Posted By: WONDERLIBERTARIAN<email@example.com>
Date: 12 January 2005, 4:03 PM
The Humans have a concept called freedom. It's not something that most of us know about, but few of us care about the Humans as anything other than enemies. Within the monolithic face of our Covenant, though, there are cracks and crevices, personalities that are different, that break the mold and crack the monolith. I know that the humans could hardly believe me; their history is full of oversimplifications.
But the Human concept of freedom betrays something of intellect despite all of those prejudices. It isn't unique to them, it is one that they share with the Unggoy and the Lekgolo, but it is doubtless a rare concept, and neither the Unggoy nor the Lekgolo carried it out to the extreme that the Humans have.
The screen is blinking information to me as I ponder all of the Humans and as it digs into a planet that the Humans once called 'York IX.' There are a few locations left on it that might be worth looking into.
Glassing is not quite so complete and destructive of a process as the Prophets might hope, there are always exceptions, always bunkers deep and solid enough or some magnificent stroke of luck, there is almost always some shattered picture of Humanity to be drawn out of the wreckage, and I cherish each shard, and what pieces are left are more valuable than the purest Lyka crystals to the right buyer.
It used to be a hard job, if it offered any consolations it was the lack of competition with the Prophets forbidding us to travel near, let alone study the glassed planets, but lately everything of the Prophets has lost value in the eyes of my people. Now I never see warships enforcing the decrees, but I now see amateurs burning themselves on the glassed planets, too lightly protected to live for long.
My ship is dropping burrowers, the machines will seek out the locations my ship has found and dig paths to them for me. I spend the brief moments as my ship spins around this world offering what prayers the Gods might accept.
The diggers have broken through the surface on a few spots already and have found what treasures they might. I begin to lower my ship a little closer to the black, smooth planetoid. One of the dig sites looks deeper than most, and my ship forces every probing ray down into it to see how deep it sinks. My mandibles part in a grin, Jackpot.
The Subterranean Museum of York IX was once one of the most famous tourist venues of the Human's Empire, dug a hundred stories underground, and with thick walls designed to stand against the cruelest ravages of the subterranean; even with the first twenty stories ruined by the plasma it was an impressive vision.
Books lay scattered, many pots and jars are shattered on the marble floor, there hadn't been much fighting here, if there had been any, most of the damage had been done by the Humans as they fled. The digger sits proud above me, watching me as I inspect its work. This would keep everything running for a long time.
I reach down at a book, its cover spread in humiliation as it lay on the floor, Economics and the Modern Universe. I look around the small room, it must have been an office, I drop a few robots who hover in the air, preparing to take a full inventory of the Museum. I flip the book to face me and sit in the awkwardly soft human chair.
'With the dawn of slipstream space travel the concept of wealth was irrevocably changed. Wealth, by its very nature, is a product of finite resources and with an infinite universe at our fingertips it seemed that it could not be long before famine and want were obliterated despite humanities soaring population. Some economists still believe this to be true, that utopia is only a slipspace jump away, but it has since become evident that the key to wealth has simply changed, and that even with a theoretically infinite number of resources access has remained finite.
'Access has remained finite despite a booming transport and a thriving exploration industry which receives bountiful investment and is never short of personnel, the causes for this stagnation are forced, they are the product of an over regulatory Space Command which slows new businesses from opening and which carefully monitors all legitimate businesses...'
I drop the book, its lost my attention already, although it is fascinating. There is no word in Sangheili for the Human word for Wealth, the closest comes closer to the Human word 'power.' It is one of the fundamental differences between our races, they can focus on such things as leading their own lives happily while my own race is driven for power, to have power over others.
This, I realize, is probably why the Humans took so long to form a centralized government for their race, and why regional rebellions are more common in their history than coups. This is where the uniquely human idea of the barbarian raider comes from, men who pillage for wealth and never bother to rule, this is not a race concerned with control, even when they sought control it was only a means to the end of wealth, and not an end of itself.
And because of this the humans took several thousand years to build a united government during which time not only did regional dialects arise, as they often had even with the Prophets before their ancient unification, but such genetic divergences occurred as were unseen in other races, entirely different features and skin tones were the norm on different regions of their home world, nowhere else had this occurred in the galaxy.
