Forerunner Dreadnought Anodyne Spirit, at the heart of High Charity
Despite his own twisted mind, his warped priorities, his lack of empathy or caring for any but his own race, the High Prophet of Truth could not help but feel a frisson of reverence and awe pass through him as his throne floated into the control room of the Forerunner ship. He had not been here in many cycles and that time had dimmed the memories of the awesome structure he would soon command.
The control room itself was a magnificent example of Forerunner design: a wide space with a high, domed ceiling and a raised dais at the centre, surrounded by holo-displays. Eight similar, though smaller positions were evenly distributed around the central platform, allowing a minimal command crew to operate the massive vessel at peak efficiency.
Of course, the beauty of Forerunner technology meant that no command crew was actually required. The Oracle alone could operate the ship at the speed of thought, just like his counterpart presumably did for the cursed humans on the Dreadnought they somehow possessed. Truth did not care about that. He was so close now to reaching his goal that nothing, not compassion, not empathy, not even ancient laws of the San’Shyuum would stop him.
“Oracle, attend me.” Another piece of arrogance, he commanded the Oracle, he did not “humbly request it’s wisdom” as the ancient forms mandated.
The Blue-tinted Oracle, known to its builders as 032 Mendicant Bias, floated over. “What brings you here Hierarch? After so much time, after preventing me from carrying out my repentance and bringing the Reclaimers to the Ark I somehow doubt you are here for a chat on philosophy.”
Truth smiled mirthlessly. “It is philosophy of a sort. Under the authority of the Hierarchs of the Holy Covenant, I order you to unseal the Anathema Codex.”
The Oracle twitched. The Anathema Codex was exactly what the name suggested, unthinkable. It was one of two parts of his personality matrix that had remained on the Anodyne Spirit after his loss to Offensive Bias a hundred millennia ago. Specifically, it was the part of his personality that contained the technical details of the Halo Array and its effects, along with his tactical and strategic knowledge. Worst of all, it contained the Flood’s AI logic plague that had driven him rampant in the first place. Offensive Bias had left it here, not wanting to risk contaminating the Ark, but had split it apart from the main personality and sealed it, in case Mendicant Bias ever truly repented and needed the knowledge.
“I cannot do that Hierarch. The knowledge is forbidden. It is dangerous. It is what drove me to side with the parasite against my creators. I will not access it. Certainly not without hearing your reasoning.”
Truth smiled again, just as mirthlessly as before. “The situation is critical. A schism has erupted within the Covenant. Renegade factions fight even now to seize control of one of the Holy Rings. They plan to light it, and you know what outcome that will bring. Everything will perish, including the Reclaimers you desire to serve.”
Here, then, was the ultimate heresy, the ultimate bastardisation of the Covenant’s faith. Truth knew exactly what lighting the Rings would mean. He knew the Great Journey was a myth, an invention of his ancient forebears. He had taken it, twisted it for his own ends. He had not lied when convincing those useful fools Mercy and Regret. They would become Gods – because they would be the only life left in the galaxy, with only the Forerunner constructs remaining to serve them and recreate new races to rule over.
Mendicant Bias turned away for a moment before spinning back around, fixing Truth with what would, in a mortal being, be a terrifying glare.
“And what could possibly be in the Anathema Codex that will help you?”
Truth knew he had the Oracle now. “Tell me how to shield High Charity from the effects of the Ring, and I will use it to protect the Reclaimers from the foolish actions of the renegades.”
Another half-truth, the Hierarch mused. It will protect the Reclaimers, namely me.
The Oracle would have sighed in defeat were he capable of it. This is the only way left to repent, it seems.
“Very well. Anathema Codex released. I will begin modifying the Dreadnought’s shields and expand them to cover your Holy City. I hope for your sake you did not lie to me Hierarch. I have much to repent of and you would do well to remember I have already betrayed two masters.”
Truth smiled, with genuine happiness this time. “Two betrayals is enough, Oracle, there will be no need for another.” Not on your part anyway…
The Library, Installation-05
The run through the Flood-infested Library was going remarkably smoothly all things considered. The overwhelming firepower of the Spartans, their rapid advance, the swarms of Sentinels and Enforcers and the capabilities of Dying Light made the regular encounters with Flood swarms almost…easy to deal with.
