Posted By: Cthulhu117<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 16 March 2006, 11:56 pm
Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference. No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the guilty person is his own judge...the humiliation of shame requires disapproval or ridicule by others.
Ninth Age of Reclamation
System 457412, Human Designation -Reach-
Covenant Frigate Boundless Ardor
Thirty-Five Years Later
The bridge of the Boundless Ardor was operating in low-power mode. Barely visible in the gloom, Eraa 'Gamsamee stood on the raised central platform, his iridescent armor dull and black in the low light. His arms crossed behind his back and his hooves spread slightly, he stood tall and straight, looking every inch the proud Sangheili commander. He didn't feel that way inside.
He was only sixty-six, barely reaching his prime, but he felt like he was two hundred. Not physically. He was in excellent condition, sparring with his warband every day and running a twenty-mile loop whenever he was planetside. But he hadn't been old enough to fight in the last war. He hadn't been old enough to understand what it could do to you. He had been too strong, fierce and tough to die. But so many others had fallen in the last thirty-five years. Carza 'Denlinee, killed when Paris IV was glassed. 'Gamsamee's own lieutenant, Vuka 'Shornafee, gunned down from behind by a lucky human on Curate. Most recently, 'Gamsamee's bond-partner, the Councilor Tiro 'Sunbrugee had been killed somehow on Vaalen VII. Rumor had spread of Demons, dark, forbidding creatures in green armor, on Vaalen VII and everywhere else the humans were in danger.
He missed Tiro. There was no question about that. Ever since they'd met on the Champion's Vengeance, he'd been attracted to her. He'd felt it necessary to become an honorary Councilor himself before he asked her thirteen years ago. She had accepted, but she had continued to fight on the front lines. The Council took her to task several times about this. She never promised to stop. When he'd asked her to stop, she'd told him that if he could fight on the front lines, she could too. And now she was gone. A foul Demon had struck her down on Vaalen VII. He missed her, but he did not mourn. He could not feel grief anymore. Only anger and fervor.
The war had been cruel to Clan Sam. At the start of the war, they'd had one hundred and ninety-two members, making them among the largest of the clans. Now they had fourteen. Eraa 'Gamsamee and Orna 'Fulsamee were ensuring that the honor of Clan Sam was undiminished. But soon there might be no Clan left to have honor. 'Gamsamee's young unbaptized son was the only child in the Clan in the last decade. He was nameless still, unworthy of a name until he was baptized at age six. 'Gamsamee had not bothered to think of a name. He could not feel compassion for his son, nor show it. He hated himself for this. He hated himself for letting 'Vansamee die, for letting 'Vutbrugee die, for letting Tiro die. He hated himself. He half wished that he too could die and join their Great Journey.
He stood motionless. The Boundless Ardor was a top-of-the-line Special Operative frigate. Equipped with a prototype version of a high-power camouflage field, the Ardor was equipped with enough weaponry to destroy a regular Covenant carrier. It held a hundred Sangheili, three hundred Unggoy, fifty Ghost hovercraft, twenty-five Banshee fliers, twelve Spectre transports, five Wraith battletanks and a single assault-modified Scarab. It was perfectly designed to destroy human ships. 'Gamsamee appreciated the extra firepower, but he could not bring himself to say that he liked the ship. Ever since Tiro had died, he felt like one who had died honorless: wandering the grey, dusky fields of Latohvza, emotionless and unfulfilled, unable to express anything.
The constant presence of Azathoth didn't make things any better. By reciting the names of the Councilors, 'Gamsamee was usually able to mask his thoughts from the AI, but he was carefully guarded around Azathoth. He didn't trust the Oracle. He knew more than he wished about the Forerunners due to the AI, and he didn't want to know any more.
It was some time before he noticed the Unggoy patiently waiting behind him. It bowed reverently. "Excellency, we near human system."
He nodded. He did not feel anything but loathing. These humans were unworthy of a Great Journey. They consorted with Demons. They killed Tiro. They deserved nothing but agony and disgrace. Most likely they were under the patronage of Den'nimhv-yargh, the Great Demon himself. He turned his head slightly. "Tell Operative 'Aklinee to bring the ship out of slipspace, charge plasma torpedoes, and activate shields. I'll lead the strike team myself."
