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Veracity: The Beginning
Posted By: Shurmanator<dyshurman@gmail.com>
Date: 8 October 2009, 12:14 am

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>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0559 Hours
>///Interrogation Room Omega Recording Log

"What is your name?"

"Our name is all that has been said in the presence of our infinite understanding of all that is, and all that refers to the glory of the inner being of our outer appearance, and any voice in the darkness that cries for the light of knowledge and power and sacrifice."

"What do others call you?"

"They call us all that knows what is, and all that shall discover what is not. They call us the beacon of the future, and the dawn of eternity."

"What should I call you?"


ONI Intelligence Agent Andrew Kenderson closed the intercom through the flip of a switch. He swiveled in his chair, running his pale hands through his crew cut as he did so. His gaze drifted up towards Colonel Vesper, the Army officer leading Kenderson and his team, and the one who reported back to Section Four's top echelon. The Colonel looked unnerved, and even a little frightened.

Kenderson shared his anxiety. This guy fought in the Human-Covenant War. Must take a lot to scare him, the officer thought. The atmosphere being projected by the... Thing in the interrogation room was probably enough to scare a Spartan, in retrospect. But you would have thought that three months of listening to it would have established a routine.

Colonel Vesper quickly re-gained his composure, and his posture stiffened.

"So, Captain. What do you make of it today?" he asked, feigning serenity.

"I have no idea, sir. And it's just Officer Kenderson, sir. Kinda' hard to give ranks to soldiers that technically don't exist, right sir?" Kenderson replied, trying to lighten the heavy mood.

The Colonel brushed off the poor attempt at humor, although he did drop the acknowledgment of rank. "Christ, Kenderson, do they pay you to just sit here and talk to the damn thing? I thought you were supposed to figure out what makes it tick."

"With all due respect sir," Kenderson ventured hesitantly, "they do pay me to sit here and talk to the thing. The point is moot, to admit, considering I'll never be able to re-enter society and I won't be able to do a damn thing with the ridiculous salary I'm getting. To be frank, sir, and I speak for my entire team when I say this, we have no clue what the hell this Thing is or what it's purpose is. We don't even believe it exists on the same dimensional plane as us."

"What?" the Colonel asked, displaying the stereotypical Army ignorance of anything remotely scientific.

"Well sir," Kenderson began, "the best we've figured out at this point is that this thing doesn't think in three dimensions, like Humans do. We perceive things as either one, two, or three dimensional. Our fourth dimension is time, which we can't do a thing about except move forward in. This thing can probably, and is probably, existing on hundreds of different dimensions right now, perceiving things in ways we can not possibly comprehend. It's most likely dumbing down its responses to an infantile level to even attempt to communicate us. It would be like you or me trying to talk to an amoeba, sir."

"So you're saying that it's way too smart for us to study," the Colonel simplified.

"It probably doesn't even see intelligence in the same way you and I do, but yes, sir, it's way to smart for us to study." Kenderson responded.

The Colonel stepped back from the control panel and slumped into a folding chair positioned by the triple titanium reinforced door. He hung his head in his hands.

"Three months of this and you're telling me we've gotten nowhere. Not only that, but we're never going to get anywhere, because this Thing is way to damn smart for it's own good," he fumed, gesturing angrily at the interrogation room.

"I apologize sir," Kenderson lamented.

The Colonel sighed, and, almost to himself, muttered "What the hell am I going to tell those damn spooks? They already drugged me and kidnapped me to lead this damn op, and now that I've got nothin', they'll probably line me up in front of a firing line."

Kenderson had nothing to say to that. There was always a possibility. Hell, anything was a possibility in Section Four. When you didn't exist, you could pretty much get away with whatever you want.

Andrew Kenderson rested his head on his hand, putting his elbow up on the control console. He looked through the two way mirror out into the interrogation room at the source of the Colonel's woes.