John-117 had point and his assault rifle barked out another burst on instinct as a carrier form waddled around the next corner. The bulbous form collapsed and burst like a wet, disgusting grenade, scattering several infection forms. They did not have a chance to get far as a zat blast from Fred jumped between them, popping them one after another. It had become a routine, one that first emerged in the charge for the AI Core and only refined in the Library. The Spartans had quickly learned what the ODST’s had realised, the Flood were ambush predators and while the Library offered them much better opportunities then the wide open killing field on the surface, the Spartans were, quite simply, much deadlier than the ODST’s were.
Cortana, meanwhile, was conversing with Dying Light. “Why is this so comparatively easy? The only defences here, other than the Sentinels, are a few locked doors that you can override.”
Dying Light hummed contentedly. “The Library was designed to secure the Index from the Flood or accidental activation. In any containment breach, a Reclaimer would have the Monitor with them to direct the Sentinels and open the doors. Under normal circumstances the Flood should not be here at all, it is only because Penitent Tangent betrayed us that they are this deep into the facility. Reclaimers, additional combat forms detected, bearing 310, range 20…”
He trailed off as Malcolm calmly fired off a trio of rounds from the grenade launcher he carried. The rounds exploded all at once, each one perfectly aimed at the head of a combat form in the middle of the group. Those forms simply collapsed, the ones further out were burned and shredded by shrapnel. They fell to the floor and did not rise.
Dying Light would smile if he could. “…Never mind. Turn left in twenty metres, this is the last elevator that will take us to the Index.” He added an objective marker on the assorted HUDs just to be safe and returned to pondering the Flood-killing abilities of the soldiers around him. Their combat skins may only be equivalent to class three, and their weapons were primitive but he could not argue their effectiveness.
The team raced onto the massive platform and quickly took up formation. Nine of them formed an outer ring, weapons pointed outwards. Another nine formed the inner ring, weapons pointed upwards to watch the upper reaches of the space. The final three reloaded their heavy weapons and prepared to lend fire wherever it was needed.
At the centre Dying Light surveyed the formation approvingly and then activated the platform. It descended at a steady rate. A mere handful of Flood forms attempted to leap down upon them only to be cut down by rifle fire or zat bolts. The Flood presence in the Library had been severely reduced and there were very few creatures they could infect to gain more numbers, a relative handful of Covenant soldiers that had been grabbed hours before.
The platform settled into place back on the ground floor of the Library. At the centre floated the Index in its secure storage device. Dying Light examined it briefly to ensure it was not damaged and then turned to John-117.
“This duty falls to you Reclaimer. I can securely carry the Index to the Control Room, but you must remove it from storage. This is the final security measure – against both Flood penetration and the betrayal of Monitors alike.”
John nodded imperceptibly and reached out. Once his armoured hand touched the Index, the secure casing clicked and shifted, leaving a simple hardlight rod behind. Such apocalyptic power in such an innocuous device, John thought, before a memory floated through his mind, dredged up from some of his near-endless reading of military history during his childhood/training. This must be how the silo crews felt when seeing the launch keys, back in the 20th century.
He held the Index out to Dying Light, who reverently levitated it over to his casing and absorbed it. The yellow lights blinked a few times before he spoke.
“The Index is secure. Flood presence in the Library is now at less than 5% of the initial level. Excellent work Reclaimer. I will now take us to the Control Room for the firing sequence.”
There was a series of twenty-two golden flashes and the Library was devoid of non-Flood life once more.
Installation-05 Control Room
The third copy of Dying Light was at that moment carefully scanning the quarantined Covenant ships. Five of their battlecruisers hovered a hundred kilometres above the ring’s surface, obeying their orders not to move away until told it was safe.
Dying Light hummed, regretting what must be done. The various copies had absorbed enough knowledge from Preston Cole over the last months to know that destroying the contaminated vessels was a regrettable but necessary act. This chimed strongly with his own base programming, the Monitors were meant to protect life after all.
Finally reaching his conclusion, he opened a comms channel to three of the ships. “This is the Oracle 010 Dying Light, in control of Installation-05. Your ships have been carefully scanned and have no signs of Flood contamination, you may depart immediately to re-join your comrades.”
