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The Occupation of New Carthage by RogueDragon1
The Occupation of New Carthage - Prologue
Date: 4 April 2014, 11:13 pm
Authors Note: Hi Everyone. I've had the general plan for this story in my head for quite a while. There's a few part's in the general plot that conflict with some of the latest established canon, so before you start reading it I'm going to ask you to forget about everything you've read post Nyland's Ghosts of Onyx (Harvest, The Cole Protocol & the Kilo Five novels.)
Please let me know what you think.
Prologue Camp 77
Location: Covenant occupied human colony New Carthage
Date: 02 / 04 / 2545 (Human Military Calendar)
Human 'Re-settlement' Facility 077
Facility 77 was a death camp. It shimmering energy barrier's stretched outwards for eternity, a fifteen meter high wall of deadly energy that trapped every living soul caught behind it. All humans who entered its cold embrace would die. Some, the weakest, would die quickly. Others would live a longer but still ultimately brief existence, worked to death in the hellish mines beneath the encampment.
Twenty thousand human prisoners lived inside the camp at any one time. Their lives were short and brutal affairs, and throughout the occupation no one had ever survived the camp's harsh lottery for over a month. Sangheili warriors stalked the prison camp, staging mass executions every few days to cull the camp's ever expanding population. From guard towers atop the towering energy pylon's which linked the crackling plasma barriers Kig-yar sniper's picked off stray humans at will with their powerful beam rifles.
Facility 77 may have been a new addition to New Carthage's infrastructure, but it was by no means an anomaly. Dozens of identically constructed facilities dotted the prime continent, and like spoilt children they gorged themselves on a never ending flow of human prisoners, bleeding the occupied city's white. Over the past week alone the death rates in every camp had quadrupled from all causes, and since the first days of the Covenant occupation of New Carthage six months previous, the colony's former population of ninety million had been cut in half.
The soft crunch of snow against the calm night stirred Anderson from his sleep. The barrack block was quite, the enslaved humans snatching the precious few hours of sleep the guards allowed them before dawn brought with it the next hellish day of life in the camp. A handful of prisoners shifted in the darkness. He could hear sobbing and somewhere in the room a prisoner was coughing violently. Human movement inside the camp at night time was punishable by death. The guards demonstrated that on numerous occasions and the perimeter snipers were always looking for movement inside the sealed huts.
Anderson concentrated, doing his best to block out the distractions of the other humans as he listened to the silence outside. Again he heard the soft crunch of snow, heavy footsteps and the course hisses of alien voices. Something was going to happen this very night, he could feel it.
Easing himself from the stale cot Anderson crept towards the closest window, careful to keep his back to the wall. He was almost there when he all but stumbled over a hunched form stooped beneath the plane of alien glass. A small freckled boy no more then ten years of age scowled up at him, his pasty dreadfully thin face flashing upwards in the moon light.
"Alex!" Anderson mouthed, his brow furrowing in anger, "What are you doing?"
"There moving around out there" Alex whispered, his words barely audible in the silence.
"Get back" Anderson hissed, pointing towards the boy's empty cot, "If they catch you, there'll kill you!"
Anderson had been a prisoner of the camp for but a handful of days and Alex had arrived only the morning previous, yet in that short space of time both man and boy were intricately familiar with the harsh rule of the camp. Alex was young and reminded the former UNSC communications officer of his own child, long dead now. He'd sworn to do the best he could to keep the boy alive and safe from harm as long as he could, even if that timeframe could now be measured in a matter of a few brutal days, or hours.
Alex opened his mouth, about to argue his right to stay further. The point was suddenly mute.
The doors to the dormitory smashed open, blasting the human occupants with the whipping winter chill of the blizzard outside. Prisoners stumbled from their cots, raising their hands as if in preparation for a search of the block. Anderson grasped Alex by the arm and navigated his way towards the growing knot of humans clustered about the stacked bunk beds preying the Covenant soldiers would not realize they had been out of their cots. Already between the jostle of shoulders, heads and stinging snowflakes from the outside he could pick out half a dozen towering silhouette's in the doorway, thickly set and at least two feet taller then a man. Elite's.
The aliens stormed into dormitory, rousing the remaining human prisoner's from their beds with guttural hisses and painful kicks. They spread out around the dormitory's edge, herding the humans into the centre as if they had been cattle. Alex glanced up to Anderson, the fear he was no doubt feeling plastered across his pale face. Their eyes locked, Anderson vehemently shaking his head whilst his hand tightened like a vice around the thin boys arm.
That very moment someone else tried what Alex had been about to do. A skeletally thin man made a break for the open door, and was gunned down in a hail of plasma fire. The humans screamed in terror, Anderson grasping hold of Alex's shoulder with his other hand and edging them backwards as the elites surged into the human crowd, dragging three more humans to the fore. Sobbing and pleading for their lives, the prisoners were lined up in front of the entrance and made to kneel. Three elite's formed up behind them, placed the sleek nozzles of their energy weapons to back of the prisoners heads and fired.
Anderson clasped his hand over Alex's eyes, fighting to keep the boy still through his sobs and tears as crimson blood and flesh splashed the barrack block's floor. One of the elites stepped over the bodies, thrusting a powerful arm out into the freezing night.
The order was by no means perfect english, but its meaning was unmistakable. The humans were herded out of their dorm-block, the whipping winds cutting through their thin garbs and into the soft skin beneath.
Anderson stumbled, painfully cutting his toe open on the uneven ground. Boots had long ago become an unheard of luxury in the camp, and like most of the other humans he and Alex were barefoot. Glancing over his shoulder he could see the elites were busily emptying the other dorm blocks beside their own, and together the shambling humans soon formed a pathetic miserable chain of humanity. Anderson watched as some fell to the ground. Those who were too slow to get back up to their feet were mercilessly beaten by the elites until they were left sprawled bloodied and broken on the snow. After the brutal execution no one attempted to run again.
Alex walked beside him, his small hand finding Anderson's and grasping his palm tightly. He no longer had the strength to restrain the boy, and could only hope that for the good of both of them he didn't do anything stupid.
"The Vat's" Alex whispered suddenly, jostling to get a better look over the tightly packed prisoners, "There taking us to the Vat's?"
"No there not" Anderson whispered, his throat now sore in the cold, "The Vat's are the other side of the camp, there leading us round to the main square."
In truth the extermination vats were exactly where Anderson had expected them to end up the moment the door to their dormitory was kicked down. But he had not lied to Alex, they were being herded in the complete opposite direction. The fact that they were moving steadily away from certain death did little to lift his spirit. He had taken careful note of their shepherd's, noting these were not their usual rank and file tormentor's. The camp guard elite's always wore dark blue armour while a handful, their officer cadre perhaps wore red. These elite's were clad in jet black armour, and the appearance of their equipment as a whole seemed more streamlined.
As the human column reached the main square, a parade ground at the edge of the camp where they would be lined up each morning Anderson glimpsed a convoy of parked Covenant hovercraft.
He pushed up on his toes biting down on the pain to get a better look. They were large vehicles, transports, enough for dozens, perhaps hundreds of prisoners.
"What do you see?" Alex asked tugging at his hand.
Anderson bit his lip, muttering a silent prayer.
"Just do what they say, and whatever happens, stay close to me."
Suka' Nakitee watched the human prisoners being herded towards the waiting Shadow and Spectre transports, her gloved claw like hands gripping her Plasma Repeater as she scanned the mass of huddled slaves for any sign of potential troublemakers.
Her fourunit held watch over the main square between the slave pens and the camp's fortified gate whilst the rest of their lance shepherded the humans towards the waiting transport vehicles. At the first hint of resistance the four heavily armour Sangheili could cut the humans down before any of them even reached the camp's perimeter.
The tension between her unit could have been cut with a blade at that moment. It wasn't merely that a full lance of forty Special Operation's Sangheili had been deployed for mere guard duty, and human guard duty at that. Kalu' Texlusee and Zel' Tasolmee glared daggers at the passing humans, as if willing every single one of the shambling figures being herded into that very square to drop into the ever lasting flames of torment there and then. Of all of them Juha' Relusee, the four-unit's commanding officer was the only Sangheili who seemed to be even moderately relaxed as he stood beside her massaging his neck, plasma rifle gripped ready at his hip. Now Nakitee thought about it, in her short time with the Special Operations warriors she had never seen Relusee moved to true anger, even on this Forerunner forsaken world.
"They must be for retaliation" Tasolmee mused, "another mass execution. If we're taking this many prisoners the humans must have taken out a full lance, or perhaps a priestess."
Relusee shook his head, "They wouldn't take them from here. The hostages would be selected from among the local population, greater chance of catching the perpetrators family amongst them."
"And they wouldn't have deployed a full lance of Special Operation warriors for something so mundane" Texlusee seethed, clicking her lower mandibles in evident distaste, "The Jiralhanae, god's even the terrestrial's could handle simple human relocation."
Nakitee inhaled sharply, clenching her mandibles as she did her best to ignore the slight. She knew her new unit was still morning the loss of a fallen brother. For the time being they could only ever see her as an inadequate replacement for one who had likely been as dear to them as a blood kin.
"Their destination is not the execution square" Relusee concluded after a moment's thought, "Though whatever it is the Field Master's have planned for them. They will not doubt soon wish that it was."
