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LORC: Beginnings Act 2 Pt 3 and 4
Posted By: HWPD<disaster.nick@gmail.com>
Date: 28 August 2016, 10:32 pm

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Part 3
The Parasite

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 173 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 21, 2552: 1404 hrs]
Installation 04. [Alpha Halo]
SpecOps Science Major Naki 'Cimutee

Naki awoke to a strange gurgling sound echoing down the corridors. She glanced at her data-pad's clock, it had not even been a full sleep cycle. Only five hours had passed since they had called it a night. The two Kig-Yar were up chittering from their end of camp.

The sounds began to trail off, then were followed by some sort of banging sound. Naki rolled over and shook Ryau. "Wake up, Something is going on."

Ryau slowly rose up. "What do you mean?"

"Listen, there's movement out there." Naki grabbed her Plasma rifle from her other hip.

A loud screech echoed from the halls above, causing Ryau to snap his Needle rifle up at the walkway. "We're too late. I didn't think that they would get here this fast."

"What is that sound?" Tik asked, his feathered plume twitched as his eyes darted around the lab.

"It's the Parasite, the Flood." Naki said. "Do you know what that is?"

"From the holy texts?" Yun, the Ruuhtian Kig-Yar, asked frantically.

"Yes." Naki glanced over to them. "We need to get back to the surface. Immediately."

"Grab your things and meet us on the upper level." Ryau moved back towards the ramps. Naki followed and the Kig-Yar stuck close. A foul smell began to flow through the corridors, causing Naki and Ryau to gag.

"By the Gods, that smell..." She frowned. Naki took Yun's bedroll from his back and tore off strips for everyone. The Kig-Yar squawked in annoyance, but then accepted the strip to cover his nose. Naki tied it around her head, it smelled like a Kig-Yar, yet that was better than the smell of rotting flesh.

They moved through the corridor as a group, following the route Naki had recorded with the Kindler. They made it up two flights of ramps before the air became completely green and foul. Ahead, a door that was sealed had been blown open. It was a mystery how that had happened without alerting them while they slept. There were globs of rotten flesh caught on the jagged edges, blood stained so green that it was impossible to tell what species it had come from.

A wet slapping noise came from they way they needed to go. The group turned towards the source of the sound. At the other end of the corridor, the mangled body of a Sangheili stood in another formerly sealed doorway. Tentacles quivered from random points on its body, and strips of flesh hung loosely from bone.

The grotesque abomination 'looked' towards them, its center mass facing them while the head dangled limply over the shoulder. It groaned from deep down what was left ofits throat and began to charge for them. With every step a wet clap of swollen flesh sounded out from its twisted proportions.

They all hesitated for a moment. Naki had never imagined it in this kind of detail. Ryau fired first, the needles striking the flesh and detonating, blowing the former Warrior into bloody chunks.

Red blips began to appear on her motion sensor, swarming into the corridor above and heading for the ramp down to their level. "Ryau-" Naki began to warn him.

"I see it!" He yelled swiftly "Let's go- down the hall, into that room. There looks to be an elevator there." Ryau said.

The group sprinted the length of the hallway. They had to make it into the other room before whatever was on the level above made it down the ramp. "This one died quick, why not fight through?" Yun asked.

"This one was alone, and they normally swarm. We just alerted them to our position," Ryau said.

They passed the corpse, what was left of it was splayed out across the wall and floor. Naki looked away as she stepped over the former Minor's mutilated leg. The body suit had been torn to pieces by tentacles and chunks of bone that had emerged from the body. The Flood was so much more terrifying in person.

Naki was deeply scared that they would not make it off the Ring. It was all her fault; she had wanted to explore the Ring and not be trapped in the fleet with the rest of the team, she had used her influence to get them down on the surface.

The other door was torn apart almost identically to the one on the opposite side of the corridor. The same kind of gore adorned the ancient metal's fresh cuts. It was repulsive. The room was another lab area, which thankfully housed an elevator. They scrambled onto the platform just as the corridor outside began to fill with hundreds of small fleshy creatures.

Naki slid to a stop and examined the control panel as fast as she could. "Get this thing moving, Naki!" Ryau shouted from behind her. He and the Kig-Yar opened fire, in an attempt to keep the Parasite at bay.

"I am working on it!" She sped down the command lines and made a horrifying realization "Ryau, this lift only goes down!"

"That doesn't matter, anywhere is better than here," Ryau shouted back. There was an explosion as all the needles that had been embedded in the biological mass that now coated the entrance way, detonated.

Naki slapped the activation button and the lift lurched. They began to descend down the shaft at a rapid pace, the top of the shaft became filled with the green fleshy monsters. Naki fired upwards, followed by Ryau and the two Kig-Yar. Thick green globs of what use to be blood fell down and rained upon them. Naki turned her head away to avoid getting any of the substance on her face. She really wished she was still wearing the Ranger harness.

The Flood forms ceased throwing themselves down the shaft as the elevator passed a seventh exit platform. Naki tapped the switch and it came to a halt eight levels below the origin. "Let's get out of here," she said.

The chamber appeared to be untouched, except for the green twinge of the atmosphere that filled the area. "Appears to be clear," Ryau stepped off the platform and scanned the room.

Naki took the Kindler off her shoulder and sent it off in search of a way to reach the surface. Its automated tracking system had it searching for any vertical paths, The small group moved onwards through the winding tunnels and corridors, following the path the Kindler was mapping. They managed to get up one floor, though unfortunately its condition was far worse than any of the other levels they had been to thus far.

The level must have once been one of the large maintenance corridors that ran along the spine of the Ring. Every door was blown open, and strange masses of flesh were adhered to the walls. Once again, the air was filled with the putrid stench of rotting flesh.

It would take an eternity for the Kindler to fully map out each and every tunnel for a passageway out. Naki made some last moment adjustments to the search pattern, it would look for any vertical shafts that had the characteristics of an elevator. "Follow the drone, it's searching for a lift." Naki said in a hushed tone. She could not risk alerting the Flood to their location.

Ryau nodded and signaled for them to continue on. This was a side of him Naki had not seen before, Thankfully, she only got to really spend time with him in non-combat situations. Though even in the few she was part of, he had at least been vocal. This situation must have him worried if he was falling back on his old training. They were in the same state of mind if that were true.

They slowly crept through the sunken walkway between the bloated piles of biomass. The Parasite must have been using the local wildlife, all the forces the Covenant deployed would still not allow for this much infection across the entire ring this rapidly. The sounds of the Parasite made it extremely difficult to differentiate what was the Flood and what was just the harmless hum from forerunner machinery.

The small drone zipped in and out of passageways, its purple lights flashing over the walls and flesh. Naki hoped that it would not be the reason for their downfall.

A different sound began to become audible over the gurgling and constant animalistic screams. It sounded similar to the anti-grav engines that held the Kindler aloft, but more metallic and much louder. Ahead, the tunnel turned towards the edge of the Ring. The bend was hiding whatever was making the sounds that were soon joined by gunfire. Human weapons, more specifically their Assault rifles, and what might be shotguns.

Ryau motioned for them to slow down even more. "Are there Humans ahead?" Yun whispered.

"You think Humans could survive this?" Tik slapped Yun across the back of his head.

"We could only hope to be so lucky," Naki sighed.

They rounded the corner, the Flood was thankfully preoccupied with fighting off scores of flying machines. Naki recognised the silver machines from debris she had encountered on other Forerunner installations. "Those are Sentinels, they'll take care of the Flood." She sighed, the first twinge of good news since they had awoken.

The Flood managed to down one of the Ring's Holy Warriors. The Machine's anti-grav emitter failed and it crashed to the ground. Infection forms and Combat forms swarmed it, before it detonated in a blaze of fire and shrapnel. The explosion launched one of the Human Shotguns through the air, and it was embedded in one of the Biomass blobs near Ryau.

He leaned over and yanked it free. Giving it a good shake, he expelled the rotten goop. "It looks like it's still in working order..."

