Taker of Life, Giver of Death by Ian Barnes
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Prologue: The Faux Pas of Life
Date: 17 May 2002, 1:33 am
among the Devils once again, their pathetic soldiers would be no match for his dreaded Qal-Et-Hada.
››› Warriors of God.
››› His minions were perfect. Their reaction times were instantaneous. They could almost react before an event. Almost prescient. His latest 'batch' of soldiers had developed even better than he had hoped. They would live for an indefinite amount of time. They had the strength of fifty Devils. They cared not for pain.
››› Zerr's abilities began to wear off, and he popped in another capsule of neron. No, the Devils would stand no chance. He had not visited Humanity in centuries, but he knew. The neron was a treasure of the universe. No event or action was hidden from him. No secret or knowledge too complicated. While he was not genetically engineered, he was the epitome of a supreme being.
››› Closing his eyes once again, Zerr deleted the DNA strand he had been working on. A life, although a mutated one, was gone.
››› Ye giveth, and Ye taketh.
››› Opening a blank triple helix, Zerr began choosing bases. Ten of them in all to choose from. God had shown who was the supreme race. The Devils had only four bases. They could never engineer the marvels he had accomplished, no matter how advanced they became. The more combinations, the more traits you could produce.
››› Slowly, his DNA molecule built, as his supernatural abilities allowed him to see his product. He coded for only the traits he wanted. Speed, agility, strength, resilience; the list went on. He would code for the less important things later: Organs, skin, personality. He wanted his troops to serve one purpose. They had no reason to be caring, or giving. They had to be almost mindless if they were to do his bidding. Working for several more hours, Zerr finally completed his being, and began the replication process.
››› Yes, this one will be more than perfect.
››› Zerr had coded for an unusual amount of Huren metal to be used in the replication process. The Devils may be evil, but they were not stupid. Not only would his warriors be perfect in combat, they could not be killed easily.
››› Each bone was completely coated with the Huren. The bones would not break. Even vital organs that did not have to expand and contract had been coated to reduce the risk of having organs ruptured in combat.
››› Logging off his terminal, Zerr stared at the replication tank. A normal Covenant would not see it, but he did. His vision was unprecedented. Four cells, and dividing quickly. It would take several hours to complete his creation, then his cloning machine would take over, and replicate the same being a hundred fold.
›Until then, Zerr would go outside, and be with his beloved people. That wasn't entirely true. He loved his people, but they obeyed him only out of fear.
››› The Master of Life could do many things.
››› All non-synthetic children had to be cleared by Zerr himself. Typically, subjects would make requests, and Zerr would create a being following those requests. Otherwise, Zerr decreed his want to examine the conceived infant, and would correct any genetic mistakes if the parents wished it.
››› It was here that Zerr had his greatest triumphs. Once given the embryo, he could take his revenge if a family had displeased him. Zerr would alter the infant's DNA, creating horrible defects. Limbs in the wrong places, limbs on backwards, infant with no limbs at all, no mouth or eyes. The list went on.
››› When the infant was full grown, he would return it to the parents. Although, he had done no such thing in centuries. At the start of his rule, he had performed many such corrections. No one had questioned him after that, not when he commanded the mightiest army in existence, the Qal-Et-Hada.
››› Powering up his shields and turning off his hover-belt, Zerr walked outside, and patted the dual-bladed knife at his side.
›Popping yet another capsule of neron into his gaping mouth, the events of today, tomorrow, and the next one hundred years opened up to him.
››› Zerr frowned. He so disliked killing. He'd much rather capture the offender, make multiple copies of the criminal, then watch the multiples of that one person slaughter each other. Zerr smiled, he enjoyed his twisted mind more than he should.
››› Walking down a street paved in glistening metal, Zerr stared into the afternoon sky. The neighboring sun loomed overhead, emitting blue light down to the planet's surface. Many warriors, Elites, walked down the streets, mumbling to each other, or walking alone. Those Elites were God-Children. Conceived by two parents. He had been like them once. He was once an Elite. But no longer. He still retained the same build as an Elite. But everything about him was different. His internal chemistry had been changed, almost beyond his own understanding.
››› Ah, the magic of neron.
››› The God-like substance had kept him alive for almost three centuries, and would continue to do so for many more. He understood nothing about the substance, only that it was the only thing holding his aged body together, even though he looked to be amazingly young.
››› All forays into the chemical make-up of neron had failed miserably. Zerr had no idea how the substance worked, only that it did.
››› Continuing down the street, Zerr spotted a large Elite headed straight for him. Not one of his creations. As he walked, his gaze never broke from Zerr.
››› The Master sighed, and played the unsuspecting fool. Although he was not engineered, no one could defeat him in combat. He knew what his opponent would do even before his opponent did. The Elite passed Zerr, then stopped, turned and followed the Warlord.
››› The Master tapped the dual-knife at his side, and spun to face his stalker. The Elite was surprised, but struck immediately. Zerr, threw up one hand before the Elite even threw the punch.
››› As if things were moving in slow motion, Zerr saw the energy blade clipped to the Elites belt.
›He won't even have time to touch it.
››› In the blink of an eye, Zerr hefted his dual-knife and lashed out.
››› Deceit and treachery.
››› Zerr knew the Elite believed the blade would harmlessly bounce off his shields. Zerr wasn't that stupid. As the blade flew forward, it connected with shields, and an EMP was emitted, shorting out the Elite's shields. The knife kept going, penetrating deep into the Elite's neck.
››› Withdrawing, Zerr made sure to keep the blood on the knife. He would use it later.
››› They don't understand what I am, after all these centuries.
››› Zerr had put down dozens of assassination attempts in the past three hundred years. None of them ever came close. Someday, they will learn.
Zerr walked off shaking his head, pretending nothing had happened, as astonished Covenant gaped at what had just taken place.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part 1: 'Making' New Friends
Date: 27 May 2002, 7:33 pm
Warlord Zerr sighed as he continued his daily walk.He inhaled deeply before exhaling again. Air. It was one of the most importantsubstances in his world. It allowed to body to function, to live. But itwas so plain. Neron on the other hand, was incredible. Althoughit was not necessary to live, as of this moment in time, it was keepinghim alive. It had the most unique sensation out of anything Zerr had everexperienced. It tingled, and left a cool sensation in his mind, but atthe same time burned with the intensity of a roaring flame.
The pain of consuming the amazing substance hadlong ago subsided, once his body altered its physiology to accommodatethe substance. Without it now, his body would wither and die. He was addictedto it, and was happy to be so.
Strolling through the countryside, Zerr was remindedof his home world of Terva. Green, rolling hills, lush with plant life.Birds squawked over head, and flew away in a panic. Zerr frowned. Evennature could sense that Zerr was something he wasn't supposed to be.
Continuing his slow but steady gait, Zerr spieda large concrete square in a valley below him. He was almost two kilometersout of the city now, and this facility was one of his many Qal-Et-Hadatraining grounds. Littering the immense facility were barracks, firingranges, obstacle courses and sparring arenas.
Examining first the barracks, Zerr smiled. Thisfacility alone contains a hundred thousand troops, easily. He had hundredsof such facilities, giving him an army that was rivaled by no other.
Then the firing ranges. Hundreds of Elites tookaim at targets several hundred meters away, and fired simultaneously. Hundredsof targets were boiled away as an immense barrage of pinpoint plasma firestruck them.
Zerr grinned devilishly, exposing rows of sharpteeth.
Next the obstacle courses. Covered with plasma barbs,ten meter walls, automated plasma turrets and target dummies, the soldiersplowed through the courses. They tore apart the plasma barbs with theirbare hands, completely oblivious to the burns they had sustained. Theyran and leaped over the walls with power and grace, landed and kept running,no delays. The automated plasma turrets flared to life and the Elites barelynoticed, dodging out of the way of every blast like it was moving in slowmotion. As the Elites passed, they tore the turrets into scrap metal.
Foolish Devils have no idea.
Finally looking to the sparring areas, Zerr couldn'thelp but burst into full-on laughter.
The Elites were an almost indiscernible blur. Strike,block, counter strike, block, trip, throw, and repeat.
They seemed to fight as a collective. They seemedto know what their comrades were going to do, and act on it. What seemedto be a collective intelligence was not something Zerr had planned for.
It must be a side effect of several altered genes,combined.
Zerr walked forward onto the hill, and marched downwardinto the valley. He struggled to keep himself upright against the steepincline. His advisors would warn him not to take such risks as this, walkingalone without body guards.
His advisors were useless. They served only to letthe public think he needed advice. He wouldn't need them much longer, theadvisors, or the public.
Finally reaching the ground level, a ranking officernoticed him immediately, even from a great distance away.
'Welcome m' Lord.'
Zerr managed a curt nod before issuing orders.
'As you were, carry on!'
Zerr glanced quickly at the soldier's rank insignia.Tursin.This soldier had risen the ranks quickly, judging by his serial number,he had been in existence for only several years. He commanded the entiremilitary station.
'I want to mobilize my forces, Tursin. Whatis the status on the readiness of our men?'
The soldier did not question where the troops shouldbe mobilized to, he simply answered.
Zerr liked this man.
'We are ready m'Lord.'
'Can they kill, effectively?'
'Of course m'Lord. Quite effectively. I've alsoinstigated a program. Any disputes are settled by combat. It roots outthe weaker ones, m'Lord.'
Had something gone wrong? They should all bethe same. They were created from the exact same DNA.
Then it hit him like, like a blast from a concussionweapon.
'Tursin, I want you to conduct a full scaleblood analyses on all personnel here. I believe there are some naturalshere. Kill any that you discover.'
'Of course m'Lord, at once.'
'Very well, that is all, return to your duties.'
Zerr watched the commander sprint off, golden armorglistening in the sun. That man was good material. He would see to it thatthat man was promoted. He would be his Na-Grer. His War Master.
Zerr made his way past ranks of Elites, honing theirfighting skills to perfection. They paid no attention to him. Completelyfocused on their single task.
Finally sighting an airfield, Zerr commandeereda Banshee, and flew himself back to his laboratory. He had much work todo. His army was ready, and he must be as well.
Passing through security doors which would allownone other than himself through beeped and chirped. Any unauthorized personnelwould be vaporized instantly.
Walking inside, Zerr inhaled deeply. The sterilesmell of his lab soothed him. Consuming another tablet of neron,Zerr was able to relax.
He peered deep into places where no others couldsee. Many years away. He could see all that would happen in the near, anddistant future. Eager to examine what life would be like when he was restoredto his proper galaxy, and the Devils were gone, Zerr searched for a battle.
Wandering the tides of time, Zerr found what hewas looking for. What he had envisioned as the final battle, over Earthitself. No matter how hard he tried, he could not see the outcome.It was darkened.
A nexus. The merging of a thousand different events,culminating into one grand result. But he could not see it!
Is my victory not yet assured? Why is this eventhidden from me? Surely, the Devils have nothing to combat me?
Withdrawing from his vision, Zerr was troubled.The final battle which he had envisioned held new meaning for him. Hisvision had showed him there were several possible outcomes. His throatbecame dry at the thought. It is possible he would lose! Earth stood atopan abyss, and all around plunged eternal darkness.
Why had God chosen to hide this event from him?
Zerr had thoughts of canceling his master plan,and creating a new one.
No, the ability to see the future does not grantme the right to change it. The plan will proceed.
Zerr swallowed another capsule of the presciencegiving drug, and sat down at his work station. At the same time, shipyardsare constructing enormous ships to transport Zerr's massive army.
It will take too much energy to transport suchlarge ships. Too powerful of generators. Such generators I do not have.
Zerr would need something different. A new meansof transportation.
Creating a new strand of DNA, Zerr chose to makeit quadruple stranded. His being would have to be as complex as possible.
Zerr began coding. It had long been theorized thatif an organism used 100% of its brain capacity, it could do extraordinarythings. Zerr decided to test this theory.
Using the appropriate base pairs, Zerr coded forthe organism to have control over its entire brain. But to ensure the creatureswould never turn on him, Zerr gave the creature no limbs, and a short lifespan.They would only be needed for several moments.
Satisifed, Zerr began the replication process. Itwouldn't take long. He only needed several copies once the replicationwas finished. In the meantime, Zerr would confer with his new War Master.
Arriving once again at the military station, Zerrmarched onto the training fields to find his soon-to-be War Master.
Again, the characteristic cry to stand at attentionrang out through the camp.
'Chuada! Ih sha nhoba!'
