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Halo: Forerunner - Section 3 Ch 35
Posted By: Joshua M. Uda<imagine@uvtag.com>
Date: 31 December 2010, 6:27 am

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Chapter Thirty-Five

      A strange feeling festered in the back of the Executor's mind, but he managed to suppress it. It was something more than a sense of awkwardness or discomfort, but he couldn't make sense of it. His eyes drifted instinctively to follow the slender outline of Lithiel's shoulders and back as she walked the corridor in front of him. Her pace was steady but deliberate. This was not a casual walk, not like the ones he had once enjoyed at her side. He felt he should say something… but what? They could argue; that came naturally now. What else did they have?
      Didact pursed his lips and swallowed the lump in his throat. He was a master of order. He could analyze, plan, organize, and execute the most complex agenda… but this was beyond him. How could he bring it into order? How could he restore what was? His heart sank as he pondered these questions and realized… he did not know the answer. There she was in front of him, just within reach, but she was walking away, and he feared he would never again be at her side.
      For a moment, Didact was glad her back was turned to him. He would not want her to see the tears that had bled through before he could force them back. She faded in a blur of light as he blinked away the wetness in his eyes. She was an illusion, and soon she would vanish forever. At last he knew the feeling, and he knew he would never be free of it… loss.


       "That's her?"
      Kael Sept raised an eyebrow and smiled knowingly as he observed the expression on Didact's face. He turned slightly to the Executor, but Didact did not notice. His gaze was fixed on the young woman as she crossed the long bridge of light to greet them.
       "Yes, that is her," said the High Counselor with a teasing tone.
      Didact picked up on the subtle note and looked suddenly to Kael Sept. He laughed, embarrassed, but conceded, "She is beautiful. You certainly did not exaggerate."
       "Always speak truth," noted the High Counselor, "no more, but no less!"
"Does she know why we are here?" asked Didact.
       "I would not doubt it," said Kael Sept under his breath.
      Didact looked concerned.
       "But no one has informed her?"
      Kael Sept turned slowly to Didact and tilted his head slightly.
       "No," he said and waited while Didact processed the answer. "Didact, do not underestimate her… ever."
      Didact stared back, puzzled, but amused.
       "She seems so docile," he remarked casually. "I find it hard to believe she could be responsible for the incident."
       "That does not concern us now," said the High Counselor curtly. "We are here to move forward, not to reflect on things best forgotten."
      Didact nodded and turned back to the woman as she neared.
       "Be pleasant," whispered Kael Sept and then added in afterthought, "not too pleasant."
      Didact smiled, "Yes, my lord."


      Lithiel watched nervously as the two figures in the distance conversed. She knew immediately from their robes that one of them was the Executor and the other was from the High Council, her father. She could see that they were talking about her, but she didn't care to know what they were saying. It hardly mattered. The inquisition was over, and she had managed to conceal the truth. It was her secret now. Only one other soul in the universe knew the truth, and he would never tell.
      In a way though, this was about him, and it would be difficult to skirt the truth while demonstrating the new technology – difficult, but possible. She stepped off the warm light bridge as they hurriedly finished their conversation in hushed tones.
       "Welcome to the Ark, my lords," she said graciously as she bowed.
      Kael Sept stepped forward and placed his hand lovingly on the side of Lithiel's head behind her ear.
       "So formal now," he remarked as he adored the young princess.
      Lithiel smiled lovingly, and Didact felt as if his heart had been set on fire. "Such an expression!" he thought, wishing he were the intended recipient. He quickly checked himself to be sure his face remained blank, surprised at his own reaction. Despite his efforts, something, however imperceptible, slipped by. Lithiel noticed, and the ambiance of familiar intimacy immediately dissipated as she turned to greet him.
       "Princess, this is the Executor, Lord Didact," explained her father.
       "An honor," she said warmly. "I have prepared a demonstration of the synchronous arrayed matrix for you. Shall we proceed directly there, or perhaps you would like a tour of the installation?"
       "There?" asked Didact. "The prototype is not here?"
       "No, my lord," Lithiel answered politely. "That would not be safe, but the portal is here."
       "Not safe?" asked Kael Sept. "It is only a communication device?"
      Lithiel seemed surprised, but gave a half smile as she explained, "Of course, but Lord Didact would not be here to see that, would he? I have prepared a demonstration of the array's other capabilities… for his visit."
      The two men stood dumbfounded but somewhat pleased with the outcome of Lithiel's perception and candor. There would be no need to cautiously suggest the possibility of weaponization, no need to diplomatically convince the Adept of the Ark to participate in the experiment. Didact looked to Kael Sept, impressed. The High Counselor smiled and whispered, "Ever."
       "A tour then?" Lithiel asked, breaking the silence.
      Didact thought for a moment. He was eager to see Lithiel's demonstration. That was, after all, the purpose of his visit. Yet, his interest in Lithiel herself seemed to overpower all other concerns, and the prospect of spending more time with her was appealing, to say the least.
       "A tour would be most intriguing," he said at last.
       "It would be my pleasure, but this will take some time," she warned. "The Ark is one of our largest installations."
       "That won't be a problem," Didact assured her. "What do we have if not time?"
      Lithiel smiled, amused. It was not the smile Didact had hoped for, but it was wonderful. She took Kael Sept's arm and turned to Didact.
       "Please, follow me."


