Disclaimer: I own nothing. Halo and Mass Effect are owned and operated by their respective parties. This is purely entertainment.


A/N: Thanks to the folks over at DLP for their help and input.

One other note that I feel I should clarify: If a voice is emanating from electronic speakers ever it will be in italics. This includes AI voices and communications. Only spartans will ever break this mould.

Reclaiming The Remnants

Chapter One: The Japery of God

First Contact. It's a joke, God's ultimate jape on the sentient races of the universe.

Humanity has been lucky, in a sense, when it comes to first contact experiences, if not necessarily the outcomes. When we made contact with the Alien conglomerate known as the Covenant in 2525 they already understood our language. A remarkable event. An event made more remarkable considering our ability to understand the species themselves on a personal basis. We, within months of first contact, had identified the different races of the Covenant and the characteristics of each; both culturally and physically. This scenario is likely unique in the cosmos. The statistical likelihood that any two races are similar on anything more than a chemical level is astronomically low. As a result, communication itself should be a laughable concept, unless thought of in the simplest of terms.

Science fiction has, for hundreds of years, played out a scenario of first contact. This has become something of a cultural ideal to live up to for Humanity. Rather it was until the arrival of the Covenant. This scenario is, however, flawed. When first contact is initiated we must remember that there is no commonality between the races in question, and anything we might consider relatable between human races or even between ourselves and the former Covenant races is essentially useless. Gestures cannot be used. A smile could be taken as threatening (think of chimpanzees) and a one-finger salute could be a sexual proposition. Noises are equally unhelpful. Words are useless and could quite conceivably, not even be heard. Numbers are just as pointless; after all, even if you can count, you don't have to know what the symbol for 'two' is.

In fact, there are very few things that are actually relatable between all species. Basic math and chemistry are two of these, and as a result, are the only way to build reliable communication between species during a first contact scenario.

Of course, the next race we meet could be a race of hot, blue, alien women that look human and can mind-meld like a Vulcan. God knows, humanity loves hitting the statistical outliers of every situation.

-An excerpt from the introduction of the essay titled: First Contact: God's Punch Line by then Lt. Johnathan Goètè, PhD, published in the January 2557 issue of 'Nature.'

UNSC Light In The Void - Bridge:06:12 Ship Time January 25, 2572

Rear Admiral Frederic 'Ric' Goètè relaxed in his chair as his staff bustled about the cold, dimly lit bridge of his Gestalt-class cruiser Light In The Void. He'd had his coffee and doughnut and had gotten his eight hours. The morning had started off easily, and if the last week and a half was any indication, the rest of the day would be as minimally taxing.

We've come back with a vengeance these twenty years. Ric thought idly as he perused reports and watched the bridge work. With the discoveries following the Requiem incident and recovery assistance from the sangheili, humanity had technologically advanced more in the last twenty years than in the previous three hundred. The ship he was captaining and the battlegroup he commanded was testament to that resurgence. He smirked slightly and raised his mug of coffee. Here's to twenty more.

As if to mock the weaponry brought along, battlegroup three-three-alpha was on babysitting duty. It wasn't exciting, but it was relaxing and relatively safe. Though, in the spirit of exploration, it could be said that the frontier was an interesting place. To boldly go where no man has gone before. He chuckled dryly to himself. Kepler-62, a system designated from the old surveys and remarkable only for a lone garden world, was a lovely twelve hundred light years from Earth, and just happened to be where their charges had set up shop. In front of them and off to port about two klicks were the kids: the research frigate The Stars Speak and its attendant vessels.

According to reports, the research group was observing a gravitational anomaly moving towards the system. The scientists aboard had been at it for weeks now, but according to his little brother, one of the leads on the project, the anomaly, whatever it was, would be arriving in system in a few hours to day or two, depending on the accuracy of the readings from the probes.

Ric was content to relax while they waited. He was a military man, to be sure, but he saw no reason to want to charge into battle against kig-yar border pirates or the Jiralhanae Collective. An assignment was an assignment, and each was as useful as the next, regardless of whether or not the possibility of death was a concern; he had seen his share of that in his forty years in the UNSC, and dealt and ordered enough in his twenty years of ship-side command.

"Ric, the docs have sent a report over for you. It's marked priority delivery." The ship AI's sultry voice broke him from his thoughts.

"Thank you, Inanna. Put the report on screen."

He looked over at the holopad next to his chair. The AI was, like many of the avatars that female AIs choose, stunning. The avatars curves were wrapped in a black evening gown with one long leg exposed to the hip. Cascading brown locks that went to her mid back and numbers flashing over her olive skin completed the picture.

Ric chuckled as the AI seductively licked a holographic finger before swiping it in front of herself, bringing the report up on his datapad. She had been his companion for years now, following him from ship to ship, mission to mission, and he was used to her antics, so he ignored her wink and turned to his brother's report and began to read.

'Anomaly[...]changing velocity[...]faster than light'

You've got to be fucking kidding.

"Inanna, bring the shields up, start tactical projections and get me a likely entry point onto the field."

'Artificial alloys'

"Prime the energy projector, bring the rails to a seventy five percent standing charge, and get the MAC through its warm-up cycles." Activity on the bridge had halted for a moment as every crew member stopped to stare at the Admiral as he barked orders.

