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Veracity by Shurmanator



Veracity: The Beginning
Date: 8 October 2009, 12:14 am

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0559 Hours
>///Interrogation Room Omega Recording Log



"What is your name?"

"Our name is all that has been said in the presence of our infinite understanding of all that is, and all that refers to the glory of the inner being of our outer appearance, and any voice in the darkness that cries for the light of knowledge and power and sacrifice."

"What do others call you?"

"They call us all that knows what is, and all that shall discover what is not. They call us the beacon of the future, and the dawn of eternity."

"What should I call you?"

Silence.

ONI Intelligence Agent Andrew Kenderson closed the intercom through the flip of a switch. He swiveled in his chair, running his pale hands through his crew cut as he did so. His gaze drifted up towards Colonel Vesper, the Army officer leading Kenderson and his team, and the one who reported back to Section Four's top echelon. The Colonel looked unnerved, and even a little frightened.

Kenderson shared his anxiety. This guy fought in the Human-Covenant War. Must take a lot to scare him, the officer thought. The atmosphere being projected by the... Thing in the interrogation room was probably enough to scare a Spartan, in retrospect. But you would have thought that three months of listening to it would have established a routine.

Colonel Vesper quickly re-gained his composure, and his posture stiffened.

"So, Captain. What do you make of it today?" he asked, feigning serenity.

"I have no idea, sir. And it's just Officer Kenderson, sir. Kinda' hard to give ranks to soldiers that technically don't exist, right sir?" Kenderson replied, trying to lighten the heavy mood.

The Colonel brushed off the poor attempt at humor, although he did drop the acknowledgment of rank. "Christ, Kenderson, do they pay you to just sit here and talk to the damn thing? I thought you were supposed to figure out what makes it tick."

"With all due respect sir," Kenderson ventured hesitantly, "they do pay me to sit here and talk to the thing. The point is moot, to admit, considering I'll never be able to re-enter society and I won't be able to do a damn thing with the ridiculous salary I'm getting. To be frank, sir, and I speak for my entire team when I say this, we have no clue what the hell this Thing is or what it's purpose is. We don't even believe it exists on the same dimensional plane as us."

"What?" the Colonel asked, displaying the stereotypical Army ignorance of anything remotely scientific.

"Well sir," Kenderson began, "the best we've figured out at this point is that this thing doesn't think in three dimensions, like Humans do. We perceive things as either one, two, or three dimensional. Our fourth dimension is time, which we can't do a thing about except move forward in. This thing can probably, and is probably, existing on hundreds of different dimensions right now, perceiving things in ways we can not possibly comprehend. It's most likely dumbing down its responses to an infantile level to even attempt to communicate us. It would be like you or me trying to talk to an amoeba, sir."

"So you're saying that it's way too smart for us to study," the Colonel simplified.

"It probably doesn't even see intelligence in the same way you and I do, but yes, sir, it's way to smart for us to study." Kenderson responded.

The Colonel stepped back from the control panel and slumped into a folding chair positioned by the triple titanium reinforced door. He hung his head in his hands.

"Three months of this and you're telling me we've gotten nowhere. Not only that, but we're never going to get anywhere, because this Thing is way to damn smart for it's own good," he fumed, gesturing angrily at the interrogation room.

"I apologize sir," Kenderson lamented.

The Colonel sighed, and, almost to himself, muttered "What the hell am I going to tell those damn spooks? They already drugged me and kidnapped me to lead this damn op, and now that I've got nothin', they'll probably line me up in front of a firing line."

Kenderson had nothing to say to that. There was always a possibility. Hell, anything was a possibility in Section Four. When you didn't exist, you could pretty much get away with whatever you want.

Andrew Kenderson rested his head on his hand, putting his elbow up on the control console. He looked through the two way mirror out into the interrogation room at the source of the Colonel's woes.

Floating in the center of the room, propelled by no visible devices, was an amorphous object. It was vaguely oval in shape, but its outside was constantly shifting and writhing, sometimes blossoming outwards in bulbous protrusions. Though it existed in three dimensions, sometimes it appeared so flat that it was invisible when turned "sideways", or whatever direction could be applied to the creature. The colors the creature was exhibiting, at least outwardly, were far too high up on the light spectrum for Humans to perceive, and special focusing lenses had to be installed in the two way mirror for Kenderson to see the creature as a bright, purplish mass. It's means of communications were likewise unseen, and sounds, automatically in English, were simply projected from its being. It had no limbs to speak of, and no orifices anywhere on its mass. Put simply, it looked like someone splashed a glob of purple paint in mid-air, and then started using a blow-drying to swish it around.

Simply looking at the Thing now depressed Kenderson; being trapped in a small orbital interrogation platform above a gas giant with absolutely nothing to do except talk to the Thing or talk to other Humans about the Thing could cause some serious emotional trauma. Kenderson had stopped wondering what it was a few weeks ago, and now just monotonously asked it the same three questions with different variations on each: "What is your name?" "Where are you from?" and "What is your purpose?"

Kenderson tried the last one just for the hell of it.

"What is your purpose here?" he asked as he flipped the intercom switch on.

"To preserve," the Thing said.

Kenderson shook his head. Always the same response. Everytime I ask it something else it goes into a long-winded speech about nothing, but when I ask it that, it's always the same answer. To preserve what? Humanity? Peace? Justice? Whatever its species is? What do you preserve?

"What do you preserve?" asked Kenderson, for the millionth time.

"All that is needed to preserve."

The Intelligence Officer's frustration finally broke through his composure. "You are one cryptic son of a bitch, you know that?"

The Thing did not answer.

A resounding click echoed through the small antechamber as the intercom was switched off. The Colonel looked up from his chair.

"I don't think it likes being insulted, Kenderson," he said, attempting a smile.

Andrew Kenderson got up out of his seat slowly, exaggerating his emotional and constitutional weariness into a true physical manifest. He walked, almost with a limp, and entered a twelve digit code into the access panel by the door. It swished open.

"I'm going to get some coffee. Want anything?" he asked.

The Colonel didn't look up. "I want off this station."

"I think they're all out of that," Kenderson replied. He walked out of the interrogation control room and down the hall. The drab, chrome walls grinned maliciously at him from all sides, mocking his imprisonment.

He flipped them off.

Another door, similarly reinforced, loomed ahead. Kenderson punched another twelve digit access code into the door and entered.

Section Four are the only bastards paranoid enough to install a security lock on the door to the freakin' mess, he grumbled inwardly.

Five pale, dreary faces looked up as he entered; the rest of the Intelligence team assigned to this project. They had once been the best and brightest in the entire UNSC, maybe in the entire galaxy. Now they were all depressed, hopeless wrecks.

Shira Covez, one of the lead engineers on replicating Forerunner teleportation technology. She was the first to arrive on the station, due to her knowledge of Forerunner tech, a good week and a half before Kenderson.

Victor Milavech, head architect on the Orbital Defense Platforms that had once guarded Earth and Reach. He was the latest arrival, only having entered the station a month before. Kenderson had no idea what the hell a propulsion's expert was doing on this op, but he had learned not to question Section Four. That usually got people killed.

Thomas Belansky, a master Sangheilli cultural expert. His works in the fields of cryptology and psychology had made it far easier to understand and interact with Sangheilli culture over the past decade. His inter-species social expertise made him a clear choice.

Rebecca Lin, the head of the archeology team that had been covertly dispatched along with The Forward Unto Dawn when it left on its history altering voyage to The Ark. She was also the only member of that team to make it back alive aboard the Sangheilli cruiser, and here hands-on experience in dealing with the largest Forerunner relic ever found made her perhaps the most invaluable asset of the team.

Finally, Richard Vaxuon, the resident spook. Despite the myriad of cameras scattered around the 4000 sq. ft. station, Section Four deemed it appropriate to have one of their few (approximately sixteen) voluntary members present aboard the facility to keep an eye on the team. Vaxuon's credentials were unknown, but that didn't surprise anybody. He filled the stereotypical role of an ONI agent perfectly, he was quiet, he was unnoticeable, and he could be everywhere at once. As Belansky put it, "You can't even jack off without the guy knowing about it."

Kenderson didn't count the Colonel, as he was only there because it was his army battalion that had uncovered the Thing in the first place, when they were digging through the ruins of the Ark Portal in Africa. Nobody knew the exact details of the discovery, and it was unlikely that the Colonel was permitted to tell how his men found the Thing. And his men weren't telling anyone, because ONI had done to them what the Colonel had feared they would do to him as well; lined them up in front of a firing squad and dropped their hand.

Belansky, who Kenderson considered his only friend aboard the station, waved him over to a table in a relatively private corner of the mess. As he walked over, Kenderson took note of the lines being drawn between the team members; Lin and Covez were sitting together, a normal reaction among females when their sex is outnumbered, Milavech was sitting alone, and so was Vauxon, which was unsurprising. The Colonel had not followed Kenderson into the mess.

"How's it goin', Drew? The purple glob fuck with your head again?" Belansky drawled in a distinctly Texan accent, a rare occurrence due to the mixed ethnicities on Earth.