"But that's a Human weapon," Tik said. "You're a Sangheili."

"The Parasite appears to be very susceptible to projectile weapons. Plasma takes too long to kill them," he said. "At this point if you want to live, find a Human weapon."

Naki glanced around, there was an Assault rifle sitting beside what could have been a female Human. The corpse was mostly burned away below the collarbone. She picked the gun off the floor and was immediately thankful that her bodysuit had included gloves. The other side of the weapon was covered in blood and pus. Naki checked the torn pockets and found a few ammunition cartridges, but the corpse was fairly stripped of anything else of use.

The Sentinels were just moments away from wiping out the nearby Flood forms, when Naki's data-pad bleeped. The Kindler had found an exit. "Ryau, there appears to be an elevator shaft just around the next bend. It may look far away, but it is our only option so far." Naki whispered.

"Then we wait for the Sentinels to move on. Then we go." He said.

Naki sighed, "the Sentinels run with bio-sensors. They probably know where we are already, but the Flood require their priority attention."

"What do we do then?" Ryau asked.

Before Naki could suggest that they just make a run for it, Yun squawked and sprinted down the corridor. "Yun!" Tig shouted after him.

"Go now, he gave us away!" Ryau sprinted after the Ruuhtian.

The Sentinels that were not immediately occupied with the Flood turned towards the group of Covenant charging through their combat zone. The energy beams fired at the leading Kig-Yar, but Yun's reflexes allowed him to leap sideways to safety. Ryau fired his Shotgun at a Combat form that had emerged from one of the side passages. The Infection form controlling the former Human's body was torn to pieces and the host collapsed to the ground.

The waypoint marker on Naki's ACI appeared to get further away, the closer she actually got. The Sentinels and an ever increasing amount of Combat forms made crossing a simple corridor into a challenge worthy only of Sanghelios' greatest warriors.

Naki unloaded a full cartridge of bullets into a swarm of Infection forms that threatened to overtake Ryau. It was only when a Sangheili Combat form dropped down from the upper deck, that Naki realized she did not actually know how to reload. "Damn them," Naki muttered as her shoulders dropped.

The Flood form screamed and charged for her. Naki panicked and threw the Assault rifle at the creature, snapping the bones on its left arm. She dove out of the way, and was slapped along the side by its good arm. Sliding to a stop, Naki rose to her feet and activated both her wrist blades. "Well, I'm not a swordsman, but this will have to do."

It had been ages since she had actually used them to do anything other than cut alloy, but they were all she had. The creature had knocked her plasma rifle elsewhere when she jumped. The Combat form turned back around and ran for her again, both it's now broken arms slapping wildly through the air. It was pure nightmare fuel. Naki gambled, and ran at the abomination. She slammed into its mass, and swung her blades, severing its flailing limbs before it could react. Quickly, Naki kicked the armless Flood away.

It stumbled back and began to convulse. The Infection form inside began to pull out of the host. Naki lunged forward and jabbed her right arm into the space between chestplates. Her blade sliced through the soft spongy flesh, her hand followed. Pulling upwards, she sliced through the escaping Infection form. With the Parasite dead, the full weight of the body dragged her to the ground. Naki pushed the body away from her and wiped the green slime off of the makeshift facemask; the stench was already soaking the fabric.

She retrieved the Assault rifle and slid it onto her back. When they reached the elevator, she would need to have Ryau show her how to reload. Naki reached up and pulled the face covering away and vomited up her last meal as she ran. She was sent to the ground again after rolling to avoid a Sentinel beam cutting through the air. While still on the ground, she reached out and sliced the legs off another Flood form shambling by. It fell and she stabbed it in the chest for a final blow.

Naki took a look towards the waypoint ahead. The two Kig-Yar had already turned down the lift corridor, they must have kept running instead of engaging the Parasite. Her motion tracker was swarming with 'unknown' dots, the only friendly icon was Ryau's emblem, and even that was making a bee-line for the other end of the corridor. Naki rose and sprinted after her allies.

She could feel the heat coming off a beam of energy that flashed by her side. A swarm of fresh Sentinels descended from a vent on the wall, burning away all the Parasite in sight. Naki banked around the corner, she could just feel that there were still creatures chasing her down. "Fifth passageway on the left!" She shouted. Ryau fired into the air above her twice more before discarding the Shotgun and switching to his wrist blades as well.

The hall went into a lobby styled chamber, the elevator sat on the far end. Ryau slapped the door controls and the door slammed shut, "That should buy us some time to clear out," he said.

Yun and Tig waited patiently on the lift platform for she and Ryau to get aboard. Tig had been shot in the arm, purple blood dribbled into his feathers, but it was not a life threatening injury. Naki practically leapt onto the platform and slammed the pad with her fist. Immediately, the lift rose up the shaft, there were no balconies or exits other than the top of the shaft thankfully. They came to a halt in a small room, much like the many they had passed through the day before. The Kindler hovered between the group, before moving on, Naki took the device and re-attached it to her pack. According to its scans, they were only one ramp away from the surface.

There was no sign of the Flood as they made their way up. The doors parted and sunlight flooded in. Naki took a welcomed breath of fresh air. Yun dropped to the ground, praying to the Gods for keeping them alive through the challenge.

Ryau hurried over to Naki's side and embraced her in a hug. "We made it out, just call for the Spirit and get us off this damned Ring."

Naki smiled and placed her fingers to her headset. "Major 'Kisovaiee," she hailed the Spirit's co-pilot. "This is Major 'Cimutee, we have returned to the surface and need immediate extraction." There was no response from the ship. "...perhaps this canyon is blocking the signal... We need to get off this Ring!"

"There looks to be a path leading up to the top, over there." Ryau pointed towards an old, weathered path that wound up one of the cliff faces.

"It does appear to go all the way up, let's hurry up there." Naki pressed on, up the red rock. The path was long and treacherous, but surviving the Flood below made her feel more adventurous and less vulnerable. It took nearly twenty minutes to make it up off the cliff face. She glanced around at the horizon as one of the beam emitter towers fired off into the sky.

Gunfire echoed across the plateau. Plasma sizzled along the edges of the canyon they had set their camp in. The Flood must be on the surface by now. A moment later, their Spirit shot up and blasted towards the sky. "Are they leaving us behind?!" Yun shouted.

Naki was speechless for a moment as Ryau growled into his mic. "Pilot! Turn around immediately!" There was no response, Ryau repeated himself twice more before giving up.

"Wait, I have an idea." Naki reached around and pulled one of the teleporter drones from its cradle on her back. She tossed it into the air and used its control pad to launch it towards the Spirit.

The drone was designed to cross the vast distances between teleporters in Forerunner installations in a small amount of time. Crossing the distance between the ground and the dropship would be simple. Naki guided the probe straight towards the back end of the Spirit. The plating on the backside seemed to have been damaged by plasma fire. She pulled the drone back for the small drone to gain , she sent it forward at max acceleration.

The grenade sized probe punched a hole through the compromised hull and slammed into one of the cockpit screens. The drone's camera scanned the space and Naki was relieved to not see Flood at the controls, but two horrified Sangheili pilots.

She activated the external speakers. "Hey! Turn around, you left us behind."

The pair looked at the drone and the co-pilot pried it from the screen."Major 'Cimutee..?" His voice had a slight quiver to it, "You're alive?"

"Yes, thank the Gods, we are." Naki sighed. "We are on the surface up spin from the canyon."

"How do I know you're not one of them?" He asked.

"Come by and see for yourself. The Infected show obvious signs of mutation, and I would very much like not to look like that." Naki said.

There was a fair bit of debate between the two crew, Naki did not blame them, she would doubt herself too. "Major, we are coming back. Hold your location."

Naki paused before she asked her next question. "...What happened on the surface?"