'Likely first contact scenario'

Fucking hell.

"Broadcast a yellow alert to the battle-group! Order The Stars Speak and the other civvies to form up behind the battle-group relative to the anomaly's trajectory." Coordinates appeared on his datapad as Inanna forwarded her projections. "Helm! I want our starboard flank facing towards 031-mark-122. Inform the Lily In Winter to form up in line with us and present their port side to 031-mark-122. The rest of the battle-group is to form up around the civvies, MACs downfield! I want the FUBAR behind and above to provide the civs' with a hard-light and the Bad Day to cover the rear."

He looked out over the bridge to find the majority of the bridge crew staring at him, dumbfounded by the combat orders and the first contact notice. Only Inanna had set to work, her massive processing power analyzing tactical data and running projections of the anomaly's arrival. "Well? I gave you your damn orders! MOVE!"

"Aye, sir!" Came the chorus as the crew jumped into action, they all remembered reports from the Admiral's time on the front lines.

Ric barked out for a comms officer. "Send a QEC packet to HighCom, with priority for Hood's office, informing them of a possible first contact scenario. Get me a meeting with reps from the admiralty board at 08:30."

Ric turned to a marine waiting by the door. "Corporal, wake the XO and then tell Shepard to get his metal clad ass up here, my words exactly."

"Sir, all ships reporting weapons hot." Came the call from one of the officers.

"Good, make sure they know not to fire unless I give my order and authorization."

"Aye, aye."

Ric grabbed his datapad and stood, moving across the bridge to one of the two private conference rooms set aside for more delicate discussions. As he walked by, he looked over to the holo-tank where the space around his ship was projected in an area of roughly three hundred thousand cubic kilometers. Ric noted the projection Inanna had added for the path the anomaly would take through the area. It didn't intersect any ships, not that he had expected it to, but even being close to effects that dealt with esoteric physics can cause havoc. "Inanna, get my brother on the horn and pipe in Captains Jack Boure and Audri O'Leary from the Lily and The Stars. I need to get a handle on what we should expect. I'll be in the Conference Room A."

"Sure thing, Admiral." The AI's voice was bright but serious, the seductive note gone as if it had never been.

"Hey Ric!" His brother's head appeared in the conference room holo-tank just as the door hissed and clicked shut behind Ric. His brother wore a mask of a bright smile and his voice held a jovial tone, but the slight strain at his eyes betrayed the situation.

"What the fuck have you gotten me into John?" Ric asked wryly. He could almost hear his brother's shrug as the hologram of his brother's head smirked and shifted slightly. The hologram opened its mouth. Ric held up a hand. "Actually, hold a minute, were waiting on Jack, Audri, Voro, and Shepard."

"Sure thing. What the hell do you need Spartans for?"

"First contact military protocol. You remember?" Ric heard the feed switch to his comm implant, and a slight beep signifying the change over to his personal channel.

"Oh...Well how's Roxie then? It was good to hear about you finally dating again after all this time." His brother launched into their usual meaningless small talk routine. Thankfully, one didn't actually have to talk aloud to make the communications implant work.

Ric let out a small sigh. At least he shows some damn tact before we get back into this shit. "Oh, she's good, I guess."

His brother's holographic head rolled its eyes. "Lemme guess, Ric. You haven't talked to her in a week and you didn't tell her how long you'd be gone?"

Ric grunted noncommittally.

"Are you just trying to leave yourself as a lonely, sexless old fuck, or is Inanna getting jealous again?" John snapped with venomous sarcasm. "It's been eleven years, Ric! Mara..."

Maralee. The name rang in his mind like a bell. The image of an auburn haired beauty with bright hazel eyes flashed through his mind's eye;he thumbed the simple polished gold ring on the fourth finger of his right hand absently for a moment.

"How's everything going with Madeline, Mr. Springer?" Inanna cut in viciously, abruptly pulling Ric from his memories.

John winced slightly. "Oh ... you know I fancy myself as more of a Dr. Phil, Inanna, but twenty-first century talk-show hosts aside... She's a cunt, hasn't changed, and I doubt she will anytime soon, at least not until she gets laid again. Did you know she's trying for the house and my Aston these days?"

"I did actually," the AI's voice almost dripped with contempt, "I make a habit of following your cases hoping you'll lose more, but I'm always disappointed."

Ric cleared his throat and turned as he heard the door hiss open, followed by Commander Voro' Tuyokee's heavy gait and baritone hum of acknowledgement. Ric's XO stepped up beside him and quietly observed the end of the silent dialogue; the large sangheili shot a concerned glance at Ric which he waved away slightly.

Another hiss, followed by the boom of heavy armor on deck plating announced the arrival of Lieutenant Commander John Shepard, the CO of the battle-group's Spartan IV contingent. The Spartan snapped off a quick salute and Ric acknowledged him with a return of the salute and a quiet nod as the Spartan fell into an easy stance.

"Alright," Ric started, and flipped the conversation away from his private channel. "Jack, Audri, you there?"

