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The Iron Hands of the Prophets (Part 6): Turning Back
Posted By: MadJackal
Date: 28 March 2004, 2:32 AM

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The Crusade (2532 by the Human Military Calendar)/
Fortress Dark Horizon, Eden

      Deep within the mountains of Eden, Soka Summakee walked through the halls of Fortress Dark Horizon with his friend, Ship Master Ruka Ronee. They passed by Soka's troops who were also walking the halls, admiring the ancient beauty of the fortress. Soka's eyes fell on the ancient corpses that littered the hallways. He could have ordered everyone to clear the fortress and the mountainside of the skeleton-filled pieces of armor, but he decided that he would leave them there as a warning to anyone who dared to attack Fortress Dark Horizon.
      The Covenant would come eventually. He knew that. And when they did, he would play off of their fear of the rumored restless spirits that seemed to inhabit the halls of the fortress. Many of the rumors were true. Soka had heard the moaning and the sudden gusts of wind, but he knew it to be nothing more than the wind. The halls were designed to give that kind of effect. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the Covenant army had abandoned Eden so quickly after destroying the Iron Hands that they hadn't even had time to bury the bodies.
      Ruka spoke up, "We need an orbital repair yard if we ever plan to get the Path of Righteousness in any shape for battle."
      The Path of Righteousness was the dark caste frigate that they had saved from sure annihilation at the hands of the Cruiser Sword of Light, which was now also under their control.
      "Actually, there is an orbital repair dock at Ambient Light," Soka said.
      "Are you thinking of capturing it?"
      "Yes. There is a good chance that if we capture the station, there will be one or two warships that will be helpless in the docks. We could double the strength of our fleet in one strike, and who knows how many we might be able to enlist into our ranks from the crews."
      They went on talking about their plans for the building of their army until they reached a hallway that seemed to be a dead end. Soka was about to turn around when he noticed that there were no corpses here. Walking deeper into the hallway, he came to the end. It was a wall covered with complex geometric patterns. Ruka followed him. "What is it?" he asked.
      "There are no bodies here," Soka answered.
      Soka ran his fingers along the stone when he discovered that there was a break in the wall. Following the line with his fingers, he realized that it formed the shape of a door. He pushed on it, but it did not budge. Looking around, he saw a similar line on the wall to his right, forming a hand-sized rectangle. Wondering if it was some sort of panel, Soka placed his hand on it and pressed. The panel gave way and the doors swung open.
      Soka and Ruka looked at each other with quizzical expressions and they walked inside. It was very dark. Soka pulled out his plasma sword and activated it. He held it high above his head for illumination. Ruka did the same with his own sword. They walked deeper into the room. It was long, like a hallway. But there was something different. On either side of the hallway were suits of armor. Iron Hand armor. Moving closer to one of the suits of armor, Soka saw that these pieces were in perfect condition, unlike the battered hulks that littered the hallways. They had not been touched for three hundred years. They were obviously obsolete. But something caught his attention. The symbol of the Iron Hands was emblazoned on the right chest plate of every piece of armor. Since the Iron Hands had been a unit comprised entirely of Elites, there were no suits of armor for Grunts, Jackals, or Hunters.
      As they moved to the back of the room, they noticed that every other niche was empty. It seemed that each Iron Hand soldier had two sets of armor so that they would always have a spare. They got to the very end of the long hallway. Against the back wall were four niches for armor. Three were occupied. The fourth was not. The armor sitting in the niches was black. He recognized that armor. It was identical to the armor of the warrior that lay on top of the tattered Iron Hands banner in the shrine. "Sritha's armor!" Soka whispered.
      Looking up, they saw another banner. This one was untouched. Though old, it had retained its shine. In front of them glowed the armored fist of the Iron Hands. "I am going to have the Engineers fix up all of the 17th SOCAST's armor to have this symbol on it, just like the armor we see here," Soka said.
      "Let's get the Engineers to rig up some lighting in here and we can let the others see it." Ruka suggested.
      "Yes. We shall do that."
      The friends walked out of the chamber.

      In space around Eden, the Covenant had placed several spy drones that were meant to collect reports from Covenant patrols that passed through occasionally. The Prophets had put several in the vicinity of Eden so that ships could report on any strange activity in the system if they happened to be there. The drones would relay the reports all the way back to High Charity, a Covenant holy city known as the Sanctum of the Hierarchs. The Prophets had not forgotten the events that had transpired on Eden three hundred years ago.
      From the surface of Eden, a burst transmission was sent into space. It was intercepted by the spy drones, which then transmitted the message via a hyper pulse generator built into them, sending the message to the next nearest system. The message thus traveled from system to system at an astonishing speed, and in a few minutes, it would reach High Charity.
      An alarm went off on the bridge of the captured Cruiser Sword of Light. Ship Master Palma asked his AI what was wrong. The AI quickly decoded the message and displayed it on the screen before him. It read: 'The Iron Hands live again on Eden. The threat they pose grows greater by the day. They have two Prophets as hostage. High and mighty Prophets, keepers of the words of the gods, save the Covenant Hegemony from this cancer before it spreads any further!'
      Palma stared at the message in disbelief. He turned to the hologram of his AI. "Where did this message come from?"
      "The planet, Ship Master."
      "Triangulate its exact position with the other ships," Palma ordered.
      "It came from the fortress."
      "The fortress? How is this possible? There must be a traitor down there!"
      The AI laughed, "Are we all not traitors, Ship Master?"
      Palma would have rebuked the AI, but all he could do was stare. Palma could not bring himself to answer that question, and that fact chilled him to the bone. He spun on his heels and stormed off of the bridge.

