Galaxy 07 - Part 7 - Regimes
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 29 December 2003, 8:00 PM
AN: Happy new year everyone
Daxia gripped the rail with white fingers, her face showed the concentration, her rigid spine showed her fear. She turned to Cortana in the imager and took a deep breath.
"Cortana, all I need to know is . . . did we lose them?"
Cortana looked up and met Daxia's sombre gaze. "I think we both know the answer to that."
"How did they get here first?" Daxia paced the bridge of the Autumn and ran her hands through her hair.
"The Covenant ships have always been faster," Cortana said. "No one could have missed the hole we tore in subspace.
When John reached the bridge of the Truth and Reconciliation - he hesitated. The monstrosity attached to the controls looked like more than one creature had been forged in its depths.
"Don't be a fool, Chief! Leave me!" Daxia wailed as he stood before her. He could see her face, caught in a world of pain.
"Keyes, no," Cortana whispered in his ear.
The creature that had once been Daxia opened it's mouth in a silent scream.
"You know what you have to do," Cortana murmured.
John nodded. He plunged his hand into the creature . . .
. . . and into Daxia's chest. She stood before him, perfectly healthy. The waves crashed on the sand and she stared down at his bloody hand.
"Why . . . ?" she whispered. It was all she said before she crumpled to the sand of the beach.
John sat bolt upright in the bed and blinked.
Ishe' Manatee stood straighter and gave the Elite equivalent of a smile. "Daxia sent me to wake you. We are at the Halo."
"I slept that long?" John asked, still breathing heavily.
Manatee nodded. "I understand humans require a great deal of sleep. Although I thought that you were not so . . . weak . . ."
The Elite led him to the bridge, while John tried to make sense of his unusual sleeping patterns. Also the memories - some of which were not his - that kept recurring in his dreams.
"Wakey, wakey, sleepyhead," Daxia grinned at him when he entered the Bridge. She nodded to Ishe' Manatee and turned back to the readouts. "Any answers to hails?"
"Yes. Though it's fractured. It'll take me a moment to locate it," the comm officer replied.
John stepped forward, seeing the Halo spinning in space. It had been so long.
He leaned over the pilots shoulder as the Bumble Bee accelerated towards the ring.
"Don't you want to take a seat?" Cortana suggested.
"We'll be fine," he replied.
"What is that thing?" a marine demanded.
Daxia glanced behind her then readjusted the HUD on her helmet. "Hell if I know, but we're landin' on it."
The Bumble Bee kept going, burrowing a trough into the earth of the Halo. When the Chief pulled himself to his feet, he checked the pilot's stasis. She was dead.
"Are you . . . okay?" Manatee's alien tongue worked around the unfamiliar words.
"Commander, we have an audible signal," the comm officer reported.
John dismissed the Elite's concerns, listening to the voice pumped over the speakers.
"Warning. You are now entering human territories. Turn back while you still can."
"Sound like Governor Mitchel to you?" Daxia grinned at John and was confused when he didn't return it. "Okay, keep us going lieutenant. They don't have any weapons and that Halo's deactivated. Mitchel's bluffing."
"Proceeding onwards," the pilot replied.
"All hands on deck," Daxia ordered. "Get the pilots to their pods. Ishe' - you have the bridge until I'm back."
"Is that wise?" John asked as he followed her to the docking bays.
"What?" Daxia checked her hand picked landing team over. There were no Covenant on board. Not just yet. She slid into the cockpit of the Forerunner dropship.
"Leaving Manatee in charge?" John prompted, standing in the hangar with the marines.
"Let's not do this again . . . John . . ." Daxia frowned. "You're coming down to the Halo without your armour?"
"Oh . . ." John grimaced and returned to his quarters. He slid Cortana into his armour and felt the familiar coolness.
"Hmm . . ." Cortana mused. "Not running at maximum efficiency today, John. Perhaps when we return to the ship you should got to the medical bay. Your heart rate's up."