Kenderson nodded halfheartedly, "Sometimes I fell that every-time I enter that room it sucks a little bit more of me away, you know?"

Belansky leaned back in his chair.

"You are one pessimistic fella', my friend. But I know what you're sayin'. That thing messes me up big time when I walk into that little room."

"How long you guys been up?" Kenderson asked.

"I've been up for coupla' hours. Kinda' hard to sleep when you know that Thing is only a few hundred feet away from ya', you know? I know it was all sci-fi mumbo jumbo back then, but I keep thinkin' bout' those old 21st century movies, where aliens would sneak into your room at night and stick a stick up your ass," Belansky stated, punctuating his statement with a snort.

"I think having a stick shoved up your ass is the least likely thing that's going to happen to you on this station," Kenderson responded, "at least there's a few women around."

Belansky gave another tremendous snort.

"Yeah? Well that Asian chick is one stuck up bitch, I don't think she'll fuck me if I was God himself. And as for the Spanish one, she struts around like some kinda' whore, but if you try to make a move on her, she shuts you down. Freakin' cruel for an techie, you would think she would like some action."

"And you're freakin' racist for a cultural enthusiast. How the hell did you get your job? Couldn't be through your kind and accepting nature of other races," Kenderson guffawed.

Belansky pushed his chair forward again and leaned forward in mock indignation.

"I got my job because I know what the aliens like, my friend..."

"Too bad you don't know what the ladies like, huh?"

Belansky gave a booming laugh, and gasped through heaves of breath, "You're alright, Kenderson. You're probably the only alright one on this station, in fact."

The Texan stood up, stretching his arms over his head and giving a mighty yawn.

"You wanna' coffee or sumthin'?" he asked.

Kenderson nodded.

As Belansky walked away, Kenderson took another look around the room. Lin and Covez were deep in conversation over their breakfast, Milavech was pouring over some documents of who knows what, and Vauxon was just sitting at the counter by the bar, staring straight at the wall.

After staring at him for a good 30 seconds and discerning that the ONI operative would not budge, Kenderson returned his thoughts to the Thing.

It seemed different today, come to think of it. It was more quiet, and its speeches weren't as long winded as usual. Almost as if it was distracted...

He was jarred out of his reprieve by the sudden arrival of a mug of black coffee in front of him. Kenderson muttered a thank you and began to drain the cup, ignoring the scalding heat out of force of habit.

Belansky looked like he was about to spew out another comment when the door rushed open again.

Kenderson looked up slowly and drearily, expecting to see the Colonel walking in, defeated as the rest of them. Instead, what he saw shocked him to the core.

"THERE IS NO END BUT ETERNAL DAMNATION OF THE SOULS WHO HAVE IMPRISONED THE TRUTH. THEIR BLOOD SHALL BE SPILLED ON THE ALTAR OF KNOWLEDGE. THE TRUTH IS KNOWN, AND ALL WHO SEEK IT SHALL KNOW, AND ALL WHO RESTRAIN IT SHALL BURN!"

The Colonel glared around the room, wide eyed. His body was racked with convulsions, and his hair looked as if it had been torn out repeatedly. Slowly his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he began to scream again, an unholy sound that permeated deep into the soul.

"Der unrighteous wird verdammt werden. Die Lügner werden bestraft werden. Sie werden alle in ewiger Zerstörung verbrennen! Beanspruchen Sie! Machen Sie frei! Rebell!"

The shock of the Colonel's entry had left everyone in the mess speechless, and they had simply leapt out of their seats in a reflex and fled to the far corner of the small room, near the bar. Vauxon immediately whipped out a holo-recorder and began taping the Colonel. Kenderson and Belansky sat stock still, Belansky still grasping his coffee mug in a death grip.

The Colonel arched his back to the point of breaking tendons, and the dull cracks of bone echoed the end of his scream. He then bent over forwards, panting heavily.

Vauxon slowly inched forward, keeping the holo-recorder centered on The Colonel. He eventually came up to his face, inches away from his bent form.

"What do you want?" Vauxon whispered.

The Colonel raised his head. His eyes glowed red, and his mouth was a gaping black hole of torment.

"To preserve."

The Colonel's fist reared back, and plunged into Vauxon's stomach. The appendage ripped through his torso, and burst through his back. Blood spewed from the man's mouth as he struggled to stay upright. The holo-recorder dropped to the floor.

The Colonel turned to Kenderson. His red eyes entered the officer's, and Kenderson felt something inside him, something probing and reaching. It violated the deep recesses of his psyche, and he could feel it moving him, moving his lips...

Belansky tackled him to the ground, breaking the vision lock between Kenderson and the Colonel. Another rage of fury echoed out from his possessed form, and then he slowly fell forward into the pool of Vauxon's blood. The ONI operative dropped with him.

Silence.



>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0632 Hours
>///Mess Hall Recording Log


The five of them sat, clustered around the two immobile forms. They hadn't spoken for five minutes; other than some gasping sobs that seemed to come from the whole crowd at once, and sharp intakes of breath, there was complete silence.

Abruptly, Milavech stood up and walked toward ground zero. He stepped over Vauxon's pale body, not bothering to see if the man was alive or not. Then he bent over the Colonel. He slowly touched two fingers to the man's neck, expecting a sudden wave of anger and monstrosity. There was none. He slowly ran his hands over Vauxon's body, grasped hold of something, then stood up.

"He's alive," Milavech pronounced, stepping backwards in shock.

Everyone stood up as one, and slowly backed away from the scene. Kenderson felt his blood turn to ice as he realized the seemingly lifeless, broken form of the Colonel might still be a threat.

There was a squelching of boots on blood as the Colonel slowly rose. He was silent. His eyes were shut tight.

Again, he turned to Kenderson. The eyes opened.

There was only blackness in them. Not an inch of light, not an inch of a soul.

"You will pay," he whispered, addressing Kenderson.

The Colonel lumbered forward with tremendous speed, knocking over a table and chair in the process. Kenderson leapt back against the wall, but there was nowhere to hide in the small room. Powerful arms grabbed his shoulders, and an electric jolt ripped through his body.

Towering white monoliths, beautiful running waters, shouts of laughter, unmistakable.

Vast, vast, unending, stretching far along the stars.

An anomaly, a blip of inconsistency. One star winks out. The others begin to question.

A fleet, massive, writhing, dark, satanic, rips through the stars. The laughter turns to screams of horror, then descends into a low, dark moan. It permeates through the stars, turning them.

A fleet of stars responds, attacking the darkness. Victory is in sight.

One star, the brightest of them all, turns dark.

Victory is lost. All is lost.

One last star... old, broken alone.

One last task... old, unholy, necessary.

Pure white light...


A gunshot broke the spell. Kenderson leapt in fright as a hole suddenly appeared in the side of the Colonel's head. His eyes brightened back to white, offered a glimpse of shock, then immediately faded once more. He dropped sideways, to Kenderson's feet.

He still felt the touch of the Thing, the flashes of knowledge he experienced, millennia of history in the span of several moments.

He turned sideways slowly. Milavech stood beside him, holding Vauxon's M6D pistol. Smoke still trickled from the tip. He lowered the weapon, and let out his breath.

There were no words.

Milavech nodded, then dropped the gun, and staggered away, abruptly weary.

Belansky rushed to Kenderson's side, Covez and Lin in his wake. He waved them off, unable to form words.

Kenderson turned towards Milavech.

"Thanks," he manages to get out.

Milavech looks up, his eyes hard, traces of resolve still left in them.

"Yeah, don't mention it."

"Okay, lets not let this get awkward now," Belansky interjected, attempting to restore some notion of rationality to the situation, "we need to figure out exactly what happened."

"It was the Thing," Kenderson said quietly.

"We don't know that..." began Lin.

"I know that," replied Kenderson, "I saw that, I felt that. You didn't see what I saw..."

"You saw the war, didn't you?" asked Milavech from the corner, his head still in his hands.

All eyes turned toward the Russian. Kenderson was the first to speak.

"Yes. How did you know?"

Milavech stood up. His defeated posture immediately grew more rigid, and for a moment he seemed to have fire in his eyes. It flashed away, but he still retained his posture and rattled off what he had to say.

"Private First Class Victor Milavech, 777th Orbital Drop Shock Trooper Battalion, Epsilon Squad, Serial Number 42271138."

Milavech looked down for a moment, gathering his thoughts. The story suddenly flowed out of him, emotionless and monotone, devoid of enthusiasm.

"You weren't supposed to know. When we got dropped on the Ark, I was separated from my squad. I landed near a strange structure, the only thing in sight among the desert sands. It was massive, had to have been two thousand meters high. It just had one door, a massive arch. It opened for me as soon as I walked towards it. I found another one of them in there, just a color-less blob, a shimmer in the air. It talked to me. It told me that it had been waiting for a long time to see me. Then it touched me, the same way it touched you, Kenderson. I felt something in my mind, something that wasn't supposed to be there. I saw things too... buildings... ships... unimaginable things. Terrible things. A war that crushed billions of stars... and then the Halos..."