The office, even so devastated as it was in the glassing and the tremors that inevitably follow as the plates warp, is ornate; it's obvious that whoever once used it was an important person. Leather-bound books lay, facing down in defeat across the floor, beautiful pottery is broken on the floor, the desk is a dark, solid wood, the wide chair is a soft leather.
My wristband beeps, the inventory orbs can't get more than a few floors down because of the damage, though the numbers and pictures that flicker across the wristband's screen are already more impressive than many hauls I've taken off of small planets. The diggers will be able to break down a little further I hope, but I'll have to gather up this stuff first.
There's a picture on the desk, a small portrait that somehow stayed standing through the hell that this building endured. Her hair is long and blonde and her eyes are blue and deep, delicate cheekbones hide beneath her skin, she's smiling. My eyes drip downward, a meager apology to this fellow, whoever he was, whose life we so ruined. I reach out to the picture, staring in accusation at me, and face it down.
The miniature orbs hover in front of me again, full, I open my palm to them to land, and they drop through the short fall to my hand. I look out the office door with an awkward mix of guilt and joy, Jackpot.
Back on the ship the radio flickers to life, "Hallowed Forager this is the Steadfast Disciple is this transmission received"
For a moment I consider ignoring them, but they'll be back if I do, "This is the Hallowed Forager transmission acknowledged."
"Requesting full transmission," my eyes flicker up to the telescreen, they want a video feed as well, I don't want them to get into the habit of getting what they want.
"With all due respect, request denied."
The transmission is silent for a moment, they hadn't expected that.
"We wish to escort you to the Sacred Conqueror for an audience with the Admirals."
I frown, "Request denied."
"With all due respect, the race is in a time of great need."
"I've long since stopped caring about my race, just as they've stopped caring about me."
"Not all in your race have forgotten you, was it not an Admiral who helped you arm that ship of yours so nicely? Was it not an Admiral who secured the false military profile for you?"
Admiral Tarq'Kytamee, we had been close a lifetime ago. It hurt to hear his parting gifts listed with so little care, with so little emotion burned into my soul, "And when Tarq's fall came? Who of the race was there for him?"
"We did not bring him down, it was the Jiralhanae who engineered his downfall."
Which was true, the Jiralhanae had meddled with intelligence and helped send him into a Human system where he would be outnumbered and outgunned, he had been left with little choice but a retreat after a too costly battle. It was the Jiralhanae who had revealed his gifts to a friend fallen from grace on the heels of the greatest disaster of his career.
"And yet you watched him fall, never caring."
"As did you, Hryl."
"I had no choice," I scream over the communicator, "what would you have had me do?"
"And what would you expect of us?"
The comm goes silent.
"Tell the Admirals that their invitation is declined."
"The Arbiter offers his own invitation."
The Arbiter, another friend from a lifetime ago, a lifetime ago for each of us. Another who had fallen from grace, I want to see him, perhaps in his mandibles he holds words that can make me care again, I've so missed caring about the rest of the world.
Time drags by as the temptation plucks at my heart.
"Tell the Arbiter that his invitation is declined."
The robots are in the museum, filling my holds with precious artifacts, I'll be here a while before I can start to sell them, I hope that whoever is commanding the Disciple isn't so patient.
"Sir, I beg you to reconsider."
"I have made my decision."
"I remember a time when you could think of someone besides yourself, don't you?"
"Ship Master, enough of this. I've given you my final word."
"The Arbiter will be quite disappointed."
"Ship Master, has the Arbiter ever been left for dead? Abandoned by everyone he thought he could trust? The Arbiter has known dishonor, but who are you or the Arbiter to tell me of disappointment?"
The comm. is silent, and across the void slipstream is slowly sliced open for the other ship as it leaves in silence. I pick up its course, assuming that it's going straight back. The Prophets will pay a nice sum for that. I just wish I had something more precise.
The first hold is full, soon I'll have enough to make a good run, I pull up my client list, one cannot sell sacrilege in a market, there are a few promising visits that I'll make first, before taking the course to the Prophets.