They watched impassively as the Special Operations Sangheili began to roughly herd the human prisoners onto the waiting transports. The Shadow troop carrier's they were using were military models elongated along the centre by about a third. Nakitee recognized them from the open countryside of her birth world, though they were normally used to transport cattle.
A minor scuffle broke out among the humans. Nakitee blanched inwardly as she saw a Sangheili officer smack one of the humans youngling's to the ground before clasping the terrified child by its neck and hurtling it into one of the waiting transports. A few dozen rotations ago and such an act may have troubled her. Indeed Nakitee still new of females back home who would have been moved to shock and even tears by the warrior's vicious act, and one of two of them have even tried to intervene on the child's behalf. Her time on this world had quickly quashed any such notions the young warrior had over such matters. A human was a human regardless of age.
From the edge of the square two Sangheili emerged into the midnight gloom. One she recognized as their section's commanding officer, Field Captain Orta' Ikorrandee, and the other
"Forerunner's grace" Tasolmee murmured, "is that not
"Commander Taia' Korequee" Relusee answered.
Nakitee blinked, trying to connect the name to the myriad web of Sangheili officer's across the occupation force. She counted off her unit's immediate superiors and those of the neighbouring cohort's. She paused, counting back and trying to remember if she had missed one when the name suddenly clicked. High Commander Taia' Korequee, the former Master of the military Academy on Sepheria Luminare, the current commander of all Special Operation unit's on Nu Carthage.
"This just got interesting" Tasolmee remarked, rocking back on his heels, "at least we're not the only ones to be freezing our hind's off this night."
The two Sangheili paused by the waiting transports, the other fourunit's beginning to fall in as they were ordered back. Nakitee strained to pick up what they were talking about, but even in the dead of night they were too far away for her to pick up anything. Seemingly at the command of a flick of the Commander's wrist Ikorrandee turned and strode back into the camp, the lance's third fourunit at his heels.
Korequee twisted on his heel and walked towards the centre of the square where the remaining fourunit's were beginning to form up. He paused by the gathered Sangheili, exchanging a few brief words with the officer's, and then he continued on, towards them.
Nakitee glanced nervously towards the rest of her fourunit, thankful for the full fitting combat mask that she hoped would hide the anxiety that must have been plastered over her face. Up close it was easy to see why Korequee was still awed by the lower ranks. A full head taller then the Sangheili around him except perhaps Tasolmee, he was a powerfully built warrior and despite being past his prime possessed a physique that would put a full a generation of younger warrior's to shame.
Korequee drew himself up before their fourunit, looking over each of the Sangheili warriors with his pearl black eyes. His gaze finally settled on Tasolmee. The towering male stood firm, hooves together and back straight.
"Fel' Tasolmee" Korequee mused, scratching at his lower mandibles, "You're still alive I see."
"Not for lack of trying on the human's part" Tasolmee replied in all the demeanour of a grizzled veteran addressing an old comrade rather then a direct superior.
Korequee chuckled softly and shook his head, "nor a few Jiralhanae I would imagine."
Tasolmee shrugged his huge shoulders, "Be it the battlefield, tavern or barracks I do not care where they come at me. As long as it brings no shame on my family or unit, then anyone, be they dumb brutes or nameless vermin are welcome to try."
"Spoken like a true swordsmen of old" Korequee mused before twisting his head back to the Tasolmee's comrades, "and what of my other neophyte's."
"Well enough" Relusee snapped, eyes forward as if he was staring down the lateral prongs of a plasma sword, "missing my bunk around now."
"And no doubt the female in it" Korequee replied, Tasolmee snorted in laughter, pretending he had something in his throat.
"And what of our Academy's highest ranked sharpshooter?" Korequee asked turning towards Texlusee.
"Wondering why in the middle of the night a full special operation's lance is performing a task the Legionnaire's could handle Excellency" Texlusee replied dryly, her voice devoid of even a hint of humour.
"Straight to the point with a knife" Korequee chuckled, "good to see you haven't changed. Unfortunately this is a question I cannot answer."
"Classified on penalty of torture, branding and death?" Tasolmee ventured.
"If only I knew Tasolmee" Korequee replied with a shrug, "If only I knew."
"You did not order this deployment?" Relusee asked. It was the only time Nakitee had sensed genuine surprise in his voice. A deep unease twisted inside her stomach suddenly.
Korequee spread his claws, his grey palms flat. "My orders are to lead the prisoner convoy to an undisclosed military base on the edge of the central plateau which despite be being here for almost a third quarterly cycle I had no idea even existed. Our orders bare the mark of the Provisional Governor, whether or not they come from the Prophet of Penance I cannot say."
"Do you think he's acting without the Hierarch's knowledge?" Tasolmee asked.
"He's a politician Tasolmee" Korequee laughed, clicking his neck with a sharp jolt, "the day they start working together is the day something's terribly wrong. Best stay out of politics, in these times you'll live longer. Now, changing tact."
He clasped his powerful claws together, then produced a data crystal from his waist and threw it towards Tasolmee who snapped it out of the air with starting swiftness.
"We're moving out and your unit is on point, Tasolmee you're driving."
"That's not a good idea" Relusee hissed, ignoring the murderous glare he knew his friend would be directing at him.
"I trust him" Korequee chortled softly, "Kilshree, Texlusee, go and check the route is loaded into the Spectre's neural matrix, best we move now before the humans freeze to death."
"We would be saving the plasma to kill them" Tasolmee replied as he and Texlusee strode of towards the waiting Spectre's, "One way or another."
"And do not get lost" Korequee called after them, "I want to be back a Central Command before sunrise."
With a shrug of his shoulders the Commander turned back towards them, his eyes falling on Nakitee as if he had just seen her for the first time.
"And of course" he chimed, "I had almost forgotten. You are a full unit again, are you not?"
"Yes Excellency" Nakitee replied, her head still bowed in his presence.
"By the God's daughter look up" Korequee scolded, "I cannot be that ugly surely."
Nakitee raised her head, fighting to stifle a grin that pulled at her low mandibles.
"And how are you finding fourunit's latest replacement?" Korequee asked turning back towards Relusee.
"As acceptable a warrior as any who could have been selected" Relusee replied, neither praise nor condemnation detectable in his voice. "She may feel unwelcomed by some, but she is needed. Respectfully my Excellency, the Forerunners would be hard pressed to replace Kilshree."
Korequee nodded, his eyes sombre.
"And what of your own position Nakitee."
"I am honoured to be called upon to serve in the Special Operations Group" Nakitee replied, her voice soft yet firm, "I am not trying to substitute their loss Excellency."
Korequee sighed, clasping a strong claw like hand on Nakitee's shoulder, "Kilshree was a fine warrior my child. He was among the finest our Academy's on Sepheria Luminare ever produced, and he fell in service not just to the Covenant but to his kin, his brothers and sister beside him. Nothing lasts forever Nakitee, not Kilshree, not yourself or your comrades. Not even the human who killed him. He is at peace now, as we all will be one day. There is nothing to replace. Your comrades grieve for their fallen brother but make no mistake, they have accepted you as their sister by blood, as have I."
"Thank you Excellency" Nakitee replied, a boiling warmth rising from between her hearts.
Korequee nodded his head a fraction before twisting back towards the camp, "We will be moving out shortly, preferably before we are all thawed to the ground. I will rejoin you shortly, I must first go and step on the camp commandant's hooves."
With that he turned, striding back over the square and towards the waiting camp guards.
The last of the humans had trickled into the square now and were huddled beside the parked transports, waiting as each armoured Shadow was filled and sealed in turn. Nakitee scanned the milling crowd, wondering just what would become of the deplorable creatures. Her eyes settling on two scrawny human males, an adult and a small youngling.
Something nagged at the edge of her subconscious, drawing her eyes back to the two humans. Suka clenched her mandibles, looking them over once more and then the realization hit her.
"There" she hissed, thrusting a gloved claw like forefinger out towards the two humans.
"There among its kin. It's him!"
Relusee glanced towards her, tilting his head in a quizzical gesture
"You are sure, they all look alike. How can you tell?"
"I know it's him" she replied, "The human must have been scooped up in the last resettlement."
Relusee took her at her word, reaching up to the comm.'s bead is his helm,
"Commander, this is Relusee, we have verification on our target witness. Requesting orders?"
Nakitee waited silently, her claws tightening again around the powerful plasma repeater in her hands.
With a quick nod of his head Relusee acknowledged a command she couldn't hear before snapping up his rifle.
"Understood, moving to intercept target."
The two Sangheili approached the human prisoners, their weapons raised.
They've recognized me. How?
The question screamed inside Anderson's mind as he slowly raised his hands, conscious that one wrong move could see a plasma round punching straight through his chest.
Two towering elites; heavily armoured and carrying viscous looking plasma weapons came straight at them, the thickly piled snow crunching hollowly under their hooves.
"Humane" the leading elite hissed, "Sep Bakra."
Alex huddled closer beside him, doing his best to shield himself from the Covenant soldiers. The small boy was terrified.
How? Anderson repeated in his mind, How can they now I'm resistance!
The first elite, an officer perhaps shouted again sweeping a claw like hand through the air.
Anderson bit his lips, "I'm sorry" he said "I can't understand you."
How long could he last?
How long would it take for them to break him?
