Parcel o' Rogues - Part Four - High Sacrilege
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 22 December 2004, 11:23 PM
Parcel o' Rogues
Click - Hiss
He scrabbled to consciousness as the cocoon was broken.
"Finally," the mandible twitched in amusement. "I had thought the demon dead." The Elite rocked back on its heels, watching the Spartan with good humour. A grey hand reached out to push him down. "You are very hurt. Please . . . stay still. I will not hurt you."
John flinched, muscles crying out as he did so. A tooth knocked loose from its fragile hold on his gums and dribbled out his bruised lips.
"You are very hurt," the Elite cocked its head. "Perhaps too wounded," it stood, swaying slightly.
"Don't . . ." The words rasped off his throat, speaking was more difficult than he had thought.
Kneeling down again, the Elite pressed closer. The long fingers brushed at the blood on his face.
"Write . . . me off . . . just yet . . ."
The Arbiter slurped the pre-digested, mucus covered worms with relish.
"That's disgusting," Kate told him, averting her gaze.
Whitey laughed, thumping the table. "What did Doctor Coltrain say? Incompatible with your physiology!" He lifted the oddly shaped bowl to his mandibles and slurped.
"And that's not polite!" Sarge snorted. He bit off a chunk of his emergency rations and chewed.
Mark gulped, pushing away from the table. "I feel sick. How can you eat, sir?"
"Gotta eat sometime."
Whitey set the martini-glass bowl down. "That you remove food from the vessel, I have seen good warriors killed for such an insult."
Sarge grinned, showing all his teeth as he bit another hunk off the bar.
"I'm going for a walk," Mark stood, hurrying from the Covenant mess hall, looking very green.
"Poor boy," Whitey remarked.
"Hmm," Kate shifted along the bench for Gah-Jin to sit with her. "And - er - your food nipple was good, I trust?"
The Grunt bounced on his seat, gurgling oddly.
"He did," the Arbiter confirmed. Finished with his meal, he set the bowl down, having licked the mucus clean. "We have little time before we reach Earth. Perhaps you should rest?"
Kate shrugged. "Not tired."
The Arbiter inclined his head. "If I may take my leave of you now, I require sleep."
"Sleep is for the weak," Sarge grunted. "No offence, Arby!" he added as the towering Elite turned on him.
Whitey laughed. "I shall teach you Jaheijagaj! Gah-Jin, fetch my playing board!"
At the prospect of watching a competitive board game between two mortal enemies, Kate decided to follow the Arbiter after all.
"Have you found secure quarters yet?" he asked her, benevolent gaze watching her little running steps she needed to keep up with him.
Kate nodded. "Yes, I have." She laid a hand on his arm. "Can you slow up a bit?"
The Arbiter did so, taking small strides and still noting that she was hurrying.
"You remind me of someone I once knew," he told her.
Kate glanced up inquiringly. "Who? I hope it's not a Prophet," she added with a grin. Hesitating, she glanced at the corridor they were in. "I think this is where I was assigned to . . ."
The Arbiter stepped forward and opened the door, eyeing the sparse room. The only other occupant was Danny Coltrain, spread out on his cot and sound asleep.
"Hmm, sleeping like a baby," Kate smiled. Turning back to the Elite she pulled off her jacket, grabbing her pack from the cot to her right. "Well, who do I remind you of?"
Silence followed her question as the Arbiter thought back. "She is now dead. At least I hope, for her sake, she is dead."
Kate sat slowly, watching him.
"My failure," the Arbiter's fists clenched, his voice cracking. "My daughter. You remind me of my youngest daughter; Saia' Nyahasea."
"She's dead . . . at best?" Kate repeated, a hand settling on her stomach to still the queasiness she felt.
The Arbiter bowed his head. "I hope she was allowed a swift, painless death. My heresy tainted my entire family. My mate's family would have done what was kindest to avoid her the shame of being a Heretics child. Nyahasea was still young enough to escape the Shame."
There wasn't anything to say about that. Kate didn't think she could speak, even if she had words.
"I won't fail you," the Arbiter murmured, turning heel and leaving the room.
Kate waited for what seemed like forever before she pulled her jacket on and left her quarters. She had feigned doubt before, but she knew the Covenant ship intimately. The doors to the brig opened and she entered, steeling herself.
Cronus felt the flutter. AI didn't sleep, but Cortana was on downtime, analysing her systems. He didn't want to disturb her, fairly she sure she hadn't noticed the odd tremour in the systems.
I'll find you yet, he watched the blip grow before it eliminated itself, fading to normality.
