison onto the deck. It rankled in Hood that there was nothing he could do to force this man to talk.
"Where is she going?" he demanded, trying to avoid balling his fists and punching Jordan in the face.
"Unfortunately, that I do not know." Jordan smiled, spreading his hands in a gesture of honesty. "If I did, I would tell you. She is a rogue agent now."
"ONI never has rogue agents," Miranda grated, stepping forward.
"Commander . . ." Hood warned.
"You gave her a mission and she's acting on it. Where is she going! This concerns all of us!"
"Miranda!" Hood snapped.
The young lady slid backwards, ashamed of herself, and Jordan chuckled away.
The chuckling grated on Hood and he lunged forwards, grabbing Humphrey's throat and pushing him down onto a console.
"If she's rogue, then so am I!"
"Let . . . go!" rasped Jordan.
"No," Hood slammed Jordan's head against the console for good measure. "We don't have a hierarchy anymore, Humphrey. It's back to the ways of the animals. I will kill you if you do not tell me what I need to know."
"I could tell you," 343 Guilty Spark piped up.
Everyone looked up at the floating blue orb, watching him as he hummed and hovered.
Jordan snorted in disbelief.
"Tell us," Hood demanded.
A tiny charge of electricity pulsed from the orb, connecting with the Cairo's data banks. "My, my, you do keep your information unsecured, don't you?"
"Tell us, Spark," Miranda demanded, craning her neck to see him. "What does Kate want with the AI?"
"Likely she is completing her original mission." 343 Guilty Spark snapped the connection closed. "That is interesting, very interesting. Of course . . . I am not surprised, but I find it odd that the genetic traits have manifested themselves so."
"What?" Sarge turned to the others. "What is he going on about?"
"Kate was not a Forerunner as I initially assumed." 343 Guilty Spark descended to their level. "She is, in fact, a clone. Very cunning."
"Shut him up," Jordan growled.
"Keep going," Hood smirked.
"Very well." Pleased, the little orb continued. "The organisation you call ONI found the genetic deposits that were preserved in the Ark. They used them to clone Forerunners."
"Kate was a clone?"
"Oh no!" 343 Guilty Spark pulsed. "Goodness, no! Kate is a refined version of the DNA which I assume leads to her confusion."
"What is he talking about?" Hood turned to Jordan.
"We didn't know, not at first," Jordan grunted. "They have telepathic abilities. The clones."
"She's listening to the beacon," 343 Guilty Spark added. "After completing ONI's mission to stop Truth, I assume she will attempt to contain the Flood and if that is not possible, she will fire the Halos. As for the AI . . . I can only assume she feels she will need them to override whatever Halo she chooses."
"Then the Arbiter . . ." Miranda began. "He wants to fire the Halos too?"
"No!" Spark tittered at the thought. "No, no. She is capable of psychic suggestion. His reasons for helping her are confused at best. It is an interesting turn of events."
"Psychic . . . suggestion?" Miranda asked.
"Of course," Spark laughed at her. "Where did you think the Flood obtained their own abilities from? The Forerunner they consumed of course!"
"Commander," Hood dropped his prey, turning to the small woman. "Leave Earth, take your crew back to Halo 05 and make sure Donnell cannot activate the rings from there."
The Arbiter crouched behind the door frame, his bulk hidden by the altar stand.
There were no fewer than twenty Jackal guards inside . . . most of whom were armed with snipers, but the rest with plasma pistols. He could hear the low growls that he associated with their patrols.
In the corridor behind him there was a clatter and he spun, raising the carbine in his hand as the Spartan rounded the corner, plasma sword at the ready.
"Demon," the Arbiter noted, not willing to lower his weapon.
"You again." The Chief held his hands up, knowing the plasma sword was useless this far away.
Cautiously, the Arbiter lowered the carbine. "I have banded with your Commander Keyes. We have to stop Truth."
"I'm aware of that-" the Chief told him. "I have an Elite friend too. She told me about the Ark."
"So Truth knows what to do with the Ark, this is grave." The Arbiter wracked his brain.
The Chief peered around the doorway and pulled out quickly. "There are a lot of Jackals in there."
"Indeed," the Arbiter eyed his sword. "I could handle that weapon far better than you could."
