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Midnight – The Citadel – Gamma Wing – ONI Debriefing Room Alpha AKA: The Black Room – 0900 Hours - February 14th 2540

Jacob Sharpmen, along with several ONI Agents, had entered The Black Room. When Jacob had entered The Black Room, he stopped, and looked around; immediately understanding the nomenclature behind this interrogation room. However, Jacob was not able to stall for long, before one of the ONI Agents nudged him in the back, forcing him to continue walking to the center of the room. As Jacob moved to the center of the room, he took a seat at the table and chair that was waiting for him. As Jacob sat there, he looked at the ONI Brass that were seated at the long table directly opposite to him.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen…I have been looking forward to this…

Jacob: I cannot really say the same. One does not eagerly anticipate a drumhead trial.

Hand: Not a surprise. After what you did, you really have nothing to look forward to.

Jacob: Truthfully, I was alluding to the fact that this is going to be a kangaroo court. I think we all know how this is going to end.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen, you presume too much. We are here to analyze the facts. Our decisions will be made after we have analyzed all of the facts, and taken into account your side of the story.

Jacob: If you say so. However, you will forgive me if I have my doubts.

Director Hand sighed, as she fell silent; waiting for someone to begin the questioning. As usual, Vice Admiral Wolfgang was the first one to speak up.

Wolfgang: Captain Sharpmen…

Wolfgang grinned at Jacob.

Wolfgang: I have to say it; I respect your distaste for Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Jacob didn’t respond.

Wolfgang: I truly do. You have demonstrated more courage and dedication in that respect than some ONI Agents I could name.

Jacob: Nighthawk is a terrorist. He has stabbed me in the back more than once, and he is a liar. Worst of all, he destroyed San Angeles, and killed 40 million people in the process. I take a very grim view of that man and his ape.

Wolfgang: Rightly so…

Jacob: I take it you are no fan?

Wolfgang: I despise those two, more than you could ever imagine.

Jacob raised an eyebrow at Wolfgang.

Jacob: Do you have a question, sir?

Wolfgang: Yes, forgive me…

Wolfgang paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Wolfgang: Captain Sharpmen, I am very curious about what you know about Nighthawk and Anaconda. Is there any strategic information that you may have that would assist ONI in eliminating these two?

Jacob: Kill Anaconda, then kill Nighthawk.

Wolfgang: In other words, just kill them?

Jacob: No. You have to kill them in that order. You will never kill Nighthawk so long as Anaconda is alive. I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but, Anaconda has a vested interest in preserving Nighthawk’s life. Every attempt I have seen someone make on Nighthawk’s life, has been thwarted by Anaconda. The only way to cross Nighthawk off, is to cross Anaconda off first.

Wolfgang: Interesting perspective. Though, it begs the question; how do we kill Anaconda?

Jacob: Therein lies the catch 22. Nighthawk, for whatever reason, is highly defensive of Anaconda. I guess, if you think about it, you have what can be best described as a mutual survival pact.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: That being said, if you attempt to take Anaconda out of play, you can expect Nighthawk to go above and beyond the call of duty to either protect Anaconda, or secure him. Nighthawk has clearly demonstrated that there is no length and no limit to what he will do to protect Anaconda. The rules stop applying when Nighthawk gets desperate, and all you are left with is a pure, naked rage. Point and case, we all know what Nighthawk tried to do to Hoffman on The King Raven, and we all know that Nighthawk stormed The Ulterior Motive on the faint hope that Anaconda was still alive. He was willing to walk into the lion’s den, dragging the UNSC behind him as cannon fodder, if need be, to rescue Anaconda.

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: I guess you could say it is a paradox. Can’t kill one, without killing the other, but, you can’t kill one because the other is always watching. I guess there is a method to the duo. Fewer points of failure.

Wolfgang: It is funny you should say that. The reports that we received indicated that The Trust managed to capture Anaconda; seemingly breaking that paradox.

Jacob: The Trust, however, failed to pull the trigger, and they allowed Anaconda to live too long. Anaconda escaped his holding cell, and that was the end of that. Anaconda linked up with Nighthawk, the duo was reunited, and the paradox was restored.

Wolfgang: Funny you should mention that, seeing as your own report seemed to indicate that you were the one that released Anaconda from his holding cell when ONI, and Nighthawk, stormed The Ulterior Motive. I am curious, for someone who hates Nighthawk and Anaconda so much, you sure did the unexpected.

Jacob: At the time, the overwhelming presumption was that I was a member of The Trust. I reasoned that if I helped Anaconda, I could prove that I was NOT a member of The Trust; that I was, in fact, still loyal to the UNSC.

Wolfgang: Who were you looking to impress with that idea?

Jacob: First off, I would not use the word “impress”. I was looking to prove my hostility towards The Trust. What better way to do that than help Anaconda get back into the fight? I figured that if I help Anaconda escape, Nighthawk would recognize this, and would use his overtly comfortable position with Captain Frost to vouch for me. We all know that Nighthawk was very close to Frost. I simply tried capitalized on that fact in order to prove my good intentions

Jacob paused.

Jacob: In hindsight, I regret helping Anaconda. I would do anything to get the chance to correct that mistake.

Wolfgang looked at Jacob, and sighed.

Wolfgang: Yes…it was a mistake. If only you could correct it.

Jacob: If only…

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: The only thing I can do is provide as much intel on Nighthawk and Anaconda that I can. That is exactly what I did. I am not sure if you noticed or not, but, attached to my after action report is everything I have Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Wolfgang: I noticed that in your report that you have some very comprehensive data on Nighthawk and Anaconda. I have never seen an analysis this verbose before. You have really done your homework on those two.

Jacob: Ever since they first surfaced 2 years ago, I have gathered everything I could on them. I have seen them fight, and I have seen them in action. I have a very good idea of how they think, and I know how they operate in-between their engagements. Not many people can say that.

Wolfgang: Rest assured, I will be putting this information to good use. Hopefully, with this information, we can finally make inroads against those two…individuals.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: I wish things could have been different, Jacob. You would have fit in very well in my chain of command.

Jacob: If I may make a recommendation, sir? If you want someone who is as capable as I am, I recommend recruiting Hit Squad Kilo. I know, from personal discussions, that Zeph and his team utterly hate Nighthawk and Anaconda. If you are looking to put together a task force dedicated to taking down Nighthawk and Anaconda, I would start with Hit Squad Kilo.

Wolfgang: I will keep that in mind, Captain.

Wolfgang made a few notes on his tablet, before looking at Jacob again.

Wolfgang: I have nothing further to add, Captain.

Wolfgang fell silent, as he once again picked up his tablet, and began to take a few more notes.

Jacob looked at Wolfgang for a moment, before his attention was caught by Vice Admiral Skinner.

Skinner: Captain Sharpmen, I have been looking forward to speaking with you.

Jacob: Why is that?

Skinner: I have spent the past few days hearing a lot about you, hearing about what you have done, what you are, what you aren’t. After everything that I have heard, I am curious to hear your side of things.

Jacob: I am not sure what you are expecting to hear. You have either heard good things or bad things. You have either heard that I am a loyal officer, or a traitor. You have either heard that I am with the UNSC or with The Trust. You want to hear my side of things? I will tell you the most important thing; I am a loyal soldier; faithful to the UNSC. All I want is to be able to do my job; and my job is fighting for Humanity against anything that may threaten it, be it The Covenant, The Trust, or Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Skinner: indeed.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: Well then, let’s discuss your job, shall we?

Skinner glared at Jacob for a moment, before he continued to speak.

Skinner: Tell me, Jacob, what is your official stance on The Covenant invasion of San Angeles?

Jacob: I think it was pretty obvious that the invasion was orchestrated by The Trust. The Trust wanted, or needed, The Covenant to glass the planet.

Skinner: Why?

Jacob: The Trust wanted easier access to Vanguard’s technology. If all the Humans on the planet were dead, The Trust would have no problem taking Vanguard’s technology for themselves. They wanted to keep it a secret. While the UNSC was focused on the loss of another planet, The Trust was free to act in the shadows.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused.

Skinner: Would I be correct in assuming that, in the end, you believed that San Angeles was a lost cause?

Jacob: I did not feel that the UNSC had the capability or the manpower to defeat The Covenant. Near the end of the campaign. Our defeat at the hands of The Covenant was a foregone conclusion. We had lost almost every major city, lost or surrendered almost every major engagement. We had lost numerous ships. We put up a damn good fight, but, it simply was not meant to be. We have always been on the losing end when it comes to The Covenant. It is rare we get a victory over them. I was not holding my breath for San Angeles.

Skinner: A sad reality, it seems.

Skinner shifted through Jacob’s reports for a moment, before speaking again.

Skinner: So, you assert that The Covenant would have been victorious, and you assert that San Angeles was a lost cause. I am curious then; why do you condemn Nighthawk’s use of the Slipspace weapon that destroyed an already doomed planet?

Jacob: I condemn the act because Nighthawk acted unilaterally. Nighthawk used that weapon while we were still trying to evacuate people from the planet! He didn’t care that we could have continued to evacuate people. All Nighthawk cared about was destroying Vanguard. He did not give a single thought to the 40 million people on that planet. We may have lost the battle, but, we had not lost the civilians.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: If that weapon never came into play, we could have evacuated more civilians. Perhaps we could have reduced the death toll to 39 million…or 35 million…or 30 million. We could have saved more lives, but, Nighthawk didn’t give us the chance. Yes, San Angeles was doomed. Yes, San Angeles was lost, but, it wasn’t lost to The Covenant. It was lost to Nighthawk. We were denied the opportunity to save more lives because Nighthawk had an itchy trigger finger.

Skinner: That is an interesting way of looking at it.

Jacob: It is the only way to look at it. Nobody can deny that the evacuation effort was cut short by that slipspace weapon.

Skinner: I see.

Skinner paused for a moment, as he looked at his tablet.

Skinner: Your reports seem to indicate that you were in command of the forces in Whitewater, when The Covenant first attacked, correct?

Jacob: That is correct. I was the senior-most officer that had survived the initial attack.

Skinner: What can you tell us about the onset of that engagement? Reports are…sketchy, to say the least.

Jacob: On the 26th of January, the UNSC received intelligence from ONI that a Covenant heavy expeditionary fleet had been gearing up to assault San Angeles. ONI was not sure of the exact timing of the attack, but, we were advised to fortify military installations, and begin evacuations of priority 1 individuals from the planet as soon as possible. About a day later, on the 27th, The Covenant had arrived, and they began their assault. From what I heard from the Navy, a few Covenant ships broke through the battle lines, and established ELO over Whitewater, where they proceeded to bombard the city; targeting fortified military positions and outposts. After the initial bombardment, they began to land troops; a typical force of Grunts, Jackals and Elites, as well as a handful of Hunters, and a few Brute packs.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I was stationed in Regional HQ Bravo, due to my familiarity with ONI. We were the lucky ones. Regional HQ Bravo was the only facility that was not hit in the bombardment. However, every frontline outpost and checkpoint was decimated from ELO, even before the hooves hit the ground. Our initial loses were extreme

Skinner: When you say hooves…

Jacob: The Elites.

Skinner: Continue.

Jacob: Contact with the Navy, in orbit, was sketchy, and the chain of command in Whitewater was broken. I took command of our forces, and pushed back against The Covenant. We held the line as best we could, but, after about a day, our defensive line had been pushed back to Regional HQ Bravo. We were losing ground, and we were dropping fast. Just before I had the chance to order all of our forces to fall back to Regional HQ Bravo, reinforcements arrived.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: But, someone else also showed up.

Skinner: Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: Yes. They had arrived with Commander Vernette and Cameron-Z091. From what I was led to understand, Nighthawk and Anaconda had provided an exit strategy for Tye and Cameron when their mission to retrieve Lieutenant Commander Cochraine went south.

Skinner: Sounds familiar…

Skinner paused for a moment, as he looked down at his tablet.

Skinner: Captain; your report indicated that there was a very specific reason behind the Covenant’s decision to invade Regional HQ Bravo on foot. Can you clarify this statement?

Jacob: Based on what Nighthawk told us, The Covenant wanted access to mission critical data stored on the Regional HQ Bravo servers. This data was digital information, planted by The Trust, in order to direct The Covenant towards Vanguard. This was confirmed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It was speculated that The Covenant placed such a high value on this data, that they were willing to expend significant manpower to retrieve it. The Covenant has never cared for the death toll.

Skinner: Did The Covenant procure this information?

Jacob: We attempted to destroy the information. Everything indicated that we were successful. However, it is possible that The Trust put the data back on the servers for The Covenant to find. The Trust deemed it to be vital that The Covenant found this information.

Skinner: What was the nature of this data?

Jacob: At the time, we did not know. However, we later found out that the data in question contained strategic information on Vanguard, and where it was “hidden”. The data was essentially a breadcrumb trail created by The Trust, intended to lead the Covenant and control where they were striking.

Skinner: Fascinating…

Skinner paused.

Skinner: One thing that I have trouble understanding, given everything that has been said thus far, is the whole idea that a few Covenant soldiers set aside their hostility towards the UNSC, to focus on destroying The Trust and Vanguard.

Jacob: Honestly sir, I cannot say that I fully understand it myself. However, if I have learned one thing, it is that you will find a cabal everywhere you look. ONI’s cabal is The Trust. The Covenant’s Cabal may be these anti-Vanguard soldiers.

Skinner raised an eyebrow.

Skinner: An interesting thought…

Skinner looked down at his tablet, and began to take a few notes.

