Uprising by WONDERLIBERTARIAN
Date: 12 January 2005, 4:03 PM
The Humans have a concept called freedom. It's not something that most of us know about, but few of us care about the Humans as anything other than enemies. Within the monolithic face of our Covenant, though, there are cracks and crevices, personalities that are different, that break the mold and crack the monolith. I know that the humans could hardly believe me; their history is full of oversimplifications.
But the Human concept of freedom betrays something of intellect despite all of those prejudices. It isn't unique to them, it is one that they share with the Unggoy and the Lekgolo, but it is doubtless a rare concept, and neither the Unggoy nor the Lekgolo carried it out to the extreme that the Humans have.
The screen is blinking information to me as I ponder all of the Humans and as it digs into a planet that the Humans once called 'York IX.' There are a few locations left on it that might be worth looking into.
Glassing is not quite so complete and destructive of a process as the Prophets might hope, there are always exceptions, always bunkers deep and solid enough or some magnificent stroke of luck, there is almost always some shattered picture of Humanity to be drawn out of the wreckage, and I cherish each shard, and what pieces are left are more valuable than the purest Lyka crystals to the right buyer.
It used to be a hard job, if it offered any consolations it was the lack of competition with the Prophets forbidding us to travel near, let alone study the glassed planets, but lately everything of the Prophets has lost value in the eyes of my people. Now I never see warships enforcing the decrees, but I now see amateurs burning themselves on the glassed planets, too lightly protected to live for long.
My ship is dropping burrowers, the machines will seek out the locations my ship has found and dig paths to them for me. I spend the brief moments as my ship spins around this world offering what prayers the Gods might accept.
The diggers have broken through the surface on a few spots already and have found what treasures they might. I begin to lower my ship a little closer to the black, smooth planetoid. One of the dig sites looks deeper than most, and my ship forces every probing ray down into it to see how deep it sinks. My mandibles part in a grin, Jackpot.
The Subterranean Museum of York IX was once one of the most famous tourist venues of the Human's Empire, dug a hundred stories underground, and with thick walls designed to stand against the cruelest ravages of the subterranean; even with the first twenty stories ruined by the plasma it was an impressive vision.
Books lay scattered, many pots and jars are shattered on the marble floor, there hadn't been much fighting here, if there had been any, most of the damage had been done by the Humans as they fled. The digger sits proud above me, watching me as I inspect its work. This would keep everything running for a long time.
I reach down at a book, its cover spread in humiliation as it lay on the floor, Economics and the Modern Universe. I look around the small room, it must have been an office, I drop a few robots who hover in the air, preparing to take a full inventory of the Museum. I flip the book to face me and sit in the awkwardly soft human chair.
'With the dawn of slipstream space travel the concept of wealth was irrevocably changed. Wealth, by its very nature, is a product of finite resources and with an infinite universe at our fingertips it seemed that it could not be long before famine and want were obliterated despite humanities soaring population. Some economists still believe this to be true, that utopia is only a slipspace jump away, but it has since become evident that the key to wealth has simply changed, and that even with a theoretically infinite number of resources access has remained finite.
'Access has remained finite despite a booming transport and a thriving exploration industry which receives bountiful investment and is never short of personnel, the causes for this stagnation are forced, they are the product of an over regulatory Space Command which slows new businesses from opening and which carefully monitors all legitimate businesses...'
I drop the book, its lost my attention already, although it is fascinating. There is no word in Sangheili for the Human word for Wealth, the closest comes closer to the Human word 'power.' It is one of the fundamental differences between our races, they can focus on such things as leading their own lives happily while my own race is driven for power, to have power over others.
This, I realize, is probably why the Humans took so long to form a centralized government for their race, and why regional rebellions are more common in their history than coups. This is where the uniquely human idea of the barbarian raider comes from, men who pillage for wealth and never bother to rule, this is not a race concerned with control, even when they sought control it was only a means to the end of wealth, and not an end of itself.
And because of this the humans took several thousand years to build a united government during which time not only did regional dialects arise, as they often had even with the Prophets before their ancient unification, but such genetic divergences occurred as were unseen in other races, entirely different features and skin tones were the norm on different regions of their home world, nowhere else had this occurred in the galaxy.
The office, even so devastated as it was in the glassing and the tremors that inevitably follow as the plates warp, is ornate; it's obvious that whoever once used it was an important person. Leather-bound books lay, facing down in defeat across the floor, beautiful pottery is broken on the floor, the desk is a dark, solid wood, the wide chair is a soft leather.
