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LORC: Beginnings Act 2 Pt 5 and 6
Posted By: HWPD<disaster.nick@gmail.com>
Date: 7 January 2017, 6:26 am

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Part 5
The Mercy and Betrayal

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 174 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 23, 2552: 0024hrs]
CCR-Class Research Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

"So, how are you adapting to life as one of us?" Zee 'Coal asked Ryau excitedly.

Ryau sighed, "I believe I have been doing well, there haven't been any slip-ups yet."

Zee was one of Naki's graduated students, she had also assisted her with the project that had made him what he is now. When the three of them had entered Naki's lab decks, Zee had practically swarmed Ryau with questions. Naki just had enough time to shove K`an out of the area before he had heard anything. Naki was now off elsewhere giving him a tour, leaving Ryau to be questioned by her overzealous subordinate.

She had the Device hooked up to a variety of sensors and monitors while she questioned him, she was constantly looking over to it and jotting down notes. After what felt like hours of interrogation, Zee sighed and gave off the impression that she was about to ask the final few questions."Now, have you experienced any blackouts or lapses of memory?"

Ryau shook his head. "No, everything has been pretty clear. I don't recall any."

"Good... good." Zee jotted down a few more notes on her data-pad. "Have you been feeling like yourself?"

Ryau did not respond immediately to that question like he had with the others. He had been feeling more emotion, yes. All this time with Naki sort of restored who he had been before the Spartan project, and then more. Though, then there was some sort of drive in his mind that was saying he should do what the others were doing, follow the Covenant, very unusual thoughts for him. "...I had agreed to join them pretty quick...." he thought.

After a few more moments of thinking, he finally answered. "Well... That's hard to say. Who I use to be was not allowed to show much emotion, or individuality, it was all suppressed. Now that the suppressants are gone, I am more free. But then there are other thoughts and ideas that don't feel like they're from me at all at times."

"Interesting... that may be the imprint taking hold in certain situations." She said almost like she was making an offhand remark, something he should know of already.

"Imprint?" Ryau asked.

"A mental snapshot of a Sangheili was imprinted onto your mind with the Forerunner Device. It is what gave you the ability to speak our language, and is likely driving the new urges and thoughts that feel alien to you."

"Naki didn't tell me about this..." Ryau did not know what to think now. If the decisions and urges he had been acting on had not been his own, had he really decided? Did the thoughts he was thinking now, belong to whoever had been used for the imprint, was he even who he thought he use to be? Ryau rubbed his forehead."Slow down, are you telling me that there is another person in my head?"

Zee waved her hand. "No no no, The imprint was only a language transfer and a minor bit of cultural understanding. It is only you in there, no need to worry."

Ryau leaned back and sighed. That was good to hear. All this new information caused his mind to spin faster than he thought it was capable of. "That's... honestly a relief to hear."

She nodded."As for why Science Major 'Cimutee did not tell you... she probably does not know. A near complete imprint was ordered by the High Prophet, but 'Cimutee refused, citing that it would skew the results. It was my doing to expand the imprint to culture and societal understanding from the host scan, so that they would think a complete imprint was performed and not take action against her." Zee stood and removed the cords from the Device. "Though I am quite glad that you have not betrayed the trust 'Cimutee and I placed in you."

"That explains why they've given me so much freedom..." Ryau thought. They must have believed he was fully indoctrinated to follow the Covenant. Though she was right; his actions so far have not shown otherwise. She waved him over to an alcove with a holographic backdrop displaying height markers. Ryau followed her over

"I will need you to disrobe and stand against the dashed backdrop." She said.

"Uhm... yes ma'am." Ryau stripped down and stood against the backdrop. She pulled down an apparatus from the wall. Some kind of machine on a mechanical arm, she aimed it at him and powered it up.

"Stand with your arms out like this." She demonstrated a T-pose for him. Ryau imitated the pose and stood still as the machine rotated around him, scanning his form. "...That's enough." Zee turned off the machine and it slid back into the wall. "We'll be comparing it to the scan taken immediately after your transformation, to see if anything has changed." She said.

"Alright. I see no problem with that." Ryau sighed. He honestly did not care what she did with the scan. It was not any different than the routine medical scans he had to sit through for the UNSC. At least from what he could tell, Zee was the only member of Naki's staff that actually knew what he was. That made the total amount that knew about him on this ship around seven, even less if the San'Shyuum and the Deacon did not actually know why they were speaking with him.

"Well.. Ryau... that is all for now. You can return to whatever you were doing," Zee said.

Ryau looked towards the door. "... I don't actually know what I'm supposed to do next."

"Well, you are wearing a Science Major uniform. Can you actually do what that rank entails?" Zee asked tapping her mandibles with the stylus.

"If you're asking if I can read Forerunner, I can't." Ryau shrugged. "I know some things, but not enough to form a solid knowledge base. However, if you need me to do something with a Human system, I'm your guy."

"Hmm, interesting. I'll be sure to let Naki know to mark you down in the Human specialty then, so you do not end up on any Forerunner missions." Zee laughed. She glanced down at her data-pad and swiped over to the clock. "Ah, well it's actually quite late in ship time. I think I will make my way to my quarters. I will see you around, 'Cinotee."

"Alright... 'Coal?" Ryau replied, not sure if he was getting her last name right.

"Yes, very good." She smiled and walked out.

Ryau just shrugged to himself. He figured he would do a bit of exploring before he retired for the day as well.
A few days later, Ryau walked through the corridors, looking for someplace to relax without being pulled aside by another one of Naki's associates. First Zee on the first day, and then Zeik on the second. His meeting with Zeik had gone much better than with Zee, though most of his questions were about his military experiences and asking how Naki had been doing after the whole Halo incident.

Zeik had been nice enough, considering he knew that Ryau had been Human, and was the one to drag Ryau around while he was unconscious. He did not have anything against the guy, but he was an Ultra, and Sangheili did not achieve that rank without doing something big in combat. He was glad when Zeik had finished his questions and left.

Ryau had gotten a tip from an older Major about a small lounge near the nose of the ship, apparently it was not well known to those on the crew. The ship lacked gravity-conveyors, which made the trek to the nose a bit of a long one. However, eventually he spied the small doorway ahead in the junction.