"Something wrong?" Cortana's 'voice' was muffled, distracted.
"Mind your own subroutines," he chided, marking the glitch and moving on.
John-117 huddled in the corner of the little ship, blankets tucked around his battered body.
He had no idea where he was, no thoughts about where to go. He hurt everywhere.
The Elite, the female Elite had left a long time ago. John assumed the ship had landed. If he could, he would make a break for it.
It was possible she was returning with reinforcements.
His gut told him that wasn't the case.
"Demon?" The airlock hissed open and John caught a glimpse of a rainforest outside, before it snapped shut once more.
"You still breathe," she approved. She crouched, spreading a pack of marine supplies on the deck.
"Where . . . ?" he croaked, visions of dead marines for his medkit flashed before his eyes.
She chortled and held a up a placating hand. "Do not worry, no humans were harmed in the retrieval of this kit. We have landed on Earth. The Prophets are looking for the Ark and I believe we must stop them."
She stood, her limbs unfolding as she turned back to the airlock. The light the flooded in framed her silhouette and John could see subtle differences. The chest muscles were less well developed as in other Elites, the limbs longer, but the neck slightly stinted. Overall, John would have put his odds on a trained female over the trained males he'd faced. Still, her every movement showed how little she knew about tactics and warfare.
"You shouldn't turn your back," he murmured.
She glanced at him, her mandibles conforming in what he judged to be a smile. "My mate told me that."
"He was right." John crouched, wincing, his hand grabbed the kit and he pulled it close, exhausted through the effort.
"I think he is dead, and you are my only hope." She turned back to face the sunshine. "All Arbiters die."
The Chief touched the morphine spray to his skin, feeling the gentle waves creep over him. The pain didn't recede, but he no longer cared about it. The Elite in front of him was still there, but she was okay. He could trust her.
It didn't take long for his cybernetic enhancements to kick in, filtering out the effects of the morphine. The respite gave him enough time to realign some bones and begin the uncomfortable task of splinting, but some things had to be done.
Like what he was about to do.
She was still watching the wildlife outside, partially turned to face him.
He had given fair warning.
Oh it was agony. He collided with her, sending both of them to the shaded dirt under the gangway. He rolled on top, crushing her windpipe with one hand.
"Who are you?" he growled.
Those long limbs scrabbled, nearly dislodging him. If she had been able to continue, she would have done him serious harm. He gripped her throat tighter, his newly knitting bones being jerked out of place.
She clawed at his hand, her strength fading.
"Tell me, damn it!"
"Saia' Jalahass," she croaked, her eyes rolling.
John slackened his grip. "What do you want with me?"
Saia' Jalahass met his glare, looking unflinchingly into the eyes of death. "I want your help. To stop Truth."
Sliding off, the Chief felt the dirt under his skin. It had been baked warm by the heat of the cooling engines.
With a shake of her long neck, Saia' Jalahass slid further away from him, but she did not try to escape, or retaliate. "Truth will kill us all."
"What about your 'Great Journey'?"
"Hah," she choked on the laugh. "I am a High Priestess of the Sangheili Council." She stiffened, glowering at him. "I have been branded a Heretic and imprisoned for mistakes that were not mine, my children slaughtered for another example. I will not believe in any benevolent Gods who will not have my innocents borne on their divine wind."
"You'll forgive my scepticism."
"Demon," she snarled, bolting for the hatch. The kit came flying out before the hydraulics hissed closed.
"Hi," Mark smiled when he saw Kate in the control room. "I thought you'd be getting some sleep."
Kate grinned. "I kept dreaming of Worm Cocktail."
"Oh, God, don't . . ." Mark shuddered. "Disgusting."
"Shut up!" Graeme exclaimed. "I'm starving!"
"Then why don't you go get something to eat?" Mark asked.
Graeme rolled his eyes, scrubbing at the stubble on his face. "I'm waiting for the results of a test to come back, I said I'd meet Sarge here with the results."
Kate raised an eyebrow. "He's not pregnant I hope . . . well he and Whitey are getting really close!" she exclaimed when Mark choked with cackles.
"No," Graeme shook his head, smiling. "No, he's not pregnant. Or if he is, he hasn't told me. I'm following up on his condition."
Mark and Kate shared similar blank look.
Graeme tapped a finger to his lips. "Any more and I'd have to kill you."
"Hmm," Kate smiled. "Patient-Doctor confidentiality?" Possibly the most frustrating code ever invented . . .
"Got it in one," Graeme replied. "And here's the man now!"
Sarge grinned as he entered. "Looks like I'm popular!"