Anderson eyed the distant plasma barriers, wondering if it would not be easier just to make a run for it and let them shoot him.
They couldn't torture a corpse, and he wouldn't betray his cell.
The elite moved forward suddenly, thumping his gloved palm into Anderson's chest.
Anderson gasped as if winded, stumbling backwards. Tenuously he lost his grip on Alex's hand.
The second elite, of slightly slimmer build to the first, perhaps a female reached forward snatching Alex's arm in her long talon like fingers.
The boy Anderson realized, There not after me. What could they want this Alex? He's just a child.
Alex glanced towards him imploring, his muscles tensing as if he was preparing to struggle.
Anderson shook his head. Neither of the humans had a choice.
"It's alright Alex" Anderson said, careful to keep his hands where the aliens could see them, "It'll be alright. Go with them and do whatever they ask you to. It'll be OK."
Alex stared at him, tears forming in his wide eyes. He didn't believe a word of it.
As if in reply the second elite, the female took hold of Alex's other shoulder twisting him back towards the rear of the square. Her companion kept his weapon firmly trained on Anderson, the warning unmistakable.
Intervene and you're dead!
Slowly the two elites made their way back towards their own vehicles, the female frogmarching Alex away from the other humans. Before Anderson could see where they were taking him another elite shoved him forward towards the waiting transport.
In no time at all it seemed the last of the humans were loaded into the final alien transport, Anderson almost tripping over the vehicles lip as he was bundled into its cargo hold. Like a great serpent devouring its prey the humans were enclosed in energy field before an armoured shutter sealed them in darkness.
The convoy departed the camp in the dead of night, the individual Shadow transport's and their escorting Spectre's filing out under the watch of curious Kig-yar sniper's and Sangheili camp guards.
Nakitee's fourunit had point, Tasolmee displaying his less then cautious approach to driving. Texlusee as their sharp shooter kept watch with the mounted plasma cannon while Nakitee and Relusee took the conjoined passenger compartments on either side of the vehicle, Nakitee's claw like hand grasping the safety latch whenever Tasolmee banked a corner without feeling the need to brake.
They settled into the long journey, the calm night their only companion. Nakitee shifted uncomfortably in her seat, scanning the embankment either side of the human laid asphalt for any sign of movement, ensuring her plasma repeater could be snapped up to her shoulder at a moments notice.
Facility 77 was on the very edge of main settlements central plateau, far outside the normal boundaries of the main human habitation centre's that had spread across this world. Attacks this far out by the indigenous human resistance forces were rare, but no entirely unheard off.
Nakitee kept one eye on the road and the other on the holo-chronometer on her wrist gauntlet. Unit's quickly melded into a half quarter, but there was still no sign of the military base that was their destination.
Stiffing a yawn at the back of her throat, Nakitee stretched the muscles in her back, trying to judge their position. They had to be far outside the central plateau by now, and they had seen no other contacts on the road since leaving the camp. That in itself was not uncommon, for any form of human motorized transport was forbidden, and a planet wide curfew had been in effect since the Covenant occupation first began. Any humans they encountered on the road would have been shot on site. But they had seen no other Covenant movement either, no patrols and no resupply convoys. The roads were utterly deserted..
At the passing of the second half-quarter, Nakitee was fighting a loosing battle to boredom induced fatigue. She struggled just to keep her eyes open.
Sudden movement on the road ahead snapped Nakitee back to attention. Tasolmee swore as he braked sharply, the convoy skimming to a halt behind them as half a dozen looming figures materialized on the road before them. Pure survival instinct took over the fourunit's actions, Texlusee swivelled the plasma cannon on its mount whilst Tasolmee opened the Spectre's side compartments. Nakitee and Relusee emerged slowly using the opened doors of the Spectre as cover, their weapons trained on the shadowy silhouettes. In the illumination cast by a dozen lancing beams from the convoy Nakitee got a clear glimpse of their welcome party.
They were Sangheili.
Their fellow warriors offered no words of greeting, yet they kept their plasma weapons pointed towards the ground. One of the mysterious warriors stepped forwards and gestured towards the embankment with a wave of his arm. Up close Nakitee could see the Sangheili wore the jet black armour and combat harness of the Special Operation's warriors.
Seemingly in reply to his gesture, a section of trees and undergrowth which crowned the embankment vanished. In its place was a single dirt track which showed all the signs of having been cut through the woodlands very recently.
Not a single word was exchanged. Her plasma repeater still raised, Nakitee glanced back towards Relusee who gestured towards the Spectre. Their weapons still raised, they returned to their seats, Texlusee keeping them covered with the mounted plasma cannon.
Activating the vehicles energy core Tasolmee banked the Spectre into the entrance, the rest of the convoy taking his lead. Their wardens followed them in on foot, waiting until the last Shadow had entered before they reactivated the optical camouflage, the dirt track disappearing from the view of the road as if it had never existed.
Tasolmee edged the Spectre down the path with a restrained caution, his eyes scanning the dark undergrowth on either side of them. Eventually they came to a wide clearing dotted with towering energy pylons.
"Jamming towers" Texlusee commented from behind, "They've shielded this place from orbit."
At the far end of the clearing Nakitee could make out bunkers, bulbous plasma turrets pointed towards the sky and a series of fortified buildings. Already she could see armoured Sangheili warriors emerging from the compound, apparently belonging to same unit they had already encountered.
The convoy pulled to a halt just outside the complex, the Shadow's forming up beside each other in neat tidy ranks as the Special Operations troops dismounted from their vehicles. Nakitee emerged cautiously, the snow crumpling under her hooves as her fellow warriors formed a defensive cordon around the Shadow's, unsure just what was happening.
Taia' Korequee appeared behind their Spectre, seemingly from nowhere. Despite his considerable bulk Nakitee to her shame had not heard him approach.
"Keep the energy core lighted" Korequee said clasping Tasolmee shoulder in a huge claw like hand, "Be ready to move."
"Are they ours?" Tasolmee asked, his hand moving towards the plasma sword at his hip.
Korequee was silent a moment, his eyes surveying the compound. Tentatively he shook his head, "I could account for every Special Operations lance, cohort and brigade currently situated on this world. These are not our kin. Relusee, Nakitee, with me."
Standing tall and fully armed, the two warriors fell in behind their commander as he strode forward.
"Is the target witness secure?" Korequee asked without turning towards them.
"Yes Excellency" Relusee replied coarsely, "sedated and sealed in the Spectre's rear compartment. The human will remain that way until long after we return to Central Command."
"Very good" Korequee replied, his mandibles clenching tightly, "We'll deal with him come sunrise."
Already a small party of five had detached itself from those Sangheili guarding the compound and was making its way towards them. Four were warriors, armed and equipped almost identically to Nakitee's lance, yet curiously she noticed their armour bore no unit marking's, rank's or insignia.
The single remaining Sangheili was taller than the others and clothed in long flowing robes over ceremonial armour and helm. Nakitee recognized the symbol of the Vestal Sisterhood on the Sangheili's breast plate, her mandibles tightening as she realized just what had deployed their unit on behalf the Provisional Governor.
"High Priestess" Korequee concluded, validating Nakitee suspicion as he drew to a halt clasping his hands behind his back."
"Commander" the female replied, her accent clipped and pronounced which indicated connection to an ancient bloodline. "I must thank you for accommodating my request this night."
"Request?" Korequee mused, "Our orders came straight from the Provisional Governor Excellency."
The Priestess chuckled as she folded her arms, the warriors behind her waiting attentively,
"A mere formality Commander, to sweep aside unnecessary delay. You are well aware my position grants me such power."
"As is your right High Priestess, forgive my inquisition" Korequee replied, looking over her accompanying warriors. "Curious. It is well known your wealth is vast, though I was not aware the Vestal Sisterhood had subsidised and furnished its own private military."
The female cocked her head, her hands falling to her hips and for a moment Nakitee feared her Commander had gone one step to far. Rank, lineage nor reputation would be an adequate defence, as a High Priestess she could have had all their heads at the snap of her claws.
Thankfully the priestess seemed not to take offense at Korequee's prying. Subtly she gestured towards her warriors, "Private contractor's commander."
"Retired" added one of the Sangheili, "Fifteen Cycles as a ranger, and another Five within the Honour Guard."
"And handsomely compensated for their discretion" the female continued, "Discretion I must also ask from your warriors. Not a word of what they have witnessed this night can be breathed to others. When they return home each will find a generous sum deposited in their military account, please make them aware that I will not tolerate an abuse of my trust."
"Their mandibles will be sealed" Korequee replied, "I will make sure of it."
The female nodded in acknowledgement, clasping her gauntleted hands together, "My warriors shall take ownership of the human cargo. Your service tonight is almost ended."
Without acknowledging any direct command, two dozen of the Priestess's 'private contractors' swarmed out towards the waiting Shadows. The Special Operation's troops bristled, looking towards their commander for orders but Korequee waived them down. They did not like to surrender their charges to those they did not know, even if said charges were simple vermin. The Priestess's warriors unloaded the humans with a military precision even Korequee would have been proud of, herding the prisoners back towards the compound in a tight shambling file.
"Will my warriors be called upon for their, discretion again Ikarshree."
Nakitee memorized the name, trying to place it with the Priestess's she knew were involved with the occupation. None came to mind.
