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Halo: Forerunner - Section 3 Ch 38
Posted By: Joshua M. Uda<imagine@uvtag.com>
Date: 18 March 2011, 2:48 am

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Chapter Thirty-Eight

      Sufis looked back in disbelief as his com officer repeated the report.
      "Three more ships have jumped away!"
      "Track them!"
      "No known bearings," replied the mortal conscript. "No stars... no planets… random trajectories like the others."
      Sufis' eyes grew wide with fury as he stormed across the deck to the officer's station. Before the conscript could turn around, the shipmaster grabbed him violently by the back of the neck and yanked him from his chair. The officer grimaced with pain.
       "Open your eyes!" ordered Sufis, pointing at the bright holographic star map suspended in the center of the chamber. "Look!"
      The conscript reluctantly opened his eyes and glanced desperately around the command deck, but all officers were working busily at their stations. No one dared turn their attention to the assault. Sufis shook the man again and then bent down to analyze the trembling creature with curious disdain.
       "How did you get on my bridge?" he asked with sarcastic surprise, and then continued as if talking to a child. "Do you see how many stars are in this one sector alone?"
      The officer paused before answering, not sure if either question was rhetorical, but Sufis raised his brow mockingly, so the man shook his head.
       "Look…" Sufis whispered as he pushed the officer's head toward the display.
      Three bright lines traced steadily away from the glyph marking the Alorus Maxim, joining the bloom of white rods that represented trajectories of the other ships in the battle group. Sufis sent a mental command, and the galactic view compressed until the full Aelorian was displayed. He leaned over and pulled the officer closer until his mouth was nearly touching the man's ear.
       "One hundred billion stars in this galaxy," the shipmaster continued quietly, "countless planets… every ship is on a linear trajectory away from this single point, and not one is bearing on a celestial body of any classification?"
      The officer waited again until he received the same prodding expression from the shipmaster, and then he shook his head slowly.
       "THAT'S! NOT! RANDOM!" Sufis screamed into the officer's ear before throwing him to the deck.
      Sufis turned away and gave a threatening glare to the rest of the crew who busily returned to their work. Then, he paused and squinted suspiciously.
      "Not random…" he mumbled. "You!" he ordered pointing back at the battered com officer, "Check extragalactic trajectories."
      The com officer hesitated, but then staggered back to his station and hurriedly recalculated. The projection condensed again as the display zoomed out. The hologram of the Aelorian galaxy continued to shrink until several surrounding galaxies came into view at the periphery, each pierced through the center by a single white line.
      "They're mad!" gasped the com officer.
      Sufis said nothing, but grunted to himself as he remembered he was one of only a few immortals in the battle group. All the other Forerunners were conscripts, mortals. It was madness. Forerunner ships were not equipped with cryogenic stasis, and asynchronous stasis was unstable over extended periods in unbound space. None of them would survive the 3000-year journey to a neighboring galaxy.
      He looked again to the monitoring station for his own vessel. Thousands of glyphs marking security patrols and interior, ship-defense systems flashed combat status, "ENGAGED," and even more glowed dimly, "NEUTRALIZED." Sufis noted the increasing number of decks blinking red in a pattern that was converging steadily on the command deck.
       "Not mad…" he mumbled to himself, "dead."


      A white light pierced the darkness, and Didact squinted against the glare as he looked up to the opening portal. The black silhouette of a sentinel drifted through the conduit as the gateway closed abruptly. Didact stood shakily from the floor and stepped between the drone and Lithiel's lifeless body.
      The blue light of the sentinel's eye intensified and lit the battered panels of Didact's armor, casting lurid shadows across the rounded interior of the containment sphere. Didact waited, and then a gruff voice emanated from the drone.
       "What did you bring onto my ship?"
       "Release us," Didact demanded weakly.
       "No. I am following protocol, Executor. You contaminated my ship! According to containment protocol, I can detain you and any other creature that has had contact with the unclassified specimen, until the threat is neutralized. What did you bring onto my ship?!"
       "You can't defeat it without me, Sufis."
       "I don't know what they are, but I'm warning you now, Sufis, you cannot defeat them without my help."
       "…You don't listen well do you? You think… because you've lived for millions of years and I for only a millennium, that I know nothing of strategy, or even personal combat. Hmm? Is that it, Great Executor? Mighty Cherub! Ha! You weren't faring so well when you staggered aboard this vessel and brought your PESTILENCE ONTO MY SHIP!"
      The sentinel rattled with the vibration of the shipmaster's amplified shouting. Didact looked back to Lithiel. She did not stir.
       "Ahh! Yes… perhaps, I do need help… but not yours."
       "Don't test me," Didact growled.
       "Oh please! We've been through this already, Didact. Remember? Or shall I have your blade delivered to you so you can try to recreate the dramatic moment?"
      The sentinel moved deliberately toward Lithiel, but Didact's armored hand shot out and grabbed the drone's head. It struggled briefly and then began to lower its weapon, but stopped as Failsafe Protocol 6 executed a system command override.
       "Don't break my sentinel! We are running short on defenses as it is, thanks to you!"
      Didact scowled directly into the sentinel's multi-function eye and envisioned his expression appearing on Sufis' remote display.
       "Leave her, and release me now!"
       "I'm not a fool, Didact. You came directly from the Ark! Did you think I wouldn't recognize these creatures, as twisted as they are?! I know what you've done! I may not be an Ancient, but I've heard about the Incident! This is her work! And if you won't tell me what it is, then I will make her stop it before it takes MY SHIP!"
       "Then come and take her… yourself."
      Didact waited for another rant or sarcastic blast, but there was only silence from the sentinel. He was almost surprised. Then a horrific noise blared from the drone and shook the entire containment sphere. Didact could hear panicked voices shouting in the background, and then screams of terror.
       "Sufis!" he shouted. "Sufis, release me now! Sufis!"
      Suddenly, the sentinel surged and pulled free. Its single eye faded from blue to orange. Didact stepped back cautiously, and then a familiar voice spoke in a low reverberating tone.
       "Executor, containment protocols are in effect. All potential biological hosts must be purged. Protocol 6 priority override authorized. You are hereby relieved of your position."
      The sentinel's energy weapon dropped from the undercarriage and charged with a static hiss. Didact's own weapon systems were neutralized within the containment sphere, but he stood his ground and waited until he was certain the drone would fire. A stream of orange light burned through the air but was suddenly redirected as Didact vanished in a blur of motion and then reappeared behind the sentinel, wrestling it into position to target the conduit grid above. Waves of energy shimmered across the sphere, and a bright circle of white light expanded rapidly as the portal opened. Didact clenched his armored fist, crushing the sentinel's head with a metallic pop. Without hesitating, he swept Lithiel onto his shoulder and leapt through the closing conduit above.
      Darkness settled again as the portal closed, but the sphere echoed with the high-pitched scraping of metal on the alloy floor. The sentinel twitched erratically before broadcasting a distant voice. No one was there to hear its fateful warning.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Coming Soon…

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