Paste your documenWhile you all wait. Interlude one. Sorry for any spelling problems and such.

Interlude 1: A Prelude to Battles
Admiral Sir Terrance Hood fidgeted in his seat as he waited for his shuttle to commence atmospheric insertion. His return to Reach seemed to be at an opportune moment. As soon as his flagship had made orbit he had received an encrypted message requesting his presence planet side and informing him that transport had already been arranged.

The shuttle pilot came over the intercom, speaking in a calm drone informing the sole passenger that they would be landing at the joint Army-Marine training station at Camp Stenis at a local time of ten thirty hours.

Through the small passenger window adjacent his seat, Admiral Hood could see Reach filling his field of view, an emerald, white, and blue expanse that stretched from horizon to horizon. The crown jewel amongst the Earth's most productive inner colonies. And like a crown jewel, it was accompanied by its own retinue of lesser gems. Constellations of orbital construction yards, elaborate networks of defensive installations, and an ever growing fleet stationed out of high orbit. Few worlds could boast orbital transfers that so regularly gave passengers a clear view of the orbiting space stations and orbital tethers. It was almost impossible to miss them on approach to Reach.

The yards at Reach turned out over a hundred new warships every month, everything from frigate squadrons to carriers and cruisers. New fleet formations were being commissioned each week and fleet organization charts were being updated at a rate that only AI's and modern information networks could keep up with. Normally shuffling individual ships and formations around so quickly would play havoc with cohesion and unit coordination, but so many of the ships were new builds and so many of their crews were fresh that it hardly mattered.

Every day, fifty million tons of expendables were lifted up the orbital tethers to supply the fleet. And each week a new marine regiment or task group was formed and shipped to the front, either to keep peace on worlds in the invasion corridor or suppress insurgencies colonies on the opposite end of human space.

It was times like this that Reach showed its origins as a military outpost. Even as the war raged, Reach,
with its extensive military slips, was more than keeping pace with the demand for new hulls, and, along with earth and mars, represented over two thirds of the UNSC combined military ship building capacity.
And that, Admiral Hood thought, was folly. If Reach was ever discovered by the Covenant, over a third of man kinds war machine would be crushed with a single hammer blow. The centralization of military manufacturing, fortification over distribution, the designation of secure and insecure star system, of reliable and unreliable client worlds, they were relics of past conflicts that the policy makers desperately clung to.

Admiral Hood had made his concerns known time and again with high command but the only response had been to further bolster defenses around the inner colonies making their potential loss all the more costly. It was a blind spot in the UNSC's was of thinking, one that with no amount of pestering he had managed to convince his superiors of the validity. He couldn't really blame them. A gleaming new Marathon class cruiser drifted in the distance, arrays of habitation modules attached to its hull like limpets. All of this seemed so permanent, so, untouchable. It was easy to lull oneself into a false sense of security while living under the watchful guards of that much firepower.

The shuttle descended past the last line of orbital defenses and entered a pre-approved approach vector. Any deviation from their entry path would result in their immediate destruction by the automated defenses with no questions and no mercy, a holdover from the war with the innies. Hood gripped the arm rests as turbulence began to buffet the shuttle on its final approach. Before long the sky outside the window began to lighten and the shuttle came level with the cloud deck. A pair of F-100 Falchion light atmospheric fighters took up formation on their wing escorting the shuttle in for touch down at Camp Stenis.

The training base stretched along the southern Eposz coast, morning lights shimmering off the broad deltas that cut through the middle of the base training grounds, over a fifteen thousand square miles of training fields, vehicle parks, and barracks where marine and army formations trained under realistic conditions for everything from planetary invasion to hostage rescue. Dropship's and VTOL's swarmed over the center of the base like a hornet's nest and Hood spotted a number of small landing craft skirting across the bay in preparation for a training op.

The escort broke off in the last seconds of flight and the shuttle transitioned to VTOL flight mode for touchdown on the VIP landing pad, a cordoned off landing zone directly opposite the HQ building. As Hood disembarked a man dressed in a navy shore duty uniform saluted him crisply. Hood's expression soured as he noted that the man wore no unit insignia or name patch, only a holographic ID tag and the rank insignia of a Captain.