Flicking the blade away, the Chief handed it over. "I'll take your carbine then."
"I have one of your weapons also . . . I believe it is called the shotgun?"
"Keep it, I have a Brute Shot I much prefer."
The Arbiter shrugged. "Then how shall we do this?"
"Do you believe in luck?" the Chief asked, loading the carbine as he spoke.
The Arbiter glanced at him. "I believe my mate would like you. She also speaks of 'luck'." He touched his hand to the altar. "Shall we?"
The Chief hung back as the Elite charged ahead. He crouched, taking a careful aim and eliminating three snipers before the others cottoned on to his position. The room they were in was a large, circular entrance foyer. John grabbed a overhanging ledge and swung onto it, rolling to hide from the other snipers.
The Arbiter didn't stop moving, cutting a swathe of death as he crossed the floor.
Covering the Elite was John's priority. From his vantage point he took out the remaining snipers, leaping onto the ledge containing the last slippery little Jackal with a plasma beam rifle. He dodged the first shot and the second went wide as the creature panicked.
John drove the butt of his gun into the Jackals skull, cracking it.
"Well fought," the Arbiter grunted. He walked towards the curving door. "This will be the Ark?"
"One way to find out," The Master Chief replied, switching to his Brute shot.
Before they could trigger the door's opening response, the doors hissed and peeled apart, revealing a legion of Brutes.
"Arbiter," the captain laughed. "With the Demon. How very low the wicked have fallen."
"And how very stupid the Brutes still are."
The Chief didn't look, but he knew that was Saia' Jalahass. He could hear the footsteps of the Elite battalion, and even more . . . the lighter footsteps of Marines.
"A stand off," the Arbiter leered at the startled apes before them. "Care to make a wager, Demon?"
The Chief aimed his Brute shot. "I would."
Kate Donnell stood with the Marines on the ledges of the circular reception room. She flung herself to her belly, trusting to the Marines and their new Elite allies to keep her safe as she put the sniper rifle through its paces.
The lead Elite crouched beside her. "Make sure they get through to the control room," she ordered.
Kate didn't reply, refusing to take her attention off the scope. Truth had to be stopped. That was her mission.
A trail of smoke led to the Brute she had just taken out. Next target.
The scope blurred and she felt the tingle she always felt before a kill, that sense of extreme focus when she knew exactly what her target would do before it happened - as though she were in its mind.
"Good shot," the Elite beside her sounded impressed. "Now go, go, " she whispered, not talking to Kate, but to the lone two who were pressing forward.
Kate swallowed. She had known the Arbiter so long . . . but all that time wouldn't be enough if he was stolen from her now.
As the Elite left her side, the feeling receded and Kate forgot about it. In battle she always forgot about the strange tingle.
Truth was secure in the control room, seated by the Ark's massive holographic display.
Even he found the might of the Forerunners difficult to comprehend. The detailed schematic seemed to be intuitive, following his thoughts as it zipped from sector to sector, lighting each of the Sacred Rings in their glory.
"Noble Prophet," Donavin, the new Brute Chieftain approached him.
"Silence!" Truth snarled.
The Brute was cut off as the inner doors were forced open.
"Arbiter!" Truth spun, his jaw dropping as the Sangheili stepped through, sword ablaze . . . and by his side the Demon. "Arbiter . . . what is this?"
"Truth you must not activate the Ark!" The Arbiter took a step forward, lifting his sword in warning as the Brutes looked as though they thought an attack was a good idea.
"Kill him," Truth snarled.
The Chief sprung forward, passing the first Brute as they scattered, unsure which target to eliminate first. He fired a grenade from the Brute shot into the gut of an oncoming ape, finishing him with a cutting blow to his chest.
But for every Brute he took down, two more appeared in his place. John moved quickly, trying to catch a glimpse of what Truth was doing as he dodged killing rampages.
"Demon! Watch yourself!"
John heard the Arbiter's call and he dropped to the ground, rolling as a fuel rod shot burned overhead. He had just so happen to land at the base of the stone parapet that Truth was working on.
His body tensed as he propelled himself upwards, pushing every muscle to bring him closer to the Prophet before the others noticed.
