The Priestess and the Warrior - Traxus
Posted By: Jillybean<email@example.com>
Date: 23 October 2008, 2:34 pm
The Priestess and the Warrior
"'Kanal I need to speak with them, now," Saia said to the flickering holo-image of the Ship Commander. "I have to offer the humans aid, and we're already discussing rates. If the Council doesn't have a financial minister in position yet than they are not doing their jobs!"
"'Jalahass," 'Kanal interrupted her, clicking his mandibles together. "You know my feelings on the Council, but they are working as swiftly as they can. Fera 'Talsamee and Saia 'Kristassi are both fighting for you. They believe, as do we, that the humans deserve recompense. But we barely know what state our own planets are in."
Sighing, Saia bowed her head. The Earth's single moon shone through her window, silvery light dancing off the lake outside of the hotel suite she had been set up in. Hans was through an adjoining door but her Honour Guards had refused to leave. They stood at the entrance to the suite, obliging her by not taking up their posts in the bed chamber. She reclined on one of the human pieces of furniture, not unlike a daybed she had in her office on High Charity, and watched the tiny figure of 'Kanal stalk across the coffee table. "Any word from home?"
"Your cousin, I believe, has set up a trust fund for the unexpected influx of homeless from High Charity," 'Kanal told her. "I received a transmission from Crai 'Browdee, do you know him?"
"Yes, he was one of my Honour Guards."
"The message he left was cryptic but he assured my subordinate that you would understand. He said his charges were safe and no one would ever know of them."
"Thank you," Saia said, heartfelt.
"May I enquire?"
"Refugees. I kept them safe in the convent for years. 'Browdee was in charge of getting them out and making sure they were cared for. If I know him he will simply have folded them into the ranks of the other refugees."
"Practical. It's his way."
"He also said he had word of 'Nyahasea. He said the Unggoy staff had kept her safe and now he had guards at your villa, I don't know what that means."
Slumping against the cushions, Saia placed her hands over her face. "It means my youngest daughter is safe," she said through her fingers. She dragged herself to her feet, reaching for the controls on the panel. "I shall speak with you again in the morning, 'Kanal, get some sleep. I - "
A sharp knock on the door cut her off and she paused, looking around as her guards went to answer it. A single human male stood in the doorway, his greying hair sticking up in messy spikes and his clothes rumpled. He tracked sand into her room as he walked past her Honour Guards as though he was a Sangheili born to privilege. "Saia 'Jalahass?" he said, a passable pronunciation.
Drawing her robes together with one hand, Saia extended the other for him to shake.. "That's me. You have me at a disadvantage." He firmly returned her grip.
The human grinned and sat on the large chair opposite the recliner. He pressed his hands together, finally acknowledging the Honour Guard with a glance as they advanced on him. "My name is Graeme Scott," he announced. "I am the CEO of Traxus. And I have an offer for you, Saia 'Jalahass."
"I have already made arrangements for some of Earth's entrepeneurs, however my hands are tied, I - "
"'Jalahass, I'm not here as an Earthling to an alien Ambassador." Graeme leaned forwards, resting his elbows on his knees. "I'm here as one individual to another. Traxus has been in my family for generations. And as I understand it, your family owns quite a few companies yourself."
"The Saia Conglomerate is not as large as some might say," 'Jalahass said carefully, again under the impression that Graeme Scott was a blooded Sangheili rather than some human who, apparently, walked into her hotel suite off the street. Where was human security?
Her Honour Guards had seemingly come to the same conclusion and were advancing slowly, unsure how best to physically force the human from the room.
"My sources tell me you own half of the Sangheili home planet," Graeme said quietly. "And the other half owned by various groups who are blood owed to your sub families, which as I understand it, means they're not going to do anything you don't like."
'Jalahass gritted her mandibles together, raising a hand to stop her guards. "How did you find this out?"
"My AI are among the best money can't buy."
"Your understanding of a blood oath is incomplete. Any sub-families to the Saia name are autonomous. Trace any Sangheili's lineage back far enough and you'll find some connection to my family."
"So you don't agree that this political process is moving too slowly?" Graeme asked, raising his eyebrows. He glanced around as the door burst open and three human security guards ran through with guns drawn. "Gentlemen," Graeme continued as though this was a minor inconvenience. "I see you're using the new Sim-Pech radios. Did they ever sort out the jamming problem?"