"Yes, sir." Came the synchronized reply and their heads appeared in the holo-tank in front of Ric.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Ric began, and mentally shoved the conversation with his brother to the wayside, "we have Doctor John Goètè here to brief us on the current situation. I assume Audri is already familiar, but she is here to make sure we get all the relevant details." He waved at his brother's head. "Please begin."

"The gravitational anomaly we have been tracking these few days you've all been here, showed up on our long distance probe's sensors rather suddenly about three years ago." John delivered his brief in a clipped, professional tone. John could be a royal asshole, but he knew how to get his point across properly. Diagrams and datasheets appeared above his projection's head as he talked. "After its initial detection in the system marked Kepler-233, the anomaly's course was established, and has kept that course for the last three years moving at superluminal speeds; covering roughly point two-seven-four light-years per day. It has nearly arrived at our present location, which is why we are here in the first place."

He was stopped by Jack's quick question. "Superluminal? You mean outside slipspace? Is that even possible?"

John replied, with a note of chagrin in his voice. "Yes, I mean outside slipspace, and I have no idea how."

"Why were we not notified of this when it was discovered? It seems to me that something of this nature implies an artificial origin as a matter of course." Voro's tone was staunchly calm and measured.

It was Audri, however, who explained that observing objects or clouds moving at superluminal speeds wasn't entirely unique. Clouds of certain special particles and even dark matter objects had been observed moving faster than light; though no method of replicating the feat with conventional matter beyond slipspace had ever been achieved.

Voro bowed his head at Audri's hologram when she finished her explanation.

John cut back in. "Now, if I may?" Ric nodded for him to continue. "After a few weeks here tracking the object we noticed a second, much larger anomaly following behind at the same pace as the first. Our initial ideas were that it was some sort of wake or shock front, following behind the first anomaly, almost like a sonic boom. That is still a significant possibility even with the more recent discoveries of this morning." John paused for a moment. Ric knew his brother didn't really have a flair for the dramatic, but he was making a good enough show of it at the moment to make even the stoic Voro growl menacingly. "Yesterday, the anomaly finally came into range for more detailed scans to be run. At the time it was a quarter of a light-year away, and we were able to launch the short range drones. What they found is surprising. The drones were unable to get any sort of useful visual on the object, as the light coming from it was pushed far into the high frequency bands, but in the last few hours, we were able to deduce a spectroscopic analysis and more accurate arrival time from the data sent back. From what we can tell, the object is made up of low grade Titanium-A and some sort of carbon ... At the moment, there are roughly two and a half hours until the object arrives in-system." The short brief left the captain of the Lily with his jaw slightly agape, and Ric's own XO tapping his mandibles together in surprise. Ric, on the other hand, had his hands over his face and was lightly rubbing his temples.

"This is indeed a contact situation, and not one of your sick jokes, Ric? I had hoped you were planning a humorous jape." Voro's serious baritone belied the joke in the statement.

"No, no. This is exactly what it sounds like." Ric replied curtly. This shit is going to cause me more trouble than my admiralty is fucking worth.

Ric tapped a few buttons on the holographic console in front of himself, setting up a battle-group wide broadcast. Ric began to speak, his voice clear and crisp and formal, the quintessential admiral; he winced internally at the words that flowed from his mouth. "This is Admiral Goètè to the ships of battlegroup three-three-alpha. As per the Harvest Protocol, I am taking command of the scientific expedition. All member vessels are by law drafted into a temporary military commission and are bound to all requirements thereof. All ships," he emphasized the two words heavily, "are to prep data wipes and hardware liquidation in accordance with the Cole Protocol."

An old quote drifted to the forefront of his mind as he spoke. 'We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.' Churchill, I hope to hell we don't have to put that idea back in practice, not again.

"All former civilian vessels are to prep SFTEs with randomized out-system vectors, and then prepare a rendezvous at Shanxi colony. You will only engage the drives on my order and thereafter you will be under the command of Captain Audri O'Leary until you are released from service by UNSC HighCom. Under no circumstances is any vessel to attempt contact with, or approach the object to within five thousand kilometers without my explicit authorization."

Oh God help me. "Any vessel that violates the aforementioned orders will be warned once, and then summarily destroyed." Forty years in, and there are times I still question my damn career choice. "Additionally, all vessels are required to utilize encrypted tightbeam transmissions for all communications."

Ric paused for a moment, took a long shuddering breath, and steeled himself. A few deft adjustments on the holographic interface later and he was broadcasting orders to his ship commanders. "At exactly 08:20 hours, every ship is to begin priming their weapon systems and targeting them on the point of closest approach. Do. Not. Fire. Under no circumstances is anyone to fire without my express order, unless they want to be the next Horn of Plenty." The last was said as dryly as possible.

With a deft tap of the interface, Ric released the channel, leaving only the three holographic heads and those in the room. He turned to his brother's hologram. "Johnathan Michael Goètè, as per the powers granted by the Harvest Protocol, your military commission is reactivated until such time as military command sees no further need of your services. Lieutenant Johnathan Michael Goètè, you are hereby ordered to report to the UNSC Light In The Void post-haste. You will be given any resources you feel necessary to continue your analysis of the object and to prepare for a first contact scenario." Ric coughed slightly to clear his throat. "All material covered in this briefing is considered 'Top Secret' and divulging this information to any personnel without the consent of either myself or UNSC HighCom is grounds for court martial. That's all, dismissed."