The Unggoy turned to leave. He turned, knelt to the Unggoy's level and spoke more quietly. He could smell the stinking vapors they breathed. At this range, he could smell the fear and awe rolling off of the creature. "Contact Supreme Commander 'Fulsamee and tell him Eraa wishes to speak."
The Operative Unggoy's knees knocked together. "You want Hegeg to tell Commander? Me just Unggoy...me not worthy of honor, Excellency!"
'Gamsamee admired the Unggoy's boldness in protesting his orders. Then again, it was probably just stupidity mixed with misguided faith. "Very well. You are free to go."
The Unggoy left, thoroughly glad that he had escaped unscathed. 'Gamsamee turned to his holopanel. "Azathoth, raise lighting to seventy-five percent and contact Orna."
The AI was wearing his most mocking and sarcastic form today. It was a freeze-frame from a propaganda holovid. It showed a cowering human, its ugliness comically exaggerated, with a heroic-looking 'Gamsamee holding the Covenant flag and placing a hoof on the back of its neck. Azathoth wore it when he was feeling cynical. The human rolled its eyes. "Of course, Excellency," a human voice stated. The real 'Gamsamee nodded and turned his back on the 'Gamsamee in the freeze-frame, which gave him an obscene gesture.
Supreme Commander Orna 'Fulsamee was wearing a displeased expression as he came into view, but at the sight of his brother he gave a smile which 'Gamsamee did not return. "Eraa. I didn't expect your signal this quickly. Are you sure you're in the right system? I remember back at Japheth one of my Ship Masters came out of slipspace at Mizraim III. He did not realize that he was glassing an uninhabited rock until he'd wasted three hours there. That is known as instant demotion."
'Gamsamee's face was, as always, grim. "Spare me, Orna. I have arrived at their pathetic world. I shall burn it myself if your fleet hasn't arrived in forty-five units. Your chance to slaughter these infidels is passing fast. My patience is thin these days. I attack as soon as my forces are ready."
'Fulsamee leaned forward, concern evident in his features. "You're not the person you used to be, Eraa. You've changed, and I preferred you the way you were before."
'Gamsamee was breathing heavily as he growled back, "You try losing the one person you actually care about and see if you are the same person as before. You can never understand. I am broken and cannot be made whole. I remain in this shell of a body only to attain my Great Journey. If I had a choice, I would destroy myself on the instant."
His brother's response was condescending. "And you think that you will gain honor by worthless, random slaughter on the basis of your anger at the death of your bond-partner? Such thoughts violate the Articles of Covenant."
"There are times," 'Gamsamee hissed bitterly, "when I wonder if the Covenant itself does not violate the Articles of Covenant. I apologize, my brother, for inflicting my pain on you. But these humans deserve to die for what they did to Tiro. To me."
"If I recall the report," 'Fulsamee mused, "it was a Demon, not a human, which struck Councilor 'Sunbrugee down."
"And who is to say that the Demons are not, in fact, human?"
"The Demons are too great to be human. They are almost worthy of the Covenant. On second thought, I will not say that again. No filthy infidel is worthy of a name. No black evil such as the Demons could be worth a name. But though they ally themselves with the human heretics in order to frustrate our holy work, they are too fell and strong to be human themselves."
"Enough of this," barked 'Gamsamee. "There is nothing to be gained from bickering about whether or not these damned things are human. I am giving you slipspace coordinates."
He left the bridge. He felt tired, angry and useless. As he had ever since Tiro died. Azathoth remained, wearing the form of a Sangheili, staring Orna 'Fulsamee in the eye. "I know you're worried about him,' he said measuredly. "Let me advise you that you should not confront him about this. I know who you are, and I think that, to an extent, you know who I am also." For a second his image flickered. Orna 'Fulsamee barely registered the image of the tall robed creature before it was gone. "I know what you do not. I have seen what is in his mind. He does not know the truth, of course. But you have a choice as to whether or not to let him know the truth. And I advise that, for the time being, you do not."