As one of the guards turned puce with rage, Saia rose to her feet and extended a hand. "Is this man a security threat to me?" she asked, raking her gaze over the human's frail body. Graeme grinned in response.
The guards hauled Graeme to his feet, patting him down while the Honour Guard held him still. "He's clean," the humans said, letting him go reluctantly. "Not even a gun."
"Then leave him. My guards will be able to evict him should he bore me." She remained on her feet until the humans had left and then she turned to her guards and gestured to door. "Go. This is a private matter."
"Ambassador . . ."
"Go! I could snap him like a twig," she jerked her head in Graeme's direction. "Go now!"
As the door was closed, Graeme laughed a little, pouring himself a drink from her bar. "Can I take it then that you're ready to listen?" he asked, turning. With satisfaction, Saia saw surprise in his eyes. He hadn't expected her to be towering over him when he turned around. She moved silently for something more than half again his size.
Lowering her head she drew her mandibles back in a grimace. "I want to know what you know about my family," she growled. "Talk now."
"I know the Covenant doesn't have competition laws," he said quickly. "I know that you wouldn't be doing anything illegal if you chose to forward my name to one of your relatives. And I know it would be extremely profitable for both of us." He smiled tentatively, pressing the glass into her hand. "I don't know about your society, but here, things will only get done if money changes hands. Our government will never ask you for aid even though they need it. But I can make deals. I can forge alliances."
"Sit," Saia ordered, stepping back. "And let me contact someone."
With one last spurt of energy, Orna dived into the vent shaft, the darkness closing in around him as the soft click click clack of the Flood's feelers echoed in his ears. He landed with a thump onto the cold floor of the citadel's service passages. For a moment he lay there, winded, unable to stand, unable to breathe. The smooth, stone-like floor was like a salve to his bruised flesh, removing the heat from his injuries, allowing his blood to stop roaring.
Pushing to his feet, he glanced behind him. The citadel had thankfully closed its vents in response to the Flood threat. No little infective agents followed them on this headlong flight.
The Chief stood in front of him, gaze drawn by something unknown . . . except for a flicker on the edges of Orna's vision, as though the implant which controlled his HUD was receiving interference those shielded implants, so routine for Sangheili and human alike never received interference.
"What do you see?" Orna asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the Chief. He followed the Chief through the corridors, shaking his head to clear shadows from his vision.
Rounding the corner, the Chief hesitated for a second before approaching a large console. With a few sure commands he had called the technology into life, winning an approving hum from the darkness. Orna raised his gun before realising it was only the Oracle, watching them from the shadows. He returned his attention to the shield world outside the window . . . and the machinery rising up from its depths.
Cold fear clawed in Orna's gut. Another Sacred Ring . . . his Sacred Ring was being resurrected in front of his eyes. An act of the Forerunner indeed. He forced himself to swallow, to wet his throat. "A replacement. For the one you destroyed."
The Chief twisted to face the Oracle. "When did you know?"
With a little sputter, the Oracle swept towards the window. "Just know. But I had my hopes."
Orna looked back to the ring. The mechanics of the thing were exposed, revealing circuitry and mechanisms beyond his comprehension. Had he not just killed Truth, he would have been able to ingratiate himself with the Hierarch once more with this discovery.
"What will you do?" Spark pushed.
"Light it." The Chief's words were so absolute that Orna turned to face him.
"Then we are agreed! A tactical pulse will completely eradicate the local infestation! I will personally oversee the final preparations." Carrying on in this vein, 343 Guilty Spark whirred away, his blue glow becoming lost in the gloom.
Once more, Orna looked at the ring. It was incomplete, and if memory served, activating the damn thing in the first place had been more difficult than he had foreseen, and even that was before the Flood were released and his only thought had been to get his warriors to safety and off the accursed Halo. He looked back to the Chief. "How will you light it?"
The tightness returned to Orna's chest. He could see the remains of High Charity burning on the surface of the Ark. Even from here they could make out grotesque organic protrusions over the city's hull. "There are other ways."
"Not fast enough. You heard Sparks." The Chief's voice remained level, but his fingers tightened on the butt of his shotgun.
Shaking his head, Orna lowered his voice. "It's suicide, Demon, and you know it."