The Priestess whose name was Ikarshree paused for a moment, considering the question.
"Perhaps" she conceded, "Many more deliveries may be required, and as I have already told you, they must be known only to those who partake. No reports, no words exchanged outside this compound, or punishment will be severe. Do you understand commander?"
"Intricately" Korequee confirmed, watching as the doomed humans prisoners disappeared inside the compound, "What will become of them?"
"Nothing you need be concerned over" Ikarshree cautioned, "After tonight, those humans will never be heard from or seen again. Your warriors are in no danger, my work here has the full sanction of the Prophet of Penance. Any subsequent blame will fall squarely on our shoulders Commander, your warriors discretion shall become their shield if necessary."
"Then I would advise an overshield" Korequee remarked.
Ikarshree chuckled again, "Point taken commander. Now I would suggest your warrior's return to their barracks, I've arranged leave to compensate the time lost from their bunks, discreetly off course."
Korequee nodded solemnly, clicking his mandibles in approval, "There is one other matter. It concerns our target witness, in respect to our special guest."
Nakitee saw the Priestess flinch at the words, her claws curling violently towards her palms for just a moment before she regained her calm composure.
"You have the human in custody?"
"Yes" Korequee replied, "But we cannot discuss such an issue here. You understand off course." There was a hint of smug reprisal in his voice.
Ikarshree paused for a moment, her interest clearly peeked, "Off course Commander" she conceded, "We shall discuss this very matter with him in the Central Spire tomorrow morning. Good day Commander."
With that the High Priestess turned and departed, her guards closing ranks behind her.
Korequee twisted on his heel, Nakitee and Relusee still standing to attention behind him.
"You're best assessment?"
"She's working against the High Council" Relusee answered, "I do not believe Penance nor the Provisional Governor truly understand the nature of her, work."
"Her warriors armour bore no markings or insignia" Nakitee added.
"Exactly" Korequee said, tapping his lower mandibles with a clawed forefinger, "No direct loyalties. The perfect asset for dirty secrets, easily deniable at a moment's notice and easily disposed off if such action is required."
"What should we do?" Relusee asked.
"For now" Korequee replied, "as she commanded. Return to your barrack's, sleep among your brothers and sister guard, and invest your loyalty in those you trust, watch those you do not."
Anderson fought against his fear as best he could, his nails digging unconsciously into the soft skin of his palms. Blood pooled from his clenched fists, dripping down his trouser leg and trickling through the toes of his bloodied feet.
The humans were bracketed, freezing and half blind through the alien compound by the towering saurian like elites. Glancing upwards Anderson glimpsed the guard towers stretching high above the canopy roof, each tower furnished with three or four mounted plasma turrets and manned by no less then half a dozen elites. He had no doubt that they could cut the humans down at the first hint of trouble.
"Where are you taking us?" someone shouted.
If the alien's understood the human's language, they did not reply.
After an agonizingly long forced march, the humans were herded into an enclosed building, its walls providing at least a temporary respite from the howling winds.
Inside they were pushed into a long corridor with multiple sloped passages leading off a main thoroughfare. The humans were sectioned off, a platoon of elites forming a solid wedge across the entrance whilst their companions divided the humans into separate clusters. Anderson was grouped with three others, two men and a young woman. Two elites cordoned them off, herding the four humans towards one of the slopping passages as the other prisoners were driven towards their own cells.
Anderson and his fellow humans were pressed tightly together, the young woman sobbing into her hands.
"Why are you doing this to us?" shouted one of the men.
Again the elites did not respond, however one reached out to wall activating a holo-panel with a quick swish of his claw like hand. A door opened at the edge of the passageway and again Anderson and his little group were forced through, their escorts standing shoulder to shoulder behind them.
The chamber they found themselves in was almost pitch black, the only light coming from the slopped chamber they had just been forced through from.
"What are you going to do to us?" the woman screamed.
The elites raised their weapons, the woman stumbling backwards in fright. The two men surged forward but there was no need for the elites to fire, the doors sliding neatly closed before the humans could reach them and taking that last ray of light with them. Bloodied fists pounded against the smooth Covenant alloy which refused to give way to the terrified humans thumping against them.
"Did they just seal us in?" one of the men shouted.
The woman was still sobbing, her cries coming out in wracked tearful bawling.
"Listen to me" Anderson shouted grasping the woman shoulders, "Your Unharmed, I'm going to get us out of here OK. I'm going to get us all out of here."
In the pitch darkness Anderson was aware that the two men had rejoined them, the humans huddling together in abject terror.
"Listen!" the second man hissed.
"What is it" Anderson whispered, squeezing the woman's shoulder.
His voice was cut off with a gurgling cry, hot blood splashing down Anderson neck and face.
A cold metallic claw like iron talons slashed through his prison tunic and found purchase in the soft flesh beneath. Anderson cried out as he felt his skin break, struggling feebly before his unseen assailant hoisted him into the air and threw him across the room like a rag doll.
Anderson struck the ground hard, feeling the bones in his shoulder and cheek shatter as he tumbled head over heals. Somewhere behind him he could hear the woman screaming before the sound of ripping flesh and bone silenced her for ever.
"Let us out" the remaining prisoner screamed kicking and punching at the door, "let us
Again the same tearing of flesh, a tragically human scream before the man whose name he did not know was torn from the world for ever.
His attacker was behind him. Anderson scrambled to his hands and knees, knowing the unseen assailant would be on him in
A great pressure forced itself down on his calf, driving Anderson back to the ground in agony. He screamed as he felt the thin muscles in his lower leg give way and snap as his attacker's weight arched him back upwards, the torment continuing.
The pressure on his ruined leg eased just a fraction before he felt the top half of his tunic ripped from his body. That cold almost metallic like hand curled about his collar bone, soliciting a gurgled cry from Anderson's lips.
"What do you want" he screamed through his bloodied lips.
There was just silence, a low hiss barely audible his assailants only reply. A moment past a, a few seconds, Anderson dared believe he might live before he felt that searing pain plunging between his shoulder blades.
It was with a started detachment that Anderson watched a single blade of pulsing energy punch straight up through his chest, and as blood poured from his lips and darkness overcame him, he knew that he was dead.
Restricted Communiqué from Colonel Jane Parker to Office of Naval Intelligence Section 1 / 02 / 04 / 2545 (Human Military Calendar)
UNITED NATIONS SPACE COMMAND TRANSMISSION 117586-11
PUBLIC KEY: FILE / PARIS-SPARDA-FALCON-THREE /
FROM: COLONEL JANE PARKER, COMMANDING OFFICER IO RESEARCH BASE GAMMA II / UNSC SERVICE NUMBER: 12852-15965-BQ)
TO: ADMIRAL STANFORTH, UNSC FLEET COMMAND,
REACH NAVAL HQ'S / UNSC SERVICE NUMBER: 00843-86573-GE)
SUBJECT: COVENANT MILITARY OCCUPATION OF NEW CARTHAGE
CLASSIFICATION: RESTRICTED (ONI SECURITY REGULATION)
I can only pray this reaches you, every other channel I've been slamming my head against for the past three days. You remember New Carthage, third largest colony in the Alpha Khan cluster we lost in late 44, it wasn't glassed!
We'd suspected the Covenant of having established a long range supply point for their fleet within this sector since the beginning for 45, we found it. Bastard's have occupied New Carthage, probably had boots planet side ever since it fell but our recent probe's uncovered something else, there are still humans on the colony.
The Covenant have occupied every major city on the central plateau, and by every indication they've enslaved the population. We've identified dozens of concentration facilities based specifically around area's rich in mineral resources. There working the enslaved colonists to death in those camps and replenishing their workforce from the cities and countryside.
I know the fleet is stretched thin, and with the recent losses at Miridem and Tokyo III the resources for an offensive at any level are non-existent but we have to do something, there being exterminated Michael. By all records the infrastructure on New Carthage has collapsed, agriculture, medical service and basic water supply has ceased to exist, the Covenant aren't even trying to feed the colonists. New Carthage had a pre-war population of over ninety million; we estimate the death count to be over forty percent, probably higher and the Covenant aren't discriminating; children are being starved to death. As a mother I can't sit on this and do nothing.
It isn't just the impact on moral this will have if and when it gets out. Any action against the Covenant at New Carthage would have real-term strategic benefits. The colony was rich in selenium and technetium among other elements; we believe like us the Covenant use this in the servicing of their FTL drives. We know the Covenant are consolidating their battle groups beyond the frontier, looking for a beachhead before their final drive into the heart of UNSC space. I'm not privy to ONI's logistic engine's but any ensign now knows that push is going to come before the decade is out, at the end of 53 if were lucky. Sabotaging there supply lines at New Carthage would buy us months, even years before that offensive comes.
I'm not asking for an entire task force. A small well armed insertion team and a single prowler could slip onto New Carthage unnoticed and get the job done. I know the Spartan II's are likely requisitioned by the Admiralty all the way to Christmas year 9999 but even an ODST team would be acceptable. It may give those poor souls on the planet some reprieve and ensure the millions already lost haven't died in vain, please think about it.
UNSC Base Gamma, Io
Col Jane Parker
The Occupation of New Carthage - Chapter 1 - Homecoming
Date: 24 April 2014, 7:20 pm
Chapter 1 Homecoming
"The Terrestrial Legionnaire's were a development of the late Covenant military, founded during the most turbulent cycles of the 22nd Age of Doubt.
