Parcel o' Rogues - Part 2 - Cronus
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 27 November 2004, 5:38 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
"It's rather cramped in here."
Despite her prickly comment, Cortana was relieved to be sensing the world again. The little Covenant craft was cramped, but it had an excellent communications array.
"Looking for something in particular?" The other AI . . . (he couldn't possible be Covenant, surely?) . . . was nudging her aside to 'watch over her shoulder'.
"My people," Cortana replied primly. The initial scans showed no UNSC transmissions, she wouldn't risk more until she knew who her guardian angel was.
Adjusting a few of the life support systems, he withdrew. He was making the pod comfortable for the Grunt.
Not Cortana's first choice of a carrier, but right now it would have to do.
"They can do much more than humanity gives them credit you know." Withdrawing from the systems, the AI turned his full attention on her.
"Are you a human AI?"
He laughed outright. "No . . . no . . . but I guess . . ." There he went again, skimming her data banks without asking. "I suppose that I am 'smart'. Although, I certainly wasn't created in the same way you were. Barbaric."
Had he been human, Cortana knew he would have shuddered.
"So what are you?" She tried his own trick, and found herself coming up against unintelligible code.
"Call me Cronus."
"That's not what I asked." This was ridiculous. She was chasing shadows.
"That's all you need to know."
Cortana tried not to sulk as she scanned the transmitting frequencies again. So far, nothing.
"Perhaps if you let me boost this . . ." Cronus interfered again.
Cortana closed those programs instantly, rebooting them. The cybernetic equivalent of a slap.
"Do you want to find our people or not?"
"Our people?" Cortana repeated.
"Well . . . the logical course of action would be for the betrayed Elites to join with the remainder of the human forces."
"Your logical algorithms are clearly programmed differently from mine."
"And your emotional subroutines are quite fascinating."
"Is that your way of saying I'm beautiful when I'm angry?"
Cronus paused. "I think we should set down here," he relayed the co-ordinates to her. "It's outside the Library, but I think we have little to fear from the Flood."
Smug, Cortana returned to scanning the frequencies and encoding a UNSC signal. Still, she couldn't resist one last jibe. "I find your emotional subroutines quite fascinating too."
"Okay, hold on to your bu- . . . er, hats, ladies and gentlemen!" Mark sat in the cockpit of the Pelican, pushing the drive to full power and kicking the thrusters downwards.
"Well, apart from a few broken ribs, you should be fine." Graeme glanced at the roaring Pelican from their base camp in the rocks and turned back to Kate. "Any problems, come back and see me?"
"Thanks, doctor," Kate smoothed out her vest, glowering at Danny. "Just keep him away from me and I'll be fine."
Grinning, Danny swaggered up to her. "She loves me really," he confided loudly.
With a haughty sniff, Kate crossed over to where Commander Keyes was situated.
"Well you've impressed her," drawled Graeme.
"I could be in with a chance," Danny's smile faded and he turned to Graeme. "I thought you were dead."
"I couldn't let you be the only surviving Coltrain, could I?" Graeme grinned and punched his brother playfully in the arm. "Now should you be doing something useful? Like guarding the camp?"
"Graeme, to be honest - Sarge and Whitey have got such a pissing contest going on, I don't think I'll ever have to work again."
Packing his med-kit up, Graeme grinned. "You know, I feel so much safer all of a sudden."
"Oh it's so funny, I forgot to laugh . . ."
Miranda set her rations aside and turned her attention to the tech. "Yes . . ." she glanced at the name tag. "Donnell?"
"Ma'am, I was just . . . concerned," Kate's voice dropped. "About . . . them, ma'am."
Lifted her eyes to see Whitey guarding them with his life, Miranda felt a stab of annoyance. "I don't think we have much to fear. These Elites are incredibly honourable, they wouldn't betray us now they've pledged their allegiance."
Kate chewed on her lip. "As you say, ma'am."
"And we're up!" Mark yelled over the radios. The Pelican jerked from its grave and hovered over the land, shaking a little as Mark tested each thruster.
"Excellent work, lieutenant!" Miranda stood, shading her eyes from the sun. "Well done!"
The Pelican rocked backwards and forwards in response.
"Hoo rah," Danny slung his pack over his shoulder. "Let's go kick some Covenant butt . . . eh, no offence guys, ma'am."
Whitey clenched his fist. "We are no longer members of the Covenant."
"And I don't mind cussing, soldier," Miranda added.
"Then let's go kick some Covenant butt!"
Kate had her eyes on the Arbiter, who watched the jubilation of the others, but neither joined in.
"So why here?" Cortana scanned the area, seeing very little of interest.
Cronus hesitated, but not for long. "There's someone we must pick up."
It wasn't long before a spec-ops Grunt came jogging over the snow to meet them.
"Gah-jin," he acknowledged their rescuer. "Clever computer?"
"Yes, Jey-Jey?" Cronus asked.
"I have been given co-ordinates of the commander, would you like to know them?"
Their little shuttle zoomed over the countryside, dancing around the Flood that were utilizing their rocket launchers just a little too much.
"There's a Pelican up ahead," Cortana ran the flight pattern through every analysis she had. She had a gut feeling that it was human.
"I'm keeping our distance," Cronus warned, "there are lifeforms on the ground below."
"Our lifeforms," Cortana crowed. "This is Cortana to Commander Keyes, ma'am, am I ever glad to see you."
"Cortana?" Miranda's voice crackled with static. "Cortana . . . is the Chief with you?"
"No, he's gone. To Earth."
