Posted By: Who Is Caligula<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 29 January 2008, 12:27 pm
Corinne pressed her tiny palms against the glass, peering through with chocolate eyes at what could easily have been an expensive toy or tempting confection. It was a pleasant fantasy for her grandfather, who preferred to study the girl's eyes without letting his own wander to the abomination that rested quietly behind the glass.
"Big gun", she cooed, jump-slapping a motion sensor that normally required nothing more than the presence of a visitor that stood at least 1.4 meters tall. Chan didn't pay any special attention to the automated narration that followed, though the child seemed riveted.
which saw most of its use toward the end of the Covenant War. Due to its heavy battery power consumption and slow rate of fire, the target needed to be tracked for several seconds before firing. This process was guided by a simple scope and targeting mechanism, which painted the enemy with a vibrant beam of crimson light. Although hailed as one of the greatest achievements in anti-vehicle warfare, the so-called "Spartan laser" was restricted primarily for combat against large and slow-moving targets, such as Covenant heavy armor. Even the most skilled soldier would be forced to displace in between shots and rely on the support of a light infantry squad, since every shot fired gave away the user's position to enemy forces and-"
"Whoa! Did you get to use one of those, grandpa?"
Corinne's mother had been right. This place really wasn't designed for children. Chan was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake to bring her to this museum in the first place.
"No, honey. I didn't".
Drained of her enthusiasm only briefly, Corinne galloped to the next exhibit while the automated tour guide prattled on about the display piece. Chan followed, but studied the room's architecture more than its contents. The exhibit hall was adorned with synthetic wood, warm enough to look real, but too glossy for his tastes. Somber tones of charcoal and navy blue contrasted with the paleness of neutral white walls and beige corridors.
leading each shot to compensate for the slow travel time of each rocket", the tour guide spoke with an animated Texan drawl. Chan found it distracting, if a bit irritating.
When he first visited the Museum of Humanity after the war's end, it was declared as monument to the "courage of humankind". Now, just a few decades later, the museum had seen substantial embellishments and upgrades. Instead of one neutral and sober male voice, the tour guides all seemed to be fashioned after a colorful cast of cartoon characters.
Saturday morning cartoons, he thought glumly.
"What about this one?"
"What about it?" Chan asked, struggling to keep pace with his tiny granddaughter.
"Did you ever use this one?" she asked, stubby finger stabbing the glass. "It's huge! Almost as big as me!" Chan ventured a glance at the display, which housed a replica SPNKr and its reddish ammo crate.
"No", came his response, and he watched his granddaughter slump her tiny shoulders. Chan sighed, disappointed by his apparent lack of entertaining information for the child.
Corinne loved museums. There were many near his apartment, but Chan usually only visited them when his granddaughter was staying with him. It was a short shuttle ride from home, and the fares were so cheap nowadays. He wished he could see her more often. Chan never asked for anything from his children. He did not understand why his daughter had been so reluctant to let Corinne visit him for a few days a month.
The girl rested her forehead against the cool glass, a blank stare on her round face.
explosion, but powerful enough to shatter the hull of most heavy vehicles", the mock drill-sergeant spoke its final line of monologue.
"Corinne", he called her name, and she turned to him instantly. "You want to see what I carried?"
"Yeah", she spoke softly now that the tour guide's speech had concluded. Chan was not about to let his only granddaughter leave the museum unsatisfied.
"That was a long time ago. Years. Decades into the past."
"Decades? How old must I grow before my years have any meaning to you?" the elder shook his head, rustling the scaly flaps of flesh that sagged from his slender neck. The younger Sangheili tried not to stare, but there was something about the cranky war veteran that intrigued him. If there had been more time to spare, he might have asked him about his days as a servant to the Covenant.
Perhaps he could ask later, when the priests were not so eager to receive his report before the day's end.
"I meant no disrespect. I am only here to gather the necessary data to send to my superiors. After that, I will leave you in peace".
