|The Last Spartan
Author: DinoJake PM
An AU fic in which the Halo and ME universes share the same galaxy. After a well deserved rest in Cryo-Sleep, Master Chief finally awakens...to a whole new galaxy.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Master Chief/John-117 - Chapters: 36 - Words: 306,990 - Reviews: 1,900 - Favs: 1,491 - Follows: 1,466 - Updated: 04-13-13 - Published: 05-02-10 - id: 5939286
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Could you sacrifice me to complete your mission?"
There were strange-looking people, aliens maybe, suffering.
Metal being welded to flesh.
"Could you watch me die?"
Minds being tormented.
Blood splattering on the ground.
Screeching of the damned.
Eyes that spoke eons of malice.
"I am your shield."
"I am your sword."
A light in the darkness.
"Don't let her go. Don't ever let her go."
"Don't make a girl a promise, if you know you can't keep it."
"Do not be afraid. I am peace. I am salvation."
The Master Chief's eyes opened. "Time?" he calmly asked.
"0551 hours. You're nine minutes early." Cortana said. "I can also see some sweat on your brow. You okay?"
The Spartan wiped his fingers across his forehead and indeed felt some moisture there. Odd. He hadn't woken up in a cold sweat since he was eight.
"...I'm fine." Chief replied. He rose from his bed and started putting on his armor. No harm in starting his day a little early.
0737 Hours, March 6th, 2683
Undisclosed Location in the Attican Beta Cluster
After breakfast, the Master Chief spent much of that morning reviewing the STG reports of the Geth activity on Eletania. Half to make sure that he knew what he'd be getting into, half to shake off that bad dream he had.
He had already concocted a plan. The Normandy would enter the system with stealth systems active and do both a surface scan and an orbital scan of Eletania. Additionally, he wanted all radio chatter monitored. Once they learned where Saren himself was, they'd move on to the next phase of the plan.
If it turned out that Saren was on the planet's surface, the Normandy will do a simple mako drop. Standard operating procedure for surface operations. If it turned out that Saren was on a ship in the fleet, the Spartan and his combat team would equip themselves with T-packs and manually board whatever vessel Saren was on. Chief hoped it would end up being the former scenario. If the Geth fleet was as big as STG reports claim, boarding a vessel in the middle of that fleet would be very risky, especially if the vessel in question turned out to be the Sovereign.
Overall, the plan was fairly simple. Find Saren, go in, get him, and then get out. Unfortunately, such plans were never that simple in practice.
The Master Chief walked through the CIC and walked up to the podium overlooking the galaxy map. He knew they were getting close to their destination. He knew that careful tactical positioning of the Normandy could make or break this final mission. He needed to be a ship captain. The Spartan took a few deep breaths, remembering Admiral Whitcomb's record.
Admiral Danforth Whitcomb was one of the greatest admirals the UNSC had during the Human-Covenant War. His accomplishments during the Battle of New Constantinople and the Siege of the Atlas Moons were well-documented. As such, studying the Admiral's record was part of the Chief's SPARTAN-II training. He even had the good fortune of meeting Admiral Whitcomb before he sacrificed himself to save Earth from a massive Covenant fleet.
Since becoming the official captain of the Normandy, Chief had been reviewing Whitcomb's record, hoping that studying and emulating Whitcomb's commanding style would bring the Spartan the same kind of victories it brought to the admiral. Up until now, the Chief had been lucky that most of his missions and assignments were ground side, where a Spartan was most at home. But with a Geth fleet in orbit around the target destination, he'd have to step out of his element and command the ship itself. If ever there was a time for all those studies on the good admiral's tactics to pay off, this was it.
"Five minutes out, Master Chief." Joker's voice reported over the intercom.
"Drop out of FTL on the edge of the system." the Spartan ordered. "I wanna dip my toe in the water before jumping in." It seemed like something Whitcomb would do. He was bold, but he would always prefer to know what he was charging at before doing so.
"Aye aye." Joker replied.
Five minutes came and went, and they dropped out of FTL on the very edge of the Hercules system. The galaxy map zoomed in from the galactic level to the solar level. The Spartan noted that the ship was fairly close to the outer most planet in the system. "Pressly, what's that?" Chief said, pointing to the planet.
"Zatorus, sir." Pressly answered, bringing up the galactic survey codex. "Pretty standard hydrogen-helium gas giant from the looks of it."
Chief smiled underneath his helmet. He was in luck. According to the solar map, Zatorus was currently in the 'southwestern' corner of its orbit around Hercules, while Eletania was directly above it, directly 'west' of the system's star. He could easily do a long-range scan of Eletania from Zatorus's shadow.
"Engage passive stealth systems." Chief ordered. "Then take us into high orbit above the dark side of Zatorus. We're gonna use it as cover."
"Aye aye, Master Chief." Joker replied.
Chief smiled. This was exactly the kind of tactic Whitcomb would use, because he had used it before. During the Siege of the Atlas Moons, lying in wait in orbit above the dark side of Atlas's moons and launching ambushes from them was one of the admiral's favorite tricks. Once a ship was in a planetary body's shadow, it was instantly shrouded in darkness. This, combined with her built-in stealth systems, would make the Normandy absolutely undetectable.
As they came into the gas giant's orbit, Chief noted that, unlike other Alliance vessels or even UNSC vessels back in the 26th century, the ship's commanding officer, in this case himself, was high above the crewmen. Also, the CIC was indeed aft of the bridge. According to the codex, these were staples of Turian ship design, as Turians preferred being above their subordinates rather than among them. The Alliance wanted to try out this layout for themselves to see how effective it was, even going so far as to enlist aid from the Turian Hierarchy to help build the ship.
So far, the Spartan had no complaints about this design format. Maybe the Turians were onto something.
Joker looked out the window and watched as Zatorus's surface went from amber-gold to black as they entered the jovian planet's shadow. "We're in the dark." Joker reported. "Kinda wish I had a nightlight. Or my blankie."
