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Dies Irae- II
Posted By: Cthulhu117<azathoth117@gmail.com>
Date: 14 December 2006, 8:07 pm

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Covenant Cycle of the Prophets 84483
Rotation 242, Unit 12.7
Patrol Carrier Arcane Wrath

      Ara 'Vasunee was beginning to be worried.

      He was not, by nature, the type of Sangheili who constantly worried. A thousand cycles of watching the suffering and occasional deaths of the warriors in his fleet had dulled him. He never worried. He only planned.

      But now he was worried.

      He scowled and swung around to the Huragok which was fiddling anxiously with the door's control panel. "Have you opened it yet?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice level.

      It turned around and gave him a admonishment in the form of a chitter. He took that to mean a no, and turned around again.

      He had been pacing outside this door for the last tenth of a unit while the Huragok tried to open the main door into the control chamber. The Huragok had tried every relay and changed every circuit; he had even used his top-level access code, the one he used to report to the Hierarchs. All in vain, it seemed, for the door simply would not open.

      He turned around again. "Well?" he snarled at the Huragok, his patience rapidly fraying.

      It turned to face him- at least, he supposed it was facing him- and gave another one of its breathy whistles.

      "What is it saying?" he asked the smaller of the two Operatives, exasperated, as it turned back to its work.

      "No, obviously," came a gloomy voice from down the hall.

      'Vasunee turned so quickly that the casual observer might have thought he had been shot. A slightly stooped Sangheili in ornate white armor was staring at him. He did not recognize the voice, but as he looked more closely, he saw the blind, age-clouded eyes and the dull skin beneath the armor. Whoever this was, he was old. Very, very old.

      "Leave us," 'Vasunee muttered to the two Operatives. The obeyed in silence.

      'Vasunee almost asked the newcomer who he was, but he did not dare to. If a Sangheili could maintain his position as a High Councilor at such an advanced age, he was very good. If blind.

      The Councilor stepped slowly down the hall with a surprisingly fast, light gait. "Do you know me still, Fleet Master?"

      'Vasunee cocked his head slightly. Now that he came to think of it, the voice was more familiar than he'd first thought. One of the Councilors. Not important enough for him to remember the name, but outspoken enough for him to know the voice...

      The Councilor offered his hand. Surprised that the old one could judge distance so well, he grasped it and knelt in reverence.

      "It's 'Sankrithee," the Councilor said shortly as 'Vasunee rose.

      "Excuse me, Excellency?" 'Vasunee asked politely.

      "My name," repeated the blind Sangheili patiently, "is Vura 'Sankrithee."

      The Fleet Master inhaled slightly as he recognized the name. 'Sankrithee was no legend, but he was still quite well-known for his exploits, and his age. He had led the Fleet of Purifying Flame for over six thousand cycles before becoming the Clan Krith Councilor, if 'Vasunee remembered correctly.

      And now he was here.

      'Vasunee paused to reflect on that glorious fact for a few seconds before he began to consider the impossibility of it. An old, blind Sangheili couldn't hide on a warship, and they had been in Slipspace quite some time.

      "Are you wondering how I got aboard?" 'Sankrithee asked dryly.

      'Vasunee opened his mouth to respectfully deny it, but changed his mind. "N- Yes, Excellency. If you do not mind my saying it...it should have been impossible."

      'Sankrithee waved dismissively. "Not impossible. Not even difficult, for my pilot."

      "Your pilot, Excellency?"

      The shimmer of an active camouflage dropping filled the air, and the biggest Sangheili that 'Vasunee had ever seen stepped into view.

      "My pilot," 'Sankrithee said with a smile. "Leni 'Samallee."

      'Vasunee wondered if the Councilor was trying to intimidate him. If he was, it was working. 'Samallee was enormous, easily five ggoya in height. In other words, as tall as a Lekgolo. Probably far more deadly, too. Muscles corded along the primary soleic junctures on his legs, and his eyes sparked with a fierceness that was only slightly tempered by the vacant, almost childlike smile on his face.

      "We make an excellent pair, don't we?" 'Sankrithee asked rhetorically. "The sighted fool leads the blinded fool. Anyway, to answer your question, we brought a Seraph into the slipstream at your last known coordinates and followed your exit vector."

