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The Iron Hands of the Prophets (Part 3): Eden
Posted By: MadJackal
Date: 6 March 2004, 4:52 AM

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The Crusade (2532 by the Human Military Calendar)/
Aboard the warship Invisible Truth en route to Eden

      Soka Summakee walked up to the doors of the brig and nodded to the guard. The doors slid open and Soka stepped inside. The Prophet Ronu was locked up in here. For almost the entire trip through Slipspace so far, Ronu had been spewing curses about how the gods would damn all of their souls and bar them from paradise. In order to preserve moral, Soka had ordered all the guards to leave the inside of the room and made sure that there were no prisoners in the same cell block so that none of them could be turned against him.
      The prisoners were still neutral and could be convinced to turn to their side. Many had volunteered already. Through constant explaining and persuading, more than eighty percent of the crew and its contingent of troops had already sworn allegiance to the Iron Hand cause. Soka himself had managed to convince his friend, Ship Master Ruka to join him. Ruka had been very uneasy about it, but in the end, he seemed to agree as well. The others stubbornly refused to join a band of "dark caste scum" and "rebel bandits." That was too bad. Once they reached Eden, those who would not turn would have to die. They could not afford to lug prisoners with them everywhere. Even if they did turn, they most likely would not be completely devoted to the cause. They could not afford that either.
      Soka waited for the doors to close and then he stepped up to the shimmering energy barrier that kept Ronu locked up in his cell. The second Ronu saw him, he started yelling curses and threats, laden with references to the wrath of the gods. Soka waited patiently for the Prophet to stop, and when he did not, Soka summoned his most threatening, most frightening voice and growled the words, "Shut up, or you will die."
      The Prophet stopped in mid-sentence. He then asked, "Who are you? Why are you doing this? The gods will curse you in eternity for this!"
      "No, Ronu, they will not. I do not go against the gods, I serve them. I merely go against those who would bend the will of the gods for their own purposes. In other words, I go against corrupt Prophets like you, Ronu."
      The Prophet started to curse again, but one look from Soka stopped him. "As for who I am, I am Soka Summakee, the only living descendent of Sritha Summakee, commander of the Iron Hands."
      The Prophet's eyes widened in disbelief. "That is not possible. No, it can't be. We destroyed the Iron Hands! We killed them and all of their kin!"
      "Wrong, Ronu. Somehow, my ancestors survived, hiding behind the name Nomee. We fooled you, and now, here I stand, a direct descendent of Sritha himself."
      "I refuse to believe it. I need evidence," Ronu said, turning his head.
      "Fine," Soka said.
      Calling over his personal communications channel, Soka ordered, "Srikk, bring me my DNA sample."
      After a few units, the doors slid open and a Jackal rushed in, handing a vial to Soka. The Jackal bowed and went back out.
      "What is that?" Ronu asked.
      "This is a sample of my DNA. I am quite curious, Ronu. Perhaps you have the data that was wiped from the databases on your own computer terminal. If you really want to make sure, you can check this blood and see exactly how closely I match Sritha's DNA.
      Ronu stared at the vial and then looked at Soka. "I do have the data. In fact, I have the genetic records of every Iron Hand soldier in my personal database. I also have the history of the coup. Only we Prophets have access to that information. I am curious as well, Soka. But tell me, how did you find out about all of this? How did you learn of the Iron Hands?"
      "When information cannot be spread through databases, it can be spread through spoken words. What the Prophets did has passed down from father to son through the generations, Ronu."
      "But how can you be sure?" Ronu asked.
      "I can't. But even if I am not truly a Summakee, my devotion to the Iron Hand cause will not lessen."
      "I don't have to cooperate with you. I don't have to tell you the passwords into my database."
      "Even if you didn't, Noka has acquired a brand new AI that can crack those codes. He is very efficient at it. Or, failing that, I could torture it out of you."
      Ronu turned pale and quivered with rage. Soka laughed and the mocking sound echoed off of the walls in the dark cell block. "Do you still want to confirm my lineage?" Soka said.
      "Yes. Take me to my quarters and I will get the information."
      "Good, Ronu. Maybe there is still some hope for you."