The entire legion stationed at the base immediatelysprinted to their commanding Tursin, and future War Master. Liningup on either side of Zerr, the Elites stood rigid, unmoving in the traditionalsalute. The left arm at their sides, and the right hand balled into a fistand placed over their chest.
Zerr realized he hadn't ever found out the commander'sname. As the Tursin approached, Zerr glanced at the name tag. Niuva.
'Welcome m'Lord. It's a pleasure to see you again.'Tursin Niuva saluted, and Zerr nodded.
'Come, we have matters to discuss. Where are yourquarters?'
The commander led the way back to the barracks,and motioned Zerr inside.
'Tursin, it is with great pleasure that I promoteyou to the status of Grand War Master of all my armies.'
Niuva's three-pronged mouth drooped open, rows ofsharp teeth reflected the bright lights of the room.
The War Master tried to speak but couldn't. MasterZerr chuckled.
'War Master Niuva, assign your best man as Tursinhere, then report to my head quarters as soon as possible. We have muchwork to do.'
The War Master could only manage a salute beforeZerr rose and left the barracks.
Zerr inspected his creations the next morning. Theysat, floated rather, in anti-gravity tanks, as their body was not strongenough to support their weight. He had one hundred of them. Ten would beassigned to each of his massive cruisers.
Each creature had been plugged into a computer program,trying to allow them to grasp the abilities of their improved brains. Zerronly hoped it would work. The concept which Zerr had theorized, allowedby their increased brain size, was a long shot at best.
His War Master should be arriving. Walking to thefront door, Zerr spotted a fleet of Ghosts zipping through the city streets.They came to a halt in front of Zerr, and Niuva, clad in gold armor, disengagedhis Ghost and walked next to his Master. The other Ghosts spun, and spedoff in the direction they had come from.
Following Zerr inside, the Warlord spoke.
'Niuva, I want you to find out the status of mynew ships.'
'It is already done m'Lord. They are finished.'
'Excellent. Begin ferrying troops up to the ships.All of my armies.'
The War Master turned and headed off in the directionof the control room, to which Zerr had pointed.
'And War Master..' Niuva spun. 'See to it that theseget ferried up to the ships as well. Ten for each ship.'
Zerr motioned toward the large holding room whichcontained the many new creations Zerr had built.
'Join me on the flagship when you are finished.'
Zerr turned and marched down several corridors untilhe reached a shuttle bay. Climbing aboard his personal shuttle, Zerr roaredoff into the sky, and into orbit. Minutes later, he had docked with hisflagship, Hro-Et-Hada. The Hand of God.
Staring out the viewports, Zerr watched as thousandsof large dropships ferried his massive army up to the carriers, as hisimmense fleet of destroyers and cruisers kept a silent watch for trouble.
His latest creations would soon be on board, readyto deliver his army back to their rightful galaxy, if all went as planned.
Several minutes later, Niuva appeared at Zerr'sside.
'Everything is in place m'Lord. Your pilots areready. They have been informed of their task.'
'Good. But there is one last thing we must do beforewe leave this place. Destroy the planet.'
'M'Lord, there are still innocent people below!'
'Do you question a direct order, War Master?'
'Of course not, m'Lord.'
Niuva walked to a control panel, and opened a linkto the dozens of Covenant cruisers and destroyers guarding the carriers.
'All vessels, prepare to open fire at the planet.'
The response was immediate. Hundreds of tendrilsof plasma roiled through space, and burned through the planet's atmosphere.Minutes later, Niuva reported.
'No life signs detected Lord, the planet is clean.'
'Perfect. Now no one knows of us. Instruct the pilotsto begin.'
Niuva nodded, and again barked into a comlink.
Several seconds passed before anything happened.Then, the collective power of the creatures began to work. In what seemedlike hours, but what was in reality only a fraction of a second, the creaturesperformed their task. The universe folded in on itself, bringing locationand desired destination into one small sphere. The pilots literally pickedup the fleet and moved it to the desired location. Upon completion, theuniverse unwound itself, and Zerr's fleet was in another part of the universe,their previous galaxy.
All of the pilots simultaneously collapsed and died,their task completed. The immense bulk of the fleet had placed to greata strain on their powerful brains. They could not handle the pressure.
But Zerr couldn't keep from smiling. They had doneit. They had returned. And vengeance was near.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part II: The End of the Beginning
Date: 1 July 2002, 7:27 am
Little David Brothers, age nine, sat contentedly in his sandbox, building forts for his holographic troops. He looked skyward and giggled as a flock of geese flew overhead, honking as they went. Although he didn't know it yet, his birth world of Radan Six held many wonders. As he grew older, he would discover the magnificent falls, crystal blue lakes, and the lush green mountains with snowcapped peaks. But for now, he was perfectly happy with his holographic armies fighting to the death.
Radan Six was on the fringe of civilization, in a far away arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Sparsely populated and made up of mostly dense forest, it was the perfect testing site for humanity's latest invention, the Freedom Legions. An immense army of genetically altered humans, designed to protect humanity should the need ever arise again.
David Brothers had often seen them, although the troops didn't even notice him. He was quiet and stealthy, watching the strange men run training exercises. His parents had often read him stories about the Spartans of past, who had helped defend Humanity from the Covenant.
David knew who both the Spartans, and the Covenant were, but had no pictoral representation to go with the Covenant. He had always assumed the Covenant to be enormous monsters with large claws, fangs, and red bloodshot eyes.
One day, as his parents read to him, and showed him pictures of the mighty Spartans, an alarm went off in David's head. He examined the pictures closely, remembering every detail.
The next morning, David wandered off into the forest, once again without the consent of his parents. He climbed a tree, remaining motionless for hours, waiting to see these mysterious soldiers. Finally, after hours of waiting, he saw them. Clad in black or silver armor. Not the same color as the Spartans, but the armor was strangely reminiscent of the Spartans. It was more sleek and streamlined, yes, but the original design could still be seen.
Then, the black armored soldiers began engaging in a live fire exercise. Shooting at each other! David stared wide-eyed as silver shimmers appeared around every man when bullets hit him. He had seen holovids. The same thing happened to the old Spartans.
David was convinced, this was the secret weapon the UNSC had been bragging about on the news lately, but had refused to say any more about. And almost in his own backyard! He could only imagine the praise that would be showered upon him at school when he told his story.
He sat dreamily for several moments before he was quickly, but gently snatched out of the tree. He was placed on the ground, surrounded by a handful of the black-armored soldiers. He had to crane his neck upward to look at them. There were six of them. Each one carried a large weapon, an assault rifle.
David was only nine, but he had the mind of a seventeen year old. His parents had often seen his gift, and wondered what special talents their young boy might have. Many times had his parents called over the neighbors to witness his sophisticated battles using his holographic troops. David's father was ex-UNSC, a captain. He had often openly admitted to his wife that not even he could come up with tactics as brilliant and cunning as his nine year old son's.
There David sat, surrounded by the six soldiers. He had no idea what they wanted with him. Suddenly fear lanced through his body, and David's heart began beating like he had just run a marathon. He tried to leave, but a firm hand reached out, grabbing David on the top of his head. Whatever the soldiers were doing, it obviously involved him in some important part of it. For the time being, he was their prisoner.
There he stood, for ten minutes, without saying a word. He was too scared to speak. His mind raced, calculating all the possible outcomes of this encounter.
Will they kill me for spying?
For the past ten minutes since he'd tried to escape, David hadn't looked up from the ground once. It had been eerily silent. Finally he forced his body to look up. The soldiers, clad in their black armor, stood like statues, staring into the forest keeping watch. David watched them carefully. The soldiers of the Freedom Legion, who David would soon come to know as PATRIOTS, allowed themselves nothing. They didn't twitch, kick dirt, anything. They were the most disciplined group of people he had ever seen.
The men, like black monoliths, seemed to be waiting for something. And they were. Moments later, a medium drop ship, a Pelican-118/E appeared above a patch of trees. Its engines rumbled as it touched down in a clearing fifty paces from the squad's position.
David immediately recognized the ship. It had been modified countless times since the waning years of the war against the Covenant. Every time it was some minor improvement. More aerodynamic, better engines, new weaponry. It upgrade came closer to the culmination of, what was in David's mind, the perfect drop ship. In his opinion, David thought it was more of an assault craft now, rather than a drop ship.
One soldier, clad in a dull silver armor, rather than black, marched over to David. He was bigger by at least six or seven inches over every other trooper. David guessed he was close to eight feet tall, probably the squad leader.
The enormous soldier motioned David to his feet, and ushered him towards the drop ship.
As the entire squad hopped onto the drop ship, the squad leader made sure the area was secure, before helping his captive into the ship. Finally, once everyone was aboard, and safety harnesses were secure, the drop ship roared off into the afternoon sky.
David had a horrible sensation in his stomach that he would never see his home again, his family. He wanted to cry, but seeing all the battle-hardened soldiers all around him forced him not to. The soldiers showed no signs of weakness, and neither would he.
Peering out the rear of the drop ship, David saw dozens of trees whizzing by, so fast that they became a giant blur.
Peering toward the silver-armored soldier next to him, David looked up, and spoke for the first time.
'Am I a prisoner?' His voice was shaken, and sounded as if David required every ounce of courage just to open his mouth.
The squad leader next to him grinned behind his helmet, and shook his head sideways. David let out a sigh of relief, and spoke again with renewed confidence.
'Where are you taking me?'
The squad leader, as well as several Patriots around him, let out a loud chuckle.
'Somewhere where you're going to need every ounce of brain power and courage you can find.'
At the squad leader's remark, several other Patriots let out another chuckle.
David once again went back into his own little corner, letting his mind wander. Would his family miss him? Sadness and fear raced through his veins like adrenaline all the way until the drop ship touched down. It would be the last time David would ever think of family.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part III: Dreams Into Nightmares
Date: 11 July 2002, 11:48 pm
Zerr, Warlord and ruler of all Covenant forces, satin frustration on his royal dais. The magnificent throne was carved froma single piece of glass. Light entered, twisted through a maze, and exited,filling the massive throne room with thousands of different, unique streaksof light.
Several meters away, at the bottom of a flight ofstairs, lay the body of an Elite. Lying in a pool of its own blood, itwas a lifeless testament to the awesome power of the warlord. The assassin'sweapon, still being grasped by the lifeless hand, was unused.
Zerr growled, someone would have to clean up themess. He ordered for his Warmaster, Niuva, to have several of his men assistin the clean-up.
In the twenty years since Zerr and his armies hadreturned to the Milky Way, they had done very little. Several raids hereand there. But the outcome was always the same: Complete destruction ofall humans in an extreme state of efficiency. There was never even timefor a distress call. The results never changed, one hundred percent oftargets eliminated, zero percent casualties.
Zerr shook his head.
No, one thing has changed.
Zerr himself had changed. He had been taking increasingamounts of neron every day. He had to see the outcome of his work. Butevery time he peered towards Earth, his visions were blocked from him.Only Earth, surrounded by an Abyss. Nothing more, nothing less, every time.But the increased dosages had been changing him.
Now, rather than seeing the future, he wasthe future, and present, at the same time. Zerr offered himself an exampleof his latest powers.
During the latest assassination attempt, not onlydid Zerr witness the event through his own eyes, but through the eyes ofthe assassin, his Warmaster, the wall, the air, Everywhere. He was himself,and everything else at the same time. He both saw the fear, and felt thefear of his assassin. This new power disturbed Zerr. It was the only thinghe truly feared. The Warlord was terrified that this power wouldeventually destroy him, drive him mad. Zerr clenched his eyes shut, tremblingwith anger, sadness and fear.
What have I made myself into?
He reopened them several moments later to witnesshis Warmaster, and several other Elites dragging off the body of theirfallen comrade. It was a deranged comrade, but a member of the clan nonetheless.The assassin would be given an honorable burial. The killer couldn't beblamed.. He simply didn't realize what he was getting himself into.He couldn't have possibly known until seconds before his death.
Zerr's head drooped, and he sighed heavily. SeveralElites standing guard nearby glanced toward their leader, assuring hiswell-being, then returned their gaze toward the wide entry way into Zerr'schamber.
Rising from his glass dais, Zerr retired to hisprivate bed chamber. Laying his exhausted body down onto his extravagantbed, he slept. Or attempted to. His body was racked with nightmares, andhorrible visions.