      'Vasunee nodded understandingly, but his mind was still full of questions. How had the Seraph caught up to them? In theory, it should still have been chasing them; a Seraph's engines simply were not as powerful as a carrier's. How 'Sankrithee had even found them was a mystery to him.

      The old Councilor chuckled at the Zealot's silence. "We caught up to you by way of simple physical laws. It is perfectly simple, if somewhat disorienting, to travel through slipspace at higher speeds by way of gravitational polarity shifts."

      'Vasunee cocked his head. He had never heard of the idea, but it was going against the fundamental precepts imposed by Forerunner technology on slipspace travel.

      Cautiously, he pronounced, "That is something that the Hierarchs might judge as heresy, Excellency. If I might advise you on the subject-"

      'Sankrithee waved his hand, silencing his compatriot. "Heresy is a relatively recent idea for the Covenant, Fleet Master. The Prophet of Mercy did not introduce our current definition of it, but one could be forgiven for thinking so. When he ascended to lead the Hierarchs in...let me see...the year 80143, as I recall, he based many of his central teachings on those of the reformer Gahoun 'Anthree and the Prophet of Silence. Among them is a very literal interpretation of use when it comes to holy relics. As well as several other things, this has led to our current use of slipspace: no creative use. To do so is heresy...and the punishment, if not the crime, is enough to dissuade most of the potential wrongdoers."

      Ara 'Vasunee blinked. He had not expected the Councilor to elaborate so greatly on the subject. "You remember this, Excellency?"

      'Sankrithee was silent. After a moment, he spoke, his tone more forceful. "So. You wish to open the door. The door does not open, even to the Huragok. But it will open to me."

      The Zealot laughed inwardly. Whether it was arrogance or confidence- or a combination of the two- that made 'Sankrithee so sure that he could open the door, it would certainly provide him with some entertainment.

      The Councilor turned, his pale eyes landing their blind stare on 'Samallee. "Move the door."

July 8, 2045
0801 Hours, Military GMT
Orbital Vehicle SSS Dies Irae

      Stern punched the bulkhead and cursed loudly. The Day was not only out of commission, but utterly FUBAR. Their systems were inactive, main power was offline, and their computers were completely dead.

      It wasn't this that rankled him. He'd dealt with worse problems, but most of them were on the ground, with a team of scientists to help him out and a laboratory to run various tests in. And every one of them, he knew more or less what the hell the problem was.

      Rubbing his bruised knuckles, he swore again. The ship was dead, and there was no goddamn reason for it.

      A scratched, bleeding hand reached through the small opening to the remainder of the Day, soon followed by the rest of Chun-Sung Kim. The commander grinned weakly at Stern. "Who was it telling me not to swear at the ship a few minutes ago?"

      Stern frowned. "I was, obviously. But you didn't pay attention, and now look what you've done," he joked halfheartedly.

      "Figuring the ship is already fucked up as badly as it can be?"

      Stern nodded, and turned away from the bulkhead. The main computer stared back at him darkly.

      "On," he ordered it.

      Nothing happened.

      Turning back to Kim, he shrugged hopelessly. Kim stepped forward, his brows knit. "Computer. Lockdown cancellation. Restore main power, code MCCK-1051."

      The computer mocked him with its dead screen.

      "You have reached tech support; please hold," came Pugh's slightly accented drawl from behind them. The head mechanic squeezed between the two men and tapped the computer's screen. Drawing his foot back, he kicked the console hard.

      There was a slight hum as the computer came online.

      "Son of a bitch," Stern mumbled.

      Pugh pulled a cigarette out of his uniform and lit it with a smirk. "Works every time," he muttered to himself.

      Stern sat on the tangled remains of an ergonomic-support chair and cleared his throat. "Computer. User Markus Stern, code MSMS-2311. Restore main power."

      A pulsing blue status bar appeared on the screen. It began to fill slowly, then froze. The computer spoke in a monotonous male voice.

      "Apologies, Doctor Stern. Main power cannot be restored at this time. Error type: externally induced core failure. Please try again later."