      Keta, a brand new Covenant AI, equipped with the best that the Covenant had been able to come up with for his construction, sat hidden in the Invisible Truth's mainframe, observing the things happening in the ship. Field Master Noka had helped in his programming and had managed to make sure that Keta would not feel enraged over the rebellion. Instead, his ethics drive had been secretly altered in a way that he would actually support the rebellion. Keta, when displayed in a holographic panel, assumed the form of an Elite in black armor.
      He was in the middle of searching through the Prophet's database, trying to find the history of the Iron Hands, when the Prophet entered the room with Soka and a few guards and Engineers. Keta withdrew from the Prophet's database and watched what was happening through a hidden surveillance unit.
      The Prophet sat down in front of the computer terminal under the watchful eyes of the guards. He entered the database and started bringing up the information related to the Iron Hands. First, he brought up the genetic information of Sritha Summakee, which Soka then uploaded onto a disk. He handed the disk to one of the Engineers. The Engineer accepted the disk and departed, followed by the rest of the Engineers and two Elite guards. Soka then uploaded all of the information on the Iron Hands onto another disk. He kept this one.
      Keta noticed that Soka was speaking to the Prophet. He listened in. "We still respect the holiness of your position, Ronu. We will not force you to reveal to us the secrets that are contained on that database. Let me remind you that we are here to eliminate corruptness in the Prophets, not to ruin all of them. I will lock this room until we need it again. No one shall enter, and our AI will not interfere. Guards, take Ronu back to his cell. If he tries anything foolish, kill him." Soka said.
      They all left the room. The door locked behind them. If Keta really wanted to, he could find out everything on that database. Well, maybe not everything, as some secrets were so protected that not even his own hacking ability could allow him to see it. And to disobey the leader of the rebellion would go against his ethics engine's programming. So Keta erased all of the information that he had already found and turned his attention from the Prophet's quarters. He would not look again unless Soka himself gave him approval.

      The Engineers soon came back with the results of the DNA test. It was very close. He showed the same genetic markers that Sritha had, plus a few others inherited from his mother and others. There was no question about his lineage now. He was a Summakee. Soka proudly displayed this before Ronu, but the Prophet remained silent. Soka saw fear and horror in his eyes, despite the Prophet's silence. Ronu knew now who he was dealing with and was afraid. To Ronu, the Iron Hands represented evil, and to be talking to a direct descendant of their commander was the equivalent of speaking with a demon.
      Soka did not care. Now he was sure of his legitimacy at the head of the rebellion. Everyone aboard was told as the message was broadcast throughout the ship. The message was greeted by a mixture of cheers from the rebels and curses from the ones still loyal to the Prophets. Ronu sat still, silent.
      A call came for Soka over the battlenet. It was Ship Master Ruka. "Soka, we are about to exit Slipspace."
      "Thank you, my friend," Soka answered. He rushed to the bridge to catch his first glimpse of Eden. The screens were blank as there was nothing to see outside in Slipspace. Suddenly, they snapped to the blackness of normal space, broken only by the light from a multitude of stars. In the middle of the central screen was Eden.
      It looked just like many of the human worlds that Soka had been involved in conquering. He could see oceans and landmasses, clouds and storms. A closer look revealed mountain chains. Noka walked onto the bridge. Seeing the screen, he nodded. "That's it. Eden. The place where the Iron Hands made their last stand."
      "I'm taking my 17th SOCAST with me to the surface. Noka, Ruka, you can come with me if you like. We're going to land and explore the ruins of the base." Soka said.
      He sent out a call for all members of his Combined Arms Strike Team to assemble in preparation for a drop on a potentially hot LZ. All over the ship, members of the 17th stormed the armories, donning the black armor of the Special Forces and loading up on ammunition, weapons, and grenades. Within fifteen units, the entire SOCAST was ready and standing at attention in front of their Phantom dropships. They would follow their commander into hell if he required it of them.
      Soka had chosen to bring them down with him for many reasons. First, they were the unit that he was technically in command of and they trusted him as their commander. Second, they were the best military unit on the ship. Noka was in command of a mere CAST, which could not compete with a Special Operations Team. The other troops on board, though good, would not hold under extreme combat conditions like the 17th could. Nicknamed the Infidel Stompers, the 17th were to be his personal bodyguards through whatever destiny awaited him. They would be his Iron Hands.
      Soka, accompanied by Ship Master Ruka and Field Master Noka, made his way to the bay and ordered his troops to board their dropships. After they were all strapped in and ready to go, Soka secured himself in one of the Phantoms. He looked around him in the cramped quarters of the dropship and saw the motionless black armored Elites and Grunts on both sides of him. They looked sinister and threatening in the darkness of the Phantom's interior. But then again, that was what the black armor was supposed to convey.
      The Phantom lifted off and flew out of the bay, followed by five other Phantoms. Soka himself carried no weapon except for his sword. He had decided not to bring a conventional weapon. His own armor was black, just like the other Elites, instead of the customary gold armor that signified his rank. Special Forces field commanders could opt for either color. The only thing that could be used to tell him apart from the other Elites under his command was the rank symbol on the back of his armor.
      Soka closed his eyes and waited. He was taking no chances in his arrival on Eden. Abandoned for three hundred years, no Covenant ship ventured into the Eden system. Rumors of cursed spirits and angry demons filled the Covenant Navy. Only bandits and dark caste members ventured into the system in order to hide from justice. Occasionally, a Covenant ship did enter the system to chase bandits who fled here, but they always left as soon as they could, and no one dared to land on the surface. The members of the dark caste were not friendly and would not respond well to an apparent Covenant invasion. They would view the Cruiser in orbit and an entire Special Operations Combined Arms Strike Team as a Seeker group intending to wipe them from existence.
      Soka was worried about engaging in a battle with them, if they were here at all. He might be able to enlist them into his ranks. Though disgraced and dishonored, members of the dark caste would make fearsome warriors. They were not bound by a code of honor, and saw nothing dishonorable in trickery, deceit, and betrayal if it meant survival. If they were willing to join his cause, Soka would gladly accept them, but if they were trouble, or if they showed signs of betraying him, he would smash them. Though capable warriors, the dark caste never could quite match fully equipped Covenant soldiers.