      Three large doors slid apart, revealing a wash of bright light. Didact squinted as his eyes adjusted to the warm illumination emanating from a portal at the center of the chamber. Several strange creatures drifted in the air, working busily at control and monitoring stations around the lab.
       "What are these?!" asked Didact, surprised. "Containment protocol dictates that all alien life is to be segregated and kept in stasis on this installation…" he paused to observe Lithiel's amused and dismissive expression, "That is… given the parasitic nature of…" Lithiel waited with her arms folded. "They… aren't alien," he explained reluctantly to himself.
      Lithiel smiled, closed her eyes and nodded. Kael Sept continued into the room and gave Didact a consoling pat on the back as he passed.
       "These are Facticius Indoles, or Huragok. Lithiel has been working on them for some time," he said, gesturing for one of the creatures to come closer. "They are quite impressive."
      Didact stared at the creature. Impressive? The strange aliens were an unnatural mix of anatomical features. Their crustaceous tails were positioned opposite a snake-like head, which had a series of six black eyes, three on each side of the head like buttons on a sleeve. Their backs bubbled with a fungal garden of pink gas-bladders that kept the creatures afloat. Four long tentacles hung down like the arms of a jellyfish, and two antenna-like feelers bristled from the back of their necks like stamen on a flower, each with a long filament and pink anther.
       "They look alien," Didact said sheepishly.
       "I'll take that as a compliment," smiled Lithiel. "They are manufactured from artificial cells containing organic compounds, but they are machines much like the other constructs we have created."
       "Remarkable, aren't they!" bragged Kael Sept. Didact nodded politely. "This is not genetics, Didact! She did not use material from other life forms to create these. She designed and built a complete super cell from its basic component parts. Each cell contains the entire program within its sequence and they duplicate themselves! They network and build what you see on their own, following her design! It's…"
       "Father," Lithiel stopped him, "I'm sure Lord Didact is not interested in a detailed dissertation of my experiments."
       "No, it's very interesting!" interjected Didact frantically. "I… well… I just wasn't sure what they do. I mean, what is their purpose?"
      Lithiel smiled knowingly.
       "They are technical assistants," she explained.
       "They will completely replace the constructors," boasted Kael Sept, "and any number of other…"
       "Father, please," pleaded Lithiel softly.
      Didact felt uneasy hearing someone silence a high counselor, but Kael Sept nodded and lovingly complied. Didact stared at the tentacles of the floating… pink… jelly-snake-lobster-flower… and tried to imagine it replacing the constructors… or doing anything that required intelligence and dexterity.
       "No fingers," he observed aloud.
      Lithiel smiled and reached out to place a delicate hand on the amulet around his neck. He nearly recoiled and nearly melted, but only managed to freeze, motionless.
       "May I?" she asked.
      Didact looked to Kael Sept for guidance. The amulet was a multi-function device, worn only by the Executor. Most of its functions were secret, and it was never to leave his body. Kael Sept nodded, and Didact bowed slightly. Lithiel grasped the device, and her soft forearms brushed gently against his ears as she lifted the amulet over his head. Then it was gone. Didact started to breathe again.
       "Thank you," she said, then smashed the amulet to the ground.
      Before Didact could decide whether to shout out or lunge for the device, it was destroyed, shattered into a mess of glittering pieces. Kael Sept cringed, but nearly laughed. Didact reached up and grabbed his hair in shock. Every Huragok in the room instantly stopped and turned to the scene of the disaster. Lithiel looked to Didact and smiled slyly.
       "It's ok," she reassured him, "just watch."
      The creatures drifted over to the broken amulet and began to gesture to each other with their tentacles, apparently communicating with a combination of signals and a series of whistles and chirps. One of the Huragok that seemed to float lower than the others descended to the pile of broken parts and extended its tentacles. Suddenly, each tentacle split at the ends into a bundle of tiny cilia that worked together to probe, collect, and reassemble the pieces. The movement was almost too fast to observe, but the parts came together quickly, and in a moment, the device was repaired.
      The Huragok handed the amulet to Lithiel and returned to its work as if nothing had happened. She placed the device in Didact's hands, and he tapped a red jewel on the surface. It began to glow red, and he seemed relieved.
       "It works," Kael Sept reassured him, tapping the amulet around his own neck. "Trust me!"
       "They run on a prime directive not much different than our own," explained Lithiel.
       "Our own?" puzzled Didact.
       "Create," she answered bluntly. "It drives everything we do."
       "And theirs is what?" he asked. "Survive?"
       "Preserve," Lithiel corrected. "Survive is a mortal directive."
       "Preserve?" he pondered the implications. They responded to the opportunity to preserve as impulsively as a mortal would to the chance to survive.
       "Of course, their minds are much more complex than a simple directive, as are ours, or the minds of mortals," she continued, "but they cannot resist their base code. They will execute their directive mindlessly and at all cost. We have yet to find something they cannot repair… other than life forms, that is, but they can repair each other and themselves to a large extent."
       "That is remarkable!" Didact whispered to Kael Sept.
      The High Counselor leaned closer and whispered back, "Ever."

Chapter Thirty-Six

Coming soon...

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