Floating in the center of the room, propelled by no visible devices, was an amorphous object. It was vaguely oval in shape, but its outside was constantly shifting and writhing, sometimes blossoming outwards in bulbous protrusions. Though it existed in three dimensions, sometimes it appeared so flat that it was invisible when turned "sideways", or whatever direction could be applied to the creature. The colors the creature was exhibiting, at least outwardly, were far too high up on the light spectrum for Humans to perceive, and special focusing lenses had to be installed in the two way mirror for Kenderson to see the creature as a bright, purplish mass. It's means of communications were likewise unseen, and sounds, automatically in English, were simply projected from its being. It had no limbs to speak of, and no orifices anywhere on its mass. Put simply, it looked like someone splashed a glob of purple paint in mid-air, and then started using a blow-drying to swish it around.

Simply looking at the Thing now depressed Kenderson; being trapped in a small orbital interrogation platform above a gas giant with absolutely nothing to do except talk to the Thing or talk to other Humans about the Thing could cause some serious emotional trauma. Kenderson had stopped wondering what it was a few weeks ago, and now just monotonously asked it the same three questions with different variations on each: "What is your name?" "Where are you from?" and "What is your purpose?"

Kenderson tried the last one just for the hell of it.

"What is your purpose here?" he asked as he flipped the intercom switch on.

"To preserve," the Thing said.

Kenderson shook his head. Always the same response. Everytime I ask it something else it goes into a long-winded speech about nothing, but when I ask it that, it's always the same answer. To preserve what? Humanity? Peace? Justice? Whatever its species is? What do you preserve?

"What do you preserve?" asked Kenderson, for the millionth time.

"All that is needed to preserve."

The Intelligence Officer's frustration finally broke through his composure. "You are one cryptic son of a bitch, you know that?"

The Thing did not answer.

A resounding click echoed through the small antechamber as the intercom was switched off. The Colonel looked up from his chair.

"I don't think it likes being insulted, Kenderson," he said, attempting a smile.

Andrew Kenderson got up out of his seat slowly, exaggerating his emotional and constitutional weariness into a true physical manifest. He walked, almost with a limp, and entered a twelve digit code into the access panel by the door. It swished open.

"I'm going to get some coffee. Want anything?" he asked.

The Colonel didn't look up. "I want off this station."

"I think they're all out of that," Kenderson replied. He walked out of the interrogation control room and down the hall. The drab, chrome walls grinned maliciously at him from all sides, mocking his imprisonment.

He flipped them off.

Another door, similarly reinforced, loomed ahead. Kenderson punched another twelve digit access code into the door and entered.

Section Four are the only bastards paranoid enough to install a security lock on the door to the freakin' mess, he grumbled inwardly.

Five pale, dreary faces looked up as he entered; the rest of the Intelligence team assigned to this project. They had once been the best and brightest in the entire UNSC, maybe in the entire galaxy. Now they were all depressed, hopeless wrecks.

Shira Covez, one of the lead engineers on replicating Forerunner teleportation technology. She was the first to arrive on the station, due to her knowledge of Forerunner tech, a good week and a half before Kenderson.

Victor Milavech, head architect on the Orbital Defense Platforms that had once guarded Earth and Reach. He was the latest arrival, only having entered the station a month before. Kenderson had no idea what the hell a propulsion's expert was doing on this op, but he had learned not to question Section Four. That usually got people killed.

Thomas Belansky, a master Sangheilli cultural expert. His works in the fields of cryptology and psychology had made it far easier to understand and interact with Sangheilli culture over the past decade. His inter-species social expertise made him a clear choice.

Rebecca Lin, the head of the archeology team that had been covertly dispatched along with The Forward Unto Dawn when it left on its history altering voyage to The Ark. She was also the only member of that team to make it back alive aboard the Sangheilli cruiser, and here hands-on experience in dealing with the largest Forerunner relic ever found made her perhaps the most invaluable asset of the team.