"Then he is the Seraphima?" 'Fulsamee asked confusedly.
Azathoth looked quite alarmed. "Not necessarily. Someone once said to me 'Always in motion is the future,' and having had twenty thousand years to think about it, I think he was right. You have a choice. I leave it to you."
The Supreme Commander had one final question for the AI, however. "Who really are you?"
"No one. I am not innocent of what has taken place...but it was not my fault what happened. The stubbornness of one who refused to see reason sparked guilt in us all. Is that clear?"
"No," 'Fulsamee said clearly. "But I will think on what you have said."
Now Azathoth stood there, the silver flames on his form quenched, invisible as the bridge was once again plunged into murky dimness.
It was not ten units later that the Ardor was ready to fire. 'Gamsamee knew what he had to do. He stood in his command center, the fire control holopanel extended before him. For a second, doubt resonated in his brain. Could he really justify killing this many living beings just for the sake of his personal revenge?
He thought. Then he decided he could.
His talons stabbed down on the main pulse laser trigger.
The ship hissed into view temporarily. On the bridge of the cruiser Phlegethon, a young lieutenant noticed the purplish beam cutting space in their direction, but before he could turn around to tell the captain, he had evaporated into his component molecules. The Phlegethon reeled from the force of the blast. Its entire command deck, from the bridge to the mess hall, was gutted. Atmosphere vented from the breach. Vacuum doors slid closed. 'Gamsamee laughed at their puny efforts of resistance. He fired again, this time aiming for the ship's center. The laser's thrust spun the Phlegethon like a top. 'Gamsamee did not laugh this time. He fired a third shot, straight into the engineering section. The darkened corridors of the cruiser were briefly lit by an atomic sunrise, then they disintegrated.
Everything started to happen at once. A vast fleet of Covenant capital ships entered from slipspace. The MAC emplacements aimed for the Boundless Ardor, but the targeting turned up a blank. The ship had simply become invisible. MAC Station 11 fired a superdense tungsten round at the lead Covenant destroyer, the Humility, which had not yet raised its shields. The ship was transfixed. A gaping hole appeared amid the brief explosions. Ship Master Jaulu 'Kagdamee cursed over the ship-to-ship. "Raise shields," he barked at his bridge crew. "And get all repair teams to work on that br-" his voice broke off and his image disappeared as MAC Station 14 fired a shot that crumpled the ship like a paper bag.
Now the human capital ships were starting to advance. 'Gamsamee laughed yet again. "Fire plasma torpedoes at will," he hissed to Azathoth. The AI shook his holographic head and disappeared. The Commander snarled. Azathoth had never disobeyed him in a combat situation before. Reaching out for the holopanel himself, he aimed for the Antique Land and fired a maximum charge torpedo. The Marathon-class cruiser was simply eaten away. He took aim again and fired at a smaller ship. This one didn't even leave wreckage; it was simply gone.
"Start the landing," he shouted over the ship-to-ship. 223 acknowledgement signals flared on the status panel. Phantoms started to leave the Covenant ships and head for Reach. With their size, they were safe from MAC rounds, and the only threat to them was fire from the Longsword fighters. 'Gamsamee called one of his lieutenants, Intra 'Hijrulee, to the control center. He wasn't going to miss out on the ground action. 'Hijrulee would have to pilot the Ardor. He grinned ferally as his energy blade sprang to life.
The halls of his ship were comfortingly familiar. The wide open spaces of the six-level hangar bay were like old friends. He walked briskly, energy sword drawn, forcing subordinates to back away from the white-hot weapon. There were only a few Phantoms left. Standing under the gravity lift of one of the Phantoms, he wondered if he was really justified in his actions. If the Covenant were wrong about humanity, how could he back up his deeds honorably?
Further musing was forestalled by his slow rise into the air and the underbelly of a Phantom. He had forgotten how cramped these dropships were. As they shot into space like a bullet from a gun, Eraa 'Gamsamee stood just behind the pilot's chair, keeping perfect balance despite the explosions and flak all around them. It had been too long since he had killed with his hands. A few days at the least.