My wristband beeps, the inventory orbs can't get more than a few floors down because of the damage, though the numbers and pictures that flicker across the wristband's screen are already more impressive than many hauls I've taken off of small planets. The diggers will be able to break down a little further I hope, but I'll have to gather up this stuff first.
There's a picture on the desk, a small portrait that somehow stayed standing through the hell that this building endured. Her hair is long and blonde and her eyes are blue and deep, delicate cheekbones hide beneath her skin, she's smiling. My eyes drip downward, a meager apology to this fellow, whoever he was, whose life we so ruined. I reach out to the picture, staring in accusation at me, and face it down.
The miniature orbs hover in front of me again, full, I open my palm to them to land, and they drop through the short fall to my hand. I look out the office door with an awkward mix of guilt and joy, Jackpot.
Back on the ship the radio flickers to life, "Hallowed Forager this is the Steadfast Disciple is this transmission received"
For a moment I consider ignoring them, but they'll be back if I do, "This is the Hallowed Forager transmission acknowledged."
"Requesting full transmission," my eyes flicker up to the telescreen, they want a video feed as well, I don't want them to get into the habit of getting what they want.
"With all due respect, request denied."
The transmission is silent for a moment, they hadn't expected that.
"We wish to escort you to the Sacred Conqueror for an audience with the Admirals."
I frown, "Request denied."
"With all due respect, the race is in a time of great need."
"I've long since stopped caring about my race, just as they've stopped caring about me."
"Not all in your race have forgotten you, was it not an Admiral who helped you arm that ship of yours so nicely? Was it not an Admiral who secured the false military profile for you?"
Admiral Tarq'Kytamee, we had been close a lifetime ago. It hurt to hear his parting gifts listed with so little care, with so little emotion burned into my soul, "And when Tarq's fall came? Who of the race was there for him?"
"We did not bring him down, it was the Jiralhanae who engineered his downfall."
Which was true, the Jiralhanae had meddled with intelligence and helped send him into a Human system where he would be outnumbered and outgunned, he had been left with little choice but a retreat after a too costly battle. It was the Jiralhanae who had revealed his gifts to a friend fallen from grace on the heels of the greatest disaster of his career.
"And yet you watched him fall, never caring."
"As did you, Hryl."
"I had no choice," I scream over the communicator, "what would you have had me do?"
"And what would you expect of us?"
The comm goes silent.
"Tell the Admirals that their invitation is declined."
"The Arbiter offers his own invitation."
The Arbiter, another friend from a lifetime ago, a lifetime ago for each of us. Another who had fallen from grace, I want to see him, perhaps in his mandibles he holds words that can make me care again, I've so missed caring about the rest of the world.
Time drags by as the temptation plucks at my heart.
"Tell the Arbiter that his invitation is declined."
The robots are in the museum, filling my holds with precious artifacts, I'll be here a while before I can start to sell them, I hope that whoever is commanding the Disciple isn't so patient.
"Sir, I beg you to reconsider."
"I have made my decision."
"I remember a time when you could think of someone besides yourself, don't you?"
"Ship Master, enough of this. I've given you my final word."
"The Arbiter will be quite disappointed."
"Ship Master, has the Arbiter ever been left for dead? Abandoned by everyone he thought he could trust? The Arbiter has known dishonor, but who are you or the Arbiter to tell me of disappointment?"
The comm. is silent, and across the void slipstream is slowly sliced open for the other ship as it leaves in silence. I pick up its course, assuming that it's going straight back. The Prophets will pay a nice sum for that. I just wish I had something more precise.
The first hold is full, soon I'll have enough to make a good run, I pull up my client list, one cannot sell sacrilege in a market, there are a few promising visits that I'll make first, before taking the course to the Prophets.
The Jiralhanae spreads his arms in a stretch as he sprawls in the wide leather chair, "By the Forerunners this is nice."
"But of course it is Yelemander. I sell only the finest, and the humans do know comfort."
He smiles the hideous smile of the Jiralhanae, I return it with my own more elegant parting of my mandibles. We sit in his garden office in the middle of his immense house, swarms of servants flutter about in every other room, but they leave the garden unattended to, they have been warned not to disturb this business. There are chairs out here of the stiff organic style of the Jiralhanae and a desk that looks almost like a tree warped out of shape and with drawers dug into it. It is incredibly different from the sterile metals and the austere architecture that my own race prefers, the dirt floor feels awkward under my feet.
"And you know the Humans, do you not, Hryl?"
A short laugh escapes my mandibles, "You can say that."
"Tell me, have you seen any?"