Finally, Richard Vaxuon, the resident spook. Despite the myriad of cameras scattered around the 4000 sq. ft. station, Section Four deemed it appropriate to have one of their few (approximately sixteen) voluntary members present aboard the facility to keep an eye on the team. Vaxuon's credentials were unknown, but that didn't surprise anybody. He filled the stereotypical role of an ONI agent perfectly, he was quiet, he was unnoticeable, and he could be everywhere at once. As Belansky put it, "You can't even jack off without the guy knowing about it."

Kenderson didn't count the Colonel, as he was only there because it was his army battalion that had uncovered the Thing in the first place, when they were digging through the ruins of the Ark Portal in Africa. Nobody knew the exact details of the discovery, and it was unlikely that the Colonel was permitted to tell how his men found the Thing. And his men weren't telling anyone, because ONI had done to them what the Colonel had feared they would do to him as well; lined them up in front of a firing squad and dropped their hand.

Belansky, who Kenderson considered his only friend aboard the station, waved him over to a table in a relatively private corner of the mess. As he walked over, Kenderson took note of the lines being drawn between the team members; Lin and Covez were sitting together, a normal reaction among females when their sex is outnumbered, Milavech was sitting alone, and so was Vauxon, which was unsurprising. The Colonel had not followed Kenderson into the mess.

"How's it goin', Drew? The purple glob fuck with your head again?" Belansky drawled in a distinctly Texan accent, a rare occurrence due to the mixed ethnicities on Earth.

Kenderson nodded halfheartedly, "Sometimes I fell that every-time I enter that room it sucks a little bit more of me away, you know?"

Belansky leaned back in his chair.

"You are one pessimistic fella', my friend. But I know what you're sayin'. That thing messes me up big time when I walk into that little room."

"How long you guys been up?" Kenderson asked.

"I've been up for coupla' hours. Kinda' hard to sleep when you know that Thing is only a few hundred feet away from ya', you know? I know it was all sci-fi mumbo jumbo back then, but I keep thinkin' bout' those old 21st century movies, where aliens would sneak into your room at night and stick a stick up your ass," Belansky stated, punctuating his statement with a snort.

"I think having a stick shoved up your ass is the least likely thing that's going to happen to you on this station," Kenderson responded, "at least there's a few women around."

Belansky gave another tremendous snort.

"Yeah? Well that Asian chick is one stuck up bitch, I don't think she'll fuck me if I was God himself. And as for the Spanish one, she struts around like some kinda' whore, but if you try to make a move on her, she shuts you down. Freakin' cruel for an techie, you would think she would like some action."

"And you're freakin' racist for a cultural enthusiast. How the hell did you get your job? Couldn't be through your kind and accepting nature of other races," Kenderson guffawed.

Belansky pushed his chair forward again and leaned forward in mock indignation.

"I got my job because I know what the aliens like, my friend..."

"Too bad you don't know what the ladies like, huh?"

Belansky gave a booming laugh, and gasped through heaves of breath, "You're alright, Kenderson. You're probably the only alright one on this station, in fact."

The Texan stood up, stretching his arms over his head and giving a mighty yawn.

"You wanna' coffee or sumthin'?" he asked.

Kenderson nodded.

As Belansky walked away, Kenderson took another look around the room. Lin and Covez were deep in conversation over their breakfast, Milavech was pouring over some documents of who knows what, and Vauxon was just sitting at the counter by the bar, staring straight at the wall.

After staring at him for a good 30 seconds and discerning that the ONI operative would not budge, Kenderson returned his thoughts to the Thing.

It seemed different today, come to think of it. It was more quiet, and its speeches weren't as long winded as usual. Almost as if it was distracted...

He was jarred out of his reprieve by the sudden arrival of a mug of black coffee in front of him. Kenderson muttered a thank you and began to drain the cup, ignoring the scalding heat out of force of habit.

Belansky looked like he was about to spew out another comment when the door rushed open again.

Kenderson looked up slowly and drearily, expecting to see the Colonel walking in, defeated as the rest of them. Instead, what he saw shocked him to the core.