He was first out of the Phantom. A blast from a human explosive rocked the ship as he dropped from the gravity lift. Blinking in the sudden wash of sunlight, he landed on a tussock of springy grass feet away from a scared-looking young human. The human dropped the shoulder-mounted rocket launcher he was carrying. He reached for the sidearm at his waist, but 'Gamsamee's hand blocked him off. The Commander grabbed the human's arm and bent it back over his head, snapping the fragile bones. Grabbing the human at the neck, he flung the infidel bodily away into a tree and heard a satisfying crack. Another human cried out from behind him and fired a few shots from an inaccurate projectile weapon. 'Gamsamee leapt into the air, grabbed the rifle out of the heretic's hands, and cracked his skull with it. He stepped back to survey his grisly work. A Ship Master from one of the destroyers caught his arm. "Why do you defile yourself by placing your hands on these heathens?"
'Gamsamee was about to reply when a boom rang out from the shrubbery and a massive projectile wound appeared in the very center of the Ship Master's chest. A human head, curiously dark of skin, popped up for a second. Then the human ran. 'Gamsamee was after the human immediately. The dark-skinned human turned around and started to back up, taking three quick, poorly aimed shots with his long rifle. 'Gamsamee stepped out of the line of fire; nothing was more embarrassing than to be hit by an accidental shot.
"Dammit," the human hissed as he pulled the trigger of his weapon again and was rewarded with a shallow click. He attempted to bash at the Commander with the butt of the weapon, but he was far too slow. Dodging the weak swing, 'Gamsamee hooked his claws beneath the weapon and jerked it from the dark human's grasp. The human stared at the extended claws, four inches long.
"Hell! I never knew you ugly splitlips had claws-"
'Gamsamee rolled his eyes and smashed the human's head into a tree. The heretic crumpled like a rag doll, blood streaming from the side of his head. Walking over to the fallen Ship Master, who was gasping out a labored final breath, 'Gamsamee sneered. "That's why," he said coldly. He walked away, leaving the weak fool to his fate.
The human watched him go. Then he stared hard at the other squidhead to make sure it was dead. He let out a sigh of relief that belied his cocky words. "There ain't no alien born that can beat the shit outta Avery J. Johnson."
Keeping low and out of sight, he headed off to the west. He had a ship to board, twenty miles away. If he wasn't on board within a few hours, they were probably going to leave anyway. Speed was of the essence for the Pillar of Autumn, and they weren't going to hold up just because one Marine had gotten lost.
'Gamsamee knew nothing of this. Later, he was barely able to remember the brutal day. Once he saw a Demon and stuck a grenade to it. Far from screaming like the humans, it charged him, causing him considerable pain when it exploded. He paid no attention to what he was doing. All was the exhilaration of battle and the honor he was winning. He was awakened from his berserk frenzy by a transmission. His suit's holosystem projected a small, jerky holo of Orna 'Fulsamee. The Supreme Commander's expression was furious.
"Eraa, one of the ships has left," he thundered.
"Deserters?" 'Gamsamee growled.
'Gamsamee swore. Usually he did not show his feelings so explosively, but since Tiro's death his temper was frayed. "How many?"
"One ship. Called Pillar of Autumn. Crew of about 500. Halcyon-class cruiser. An outdated model, even for the humans. A few units ago it breached our perimeter and jumped to slipspace before we could lock a torpedo. We need to follow. Its path- Its path was either random or a great shot. Eraa, it's headed right for a Halo."
"Take the ships with the best balance of firepower and speed, and go quickly," 'Gamsamee advised. "I shall finish the humans here with my remaining troops, then burn the world and await your return. I will take care of the Ascendant for you. Take the Prophet with you. You know the Prophet of Tolerance as well as I do. If he has to stay here, he will try to have us quartered as heretics."
'Fulsamee laughed. "It is good to see you laughing again, Eraa."
Eraa 'Gamsamee smiled halfheartedly, but he did not chuckle in return.