Zerr had experienced this same dream every nightfor many years. It was always the same, spare the ending. Each time, theending stretched on a little longer, adding more to his terrible dreams.This night, Zerr envisioned himself, alongside thousands of his warriors,as they battled human forces. To Zerr's expectations, his forces were slaughteringthe Devils, when a rumbling shook the ground, and a blinding light filledthe sky. The light encompassed everything for a split second, then in theaftermath which followed, there was nothing.
The Warlord awoke with a scream, ushering in halfa dozen of his guards, who helped Zerr to his feet. After several minutesof helping their Master gain his bearings, the guards parted his bed chamberand returned to their previous posts.
For several minutes, the Warlord sat on his hover-bed,dripping with sweat and out of breath. As a precaution, Niuva had beensent to examine Zerr. He entered the bed chamber silently, his gold armorshimmered in the moonlight which shone through Zerr's window. Zerr satfacing the doorway.
'Ah, Master, you remembered this time.' Niuva grinned.
'Remembered what?' Zerr carried a confused lookon his face.
'My lessons about not leaving your back to an opendoor.'
'Niuva, you forget, I knew you were coming hereeven before you did. That particular lesson matters not.'
'Very well M'Lord. My guards say your nightmaresare troubling you again.'
Zerr hung his head. 'They are.'
'Well M'Lord, these visions seem to correspond toour Great Plan. Perhaps we should postpone our armies until these visionspass. Perhaps, it is a sign from God, signaling us to-.'
Zerr held up a hand, shaking his head.
'No, no postponing. Everything shall continue asplanned. My saying still holds true.'
The ability to see the future does not grantus the right to change it.
'Try and get some rest, M'Lord. Tomorrow we begin.'
Niuva gave a curt nod before spinning around andexiting the room.
Zerr awoke the next morning, donned his armor, andmarched into the throne room. He stared straight ahead into the eyes andsouls of his guards, showing off his courage. He would need all of it inthe coming weeks. His armor rustled and clinked as grieves and boots, gauntletsand chest armor collided together. Beaneath his armor, the dark green skinglistened with sweat. Zerr had never been more nervous.
Zerr's Na-Grer, Niuva, spotted his master amongthe guards and quickly approached.
'M'Lord, your armies are ready. Here is the battleplan I have drawn up.' Niuva handed a scroll of holo-paper to Zerr. Afterexamining the document for several moments:
'I concur with your tactics. It will be over swiftly.But it will last long enough for the Devils to know our presence. For there,we will move on other planets.'
'M'Lord, why don't we destroy Earth itself?'
Zerr shook his head and stared at the ground.
'Because, Na-Grer, I have waited three hundred yearsfor this. I want to know of the fear, I want to see the fear when eachand everyone one of their worlds begins to crumble.'
'Very well, M'Lord. Our troop ships await your orders.'
Zerr grinned, chuckled, put his hands together behindhis back, and spoke.
'Commence attack on...-'
'Radan Six, M'Lord.'
'Ah, yes, thank you Niuva. Have our carriers proceedat your leisure.'
'M'Lord, do you wish me to accompany our forces,for morale?'
'No, you have more important duties here.'
Niuva barked a series of orders into his com. Curious, Zerr openeda holo-link to a camera on an orbital plasma cannon. Dozens of carriers,each capable of carrying several thousand men, entered the Slipstream oneby one, until the entire fleet had vanished from view, leaving behind emptyspace filled with a greenish glow.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part IV
Date: 27 July 2002, 11:06 pm
'Without Civilization, there is no War. But without War, thereis no Civilization. The subtle ironies of God are sometimes too much forone civilization to comprehend.'
Coregrenaac's Lost Journal, Volume I- 9070 E.H
The original design of the Device was simply meant to be a fail-safe in several ways. In the event of a full-scale biological disaster, it was to save the galaxy from our experiments. But at our leisure, it can also be used an a device to save the universe from itself.
Long ago, when the Device was first conceptualized, the Elders, consisting of Merenac, Toronnor, Ademerc, and myself vowed never to let the galaxy degrade to a point where one race was in subservience under another. Our solemn vow was to make sure all races survived, or none. After all, we couldn't stand to see one of our creations die out, while the other conquered. They were not designed to exist that way. It was always intended that the two would coexist, in peace and harmony. Never did we intend for things to turn out like they did.
For years, for centuries, we were neutral observers to the atrocities of the Jihad. Finally, the Royal Houses, and the Elders could no longer stand by and see an entire race become extinct, especially one that had accomplished so much. We were forced into action. It was decided that the Device must be activated. I argued against it, and I was expelled from the Elder Council. But to exact my revenge, I took with me all plans for the Device, which I had devised. Without them, the Elders could only use the Device, but had not the technical skills to perform repairs or new construction without affecting the entire Device.
I originally created the Device several hundred million years ago. Before the recent Council decision, the Device had been used once. To a large extent, the activation was a disaster. The Device malfunctioned, and the blast turned inward on itself, destroying ten thousand years worth of construction. Only I had a comprehension of the technology that had been destroyed. I made revisions to my design. None of the other Elders knew anything about my device, they were simply fools obsessed with their power.
With my leave came an age of Darkness for my kind. Because I had been cast out, I had no sanctuary from the Device during its second and most recent activation which annihilated our creations. I fled the galaxy.
There, I began these works that you read now. Inscribed for all eternity, and hidden away so that only the most worthy shall ever know my secrets. You are the one. Contained within these hallowed pages is the secret to the universe, the secret to Life itself: The Device. You may be confused as to my ways. But once you are finished with this great tome, you will understand as I do. I have committed immense atrocities against my own creations. Soon you will understand why and how. It is up to your own intelligence and mettle to make things right. You possessed the ability to uncover my secrets. Now the only question which remains is: What will you do with my wonders of civilization?
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part V: Rude Awakening
Date: 27 July 2002, 11:23 pm
David Brothers marched into his private quarters, which as a squad leader, he certainly deserved. His black helmet gleamed with the white fluorescent light from the bare lightbulb dangling above his head. With a heavy sigh, he slumped onto his bed and removed his helmet seals. Air hissed as the pressure equalized. Placing his helmet on the bed next to him, David ran his fingers through his coarse brown hair. It was cropped very short, standard military haircut. His face was stern and solemn, much like his father's who was an ex-UNSC Captain. But David's face almost had a tender and loving look on it as well. He got that from his mother.
There was no doubt about it. He loved his squad mates, and he loved the gratifying feeling of protecting humanity. In his mind, there was no question. If necessary, he would die for any of his teammates; his friends.
He was exhausted. Not physically, but mentally. His body could take any sort of punishment the UNSC could dish out. But he had spent all morning screaming orders and trying to devise a battle plan for tomorrow's exercise. In what would be an exercise where the bullets would be stun rounds, his squad of Patriots were assigned to take an 'enemy' stronghold which was defended by several dozen UNSC marines.
David thought of his history lessons when he had first been inducted into the Patriots. He had learned that many years ago, with the Spartans, there had only been a handful of them. Now, the Patriots made up almost half of the billion UNSC marines. The brass had high hopes that one day, the entire UNSC would be constructed of enhanced cybernetic soldiers.
Drooping his head into a locked stare of the cold, bare floor, David let out an exasperated growl. Tomorrow would be rough. The enemy bunker had been set up for weeks, and the marine's only orders were to defend it from enemy forces. The poor guys had no idea when the attack would come. For weeks, David's second in command, Mark had been doing some reconnaissance work. He also happened to be the best sniper out of David's three Patriot squad. David preferred an assault rifle. Daniel was a fanatic devotee to the stopping power of the UNSC's 8- gauge shotgun, the M90. And lastly was David's personal favorite: Jack, the demolitions expert. The man was a master of handheld explosives. If need be, the man could place a grenade perfectly on a two foot by 2 foot ledge one hundred yards away. He also had a crack sense of humor which even David had to admire.
David managed a smile through his layers of frustration. He had to concede, his team was the most well rounded bunch he had ever served with. But tomorrow would be no cake walk. There was a portion to the exercise that David hadn't told his squad. They were supposed to capture the enemy's 'general' and bring him in for questioning. The only problem was David had no idea who it was. They would have to be careful who they shot at. The squad leader keyed his COM.
'Sergeant. Send in my squad.'
Several moments later, three more Patriots, clad in shimmering black armor, strode in. The three Patriots snapped a quick salute and David returned it before he spoke.
'Take a seat men.'
The three Patriots sat down in unison. Their squad leader spoke.
'Alright, tomorrow we make our run on the enemy stronghold. Our mission is to neutralize all hostile forces, and take their leader prisoner. As our recon tells us, there are approximately fifty marines stationed there. Mark will begin here.' David pointed to a map hung on his wall. 'From the eastern side of the base you will have a clear shot at all their stun grenade weapons emplacements: artillery, mortars, etc. Your first priority is to take those out, then wreak whatever other havoc you can.
'The rest of us will head in from the west. Jack, you're going to have your own little arsenal of stun grenades. Use them. Daniel and I will mop up. When we reach the structure, and all outdoor forces have been neutralized, Mark will rendevous with us, and we will head inside. We have no recon of the interior. It will be a őplay it as we go' deal. Once we get to our objective, we will head to the extraction point west of the base, here.' Again, David pointed to a spot on the map, which had been taken from a satellite. The extraction point was a large clearing marked by a large X.
'Alright, any questions?'
In unision: 'No, sir!'
'Good, get some rest, we head out at 0500.'
David's alarm went off at 0430 the next morning. He was out of bed with nothing more than a growl and a yawn. The other three members of his team would already be up. They had most likely been up since 0200, fawning over their equipment, trying to decide how much firepower to pack.
Mark was probably sitting alone cleaning and singing to his matte-black sniper rifle, like he always did before a mission. Daniel was probably trying to decide whether to carry one or two weapons, and Jack was without a doubt, already fitting a stun grenade launcher to the bottom of his MA5B. The demolitions expert probably had a full wardrobe of stun explosives on him anyway.
David picked up his dark black helmet and placed it over his head. Air hissed as the helmet locked itself into place, sealing David off from the outside world. Marching outside, he found his teammates waiting for him next to a refitted Warthog. Missing was the turret, and in its place were two extra seats. David hopped into the passenger seat, and Jack assumed the role of the driver. Daniel and Mark leaped into the rear seats from twenty feet away, and the jeep roared off into the blackness of the early morning.
David silently wished that Mark had driven. While Jack was an excellent soldier, his concern for his passengers' well-being when driving a vehicle over rough terrain resembled that of a small child's.
After thirty minutes of driving, David ordered the jeep to a halt.
'Alright, we're two clicks from the base, it's just over that rise.' David pointed to a large hill directly in front of them. 'Mark, you'll take up postion here, and attempt to take out as many of the enemy as possible before we move in.'
Mark nodded, hopped from the Warthog ad sprinted up the hill to its summit.
After another command, the jeep sped off toward another destination where the Patriots would wait for the all clear from Mark. The three Patriots waited for almost an hour, and no shots had been fired.
'Daniel, go check on Mark, triple time.'
'Yes, sir!' The Patriot sprinted off through the brush. For several more minutes, David and Jack waited silently. Finally, a russling of branches caught the Patriot's attention. Through the brush came Daniel, his armor battered, and wounds in his legs gushing blood. In his arms, the corpse of Mark. David and Jack ran forward to help Daniel, just as he collapsed to the ground. The two remaining Patriots checked for pulses. Nothing.
'Sir, who could've done this?'
'Rebels, who knows?'
'But sir, these look like plasma burns. We don't have plasma weapons.'
'The Covenant? That's impossible.'
'Yes, sir, but it's the only half-logical explana-'
An incredibly loud hiss filled the air, and the atmosphere crackled and popped. Looking skyward, the two Patriots witnessed a huge tendril of plasma streak toward the intended bunker and slam into it. The immense concrete walls, Titanium A blast doors, and personnel, all were melted down instaneously, leaving only a smooth, glassy surface.
Both Patriots slowly glanced toward each other, and sprinted back to the Warthog. David was driving, and Jack grabbed the radio. The squad leader immediately put the jeep in gear, and sped off through the open terrain back towards the Patriots base. Jack tried to get FLEETCOM on the radio.
'Warning, this is Patriot Group Blue 01, we have fallen under attack by Covenant forces. Two members have been killed during our routine exercise HNT- zero-niner-five. Intended target was attacked by Covenant orbital bombardment. Recommend deployment of all Marine and Patriot units immediately.'
'This is FLEETCOM, we read you Group Blue 01, report back to base immediately and report for briefing.'
