Chapter 18: Conservation Measures
"Out of the way! Out of the fucking way!" Opening his eyes weakly, bright white light flooded Didact's irises as he watched metal bulkheads fly past him overhead through foggy vision. Looking around, he saw people gripping tightly onto the stretcher that he found himself on with his armor missing, only his undersuit still on. One of the doctors to his right saw that he was awake and leaned down to speak to him, his voice different from the one that startled him.
"Demon, you're on board the Forseti in the medical bay. While you were on the surface you went into hypoxia and a light coma. We've administered a blood thinner and we're draining your lungs at the moment." Looking down, two tubes that were filled with blood droplets protruded from his chest. Taking a breath to see how well it had worked he saw that he was able to fill almost his entire chest with air with only a slight hint of wheezing.
"What's going on down there?" he asked the doctor. Despite his best efforts, his vision remained blurry and all he knew about the doctor was that he was a male. Receiving no response, he repeated his question. "What's going on around the Library? Where are the others?"
"I'm sorry sir but I don't have that kind of tactical information. All I know is that the forces are withdrawing to the ships." Satisfied, Didact let himself calm down slightly after feeling his heart race speed up and his skin get clammy without the aid of his armor's environmental controls. "We're going to be taking you into surgery, alright? The burns you sustained are very serious and are likely to become infected and your lungs are still draining blood. I'll see you on the other side." Before he was able to protest in any way, a needle pierced his skin and a strong sedative flooded his body before he became unconscious again.
"Uncle…" Tyro's voice sounded pained as she stepped into Chairman Hoyt's apartment that occupied the top of level of one of the tallest buildings on the planet which afforded him blue skies every day as the clouds rolled by beneath them. At the moment the sun had gone down but the horizon was still illuminating the sky in a deep red and purple, the horizon outlined by tall buildings. Wearing a pair of black slacks and a white button down blouse, Tyro had obviously just come from work but had broken down somewhere along the line causing her make-up to run down her face and her nose to become flushed with blood.
"I know, I heard the news before you did. The best doctors are taking care of him and he's being brought back here as fast as possible." Not comforted, her mouth curled downwards and a soft whisper punctuated the silence as she walked towards the elderly man and wrapped her arms around his neck. Despite being the same height she appeared small and frail as he softly returned the hug and rubbed his cheek up against the side of her head. Holding her as she began to cry again, Hoyt whispered softly into her ear as he tried to explain that he'd be alright.
"How did it happen? They never explained it," she finally asked after calming down.
"It was a case of friendly fire. One of the IFF receivers on a Bayfor was malfunctioning from the hot drop and Didact and Lieutenant Hall's squad didn't show up so the gunner assumed it was clear to fire. Fratricide is a fact of war, like it or not." Nodding, Tyro wiped the tears off of her face as she stepped away from Hoyt and paced around a little bit.
"Sit down. Would you like something to drink?" he asked, motioning towards a grouping of plain black leather couches in a living room, the view overlooking the entire city. Despite it's modern feel and look the apartment was relatively old as Tyro remember visiting it when she was a small child and even then her Uncle and late Aunt had occupied it for some time. Sitting down, she wiped a few more tears away from her face and listened as Hoyt spoke to her from his kitchen behind her. "I just got some lovely wine from Verita. Would you like a glass?"
"Yes please," Tyro responded, her voice still a little shaky from her emotions. "The Arrays were supposed to remain uncontaminated. We don't have anything in place to deal with an outbreak, let alone on this scale."
"Won't the security systems take care of them eventually? As long as the quarantine barrier is up, that is."