"Admiral Hood." The man saluted respectfully. "I am Captain Emre Kemal, ONI section III, I am here to escort you to the meeting.

"Of course." Hood said quietly, squinting at the man. The Captain remained straight faced as he ushered the Admiral to a waiting utility vehicle and drove them out onto the base roadway.

"The meeting isn't at the HQ building?" Hood asked. Of course it wouldn't be, too high profile. Hood had been dropped here because it would make sense for an Admiral to arrive at the HQ, other flag offices would be arriving under similar premises.

"We're going to an ONI run section of the compound." Captain Kemal confirmed, the man cursed beneath his breath and hit the brakes as warning lights flashed across the road. A platoon of M808B scorpion expeditionary tanks rolled across the roadway, each of the forty two ton, two man AFVs rode low on fully articulated suspension to minimize surface pressure. Hull mounted sensors panned and rotated scanning and identifying Hood and Captain Kemal in passing, part of the tank's onboard FUWS urban warfare suite.

"It's the 34th Castle Red joint training games." Captain Kemal explained. "The army got called as aggressors this year."

"That's going to put the marines at a disadvantage." Hood observed as they preceded down the road, catching up with a column of up armored LRV-12s, Cobra self propelled anti-tank guns, and five ton all terrain supply vehicles.

"It isn't as bad as you may think. The army has to sortie from the inland regions and then swing across the delta to the North. That terrain is some of the muddiest on the planet. The army technically has more airlift capacity but their gear is heavier. The marines have a mobility advantage and all of their gear can come with them." Kemal glanced over at Admiral Hood.

"Of course, I don't see the point of these large field operations. The Innies never fought this sort of ground war and the Covenant just burns us from orbit. This war will be won in space and only if we have the defensive depth to take losses."

"Is that so?" Hood asked carefully. "I don't entirely agree. The ground forces are invaluable in keeping the peace and conducting orderly evacuations. And the Covenant isn't always so thorough when they burn our worlds. One day, we'll need the ground forces to take those planets back."

"That is a problem for once we are on the offensive. Armies do nothing to strengthen our defense, we need fleets and the yards to build them, and not just here, to rely only on the inner colonies is to reduce our true defensive depth to but a few worlds, the defensive depth must be the whole of the nation not just the heart worlds or we will find ourselves fighting for our lives on our own door step. Wouldn't you agree Admiral?" Captain Kemal spoke while keeping his eyes fixed on the road.
Hood looked at the man suspiciously. Whatever his rank insignia said, he wasn't just a Captain. ONI didn't send Captain to try and co-opt Admirals and this was too blunt to be anything else.

"You've read my reports?" Hood grunted.

"They are very . . . enlightening," Kemal said, "And intriguing in light of new developments."

"And those developments are?"

"Lorelei." Kemal said quietly. "This war may be entering a new phase."

"That's what we're here to discuss?"

"Yes Sir." Kemal said, they turned off of the main roadway and onto a side road that lead into a walled
off section of the compound. Soldiers in the black and gray of ONI recon branch stood guard over the entrance and Hood spotted more guards on the wall and the roofs of the buildings, snipers on over watch. Both men were vetted by the guards before they were allowed to enter the compound, the ominous bulk of a twenty millimeter auto sentry promising no mercy if they tried anything foolish.
The ONI compound was a facility unto itself with its own barracks, landing pad, and armory surrounding
a smooth, obsidian pyramid. Kemal steered them around the side of the main building and into a subterranean motor pool.

Hood was vetted once more by security and then led to a bank of elevators. He felt the familiar sensations of weight loss as the elevator descended into the ONI compound's sub-levels. Nothing inside the lift gave any indication of their progress, there were no controls or any indicator of what level they were on. Hood could only guess at how far underground they had gone, certainly less than a hundred meters which was positively shallow as ONI's subterranean lairs went.

There were no guards waiting for them as they exited into a short, warmly lit hallway. Hood suspected that none were needed. They were within ONI's inner sanctum now, no doubt a dedicated AI was observing both him and Captain Kemal closely, scrutinizing them and comparing their biometrics, body language, and voice patterns to the most extensive security archives in existence.