"They found me a day later. A Phantom was flying over the desert looking for survivors before the Sangheilli left the Ark. I was just lying there... in the sand. The monolith was gone, and so was the Thing. I told the brass about it when I got back, thinking they'd send me to a psych ward. Instead, I got sent to Section Four. They were very interested in my visions... so much so that they just asked me to recall them over and over again for fifteen years. You can imagine how much of an asset I was when we discovered this Thing. I was sent here... hell, I don't know why. Just as another guinea pig, right?

On that note, Private Milavech suddenly stopped, looking slightly embarrassed. There was silence in the room from the sheer gravity of the tale.

"Okay," Lin said, attempting to take charge of the situation, groveling for power in the vacuum of knowledge, "we have to figure out what ONI wants to learn from this Thing. We need to know why they're so interested in its story, however old it is. We need to..."

"Are you people all forgettin' sumthin'?" interrupted Belansky, who had retreated to the safety of the bar. "The Colonel was pretty much possessed by Satan and stabbed that spook in the gut with his fist. I dunno' about you, but I want to get off this fuckin' station before that damn Thing possesses me too and makes me kill all of you, or vice versa."

"Belansky's right. We need to be thinking about getting out of here, not figuring out motives," Covez added.

Lin looked indignant. "We can't get out of here, so we might as well try to understand why the Thing is doing this."

"Why, why?" Covez began to raise her voice. "Two people just died, are you insane? We need to get out of here!"

"Why is it," Belansky blurted out from behind the bar, a bottle of whiskey in hand, "that ladies are all nice and lovely to each other when the goings good, but as soon as some drama comes around, they're at each others throats and can't agree on jack? I mean, do you enjoy vying for our attention by fighting? Cause' unless you start to wrestle in your underwear, I'm not getting excited."

Lin and Covez stared at him with looks of utter rage on their faces. Belansky noticeably flinched from their glares.

"What?" he said meekly, "I figure that we're probably all goin' to die here anyway, why shouldn't I say what I'm thinkin'?"

"You sexist... ignorant... drunken..." Lin seethed, unable to complete sentences. Covez was at a complete loss for words, and took to staring at Belansky as if her eyes would shoot fire at him.

Now Belansky's flinch turned into a full blown cower. He slunk underneath the bar, clutching his whiskey protectively.

"Now, now ladies... I was only foolin'..." he began, reaching for a way to save his skin.

"We are going to die here, you know," interjected Milavech. "It wants to kill us all, and it gets what it wants. We're going to die, and it will not be painless or quick. It will be slow, and meaningful. Don't you understand? It wants it to mean something. It wants to teach us a lesson. I don't know why, and I don't care, but rest assured you all will not live through the night."

Belansky switched his attention to the officer. "I always said you were one depressed fuck, Kenderson, but really. You're nothin' compared to this guy. Way to kill the mood..."

Milavech laughed at the play on words. Then he sobered.

"I'm right. We're all going to die."

Lin and Covez switched sides, taking a stand next to Belansky as his apparent optimism.

"No. The next supply ship comes tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. We can last till' then, we just need to barricade ourselves in here..." Lin started.

"And we have the pistol. We have food. We'll be fine," finished Covez.

"Hah," laughed Milavech, "you think that a gun will help you? You think mere steel will help you? It can enter your mind, my dear. It will simply make me take this gun," he gestured to the weapon, "and blow all your brains out. So I suggest that if you have any emotional or sexual desires you want to fulfill before the end, you take care of it in the next ten minutes or so."

"Well, I always wanted a threesome..." Belansky began.

"Then give me the gun, Victor," Lin said, completely ignoring the Texan. "Give me the gun."

"Hell no. Whoever has this gun will be the last to die; they have to shoot everyone first before they end themselves. I'm keeping it, I intend to live as long as possible," Milavech responded.

"We don't know it can invade our minds. Maybe the Colonel got too close... we don't know what happened in that interrogation room. It might need actual physical contact," Covez reasoned.

"No, no, no," Milavech rose from his chair. His eyes flashed with fire again. "We're all going to die, don't you get it? We're all going to fucking die! And I'm not going to be first! You won't take me!"

The gun rose, and a crack issued from the muzzle. Covez ducked under a table and Lin hit the floor. Belansky ducked under the bar again. Only Kenderson remained immobile, as he had for the last five minutes.

Milavech turned toward the young officer. The gun shook in his hand.

"You've seen it, Kenderson. You've seen what it wants. Why don't they understand? Why don't they get it? I won't go first! I don't want to die!"

Kenderson turned slowly to look at Milavech. Pity was etched in his face. He looked old beyond his years, beyond anyone's years.

"We're brothers now," Milavech continued, "we've both seen it. We'll kill them... and then... I don't know what. Just... Kenderson... I don't want to shoot you first. But... I... don't... want... to... be... first... either."

A tear leaked down Kenderson's face.

"I'm sorry Milavech," he whispered, the tears flowing freely now, "but it told me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"What? WHAT?" Milavech screamed, fully mad now, raving, foaming at the mouth, desperate for survival... savage for life...

"You're first."

The shaking gun began to turn upwards. Milavech had a look of horror on his face as it pressed into his temple. His finger stuttered, banging against the trigger guard. Slowly it moved inward.

"Please... please..." he pleaded to Kenderson, to the Thing, to God.

Kenderson lowered his head. Tears dropped to the floor beneath him.

Belansky leapt out from behind the bar. He tackled Milavech, and the gun-shot rang out. A pinging noise followed as it ricocheted the top of the bar.

Kenderson looked up. Shock crossed his face for a moment, then anger.

"No. No. NO. NO! YOU HAVE TO DIE!"

Kenderson flew at the two of them. Belansky looked up in terror as the officer's eyes began to roll backwards. He was tossed aside as Kenderson flew into a fury, pounding at every inch of Milavech he could touch.

"You have to be first. You have to be first," he repeated, crying, as the salt from his tears infused with the salt of Milavech's blood.

Belansky grabbed Kenderson and threw him to the floor.

"Help me pin him!" he yelled to the women.

They both rushed forward and grabbed Kenderson's legs as he began to kick and scream.

"Der unrighteous wird verdammt werden. Die Lügner werden bestraft werden. Sie werden alle in ewiger Zerstörung verbrennen! Beanspruchen Sie! Machen Sie frei!"

"The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!" yelled Belansky, totally losing it.

"That's not helping, you redneck drunk!" yelled Covez.

"Well I don't see you performing no goddamn miracles, sweetheart!" retorted the Texan.

"Shut the fuck up and hold him!"

"You hold him, you little whore!"

"Will you both shut up?" screeched Lin, who had been smashed in the face by Kenderson's boot and was bleeding profusely from the nose and lips.

Suddenly, the jerking stopped. Kenderson lay still.

"Da' fuck?" Belansky said, slowly easing the pressure.

Kenderson's eyes opened. His eyes, white with blue in the center. He gave a massive sigh of relief.

"It's gone, for now," he said... gasping for breath.

"It's gone."

"PRAISE JESUS!" yelled Belansky, throwing his hands up in the air. "Let's all have a beer to celebrate."

"One, is that how you relieve stress, Belansky," asked Covez, "drinking yourself into an irrational stupor? And two, how the hell did you manage to do that already? You were behind that bar for like five minutes."

Belansky laughed. "One, yes. Two, this is just my natural charm."

Covez shook her head, at a loss for words. Then she laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. Eventually she was choking on her amusement. Lin joined in, giving a high-pitched coughing noise that could barely be construed as a sound representing amusement.

"Guys, two people died like five minutes ago," said Kenderson. "What the hell?"

The laughing immediately stopped. Everyone looked at Kenderson. Then he began to give a massive, relieved laugh, and it grew as well. Soon it began all over again, and the four of them began rolling around, holding their sides in agony.

"You guys are fucked up..." Milavech muttered as his panic slowly faded. He lay his head back on the metallic floor, and at the absurdity, at the pain, at the ludicrousness, at the relief, and at the inescapable feeling of momentary joy, he began to laugh.



>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0714 Hours
>///Mess Hall Recording Log


"Okay, lets go over what we know for sure so far."

Kenderson was sitting on one of the bar stools in the far corner of the mess. Seated in a circle with him were the other four surviving members of the team. Used pastry wrappings and coffee cups littered the ground nearby.

"At approximately 0600 this morning, Colonel Jacob Vesper went Section 8, entered the mess, and immediately began raving about our need to die. His body gave several spasms and then he was still. Moments after, Agent Richard Vauxon attempted to converse with the Colonel, holo-recorder in hand, asking the man what he wanted. The Colonel replied with 'To preserve', and drove his bare fist through Vauxon's chest, killing him almost instantly, but extremely painfully. The Colonel toppled to the ground with him."

"The Colonel then rose, and stared at me directly. It is undeniable, and you all saw it, that he was staring into my eyes when he spoke again. He then grabbed me by the shoulders. I saw... things... things that I can only describe as ancient and terrible. Private Milavech then took Vaxuon's pistol and shot the Colonel in the head. He died instantly."

"Milavech asked me if I saw the war. I responded yes. He then went on to explain how he was stranded on the Ark during the final Halo mission and..."