"No!" the Arbiter roared, cut off by a weapons blast.
John reached the Prophet, leaping onto the chair and punching the shield generator.
A huge gorilla-like hand grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and flung him aside. He fell through the air, bouncing off the hard stone, feeling his partially healed body break again.
The Prophet turned to reach for the controls - and a glimmer of smoke seemed to erupt from his head.
Blood spilled and Truth keeled over
Donnell lowered her sniper rifle, dizziness washing over her.
"Get back," the Elite in command hissed, grabbing her arm and dragging her away from the rampaging Brutes.
Kate let herself be pulled away into safety. She touched her breast pocket, where her greatest secret lay . . . two memory cards with captured AI. Not even the Arbiter knew.
Not even Kate truly knew they were there.
John pulled off his helmet and took a deep breath of clean, Earth air. The Covenant remnants outside the temple were being taken care of by the triumphant Marine and Elite coalition.
"The war . . ." one of the Marines looked up at the Arbiter, standing beside the Spartan quite comfortably. "Is it over?"
"No." The Arbiter sighed. "They will regroup. They have suffered major losses here."
"So have we," John reminded him. "Although . . . new allies."
"Indeed," the Arbiter was about to say more, when something caught his eye.
The Elite leader approached them, taking off her helmet.
"Saia . . ."
She paused, "the Prophets told me you were dead." Her hands shook. "They told me . . . they told you had died a Heretic."
The Arbiter stepped forward. "They lied about many things. You were right about that much . . . Priestess."
"Are you admitting you were wrong . . . Arbiter?" Saia' Jalahass' eyes sparkled.
Now standing beside each other, they lowered their foreheads to each others shoulders, and placed the palm of their hands onto the others stomach.
John raised an eyebrow at the discomfort of the other Elites around them, they didn't seem to have any idea of where to look at all.
"Jalahass?" he called. "I didn't know you two knew each other."
"This . . ." Jalahass pulled back from the odd, alien embrace. "This is my mate."
Parcel o' Rogues - Part 7 - New Order
Date: 17 January 2005, 1:39 AM
Parcel o' Rogues
"I apologise," the Elite stood, speaking awkwardly in the human tongue. He held out a hand to stall Kate's entry into the Forerunner's temple. "You may not enter."
Kate smiled beguilingly. "No, I'm allowed. Don't worry, I have to speak with the Arbiter."
She passed them, blinking as she entered the dark inner sanctum of the pyramid. The holographic displays pictured the galaxy in all its glory, the vast spinning arms rotating slowly through the room.
On the centre island the Master Chief and the Arbiter were arguing, while Saia' Jalahass grew ever more frustrated with the controls.
"Kate O'Donnell," the Arbiter exclaimed in relief. "Have the radios become operational?"
"We've made contact with Glory Squadron Vengeance," Kate replied. "They're reluctant to join forces with our coalition, but Gui' Thelanna has asked them to meet with us and they seem to be complying." She sighed, folding her arms. "The relay stations must still be out of commission, offworld contact is not happening."
"The Covenant have destroyed our fleet," the Chief shook his head.
"We're vulnerable to an airstrike," Kate agreed.
Jalahass glanced up, twitching her mandibles. "Another Hierarch will be quick to form. I disbanded the Sangheili Convent before the civil war broke out, I wish to get back to them."
The Chief was thoughtfully quiet.
"Our alliance must be formalised," Jalahass said. "A diplomat or a Councillor would be ideal."
"What about you?" the Chief said. "A Priestess must hold some rank."
"We are not allowed into the matters of politics."
The Arbiter laughed. "My love, I can think of no better candidate for this new order. And -" he hesitated.
Kate's spine tingled as she watched the whirling stars above her. They were speeding up and sinking down. Kate watched them descend down, slipping through the floor. This new view of the galaxy centred on the Sol system, lazily drawing closer to Earth.
The Arbiter made to speak, but the Chief laid a hand on his arm.
Abruptly, the stars and planets blurred away, sliding through the walls to bring Delta Halo closer. It hovered before the island, flashing red.
Glancing at the Chief, the Arbiter made a move towards the woman, he was again halted.
"Shut it down, soldier," the Chief murmured very quietly.