Captain Kemal led him to the end of the hall and gestured to an open door. The room beyond the
threshold looked more like a high class executive boardroom than the heart of an ONI facility. A polished hardwood table dominated the center of the room fitted with workstations and chairs for a dozen occupants. The walls were fitted with floor to ceiling holographic arrays currently set to display a photorealistic view of the Highland Mountains complete with subdued audio. Hood grimaced at the opulence but suspected the men and women who normally used this room rarely saw the sun much less anything resembling nature.

A handful of early arrivals were already seated or standing around the room. Hood recognized a few faces. Two other Admirals and a marine officer he didn't recognize wearing the rank insignia of a brigadier general. He paused when he caught sight of a brunette woman furiously tapping away at a flex pad.

"Doctor Halsey." He greeted the woman politely.

The Doctor looked up from her terminal and gave Hood a deferential nod of the head. "Admiral Hood."
They regarded each other silently for several long moments. "You mind telling me when you're going to stop depriving me of one of my best flag officers?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Halsey said. Nothing in her face betrayed any hint of emotion. It was typical of the Doctor. Strictly speaking she was just a civilian consultant but over the past few years she had been accumulating steadily more political power within ONI. Her influence now rivaled some Admirals albeit it could not be wielded so brazenly. But then, that suited a woman like Halsey just fine.

"Keyes. I know it's you that got him transferred and reassigned to Luna academy. Any reason why you think you can march in and squander one of my officers."
Halsey shrugged. "I could ask you the same thing."

"Excuse me?"

"It doesn't matter how good a flag officer he is, he can only die once. Keyes shows potential, he's a lateral thinker, and he'll teach that to his students."

Hood's eyes narrowed. "How very thoughtful of you Doctor. I'll remember to ask your opinion about personnel assignments in the future."

"That would be a great help." Halsey said turning back to her flex pad. "I'm sick of calling in favors to get the right people in the right places."

Hood bit off a sharp retort as the door opened to admit a granite faced man in a navy uniform accompanied by a small entourage of intelligence personnel and staff officers. All of the room's military occupants came to stiff attention.

"Admiral Cole." Hood saluted sharply as the Hero of Harvest gestured for the room's occupants to stand at ease.

"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I'm glad ONI could make time in all of your busy schedules for this meeting." A few genuine murmurs of amusement suggested that the dry joke had been well received. Hood noted with some satisfaction the sour look that crossed Halsey's face. Cole gestured for the gathered men and women to be seated and took his own place at the head of the table.
Cole took a seat and the terminal in front of him lit up automatically as it confirmed his identity and started streaming briefing files. A holographic projector came to life beside the admiral resolving into an
AI avatar. A winged feminine figure composed of polygons.

"This is Joan, ONI intelligence section three. ONI has offered her services for the duration of this operations and I for one am glad to have her." Cole said.

The avatar gave a slight bow. "It is my pleasure to be of service."

"I have to apologize for the secrecy of this meeting and also the short notice. I assure you that there is a reason for both and that all will be explained shortly." Cole regarded the seated men and women seriously. "I have asked and received permission from high command to begin our first offensive against the Covenant."

There were murmurs from the gathered military personnel. It was Hood who broached the question.
"An offensive? So we've found someplace to attack?"
Cole tapped out a command on his terminal and the room dimmed. A holographic map of a planetary system appeared over the table. "I am referring to Lorelei, the 52nd human inhabited planet to experience Covenant encroachment. As I am sure you are all aware, high command wrote the system off one month ago when the Covenant began to entrench themselves and consolidate around the inhabitable planet. At this time all UNSC forces in system and planet side are assumed to have been wiped out."

Hood perked up at the mention of Lorelei.

"Admiral Cole, you said entrench, not regroup?" The question came from a waifish oriental woman, Admiral Saori Tanaka, commander of the 18th fleet, navy reserves.

Not that there were many reserves for her to command given the Covenant war. She had been relegated to driving marine detachments around the outer colonies on the opposite end of UNSC space from the invasion corridor where she was forced to make dew with decrepit navy cast offs and local customs patrol craft to prosecute the still ongoing war with the few remaining independents that hadn't gone defunct or settled their differences with greater pan humanity in their collective struggle against extermination.