"They say that they stand two meters tall, and fight with ferocity and cruelty, is this true?"
I smile, "What do they tell you of our own soldiers?"
"We are proud and undefeatable, noble and strong, though the humans fight with their cruel ferocity we always conquer, but you know this as well as I do."
"Yes, and is it true?"
The Jiralhanae is silent.
"I will not join you in your sacrilege, Sangheili. The Prophets do not lie."
"Of course not, Yelemander."
"How much will this chair be?"
I name the outrageous sum, he hardly bats an eye, sometimes I have to name the risks involved, sometimes they try to make offers and to haggle, but not often. He reaches into a drawer without a comment.
He reaches into his hideous treelike desk, into the drawers that must have been burned into it with care, pulling out an oversized Plasma Rifle.
"Threats aren't going to get you a better price, Yelemander," I laugh.
He laughs as well, but it's without any levity, it's thick and dark and cruel, "The chair is mine now, that's not what this is for."
I laugh, "The chair is yours now?"
He shakes his head, "Did you know that the Prophets have offered quite a commission in return for your head? I will give it to them and I will join the ranks of the Honor Guard, everything will be mine for the asking."
"How did you get that Rifle, Yelemander?"
He laughs his thick dark laugh again, "It was quite difficult, but I'm sure the Prophets will understand."
The room is quiet for a moment; he's trying to work up his brutish nerves.
"Why do the Prophets want me dead?"
"I don't know if you've noticed, but there is a war, your race is fighting us. There is no reason that we should let you help them."
"And what good would I do them? I am only one more."
He laughs, "Only one more, you are Hryle'Delhormee, former commander of the Infiltrators, you planned operations that the humans couldn't touch and you stole even the most sacred of relics from their heathen planets with barely a wound on a soldier. The Prophets don't need to worry about these things anymore."
I shake my head, "So you would say that I am a fine soldier, Yelemander?"
He nodded, grinning, "Of course, one of the finest, which is why I will mount your head on my door."
"And you assumed I would come here unarmed?"
The Plasma Sword is out and flicks on before he can reply, the stench of burnt hair and boiling Jiralhanae blood wafts up as I dig it into him. His thick flesh begins to melt as I flick the sword off. The chair is ruined. His body slumps to the floor.
May the Gods torture him for eternity for this. I turn to leave the gardens and return to my ship. I have to think, I have to plan.
A servant meets me at the door, "Is this business done, then?"
"No, hardly, but I must go retrieve a sample from my ship, it looks to be quite a deal here."
"Ahh," the servant turns back to his post, leaving the door to swing shut behind me.
I look at the course that the Disciple took as I orbit around York IV. I could follow them, of course, I could join them now, if only to fight the Prophets and the Jiralhanae, if only to spite all of those who dragged me down.
But then again, what is to keep my own race from betraying me? How could I know that they would not offer me as a gift to the Prophets? They don't want freedom from this slavery that the Prophets call a Covenant, they only want their honor restored.
And what am I to do otherwise? Will I be able to sell my wares with everyone I meet pointing their guns at me in hopes of a post in the Honor Guard?
There is only one thing to do, and I wonder whether or not to abandon all of my scavenging equipment, it won't do me any good anymore.
My grey armor stares at me from the back of the ship, by the Forerunners, if only I had another choice.
It seems the Admirals will have their meeting.
Scavenger Chapter Two: Into the Darkness
Date: 31 January 2005, 10:13 AM
NOTE: Sorry for the delay, I had to restructure the overall plot of the series (notice a new series title) without causing inconsistencies with what I already wrote (remembered why I hate writing serieses). Took a lot of editing to get this acceptable.
"Most High Admirals," I nod my grey armored head in reverence and they nod in return.
The smooth metallic purple walls of the ship glitter as it floats above this planet, whatever planet it is, my ship's records could not recognize its mystical emerald surface, but then again my ships navigational records are better used to the planets of the humans than to our own Empire.
"Delhormee, we have heard that you were quite disrespectful to our envoy."
My mandibles part in amusement, "There was a misunderstanding."
Admiral Ghan'Forgholdee is in the front, his flesh is deeply scarred with the marks of many campaigns, "'I've long since stopped caring about my race,' I believe is the way you put it, Delhormee."
"I was forgotten and abandoned, do you expect my forgiveness? Do you expect the scars to disappear? Do you stand before me and proclaim that it is my duty to forget every knife that was driven into my back? For I did not come here to hear such drivel."
Ghan'Forgholdee's mandibles arch downwards in a frown, "Delhormee, how can we be expected to ask your assistance if we cannot trust you?"