This part of the ship was located in the Unggoy sector. He knew methane was odorless, but none the less, he could smell something. Probably one of the recreational drugs they used, and it was definitely colder there.

Ryau keyed open the door to the lounge and stepped into the small space. A few couches and a table were all that was inside, sitting on a simple rug. Beside the door, a holo-panel beeped. He turned his head and saw that the room's climate control was currently set for an Unggoy. He ran his finger through the options and selected Sangheili. Immediately, the lighting in the room switched from a harsh blue and became a warm yellow. The temperature shot up to a nice comfortable level.

With a smile, Ryau sat down into one of the couches and closed his eyes. He felt the most alone at that moment. Finally getting a time to relax and forget about all that has happened. Sure, spending time with Naki was nice, but nothing beat being alone in a warm, quiet, room.

He did not know how much time had passed, just sitting around in the lounge, but the door suddenly opened and someone hurried inside.

"Ryau! There you are!" Naki said.

Ryau shot up from his slumber and looked over at her. "What the hell? How did you find me here?"

Naki pointed down to the bracelet on his wrist. "You're wearing a tracking ring, remember." She shook her head. "Come with me, I need your help." With that Naki hurried back through the door, at a half run.

He sighed and moved to follow her, easily catching up. "What's going on?"

"Well... some of my students were dissecting your... " Naki glanced around and whispered. "...human armor. One of them triggered some sort of self-destruct mechanism. I was hoping you'd have a way to disable it before it blows a hole in the side of my ship."

"...Oh shit, well the good news is that I do know the disarm code. But the bad news is that it could definitely hole your ship." Ryau said. If they had his MJOLNIR armor and the self-destruct was activated without an arm code, it meant that someone had tampered with the reactor seals. They had about fifteen minutes before the armor detonated in an explosion large enough to take out half a city block.

"Well how long do you think we have?" They were making good time, running through the ship's corridors. Naki had sent an alert through the ship's announcement system for the crew to remain near internal pressure zones. On this ship, Naki's word was law.

"Well we had fifteen minutes since activation, how long did it take to get me?" Ryau asked.

"About five minutes... so I think we'll be fine." Naki sighed. "The armor is located in one of the hazardous materials labs. Which are just down a few decks." She hopped into one of the nearby grav-lifts and disappeared. Ryau hopped in after her and they were deposited onto a lab deck. One of the doors near the lift blinked with a red symbol his mind recognized as a Radiation Hazard warning.

Naki passed through the first set of doors, into an airlock like room. "The micro-fusion reactor in the armor is exposed and leaking radiation so we will need to wear these." She reached into a crate and pulled out two gray suits. "These will fit over your clothes, so don't bother changing."

Ryau took one of them and pulled it on. The rubbery clean suit fit loosely, but had a hard seal around the neck. "Is this what I think it is?" He asked.

"A radiation suit? Yes." Naki said, grabbing two helmets from another case. They resembled the dome like Ranger-harness helmets, but with a silver visor instead of blue. "We use them to check in on the reactor when it's running." She passed one of the helmets to him.

"Alright..." The helmet sealed with a hiss and a slightly altered ACI came online.

"I was so stupid... I forgot to check the armor for security features before letting my students at it..." Naki grumbled as she placed her helmet on her head.

"It's fine, Naki. That armor will not initiate an immediate self destruct without my code." Ryau said. "We're lucky that they included a disarm code though, apparently they had a technician once open the casing without entering the clearance code in testing before the codes had been implemented," Ryau chuckled.

"Ah... okay... " Naki shared a nervous laugh and opened the other door of the airlock.

As soon as the door opened, Ryau's helmet lit up with a radiation warning and a series of pulsing waves was overlaid onto the scene before him. Several Huragok floated around his MJOLNIR armor, which was suspended in an energy field in the center of the room. The armor itself rotated slowly, the back panel of the reactor casing had been removed, and floated a few centimeters away from its connection point. Many components on the armor had been disassembled, but looked like an 'exploded' diagram in 3D. A faint beeping came from the TACPAD on the arm.

Ryau hurried over and flipped the sun shield off its screen. He entered the deactivation code and powered down the self-destruct system. However, he flipped through the menus and found an option he had forgotten about. With a few taps of the screen, Ryau stood back from the armor and waited.

"What are you doing?" Naki asked.

"Just a second..." A second later, electricity arced between the shattered pieces of armor and the body suit, the hydrostatic gel layer and liquid crystal glowed bright and dripped to into the gravity field, becoming free floating bubbles. Ryau had initiated a system purge which had caused the power supply to overload, shorting the system. Finally, the shield emitters burst in small spouts of flame. At Least he was still complying in partial to the Cole protocol.

With the reactor offline, the radiation leak ceased, and the ACI reflected the change. "Ryau, what did you do?"

"I had to... purge the power build up. If I hadn't, it would have exploded anyway." Ryau lied. It was plausible though. If the armor remained powered up without an outlet, it might have overloaded.

"Oh... well good." Naki waved to the Huragok who hovered back over to the armor set and began to disassemble the suit of armor.

Ryau cocked his head. "Naki... I thought you said your students were working on this?" he asked.

"Well.. yes," Naki nodded. "They were, but I think they were too scared after they triggered the sequence. I will bring them back in once the armor is broken down into components."

"If that's the case, then..." Ryau leaned past the Huragok and slapped one of their tentacles away from the TACPAD. The Engineer gave an agitated whistle and moved onto some other component. Ryau pulled the wrist computer free and then ejected the helmet cam's data-card for safe keeping. Thankfully, they had both survived the energy purge. He placed them into a collection plate to be decontaminated or whatever method the Covenant use to clear radiation.

"Saving some souvenirs?" Naki laughed from behind the silver faceplate.

"Well... yeah. I can't let your students have everything, can I?" Ryau replied. He walked around to see the other side of the armor, the side that had taken the fuel rod round. The titanium shell had been blasted apart beneath where his left arm would have been. The body suit had been melted and torn all across that side, down to the wrist gauntlet. Ryau was honestly surprised still had his left arm.