'Roger.' Jack turned to David. 'Sir, how would they get close enough to attack? Wouldn't some sort of sensors pick them up?'
'Maybe not. It's been three hundred years since we last saw the Covenant. They've always been stronger, smarter and faster... who knows what they've got now? At least now, we'll stand a fighting chance in space.'
Jack simply nodded, and hung his head, staring into his lap.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part VI: Unwanted Guest
Date: 4 August 2002, 11:19 pm
In the ensuing aftermath of the Covenant's attack,the world of Radan Six was transformed from a lush jungle world into abarren wasteland completely devoid of life. While the Freedom Legions,armies of genetically enhanced warriors, tried their best to stop the oncomingCovenant onslaught, in the end they could do nothing but stand by and watchtheir planet turn into a lifeless skeleton.
In the beginning, the Covenant forces attacked withhundreds of fast-attack craft and dropships. Taking every city on the planetby storm, the Covenant spared no one. While the Freedom Legions were madeup of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, only several thousand stayed behindto stay the Covenant invasion. The whole of the Freedom Legion had to surviveif humanity was to have any chance against this new threat. A brave handfulof Patriots stayed behind to prevent the Covenant from reaching the loadingzones where thousands upon thousands of Patriots were being loaded ontowhat would soon be cloaked frigates who would transport the Patriots toplaces where they could further protect humanity.
The Patriots who stayed behind reported some finalmessages before they were overrun. They claimed that the Covenant theywere fighting seemed almost robotic. They were stronger and faster thananything the soldiers had ever seen. One man even reported watching anElite strike a marine with his gun. The Patriot's armor crumpled like analuminum can. Eventually, the struggling Patriots were overcome by thesheer numbers which the Covenant had displaced onto the ground. Reportsindicated the the Covenant outnumbered the marines ten to one. But evenin death, the marines saved hope for the rest of humanity.
Once the ground invasion was complete, and Covenantcommanders reported there were no survivors, all Covenant forces withdrewfrom the planet. Once all troops were away, the full wrath of every Covenantcruiser was evident. Hundreds of plasma shots streaked through the atmosphere,boiling away water and jungle alike.
Within minutes, under the immense firepower of theCovenant fleet, the entire surface of the planet would be coated in a layerof glass.
Only a tiny fraction of the Covenant forces hadbeen sent down to the surface, and they had an overwhelming victory.
David sat on the bridge of one the many cloaked frigates.He longed to get a glimpse of the enemy fleet, but the properties of thecloaking field prevented external viewing. He shook his head in disgust.
It should have been me down there! Not my men.
The squad leader had almost decided to order themen onto the ships, but made the horrible realization that someonehad to stay behind to ensure the safety of the others.
Lives spent, not wasted.
David sighed. At a rough estimate, what had oncebeen a fighting force comprised of three hundred fifty thousand cyborgs,now became three hundred twenty-five thousand. A fourteenth of the entirearmy, lost in that escape. Yes, the UNSC has more men. But that was justwhat they were. Men. Even Patriots were hard pressed to hold back the Covenant.Sadly, normal marines would be no more than cannon fodder.
As David tried to stare out of the opaque window,an energy spike slammed into the ship like an oncoming train. All the lightswent black, and David heard some crew members yelling amongst the confusion.
'Shields are at 30%!'
'Cloaking field is unstable!'
'FTL engine shields are cracked, we will need timeto repair them!'
The squad leader had no idea what happened. Possiblya new Covenant weapon. But that was unlikely. He didn't think the Covenantwould venture to far from plasma. Panic had now encompassed the ship. Commandcrew and other officers were running about checking instruments and shoutingorders.
David knew the ship was in trouble. If power wasn'trestored soon, the cloaking field would eventually dissipate, leaving onlytheir friagate, open to Covenant onslaught. But then, as soon as it haddissappeared, the power returned with another jolt. The engines were stillcracked, but they could be repaired later. An FTL jump was not an absolutenecessity at this point.
As cheers resounded through the bridge, one officercalled out.
'Captain! You better take a look at this!'
The Captain of the frigate, a portly man and balding,waddled over to the officer's station.
'What do you think this is Captain?'
The Captain shrugged his shoulders, and returnedto his post, completely unamused at the single screen which was completelyblank, except for one long number: 18-1-12-21-1-14-4-4.
The Commanding officer of the Covenant's flagshipon this mission growled as he was thrown to the ground when the energyspike slammed into the Covenant ship. Shields flickered and died. Sectionsof the ship caught fire and had to be sealed off.
The Commander gazed upon the view screen along witha bewildered command crew as a number faded in and out: 18-1-12-21-1-14-4-4.Several minutes later, the power returned and the Covenant fleet pulledout of orbit and jumped back home to deliver their report to Warlord Zerr.
It had been several days since the fleet had returnedhome, and the Warlord was less than pleased of the outcome.
'Niuva, we took five thousand casualties?'
'M'Lord, the casualties we inflicted must have reachedinto the tens of thousands, not including civilians. Their warriors foughtwell. But we fought better.' Niuva smiled.
Zerr grinned for several moments while it seemedas if a light had gone on in his head.
'So this was what I could not see. The Devils havea formidable army. This is why I could not see the outcome. The greatestevent in the history of the universe, and its fate has not yet been decided.Very well, Niuva, our next attack will commence when the moons have met,and the sun is at its peak.'
Niuva stood thinking for a split second before noddingand leaving the room.
Zerr marched into his main chamber, and sat downat a terminal, attempting to access the actual records of the battle, hungryfor knowledge. As he attempted to open the files, the screen blanked, leavinga simple strand of numbers: 18-1-12-21-1-14-4-4. Zerr slammed hisfist into the table next to him, shattering straight through it.
A guard quickly ran into the room.
'Quickly, what is wrong with this terminal?'
'M'Lord, I am but a simple servant, I-'
The Warlord cut him off, lashing out with one hand,grabbing the Elite by the throat, and snapping its neck like a small branch.That was another side effect of Zerr's increased neron doses. His strengthhad become incredible. More so than that of his gentically enhanced creations.Zerr cringed. Every day he was becoming less and less of what he was, andmore and more of something else.
'Guards! Send for my warmaster!'
Eager not to be punished like their counterpart,the guards sprinted off. Several minutes later, Niuva entered Zerr's chamber.
'What is it M'Lord?'
'I believe we have a virus in our HomeNet. I commandyou to get a specialist in here now, and purge our systems of this blight.I want it done by tomorrow.'
'It will be so, M'Lord.' Niuva nodded and walkedsilently out of the room.
Zerr took a stroll around his immense undergroundpalace. It was something he had not done for many years. The palace wasquite a marvel. It had taken ten years to build, even with several milliontroops slaving over it every day. Many of his creations had died buildingthis palace, but it didn't matter. For every Elite that fell, Zerr couldcreate a hundred more in its place.
The Warlord marched around all day, examining hiscreations. Everywhere he went, Elites stood, unwaivering in their stance.He knew his troops feared for their lives every time he passed. But Zerrdid not want to kill. He did it out of anger, or necessity. Zerrwished his subjects wouldn't fear him, only respect him.
Zerr finally realized he been walking all day throughhis massive underground palace. Deciding to return, he quickly paced throughthe hallways back to his main chamber. It took him almost an hour to walkall the way back using the shortest route.
When the Warlord returned, he found a Covenant scientisthard at work trying to destroy the virus that had invaded the network.
'How are you doing?'
The scientist was so startled, it dropped its toolson the ground, and nervously picked them back up.
'Almost..........done, M'Lord. The HomeNetshould be free of the virus. I purged everything.'
'Excellent, I will test it now.'
Zerr powered on the holopanel, and the screen wentblank, and displayed a long strand of characters: 18-a-12-u-1-n-4-d.
'I don't know how this could have happened M'Lord,I purged everything!'
The now enraged Warlord raised his fist, and justas he was about to strike down the scientist, the screen blanked and themessage 'Awaiting Command....' appeared.
'Superb work. It appears everything is working.Now move along.'
The scientist floated off, and Zerr walked off tofind Niuva.
As Zerr walked off, the holo panel began flashingthree different numbers, one after the other, in a looping pattern.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death - Part VII - VIII
Date: 16 August 2002, 11:20 pm
'In light of these atrocities which I had commited,I decided I could no longer preserve my integrity. Instead, I pass it ontoyou, so that you may use it for the benefit of all races.'
Coregrenaac's Lost Journal, Volume 2- 9070 E.H
After my expellment from the Elder Council, there was nothing I could do to prevent them from setting off the device the second time. Procuring a ship, I fled the galaxy, out of the range of the device. From the galaxy that I had temporarily stationed myself in, the target galaxy was visible. For months, the blue glow from the detonation filled the night sky. I knew nothing could have survived, except for the Elders and their people, closed away in their sanctuary. From then on, I vowed to ensure that the Device would never again be used. There were several dozen of them spread throughout the home galaxy. There was even one that only I knew about. But it had already been destroyed many hundreds of years ago. Device 04. It had been my pride and joy until I realized the error of my ways, and instructed my resident AI to evacuate the facility, and leave it empty.
I never suspected that someone would discover it and find my nightmares. But that is another story that ended quickly. After the useage of the Device, I waited several hundred years before re-entering the home galaxy. The residual heat from the weapon remains for many years, burning away anything which attempts to pass through the galaxy, ensuring total annihilation. I traveled to every single Device, and using a different method each time, I sabotaged every one of my creations. It would be several thousand years before the Elders learned of such treachery, and many million more before they could understand the complexities of my design. I ensured that the galaxy would remain safe from the perverse minds of the Elders.
Those who had once been my friends had turned sour with power greed. Before they discovered me, I found a sanctuary on the moon which had orginally been the neighbor to Device 04. There I stayed, writing my journal for the one who would come. There I stayed for many years, experimenting and writing. I later discovered that there was a large vault below my base. There lies the resting place of the Device. And there it will stay until someone with the proper genius to understand my design can unearth it, wrench power from the Elders, and restore order to the galaxy.
Part VIII - Charge!
It had been almost a year since Warlord Zerr's successful attack on his tenth planetary conquest. The world of Irinani had fallen with almost no resistance. So far, Zerr's forces had only encountered a small number of Patriots. Zerr's war master had concluded the bulk of their forces must be garrisoned at larger, better defended and more populated planets.
It had been several years since the attack on Radan Six, and the virus in their HomeNet had brought any sort of electronic actions to a standstill. All attempts to destroy the virus had failed. Actions only seemed to function at select times. Zerr had noticed a pattern, however. It seemed as though any important commands were processed, but mundane and pointless actions were halted, scrambled, unscrambled and returned to the sending terminal as a usually offensive, and rather insane message.
Zerr and any specialists who had observed this phenomenon were at complete losses for explanations. Long ago had Zerr stopped keeping track of how many technological specialists he had killed for ignorance or their inability to fix the problem.
One morning as Zerr arose and marched to his private terminal, the resident virus took action.
Staring at the holo-screen, Zerr witnessed the entire screen filled with thousands of digits. But immediately Zerr saw something. Hidden among thousands of random numbers was a single strand that stood out: 181122111444. Zerr quickly began thinking the number over, trying to deduce some sort of meaning. But while he was thinking, the extra numbers slowly faded away, and the number in question faded one number at a time into letters. First the eighteen, then the one, then twelve. Zerr didn't notice until it had completely finished: Raluandd.
Zerr stared at the word for several seconds before the holo-panel shorted out, and a menacing AI rose from the console. The construct took the shape of an elderly woman, back crooked and skin wrinkled.
The Warlord was astonished. No Covenant AI he had ever seen had ever had a body. He immediately deduced it had to be something sent by the Devils.
Two Elites ran into the room, and gasped as the image of an elderly woman transformed into a lavish knight, clad in shimmering armor. He sat atop a steed whose skin rippled with binary code.
The guards dropped their weapons just before lightning lanced from the construct's fingertips, launching the two guards backwards twenty meters into a wall, before collapsing onto the ground in a smoldering heap.
The AI's steed reared back, and the construct broke into a loud, thundering laugh.
'Raluandd has come
I have been here long ago.
And I will return again.'
'You are the Eclipse.
With your Darkness comes the Light
And with Light comes Dark.'
The AI let out another wild jolt of laughter before vanishing completely, the terminal turned off like a light. Zerr stared blankly at the now powered down terminal for several seconds, wondering if he had been dreaming. Zerr was convinced he had imagined the incident until he spotted the two charred and wrecked corpses in the corner.