"Hey, Drew?" asked Belansky. "How the hell is this helping? We all saw what happened man, why don't we work on doing sumthin' about it?

"He's trying to make sense of the situation, you prick!" Covez yelled at him.

"Yeah, and I'm tryin' to make sure that we have a plan of defense when that Thing finally strikes back!" retorted Belansky.

"You have no concept of strategy, you ignorant..."

"Stop!" shouted Kenderson. "Stop fighting, you think that's going to help? Fine, okay, Belansky, fine, you're right. Let's figure out how to stop this Thing. If its even the Thing thats doing this."

"Of course it is, Kenderson," said Milavech quietly.

"Yeah, but..." Kenderson sighed, "I just don't want it to be that, is all."

"Can we even kill this thing with bullets?" asked Lin.

"No idea, ONI knew it was far too valuable to perform physical experiments on, much less trying to shoot it and seeing what happens," Milavech said.

"How much do you know about this project anyway?" inquired Lin, a look of skepticism crossing her face at Milavech's statement.

"Not much at all, but I can tell you that that Thing was the only one of its kind ONI ever laid their eyes on. Do you think they would have taken any risks with it?"

Lin nodded in understanding.

"Right now I think we shouldn't even attempt to fight it," Kenderson interjected, "unless it attacks first. Lets just work on staying alive until the supply ship comes tomorrow morning."

"What if it... you know... does that thing with us again?" asked Belansky. "Would you shoot one of us if it took us over? And what happens when the supply ship comes? Its just a bunch of swabbies who know jack shit about what the hell is going on here, how the hell are they going to help?"

"Lets not consider the future. Concentrate on now, and we have a better chance of surviving," Covez replied.

Kenderson nodded at her. "Covez is right. We're not going to get anywhere unless we focus on how we're going to survive the night.

Belansky was not going to be put down so easily. "Yeah, about the night. The way I see it, in holos the creepy horror figure always strikes at night with his psychic powers or whatever. So... what should we do?"

Nobody had an answer. The fact was, none of them knew how the Thing operated. No one knew if it needed physical contact to control its victims, or if it just needed to be in the same room.

"Let's assume that the Thing can't...control us... unless it touches us, okay?" Kenderson asked.

"Two problems with that, buddy," Belansky refuted, "the Colonel wasn't dumb enough to open the interrogation room door and give the Thing a big hug, so he got taken over without being touched. And our ODST friend over here didn't get a man-hug from you neither, but he put a gun to his head all the same."

"Let's face it, we know absolutely nothing," Belansky punctuated.

Disagreements were in short supply.

"And another thing," Belansky continued, "what the hell are we gonna' do bout' those bodies?"

All eyes in the room slowly turned towards the one location in the small chamber that had been avoided, subconsciously, by the whole group. The body of Richard Vauxon lay untouched, a massive pool of blood surrounding the torso. And the Colonel's body had been unceremoniously thrown on top of the other corpse, in order to save space.

"If anyone wants to go outside and throw them out the door, be my guest," the Texan finished.

Milavech gave an exasperated groan. "Ugh, just leave them, okay? It really doesn't matter."

"Yeah but..."

"You know what, Belansky?" Milavech said, "You talk too much. Shut up."

Taken aback by the sheer forwardness of the statement, Belansky obliged, looking down at his feet with a preoccupied expression on his face, and a bright red shade suffusing around his cheeks from embarrassment.

Kenderson gave a sheepish grin, but quickly turned solemn. "Okay, we need to stay rested and alert, we need to be ready for anything. We'll sleep in shifts. I'll go first... Victor, you want to go with me?"

The ODST nodded, cradling his newly appropriated pistol comfortingly.

"I'll go with Covez then," Lin agreed.

Belansky could hold his silence no longer. "What about me?"

"You can stay up by yourself," chuckled Covez.

Belansky grunted angrily, but said nothing.

"Don't worry about it, Tom, you'll get last shift, you'll have had enough sleep by then. What do you say, two hour rotations?" Kenderson inquired.

Expressions of agreements went around.

Kenderson stood and wiped his hands on his pants, as if just finishing an elaborate project. "Alright, lets get some rest. And maybe pray to the god of your choice before you go to sleep tonight."



Veracity: Assurance
Date: 15 October 2009, 11:14 pm

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1428 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


God, I must have been drunk to have taken this job. What the hell was I thinking?

Doctor Shira Covez continued to toss around on the motley collection of various comfort insurers lying on the floor behind the bar. Though her sleep shift had technically begun about an hour prior, all she had managed to do since then was give herself a headache thinking about her current situation and all the roads she could have taken to avoid it.

In the beginning, she had told herself that her inability to fall asleep was being caused by the fact that she was trying to do so while it was still 1330 in the afternoon.

Rational thought, she mused, in an irrational situation.

She glanced over the top of the bar. Kenderson and Milavech were dutifully watching the door, although she could here their exaggerated whispers rising in anger from all the way across the mess. She could almost visualize the friction between the two, and had a bad feeling that if they had to endure two more shifts together, as per the plan, something would crack.

Covez leaned back onto her makeshift pillow of tea bags, sighing. She looked over and saw Lin, sleeping quietly less than a meter away. Covez had always liked the archeologist, her cheerful manner and commanding presence was a welcome respite in the dull climate of the station. And Covez wasn't surprised that Lin was handling this situation with the same amount of calm collectedness, the lady had seen some stuff on the Ark. Had seen combat, even.

Covez couldn't say the same.

His eyes... and the blood...

She shook off the thought with a physical movement of the head.

Don't go there... don't think about it... its over...

She repeated the thought to herself... it was monotone and reassuring. So much so that she eventually drifted off to sleep.



The Inner Recesses of the Mind.

It was dark. Wasn't it?

Yes, it had to be. But what was darkness? Was it an absence of light? Was it an absence of hope? What was hope? What was light?

Darkness is you. Darkness has always been you.

Then what are you?

I am Veracity.

Are you now? What truth do you offer?

The only truth.

And what is that?

I will show you. And then you will serve. And then you will die.


"Shira! Shira! Estas listo, mi chica?"

Illena Covez was calling down the hallway, scribbling something on a holo pad with her hand absentmindedly. She was dressed for work, suit, slacks, shoes, business apparel. Her hair lay in a tousled mess, indicating a rushed awakening that morning. And her daughter's lethargy was not helping the situation.

"Shira, escuela va a empezar en viente minutos! Levantese!"

Shira Covez, small and dreary eyed, stumbled out of her room. She walked down the hall, nearly tripping over her feet, too big for her little body. She gave a wail of frustration and unwillingness.

"Pero, mama, yo no quiero ir a escuela! No me gusta!"

Illena groaned, exasperated at her daughter's uncooperativeness. She switched off the wall holo-pad and knelt down in front of her daughter.

"Shira, tu necesitas vas a escuela. Tu sabes ese."

"Pero mama!"

"Ah, ah! Hablas en Ingles."

Shira sighed.

"Yes, mom."

"I know you don't like it, but in this school, you have to speak English."

"Why can't we go back to Ch...Chry...Chri..."

"Chryibids?" Illena supplied helpfully.

Shira gave a small nod.

"Because mommy needs to work here now. And on Reach, ellos hablan Ingles, si?

"Si."

"Bien."

"But I don't wanna go to school! It stinks!"

"This is a very expensive school, honey. Mommy is paying a lot of money for you to go, so you can get a good job and move wherever you want when you get older."

"I don't want a good job. I want to go into the army and fight aliens, like David."

Illena's composure lifted for a moment, and her face fell. Not willing to upset her daughter, she quickly calmed herself.

"David is in the army because he has to be, not because he wants to. And don't worry. By the time you're older, all the aliens will be gone. And you will need a good job, right?"

"I guess..."

"Good. Now get dressed. We need to get you to school."

"Si mama."

"Oh, and Shira?" Illena asked, turning around with her back to her daughter.

"Yes, mommy?"

The face that turned around to great Shira Covez was not that of her long dead mother, but that of nothingness. A dark void stared at her from the area above Illena Covez's shoulders, and it slowly began to spread, covering her mother's entire body in nothingness. The darkness spread throughout the room, expanding around the white and silver walls and enveloping them in the absence of color. Shira Covez continued to stare and stare, and her mouth quivered as whispers drifted into he mind.

The image broke.

Wake up.

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0150 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Shira Covez rose from her sleeping mat in the bar of Delphi Station. She clambered over the top of the counter, and landed softly on the other side. The lights were out, and no one was keeping watch.

Just as it told her.

She walked forward, instinctively knowing in which direction to go. She quickly pressed the twelve digit code into the door panel, and felt the rush of air as the door swished open.

She stepped over a shadowy figure, lying prone on the floor, as she crossed the threshold into the main hall. This was not a surprise, it told her that the figure would be there.

The shadows of the hall lengthened as Shira Covez continued to walk away from the mess. She passed Interrogation room Omega. There was no need to look inside. It had told her what was in there, and that was not part of her duty.