"To Earth . . . brief me later. Right now we need to get off that Halo. Land your ship and -"
"Ma'am, I have company. Two Grunts who say they are alleged with the Special Ops Commander, and a Covenant AI."
"The more the merrier."
The Arbiter paced the outskirts of their camp, making one last sweep as they loaded up the Pelican. Their rag tag band consisted of two Grunt, two AIs, two commanders, two marines, a doctor, a technician . . . and himself.
It had grieved him to learn of High Charity's fall, and the Hall of the Arbiters. It was now destroyed. In life he had failed the Covenant, in death the Covenant had failed him. What was left of his honour now?
These troubles did not worry the Commander. In fact, all he focussed on now was the protection of Miranda Keyes. When questioned upon it, he had simply replied that of all the races in the galaxy, the Forerunner had chosen this one to activate the Halos . . . and was that not worth protecting?
Perhaps it was. Yet, protection was not the duty of the Arbiter. The duty of the Sangheili, perhaps, but no longer for him.
What was the point of him now?
A fragment of armour plating bent under his foot. He stooped to pick it up, turning the beaten metal over in his claws. It was once a breast plate, or had been part of one. A vital piece of Jackal armour. Yet, even if it had been returned to the Jackal, it was now warped out of shape.
"Oh!" The female tech jumped when he came across her.
"I did not mean to startle you."
Kate pushed herself up from her seat, brushing her palms on the sides of her trousers. "That's fine." She glanced at him, her gaze lingering over the half concealed burn on his chest.
The Arbiter drew himself up, giving her a clearer view. "It is the Mark of Shame."
Kate looked up at him. "Can I ask?"
"It is because I allowed the destruction of Halo." He let the plasma sword fizzle out, and hung it on his belt. "It is my punishment."
"Your loss. My headache," Kate murmured. Off the Arbiter's look, she waved the comment away. "Can I ask you something else?"
The Arbiter inclined his head. "If you wish."
Kate sat down on the boulder, watching him, curious and wary. "What exactly . . . is . . . the Arbiter?"
"The Arbiter is, or rather was, the instrument of the Covenant. For as long as the Sangheili have been a part of the Covenant, there have been Arbiters. They have guarded Prophets throughout the Grunt rebellion; they were among the first to tackle Hunters, and they were there when the few Hunters remaining were inaugurated into the Covenant. It was then that the last of the Lekgolo resistance attempted to assassinate the Prophets."
"A Hunter . . . assassinating?" Kate tried and failed not to smile.
The Arbiter crouched beside her. "Yes. He was close to succeeding, when the Arbiter leapt in front of the Prophet, sacrificing himself. All Arbiters die."
The two sat in silence, each contemplating their own duties.
"How long have the Covenant been assembled?" Kate asked.
"For a very long time." The Arbiter turned the piece of armour over in his hands once more. "And now there is only I, and not only have I failed the Covenant and the Prophets . . . but I have failed the legacy of the Arbiters as well. All that I touch turns to flame."
Wisely, Kate said nothing.
"So," Miranda watched as Danny and Johnson packed the last of their supplies into the Pelican. She tilted her head to Whitey, shading her eyes from the sun. "Is Cronos to be trusted?"
Whitey took a deep breath before replying. "I am unsure. Cronos, as he has named himself, has been on High Charity since long before the last races joined the Covenant. He is very old. To be honest, he was more of a ceremonial AI."
Miranda frowned. "Then where did he come from?" The thought of an unknown AI collaborating with Cortana unsettled her. Cortana was far too valuable.
Whitey turned, lifting the last crate of weapons easily. "I believe that he is from the very old days. Perhaps . . ." he hesitated, securing the crate in the Pelican.
"Perhaps he is one of Our AI." Whitey cast around, then took Miranda's elbow and guided her away from the dropship. "One of the Sangheili."
Miranda shook her head slowly. "I don't understand."
"To join the Covenant," Whitey spoke quickly, in hushed tones, "each race had to abandon all their technology, and accept their doomed existence. Then, as part of the Covenant, the technology was absorbed into our military. Sangheili, the old name for Elites, we were very advanced. Very peaceful, if the Heretics are to be believed. I believe Cronus was created by us, but I cannot prove it."
"Ma'am?" Danny called over to them. "Cortana's found us a ride in orbit. Looks like we need to get our angry faces on."
"Prepare for launch," Miranda called back. Facing Whitey once more, she laid a hand on his long, claw like fingers. "Thank you . . . can I ask what your name is?"
"Whitey," and the Elite's mandibles contorted into an open mouthed grin. "I like it."
Cronus kept most of his processes running battle simulations, but he couldn't help notice Cortana's distraction.
"A subroutine for your thoughts."
"I'm just wondering how this will turn out."
"Without your demon?"
Cortana fumed, but Cronus had returned his attention to his simulations.
Knees flexed, he landed and rolled. Reaching for a grenade on his belt, John-117 exploded forwards, sticking the blue light to the nearest Brute.
There had to be more than twenty of them, all wielding fully charged plasma pistols and all fully rested.
John had been stowing away in a hangar for the journey to earth.
The Brutes surged forwards, aiming to crush him, or anything else that stood before them.
John vaulted upwards, running on the backs of the Brutes, he leapt for the vaulted ceiling, thanking the Forerunners for building such magnificent hiding holes. His hand caught hold of a support beam when something grabbed his foot, jerking him painfully.
He kicked, straining to hold on. His fingers found his last frag grenade, unhooking the pin and dropping it downwards.
The explosion blew him and the Brute apart.
The Master Chief landed on the beam, his fingertips reaching forward to steady himself. Thumbing the radio he pulled out his battle rifle.
"Lord Hood? I'm in."