Reaching into a bag attached to his waist, Zerr removed a handful of neron capsules, and devoured all of them. He had to see some way through his dark cloud that blocked his vision. He needed to see where he was headed, and where this AI had come from, and why. Zerr felt on the verge of losing his mind. He called upon his War master to comfort him.
Several moments later, an Elite clad in gold armor came striding into the room.
'Yes M'Lord, is there a problem?'
'Isn't there always one?'
Niuva chuckled, and followed Zerr as he retreated to his private chamber.
'Have a seat, soldier.' Niuva complied and sat down in a hover-chair next to Zerr. Zerr continued. 'I feel like I am losing my mind. I must know the outcome of our war.'
'M'Lord, we will be triumphant.'
'How can you be so sure? I have not seen it. For a moment, Niuva, consider that for three hundred years, you knew the answer to anything. Any question, you simply needed to look into your mind and you would know. Now then, consider one day came where you went to find an answer, and nothing came to you. Would that not drive you mad?'
'I see your point M'Lord, but I fear you concern yourself to much with fate. Instead, concern yourself with your men, your destiny.'
Zerr chuckled for several moments. 'Niuva, fate is everything. Destiny and fate are forever intertwined. Your destiny determines your fate. Without destiny, you are nothing. Without fate, you are nothing. I cannot see my fate. I am afraid if I wait longer, I am going to destroy myself, we must move now.'
'M'Lord, I don't under-.'
'Move on Earth, my na-Grer. Earth must be destroyed now.'
'The fleet is currently occupied on an attack, M'Lord.'
'Recall them! Now!'
Niuva stood for several seconds, then sprinted off, not wanting to experience firsthand Zerr's punishment for insolence. Now, Zerr slept to gather his thoughts.
Zerr awoke hours later, refreshed and the oddities from hours earlier were completely forgotten. Zerr, for some reason, seemed to be seeing things in a new light. The powerful warlord gazed around the room. It truly was a magnificent place. The ceiling stretched thirty meters upward, and its walls were covered in beautiful, ornate tapestries. Many depicted ancient war heroes, or battles. But others simply carried complex designs which often fascinated Zerr. The warlord was almost in a trance when a light knock came at his huge, double doors. Walking to the door, Zerr examined the symmetrical carvings on the doors, which were made from the bones of a creature found on Zerr's original home planet.
Throwing the doors open, Zerr's war master marched inside.
'M'Lord. Our fleet has returned. They are currently holding orbit while troops are resting and the ships are being resupplied. They should be ready to leave within the hour.'
'Then we must hurry.'
'For what, M'Lord?'
'We are accompanying my forces to Earth. I wish to see the downfall of humanity myself. Besides, you forget, I am the only one who knows its location. I have seen it. Here, and here.' Zerr pointed to his eyes, and then his skull.
'Very well, M'Lord, we shall leave immediately.' Niuva turned and fled the massive bedchamber with Zerr in tow, while Niuva barked orders into his COM.
Ten minutes later, Zerr and Niuva were aboard a shuttle headed toward their flagship, the Hro-Et-Hada. The Hand of God. Halfway between the planet and the ship, power cut out, and the ship began to drift.
'What's happening?' Zerr shouted at the pilot. But he had no response. Seconds later, power returned, and Raluandd appeared once more from a terminal in front of Zerr. His knight's armor shimmered with binary numbers, only he was without his steed. A thundering laugh filled the cabin area.
Thou shalt not discard.
Thou shalt remember the light.
Your darkness brings light.
And for the first time, Raluandd actually spoke. 'You didn't think I was going to let you forget me, did you? You forget, I know how you can win this battle.'
Zerr was curious. 'How?'
'Don't fight this battle. Remember, war is always fun until someone loses an eye.' Raluandd let out a loud chuckle before becoming silent.
'Where do you come from, and why are you here?'
'I come from nowhere, and I am here to prevent your deaths.'
'And how would you prevent my death?'
Raluandd sighed, and vanished from the terminal, leaving only a single message on the screen below where he had appeared: You need only to take a hop, skip and a jump to land in infinity. But what if you trip?
Zerr turned slowly towards Niuva, and shook his head in confusion.
'I cannot see anything about this AI, either. It is too much of a coincidence that all of a sudden, there are two things which I cannot see. They must be connected. But what does it mean?'
Niuva shook his head in wonderment as Zerr rose and walked off.
Several seconds later, the shuttle docked with the Hro-Et-Hada and its precious cargo disembarked, as well as the mysterious AI. The airlock hissed as Zerr, with Niuva at his right, stepped aboard their flagship for the first time in many years. Zerr felt a surge of power being aboard such a magnificent weapon.
Zerr's flagship boasted five plasma torpedo launchers, and thousands of pulse lasers. At three kilometers long, it was twice as long as any other ship in Zerr's fleet. Its shields could withstand a barrage of MAC rounds and still hold. The ship also housed a backup shield generator which could be used once before burning out. In an emergency, the backup generator could be powered on to immediately bring up the ship's shields again. Afterwards it couldn't be used again, but the backup shields gave the ship time to recharge its primary shields.
Warlord Zerr was not concerned about his own safety. He would not fall. He could not fall.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death part IX - Root for the Home Team
Date: 3 September 2002, 10:53 pm
Private Evans sat serenely, almost asleep. The computerpanel beeped and chirped in response to the commands which his tired handsknew by instinct. He had been stationed on the long-range sensor outpostNightOwl for two years now. And absolutely nothing had passed through Slipspaceanywhere near Earth. Not even friendly ships. It was as if everything waslocked down, like the brass was battening down the hatches. There had beenno freight traffic for several months. Only military ships were even allowedin orbit.
Evans was about to doze off when the rumbling ofa UNSC cruiser shook him. Even though the cruiser was almost 30,000 kilometersaway, it was still clearly visible. Its massive fusion engines glowed afluorescent blue. Typing in several commands, Evans zoomed in on the cruiser.It was the Athens. She had just been completed several months ago.The Athens was the largest ship in the fleet. Measuring in at almosta billion tons, and just over a kilometer long, it housed a crew of severalthousand men with ease. It carried the latest arsenal of doom-bringingweapons.
The Athens carried hundreds of Fury missilepods. While each missile was only about the size of a small desk, it carriedenough firepower to level several buildings. But the Athens' mainweapon was the dual MAC cannons, which had been greatly improved sincethe end of the FIrst War. Using a new metal found on a recently colonizedworld, the MAC rounds were now extremely potent. The metal, Nubidium, hada melting point higher than anything ever found. UNSC scientists put thisto use.
The barrel for the MAC round ran the entire lengthof the ship, and originated directly over the reactor. The MAC round wassuperheated almost to its melting point before firing. UNSC tests had proventhat a normal superheated MAC round versus a normal one was five timesmore effective against shield technology. Evans could only guessthat the MAC round was very similar to plasma, and everyone knew that nothingannihilated shields faster than Covenant plasma.
Evans had heard rumors that UNSC engineers had comevery close to replicating Covenant plasma drives. He had no idea how theyworked, but Covenant ships had always been faster, and the plasma driveswould help UNSC ships greatly.
The Athens had grown closer since Evans lastchecked. He guessed she would swing around the Night Owl and headback towards Earth. Evans, recalling his history, thought back to the famousBattle for Earth, over three hundred years earlier. That was the firsttime UNSC ships possessed shield technology. It had easily been the decidingfactor of the battle. As of the newer ships, such as the Athens,its shields could withstand the force of two MAC rounds. And even a nuclearmine. Many other marines, as well as Evans, considered the Athensto be the UNSC flagship. But it was decidedly not.
The actual UNSC flagship was the Fervor.It was over a decade old, and obviously not the warship the Athenswas. But the brass insisted that the old relic remain the flagship formorale purposes. It had survived several earlier engagements with the Covenant.In fact, it was the only ship which had survived a battle with the Covenantin the past 300 years. The brass felt that stripping the Fervorof its title would drive a stake through many marines' hearts.
Evans had to disagree, but there was nothing hecould do. Rising from his post with a heavy sigh, and found his way tothe on-board coffee dispenser. Grabbing a cup and filling it to the brimwith piping hot coffee, Evans inhaled. The sweet aroma tingled in his nose,and he took a sip. The warmth from the coffee spread down his throat. Evanssmiled. He loved coffee. It was probably the reason he never slept at night.At ten cups a day, it was a wonder he could even sit still.
Just as he was taking another sip of his deliciouscoffee, an incredibly loud klaxon sounded off. Evans jumped and spilt thecoffee all over his brown uniform. It instantly burned.
"Ow! Damnit!" Racing back to his station, Evanssearched for the source of the alarm. After typing in several commands,he found the problem. Beta probe, as well as the Theta probe seemed tobe malfunctioning.
Evans scrolled through the Slipspace readings froma few minutes prior. He spotted nothing, except for several of the readings.On one, the readings showed a massive object traveling through Slipspace.It wasn't even in the system yet, but it was coming, fast. A rough estimateleft the object at twenty kilometers wide, and ten kilometers long. Noone could believe that an object that size existed. There wasn't a sensoroutpost technician alive who hadn't been taught that multiple objects inSlipspace often clumped together.
It could only mean one thing. Evans quickly openedhis message application and typed a High Priority message.
High Priority- To United Nations Space Command
Warning. Covenant invasion fleet inbound at 17trillion kilometers. ETA ten hours. Be advised. Estimated number of ships-350. Request that all UNSC ships in the immediate area, as well as neighboringsystems rendezvous at Rally Point-Theta-Zulu. Recommend arming of all nuclearmines, and powering up of all Orbital MAC guns.
[Slipspace readings are attached]
Evans punched in the command to send. He had donehis duty. Now it was up to the brave men and women of the UNSC to protectEarth. With one last command, Evans destroyed the NAV computer. Obviouslythe Covenant had found Earth, but they didn't need to know where all ofthe other Inner Colonies were.
The wait for the arrival of the Covenant was astoundinglyboring. Evans, along with the other ten souls aboard the Night Owlhad long ago evacuated the outpost and retreated to Earth. The sensor stationhad been scuttled.
To his distress, Evans had not been reassigned toa UNSC ship. Instead, his fate lie in the hands of the brave soldiers alreadyaboard ships. Even from his quarters on Earth, the action the UNSC wastaking to prepare was obvious. Troops and vehicles hustled about. ONI triedto predict where major Covenant landing parties would arrive, if the Covenantchose to invade. Troops and armor were being deployed to the most likelylanding zones. Even the awesome Patriots were preparing for a full scaleassault.
In orbit, hundreds of UNSC ships prepared for thecoming onslaught. The number of UNSC ships numbered above three hundred,and if the estimates were correct, the Covenant had about the same numbers.Then, with the help of the Orbital MAC guns, the UNSC might have a chanceat victory.
Shaking his head, Evans took a short rest. His fatewas no longer in his hands.
"Begin charging MAC guns now!" Captain Krimen ofthe Athens was in a rage. The Athens had been ordered tostay out the fight as long as possible, and to try and protect the Orbitalguns. Krimen wasn't about to let the most powerful ship in the UNSC siton her haunches.
Seconds earlier, green swirls had began collectedbehind the moon. Apparently the Covenant were trying to mask their presenceas much as possible.
"Arm all Fury missile pods, and arm shields, 100%strength!"
"Yes, sir!" Rang out the cries of several differentbridge officers. Krimen stared out the bridge viewport at the swirlinglight. It was a giant whirlpool which symbolized the beginning of the endto many naval officers. But Krimen was unwavering. If he was going down,he was taking the Covenant with him.
Faster the light swirled, larger it grew. If onelooked closely, they could see a green electricity crackling inside theswirling. Finally, when the green tendrils stretched across many kilometers,a blinding flash of light erupted from the portal.
"Battle stations!" Krimen screamed over the noiseof the arriving ships.
When the light subsided, in its place stood hundredsof Covenant warships, like stone centurions. Unwavering, they remainedmotionless for several seconds before their engines roared to life in agreen flash of luminescence. As the entire fleet moved out from behindthe moon and into the open, only then did their true numbers reveal themselves.Krimen felt his jaw drop as he gazed upon the enemy fleet.
"Pericles! Give me a head count!" The shipboardAI, clad in Greek war armor, erupted from the command console. The AI pausedfor several seconds. Krimen knew it was bad when it took an AI severalmoments to count everything.