"I didn't misspeak." Cole said. "The Covenant has begun to consolidate in the system." Another few commands brought up grainy images of covenant ships in orbit over the planet. Everything from whale nosed CCS class cruisers and scythe bowed carriers to oblong frigates and snub nosed corvettes were in attendance. But there was something more, amongst the more familiar warships were dozens of ungainly looking craft, bulbous forward hulls with almost vestigial drive sections. They looked to Hood like the Covenant version of a bulk transport.

"I don't recognize these ship types." Hood said.

"Nor do I." Admiral Cole said.

"We believe that they are fleet auxiliaries and engineering ships. They have been seen offloading large amounts of supplies on the planet and also linking their forward hulls together to form orbital structures. The drive section appears to be an independent craft which can then depart." Jone explained.

"The ONI prowlers Precipice and Jaguar were able to approach within half an AU of the planet at which point they release multiple stealth reconnaissance probes. Upon retrieval the satellites revealed extensive Covenant ground emplacements." The photos were transmitted to each terminal. "We believe this to be a ground side logistics base built to support their operations on the planet."

"Christ, it looks like they're building a goddamn city down there." The marine officer, his name tag identified him as brigadier General Sorel said.

"They would need a city for what they're doing." More photos. It took Hood a moment to appreciate what he was looking at. At first it appeared to be a metal disk dug up from underground. But then he realized that what he thought was dug up earth were really mountain ranges.

"Sir, this is the alien artifact discovered by ONI isn't it?"
Admiral Cole nodded. "I'm sure you've all heard rumors. Even ONI can't hide something with this sort of exposure. We believe it to be the ruins of some precursor civilization to the current Covenant, if so, it may contain some form of religious importance to them. Also, given the fate of the UNSC Of Fire Forged, it may be a technological treasure trove for whoever may hold it. And it's value is also what makes Lorelei a golden opportunity."

"Up until this point we've had been entirely on the defensive. Every battle dictated on the Covenant's terms. They have decided where and when to strike and amassed their forces accordingly. Save for the rare occasion of the timely arrival of a UNSC task force this has inevitably led to routing of our forces and the destruction of our colonial holdings."

"At Harvest, owing to the limited point of contact, the Covenant chose to engage us head on. And though our losses were heavy, the Harvest campaign represented the highest casualty returns of any operation against the Covenant thus far. The battle for the planet may also have slowed the initial Covenant advance as their leadership decided whether the planet was of strategic importance."

"Then our objective will be to repeat our . . . success . . . at Harvest." Admiral Tanaka asked.

"After a fashion." Admiral Cole confirmed. "Lorelei is a golden opportunity. It is a target that the
Covenant will not easily surrender which pins them in place and demands that they devote resources to its defense. By engaging the Covenant at Lorelei we gain the initiative and can dictate the terms of the battle. It will also allow us to gather valuable intelligence about the Covenant."

"If Lorelei really is a strategically important location, then the Covenant will devote reserves to its defense. The size the counter attack may give us an idea of their total force size or at least the sort of response they can muster in defense of one of their planets." Hood reasoned.

"Exactly." Cole said. "Furthermore the large concentration of Covenant technology in an already compromised star system offers an opportunity to conduct research that has been until this time curtailed due to the poor condition of retrieved samples and the need to sanitize covenant equipment."
Another navy officer who Hood recognized as Rear Admiral Xao, snorted at the comment. "That supposes that we win."

Cole laced his fingers together. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have no choice but to win, any other
outcome is to invite catastrophe."

"The Admiral has managed to convince the Security Council and ONI of the importance of this operation." Joan said. "High command has authorized deployment of the 5th and 6th fleets as well as elements of the 7th, 13th, and 15th fleets totaling in excess of five hundred warship and three hundred logistics and support ships."

Hood's brow rose at the numbers the AI tossed about. A force that size would rival the strength of the home fleet.

"That's all well and good." Xao said. "But from these reports, there are at least two hundred Covenant warships as Lorelei, and that doesn't count any defenses they may have constructed. You'll have to better than three to one losses if you want to have a fleet leftover to fend off a counter attack."