"Aye, sir." Jack replied just as his hologram winked out.

"Lieutenant." Ric looked back at his brother.


"I will have a pelican prepped and waiting for you at The Stars Speak in twenty minutes." At John's nod and disappearance, Ric relaxed slightly.

"Sir." The baritone rumble was startling coming from the nearly seven foot tall armored giant who had been standing so quietly before.

Ric snapped his head around to look at the Spartan standing to the right of the table. "Ah, yes, Commander Shepard. I need you and your second to provide a possible escort as well as security for a first contact meeting. I also need a boarding party and black team prepared. Dismissed."

The Spartan nodded. "Sir." With a hiss, the armored giant strode through the door and off down the bridge. His steps were silent and he soon disappeared from sight.

Ric turned to look at his XO, then back to the bustle of the bridge as he chuckled ruefully. "'What a beautiful fuckin' day,' eh Voro?"

His sangheili friend only stared for a moment before turning to walk back into the bridge, laughing uproariously.

Establishing A Base Line.

The 'Base Line' is a very simple term for a rather abstract concept. Communication, as stated previously, is, quite honestly, a laughable concept. It would be easier to communicate with the family dog or a toddler than any sentient species we may come across. However, in order for any interaction to take place, a common ground must be reached; a 'Base Line.' This 'Base Line' should serve only one purpose. It is a greeting. No, no, it isn't a hail, a wave, or a lurid display; it is a simple, easily accessible, easily interpretable, and to the point: 'Hello, I'm smart. You smart?' There are many ways that this can be conducted, but by far the easiest is the listing of an ancient mathematical sequence: The Fibonacci Sequence.

-An excerpt from the essay titled: First Contact: God's Punch Line by then Lt. Johnathan Goètè, PhD, published in the January 2557 issue of 'Nature.'

Asari ship Nefrane - Bridge: 08:36 January 25, 2572 (UNSC Time)

Thank the goddess it's not the reapers. A quiet 'not yet' trailed after the end of Admiral Daenia T'Aurè's thoughts as she reviewed data on the objects they had passed the day before. It wasn't the first time they had seen signs of some civilization or other, but every time they had passed without incident. She sighed slightly and swept her gaze around her bridge. It was, from her position, apparently pristine; only the smallest signs of overuse were visible over the bluish metallic sheen: a child's drawing here, a slightly tarnished bulkhead there.

Her ship had once been the proud cruiser Nefrane, a ship that had seen, and somehow, survived every major conflict with the reapers. It still bore the name, but now the old warship was the only hope to the 3282 asari and the single salarian that had disembarked from a ruined Thessia, and now called the ship 'home.'

The Nefrane was by no means unique. Along with some two thousand other vessels, she was part of a last ditch effort to save the culture of the Citadel races. For years after the arrival of the reapers at the Citadel, an event known as 'The Fall,' the member races had been building and retrofitting ships under the direction of the quarian flotilla to house hundreds of thousands. The Exodus Fleet, it was called; the name pulled from some ancient asari legend.

The vessels of the Exodus Fleet were directed to scatter throughout the galaxy; to delve into the dark corners that the relays could never reach, and hopefully, find sanctuary; to survive. Others, the largest among them, the so-called live-ships, had launched themselves into dark-space, the void between galaxies. They headed for the Magellanic Clouds and the Andromeda Galaxy hoping to avoid Reaper space entirely.

Every ship had been equipped with QEC connections to the live ships. It was an effort that had proven, despite the difficulty in constructing the devices, a boon to the scattered nomads. The intelligence passed from ship to ship kept many alive for years where before they would have been doomed. Regardless, most of the Exodus Fleet, over the last seventy years, had gone dark, their connections destroyed lest they fall into reaper control; though thankfully, the three extra-galactic live-ships were still in regular communication.

Daenia swiped a hand down her face as she sagged back into the comfortable embrace of her chair. The bridge was deserted, but for herself, her pilot and the sensor operator; most of the other officers were spending the waning hours of the day with their partners or family, and the empty bridge around her hummed quietly with the familiar sound of the distant drive core. She stared ahead at the view screen that showed the view outside the old cruiser, and allowed the soft wavering lights from outside the ship to calm her nerves. It wasn't until Daenia noticed the concentration on the face of the officer posted at sensors that she chose to even speak. "Lieutenant Aniya, what's got your attention?" Daenia asked forcefully to keep the weary tone in her voice from showing.

"I'm not sure, ma'am. It's a signal of sorts, and it's coming in on a multi-frequency tightbeam radio burst from the direction of the system ahead of us. All frequencies, but it's just a repeating sequence of blips." The young lieutenant sounded as if she were studying a curious insect. "I can't count them fast enough though and it repeats after a bit." The young maiden tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Here it's about to start repeating again." She pressed a button on the orange holographic interface, and the bridge filled with the sound of radio static.