A Huragok poked about inside the armor's pockets, pulling out stray ammunition and a few pieces of shrapnel. It gave an excited whistle as it retrieved a small black object from the bottom of a pocket. The Huragok's tentacle lit up with energy and wirelessly powered on the small object. For the first time in probably five hundred years, the screen lit up.

Ryau glanced over and saw the thing in the Huragok's grip. "Ah, ah, ah, that's mine." He plucked the music player from the tentacle and received another angry whistle. He had to turn it over a few times to actually find the power button so he could shut it off.

"What... is that?" Naki asked. The way she had turned her head, Hinted that she might have remembered what it actually was.

Ryau glanced over and shrugged. "It's nothing. I'll probably tell you later." He placed it into the collection plate with the other things he was keeping.

Naki crossed her arms. "Ryau, I do not like you keeping se-" He placed a single finger onto her helmet. The Human signal for silence. Then pointed towards the airlock. Naki slowly nodded and Ryau took her into the room.

He placed the collection dish onto some conveyor that was labeled as a tool decontamination unit. The door to the Hazmat lab closed and some sort of gas was blown into the room through vents. A small icon on his helmet turned white and Naki removed her own helmet.

She walked over to the conveyor and pulled the music player out of the collection plate. "What is this?"

"That... is an old Human music player. Probably from around five hundred years ago," Ryau said, after powering down and removing his helmet.

"Why would you- Oh." Naki stopped herself as she realized what he meant. "How did you get this?"

"I don't know, I just had it when I woke. Must have been in my pocket... when they brought me in, and then missed it during inspection." Ryau said, keeping his explanation vague, but still enough that she would understand.

"...I see..." Naki slowly set the music player back down into the dish. "We will talk about this later."

"Will do." Ryau pulled the suit off and stuffed it into a receptacle before following her out.

Another day passed and Ryau found himself in the back row of the small amphitheater, surrounded by either Naki's students or her subordinates. He could see K`an across the room, also sitting in on Naki's presentation on why the Mercy and Betrayal had arrived much sooner than expected.

He had finally figured out where to get his uniforms and armor washed properly, so he was back to wearing a freshly pressed SpecOps uniform. If what he was seeing before him was what Science officers did on a regular basis, he had no reason to wear their uniform.

Naki paced around a holographic representation of the ship's current Slipspace wake. "And as we continue to speed through this new layer of the void, we are tearing it open even further. As we can plainly see, Slipspace is not affected in front of us, but it is around, and behind. Fifteen hours ago, one of the hull mounted cameras recorded this:"

She clicked something on her data-pad and the screen switched to a previously recorded camera feed from outside the vessel. A large object slowly rotated through the shot, before disappearing back into the fog. It looked like a comet of some kind. "From this interaction, it shows that we are actually intercepting other active Slipspace transits."  

The video repeated itself on a loop, and the graph returned beside it. "Though it appears that it is only briefly, and the effect we are leaving behind in our wake does not affect the item traveling in the opposite direction."

Suddenly, the lights dimmed and an announcement came over the amphitheater's speakers. "Attention: dropping out of Slipspace in three minutes. Off ship activities may be available."

Naki glanced away from her presentation and addressed her students. "When we drop out of Slipspace, I want you all to pay attention to the readings. We will see if there is anything else that can be attributed to this abnormality. Send me your notes an analysis in three cycles."

The display turned off and Naki collected her data-modules. Her associates stood and filed out of the room, returning to wherever they needed to be for the drop. Ryau made his way down to the stage and saw K`an motoring on down too.

"That was quite the presentation..." Ryau said.

"It's quite an interesting subject to research," Naki smiled. "I haven't had a project lately I can use all my staff on."

K`an came up and lowered his hover chair. "So... we only created more questions than we hoped to answer."

Naki sighed. "Honestly. we do not have enough real data to provide a good understanding. All we can do is make an educated guess."

K`an replied with a simple,"That sucks."

"We are still in Slipspace. So once we drop out, we should know more once we analyze the data." Naki said.

K`an turned his chair towards Ryau. "Hmm, and what are your thoughts, Ryau?  

"To be honest I didn't really understand much. It's not my field." Ryau chuckled a bit.

"I figured... this is all a bit of a surreal line of circumstances, " K`an said.

"Yeah..." Ryau said. "Well we should probably find a place to wait, the Slipspace drop is in like thirty seconds."

They moved over to the bulkhead in case the deceleration was turbulent. They just continued their conversation through the event. "What are you two going to be doing when we make our stop?" K`an asked.

"Well it completely depends on when we drop out." Naki said. They had been in Slipspace for four days but ultimately, how much time had actually passed in real space. At least that was what Naki had implied in the seminar.

"Well it is one of the what, market... midway... stations, right?" K`an asked.

Naki nodded. "It's a waystation."

"Yeah... That's what I was looking to say. There will be markets and trading and stuff on there... so there will be things to do."

"Well.. don't expect luxury, it is likely run by a lot of Kig-Yar traders." Naki said, with a shrug.

"Nothing wrong with that, just stick with me. I have a way with slinging deals with those people." K`an smiled.

"I am just saying, it is not going to be one of those fancy stations the hierarchs visit. Though... it might be cleaned up because one is going to be there very soon." She said.

"I would figure... But before we go, I got word that my brace was fixed. Would you care to join me getting it before we leave the ship?" K`an asked.

Ryau shrugged. "Sure."

"Naki? I assume you have other duties to attend too before you leave the ship. Where would you like us to meet you?" K`an stopped after he began to hover through the doorway.

"Yes, I need to look at the data before we leave the ship. I will be at docking arm seven," Naki said. K`an turned to go and started back through the corridor. Ryau nodded to Naki and followed K`an along through the ship.

The medical wing of the Mercy and Betrayal was much more expansive than aboard the Leveling Strength. There were multiple labs, where equipment sat unused and untouched. The equipment was draped in some sort of plastic cover. Ryau had seen maybe forty of Naki's students and associates in the seminar, and if that had been most of them, then the ship was seriously understaffed. As far as he could tell, there were also a fair amount of warriors aboard, probably taking up the rest of the ships space.