"Trust? Allow me to lecture you on trust. There are only a handful in the galaxy who could recognize me anymore, half of them are in this room, and it has become obvious that one of them is selling the secret of who I am. You cannot trust me?"
The room falls silent as diplomacy's silent and subtle options are examined by the Admirals, "If you cannot trust us then why offer your help?"
"I do not offer any help, Admiral, I only ask for help as I pursue a vengeance I am due."
The Admirals collectively frown and glance at each other nervously the silent moments creep by as they each seek out a consensus, there are no words, only darting, frightened eyes, "Hryle'Delhormee," Forgholdee looks into my eyes, "We can offer such help."
"Good," the Admiral's frown disappears in the warmth of a satisfied smile, "Then There is a Jiralhanae that we wish to help you murder."
"He has recently replaced Tartarus as their sole leader, he calls himself Sisyphus."
Sisyphus. My mandibles part in a grin of their own.
"Consider him dead."
The Arbiter appears behind me, "Will the Admirals be done with our guest then? I would like to share a few words with him."
Forgholdee smiles, waving towards me with his hand, "Certainly, Arbiter, as you wish."
The Arbiter walks with a more confident stride than I expected, a less shamed expression than I might have thought, the rumors of his fall have been much exaggerated, but then, so were the rumors of my own fall.
The Arbiter leads and I follow close behind, the only sound is the slight breaths that seep from our mandibles.
The door opens in front of the Arbiter as he advances the conquering hero.
"My ancient friend, I fear that you do not know what you have promised."
"Only my vengeance, Arbiter, do not fear for me."
The Arbiter sits down behind a thick metallic desk, he indicates another chair for me, "The Admirals know full well that this is a suicide mission, this is why they send you, you cannot be trusted, they might have dared to trust you before but with the words you offered their envoy?"
"I am hardly gifted with prophecy, Arbiter, I never knew it would matter."
The Arbiter shakes his head, "Of all the people not to plan ahead, not to leave every eventuality planned for."
"I made an error, and the Admirals will trust me again when I bring them Sisyphus' head."
"And how do you intend to accomplish that?"
"It will be simple."
"Hryle'Delhormee, you carry quite a price on your head, those who recognize you will attack, and you hope to bring death to the most highly guarded Jiralhanae on High Charity. This is a suicide mission, and this fight is not your own. For your own sake, my friend, leave this planet and leave this fight, I will supply your ship. I beg you to hide."
My head bobs agreeably, "Truly this fight that you have found is not my own, I have no sympathies with your wars of honor, but I have my own fight, and it is a war of vengeance, if your Admirals will give me a fistful of men to fight that war then what care I of their motives?"
"And those who seek your scalp?"
"Most half believe me dead, few will recognize me."
The Arbiter's head is shaking, "I remember a more cautious soldier."
"You remember a soldier, Arbiter. I am nothing but a shadow, a vengeful shadow."
A vengeful shadow, my mandibles clench for a moment, the Arbiter sees them, he knows much of subtlety.
"Very well, Hryle'Delhormee, have your execution."
I sleep at nights, and in the dreams that each sleep guards there are memories.
I remember a younger man, his father tall and proud with many medals from many victories. Parades welcome this type, and they will not shun a chance to have their glory seen. Such as him will press upon their sons many a discipline, Such as him will pray for their sons to repeat their own lives.
And such a son is destined by his father to enter the Army.
There are not many pacifists in our Race, it is almost a Human idea such as Freedom, but somewhere in our Covenant, amid the cracks in the fašade, we live in silence. Ironic that such silence is necessary when the very Covenant was formed in the name of peace, but irony defines our age with the same deft strokes with which it defined the ages before us.
I remember the training, the brutal work of the body, I remember the application to SpecOps. I remember every glorious star that watched with care my rise.
I remember Harvest.
"Sir, over here, the relic."
I was a commander already, and had my own squad to lead, there are only a handful of positions above a commander of a SpecOps Squad, and to them alone I payed reverence.
The relic was beautiful, luminous, its deeply ingrained crystals glowed already in my eyes, "Excellent work, stow it and prepare to extract."
We were in the middle of a Human city, its building's stone walls beginning to crumble under our assault, there were bodies all around. Left from before; my own team was not so sloppy as to shed blood. I leaned down to the Human face.
"I can never be sorry enough," I remember the whisper as it slipped from my breathless mandibles.
"Sir?" one of the soldiers looks to me.
"Nothing of importance."
They heard me, I can realize now, but even then my eyes were filled with the hope that perhaps they hadn't.