"Boogeyman's the least of our problems." Chief remarked. He turned to Pressly. "We have an LOS on Eletania?"
"Negative." Pressly reported.
"Joker. Keep orbiting the planet until we have an LOS on Eletania. Once we do, I want a complete long-range scan of the planet. Radio, radar, thermal imaging, everything." Chief rattled off the orders. He was pleased to hear 'aye's' all around.
"ETA to LOS, 180 seconds." Pressly reported.
"Hey, since you're free for three minutes, can I talk to you about something?" Cortana suddenly asked.
Chief clicked off his external speakers and ship comm line. "Yes?" he asked.
He saw a screen appear on his heads-up display. He recognized several documents as being things he wrote on his PC in his personal quarters. He saw one document brought up, with one line highlighted.
Combat Team Roster
Role: Designated Marksman
Status: Due to be removed at earliest convenience.
"Explain." Cortana sternly said.
"He's insubordinate." Chief replied.
"What are you talking about? Every order you've ever given him, he's followed." Cortana countered. "Wrex may have been insubordinate with you, what with executing a POW without your authorization, but Garrus? I mean, sure, he's a bit of a cowboy cop, but that's just part of his charm."
"Wait." Cortana suddenly said just as the Chief opened his mouth to reply. "Is this because he knows about me?"
"...Yes." Chief replied. It was true, in a certain way.
"He said he'd keep me secret, and you kept him on then." Cortana argued.
"I changed my mind."
"Why?" the AI instantly quizzed.
"I realized keeping him on after what happened with Saleon was a mistake." Chief replied.
"But you wouldn't suddenly realize it out of the blue. Something happened to make you reach that conclusion, so what happened?" Cortana pressed.
"60 seconds until we have LOS." Pressly reported.
Chief nodded to the navigator. "We'll talk about this after the mission." Chief said.
"Fine." Cortana replied, not sounding happy about it.
The Master Chief had already given the order to all combat team personnel to equip themselves in the garage. Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Wrex, Tali, Liara and N'tho were all suited, armed, and ready for combat. All they were doing now was waiting on the Spartan's orders.
They all found ways of occupying the time. Ashley, Kaidan and Liara were all polishing rifles, the former two helping the latter with weapon assembly and disassembly. Well, Kaidan helped Liara. Ashley just stood there and snickered whenever Liara made a mistake. Tali went back into engineering to help the rest of the engineering team monitor the drive core. Wrex and N'tho were arguing over who would win in a fight; Rukth 'Kilkar or Nakmor Krall.
As for Garrus, he was doing what he had taken to doing whenever he got bored aboard the Normandy. He calibrated the mako. "Damn thing gets out of alignment after every drop." Garrus muttered as he tuned the vehicle's suspension. He was calibrating it from underneath, lying on a mag board, two Turian feet sticking out from underneath. He growled several choice curses that were only known in C-Sec as he tried to fix the mako's suspension.
"Garrus, we need to talk."
The Turian nearly jumped out from underneath the vehicle in shock. "Er...Cortana?" Garrus asked after having heard the AI's voice in his head.
"In the data." Cortana merrily replied. "Chief doesn't know I'm talking to you. We don't have a lot of time, so I'll cut to the chase. You and the Master Chief had an argument last night. I want details."
"Er, how did you-"
"I figured it out." Cortana interrupted Garrus's question, knowing before hand what it was he would ask.
"Well...promise you won't get mad." Garrus started.
"Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye." Cortana rattled off as a response.
"Means I promise." Cortana elaborated.
"Right." Garrus said with a nod. Human idioms weren't his strong suit, and he had no idea what to make of that nonsense Cortana just said. "Well...I...might...have tried to engineer a scenario in which the Master Chief might confess your existence to the Normandy crew."
"...Once again; I want details." Cortana said.
"We have an LOS." Pressly reported. "Running scans now."
Master Chief zoomed the galaxy map in on Zatorus and the Normandy's position relative to the planet. This was getting risky. They were right on the edge of the planet's dark side. Any further and they would've entered the twilight area where they'd be more visible. Granted, they'd only be visible in the purely physical sense, but less exposed the ship was, the better.
After a couple of minutes, they got results. "Scanners show a massive fleet in orbit over Eletania. Counting five dreadnoughts, fifteen cruisers, and the Sovereign herself." Negulesco reported over the ship's com.
Chief furrowed his brow. On the one hand, the fleet was every bit as big as the Chief feared and then some. On the other, the presence of Saren's flagship seemed to confirm that Saren himself was indeed in the system. He was on the right trail, but the trail was leading him right into the lion's den. "Surface activity?" Chief asked.
"That's the weird part sir." Negulesco went on. "Surface radio transmissions are minimal. It's like there's barely anyone on the surface."
"Wait, I thought Eletania had Prothean ruins." Pressly asked. "If that's true, the surface should be crawling with Geth."
Chief thought it over for a second. He needed more intel. And there was only one way to get it. "Engage silent running. Plot an FTL jump to Eletania's orbit then run a radio scan. I wanna know what they're talking about down there."
"Aye aye Chief." Joker replied over the ship com. "We are now running silent. Plotting FTL jump."
"After that, I had enough." Garrus said. "So I just turned around and went back to the elevator. And here we are."
Garrus heard silence on the other end. Then, a sad, tired sigh. "I'm not surprised." Cortana replied after Garrus finished the story.
The Turian paused and then shook his head. "I should apologize to him." he mumbled out. "I shouldn't have pushed him so hard on it. You're the only friend from the 26th century he has left so of course he'd be hesitant to risk word of your existence getting to the Council. I should've been more understanding of his-"
"Actually, I think you might be right." Cortana interrupted. The Turian was a bit surprised by that. "I've been watching him at night. I've seen him spend nearly almost all his time in his armor and in his quarters. He's lonely."