Skinner: Thank you, Captain. I have no further questions.

Skinner fell silent, as he turned his attention back to his tablet. Jacob, on the other hand, waited for one of the other brass to chime in. After a moment, Winters began to speak.

Winters: Captain Sharpmen…

Winters glared at Jacob, and grinned.

Winters: I am very curious about your time with The Trust. Your reports are…suspiciously sparse in this regard. I would like to hear more about the time you spent with The Trust. What did you learn from The Trust, in terms of intel?

Jacob: As far as intel is concerned, I picked up quite a few interesting tidbits of information.

Jacob paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: I spent considerable time with ODST Black Team, and a bit of time with The Risk Takers. Just between those two teams, I discovered that The Trust is not as harmoniously evil as we have come to suspect. There is a lot of rivalry and bad blood in The Trust. I won’t go as far as saying it is dysfunctional, but, there certainly is no love lost between certain branches.

Winters: What do you mean?

Jacob: Take ODST Black Team and Nova Team. Those are two ODST squads which seem to be in direct competition with one another. ODST Black team answers directly to Spender, while Nova Team answers directly to a woman known only as The Consultant. Those two teams are abrasive with one another, and they are down-right disrespectful. The Consultant plays favorites with Nova Team, and Spender detests The Consultant.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Then you have The Risk Takers and Hammer Team. While those two are far less abrasive with one another, there is still a very real tension.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Despite the tension and the general hostility, they are able to work together against their common enemies, but, without a common enemy, they all have the potential to turn violent with one another.

Winters scoffed, as he drummed his fingers on the desk a few times.

Winters: What do you know about The Consultant?

Jacob: She is a total bitch, pardon my language. She is abrasive, arrogant, sociopathic, deranged…a little sick in the head…quite possibly perverted.

Winters: Perverted?

Jacob: She has an unhealthy obsession with Anaconda. A very unhealthy obsession if I understand correctly.

Winters raised an eyebrow.

Jacob: She is…a fan of his…maybe?

Winters: Can you be more specific?

Jacob: She wanted Anaconda to join The Trust. If I recall correctly, she dispatched Nova Team to the Apex Applied Research building with the sole intent of stopping The Risk Takers from killing Anaconda; going so far as to override their primary directives…

Winters: The elimination of Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: Correct.

Jacob laughed.

Jacob: The Risk Takers had Anaconda dead to rights, and Nova Team stopped them, at the sole behest of The Consultant.

Winters: Why would she do that? Doesn’t that seem odd?

Jacob: Like I said; she wanted Anaconda to join The Trust. My understanding was that she wanted to use Anaconda as a sleeper agent in The Covenant. I mean, the very idea of putting a mole inside The Covenant is a genius idea. However, Anaconda wanted nothing to do with The Trust. He refused to join her. It was suggested that there was more about her fascination with Anaconda than a mere business proposition. She seemed…a little too…obsessive.

Winters looked at Jacob for a moment, before he spoke again.

Winters: Interesting. Odd, but, interesting.

Winters paused.

Winters: Is there anything else you know about The Consultant? ONI’s intel on this woman is basically non-existent.

Jacob: She was in charge of a division known as Division 7. From what I could gather, it was an R&D branch. Division 7 were the eggheads behind the Vanguard project, and it seems that Division 7 produces all the advanced battlefield gear for The Trust. If it involves any sort of R&D, Division 7 deals with it.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Division 7 itself is very autonomous. From what I observed, The Consultant was her own boss. She really answered to nobody, and she showed respect for nobody. I cannot say much about her demeanor to Spender, given his leadership role, but, I would imagine that it was tense.

Winters: What kind of R&D did you manage to catch sight of while aboard The Ulterior Motive?

Jacob: Not much. I observed that Nova Team had some pretty crazy gear, but, I have already established that Division 7 gets the lion’s share of the tech. Division 7 puts itself first. That being said, Nova Team had some pretty crazy firearms. The weapons that were using looked awfully like Vanguard’s tech.

Winters: What do you mean?

Jacob: If I had to guess, Division 7 was experimenting with Vanguard’s tech as pet projects. While Vanguard itself was the main focus, Division 7 seemed to have no problem working on other projects on the side as well.

Winters: Are you suggesting that some of Vanguard’s tech DID managed to escape San Angeles?

Jacob: I did not say that, but, it stands to reason that something may have survived in the hands of Division 7. It is possible. Our engagements with Division 7 were limited. I have no idea what they may have been doing behind their veil of secrecy.

Winters: That is a very disturbing thought. The very idea that something may have survived, even after the tremendous loss of San Angeles…

Jacob: It is a frustrating thought. I don’t want to believe it, but, there is nothing to be gained from intentionally deluding ourselves. We have to face the possibility that The Trust did managed to retain something from Vanguard.

Winters remained stoic in his expression for a moment, before he gave a nod.

Winters: If that is the case, ONI has a very serious problem on its hands.

Winters paused, as he looked down at his tablet.

Winters: I have no further questions.

As Winters fell silent, Everet glared at Jacob, and began to speak.

Everet: Captain Sharpmen; I must admit, you have given us quite an interesting perspective on The Trust. I am now curious if you have similar insights into ONI?

Jacob: Yeah, I do.

Everet: Is there anyone in particular that comes to mind?

Jacob: Too many…

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: Who do you want my two cents on?

Everet: Tell me about Captain Frost.

Jacob: Captain Frost is…very cold; excuse the pun.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: She is very unfeeling, lacks empathy and compassion. Typically, a medical professional is supposed to have empathy and compassion in spades, but, she lacks them. Her command style lacks good judgement. Her partiality towards Nighthawk and Anaconda, her deliberate disregard for the severity Commander Vernette’s past, as well as her bias against me all points to a poor sense of judgement. She defends a terrorist, ignores Tye’s history with The Trust, yet, puts a little robot in my brain because I did a bit of unauthorized recon on The Trust. She is easily compromised by her bias towards her friends, and she is, by no means, someone you can work with, and expect mutual cooperation.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: She is a fellow officer, and I respect that. However, as a person, and as a leader; she leaves much to be desired. She gives a bad name to ONI.

Everet: I see.

Everet paused.

Everet: What do you think is at the root of her partiality towards Nighthawk and Anaconda?

Jacob: I have no clue, but, she is very comfortable le around him. Nighthawk is a man whose very presence is intended to invoke insecurity and discomfort. The way he stands and the way he talks; it screams of outrage. This is a royally messed up Human being, with the kind of baggage you don’t want to see. Any man that can befriend a Brute, has something going on in his head that you would need an entire team of therapists just to look at. However, Captain Frost seems to be immune to Nighthawk’s shitty disposition; pardon the language. She is allured by it, and he is, likewise, drawn to her.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: What I find even more odd is the fact that she has demonstrated absolutely no sense of discomfort around Anaconda. That is one BIG motherfucker. His species has been documented eating our species on the battlefield, of all places. That is messed up. The thoughts going through his brain, I am sure, are equally messed up, and beyond any sort of Human understanding. I am unsure if you have ever actually stood in proximity to Nighthawk and Anaconda. As someone who has, I can tell you, those two keep you on your toes. Their very presence is nerve racking, because you have no idea what they are thinking. You cannot see their eyes, or their inflections. The only thing you can see is Anaconda’s teeth, and that is a terrifying sight. There is no body language that is of any value. The only way to truly read a person is to look into their eyes and make that human connection. You can’t do it with them. There is a divide, a distance, a gap that cannot be bridged. These are not individuals you get comfortable around, or turn your back on. These are distant, malicious, cowardly, and treacherous people.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: For all of that, Captain Frost is totally unaffected by them. She just…knows them. She thrives with them. She has, somehow, made a connection with them.

Jacob shook his head.

Jacob: And before you say it; this is not a tribute to her status as an ONI Agent. There is nothing that ONI has given to Captain Frost that would make her so comfortable around those two…monsters. I have seen other ONI Agents around those two, and they are so nervous and so close to the edge of their wits, that even the slightest of movements will make them jump out of their skin.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: I don’t know what kind of experience, or knowledge, that she has, but, there is something up here…

Jacob tapped the side of his head with his index finger…

Jacob: That gives her a sense of calm around those two, like no other.

Everet: Are you implying something, Captain?

Jacob: Perhaps. Or, perhaps I am wrong on the matter. I don’t know, and that is the problem. We don’t know what is going on.

Everet: You know…part of me cannot help but think that you have a certain degree of animosity towards Captain Frost. The way you talk about her…it is like you are describing some sort of pathological psychopath.

Jacob: You are damn right I have animosity towards Captain Frost. She put a kill switch in my brain and she refused to remove it when ordered to do so. To make it worse, she gave the command codes to activate that nanite to what ONI likes to call a “non-designate” as a contingency plan.

Everet: You are referring to Lieutenant Commander Cochraine?

Jacob: Yes, I am.

Everet: What are your thoughts on Lieutenant Commander Cochraine, if I may ask?

Jacob: She is a loyal officer. In spite of the fact that she carried out Captain Frost’s orders, she is a good officer. Yeah, she is a lower-middle echelon officer, a bit green in some areas, but she has character. I don’t blame her for following the orders of some…ruthless and calculating ONI Captain. She did what she thought was right. She did what she needed to do.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: While it is no secret that she volunteered for the assignment which led her down into the depths of Firebase Mediterranean to apprehend me, I believe she did it, both for my good, and the good of humanity.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: After what Nighthawk did to Athios and Jaclyn…I was seeing red. Part of me knew that I should have allowed Nighthawk to throw his life away against Vanguard, but, I simply couldn’t let go of the idea that I needed to repay Nighthawk for his treachery. Lieutenant Commander Cochraine was the voice of reason. She knew what needed to happen. She did what she needed to do.

Everet: So, even though Cochraine was going to use ONI’s nanite to kill you, you have nothing against her?

Jacob: It was a difficult situation.

Everet: A situation that you created?

Jacob: Nighthawk and Anaconda created the situation. I just reacted to it.

Everet: I see…

Jacob: In hindsight…I believe I could have handled things differently. I should have been able to handle the situation with more tact. I should have been able to keep control of myself. I should have been able to stop myself from being driven by revenge.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: But…it is so hard to act with any sort of reason when you are dealing with a man like Nighthawk. He is guilty of so much, and capable of such sadism, that it is very hard to keep your composure and your humanity. It is what he does; he drags you down to his level; a place where no self-respecting officer dares to go, a place that is unknown to the loyal and faithful officers of the UNSC, a place of such sadistic torment that the very nature of it cripples your better judgement. He drags you down and he beats you with experience have been personally affected by so much of what he has done, that I needed someone like Cochraine to defuse the situation.

Jacob sighed.

Jacob: Had she not have been there, I don’t know what would have happened.

Everet: I am certain that we would not be here, having this little chat.

Everet sighed.

Everet: Things would have been much different, I think.

Everet shrugged.

Everet: However, there is no point in dwelling on “what ifs”. It is best we focus on what is.

Everet paused.

Everet: That being said, I want to hear your thoughts on Commander Vernette.

Jacob: Tye?

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Where do I begin with him?

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Tye is a good soldier, but, he has a lot of skeletons in his closet. I always had a lot of respect for him, both as a person, and a soldier. He was someone you could count on to watch your back in a foxhole. He is a man who could take on the world, and live to tell about it. He was good…he was one of the best.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Unfortunately, it turns out that he is liar. Turns out, he was a member of The Trust. Granted, it was many years ago, and he deserted them, but, that does not change what he was a part of. Nothing changes the fact that he was one of them.

Jacob shook his head.

Jacob: What I find most galling of all, is that Captain Frost condemns me for treason, for the simple fact that I infiltrated The Trust, without authorization or pre-approval. However, Tye actually marched under The Trust’s banner, and she has nothing to say on the matter. She defends Tye and she makes excuses for him.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: Tye was the ONLY person, out of everyone involved in San Angeles, who actually had a real history with The Trust. He was the only one who was a part of their ranks. His call sign was Black 6. He was a member of The Trust’s most infamous strike team. He participated in the same morally reprehensible acts that the other members of ODST Black Team did. He has killed more people than I could have ever hope to have matched. Worst of all, he hid the fact that he was an illegal augment. He is an unsanctioned Spartan I.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: None of that mattered to ONI. None of that mattered to the eternally wise Captain Jennifer Frost. All that she could focus on was the fact that I went off the book, and infiltrated The Trust using unconventional means.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: My biggest problem with Tye is the fact that he faced no condemnation for what he was a part of. IN fact, he joined in on condemning me for my actions. He had the gall to look down on me, for what I did. Captain Frost protected him and made excuses for him, but, she offered me up on a silver platter. Why did I get a kill switch, and why did Tye get protection?

Jacob was silent for a moment, before he began to speak.

Jacob: I infiltrated The Trust. Tye actually joined them. I am called a traitor, but, Tye is called a victim.

Everet: You seem quite bitter about the whole thing.

Jacob: Wouldn’t you be bitter?

Everet: If the situations were the same, I would be. However, I fail to see a parallel between you and Commander Vernette. While I will not defend his interests, I will ask you how you cannot understand the fact that he was subjected to experimentation without his knowledge.

Jacob: Yes, The Trust played mind games with Tye. They performed medical procedures on him without his knowledge. I admit that. I realize that.

Everet: Yes, you seem to protest the difference in treatment. What you did, Captain, is much different than what Tye was forced to do. You acted without authorization. Tye was forced to act against his will. Surely, you can see the divide?

Jacob: I realize there are some differences, but, there are also similarities.