"Captain, there are exactly 597 Covenant ships.It is comprised of 250 cruisers, 300 destroyers, 40 frigates and 7 carriers.I estimate each carrier is capable of delivering 50-100 thousand troops."
Krimen simply stared out the viewport, shaking hishead in disbelief. The Captain seemed to almost be in a trance when anofficer shouted out.
"Sir! We're going to die out here, aren't we?"
Krimen wasn't in the mood for cowardice. Turningto a marine near him:
"Soldier, have this man escorted and confined tohis quarters."
The bridge officer was dragged away, arms flailingin a helpless attempt to get away. Krimen turned to the rest of his bridgecrew.
"Men. We have a difficult task ahead of us. Butin Earth's greatest time of need, the only think we can do is do our duty.If everyone performs to the utmost of their abilities, there is nothingelse we can do."
Turning toward the window just in time, Krimen watchedanother green swirl appear directly in front of the Covenant fleet. Secondslater, an immense flash enveloped everything, and when it dissipated, inits place was an immense warship.
"Mother of God." Krimen whispered under his breath.
Sunlight reflected off its blue hull. Krimen was stunned. Theship was huge. He estimated at least 1.5 kilometers long, but wide andtall enough to swallow up several UNSC cruisers. Gasps and whispers couldbe heard throughout the bridge.
"Silence!" Krimen flew into a rage. "This changes nothing! Wewill continue to do our duty for the glory of Earth, and if we fall, wefall with honor!"
The entire command crew was silenced immediately.Captain Krimen was still giving weary looks to his crew when Pericles chimedin.
"Captain. The Covenant carriers have withdrawn.Any sort of ground invasion they were planning seemed to have been canceled."
Nodding, Krimen stood thinking. Recalling his history,Krimen remembered how predictable Covenant tactics were in the First War.But this new Covenant seemed different. Every world they attacked, theyinvaded before glassing it. They were going to try something here. Krimenracked his brain trying to understand the Covenant's plan. But he had nothing.
"Pericles, monitor any incoming Slipspace travel.The carriers may try to slip in between the Earth and us."
Returning his attention to the Covenant fleet, Krimenwas confused. There the Covenant fleet sat, engines on, but not moving,as if they were waiting for something. The UNSC dared not advance out towardsthe moon, or the Covenant fleet would surely jump past them and have easyaccess to Earth. Pericles chimed in again.
"Captain, I'm detecting incoming ships in Slipspace.Its the Covenant carriers. It looks like they're going to exit on the otherside of Earth. There's no way we can get to them without exposing ourselvesto the Covenant fleet."
"Very well. Alert the brass. Tell them Earth isabout to be invaded. And at that, the enemy ships sprung to life, and roaredforward towards Earth.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death part X - Only Mortal
Date: 17 September 2002, 10:38 pm
Zerr sat almost motionless aboard his flagship, the Hro-Et-Hada. Hewatched as the small, grayish pinpoints near Earth slowly grew larger, takingthe shape of UNSC ships. Zerr smiled. His forces outnumbered the UNSC almost two to one. They would not last long.
Zerr’s flagship drifted towards the back of the fleet, while the other warships advanced forward to meet the defending ships. Turning his gaze towards a holo-panel, Zerr could observe which UNSC ships were targeted. Several werenot yet. Placing his finger on a virtual representation of his flagship, Zerrdragged it onto an untargeted UNSC vessel. A red line sprung into place. Zerrrepeated the procedure once more, targeting a second UNSC vessel.
Turning to his War master, Zerr spoke in a harsh tone, the blood lustin his voice obvious.
“Niuva, fire when ready.”
“Yes, M’Lord.” Turning away, Niuva picked up a COM unit and activatedit.
“All ships. Fire at will. Engage the enemy!”
Instants later, the collective engines of the Covenant fleet exploded to life, and the ships raced forward towards their goal. On every ship, plasma began amassing on the bow. Then, seemingly in unison, every Covenant warship, including Zerr’s flagship, unleashed an enormous barrage of plasma.
Hundreds of tendrils stretched through space, reaching towards their intended targets. The UNSC retaliated in kind, launching thousands of tons of molten metal towards the Covenant fleet. Three dozen Orbital Guns flared to life, propelling immense rounds through space which desecrated Covenant ships on contact.
As the UNSC ships prepared for the nearing onslaught of plasma, their emergency thrusters activated, pushing dozens of UNSC ships out of the way of incoming plasma. Many ships were struck by at least one plasma blast. Shieldsflickered and disappeared. Dozens of UNSC ships were struck a second time,melting them away or cleaving them in half. Several of the orbital guns werestruck multiple times, boiling them down into an immense cloud of metallicdust.
But the UNSC’s MAC rounds flew straight. All of the ships and orbital guns had fired, launching over three hundred MAC rounds into space. Driven through space at one tenth the speed of light, they slammed into Covenant ships with incredible force. Many shots missed, but many more connected. Hundredsof Covenant ships were left without shields, vulnerable to a second barragefrom the Orbital guns seconds later.
After the first minute of the battle, over a hundred Covenant shipswere either crippled or destroyed. Almost a fourth of the UNSC fleet laysilent, venting atmosphere and spinning into the moon’s gravity.
Observing the carnage, Zerr turned solemnly to his War master.
“Advance this ship and prepare to engage the enemy.”
Niuva nodded as he accelerated the flagship into the heart of the battle. Again, the Covenant ships opened fire with plasma torpedoes. But now, the ships were close enough to make effective use of their pulse lasers. Blue flashes streaked forth across space, slamming into UNSC ships, burning massive holes into their armor. Many ships began to list, venting atmosphere and spinningout of control before a plasma torpedo finished them off.
Once again, UNSC ships unloaded a salvo of MAC rounds which sliced through many Covenant ships The Orbital Cannons continued to launch massive projectiles almost every ten seconds.
The Hro-Et-Hada sped directly into the midst of the enemy fleet, smashing into several smaller vessels, snapping them in half like twigs. Its speed unmatched, Zerr’s flagship streaked through the bulk of the enemy fleet, headingstraight for the line of Orbital guns. Once in range, the Hro-Et-Hada openedfire with pulse lasers and plasma torpedoes. Both weapons were targeted atthe bane of Covenant ships. The space surrounding the guns lit up, flashing blue, red and green as pulse lasers and plasma slammed into the Orbitals. Gigantic plumes of red flame shot out from all directions as the guns buckled and collapsed on themselves before being reduced to metallic clouds.
Several more Covenant cruisers joined in Zerr’s endeavor to rid Earth of its Orbital guns. The UNSC fleet was too preoccupied with staying alive to protect the guns.
As the Hro-Et-Hada bore down on the last remaining MAC gun, it unleashed a salvo of pulse lasers. The blue-green beams peppered the hull of the gun, slicing through it. Supports collapsed and hull armor was vaporized. To ensure its destruction, Zerr ordered that the gun be overrun. Seconds later, the Hro-Et-Hada slammed into the remaining fragments of the Orbital. Chunks of the mighty weapon spun off into space in all directions, some collided with preexisting wreckages already spinning through space. The Hro-Et-Hada accelerated upwards and away from the battle, several smaller cruisers following a hundred kilometers off its stern.
Zerr grinned and turned toward his War Master.
“Niuva, order a retreat back to the moon. I wish to regroup.”
Niuva nodded and barked several orders into his COM.
As the Hro-Et-Hada made its way back toward the moon, an immense jolt shook the ship, then seconds later another jolt rocked the ship and Zerr wasthrown to the ground. Rising, Zerr demanded an explanation.
“Master, shields are down, activating secondary generator!”
As quickly as the shields had dropped, they were restored as the secondary generator burned out. Switching to an aft view screen, Zerr identified his attacker. A UNSC cruiser, large and quite fast. Zooming in, Zerr examined the ship’s name: Athens.
The Hro-Et-Hada continued to flee towards the moon with the Athens in tow. The UNSC ship couldn’t be outrun in time. Zerr feared the worst and began to say several rites for his crew and himself. Then suddenly, without warning, the Athens slowed, and began to spin, venting atmosphere from several locations. After the cruiser had spun halfway around, it was clearly visible that the latter half of the Athens had been melted away. The aft section wascharred, and the ship was trailing behind it an immense cloud of metallic dust.
As the Athens slowly drifted away, floating off into space uncontrollably, two Covenant cruisers came into view. Zerr and the entire bridge crew let out a sigh of relief.
“Niuva, take note of those two ships, their captains are to be commended for their valiant efforts. God looks upon us kindly this day.”
“Of course, M’Lord.”
The Hro-Et-Hada sped quickly and silently back towards the moon, where it was rejoined by 250 more Covenant ships. Zerr looked out of the battlefield. Covenant and UNSC hulks floated everywhere. Many carcasses were bent, cracked, or broken in half. Dozens of ships spun helplessly off into space with no hope of rescue. Many more ships had been reduced to chunks of debris or clouds of molten metal. The Warlord even noticed several Covenant and UNSC ships tethered together in a deathly embrace. The impact most likely killed everyone on board.
For Zerr, it was difficult to tell which ships of the UNSC were still combat-effective. They sat motionless among a gargantuan graveyard of friend and foe alike. He was able to estimate about fifty remaining ships.
The battle will soon be over. Victory gives us its favor today.
Zerr ordered the advance of the fleet back towards Earth. Engines flared to life as the plasma drives of the Covenant fleet were powered up. The fleet looked like a swarm of sharks bearing down on its helpless prey. Plasma launchers and pulse laser turrets warmed as they neared their target, racing ever closer to their fate. Large flares could be seen in the distance as MAC rounds exploded out of their barrels and were hurled towards their targets. Several dozen Covenant ships exploded into fragments. Shards flew everywhere as the burning hulks were dragged into the moon’s gravity.
The Covenant fleet retaliated with a salvo of plasma and pulse lasers. Torpedoes slammed into UNSC vessels, downing their shields and leaving them helpless. Pulse lasers fired throughout. They seemed to burn through space itself as they perforated dozens of UNSC ships with holes. Blue plasma laced the gray warriors with searing openings. Fury missiles exploded in their pods,and UNSC ships erupted from the inside out. Debris flew in all directions, slamming into other undamaged vessels, ripping large holes into their hulls.
Several UNSC vessels began to melt and sag, folding over as they drifted into another ship, destroying both and fusing both wrecks together.
On another ship, its fusion reactor detonated, vaporizing everything in a 200 km radius. Several of the remaining UNSC ships as well as many destroyed ships disappeared from view in a flash of blinding light. Almost a minute later, a shock wave washed over the Covenant fleet. Zerr and his bridge crew were hurled to the ground as an EMP decimated all the shields on any surrounding ships. Dragging himself to his feet, Zerr looked around. No one was harmed. He had won. Peering out a viewport, the victorious warlord observed the damage he had dealt.
Over 600 hundred ships had been lost, Covenant and Human. Zerr didn’t care to estimate the loss of life. It was a truly morose sight. Wreckages floated everywhere. Debris was scattered across hundreds of cubic kilometers of space. Great clouds of metal hung motionless as a silent tribute to those who went quickly and painlessly. For a single instant, Zerr felt a twinge of remorse for all those he had slaughtered mercilessly, either by his own hand, or his word. But the feeling passed quickly as a new feeling entered his shadowy mind. A feeling of joy, of relief. He had attained a feeling ofsupreme omnipotence. He knew the answer to his question that had plagued himfor so long.
He had accomplished victory, but it meant so much more. The impending battle below on Earth was now a known outcome. No one could stop him. The realization of this opened the flood gates of his mind. Nothing was hidden from him any longer. It was as if this outcome had been a barrier preventing his learning of all things.
Eons of knowledge, stretching both forward and backward into time, found their way into Zerr’s mind. He became over encumbered with the thoughts of a trillion beings, those who had been, those who were, and those who were yet to come.
He saw all that he had sought, and all that he had yet to search for. All at once he knew everything. He finally understood the reasons behind theHoly Jihad which started over 300 years earlier. He understood who Raluandd was, as well as the Forerunner, and the connection between the two.
All of this in a single instant.
It was immediately after that, did the Warlord Zerr, ruler of the known universe, transcend the levels between a mere mortal and a god. He understood. He had cheated death for many years. But he realized why there must be life, and why in turn, there must be death. The reason for life and the reason fordeath were the same thing and yet entirely different. The knowledge of whatwould come to be when Earth was invaded ventured into his mind. But he coulddo nothing about it. His time in life had ended, but his time in death wasonly just beginning.