"What do you mean?" Garrus asked. "He's got you to keep him company, doesn't he?"
"Yes, but I shouldn't be all he has." the AI explained. "Sometimes I bug him about getting out of his quarters more. Talk with the crew more. But he rarely does. And I think it's getting worse."
"Has he always been this withdrawn?" Garrus asked.
"Sort of. There's something you need to know about Spartans, Garrus." Cortana elaborated. "They all kept to themselves, only ever opening up to each other. They shared secrets with each other, supported one another, even called each other by their first names. But there are no more Spartans, Garrus. Chief is the very last one. He doesn't think he can do any of that with the people on this ship. But I was hoping that, eventually, he would."
"...As well as tell the crew about you." Garrus stated as he put two and two together.
"Once he was ready, yeah." Cortana confirmed.
"No." The AI paused. "I don't know if he'll ever be." she sadly added.
The two were silent for a few seconds. "So what happens now?" Garrus asked.
"...I'll get back to you on that." Cortana said as she cut off the com link with the Turian.
The Normandy came out of FTL directly above Eletania. The galactic map zoomed in to the planetary level, revealing that they were just a few hundred miles away from the Geth fleet. Chief kept his eye on the Sovereign. It resembled a giant squid. The Spartan then remembered one of Deja's history lessons from his childhood training on Reach; how the ancient Greeks believed that there were sea monsters lurking in the depths of the Aegean Sea, waiting to attack unsuspecting ships. He wondered if the Sovereign's original designers intentionally built the ship to resemble a sea monster in order to invoke that primal and archaic fear for psychological effect.
"Intercepting some radio chatter..." Negulesco reported over the CIC com. "...Hello. Chief you're gonna wanna hear this. I think we have something." she said before putting the transmission over the com.
"Hey Worsh. How you holdin' up?" a voice asked, Krogan from the sounds of it.
"Like shit." the other voice, presumably Worsh's, replied. "Damn place goes on forever. Down and down and down and down. Fifty creds says we reach the planet's core before we find the Registry."
"Hey, at least you're ground side." the other voice countered. "I'm walking on the same damn patrol route as always, with nothing to shoot. Like anyone's gonna be dumb enough to board a dreadnought."
"Hey, I've got Saren himself down here riding my ass! You wanna switch places? Cuz I'd love some time out in space right about now."
"What is this Registry thing anyway?"
"Fucked if I know! You know how Saren works. EVERYTHING is on a 'need-to-know' basis. Whatever it is, I hope we find it soon, and I DOUBLE-HOPE that there's something in it that I can shoot at cuz I would love to shoot something today. Worsh out." With that, the transmission was cut off.
The Registry? Chief didn't know what that was, but he already knew enough. It was something Saren wanted, which meant it was something that the Spartan had to stop him from getting.
"Sounds like the ruins are underground." Negulesco noted. "Would explain why there don't seem to be many Geth on the surface. They're actually underneath the surface."
"Looks like you're going ground side." Pressly observed as he turned to the Spartan. The Chief sighed in relief. He would much rather engage Saren on the planet's surface than on board the Sovereign. Not for the first time, the Chief caught a lucky break.
"Tell the mako crew to prep for a drop." Chief ordered. He keyed Engineering. "Adams. How much longer can we keep stealth systems engaged before we start to cook?" This was the Normandy's weakness. She stayed hidden by storing heat emissions in lithium heat sinks deep within her hull. However, the ship could only store the heat for so long before it started cooking the crew alive.
"I'd say two, maybe three hours." Adams answered.
The Spartan keyed off Engineering. "Keep running silent until you make the drop and then find someplace to land." Chief rattled off the orders.
"On Eletania, sir?" Pressly asked.
"They won't think to look for an enemy ship on the planet's surface." Chief elaborated. "Switch back to passive stealth once you land. We don't know how long we'll be down there."
"Aye sir." Pressly said with a crisp salute.
Once the elevator door opened, the Master Chief could already see his squad lining up by the mako. Normandy servicemen were just in the middle of finishing the mako's final preparations, doing last-minute calibrations and the like. The Spartan walked past his squad and grabbed his weapons from the weapons bench. Once he was outfitted, he walked back to the squad and began addressing them.
"Alright. Here's what we know. Saren is currently in some kind of underground complex, likely Prothean in origin. He's looking for something called 'The Registry.' We don't know what it is, but if Saren wants it, it can't be good. Ultimately though, it won't matter. Our objective here is simple. Head in, apprehend Saren, and then head out. He won't be alone as the complex is likely crawling with opposition so expect heavy resistance. Geth, Krogan, possibly even Asari Commandos. I'm willing to bet Benezia has a few of those under her employ. Keep it tight, keep together, and we should make it through this. Questions?"
Garrus raised his hand. "You said we're going to apprehend Saren?" the Turian asked.
"Yes. There a problem?" Chief asked.
"Okay Garrus." Cortana said to the Turian via radio. "I know what you're going to say, but considering that fight you had with Chief last night, I think you should really just keep your mouth-"
"I'm worried the Council might be protecting Saren." Garrus began.
"...shut." Cortana finished.
"I mean, they were really dragging their heels before." the Turian went on. "What if we find him, bring him back to the Citadel and they refuse to act?"
"Your point?" Chief asked.
"My point is maybe we shouldn't give them the chance." Garrus stated resolutely. "In my opinion, Saren's too dangerous to be kept alive."
"Garrus, please drop it.'" Cortana pleaded. "He is REALLY not in the mood right now."
The AI's pleas fell on deaf ears. Apparently, Garrus felt too strongly about this to let Cortana talk him out of it. "Too much could happen. He could escape or the Council might let him go. When we find him, I say we make sure we stop him permanently." Garrus finished.
Cortana cut communications with the Turian and privately pleaded with the Master Chief.
"Okay Chief." Cortana began. "Now I know what you're thinking, but cut him some slack. He's young, he's headstrong..."