K`an hovered through a doorway into an occupied medical bay. A Medical technician was standing by a table with his brace sitting on top

"Hello again, K`an," She said.

"Hello, M'ani," K`an replied.

"I just finished your leg brace this morning. So it is ready," M'ani said.

"Thank you for letting me know," K`an smiled.

"Alright, I just need you to get out of your hover chair." She said.

K`an turned, "Ryau?  Could you give me a hand?" He moved over to K`an's side with a nod and lifted him out of the chair, then set him down on the table. "Ah, I always knew you would be my hero." K`an held Ryau's arm as he tried to back away.

Ryau rolled his eyes. "Shut up, Kan."

K`an just shrugged. "I hate those Human rifles. They are probably one of the more deadlier weapons they possess."

"What?" Ryau asked him to elaborate.

"They perform quite well, don't you think?" he replied.

They did indeed, but that was another thing Ryau couldn't favor anymore. "I suppose they do, Never used one."

K`an sighed. "I love using them... hate being shot at by them."

Ryau glanced around. "You know, that's not the kind of thing you should admit to onboard this ship... with that Shipmaster and all."

K`an just waved his hand at Ryau and rubbed his eyes. "We're also not supposed to wounds treated, yet here I am."

"That's an honor thing, you're allowed to get things treated." Ryau shrugged.

"And you're allowed to defend yourself from an enemy."

"But not with human weapons." Ryau added.

"Fine. I 'ran out of ammo'." K`an used a human gesture, the finger quote, in his reasoning.

"Even that is not allowed." Ryau added once more.

K`an looked up from the bed and chuckled. "Who are you, Ryau? My mother?"

"Well I'm just saying, we're about to meet up with a hierarch."

"I know." K`an sighed.

The medical technician finished her work and stepped back from K`an's leg. "There... it is better now."

K`an slid off the bed and tested the leg brace. After a few cautious steps, he smiled. "Thank you miss, this will work just fine." He shakily started for the door. "Now come on, Ryau." K`an made good time walking through the ship, towards the docking tube they were to meet Naki at.

As they arrived at the tube, Ryau looked at one of the view screens showing what they had docked to. The station was a mess of modules mashed against a teardrop shaped core. A few smaller ships were attached to small spindles haphazardly attached to the station. The ships themselves were not much to look at, almost as patchy as the station itself, probably belonging to Kig-Yar.

Ryau noticed that the ships Fleet Security officers were standing by the entrance to the tube. They did not say anything to K`an and him, but Ryau noted that there was no one else in the tube as they crossed.

Naki stood, waiting on the other side like she said she would, but something was off. She looked distressed, her arms were crossed and she looked back towards the station nervously.

"What's wrong, Naki?" K`an hobbled to a stop.

"We... found an additional effect of this Slipspace anomaly..." Naki said with unease.

K`an raised an eyebrow at this. "What is there now?"

Ryau peered out at the station to see if there was anything out there that could hint of what she could be talking about. Naki glanced to Ryau and then back down at the ground, almost unsure if she should even tell them about this.

"We've gone back in time."

Part 6
Time Matters

Timestamp Error: Last confirmed Twenty-fourth Solar Cycle, 178 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation
CCR-Class Research Vessel Mercy and Betrayal
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

"We've gone back in time." Naki finally just blurted out. Ryau was speechless, how was this possible. This was not something that could even remotely happen. K`an's mouth just hug open and blinked. A few silent moments passed between the group at the end of the docking tube.

"We went so fast we went back in time?" Ryau hesitantly broke the silence.

Naki took a few moments to respond. "...No, travel time between points remained normal for us."

"I wouldn't think so..." K`an shook his head. "I don't believe it."

Naki sighed. "Well, according to this station's calendar, today is the One hundred and Seventy-First Cycle of the Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle. That is seven cycles ago."

"So what? Maybe their clock is behind." K`an said.

"K`an, look at tonight Slipspace events." Naki pointed to a reader board just outside the docking tube's airlock.

K`an walked over and peered through the glass doors. Ryau looked over from behind him. At the top of the board, announced that a Slipspace broadcast of a wedding would be taking place today. "The Bonding Ceremony of Far Beyond Provocation's Special Operation Officer D`rok 'Tallaham will be broadcast at third meal bell on channel seven."

K`an's mandibles dropped again. "What." He looked back at Naki, nearly knocking Ryau back. "How is this possible?"

"I am not sure, this is some side effect of that new layer of Slipspace." Naki sighed. "I will have to research this with a select few..."

K`an turned to face Ryau now, with a weird look on his face. "Want to go into a bar and watch the wedding to see how soon we could have noticed the bitch turning?"

"That's not a good idea, for now we need to avoid anything that happens in the past." Naki said.

"Why not though... Let's get drunk and watch for shits and giggles!" K`an laughed nervously.

Naki shook her head. "We do not want to do anything that endangers the time line. You might do something that causes our current selves to cease to exist. What if someone recognizes you from the stage?"

"That's bullshit," K`an utilized his English vocabulary to show his distaste. "What are we going to do from here?"

"I do not want to find out what could happen, nor what would happen to us if certain Hierarchs found out that we have passed through time." Naki waved her finger at K`an. "Because of the Kig-Yar, the records on this station can be easily forged and I've already had the Shipmaster bar all off ship activity and outgoing communications. I trust you two to behave for the next few days. Understand?"

"Can't I at least watch it on board our ship?" K`an seemed to be very focused on watching wedding that he had been part of.

"That is fine. Just don't talk to anyone about it." Naki sighed.

"Alright, come on Ryau. " K`an turned and limped back towards the ship. "I want to get a good seat in the bar."

"Hold on, is there anything else, Naki?" Ryau asked. If she wanted to talk about anything. They had not spent much time together lately.

"No, that is it. You go with K`an, I need to go analyze more data." Naki sighed.

Ryau shrugged, and followed K`an back into the ship. They would end up sitting around and enjoying a few light drinks for the day.