      Stern blinked in surprise. Externally induced core failures were the rarest error types that the computer could recognize. The Day had been designed with redundancy in mind, and not many things could completely drain the power from the outside. It usually took something like a military grade broadcast jammer to make any difference in power flow.

      Kim frowned and tapped his fingers on his chin. "Computer, what is the status of the backup power cells?"

      The computer worked for about a second and said, "Secondary self contained power cells are non-functional at this time."

      Kim's frown deepened. "Charge them."

      The computer froze up again. "Apologies, Commander Kim. Secondary power cannot be restored at this time. Error type: externally indu-"

      "All right, all right, I get it," Kim snapped. "Shut up."

      Stern turned to the Korean. "The computer said the backups were offline. Externally induced power failure? That shouldn't be possible. The shielding on those things is standard for a megaton-yield nuclear warhead. Nothing was supposed to penetrate that kind of armor. I tested it myself." He sounded faintly irritated, as though whatever had damaged the ship had given him some kind of personal offense.

      Kim buried his face in his hands, running his fingers through his hair. "Goddamnit, Markus, I don't care what you have to do. Pick the goddamn computer apart. Use intrusion tools, or overrides, or something. Use a fucking sledgehammer if you have to. And when you do, tear the goddamn thing to bits and rerout everything- life support, power boosts, whatever- to manual. Until then, I'm going to get some sleep. I suggest you tell everyone else to do the same."

      Stern wanted to protest- this was among the most secure non military computer systems known to man, after all- but past experience told him that you did not argue with Chun-Sung Kim. Especially when he was tired.

Covenant Cycle of the Prophets 84483
Rotation 242, Unit 12.72
Patrol Carrier Arcane Wrath

      What Ara 'Vasunee witnessed next, he scarcely believed. But it convinced him once and for all that there was no creature in all the Covenant equal in strength to Leni 'Samallee.

      The big Sangheili gave a wide grin, and rubbed his hands on his pale blue armor. Tensing and stretching his arms, he advanced to the door and slammed his fist into it with incredible force. The reinforced alloy deformed, a fist imprinted deep into it. 'Samallee, a look of intense concentration on his face, jabbed his fingers into the dent, punching a small hole through the outer layer.

      'Vasunee turned to the Councilor. "He is very strong to pierce the armor, but not strong enough. A Lekgolo pair cannot force a sealed door working together. Surely he is not stronger than they."

      'Sankrithee silenced the Zealot with a wave of his hand and wordlessly pointed back to 'Samallee.

      The big stealth-trooper dug his hands into the armor layer, and pulled outwards. The Huragok squealed in indignation, and moved quickly away from the control panel. Not a moment too soon, either; a second later, 'Samallee gave a growl of irritation. He had accidentally pulled off a strip of the door's plating and rammed his elbow into the door controls, crushing them.

      As 'Vasunee stared, lost for words, the big Sangheili whimpered and left his task to rub his abraded, bleeding elbow. 'Sankrithee, realizing that the noise of tearing metal had ceased, frowned and barked sharply at 'Samallee, "No! Door!"

      The big Sangheili's mandibles wobbled like he was a child.

      "Door!" shouted 'Sankrithee angrily.

      'Samallee turned back to the door, angrily glaring at it. A growl, so deep it made the Fleet Master's bones throb, emanated from the depths of 'Samallee's chest.

      Drawing his fists back, the stealth warrior smashed both clenched hands into the door. It buckled like a cheap toy and a hole nearly a ggoya across opened at the door's center.

      'Vasunee's mandibles dropped apart in surprise. 'Samallee struck again, and then again. On the third strike, his fists went clean through the separated door panels. He pulled them free, tearing away strips of metal embedded into his arms.

      The Fleet Master stared in horror at the long strips of razor-edged metal fixed into 'Samallee, surrounded by a gruesome upwell of torn tissue and violet blood. 'Samallee himself was standing still, a happy smile on his face, oblivious to the ghastly injuries he had sustained. Only when the blood started to drip heavily and bead on the floor did the cyan-armored Sangheili wake from his stupor. He retreated into a corner, eyes fixed on the blood, wide with terror. He whimpered inarticulately and balled up in shock.