"The monsters attacked shortly after sunrise, we were cut off from the dropship. We lost the three Unggoy holding them off. Then these machines from the Gods arrived, Major 'Vinika called them Sentinels. They took the Parasite's attention away from us long enough to make it to the dropship." He sighed.

"At least you made it." Naki said. "...I see you, I don't have any way to signal, but my green armor should stand out against the landscape." The dropship appeared in the sky, quickly growing larger as it approached.

"We have you on the system, your probe missed that screen. We will see you in a moment."

The Spirit passed overhead, the pilots getting a visual confirmation that Naki's group was not infected. It came back around and dropped the hatch on the right side. Alea appeared when it dropped, her armor was badly burned and covered in the fluorescent blood of the Unggoy, "N-naki, Ryau, come on!" She shouted. They hurried aboard, Ryau waited for the Kig-Yar to climb on before boarding himself. The doors shut and they lifted off.

Alea collapsed back into one of the crash seats, Naki would have stopped to see how she was handling this, but she needed to check with the pilots. The co-pilot was applying a patch to the hole she had created with the probe. "Why did you do this?" He asked.

"We attempted to make contact as you left, there was no response." Naki crossed her arms.

"The ship's antenna must be damaged, without that we have no communications system." The co-pilot remarked. "We will not be able to contact the fleet."

"And they will shoot us down." Naki said. "That's why I came in here. Are there any Communications Nodes still held in the cargo field?"

"There may be, we most certainly did not load any before we left," the pilot said.

"Before we leave Halo's atmosphere, open the central access port to the cargo hold. Lets pray that there are some." Naki walked around the control console as the pilot keyed open the hatch. She attached a metallic belt to herself and pressed a button on the side. A small band of energy appeared to tether her to the Spirit. The door on the floor slid open, revealing the underside of the ship. While it was not a cargo hold in the traditional sense, it was a space where the crates and other equipment was stored on the exterior with energy fields.

Naki lowered herself down into the wind. She was not afraid of heights, but dangling out of a Spirit approaching space would give anyone the chills. There were three crates still held in. "Thank the Gods," Naki muttered. There was one Comm node still there.

She lowered herself onto the bottom energy field and shimmied over to the top of one of the transmitters. The field would definitely hold her weight, the tether was more for moving around on its slick surface. Naki disconnected the top of the node and removed the transmitter. The energy tether reeled her back into the hatch and Naki pulled herself into the craft.

"Got it, close the hatch," she said. The pilot nodded and sealed the Spirit back up. "We should be able to communicate now." Patching the transmitter into the dropship's communications system was not something that she had taught at the Ministry of Special Sciences, but if it worked, it would when she got back.

As soon as the antenna powered up, the ship was reconnected with the Covenant Battlenet. The speakers were overwhelmed with radio traffic about the Parasite across Halo. Naki sat back and listened in, it seemed that the Flood had gotten out onto a few ships in the fleet, most notably their fleet supply ship the Infinite Succor. As a result, any vessels leaving the Ring would have to go to one of three ships acting as Quarantine Zones.

The co-pilot leaned over and tapped the transmit switch. "This is dropship Cicada-two-two-seven. We have just escaped the surface. Please advise."

The Comm channel was anything but silent, though none of the traffic was directed at them. They did receive a direct hail on the ship-to-ship channel. "Cicada-two-two-seven, divert to Thrice Given Grace for immediate quarantine."

The co-pilot acknowledged and placed a waypoint on the ship they had been assigned to. The ship itself was a CCS-class battlecruiser, it had been holed in multiple places. Thrice Given Grace looked more like it had been scuttled before it was given a new purpose. The dropship weaved around what appeared to be various kinds of small craft engine components drifting in the vacuum

The Spirit passed through the hangar bay's energy barrier and came to a halt above the deck. Fleet Security was out in force, white armored Kig-Yar and Sangheili were spread across the hangar, They were wearing Ranger harnesses, probably based off the misassumption that the infection was airborne. A Kig-Yar waved them over to a proper landing zone with light sticks. The Spirit settled and they were directed to open their hatches.

"Slowly exit the vessel, leave all weapons behind." One of the Sangheili ordered.

Naki stood up from the communications console and made her way out with the others. She deactivated her weapon hardpoints, and the Assault Rifle dropped to the ground. Fleet Security had set up barriers across the hangar, sectioning it off into areas. They were armed with everything from Carbines to the rare Type-17 Incendiary Gel Projector. Naki would liken the weapon to a smaller, two handed version of the Mgalekgolo's arm cannon. There were actual Mgalekgolo pairs on every exit to the hangar as well.

"Continue forward into the cruiser. You are being quarantined until you have been deemed free of infection. A medical scan will be done before you leave the ship at the end of quarantine." The Security Officer ordered.

Naki sighed. "Signs of infection are quite obvious, extreme mutation of the carrier's form." She was pulling at whatever strings of memory she had from her past. "It is not something that can slip by unnoticed."

"It matters not," the Officer said, pulling Naki forward through the checkpoint. "We have explicit orders from the Supreme Commander."

"Has this ship has been disabled?" Ryau asked as he too passed the checkpoint.

"Yes, Major. All of the ships chosen for quarantine use were damaged beyond use by the Humans." Another Officer replied.

As soon as the Spirits crew were clear, a team of Kig-Yar disconnected the engine system and chucked it into space. A Mgalekgolo pair moved over and pushed the now useless dropship into a pile of other vessels.

"Good thing I pulled off my personal belongings..." Their pilot mumbled. Naki reached back just to make sure that her drones and data were still attached to her back plate.

"Cleaning showers are directly ahead, decontaminate and then continue into the general area." The Sangheili Officer pointed down the corridor towards two doorways.

Naki walked through and chose one of the decontamination suites to clean herself off. Without removing her armor, she stepped below the hot water. The disgusting gore and blood sloshed off her armor and body suit, and fell through the grate below. The showers were a three step process usually; the initial wash-off, armor removal , and then an unclothed shower. As Naki stepped out of the first step, she already smelled better. However, step two would have to be ignored, it appeared that the armor cleaning station had been stripped from its housing.

"Well at least the personnel showers are still there..." Naki mumbled. She began to remove her armor and place it into the nook beside the shower.

Someone behind her fumbled with their helmet and dropped it to the ground. Naki turned to see Ryau leaning down to pick it up, and she realized this was the first time he would have seen a fellow Sangheili without any type of clothing, Sure Humans also utilized unisex crew spaces in the military, but Naki understood that the Sangheili body was still 'alien' to him. It had only been barely three months since he had been changed.
"I...I'm sorry, Naki." he said, shifting uncomfortably,

"It is perfectly alright, there is nothing to show." She was still wearing the body suit below her waist, and Sangheili females had nothing on the chest to hide, "If you feel uncomfortable, just go to another stall, quickly."

Ryau nodded and hurried over to another along the same wall instead of directly across from her. Unbenounced to Naki, the suppressants and restrictions on Spartans had been removed by Ryau's transformation. He had been experiencing vastly new feelings and instincts from both his former human mind, and his new Sangheili body.

Naki finished cleansing herself of whatever residue remained from the Flood. Her armor still felt dirty as she suited back up, but it was all she felt safe in at the moment. The hall outside the decontamination showers had, at one time, led directly into a cargo bay, but the interior had been nearly completely stripped. Wall plates were piled in various stages of disassembly and Naki could almost see the hangar bays on the other side of the cruiser. There were groups of every Covenant species spread across the massive open space.

If this ship had been deemed unrecoverable, it had been in the process of being stripped for resources when the Supreme Commander ordered it used for quarantine. Ryau came up behind her. "...So... Sorry again, but where are we going to wait this out?"

Naki sighed and glanced around the area. "We should head up to the private rooms on the warrior decks. If an infection does break out here, we would have a better chance of surviving there,"

"Lead the way, this is different than the Leveling Strength." Ryau said.