"Theoretically…yes, but we've noticed the Flood is able to, with a lot of effort, assimilate itself with inorganic material as well. It's possible it might happen there as well. I suppose we may be able to fire the ring in an extremely local burst to eliminate the Flood…" trailing off, she heard Hoyt pour the liquid into the glass and put the cork back into the bottle. Tyro slowly became lost in some of her thoughts as she considered all of the outcomes of the war, contorting her lips before instinctively massaging her forehead as if it was aching. Opening her eyes, Hoyt was holding a glass of the wine in his hands, the burgundy liquid sloshing softly inside the glass. He didn't say anything as she took it and then walked away from her towards the floor to ceiling windows and stared outside, still dressed in his outfit from work. Taking a sip softly, Tyro could see that he had something to say but was unable to say it.
"We've lost almost half of our planets, Tyro. One way or another this war isn't going to last much longer."
"The shield worlds aren't complete yet. Only Onyx has been finished and it can't support enough people to maintain genetic diversity if we need to repopulate, we'll need multiple shield worlds for that." Hoyt didn't respond to this but she could see that his face looked sadder when she spoke. "We can't keep pretending this problem is going to go away. We've got to start taking a long hard look at the preservation of our species and any others we can find. Bring the Ark here and we can buy ourselves some time, we can use Mendicant Bias to command our fleets and attack the Flood wherever they're at. Based on our research they're based off of a hive mind mentality, if we can find wherever the controller is they'll revert to a feral state and we can defeat them."
"Bring the Ark here?"
"Yes. Activate the shield and we can give ourselves enough time to build more shield worlds and categorize sentient life before we attempt to destroy the Flood. At least that way we'll have something to fall back on if we can't defeat them." A new vigor had crept into Tyro's voice and she stood up in the darkness that had settled over the room, the only light coming from the kitchen where it highlighted the back of her head. "Conservation measures must be taken regardless of what it is that we do."
"If you believe that is the best course of action, I would like you to present that to Fleet Command. We don't have time to waste."
Tyro straightened the black skirt that accentuated her nearly perfect body, stopping just below her knees. The hallway she waited in was enormous with floor to ceiling windows that rose almost fifty feet into the air as the walls curved inwards towards the inner cylinder where the war room was located, the sun bathing everything in a bright gold glow. Standing silent and by herself she paced slowly while her heels clicked on the floor before it echoed around for a few seconds, her heart racing as her stomach twisted itself into knots. Her eyes wandered around before resting on the designs etched into the glass which she slowly traced to keep her mind focused and calm. Adding to her anxiety was the silence on Didact's condition, the last information she had received was a short message stating he would be going into surgery a few days prior but aside from that she was still in the dark. On one hand it was a good sign as his death would've been all over the news by now but not knowing anything was still torturing her.
"Ma'am? They'll see you now." Sneaking up on her was a small female assistant who seemed too timid for the job she was in. Turning around when Tyro looked at her, the assistant quickly disappeared around the curve of the hall. Going in the same direction, Tyro stopped well short of the door she exited when she arrived at a relatively large set of stairs that sank into the floor where it led to a single metal door. Taking a few seconds before she stepped within range of the motion sensor she collected her thoughts and made sure she remember everything that she wanted and needed to say. Satisfied that she was ready, she took a few steps forward and walked through the now open doorway. Descending a few more feet into a dark hallway Tyro continued walking forward before the floor began to rise up again until she emerged into a relatively small chamber where she was standing on a platform that extended into the center. Sitting just slightly above her was a single row of seats that wrapped around to her sides, each seat occupied by an admiral within the Forerunner Navy. Bathed in a soft blue light from their consoles, the fifteen officers all stood up at once in respect of her royalty. Putting her hand up and smiling weakly she had them sit back down before stepping up to the platform proper.
