Dies Irae- I
Posted By: Cthulhu117<email@example.com>
Date: 30 November 2006, 8:44 pm
Eighth Age of Reclamation
Covenant Cycle of the Prophets 84483
Rotation 242, Unit 8.0
Patrol Carrier Arcane Wrath
Uninhabited Star System
Covenant Designation Aiya-2814
Wutuf was nothing special to look at, as Unggoy went. Nor was he special in any other way: a short, stocky alien, a ponderous breath tank straining his back. The breath mask covering the lower half of his face was recently polished, shining a bright silver that the dim hallways of the Arcane Wrath did not, unfortunately, call attention to. He was much like any other member of the ship's complement of seven hundred Unggoy.
In fact, he was exactly like any other Unggoy, except the color of his chilled armor and massive methane tank was somewhat different. Several rotations ago, he had been running through the Unggoy barracks when he ran into a golden pillar that seemed to reach to the divine beyond itself.
Picking himself up, he had squeaked in fright. The golden pillar was the leg of a Sangheili Zealot. And not just any Zealot, either. The acclaimed Fleet Master Ara 'Vasunee. Zealots were notoriously brutal to the rank and file, and Wutuf had feared for his life. But the Sangheili had grabbed him by the hand and dragged him to the ship's aft control center, where he had presented Wutuf as "our new Secondary Adjunct Assistant-Major" and made a slightly poetic speech, apparently about the noble death of someone or other. After that, a pair of Kig-Yar, grinning at Wutuf unpleasantly, had flash-painted his armor and breath-tank a lurid red.
Realizing that he had just been promoted, by a Fleet Master, no less, Wutuf had lost his way three times on the way back to the barracks. Trying to enter with his standard-issue key card, the ship's AI had told him that he was no longer rated to enter these barracks. He now lived in a more methane-rich, lower-gravity and far more humid environment along the ship's ventral structure, with other Unggoy bearing red armor.
The problem was that the other Majors he lived with seemed to consider him a substandard replacement for whoever it was that had died, allowing Wutuf to take over his duties. The Minors who had once been his friends either held him in contempt for joining the "Reds" or treated him as they always had before- that is to say, without the slightest hint of the respect due to him. Needless to say, Wutuf was not entirely happy about his promotion.
Without any doubt, however, his patrol route was far, far worse than anything else. His job was to guard and inspect the central core chamber, on the unit, every unit.
The central core chamber terrified him. Unggoy did not like large, vertical distances. They were scared witless by pits of this size. Some Unggoy didn't even like to jump too high. Wutuf was braver than most of his kind, but he could barely walk into the place before his knees started to tremble and his teeth chattered so hard they could be heard through his mask.
All in all, Wutuf was very glad that his responsibility was mostly to fill out the duty rosters. He was the leader of his patrol, and the Assistant Major for the section. The Secondary Adjunct Major was a former friend of his, a bad-tempered Unggoy called Zangwat. He, and all the other Unggoy in the Secondary Adjunct, reported to an old, impatient Kig-Yar Major called Buz. Buz was well-known not to trust Unggoy, and every so often, he would send one of his Kig-Yar Minors to boss around the patrols. Wutuf was mostly glad of this; it meant that he could let the Kig-Yar lead and tremble in peace.
This rotation was one such occasion. The Kig-Yar in command was an irritable, foul-smelling Minor called Kuk. As usual, he was ignoring the Unggoy unless they spoke. If they did, he stared at them until they cowered under his penetrating stare. If they didn't, he paid them no heed, never speaking to them, merely fulfilling the patrol route.
The other three Unggoy were a trio of Minors whose names Wutuf always mixed up. They were lower-ranking than he was, of course, but they, like many of their rank, treated him with disrespect bordering on insubordination. They knew the patrol better than he did, however, and when they were all being run ragged for the Kig-Yar's amusement, he tried to at least sympathize with them.
It was now that Wutuf was attempting to do such a thing.