Daenia sat for a moment, waiting, listening to the static of the cosmic background filter into her ships transmitters. Then there was a click, then silence again for a moment followed by another click, then silence once more. This was followed by two in quick succession, then three, then five, then eight. After that she lost count. She recognized it for what it was though: contact. She immediately hit the ship wide communicator on her omni-tool and snapped out a quick order. "All on call officers report to the bridge immediately! Doctors Solus and T'Soni please report to the bridge."

Daenia continued to listen to the clicking communiqué as she waited. Almost perfectly as the transmission went silent again a jittery salarian scientist appeared. What she could see of his orangish, leathery skin outside of his technicians' uniform was clean and unscarred. The small, clear scales that covered his skin looked new. They probably are new. She thought. Looks like a new body. The one he had was getting old anyway. "Here." She said, and gestured to a chair just to the right of her own. "What do you make of this?" The signal began again and Daenia had to suppress a laugh as she watched the salarian tap his fingers rapidly on the desk in time with the clicking radio. "Doctor Solus?"

Officers eyed the salarian curiously as they began to file into the bridge and take up their positions. They began to talk quietly amongst each other while they listened to the strange noise echoing from the speakers.

"Shhush shush shushh." The salarian waved his hand at her and the crew absently and continued to concentrate on the sound. "Hmmm...hmmm? Ah yes. Very clever. Wonderful!" The eccentric scientist pulled out a small paper notebook and began scribbling various numbers with a small graphite stick.

Daenia eyed the notebook curiously. It was something he only used rarely. In the last seventy years, she had seen him use it only four times; three of those times he had saved her life. "Mordin?"

"Hmm? Oh. Yes. This is the Golden Sequence. Common pattern in nature. Useful method of assuring intelligence. Reply back."


"Reply back."

"Wh-How? Why?" Daenia was flustered now. Mordin had always managed to do that to her with his combination of abruptness and mystery.

"Obviously space faring species. Could be of help. Must warn them, regardless. Static. Transmission is radio?"

Daenia blinked slightly and nodded. "It's on-

"Tight-beam. Yes. Must be. Very coherent. Send transmission back. Use tight-beam. Direct precisely along path of their transmission." He smiled slightly at her confusion.

"What should we send back?" Daenia asked with an eyebrow ridge raised slightly in amused bewilderment.

"Same thing with next number in sequence!" Mordin almost shouted in his exuberance at her. "We heard and understood. Recommend stop at edge of next system. I will wait here." The salarian smiled and settled back into his chair.

Daenia frowned slightly, but nodded, returned to her chair and had the ship's VI return the signal Mordin requested. She then sent out a ship wide broadcast calling for the remainder of the on-call personnel to report to their stations throughout the ship. She noticed Doctor T'Soni walk in just as the last officer strolled past her chair.

"What do you need, Daenia?" Liara T'Soni's soft voice did little to betray the hard information broker the woman had been for many years. Though, of course, now she was a simple archaeologist who organized and collated information on what had once been their civilization. A woman whose only time off ship was used collecting trinkets from lost species on nearly every garden world they visited. She was still one of the most valuable people aboard the ship, regardless of her unassuming profession.

"First contact." Daenia stated simply.

The woman's eyebrows nearly hit her crest, though her voice remained calm and almost nonchalant. "Ah. When?"

"We arrive at the edge of the system in twenty minutes."

UNSC Light In The Void -D2-Deck Auxiliary Communications Lab: 08:37 January 25, 2572


His foot beat a steady rhythm on the grey deck plating of the small lab his brother had stuffed him into, and his hand tapped a steady rhythm on the edge of a holotank as he watched the projection of the anomaly draw nearer to their small fleet.

"You're going to wear a hole in my deck plating if you keep that up, Lieutenant." Inanna didn't like him. The bitchy AI never had, though John could blame that on his brother's influence. Yes he and his brother loved each other. What brother's didn't? They didn't like each other though; even that would be considered stretching it this last decade. "You'd better shower, John. You're sweating like a fat man in a steam room, it's disgusting." There were times when Inanna could be so crude as it bordered on obscene, and then other times when she sounded like his mother; such a strange combination. It did nothing for the AI's personality issues.

"Oh shut up you old bint!" He snapped. "I'm trying to work here, and I'm on Ric's orders." John groused.

Her avatar appeared in the holotank with a sneer marring her face. "Careful, Johnny-boy, I have no compunctions about running to the man with your little problem." Her voice held an almost poisonously seductive tone.

Wasn't-isn't blackmail illegal? "Yeah, and I believe that me treating you like royalty was not one of the terms." He bit out tersely as he scowled at the AI.

"Oh look, you missed it!" Her faux-chipper exclamation broke his carefully crafted expression.

"WHAT! No! Damnit...Fucking HELL! ..." He checked the transmission logs to replay the signal. "Wait, I didn't miss it, there hasn't been a received signal. Oh ... GODDA- FUCK YOU INANNA!" His yell drowned out the cackle that emanated from the speakers. It was almost at that exact moment that a clicking began sounding in his ear.

John's anger immediately dissipated as he focused and waited for the repeated sequence to finish. Whenever a number would finish he would write it down onto the interface in front of him.