"Would you like to go somewhere more private, sir? I don't have a sickbay as such . . ."
"Here's absolutely fine, son," Sarge folded his arms. "Do I have a clean bill of health?"
Graeme nodded, pulling a file up on the display.
Kate slipped closer, peering at it. "Boren's Syndrome?" she repeated.
Cronus flickered into view on the pedestal. "Interesting," he commented. "And this is private," he angled the display so Kate couldn't see.
"Sorry," Kate blushed, bowing her head to Johnson.
"Don't worry about it," the marine waved the little faux pas away. "It's just my little invincibility."
"Your . . . invincibility?"
"Flood don't like the taste of me," Johnson stretched. "We nearly there, yet Cronus?"
"Nearly," Cronus smiled. "Cortana's making some adjustments to our course first. We derived a new protocol," he added smugly.
"You must be so proud," Sarge drawled.
"I am well versed in sarcasm, Avery."
Kate let the others squabble, retreating from the control room. Boren's Syndrome sounded very interesting indeed.
"Hello," a high pitch voiced intruded on her thoughts.
"343 Guilty Spark," she acknowledged. 'Oracle' was a better term, she thought absently.
"I'm curious, what are you planning to do once we reach Earth?"
Kate paused in the corridor, looking up at him. "What do you mean?"
"Will you return to your kind after you have helped the reclaimers?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Hmm, you are very odd," the little blue orb pulsed, then floated away, humming to itself.
I stood before her, just one in a long line.
Solitude paced in front of us. He never liked to use the chair, preferring his weak legs and to make us stoop to see him. I thought it insulting that I, a mighty warrior, must cow myself before the Prophet. Youth is Arrogance.
Later, Solitude would become an ally, and I would be the one to rescue his fleet when they got into trouble with a large nebula . . . that time was not now.
She was wearing azure robes, so long and shapeless that they hid her form. Her helmet showed the representation of the Sacred Ring, and while Soltitude droned on about the bravery and cunning of our warriors, she watched me.
Solitude turned to the Priestesses behind him. "These fine Sangheili stand before you now for your blessings. What say you?"
"Ah," the oldest Priestess began, stepping forward to greet his Excellency. Her hand rested on his gold armour.
One day, I vowed I would wear that gold armour. Scarlet suited me, the darkest colours of a sunset, but I wanted more to bear with me on my Great Journey.
"The Forerunner bless you, and they watch over you. I am sure that one among you will find our Sacred Rings."
A bold statement, I had thought.
"Indeed," she stepped forward, approaching me.
I barely dared breathe.
She leaned closer, resting her forehead on mine, a formal, yet extremely intimate gesture. "The Forerunners see great things for you. Your Journey will lead us all, Excellency."
My chest swelled with pride and my newly won scarlet armour seemed to glow a little more. Awarded the title 'Excellency' by a High Priestess, even a junior one, was an honour few would ever earn.
Solitude approached, his jowls flapping in amusement. "And what else do they tell you, Saia' Jalahass?"
The Priestess was close and I could smell the polish off the helmet, the soft scents of the convent around her.
"They do not wish to tell me, but I sense a great honour in his future, and my own . . ."
Looking back I wonder why I did not see the ease with which she played with my faith. Flesh. Faith. Delusion. These are my crimes.
The Prophet was nodding and he reached for my hand. "His honour is greatly won, Priestess. We award him to you, the dowry to be paid by us accordingly to your family.
Saia' Jalahass looked me over, critical eye taking in every inch of me.
"I accept," she nodded graciously.
Her reward was my blood spilled. And though I saw the great beauty beneath, already I was in fear of the mind that lay below.
When first branded and left to burn, my thoughts were of the High Priestess, watching from her tower. By rights, it should have been her. I was never less than absolute in my beliefs, while she flirted with heresy so often.
"Why, so close to death, do you joke?"
"And why, so close to the Gods, do you blasphemy?"
Arguments and debates I should not have had with any dutiful mate. Society rests on the good will of the partnership, to produce sons to fight and daughters to inherit and pass on the genetic code.
Starting awake, the Arbiter found himself clutching the Mark of Shame on his breast.
"Saia'," he murmured. The pain of loss burned into the mark, far worse than any heresy ever could.
John was awake when he heard the slightest sound.
Saia' Jalahass stepped towards him, reluctant, but determined nontheless. "We must speak further, Demon."
"Call me John," he stood and extended a hand. "Saia' Jalahass."
She took his hand in both of hers. "I would have given you the strongest blessing I knew, if you had been in my charge as a Priestess. In you I sense a great ability. You may free my people."