The Covenant Empire of this era had been immersed in a number of bloody conflicts across the Orion spiral arm for well over a generation. In the spinward regions of the empire the Covenant fleets were locked into a vicious and costly border war with the expansionist Pfhor Homogony, the dreaded raider fleets of the infamous Pfhor pirate states pushing ever closer to the Sangheili core worlds. As war raged across the spinward frontier Jiralhanae insurgents from Doisac to the Talakreche world's had simultaneously plunged the entire anti-spinward corridor into a sector wide rebellion against the ruling High Council.
The backbone of the Covenant Ground Forces during this period were the Interstellar Field Legions. Comprised of a battle hardened core of state funded professional Sangheili warriors and officers, the Field Legion's were augmented during wartime with auxiliary battalions of indentured warriors from the various Covenant client races. Despite their crack training and advanced technology, it is a simple (and brutal) reality of warfare that in a conflict spanning hundreds of systems and thousands of inhabited worlds, no volunteer army no matter how well disciplined or equipped can simultaneously protect every planet from the marauding armies of foreign states whilst combating the depravations of internal dissidents.
The Terrestrial Legion's were initially formed as a strategic reserve to support the Field Legions in times of planetary invasion or rebellion. Raised locally from Sangheili colonists, every able bodied male and female between the ages of 10 32 cycles was expected to serve for a minimum of five annual cycles. (For those human readers interested in the Covenant Ground Forces of this era, an annual cycle on Sangheilios is equal two standard human years on Earth. A ten year period of service for what effectively amounts to conscripted national service may seem unusually long however a Sangheili's standard life cycle is significantly greater than that of a human, with the average Sangheili living to over a hundred and fifty standard human years of age. The period of military service is therefore proportionate when taken into perspective.)
With the tactical flexibility that the Terrestrial Legion's offered, the combined Covenant military was able to regroup its beleaguered fleets and field armies before counterattacking in a series of centrally coordinated offensives. During the final cycles of the 22nd Age of Doubt the Covenant Empire inflicted a number of crushing defeats of the Pfhor fleets whilst the rebel worlds in the anti-spin corridor were gradually blockaded and stormed one by one. The Covenant Empire had weathered a time of great hardship and loss, and had emerged the stronger because of it.
The strategic value of the Terrestrial Legionnaire's was not to be overlooked by the Covenant leadership of future generations. Rather than being disbanded, the reserve legions were integrated into the existing Covenant Ground Forces. In the cycles that followed the Terrestrial Legionnaire's would increase their selection pool to the most far flung and isolated of Covenant colony world's and outposts, whilst the standard term of service would be reduced from five to three standard cycles, with conscripts given the option to defer their service by a minimum of three cycles to allow for prior commitments. Most importantly the Terrestrial Legionnaire's would be deployed off world to serve alongside their contemporary kin in the Field Legions. In the coming cycles the Terrestrials Legionnaire's would serve with distinction in the bloody Phfor & Xenotine rim wars, the latter Jiralhanae rebellions and off course the religiously motivated crusades against the distant and remote human enclaves on the edge of the spiral rim.
As an interesting side note, the Terrestrial Legionnaires were one of the few military units to maintain gender segregation amongst its warriors, with each legionary formation from legionnaire to Field Master (or Mistress) being comprised entirely of either males or females. A contemporary throwback to the ancient Sangheili Space Forces, when a clan's lineage was as deemed as precious a resource as raw materials are to a sovereign state today (and the implications of an unplanned pregnancy legitimate precedent to war), the practice nonetheless created a unique identify amongst the Terrestrial legions.
In retrospect the original intention of the custom was rendered moot by the necessities of war. In the countless deployment zones, troop transports and active pacifications zones, legions were marshalled with little consideration to clan or gender loyalties, warriors mixed and inevitably unplanned compilations developed. Suffice to say pregnancy control implants soon became mandatory for every single female terrestrial legionnaire.
- Exert from "Covenant Ground Forces of the Ages of Conversion Reclamation" by Han' Fulsamee (Umbrella Military Publishing circa 2749)"
Location: Covenant Colonized Sepherian System
Date: 02 / 01 / 2545 (Human Military Calendar)
90 Days prior to events of Prologue
The Covenant fleet breached slip-space on the very edge of the Sepherian system, three dozen lances of arching light piecing the dark void of space. Their rapid insertion trajectories curved them around the expansive debris fields that dotted the outer planets several thousands kilometre's anti-spinward from the system's capital world, Sepheria Luminare.
CCS-class battle cruisers, auxiliary carriers, escort destroyers and twice as many support ships. From their entry point the fleet was shielded by the planets sole gas giant and largest planetary body, a classic attack strategy. Aboard his antique yet still fully function Command Carrier, the Fleet Master split his forces, the sleek tear dropped vessel's skimming Koreshla's atmosphere like the ancient whales of Sangheilios's oceans of times past.
In the inner system, the capital world's automated defences were already coming to bear on the interloper's fleet, as drifting plasma mines and defensive weapon platforms in high orbit activated their targeting systems. Colossal plasma cannons and mounted energy projectors built into the planet's orbital rings and artificial satellites swiftly targeted the approaching vessels as every single warship of the Covenant Armada on patrol in the system broke from their assigned patrol routes to intercept the invaders. Over four hundred and fifty capital ships were pulled back to defend what many considered to be the most vital colony world in the Covenant's expansive empire.
Aboard the interloper's flagship, with a throaty chuckle and more than a few panicked glances from his underling's the Fleet Master conceded the old game to the system's masters. Passing a wiry claw like hand over his personal command pedestal the Sangheili warrior transmitted the encryption codes known to only a handful within the Covenant's ruling hierarchy, moments before honour, regulation and tradition would seen his fleet obliterated. In a fraction of a second the encryption codes were received, authenticated and verified. Sepheria Luminare extensive defences deactivated one by one as the approaching ships were re-classified from unknown contacts to allied ships of the Covenant Armada.
The Fleet Master was an aged specimen. He had served during the Age of Doubt, the pacification wars of the Jiralhanae and the early cycles of the Covenant Empire's crusades against the blasphemous humans. Relegated to a ceremonial role, he did so immensely enjoy keeping the system's commander's on their hooves.
The Sangheili passengers flocked into the expansive observation deck of the cruiser Divine Judgement in their hundreds as the fleet cleared the upper atmosphere of the bloated gas giant, coming into clear view of the shining sphere that was Sepheria Luminare.
Gathered amongst her sister legionnaire's Suka' Nakitee felt a chocking flood of emotions swelling inside of her. Joy, awe and perhaps even a tinge of fear, a sensation felt no doubt by many of her kin. Sepheria Luminare was the birth world of many aboard that observation deck, and none had seen it in over three full cycles.
As the fleet pushed forward into the inner system, Sepheria Luminare solidified into a more recognizable planetoid. Under the crystal white atmosphere Nakitee could pick out vast continents and polar ice caps separated by an interwoven seabed of shimmering aqua oceans. It was every bit the gleaming jewel Nakitee had remembered during the last few cycles she had spent cooped up inside her shielded barracks, or patrolling the swamp infested borderlands between the Jiralhanae hunting tribes of the scattered Talakreche worlds.
A sharp nudge beneath her ribs drew Nakitee's attention back to the observation deck where another Sangheili female of slightly shorter build and structure had emerged from the tight press to stand beside her. Like Nakitee the Sangheili wore simple robes over her black military bodyglove and combat harness. Her skin bore a touch deeper shade then many aboard the ship, not the colour of someone born under Sepheria Luminare's star but that of a warmer world.
"So this is the shining beacon of the Covenant Empire" Falshree mused folding her arms in mock theatrics, "The first colony, gateway to the spinward worlds, mirror to the Holy City
"Your point is taken Zera" Nakitee countered waving her friend to silence, "Now swallow it before someone plasma weld's your mandibles shut."
Zera' Falshree grinned widely at her companions retort, cocking her head as she glanced towards the quickly expanding colony world.
"For all the talk sister" Falshree persisted, "For all the weeping females that first tour amongst the Jiralhanae's equatorial cities, I expected something, more."
"To you perhaps sister" Nakitee replied, "My family is down there. A home I have not seen for over three cycles. I've prayed many nights that I would make it home alive to see this world."
"And whilst you were praying for that" Falshree muttered, pretending to stifle a cough in her throat, "I was preying for something very different, and it was neither family nor home. Though he did have two legs and the most pleas
Nakitee's claw whipped out towards her friends head, Falshree chuckling as she ducked under the blow. It was the same old Falshree she had come to treasure almost as much as a blood kin these last three cycles. The observation deck was filled with Sangheili from her lance and the greater cohort. Every single one of them alive today she knew by name and had come to love them all as her sisters, as well as those who had not returned.
To her immediate right was a slim Sangheili named Zakamee. The unit's medical adjutant was watching the passing orbital traffic, her forearms resting on the observation decks protective rail. The slightly older female was known to be somewhat anxious at the best of times, always fretful about the hatchling she had birthed just before she had shipped out to begin her mandatory term of service.