"I have been giving that a great deal of consideration." Cole said. "I admit the fleet numbers are rather
smaller than I would like." Hood grimaced. This was small? Then what would Cole consider a large force? The man certainly couldn't be fault for thinking small. "Honestly it is likely for the best. A larger force would take more time to assemble and draw down from other operations. As is, we will already be drawing down heavily from the home guard fleet to rally the force on this time table."

"Is that why I was brought in?" Admiral Tanaka asked. "The 18th Fleet is most dependent on support from the home fleets. If the Innies realize a draw down is taking place they may take the opportunity to launch a new offensive. We've managed to keep the lid on the pot by weighing it down with marine units and army garrisons but we could be looking at another front if we're not careful."

"Bunch of idiots." Sorel spat. "We're getting murdered by aliens and they're still setting off IEDs in front of police stations and taking mining crews hostage in the belts."

"A consequence of ONI's propaganda campaign." Captain Kemal said gaining the attention of the gathered officers. Noticing that he was becoming the center of attention he elaborated. "The Innies dismiss reports of Covenant attacks as UEG propaganda by pointing out discrepancies in the official reports. The ONI's propaganda arm has made extensive use of social engineering and viral campaigns to mitigate these discrepancies in the eyes of the general public. The insurgents simply believe the reports are making the situation out to be more dyer than it really is to encourage the people to back the established government when it is, in fact, the other way around. Those insurgents groups in the path of the invasion have generally gone silent, they've witnessed firsthand the sort of war this is."

"Then drag those bastards out to the front line. They can see what kind of war we're fighting while I march them into the Covenant's guns." Sorel said.

"As emotionally satisfying as that might be." Admiral Tanaka said. "It is unlikely to happen any time soon. This is not a productive avenue of conversation. Like I was saying, force reallocations while we build up this strike force will give the surviving independents an opportunity to launch attacks. I'll be hard pressed to do anything about it."

"You shouldn't have to." Cole said. "ONI is pulling two Spartan teams from the field to run interference on the Innies. While this operation is ongoing they will also be shifting several of their attack prowlers to the region. Your reason for being here is two fold. First, you correctly assumed that arrangements will need to be made to deal with the Innies, that will be part of your task along with coordinating the logistics of this operation. More importantly, the 18th Fleet is the largest surviving institution with experience conducting contested planetary assaults. We're going to need your skill to get the troops ground side to dig the Covenant out from the around artifact."

Tanaka bowed her head. "I'm honored that you think so highly of my forces. We will offer whatever aid our misbegotten expertise can give."

"Admiral Xao, Admiral Hood." The two men stiffened. "You were selected for your complementary abilities. Hood, you will be responsible for combat arm organization. Xao, I want you to lend Admiral Tanaka your assistance with organizing our logistics for this operation. I want your whole staff reassigned to this." Both men nodded.

"General Sorel, I imagine you want some payback for Harvest."

"Damn straight." The marine General grunted. "Just put dirt beneath my feet and I'll get to burying
those Covenant ground forces."

"That what I wanted to hear." Cole said. "You will also be coordinating with Admiral Tanaka, in this case for the ground operations. The 18th Fleet has the largest concentration of assault and landing ships, they'll be your ride down and offer support once you're planet side." Hood turned to a formerly silent army general. "General Bjorn, you'll take command of XXVIII Corp and offer heavy support for the marines."

"Sir, I'm honored." Bjorn said. "But surely Tanaka's assault ships could provide better fire support than my tanks and artillery."

"They can." Cole agreed. "But we want to minimize damage. Not just to the artifact, but also to the
covenant facilities. The technology could be invaluable if we have a chance to examine it. I don't expect this fight to look pretty on the ground, but bombed out is a far cry from blown away. Besides, we don't know what sort of ground to orbit defenses the covenant may have and there's no guarantee we will be able to maintain orbital supremacy. Tanaka's assault ships may be forced to withdraw."

"If that's the way it is, then I accept it." The General glanced over to his marine counterpart. "It will be you and me Sorel, just like operation ARBALEST."
Sorel chuckled, "Just try to be on time for once Eli."