"What do you suggest?" The hissed exclamation was so unfamiliar coming from the Chief that Orna straightened in surprise. The Chief gripped the edges of the console, turning away and hanging his head. "She's in my head, all the time. He's hurting her. I have to . . . I have to try."
"Then I am coming with you."
The helmet whipped around, the fires of High Charity glinting off the visor. "No."
"If you go in alone, you will die."
"Then - " the Chief hesitated, sagging once more. His grip on the console was so tight that the edges of the metal began to deform.
"I am the Arbiter. I was created to die for the Covenant. I will go, retrieve your construct."
"And what about your family?"
Orna sighed deeply, rocking back on his heels. "I will not let you go alone and you will not let me go alone. What is left?"
"I won't let you go at all."
Drawing himself up to his full height, Orna narrowed his eyes and drew his upper mandibles together. "High Charity is a mess, but I will still know it better than you. However if you wish to waste time fighting me, we can settle the matter here and now. I don't pretend to think I will win, but I will slow you considerably." For a moment they paused, facing each other, before the Chief turned away. "Excellent," Orna muttered to the Spartan's retreating back. "I see you agree."
Graeme leapt from the deck of the Phantom as though he had been disembarking from the shuttles all his life. His knees flexed as he landed and he took a moment to balance himself before turning back to her with a grin. "I never thought I'd be here," he confided in a low voice, crowding closer to her as she led the way through the dimly lit docking bay.
"I can't say I predicted it," Saia murmured back, waiting for her Honour Guard to open to the door. 'Kanal ran a tight ship; she had no doubt that the vessel's AIs would inform him if she used her clearance. It wouldn't be long before one of the higher up commanders got wind of the shuttle landing, and 'Kanal would know where she was soon enough.
If she got to her daughter first, it would be enough.
She led him through the corridors as fast as she dared. He struggled to keep up, panting heavily as she ducked around a corner to escape two off-duty councillors. "They're clearly not busy enough if they're not using the night cycle to sleep," she muttered to her guards, getting nothing from either of them.
Graeme conceded to her observation with an affirming grunt. "Politicians, eh?"
"Hmm." Stepping towards a grav lift, she beckoned him onto the platform too. "Don't worry about this."
"Worry? I've never done anything like this before in my life!" he hissed, his face flushed. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."
Anticipating the odd jerk at the end of the lift, Saia reached out to steady him as they reached their destination. "This way." The living quarters were darkened, complying with the night cycle regulations despite the fact the regulating body had been destroyed. She found 'Kristassi's suite and pushed on the call pad, hearing the soft chime from within the small chambers. "Return to the hangar deck," she ordered the guards. "And don't think about wandering off to find 'Kanal either," she added as the door opened.
'Kristassi blinked at her for a moment, eyes wide and bleary from sleep. Instead of dressing traditionally in a robe, it looked as though she was just wearing the stripped down skin-suit that went under her armour. The short trousers revealed un-muscled legs and the vest showed off a med-patch on her abdomen.
"What happened to you?" Saia demanded, pushing Graeme into her daughter's room.
Glancing down, 'Kristassi brushed one hand over the bandage. "Nothing. High Charity. What is that doing here?" she demanded, pointing to Graeme.
"Ah." Saia glanced around the small room. The sleeping pod had one blanket, twisted and half fallen onto the deck. Of personal possessions, Saia could see none, not even a set of clothes. The silvery armour of a Councillor was cast aside beside the small commode. It was not fit for any daughter of her lineage, much less one who bore the 'Saia' name. With two fully grown Sangheili and one human, the place felt crowded.
As the silence deepened, 'Kristassi shifted from foot to foot. "We can't all be Ambassadors, mother. What do you want?"
Pulling herself together with a shake, Saia nodded. "I need you to do me a favour. I need you to take a ship to Sangheili and introduce Graeme here to my cousin, 'Baromee."
Unfolding her arms, 'Kristassi stared in horror, her lower mandibles tightening. "You can't possibly be suggesting that I leave my post and simply take one of our FTL ships and . . . and . . ." she glanced to Graeme, a flash of fear showing behind her eyes, "and simply introduce this human to Lekl 'Baromee, the Sangheili in charge of our wealth?"
"Forerunner damn you, 'Kristassi, our wealth means nothing!" Saia interjected, grabbing her daughter by the shoulders. "We have no time. We must make ourselves strong, now."