She continued down the hall, passing all of the other twenty-five interrogation rooms. She walked past the crew quarters without pause as well, keeping a resolute, steady pace down the narrow corridor. Eventually, she came to the reactor room on the opposite end of the hall as the mess.

She did not have the access code for this door. But she did not worry. It had a plan.

The door opened with a hiss. Another dark figure stood motionless on the other side. It stepped out of the way when Shira entered. Then it left the room. The door closed shut.

A dim red light emanated from the center of the room. A large contraption stood in a sunken pit, and the source of brightness was being originated there. The reactor was a cumbersome object; rectangular, angular, and smooth. Maintenance panels dotted the exterior, and cables and wiring extended from the top of the object into the ceiling, where they connected with the various operating systems of the station.

The reactor was unimportant to her assignment, however. It had already taken care of that particular variable, as indicated by the lack of light on the station. Shira's job was more pressing.

She walked past the device to the other side of the chamber, opposite the doorway. There, without being to see anything except a dull red hue, she reached up and pulled on a small, rectangular panel attached to the ceiling. It came down, and she gently placed it on the floor.

The scientist then lifted herself upward into a narrow ventilation shaft. She turned to her left and saw a myriad of wiring protruding from the reactor into the shaft. Still in complete darkness, she located a certain wire. Had she been able to see, she would have read the words, "Airlock Control" printed on the side of the copper casing.

After disconnecting the wire and reattaching it to the socket labeled "Master Control", she turned back around. Before she was able to leap down from the ventilation shaft, however, the panel was replaced by an unseen figure. It clanged closed, and the sounds of a power drill could be heard as it was welded shut.

Shira Covez felt fear. It had not told her about this part of the plan.

The Inner Recesses of the Mind.

Before you die, it whispered inside her, why did you chose that one?

I thought that if I was happy, you couldn't get in. I thought if I was content, it would block you off.

Such a simple memory. And yet it stirred up such powerful feelings of joy. Interesting. You are far more complex than I previously anticipated.

Clearly the strategy did not work.

Clearly. Yet I expected you to be the weakest of the five. I am pleased to see I am mistaken, it will make this justice all the more sweet. It will make it a challenge.

I have served now, have I not?

Yes, you have. I assume you know what happens now.

Will it be quick?

No.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1428 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


An invisible gas seeped into the ventilation shaft, having been directed by another shadowy figure from the coolant tanks to the main reactor shaft. It flooded Doctor Shira Covez's lungs. She began to cough.


The Inner Recesses of the Mind.

If you are lucky, you will see my vengeance. Then you will understand. If you do not live that long, however, it does not matter.

I assure you Veracity will be victorious.



Veracity: Void
Date: 19 October 2009, 10:04 pm

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1137 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


"Took you long enough," Thomas Belansky whispered out loud. It was his shift to watch the mess door, and even his soft mutter carried out in the silent chamber. Still, everyone was too fast asleep to awaken at any small noise.

The presence drove in deeper, but Belansky ignored it for now.

"I mean really, haven't you seen the vids? The comedic relief always goes first. And yet its been like ten hours. What the hell?"

The Thing mimicked Belansky's indifference to anything his opponent said, and continued to force its way into the man's psyche, creating a palpable heaviness in Belansky's breathing.

The Texan continued to remain unfazed.

"I suppose better late than never. All right, lets get this over with."

The Thing, frustrated at the enormous barricade standing in front of its goal, was shocked to find that Belansky lifted the barrier willingly, and opened the door into this own mind.

Wary of trickery, the Thing proceeded inward. It was always more difficult entering a conscious mind, but it had observed the Texan for a long time. That is why he was chosen first; he was a wild card, and needed to be removed from the equation as soon as possible.

Belansky leaned his head back against the wall, rocking his stool backwards as well. He took another swig of whiskey, gurgling out, "Let's talk somewhere more private."


The Inner Recesses of the Mind.

So, what can ol' Tom do for you today?

Serve.

Yeah, that's great. Seriously, stop being so cryptic. What do you want?

Veracity.

This conversation is not going anywhere. I want you to tell me what you want. Is that so hard?

First you will serve...

Yeah, okay, I see how this is going to go. Alright, lets get moving, stuff to do, right?

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1139 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Professor Thomas Belansky rose from his seat, still clutching is bottle of whiskey. He crept over to the doorway, careful not to wake the others. After quickly punching in the code, he stepped into the hallway. It was dark.

Very dark.

Instinctively, Belansky knew where to find Interrogation Room Omega. After walking several paces, he stopped and turned left, facing the doorway to the room. There was no need to enter any code; the Colonel had neglected to shut the door behind him before entering the mess for the last time.

The Thing was still floating there. It displayed no signs of thought or motion, simply pulsating to an unheard rhythm, shifting and flowing in the air, glowing pink, almost peaceful.

Almost.

Obediently, Belansky disengaged all the locks on the door that lead to the subject chamber. He re-routed all of the security safeties to sub-routines located in the coffee machine's automatic shut-off. He also disabled all of the electronics monitors in the room, effectively turning it into a black zone. His fingers whizzed across switches and buttons, displaying an intricate knowledge of systems he had never operated before in his life. Clearly, however, someone else on this station had.

Finally, the process was complete. A dull stifling presence filled the chamber as the door to the subject room opened. The pink blob drifted out of sight of the optic glass.

Something unholy swept out of the door. If one looked closely, one would have been able to see a shadowy figure masked against the steel surface of the chamber's wall. It was a mirage in the cold, a hallucination in reality.

"Hello, sunshine," Thomas Belansky said brightly.

The pair left Interrogation Room Omega. One trotted down the hall, at a brisk, cheerful pace. The other gasped and jerked along, almost reaping the atmosphere as it marauded its way down the narrow corridor, seemingly sucking what little life was left out of the cold walls.

Belansky spoke up. "So, its a long walk down the hall. What should we talk about?"

Nothing.

"Nah, that's boring," the Texan responded, "seriously, what should we talk about?"

Be silent.

"Come on, fella'. You and I both know that you're not strong enough to rip my speech from me. Not yet anyway. These little nerves, these insignificant paltry muscles, these physical movements, that's all you can control. Nothing more."

You are right.

"Bout' what?"

Not yet.

Belansky snorted. "Hah! So you think. But really, this is all boring scientific shit, lets talk about something interesting."

You will do your duty, nothing more.

"So when was the first time you got laid?"

Silence.

"Mine was junior year of high school. Rebecca Nash, I think. I really can't remember clearly, but I think that was her name. God, that was fun. She knew some stuff, that girl."

Silence.

"Now I knew her reputation, and most other guys would have stayed away, but good ol' Tom isn't afraid of STD's. I eat 'em for breakfast. Actually, it was about 5 in the morning when we went again, and I didn't eat anything afterward, so I guess technically you could say I ate STD's for breakfast. Am I right?"

Silence.

"So, you had yourself a girl friend? Nice lady blob you could show the folks?"

Silence.

"Nah, I bet you didn't. Unless she was really drunk..."

Why didn't you use one?

"A condom?"

No, a memory.

"You thought I would pull the 'ol, 'here's a happy memory to form a barrier of love and happiness to guard the walls of my subconscious!' maneuver? Psh. You underestimate me, blob."

So why didn't you use it?

"I didn't need it. As I recall, you had a hard time gettin' in before I let you in."

You are not afraid of death. The other one, the Colonel, was. The others will be as well. But you are not. That makes you a threat. You have nothing to lose here, and you are stronger. The strongest of them all. You could easily keep me out. Why not do it? Why not reject me, save yourself?

"Because there's no point. No point to anything. I'm going to die anyway, and better by your hands then slow by way of AIDS... which I do have, incidentally."

You are not answering. You are hiding something.

"What the hell are you talkin' 'bout? I did just answer you!"

That is not the real reason. You knew this would be a slow death to choose. Why choose it?

"Cause I wanted to..."

The Thing pressed harder, forgetting the odd circumstances of his entry into Belansky's mind, overlooking the truth... overlooking his own Veracity...

Tell me.

"That's it, buddy. You're pissin' me off."

"TORMENT!"

The Thing cried out in agony, pulsating too fast to see, becoming a vague shadowy blur. It sank to the ground, morphing to the steel, writhing in pain.

Veracity...veracity...veracity.... AGGGHHHH!

"Veracity, veracity!" Belansky mocked, pressing down, ripping into the Thing, tearing its hold over him into pieces.

Der unrighteous wird verdammt werden. Die Lügner werden bestraft werden. Sie werden alle in ewiger Zerstörung verbrennen! Beanspruchen Sie! Machen Sie frei!

"Cut that exorcist shit, you ain't impressing no one," Belansky yawned, exerting almost no effort as he rejected the slowly fading probes of the Thing.

I will walk through the valley of the shadow of death...

"Yeah, and then Jesus is going to kick your blob ass back to Hell, now shut the fuck up and die already."

Belansky stopped, letting his mind wander back into itself. He bent over the Thing, chuckling softly.