"Captain Kemal will be our ONI Liaison and will coordinate ONI forward intelligence elements, infiltration forces, and reconnaissance assets in preparation for the assault." Kemal said nothing but gave a respectful nod.

"Finally, Doctor Halsey."

The Doctor laced her fingers together before her. "My research team will be ready to hit the ground as soon as the sight is secured. ONI has given us the services of several of their stealth prowlers to get us in and out."

Cole looked over the group of men and women he had gathered. "Good. Now that you all have an idea of your roles and our objective we will begin laying out our plan of attack.
More files were forwarded to Hood's terminal and as he began to read Admiral Cole's preliminary plan his eyes widened. He could see why command was willing to bank on Cole to achieve victory even with a smaller force than requested. If it worked.

"This is insane." Xao muttered. "Coordinating a fleet like this is next to impossible."

"But not totally impossible." Tanaka said.

"The Covenant won't just let us bombard them like this." Xao countered.

"That's the beauty of it." Doctor Halsey said. Hood's blood ran cold when he looked at Halsey. There
was a cold smile spread across her face. "Everything we know about the Covenant says they won't have a choice."


Ship Master Sula Sumamee stepped out of his dropship and cocked his head as he sniffed the damp
air. The smells of kicked up dust and the faint methane stench of a million Ungoy laborers filled his nostrils. In the distance the rim of the sacred artifact rose above the foothills to supplant the horizon as the edge of the world.

"Ship Master, I'm pleased that you could make it." Came the rasping voice of the Minister of Propriety.
Sumamee turned and his mandibles folded into a smile at the arrival of his old friend. The Minister sat hunched atop his hovering throne smiling in that sincere fashion he had since first they met. The Minister was frailer than most of his kind, thin limbed with prematurely sagging skin. He had realized early in his life that he would never earn the privilege of breeding and instead had devoted himself to his faith. First as an acolyte, and now as a trusted agent of the Prophets.

"You are looking quite well Tovriss." Sumamee bowed his head.

The Minister laughed softly. "I'll have you now, lying to a minister is a heinous transgression, and calling
one by name even more so, that's off with your head."

"That makes it one hundred and twelve deaths now." Sumamee said happily. "And one hundred and thirteen chances at life."

"You warriors and your philosophy." The Minister admonished. "Still, I am glad that you are here.
You're presence as both a ally and a friend is appreciated." The two set off down the landing ramp and out into the camp. The base was of a standard layout with the landing pads centrally located and surrounded by soldier's barracks and the command center. A troop of Ungoy and Kigyar were marching up the ramp to a waiting dropship as Sumamee and the Minister departed.

"It is an impressive sight." Sumamee observed, gesturing to the horizon.

"Indeed. To find an Eye of the Gods is second only to the discovery of one of the Sacred Rings." The Minister said reverently. "If we are able to prove our worthiness and unlock its secrets it will be a powerful tool in achieving the Great Journey."

"Surely, the Gods would not make it so easy for us." Sumamee said. "The humans fought well to hold this place and even faced immolation at the hands of the Gods in an attempt to destroy the sacred Eye."

"I suspect that you are right." The Minister of Propriety said. "This is a challenge set before us to prove our worthiness. And that is why I am so glad to have you. It is said that the Eyes were built as transport devices, components of a larger network that the Forerunner's used to build their Empire and guard its borders in the time before they embarked upon the Great Journey and ascended to Godhood. If we can open this gateway, imagine where it will lead us!"

"I think I'll leave that to you." Sumamee chided. "I'll just worry about what's on the other side when we get there. If we get there. Surely the Huragok have been set to work by now." Of the Covenant races, only the Huragok, the servants of the Forerunner, were allowed to freely examine the technology of the revered race. There word was law on all technical knowledge deigned from examination of the ancient relics. Even respected Sangheili researchers struggled to gain the same level of authority as the lowliest Huragok in such matters.

"Of course." The Minister said. "Over twenty thousand have already been assigned to examining the workings of the Eye."

"Then it is surely in good hands." Sumamee said. "That leaves us to defend this place against any
human counter offensive. Fortunately Fleet Master Masamee has things well in hand."