'Gamsamee moved his residence to the Ascendant Justice and spent a long, mind-numbing time waiting. He took the opportunity to play an interactive holo created by the Unggoy techs to pass their spare time. The player controlled an avatar in the form of 'Gamsamee, which they steered through various battles taken from his campaigns against the humans. 'Gamsamee grew to despise the game. He couldn't beat the highest difficulty, although he felt sure that he could beat the damned game if he was actually there instead of manipulating a holopanel.
It was not till nearly three weeks later that 'Gamsamee received a communication. Getting some sleep for the first time in months, he was awakened by the pins-and-needle sensation of Azathoth penetrating his neural net. The AI's calmly resonant voice disrupted his slumber.
"There was a message from your brother. It may not be what you hoped. If 'Fulsamee found Halo, he found more than he expected."
"Show me the message," barked 'Gamsamee. His perpetual bad temper was not improved by an early and unexpected wakeup call.
Azathoth made a sarcastic comment in a dead language and played the transmission on the wall terminal. The quality was poor and the sound was distorted, but Orna 'Fulsamee was still evidently desperate.
"Eraa- if you're picking this up, then-" the message was interrupted with static. 'Gamsamee meddled with the computer, but the quality did not improve. Only fragments were intelligible.
"What you feared was-", "Demon has infiltrat-", "do not know its intent", "Parasite may have been relea-", and "make sure to bring the Ascendant...at least some Huragok- as soon as possible," were the longest dialogues that made any sense. 'Gamsamee clacked his mandibles worriedly.
"Parasites and Demons," he growled. "Bring the flagship, with some Huragok. Very well. The Huragok will be brought. Send a message to High Charity that Huragok will be required immediately at the ruins of Reach. Then prepare six other ships of your choosing for a slipspace jump and upload yourself to my neural net," he ordered the AI.
Azathoth nodded, deadly serious now. Normally he would have resented so much work, but he knew it was important. The Huragok were on board the flagship within two hours. 'Gamsamee was all business. He removed many warriors from the ship to accommodate the strange floating engineers. He was so busy, as a matter of fact, that all he bothered to grab from the armory was a plasma pistol and an cam-chip for his armor- standard Operative field equipment.
His arrival was delayed, and there was a spot of trouble with a couple of tiny human ships that vanished among the debris. The debris...?
"Oh. Gods above."
The words barely escaped his mandibles. The once majestic remains took his breath away. Halo was gone. Burned. Broken. Shattered to fragments. As badly damaged as the transmission Orna had sent. It could not be. The Prophets would have his skin. This was abominable. The filthy Demon must have destroyed it. How could Orna's fleet of over a dozen capital ships have failed to destroy a single weak human vessel?
He patrolled the bridge in a near-stupor. Nothing seemed to matter. He heard, occasionally, transmissions from the rest of the ship. There were humans on board. A Demon was with them. Some even claimed it was the Great Demon, Den'nimhv-yargh. He did not care. Let the Demon and his humans come. When they did, he would slaughter them all.
As he waited, a young Major entered the room. As the Major crossed to the door, plasma explosions sounded outside it. The Major laughed. "Do these humans think that grenades can penetrate our heavy blast doors?"
"No," spat 'Gamsamee. "They know that the door's lock is now offline. Stop them if you can."
"Of course, Excellency," growled the red-armored Sangheili. Bracing the door, he gave a howl as human projectile fire battered him. After a few seconds, the Major collapsed in a pool of gore. The human bullets had overloaded and penetrated his shields. 'Gamsamee engaged his camouflage and stood back. Four humans and a Demon strode cautiously through the door. 'Gamsamee raised his plasma pistol. For the first time he noticed that a trio of Huragok was beneath the room's central platform. He knew he hadn't been very attentive for the last few hours, but he still ought to have noticed them.
Steeling himself, he focused on the Demon and disengaged his camouflage. Furious as he was, he would never attack even a Demon from the shadows. That was the lowest, most dishonorable blow he could strike.