John did not reply.
Aislinn Ring had taken the blankets outside for a beating. They were strung up over twine and she hit them with a woven rush beater.
"Oh, there," her neighbour walked out from her hut and shook her head. "Aislinn, you ought to rest, so far along as you are." Mary nodded to Aislinn's swollen stomach.
"I like to keep on my feet," Aislinn replied.
"And the little one does that enough for you, I'll bet," Mary replied. Mary was one of the few sterile woman - but she was too old to mine or farm. As a result she was practically useless to the Haloers. She liked to try and help her neighbours as much as she could, and in return she wouldn't feel so unwanted. Aislinn let Mary take up beating the rugs and took Wallace for a little walk.
She and her young son toddled over the grasslands, finding themselves on one of the high, high cliffs.
"Mama! Star! Star!" Wallace jumped up and down, tugging on Aislinn's arm.
Aislinn looked up, shading her eyes from the glare of the sun. Sure enough, there was a bright blaze of light travelling through the sky. Her heart chilled and her lungs grew tight.
"Wallace, come on," she dragged her son away.
"But mama! Mama!" Wallace broke out of her grip. "I want to play!"
"Wallace!" Aislinn grabbed the little boy, pulling him roughly. "We need to go!"
"Mama!" Wallace wailed, tears rolling down his cheek. He was more frightened by her roughness than hurt by her actions, but it didn't matter. Aislinn was too terrified to notice. Coming from the sky was a ship - and she knew for a fact there were no miners coming home today.
"Is there something wrong?" Mary called as Aislinn came back over the hill. "Aislinn! Honey, you're as white as a sheet! What happened!"
"It's the -" Aislinn winced and doubled up.
"You shouldn't have run so!" Mary cried, taking Aislinn by the shoulders and leading her inside. Wallace followed, his face red and his lip trembling.
"There's a ship -" Aislinn managed, breathing heavily.
"I'm calling the midwife," Mary stood up.
Aislinn grabbed her hand. "Call the Elders. There's a ship landing on Halo."
Mary was loathe to leave the labouring woman, but this news was too important. There were no miner ships moving today. Mary knew this because the entire community would have been out to meet the Miners. The Elders had warned of this - a ship could only mean one thing: Covenant.
All the years she had been on Halo, Mary had been taught to fear the return of the Covenant. When the Great War resumed, human kind had to be ready. It was why they had to breed to produce soldiers, mine the nearby gas giants for precious ores. They needed everything they could scrape together for when the Covenant returned.
It never occurred to Mary that the Covenant were in as bad a situation as the humans.
Mary ran through the ramshackle villages that made up the human communities. The little huts were built in the protection of granite overhangs or the Forerunner caves that twisted throughout the Halo. All the official buildings, left over from when the UNSC had run the Halo, were still in the deep recesses of the interior. Mary kept running
Little Cortana was in school, not listening to another boring lecture on the importance of child care, when she saw the few marines they had march through the streets. She counted thirteen men running through the dirt tracks. That was the entire compliment of marines on Halo.
A second group of men and women ran on, this group was larger. That was the second division, self trained marines. Cortana sat up straighter, then got up from her desk and ran to the window.
"Cortana what are you - oh . . ." the teacher trailed off when she saw the marines. "Children back to your desks!" she commanded. None of them moved. "Children!"
"I have to tell mama," Cortana realized. She scurried from her teacher's grasp and bolted out from the little school building. She hesitated when she hit the bright sunlight. Her mother would want to know exactly what was happening. So really . . . Cortana ought to follow the marines. She ran, her dark hair whipping in the wind as she crossed the countryside, following the troops.
Cortana knew the terrain better then they did and she came across the ship first. Hidden in a scattering of boulders, Cortana peered out at the marine transport, a Pelican. She realized the marines were going to go into the ship and fly away.