"Alright, let's just hope the grav-lifts are still active." Naki took them through the disassembled corridors, the only parts that appeared to not be in any stage of removal, were the deck plates and the ship's superstructure. Up ahead, the grav-lift tubes hummed with life and their door slid open. Naki punched in the code for the upper decks and stepped inside.

The slight tingly feeling of the gravity beam carried Naki and Ryau up to the warrior deck. She was gently deposited onto the metal surface, thankfully the disassembly crews had not made it that far into the ship before they were recalled. "There are individual crew rooms on this deck, at least there should be. Just pick one." Naki said, waving her hand ahead.

"Well, why don't we just use the one in front of us." Ryau pointed forward at the crew door across the hall. The door opened to a room very similar to Naki's back on the Leveling Strength. Ryau walked in a lied on the bed. "What do you think happened to that Prey'Tier thing?"

Naki sat on the other bed and pulled her data-pad from her thigh pack. "I had completely forgotten about that... He probably showed after we left, or was deterred by the Parasite..." Naki said. "To get your mind off those things, would you like to read the documents I recovered?"

"I suppose, who knows how long we'll be aboard." Ryau sighed. Naki sent the decoded logs over to his data-pad.

She decided to spend her free time on the ship unlocking the other logs. They would require a more direct approach. Naki would have to go into the file's data-strands and pick apart the encryption line-by-line. It took hours to break some of the most minimal Forerunner security manually, and Naki had spent days working on the doors to the most basic Forerunner installations. Sometimes her lock breaking applications just refuse to work.

After hours of work. Ryau had fallen asleep with his data-pad on his chest, and Naki had finally cracked through the millennia old encryption. The final entries appeared on screen in all their untranslated glory. She smiled at her prize, sure it was not as good as meeting an ancient being, but the logs were very interesting themselves.

ENTRY FOUR "My assistant and I have tried to pluck some deeper meaning from what he has told us. He has been acting very vague about many things, but he has been referring to some very interesting things; most specifically, and I quote: "While you may feel as you have rendered yourself alone as the only remaining transentient species, your reality is only one of many"... We will try to get more information with time."

ENTRY FIVE "Well, it has been at least a week in a half since my last entry. My assistant and I have been hard at work trying to decrypt Prey'Tier's crypticism. Our newest needle from the haystack of what he has taught us is quite exciting. He apparently would like us too try to build a portal rift key that would lead us to being able to connect, according to him, an existence where more of the Precursors reside in great numbers. He has gone into far detail, even to the effect of going the length to preset blueprints so that we may build it. Its design is complex, but I do believe that we could fabricate such components here on Installation 04. It might be difficult to get this cleared by my superiors, but I think we will just build it anyway.

ENTRY SIX "We have finally done it! After a week of diligent work we have built the gatekey he spoke of. The device has been built to his detail and specification. I have dubbed this device as 'The Raift Key' or more simply as 'Object Raift'. Unfortunately, while he has given me great praise on my construction of the device, he has told me that it is not quite complete. It apparently requires more finely made components than what can be made here on Installation 04... He says he knows of a place that these components may be made, however he has deliberately kept this detail from me.

ENTRY SEVEN "We have placed him and his device into a transport under his directive so that he may travel to wherever he has the ability to create the final needed components. I wish him great luck, and sadly will find the rest of my time here lacking as I wish I could accompany him on his quest. The Parasite have been drawing closer and closer by the day..."

Naki set her data-pad down. "So the Precursors are from another reality..." She mumbled. "Perhaps us being here wasn't magic after all." Naki thought about discussing this with Ryau, but she decided against waking him. She would share it with his data-pad and talk later. Her eyelids began to feel heavy, the negative aspect of staring at a screen for hours. It wouldn't hurt to get some sleep like Ryau. She placed her data-pad on the table and slipped into a well needed slumber.

Naki shot off the bed to an echoing screech. After a moment, her ears recognized the tones as the ship's announcement chime. She was drenched in sweat, her experience on Halo had triggered a wave of nightmares while she had slept. Naki sighed and rubbed the top of her head. The announcement cracked across the speakers.

[I]"Attention, quarantine has been removed. Proceed to all hangar bays for transport back into the fleet. Recovery of weapons is also cleared." The announcer began to list off where each transport would be located. The Leveling Strength had a vessel in hangar seven on the starboard side.
"Ryau, wake up," Naki shook his shoulder.

Ryau sat up rather quickly and reached for a weapon that was not there. "What is it?"

"The quarantine has been lifted, we're cleared to leave." Naki said. "We're safe, let's get off this ship." She pocketed her data-pad and started for the door. Ryau was close behind, just as eager to get somewhere safer than this.

The gravity lift took them back down to the hangar level,. It was a flurry of commotion as warriors came out of the nooks and crannies of the vessel to find their way back to their ships. Naki led Ryau through the masses to the pair of Phantoms waiting to take them back to the Leveling Strength. There were a few others on board, but Naki only recognized one Sangheili on board the Phantom.

"Sig, you're alive, you made it off!" Ryau exclaimed, much to Naki's surprise, and apparently Sig's.

"By the gods! Ryau! Naki!" Sig exclaimed delightedly. "We thought you had perished in the tunnels below!"

"It was quite difficult to make it to the surface, but we managed to get out intact." Naki said. "They are not something that should be engaged in close quarters."

"I would not imagine..." Sig paused as he lightly shook his head. "We barely had made an escape and we were on the surface! I have never seen anything like those... things." A bit of a worried look grew over Sig's smile.

"They are... meant to be a challenge for those that find the Sacred Rings. It is something that has been overlooked on many accounts," Naki sighed.

Sig paused for a moment as he thought. "Yes... The 'Flood' as they were called... I had forgotten such a minor detail." He sighed heavily. "Curse the Forerunners..."

As the Phantom closed, Sig walked over to the others on board. Naki realized they must have been his lance from the ground.

"I suppose we're headed back to our ship, so we're finally going to be safe." Ryau leaned back into a wall seat.

Sig rejoined them with a sigh as he sat against the harness besides Ryau. "One can only hope so..." He looked down and toyed with the heat vents on his Plasma Repeater.

Ryau shrugged. "I'm quite confident in saying that things will be coming to a conclusion, very soon."

"Well," Sig chuckled slightly. "Would it be cliche to say that I think this might only be the beginning of what we faced?"

"For us," Naki looked to Sig. "I do hope that it isn't." She glanced to Ryau who was sighing in his seat.

"Well... This was only one Ring." Sig pointed out.

"And I don't want to be anywhere near the next, if the Covenant finds another." Ryau said. "I know for a fact, that I am not going down to this one again."

"I second that notion." Sig nodded. "However, it would be best to stay far from D`rok, K`an, and I if that is your goal. Such situational luck seems to follow us."

"What? I'm not going anywhere else. I've already grown use to you and K`an's sense of humor." Ryau chuckled.

Sig leaned back heavily against the side of the Phantom with a pleasant smile. "I am glad you have... You and Naki make for good company."

"How did you handle leading a group, Sig?" Naki asked, she nodded over to the survivors on the other side of the Phantom. She decided against asking him about losses.

"I seem to be doing an alright job... though I would prefer a less stressful situation next time," He said.

"Wouldn't we all..." She sighed. The Stasis fields activated, holding Naki in place, as the Phantom braked to enter one the Leveling Strength's hangar bays. The craft settled into a landing cradle and its side hatches opened. Sig once again went to talk with his lance, and Naki and Ryau exited the Phantom.

Ryau sighed. "I need to go check in with D`rok."

"Okay... well back to the Lance room then." Naki turned and waved off a group of medical personnel that were coming by to check on the survivors. The others needed it, not her or Ryau. Fleet Security did however, require a medical scan before they were allowed to reenter the ship.

After they were cleared for access, Naki noted that the halls were virtually empty. There must be some sort of mandatory restrictions in place on traveling across the vessel. As such there was no traffic on the gravity conveyors.

As soon as the door to the lance room began to slide open, K`an was alerted "My gods!" He exclaimed. "It took you long enough to get back here!"