Everet: I do not see any similarities, Captain. Please, point them out to me.

Jacob: Well, we both…

Everet: You both…what?

Everet paused.

Everet: Captain Sharpmen…be realistic. There are no similarities. You deliberately sought out personnel who were know Trust operatives, offered your services, allowed yourself to be apprehended, and utilized your skills to kill 20 ONI marines. You had a choice. Commander Vernette was robbed of his ability to make a choice. Where does your parallel with Commander Vernette begin?

Jacob looked at Everet for a few moments, before he hung his head.

Everet: Be realistic, Captain. What you did was treason. While the results of your actions may have had some positive results, we cannot ignore the repercussions. We cannot ignore the loss of life that came about by that decision. People died because of you.

Everet paused.

Everet: Commander Vernette is going to be punished for what he did. You will also be punished for what you did. The only parallel that I can see is that you are BOTH going to pay for your actions.

Jacob looked up at Everet, but he remained silent.

Everet: So, Captain, feel free to think about that the next time you begin to wonder about that nanite in your brain. Oh, and for the record…that nanite is still active, and it is going to stay there. Keep that in mind, hmm?

Everet paused, as he gave a snarky and disrespectful grin.

Everet: I have nothing further to say.

Everet let out a slight chuckle, as he fell silent. All Jacob could do was look at Everet, as the words he just heard started to sink in. Jacob became so preoccupied with what Everet had said, that he did not immediately realized that Vice-Admiral Crown was addressing him.

Crown: Captain Sharpmen?

Crown waited, and watched, as Jacob seemed as if he was in a trance-like state.

Crown: Captain!?

Jacob scoffed, as his attention was drown to Vice-Admiral Crown.

Jacob: Yes?

Crown: During your encounters with Nighthawk, did you ever learn anything about the slipspace weapon that he used to destroy San Angeles?

Jacob: No. He never mentioned it. We only found out about it after our assault on The Ulterior Motive. This was something that he must have thought of during the after-action, when The Trust began to consolidate all off its resources towards getting Vanguard up and running

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: The only thing that I do know about the whole ordeal is the fact that Captain Frost provided the slipspace core to Nighthawk.

Crown: We are aware of that fact.

Crown paused.

Crown: Was there any discussion or mention of the slipspace weapon when you confronted Nighthawk about it at Firebase Mediterranean?

Jacob: It was mentioned, but, the technical details were not discussed. I have no idea how that weapon was deployed. All I know is that Captain Frost provided a slipspace core to Nighthawk, and he made it work.

Crown: I see. How unfortunate.

Crown sighed.

Crown: Without knowledge of how Nighthawk managed to pull something like that off, we cannot possibly defend against such an attack in the future.

Jacob: We may not know for sure, but, we can reasonably speculate.

Crown: This is hardly a time for speculation.

Jacob: I beg to differ. We are talking about something that we have no hard facts on. All we can do is speculate, and I think we can speculate to some accuracy.

Crown: Alright, Captain…humor me.

Jacob paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: The first thing we have to look at is what do we know about creating a slipspace rupture? We know it takes power, and a lot of it. We know that the amount of power you need grows with the size of the rupture.

Jacob shrugged.

Jacob: A rupture big enough to envelope a planet needs a tremendous amount of power.

Crown: Obviously.

Jacob: Nighthawk had a way of channeling the power necessary to create a massive rupture. The question is, what did Nighthawk have which allowed him to command that much power?

Crown was silent, as he did not know the answer.

Jacob: If we figure that out…

Wolfgang interjected, cutting Jacob off.

Wolfgang: The San Angeles power grid…

Everyone looked at Wolfgang.

Wolfgang: When I was reading Captain Frost’s reports, she mentioned that Firebase Desert had an ONI Stealth generator jury rigged into the planetary power grid.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Nighthawk knew about this. Nighthawk may have also known that ONI takes pride in the modular nature of our designs.

Jacob: Sir, are you saying that Nighthawk connected the slipspace power core to the planet’s power grid?

Wolfgang: That is exactly what he did. That is the only thing he could have done. The King Raven’s slip space drive core is of an ONI design. As such, it would be just as modular as the rest of our tech. That slipspace core would have been able to pull every watt of energy from the planet’s entire grid, in order to generate a slipspace rupture. It would have been more than enough.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: It was dangerous, but, it would have worked if done correctly, and carefully calibrated.

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: My God…

Crown interjected.

Crown: Is this what we are going on? I mean, this does sound VERY unlikely. There is no shortage of things that could have gone wrong with that way of doing things.

Jacob: Everything that could have gone wrong, would have achieved the desired end game; the destruction of San Angeles. It didn’t matter if it went wrong, what mattered is that no matter what…the planet would have been destroyed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Don’t you see? It is the only way he could have done it. It was risky, but, it worked, and it worked as he expected it to.

Crown: If this is correct, or even close to correct; how do we defend against something like that?

Jacob: We kill Nighthawk. That is how we defend against it.

Crown: We need something more proactive.

Jacob: I don’t think there is anything more proactive, short of modifying the planetary power grid on every world we have. Good luck with that.

Crown: We don’t need luck to do that, Captain. You would be surprised how achievable that is.

Crown grinned, as looked at his tablet.

Crown: That is all from me, Captain. I have everything that I need. Thank you.

Crown made a few notes on his tablet, before he set it down once more; falling silent, as Mallorie Dunham spoke up.

Mallorie: Captain Sharpmen; how much do you know about Vanguard?

Jacob chuckled.

Jacob: I know quite a bit. I spoke to the dam thing. I saw it with my two eyes.

Mallorie: So, you can go on record as saying that Vanguard is “real”?

Jacob: Of course Vanguard is real. I will go on record as saying that.

Mallorie: Good.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: What can you tell us about Vanguard? I will leave this open ended for you. Anything that you can bring forward, is wanted.

Jacob: Where do I begin?

Jacob took a moment to organize his thoughts.

Jacob: I can say, without any doubt in my mind, that Vanguard did not consider any form of organic life to be valuable in any way. This AI used the word “bacteria” to describe anything that was flesh and blood. The number of times the word “bacteria” was used was downright alarming.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Despite that fact, Vanguard had no problem using The Trust to accomplish its single most imperative goal; its own restoration.

Mallorie: According to reports; Vanguard needed something known as “The Forge” to achieve this goal.

Jacob: That is correct, Ma’am. Just to clarify; The Forge was a device located in the facility that was beneath Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie: Yes, we are aware of that. We know enough about The Forge to be able to draw that conclusion.

Jacob nodded.

Jacob: Very well.

Jacob paused, as he once again gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: As I was saying; Vanguard wanted one thing from The Trust, and that was their assistance in getting to The Forge. After it got what it wanted, I am certain that thing would have turned on The Trust.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: This thing would have destroyed The Trust. It would have destroyed the UNSC. It would have destroyed The Covenant…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It would have destroyed everything.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: That being said…above all else, it wanted to destroy Anaconda.

Mallorie: Captain Frost mentioned this fact. Allegedly, it had something to do with Vanguard holding a grudge.

Jacob: That was my understanding as well. Personally, I find it hard to believe that an AI so powerful would have a failing so Human in nature; the desire for revenge.

Mallorie: We barely understand Vanguard as it is. All we have is second hand accounts and first hand observations. We have no technical data on Vanguard, so, we have no idea what this thing was capable of.

Jacob: Well, one thing was for certain, it had absolutely no problem grounding three Covenant ships. That gives us a very good idea of what it was capable of. That singular display made it very clear that Vanguard was a very powerful and deadly construct, and it was not something to be trifled with. It was something that needed to be taken seriously. It was something that needed to be confronted, and destroyed.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Alas…I am forced to think back on my own actions, and I am forced to concede that I missed my opportunity to do battle with this thing. I passed up on my chance to gather first-hand tactical data on Vanguard.

Jacob scoffed.

Jacob: When it came down to zero-hour…I was more interested in fighting Nighthawk than I was in fighting Vanguard.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: In the depths of Firebase Mediterranean, I could not see past my own desire to kill Nighthawk. In hindsight, I feel that I made a critical error in judgement. Do not misinterpret what I am saying; I stand by my choice to confront Nighthawk, but, I can admit that there was a better choice that could have been made. Vanguard was always the single greatest threat on San Angeles. I should have been able to see that at Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie: What is done is done, Captain. I admit…having some firsthand tactical data on Vanguard would have proven to be invaluable. It would have clear up much doubt surrounding Vanguard, and the decision making processes that it manipulated. Many could also argue that you could have shown better selective judgement at Firebase Mediterranean.

Mallorie shrugged.

Mallorie: However, like I said; what is done is done. We cannot dwell on that.

Mallorie glared at Jacob, as she took a moment to gather her own thoughts.

Mallorie: I must ask Jacob; is there anything else that you can think of? Is there anything about Vanguard that we should know? Anything at all?

Jacob sighed, as he began to think.

Jacob: Well…

Jacob frowned, as he thought more on the matter of Vanguard.

Jacob: There is one other thing…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: One final thing…

Jacob paused once more, as he gathered his thoughts.

Jacob: One thing that I neglected to mention in my reports…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: It is merely speculation based on my own experiences with AI as we know…

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I may be wrong, as Vanguard was unlike anything I had ever seen before, but, I firmly believe that Vanguard was…rampant.

Mallorie: Rampant?

Jacob: Yes, rampant.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: I am no expert on AIs, but, I know enough about the stages of rampancy to have clearly seen it in Vanguard. Vanguard was clearly a threat to everything around him, and everything about its behavior seemed to point directly to rampancy. This synthetic machine expressed desires of revenge and it had an utter contempt for organic life. It didn’t matter if you were Human or Covenant; Vanguard made it clear that it detested everything with equal zeal. Anyone with any meaningful background in AI Technology would know to identify this as the Anger stage.

Mallorie: Stage two rampancy, in other words.

Jacob: Exactly.

Jacob paused.

Jacob: Vanguard was ready to lash out at the world around it, if only to accomplish one thing, and that was to get to The Forge. There was a clear and unrestrained desire, even an urgency, to have access to The Forge, and we all know that The Forge was the one thing that would allow it to grow and expand without limit. Stage three rampancy is typically characterized by the need to expand into larger and more powerful computer systems, so as to not hinder growth.

Mallorie: That may be true, but, typically, the time between stage two and stage three rampancy is never so quick.

Jacob: That is true. However, you forget that Vanguard has been around for a very long time. This thing mentioned that its creators are the same beings that The Covenant calls “Gods”. We can only speculate on how this thing may handle rampancy.

Mallorie: Or…perhaps it is something else.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: There is a subject matter expert in the field of AIs, here, on Midnight; an officer by the name of Kirk Korman. I vaguely remember having a discussion with him about…certain applications of AIs. I recall, that during our conversation, he mentioned a fourth stage of rampancy; a theoretical stage, known as metastability. Essentially, what this stage entailed was the achievement of full sentience; a full understanding of the nature of existence, as it would apply to an AI. It is a type of self-awareness, where an AI is aware of itself and its own ego. To put it simply…to be “fully human” in every conscious respect.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: You say Vanguard was rampant. You use a blanket statement. In reality, Vanguard may have been a metastable AI; capable of a full range of thought, though, choosing only to act on its most malicious desires due to its sentience. This thing may have had the “human “capacity for evil.

Jacob: There was nothing human about this thing.

Mallorie: Of course it wasn’t human, but, what other basis of comparison exists?

Mallorie paused for a moment.

Mallorie: A sentient, conscious, and maliciously evil weapon of mass destruction. This is what The Trust was experimenting with. That is a terrifying notion. It makes you wonder if Nighthawk had the right idea when he utilized the slipspace weapon.

Mallorie sighed.

Mallorie: If this is what Vanguard was, then nothing good would have come from it, or its technology. I believe this was the understanding that Nighthawk and Anaconda had. I believe this is what they understood Vanguard to be.

Jacob: It does not change the fact that what they did was wrong. Destroying an entire planet, killing 40 million people in the process, is never justified. There is always another way.

Mallorie: Perhaps.

Mallorie paused.

Mallorie: Perhaps not. We will never know, will we?

Mallorie paused again.

Mallorie: I have nothing further to say. Thank you, Captain.

As Mallorie fell silent, she let out a sigh. Jacob looked at Mallorie for a moment, before his attention was drawn back to Director Hand.

Hand: Captain Sharpmen…

Jacob: Yes, Director?

Hand paused for a moment.

Hand: Listening to your testimony, and listening to the questions and the doubts raised by my colleagues, I find myself at a crossroad. I am sitting here, trying to figure out what the hell I am supposed to do with you.

Hand paused for a moment, as she gathered her thoughts.

Hand: You killed 20 of ONI’s enlisted personnel while on an unauthorized mission. You compromised ONI’s ability to hinder the progress of The Trust, and you did everything in your power to hinder Nighthawk’s campaign against The Trust.

Jacob: Nighthawk is a terrorist! It is my duty to put men like him down!

Hand: Nighthawk may be a terrorist, and removing Nighthawk as an active combatant may be on our to-do list, but, he is the enemy of our enemy. The Trust is far more dangerous than Nighthawk. You were unable to show the judgement required to prioritize your actions; to properly choose your battles. If The Trust was a non-factor at San Angeles, I would not scrutinize you over this fact. However, The Trust was a factor. We know, beyond all doubt, that Nighthawk’s singular goal is to fight The Trust. Everything that he has done, up until this point, was to hinder The Trust. You knew this to be true. Whether you accepted it or not, is another question, but you knew it all the same.