"Mama . . . I think I'm doing the right thing," Cortana lied. She darted from her hiding place and into the Pelican. The pilot in the cockpit didn't hear her, so she crept forward and into a little cranny, hidden from sight from the marines and the pilot.
The ship groaned and lifted off the ground. She wasted her precious fuel as she flew over the surface of the Halo, into the deep, snowy canyons. Cortana shoved her fist in her mouth, determined not to make a sound as the Pelican reached the snow plains.
The Haloer Pelican landed beside a sleek, arrow shaped ship. The Pelican landed clumsily, with a metallic screech. The humans from the Forerunner ship waited out on the snow drifts, watching the Pelican's descent.
"Someone's not been looking after their ships," one of Daxia's landing crew mused.
Daxia nodded, pulling her jacket closer as it started to snow. She watched the marines pile out from the Haloer Pelican and held up her hands.
"Hold your fire, soldiers." She noted their exhaustion and thin frames. "I'm Commander Daxia Ring."
The Haloers shifted uncomfortably, looking to their sergeant. He levelled his rifle at Daxia, his face scrunched up in thought. The Chief slid forward, standing between Daxia and the sergeant's gun.
"How do we know you're really Ring?" Sarge demanded.
"And him!" The Lieutenant pointed to the MJOLNIR armour. "He might be Covenant."
"It's only been seven years," Daxia whispered. "You must remember what a Spartan looks like?"
"It's a Covenant trick!" one marine claimed. He spouted the anti-Covenant propaganda he'd learned from the Elders.
"Do I look Covenant to you?" demanded one of Daxia's team. The rest of the landing team laughed, but kept their few guns aimed at the Haloers.
Cortana crept from her hiding place and looked out at the taboo on the ice. She thought she recognized the blonde woman standing in the centre.
"Mama?" she asked.
The Master Chief's attention snapped to her, and she squeaked, scurrying back inside.
"What was that?" Daxia was startled. She brushed past the ineffective marines, Master Chief at her back. Peering into the Pelican she found what she was looking for.
"Well . . . hello there," she murmured.
"My God," the Chief whispered.
"It's Halsey," Cortana, the AI, spoke from inside the Chief's helmet.
The little girl blinked and pointed at Daxia. "You look like my mama."
"Aislinn Ring?" the Haloer lieutenant nodded. "She does at that."
"Aislinn?" Daxia asked, her voice curiously strained. She shook her head. "Take us to the Governors first."
"Elders," the little girl piped up. "They're called Elders now. Mama said you wouldn't like it."
The Haloers said that the Pelican couldn't risk another flight, but likewise they wouldn't allow Daxia to fly her ship to the Control Room. They claimed there was no fuel left to feasibly sustain the Warthogs in an emergency - so the long walk to the Control Room commenced.
Daxia's crew was escorted at gunpoint. She ordered that they go quietly, though it was clear to Daxia that her crew weren't too happy. The Chief, in particular, resented giving up his hard earned plasma rifle.
"Covenant weapon," the sergeant hissed when he took the gun. The Haloers took a fresh look at their captives and led the way through the frosty ravines. So carrying Covie weapons had been a mistake. Daxia risked a glance backwards at the Chief and got a rifle in the small of her back for her troubles.
"Hey!" Danny, one of her marines, leapt forward and was quickly brushed away.
"Leave it, soldier," Daxia snapped. Her crew hesitated, they knew they could take the Haloers. In the end they followed her orders, prompted by the guns waved at them.
They were moved through the long, snowy canyon. Daxia saw that there were people living there, housed in fragile shelters. The huts were built out of any leftover material. She saw salvaged Warthog panels making a wall and ripped down Forerunner doors being used as roofs.
"How many people are there on Halo?" she asked. They were taken down into a deep underground passage. A few civilians stared as they were led through their houses.
"Enough," the sarge snapped at her.
Daxia took in the thin faces of the people she was passing and felt a growing sense of dread. Perhaps too many for the Halo to support? She couldn't remember how many they had calculated the maximum capacity as.