A few paces away and towering above her sister legionnaire's stood Tasmansee, the lance's heavy weapons specialist. It was well known and frequently contested that she was the physically strongest warrior in the cohort. By her side was a lithe Sangheili named Ahrmonree, one of the lance's four designated sharp shooters and reputably Tasmansee's lover. The maverick female was known to instantly modify any weapons she got her claws on, religious regulations be damned.
Regrettably Elar' Putamee, their lance's commander and a seasoned warrior was laid out in the cruiser's infirmary, apparently suffering from a rare and quite aggressive strain of Talakreche flu. The ship's Healer's had told them that she would be laid low for a full quarter of a cycle, but that she should make a full recovery in time.
Sepheria Luminare was rapidly growing in size before them. Beyond the energy shielded viewing port Nakitee could begin to pick out the individual landmasses from between the oceans. Her home was on the peripheral edge of the globe. Sunrise would be soon and her family would awake if they had not already risen.
Sepheria Luminare was not any mere colony world in the Covenant's vast dominion of space. Being one of the first extra-solar colonies of the pre-covenant Sangheili Empire many millennia ago, it had become a triumphant symbol of her people's mastery of the stars, their first mark in an interstellar civilisation that would endure for millennia. Subsequent generations of space travel had forged the resource rich system into a focal point for every major trade route and supply line that wound their way through the ever expanding Covenant Empire. Today the system saw more inter-system travel then some of the homeworld's.
As the cruiser's approach vector brought them closer and closer to Luminare's orbit, Nakitee could make out the expansive network of spaceports, dry-docks and defence satellites that ringed the entire world in two halo like superstructures, one stretching over the equator and the other over the polar ice caps. Hundreds of Covenant warships from small CPV-class destroyers and corvettes to immense assault carriers were locked into the colossal dry docks built into the rings. Nakitee knew from her father's correspondence that the dry-docks were in continuous use all cycle as task forces arrived from the front lines, rearmed and departed in the ongoing wars against the humans.
"Your father's ship" Falshree asked, "Do you know which one it is?"
"No" Nakitee shook her head, "He took command of a Reverent-class heavy cruiser last cycle. It is one of a new classification, only forty have so far been constructed." She reached out and pointed towards one of the dry docks at the far side of the planet, "That could be it but I can't be sure from this distance."
An alert sounded throughout the ship cutting the two Sangheili off from their conversation. Nakitee recognized it as the warning given when the ship was on its final approach vector. Steadily and without rush the Sangheili began to vacate the observation deck.
Nakitee and Falshree collected their meagre possessions from their hold. Three full cycles of occupation duty on a smattering of backwater Jiralhanae colonies garnered few souvenirs. Saying a customary goodbye to the ship they departed to the cruiser's expansive hanger bays. Already a small but significant number of Sangheili were waiting there, vacuum sealed duffel bags slung over their shoulders. Clearly they were not the only ones who wanted to get off the ship fast.
Kig-yar in heavy radiation suits guided the females to Shadow-class dropship's waiting on the hanger deck to transport them to the surface. Nakitee and Falshree sat together towards the rear of the drop-ship's starboard fin.
"Ah, my favorite part" Falshree said as she strapped herself in.
"Gods" Nakitee muttered, "I hate space travel."
A moment later the drop-ship launched, and Nakitee could swear she felt her stomach trying to force its way up into her throat.
The northern continental spaceport was a bustling hive of activity as ships from every corner of the Covenant Empire docked, offloaded their cargo, refuelled and launched in an endless cycle of sunrise and sunset. Hundreds of thousands of Covenant citizens passed through the city sized space port everyday, and below the crowded upper levels a vast army of Yanme'e and Huragok engineers toiled to keep the miniature city's four plasma reactors running.
Suka' Nakitee's Spirit drop-ship touched down on the southern tip of one of the spaceports eight major landing pads along with four other low atmospheric transports. The females filed off in practiced military efficiency, Unggoy workers guiding them down the ramps that ringed the expansive landing pads.
It was for the first time in over three cycles that Nakitee felt the humid air brush against her skin whilst powerful rays from Sepheria's burning sun singed her brow and gently warmed the back of her neck. Taking a deep breath, Nakitee closed her eyes and allowed the air to fill her lungs. It was not the choking spores of some Forerunner forsaken swamp world or the stuffy recycled air of a starship but the clean familiar air of her birth world.
The female legionnaire's preceded through the arrival halls where they mixed with the vast crowds of new arrivals which were descending through the vast superstructure of the spaceport. Nakitee saw Sangheili merchants and bureaucrats, scribes and warriors on leave. Kig-yar traders were also amongst them and a small number of Jiralhanae could be seen working their way through the winding passages and bays which ran the length of the spaceport, like the arterial arteries of some great leviathan from the ocean.
Just outside of central transport hub Falshree folded her claw like hand around Nakitee's arm and pulled her to one side.
"This is where I must leave you" Falshree said, her dark eyes gleaming in the luminous lighting of the walls.
"Sister, you know you are always welcome in my family's estate" Nakitee replied, "Why not come and stay with us for just a few rotations."
"You know that I can take care of myself Nakitee", Falshree grinned, "We will stay in touch. You have my comm.'s frequency, do you not?"
With a nod of her head Nakitee flicked her wrist, a small holo-unit built into her armguard expanded into a holographic dome above her palm. Nakitee navigated the holo-interface, checking that her friends contact frequency was loaded and saved before dismissing the holo-dome with another flick of her wrist.
The two sister legionnaire's lent into each other, clasping arms beneath their cloaks. Clicking her mandibles Falshree brushed past her friend and made her way towards on of the waiting grav transports.
"Contact me come sunrise" Nakitee called "We will arrange a time and place to meet."
"Better make that two sunrises" Falshree called back as she stepped onto the grav craft, "And bring the strongest flask of caffeine money can buy. My head will need the clarity after the night that I have planned."
Nakitee shook her head, "Just stay safe Falshree" she laughed, "Do not do anything foolish."
"And where would be the fun in that?"
After watching Falshree's own transport glide silently away on a single luminous grav line, Nakitee boarded her own waiting transport. Making her way down the steps that descended the spaceport's upper platforms and transport hubs she was greeted by a latticework of lush expansive gardens that ringed the outskirts of the spaceport's gates. The gardens were thronged with hundreds, perhaps thousands of Sangheili and attendant Unggoy servants. She scanned the sea of faces as she reached the base of the steps. It had been so very long.
She never saw the two younglings until they were almost under her hooves, bursting out from between the adult Sangheili before her. The children bounded into her legs with such force that Nakitee was almost knocked backwards. Biting down a curse at the back of her throat Nakitee reached down clasping each hatchling by the scruff of their necks and none to gently hoisting them from her legs.
"What in the Gods" she breathed, "What are you two
She suddenly stopped, her eyes narrowing as she looked the two younglings over. Three cycles was a long time indeed. The two hatchlings had been much smaller when she had seen them last newly emerged from their eggs, blind and deaf in her parent's birth crèche.
Kneeling down Nakitee hooked a powerful arm under each youngling and lifted them into the air. Her siblings giggled as she embraced them in a crushing bear hug.
"How you two have grown" Nakitee said as she deposited them both back to the ground.
The emergence of two other Sangheili from the pressing crowd drew Nakitee's attention from her siblings. One of them, a towering male was clad in the golden armour of a Ship Master, his imposing height and muscular build ensured the bunched crowd maintained a respectful distance. The second Sangheili was a female, a lither figure then her mate and clad in a simple yet expensively embroiled cloak and hood.
"My daughter" the Ship Master said, reaching towards Nakitee and clasping her in his huge arms, "By the Forerunners look at you! My child has become a full grown Sangheili of beauty and strength."
"Father" Nakitee replied, leaning into the Sangheili's chest, a chest she had not huddled into for over three long cycles. The armour had been silver then, Varo' Nakitee Commander but not the master of the ship he now captained.
Nakitee's mother approached, soothing the chuckling hatchlings with a claw on each of their shoulders. As her father released her from his chest, she turned towards the Sangheili that had hatched her.
"Suka" Essa' Nakitee said as she reached forward and hooked Nakitee's chin in her slender claws, "Oh how you have grown. You were but a child when you left us, and now you return not just an adult but a warrior, confident and disciplined."
Nakitee smiled, her mandibles parting in a gesture of affection. She had not yet communicated to her parents her desire to leave the military, but saw the unsaid understanding in her father's eyes. He had rarely spoken of his campaigns against the humans, but she knew he had seen things, committed acts we would never wish his children to have to witness for themselves.
Her parents led her to a private transport, a civilian model Spectre which was parked in one of the spaceports depots. Her sibling's played a game in the rear most seats concerning who could swipe hardest and who could duck their head out of the way of their brother's oncoming claws the fastest in an alternating pattern of giggles and yelps. The adults talked all the way back to the Nakitee family estate.
Varo' Nakitee met his old friend and colleague at the Temple of Sanctus in the late evening, just as Luminare's bloated sun was settling in the east far behind the great mountain chains. The Vestal Shrine was on the outskirts of the capital city's southern quarter nestled between the sloping marble avenues of the administrative district and the expansive fields of the continental plains.
Commander Taia' Korequee was knelt in silent prayer before the temple's central alter, his claw like hands folded across his chest and his head bowed humbly inside the sanctum's walls.