Chief wasn't having it. He walked up to the Turian and glared at him through his visor. "We're under orders from the Council to apprehend, or failing that, eliminate him. So unless we genuinely fail in the former, we're not going with the latter."
"But what's the point in keeping him ali-"
"Stow it." Chief cut off the Turian mid-sentence. "This is not an assassination mission, and neither the Council nor the Alliance has told me otherwise. We're doing this one by the books."
Chief heard Wrex scoff at that. His head snapped to the Krogan. "You have something to add?"
"Cut the crap." Wrex said. "You wanna kill Saren with your bare hands as much as the rest of us do. So why hold back?"
"Hell, I'm with Garrus and the dinofrog." N'tho chimed in. "I say when we find him, smoke him."
"And you're a Spectre." Tali added. "You have the power to do that kind of thing if you so choose, yes?"
"Enough." Chief stated resolutely. "You're all supposed to be professional soldiers. Act like it. Unless I give the order, no one's killing Saren. Is that clear?"
The Chief heard a round of half-hearted 'yes sir's.'
"I said, is that clear?"
This time, he got slightly more enthusiastic 'yes sir's.'
"Good. Do a last minute equipment check and then pile into the mako. We drop in ten." Chief ordered.
As the Master Chief began checking his weapons and armor, he pondered what had just transpired. About half the squad agreed with Garrus's dissension. Dissension. The Chief didn't need that on his team. When he accepted these non-Humans into the team, he did so in the belief that they'd be useful to him and the mission. Now he saw that Rear Admiral Mikhailovich was right. Having so many non-Humans on board the Normandy was a poor decision, but not for the reasons he claimed.
Chief sighed out of resignation, disappointment and frustration all at once. He had tried to make this band of misfits into something resembling a proper ground team. Truly he did. But the gears in this war machine simply refused to fit together. Garrus was questioning the Chief's authority. Wrex killed a prisoner with no orders to do so. N'tho was a reckless idiot whose antics could put the entire team at risk. Tali was alright, but she too joined in Garrus's dissension. The Spartan couldn't have that. Besides, she was just a civilian anyway. Officially, she wasn't suitable for this kind of campaign. Liara was the only non-Human who really had any business on the ship, being a Prothean expert, and even she might end up outliving her usefulness once Saren was brought into custody. They were all liabilities to one degree or another.
The Master Chief resolved that, once this mission was over and they hand over Saren to the Council, the Chief would relieve them all of service. Wrex can go back to being a freelance mercenary. N'tho can go back to Empire Spec. Ops. Garrus didn't really have anywhere to go, since he resigned from C-Sec to join the Spartan's team, but that was his problem, not Chief's. It might actually do Tali some good to let her go. It was doubtful that she'd find anything for her pilgrimage in the Spartan's service. Liara might be kept on if the Council or the Alliance brass still wants to find and secure the Conduit before someone else does, but that was a very big might. Liara was certainly not the only archaeologist with Prothean expertise that could be called in, and since she was the daughter of a traitor, the Alliance probably would want some other Prothean expert on Chief's team; one that wasn't as big of a security risk in their eyes. Ashley and Kaidan would likely be kept on, since their posting on the Normandy actually falls within regulation. The Chief could easily call in some other marines or maybe even some ODST's to fill the gaps in his combat team. The Alliance would certainly be willing to grant such a simple request from the first Human Spectre and last living Spartan.
Yes. They all helped him. They all fought beside him. They were even able to keep up with him after a while. But at the end of the day, they were easily replaceable.
"Touching down in 3...2...1."
The mako jerked as it made contact with the planet's surface as Kaidan counted down to one. The Chief looked out the window. The mako had landed in a mountainous region, large rocky hills surrounding them on all sides. The area was covered in green, but according to the codex, it wasn't grass but rather some kind of algae.
"Normandy to ground team. Come in ground team." Joker said over the mako's comm.
"Ground team here." Chief replied.
"We pinpointed the radio chatter from earlier. It came from seven klicks west of your current position." Joker reported.
"Acknowledged." Chief replied. "Keep running silent until you find a place to hide. We'll radio you for pickup once we have Saren in an LZ."
"Roger that. Monica found us a cozy little spot to settle in about thirty-five klicks to the north. Give us a holler you need anything. Normandy out." Joker finished. With that, he cut the comm and Chief saw the Normandy fly overhead, disappearing over the mountain range.
Chief turned the wheel to start taking the mako west. For the first couple of kilometers, the ride was smooth enough, the terrain being fairly even. However, as the ride went on, the road started getting bumpy, to the point where the team were glad that the Mako had seat belts. The turbulence didn't seem to phase the Chief though. He just kept on driving, looking straight ahead, only shifting direction to drive around things too big to drive over and resuming course.
Six and a half kilometers into their journey, the mako ran into a formidable obstacle; a cliff face. Chief looked to his left and his right. The cliff wall went on for seemingly miles in both directions. "Great. Now what?" Ashley asked as she too saw the situation from her seat in the turret.
"This thing's got vertically aligned mass effect fields, right?" Chief asked.
"Yeah." Kaidan replied. He was riding shotgun. "It's equipped with a small element zero core that can be used to increase mass and provide...greater...traction." he said that last part slowly as he suddenly realized what the Spartan wanted to do. He looked over his shoulder to address the rest of the squad in the passenger compartment. "Hold on to something."
The Spartan fired up the mako's eezo core and then slammed on the gas petal. The Mako charged straight into the cliff wall. On impact, its nose shot upwards and its tires found traction. The mako began to slowly climb up the wall.
The squad members in the passenger compartment immediately felt the effects. They seemed to slide towards the back of the vehicle. "I'm flattered Liara, but I'm afraid I don't feel the same about you." Wrex wryly commented as the poor Asari found herself leaning on the Krogan's shoulder against her will.
"Woohoo! It's like a tilt-a-whirl!" N'tho said as he put his hands up.