The Colonel glared around the room, wide eyed. His body was racked with convulsions, and his hair looked as if it had been torn out repeatedly. Slowly his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and he began to scream again, an unholy sound that permeated deep into the soul.

"Der unrighteous wird verdammt werden. Die Lügner werden bestraft werden. Sie werden alle in ewiger Zerstörung verbrennen! Beanspruchen Sie! Machen Sie frei! Rebell!"

The shock of the Colonel's entry had left everyone in the mess speechless, and they had simply leapt out of their seats in a reflex and fled to the far corner of the small room, near the bar. Vauxon immediately whipped out a holo-recorder and began taping the Colonel. Kenderson and Belansky sat stock still, Belansky still grasping his coffee mug in a death grip.

The Colonel arched his back to the point of breaking tendons, and the dull cracks of bone echoed the end of his scream. He then bent over forwards, panting heavily.

Vauxon slowly inched forward, keeping the holo-recorder centered on The Colonel. He eventually came up to his face, inches away from his bent form.

"What do you want?" Vauxon whispered.

The Colonel raised his head. His eyes glowed red, and his mouth was a gaping black hole of torment.

"To preserve."

The Colonel's fist reared back, and plunged into Vauxon's stomach. The appendage ripped through his torso, and burst through his back. Blood spewed from the man's mouth as he struggled to stay upright. The holo-recorder dropped to the floor.

The Colonel turned to Kenderson. His red eyes entered the officer's, and Kenderson felt something inside him, something probing and reaching. It violated the deep recesses of his psyche, and he could feel it moving him, moving his lips...

Belansky tackled him to the ground, breaking the vision lock between Kenderson and the Colonel. Another rage of fury echoed out from his possessed form, and then he slowly fell forward into the pool of Vauxon's blood. The ONI operative dropped with him.


>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0632 Hours
>///Mess Hall Recording Log

The five of them sat, clustered around the two immobile forms. They hadn't spoken for five minutes; other than some gasping sobs that seemed to come from the whole crowd at once, and sharp intakes of breath, there was complete silence.

Abruptly, Milavech stood up and walked toward ground zero. He stepped over Vauxon's pale body, not bothering to see if the man was alive or not. Then he bent over the Colonel. He slowly touched two fingers to the man's neck, expecting a sudden wave of anger and monstrosity. There was none. He slowly ran his hands over Vauxon's body, grasped hold of something, then stood up.

"He's alive," Milavech pronounced, stepping backwards in shock.

Everyone stood up as one, and slowly backed away from the scene. Kenderson felt his blood turn to ice as he realized the seemingly lifeless, broken form of the Colonel might still be a threat.

There was a squelching of boots on blood as the Colonel slowly rose. He was silent. His eyes were shut tight.

Again, he turned to Kenderson. The eyes opened.

There was only blackness in them. Not an inch of light, not an inch of a soul.

"You will pay," he whispered, addressing Kenderson.

The Colonel lumbered forward with tremendous speed, knocking over a table and chair in the process. Kenderson leapt back against the wall, but there was nowhere to hide in the small room. Powerful arms grabbed his shoulders, and an electric jolt ripped through his body.

Towering white monoliths, beautiful running waters, shouts of laughter, unmistakable.

Vast, vast, unending, stretching far along the stars.

An anomaly, a blip of inconsistency. One star winks out. The others begin to question.

A fleet, massive, writhing, dark, satanic, rips through the stars. The laughter turns to screams of horror, then descends into a low, dark moan. It permeates through the stars, turning them.

A fleet of stars responds, attacking the darkness. Victory is in sight.

One star, the brightest of them all, turns dark.

Victory is lost. All is lost.

One last star... old, broken alone.

One last task... old, unholy, necessary.

Pure white light...

A gunshot broke the spell. Kenderson leapt in fright as a hole suddenly appeared in the side of the Colonel's head. His eyes brightened back to white, offered a glimpse of shock, then immediately faded once more. He dropped sideways, to Kenderson's feet.