There that's thirty four. He wrote down the last number they had sent to the object and waited for the few seconds of silence. His heart hardly seemed to beat. Then the clicks started again, and he counted. Holy shit. Fifty five. I just made history.

UNSC Light In The Void - Bridge:08:42 January 25, 2572

Ric was relaxing again. It was a waiting game now to see if what ETs there were stopped by, or even replied to their 'hello.' Yes, if there was any time to take five, now would be it; before all the hustle and bustle started.

"Admiral." Inanna appeared in the bridge's holotank.

"What is it, Inanna?" He asked quietly as he stood from his chair and moved to lean on the edge of the holotank. His wrists popped as his hands flattened on the metal frame and his flingers splayed out.

"As you know, we began receiving a transmission about a minute ago."

Ric nodded and hummed in agreement.

"Lieutenant Goètè just counted the final number he was expecting. We've got contact." The AI smiled slightly. "Congratulations, Admiral, you and the Light In The Void just made it into the history books."

Ric snorted slightly before turning to the aft entrance of the bridge as he heard feet running down the corridor.

"Lieutenant Goètè, any particular reason you are dashing all over my ship?" Ric asked casually.

"Yes...sir." John gasped out between breaths as he snapped off a salute.

Ric returned it easily. "At ease. What have you got for me?"

His brother continued to pant as he delivered his report. "As you know... we began receiving a return transmission a few minutes ago ... they added the number as we predicted. We have contact!" John's face lit up in a triumphant smile.

Ric smiled slightly, and then turned to look back at the holotank. "Thank you, Lieutenant. You're dismissed. Report to the armory and get yourself a body suit and BDU, then please report to Lieutenant Shepard in hangar bay 32-A to board the UNSC Blood On The Beaches Of Normandy. You have twenty."

Ric glanced over at John. His brother wore a slightly disappointed expression, but he saluted smartly, spun on his heel and walked out of the bridge.

When he looked back at the holotank, Inanna's expression flitted away from a slightly disturbed frown.

Ric tapped the holographic interface. "Alright boys and girls, this is the real deal. Remember my orders. And please remember, no ship or craft is to communicate with, or approach the alien craft within five thousand klicks except by my authorization. If they approach us, the whole battle-group is to reverse." He closed the connection, and tapped a small icon of the frigate currently docked within the Void. "Commander Shepard, please prep the Normandy to leave the bay. Your brother and his second are escorting Lieutenant Goètè aboard. I will be arriving shortly." He looked up at Inanna. "Inanna, kick another package back to HighCom with the recent developments."

"No need, Admiral. They just requested a meeting with you. I have them on hold in your office." The AI cocked her head towards the small, unassuming door at the corner of the bridge that led to his office.

"Inanna can you also inform Captain Jack Boure that he's expected on the Normandy in a half hour?" He smiled at the AI then snatched up his datapad as he walked to the far corner of the bridge and slipped through the small door into his office. In front of his desk were the projections of four men and a sangheili. "General, Admirals, Arbiter, Lord Hood." He bowed slightly to the holograms before slipping into his seat behind his desk.

"Rear-Admiral, sit-rep." Hackett had always been brusque.

"Sirs, we received a reply to our 'hail.'" He made finger quotes for the last word.

"What kind of reply, Goètè? Text, images, spoken word?" Hood's voice was firm, methodical, emphasizing every word. It was a voice that had seen humanity through some of its darkest times.

"No, sir." He cleared his throat lightly. "Just the same sequence back with the next number added. According to Lieutenant Goètè that is as much as we really could have expected. I'm prepping a team of five to meet them, if possible, face to face on the prowler Blood On The Beaches Of Normandy that is sitting in my secondary hangar bay." He sat stiffly in his chair, back straight as he outlined his short plan.

"Who's going to be in this greeting party of yours?" Hood again.

"Myself, Lieutenant Goètè, Captain Jack Boure of the Lily In Winter, and a pair of Spartan escorts, sir."

"You will not be including a warrior of Sanghelios in the proceedings?" The Arbiter's voice was a bass rumble, questioning, but not accusing in any manner.

"No, Arbiter." Ric nodded respectfully towards the Arbiter. "I had originally begun making plans to include Commander Voro' Tuyokee in the proceedings; however, he believed it was prudent to establish some form of communication before introducing other species." Ric smirked slightly. "I believe my XO's exact words were: 'I do not wish to stand and watch your brother excitedly wet himself while miming to aliens. I shall remain here.'" A chorus of hoarse chuckling escaped four of the projections. Hackett simply stared.


"Alright. I expect we will be notified if there are any further developments, and I see you have the recording all set up. Thank you, Admiral, that will be all. Hackett out." Hackett's scarred visage vanished.

"I swear to god he says that every time he cuts a connection. Even personal calls." General Anderson was laughing as he spoke. "Well, Goètè, it looks like you, as usual, managed to pick the assignment that ends up putting you in the goddamn history books; even if those books are classified beyond all belief."

Ric smiled wryly. "It's not for lack of effort, sir." Ric stated sarcastically. Another round of chuckles. "I was rather hoping to enjoy some time in the Admirals' Lounge after a relaxing assignment. Now I expect I'll have my mug plastered next to my brother's all over the net."