"You're afraid of the Covenant," the Chief spoke for the first time.
"The Great War may resume at any moment!" A Haloer marine rapped his pistol off the Chief's armour. "You would do better to shut your mouth and take that helmet off. You look pretty Covie in that suit, mister. You're probably a spy."
"Propaganda," Daxia mused aloud. "They need something to work for."
There was a flurry of movement and they hit over the back of her head. She stumbled to the floor, but waved her own men away. "Leave it," she muttered. She shook off her blurred vision and caught sight of the little girl, standing behind one of the Haloers. The little girl who had hidden away in the Pelican, the little girl called Cortana. The little replica of Halsey was watching Daxia's fall with big, concerned eyes.
"The kid's cold," Daxia said. They had emerged back into the snowy canyon. She traipsed up an icy incline, still under heavy guard.
One of the Haloers looked to Cortana in surprise, then shrugged. "What's your point? She shouldn't have sneaked onboard. We must work together as a team, each human doing their part to survive."
"I see." Daxia got to the top and shrugged her jacket off. She tossed it to the girl and folded her arms, trusting to her UNSC poloneck to keep her warm. She felt the biting cold instantly.
Cortana pulled the jacket over her shoulders hungrily, feeding on it's warmth. "Thanks," she whispered.
Daxia winked at her and kept on moving.
"That little girl is definitely Halsey's," AI Cortana said. She had shut off external speakers and was now holding a private conversation with John.
"A breeding program?"
"It's a contingency plan the Governors had. The Haloers must be using the few remaining ships to take miners out to the gas giants. The mining operations were started before the Halos went off - you remember, right?"
"I do." The Master Chief sighed when he saw the pyramid structure ahead of them. They were crossing the long stone bridge. He knew he would have been able to get down from the bridge himself, but better to follow the game for a little while longer.
"I imagine they're using the Covenant as a way to keep the people motivated. I do wonder though, if the power has gone to the heads of people like Mitchel."
"They thought they were alone out here," the Chief said. "The last of humanity."
"We thought the same," Cortana replied sagely. "You and Daxia didn't start a regime."
When they finally reached the top of the pyramid the Master Chief had seen all he needed to. He did not like what was happening on Halo. Daxia shivered, looking a little blue around the edges until they opened the door.
"My, God," she whispered. The corridor leading to the Control Room was lined with beggars. The Haloer marines kicked their way forwards, brushing them aside.
Little Cortana clung to Daxia's hand as they passed. It was clear to the Chief that she was scared of the beggars.
"Who are these people?" Daxia asked.
"Those who can't work," Sarge retorted. He sniffed in disgust and pointed out a crippled young man. "Hurt in accidents - or wrong in the head . . . either way, they can't farm and they don't earn rations. They do what they can."
"This is barbaric," Daxia muttered.
The Sarge spun at her words and the Chief lunged forward. He blocked the vicious swipe, but stayed silent and motionless after that. Daxia walked onwards, as if the incident hadn't happened. With an unseen smirk, the Chief followed.
The final doors to the Control Room opened and Daxia's team were escorted inside.
The circular platform was lined with chairs and the Elders stood, clasping their hands in front of them.
"These are the Offworlders?" asked a female. The Chief recognized her as Governor Green. Elder Green.
"Yes, Elder," the Sarge bowed his head. "This one claims to be Daxia Ring."
Daxia was shoved forward.
"Why is Cortana here?" Elder Mitchel stepped forward and grabbed the little girl's arm.
"I'm sorry, Elder! I was playing hide and seek and I . . . hid in the Pelican . . ." it was the best Cortana could think of at such short notice.
"Are you Daxia Ring?" Elder Green asked. Her head tipped to the side, watching Daxia like a hawk.
"I am." Daxia brushed some snow off her shoulders and saluted. "Commander Daxia Ring, reporting for duty."