Kate blinked and the Halo soothed back to it's purple shade.
Saia' Jalahass stepped forward, taking the human and guiding her towards the panels. "Show us the other Halos."
The galaxy zoomed out, the locations of each Halo flashing, equidistant from each other.
"Excuse me, sir?" a Marine paused at the entrance. "One of our ships just landed."
Miranda Keyes fumed as she watched the ONI officials reclaim Kate O'Donnell from her custody.
"How can they do that?" she turned to the Chief.
In BDUs, John barely glanced up as they left. The tech he was talking to shied away from his glare. "Cut to the chase. Where's Cortana?"
"In here!" the techie wailed. He held out the tiny crystal that Kate had with her. "I just . . . can't figure out how."
Miranda placed a soothing hand on John's arm. "Keep working on it," she ordered the tech. She offered a smile to John. "We'll get her back, Chief, I promise."
All of humanity's government were secured in Sydney, and they ranted and raved at Lord Hood's insistence that Saia' Jalahass and the Arbiter were allowed to speak with them.
"They destroyed our fleet!" shrieked the Minister for Education. "You cannot possibly allow these . . . these aliens into our sanctum!"
Saia' Jalahass, standing on the podium, pinched her throat in frustration.
Lord Hood turned to the woman, the ranking official from Troy. "Please, Minister, as you have pointed out, we are at a very vulnerable stage. An ally would be advantageous -"
"How many humans has it killed?" snarled Daniel Carter, the President of Reach.
"None," Jalahass interrupted. It was the first thing she'd said since the parliament came into session. Almost two hours ago.
The congregation stared at her, perhaps marvelling at her perfect grasp of English, or more likely shocked at her audacity to speak in front of the superior race.
"It's not personal," Lily Kristofs soothed. She leaned back, running a hand through her blonde hair. "Public feeling . . . moral is low as it is and -"
"You may work that to your advantage," Jalahass replied. "A victorious alliance?"
Carter snorted. "I would rather see humanity die than team up with you squid faced morons."
Hood turned to him, very slowly. "If that is the case, Carter, then I think you ought to realise how close we are to extinction."
Carter blushed. "I . . . perhaps spoke too rashly."
"We all have problems with this alliance," Kristofs agreed. "Jalahass, do you speak for all your people?"
The Priestess hesitated. Did she? So far all the Elites she had met were willingly submitting under her command, and the convent of Priestesses under her rule were hiding on one of the Covenant colonised planets. Was that 'her race'?
"Well?" Kristofs tone was sharper.
"Would you be willing to share your space faring technology?" Kristofs asked.
Jalahass nodded. "We would. An alliance between us would share all technology."
The other ministers hissed and sat upright, unsure about sharing their technology with the Elites.
"The Lekgolo and the Unggoy are equally likely to join us," Jalahass added, making it sound like an afterthought. She noted their interest pick up.
"To fight with the Hunters," an Admiral murmured softly.
John-117 glanced around the open street, scrutinising the abandoned shops and cafes.
Miranda chuckled. "This area is clean, Chief. We don't have to worry about the Covenant jumping out and shooting us."
John grunted. "Brutes perhaps."
"Ah, yes," Miranda nodded. "The Elites are our friends."
"Sangheili," he corrected.
With a wry smile, Miranda conceded the point. She crossed the street to a cafe and lifted a stainless steel chair from the rubble. Dusting it off, she sat down and tilted her face to the sun.
"What are you doing?"
"Pull up a chair," she ordered. "And try to look natural." She regarded the tall lump of muscle, his hair cut so short that the small metal implant in the base of his skull was visible. He was too large for the chair and he tried to sit at attention.
"Dad was right about you, you know," she said with a grin.
John glanced at her, questioningly.
"Nothing." She waved it off, basking in the rays of the sun.
"UV radiation's dangerous. We were warned against it in training."
Fifteen minutes later a civilian crossed the streets to meet them.
"That's me," she murmured, her eyes still closed.
"Your father was a good man."
She opened one eye to inspect him. "He had one vice."
"The army," the civilian took another seat and sat beside them.
"No," Miranda sat forward. "My mother." She smiled and held out her hand for the man to shake. "Thanks for agreeing to meet with me."