Once the dates of the Halo event had passed, which was nearly a week, Naki had cleared some crew access to the station. Though since the Mercy and Betrayal had yet to arrive to the Halo debris field in the main time line, hardly any of the crew had gotten that clearance. She had also decided that since they technically did not exist at this station for the time being, they could rent out a room and spend some more time together.

However that had been the morning of the day before. After spending breakfast together, Ryau had not seen her at all. She did not even show up that night.

"Probably working late again..." Ryau sighed, he walked out of the room and down to the concourse of the station. He sighed again and rubbed his polished chest piece with a knuckle. He had gotten quite skilled in maintaining his Sangheili gear over the last few days, it was not so different than making sure his MJOLNIR armor was in working order while in the field.

Ryau walked through the open space, there were plenty of Kig-Yar around, a few Sangheili and Unggoy. K`an was supposed to meet him down here, they were going to check out the trading deck on this station. Though there was one problem, there was a Sangheili making their way towards him.  The problem was that it was not K`an, it was Zeik.

"Cinotee!" Zeik shouted. Ryau stopped and waited for the Ultra to approach him. Zeik pushed through the crowd of station goers and grabbed Ryau's arm as he passed, taking him into an alleyway between some of the internal structures.

Ryau pushed Zeik off of him. "Whats going on?"

Zeik growled and pulled Ryau close again, "I do not know what it is between you and her." He shoved him away suddenly. "You are lucky I am a tolerant individual. I will not report her to the council, nor will I expose you. This is a personal matter."

"What are you talking about, Zeik?" Ryau asked, taking a few steps back.

You, Ryau." Zeik said. "Last night, Naki and I were able to spend our first real time together for the first time in nearly a solar cycle. In the morning, she told me that she could no longer do it, that it was off. I respect her decision, but I do not approve of who I have been replaced with. An experiment, a test." Zeik said that last word with a hiss. "I am an Ultra, a swordsman, an aristocrat, and you have only held your rank for three months!"

"I'm sorry... 'Carunmee." Ryau thought it best not to call him by his first name right now. "But you know I have no choice in this matter."

"You always have a choice. What does she do, tie you to the bed?" Zeik said.

"No, nothing like that. Not yet that is." Ryau smiled slightly and braced himself for Zeik to hit him or something. "Goddamnit K`an, you've ruined me" Speaking of the devil, it appeared that K`an had finally found him.

"I wager that he is waiting for such a treatment from her too." K`an walked over to them at the end of the alley. "I for one would enjoy such an endeavor from the good doctor." He chuckled.  

"Who are you, Major?" Zeik asked, shifting his attention, and probably his anger to the new arrival.

"I am but a good associate to this fine warrior that you are harassing." K'an seemed quite defensive already, his hatred of authority clearly making an appearance. "What is your qualm with Cinotee?"

"It is nothing to concern yourself with, Major. This is a personal matter between Cinotee and I." Zeik growled.

"Well, if you can't tell already: I am already concerned." K`an firmly said. "What is your qualm with Cinotee?"

"As I said, it is personal." Zeik said again. "You have no business interfering. I suggest you drop it and let us finish."

K'an chuckles a bit defiantly. "How about I drop you instead. Leave him be."

Zeik scoffed. "Are you threatening me?"

"K`an... I appreciate the help, but I don't think you should..." Ryau muttered.

"That depends, Ultra. Do you feel threatened?"

"This is not worth it," Zeik turned back to face Ryau. "We will pick this up later." With that, the Ultra shoved his way beyond K`an and left the area.

Ryau watched Zeik leave. "Huh... thanks, K`an."

"You're welcome. Let's get going before any more dickheads appear."

"Well... Zeik isn't really that much of an asshole. Naki seems to have just broke it off with him." Ryau said

"Ah... so he is mad that you are fucking his lady." K'an bobs his head a little bit. "Nice."

Ryau shook his head. "I'm not doing that, K`an."

"Bah, whatever." K`an waved his hand as they approached the first market module on this side of the station.

They passed through another set of internal airlocks and onto the trading deck. It was inside of one of the pods tacked onto the side of the station. Ryau stopped for a second; the tan metal was familiar, but not Covenant familiar. He turned around and looked back at the entrance into the space. That was definitely a Human door on this side.

They were inside a Human station. More specifically a Habitat module from an orbital tether station. The Kig-Yar must have salvaged this piece form one of the post-invasion planets. They had done a good job scraping any of the identifying insignias or words from the interior, even mounted what looked to be a modified control room up in one of the balcony areas. The Kig-Yar likely detached this module and towed it to wherever they're doing business.

Ryau shrugged and went back to following K`an. There were little stands set up all over, selling anything from fish from planets Ryau had never heard of, to straight explosives. K`an walked ahead and panned his arm across the market. "Places like these are always great to check out while you can. You can find some pretty cool stuff here."

"This does look interesting" Ryau said, glancing over all the stands. Just past the fish was a standing selling various Human weapons and armor pieces. "And a bit illicit."

"That is the thing... No one cares about it on the station." K`an chuckled. They walked over to the stand to get a better look at the equipment.

"I still don't think that I should buy anything to take home," Ryau replied.

"If you do, I would be very careful with it. What would you buy?" K`an asked.

Ryau sighed. "Maybe one of their rifles... but that's too big to conceal easily."

"True, true." K`an looked across thee selection himself. He stopped and reached for a M6C on a rack. "How about this one?"

As he retrieved the pistol from the table, the vendor protested, but then backed off after K`an did not try to leave with it. K`an inspected the weapon and then passed it to Ryau. "With the Prophet arriving soon, it may not be a good idea to purchase anything though," Ryau said. He turned the pistol in his hands, it was chrome plated and had a leather grip. It was a good looking weapon, most likely a civilian's sidearm. Ryau was surprised that it was so clean.

"Well, would you like me to hold onto it for you?" K`an offered.

Ryau looked up at K`an from the gun. "K`an, you're going to be on the ship with us..."