"I think I'm going to be sick..." Tali whined.
"Exactly!" N'tho pointed out.
"...I hate you." Tali hissed at the Sangheili.
The Master Chief kept the petal to the floor as the mako struggled to scale the cliff, its tires spinning furiously but ultimately moving slowly. The Spartan had done battle with many foes before, but now he was fighting one of his most relentless and toughest opponents yet. Gravity.
"Uh, Chief." Kaidan said. "We're slowing down. I don't think we're gonna make it."
"We'll make it." Chief said. He subconsciously pressed more weight on the foot that was pressing the gas pedal to the floor, as if that would somehow give the mako enough strength to clear the cliff's edge. The mako seemed to slow down more and more, eventually coming to a snail's pace.
"We'll make it." Chief interrupted Kaidan before the biotic could protest again. He put even more weight down on the gas pedal.
Then, after what felt like hours of going at a snail's pace, the mako suddenly reached an invisible threshold where it began to slowly gain speed. It went faster and faster at much the same rate it went slower and slower earlier. Then, at long last, it cleared the cliff edge. It came to a stop three meters away from the edge on solid ground. The Spartan let out a breath that he didn't even know he was holding in, as did the rest of the team.
After taking a nanosecond to catch his breath, Chief looked out in front of him. Before him was what seemed to be a maze of rocks that seemed to stick out of the ground like pillars, each one a soothing mix of grey and blue. "Terrain's ahead too rough for even the mako sir." Kaidan reported. "I strongly recommend proceeding on foot."
"Anything on long-range motion sensors?" Chief asked.
"Negative." Kaidan reported. "Picking up a little radio chatter about half a klick west though. Guess we're on the right track."
"Alright people." Chief said. "Seal up your suits and then pile out."
The squad slowly made their way through the Eletanian rocks. It was a labyrinth of stone pillars and caves, of broken rocks and overhangs. The Spartan noticed that he and the squad left distinct footprints in the moss that covered the ground in some spots. He ordered Garrus to stick to the rear and cover their tracks, and ordered the rest of the squad to avoid stepping in any moss if possible. He didn't want to leave any hint that they passed through here. They'd be discovered by enemy patrols, and he knew that patrols passed through here, judging from the Krogan footprints that weren't Wrex's.
All was quiet. The only sound heard was the low howling of the wind that blew through the rocks. The Spartan glanced up at the sky. It was cloudy, but he could see glowing cracks in the clouds, as if the sunlight was trying to break through but the cloud cover was holding firm. If he squinted, he could just make out the outline of Eletania's moon, which looked considerably larger than Earth's. Overall, the skyline was a very serene sight and would almost be soothing to look at were it not for the knowledge that an entire fleet's worth of Geth floated in orbit directly above them.
It was then that the Spartan saw a white dot on his motion radar. He held up the 'unknown ahead, wait' hand signal. "Movement." he quietly said.
"Geth?" Ashley asked.
"It was marked neutral." Chief replied. "Tali. Could the Geth have changed their IFF signatures?"
"Possibly." Tali replied.
"Orders?" Kaidan asked.
"Keep moving. Stay alert. Check your targets." Chief ordered. "Don't shoot if you don't have to. Gunshots make too much noise."
They all proceeded forward, this time with weapons raised. Chief, Garrus, Kaidan and Ashley had their assault rifles out. N'tho and Wrex favored their shotguns, while Tali and Liara kept their needlers at the ready. They were also moving a little more slowly now, more cautiously. They didn't want to make anymore noise than they had to, lest they alert whatever is out there to their presence.
Chief held up the 'unknown ahead' sign again as he saw the white dot reappear on his motion sensor. "Neutral target incoming. Get ready." He warned as he and his team aimed down the sights of their weapons. The target then came out from behind a large rock in front of them and walked directly into their path.
"...Is that a monkey?" Ashley asked as the strange creature revealed itself. Ashley's comment wasn't far off, as it did indeed resemble Earth's primates. It had a long tail as well as long arms and fingers. Its legs were considerably shorter than its arms. Its hears were round and fan-shaped while its face was very long, reminding the Chief of an anteater. Finally, it had a pair of big, round, saucer-like black eyes.
"Pyjak, actually." N'tho explained. Wrex growled at the little creature. "They're a common pest species. Kind of like varren, but nowhere near as vicious. There's probably a whole colony of them nearby that was brought here by some merchant ship or something."
"I thought non-native life-forms couldn't survive in Eletania's atmosphere." Chief said as he lowered his weapon. Doubtful the pyjak posed much of a threat.
"Pyjaks are extremely adaptable. Their lungs probably fully adapted to the microbes in the air after a few generations." N'tho elaborated. Once they realized that there was no nearby threat, everyone lowered their weapons. Everyone except Wrex, who kept his shotgun pointed at the pyjak.
"Wrex, no." Chief sternly ordered. "Gunshots make too much noise, remember?"
"But it's a pyjak." Wrex said. "I hate pyjaks."
"Do not. Shoot. The monkey." Chief slowly ordered.
Wrex snarled at that. He relented and put his shotgun away.
He then biotically pulled the pyjak towards him and snapped its neck before it even had a chance to screech.
"...I didn't shoot it." Wrex said.
"...We should keep moving." Chief said, wanting to put this whole incident behind him.
The squad continued on like that for several more minutes. They were only a few hundred meters from their destination now, but between the rocky terrain and the desire for quiet movement, it was slow going.
So far, they saw no sign of the Geth, which Chief supposed shouldn't be too surprising. If that radio transmission was anything to go on, most of the groundside Geth would be in the underground ruins. But still, it felt like they should've at least encountered a small patrol team by now. All this quiet was making the Spartan nervous. A still quiet was rarely a good thing this deep behind enemy lines.
The Spartan then felt something hit his chest. He pulled out his assault rifle and, mentally tracking the air trajectory of the object, pointed it towards the assailant.