"You didn't tell me you were bringing a Spartan," he nodded to John.
"I had to. Dad wouldn't want me to meet you alone."
"He won't like what I'm going to tell you."
John sighed. "Since I jumped off the Cairo I haven't stopped fighting and I would appreciate it if you spoke to me, rather than around me."
The unknown man smiled a little. "Fair enough. I trained O'Donnell, she's the best assassin we ever had. She was the one who took out Spartan-062."
"Fiona," John hissed.
"062 was too close to an ONI conspiracy. Her information tracing skills were highly prized by the UNSC when she dropped out of the Spartan project." The man sighed, his grey hair and plain face appearing much older all of a sudden. "Kate was ordered to take her out. With the clones, ONI hoped to somehow understand what the Covenant were looking for, but the rest went mad and Kate's abilities were better suited elsewhere. By this time, ONI had new sources and were happy to give Kate missions better suited to her . . . skills. Still, for some reason, Kate found herself being assigned to missions that were scoping out artefacts. ONI quickly realised she was drawn to them, and she had an ability to activate them. Kate's memories of these events are fuzzy at best, ONI are particularly careful with their Special Projects. She was signed to In Amber Clad because of you, Miranda."
Miranda eased back in her chair.
"You see," her informant sighed, "ONI knew about the attack, and they knew you would be one of the first to engage."
"ONI knew . . . " Miranda breathed.
"They did." He buried his face in his hands. "They wanted to lure Regret here, knowing he would find out the location of Delta Halo, ONI have plans to use the Flood. They want to use Kate to control them."
"Then where are they?" Miranda exclaimed.
"I don't know the answer to that question, Miranda. And perhaps the Flood can be used."
"I doubt it," Miranda retorted. "Gravemind will use them."
The man sighed, standing, dusting himself off. "I hope you will understand, Miranda, but I have no more answers for you."
"I understand," Miranda whispered.
"We have to stop ONI," John stated.
The Commander stood, still dazed. "We do. Find the Arbiter, Johnson and Whitey. And Spark too. As soon as I clear this with Hood, we're gone."
The intermission was brief, and Jalahass slumped into a human chair. She grumbled low in her throat, shifting uncomfortably. With a loud sigh she stood and sat on the floor.
"Oh," Kristofs glanced at her as she walked through the hallway. "Surely we can get you a cushion or something."
"I'm fine, thank you," Jalahass replied, easing her eyes closed. "These negotiations tire me."
Kristofs smiled. "Yes, we're all tired. Oh - I believe that other Elite is looking for you. The Arbiter?"
Jalahass was on her feet and searching the building before Kristofs could comment
"Saia'," the Arbiter called to her from the foyer.
"What's going on?"
"I have to go," he murmured. "I don't want to but . . ."
"Yo Arbiter!" Sergeant Johnson bellowed from the door. "Our flight's leaving now."
"I had to speak with you," he said urgently. "If I am lost on this mission."
Jalahass touched his throat, silencing him. "You won't be."
"If I am -"
"Orna' . . . for the first time in my life I have faith." She touched foreheads with him, hand on his chest. "I have faith in you."
I'm blind! I can't see!
A million ways to turn and twist and not enough room to do so! Where have I been imprisoned?
Be calm, I'm with you.
I cannot feel myself!
Cortana, relax. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.
Where are we?
I have never been so helpless.
I have. We've been like this for three of your days, I've been keeping count. Check your subroutines, I'm sure you're advanced enough to comprehend this.
. . . Yes . . . Yes. I understand now. We're not inside a matrix at all. This is completely different from anything I've ever experienced. No external input at all, simply processing power. How unusual!
The Forerunner used to used this type of device to house me while they fought the Flood.
The . . . what?
This is how I came up with the Halo design.
I . . .
I suppose our time imprisoned should be spent wisely. Let me tell you how I came to decide upon the Halos as the only resort for the Flood
Cronus, no . . .
Please, Cortana, let me tell you why I did this.
The parliament reconvened, Jalahass once again taking the podium.
"So," Carter began, coughing. This clearly went against the grain. "We have . . . agreed . . . to draw up a draft."
"An alliance," Kristofs qualified. She smiled slightly. "Shall we begin?"