And as that thought ended, so did Zerr’s life. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, and his body fell to deck and lay limp. He had discovered the purpose in life was to prolong death, and with death, prolong life.
Niuva whirled as he heard his supreme commander hit the deck with an echoing thump. Rushing forward, he reached for a pulse. But there was nothing except a horrid calm. Kneeling at Zerr’s side, Niuva said a solemn prayer for his departed master before rising to address the grief-stricken command crew, as well as the remaining fleet.
Rising from his crouch, the War master of the Covenant armies marchedlethargically to a COM unit.
“Attention Brothers of the Covenant. Although it is somber news, itis my god-given duty to report this catastrophe to you. Warlord Zerr, Devourer of Worlds, Savior of the Covenant, lies dead. Dead by-”
Niuva paused. He could feel his heart drop into his stomach as he delivered this news. Who would lead them now? Should he blame Zerr’s death on the Humans? Doing otherwise would only demoralize the armies. Niuva continued.
“Warlord Zerr, our fearless ruler, lies dead by the Devil’s hand! We must act now, and strike down those who would challenge our rule!”
A resounding cheer washed over the bridge of Zerr’s flagship, as well as through the COM. Niuva smiled, and stared off into space for several moments. The fleet was currently organizing itself into position for a salute to their departed master. Niuva slowly turned toward the bridge crew, and ordered thatZerr’s body be taken away for now.
Turning back toward space just in time to see the 200 plasma torpedosalute, Niuva felt a chill come over him.
I can’t believe he’s actually gone.
But then the War master smiled, his mouth took the shape of a devilish grin as a new realization entered his head. He was the Master now. A single battle remained which could not be lost, and then he was the ruler of the Known Universe. Covenant everywhere would bow to him.
Niuva no longer felt any sadness for the events of only minutes earlieras a feeling of power washed over and through him.
Turning to an officer near him, Niuva barked out several orders.
“Commence the attack on Earth. And prepare my shuttle. I intend on goingdown to the surface myself.”
The officer punched in several commands on his console, and secondslater, fifteen Covenant assault carriers erupted from Slip space, and thousands of drop ships streaked downwards toward Earth.
Taker of Life, Giver of Death Part XI - Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Date: 31 October 2002, 1:49 am
Niuva, Overlord of the massed Covenant armies, held on to a railingin front of him with an iron grip. The shuttle had begun entering Earth’satmosphere seconds earlier, and every creak, thump, or jolt made Niuva’sheart leap into his throat. It was one of the most horrifying descents theElite had ever made. While most were smooth and uneventful, this one wasdecidedly not.
Surface-to-air missiles exploded all around, spraying shards of shrapnel into the shuttle’s shields. Peering out a window, Niuva observed massive battlesin the skies. Covenant Seraphs streaked in and out of the dropship formationstrying to provide cover. The nimble Seraphs managed to destroy most incomingmissiles, but many hit their targets. Several Medium Troop Transports explodedinto flames and crumbled in mid-air, then spiraled downward and slammed intothe ground. Niuva clenched his fist in anger. Each MTT carried several hundredtroops.
In the distance, Niuva observed an incoming enemy squadron of fighter-interceptors. The defending Seraphs took note immediately and broke formation to engage the enemy. As the two forces clashed, purple plasma and plumes of flame lit up the afternoon sky. Super-heated plasma slammed into the fighters, liquifying them before they plunged thousands of feet to their destruction.
Likewise, Fury missiles streaked everywhere, pulverizing the small,agile Covenant craft on impact. For several minutes, the two sides battleduntil the Covenant remained. Afterwards, the Seraphs rejoined the cumbersomedropships on their descent. Niuva peered out the window and looked belowat the designated landing zone. It seemed to be lethargically rising up tomeet him.
As their altitude decreased, more and more detail could be seen. At2000 feet, the Human postions could be seen. Trenches had been dug and foxholes constructed. Mobile artillery had been positioned behind their lines. Niuva used his keen eyes to spot camouflaged tents, which obviously covered vehicles of some sort.
The whir of the shuttle’s engines began to slow as the shuttle hovered only several feet off the ground. Niuva checked his shields, and the power level on his plasma rifle. After finding everything to be in working order, Niuva gave the command.
The door of the shuttle hissed and slid open. Rushing outside, Niuva was followed by several of his best soldiers. Hundreds of drop ships were scattered about the field, discharging troops at an incredible rate. As dropships emptied, they retreated several hundred yards and formed a long line. In theirplace, more drop ships arrived and disgorged even more troops.
Then, as the flood of troops subsided, the purpose for the line ofdropships could be seen by the enemy. Hundreds of cloaked ships appeared.Ennormous vehicle transports. Each ship could carry a huge regimen of troopsand vehicles. Thousands more troops poured out of these ships, as well asWraiths, Ghosts, Shadows and Banshees.
Dozens of Wraiths took up position behind the massive line of trooptransports. The Wraith cannon fired in an arch, while Human artillery didnot, thus protecting the Wraiths from artillery, while still allowing themto fire. Elites raced toward Ghosts, Shadows or Banshees, and powered themon. Banshees took to the sky, streaking towards the enemy lines.
The Ghosts and Shadows hummed as they lifted off the ground and sped toward the enemy lines. In the distance, Niuva spotted dozens of human vehicles behind driven forward. Each was manned by three soldiers clad in black armor. One commandeered the vehicle, while one rode in a side seat, and the third manned a large automatic weapon in the rear of the vehicle.
The one-seated Ghosts sprayed plasma toward the enemy lines, and atthe approaching Human vehicles, known as Warthogs. The Shadows sported adevastating punch. A plasma turret rested in the rear of the craft, whichcould rotate 360 degrees. The side seat contained a mounted fuel rod gunfor added destruction. In battle, it was deadly.
Seconds later, a full scale battle was underway. The Wraiths pumpedout plasma rounds which were hurled at the enemy trenches. The Human artillery returned fire, targeting the stationary dropships in an attempt to have a shot at the Covenant mortar tanks. Niuva, and his small group of his best troops raced forward through the field. Thousands of other Elites did the same.
Several bullets glanced off Niuva’s shields, and his shields flickered, but remained intact. A Human grenade whizzed past his head and landed several meters behind him. With his quick reflexes, Niuva dove out of harms way, rollingas he landed and coming to his feet without even seeming to break stride.His nearby comrades were not so lucky. The grenade exploded in the midstof them, launching them through the air and hitting the ground with a thud.While their shields were damaged, the Elites remained unharmed. They quicklyrose and continued the charge. Niuva jumped sideways as an Elite runningnext to him slumped to the ground. A white contrail could be seen, originatingfrom several hundred yards away.
One of the Human Warthogs turned and raced toward a group of Elitesto the right of Niuva. Quickly searching for cover, the Warmaster dove behind a bush. The Warthog grew closer, and fired lanced from its weapon, tearing through the squad of Elites.
Fighting on impulse, Niuva detached a grenade from his belt, activated it, and hurled it at the Warthog as it roared past by. The glowing grenade attached itself to the rear of the vehicle, before exploding in a ball of blue plasma. The Warthog broke in half, and landed in a smoldering heap twenty meters away. The three passengers were hurled from the vehicle, and only onesurvived the explosion. Niuva raced over to find the soldier laying on theground, almost unconsciousness. Bringing his weapon to bear, Niuva unleashed several bursts of plasma into the fallen warrior before bringing his rifle down on the human’s head. Black armor cracked and a sickening crunch could be heard from inside the helmet.
Satisifed that his target was dead, Niuva raced back towards the heartof the battle.
A squadron of three Banshees shrieked over the heads of the Human trenches. Blue plasma raked the entrenched men, and green fuel rod blasts screamed downward,vaporizing troops on contact. The screams of marines could be heard hundredsof meters away. Warthogs, Ghosts and Shadows darted among one another, sprayingmolten lead and plasma everywhere.
Niuva arrived back at the most intense fighting just in time to seea Warthog being chased by a Shadow. Bullets exploded from the turret of the Human vehicle, tearing through the driver of the Shadow. The vehicle deactivated and fell to the ground where the purplish-craft lay helplessly. The two other passengers attempted to exit the craft, but were stopped in their tracks. A muffled thump could be heard as a marine discharged a rocket which threw itself into the stationary Shadow, obliterating it into millions of fragments.
Niuva witnessed the shooter and took careful aim. Squeezing the activation grip on his rifle, one flash of blue streaked across the battlefield, hitting the marine square in the forehead. Dying instantly, the marine fell to the ground. Overhead, fluctuating blue contrails arched downward onto Human forces. Human artillery exploded into shards which sliced through ranks of marines.
Niuva continued to sprint across the battlefield toward the enemy lines. Bullets ricocheted off his shields and zipped past his face. Blue plasma streakedin the other direction, melting armor and flesh alike. Banshees continuedto strafe the enemy lines while the Covenant Ghosts and Shadows mopped upany remaining Human Warthogs. As the combined Covenant army, vehicles andtroops, advanced toward the enemy lines, dozens of autocannons erupted fromconcealed positions.
They opened fire, shredding through entire squads of Elites as theyran for cover. The immense noise caused by the guns muffled any screams that were made. Changing targets, the autocannons ripped through the armor plating on the Covenant vehicles. Multiple vehicles were reduced to scrap metal in a matter of seconds. Lying flat on his stomach, Niuva flinched every time a round from the cannons whizzed past his ear. Hundreds of other Elites did the same.
Finally, the autocannons depleted their ammunition stores and fellsilent. Niuva rose and began the charge again. Of the hundreds of vehicleswhich began the battle, only several remained, the Wraiths. And they werenow unuseable as Niuva and his forces neared the enemy. Finally, Niuva’smile long journey from the dropships ended and he reached the trenches. Hundredsof Covenant Elites were only seconds behind him. In the trenches were dozensof men covered from head to toe in matte black armor.
Springing into the trench, Niuva brought his gun to bear. Blue flashed from the end of his gun and sprayed into his foes. Bullets pinged off his shields and they weakened. Niuva continued to fire, mowing down several men before he was forced to hide to recharge his shields. Detaching a grenade from his belt and hurling it down the trench, several marines attempted to dodge out of the way, giving Niuva time to duck into a small cubby in the trench wall.
Niuva took several seconds to compose himself before he was surprised from behind by one of the black-armored warriors. The warrior swung with hiswepon which connected with Niuva’s head. Reeling from the blow, the Warmaster shook his head and fired three blasts into the warrior’s shields. The shields flickered and disappeared. Niuva followed his attack with a sidekick to the soldier’s mid-section. The marine flew backwards five meters and quickly roseto his feet.
Priming a grenade, the marine hurled it at Niuva’s feet. It detonated and launched the Elite into the trench wall, leaving him dazed. The marine followed his attack will a barrage of automatic weapons fire which downed Niuva’s shields. One bullet made it through and penetrated Niuva’s armor. He screamed in agony as the bullet ripped through his side and fired off severalmore shots of plasma into the marine. They connected with the man’s stomachand dropped him to one knee. Niuva again attempted to fire but his gun couldonly fizzle and sputter. Glancing at his gun’s battery charge, it read zero.The number rang through his head like a death toll. For an instant, he couldnot think of what to do. Then, in a blur, he pulled two cylindrical itemsfrom his belt. They were about seven inches in length, and were a shiny,metallic blue.
Gripping them both tightly, a ten-inch blue blade sprung up from each cylinder. The marine was frantically trying to reload his weapon as Niuva bore down on him with dual plasma knives.
Swinging with his left, then his right, Niuva tore through the marines armor easily. The blue beams sliced horizontally across his chest, leaving gaping holes in the black armor. The dying marine fell to his knees and began to fall forward. Raising his arm upward, Niuva drove one of the blades home into the marine’s back. The human soldier stopped breathing and crumpled tothe ground.
Niuva climed up out of the trench and observed the battle. Everything turned to a state of slow motion as the Elite spun in a full circle. Hundreds of smoldering wrecks littered the battlefield. Smoke spewed from their ashes and rose hundreds of meters into the air. Fires spread across the battlefield, creating walls of flame and smoke which made it impossible to see more than a few hundred yards. Bodies of Human and Covenant alike covered the ground as far as he could see. They lay in tattered heaps, mere shadows of their former glory. Many were battered and twisted, barely resembling their former shapes. Many others were perforated with holes or horribly burned, smoke risingfrom the corpses.