Varo paused at the edge of the temple, taking a moment to admire the age old structure. It was not among the grandest of temples on Sepheria Luminare's soil. The rich Sangheili colony world was hardly short of majestic and elaborate shrine's as wealthy pilgrims provided a large proportion of the planet's annual income. For those who attended its holy ground's that evening, the temple was a place of quite refuge and sanctuary in an otherwise cruel and chaotic universe.
Korequee breathed in deeply, his conjoined lung expanding under his rib cage as he opened his eyes, his body still.
"How long has it been Nakitee" he asked without turning around "three cycles? And when?"
"Our engagement above their agricultural world" Varo replied with a click of his lower mandibles, "What did the humans call it?" he asked rhetorically, titling his head towards the sky.
"Kholo" Korequee replied in deeply accented Sangheili. Slowly the Special Operation's Commander rose to his full height and stretched his shoulders before clasping his hands behind his back. He had not yet turned from the alter.
"I hope you have not been waiting their long Ship Master."
Varo shook his head in amusement, "It is impolite to disturb the contemplation of another in a place of worship."
"Utter drivel" Korequee retorted throatily, "Prolonged exposure to my rhetoric already drives a good portion of our cadet's to near suicide each cycle. What I am doing here to our Lord's must amount to the greatest sacrilege of all my brother."
Varo stared at Korequee, his mandibles clenching tightly. What his old friend had just said was borderline heresy, but he could not hold it in any longer.
Varo sniggered, clasping a clawed hand over his mouth as he tried to stifle further laughter, tried and failed. Korequee chuckled, his deep throaty chortle wringed throughout the Temple preceding the rumbling laughter of the two warriors which drew sharp glares from the other worshipers there that evening.
They speedily vacated the Temple of Sanctus in due haste, finding a quite tavern which overlooked the sprawling plains on the edge of the city. Varo hailed the attending Unggoy waiter and ordered two thick sacra ale's, tipping the creature two antiquated metal coins. The two Sangheili found seats and a table on the very edge of the street where they caught the most of the sun, the little Unggoy servant returning with their drinks a moment later.
"A fine cruiser" Korequee commented as he picked up his flagon of ale, "the Eternal Luminance."
Varo paused, cocking his head towards the Commander, "My promotion has not yet been made official. How in the Heaven's did you know?"
"I have my sources Nakitee. And while I am not naming any names, your tactical officer becomes quite talkative after a few dozens drinks."
Varo clicked his lower mandibles, "I'll discuss Valkuriee's liberal interpretation of confidentially with him upon my return, but enough of business. I have cause for celebration this sunrise."
"Your daughter" Korequee said, clicking his clawed fingers, "Suka?"
Varo nodded as he took a sip of his ale, "She returned early this morning. I have not left the family estate all day."
"How many cycles is she now, twelve?"
"Your bond mate must be glad she has returned" Korequee said, "If there is certainly one thing the Jiralhanae are worse at then being allies, it's subjects."
"I think I preferred them as enemies" Varo replied, "The Jiralhanae are now free to carry weapons in their own cities, and ever since the amalgamation our soldiers cannot fire without provocation, true provocation I mean."
"You mean an obstinate glare is no longer justification for a beating" Korequee asked rhetorically, "May just happen that the hairy primate is related to the local tribal Chieftain."
"Their leaders plead to the High Council of their insecurity" Varo hissed, "They beg us to support their claims then tie the hands of our warriors before they have even set hooves upon the Jiralhanae's infernal worlds. It put's our young at risk."
Shrugging his shoulders Korequee drained the last of his flagon in one long mouthful before rising to his hooves and stretching his neck, "Has your daughter decided what to do now she has returned to your estate?"
"Her mandatory term of service is now complete" Varo replied, returning his now empty flagon to the table, "She was never keen on pursuing a military career past her compulsory service. Before she left for the Talakreche world's the Ministry of Fortitude had already offered her a position within the Central Archives and Account's."
"A respectable position" Korequee agreed, "Close to the capital and well paid." He scratched at his lower mandibles, staring at the far mountain ranges to the west, "I still remember our own service, the Y'Deio system."
"Blasted Kig-yar and their infernal satellite colonies" Varo hissed as he rose from his seat, "Couldn't have colonized actual planets like a normal race."
"Then straight after our mandatory service was complete, we were thrust into those bloody skirmishes with the Pfhor in the Qual'tek systems" Korequee continued, turning towards Varo and folding his arms, "phony war my hind. We lost almost a hundred ships. The Fleet of Valiant Prudence was mauled to the bone, whilst the Pfhor had landed almost twenty legions planetside before we cut them off from their supply lines."
Varo shook his head at the thought, "I remember. God's if the Seeker of Truth hadn't made that last assault run against their battleships, their storm troops could have overrun us. They nearly did as it was. It did seem the Hierarchs and the High Council were out to kill us that cycle."
"And now we find ourselves immersed in yet another war" Korequee said as he leant back against the taverns outer wall, "Be thankful your daughter's service is finally at an end."
"The Humans" Varo snorted with a derisive shake of his head, "You cannot compare our campaign's against the infidel's to the slaughter and raiding our people suffered at the hands of the Pfhor. The humans cannot threaten our worlds and we continue sweep aside their defenses cycle after cycle, scattering their fleets wherever they mass. They cannot stand before us."
"In space your argument holds true" Korequee conceded, "yet it is a different story entirely planet side. Our clashes with the Pfhor, even our wars against Jiralhanae insurrectionists had rules and boundaries, dictated by our simple desire for conquest. Our crusade against the humans allows for no such rules, our only objective is their complete extermination, and they know this. Eradication impels an enemy to fight harder then any other and can make the most inferior of races dangerous beyond all measure."
"Our crusade with there kind is nearly ended" Varo pressed, "Every Ship Master anti-spinward of Sangheilios knows this. We press closer and closer to their home systems with each passing cycle, confining them to ever tightening pocket. Soon we will be able to draw the bulk of their ships into a single decisive engagement and eradicate their fleet once and for all."
"I would not be so eager to engage them in a mainline battle" Korequee countered waiving a clawed forefinger in front of his friend, "even with their crude weaponry and propulsion technologies, they have shown a tenacity that verges on suicidal genius at times. They inflicted crippling losses on our forces at Minoris and Miridem even if we were able to glass their worlds, and their Fleet Commander's entrapment of our ships at Psi Serpentis was nothing short of sheer tactical brilliance."
"Fleet Master Zakukree was beyond incompetent" Varo growled, "I understand that his two daughters have been forbidden from breeding and had he survived his defeat the High Council would have strung him up by his entrails. It matters little, the humans infernal Admiral, this Cole perished in the battle. Wattinree will ensure Psi Serpentis isn't repeated."
"He would be best not to" Korequee said, "We can ill afford the loss of so many trained warriors again. It is exactly this kind of kind of incident that would make your daughters military record so appetising to the Ministry of Resources."
"Conscription?" Varo paused before shaking his head, "They wouldn't dare. Her generation have served their three cycles in armour, and they would have to come through me first. Let them draw their resources from the next pool of draftees, we are hardly short of young warriors."
Korequee glanced back towards the distant mountains, letting the evening sun gently bake the skin on his face, "How long are you back for?"
"I'm not sure. Half the fleet of Particular Justice is docked in high orbit along with the vessels of Vigilance, Prudence and a dozen others. I'm on leave until further notice."
"Interesting" Korequee mused, massaging his lower mandibles with a knuckle, "Over forty Special Operation Brigades have been recalled so far, thousands of warriors are returning daily. The Academy is literally awash with returned warriors cooling their hooves. I've already heard every brewery from here to the southern polar caps has been emptied. Not even the merchants new so many were returning."
"Then you believe the High Council is preparing for a major offensive?"
Korequee didn't respond right away, pondering his friends words, "Or at least a significant redeployment of our available assets to pre-empt a multiple system advance. But the rearming of our fleet alone will keep us busy until the end of the cycle and I would wager the humans still have a sizable fleet between us and their homeworld, wherever in this spiral arm that may be."
"We can wait" Varo decided, "After all. Time is our ally and our enemy's adversary. Even if it takes another ten cycles we will see the beginning of the Great Journey within our lifetimes, within my children's lifetimes."
Korequee turned back towards him, his mandibles clenching tightly and his eyes sober. All at once Varo knew the memory he had disturbed, the one his friend had tried so hard to suppress.
"I still remember that day in the hatchery" Korequee said, "Orsi delivering the hatchling, passing her to Essa
Korequee faltered, his claws curling around the empty flagon in his hand.
"She loved you Taia" Varo said, clasping his hand over Korequee shoulder guard, "With all her heart. Had it not been for your partner, my own child, possibly even Essa may not be here now. I owe your family a debt that I can never repay."
"Her passing was the hardest cycle of my life" Korequee said, "But it was also the same day that your daughter was born Nakitee. Orsi loved your family. She'd have wanted this day to be one of happiness, for both of us."
The Sangheili Special Operation's Group possessed a bond stronger then blood.
They were the best of all arms of the combined Covenant military. They were experienced, they were battle hardened and they drilled until they psychically bled. As a result their pay was high, their unit's small and their deployments long.