"Ah, well if it isn't the cripple." Ryau said, following Naki inside.

"Ha ha, funny," K`an was unusually serious. "What the fuck is happening out there?" He demanded.

"It was the Parasite..." Naki said, she looked down to the side. Sig pushed past them and went to his bunk, he just took a seat.

"What does that even mean?!" K`an seems quite agitated. "I have spent the last eight hours trying to figure this shit out! The security on the ship has been jumpy and frantic as hell, everyone is evacuating the ring, and all anyone has mentioned is a very sparsely heard 'oh it is the Parasite.'
What the fuck is this parasite!?" He wobbled very slightly as he stood up from the chair in the corner of the room.

"K`an, have you never read about the Halo Rings?" She asked. "The Parasite, the Flood."

"Read those inflated and bastardization of the holy texts they give to the public? Ha, to hell with reading that dry shit!" K`an mocked loudly.

"K`an... back off." Sig tried to ease the situation.

"And why the hell should I do such a thing?!" K`an demanded.

"Maybe we would not wish to speak of what happened." Sig tried to defend himself.

"Sig!" K`an pointed with a slight growl of annoyance. "Shut your fucking mouth and let the grownups talk." He looked back to Ryau and Naki. "I'll ask again. What the fuck is going on?!"

"Look up 'the Flood', K`an." Naki said. "I don't want to go around explaining them and throwing up."

K`an stared at Naki in total disbelief. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"K`an, stop it." Sig tried once again as he stood from his bunk, clenching his fist firmly at his side.

"Absolutely not! Sig you need to quit being a little dyke!" K'an shouted at Sig before looking back towards Naki and Ryau.

K`an opened his mouth to once again demand some sort of explanation he did not deserve. However he was silenced as Sig lunged forward and punched K`an across the mandibles. K`an dropped to the floor and yelped in pain. Even after he had fallen to the floor, Sig spent a few moments repeatedly hitting K`an in the face.

"What the fuck!?" K`an yelled, trying to shield himself with his hands.

"I told you to stop it, you bigoted, womanizing piece of shit!" Sig growled. "None of us wish to relive what happened on that disgusting Ring! And you are too insistent!" Naki had to agree. K`an was prying too far into topics that should be left untouched at the present time.

"Alright..." K`an said quietly, finally realizing he may have gone to far. "Calm down."

"No! You do not call someone something like that and expect them to be just fine with it!" Sig yelled at him. "Now you stay there and think about how much of a dick you are!" He stood back and walked to the door. "Naki, Ryau? I am heading to the tavern to drink myself to oblivion with my previous Warriors. Would you two like to join me?""

"Uhm... sure," Ryau said.

"I actually need to check on my Lance..." Naki said, thinking back to Alea and the others. "They told me they would be down in the one of the old lab bays."

"Very well. I promise not to get Ryau too drunk for you." Sig headed out of the Lance room's door, Ryau following close behind. Naki sighed and rolled her eyes at K`an before walking through the door herself.

After meeting with Alea and the others from her group, Naki had walked back to her cabin. The others were all recovering just fine, thankfully. Alea had apologized again for lying about her standing in the Ministry of Special Sciences. Naki let her off easy, and just made sure that she would be emotionally stable. Alea would need some time away from the frontlines again, Naki ended up writing her a transfer request to send her back to the Ministry on High Charity.

When she returned to her cabin, she found Ryau just sitting on his cot. He had turned her wall console onto the camera from a probe watching the Halo ring. "Waiting for the event?" She asked, taking a seat on her own bed.

"It's only a matter of time now..." Ryau mumbled, he seemed to have had a bit much to drink.

"Indeed, I do hope our ship is clear of the debris." Naki replied.

"Well the view from the ship's cameras are blocked by the planet. So I think we are," he said.

They spent the rest of the day watching the screen, waiting for what they both knew what would happen, a one of a kind explosion. Naki made sure that her systems were recording from all other probe cameras. They would likely be destroyed by the debris so recovering the hard-data would be virtually impossible. After nearly four hours and a welcomed meal from the ship's cafeteria, the far side of the ring blossomed a brilliant flash. The massive fireball overtook the width of the Ring, it appeared to be over four hundred kilometers across.

Naki could not look away from the spectacular view, but she sighed. She felt sadness, but relief as well. Such a loss of technology and data, but the Flood had been wiped out and the Covenant could not wipe out the galaxy. "Sometimes I wish I could change things." The Ring began to tear itself apart, massive pieces of the superstructure twisting and shattering into space. "But then this universe would probably turn out worse than it will be."

"I feel the same way, sometimes. But things need to happen, and people need to die..." Ryau said.

"I know... I just pray that no one we know is one of them. It is hard enough being sent to these places and seeing the events take place." Naki continued to watch the pieced fly by the probe. "Why are we here? Is it some kind of mistake, or a damned Precursor experiment?"

"What are you talking about?" Ryau asked, tearing his view from the screen.

"Did you read the second batch of logs I sent you? Take a look," Naki crossed her arms. Perhaps she was getting too far into it, though she did just see one of the largest technological marvels she had ever seen become a massive debris field.

Ryau sat up in his cot and pulled his data-pad off the night stand. Naki waited for him to finish reading. "So, this means we're like the Precursors?" he whispered.

"Kind of, whatever brought us here wasn't magic, it was technology. I..I do not know why, it being on purpose makes me feel worse than thinking it was by chance." She sighed again.

Ryau calmly got up from the bed and embraced her in a hug. "We'll figure these things out. We just need to get through this war. I don't think its much longer now, maybe a year." he said in a soft voice.

He was comforting her, she smiled a bit. All she needed was a hug, she had been through so much psychological trauma and stress. It felt good to have someone again. "We survived a Halo... you are right. We will make it."

Part 4

Twenty-Fourth Solar Cycle, 173 Cycles: 9th Age of Reclamation [September 22, 2552: 1214hrs]
DDS-Class Carrier Leveling Strength
SpecOps Major Ryau 'Cinotee

Ryau shrugged off the blanket and sat up in the ruffled sheets. He rubbed his forehead and sighed, the night before had been one he would never forget. Though there was one thing he was certain of, Naki had much more experience than him.

He rolled off the side of Naki's bed. Reaching into his backpack, he retrieved a vacuum sealed package that had been sitting at the bottom of the pack since he received the pack itself. He tore it open and pulled out a fresh set of cloth uniforms. His other uniforms were dirty as well, Ryau would need to learn how to do laundry someday. The fresh package contained a set of white shirts rimmed with green, quite different than his usual black with red details.

He held one of the shirts up in front of himself. "Why is this one different than my other uniforms?" Ryau asked.

Naki groaned and threw her blanket off of her face to get a look at what he was holding. "Oh... that's a Science Major's uniform..." She sat up and began to pull her own uniform from one of her nightstand drawers.

"Oh, um. Here, I guess its yours." Ryau began to hand the shirt back to her.

"No, no, it's yours. Back when Zeik and I were working on your backstory, we weren't sure what background to give, so we went with something similar to his and gave you both." Naki yawned, mandibles going wide.

"So it's alright for me wear this around instead of the SpecOps black?" Ryau pulled the shirt back and rubbed the gold and red logo on the left side with his thumb.

"Yes, perfectly acceptable." Naki said. "Your science background is not a major one, so I still outrank you in that division," she giggled.

"Whatever," Ryau chuckled. He pulled the shirt over his head and smoothed out the creases. His armor had yet to be cleaned and he would not be wearing it until it had been fully sterilized

Less than three hours ago, Naki had received a summons from the Prophet of Regret. He apparently wanted Naki and her science team, which would mean just Ryau now that Naki had put Alea's transfer in motion, to join his fleet for some major discovery he had found. Naki had commented that at the time, the Prophet had been furious about the Halo's destruction, but it did not distract from his desire to retrieve her. The Mercy and Betrayal had been dispatched from Sanghelios and would be arriving within the next few days.