K`an raised his eye ridge sarcastically. "Do you not think I know how to smuggle contraband?"
"I'm just saying... You're not in your hoverchair anymore"

"Tell you what..." K`an smiled and began to barter with the Kig-Yar in some sort of dialect Ryau was not familiar with. The exchange was rather heated but in the end, K`an came out with the purchase. "This is for saving my life." He continued to Ryau, back to speaking Sangheilian. K`an took the pistol from Ryau and placed it into a small bag. "And as a fee for smuggling... I will give it to you as a present when you and Naki inevitably get married."

Ryau rolled his eyes at K`an insistence on his relationship with Naki that was not officially official, yet had been made semi official with the Zeik incident.

"Deal?" K`an asked.

Ryau sighed heavily. "Sure."

"Well, shall we go on?" K`an asked.

"I suppose so." Ryau answered.

They walked through the narrow path between the many Kig-Yar stalls that filled the space, just window shopping for anything else that caught their eyes. Almost immediately, K`an steered them towards two booths where the owners were fighting over what looked like an old disposable digi-brochure. A few Human travel agencies used them for promotions when new routes to colonies opened, obviously they became a rarity as the war progressed.

"What are they fighting over?" K`an whispered over to Ryau.

"Well, it looks like a book..." Ryau said. An average Sangheili probably would not know what it actually was.

"Well lets check it out" K`an said with a nod and walked up to the two stands. "My goodness. Is that what I think it is?"

"What is it, K`an?" Ryau asked. There was no way that he knew what that was.

"Just shut up and let me do my thing." K`an muttered and threw himself into the Kig-Yar's argument. "What do you two have there?" He asked neither in particular.

"It is mine." One of them answered quickly. "25,000 Gek."

"No!" The other Kig-Yar growled. "It is at my shelf, so it is mine to sell. 23,750 Gek, Sangheili."

"If you you buy it from me then I will sell it to you for 20,000. Special time price." Since this Kig-Yar immediately offered a much lower price, he probably did not actually own it.

"That is way too much money." K`an frowned. Ryau remained a few steps back, just watching this conversation take place. K`an glanced back at Ryau and smirked, the bastard was purposefully haggling them down in price.

The original owner seemed to be concerned. "Sir, I will sell it to you for 18,000. Please ignore this idiot., he always is trying to sell my things."

"You are just not a good salesman." The other Kig-Yar said.

K`an simply smiled. "I'll tell you what. I will give you 5,000 for the item and make sure that this idiot never undersells you again."

The Kig-Yar's head perked up. "You would really do this?"

The other Kig-Yar's face turned to a frightened expression. "You wouldn't dare."

"Deal?" K`an smirked.

"Yes, yes!" The owner agreed.

K`an quickly drew the Plasma rifle he had attached to his good leg and aimed it at the other Kig-Yar's head. The entire market suddenly went silent and all eyes turned to K`an. The Kig-Yar in front of the weapon had lost all color under his pale tan skin. However, K`an just gave another smirk and nodded to the Kig-Yar. "Run."

The Kig-Yar took off and fled the market module and disappeared into the station proper in a mess of fearful squawks. "You let him go?" The owner asked.

"No, I enjoy a hunt." K`an sighed and holstered his weapon. He pulled out a small bag and gave the vendor the agreed upon 5,000 Gek.

"Oh, of course. Thank you!" The owner quickly took the money and handed black pad to K'an.

"Have a good day. Good luck with your sales." K`an nodded before quickly returning to Ryau. "Let's get the hell out of here."

"Are you really going to get that guy now?" Ryau rolled his eyes.

"Fuck no. I am not doing a damn thing. We aren't supposed to be here at this point in time anyway." K'an chuckled.

"So then what is that?" Ryau asked, Of course he knew, but he was curious how much K`an knew.

"If I recognised this right..." K'an said, "It is a planet brochure. Probably recovered from an assault or something."

"But why did you want it so bad?" Ryau was interested now.

"Ryau you don't understand..." K'an sighed. "This has constellations... planets... other... cool space shit. I love this stuff."

Ryau shook his head, "Probably not, or else they wouldn't make it in this war."

"What?" K`an looked up from his new toy.

"They really restricted the stuff that can have that kind of content when this war started." Ryau said.

"Well I know that..." K`an's eyes squinted slightly at Ryau. "But these just have pictures and a brief bio of each thing... Smart humans." He simply sighed as he flipped open the front of the tablet's case. He attempted to turn it on, but was disappointed to find that the battery the device had been depleted beyond use. "Ryau?"

"Yeah?" Ryau responded.

"Do you think that Naki can fix this thing?"

"I'll ask her about it when I find her, I'll see you later." Ryau shrugged, he headed off with the pad, in search of Naki.

Nothing else happened over the next few weeks, Ryau managed to avoid Zeik and Naki continued her experiments and analysis of the Slipspace anomaly. Finally, after almost a month, the Prophet's ship arrived in system and docked with the station.

"Should I really be going here with you, should I even be on this ship?" Ryau asked after they had been cleared to board the Solemn Penance. As soon as the ship had been successfully docked to the station, word had come down that Naki had been ordered to meet with Regret aboard his ship.

For some reason, Naki decided it was best to bring Ryau along with her. Either because she thought he would get a kick out of it, or there had been something in the order about bringing key personnel with her. Though he had not seen Zee or any other science officers with them on their way over.

"The Prophet of Regret should have no knowledge of Project Leau. However, if he does then this will be seen as me bringing you to a Hierarch as was the original procedure. Before the Prophet of Truth decided to have you deployed instead," Naki said.

That was the first time he had heard about that. "Truth put me in the field?" Ryau asked.

"Yes, he decided that we should see if you would remain loyal to the oath you took. I am sure that he would be thrilled to find out that you did." Naki winked and continued on.

"Well... that's an interesting snippet of information. The only reason I stayed was that I knew what might happen soon." Ryau said.

"Of course," Naki nodded. "But it looks good to him either way."

"Er... probably the best course of action if we don't talk about this on board this ship..." Ryau mumbled.

"True, true..." Naki giggled.

This was a CAS-class Assault Carrier, one of the largest ships in the Covenant fleet. Traveling through it would take some time and the Prophet was in a hurry. They ended up taking the extensive Gravity-conveyor network to get as close to the Prophet's Security Zone as they could. Naki and Zeik had managed to make up enough to forge the berthing documents to say they had actually arrived on time and not nearly a month early. As far as anyone checking on the database would be able to tell, a small Kig-Yar merchant vessel had been there before they had arrived instead.