"No, you're making the humans strong." 'Kristassi wrestled out of her grasp. "No offence intended, human, but I simply cannot condone the meeting of one of our oldest institutions with a human."
"If I may," Graeme asked, raising his eyebrows. "I own Traxus, a company on Earth, but our shipping plants have taken heavy damage in the war. I'm prepared to come to your planet, alone, with no weapons. If that doesn't constitute good will . . ." he trailed off, his eyes meeting Saia's.
"The slur is not on you," 'Kristassi assured him. "My mother simply doesn't understand how the world outside her little domain works. Now that things don't proceed according to her every whim, she wants to upset everything."
Breathing heavily, Saia made fists of her hands. "So help me, I have never touched one of my children in anger before. I will not start now."
"It's true!" 'Kristassi spat. "You're so used to being the High Priestess, to have everyone deferring to you, that you don't, can't understand that our world doesn't work like that. Father learned that the hard way when they shamed him. You couldn't protect him then, could you?"
"I didn't see you standing up to support him either, 'Kristassi. You sat on the council and you watched as they burned him." Saia's words came out harshly, unexpected tears pricking in the corners of her eyes.
"Would you have had them kill me?" 'Kristassi asked sharply. "Would I have finally stood up to 'Lyueem if I had died for your beliefs?"
Stepping backwards, Saia curled over as though she had been punched. The air was gone from her chest and the vision of her oldest daughter flashed, unbidden and unwelcome in her mind. Her beautiful daughter, suicide to prove foul play. "How dare you," she growled.
'Kristassi recoiled. "She was my sister too, mother."
"And you turned to Truth."
"Because he would have protected me!" she screeched. "My own parents wouldn't look out for me, so I had to." Wrapping her arms around her torso, she backed into the wall, shaking her head. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, an expression of pain flitting over her features before she composed herself, making a tiny gesture towards Graeme.
It was the little twitch of her mandible that brought Saia back into the present. "He doesn't understand," she murmured.
Perplexed, 'Kristassi glanced to Graeme before she unfolded her arms. "I apologise. You don't need to hear this." Giving her shoulders a shake she strode forwards, passing Saia with enough distance between them to minimise the risk of bumping shoulders. She had inherited Orna's height and lanky frame, and his good looks. Pushing the door control she stepped aside to allow Saia to exit, and her eyes widened in surprise. Before Saia could ask, 'Kristassi stepped through the doorway, a beautiful smile lighting her features. "'Kanal!"
"Kiggari," Saia swore, beckoning Graeme forwards. Grabbing him by the shirt she dragged him into the corner of the room, pushing him against the sleeping pod. Pushing against his throat to keep him quiet, she frowned when he raised his eyebrows at her.
"Saia 'Kristassi," 'Kanal greeted the Councillor, the exhaustion in his voice making an excuse for his informality.
Graeme lifted Saia's hand from his throat and placed it on his lips, looking amused. Rolling her eyes, she let him go, trusting that he had her message. She listened intently for 'Kristassi, a fierce new pain in her chest, pride and fear and hope warring together.
"Your mother left Earth, and we think she's here," 'Kanal said.
From Saia's hiding place she could see her daughter's left shoulder. 'Kristassi shrugged. "I've not seen her. I'm glad you're here, I need you."
"If she's here and she doesn't want to see me, I can only assume she's doing something I would approve of," 'Kanal continued, growing stern. "'Kristassi, I came here alone," his tone switched abruptly, cajoling. "May I see Ambassador Saia 'Jalahass?"
"Whatever my mother is planning, and whatever I or you think of it, Commander," 'Kristassi's use of his title was a soft rebuke. "Nothing you or I do will be the solution to it."
In the silence, Saia could feel her own skin prickling. Her daughter's mate was not the most memorable Sangheili in the universe, but 'Kristassi had seemed so heart broken that Saia had almost changed her opinion.
You're hiding in your daughter's room, eavesdropping on what an old friend thinks is a private conversation and planning your bonding speech instead of grieving for a lost son.
Her stern inner voice could have made her blush.
"San . . . may we go to the commissary?" Now it was 'Kristassi's turn to plead.
Again the pause stretched out. "I stood up to your father once," 'Kanal said, his voice pitched so softly that Saia had to strain to hear her. "I don't suppose he would ever have told you about it."
"I don't think he ever did."
"Then maybe I'll tell you over dinner. Or breakfast."