After the Ring had been destroyed, the fleet had moved into the shadow of the gas giant's largest moon to avoid the debris that were being spread across the planet's orbit. Fleet operations were essentially halted while they waited for an all clear from the High Council.

Ryau didn't know what he would do for the next few days, Far Beyond Provocation was basically in a period of disuse. D`rok was on leave, and spending time on the Seeker of Truth recovering from some kind of psychological trauma. Ryau had heard talk that the lead position would fall back to K`an for good.

"Well, we should go get some food. The dining hall should have some limited selection." Naki said. With the Fleet's supply ship gone, all of the eateries across the fleet went into conservation mode. Food and water were being rationed out. No one seemed to know how long the fleet would remain stationed in the system without support.

They passed a group of Fleet Security Officers patrolling the hallways, everyone was still concerned about the Flood. It had only been seven hours since the Ring was destroyed, and at least five since the last dropship had arrived from the blast area. Ryau nodded to them as he walked by.

Being on a Covenant ship, and being around his enemy of twenty-seven years, still made him uneasy at times. It was a completely justified feeling, but spending time with Naki eased the transition. He glanced over and smiled at her.

They reached the nearest cafeteria and found that it was closed. The holo-screen on the door said that they had closed for rationing purposes, and that the tavern on deck seven was still serving food on an uncontrolled schedule. With a sigh, Ryau turned around and started towards the gravity-conveyer.

Their trip through the vessel showed that much of the crew were still residing in their common rooms, or as Ryau assumed, massed in the ship's worship halls. When the Halo had been destroyed, the various species of the Covenant had flocked to the halls in an attempt to find some sort of solace from the 'horrors' they had witnessed over their viewing screens. They had overrun the Warriors that were already there looking for sanctuary from the real horrors they had experienced on the surface of that Ring.

The gravity-conveyer deposited the pair onto the lower deck, closest to the tavern. This sector's off-duty area was mostly closed up, many of the eateries with their lights off and doors displaying red status lights. However, the small tavern was still operating. In what seemed like a ghost ship, this was a welcomed flurry of activity to him. Ryau pushed through the crowd with Naki trailing close behind. Space at a table had cleared up and Ryau laid claim as soon as its former occupants were clear.

He plopped down in the seat and sighed. "This place is quite busy."

"Yes, it is indeed. I think this might be one of the last places still serving food." Naki pulled the menu up on the table's console. Ryau glanced at the screen on his side. Many of the menu items were greyed out, they must have been running out of the food they had stockpiled.

"What are you feeling like, Ryau?" Naki asked.

He scrolled through the list for something he recognised. "Maybe...um." Ryau had to think on how to pronounce it properly. "Vamna Hazal?"

"Oh, that's a good choice. We have better order it before it sells out too." Naki pressed the order button on the menu twice. "Should we get anything to drink?"

Ryau sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Nothing alcoholic. My head was spinning for hours after spending time with Sig. I would have never thought he could drink so much..."

"Okay, two Vena ale's. They're non-alcoholic, don't worry." Naki giggled at Ryau's frown.

After a fair bit of time, an Unggoy walked out from behind the counter with a tray. He deposited two dark drinks onto the table, followed by a pair of steaming plates. The Unggoy walked away to help serve some other table without a word; he looked exhausted.

Ryau picked up his glass and sniffed the contents. A familiar scent filled his nostrils, something he had not smelled for decades. "Could it be..." he mumbled before taking a sip. It tasted just like flat, non carbonated, root beer from his childhood. The ale was served warm, which was an odd sensation conflicting with the expectations his mind had from his past. He smiled, letting his mind go back to the time before all the fighting and training. Back when he and the woman in front of him spent most of their time together.

Unfortunately, his reminiscing was interrupted when the sound of a hover chair approached. "Hello you two," The voice of K`an said.

"Evening, K`an," Ryau said.

K`an sighed heavily and tapped some buttons on his hover chair, lowering him to their table level. He didn't say a word though.

"What brings you over?" Naki asked.

"I just want to be around good people... Everyone is scared out of their minds. Sig is asleep and D`rok is on another ship." K`an sighed again. "I only know half of what the hell is going on."

"Well it's basically calmed down now," Naki nodded.

"Could either of you perhaps explain to me what happened?" K`an asked as he sat up attentively in his chair. "And do you think you could give me a bit more detail than whimpering the phrase 'we let it loose'?"

Ryau glanced over to Naki. "The Flood, a parasitic lifeform was released on the ring by the Prophet's science lances by accident."

"And the Flood...is like a... what is the word... A carrier strain?" K`an stammered.

Ryau watched Naki pull her data-pad up from her thigh pocket and bring up her helmet camera footage with the audio muted. He guessed it was so she would not scare the other patrons in the tavern. She slid it over to K`an on his end of the table.

He lifted the data-pad and pressed play. K`an watched the data-pad with interest, until the first scene of gore appeared on the holographic screen. He dropped the pad on to his lap. "Nope, yuck, nope. No thank you."

"Now do you see why we do not want to talk about it?" Naki asked.

"Yeeeah, what the fuck is that?" K`an leaned back into his chair with a blank look on his face.

"The Flood." Naki stated fairly plainly.

"I hope D`rok didn't see any of that." K`an rest his head in his palm and sighed.

"I'm quite sure he did..." Naki said.

"What do you mean? He transferred out for psychiatric leave..." K`an said.

"Which sounds like a thing that happens after dealing with the Flood." Naki said with a sigh.

"Uh, no. He took that because of his wedding... He transferred to Rtas' lance." K'an said.

Naki sighed and glanced over to Ryau. He knew what had happened with Rtas' lance, but it was apparent that K`an had not. "K`an.. have you not heard about what they did?"

K`an glanced at the two before him. "No?"

"They were responsible for taking out the infection on the Infinite Succor." Naki said.

K`an's movement stopped. "Is he okay?!"

Ryau decided to take his turn in talking. "He's alive. But that's all I've heard."

"Has he contacted either of you?" K`an asked.

"No, we just heard the reports," Ryau said. He wished he could do more for K`an, but he honestly had not heard anything different. Just that Rtas and his lance were instrumental in getting the quarantine lifted with their first hand reports of what happened on board the Succor.

"...This is too much..." K`an sighed. "I need a drink."

"Well this is a tavern" Ryau mumbled.

K`an looked down at the table console and swiped through the menu before stopping and tapping his choice. They all remained quiet in the noisy tavern as Ryau and Naki finished up their meals. The Unggoy waiter brought K`an's drink by.

He took a sip and set the cup down rather heavily. "I think I am about done with this war stuff."

Ryau stopped sipping his own drink. "What?"

"I'm tired of fighting, I'm tired of killing Humans for some religious cult." K`an grumbled. "I just want to get a house in the northern regions and just be alone."

"Well, as our conversation on the last planet went, it seems to be coming to an end," Ryau said.

"I hope." He looked into his glass of alcohol in reflection of his thoughts.

"What do you mean, alone, K`an? I thought you always had good luck with the females," Ryau asked.

"I have good luck laying with them, but I've never found one that really is all that compatible with me." K`an said.

"Ah..." Was all Ryau said.

"I am not like you and Naki... You two make a great couple," he smiled.

"Well um..." Ryau stuttered a bit. They needed to keep the story about them priority.

"We're not actually together." Naki answered.

K`an just gave them a smug look. "Do not lie to me, 'Cimutee. I know you two are at least slightly intimate."

"K`an, I can assure you, we haven't done anything like that." Ryau interjected. That was a boldfaced lie, considering the night before, but K`an had no proof.

"Ryau, shut up." K`an just waved his hand in Ryau's face without taking his gaze away from Naki. "I have been doing this whole mating game for almost as long as you have been alive. I know intimacy when I see it. It is not in what you have done, but rather in how you two look, act, and speak with one another."

Ryau sighed at K`an's dismissal. "We work closely, but we aren't involved in anything."