The grav-conveyor dropped them out just outside the security checkpoint to enter the Prophet's Inner Sanctum. Instead of Fleet Security at the checkpoint, it was a collection of Honor guards. Their red armor was highly polished and the bright orange plates glowed in the dim light the Covenant favored to illuminate their interiors. They definitely looked intimidating. Ryau was not sure if he should follow Naki into this part of the ship.

"Halt." Demanded one of the Honor Guards. "What is your reason for coming here?"

Naki pulled up her data-pad with the orders she had received. "I am SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee, I've been requested to meet with the hierarch. This is my plus one, SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee."

The Honor Guard looked down at his own data-pad to cross reference with his own information. "I see, you are slightly early. Both of you need to place your palms on the DNA slots before being allowed into the sector, and hand over your identity disks for verification."

Ryau and Naki nodded and followed the orders to the letter. The small pullar accepted Ryau's tissue sample and the guard waited for him to hand over the disk while Naki submitted her hand for the machine to sample. Ryau pressed a side plate under his left arm and the small piece of metal ejected from its slot. He handed it over to the Honor guard, who inserted it into his own data-pad to verify its contents. It was the first time Ryau had to physically hand over the military identification, every other time it had been automatically read by sensors.

The Honor guard looked down at his pad, and then back up at Ryau. He nodded, "How is Sanghelios fairing, Major? It has been many solar cycles since I have seen home."

Ryau just nodded in return. "Just fine in Zelso. The weather was quite nice,"

"Ah, you're a Zelsoan? I visited there once. Quite a large state, strange customs you have there... But I do not judge." The Honor guard handed the disk back to Ryau. "You are cleared for entry."

Ryau nodded and thanked the guard, sliding the Identity disk back into its slot. The doors parted to allow Naki and himself to enter. As soon as they slid open, it was revealed that the area was beyond was quite elegant. The hard metal deck plates had been covered in what looked to be soft carpet, colorful banners hung from the ceiling.

Stepping onto the carpet, Ryau's boots sunk a bit into the floor. However, it triggered a thought to enter his mind; if he remembered correctly, Regret rode around in a hover-throne all day. He would not feel it at all. Perhaps occasionally Regret did actual walk on his own legs. One thing the carpet did do however, was mute the constant rumble of the ship.

The long walk through the corridor was lined with strange plants on pedestals, and holograms displaying either the three Hierarchs or various artifacts. It was an easy walk, Ryau should not have been so nervous. He was not going to be doing any talking, he was there 'just in case.'

Operation: RED FLAG's mission was to capture one of these Hierarchs, and take one of them back to human space to force a treaty. While that was not an option now, he was probably the closest any of the Spartans had come yet.

The next corridor had Honor Guards standing at regular intervals along the entire length. They stood still as Ryau and Naki walked towards the tall door at the other end of the hall. "Well that should be the main chamber," Naki said.

They walked inside and found more Honor Guards lining the path. There was a cluster of purple robed San 'Shyuum standing near a bank of holographic displays.

As Ryau and Naki approached, one of them turned and scoffed. "Oh look, a Sangheili."

"Oh look, the San 'Shyuum perpetual subordinates." Naki shot back.

The San 'Shyuum grimaced at Naki's comment. "Why are you here, 'Special Scientist'?" His tone was taunting, like her position was one of shame.

"I do not know yet, just that the Hierarch requested my presence, probably to fix something you broke." Naki laughed.

One of the Honor Guards, in silver armor, approached the two of them. "His holy one awaits you on the balcony." He waved towards the doorway.
Naki nodded, "Thank you captain." They continued out, onto a balcony that extended into what looked to be a massive habitat on the inside of the ship.

Ryau had never been on board a ship of this size before. The CAS-Class Assault Carrier was larger than any ship the UNSC had ever made, to his knowledge. The nature habitat was a dense rainforest, after passing through the doors, Ryau's face was blown with the thick humidity. Some sort of light energy field must have kept the warm air inside the habitat. He glanced over the side of the platform and spied a river snaking out of a culvert. Further downstream appeared to be a Sangheili hunting party tracking some sort of unseen beast.

At the far end of the platform, flanked by Honor Guards, hovered the Prophet of Regret. With a simple tap of the control, Regret spun his chair around. Immediately Naki bowed and Ryau followed her example. "Ahh, hello miss Cimutee..." His eyes glanced over to Ryau and he gave a look of annoyance. "I see you brought a friend."

Regret waved his hand and Naki and Ryau stood. "Reporting as ordered, Noble Hierarch" She said. "And yes, this is my field assistant, SpecOps Major 'Cinotee`ee."

"I requested your presence as you are one of the best experts in your field. Also, surely someone so ravishing as yourself must come with smarts to be in such a position." The Prophet said.

Naki's expression shifted with a hit of confusion. She had heard that Regret held some admiration for Sangheili, but she had not heard his admiration to be that kind of liking. "Why thank you, Hierarch... What have you found that you would need me for?"

Regret gestured to a Forerunner artifact on the platform besides him. "Do you know what this is?"

Naki nodded "Why yes... of course I do. That is a Luminary."

"Correct... It was recovered a little over a solar cycle ago. We believe, I believe it to be the one spoken about in the sacred texts. Just recently my stewards were able to unlock its secrets and show the path to the sacred rings"

"It took your Stewards a solar cycle to break the encryption on this?" Naki cocked her head a bit "I could have had it unlocked in half that time."

"Yes, well my Stewards were not chosen for their expertise. They are more like advisors, but alas I wish to have kept this discovery to myself." Regret said. "As for why you are here; I have chosen you, one of the best of your species to be my envoy to your people and guide my Stewards' hands in commencing the Great Journey. I trust that I have made the right choice?"

Naki did not say anything for a moment. Though, then she nodded her head. "You have, Hierarch. I would be honored."