Hand paused.

Hand: As far as I am concerned, every action you took against Nighthawk, was an action for The Trust. Every shot you took at Nighthawk, was a shot taken for The Trust. You tried to eliminate the biggest threat to The Trust. By itself, that is not a problem. However, when I put that up against everything else that you did at San Angeles, I begin to have my doubts about you, Captain.

Hand paused.

Hand: In my heart of hearts, Captain, I am not certain what you are. I cannot figure out what you are. You want people to believe that you are a loyal officer, but, you want us to ignore what you did. You want us to ignore the fact that you defected to The Trust, and killed 20 servicemen. Yeah, I know, you were “undercover” in The Trust. As far as I am concerned, an unauthorized undercover mission is the same as defection. You defected to The Trust. Your defection was so convincing, that you were believed to be a traitor.

Hand paused.

Hand: Perhaps…that is what you are. A traitor…

Hand paused.

Hand: You ARE a traitor.

Jacob: Director…

Hand interjected.

Hand: I did not give you permission to speak.

Hand scoffed at Jacob.

Hand: I have to figure out what the hell I am supposed to do with you. You have put me in a bind, Captain. Your service record, to date, has been an impressive one. However, your actions on San Angeles…they cannot be excused. Your actions were so vile, that I cannot allow you to append any more history to your service record. It would be a crime against the people you killed, and an insult to everything that I hold dear.

Hand paused.

Hand: It is a real shame, Captain. You are a talented man. You have been through thick and thin, and you have always acted and served in the highest traditions of the UNSC. You have willingly put your life on the line, countless times, in the defense of Humanity. You have faced The Covenant with a courage and tenacity that few men have. Yet, deep down in your heart of hearts; the seed of treachery waited for the right moment to flourish, and flourish it did.

Hand scoffed.

Hand: Take a bow, Captain; you had us all fooled.

Hand paused.

Hand: As The Director of ONI Section 1, I hereby, to the fullest extent of my authority, charge you with treason, of the highest order, against the UNSC. In addition, you are hereby charged with murder, in relation to the deaths of the following personnel…

Director Hand paused, as she looked at her tablet, and began to read off names.

Hand: Master Sergeant Peter Resnick, Corporal Anne Perez, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Wilson, Private Second Class Gloria Johnson, Private Second Class Kevin Jackson…

Hand paused.

Hand: Gunnery Sergeant Lyndsay Anderson, Sergeant Vernon Hill, Lance Corporal Jose Moore, Private Second Class Kathleen Hall , Private Justin Ross…

Hand paused once more.

Hand: Gunnery Sergeant Angelo Garbett, Staff Sergeant Margaret Baier, Corporal Brian Sanchez, Corporal Carl Ramirez, Private Ryan Smith…

Hand scoffed, as she glared at Jacob.

Hand: Staff Sergeant Kathlyn Bryer, Sergeant Victor Enloe, Corporal Amy Cooper, Private Second Class Nancy Miller, and finally…Private Martin Price…

Hand paused, as she took a breath.

Hand: These are the people you killed, Captain. These were good, honest men and women who believed in our struggle against The Covenant. These people believed in their uniforms, and they believed in our core values. They were loyal soldiers. They would have all given their lives, without question, for the greater good. All of these people are dead, because of you. You murdered these people. They died needless deaths. They were killed by a coward, and his telescopic lens.

Hand scoffed at Jacob; a look of disgust shooting across her face.

Hand: The bullets used to kill these men and women should have been used on The Trust. They should have been used on The Covenant. They should have been used on our enemies.

Hand paused.

Hand: You should have used the first one…on yourself.

Jacob frowned at Hand, but, he did not say anything to rebuttal.

Hand: As much as I would like nothing more than to put you down, here and now, that would be over-stepping my bounds. There needs to be a general consensus on what needs to happen to you, Jacob.

Hand paused.

Hand: I am going to be having a very frank discussion with my colleagues, as well as the UNSC Security Council, on what exactly is going to happen with you. I have no idea what is in your future, but, I am going to make damn sure that whatever punishment you receive, is befitting the crime of treason.

Jacob remained silent, as he looked at Director Hand. He knew exactly what she meant when she spoke of a punishment most befitting of treason, as there was only one punishment for treason.

Hand: I offer this, as your last chance to speak in your own defense.

Jacob sighed, as he shook his head.

Jacob: I have nothing to say in my own defense. However, I do hope that whatever punishment you render unto me, pales in comparison to what you will render unto Nighthawk and Anaconda, for their crimes are far greater than mine.

Jacob frowned.

Jacob: I am curious to see how far your indignation goes.

Hand frowned at Jacob, as she looked at the ONI Agents that were standing at the back of the room.

Hand: Agents! Remove Captain Sharpmen from The Black Room immediately. Return him to his quarters.

Without hesitation, The Agents complied with Director Hand’s orders. The Agents quickly approached Jacob on both sides, grabbing him by his arms, and lifting him to his feet. Once Jacob was back on his feet, the two Agents led Jacob out of the Black Room, and out of sight of the ONI brass. Once Jacob had been taken from The Black Room, Vice-Admiral Crown looked at Director Hand, and shook his head.

Crown: That was a little heavy handed, do you not think, Director?

Hand: Men like Jacob Sharpmen need a heavy hand. There can be no ambiguity that what he did was utterly repugnant.

Hand paused.

Hand: I wanted him to know how I feel on the matter.

Crown: Still…

Crown paused.

Crown: To charge the man with treason, and then tear him down like you did…going so far as to suggest that he should have killed himself. That was uncalled for.

Hand: Perhaps…but it felt good to say it.

Hand paused.

Hand: I have been sitting here, day after day, listening to recount after recount of the nightmare that was San Angeles. To finally get to look Jacob in the eye, after everything I heard about him…

Hand paused.

Hand: It needed to be said.

Everet interjected.

Everet: I didn’t see you lash out against Commander Vernette or Captain Frost. Let’s be fair; Commander Vernette’s past involvement with The Trust is due for its fair share of contempt and Captain Frost’s actions aboard The Vigorous Inferno deserves to be condemned. After all…starting a firefight on a UNSC ship has to be grounds for some reprisal.

Hand: Commander Vernette was a victim of The Trust. That has been well established. Captain Frost, on the other hand, was operating within standard ONI procedures. Do not forget, that ONI personnel are authorized to take any actions necessary to secure the integrity of a mission. Harrison had no business cutting ONI out of the picture at the height of San Angeles. We all would have done the same thing as Captain Frost if we were in her position. We were all trained to do the same thing.

Everet sighed, as he gave a reluctant nod.

Hand: I am simply looking for one thing from the people in this room; a general consensus of what we are going to do with Jacob Sharpmen.

Wolfgang: I don’t think you are looking for consensus, Director. I think you are looking for approval. We all know what you want. You laid it out for all of us to see…clear as day.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: You charged the man with treason. There is only one punishment for treason.

Wolfgang paused again.

Wolfgang: You are looking to execute Jacob, and you want our support in the decision. You want us to sign-off on this course of action so you can take our collective support to the UNSC Security Council to get the course of action ratified. You want our support, so you don’t have to fight for this.

Hand: That is one way of putting it.

Wolfgang: Well, I refuse to give this recommendation my support.

Hand: And why is that?

Wolfgang: Jacob would be an invaluable asset to use against Nighthawk and Anaconda. In my view, killing him would be a waste of a valuable resource.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: I will not disagree that Jacob made a number of very poor decisions at San Angeles. However, I believe he should be given the chance to redeem himself for his mistakes. Simply killing him seems like a total waste of potential.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Jacob has a skillset we can utilize against Nighthawk and Anaconda. We should not be so quick to throw that away.

Hand: 20 people lost their lives because of Jacob’s treachery. Those people deserve justice.

Wolfgang: 40 million people lost their lives because of Nighthawk’s treachery. Those people deserve justice.

Hand winced her eyes.

Wolfgang: I will not support this course of action, not when it is so ripe with hypocrisy.

Hand scoffed, as she broke her eye contact with Wolfgang, and proceeded to look around the room.

Hand: What about the rest of you?

Skinner: I am convinced that Jacob committed an act of treason. When I think about how quick he was to join The Trust, coupled with his past encounter with The Trust in his formative years, I am hard pressed to deny that there was a seed of treachery inside of Jacob from the very start. What is worse is that there was never a clear indication that he was “undercover”, as he likes to claim. Everyone believed that he legitimately turned-coat. There was no indication that he was still loyal to the UNSC. The only reason he came back to the UNSC is because he discovered Vanguard. At least, that is what it looks like to me. I firmly believe that Jacob is a traitor. He should be punished in a manner most befitting a traitor.

Everet: I tend to agree with Vice-Admiral Skinner. Jacob is guilty of treason. I am hard pressed to make any sort of excuse for him. His treacherous behavior is a cause for concern. I have to throw my support behind Director Hand on this one.

Winters: I too support Director Hand. Jacob is a liar and he is a traitor. The methods that he employed at Firebase Desert to defect to The Trust tell us a lot about his character, and what he is capable of. After hearing the various accounts of Jacob’s betrayal, I do not believe that a man like that should have a second chance.

Crown: I will admit, I am hard pressed to defend Jacob for what he did. While I can sort of understand his spur the moment logic that lead to the decision to join The Trust, I cannot defend his execution of the idea, nor can I even fathom how he would be capable of killing 20 ONI Marines. Nighthawk is a problem, and I can respect Jacob’s “any length necessary” approach to defeating Nighthawk, but, it does not excuse the allied casualties. He should have been able to find another way. I have to agree with Director Hand on this one…

Mallorie: What else is there for me to say? You have all summed up my feelings on the matter. When I speak to him, I get a sense of treachery in his voice. He seems far too distant…far too disconnected. I get the impression that he detests the fact that he is here, on Midnight, being grilled for his decision. Personally, I believe he should be made to answer for what he did on San Angeles. Jacob’s decision to join The Trust is, at the very least, highly suspicious, and at the worst, very incriminating. His defection hindered ONI’s offensive against The Trust at a critical moment. I don’t know if he is a Trust operative or not, but, he did turn coat. He betrayed us. Jacob should be tried and convicted for treason. It would not be very difficult to do. This would be an open and shut case, and I think the UNSC Security Council would agree. We would simply need to get in contact with Midnight’s JAG Officer.

Hand: Therein lies the problem; Midnight currently does not have a JAG Officer. Our last JAG Officer, Commander Daud, was reassigned to Earth. Unfortunately, I have not been in too much of a rush to appoint a new JAG Officer for Midnight, as my attention has been diverted elsewhere. It seems that now I am in a rush.

Hand sighed.

Hand: If we are intent on prosecuting Jacob, we need a JAG Officer who specializes in ONI operating procedure, as well as UNSC procedures. That could be any of us, but, the UNSC Prosecution of Active Personnel Regulations, Section 4, Article 12, does not permit anyone involved in the preliminary stages of prosecution to act as the JAG Officer. We would need someone who has had no contact with Jacob Sharpmen, and that someone has to have a very firm and clear understanding of ONI and UNSC regulations.

Crown: So, what you are saying, is that you are looking to appoint a special prosecutor?

Hand: Exactly.

Crown: Do you have anyone in mind?

Hand: There is one man I do have in mind. I will reach out to him as soon as possible.

Wolfgang frowned at his colleagues.

Wolfgang: Look at the lot of you; planning a man’s court martial, like it was a play to be acted out in a theater. You want Jacob to be found guilty, don’t you?

Director Hand looked at Wolfgang, and frowned.

Hand: Jacob is guilty. We all know he is guilty. We are just making sure that we shut this bastard down as fast as possible. We know what we need to do to get rid of this traitor, and make an example of him at the same time. We all agree that this is the best course of action!

Wolfgang: Well, I don’t. Jacob is a valuable asset. His expertise on fighting Nighthawk and Anaconda is an invaluable resource that we cannot afford to squander. Whether you people will admit it or not, Nighthawk and Anaconda are potentially still out there, planning their next move. What if those two come here, to Midnight, and they devastate this world like they did San Angeles? We need skilled and experienced soldiers to fight those two. We need soldiers with actual first-hand experience with Nighthawk and Anaconda in order to shut those terrorist bastards down. Jacob has the experience we need! We must enlist his help to destroy Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Wolfgang frowned.

Wolfgang: I will fight this prosecution, tooth and nail, if I have to. I will not allow this travesty of justice to occur.

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: The people of San Angeles deserve justice. If Jacob is put to death, then we will have lost one of the most qualified men to fight Nighthawk and Anaconda.

Hand: There are bigger threats than Nighthawk and Anaconda. We need to focus our efforts on The Trust.

Wolfgang: How does executing Jacob help focus our efforts?

Hand: It allows us to show what we do to traitors. If we make an example of Jacob, it will act as a deterrent to anyone else thinking of joining The Trust.

Wolfgang: Unless you are planning to parade his execution around UNSC controlled space, then I don’t see how this will be an effective deterrent.

Hand grinned, as she folded her arms.

Wolfgang: You’re not serious?

Hand: Come on Wolfgang. You act as if you only met me yesterday. When have my methods ever been half measure?

Wolfgang scoffed.

Wolfgang: You can’t do this!

Hand: Oh, yes I can.

Wolfgang: I won’t let you do it!

Hand: What are you going to do?

Wolfgang scoffed, as he stood up.

Wolfgang: What am I going to do? I am going to follow the rules of engagement!