"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen," she said, surprised at the lack of force behind her words. Coughing quietly to get over the sudden bout of stage fright she began to speak again. "I'm sure all of you have been briefed on the nature of my visit so I'll just cut to the chase." Looking down for a moment she began to navigate her way through a small group of files. "Of no fault of your own, the war with the Flood has not been going well. We've got to start looking forward to our options for preserving as many species as we can in the event the Array must be fired. The original plan involves using a series of shield worlds where we can house most if not all of our population within a self-contained Slipspace field. Essentially they'd be in another dimension while the Array is fired and then we return once the threat is gone. Unfortunately, Project Onyx is the only completed facility as of this time although Project Reach is nearing a sufficient level of readiness and may serve as a second shield world. Irregardless, our current conservation measures are woefully inadequate and while they preserve a small portion of the species we run the risk of either overburdening Onyx or having too little genetic separation to guarantee a healthy repopulation once the Arrays have been fired." She paused and looked up at the officers. "I suppose you could say it's a pick your own poison situation." The room was silent when she finished speaking, only the soft sound of clothing rustling as the admirals shifted uncomfortably. "Now…here's where the Navy comes in. The Ark has an energy emitter that can create a field that is able to block the coordinating ability of the Hive Mind, rendering any Flood that come through it completely free which makes them return to their feral state. If we bring the Ark to Shi Kai or another local system we can create a defensive sphere that should give us enough time to preserve a large portion of life within the galaxy. All you have to do is create a blockade that would maintain a position along the border of the field, codename the Maginot Line after the late Professor Maginot who was the one who discovered the link."
"You seem to have already resigned our military to defeat. Protocols have already been enacted that should slow if not reverse the Flood's advancement," the man in front of her said, leaning forward a little so that the front of his face was barely illuminated.
"May I ask as to what those protocols are?" Tyro shot back but remaining unaggressive, she still had to win these people over. A map of the galaxy appeared in the center of the room and began to rotate slowly on it's side so that they were able to see the region that was to be discussed. Extending out from the center of the galactic bulge towards a region about a third of the way out was a green filter which stopped abruptly and was replaced with a red one. Sitting on the meeting point and then extending out from there a little bit was a purple ring.
"The purple line is a burn zone; all planets outside in it are being evacuated back within this green zone before being glassed. We'll engage them in the red zone and quickly cut through them without any hope of the Flood replenishing their numbers our manageable losses." Tyro shook her head in disagreement at hearing this but she had her counter prepared.
"All it takes is for one ship to break through the burn line and the entire plan is useless. That's why I propose a second part to my earlier plan, an offensive contingent. I'd like you to meet Mendicant Bias." Running her fingers across a few of the symbols she connected Mendicant to the speaker system.
"Hello, my name is Mendicant Bias," his deep voice said, booming throughout the chamber but lacking an echo. "I am a Contender-Class AI created by the Librarian Tyro."
"Mendicant Bias is the most advanced and deadly AI that has ever been created. Running a simulation, he was able to effectively coordinate over five thousand separate ships without any performance or judgment conflicts. He is bred for war and his enemy is the Flood. Give him control of a fleet and we can end this war."
"I can operate all of the ships under my control with little to no crew on board which minimizes any losses to strictly material in nature. In the event a ship under my control is captured by the Flood it is simply a matter of activating it's self-destruction mechanism." The silence following their tag team was seen as a positive by Tyro who knew that, at the very least, they were considering the plan that she had put together.
"We'll take your plan under consideration. Thank-you, Librarian."
Feeling a soft breeze on his skin, Didact tried in vain to open his eyes but his lids hung heavy and he couldn't make them budge. Smelling a sweet scent in the air he let his nose lead his head around as it tried to track down the source. Giving up on trying figuring out what or where the smell was, he went back to trying to open his eyes and found that they were now willing to give way and open ever so slightly. Through his eyelashes and the blurriness that obscured his vision he was able to make out a field of bright green that touched a dark blue sky, white splotches slowly moving across which assumed were clouds. He heard something move behind him and he tried to move his head on the pillow that it was resting on but his muscles refused to budge and so he remained still, wondering what was going on behind him.