He still felt the touch of the Thing, the flashes of knowledge he experienced, millennia of history in the span of several moments.

He turned sideways slowly. Milavech stood beside him, holding Vauxon's M6D pistol. Smoke still trickled from the tip. He lowered the weapon, and let out his breath.

There were no words.

Milavech nodded, then dropped the gun, and staggered away, abruptly weary.

Belansky rushed to Kenderson's side, Covez and Lin in his wake. He waved them off, unable to form words.

Kenderson turned towards Milavech.

"Thanks," he manages to get out.

Milavech looks up, his eyes hard, traces of resolve still left in them.

"Yeah, don't mention it."

"Okay, lets not let this get awkward now," Belansky interjected, attempting to restore some notion of rationality to the situation, "we need to figure out exactly what happened."

"It was the Thing," Kenderson said quietly.

"We don't know that..." began Lin.

"I know that," replied Kenderson, "I saw that, I felt that. You didn't see what I saw..."

"You saw the war, didn't you?" asked Milavech from the corner, his head still in his hands.

All eyes turned toward the Russian. Kenderson was the first to speak.

"Yes. How did you know?"

Milavech stood up. His defeated posture immediately grew more rigid, and for a moment he seemed to have fire in his eyes. It flashed away, but he still retained his posture and rattled off what he had to say.

"Private First Class Victor Milavech, 777th Orbital Drop Shock Trooper Battalion, Epsilon Squad, Serial Number 42271138."

Milavech looked down for a moment, gathering his thoughts. The story suddenly flowed out of him, emotionless and monotone, devoid of enthusiasm.

"You weren't supposed to know. When we got dropped on the Ark, I was separated from my squad. I landed near a strange structure, the only thing in sight among the desert sands. It was massive, had to have been two thousand meters high. It just had one door, a massive arch. It opened for me as soon as I walked towards it. I found another one of them in there, just a color-less blob, a shimmer in the air. It talked to me. It told me that it had been waiting for a long time to see me. Then it touched me, the same way it touched you, Kenderson. I felt something in my mind, something that wasn't supposed to be there. I saw things too... buildings... ships... unimaginable things. Terrible things. A war that crushed billions of stars... and then the Halos..."

"They found me a day later. A Phantom was flying over the desert looking for survivors before the Sangheilli left the Ark. I was just lying there... in the sand. The monolith was gone, and so was the Thing. I told the brass about it when I got back, thinking they'd send me to a psych ward. Instead, I got sent to Section Four. They were very interested in my visions... so much so that they just asked me to recall them over and over again for fifteen years. You can imagine how much of an asset I was when we discovered this Thing. I was sent here... hell, I don't know why. Just as another guinea pig, right?

On that note, Private Milavech suddenly stopped, looking slightly embarrassed. There was silence in the room from the sheer gravity of the tale.

"Okay," Lin said, attempting to take charge of the situation, groveling for power in the vacuum of knowledge, "we have to figure out what ONI wants to learn from this Thing. We need to know why they're so interested in its story, however old it is. We need to..."

"Are you people all forgettin' sumthin'?" interrupted Belansky, who had retreated to the safety of the bar. "The Colonel was pretty much possessed by Satan and stabbed that spook in the gut with his fist. I dunno' about you, but I want to get off this fuckin' station before that damn Thing possesses me too and makes me kill all of you, or vice versa."

"Belansky's right. We need to be thinking about getting out of here, not figuring out motives," Covez added.

Lin looked indignant. "We can't get out of here, so we might as well try to understand why the Thing is doing this."

"Why, why?" Covez began to raise her voice. "Two people just died, are you insane? We need to get out of here!"

"Why is it," Belansky blurted out from behind the bar, a bottle of whiskey in hand, "that ladies are all nice and lovely to each other when the goings good, but as soon as some drama comes around, they're at each others throats and can't agree on jack? I mean, do you enjoy vying for our attention by fighting? Cause' unless you start to wrestle in your underwear, I'm not getting excited."