"And your own forces?" The minister asked. "Surely the title of Ship Master is not just for show."

"Of Course. I have been given command of a Strike Fleet detachment. Three fast attack ships of the
latest model, each more than a match for a human heavy attack ship, a scourge for any human force
that might threaten this place."

"This is splendid news!" The Minister of Propriety said, congratulating his old friend. "This is the first step to becoming a Fleet Master in your own right, is it not?" Sumamee gave a nod of ascent. "Then it is indeed fortunate that you are here. I shall speak with Fleet Master Masamee about have your forces stationed in low orbit."

"Tovriss. What is wrong?" Sumamee asked his old friend with concern.

"You know, that I do not have much time left, yes?" The Minister said.

"I try not to think about it, old friend, lest our time together spoil." Sumamee said.

The Minister's dry lips quirked slightly. "Be that as it may. My saving grace in the face of frailty has always been my faith. Though I may not live long enough to see the great journey I can see that it comes about, perhaps in your lifetime and in the lifetime of the children of my sister. This conviction has been proven to the prophets and they have rewarded me with this final task and the duty to consider sacrilege that it entails."

Sumamee tried to digest what his old friend was saying. "Tovriss, you have been made an inquisitor?"
The Minister laughed and waved his hand. "It is not nearly so grandiose as that. You do recall the incident with the Prophet of Regret that transpired some time ago?"

Sumamee clicked his jaws thoughtfully. His family were merchants by inclination and so had as much reason to pay close attention to political goings on as anyone. Sumamee kept an ear to the political himself, though his interests leaned more to the High Council which emphasized military matters rather than the Heirarchs who set general policy. "I believe the Prophet of Regret was scolded for risking his personal safety."

"Indeed." The Minister of Propriety said. "In his quest to secure one of the sacred shield worlds, the Prophet of Regret took a small force and raided Forerunner sites on several human held worlds. While his actions did lead us to another sit of human blasphemy which was dully cleansed, in his hurry the Noble Prophet neglected to summon reinforcements. A human vessel gave chase to his forces and succeeded in destroying the shield installation from within. The Prophet only barely escaped with his life."

"Yes, I remember hearing of the destruction of the shield world." Sumamee said. "The destruction of such a reliquary is a great loss to us all."

"Indeed, I can only imagine how chastised the Noble Prophet must be, that in his haste his actions lead the humans to defile another sacred artifact. However, my new duties demand that I consider another possibility. The Noble Prophets of Truth and Mercy have requested that this new site be kept under close observation and that all progress be reported directly to them."

"That is to say." Sumamee finished, "That the Prophets do not trust the judgment of one of their own."

"Or, that they simply do not trust him at all."

Sumamee clicked his jaws in shock. "But . . . that cannot be. You are right, that is sacrilege." The stories of the shield world, a fleet of forerunner warships, each an artifact of the same caliber as the sacred dreadnaught at the heart of the Holy City itself. Wielded for the Covenant, they would have paved the way for the great journey. Wielded for just one, it could make even a Prophet first among equals.

"Perhaps I am mistaken. I must merely consider such things in order to safeguard our Covenant. But if there is some truth in it. Then, I may need the help of someone I know I can trust. Sula, you have been my sword in the past, I may need your services again in the near future."
The Ship Master bowed his head. "Of course. Old friend." How could he refuse?


In the darkness he slumbered and to the darkness he woke. Mummified lips parted, sucking in breath. Eyelids opened revealing sunken eyes. Lights glimmered to life revealing his form. Desiccated limbs twitched feebly. Legs kicked helplessly. Slowly, a ribbon of metal descended from above, caressing the emaciated thing, encircling it, folding around it, protecting it.

Within his mind, madness settled into sanity, confusion in to understanding. Order rose from chaos. What had woken him? He reached outward through the artificial synapses and systems of his armor querying vast databases and the minds of his servants. His sanctum remained undisturbed. His servants new nothing of the transgression that had woken, no, it came from something much much older. Far back. From the old times.

One of the gates had been opened. How very interesting. And its location, even more telling. As if to mock him. So close to her garden world and the favored pets of her and her protégées. His armored hands balled into fists powerful enough to crush steel and shatter stone. He had thought he had dealt adequately with their transgressions but it seemed he was mistaken. No matter.