The Crusade (2532 by the Human Military Calendar)/
On the surface of Eden, above the underground Fortress Dark Horizon

      An Elite crouched behind a rock, staring into the sky. They knew that the Covenant were coming. This could signal the end for the dark caste on Eden. But they would not go without a fight. The Elite wore battered blue armor. His shields no longer worked and the dark caste members here did not have the resources or the Engineers to repair their equipment. He held a plasma rifle, but it was poorly maintained. Scratched and even dented, the weapon still worked, but was nearing the end of its operational lifetime.
      As the Elite looked into the sky, he noticed the shapes of six Covenant dropships as they neared his position. "Here they come!" he yelled.
      The comm. system in his armor did not work either. He slowly ducked farther down behind cover and waited with forty other dark caste members to ambush the Covenant. They could not hope to stop that many Covenant soldiers, but they would sell themselves as dearly as they could while the rest of the dark caste soldiers prepared Fortress Dark Horizon's defenses. The fortress had once belonged to a military group and a huge battle had been fought there, but the Elite did not know who had once fought here and did not care. What he did care about was preventing his own extinction.

      Soka felt the dropship flare to a stop and start to descend. "You are sure that this is where the fortress is supposed to be?" he asked Noka over the comm. channels.
      "Almost one hundred percent sure, Soka. There is a lot of wreckage and destruction in this area, but not on other places on the planet. This is where the battle was fought. The fortress is somewhere nearby."
      The door to the troop compartment opened and Soka quickly unhooked his harness. The others did the same and together, they leapt from the Phantom and scattered, taking up cover in the rocks. After everyone had dropped, the Phantoms lifted off and started to circle the area, ready to provide covering fire at a moment's notice.
      Soka searched for movement. There was nothing. The wrecks of ancient vehicles that had long been considered obsolete by the Covenant littered the mountainside. Craters decorated the landscape. But there was no sign of life.
      "Let's move out, Stompers!" Soka signaled.
      The 17th moved from cover and began to fan out, exploring the LZ. They would start to search the mountainside once the LZ was secure. Soka activated his plasma sword. It burst into life, filling the air with its energy. All they had to do now was find the fortress.

      The dark caste Elite raised his head just enough so that he could see the enemy. In the center of their formation was a black armored Elite with a plasma sword. It was obvious that he was the commander. In fact, all of them except for two wore the black armor of the Special Forces. Special Ops presence on Eden was a bad sign for the dark caste. But, perhaps he could regain his long lost honor by dying here valiantly on the field of battle. The more he thought about it, the more the dark caste Elite liked the idea. Raising his plasma rifle and aiming it at the enemy commander, the Elite burst from cover, his weapon blazing.

To Be Continued