"Don't give me that. You're an instrument, nothing more".
"Instrument?" the young Sangheili cocked his head.
"An instrument", the elder repeated. "They call you 'Inquisitor', but I know you as a puppet. You serve another because of what has been promised to you".
"I do", the younger agreed, and added "Just as you did, during the war".
"War?" the black of the elder's eyes threatened to burst like tiny grenades. "I am your senior. I fought the loyalists. I fought the parasites. Must I fight you, as well?"
"Fight?" the younger asked, stifling a chuckle. The elder may have seen a great deal of combat in his time, but he was now withered and frail. "What would you hope to gain by fighting me?"
"Respect, perhaps? Honor? Things that our generation gave our blood for, and things which you dismiss so readily as antiquated ideologies".
"I am not dismissing anything, I am merely trying to understand what you-"
"Understand?" the elder's voice grew sharp, like the crackle of an activated energy sword. "You seek to understand?"
"Yes", the youthful bureaucrat replied. He often dealt with aggressive plebian clientele, and usually found diplomacy to be one of the best ways to ease tension. If spending a few extra minutes allowed him to accomplish his task without incident, the time would be well spent.
Besides, the indulgence a single selfish curiosity couldn't cause too much harm, could it?
The elder Sangheili grunted his approval, and beckoned the Inquisitor to follow.
"Are you a patron of the arts, Inquisitor?"
"I'm afraid not", was the Inquisitor's only response. "My duties prevent me from appreciating certain luxuries, and-"
"Luxuries?" the elder cut him short. "You think art is a luxury, do you? Let me tell you something about luxury, Inquisitor".
The Sangheili tapped a series of digits into a wall-mounted control panel, and a translucent cocoon hissed from the adjacent wall. The Inquisitor guessed from the bulbous shape that it was some outdated lockbox. He sighed, quietly enough that the irritable elder would not hear him.
"Luxury", the elder explained, thrusting wiry hands into the thick vapor that spilled from the vessel, "is something that I treasure". The Inquisitor scratched his jowl, hoping this nostalgic display would not consume too much of his time. He was wholly unprepared for what the elder had in store.
"Luxury", he continued his lecture proudly, "is when sleep can take you at night, rather than death. Luxury is the sweet stench of your foe's charred remains, rather than the bitter odor of a smoldering Sangheili corpse".
From the storage vessel, the elder extracted a second, smaller vessel. To the Inquisitor's young eyes, it appeared to be little more than an ugly bowl. As the elder turned it in his trembling hands, several strange protrusions became plainly visible. One side of the deformed vessel appeared to have a set of jagged claws growing outward from the rim, while the widening of the opposite side seemed more cylindrical than ovular. Even more striking were the three, elongated spikes extending far beyond the tip of the object's center mass.
This was no bowl.
"What is that?" he asked of the elder, suddenly apprehensive at the sight of what might have been a mysterious Forerunner relic of incomprehensible power.
"This? This is luxury, Inquisitor. You are blessed on this day, for you are looking at luxury".
"I don't understand. It looks like a weapon, and not one that I've ever-"
"It is. This weapon saved countless Sangheili from certain death. It deflected the ballistic weaponry of our enemies, it preserved us when our energy shields failed us. It kept us alive, ready to stand and fight, only to grant us the opportunity to enjoy our precious luxuries".
The Inquisitor could find no words. He stared at the object in silence for several moments before the elder barked at him.
"You have the slackened mandibles of a foolish child, Inquisitor. Time to put some years on that soft hide of yours".
"Take it, Inquisitor. Feel its weight in your hands".
some sort of helmet?" the Inquisitor asked, gingerly hefting the exotic object in his hands.
"Just figured that out, did you?" the old veteran scoffed, folding his arms in disappointment. "Youth. As blind as you are deaf".
The object was cool and heavy in the Inquisitor's hands. His people proudly dedicated themselves to the art of combat, the implementation of war. Like many Sangheili youths, the Inquisitor had undergone daily training exercises from the moment he was deemed capable, a traditional regimen that fortified each Sangheili and granted them the reputation of the galaxy's most feared warriors.