"Interesting . . ." Elder Green did not look pleased.
"As I suspected," AI Cortana murmured in John's head. "They are power mad. They don't like Daxia. This is a military situation and she overrules them. And I know Dax knows that."
The Chief was silent.
"Daxia," Mitchel said smoothly. He stood in front of her and put a comforting arm over her shoulders. "You're very cold. Why don't you . . ."
"No." Daxia pulled away and gave him a polite smile. "Don't you want to know where we've been?" she asked incredulously.
"Your marines will be most welcome," Elder Green began.
"Chief - show them what we have," Daxia ordered.
The Haloer marines broke forward, but they were quickly subdued by Daxia's landing crew. The Chief ran forward, his shield deflecting any bullets or plasma bursts. He slid the Cortana chip from his head and into the Control Panel.
"Feels good to be home!"
A full sized visage of Cortana exploded into life. Rainbow colours glittered on her holographic skin as she took in the feed of information. "They have no mass communication system," Cortana sounded surprised, and a little disappointed. "Basically - Halo is ruled by the Elders. And enforced by the marines . . . interesting . . . I've found the communications to the mining colonies on the gas giant's moons."
"Cortana you have control of Halo?" Daxia asked. She stooped to pick up a dropped plasma rifle and nodded to her crew. "Round up the Elders and these marines. Elder Green, is this your entire compliment of marines?"
"It is," Cortana answered for them, her holographic skin glowing blue. "Commander Ring, you are now in full control of Halo."
"Excellent." Daxia smiled. "There's some work to be done I think."
"Have you found Cortana yet?" Aislinn demanded when Mary came back into her room.
Mary shook her grey head, her face creased in worry. "I'm sure the girl's not far. But Aislinn, there's a lot of rumours going on."
"But Cortana!" Aislinn wailed. "Where's my baby?"
"We haven't found her yet, Aislinn." Mary glanced at the midwife. "How's the new baby?"
"He's fine." Claire, the midwife, lifted Aislinn's newest son from his cradle and let Mary see. "Aislinn's a little . . . distracted at the moment. I gave her something to help her sleep. It should take effect soon, but the labour was difficult. She's not doing well." The Midwife rocked the little boy and gazed down at Aislinn's pale face.
"What are these rumours?" Claire asked. They'd moved out of Aislinn's bedroom and into the excuse for a living area. Little Wallace was playing with some brightly painted stones.
Mary lit the little paraffin hob and set the metal kettle on it. "Tea?"
"Yes please," Claire replied.
"The people in the village are saying that the Offworlders were human," Mary confided. She spoke in whispers, so as not to invite demons into their conversation. Claire's eyes widened, but she said nothing, simply rocked the little baby.
"They're saying that the humans were taken to the Elders . . ." Mary's voice dropped so low Claire had to strain to hear it. "And that they took over."
"Do you think it's true?" Claire asked.
"I don't know," Mary replied. She sipped the tea she'd made and looked out at the starry, night sky. With a regretful sigh she set the cup down again. "I'm going to look for 'Tana again."
"Careful out there," Claire warned.
Before Mary could get the door, someone knocked on it. The two women shared a worried look and Mary pried it open.
"Is this Aislinn Ring's house?" a tall, dark, handsome stranger asked.
Mary nodded mutely and the insanely tall man walked in. He carried little Cortana in his arms, she was sleeping quietly. Following him was a woman bearing such a strong resemblance to Aislinn it was uncanny.
"Cortana!" Mary breathed, taking the child from the man's arms. "Where did you find her . . . who are you?"
Claire and Mary backed away, pulling Warren with them.
Daxia Ring heaved an exhausted sigh and extended her hand. "I'm Commander Ring, this is John-117. We're here to see Aislinn?"
"Yes, but who are you?" Claire persisted.
Daxia ran a hand through her blonde hair. "We . . . we're Offworlders. Now let me see my sister."
Silently, Claire and Mary relented.