"So, what your name?" he asked one of them, attempting to be conversational while still whispering.
The Minor glared at him. "Me tell you already! Leave me alone, Red!"
Wutuf glared right back. "I not "Red"! Major Wutuf to you!"
The Minor ignored him.
Wutuf, however, was not going to let the matter rest. "Major Wutuf! I be promoted by Snagh- Sahng- by big scary Zealots! You show respect! You just Minor!"
Continuing his argument, he failed to notice that Kuk had stopped, and walked right into him.
Kuk's head swiveled to face the Unggoy, a trait left over from his avian ancestors. "Have a problem, gas-sucker?"
Petrified, Wutuf shook his head. The Minors snickered.
Kuk's body turned to face them. "You have a problem, midgets?"
They shook their heads. Now it was Wutuf's turn to snicker.
"Shut up!" the Kig-Yar snarled at him.
It was at this point that something in Wutuf broke. Technically, being a low-caste Major, he outranked a low-caste Minor. In theory, he could order Kuk around as he pleased. Of course, he never did, because ordering a Kig-Yar to do something usually meant death unless you were a Sangheili. It was the most flagrant violation of rules in the Covenant, but nobody ever did anything about it.
"You shut up!" he snapped, pointing a finger at the Kig-Yar. "You just Minor! I Major Wutuf! Patrol leader, so you shut up and do what I say!"
There was an ominous clicking sound as Kuk eased his plasma pistol free of his belt. "So, Major, what do you...order me...to do?"
"Give me gun!" Wutuf said sharply. He was very much surprised that the Kig-Yar hadn't killed him right off.
Shrugging, Kuk dropped the pistol. Wutuf picked it up, and as he did so, he saw a brief, silvery gleam vanish behind the Kig-Yar's back.
"Knife, too!" he ordered angrily.
Kuk smiled. He gave Wutuf the knife.
In his stomach.
Major Wutuf reeled for a second as the jagged blade tore through his body. Then he fell, a sad bundle of red-armored flesh leaking pale blue blood.
Kuk slowly rolled the body to the edge of the core and tipped it over the edge. Wutuf fell with more grace than he had ever had in life, his arms slowly cutting the thin air until he faded from sight in the machinery at the core pit's bottom.
The Kig-Yar turned to face the other three Unggoy. "Anybody else want to be patrol leader?"
Delicately reaching a long finger down to the floor, he brought some of the cold, stinking blood to his mouth, and licked it off with a look of deep pleasure.
The three Unggoy looked at each other briefly before answering in tandem, "No, Excellency!"
July 8, 2045
6:52 a.m., Toronto Standard Time
Superorbital Space Vehicle SSS Dies Irae
Sol System, Far Side of Luna
The Dies Irae was not running smoothly.
This mission was the last one that she would undertake, and Mission Commander Chun-Sung Kim was definitely glad of that right now. The Day, as the less intellectual crew members called her, was fading fast. Her computers were outdated, her engines used substandard fuel sources, and in general, Kim wasn't sure that the Day could survive another mission. He was not, for that matter, sure that she could survive this one.
"Goddamn management," he muttered, running a hand through his neatly clipped dark hair. "Has to have a big send-off for us. It wouldn't do to just let this poor old ship take her goddamn final rest in the junkpile where she belongs. Oh no. We have to have a goddamn last voyage, for the press. The public likes heroics. Well, heroics only work in Hollywood. This piece of shit has about as much heroics left in her as a rat's ass."
"Yeah, this was a goddamn stupid idea," agreed the mission pilot, a young ex-Air Force pilot named Ian Bryant. "But hey, whatcha gonna do? Folks need heroes, man. It gives 'em hope for their goddamn pathetic lives. They're down there, living out their days as white-collar prisoners, and we're as close to the stars as some will ever get. Come on, man, see it from their point of view."
Kim stared at Bryant, disconcerted. "You just-"
"Yeah?" Ian said.