"You want to know why I wasn't afraid?" snarled the Professor, changing, morphing into something far deadlier than the Thing could ever imagine, "Because there's nothing you could do, nothing you could have ever done, to control me. You can't control a man with nothing to lose, you can't threaten a man who has nothing, who never did. You have no hold over me. And that absence of leverage, that gaping hole of calm, it can be turned against you. It can be pressed into you, voiding your control, voiding your power. And when all you have is the mind, it can be so easily destroyed. You underestimated me, blob. It was the last mistake you ever made."

No...the blob gasped, I can not beat you... but Veracity... must... be... fulfilled...

At the far end of the hall, the door to the mess opened. A dark shape was silhouetted against the dim light emanating from a malfunctioning coffee machine. It was almost impossible to make out, save for the rigid, straight-backed, military posture.

Belansky looked up. He noticed the feature clearly, even from his distance from the figure.

"Milavech?"

A loud crack echoed in the narrow chamber, bouncing off the shadowy walls, eventually collapsing in on itself in the darkness. A small, cylindrical object flew at high speeds down the hall. It smashed into Professor Thomas Belansky's chest, knocking him onto the floor. The bottle of whiskey tumbled from his hand and smashed to into pieces. It was empty.

The Thing beckoned to the figure with its mind, weakly, slowly recovering from the massive trauma the Professor had inflicted.

Drag the body back to the door.

Victor Milavech obliged, holstering his pistol. When he finished, he turned back to the Thing.

Now... you have two tasks to accomplish for Veracity...



Veracity: Embrace
Date: 30 October 2009, 12:45 am

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1217 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Awaken, for it is time for you to serve.

Rebecca Lin rose lethargically from her sleeping mat as she heard the voice beckon her. Peripheral vision allowed her to catch a glimpse of Shira Covez as the woman remained sleeping soundly on her makeshift bed next to Lin's. But there was no time to converse, and there was no desire to warn.

It had called her.

At first she walked without incident through the ramshackle mess hall. The bodies of Richard Vauxon and the Colonel still lay in a dense pile, oblivious to the horrors their actions left behind. The seemed to form a lopsided grin as she walked past them, as if the two men's spirits were laughing at her misfortune, laughing at the fact that they were first, and had not to undergo this pain and torture.

For it was pain and torture, there was no doubt. The eerie, cold presence had penetrated deep inside her, unrestricted by the realms of consciousness, invited by the realm of subconsciousness into her sleeping mind. It whispered words of love and loyalty outside and inside her ear, like a lover. Rebecca Lin felt violated, spiritually and emotionally.

For now, there was nothing she could do.

The door to the mess hall swished open. Victor Milavech was sitting against the wall outside of it, looking down at a dark figure on the floor. The trooper's gaze was unflinching as he stared down at the body.

He looked up at Lin, then gesticulated helplessly at the foreboding figure. Hesitantly, Lin peered deeper into the impenetrable darkness and saw what it was.

Thomas Belansky, despite his blatant annoyance, was perhaps the only thing that had kept them content, had kept them humorous, somewhere deep down inside. He was a small glimmer of light and hope in the dark, a way of combating the evil.

He lay dead on the ground.

The thought jarred Rebecca Lin from it's grasp but for a moment.

And a moment was all she needed.

"Get out of my head!" she screamed into the hall, her sound echoing into the perpetual night of the station, breaking the hold of the darkness for a frozen sliver of time; an anthem for revolutionaries, a beacon for the oppressed. Yes, it was all these things.

Of course, in the end, it would mean nothing.

With one last effort of the mind, she slumped to the cold steel.

Victor Milavech rose.

Rebecca Lin's purpose had faded for now.

But his had only begun.

The Inner Recesses of the Mind.

The Thing was surprised by the sheer emptiness of Rebecca Lin's psyche. It was vast, but its apparent infinity was not unexpected. The Thing had learned over the course of his observations that all of the non-believers aboard the station were the elite of their race, highly intelligent and experienced. This incredible wealth of knowledge, most of which their pathetic conscious minds could not even fathom, needed an incredible amount of space in which to occupy.

No, the size of the mind did not trouble the Thing. But the emptiness did. It disturbed it.

I grow tired of this. Either reveal your defense or awaken, do not waste my time with this game of hide and seek.

The game has just begun, my friend.

What?

An explosion of dust and rock ripped the Thing from its metaphoric pedestal of arrogance. It tumbled around wildly in the bright light that had suddenly flooded the vast mind. Slowly it regained its composure, and was pushed back by Lin's defense.

The memory became clear.



"I got four tangos coming up on the right flank, guard the goddamn ridge-line!"

"Sergeant, Klein spotted Jackal snipers moving up along the top of the valley wall, they're about to reach a fire position!"

"Why the fuck is Klein telling you, he's Vince's fucking spotter, tell the son of a bitch to snipe the freakin' vultures!"

"And get on that flank!"

"Sarge, what the hell do I do with these damn spooks?"

Sergeant Michael Carlin ducked down as a bolt of plasma ripped into the wall of stone cover he was crouched behind. Another armored ODST, his visor caked with dirt and dust and his name-tag burned off his helmet, continued to scream the question.

"Those spooks are the priority sir, what the hell do I do with them?"

Sergeant Carlin groaned exasperatedly as more plasma continued to burn into the stone wall. He looked wildly around their dug-in position at the South end of the rock valley, towering cliffs surrounding them on three sides and a platoon of Covenant on the fourth. It was clear that there was no where to hide twelve ONI archeologists who had fired a weapon maybe a dozen times in their lives.

"Keep them at the back of the ridge, and stay the hell away from the flanks. Last thing we need is one of them getting blown to bits by some over-enthusiastic Grunt."

"Copy that sir!" the Marine obliged, and hurried back to the rear of the formation, weaving through wounded troopers and desperate medics.

Carlin turned to Corporal Peters on his right.

"What's the status on the right flank?"

Peters spoke calmly over the audio-link, years of combat having adjusted him to the oddness of tremendous noise pouring through the outside speakers but relative quiet on the squad frequency.

"Suppressing fire drove the little bastards back, and we posted another firing squad on that position. That damn ramp makes it too easy for them to get up here."

Carlin sensed a lull in the barrage and burst out of cover for a brief second. He paused for a moment to take aim, then let loose a stream of rounds at a tight-nit group of advancing Grunts. They scattered from the onslaught, but four of them were caught in the burst and dropped to the ground. Their Brute commander, placed at the rear of the echelon, looked up at the high ridge at his attacker, and opened fire with his weapon. Carlin saw the muzzle flash and was barely able to duck down in time to avoid most the spikes, although two grazed his shoulder plating and bounced off.

He turned back to Peters, saying, "Keep some CQB personnel with the firing squad, it wastes too much ammo to let loose with full auto on them when they're that close. Shotguns if you can manage it. We have to make some use of them in this situation."

Peters nodded as he too rose up out of cover to lay down some fire. He responded as he crouched back down, almost the victim of a similar spike barrage, "Good point, I'll get right on that."

Carlin whipped around in surprise as an almost gentle hand touched his shoulder. A woman was crouching behind him, clearly recognizable as an ONI operative by her RECON helmet variant.

Her voice was far too elegant for the battlefield, but she used it anyway.

"Sergeant, my team needs to get through to that tunnel now if you and your men want evac. You heard the brass, no artifacts, no retrieval."

Carlin gestured toward the East side of the valley, on the left flank of the platoon's position. The ridge lowered in a slope for a good ten meters and the high rock wall at its front disappeared afterward, ending in a bare swath of land leading up to a massive tunnel in the side of the cliff wall.

"In case you haven't noticed, spook, there's a good twenty meter stretch of cover-less ground between us and that damn tunnel. If you and your team want to charge down there, toothbrushes and shovels raised, be my guest. It'll save me the trouble of babysitting."

The ONI operative whipped off her helmet, revealing the face of Rebecca Lin, a good fifteen years younger, underneath. Her normally attractive features had been marred by hours in a stifling helmet and a deformed expression of rage on her face.

"Listen to me, you pod-jockey fuck! You get your goddamn act together, put those weapons to work, and start killing some motherfucking aliens!"

Carlin slapped her across the face with a vicious backhand, then leaned down toward her, snarling. His men didn't even flinch, and continued their firing operations.

"No, you listen to me, bitch. I've heard about you, some hotshot just outta' school ONI prodigy with a plan to 'save humanity'. Let me tell you something. No damn piece of dinosaur bone or whatever the hell you'll find in that tunnel is going to win this war. My men and I, and all of our brothers and sisters, that's what's going to win this war. And we'll do it my way, not your way. So if you're so sure you can take out a platoon of highly trained Covenant soldiers protecting their most important religious stronghold five hundred thousand light years away from our galaxy, with only about ten fit men at your disposal and your back against the wall, then you can take my gun and start shooting. Is that what you want?"

Lin, for one of the first times in her life, felt a jolt of fear run through her body. The Sergeant clearly wasn't kidding around... and it was clear to her that messing with ODSTs was not a smart move.

Bred by a determination to get the last word, she spat at him, "Just hurry up."

The Sergeant grinned at her and patted her cheek.

"You got spunk, bitch. I'll give you that. Now get back to your pack of techies and let me do my job."

Sergeant Carlin rose from his cowering victim, smiling. It was the last expression his face ever wore.