      Soka Summakee sat in the shrine, fuming over this recent turn of events. The Prophets knew about them now and would send all the troops that they could spare to crush them. Soka knew that he had to capture the orbital repair docks in orbit around Ambient Light while he still had the chance. He decided to let the dark caste stay behind to guard the fortress and their two Prophet hostages while he took all of his troops into space to board the warships. They were going to capture those orbital docks. It was their only hope. Secretly, Soka knew that even if they were able to capture the docks and the warships being refitted within, it would not help them one bit against the huge fleet that the Prophets were going to send against them. They were doomed.
      But Soka would still fight. He would fight because there was no other choice. For the first time in his life, Soka's course was set. There was no turning back.

Three days later/
Coming out of Slipspace aboard the Cruiser Invisible Truth

      The Invisible Truth tore its way out of Slipspace and entered the Ambient Light system. The Sword of Light appeared next to it. Soka Summakee stood on the deck next to his friend Ship Master Ruka. To their left were the space docks. Six warships lay within, its full capacity. If they could capture it, they would triple the size of their fleet. But Soka saw something else that crushed any hope that the sight of a full dock might have instilled in him. Ambient Light was being used as a gathering point for a huge fleet. Looking out over space, Soka saw at least thirty warships moving about, not including the six in the docks. Three more appeared out of Slipspace and moved to join the gathering fleet.
      There was no way they were going to be able to snatch the docks from under the noses of that many warships. They were doomed.
      A call came in from the ship closest to the Truth. It was a frigate. "Invisible Truth? Ship Master Ruka, we thought we had lost you in Slipspace back at New Beginning!"
      "They don't know who we are," Ruka said.
      "It does not matter. We cannot launch our troops at the station. They will be immediately identified as an attack force. We should go now. Keta, recharge the Slipspace capacitors. Relay the same order to the Sword." Soka said.
      "What?" Ruka said, not believing.
      Soka said, "Can't you see that fleet? I will not sacrifice my troops and my ships on mission doomed to failure. We're going back to Eden. All troops will land on the surface and prepare to defend the fortress. All of the ships will hide in the shadow of Eden's moon. You will have to try to ambush them when they come for us, take out as many of their troop dropships as you can before they land on Eden. You won't last very long, though."
      "I see. So it's over then," Ruka said.
      "Yes, Ruka, it is over."
      They made excuses over the comm. channels, buying enough time for the Slipspace capacitors to recharge. Then, the ships jumped back to Eden. Soka explained the situation to the crew and his soldiers on the way back during the Slipspace trip. They all knew that they were going to die. Now that the question of whether or not you were going to live or die was no longer relevant, what was important was how you died. These thoughts ran through the minds of every soldier under Soka's command. They all resolved to die honorably and to sell themselves as dearly as they could.
      Such a death would almost guarantee them all a place in paradise. But that was only if what they were doing was really in the interest of the gods. If it wasn't, every single one of them would be eternally damned. But if things were as they believed it to be, if they were truly fighting for the interests of the gods, then they would be forgiven for their treachery and would spend eternity in paradise.
      They could only hope.

One day later/
Fortress Dark Horizon, Eden

      Soka Summakee stood in the armor room that he and Ruka had found and put on his new armor. It was the same armor that he had worn before, except for the symbol of the Iron Hands that had been emblazoned on its right chest plate. He slid the armor on piece by piece. He flexed his hands in the gauntlets and attached the jagged forearm protectors to his arms. Once they were secured, he attached armor to his upper arms and then slipped armor onto his legs. He then slipped on the bulky back plate and secured it. Next, he secured his right and left chest plates and joined them together. Finally, he slid his helmet on and made sure that it was secure. He activated his shields and heard the air snap as his shields charged to full.
      Grabbing his plasma sword, Soka marched out of the armory. His troops ran through the hallways, desperately trying to reach defensive positions throughout the fortress. Soka merely walked. The enemy would not be here for another hour or so. There was plenty of time.
      Soka knew that there was a traitor in their midst, but there was no way for him to find out who it was. The traitor had sent the message that was about to kill them all. Soka knew that they were doomed because in space, above Eden, the Covenant fleet had appeared. There were fifty Covenant warships and more appeared every hour. Swarms of dropships were en route to the planet's surface. What the Covenant fleet did not know was the fact that Invisible Truth and Sword of Light and even the battered frigate Path of Righteousness were waiting in the shadow of the moon, out of sensor range. When the dropships got close enough to the planet, Soka's warships would explode from their hiding place and destroy as many of the dropships as they could before the Covenant fleet blasted them from existence. There was no other way.
      Soka was ready for the end. Now, if only it would come quickly, so he could finally be at peace.

To Be Continued