"Put it on, Inquisitor".
"What? I can't do that, it's-".
"Put it on", the elder firmly repeated his command. "You want to understand, don't you? I will make you understand".
He obeyed his elder. The cold helmet seemed to bite at his skin, but the pain lessened after several moments.
"What do you feel?"
"It's heavy. Heavier than the helmets they issued during my conscripted-"
"Heavy?" the elder echoed the adjective. "Heavy for a weakling. Our necks grew stronger for it. And I doubt your modern headgear could sustain as much damage without shattering."
"Close your eyes", came the second command. "It will help you see."
"See?" the Inquisitor was befuddled.
"Truth. The final 'prophet' of the Covenant", there was not as much venom in the Sangheili's voice as the Inquisitor had expected. He obeyed.
"Do you see?"
"I see nothing", came the youth's honest reply. "A few colors, perhaps. That is only because-"
"Good", the elder interrupted without apology. "Take those colors. Throw them upon your eyes. Do you see the speckles of stars against the blackness of space?"
"I do", the Inquisitor responded after a moment, focusing the images in his mind.
"And what passes through this space?"
"A ship, I think".
"Good. And what does this ship look like?"
"Large. Silver. Sleek and smooth. Like an insect, I think".
"It is the cruiser you see, young one. What else?"
"Battle. There is plasma everywhere. Streaks of blue stretching across the stars".
"A battle. Who is fighting?"
The Inquisitor could not see the elder's face, but he could tell from his words that he was pleased. He never considered himself the imaginative sort, and yet all this was playing out within his own mind. Either the elder's words were hypnotizing him, or there was something about this helmet-
"The Covenant fights itself. A union is shattered, and the Jiralhanae stumble against the might of the Sangheili navy".
"Very good, Inquisitor. The Prophets welcomed the Sangheili only when they saw the inevitability of their defeat, and could no longer cower within the confines of their ships. Eventually, we gained superiority both on the ground and within space. In time, their schemes fell apart before the brilliance of our blades. We cast light upon the darkness, and only Truth remained. What else do you see?"
The Inquisitor noticed a strange sensation tingling throughout his limbs. The images in his mind sprang into focus. The matted fur of a remorseless foe, the pungency of plasma-scorched flesh.
"Jiralhanae. They are strong, and they spill blood wherever they go".
"Indeed", spoke the elder. "Fighting amongst themselves, even. Savages, worthy of their lowly titles. Animals, not warriors. The Writ of Union bade us 'cast our arms aside', yet it was our arms that kept us alive throughout all hardships. It was what gave the Prophets cause to tremble, both at the beginning and the end of our Covenant".
"We were the most treasured weapon of the Prophets. Instruments".
The images flickered rapidly, suddenly blurred and disorienting.
"At the time of our liberation, we became our own instruments. Tradition became servitude, and servitude became tradition".
"You are learning, Inquisitor", the elder straightened his posture, a warrior proud to accept even the smallest victory. "Open your eyes".
The Inquisitor obeyed.
"What do you see?"
"You", he answered immediately. "An elder. My elder. A servant of the greater good. One who bears the burden of the past, to ensure the stability of the future".
The Inquisitor bowed his head in humility. This war veteran, a champion of his people, had rightfully put him in his place. He was no longer hurried by the thought of his employer's harsh words. He was indeed blessed to stand in the presence of a true Elite. The Inquisitor had never felt such honor. It empowered him; the wisdom of the elder was warm, violet and viscous as it pulsed throughout his body.
It was a luxury unlike any other.
"I understand now", was all he managed to say.
He returned the helmet to his elder. Its onyx surface shimmered briefly under the speckled light of a ceiling lamp.
"That's not a very big gun, grandpa".
Chan smirked and offered the girl his explanation.