Seldom did a cohort much less an entire brigade receive indefinite leave on colony world as affluent and prosperous as Sepheria Luminare. In was a time honoured tradition that when the Forerunners graced the warriors of the vaunted Special Operation's Group with such a bounty, they would drink their host city dry, or be rushed the nearest field hospital trying.
Juha' Relusee estimated he was about half way there. Then he recalled he was extremely drunk, and really shouldn't be listening to himself.
His immediate fourunit milled around the table in various states of consciousness. Across the table Zel' Tasolmee, a thickly set bullish warrior grappled with a returning terrestrial legionnaire by the name of Zera' Falshree. The two were teetering on the edge of the same chair and had not parted mandibles for the past few units. Relusee knew Tasolmee was not perfect in abiding by the Covenant's traditionally stringent ethics on mating, but in all likelihood the female had gone longer without seeing a male of her own species then vise versa.
Beside him Kalu' Texlusee, a female of patrician beauty and the reflexes of a blood wolf sat poised with her back to the wall and her eyes closed. Despite the aristocratic Sangheili's cold exterior and unsettling demeanour, the entire unit knew the female could place a carbine round between the eyes of a swamp rodent from a thousand meters, even when her head was clouded by the haze of a dozen shots of spirited alcohol.
Relusee glanced back towards the open bar, searching for the newest member of their fourunit. The club was full to bursting point with the heave of towering Sangheili warriors on leave drinking and laughing, and even a handful Jiralhanae milled in small groups. A smattering of panicked Unggoy servants scrambled between the mass of warriors trying desperately to deliver their trays of drinks and avoid the heavy hooves of the drunken Sangheili. Relusee found Varu' Kilshree not far from their table, in a heated argument with a pillar.
Relusee shook his head, looking again. He had not been mistaken. The headstrong male was standing, flagon in hand screaming bloody obscenities at a plassteel support pillar, another Sangheili beside him agreeing with every insult he hurtled.
The tavern was not particularly special. Adequate liquor, if not overpriced. Expedient service, if not always accurate yet with hundreds of thousands of warriors returning to Sepheria Luminare, such drinking holes were in short supply. Outside the street teemed with dozens more Sangheili and more then a few Jiralhanae. A large number of bouncers, thickly set former military Sangheili clad in heavy grey armour and wielding shock mauls patrolled the street breaking up clashes between crowds of rowdy off-duty soldiers.
A sequenced chime drew Relusee's attention down to the holo-unit built into his wrist gauntlet. With a flick of his claw like hand a blue hollow bubble expanded across his grey palm. With a groan he recognized the order that had been transmitted to him, a primary level report order. He had only received such an order once, shortly after the disastrous battle of Psi Serpentis and with new clarity he realized what it meant. Return to your marshal point with immediate effect no matter your rank, location or condition. Failure to report will result in the severest of punishments.
Looking up, Relusee realized he was not the only one to have received the message. Tasolmee, Texlusee, Kilshree and even Falshree were each looking at their own wrist mounted holographic interfaces, their faces suddenly sober. Not just them, Relusee realized. The tavern had fallen silent, every Sangheili looking into the blue holographic bubble across their hand. Outside dozens of glowing blue globes illuminated the night.
Word spread like wildfire across the capital. The returning Covenant legions were marching to war.
Suka' Nakitee awoke sometime deep into the night, an icy knot she had not felt since she was among the Talakreche worlds twisting painfully at her insides.
She fumbled in the darkness as her eyes adjusted to the Sepherian midnight, a searing pain spreading across her temples. Discarding the soft quilted covers Nakitee swung her legs over the edge of the bed, kneeled forward and massaged her brow. Her claws came away coated in sweat.
Something was terribly wrong. She could feel it all the way down to her bones.
Nakitee gave herself a precious few moments to compose herself, taking slow deep breaths to circulate her blood flow to every corner of her body. Gradually her head stopped spinning and the pain receded, her vision returning. Rising from her bed she strolled across her room, dispatching the holo-blind with a gentle wave of her hand. Luminare's sole moon glistened like a golden sphere high above the mainland, its gentle amber glow illuminating the capital city in place of its daily counterpart. From her family's estate Nakitee could make out the Leymor lake at the edge of the city's boundaries, the water rippling in the calm night breeze.
Standing by the window, the moon's ochre hue illuminating her skin brought another realization to the returned warrior, she was stark naked.
On the Talakreche world's she had always slept in her bodyglove, if not in her full armour during the weeks the locals were feeling that extra tad bit tenacious. Had she really been that tired the night before?
She had not felt that safe in cycles.
Wrapping herself in a simple gown of silk Nakitee made her way towards the landing, gently easing her doorway open. The corridors were shrouded in darkness that night, the automated holo-blinds allowing only the slimmest rays of moonlight to penetrate the gloom that enveloped the Nakitee household.
Suka checked on her younger siblings first, feeling with her hand for the door in the darkness. The two younglings were sound asleep, curled beneath their blankets in their joined room. An aged Unggoy housemaid was coiled on the chair in the far corner of the room, slumbering in the servant races classic sleeping position.
Ensuring the door was closed tightly behind her Nakitee made her way downstairs, descending the winding staircase that twisted its way up the spine of the old manor house. She could hear a lower murmur coming from the ground floor, the deep clipped voices of two adult Sangheili. She paused on the lower landing which overlooked the kitchen, straining to make out the words.
"Why was it not glassed!" she heard her mother scream.
She could hear her father, his voice hushed as he tried to keep their argument confined to the lower floor. Whatever it was he said, it seemed to do little to calm Nakitee's mother down.
"She's served her three cycles. The council could never enforce this order!"
Nakitee descended the final flight of steps, straining to hear what her father was saying. Something about mineral deposits, 'strategic point' she heard Varo mention.
Her mother hissed, bringing her voice down as she tried to exercise some control lest she wake the entire household. She said something about 'Unggoy workers', 'indentured labour.'
Walking across the hallway Nakitee pressed her palm to the activation crystal, the arched doorway beside her sliding silently open and illuminating the lower hallway with the kitchens artificial lighting.
"Humans should be
" her mothers words evaporated in her throat as her daughter entered the room, both parents twisting to face their first born child.
"Suka" her father said, "You're awake."
"What has happened?" she asked.
Her father parted his mandibles to speak but paused, unable to summon the words. Nakitee turned towards her mother, the family matriarch averting her eyes from her daughter, her grey claws curling around a freshly replicated parchment of transcript.
"What are you holding?"
"It's nothing" Essa lied.
"You must show her Essa" Varo said.
"Essa!" Varo barked.
With a vehement hiss Essa slapped the parchment down on the kitchen table, scowling at Varo as she did so, her eyes screaming bloody murder.
Nakitee reached forward and took the parchment from the table, the scroll emitting a soft crackle of energy as her claws creased the thin plasma field which enveloped the holo-glyph's. She scanned the document, taking note of the official emblem of the Ministry of Resource. Much of the text was regular regurgitated bureaucracy. A small part detailed the strategic necessity of access to raw materials in relation to internal security, the Covenant's various obligations to the defence of its members and allies, the untrustworthiness of their neighbouring states, and off course the ongoing crusade against the human infidels. Nakitee quickly found the origin of her parent's distress, her mandibles parting as she read the words.
First Daughter of House Nakitee
By order of the Ministry of Resource, you have been hereby selected for your previous combat experience by the Fleet of Furious Redemption.
Nakitee scanned through the rest of the document, the words burning against the inside of her skull.
Interplanetary Security Force
Occupation and Administrative Zone's
Deployment imminent. Coordinates for embarkation will follow; immediate haste must be made to such provided coordinates, no exceptions. Any violation of these orders will be punishable by death.
By order of the Prophet of Penance.
Nakitee read through the parchment a second time, and then a third time just to be certain that her eyes were not deceiving her. All was once again quite in the Sangheili household, for one brief moment.
"It's unprecedented" Essa breathed. Suka could see blood dripping from her curled fists where her mother sharp claws her were digging into her palms.
She was truly enraged.
"You don't have to go Suka."
"Essa" her father cautioned.
"She doesn't" the Sangheili woman almost screamed, "We have money and influence. What good is such wealth if you cannot use it. Whatever they want we will give it!"
Nakitee looked towards her father. He blanched, what they were discussing was illegal, the repercussions severe.
"It could be done" he replied solemnly "We have friends within the High Command, but if we are to do this I must act now."
Nakitee paused, considering the question for just one moment. That was all it took to make up her mind, "No!"
"Suka!" her mother hissed.
"My life is no more precious then any others" she replied firmly, "and I will not bring shame to your name by using its association to shirk my duty whilst others risk their lives."
"You have served your time child" Essa pleaded, "You have done no less than the empire asked of myself and your father in our youth."
"There will be others Suka" Varo said, "Without shame they will use their family's power and influence to avoid this order."
"That is their misdeed father" Nakitee replied "and it would not alleviate my own were I to follow suit. For every son or daughter to evade this order there will be many more who cannot or will not. I will not discuss this notion any further."
Her father paused, exhaling deeply, something that may well have passed for admiration crossing his face. Her mother looked like she was going to continue the argument but Suka stalled her by raising her spread hand.
"The subsequent deployment orders could come through at any moment. I must get ready to leave, possibly at first light."
She turned on her heel, walking towards the kitchen door.
"Where are you going?" her mother asked.
"To say goodbye to my brothers. I don't know when I may see them again."