"Don't stress it, Goètè. Let's just hope this Contact goes better than the last." Hood and the Arbiter both nodded to Ric, and both the Arbiter and Lord Hood vanished.

"Ric," Lasky addressed him with characteristic calm, "we will be at your position in nine hours and-" The Admiral looked away for a moment to something Ric couldn't see. "-ten minutes with the Infinity, and I have Commander Shaun Smith from the diplomatic corps aboard ship with me." A corner of Lasky's mouth turned up slightly. "Luckily you already have our only contact expert in the entire UNSC present already, so everything should go smoothly. I hope all we will have to do is share a drink and talk about the sexy blue aliens?" Lasky's smile widened at the joke.

"I hope so, sir." Ric returned the smile and then nodded. "I will expect your ship at 18:00 hours." Lasky's head vanished.

Ric sighed slightly as he collapsed back into his old fashioned leather chair, his elbows landing on the arm rest and his head falling into his right hand. "The hell did I do to deserve this horse shit, Inanna?" He groaned from behind his hand.

The AI appeared on his desk, the hidden holoemitters causing her to flicker momentarily as they warmed up. She had her arms crossed underneath her breasts and a warm, slightly concerned look on her face. "I don't know Ric ... Saved a colony here, survived Jul'Mdama there ..."

"Huh." He let his hand drop to his lap as he started to stand. "Yeah, well. Let's get this show on the road."

Asari ship Nefrane - Bridge: 08:50 January 25, 2572

"Ma'am, we are nearing the edge of the system. There are several large objects ahead of us, just off of our direction of travel on the starboard side." The bridge was disciplined and quiet but for officers passing information. The tension, however, was so thick it couldn't be cut with a hot razor.

"Drop us out of FTL fifty thousand kilometers from the nearest object. I want disruptor torpedoes loaded and primed and the GARDIAN lasers warned up. What's the status of the Thanix and our kinetic barriers?"

"The Thanix Cannons are primed and ready, ma'am. Barriers are holding strong at ninety eight percent. The broadside guns are also primed and ready. Engineering is reporting that they are prepped for an emergency jump to FTL." Daenia smiled slightly. Her crew was still holding strong even after seventy years of ship-board life. Thank the goddess for asari patience and a small helping of salarian ingenuity.

"Ninety eight percent?"

The Lieutenant looked back sheepishly. "Sorry ma'am, there are still some ruptured tertiary conduits. Manufacturing reports it is still another week until they have replacements in place."

"Fine." She turned her head to look at the two sitting on her right. "Doctors. Are you two ready for any communication they might try?" At the nods from the two scientists she turned to the commando squad on the port wall of the bridge. "Shyala, T'Dane, Aenaerys, Ciali, Vasir!" They snapped off a salute. "Shuttle bay two, now!" The commandos marched from the room. "Here we go. Helm, full stop." With a slight whump and a whine from the drive core the Nefrane dropped from FTL for the first time in three years. Daenia's mind settled into the informational cruise of captaincy as reports began to flood from the rest of the bridge.

"Seven ships off our starboard bow in formation around ten smaller vessels!"

"I want shiptypes! And get those ships magnified on my screen." Daenia barked.

"Unknown. Size roughly indicates two dreadnought-class and five cruiser-class vessels surrounding an additional cruiser and ten vessels frigate weight or smaller."

Daenia looked at the young maiden who had answered her, and arched an eyebrow in question.

"Ma'am, they are slightly too large for dreadnought class though not drastically. They're fifteen hundred meters long, and two hundred and ninety wide and high at maximum."

Daenia nodded at the ensign, then looked at the holographic screen that showed and magnified the space outside. The seven larger ships were indeed positioned around the group of lesser vessels, and appeared to be facing outward in a protective formation; the two largest had their flanks presented directly at the Nefrane. Probably a convoy of some sort.

The warships were of varying, entirely utilitarian designs. Most were grey, blocky, craft, though a few had their harsh frames mellowed with sleek, tapered lines and the glow of thousands of lights. The pair of identical dreadnoughts maintained the utilitarian look of the smaller vessels, though with their larger size, the armor plates and coverings that stretched along the ships imparted a sleek, predatory look to the vessels; a look that was only enhanced by the barely-visible opening for what looked to be a mass accelerator of gargantuan size. Along the sides of the two vessels the small, bright pinpricks of windows could be seen along with the larger and brighter lights of hangars, and emblazoned high, just below the ventral side of the vessel were symbols surrounded in lights, dozens of meters in height: Light In The Void.

The cruisers were a more mixed bunch. Some were ugly, angular, successively tapering, gun-metal grey, bricks with antennae, and looked as if a child had slapped a few differently sized, diamond shaped blocks together in a line. Others were in the slightly more artistic style of the dreadnoughts. She tore her attention from the view and turned back to the information on her chair's screens and the organized din of the bridge as various officers called information to her.

"Ma'am they have an active targeting solution and high energy concentrations at the ships' surfaces indicate their weapons are charged!"

"Target the starboard dreadnought."

"Target locked!"

"We're receiving a signal ... Same as the last one!"