"Glad to see you're awake," a cheery voice said. "I'll give you a little something to get over the medication." A few seconds later he felt a wash of warmth through his left arm that quickly spread through the rest of his body while his heart began to beat faster and faster. Feeling as if he was suddenly full of energy Didact began to move each part of his body as it loosened up and became responsive. A few blinks later and his vision was almost completely bad which allowed him to take survey of his surroundings. Lying down in a hospital bed, he was parked out on a large patio that was looking over a beautifully lush valley that was covered in tall grass, bushes, and small trees before leading down towards a large lake that was shimmering in the sunlight. What he had originally assumed was a large cloud before now presented itself as a thick set of rings that went from what he presumed was the southern portion of the sky. On either side of him was a large white sheet that was attached to a small pillar on the curving balcony in front of him before rising up into the air behind him where the sheet was attached to an enormous tower. The half-moon patio sat right on the edge of a steep drop down to the valley floor where a flock of white birds rose up out of the shadows and into the cerulean sky. Feeling a familiar touch on his right shoulder he turned to see Tyro smiling as she sat down on the edge of the bed, facing him.
"I was worried about you; they pretty much kept me in the dark. They underestimate the drive and tenacity of a wife though," she said, laughing which flashed her bright white teeth while her small dimples formed at the corners of her mouth. Adjusting her now straight blond hair she adjusted the pink button down shirt she was wearing, a perfect match to her white Capri pants.
"I was alright. They always make it sound worse than it really is. What have you been up to?" he asked.
"Not a whole lot," she replied quickly, leaving out the meeting she had had a few days prior. "It's enough of a challenge trying to hunt you down, didn't need anything else on my plate." Smiling, he pulled on his light blue sheets so that he had some slack and raised his bed up so that he was in a sitting position. Looking down at his left arm he could see noticeable scarring all around it which he assumed was across the rest of the area that was burned from the blast, his smile slowly fading. Tyro noticed his change in mood and extended her hands and placed them within his before looking into his eyes, a playful smirk resting on her lips.
"Don't worry, I didn't marry you for your good looks," she said, laughing as he brightened up a little bit. Finally letting out a chuckle she leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips as he closed his eyes, remembering how wonderful she was. Wrapping his arms around her he pulled her in tighter and felt her body push up against his. Finishing, they rolled their foreheads against each other as their noses touched, both of them breathing a little faster before opening their eyes.
"It's been such a long time. Staying in Shi Kai made me forget how hard it is to be out on tour," he said, staring into her eyes. Tyro nodded in agreement and gave him a second, much quicker kiss before standing up. "Is there something wrong?" Tyro scrunched her eyebrows in a look that seemed to indicate she didn't know what he was talking about. "Is there something wrong or do you have to tell me something?" he repeated. Despite her best efforts she quickly gave away her intentions with a pause that lasted just a little too long and a quick glance away from him. Knowing that he'd find out anyways she went decided to tell him everything.
"I spoke with Fleet Command; we're beginning to enact conservation measures to ensure the survival of as many species as possible. We're also going to us Mendicant Bias to command a fleet whose mission is to hunt down and destroy the controlling element of the Flood."
"What kind of measures are we talking about?" Didact asked, sitting up even more in his bed.
"We're going to seal off the inner colonies with the Ark until the Flood leadership has been neutralized." Didact grunted in understanding but didn't say anything, a sour look coming across his face but he didn't say anything. "You don't approve?"
"No, I don't," he shot back angrily. "I don't see why we have to abandon billions of people just yet."
"Didact, if you hadn't notice, this war isn't going all that well!" Realizing her outburst, the two of them looked around and could see the other patients at the recovery facility glancing away after being drawn to them by the commotion. "We have to make some hard decisions," she said, her voice low. "This is our best shot at winning or buying us enough time for the other shield worlds to be finished before firing the Array."
"I understand that but it doesn't mean I can't disapprove with the plan."Tyro took a deep breath before letting her shoulders sag and drooping her head a little. Trying to think of something comforting to say, Didact was unable to come up with something and instead looked off into the valley that suddenly looked less inviting than before.