His armor was automatically dark in the low light. The Demon's head turned with abnormal speed. A crude human rifle snapped to his shoulder and spat three rounds. One glanced off 'Gamsamee's shoulder. The Sangheili cursed to himself and activated his shields. One of the humans raised a pistol at the Commander's head, but a burst of plasma sent the infidel scampering for cover. 'Gamsamee threw his helmet aside. In close range, it would only encumber him. Dropping the pistol, he reached to his belt. Grabbing the energy sword that he always kept there, he smiled and charged the Demon.
The first blow came too fast. He doubled over as he was struck in the stomach. The Demon raised his weapon for a finishing strike, but 'Gamsamee lunged out with his sword and cut the weapon in half. The Demon lunged forward in turn and grabbed 'Gamsamee's wrists in a grip of steel. The Commander swore as the Demon backed him towards two of the other humans. Flicking the blade sideways, he cut through one of the human weapons, scoring a deep line in the heretic's chest.
The human collapsed with a scream. The Demon said something to the humans, then kicked hard into 'Gamsamee's chest. The shields fell and the armor cracked. 'Gamsamee winced and staggered back. This was going to get him a reprimand from the Armorer.
As he stumbled backwards, his armored hoof caught in his discarded helmet. He swore furiously. Why was he being so incompetent today? He kept hold of the energy sword, but only just. Reaching out with his free hand, he grabbed the plasma pistol and fired at the Demon. It was the Demon's lucky day; the plasma bolt hit a wall display. 'Gamsamee squeezed the pistol again, but the Demon knocked it to the deck. As 'Gamsamee raised the sword for a killing blow, the Demon rammed him backwards into the door the humans had entered by and barked a command. The energy blade cut into the Demon's arm, but suddenly projectiles were impacting on the Commander's back.
The humans were firing from behind. Bullets tore against his shields. Then his shields dropped. He dimly felt projectiles thud into his chest, but the pain was coming from his jaw. There were pieces of metal entering the left side of his head, lodging in the mandibles. He dropped the sword from the pain. The Demon spun him away, into a command escape pod. He pounded on the door as it locked. The Demon said something he couldn't hear, and launched the pod.
'Gamsamee collapsed. Azathoth gave almost a chuckle. "You really are tougher than you look. There are about thirty projectiles in your torso. One lung punctured. Eleven ribs broken. Collarbone pulverized. Branching chest plate snapped. Liver pierced. Primary heart has failed. Secondary heart seems to be working well. You can survive. The problem is that six projectiles have entered your left mandibles. Gangrene will develop within days. When it does, you will die."
'Gamsamee was willing to do anything to survive. He had another reason to kill the Demons now: to regain his honor. He would cause himself whatever pain was necessary. He would survive until Orna could rescue him. Then he would kill all humans, everywhere. He would bring their heresy to an end. He would wait until the hands of that Demon were drenched in the blood of his fallen allies. Then he would kill the Demon. He clung to that thought as his twitching hand tore his left jaw off just above the roots.
"That problem is solved," he gasped inarticulately, purple blood already starting to flow from the mangled stumps. "Anything else?"
"Yes," snapped the AI. "Stop that, or you'll bleed out. Then get some sleep. You will need it. I was about to tell you that I found a cruiser called the Antiquity and Remembrance. It's one of 'Fulsamee's cruiser, and judging by the transmissions, he's a day away. He should read the emergency beacon of the lifeboat and investigate. If he doesn't, you die. If he does, you might die anyway. Either way, you need to sleep."
When 'Gamsamee woke again, he was in the medbay of a single battered cruiser. Although Orna wasn't there to tell him, 'Gamsamee knew the destruction of Halo was his brother's fault.
Azathoth could have told the whole truth then, but something stopped him.
A Sangheili with a hood and cloak shadowing his face stood in a vast cavern. Before him stood tens of thousands of warriors. Their forms were indistinct, but 'Gamsamee knew that they were not all the same. They were a mighty army.
When he woke, he was sweating for the first time in his life. He remembered only one thing from his dream. A face. He could not place it. He knew he should. But he could not, and before long he had forgotten even that.
'Fulsamee and 'Gamsamee's return to High Charity was not a glorious one.