"The glassing is scheduled in only a few moments, we haven't long before we must leave this cesspool."
They nodded to their commander, whatever madness the dead human had instilled in him forgotten.
We started to file out of the room, the Active Camo flickering on when I saw it, when it captured my eyes.
Perhaps the troubles began earlier, when the Hierarchs had chosen to ensure that SpecOps commanders should be able to navigate the language of the humans, perhaps it was the ghosts of the humans hoping to survive in this one short volume, perhaps it was simply a mystic aura that surrounded this book as it sat alone on the shelf.
This single book sat alone, its title mystic, its slender pages enthralling. Such moments as I remember this to be will cause us to wonder about destiny, and how direct a hand she takes in our lives.
I reached out to it and shoved it into my own bag, praying that none of my soldiers noticed the invisible hand reaching to the book.
Thar'Domee was once a member of the Honor Guard, Till'Coraee was another SpecOps commander, a soldier whose career had only begun to rise when the war began to change, when the crusade prepared to collapse, the other six of my soldiers carry less prestige, "We have been entrusted with a sacred mission, my fellow soldiers."
They nod agreeably, they want to fight back as much as I do. There are wars fought over one great slight, and such wars can never last, but this is a war fought for the sake of a billion tiny wounds. This is a war fought by each of us, this is a noble fight.
"Sisyphus will be found on High Charity, likely near to the Hierarchs themselves, insertion will be problematic, extraction will be almost impossible. I refuse to let one of you die, but my loyalty to you comes at a cost; I need for each of you to be the best.
"This will not be a simple task by even my own measure, this will require the greatest discipline that can be provided, this will require every prayer that the Gods will receive."
They nod in return, it's easy to nod.
The speakers inform us that we have left slipspace, may the Gods have mercy, our time has come.
"We will be boarding the Graceful Conqueror, we will engage Active Camouflage and we will remain in the shadows. The boarding party will be outnumbered, the Brutes will beat them off, they will cheer with victory and we will remain silently behind. Our operatives tell us that the Conqueror is scheduled for maintenance on High Charity, and at that time we will leave the ship and begin the hunt.
"After disembarking the rendezvous coordinates will be sent to you, we will meet there and proceed directly to Sisyphus' residence. We strike at night, kill the Jiralhanae and leave the rest alive, steal a ship and jump out."
They each nod, it's easy to nod, if anyone should know the ease of nodding, then it is I. They've heard this a thousand times, but I never leave room for error. The ship shudders as the boarding rams jab themselves into the Conqueror
I flick my Active Camo on as I hurry forwards, through the boarding rams and fast.
There are other soldiers taking the fall here so that I can do this, so that I can get my revenge, there will be careers forever sullied by the defeat we've arranged for ourselves on this boarding run, but if I do the damage expected of me to the Jiralhanae cause it will all be worth it.
The others might be around me, they might not be. They might have been ordered to pull it back, and the Admirals might just be trying to tie up a loose end in me, but that wouldn't bother me, I know who I am. I know what I can do, and this mission will be accomplished. I am a very dangerous person.
I smile as I remember the older days as the Jiralhanae ship takes me in, there were prophecies about me once. I am a very dangerous person.
Plasma flashes across the deck, boiling the air and singing the hair on the backs of the Jiralhanae who swing their brutish weapons at my fellow Sangheili. We are already outnumbered, and even more pour into the breached rooms as I watch, pausing for a moment in the boarding ram.
I have to hope that I can make it out of here, the Jiralhanae stand at nearly every exit, burning slabs of plasma fly through the air around me as I duck narrowly between them.
There is a ventilation shaft on the other side of the room, the Jiralhanae need far more air to sate their lungs than my own race, their ships are filled with such massive shafts, my foot moves a step onwards.
I shudder to a stop in front of a massive Jiralhanae, his breath thick and dirty. I pause for a moment as he squints his horrid little eyes, forcing them to give him everything they have, forcing every glimmer into meaning in his crude mind.
My breath stops. His hand is reaching out towards me. I back away even though I know it's too late, he will touch me in a moment.
The sword appears suddenly in his gut, and he collapses to the ground, a Sangheili warrior standing over the carcass. I frown to realize that this warrior's career would forever be stained with this defeat, if he survived.
The warriors eyes linger over me for a moment, as though he might see me, but even if he does the battle beckons to him, and he cannot deny its allure.
I toss a grenade, it's blue glow invisible in the heat of the battle to blow open a ventilation shaft, I can tell from halfway across the room that it is barely big enough to fit into.
Forwards I crawl. Into the darkness.