Three pyjaks on top of a tall stack of rocks to his left. They then scurried out of sight, giggling mischievously. The Spartan looked down at his chest to see what hit him.
"Sorry Chief but according to chemical scans...that's not mud." Cortana informed him. Chief scowled as he brushed the foul substance off his armor.
"And now you know why I hate pyjaks." Wrex stated.
After nearly an hour of carefully making their way around the rocks, they arrived at the mouth of a cave that lead into the side of a mountain. The entrance was about fifteen feet high and twenty feet across. "This it?" Ashley asked.
"According to the coordinates Normandy sent us." Kaidan replied.
"We know there are many Geth in the ruins, yes?" Tali asked. "This entrance seems a little small for a force that size."
"There's probably a bigger entrance somewhere nearby." Kaidan suggested.
"But if that's true and the ruins have multiple entrances then...Goddess." Liara said as she put the pieces together in her head. "Whatever kind of complex Saren found must be massive. We just might find a beacon here or-"
The Asari was cut off by a loud gunshot. Followed a few seconds later by another. Chief checked his motion radar. One red dot fourteen meters away. He took out his assault rifle. "Tali, with me. Everyone else stay here and secure a perimeter around this cave. Don't head in until I'm back." With that, the Spartan trotted off towards the gunfire, Quarian in tow.
They kept low, crouching and ducking behind the rocks. They eventually found the source of the gunfire. It was a Krogan shooting at the pyjaks with a shotgun. He was probably supposed to be guarding the cave they just found, but apparently got bored and decided to terrorize some helpless primates to pass the time. The two of them crouched behind the rock to stay out of sight.
"Tali, get ready to overload his shields on my mark." Chief ordered as he put away his assault rifle. "Mark."
Tali stood up and thrust her omni-tool out, disabling the Krogan warrior's shields. Before the Krogan even knew what hit him, Chief stood up, slid over the top of the rock and ran right up to the Krogan. The alien saw the Spartan coming and tried to throw a punch.
Spartan time kicked in.
Chief caught the punch in his left hand and did a hard right uppercut to the Krogan's stomach, cracking the armor there. He let go of the Krogan's fist but then used that same hand to hit the alien with a left cross right to the eyehole, shattering it open. Chief could see the surprise and anger in the alien's green eye. He finished off with a heal kick right to the Krogan's stomach, cracking the armor even worse and knocking the alien warrior to the ground. He stood his ground kept his fists up as the Krogan tried to stand back up.
"Hold fire." he said over TEAMCOM as he noticed Tali rising out of cover with needler in hand. "Wait for it."
"Wait for what?" Tali asked. Her question was answered by the sound of coughing, gasping and wheezing. Just as he was able to stand up again, the Krogan suddenly collapsed to his hands knees in front of the Spartan, struggling to breathe. Tali trotted over to the Spartan's side and realized what he had done. She turned to the Chief.
"You were trying to rupture his suit." she said.
"And it worked." Chief said. Letting him choke on the atmosphere's microbes wouldn't make as much noise as simply shooting the guard outright. The Krogan fell to the ground and laid on his side, his arms and legs twitching. Eventually, the twitching stopped and the Krogan's body went limp.
The Spartan turned to Tali. "I'll search him for anything useful. Get back to the cave and make sure the perimeter's secure."
"Yes sir." the Quarian quietly replied as she headed back to the cave. As she walked away, Chief grunted.
She was unnerved by what he just did. He knew that. He killed the Krogan by cracking open holes in his suit and letting the micro-organisms in the air do the dirty work for him. As a Quarian, Tali could easily die the same way, not just on Eletania but in any sort of environment that wasn't clean of any sort of germ. So the prospect of inflicting such a fate on someone else, even indirectly, probably left a bad taste in her mouth.
The Master Chief remembered his first few Spartan missions; not the Counter-Covenant assignments. The ones that got heavily publicized and made him out to be a hero. The Counter-Insurrectionist ones. The ones he was originally trained for. Assassinating insurrectionist leaders. Destroying entire bases. The horrible things that are done for the greater good. Chief couldn't honestly say he liked doing any of those things, but he fully understood the necessity of those black operations and carried them out without the slightest hesitation.
People like Tali though? She'd hesitate.
The Master Chief had a feeling that, once Saren was brought in, the remainder of his career as a Spectre would be spent running five black ops for every successful op that got spun into a heroic tail and then released to the public. Chief didn't want to bring Tali into those kinds of missions. She wasn't cut out for them and, admittedly, he liked her too much to drag her into them. Kicking her off the team would be as much for her own as it would be for the good of the mission. Besides, she still had a pilgrimage to complete. He would have to let her go eventually.
The only thing Chief found on the guard's body was a few credits. Taking money out of a dead alien's pocket might have been akin to grave robbing, but it wasn't as though the Krogan would need money anymore. Chief trotted back over to the cave where everyone else was waiting for him. Liara stood right at the edge of the cave's entrance, evidently eager to enter the Prothean complex.
"Form up. We're heading in." Chief said as he stepped into the cave. The squad switched to their assault rifles, shotguns and needlers as they followed the Spartan inside. The inky black was replaced with fuzzy green as the Chief switched to night vision. The cave itself wasn't terribly remarkable. Rock walls, floor and ceiling. Stalagmites and stalactites, everything you'd expect a cave to have. The strange part was that, once they were deeper in, the Chief could make out faint lights in the dark. The light sources looked to be deeper inside.
They came to a halt at a drop in the cave floor. It was an eight-foot drop, hardly anything that would kill them. But there was water below. The Spartan picked up a rock the size of a baseball and tossed it to the water. It made a shallow splash, half of it above the surface. Good. It was only ankle deep.
"One at a time." the Spartan ordered as he leapt off first, his boots making a splash as they landed in the large puddle. One by one, the rest of the squad followed suit and they went deeper into the cave.