"Professional relationship can look that way to people outside the science community." Naki said.

"Yes, because women having a dreamy look in their eyes are very professional," K`an said.

Naki rolled her eyes. "K`an I think you're just getting old."

"You said so yourself," Ryau chuckled.

"What if this old man thinks you two are hiding a secret?" K`an retorted.

"Then I would say that it is classified by the High Council." Naki smirked. She grew the look on her face that said she was about to outmaneuver a target.

"Oh?" K`an raised his eye ridge. "Thank you for confirming what I thought."

"Oh, its not like that. The project we are working on does include the upgraded ACI unit... but the reason that we are working together is indeed classified by the High Council, punishable by death without trial. So K`an, keep your nose out of our business."

"Would you rather my nose be placed elsewhere on you, other than just your business?" K`an asked seriously.

"Do you always resort to sexual innuendoes when you've been cornered?"

"Maybe." K`an winked. "It is part of the 'Retmaree' package."

"I think we've discovered why you haven't found anyone, K`an." Naki said.

K`an's smile faded and he looked beyond his cup.

Naki reversed her destructive rampage."There is probably only one woman in this galaxy that could handle you."

"Maybe..." K`an placed his glass on the table. "I guess I'm just looking for one who will spit similar jokes back."

In an effort to interject some comedy back into this conversation, Ryau spoke up. "Just watch it be a Kig-Yar."

"Hmm, or a fucking Jiralhanae." K`an tilted his head at Ryau with a slight smirk. "I mean... I wouldn't mind. I have spent a few evenings with a Kig lady."

"Well, with your luck, it would be a Human." Ryau changed his statement to something more unusual.

"Who knows... that might be nice." K`an smirked again. "What alien species would you sleep with, hmm?"

Ryau sort of pushed away from the table. "I would prefer not to answer that..."

"Oh come on! Fine... name the alien species that you would not sleep with." K`an demanded with a chuckle.

"I-" Ryau began, but he was saved by the ships announcement system.

"SpecOps Science Major 'Cimutee, SpecOps Major 'Cinotee. Report to the bridge immediately."

Naki looked up at the ceiling. "What could this be about..." She swiped her credit chip over the tables console, paying for the meal before standing. Ryau followed her lead.

"Oh look at you. You seem to be quite important." K`an said, backing away from the table.

"Well I am the lead scientist on board." Naki said.

K`an chuckled. "If that is what they tell you."

"You have not met Alea if you think I'm not the lead." Naki huffed.

"Well, I know for a fact she is good at... somethings." K`an winked.

Naki just sighed and left the tavern with Ryau trailing behind. Their table was quickly snatched up by the next group of warriors that had been lurking through the tavern for a place to sit. Once outside, Ryau noted that the line to get in had grown dramatically. Every other eatery must have closed already. They ended up taking the Gravity conveyer through the ship.

As they approached the bridge, traffic in the tube began to build up. Word came down from warrior ahead of them that Fleet Security had a checkpoint around the bridge, and they were scanning everyone that was passing through the area.

Ryau sighed and waited for the line to clear before he and Naki were able to get out of the conveyer system. The bridge area was cordoned off by Fleet Security as well, they were requiring the usual DNA slot check. The slot check was not anything unusual to him, but it still made him nervous. There was the tiny chance that the fact that he was a former Human would somehow contaminate the reading against the one Naki provided the system.

He stuck his hand into the reader, as instructed by the Fleet Security guard by the machine. There was a small pinprick as the machine took its sample and the results appeared on the guard's data-pad.

"You are clean." The Officer said, waving him into the corridor that was acting as an airlock for the bridge.

Naki was scanned next, passing as well. Same with K'an, which made sense as he never set foot on the Ring. It would be more surprising if he had come back positive.

The airlock was cycled and they were allowed into the command deck with an escort.

The Shipmaster had exited the bridge and was waiting for them by the door. When they met, Ryau and Naki saluted, the Shipmaster returned the salute. "Science Major Cimutee... it seems that the Mercy and Betrayal has arrived..."

Naki cocked her head slightly. "Wasn't it supposed to arrive in five cycles?" She asked.

"Yes, that is why it is so unusual... The bridge crew ran their clearance codes and identification which came back as correct, and I spoke with the Ministry and confirmed codes with them as well. The Shipmaster 'Vacumai is as confused as I am."

"Hmm," Naki stepped back and tapped her mandibles with her forefinger. "There was a plethora of Slipspace technology on the Ring, it is possible that its destruction may have caused a distortion to Slipspace..." She stopped tapping herself. "Did they experience travel for five cycles or was it cut in half as well?"

The Shipmaster placed his hand to his helmet, likely getting confirmation from another source. "They say that they experienced a normal five cycle transit time..."

Once again, Naki took a few moments to think. "Interesting... I see no reason that this... issue would cause any long term harm. We should only worry if more ships start experiencing such an anomaly. Is it possible that I could stay for a few more cycles and observe, Shipmaster?"

"No, the Mercy and Betrayal is preforming a hard dock with the top of the ship to transfer supplies as we speak. Shipmaster 'Vacumai was very insistent that he wants to get underway as soon as possible. Something about making a deadline." The Shipmaster sighed. "Gather your cargo and transfer, it has been a pleasure having your expertise on board."

"My transfer orders for Alea 'Vanika?" Naki asked.

"I already forwarded it to the Ministry. I will dispatch a lance of Unggoy to your cargo hold to assist with transport." The Shipmaster nodded.

"Thank you, Shipmaster." Naki saluted and headed off the command deck. Ryau did as well, following her out. He could hear the sound of K`an's hover chair keeping up. The Slipspace anomaly was something of interest, there was some sort nagging in the back of his mind from his past. Ryau had always wondered what had caused it.

It seemed that it was on K`an's mind as well. "Do you think that is the next step?"

"What?" Ryau asked.

"The Slipspace dilation stuff." K`an elaborated. "Do you think that is the next step in achieving faster travel?"

Naki sighed. "No, I don't, this is some sort of accident. This event is not something that can easily be replicated.

"Naki... you're a scientist... You should be asking the question on how could we easily replicate it." K`an said

"Replicating the destructive power that was released here and the amount of Slipspace technology that was destroyed would likely surpass the cost of constructing High Charity." Naki stated

"It could be a thing though... yes? It would be quite a bound."

"Its not a feasible thing to make" Naki seemed to be growing impatient with K`an. Ryau would be too if he kept insisting something be pursued.

K`an asked again. "What if it was though?"

"K`an, its not worth the cost. It can be done but its demand for resources and funding far out weigh it usefulness." Naki finally snapped.

K`an just seemed to ignore Naki's burst "Hmm... you're probably right."

They arrived in the cargo hold, Ryau could see that Naki's cargo crates were cordoned off from the others. Likely from having been on the ring. There were quite a few. "Is this everything, Naki?" Ryau asked.

"No... I lost quite a few on the Ring." She sighed. "Nothing that cannot be replaced though." She waved the Unggoy to start loading the crates onto hover carts.

"What is inside all of these anyway?" Ryau asked.

"Sensor equipment, drones, biological sensors... everything from lab equipment to field rations." Naki said. The Unggoy finished loading the crates onto their carts and started out the door.

"I didn't mean to challenge you like that, Naki. I do greatly enjoy astrophysics." K`an apologized.

"Very well then, K`an." Naki rolled her eyes. Ryau went to follow the Unggoy through the ship, they probably knew where to go and Naki was busy conversing with K`an.

"You know... if you ever want to talk in depth about the sciences I will, you know? Well... regardless... I wish you guys didn't have to leave."

Naki made an amused huff. "We live in the same state. I live on the only inhabited island in the bay of Varo."

"I do greatly enjoy you two's company." K`an nodded.

"Then why don't you stop by after this war is over?" Naki suggested.