"You just said more than ten words in a row," Kim mumbled.
Bryant put a hand over his heart in mock agony. "Oh, shit, man, that burned. Ouch."
"What are you two babbling about now?" came a deep voice from the back of the cockpit. Markus Stern was the ship's designer and mechanic, the only man who had been on all four of the Day's missions.
"We're not babbling. We're discussing," Kim retorted.
"Well, don't curse too much. The Day may think you're insulting her and fall apart to just to spite you," Stern lectured jokingly. "Have you sent the call to SSC yet?"
"Thanks for reminding me," said Kim. He turned around in his chair, letting the zero-gravity turn him slowly. "Cass! Give me the SSC main channel up here!"
"Coming your way!" Cass shouted back. Cass Richards was the ship's second officer after himself and Bryant. She was a small and unauspicious-looking black woman from Akron. She was also, as it turned out, a former Green Beret. Kim had seen her hit moving targets with a pistol at two hundred feet, and he knew that this woman was probably the most dangerous person on board. She was also a zero-gee expert; after Stern, she was the most experienced member of the crew when it came to spaceflight.
Kim sighed and picked up the headset. This was going to be a long mission.
Covenant Cycle of the Prophets 84483
Rotation 242, Unit 12.6
Patrol Carrier Arcane Wrath
The Arcane Wrath's core chamber was silent. By this point, every patrol had finished its route and was enjoying its downtime before the next patrol.
Wutuf's corpse lay at the core chamber's bottom, a deep knife wound in his chest no longer bubbling out blood. His back was broken. Staring up at the massive blue beam of the core with glazed eyes, his body lay sprawled on a tritium containment and processing belt.
The Covenant fusion reactors required enormous quantities of gaseous hydrogen-3 to function properly. Since tritium was rather difficult to contain, it was processed by an on-board containment center and bound into electromagnetic shells that could be fed into the ship's drive cores at a rapid rate. When in slipspace, the rate at which tritium was absorbed into the drives was positively alarming.
Wutuf's body was none the better for being encased in argon anions, and it definitely was not tritium.
The Covenant drive cores were astonishingly delicate. Almost any input besides hydrogen-3 gas would most likely cause the reactor to malfunction.
Wutuf's body moved quickly along the grav-belt.
The command center was too far away to feel the explosion, but all at once, the lights, holopanels and heating systems went out.
Fleet Master Ara 'Vasunee turned to Ship Master Korus 'Sanhajee. The Fleet Master's voice was murderous. "I will assume, Korus, that what just happened to this ship was purely intentional and designed to demonstrate this carrier's wondrous abilities."
'Sanjahee exhaled slowly. His breath lingered visibly in the rapidly cooling air. As he inhaled, the ship's systems came back on. He brightened, turning to 'Vasunee.
The Supreme Commander of the Fleet of Benevolent Grandeur was stonefaced.
'Sanjahee turned away, embarrassed, and barked to the Operations controller, "What is our status?"
The lower-ranking Zealot frowned. "It appears, Excellencies, that our reactor lost power for approximately one one-hundredth of a unit, from 12.63 to 12.64. Temporarily, we dropped out of slipspace, lost all main systems, and lowered our shields. However, all systems have returned to normal and our slipspace vector has been re-established. I will endeavor to secure a report on the cause of the power failure as soon as possible."
The Ship Master glanced at the engineering station. The Zealot standing there scratched his mandibles in perplexity. "It seems that there were two explosions, Excellencies. Firstly, at 12.602, some foreign substance was induced into the drive core, causing a system failure. Then, at approximately 12.6381, there was a large outrush of atmosphere to the periphery of the core chamber. It is almost as though- but of course I do not wish to waste your time with speculation, Excellencies."
'Vasunee frowned. "What is it almost like, warrior?"
Hesitantly, the Engineering Officer turned towards the Fleet Master. "It is almost as though we came out of slipspace...on top of something.
