Worth Fighting For - Histories
Posted By: CaptainRaspberry<email@example.com>
Date: 4 May 2011, 1:58 pm
2. Worth Fighting For
1618 Hours, 14 June 2583 (Military Calendar)/
UNSC Xerxes's Sword -- defensive orbit around Ebica
When Neil and Elohim stepped off the Pelican, they were greeted by the very best of the Sword's security team. Elohim tensed, but Neil waved him down, letting them perform the necessary scans and searches. After about an hour they were cleared for their meeting with the admiral.
The bridge of the carrier was a technological marvel. The officers hustled back and forth, minding various technical stations. All gave a wide berth, however, to a single figure at the fore, standing with her face towards the stars. Her shoulders were set hard, though they lacked masculine wideness Neil had seen in other officers. Touches of gray were visible in her hair, but they were misleading; Admiral Shira Wilkes was one of the youngest admirals in the UNSC at just under forty years. Like most of her generation, the war had forced her to become a hardened elder decades early.
"Mister Temura," she said, without turning around, "that is possibly the worst salute anyone has ever given me."
Elohim twitched, but Neil didn't. He had faced officers furious at his bearing before. "You'll find we don't stand much on ceremony in this army, Admiral."
She turned and gave him the Cold Stare. Earlier this year, she had faced a mutiny on board her ship and lost her eye to a bullet graze; a functional but not aesthetically pleasing prosthesis had been grafted into the socket. The visual detection device glowed a cool sea-green to match her real eye.
Neil was almost drowned in irony.
"Then I'll thank you to observe protocol while on my ship."
This was getting tiresome. "You defected to me, if you'll recall. Technically speaking, I'm your boss, so you should be saluting me. I won't make you, though. I haven't been military in a long time."
There was a suppressed revulsion in her eyes -- somehow, even the fake one. Neil didn't find her the type to stomach non-military personnel, particularly deserters such as himself. He wondered how much she knew about him, maybe even his real name. For a moment, he couldn't fathom why she would have defected in the first place, and then his eyes settled on the holographic pedestal beside the admiral.
The AI's avatar was an unusual choice. Most "smart" AIs chose human-like avatars for their personability and familiarity to the people they worked with: it made them more approachable, easier to like -- which was a high priority for intelligences that were so smart they regularly alienated themselves from human geniuses.
This one had chosen instead a slowly spinning tesseract. It made Neil's eyes hurt to look at it.
He stepped closer. Wilkes didn't seem to mind. "Is this her?"
"Correct," spoke the AI. Though it had chosen a complicated super-geometric shape, the voice was undeniably feminine. "My name is Elodia. I've heard a lot about you, Temura."
"Well, not much on open channels." There was an edge of sly, false modesty in her voice. "The UNSC doesn't want anyone to know how strained they are at the moment, even though it's obvious to everyone that it's fraying around the edges. However, they consider you a high value target. So much so that a special ONI kill team is being put together for the sole purpose of capturing you or one of your trusted lieutenants."
Neil let his eyebrows go up. He was genuinely impressed. "That's a lot of info you're just handing out."
"I feel like I should make a good first impression. I sense that you find my interest... suspicious."
"Considering the fact that you contacted us and not the other way around, you'll understand if I do. It seems a little fortuitous." He hesitated. "Are you really one of CASTLE Base's AIs?"
"Yes. Operation WHITE GLOVE did a good job of eliminating my peers, but it wasn't total in its destruction. I escaped into the ether successfully. I've been looking for a good home ever since."
Wilkes gave a light cough. "I don't know how she got on board my ship. All I know is I received an urgent page on my neural uplink to come to the bridge, and when I arrived our normal AI had been replaced."
"A chatter connection," replied Elodia. "I disguised myself as a routine uplink request from a crew member. When your previous AI cleared the way for me to come through, I jumped in and took over. It was simple. Well, comparatively."
Neil crossed his arms. "You destroyed the old AI?"
"No. I simply repackaged him, cleared his memories, and sent him back to the ONI labs as a blank slate. He will be found in the private folders of a low-level but brilliant technician who recently suffered a debilitating stroke and was dismissed from service. AIs are valuable to the UNSC, especially during times like these."
"I didn't think even a smart AI could manipulate another AI's code that much."
Neil nodded and lapsed into silence for a moment, thinking. He turned back to the admiral. "Is there a place where Elodia and I could converse privately?"
Though she wasn't happy with the idea, Wilkes directed them to a vacant briefing room one deck above. A holgraphic projector in the center of the room was already active by the time Neil and Elohim arrived, weaving a much larger version of Elodia's tesseract.
When the door had shut, Elodia spoke: "I already neutralized all the listening devices in this room, including two installed by ONI that weren't on record. We can talk freely."
Elohim smirked. "You sure that's all of them?"
Neil didn't know how, but the tesseract managed to look irritated. "Now that you mention it, I missed your ears, but given enough time I'm sure I could find a way to neutralize those as well."
Elohim raised his hand in mock-defense, but Neil stopped him. "I'd like to stay on topic if we could. It's pretty clear you know a lot about us already..."
"You are codename Temura," Elodia cut in, "born Neil Dolson on Harvest, 4 January 2525, also known as SPARTAN-A189. You were recruited out of an orphanage on Mamore in 2531 into SPARTAN-III Alpha Company. Your group, Team Legion, distinguished itself during the Battle of New Constantinople, particularly yourself and SPARTAN-A259. Both of you were pulled to form special ONI task forces made up of Spartans. You and five others made up RAMA Team and performed admirably, but in 2548 your entire unit was killed in action above Tasmorene.
"Your psychological evaluation determined you to be fit for service but unable to return to the front lines. You spent several months serving at high security ONI sites until you went AWOL on Tulane while posted at Facility TIRYNS. You dropped off the grid and were essentially dead to the world until Ebica. Your associates --"
"All right." Neil had listened to the AI's somber recap and felt old wounds beginning to burst their stitches. Also, it unnerved him that a lifetime of service could be so neatly summaried. "I get it. You're good. Does the UNSC know all of this?"
"No. I pieced it together myself after news of Ebica first hit ONI's database."
Neil couldn't resist a smile. A small feeling of triumph escaped his usually tight net of cynicism. "You really are one of her's, aren't you?"
"Copied from one of the greatest minds at ONI's disposal."
"So why did you pick us?"
"Inevitability," she replied. "Halsey never kept us on as tight a leash as ONI wanted. I was loose enough that I could trove the information stores. I found out about the failsafe in my Reimann Matrix and nullified it. I analyzed the input coming from Reach's defense and realized that the Covenant couldn't be repelled and, like my 'mother' concluded, Reach would fall. I interweaved my own code into the last outgoing signals from CASTLE Base and spread myself over a network of COM relays.
"My processing power slowed from the distance lag, but I was still able to survey the state of the galaxy. I listened as humanity was pushed to the very precipice of extinction and then saved itself, only to fall into brushfire insurrections. In there, immersed in the exchange of data, I saw patterns... maybe more like pieces of patterns, but I saw them emerge from the otherwise entropic daily life of humanity.
"Based on those, I knew I had to reach out to one of the myriad rebel groups. When I heard about yours and realized who you were, I hopped into the Fourth Fleet and convinced the admiral to make the right choice and join you."
Elohim leaned forward. "But what is it that you saw? What were the patterns?"
The tesseract spun a little bit faster. "Have you ever heard of a man named Isaac Asimov?"