Over the channel came the clicking of mandibles. The senior Shipmaster rumbled. ”As you will Oracle.” After a short delay the three clean ships fired their main engines, moving rapidly away from the ring and the two condemned ships.
Another channel was opened, this time to the two ships that showed traces of the parasite. They had kept their shields down and their engines offline as per the Imperial Admiral’s orders, all while desperately hoping their ships were clean. The sight of the other three ships moving away crushed those hopes. Dying Light did not enjoy this, not one bit.
“Covenant ships, my scans show your vessels are contaminated. As per the orders of the Reclaimer and your own Imperial Admiral, you must be destroyed to prevent the infection from spreading. I apologise for this, but I have no choice. Farewell.”
He closed the channel before he could hear the enraged bellow of the crews. The passive fire-control solution he had developed over the last half-hour was precise enough to guarantee only one salvo was needed, but he had to be sure. It was not enough simply to destroy the two doomed ships, they had to be utterly obliterated.
From no less than fifty points on the surface of the ring, massive green bolts suddenly leaped up into the heavens, crossing the hundred-kilometre distance in the blink of an eye. They tore into the structures of the two battlecruisers, burning away everything they touched. In less than a tenth of a second, every plasma reactor and both slipspace drives were catastrophically ruptured, adding uncontained boiling plasma to the destruction. The green and blue flares faded, leaving nothing behind.
Dying Light felt saddened by this. Such a waste, had Penitent Tangent done his duty this would never have happened.. He had no time to ruminate further as twenty-two golden flashes heralded the arrival of the Spartans and his copy.
“You were successful then?” Dying Light-3 asked Dying Light-2.
“Correct. I see the contaminated ships have been neutralised. Are the preparations underway?”
“They are. A local pulse with a radius of one light year will be ready to fire in six minutes. I understand we are to wait for the approaching large contact to arrive before triggering the pulse?”
Dying Light-2 bobbed in agreement. “Those are the Reclaimer’s orders. I will signal him that all is prepared and that these soldiers can be evacuated. No Flood forms have been detected within two thousand kilometres of the Control Room so it will be quite safe.”
UNSC Everest, near Installation-05
Preston Cole was in a maudlin mood. He knew what he would shortly do and it filled him with horror. No matter how necessary it was, no matter how many lives, both human and Covenant it would save, the mere thought if activating the ring was enough to freeze his blood.
A hologram appeared, Dying Light once again reporting in. ”It is done Reclaimer. The Index is secured in the Control Room and the local pulse is prepared. The contaminated ships have been destroyed. Your troops can be withdrawn from the surface and you can make you own way to the Control Room, your presence is vital. The firing process will take six minutes to prepare before you insert the Index.”
Cole shivered. “Very well, I will join you shortly.” The hologram faded and Cole called up another channel, this time to the Warstar.
“It’s time John. Beam up the ODSTs and Spartans then drop your spy drones and get the hell out of here.”
Jellicoe nodded mournfully, sharing his comrade’s maudlin feelings at what they were about to do. ”I should have asked beforehand but…the Control Room is shielded isn’t it? You will be coming back?”
Preston smiled at the genuine concern. “Provided there are no Flood forms within ten kilometres, yes it’s shielded. I’ve ordered Hilary to jump out with you and then return to pick me up once the pulse fires. How long till the big mushroom arrives?”
Jellicoe consulted his own situation display. ”One hour. They’ve really put the hammer down. We’re beaming up the troops now, then the Spartans. Dreadnought has already left for the rally point, the Keyship will follow once the main version of Dying Light is back aboard. I’m tempted to open up on those Jiralhanae bastards with the superlasers before we go, we haven’t had a chance to test the burst-fire mode yet.”
Preston smiled again. “Waste of firepower John, they’ll be lifeless hulks in a little over an hour…you can run your “weapons test” then if you really want. Get moving, I’ll speak with our new Covenant friends.”
Jellicoe nodded and the hologram vanished. Preston called up the Imperial Admiral next, explaining the plan. After a few short sentences, Wattinree agreed and wished him warrior’s fortune. In the distance, the Jupiter vanished in the flash of an FTL jump, while the Shield of Eternity turned and opened a huge slipspace portal, gliding into it with a grace that belied the massive shape.