He reached out through the systems his will poring into combat chassis, navigation computers, weapon system. And then he froze, paralyzed. He was no longer within the network, no longer within his armor. He was on that blasted hill, and she was there. That golden eyed woman, starring at him. Beautiful eyes gazing out of a face that she had willfully disfigured. Mocking her heritage, mocking him! Her lips were pressed tightly together, head bowed forward somehow looking down on him, pitying him.
Memory slowly returned and he understood and he raged against her futilely. The not real memory of a woman, her shadow that turned his sanctum into his prison, his power into his shackles. And after a time the rage cooled to smoldering hate. He reached out by a different path. Subtly, methodically, reaching down into the minds of his servants. That ones that mistook him for god. It seemed his tools had been busy. Good, wonderful, he had use of them now.


Marine Technical Manual-

UNSC M808B Scorpion Expeditionary Tank

As the independents movements scattered throughout UEG governed space gained momentum, Marine reaction units required an armored fighting vehicle capable of engaging improvised technicals and locally manufactured AFVs as well as neutralizing resistance strong points in urban environments.
In 2519 the UNSC put forward a contract for an air transportable tanks capable of being transported using the reinforced sky winch of a modified DC-77 Pelican Dropship. The tank was to mass no more than forty five tons and emphasize crew protection, battlefield awareness, and infantry support.
In 2520 the Reach based Bredar Arsenal, a subsidiary of General Atomics Land Systems, in conjunction with the widely renowned Kenbishi Research University on Amaterasu, put forward a design for an advanced all terrain assault gun carriage making use of Kenbishi's fully articulated hybrid suspension and vehicle control system. The resulting platform was capable maneuvering over a variety of rough terrain and even crawling over heavier rubble.

The M808B is operated by a two man crew, a driver and a gunner/commander who is in control of the vehicles weapons. An advanced communications and fire control system assists the gunner in target identification and command of the vehicle.

The vehicle's main armament is a 105mm eletro thermal accelerator cannon designed and built by Bredar Arsenal. The cannon is mounted in a remote turret and fed by an autoloader with eight rounds of ready to fire ammunition and up two thirty two additional rounds housed in a blow out box on the back of the turret. The loader is capable of ammunition selection and both loading and removal of munitions from the firing breach. A .50 caliber coaxial gun is mounted and aligned with the main cannon to provide infantry suppression capabilities. Hard points for additional remote weapon systems are located on the glacis and top of the turret providing mounting points for light machine guns and automatic grenade launchers which may be managed by either the commander or driver or operated in automatic sentry mode as part of the tanks FUWS Field Urban Warfare Suite.

The crew compartment is separated into two independent fully sealed crew spaces arranged like the seats of an attack VTOL. Although the Scorpions armor has been criticized for being relatively light, the crew compartments have been heavily armored and extensively reinforced to improve crew survival odds. The crew space is fully environmentally sealed and NBC rated.

The M808B relies on a number of active and passive defenses to protect itself and its crew. A hull wide suite of sensors provides the crew a full 360 degree panoramic view of the surroundings in visual spectrum, infrared, and enhanced imaging modes. Data from this sensor suite is forwarded to the FUWS tactical computer for fast image processing and command of the close in defense systems. In an attempt to improve the Scorpion's protection against covenant plasma weaponry, scorpion tanks have been equipped with ablative ceramic armor blocks, reactive armor charges, and superconductive
mesh linings to spread the energy of plasma impacts.

Additionally, some variants have been modified with super rapid deployment chaff dispensers capable of releasing an aerosol cloud of powdered metal into the path of an incoming plasma bolt, the resulting explosion as the bolt contact the aerosol cloud disrupts the plasma discharge and dissipates the blast across the glacis. Unfortunately, the consequences to any dismounted infantry in the vicinity are severe, thus limiting it to use on spearhead units in massed armor thrusts. Bredar Arsenal engineers are currently prototyping an advance active countermeasure system to defend against plasma weapons by using a directed electro thermal charge to intercept the incoming plasma bolt but the system is still some time from deployment.t here...