At this point, they noted that the floor was no longer uneven like in a naturally-formed cave. Now it was flat and even. As they stepped out of the puddle, the Chief held up the 'unknown ahead' sign and knelt down, examining the floor. Lines had been intricately carved across the rock, creating a criss-cross checkerboard-like pattern.
"Fascinating." Liara said as she knelt down next to the Spartan to examine the carvings herself. "I've never seen this kind pattern in a Prothean ruin before."
"Whatever is in here, I'll bet it's big." Wrex said.
Chief looked up and noticed that the light was very close now. It emanated from a passageway at the end of a corridor of rock. Chief stood up and resumed course. It slowly became obvious to the squad that they were now entering the ruins proper.
"Strange." Liara observed as their surroundings began looking less like a naturally-formed cave and more like a sapient-made structure. "The transition from cave to complex is slow and gradual. As if the ruins and the rock were one. I've never seen that in Prothean architecture before."
They turned the corner and entered a very large chamber, fifty feet by fifty feet. There were seven pillars supporting the roof, each one about fifteen feet apart, one pillar surrounded by the other six in a hexagonal pattern. The Chief turned off night vision as the light of the room began getting a little too bright. The light sources were lamps that hung from the ceiling, and cast the chamber in a dim, eerily calming blue light.
"Spread out and look around." Chief ordered. He walked up to one of the pillars and examined it. At first glance, it looked to be carved from the rock itself. But upon closer examination, Chief noticed that the pillars weren't made from rock, but from some kind of metallic mineral. A maddeningly familiar metallic mineral.
The Spartan dragged his fingers down the surface of the pillar. The letters and symbols carved into the crystal glowed a faint blue when he touched them, and dimmed as he dragged his fingers away. The symbols ranged from semi-triangular to heptagonal in shape and form. The inscriptions were unmistakable in their style.
"Something's wrong here." Liara said as she observed the pillar opposite from the one Chief was examining. "I can't make sense of any of this text. The calligraphy here is different from other sites. I always thought that the Protheans had one homogenous written language but perhaps I was wrong. Maybe this is some kind of alternative-"
"These ruins aren't Prothean." Chief interrupted the Asari. "They're Forerunner."
Liara immediately ceased her rambling and turned towards the Spartan, as did the rest of the squad. "Are...are you certain?" she asked as she approached him.
"Positive." Chief replied. "I'd know Forerunner text anywhere."
"Impossible." Garrus said. "There are no Forerunner ruins outside the Forerunner Cluster. That's why it's called the Forerunner Cluster, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Kaidan said with a nod. "So, what are Forerunner ruins doing so far from home?"
"I knew it!" Liara triumphantly said. "The Forerunners DID expand beyond their home cluster! They DID spread across the galaxy like the Protheans who succeeded them! These ruins prove it!"
"But I don't understand." Tali said. "Up until now, Saren has only demonstrated interest in Prothean ruins. Why the sudden interest in Forerunners?"
"The Registry must be some kind of Forerunner relic." Liara speculated. "But what does it have to do with a Prothean relic like the Conduit? That is Saren's true goal, isn't it?"
"Doesn't matter." Chief resolutely said. "Our objective hasn't changed. Find and take in Saren."
It was then Chief heard an odd warping sound coming from the far end of the chamber, as well as a new, brighter source of blue light. He looked to the source of the blue lights and saw Ashley backing away from them, assault rifle at the ready. "What happened?" Chief asked as he trotted over.
"Hell if I know!" Ashley exclaimed in reply. "I was just pressing some buttons on that control panel over there and these things lit up!"
In front of the squad were three beams of blue-white light. Each one was about nine feet high and emanated from a circular pad on the floor. "Relax." Chief said. "They're teleporters." He switched off external speakers as he walked over to the control panel. "Cortana. Mind helping me out here?" he asked as he brought up the teleporter interface.
"Let's see..." Cortana said as she analyzed the text on the screen and ran it through her translation software. "Alright. Each of these teleporters leads to a different part of the complex. The one on the right leads to the Sanctum of Defenders, the one on the left leads to the Planetarium of Ages, and the one in the middle leads to the Grand Hall."
The Spartan paused.
"A security wing, a research wing and a main lobby, respectively." Cortana elaborated. "I'm just guessing, but I think this complex is some sort of research facility."
"What kind of research?" Chief asked.
"Doesn't say here." Cortana replied. "I'd recommend taking the left teleporter, to the research wing. If it's ancient technology that Saren wants, he'll likely be there."
The Spartan nodded as he turned off external speakers. "Er, Chief?" Garrus asked.
"The left teleporter leads to a research facility, the middle one leads to a main lobby and the right one leads to a security department." Chief quickly said.
"You translated the Forerunner text?" Liara incredulously asked. "How did you do it?"
"I did it very well, thank you." Chief answered. "We're heading through the one on the left. If the Registry is a Forerunner relic, it'll be where the relics are. Which means Saren will be there too. Let's move."
With that, the Spartan stepped through the left teleporter and instantly disappeared. No dramatic flash of light or warping of space like you'd see in movies or video games. He simply blinked out of existence. The rest of the squad hesitated for a moment. Garrus then became the first one besides Chief to step through the Forerunner portal. Wrex grunted and charged through the teleporter next, not about to let it look like a Turian was braver than he was. N'tho stepped through after, not wanting to be upstaged by Wrex. Ashley trotted through next, not wanting to be upstaged by N'tho. Kaidan just rolled his eyes as he stepped through himself, followed closely by Liara.
Tali nervously wrung her hands and gulped. "I've got a bad feeling about this..." Tali quietly muttered to herself before heading through the beam of blue light herself.
Codex Entry (Aliens - Extinct Races): FORERUNNER
The Forerunners were an ancient race of sentient beings that lived in what is today known as the Forerunner Cluster some 100,000 years ago. Similar to the Protheans, they were a highly advanced race at the peak of their power, but then disappeared from the face of the galaxy.