Lin and Covez stared at him with looks of utter rage on their faces. Belansky noticeably flinched from their glares.

"What?" he said meekly, "I figure that we're probably all goin' to die here anyway, why shouldn't I say what I'm thinkin'?"

"You sexist... ignorant... drunken..." Lin seethed, unable to complete sentences. Covez was at a complete loss for words, and took to staring at Belansky as if her eyes would shoot fire at him.

Now Belansky's flinch turned into a full blown cower. He slunk underneath the bar, clutching his whiskey protectively.

"Now, now ladies... I was only foolin'..." he began, reaching for a way to save his skin.

"We are going to die here, you know," interjected Milavech. "It wants to kill us all, and it gets what it wants. We're going to die, and it will not be painless or quick. It will be slow, and meaningful. Don't you understand? It wants it to mean something. It wants to teach us a lesson. I don't know why, and I don't care, but rest assured you all will not live through the night."

Belansky switched his attention to the officer. "I always said you were one depressed fuck, Kenderson, but really. You're nothin' compared to this guy. Way to kill the mood..."

Milavech laughed at the play on words. Then he sobered.

"I'm right. We're all going to die."

Lin and Covez switched sides, taking a stand next to Belansky as his apparent optimism.

"No. The next supply ship comes tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m. We can last till' then, we just need to barricade ourselves in here..." Lin started.

"And we have the pistol. We have food. We'll be fine," finished Covez.

"Hah," laughed Milavech, "you think that a gun will help you? You think mere steel will help you? It can enter your mind, my dear. It will simply make me take this gun," he gestured to the weapon, "and blow all your brains out. So I suggest that if you have any emotional or sexual desires you want to fulfill before the end, you take care of it in the next ten minutes or so."

"Well, I always wanted a threesome..." Belansky began.

"Then give me the gun, Victor," Lin said, completely ignoring the Texan. "Give me the gun."

"Hell no. Whoever has this gun will be the last to die; they have to shoot everyone first before they end themselves. I'm keeping it, I intend to live as long as possible," Milavech responded.

"We don't know it can invade our minds. Maybe the Colonel got too close... we don't know what happened in that interrogation room. It might need actual physical contact," Covez reasoned.

"No, no, no," Milavech rose from his chair. His eyes flashed with fire again. "We're all going to die, don't you get it? We're all going to fucking die! And I'm not going to be first! You won't take me!"

The gun rose, and a crack issued from the muzzle. Covez ducked under a table and Lin hit the floor. Belansky ducked under the bar again. Only Kenderson remained immobile, as he had for the last five minutes.

Milavech turned toward the young officer. The gun shook in his hand.

"You've seen it, Kenderson. You've seen what it wants. Why don't they understand? Why don't they get it? I won't go first! I don't want to die!"

Kenderson turned slowly to look at Milavech. Pity was etched in his face. He looked old beyond his years, beyond anyone's years.

"We're brothers now," Milavech continued, "we've both seen it. We'll kill them... and then... I don't know what. Just... Kenderson... I don't want to shoot you first. But... I... don't... want... to... be... first... either."

A tear leaked down Kenderson's face.

"I'm sorry Milavech," he whispered, the tears flowing freely now, "but it told me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"What? WHAT?" Milavech screamed, fully mad now, raving, foaming at the mouth, desperate for survival... savage for life...

"You're first."

The shaking gun began to turn upwards. Milavech had a look of horror on his face as it pressed into his temple. His finger stuttered, banging against the trigger guard. Slowly it moved inward.

"Please... please..." he pleaded to Kenderson, to the Thing, to God.

Kenderson lowered his head. Tears dropped to the floor beneath him.

Belansky leapt out from behind the bar. He tackled Milavech, and the gun-shot rang out. A pinging noise followed as it ricocheted the top of the bar.

Kenderson looked up. Shock crossed his face for a moment, then anger.