'Vasunee inhaled sharply. Nodding to the two Special Operatives assigned to guard him, he grabbed the Engineering Officer by the shoulder. "You and I are going to go to the core chamber. I want to see this for myself."
The four Sangheili exited the room at a pace which 'Sanjahee thought was perhaps a little faster than was reasonable.
July 8, 2045
7:33 a.m., Toronto Standard Time
Orbital Vehicle SSS Dies Irae
Chun-Sung Kim was never entirely sure what precisely happened, but three things stuck in his mind years afterward. A flash of lavender light, so bright he could see it even through his reflexively closed eyelids. A rushing sound, like a tornado, but with electrical crackles surrounding it. And a vast, flameless explosion.
He opened his eyes slowly. The Day looked like hell; well, more so than usual.
He felt very weak and tired, and the back of his head was wet and ached horribly. He pulled himself up, and a rush of pain and dizziness washed over him. Half-turning to see what he had hit, he saw the main control panel, twisted almost beyond recognition. The edges were bowed out, and one of them was already crusting with dried blood.
Taking a deep breath, he remembered his crew. Raising his voice, he shouted, "Everybody okay?"
He winced and clashed his teeth together and the pain shouting caused him, and then winced again over the pain clashing his teeth caused him. He heard Bryant cursing weakly next to him. He glanced over to the pilot. The young man was sitting in his seat, blood staining his short, platinum-blond hair. His arm was crushed and twisted; the main flight computer had smashed it against the control board.
"God damn!" he heard one of his crew, Head Mechanic Tom Pugh, shout. "What in hell was that?"
"I have no idea," Stern shouted back. "But I know what it wasn't. We didn't hit anything."
"Oh yeah?" Pugh snapped. "Tell that to my goddamn shoulder."
Stern came into view, standing up, trapped between the bulkhead and the ruins of his chair. "We can't have hit anything," he explained patiently, "because whatever happened pushed us toward the outside of the ship. Something may have exploded. I had better check."
Other crew members were becoming audible. "Fuck!" snarled someone that could possibly have been Cass. "Somebody get this goddamn aquarium off my arm."
"Yeah, yeah, calm down," one of the engineers mumbled, rather tightly, as through something was lying across his throat.
"Don't tell me to calm down," Cass growled. "You having trouble with that hose, little boy?"
"Oh, piss off," he rejoined.
"Shut up, everyone!" Kim barked, regardless of pain. "Everyone, just- just shut up."
Everyone shut up.
"Okay," Kim groaned, "we have no goddamn idea what happened, we have no goddamn idea where the hell we are, and we have absolutely no goddamn idea what the fuck is going on. Now, let's get sorted out. Who here is not injured or mobile?"
Five voices answered him. He recognized one as Stern's.
"All right," Kim said slowly. "You all help the others get free, unless you're too badly hurt. If you can't help, come up here into the cockpit."
Pugh entered immediately. Kim looked at his shoulder. It was indeed badly broken, with jagged tips of bone poking almost through the skin. Kim whistled. "Better get Doctor Hasek to look at that, Tom. And get some rest."
Pugh shook his head dismissively. "Shoulder's fine, sir. It's just- well, this place has gravity. And a breathable atmosphere, for that matter."
Kim cocked his head.
Pugh shrugged, and picked up a scrap of metal. He let it go. Both their eyes followed it as it hit the deck and bounced slightly.
Kim coughed painfully. "How do you know about the atmosphere, Tom?"
Using his uninjured arm, Pugh pointed out the front window of the ship.
Kim followed his gaze.
The window was broken. Shards of shatter-resistant, reinforced glass littered the floor; one was even lodged in his arm. But beyond that...
Kim, Pugh, Bryant and Stern all stared silently at the vast, purple cavern and the glowing central beam of blue light.
Cass walked into the cockpit. "Sir, we've got pretty much everyone up and- whoa."
They stared out the tear in the ship silently.
After a moment, Cass's whisper cut the silence.
"Where the hell are we?"