Preston nodded to Hilary to carry out his orders. The Admiral vanished in the golden hues of a Forerunner teleport moments before the Everest herself jumped away.
One Hour Later
A hundred thousand kilometres from the Holy Ring, two hundred and seventy Jiralhanae battlecruisers formed a defensive cordon around the expected arrival point of the Holy City. Fourteen more battlecruisers hung almost lifeless close behind them, damage visible on all of them than ranged from severe to outright crippling.
Between them and the ring waited thousands of Sanghelli ships, from the smallest corvettes to the largest supercarriers. Their own damaged ships had either been patched up enough to withdraw, or had been evacuated and scuttled if their slipspace drives could not be repaired. The two opposing fleets were well out of range of each other and both were waiting, but for entirely different things.
Behind the Jiralhanae fleet a massive slipspace rupture tore open and High Charity emerged. The jump was plotted by Mendicant Bias to bring the Jiralhanae ships immediately within the city’s shields, thus ensuring their safety if the much larger Sanghelli force resumed the battle.
The effect was immediate. The Sanghelli fleet broke into smaller groups that all turned and began racing for slipspace, portal after portal opening and swallowing ships as the combined fleet withdrew in apparent panic.
Aboard Anodyne Spirit, Truth looked at the displays and smiled. Yes, the traitors flee, a pity it will not save them from my divine judgment.
In the ring’s Control Room, Preston Cole sighed, inserted the Index and gave the order. “Fire.”
The local pulse had been prepared well in advance, only needing the final insertion of the Index to complete the process. From thirty-six points around the ring’s inner surface, blue-white beams shot inwards to a focal point. A roiling, restless ball of light formed and grew rapidly, filling the space within the ring in barely two seconds.
And then the ring fired.
The energy pulse raced outwards, a hundred million times faster than light, covering the one light-year radius in a fraction of a second. The pulse destroyed the nervous systems of any life forms within range, be that Flood, human or Covenant. The remaining Flood on the ring perished first, close enough to the focal point that their nervous system wasn’t so much shredded as exploded, scattering biomatter all over the empty corridors.
The Covenant aboard and around High Charity should have been next, but here the Anathema Codex spared them. It was not a shield to withstand weapons fire, or physical impacts. Instead it acted like wave interference, a barrier perfectly offset from the local pulse to render it harmless – or at least non-fatal. With multiple species to protect and limited time for calculations Mendicant Bias had to opt for a “best fit” solution. While all within were still alive there were side-effects.
The Unggoy and Kig-Yar still fighting were left with what a human would call a piercing migraine. The Lekgolo, the Sanghelli and the Huragok engineers were left feeling like a human would after being hit by a taser. The Yan’me had their hive mind silenced for a while as the shock passed. The Jiralhanae and the San’Shyuum, those outside Anodyne Spirit anyway, lost all bowel control, leaving a decidedly unpleasant mess.
In the Dreadnought’s control room, Truth shuddered as the pulse’s effects washed over him but he was spared any painful or messy side-effects. He checked the displays and saw that the Jiralhanae fleet was still active. Time to press the advantage. He quickly input a series of coordinates, the ones received from Regret before his death.
“Oracle. These coordinates. This is the Portal is it not? The way to the Ark?”
Mendicant Bias could only bob in acknowledgement. “Yes Hierarch. The Portal is there.”
Truth smiled. “And so are the Reclaimers. Take us there, at once!”
End of Act 5
Well there we go, Act 5 draws to a close with the Halo fired after all. The Flood are well and truly dead.
We get more signs of just how much of a bastard Truth is. Anything is expendable for him to achieve his goal. He's basically somewhere between Anubis towards the end of SG1 season 8 (where he plans to use the Dakaara superweapon to destroy all life and start over) and Davros in his gloriously hammy "That power would set me up above the Gods!" rant.
Act 6 will see the Covenant's final charge on Earth, Mikahil Kirov using Eridanus to do something batshit-insane, and Truth getting his sweet, sweet, comeuppance.
Baltar: "I don't want to miss a moment of the last Battlestar's destruction!"
Centurion: "Sir, I really think you should look at the other Battlestar."
Baltar: "What are you babbling about other...it's impossible!"
Centurion: "No. It is a Battlestar."
Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.