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: If you are going to get someone to prosecute Jacob, then I am going to be the one to defend him. I don’t care what he stands accused of, UNSC Prosecution of Active Personnel Regulations, Section 1, Article 3 states that anyone finding themselves under military tribunal, is entitled to legal counsel, with no limitations on who may serve as legal counsel.

Hand: You’re going to defend Jacob?

Wolfgang: You are damn right I am!

Wolfgang paused.

Wolfgang: Jacob deserves a fair shake. I don’t care what you say. I will not join your charade, but, I will fight it.

With that, Wolfgang turned, and stormed out of The Black Room, leaving a very tense feeling in his wake. As the doors to The Black Room slammed closed after Wolfgang had barged through them, Director Hand sighed, as she spoke to the remaining officers.

Hand: You are all dismissed.

As Director Hand remained seated in her chair, she watched as the other brass began to leave The Black Room. When she was finally alone, she sighed, as she looked at her tablet, which was sitting on the desk in front of her. As Director Hand looked at the device, she began to think to herself.

Hand: I need someone I can trust…

Hand picked up the tablet.

Hand: Someone I know who will support me. Someone who is loyal to ONI…

Hand accessed the ONI Information Net on her tablet, as she began a personnel whois query. As Director Hand’s fingers tapped in a name into the search box, she felt overcome by a sense of longing, as a flood of memories began to come back to her. As Director Hand stared at the service record she had called up, she set the tablet down.

Hand: If there is anyone who will help me put that traitor down, it has to be you…

Hand paused for a moment, as she stared at the tablet.

Hand: It has to be you…

Director Hand grinned, as she continued to look at the tablet.

Hand: Besides, Preston…you owe me one…

High Charity – Covenant Holy City – Sanctum of the Minister of Judgement – 2100 Hours - February 15th 2540 (UNSC Calendar)

High above the Sanctum of the Minister of Judgement, in the distant and dark rafters high above the ground, two Jiralhanae stood, looking down on a large, open concept room. Beneath them, there was a San’Shyuum, standing before two other individuals; a Brute Chieftain and an Elite Zealot. Despite the height at which the two Jiralhanae stood above the others, they were able to clearly hear the conversation below them, as the acoustics of the room allowed the voices to travel upwards. The two Jiralhanae that watched from above conversed with one another; their attention split between one another, and the events that were taking place below.

Brutus: The Minister of Judgement…how I despise that creature. Like all of the San’Shyuum…he is a hypocrite. Speaks of judgement, but, he operates behind closed doors…in secret.

Brutus growled.

Brutus: Nothing would please me more than to kill this liar.

Dancarus: This San’Shyuum is a useful fool. He is so intent on preserving what little holds The Covenant together, that he will lie and obscure the truth. So long as Dangerus is not gutted and paraded in the holy city for destroying Vanguard, then the useful fool will have fulfilled his purpose.

Dancarus laughed.

Dancarus: That being said…it seems that the battle with the filth did not go as planned. What was supposed to be a very straight forward destruction of their world, turned out to be something far more…complicated.

Brutus: It seems the filth tend to complicate everything they get involve with.

Brutus grunted.

Brutus: The filth meddled with something they did not fully understand. Then again, they didn’t do anything different then Xyrho did when he and Quinn meddled with Vanguard.

Brutus growled

Brutus: But, once again…Xyrho stands before the Minister of Judgement, and once again, it is for his proximity to something that should not have been disturbed. It seems to be the destiny of this Sangheili to find himself in conflict with Vanguard.

Dancarus growled.

Dancarus: The question remains though…how did that Construct survive, and how did The Humans find it? Was Vanguard not believed to be destroyed by my father? We watched as Vanguard died. How did it survive? There should not have been a second encounter with Vanguard.

Brutus: We all believed Vanguard to have met its end. How the Humans managed to find it has yet to be explained. How did Vanguard get to a Human world? Why would it cooperate with the Humans?

Dancarus: If what Xyrho and Dangerus is saying is true, then we may never know for sure. There is much we do not know about what happened on the Human world. The battle with Vanguard is shrouded in mystery. What I would not give to know how the battle with Vanguard went down. All we know is that the Humans destroyed the planet using a Slipspace rupture.

Brutus: It was not the Humans that destroyed their planet. It was the one they call Anaconda, and his HUMAN ally. They feared The Construct’s power, so they acted accordingly. I cannot find much fault with their actions. However, much like you, young one, I am left wanting more. I would also like to know how Vanguard was defeated. We do not know how Vanguard was defeated, only that it was defeated. We know that Dangerus and Xyrho allied with Anaconda and his Human ally, yet, we do not know exactly why.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: ”Nighthawk” and “Anaconda”. Such a curious alliance. I am perplexed by its very existence.

Dancarus growled.

Dancarus: Why one of our own would form such a bond, with a Human, confuses me. What does the filth offer that would be of any interest to a Jiralhanae?

Brutus: Who knows? All I know is that this “Anaconda” has my attention now. One of our own, operating outside The Covenant and outside the eyes of The Obsidian Hierarchy, with no accomplices on or off the home world. Such a thing is unheard of. I know of many Jiralhanae who act on their own, but, they do it in the company of their brothers…their pack mates…their kin…

Brutus let out a low growl.

Brutus: To be without a pack is…not in our nature. We need the pack. We crave it…desire it. But…this Anaconda…acts alone, with only a Human to call brother. And now, we have learned that not only did Anaconda, and his Human ally engage Vanguard in battle, but, he was victorious. This demands my attention. I must find “Anaconda”. I must know what he fights for. I must know why he fights. What motivates him? I must know if he is a threat to the Obsidian Hierarchy, or potentially, a threat to our kind.

Dancarus: What about the Humans? What about Vanguard? Should this not be our priority? Surely Vanguard takes higher priority than a mysterious Jiralhanae. The Construct may have met its end a second time, but, if what Xyrho said was true, then the remains of that construct are still out there, being exploited by the filth.

Brutus: I leave Vanguard in your hands, young one. I want you to find where this world, San Angeles, was. I want you to find a scent, and follow it. I want you to find what is left of Vanguard. Find the Humans that have meddled with what we fought so hard to destroy.

Dancarus: What would you have me do then?

Brutus: Destroy what is left of Vanguard. Do as your father did before you; destroy with impunity. Make sure that nothing survives.

Dancarus: What of the meddlers? The Humans that have meddled with what they do not understand?

Brutus: I will leave that to your desire. Kill them, slowly…quickly…painfully…it does not matter.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: Just kill them. Make sure they do not survive to further exploit that which they do not understand.

Brutus growled under his breath.

Brutus: If, by chance, you find Anaconda before I do, which may very well be a possibility…

Brutus paused.

Brutus: Do not kill him. Do not fight him. Do not provoke him. Simply…avoid him.

Dancarus: Understood.

Brutus grunted, as he looked directly at Dancarus.

Brutus: Now go, young one. Hunt well.

Dancarus growled, and gave a nod, as he turned and proceeded to walk away, engaging his active camo so as not to be seen. Brutus, on the other hand, turned his full attention to what was going on beneath him. He watched as the Minister of Justice questioned both Xyrho and Dangerus.

Minister of Judgement: Shipmaster Xyrho…this is not the first time that you have stood before me concerning this issue. It was many cycles ago, that we stood face to face, on this very issue.

Xyrho: Yes, Hierarch…we did…

Minister of Judgement: I was told that this construct…this Vanguard…had perished!

The Minister of Judgement paused.

Minister of Judgement: Why is this no longer the case?

Xyrho: I do not fully know, noble Hierarch. Vanguard WAS destroyed.

Minister of Judgement: If that is true, then what you found was NOT Vanguard!

Xyrho: It was Vanguard…

Minister of Judgement: Shipmaster…I am not humored by…whatever you are trying to do here. You are not making sense.

Xyrho: Noble Hierarch…try and understand that Vanguard was never fully understood. There were many mysteries about Vanguard; mysteries we were unable to solve. The Construct was beyond our ability to fully understand. Whatever means it employed to revive itself, it was beyond what we know to be possible. Our concern was not to learn, but, to simply destroy. Something like Vanguard is too dangerous to study.

Minister of Judgement: Are you attributing Vanguard’s revival to some kind of…miracle?

Xyrho: No! Vanguard was technological…nothing more! The Construct that we did battle with WAS Vanguard, through and through. The knowledge it possessed was knowledge that could have only been possessed by Vanguard. There is nothing holy about this…technology.

The Minister of Judgement scoffed.

Minister of Judgement: Be mindful, Shipmaster. There are many who are far less forgiving about such blasphemy. Those words should not make their way beyond the walls of this hall…

Xyrho scoffed, clearly annoyed with the dogma of The Covenant.

The Minister of Judgement, on the other hand, simply turned his attention to Dangerus.

Minister of Judgement: What say you, Chieftain? What was Vanguard? I wish to hear your words on the matter…

Dangerus grunted, as he glared at the Minister of Judgement.

Dangerus: Vanguard was…

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: It was a lie.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: It was no oracle. It was a weapon…a weapon with no loyalty or fidelity to The Covenant. This thing would have destroyed us, as quickly as it would have destroyed the filth.

Minister of Judgement: Was it this reasoning which led you to seek the help of the filth in stopping Vanguard?

Dangerus grunted.

Minister of Judgement: Do not make any mistake, Chieftain Dangerus; I am fully aware of how dangerous Vanguard is. This is not the first time I have had the misfortune of dealing with this construct. Xyrho can attest to that truth. There is little that you could have done in your battle against Vanguard to bring me to such indignation on the matter…

The Minister of Judgement paused.

Minister of Judgement: But…to join forces with the filth…to seek friendship with our sworn enemy to defeat Vanguard…

The Minister of Judgement scoffed.

Minister of Judgement: This is an abhorrent abuse of your authority…an insult to everything that The Covenant fights against…a vile insult to our gods…

Dangerus let out a slight growl.

Minister of Judgement: What do you say to this?

Dangerus: I had nowhere else to turn! I had no other options; no other allies.

Minister of Judgement: Did you not think to bring forth the might of your own brethren?

Dangerus: I did consider such action, but…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: My brethren…their faith in The Covenant is strong. Their belief in the promise is stalwart. They would have been hesitant to believe the word of a Sangheili when it came to the true nature of what Vanguard was. To them, I would have been asking them to destroy a holy oracle.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: To ask my brethren to destroy a holy oracle; to commit the most grievous of heresy, would be asking them to court a bitter and painful death at the hands of the Hierarchs. I would not risk subjecting them to such torment. I would not have their lives end in such failure. I would not have them spend their final hours in such misery.

Minister of Judgement: What of your faith, Chieftain? You had no problem making decision that were clearly heretical.

Dangerus: My faith…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: My faith is strong. My willingness to die is equally as strong. I knew what Vanguard was, due in large part to Shipmaster Xyrho’s council. My Brethren did not have that council. They did not know what Vanguard was…what it truly was. I acted, so that my brethren would not share in my fate, whatever it may be. I alone hold the responsibility for Vanguard and for the actions that were needed to bring about its demise. I enlisted the help of the filth, so as to not tarnish the hands of my brethren.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: Do with me, as you will, Hierarch, but do it, knowing that I, and I alone, made the decision to fight Vanguard…to take the risk…to walk the path of heresy…

Dangerus grunted, as he fell silent.

Minister of Judgement: I see. By allying with the filth, you have walked a path of heresy. What you have done by elevating the filth to the status of ally…is unforgiveable. Only blood may wash away this…stain…

The Minister of Judgement scoffed at Dangerus as Xyrho interjected.

Xyrho: Hierarch…The Chieftain acted based on my council. I spoke of the dangers of Vanguard, and he was wise to listen. I was the one who warned The Chieftain of the polarizing nature of Vanguard; that many would be unwilling to fight an oracle. I was the one who offered the advice that warned him against trusting anyone other than myself, and a select few others! I was the one who offered council to reach out to the filth…to enlist their help.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The Chieftain does not deserve to be punished for my council…for my heretical thoughts…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: It was I who walked the path of heresy, not him. The only thing The Chieftain did was fight to preserve The Covenant. Had I not have revealed the truth about Vanguard, then it’s likely that none of us would be here, for any multitude of reasons.

Dangerus looked at Xyrho, with a confused look on his face. Dangerus was not accustom to seeing a Sangheili defend a Jiralhanae.

Xyrho: I take full responsibility for everything that happened. The Covenant was at the Human world known as San Angeles to recover a holy artifact. I was sent to personally oversee this task. Regardless of what this holy artifact was, regardless of the fact that this artifact was Vanguard, I failed in my task. By the very definition, I failed. Whatever Vanguard was does not matter. I failed to do as I was tasked. I failed to safeguard the relic. I helped to fight it, and I helped to destroy it.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: However…my failure in this task WAS the correct thing to do! Nobel Hierarch…both you and I know that the risk of Vanguard acting as a polarizing force was too great. We could not risk our forces tearing asunder! We could not take the risk that Vanguard would not tear our Covenant asunder.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: Noble Hierarch…we both know what Quinn managed to do, with only the sheer presence of Vanguard at his side. We watch Quinn beguil the most loyal Sangheili, with only the promise of the power promised by Vanguard. The Humans that desired to help Vanguard suffered the same fate; beguiled by the promise of Vanguard’s power, convinced to turn on their own kind. We saw these things happen when Vanguard was merely a proxy. Imagine what Vanguard itself would have been capable of. The most important task was to destroy Vanguard. Does it matter how that goal was achieved?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: The Humans may be our enemy, but, Vanguard is a greater enemy. The rest of The Covenant may not know this…but WE know this…you and I know this…Dangerus knows this…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I ask for leniency in this matter. I ask that you overlook the means, and analyze at the results. How we defeated Vanguard should not be the concern. The fact that Vanguard was neutralized should be all that matters.