The Jiralhanae spreads his arms in a stretch as he sprawls in the wide leather chair, "By the Forerunners this is nice."
"But of course it is Yelemander. I sell only the finest, and the humans do know comfort."
He smiles the hideous smile of the Jiralhanae, I return it with my own more elegant parting of my mandibles. We sit in his garden office in the middle of his immense house, swarms of servants flutter about in every other room, but they leave the garden unattended to, they have been warned not to disturb this business. There are chairs out here of the stiff organic style of the Jiralhanae and a desk that looks almost like a tree warped out of shape and with drawers dug into it. It is incredibly different from the sterile metals and the austere architecture that my own race prefers, the dirt floor feels awkward under my feet.
"And you know the Humans, do you not, Hryl?"
A short laugh escapes my mandibles, "You can say that."
"Tell me, have you seen any?"
"They say that they stand two meters tall, and fight with ferocity and cruelty, is this true?"
I smile, "What do they tell you of our own soldiers?"
"We are proud and undefeatable, noble and strong, though the humans fight with their cruel ferocity we always conquer, but you know this as well as I do."
"Yes, and is it true?"
The Jiralhanae is silent.
"I will not join you in your sacrilege, Sangheili. The Prophets do not lie."
"Of course not, Yelemander."
"How much will this chair be?"
I name the outrageous sum, he hardly bats an eye, sometimes I have to name the risks involved, sometimes they try to make offers and to haggle, but not often. He reaches into a drawer without a comment.
He reaches into his hideous treelike desk, into the drawers that must have been burned into it with care, pulling out an oversized Plasma Rifle.
"Threats aren't going to get you a better price, Yelemander," I laugh.
He laughs as well, but it's without any levity, it's thick and dark and cruel, "The chair is mine now, that's not what this is for."
I laugh, "The chair is yours now?"
He shakes his head, "Did you know that the Prophets have offered quite a commission in return for your head? I will give it to them and I will join the ranks of the Honor Guard, everything will be mine for the asking."
"How did you get that Rifle, Yelemander?"
He laughs his thick dark laugh again, "It was quite difficult, but I'm sure the Prophets will understand."
The room is quiet for a moment; he's trying to work up his brutish nerves.
"Why do the Prophets want me dead?"
"I don't know if you've noticed, but there is a war, your race is fighting us. There is no reason that we should let you help them."
"And what good would I do them? I am only one more."
He laughs, "Only one more, you are Hryle'Delhormee, former commander of the Infiltrators, you planned operations that the humans couldn't touch and you stole even the most sacred of relics from their heathen planets with barely a wound on a soldier. The Prophets don't need to worry about these things anymore."
I shake my head, "So you would say that I am a fine soldier, Yelemander?"
He nodded, grinning, "Of course, one of the finest, which is why I will mount your head on my door."
"And you assumed I would come here unarmed?"
The Plasma Sword is out and flicks on before he can reply, the stench of burnt hair and boiling Jiralhanae blood wafts up as I dig it into him. His thick flesh begins to melt as I flick the sword off. The chair is ruined. His body slumps to the floor.
May the Gods torture him for eternity for this. I turn to leave the gardens and return to my ship. I have to think, I have to plan.
A servant meets me at the door, "Is this business done, then?"
"No, hardly, but I must go retrieve a sample from my ship, it looks to be quite a deal here."
"Ahh," the servant turns back to his post, leaving the door to swing shut behind me.
I look at the course that the Disciple took as I orbit around York IV. I could follow them, of course, I could join them now, if only to fight the Prophets and the Jiralhanae, if only to spite all of those who dragged me down.
But then again, what is to keep my own race from betraying me? How could I know that they would not offer me as a gift to the Prophets? They don't want freedom from this slavery that the Prophets call a Covenant, they only want their honor restored.
And what am I to do otherwise? Will I be able to sell my wares with everyone I meet pointing their guns at me in hopes of a post in the Honor Guard?
There is only one thing to do, and I wonder whether or not to abandon all of my scavenging equipment, it won't do me any good anymore.
My grey armor stares at me from the back of the ship, by the Forerunners, if only I had another choice.
It seems the Admirals will have their meeting.