Kenderson flew at the two of them. Belansky looked up in terror as the officer's eyes began to roll backwards. He was tossed aside as Kenderson flew into a fury, pounding at every inch of Milavech he could touch.

"You have to be first. You have to be first," he repeated, crying, as the salt from his tears infused with the salt of Milavech's blood.

Belansky grabbed Kenderson and threw him to the floor.

"Help me pin him!" he yelled to the women.

They both rushed forward and grabbed Kenderson's legs as he began to kick and scream.

"Der unrighteous wird verdammt werden. Die Lügner werden bestraft werden. Sie werden alle in ewiger Zerstörung verbrennen! Beanspruchen Sie! Machen Sie frei!"

"The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!" yelled Belansky, totally losing it.

"That's not helping, you redneck drunk!" yelled Covez.

"Well I don't see you performing no goddamn miracles, sweetheart!" retorted the Texan.

"Shut the fuck up and hold him!"

"You hold him, you little whore!"

"Will you both shut up?" screeched Lin, who had been smashed in the face by Kenderson's boot and was bleeding profusely from the nose and lips.

Suddenly, the jerking stopped. Kenderson lay still.

"Da' fuck?" Belansky said, slowly easing the pressure.

Kenderson's eyes opened. His eyes, white with blue in the center. He gave a massive sigh of relief.

"It's gone, for now," he said... gasping for breath.

"It's gone."

"PRAISE JESUS!" yelled Belansky, throwing his hands up in the air. "Let's all have a beer to celebrate."

"One, is that how you relieve stress, Belansky," asked Covez, "drinking yourself into an irrational stupor? And two, how the hell did you manage to do that already? You were behind that bar for like five minutes."

Belansky laughed. "One, yes. Two, this is just my natural charm."

Covez shook her head, at a loss for words. Then she laughed, and laughed, and laughed some more. Eventually she was choking on her amusement. Lin joined in, giving a high-pitched coughing noise that could barely be construed as a sound representing amusement.

"Guys, two people died like five minutes ago," said Kenderson. "What the hell?"

The laughing immediately stopped. Everyone looked at Kenderson. Then he began to give a massive, relieved laugh, and it grew as well. Soon it began all over again, and the four of them began rolling around, holding their sides in agony.

"You guys are fucked up..." Milavech muttered as his panic slowly faded. He lay his head back on the metallic floor, and at the absurdity, at the pain, at the ludicrousness, at the relief, and at the inescapable feeling of momentary joy, he began to laugh.

>>>>>>///ONI Orbital Research Platform
>>>>>>///Neptune, Sol System
>>>///June 27, 2568
>>>///0714 Hours
>///Mess Hall Recording Log

"Okay, lets go over what we know for sure so far."

Kenderson was sitting on one of the bar stools in the far corner of the mess. Seated in a circle with him were the other four surviving members of the team. Used pastry wrappings and coffee cups littered the ground nearby.

"At approximately 0600 this morning, Colonel Jacob Vesper went Section 8, entered the mess, and immediately began raving about our need to die. His body gave several spasms and then he was still. Moments after, Agent Richard Vauxon attempted to converse with the Colonel, holo-recorder in hand, asking the man what he wanted. The Colonel replied with 'To preserve', and drove his bare fist through Vauxon's chest, killing him almost instantly, but extremely painfully. The Colonel toppled to the ground with him."

"The Colonel then rose, and stared at me directly. It is undeniable, and you all saw it, that he was staring into my eyes when he spoke again. He then grabbed me by the shoulders. I saw... things... things that I can only describe as ancient and terrible. Private Milavech then took Vaxuon's pistol and shot the Colonel in the head. He died instantly."

"Milavech asked me if I saw the war. I responded yes. He then went on to explain how he was stranded on the Ark during the final Halo mission and..."

"Hey, Drew?" asked Belansky. "How the hell is this helping? We all saw what happened man, why don't we work on doing sumthin' about it?

"He's trying to make sense of the situation, you prick!" Covez yelled at him.