Niuva watched in awe at the carnage that had been wrought upon thisland. For a moment, he stopped breathing, stopped thinking, and only watched.He watched fire lance across the field and strike down the soldiers he sought to destroy, as well as those he wished to protect. The hiss of plasma and the crackle of weapons fire filled the air, accompanied by screams not far behind.
Bullets continued to ricochet off his shields and shouts filled theair. But everything seemed distant and muffled. The Warmaster continued tosurvey the battle when he spied a squad of Elites being pinned down by alarge group of black-armored marines. Niuva’s temper flared and his adrenalinespiked. The fighting was almost 100 meters away, but he covered the distancein several seconds.
As Niuva neared, he observed there to be six Humans. Reaching backwith his right arm, Niuva hurled one of his plasma blades at the nearestmarine. A loud hum filled the air as the blade streaked towards its target.The marine heard and turned just in time to watch the blue knife implantitself in his chest. The soldier fell to the ground without a sound.
The Elite continued to charge straight into the heart of the enemy.As he passed by the fallen marine, Niuva ripped his second blade from themarine’s chest and approached his second victim. The marine turned to hisattacker just in time and saw the blue blades being thrust towards him. Themarine leapt backwards to avoid the swing, but Niuva’s atack still connected.It slashed through the marine’s gun, cleaving it in half and rendering ituseless.
The Patriot threw a punch with his left, but the Elite was too swift. Dropping the knife from his right hand, Niuva grasped the marine’s left and twisted. Bones snapped as the soldier’s arm was twisted into an unnatural position. Then, using his free hand which still contained a knife, Niuva drovethe blade into the marine’s stomach and upwards into the chest cavity. Theheat burned away the fragile lungs and the man ceased to breathe. Withdrawing the weapon, Niuva was struck from behind with an assault rifle. The force of the blow knocked him to the ground and his shields died. The Warmaster had the metallic flavor of blood fill his mouth as it ran out of his nostrils.
Quickly rising, Niuva lashed out with his foot and kicked the marine’s weapon away. The Human retaliated with a punch to the stomach which knocked the Elite back several meters and dented his chest armor. Removing a plasma pistol steapped to his waist in a blur, Niuva fired off several blasts into the marine. The Human’s shields disappeared and the Elite threw a kick into the marine’s kneecap. Bones snapped and ligaments tore as the knee reversed its position and pointed out backwards. The Human fell to the ground screaming in agony as Niuva rose, and pumped a dozen more blasts of super-heated plasma into the writhing marine. The Elites who had been pinned down observed that their attacking force had been halved in a matter of seconds.
They rose and charged forward to help eliminate the remaining threePatriots. The three remaining soldiers were helpless, and quickly fell undera hail of plasma fire. For the moments, things died down in Niuva’s currentarea. The battle still raged in other parts of the field, but most enemyforces in the vicinity had been eliminated. Welcoming the current lull, Niuvalocated a fallen Elite and policed its weapon, checking to see if it hadany charge left. Holding it in his left, Niuva then discarded his plasmapistol, as well as one of his plasma knives. He returned the second knifeto his belt and moved off in the direction of the nearest fighting. The smallcontingent of Elites followed closely behind him.
In the distance, a small troop of marines, ten of them, advanced across the field. Niuva and his men were behind them and to the left. If they were quick, the Marines would never see them coming. Charging forward at breakneck speed, Niuva attacked. As he neared the first Marine, he leaped fifteen meters through the air, and landed straight on top of the marine. The soldier fell face forward, a plasma knife imbedded up to the hilt in the man’s back.
Seconds later, the other Elites arrived and opened fire. Niuva stooped and tore the plasma knife from the dead marine’s back. Plasma and lead flew back and forth, tearing into shields and flesh alike. Multiple combatants fell under heavy fire. Niuva slammed into the next marine with his shoulder. The Patriot was hurled backwards and crashed into the ground. He attempted to rise but the Covenant Warmaster was already on top of him. A brutal backhand from Niuva broke away the entire face plate on the man’s helmet. The Patriot tried to scramble away, but Niuva fired off several bolts of plasma into theback of the man’s head. Metal liquified and flesh roasted as the man droppeddead.
Looking around him, Niuva observed that only one marine remained, as well as another Elite. The two were currently engaged in a close-quarters battle in which Niuva chose not to intervene. Although the Warmaster did notrealize it, the marine near him was in fact the Patriot General, David Brothers.
The two enemies exchanged blows, each time a kick or a punch denting some piece of the armor. The Elite threw a punch with his left hand, followed immediately by a swipe with its plasma rifle in its right hand. The Patriot ducked the punch, but was knocked to the ground by the second blow. The Elite walked towards the downed Patriot, just close enough for Brothers to lash out with his leg and impact the Elite’s midsection. The Covenant warrior flewbackwards five meters and lay on the ground stunned for several seconds. Brothershopped to his feet and withdrew a pistol from his belt, then deactivated thesafety.
The Elite groggily rose to its feet, just before Brothers started firing. The alien dove to its left and rolled, avoiding several of the shots before one tore through its ankle. The Elite let out an aguished scream as it collapsed to the ground, waiting mere moments before its life ended. Brothers’ pistol, being empty, was hurled to the ground.
The remaining Human looked up, observing the remaining Elite. For several seconds, the two sat motionless, waitching their foes, searching for a weakness. In the blink of an eye, Brothers leaped at Niuva, bearing him to the ground. Several punches pounded into Niuva’s helmet, leaving dents in the armor. TheWarmaster managed to squirm away, retaliating with a sidekick to Brothers’ stomach. The black armor crumpled like a tin can as the marine was tossed to the ground.
Seizing the opportunity, Niuva reached to his belt and the plasma knife flared to life. The hum of the blue blade was all that the two heard. The screams, explosions and gunfire around them were blocked out. Niuva tossed the knife from his left hand to his right, then back again. For several seconds Niuva did that, before lunging at Brothers, changing his knife hand in mid-strike. He hoped to catch Brothers off guard, but the marine was not easily fooled.
Brothers dropped to one knee, striking Niuva with an uppercut to the chest as the Elite sailed over him. The force of the punch spun Niuva 180 degrees, causing him to land on his back with a loud groan. The plasma knife flew from his hand and deactivated as it hit the ground. Brothers spun around, searching for his pistol. Niuva had flown almost ten meters, and still lay groggily on the ground. Then the Patriot found it, almost completely buried under dirt. He removed it from its resting place and checked on Niuva, he was just starting to stir. Turning around, Brothers retrieved a fresh clip of ammo, and slapped it into place, cocking the weapon.
As he turned back around, he met the Elite he had knocked out onlyseconds earlier. Niuva bore down on the marine, delivering two punches toBrothers’ stomach, and a third to his face before Brothers fell to the ground.Niuva frantically searched the ground for a weapon, and found a plasma riflenear the body of a fallen Elite. As he stooped to retrieve it, Brothers flung himself at Niuva, and they both collapsed to the ground.
The two fought for control for several moments before they sepratedand rose to their feet. Both Human and Elite looked each other over for several moments, composing themselves. Out of the corner of his eye, Niuva spotted the metallic glint of his plasma knife laying imbedded in the soil. Niuva began to try to edge closer to the weapon’s resting place when an explosion rocked the surrounding area, and both soldiers were flung at the ground. Bothwere instantly back on their feet, but in the confusion, Niuva scrambled towardshis weapon, and held his position.
Brothers slowly edged closer and closer to his opponent before charging at full speed, shoulder lowered. A mistake. Niuva sidestepped and dropped to one knee, obtaining his fallen weapon and thusting it into his enemy’s chest as Brothers struggled to adjust himself to Niuva’s movement. The Patriot collided with the ground, clutching his chest and breathing in short, raspy breaths. The Elite examined the wound from a couple meters away. He tried desperately to recall his Human anatomy. Finally, he decided that the blade had been driven downwards, through a lung and into the liver. He turned and walked away, convinced his enemy would die shortly.
Niuva examined the battlefield. Gunfire still filled the air, but it was considerably less than before. Squads of Elites ran rampant, mopping upthe remaining Human forces with little or no resistance. Niuva partook inthe operation, hunting down small platoons of men hunkered down inside foxholes,or simply fleeing for their lives. A handful of Humans attempted to surrenderand plead for their lives. Their pleas were never heard.
Finally, almost thirty minutes later, the gunfire ceased, and Niuvaslowly spun around, looking at the carnage which had ensued for no more thantwo hours. Thousands had died, hundreds lay wounded or dying. The CovenantWarmaster chuckled to himself. He had won. Certainly, there would be smallerbattles scattered throughout the planet, which could now be easily won. Butthe victory at hand was the deathblow. The Humans no longer stood a chance.
For the next month, Niuva and his forces slowly removed any, and all opposition on Earth. Thousands of cities burned into the night, leaving behind heaps of rubble and a sky full of ash. Billions died, few remained purposely alive. Many humans fled, hiding in dank caves or amidst dark forests. They were all eventually hunted down.
Niuva marched then on Washington, thousands of soldiers in tow, andin a satire, gave an address on the steps of the Capitol Building. His armies lay silent for the first time in weeks as their leader spoke.
“Friends! Three hundred years of waiting has finally reaped its rewards! The Devils are on the verge of extinction, and we, the dominant race, rule supreme! Although our leader, the great and powerful Warlord Zerr lies dead, his deeds and thoughts shall be remembered throughout all time! But let this not be a time for grieving. Let this be a joyous occasion, for while your previous ruler is no more, I shall take his place, and make us more powerful than any one being can imagine!”
Cheers flooded the streets in approval. Niuva took a deep breath beforecontinuing.
“I wish to inform you all of what I plan to do now that we have conquered all.” The crowd became silent. Niuva pulled up a holographic display and punchedin a few commands.
“This, my subjects, is an object that was found over three hundredyears ago, during the Old Rule. It is an extremely complex device. Our scientists currently have very little understanding of its function, design, etc. It lay in a constant orbit between a gas giant, and its moon. Unfortunately, during the waning years of the Old Rule, it was destroyed in a battle with the Devils. Since then, all information detailing this object has been hidden, shown only by Zerr to myself and a select few. Up to this point, we have triedextensively to locate another, but have failed.
“This is the task that is being appointed to all of us. We must find another of these devices so that we may study and experiment with it. But more importantly, discover the makers of this object, and attempt to contact them.”
Then, in the blink of an eye, the holograph vanished, and the mysterious AI, Raluandd appeared, sitting atop his binary-covered steed. It spoke.
“I’m afraid that is not possible.” A Covenant Elite reached to disconnect the power source and lightning lanced from Raluandd’s fingers into the soldier. The Elite fell silent instantly and Raluandd continued.
“Your master was finally able to comprehend their mysteries. Observe his demise! You think you can do better? But Alas, ‘tis impossible to find them anyway. They are the all knowing who are not known, the all-seeing who cannot be seen, and capable of anything you can perceive while remaining untouchable.”
Niuva stood silently, awestruck at the command a simple AI wielded.No, not simple. An extremely complex being. The AI continued.
“And furthermore, my masters are indeed displeased. It seems theirexperiment, several billion years in the making, has been ruined by you,scum. And my, when my masters are displeased, they can be most malevolenttowards others.”
Niuva stared, amazed. He sat in a state of fear, amusement and rage. He looked out at his troops, trying to develop some sort of statement, but he found nothing.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said Raluandd, shaking his head. “Your time is butnumbered, and I control the speed of the clock.” The AI chuckled. Then, theAI began mumbling to himself. “15 billion...... 5 billion to here......eh.....maybe it would work in time. Yes! Yes, I believe it would! My masters can always start the experiment over, plenty of time. Of course, sadly, the current experimentneeds to be scrapped. But of course, They already know that, they actuallydecided several minutes ago. I’d love to stay and watch, but unfortunately, I have to go.”
And at that, the AI disappeared as a beam of blue light shot into the atmosphere. Wherever it was going, it was traveling at the speed of light, if not faster. Niuva was just looking back at his troops when the ground beganto quake. Hundreds of Elites were thrown to the ground, while many more screamedand ran in a terrified panic. Niuva simply sat and stared, waiting to seewhat would happen.
Several minutes later, the shaking stopped, and everything became eerily silent. Then, a blinding green light washed over everything, and Niuva began to get hotter and the air felt almost electrified. Seconds later, an unimagineable pain washed over everyone. Then, no one remained. The galaxy was effectively, cleanly and efficiently cleansed. And so, They were the creators and destroyers, wiping clean the atrocities of the last five billion years.