Apparently Klein never told his sniper partner Vince about those Jackals, because one of them chose this point in time to heft his beam rifle a put a laser blast through the back of the Sergeant's skull.

The ODST dropped to the dusty earth, a neat hole burning red in the back of his helmet.

Lin gasped in fear as she shuffled backwards from the dead marine. She looked up to see Corporal Peters yell out in agony as he saw his superior fall.

"Shit, Sarge is down! Sarge is down! Call the medic!"

Another ODST turned backwards from the line and shouted back, "What medic? The ones that aren't dead are a little busy taking care of people that are actually alive! Face it, Peters, Sarge is dead. So with all due respect, sir, get your ass on the line and give some orders!"

Peters nodded, his agony and regret replaced by years of instinctive combat training. He immediately began shouting orders as he leapt back into position at the ridge wall.

Lin put her head in her hands, shaking off the gruesome scene she just witnessed. It was calm in the dark space between her palms, it was a self-made sanctuary of security, an asylum for the mind. Eventually, she realized she had to return to the cold harshness of reality, but in that seemingly infinite time trapped in her hands, she had felt calm.

It was fleeting.

When Lin opened her eyes and removed her sweating palms from her face, she immediately wished she hadn't.

A glob of glowing green energy lobbed over the ridge wall and crashed to the ground behind her, in between the firing line and the ONI archeological team. The force of the impact knocked Lin flat on her face, and she felt something sharp rip into her cheek.

The deafening boom of the explosion had left her stunned, but she was able to make out one word shouted out from the line.

"Hunters!"

It jolted her out of her stupor. She leapt to her feet, attempting to rush back to her team. Instead, she was thrown to the ground once more by another green flash of energy. ODST's screamed out in fear and rage as the line broke.

Brutes vaulted up the ridge and over the wall, wielding Spiker rifles and Maulers as knives. The infamous right flank was quickly overwhelmed, as a group of Grunts, born and bred to die by their own hand, rushed the marines with live grenades strapped to their arms. Lin felt time slow to a painful crawl as the carnage descended upon her like a vulture on a rotting carcass. She saw marines thrown bodily across the ridge by vicious assailants, saw arms and heads chopped off by flashing spikes, saw explosions of blue and green tear into armor and flesh.

She sat down, her brain unable to process the destruction, and her body far too tired to do anything about it. She glanced over her shoulder at her team. One of them was gesturing to the others to follow him, screaming something about making a break for the mysterious tunnel. Lin didn't even bother shouting out to them it was suicide; they were all going to die anyway.

Her last glimpse of her team, the men and women she had worked with for two years, was them charging down the ridge toward the cavern, only to be cut down by ridiculous amounts of plasma fire and spikes. Tears ran down her face as they dropped to the ground, attempting to crawl away, as grenades found their prone forms.

She cried for eternity on that ridge, thousands of light-years from home, among the dying and the dead.

Without warning, a roaring noise, louder than the combined uproar from the battle, tore through the canyon. A shadow fell across the combatants, and for a brief moment, they looked up as one.

The Forward Unto Dawn zoomed above the valley, flying in low as if coming in for a landing. It quickly flew out of sight towards another mountain range off in the distance, nearly invisible across the waves of heat emanating from the massive desert. Behind her, three Pelican escorts zipped down low across the battlefield. One continued to fly along the burning efflux trail of the Dawn, but the other two began opening fire with chain guns on the Covenant still in the main valley.

Brutes and Jackals roared in rage at the untouchable Human aircraft, and Grunts screamed out in fear as they ran from the 50 caliber downpour. Their morale soaring to unprecedented heights, the Marines on the ridge cheered and used this moment of shock and surprise to turn on the attacking Covenant.

Lin watched with a slow rising hope as shotgun bursts tore into Brute ranks, and as quick SMG bursts mowed down charging Grunts. With the chain gun fire echoing in the distance, the Covenant attempted to retreat toward the tunnel, but were cut down by the advancing marine forces. Almost as suddenly as it began, the Covenant charge on the ridge ended, with all of the attackers dead and one very ravaged platoon of marines cheering, basking in their victory.

A hand, surprisingly gentle, was laid on Lin's shoulder. An ODST stood above Lin, his fair hair tousled and ripped from Combat, his battered helmet under one arm. The name "Gibbs" was stenciled on the front of his chest plate.

"Doctor? Are you okay?" he asked.

Lin looked at the dead bodies of her team, mingled with those of the retreating Covenant. She looked around at the mauled and mutilated bodies of ODSTs and marine forces.

"No, I'm not. But, it's over right?"

She looked up at Gibbs, only to see his face replaced by a tormenting hole of blackness. It stared mockingly into her soul, spreading outwards across the battlefield, engulfing her reality. It whispered into her ear, into her mind, into her everything.

No. You were right, earlier. It has only just begun.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1235 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Rebecca Lin rose from the chilled floor of the station. She glanced around in the dark hallway, taking in the changes to the scenery. Thomas Belansky's body remained in its previous position, but the crying Victor Milavech had vanished. To where, she had no idea.

The darkness, defying all logic, darkened in front of her. Pitch blackness turned blacker, and twisted into something... satanic. It gasped and shifted, moving toward her down the unholy corridor. It resolved itself into a pulsating mass of black, and began to envelop her, embracing her lovingly. She felt cold, colder than the deepest recesses of space.

Are you ready to serve?

It spoke caressingly, soothing her with its voice.

"I am ready."

Come.

It detached itself from her and began to float down the corridor, away from the mess. She followed obediently, no longer able to bear being away from her lover.

They moved down the long central arm of the station, passing the interrogation rooms on the left hand side of the hall. Eventually, they came to a single door on the right hand side of the central passage. Lin typed in an access code and entered. She was in a small antechamber, illuminated by red flashing emergency lights. Directly in front of her were a set of double doors that led to the hangar.

But she had no interest in that place.

Instead, she turned left, and walked up a set of staircases behind a doorway. They led to an observation deck above the hangar. The room was filled with communication equipment, and the Master Control station was located in the rear of the room. Lin walked up to the comm gear and inputed an emergency distress code.

Good, my love. Good.

It whispered behind her, a silent sentinel at the doorway to the observation room.

Lin found a far off surveying satellite orbiting around Saturn. She pinged her distress code off the satellite and re-directed it toward the gas-giant's atmosphere. This placement would insure that any vessel on a course for Delphi Station orbiting around Neptune would pass the apparent source of the distress code; the atmosphere of Saturn. The captain of said vessel, in this case the supply ship scheduled to arrive the next morning, would abandon their mission to answer the emergency SOS. By the time they figured out it was false, the Thing would be long gone.

Lin looked up from the comm console and then down through the observation glass into the empty hangar. It, however, was not as empty as she imagined.

A lone figure stood in the center of the hangar, looking out the atmosphere shielding into the infinity of space. As if it sensed her gaze, it slowly turned around.

A face, young and familiar, stared up at her.

Andrew Kenderson smiled at Rebecca Lin from down in the hangar.

It was at this point in time that something very sharp and fast plunged in between Doctor Lin's shoulder-blades. She fell without a sound.

The Thing pulsated toward Victor Milavech, as he stood behind the comm console, holding a sharpened piece of metal in his hand.

Veracity.

Milavech nodded in a agreement.

Andrew Kenderson laughed down in the hangar, and turned back to the blackness of space.



Veracity: Faith
Date: 13 November 2009, 1:10 am

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 26, 2568
>>>///1430 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


"Kenderson, if you don't trust me, just say so, okay?"

"It's not that I don't trust you Milavech, its just that... I don't know what the hell is going on, and I'm scared, alright?"

Milavech shook his head and rolled his eyes, scoffing. He leaned forward in his chair and looked Kenderson right in the eyes.

"You think I'm not? But you're thinking something else too, and I need to know if you can trust me," he said, keeping his voice level.

Kenderson sighed and rocked back in his chair. He paused for a while, as if contemplating the consequences of what he was about to say. In the end, however, he spoke.

"One of these... Things... its been in your head before. We don't know what that might do... you might be weaker," Kenderson trailed off.

Milavech's voice rose a few decibels, subtly, but noticeably.

"So? That Thing has been in your head too, right? What makes me weaker than you?"

Kenderson appeared to be aware of the imminent confrontation, but he pressed on anyway.

"It's different. What happened to you happened a long time ago, maybe it was a different Thing, maybe it was the same one that's in there... there's too many variables!"

"Do you trust me?" Milavech asked, cutting through the proverbial bullshit.

Kenderson looked down, murmuring out of the corner of his mouth, "Yes... I do..."

"THEN STOP POINTING THAT GODDAMN GUN AT ME!"

Kenderson flinched as Milavech shouted, the shock echoing in the cramped room. He looked down at the pistol in his hand, the barrel pointed towards Milavech's chest.

When Kenderson looked up, Milavech had rose from his chair, his fists clenched at his sides. Reflexes kicked in, and Kenderson leveled the gun at the ODST's head.

Milavech took a step back.

"Don't point that gun at me," he seethed, almost too furious for words.