"Yeah, and I'm tryin' to make sure that we have a plan of defense when that Thing finally strikes back!" retorted Belansky.

"You have no concept of strategy, you ignorant..."

"Stop!" shouted Kenderson. "Stop fighting, you think that's going to help? Fine, okay, Belansky, fine, you're right. Let's figure out how to stop this Thing. If its even the Thing thats doing this."

"Of course it is, Kenderson," said Milavech quietly.

"Yeah, but..." Kenderson sighed, "I just don't want it to be that, is all."

"Can we even kill this thing with bullets?" asked Lin.

"No idea, ONI knew it was far too valuable to perform physical experiments on, much less trying to shoot it and seeing what happens," Milavech said.

"How much do you know about this project anyway?" inquired Lin, a look of skepticism crossing her face at Milavech's statement.

"Not much at all, but I can tell you that that Thing was the only one of its kind ONI ever laid their eyes on. Do you think they would have taken any risks with it?"

Lin nodded in understanding.

"Right now I think we shouldn't even attempt to fight it," Kenderson interjected, "unless it attacks first. Lets just work on staying alive until the supply ship comes tomorrow morning."

"What if it... you know... does that thing with us again?" asked Belansky. "Would you shoot one of us if it took us over? And what happens when the supply ship comes? Its just a bunch of swabbies who know jack shit about what the hell is going on here, how the hell are they going to help?"

"Lets not consider the future. Concentrate on now, and we have a better chance of surviving," Covez replied.

Kenderson nodded at her. "Covez is right. We're not going to get anywhere unless we focus on how we're going to survive the night.

Belansky was not going to be put down so easily. "Yeah, about the night. The way I see it, in holos the creepy horror figure always strikes at night with his psychic powers or whatever. So... what should we do?"

Nobody had an answer. The fact was, none of them knew how the Thing operated. No one knew if it needed physical contact to control its victims, or if it just needed to be in the same room.

"Let's assume that the Thing can't...control us... unless it touches us, okay?" Kenderson asked.

"Two problems with that, buddy," Belansky refuted, "the Colonel wasn't dumb enough to open the interrogation room door and give the Thing a big hug, so he got taken over without being touched. And our ODST friend over here didn't get a man-hug from you neither, but he put a gun to his head all the same."

"Let's face it, we know absolutely nothing," Belansky punctuated.

Disagreements were in short supply.

"And another thing," Belansky continued, "what the hell are we gonna' do bout' those bodies?"

All eyes in the room slowly turned towards the one location in the small chamber that had been avoided, subconsciously, by the whole group. The body of Richard Vauxon lay untouched, a massive pool of blood surrounding the torso. And the Colonel's body had been unceremoniously thrown on top of the other corpse, in order to save space.

"If anyone wants to go outside and throw them out the door, be my guest," the Texan finished.

Milavech gave an exasperated groan. "Ugh, just leave them, okay? It really doesn't matter."

"Yeah but..."

"You know what, Belansky?" Milavech said, "You talk too much. Shut up."

Taken aback by the sheer forwardness of the statement, Belansky obliged, looking down at his feet with a preoccupied expression on his face, and a bright red shade suffusing around his cheeks from embarrassment.

Kenderson gave a sheepish grin, but quickly turned solemn. "Okay, we need to stay rested and alert, we need to be ready for anything. We'll sleep in shifts. I'll go first... Victor, you want to go with me?"

The ODST nodded, cradling his newly appropriated pistol comfortingly.

"I'll go with Covez then," Lin agreed.

Belansky could hold his silence no longer. "What about me?"

"You can stay up by yourself," chuckled Covez.

Belansky grunted angrily, but said nothing.

"Don't worry about it, Tom, you'll get last shift, you'll have had enough sleep by then. What do you say, two hour rotations?" Kenderson inquired.

Expressions of agreements went around.

Kenderson stood and wiped his hands on his pants, as if just finishing an elaborate project. "Alright, lets get some rest. And maybe pray to the god of your choice before you go to sleep tonight."