Saia released the breath she had been holding as the doors closed.
"What does that mean?" Graeme asked.
"It means we have a little more time to find a ship to take us."
"You're leaving Earth?"
"I'd rather not," she answered honestly, pacing the short distance to the far wall. "This is the right thing to do, Graeme. Your government and my council won't come to any reasonable conclusion about aid. It's a precedent we'll have to set ourselves." She raked her hand over her throat. "It is the right thing to do," she murmured.
'Kristassi waited for the ship's sensors to realise there were Sangheili in the commissary, her eyes adjusting to the lighting as it gradually increased. 'Kanal fetched two bowls of pureed sinth worms and the unlevened bread that was a poor imitation of the sort that 'Kristassi would eat back on Sangheili.
"Why is it that food tastes different starside?" 'Kanal mused, handing one bowl to her and placing the other on the low table. He sat opposite her and glanced around the empty commissary. "It's made with all the same ingredients. Not to insult the Unggoy, but this is dreadful."
"Even on High Charity," 'Kristassi agreed, ripping her bread in half. "It doesn't taste of home."
Nodding, 'Kanal began to eat, his attention focussed on his meal.
Quartering the bread again, 'Kristassi dipped it into the puree and half raised it to her lips.
"It's not that bad, is it?" 'Kanal asked softly, eyes raised to look at her.
"It's been a long time since I was home," 'Kristassi told him. "And I miss it."
"No shame in that," he said, dropping another chunk of bread down his throat. As two Sangheili, they could eat politely without disgusting their fellow Covenant members. "Of course, there's no shame in missing your family, either."
Leaning her elbow on the table, 'Kristassi tilted her head to the side. "What did you mean about my father?"
Flushing, 'Kanal broke her gaze. "It's not important."
"It is to me. You said you went against him once. Now maybe I have to do what my mother asks." Pushing a sliver of bread deep into the puree, she forced herself to swallow a mouthful.
"Is that such a bad thing?" When she didn't answer, 'Kanal reached for her hand. "If she wasn't your mother, and was only Saia 'Jalahass to you, would you do it?"
"Would I cause trouble for myself to cause trouble for her?" Ducking her head, 'Kristassi nodded slowly. "I know she wants what is best for us, our people. She doesn't always want what's best for me though."
"Could I do it?"
Surprised at the offer, she smiled at him. "No. You have too much to lose. I am a second rate Councillor, with no power and no prospects. If anyone should risk the wrath of society for the good of us all, it should be me," she drawled, her smile growing tight. "My mate would have told me not to. He would have told me to stick up for myself." She lifted her hand out of 'Kanal's and pushed the food away. "But she's right. I can't hide from that." Rising to her feet, she blinked when 'Kanal hastily stood as well.
"I've seen your father at his worst. He was still the greatest Sangheili of our time. I admire your parents but I can only imagine what it's like for you."
Nodding, 'Kristassi swallowed roughly, clamping down on any irritated words. She turned to go, stalled by his hand on her shoulder.
"I won't say you were a spoiled little rich hatchling, that's not fair. I will say that if it wasn't for your parents I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have been trained as I was. I wouldn't have had my opportunities. But I wouldn't have realised our Covenant could become better than it was. I don't believe that your mother is asking you to throw yourself upon the pyre, 'Kristassi, despite what you think of her motives."
"No," 'Kristassi conceded. "I was burned on the pyre long ago." Tugging away from him, she bowed her head. "Ship Commander."
"'Kristassi . . ."
"Thank you for your time."
Saia had the shuttle's flight plan logged when she heard Graeme cough. Exiting the hatch, she looked to where he was pointing.
"Don't say a word," 'Kristassi warned her, climbing in to the shuttle. "And when Father returns . . . if he returns . . . we must talk." She stood in front of Saia, bearing nothing of her own to take back to Sangheil. "I want to make you both proud," she continued in a smaller voice, her gaze darting to the side. "I want you to be proud of me. But your standards are too high no, please. Don't speak."
Saia closed her mandibles and pressed her hand to her throat to stifle a sob. She nodded, exiting the shuttle.
"I trust you," 'Kristassi whispered, turning to look at her mother. "That's why I'll do this."
"I am proud of you," Saia said, the words tripping out.
"But you weren't always," 'Kristassi responded, closing the hatch.