What caused the Forerunner extinction had been a mystery for centuries. Then, in 2552, UNSC and Covenant forces not only discovered the reason behind the Forerunners' downfall, but very nearly experienced it first hand. A race of sentient parasites known as the Flood engaged the Forerunners in a long and bloody war which resulted in the Forerunners' complete extinction. And the Flood would've easily done the same thing to Humanity and the Covenant races were it not for the heroic efforts of several thousand UNSC and Covenant Separatist soldiers.
Forerunner structures are typically made from a metal-like crystal which is reinforced on a molecular level. As a consequence, many Forerunner ruins are remarkably well-preserved, typically more so than most Prothean structures. Some archaeologists have theorized that Protheans researched this remarkably resilient material and used the knowledge gained to forge the mass relays and the Citadel from a similar material.
Little is known about the Forerunners' biology, though there is some evidence to suggest that they had a primarily bipedal humanoid appearance, even closely resembling Humans. Some radical Forerunner experts interpret this as evidence that Forerunners are, in fact, ancient ancestors of Humanity, which would also explain why Forerunner technology seems to work better for Humans than it does for other species. However, the majority of archaeologists regard this hypothesis as nonsense. Forerunner technology simply mistakes Humans as Forerunners due to a coincidentally similar biology.
Well, time to do what I do at the end of every other chapter; talk about Mass Effect 3's ending and Halo 4.
Yes, I downloaded and played through the extended cut ending and honestly? I thought it was a huge upgrade from what we got before. I got to see the Krogan having babies, I got to see Quarians and Geth getting along, we got to question the Catalyst, pretty much everything I didn't like about the old ending was fixed. I know a lot of people are still pissed that they didn't get to have little blue kids with Liara or enjoy brewski's with Garrus on the beach, but I'll defer to Angry Joe's opinion on the extended cut; if THIS was the ending we got to begin with, the outcry over ME3's ending wouldn't have been anywhere NEAR as bad.
Though I do have to go on a little rant as to WHY this wasn't the ending we got to begin with. If you'll recall, ME3 was originally going to be released in December of 2011, but it was then pushed back to March of 2012. I was actually relieved when I first heard about that delay. Many people suspected that the reason Dragon Age 2 wasn't so great was because it got rushed out the door too fast. Now Bioware had three extra months to work out any kinks, add in some new stuff, generally make sure that this game was as awesome as it could possibly be.
And then we got the Pre-EC ending. The hell? What did Bioware do in those three extra months they were given to work on the game? Multiplayer? Don't get me wrong, ME3 multiplayer is fun as hell, but Mass Effect is a single-player game first and foremost. The single-player campaign should take priority over MP in this case, especially the ending. At first I thought that maybe Bioware ran out of time / money and was all like "Oh crap, this ending's only half-finished. Ah well, who's gonna know?" But again...THREE EXTRA MONTHS. I don't wanna claim I know how long it takes to work on a game but I find it hard to believe that, with three extra months, they never got around to finishing that ending. I also find it hard to believe that a cash-cow franchise like Mass Effect ran out of budget as they neared the end.
This means that the reason Bioware went with that ending to begin with is because they legitimately thought it was a good ending. To be fair, I could see why. ME3's original ending had a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey thing going on. Casey Hudson even said in an interview that he wanted players to talk about the ending and what it meant. Now, there's nothing wrong with layering a story's ending with ambiguous subtext that invites different players to interpret it in different ways, but an ending like that doesn't work for a story like Mass Effect.
Mass Effect isn't like Space Odyssey. Space Odyssey was an exploration of the nature of sentient existence from start to finish. It raised questions like where we come from, what our future is, and what life even means. Mass Effect asks those questions too, but unlike Odyssey, Mass Effect is an adventure story first and foremost. It's a story about a hero leading a ragtag bunch of misfits on a quest to save the galaxy, and its ending should reflect that by giving us resolution; what happened to the hero, his companions, and the galaxy they were trying to save. Yes, Mass Effect asks the same sort of questions Odyssey does (Comparing organic and synthetic life for instance. Though Legion is definitely more cuddly than HAL), but these questions are framed AROUND the adventure, which is the centerpiece of this kind of story. It's like if Return of the Jedi ended with the Death Star and every Imperial star destroyer blowing up and the Millennium Falcon crash landed on some unknown planet. After six years bonding with the characters and witnessing their adventures, the audience would simply be confused and angry about the ending rather than try to interpret its meaning. Those kinds of endings work well for stories like Space Odyssey, but not for stories like Star Wars or Mass Effect.
Wow. Didn't intend that rant to be that long. Guess ME3's original ending has that effect on some people. Right, overall, liked the Extended Cut, fixed all the problems with the old ending, actually gave us resolution, and finally props to Bioware for fixing it, and for free no less.
Right, onto Halo 4.
So the mysterious new enemy in Halo 4 has finally been revealed! Turns out it's not the Precursors as many Halo fans (including myself) speculated, but the Prometheans! Basically, Forerunner robots. Cool. Also there's a lot of scuttlebutt around the fandom that Halo 4's primary antagonist is going to be none other than the Librarian's main squeeze, Didact. It certainly does look that way from the 10th CEA Terminal cutscene, which alludes to the Didact. (I had to watch them on Youtube since I didn't buy CEA. Forty bucks just for a graphical upgrade? No thanks). However, it does raise the question of how Didact survived the last hundred thousand years. Probably froze himself. Hey, it worked for the Chief, why not Didact?
The more answers we get about Halo 4, the more questions arise. I like that. Always did like a good ancient mystery.
Right. Next update next week. Yes, you read right. NEXT WEEK. A: the next chapter should be considerably shorter than this one, and B: I need to learn to discipline myself more and FORCE myself to write if need be. I know some of you are gonna say I shouldn't rush myself, but I hope to be a professional writer one day, and that won't happen until I learn some self-discipline