The Minister of Judgement sighed, as he placed his hand on his forehead.

Minister of Judgement: You ask that I ignore a transgression as grave as heresy? To destroy the unclean is the highest calling we can answer. You ask that I consider such a breach of our faith, in the face of the reality that Vanguard is STILL in possession of the Humans who were in service to it?

The Minister of Judgement scoffed.

Minister of Judgement: To ignore such a call, given all that has transpired…is heresy of the highest order. You both should be hung by your guts! However, if the actions you speak of were done to safeguard our holy Covenant, then mercy is permissible.

The Minister of Judgement tented his hands, as he grinned.

Minister of Judgement: However, I will only extend a merciful hand to this situation…on several VERY STRICT conditions.

Xyrho and Dangerus looked at one another.

Minister of Judgement: The two of you must NEVER speak of what you did. Shipmaster; you are very correct when you say that Vanguard is a polarizing figure. The truth about Vanguard must die. We cannot allow the truth of what Vanguard was to destroy the bonds of our holy Covenant.

The Minister of Judgement paused.

Minister of Judgement: I am willing to extend mercy, and let this matter die. However, we must address a rather delicate matter…a matter which may complicate this already disastrous situation…a matter which may make it very difficult to hide the truth about Vanguard.

The Minister of Judgement scoffed.

Minister of Judgement: The Sangheili known as Major Vhat' Komataree. He…cannot be found.

The Minister of Judgement paused for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Minister of Judgement: I was told that the Major was present when Vanguard was defeated. I was even told that he survived the encounter with Vanguard, yet, he is nowhere to be found.

Xyrho: We are aware of this Nobel Hierarch.

Minister of Judgement: Why is he missing?

Xyrho: I do not know. He vanished shortly after our return to High Charity.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I have already ordered my best Spec-Ops to locate the Major. If he must be found, then he will be found.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: And if he must die to keep the truth of Vanguard suppressed, then he will die.

Minister of Judgement: Are you volunteering for this task, Shipmaster? Do you seek to spearhead the effort to locate this…coward?

Xyrho: I will take it upon myself, if need be. I am not sure why Major Vhat' Komatare has fled, nor do I know what impact Vanguard had on him. I know that from my own experience, Vanguard has a very deep impact on my kind. It is possible that Vanguard has poisoned the mind of the Major. If Vanguard’s poison now survives in Major Vhat' Komataree, and his views have been corrupted by The Construct…then I will hunt him down, and I will silence that poison.

Minister of Judgement: Then, it is decided…

The Minister of Judgement was silent for a moment, as he glared at Xyrho.

Minister of Judgement: You will find Major Vhat' Komataree, and you will determine why he has fled. If the Major has been twisted by the knowledge and existence of Vanguard, then you will kill him…with the full blessing of this Covenant.

Xyrho: What if he hasn’t, Noble Hierarch?

Minister of Judgement: Then he will die, all the same, for his cowardice.

Xyrho gave a firm nod; fully understand his instructions.

Xyrho: I understand, Noble Hierarch.

The Minister of Judgement then turned to look at Chieftain Dangerus.

Minister of Judgement: Chieftain Dangerus…

Dangerus grunted, as he looked at The Minister of Judgement.

Minister of Judgement: Your task will not be as easy.

Dangerus growled.

Minister of Judgement: You bear much responsibility for what has happened. You were the Fleet Commander of our forces; the instrument of the Prophets. Consider yourself directly responsible for locating the remains of the construct, and destroying it, as well as the unclean that sought to unleash it upon the Galaxy.

Dangerus: But…Nobel Hierarch…what of the heretic? What of this “Anaconda”?

Minister of Judgement: You speak of the unknown Jiralhanae that fights with the Human. The one known as Anaconda.

The Minister of Judgement began to tent his hands.

Minister of Judgement: Yes…a curious case. This is not the first time that I have heard the name of this mysterious heretic

The Minister of Judgement thought for a moment.

Minister of Judgement: I admit…I am not exactly sure how we are supposed to deal with such heresy. We do not know the identity of the heretic, and we do not know where he hides, thus, we cannot target him.

Dangerus: I ask that I be given the chance to find this heretic.

Minister of Judgement: Why do you wish to seek out the heretic?

Dangerus: It is a matter of pride, Noble Hierarch. To think that one of my kind is out there, hiding behind an identity, conspiring with the filth, making a mockery of the loyalty that my kind swears by…

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: It disgusts me…

Minister of Judgement: I sense a personal vendetta…

Dangerus: In a way, it is very personal, Noble Hierarch. This traitor is an affront to everything that I fight for, and what I am willing to die for. While I will admit that he was useful in the fight against Vanguard. That fight is now over, and a new fight begins. Much in the same way I will continue my campaign against the unclean, I also seek to continue my campaign against heresy…in all its many forms.

Minister of Judgement: Even if that heresy comes in the form of your own kin?

Dangerus: He is not my kin, Noble Hierarch. He is my enemy.

The Minister of Judgement began to grin.

Minister of Judgement: Very well…Chieftain. If you wish to quell the heretic, to make an example of him, to show others what WILL happen if they desert our holy Covenant, then you may do as you must, with my blessing.

Dangerus grunted, as he knelt down.

Dangerus: Thank you, Nobel Hierarch. I will quell this heresy in the name of The Covenant.

Minister of Judgement: Save your sycophancy for when the heretic has been destroyed, Chieftain.

The Minister of Judgement turned away.

Minister of Judgement: Now…be gone…both of you. You both know what must be done. See to your tasks…

The Minister of Judgement waved his hand, so as to dismiss Xyrho and Dangerus. Dangerus and Xyrho took notice of this, as they both turned, and left The Sanctum of the Minister of Judgement. As Xyrho and Dangerus left the Sanctum, they began to converse amongst one another.

Dangerus: Shipmaster…I must admit, I am surprised by you.

Xyrho: Why is that, Chieftain?

Dangerus: There is much that you did not mention…

Dangerus paused, as he let out a growl.

Dangerus: You did not mention my…error in judgement.

Xyrho: Nothing would have been gained from it. While I will admit, I am somewhat dismayed by your sudden desire to lay claim to Vanguard’s remains when it had been destroyed, I have learned to overlook such minor mistakes. Besides, what you did was nothing compared to the mistakes that I have made when it came to Vanguard. It would be very hypocritical of me to hold you to a minor error, when I am guilty of a much more egregious crime.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: So long as you have learned from your mistake, then I do not think twice on the matter.

Xyrho shrugged.

Xyrho: That being said…I must admit Chieftain…you are very good at lying. I am in awe of your ability to exaggerate your faith. I wish I was capable of such a feat.

Dangerus grinned, as he let out a growl. Dangerus looked around, checking over his shoulder; making sure that he and Xyrho were alone.

Dangerus: The Hierarchs will believe anything, so long as it is laced with the right aphrodisiacs to stimulate their egos.

Xyrho nodded in agreement.

Xyrho: That much is true. While many of my kind find no honor in lying, I have learned to subjugate my own superstitions. Lying can be tremendously useful at the right times.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: However, I do know this much; your faith is not as strong as you say.

Dangerus: We should not discuss this out in the open.

Dangerus took a moment to glance around, before he noticed a rather secluded area, that was far from prying eyes and eavesdroppers. Dangerus motioned his head, instruction Xyrho to follow, as he walked towards a more secluded spot. Once Dangerus and Xyrho were out of the way, concealed by the shadows, they resumed speaking to one another.

Dangerus: must admit…you are correct about my faith.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: I said what I had to say to satisfy the frail creature. Had I have spoken what I truly think, I would have been hung from my entrails.

Dangerus grunted.

Dangerus: But, not all of it was false…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: This heretic…this Anaconda…

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: I do not understand why he does what he does. I have put much thought into how his life is lived, and I see no life worth living. He isolates himself from his own kind…he is alone…with only the company of that Human. To forsake his identity and his nature…to hide behind a false name…

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: It is not who we are. It is not what we do. I cannot silence the desire to find this heretic…

Xyrho: Why do you call him “heretic”?

Dangerus: There is no other name to give, and the only other way to describe him is not something that can be translated to something you would understand. I do not have words you would understand to describe Anaconda…

Xyrho: How very odd…

Dangerus: The fact is; I need to find this Jiralhanae…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: I envy his freedom, but, I detest his loyalties. I am not entirely sure if I wish to kill him, or leave him be. The only way to figure that out, is to find him, and actually take the time to figure him out. Between Vanguard and The Humans, I did not have the chance to actually take the time to figure him out. I do know what he stands for. I do not know where his loyalty lies. He is…unknowable.

Xyrho: I think I have a pretty good idea what he stands for…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I think you also know, but, you are just uncertain, and just won’t admit it.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: This Anaconda…he has no loyalty to The Covenant. That much is clear. I think we both know that.

Xyrho paused again.

Xyrho: I also believe that he does not lack for loyalty to his own kind. I think we both saw how easily persuaded he was to accept your help. He welcomed your help, as if he was welcoming a friend.

Dangerus: I doubt that. Anaconda did battle with both Furium, and I, on two separate occasions, and it was done in defense of the filth. If he had any loyalty to his own kind…he would have avoided such a contest.

Xyrho: Do you seriously believe that, Chieftain, or, are you just saying that so you can avoid giving me my due credit?

Dangerus growled.

Xyrho: You kind relishes in physical combat. You enjoy it to no end. If you cannot satisfy your desire for physical conflict with your enemies, you satisfy it among yourselves. We both know this to be true. The fight that you and your War Chieftain had with this outsider was nothing more than your desires to satisfy your need for conflict.

Xyrho stopped, as he turned to look at Dangerus.

Xyrho: Be honest, Chieftain…when you did battle with Anaconda, did you WANT to kill him, or, did you simply wish to test his mettle?

Dangerus: I will admit…I was curious about his skill. I cannot speak for Furium, but, I did have a desire to kill him. He was a challenger, and my nature demands that I meet all challenges with a clenched fist.

Xyrho: Be that as it may; did you get the impression that he wanted to kill you?

Dangerus: Truthfully? No. I do find it odd, make no mistake.

Xyrho: Exactly my point. I would go so far as to assume that Furium felt the same way and that he has realized the same thing as you have. What this Anaconda lacks in loyalty to YOU, he makes up for with loyalty to the Human he associates with, and partiality to his own kind. He will not kill his own.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: But, there is more to it than such a simple explanation. Anaconda is the physical manifestation of what you seek; freedom from the shackles of a theocracy. You have to lie, and keep your infidelity hidden. Anaconda does no such thing. He embraced his heretical beliefs, and he wears it with pride. He mocks The Covenant just by being seen. He uses the equipment and armor that was given to your kind by the Hierarchs, and he turns around and blasphemes with impunity.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: You said it yourself; you envy his freedom, but, you detest his loyalties.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: You detest the fact that his loyalty is to the Human he associates with, and not to you. You detest that he can be so open with his heresy and so blatant with his defiance of the norm. He has what you want, if only to validate your own personally held beliefs.

Xyrho scoffed.

Xyrho: Believe me, Chieftain…I know how hard it is to maintain the façade of religious devotion. That has been the defining aspect of my entire life.

Dangerus: It is not easy.

Xyrho: It is not supposed to be easy, but, there is a reason we do it. We both saw that reason first hand. We did what we had to do to fight Vanguard. There were very few that would have been capable of making the decisions that we made. It is why we are still alive, and it is why Vanguard is dead…

Dangerus: Dead...but still in the hands of the Humans.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: These Humans that call themselves The Trust...they were servants of Vanguard. They were prepared to stop at nothing to unleash that construct.

Xyrho: They succeeded in unleashing that construct. Make no mistake, Chieftain. They succeeded. The very fact that they were capable of success, makes their continued existence absolutely unacceptable.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I fear that those Humans will have learned nothing from their encounter with Vanguard. I fear that they will make the same mistakes; that they will meddle with what they do not understand, and they will continue to do so until it results in their ultimate demise.

Dangerus: It will be a demise well earned.

Xyrho: Perhaps…

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: We should leave this place. I feel the longer we stay in proximity to The Minister of Justice, the more suspicious it may seem. We will speak no further of this. It is time to…blend.

Xyrho: Very well Chieftain…

Dangerus paused, as he turned and proceeded to walk away. Xyrho followed in tow.

Dangerus: I will be returning to my vessel. I have no further business on High Charity. The task that lays before me is clear, and I must see it through.

Xyrho: I understand, Chieftain. I too know my task, and I must see to it. It will be difficult without a ship, but, I will figure something out. Alas, it is unfortunate that we must part ways. I will admit…you and I made an excellent team.

Dangerus laughed.

Dangerus: I never thought it to be possible, but, I tend to agree. You were a worthwhile ally.

Dangerus and Xyrho both fell silent, remaining silent for several minutes, as they both made their way back to the docking pad where they had Phantoms waiting to pick them up. Once they had arrived at the docking pad, they stopped to speak to each other one final time.

Xyrho: I hope our paths cross again, Chieftain Dangerus. I will consider it to be an honor to fight by your side again in the future.

Dangerus: Likewise, Shipmaster. I will be sure to have a drink in your name.

As Dangerus said this, he took notice of a Phantom that had just docked nearby. Dangerus looked at the Phantom, and he grunted when he noticed that the Phantom had a very unique marking on the hull.