"Alright... I guess I'll see you guys off then." He floated on behind them. Ryau looked to either side of the corridor they had turned down, floor was slightly inclined and there were articulation points every few meters. They must be on one of the other ship's docking armatures already.

K`an randomly spoke up again with another question. "Do they have you stationed on a big ship?"

"Not really, the Mercy and Betrayal is a modified CCS-class." Naki said.

"What guns do they have on it?"

Naki sighed. "The usual."

"They didn't rip out the Energy projectors or anything?" K`an was just full of questions today.

"No, we still roll with the regular fleet occasionally." Naki explained.

"Alright, any modifications to the engines or anything? Is its speed of any match to the Pious Inquisitor?

"It doesn't have any upgrades to its engine systems, so no." Naki was again becoming impatient.

"Hmm... Would you ever want to pilot a ship like this? I would."

"Good luck, these require whole crews to move," Naki scoffed.

K`an laughed. "You know what I mean."

"The ship is upgraded to have more cargo space and lab space, along with an additional dedicated reactor for the labs, but that is the extent of the upgrades." She said.

"I might have to make a point to explore this ship later." K`an hovered alongside them.

"Maybe after the war." Naki nodded to the side. Ryau took note that they had just passed what looked to be a pressure door, and the articulation had stopped a few meters back.

Suddenly, there was a thump that reverberated through the deck plates. Followed by the subtle hum of the engines firing at the back of the ship.

K`an's hover chair stopped. "What the hell is that?"

"I... think the ship just detached." Ryau slowly said, looking around at the corridor. "Or we were ejected from the ship."

"No way, they wouldn't be that stupid to just leave after docking." K`an said.

Naki turned to a wall console and began to type into it. "Well, we were told this pickup was on very strict time constraints."

"Still." K`an stopped and turned around to look at the airlock. The door was sealed and it's light glowed red. "Are you fucking serious?"

"Well I am," Naki said.

"Did I just get locked on this ship?"

"I think you did."

K`an let loose a growl. "Come on... let's get up to the bridge and stop them before they leave." He turned and started to zoom off into the ship.

However, he did not get far before the speakers cracked. "Prepare for immediate slipspace operations."

"Fuck..." K`an came to a rapid halt and gripped one of the corridor braces. Ryau was not quite sure why K`an loved to use Human profanity and terms, he was not even sure that he had ever heard Sangheili profanity from K`an in all the time they had spent together; It was quite strange.

The Slipspace jump was unusually smooth, almost like it did not happen at all. The only indication were the 'Active Slipspace' lights that had come online along the corridors. Before Ryau could even ask Naki about it, the ship's speakers sounded again. "Major 'Cimutee to the bridge immediately."

"I suppose he has no time to meet me on the ramp, typical." Naki sighed, and started back towards the bridge.

Ryau did not know where he was going, but he had been on this ship once before. He wondered if he would see the Ultra, Zeik, again. K`an sped up next to Naki. "You're not good friends with this guy, yes?"

"Well he is the Shipmaster." Naki nodded slightly.
"That is not a yes or no." K`an prodded.

Naki sighed, looking down, and then looking back up at the ceiling with a flop of her arms. "I sort of technically outrank him on this ship."

K`an smirked. "Mmm... that sounds like an ex-boyfriend"

She shook her arms. "No, it's not like that. I've not had any relations with him, the ship was awarded to me at graduation. It just required a shipmaster, as per regulation, but I still get to tell him what to do."

With a shake of his head, K`an muttered under his breath. "Don't you just love our Hierarchs?"

"What was that?" Naki must have missed what he said.

K`an waved his hand. "Forget it, let's go."

The path to the bridge was much shorter than on the Leveling Strength, as the Mercy and Betrayal was three times smaller than the DDS-class carrier. They passed quickly through the lax bridge security, and walked into the cavernous space. A golden armored Sangheili stood on the raised platform.

Naki simply walked in like she owned the place, and judging by what she had said earlier, she did. "What is it 'Vacumai?"

The Shipmaster turned from whatever the screens were displaying. "Ah, Science Major 'Cimutee... welcome aboard."

Naki placed her hands on her hips. "Why did you not meet me on the ramp?"

The Shipmaster clicked his mandibles and shrugged. "I was charged with getting you and this ship to the assembly station in an exceedingly strict timeframe. Making the mandatory maneuvers required my presence on the bridge."

Before Naki could retort the Shipmaster, K`an hovered his way into the conversation. "So let me get this straight... You are under such strict orders, that you just ignored proper and almost required pre-docking and post-docking tests and protocols?"

'Vacumai smirked to himself. "When the orders come from a Hierarch, we do."

"Well... aren't The Hierarchs the ones who spent a whole bunch of time and research due to the fact that several ships in the past had suffered substantial pressure loss from careless docking?" K`an challenged.

"In case you have not noticed, Major, we followed proper rapid supply-transfer-docking protocol Five-seven-seven-gee. The docking corridor you passed through was the only pressurized docking port used."

"Well what about the protocol One-zero-two-dee... You know, the one that states that you have to, at least, identify all of those that enter each of your docking tubes, Shipmaster?" K`an simply crosses his arms.

The Shipmaster chuckled. "Ah, and I assume you have forgotten about the Mk-III Personnel Identification Disk you have embedded in your armor. Which, as I will remind you, tags you as soon as you come aboard. The same way that you are identified when boarding normally?"

"Oh? So you're fully admitting that you willingly withdrew a warrior under the command roster of another commander? I would assume that Supreme Commander 'Vadamee would not be pleased."

"I am fully admitting that I took aboard a crippled rifleman under orders to accept all personnel transporting cargo." He reached down and plucked Naki's datapad off K`an's lap. "Which I thank you for bringing."

"You are lucky I am chairbound." K`an growled under his breath.

The Shipmaster just ignored his comment. "Though I do not know what I'll do with you..." He turned back over to face Naki and Ryau. "Naki, you know we are in Slipspace, correct?"

Naki sighed. "Yes, I do."

"Well so do our sensors, but I hope you will be able to explain, this." 'Vacumai pulled a holographic screen from behind him and enlarged it so Naki could see.

The screen appeared to be showing the view from an external camera. However, instead of the black void of Slipspace, the cameras took in a view of blue wisps of fog against a dark background. The puffs flew by at speed, showing the cruisers momentum.

Naki was dumbstruck. "I...I don't know what this is." She walked up to the platform and began to type away on a screen. Naki looked down to one of the bridge officers. "The sensors confirm the translation?"

"Yes, Science Major. Sensors confirm that we have entered the Void." The bridge officer responded.

"Well, it's not much of a void right now." Ryau muttered.

K`an hovered up to the platform and pointed to a screen. "What are those lines across the graph and why are they bending around the middle?"

Naki stopped what she was doing and looked at the screen K`an was talking about. "That screen is supposed to be showing the topography of Slipspace, those lines should not be showing any deviation from straight... these are saying that its bowing out around us, like a bubble. Perhaps the detonation tore open a new dimension of Slipspace... It's so strange."

The view of the outside was also familiar to Ryau, another connection to his memory of the past. There's another link to that other world he used to know.

Naki sighed and looked away from the screens. "I should get to my subordinates..."

"I would love to sit in on that to hear why... this is weird." K`an said.

"Well I don't know why yet, as I said earlier. This might be a different layer of slipspace." Naki placed a finger to her mandible. "Let's go." She turned and headed for the door.

K`an stopped and turned his hover chair around to face 'Vacumai. "Just a quick note; I will be making a report on your forced transfer to the Supreme Commander."

"Have fun with that. He will not be a Supreme Commander for long." The Shipmaster laughed under his breath.

Before K`an could respond to that, Naki had spun on her heel and reentered the bridge. "And you will not be commanding this ship any longer if you keep up this attitude."

K`an smirked, "By the Gods..." He slowly backed out the door and into the hallway.

Naki decided to add one more thing. "I will be keeping him on my security staff until we reach the end of the deployment cycle. Thank you 'Vacumai."