      'Sankrithee paid him no heed. Stepping through the wreckage of the door, careful not to stumble on the twisted metal, he entered the core chamber.

      The Councilor could not properly see what was before him. His eyes barely functioned even in full light. In the dim, cavernous room, everything was the same dead, depthless grey.

      But what his armor's heat-sensing lenses picked up was enough to make the Councilor drop his dignity long enough to gasp.

      He turned around. Catching 'Vasunee with surprising strength, he turned the Zealot back into the hallway.

      "You are to seal off this corridor...no, this entire sector. And vacate one of the medical rooms. You are to position your command staff there, and then join them yourself."

      'Vasunee frowned. "With respect, Excellency, I do not think that I should leave yet. I presume you wish to transport something in secret, but I do not believe that either 'Samallee, or, with respect, you, will be able to do so."

      'Sankrithee shook his head. "Luckily, I have more than one servant at my disposal. At the moment, as a matter of fact, I have one on call."

      The Zealot looked around, skeptically. 'Sankrithee could not have seen the gesture, but he guessed 'Vasunee's mind. "You doubt me, I see."

      The Fleet Master looked again. "Forgive me, Excellency, but there is no one here. Is it possible that you are mista-"

      "My other servant," the Councilor interrupted him, "is everywhere. He sees where I am blind and hears where I am deaf. He is my Hand. The Silver Hand. He knows your mind better than you do. He knows this ship far better than you do. It is possible that this is why he had evaded you thus far. Look up."

      'Vasunee looked straight up, and had to lock his jaw to keep from shouting in surprise.

      The Silver Hand's cold and immeasurably deep eyes stared back into his like only the void of space ever had.

July 8, 2045
1208 Hours, Military GMT
Orbital Vehicle SSS Dies Irae

      Markus Stern woke up for the third time. The computer's shrill bleat was far more effective than any alarm clock. He glanced at the screen. LOCKOUT PROTOCOL ACTIVATED, it read. Stern swore.

      He had sat in front of the computer for four hours, using every trick he knew to try and unlock the damn thing. The only progress he had made was convincing the computer to shut down its voice program about two hours back. Which was actually a big step up from the vocal error messages.

      He leaned back, thinking of something else to try. Apart from actually tearing the computer apart and resetting it manually, there wasn't much else he could do. The manual reset might not even work; the computer hadn't been designed to be opened up and fixed.

      He started slightly; someone was standing next to him. It was Pugh.

      The mechanic smelled very strongly of smoke and freeze-dried coffee. Stern smiled amusedly at Pugh; it was obvious that there was somebody else on board whose sleep was not all well.

      "Have you tried feedbacking the main input/output circuits?" Pugh asked tiredly. "Always used to work on the military models when we stole guns from the UN bases."

      Stern frowned. "I didn't know you were a rebel," he said slowly.

      Pugh chuckled. "Not officially, anyway. I was with Frieden. You know, the neo-fascist bunch out of Hamburg? I smuggled goods for them for a couple years. Stopped in '39, though. I wanted a chance to work on this shit. You've heard of Frieden, right?" he added, seeing the blank look on Stern's face. "You're German. Come on, you must at least know who they are. They made a big stir by nominating a presidential candidate back in the U.S. election in 2036..."

      Stern's frown did not diminish. "Yes, I've heard of the Frieden," he said very quietly.

      Pugh shrugged and lit another cigarette.

      Stern rubbed his eyes and turned away from the computer. "I'll have to ask Chun-Sung," he muttered. "I have no idea if this piece of shit can survive what I'd have to do to it, and I designed it."

      Pugh blew out a long trail of smoke. There was a loud, hacking cough.

      "What the fuck?" Pugh mumbled. He stuck out his hand at chest level, directly in front of him.

      He gave only the slightest of grunts as something lifted him bodily and flung him the length of the room.

      Stern turned with a speed that would have surprised anybody, but whatever was there was far faster. Stern's fist wildly flailed through thin air. He overbalanced, and something grabbed him by the hair and slammed his head into the floor. He did not move. Over his body, a pale, tall shadow seemed to hover for a second before quickly dissolving into a ripple in the darkness, a trick of the twilight.