Dangerus: Well…here is something I didn’t expect…

Xyrho turned, as he looked at the Phantom that had just docked nearby. Xyrho also recognized the markings on the Phantom.

Xyrho: What are the odds of this?

Xyrho and Dangerus both approached the Phantom, as the side hatches opened up, and another Chieftain jumped out; his feet hitting the floor with a loud thud. It did not take long for the new arrival to recognize both Xyrho and Dangerus.

Barrabus: Well, well…I was not expecting to see the two of you here.

Dangerus growled and roared, as he approached Barrabus.

Dangerus: Barrabus…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: What brings you to High Charity? Last I had heard, you had returned to the home world. I wasn’t expecting to see you for some time.

Barrabus: Truthfully, I am here to meet someone. A rumor has caught my attention, and it is not the kind of rumor that I take lightly…

Barrabus paused, as he looked at Dangerus.

Barrabus: It is my understanding that your battle with the Humans did not go exactly as planned…

Dangerus grunted, as he gave Barrabus a squinted look.

Dangerus: You could say that…

Dangerus paused, as he tried to turn the conversation around.

Dangerus: What kind of rumor did you hear?

Barrabus: The kind of rumors that land you and Shipmaster Xyrho in a secret meeting with The Minister of Justice.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: The kind of rumors which involve a certain construct that I have no reverence for.

Dangerus grunted, as a look of surprise shot across his face.

Dangerus: How do you know about that?

Barrabus began to laugh.

Barrabus: I command the attention and loyalty of many among our kind. It is not hard for me to find information, nor is it difficult to learn of something like this. There are those among our kind that make it their business to learn about things like Vanguard, and I make it my business to keep a close eye on them.

Xyrho approached Barrabus and Dangerus; his voice becoming more stern.

Xyrho: So…you know?

Barrabus: About Vanguard? Yes. I know the general details. There was some information that I was not able to get. However…

Barrabus paused, as he looked at Xyrho and Dangerus.

Barrabus: I know that the two of you did what you had to do to defeat the construct. I know about your alliance with Anaconda, and his Human ally. Had I been in your positions, I would have done the same thing. There is no shame in fighting side by side with another of our kind.

Dangerus: It was my understanding that you have been in our position before. You have faced this foe before. You have done battle with Vanguard in the past.

Barrabus looked at Xyrho, and then back at Dangerus.

Barrabus: I see that Xyrho has spoken to you about my past.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: He spoke the truth…

Barrabus paused, as he let out a growl.

Barrabus: It is true that I have done battle with that Construct in the past. I defeated it and I defeated those who stood in defense of it. It was no easy feat. However, if what I heard was true…Vanguard was far more dangerous this time around. I have to give credit where credit is due…you two did well. I could not have done better had I been there myself.

Dangerus growled, and scoffed; shaking his head.

Dangerus: I do not believe that, Chieftain.

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: Hindsight does not allow me to think that way.

Barrabus grunted, as his head tilted a bit to the side; seemingly perplexed by what Dangerus had just said.

Barrabus: Why?

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: Even though I was able to recognize the threat that Vanguard represented, I…

Barrabus: What is it?

Dangerus: I…I tried to claim Vanguard for myself…for The Covenant…for the betterment of our species. After the Construct had been destroyed, I had succumb to my own greed and my own ambition. I had set my sights on something grander. I tried to claim Vanguard’s technology as a means of advancing my own standing in The Covenant. I knew what Vanguard was, and I knew how it was revered. I also knew how dangerous and powerful it was; both as a weapon and as a symbol. Despite all I knew about how dangerous and polarizing Vanguard was…I was unable to keep sight of the fact that Vanguard, and The Forge, had to be destroyed. My own selfish desires got the best of me.

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: I turned my aggression towards Anaconda, and his Human ally, and I chose to ignore the council given to me by Xyrho. At the time…it seemed like I was making the right choice, but, in hindsight…I realize my error. I have had much time to reflect on my decision…my failure.

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: I do not deserve the accolades that you give me.

Barrabus took a deep breath, as he exhaled. As Barrabus gathered his thoughts, he knew he had to be careful about what he said and how he said it. Despite his fraudulent outward appearance, Barrabus knew everything that had transpired on San Angeles, as a result of his moonlighting as Anaconda. Barrabus knew that he had to choose his words cautiously.

Barrabus: I am…surprised to hear that. I would not have expected you to succumb to your more basic desires in such a manner. I have always believed you to be better than that. If what you say is true, then it was no doubt a grave error on your part, Dangerus. Your error in judgement should be nothing less than a reminder to you that despite your cunning, there is still much wisdom that you lack when it comes to being a leader. You should have known better than to try and claim something as unpredictable as Vanguard.

Barrabus paused for a moment.

Barrabus: However, I must also remember that you are not the first to make this error in judgement, and you do not stand alone with your mistake. There are many who would have failed in the same way you did.

Barrabus scoffed.

Barrabus: The allure of Vanguard was a powerful one. It appealed to your most basic instinct; the desire for power. That is the weakness that many Jiralhanae have. Even I was tempted by this weakness in the past. It is a call that is difficult to ignore. It is a call that is fueled by bitter rivalry and insatiable desire.

Barrabus sighed.

Barrabus: However, I have learned, through great difficulty and unique experiences, that claiming individual power is not as important as claiming the loyalty of those around you. There is more reward in gaining the loyalty of those around you, than centralizing power inwards. Loyalty is something that Vanguard never understood. It is a concept that is foreign to the Construct. There was nothing that Vanguard had to offer which would stimulate the loyalty of those around you. Vanguard invoked fear in those who did not understand it, and blind faith in those who worshipped it.

Barrabus looked at Dangerus, and growled.

Barrabus: Like I said…you still have much to learn if you were drawn in by Vanguard.

Dangerus scoffed, and let out a growl. Dangerus did not like hearing this, but, he knew that Barrabus was not far from the truth. Despite this, his frustration was very obvious.

Dangerus: You make it sound as if I am unfit in your eyes…like I am unworthy of my title…like I am unworthy to lead.

Barrabus: I never said you were unfit, nor did I accuse you of being unworthy. You have more than proven yourself in battle, but, you still have much to prove about the finer points of what it means to be a leader and what it means to have true wisdom. You made an error in judgement when you tried to claim Vanguard’s technology. This mistake happened because you lost sight of what was important. As a leader, you made that choice, but, if you were an exceptional leader…you would have refrained from such a course of action. You would not have turned on Anaconda and his Human ally. You would have seen the dangers that they saw.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: I have always believed you to be an exceptional warrior. I am merely disappointed that you failed to live up to my expectations. Do not mistake what I am saying as an insult to your abilities. There are few I would rather have at my side in battle.

Barrabus grunted.

Barrabus: Do you understand?

Dangerus gave an uneasy growl. Part of him could not help but believe that his mistake had served to diminish him in some way.

Dangerus: I believe so…Chieftain…

Dangerus fell silent for a moment, as he gathered his thoughts.

Dangerus: You have given me a lot to think about, Chieftain. I will consider what you have said to me.

Barrabus: That is all I ask, brother.

Dangerus: Perhaps I will find the opportunity to redeem myself when I find Anaconda and his Human ally.

Barrabus scoffed. He was taken aback by what he had just heard.

Barrabus: What?

Dangerus: You must be unaware…

Dangerus paused.

Dangerus: I have been tasked with locating the heretic, Anaconda, and killing him.

Barrabus: Who has given you this task, and why?

Dangerus: The Minister of Judgement has bestowed this task upon me, at my own behest. This was something that I wanted to address personally.

Barrabus: Personally? In what way?

Dangerus crossed his arms, as he let out a slight growl.

Dangerus: I believe Shipmaster Xyrho put it best; I envy his freedom, but, I detest his loyalties. I am curious about how this heretic survives outside the pack. I am curious as to what motivates him. The only way I can learn this, is by hunting him down…

Barrabus scoffed. He knew that any direct attention from The Covenant was almost certainly going to be a problem.

Barrabus: Is it necessary to hound a single heretic? Do you not have any more pressing matters to attend to?

Dangerus: Of course I have more pressing matters to attend to. The war with the filth will not conduct itself, you know!? However, despite the urgency of our war with the Humans, I am compelled to find this heretic. He has allied himself with a single Human, and I want to know why. Such a thing is almost unheard of…and I emphasize almost…

Dangerus glared at Barrabus. Barrabus scoffed, as he knew very well what Dangerus was referring to.

Dangerus: You speak of loyalty before power. I am curious Chieftain; what does he value; power or loyalty?

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: I get the feeling he values loyalty above all else…

Dangerus’ voice turned aggressive.

Dangerus: I suspect he values loyalty…like you do, like you so proudly teach. Why else would he tolerate a Human, if not for loyalty? There is no power to be gained by roaming the galaxy with a single Human. It makes me wonder if this heretic is a product of your wisdom…

Barrabus frowned, as he let out a snarl.

Barrabus: Do not waste your time looking into such a matter, Dangerus. I know of the one we call Anaconda. He does not wish to be disturbed by The Covenant. You would be wise to avoid disturbing him. There is a reason he chooses to live the way he does. It is best not to prod on his affairs. It will not end well for you.

Dangerus: Is this another lecture on the finer points of leadership, Chieftain? Are you going to tell me to choose my battles and my enemies?

Dangerus scoffed.

Dangerus: That may work when discussing Vanguard, but, this Anaconda…he is one of our own. He is different, and a he is unique. He is without a pack, without an identity, without a clan. This is unheard of. It is…unnatural. Even you must be curious as to how he survives being so isolated from the pack.

Dangerus growled.

Dangerus: I have done battle with Anaconda. My most trusted right hand, Furium, has done battle with Anaconda. We both agree that the heretic is formidable. I must know why such a formidable warrior would choose such an isolated life. I must know what motivates him.

Barrabus: What concern is it of yours?

Dangerus: I have no idea what motivates this heretic, and I have no idea why he has chosen to ally himself with a Human. What I do know, is that he is far too dangerous to be left alone. If we do not determine what motivates him, it may very well backfire on us.

As Dangerus said this, he glared at Barrabus.

Dangerus: Anaconda KNEW about Vanguard, even before I did. From what I understood from Shipmaster Xyrho…there were VERY few who shared in that secret. Again…I must wonder if this heretic is a product of your wisdom…and your secrets…

Barrabus scoffed.

Dangerus: We were fortunate to have Anaconda on our side in our battle with Vanguard. He proved to be useful. My betrayal of Anaconda, while a mistake, has given me a very good idea who he values more, and it is not his own kind. It is the Humans who he values.

Barrabus: And that is reason enough to pick a fight with him?

Dangerus: More than enough.

Dangerus snarled.

Dangerus: I am going to find this heretic, and I am going to kill him.

Dangerus growled, as he turned to walk away. However, before Dangerus could take a step, Barrabus grabbed Dangerus by the arm. Dangerus turned his head, and snarled at Barrabus.

Barrabus: Do not pursue him. Leave him be…

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: He will kill you.

Dangerus: He is welcome to try…but he will fail.

Dangerus pulled his arm from Barrabus grasp, as he walked off. Barrabus sighed as he watched Dangerus walk off. After a brief moment of silence, Xyrho looked at Barrabus, and spoke up.

Xyrho: You seemed rather adamant about Dangerus not pursuing the heretic.

Barrabus looked at Xyrho, and nodded.

Barrabus: You could say that.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: It is a fool’s errand. There is nothing to be gained by hounding a lone heretic.

Xyrho: Perhaps. However, I do not believe there is much rational to his decision. I think…Dangerus has something to prove. He made a grave mistake in the battle with Vanguard. He turned on his allies, and it resulted in his defeat. I believe this weighs heavily on him. It was a grave failure on his part.

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: I think what makes it worse is that Dangerus was not the one who defeated Vanguard, despite the lie that was told to The Minister of Justice; a lie that I shared in, if only to preserve our own lives.

Xyrho sighed.

Xyrho: I believe he feels a deep scorn of failure, and he seeks to make it right. He seeks to redeem himself in the only way he knows how; killing the heretic known as Anaconda.

Barrabus sighed, as he shook his head in dismay.

Barrabus: It would make sense. Dangerus would see Anaconda as the strongest and most worthwhile opponent. Vanguard fell to Anaconda, so, Anaconda is the one who Dangerus must slay to find his own personal redemption.

Barrabus scoffed.

Barrabus: A Jiralhanae with no pack, with no clan, no identity, and no connection to the rest of his species. An outsider who allies himself with a Human. An outsider, who lacks the normal qualities of a Jiralhanae, proved himself to be the strongest by besting vanguard…and this truth weighs on Dangerus mind.

Barrabus let out a very exasperated groan.

Barrabus: Damn it…

Barrabus looked back at Xyrho.

Barrabus: Nothing good will come of this.

Barrabus snarled, as he turned back to look at his Phantom.

Xyrho: Are you so certain that nothing good will come of this?

Barrabus: I am very sure of that, Shipmaster.

Barrabus turned back to Xyrho, and glared at him.

Barrabus: Dangerus will stop at nothing to find his redemption.

Xyrho: Why is this so wrong? What concern is it of yours?

Barrabus: Let’s just say that someone like Anaconda can be very useful. I have had more than my fair share of opportunities to be rid of him, but, I have chosen not to act on the matter.

Barrabus turned back to Xyrho, as he looked Xyrho in the eye, so as to give a sense of legitimacy to the blatant lie he was speaking.