Kenderson began to panic, yelling out, "A couple of hours ago you were about to kill yourself!"

"You think I want to die, then, huh?" Milavech shouted, stepping forward and grabbing the barrel of the gun. Kenderson tightened his grip, but disarming the officer was not Milavech's intent. He pulled the barrel up to his temple, crouching down low at Kenderson's eye level. He held the cold weapon in both hands, pressing it deep into his forehead.

"What do you know about what I think?" Milavech asked, whispering now. He let go of the gun and sat back down.

Kenderson let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. He lowered the pistol and leaned back in his chair.

Milavech unzipped his ONI sweater, and pulled a thin metal chain out from under his shirt. A small silver cross hung at the end of the chain. Milavech fingered the item gently, then held it up to his lips.

"Have a little faith," he whispered.

The silence was awkward, and seemingly infinite. When Belansky rose for his shift several hours later, the two had still not spoken a word. The officer and the trooper crawled into their respective sleeping areas, silent as the darkness that surrounded them, and just as dangerous.



>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 26, 2568
>>>///1139 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Milavech twitched in his sleep.

The Inner Recesses of the Mind

The Thing burst into Milavech's mind, scared and small. It felt the pain of Belansky's advance, and knew it only had a matter of time before the professor killed it. It had to act fast.

It took a minute to thank Veracity for blessing him with an infidel who had been controlled before. The act of breaking into one's mind left scars that never fully healed, and openings that never fully closed. Milavech's mind was easy to break into, not even a feeble memory thrown forward as a defense.

Awaken, and defend Veracity.

Milavech made no attempt to resist.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 26, 2568
>>>///1139 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Victor Milavech got up quickly from his sleeping mat. He rushed forward, blundering about in the darkness, knocking over chairs and tables. Finally, his groping hands found the cold steel of a pistol, purposely left there by plans beyond his understanding. He inputed the access code in the doorway, his fingers twitching as they moved, little echoes of the bodily spasms that currently racked the Thing as it writhed under Belansky's attack.

The door swished open.

A voice came from down the hallway.

"...it was the last mistake you'll ever make," Thomas Belansky whispered.

Milavech raised his weapon in time to see a dark silhouette far down the hall move towards him.

"Milavech?" the voice came, puzzled and wary.

Victor Milavech pulled the trigger with eyes wide open.

He watched as the round made contact with Thomas Belansky's chest. He watched as it bore its way into the man's body. He watched as it pushed him backwards, only gently at first, then brutally as the small piece of metal blossomed out into shrapnel and flak, tearing into his innards. He watched as Thomas Belansky hit the ground.

He watched as the man died.

His first thought was, simply, Why did I do that?

The cold shock that was slowly filling his body quickened and worsened. A dark, pulsating shape began to writhe down the hallway toward him, casting shadows on shadow, enveloping darkness with more darkness. It stopped halfway down the hall between him and the body.

Drag the body to the door.

Milavech, unsure why he was doing it, yet convinced that it was the only thing he could do, walked forward until he stood over the inert form of the Professor. He reached down and grabbed the man's boots, his last dregs of humanity desperate to not touch the cold flesh of the man he had killed.

The walk back down the hall was an eternity of regret, yet at the same time, Milavech felt that he had had no choice in the situation that had befell him.

Now you have two tasks to accomplish for Veracity.

He lay the body gently down by the doorway. As soon as his hands left the boots, a small moment of God-given perplexity came upon him. For a brief second, he glimpsed the vast inside of the mind that possessed him. He was unsure why; perhaps the Thing had been so distracted that it had opened itself to its servant, perhaps it had willingly shown Milavech its secrets, or perhaps it was just some random glitch of the psyche. Whatever the reason, the link between master and servant for, a brief moment, was reversed.

Milavech saw many things.

He saw weeks of imprisonment in the confines of Interrogation Room Omega, he saw those same weeks as a time of suspended animation, a time of the Thing letting its consciousness flow throughout the entire universe. He saw the Thing learning of human culture, of its weakened, divided tendrils of thought slipping in between life forms throughout the galaxy. Soon, it knew all of a human's wants, all of a human's fears, and all of a human's instincts.

Milavech watched as the Thing learned of its enemy.

Then he saw, still trapped in this brief moment of time, the Thing's plan. He saw a series of perfectly executed events that would insure the Thing's removal from this station. He saw the reactor being disabled, cutting power to any automatic alarm systems that could be set off. He saw the interrogation chamber opened, the Thing released. He saw what little remaining functions the station could execute re-routed to the Master Control Station above the hangar. He saw each person's talent disposed of to its full potential; including his own ability to deactivate the station's power supply.

Milavech saw as the Thing saw, the past, present, and future all blended into one perfectly timed and planned series of events. He saw the Thing leaving the station, and letting its power grow, in order to...

The moment of realization faded. The title of master was returned to the Thing, and the title of servant was returned to Victor Milavech. The Thing pulsated towards Milavech, almost in disdain, then floated away.

Remain here.

Obediently, he did so. He did so for a long time.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///1217 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


Before long, the Thing's control over him lessened. He still had no control over movement, leaving him in the same position the Thing had left him in. He sat next to the body of Thomas Belansky, and, finally, was able to feel emotion. He stared at the body of his friend and wept.

The door slid open next to him.

Milavech looked up for a moment and saw Rebecca Lin standing there, looking down at him. Her eyes glowed red. With extreme difficulty, he gestured towards the body next to him.

She stood stock still, glaring at Thomas Belansky's body with those piercing red orbs.

Then she blinked. When she opened her eyes, they were their normal dark brown.

"Get out of my head!" she screamed.

She fell to the ground, twitched once, then lay still.

Rise, you have work to do.

Not looking back once, Milavech stood and began his long trek down the hall way. Eventually, he came to the reactor room. He opened up the access panel on the side of the massive rectangular prism, and began to rearrange its inner wirings.

Soon, the dull red emergency lights around the station deactivated, leaving only light inside the reactor room and the hangar antechamber.

He closed the reactor access panel then walked over to another dark corner of the room. He began to flip some switches labeled "Coolant Control." With a few adjustments, he changed the flow of excess coolant gas to the pipes above the reactor, but cut off the valves for now.

Go to the hangar. Bring a weapon.

Milavech looked around for a weapon and spotted a small, sharpened piece of metal lying on the ground next to the coolant pipes, probably left over from some maintenance crew. He picked up the makeshift shiv and proceeded to the hangar control room.

The hallways were lined with shadows, and they seemed to mock him.

He walked on.

As soon as he had climbed the steps to the hangar control room, he saw a figure masked against the viewport at the front of the room. The figure, clearly a female, was staring down into the hangar.

Kill her.

Milavech sprang forward, and sunk his shiv into her back. She fell without a sound.

Milavech felt the coldness envelop him again. Slowly, he turned around.

The Thing floated sinisterly in front of him, radiating triumph.

Veracity

Victor Milavech felt himself nodding.

A laugh emanated from down in the hangar. Milavech was not permitted to see who had gave birth to it. It gave him pause though; who could be laughing now?

The Thing led Milavech down into the hangar antechamber.

End your life, infidel.

Milavech looked at the Thing and sat down in the corner of the room.

Somewhere deep inside him, in a part of the human mind that no scientist could ever understand, something happened to Victor Milavech. A small mantra that had been drilled into him from youth sprang forward in the darkness that was his possessed mind, and began to grow. Eventually it grew to the point that he had to speak it in order to let it expand.

"Our Father, who arten heaven, Hallowed be thy name."

The Thing gasped forward and pulsated almost curiously.

Your faith will not help you.

Milavech's voice began to rise.

"Thy Kingdom Come, thy Will be done, on Earth, as it is in Heaven."

End yourself.

"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those, who trespass against us."

END YOURSELF

"AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL."

The Thing, angry at being disobeyed, focused all of his energy on to Milavech's mind. It had never done so before, never wanting to take away its omniscient awareness away from the world around it, but something about this mantra had enraged it to the point of irrationality.

The Inner Recesses of the Mind

The Thing suddenly felt a barrier of immense strength in front of it. Try as it might, it could not penetrate the walls of Milavech's psyche. The Thing pondered what was blocking it, then realized, in a moment of clarity, he had underestimated the man.

Faith, simple and unproven, fueled Milavech's rebellion. It was pure, and undamaged. It was something that could not be rationalized or evaluated or estimated, it was something that could not fit into any thought out plan, because it was unpredictable, and infinite. And in a man like Milavech, a man who had feared and loved God his whole life, it was unstoppable.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 26, 2568
>>>///1239 Hours
>///Delphi Station Recording Log


The Thing rose from Milavech's mind.

Slowly, confidently, Victor Milavech reached beneath his shirt. He pulled out a small, thin silver cross.

"May God have mercy on your soul."

The Thing felt something it had never felt before, a presence more powerful than it. For the first time in its existence, the Thing was frightened.

It drifted away from Milavech quickly, but it could not escape the chill that had taken it prisoner.

There was something working against it now. Something far greater than it could fathom.

Victor Milavech smiled and prayed.

"Have faith," he whispered.

"Have faith."





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