"Good, good. The Luminary has shown us the path to the final home of the Gods. We will need you when we arrive at the portal. I do not wish to wait so long for my stewards to grant us access." The Prophet said. "We will be departing as soon as you return to your vessel, so hurry along. I wish to get there as soon as we can."

"It will be done, Excellency" Naki bowed her head and then started for the exit. Ryau followed behind her, since he had no real reason to be there at that time.

They cleared the doors and back into the steward's room. Ryau glanced over at Naki, who sneered at the San 'Shyuum before walking off. Ryau thought he might have seen one of the Honor Guards chuckle. As soon as they returned to the Mercy and Betrayal, the fleet broke off and their ship joined up. They accelerated into Slipspace, bound for their mysterious destination.

They had left the waystation a few days ago, on their way to whatever grand discovery the Prophet of Regret had uncovered. Naki had finally finished repairing the old Human digi-brochure. Turns out the thing's battery had died. She had been reluctant to actually work on the device, but K`an had managed to convince her.

Now that it should be functioning, Ryau was headed to the lounge in the ship's nose. There seemed to be a lack of stench in the air as he walked through the Unggoy sector. They must be steering clear of their recreational drugs while they were in the Fleet of the Hierarch.

Ryau walked up and keyed open the door and was blasted in the face again with a wall of humidity. The theme screens showed a tropical forest beneath a orange sun. There was a large gas giant just beyond the horizon. The lounge was obviously set for a group of Kig-Yar.

With a few clicks to the control panel, the room was reset to a Sangheili standard. The humidity was cleared and the temperature actually went down. He flipped off the notifications option, so that any non-emergency alerts would be blocked.

"Hmm, setting the mood, Ryau?" K`an chuckled and walked into the lounge behind him.

"No, just setting it to something better fitting of a Sangheili." Ryau pulled the digi-pad out of his thigh pocket and tossed it over to K`an. "She got it powered up."

K`an caught the pad and looked it over. "Very nice, I have been extremely excited to look through it."

"I know you have, you haven't stopped talking about it since we got back on the ship." Ryau said.

"It is unfortunate that it will not really have that much information on it. But hey, it is going to be quite the trip down memory lane if anything." K`an nodded and flipped it over, rubbing th back half of the device.

Ryau was a bit confused. "Why would a Human pad bring up memories?"

"I have most likely been to a lot of these planets." K`an explained.

"Ah, I didn't know that you got around that much," Ryau said. He knew that there had to be so many Sangheili warriors that it would be rare for a regular soldier to be hopping fleets and seeing all the planets. But K`an was not a regular warrior, so Ryau guessed it made sense.

"I have been active in the war since the beginning... How could I have not done so?"

"There are plenty of groups that did not go to many Human planets." Ryau pointed out.

K`an grinned and took a seat. "I haven't seen any of those groups."

They sat at a table just in front of the window connected to the main view camera. Though it displayed the void of slipspace at the moment. "Well I hear they are quite common."

K`an ignored Ryau's comment and flicked on the digi-pad. The device clicked and its display surface flashed on with the logo of the issuing company and a speaker chimed. "Karsmo Space Lines, serving All Inner and Outer Colonies. Twenty-five twenty Travel season brochure."

K'an smiled and set the device on the table. A planet came up on the screen and he began to swipe through them. "Been there... been there..." He told a few stories about his time with the Covenant Fleet of Glorious Interdiction. "This planet, Arcadia, is where D`rok got the scar over his eye from that Spartan."

"So that's where he got that scar...." Ryau nodded.

The next planet made K`an wince. Ryau recognized the planet as well. Draco III. "This was the one that they blockaded the planet off and let the Kig-Yar and Unggoy eat the Humans."

Back when Ryau was Human, he had been with the fleet that tried to get to the planet in time. But they were too late to do anything, ONI decided that they only needed to deploy blue team to the surface to take care of the Covenant. "Why would they do that, that's worse than what... we... usually do."

"I have no idea. It was just disgusting though, it probably had to do something with the Fleetmaster being a dick." K`an said.

"I take it that you requested a new stationing after that?" Ryau asked. K`an nodded. "Was there any fallout? I know the ground forces were wiped out by the Humans. but what about the Fleetmaster. I don't think that we Sangheili would think that it was a very honorable battle..."

"I don't remember.... nor do I care. I wasn't on the ground long enough to see more than a few Humans." He sighed. "I only briefly met with the Fleetmaster. He was commending me on nearly single handedly foiling a small assault of ODSTs on one of the on ground stronghold. He was impressed, though it wasn't really anything. There had been about 30 of them and a pair of trucks." K`an bragged a little. "He was kind of a scrawny bastard. Seemed off his rocker and had jagged teeth... Probably was a fucking shipborn."

"Huh... I take it he didn't last long after that. Though I'm surprised that he made Fleetmaster in the first place."

"Not from what I heard. I hope he died of dysentery." K`an sighed and swiped to another planet. This was turned out to be the planet Reach. "Hmm... You were there."

"Yeah..." Ryau sighed, he felt the loss of his adopted home returning. His fellow Spartans. He sighed again, putting up that wall again.

"I hope my list of visited planets continues... honestly... but not as streaks on my war record." K`an said. "As a traveler, or explorer instead."

"Once this war ends..." Ryau looked off into the void. "Heh, that there is what all our conversations end in."

Before K`an could respond, the ship shuttered and the lights dimmed as they decelerated out of Slipspace. The viewscreen flashed with stars and a massive tan and brown gas giant rotated to the right. "Well I guess we've arrived. What do you think we will find at this new place?" K`an finally said.

Ryau recognized the planet, it was impossible to forget. The camera shifted, whoever was on the bridge was taking control and switching it to telescope mode. It automatically shot from planet to planet. A tan and orange ringed gas giant, icons showed up on its moons, and it is tagged as having a Human presence. Then a red planet, with a massive canyon and Human icons all over. Oceans dotted its surface. If Ryau did not know exactly what it was, he would think it resembled a smaller Sanghelios.

His hearts began to beat faster, he knew where they were, what was about to happen. The camera zoomed into the next planet. A blue marble with more icons than Ryau could count.

"I've been there..." Ryau whispered.