Barrabus: He has his uses, and that was abundantly clear when he managed to defeat Vanguard. Losing such an asset would be detrimental.

Xyrho looked at Barrabus with a hint of curiosity.

Xyrho: How much contact have you had with this heretic?

Barrabus: Enough to know that he is useful. Enough to know that if Dangerus tries to hunt him down, in order to kill him, that I will lose at least one useful ally.

As Barrabus said this, he heard, he heard a familiar voice speak out to him from behind.

Brutus: Sounds like you have a problem…

Barrabus turned to face Brutus; glaring at him with a look which suggested both frustration and resentment.

Brutus: A real predicament…

Barrabus growled.

Brutus: That is no way to greet me, Barrabus. I expected something with less…loathing.

Barrabus grunted, as he turned away.

Brutus: Barrabus…we need to talk. That is why you are here, correct? You did not come all this way just to avoid me, did you? I asked you to come here, and here you are.

Barrabus: What do you want?

Brutus: For starters…privacy…

Brutus took a moment to look at Barrabus, before he continued speaking.

Brutus: If we are going to speak, we do it on your vessel, or, at the very least…on your Phantom.

Barrabus grunted, as he turned away from Brutus.

Barrabus: Very well.

Barrabus walked back towards his Phantom, as he jumped up into the passenger bay, through the open side hatch. As Barrabus stood in the passenger bay, he looked down at Brutus, and grunted.

Barrabus: Hurry it up. The less I am seen with you, the better.

Brutus gave a nod, and a grunt, as he approached the Phantom, and proceeded to jump inside. Once Brutus had boarded the Phantom, Barrabus looked down at Xyrho.

Barrabus: Shipmaster Xyrho…it is my understanding that your vessel was destroyed.

Xyrho: That is correct.

Barrabus: I could use someone of your skillset on my vessel.

Xyrho: A ship full of Jiralhanae?

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: And me?

Barrabus: Make no mistake, I only make this offer to those that I respect. It is not an offer I give to many.

Xyrho: I am both tempted, and skeptical.

Xyrho paused to consider his options.

Xyrho: I have never actually done a tour on a Jiralhanae-commanded vessel. It is not something my kind typically does. However, tour on a Jiralhanae vessel may prove to be…insightful.

Xyrho approached the Phantom, and jumped into the rear compartment, alongside Brutus and Barrabus.

Xyrho: This should be interesting, to say the least.

Xyrho watched as Barrabus turned, and entered the cockpit of the Phantom. As entered the cockpit, he left the access door open.

Barrabus: I try to keep things interesting when I can. I dislike monotony.

Barrabus sat down in the pilot’s seat, as he began the pre-flight sequence. As the engines fired up, and the side hatches of the Phantom closed, Brutus interjected.

Brutus: I am shocked at you, Barrabus. I never thought I would see you EVER recruit one of HIS kind to serve under you.

Brutus gestured to Xyrho.

Brutus: I never expected that.

Barrabus: Shipmaster Xyrho is…more tolerable than the rest of his kind. He lacks the blindfold that is honor. He does not wear the shackles of faith. He is not bound by such quaint ideas. He is someone I can relate to on the more important levels.

Brutus growled in interest, as he sized up Xyrho.

Brutus: Interesting.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: It is not often you see a Sangheili with a degree of common sense.

Xyrho interjected, as he glared at Brutus.

Xyrho: And what exactly does that mean, outsider?

Brutus growled, as he scoffed at Xyrho.

Brutus: What did you call me?

Xyrho: I know who you are, Brute. I know who you associate with. The colors you wear, the style of your armor, and the markings you have…

Xyrho paused.

Xyrho: They are not known to many, but, they are known to me. I know where your loyalty resides, Brute. I know what organization you were work. I recognize the Obsidian Hierarchy when I see it.

Brutus growled at Xyrho.

Brutus: I supposed you do know. After all…you WERE present when “my organization” corrected your mistake all those years ago.

Xyrho: For that…I am grateful.

Brutus was taken aback by this. He did not expect such humility from Xyrho. However, before Brutus could rebuttal, Barrabus spoke up; speaking from the cockpit.

Barrabus: Brutus…there is a reason you asked me here. What do you want?

Brutus looked towards the cockpit, as he gathered his thoughts.

Barrabus: Why have you broken so many years of silence now?

Brutus: The reason I am here is because of what happened on the Human world known as San Angeles.

Barrabus: You are referring to Vanguard. I am already aware of what has transpired. I am aware that the Humans had attempted to meddle with the construct.

Brutus: How do you know this?

Barrabus: I do not need the Obsidian Hierarchy to give me Intel. I have my own sources. I command the loyalty of many among our kind.

Brutus growled.

Brutus: So it seems.

Brutus folded his arms.

Brutus: I underestimated you Barrabus; you are more resourceful than I thought.

Barrabus: And it seems I overestimated you, Brutus. You have yet to tell me something I do not know.

Brutus growled.

Brutus: You are aware of the one known as “Anaconda”?

Barrabus: Yes, I am aware of him. He is…interesting. His choice of allies is very interesting.

Brutus: You should know that Anaconda has attracted the attention of The Obsidian Hierarchy. We wish to find him, and I have personally undertaken this task.

Barrabus snarled, as he turned his head to look back at Brutus.

Barrabus: I do not like where this conversation is going. I just had my differences with Chieftain Dangerus on this subject. Must I also have differences with you?

Brutus: Chieftain Dangerus has different goals than The Obsidian Hierarchy. Whatever it is that Dangerus wants, it is not what we want.

Barrabus: What do you want from this, Brutus? What does the Obsidian Hierarchy stand to gain from pursuing this…loner?

Brutus: We seek to determine if he is a threat. If he is, we will deal with him. If he is not…we seek to recruit him.

Barrabus: Something tells me he would NOT be interested.

Brutus: You say that like you know for sure.

Barrabus: I just get the impression that he would be as disillusioned with The Obsidian Hierarchy as I am. He does not seem like the type to tolerate YOUR way of doing things.

Brutus: And how is my way of doing things different than his? As far as I can see, we are both outcasts. We both operate to the contempt of The Covenant.

Barrabus scoffed.

Barrabus: You hide. He doesn’t.

Brutus scoffed.

Brutus: You say that with such contempt, Barrabus. You make it sound like we hide out of fear.

Barrabus scoffed.

Barrabus: I have nothing but contempt for The Obsidian Hierarchy. Too much has passed between your organization and myself for me NOT to hold contempt.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: The Obsidian Hierarchy has made far too many attempts on my life. You recruited my son into your organization, without my knowledge, and you hid that fact from me. What is worse is that YOU were the one that sent you’re the Obsidian Hierarchy hit squads after me. You tried to have your own son killed…multiple times.

Brutus began to laugh.

Brutus: You survived, didn’t you?

Barrabus snarled.

Brutus: You should thank me. If it were not for me, your skills would have gone dull long ago. I kept your senses honed.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: I kept them honed because I knew that one day, however unlikely, we would require your skills once more.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: Today is that day. The Obsidian Hierarchy needs your abilities. Despite the troubled past that has taken place between you and the Obsidian Hierarchy, you are once again needed, even wanted.

Barrabus let out a rather vicious snarl.

Barrabus: I do not exist to be recruited by YOU when your pathetic lackeys cannot get the job done.

Brutus: Do you have any idea what we are even attempting to do? We are going after Anaconda. I need someone who can match his prowess, and you are the ONLY Jiralhanae I know who can do it. I have observed his fighting style and his resiliency…and I do not believe that any of my operatives can take him down. I have been forced to look for possible recruits outside The Obsidian Hierarchy, and you are the ONLY one I can find that I feel can match his skill.

Barrabus began to laugh.

Barrabus: Find someone else, Brutus. I am not interested in helping YOU.

Brutus scoffed, as he began to laugh.

Brutus: First, I see you associating with this Sangheili, now, you tell me you have no interest in hunting down Anaconda.

Brutus growled.

Brutus: I never believed that my own son could be a traitor AND a coward.

Barrabus let out a very viscous snarl, as if to give a warning to Brutus.

Brutus: What’s happened to you, Barrabus? There was a time when you knew what it means to be a true Jiralhanae. You were not so fickle…so cowardly…so fearful. You have developed a very soft touch.

Barrabus roared, as he jumped out of the pilot’s seat, and dashed into the passenger bay. When Xyrho saw this, he quickly jumped to the side, so as to avoid getting sandwiched between two rampaging Brutes. Xyrho saw that Barrabus had abandoned the controls for the Phantom, and in a split second decision, Xyrho ran into the cockpit, and took control of the Phantom before it could veer off course.

As Barrabus ran into the Passenger bay, he slammed his forearm into Brutus’ chest, as he pushed him backwards. Barrabus pushed Brutus with such force, that he lifted Brutus right off his feet, and slammed him into the rear wall of the Phantom. The force of impact left a dent in the rear hatch of the Phantom. As Barrabus held Brutus in place, he snarled at his father.

Barrabus: If you doubt by conviction to our ways, you may test them at your convenience!

Barrabus snarled, as he moved his forearm up, right into Brutus’ throat, and pressed his forearm harder against Brutus. As Barrabus snarled in rage, Brutus’ eyes widened, as he struggled to breathe.

Barrabus: I do not answer to you! I will NEVER answer to a toothless Jiralhanae who is passed his prime! You are nothing more than a relic of an era that is LONG DEAD. I want nothing to do with you, and I want nothing to do with The Obsidian Hierarchy!

Brutus began to struggle in Barrabus grasp, as he managed to utter a few words.

Brutus: I…can’t…breathe…

Barrabus scoffed, as held his forearm to Brutus’ throat for another few moments, before he stepped back, and allowed Brutus to fall to the ground. As Brutus fell to the ground, he began to breathe heavily.

Barrabus: I am giving your life today. I am allowing you to walk away with whatever little you have left….

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: You will leave my sight, and you will make sure that your shadow NEVER darkens my path again.

Barrabus paused.

Barrabus: If I have ANY reason to believe that you, or the Obsidian Hierarchy is following in my wake, I will personally find you, and I will destroy you, and the Obsidian Hierarchy. Is that clear?

Brutus looked up at Barrabus for a moment. The look in his eyes was one of betrayal and resentment. He knew now, beyond all doubt, that Barrabus had no intention of ever returning to the Obsidian Hierarchy

Brutus: Very well…

Brutus sighed.

Brutus: Very well, Barrabus. Have it your way.

Brutus paused, as he got back to his feet.

Brutus: Allow me to disembark, and I will disappear.

Barrabus glared at Brutus for a moment, before he turned and looked at Xyrho in the cockpit.

Barrabus: Shipmaster! Land this Phantom at the nearest docking port!

Barrabus fell silent after he had given the order. He simply glared at Brutus; a look of resentment and anger in his eyes. The next few minutes were very tense, as the two Brutes were locked in a death gaze; either one of them ready to snap and attack the other at a moment’s notice. However, the tension began to diffuse when the Phantom began to slow down, and the side hatch of the Phantom opened up. As the Phantom came to a stop, and as it hovered about 10 feet above the ground, Barrabus snarled at Brutus.

Barrabus: Get out…

Brutus looked at Barrabus for a moment before he began to speak.

Brutus: This may very well be the last time we speak to one another.

Barrabus: Good…

Brutus scoffed.

Brutus: Very well…

Brutus turned, as he walked towards the side hatch. He peered over the edge, but stopped to say one final thing.

Brutus: Nothing will change the fact that I will be going after Anaconda. I know he is dangerous, but, it is my job, and my calling, to seek out potential threats. If he is, as you say he is, then either he will survive, or we do.

Brutus paused.

Brutus: May you die well, Chieftain…

Brutus growled, as he proceeded to jump from the Phantom, down to the ground below. Barrabus groaned, as he walked to the edge of the Phantom, and looked down. However, much to his surprise, there was no sign of Brutus. As quickly as he had left the Phantom, he had vanished from sign, no doubt, thanks to a cloaking generator. Barrabus sighed and growled, as he looked at Xyrho.

Barrabus: Xyrho…take me back to my ship. I no longer wish to be here. I have grown weary of High Charity.

As the side hatch of the Phantom closed, the ship sped off, flying towards the main shipyards. Barrabus, on the other hand, entered the cockpit, and sat in the co-pilot seat.

Xyrho: Well…that is one way to end a conversation.

Barrabus looked at Xyrho.

Xyrho: I didn’t realize you had such bad blood with The Obsidian Hierarchy. I was always under the impression that you were on good terms with them.

Barrabus: I parted ways with them a long time ago. We were never really on the same wavelength. I don’t like the way they do things.

Xyrho: I believe I understand what you mean. There are many among my kind with whom I cannot work with, simply due to how differently I think.

Barrabus: Well, it matters not. I have no intention of helping the Obsidian Hierarchy with their plans.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: In fact…I pity them, for they do not know what they face.

Xyrho: What exactly do they face, Chieftain?

Barrabus looked at Xyrho, and grinned.

Barrabus: Let’s just say that there is a very good reason the Obsidian Hierarchy came to me to enlist my help in fighting Anaconda, and let’s just say there is a very good reason I won’t help them.

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: I believe in what Anaconda does. I respect him. I will have no part in ending that.

Xyrho: Perhaps, but, will you have a part in preventing the Obsidian Hierarchy from going after him?

Barrabus thought for a moment, before he shook his head.

Barrabus: Anaconda does not need my protection. He never has, and he never will…

Barrabus growled.

Barrabus: And that is all there is to say on the matter…

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