"I know", he spoke while gently patting her black hair, "but it was one of the most important tools for any squad to have in their possession. People took great risks just to get them, they were so valuable to us".
"What is it? Medicine?"
"Sort of, yes", he replied, staring at the vibrant cross, centered red on a block of white. It appeared to be in good condition, and Chan suspected the dented corner had not been added for show. This was probably the real thing.
"You were a medic, I'm guessing", came a voice from behind.
Chan turned to face a middle-aged woman swathed in blue painter's attire with dark smears running across it. Her skin was the color of cinnamon bark, but Chan didn't think she looked old enough to be a veteran of the war.
"I was, yes", came his reply at last. "What gave me away?"
"You did", she chuckled. "Most folks don't stare at the medical equipment for too long. All the kids care about are the guns and ships".
"I do not!" Corinne piped up, defensively. The woman grinned, and asked the girl her age. Having practiced this gesture extensively, Corinne instantly summoned the correct number of digits on her tiny hand to indicate the number of years in her lifespan. So proud of those years, Chan thought to himself.
"Nice to meet you, Corinne", the woman gently shook Corinne's hand, which was suddenly sluggish and shy. "You may call me Rehka".
"Are you working on anything new, Rehka?" Chan asked, tilting his head in the direction of her paint-stained chest and legs.
"I am, actually", came the warm response. Chan knew how much women delighted in talking about their personal affairs, given even a small chance. Women loved to talk to the former UNSC medic, especially in his youth.
"I'm working on a new mural for the museum. A space battle", she added, brightening her eyes for theatrical emphasis. Corinne glanced about the room.
"You did a painting? Where is it, can we see it?"
"Of course you can", she replied, pointing to the adjacent wall stretching past a vacant corridor. Corinne didn't need any further invitation. She darted off, while her elders grinned and followed.
"Whoa! Grandpa, look!"
The mural was even larger than Chan had anticipated. Two painters made fine brush strokes along the periphery, and one of them waved from the top of a ladder. Rehka waved back.
At least it was hand-painted.
"Do you like it?" she asked the child.
"It's the coolest painting ever!" the giddy girl exclaimed. "Can I have one of those for my room, Grandpa?"
"We'll see, Corinne", Chan said, suspecting that by the time such a project had been completed, her interest would have shifted to something entirely different.
"It's not often to see a child that appreciates the art so readily, Mister
"Chan", he replied, shaking her hand. "Sorry for the late introduction. My mind isn't all there. Not anymore, at least".
"Ah, that's alright. Neither is mine. I wouldn't be much of an artist if I kept my mind all in one place all the time, right?"
Chan nodded, studying the intricate details of the action-packed mural. It depicted a fleet of UNSC vessels, earth tones and bright silver as a backdrop to the smaller, purple spacecraft flitting about among the gargantuan monstrosities. Longsword fighters hammered the Covenant banshees with relentless firepower, while the flecks of blue plasma sprayed harmlessly out to the blackness of space. Not one UNSC vessel appeared to have sustained any damage. Chan hoped this was because his eyes did not grant him great clarity of vision, and not because the artist had dishonored the sacrifices of the courageous men and women he once served with.
"This isn't quite like the original design I had, you know" she whispered to him, as though sensing his dismay.
"What do you mean? They wanted more explosions?"
"Actually, I wanted to tell it like it was. Let the fleet stand stalwart against a massive Covenant invasion force, holding the line just long enough for the escape pods to launch. I even had a colony on a nearby planet, with shuttles making a panicked evacuation".
Rehka's eyes grew heavy.
"They didn't want me to tell it like it was".
"Forget about it", Chan reassured her. "They're probably trying to make the place more child-friendly. I'll bet they'll start selling 'Longsword Pepperoni Pizza' in the cafeteria within a year".
"Yeah", she scoffed, then added "I think they might already have those. It tastes terrible".
"As well it should", Chan noted.
He stood beside the artist, hands on the shoulders of his granddaughter. The three of them stared at the massive mural in complete silence.