"Reply back, same frequencies. Use the same signal we sent back last time." Daenia ordered.

One of the bridge officers was staring at her console intently with a slightly bemused expression on her face. "Admiral?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"I-I'm not detecting any gravitational fluctuation consistent with eezo tech." Daenia saw Mordin start almost violently on her right.

"Humph." Daenia shook her head slightly. "Doesn't much matter, can't do anything about it."

She could hear Mordin off to her right talking quietly, but animatedly to either himself or Dr. T'Soni. "Interesting. Multiple designs indicate rapid progression. Or possibly... Fusion of two designs? Two cultures? Two distinct species? Lack of eezo readings..." The salarian paused for an uncharacteristically long moment before letting out a breath in a huff and resuming his monologue. "Curious. No matter. Attitude indicates aggression. Restraint still shown. Manner of contact indicates wish to meet. Hm, yes. Outcome conservatively positive." She smiled at the doctor's rapid fire speech. Daenia had known Mordin for one hundred and twenty years and his mannerisms were still as comical as the day they met.

"Ma'am, it appears a small frigate is exiting the bay of one of the dreadnoughts. It is moving towards us."

"On-screen and magnify, please." The large view screen filled with the small ship. It was of a slightly different design than the other ships on the field. It had a slightly aquatic feel to it, though with distinctly predatory avian overtones. If Daenia didn't know any better she would have said the ship was an overly bulky turian design. The ship started with a relatively wide, slightly downward angled nose and then began to flare out amidships into a pair of wide wings swept down and behind the craft. Near the rear of the small ship on the dorsal spine, a pair of fins, presumably heat sinks of some type stuck out from the otherwise smooth, pitch black skin of the vessel.

"Frigate has halted directly between us at twenty five thousand kilometers, sir." Daenia nodded and then watched the view of the small vessel as what looked like a cargo bay slowly opened. She turned to Mordin with a questioning look.

"Simple. Meeting place. Semi-neutral location. Asking us to come aboard. Rather fast paced, however. Likely know we are alone. Recommend prudent caution. Not overzealousness. I will grab my equipment. Meet you in shuttle bay." The salarian took a deep breath and smiled. "Historic day. Good to be alive."

UNSC Blood On The Beaches Of Normandy - Shuttle Bay: 09:29 January 25, 2572

Turmoil, chaos. That was his life these days. Just a boat in the storm. Though at least the storm's a calm one for the moment. The shuttle bay Ric stood in was a small, spartan affair, even for the UNSC; the grey metal sheen only marred by the two Spartans standing at attention near the door, and the three men, including Ric himself, standing at ease in full vacuum rated BDUs.

Ric's head snapped up as a small shuttle entered the bay. The craft, like its parent twenty five thousand klicks away, looked like something out of the ocean and was disconcertingly reminiscent of Covenant craft. He shivered slightly at the thought, glanced back at the two Spartans behind the group, and then at the locations he knew two Spartans under active camouflage would be concealed.

As the craft settled to the deck, Ric heard his brother ask the Normandy's resident AI, Eadie, to start his first contact package. He saw the third man in the room, Captain Jack Boure, shift just slightly in discomfort just at the edge of his helmets view.

"Eadie, is containment in place?" John apparently was just as unsettled.

"Containment has been active from the moment you entered the bay, Lieutenant, and there appear to be no contaminants or infectious agents present in the shuttle." The AI's voice was crisp and businesslike. "From my readings of the energy emissions coming from within the shuttle they are in fact performing some type of decontamination inside." Ric quirked an entirely unnoticed eyebrow. "I am also detecting standard mix Nitrogen-Oxygen-Argon atmosphere inside the shuttle."

"Excellent! Excellent."

Mordin was in his element. This was discovery at its finest. Science at its most premium. Meeting a new species, a new culture. So much to learn. So much to understand.

"Ma'am, they are scanning us. Deep scan, seems to be ignoring our tech."

Not scanning tech. Scanning us? Scanning environment? Looking for something. Ah!

"Raise shields I don't want them-" Daenia started.

"No, no. No shields. Biohazard scan. Checking for contagions. We should perform decon." Mordin interjected quickly. There was no reason to put their hosts on edge.

Daenia hesitated for a moment. Mordin caught her glance out of the corner of his eye. "Very well. Vasir, initiate standard deco sweep."

"Yes, ma'am."

Mordin watched the orange beam pass over them. Sweeping through the small shuttle several times before a smooth asari voice indicated completion of the decontamination protocol. Almost immediately he noticed a projection outside the window, it was simple. There were five figures that bore a base similarity to the specimens outside. Hmm, five figures in projection. Five outsi- His thoughts were interrupted by Liara, who was already explaining the simple request to the Admiral.

"Vasir, T'Dane! You're with me. Doctors, you as well please. Ciali, Aenaerys, Shyala stay here. Keep her hot. Do not leave the shuttle unless I ask you to. I want full helmets just in case." She turned to Mordin. "Mordin, would you please run a biohazard scan on your omni when we leave the shuttle?"

He looked up from his omni where he was already prepping the scans. "Hm? Oh, yes, of course. Already prepping scans. I am ready when you are."

Daenia nodded and then punched the button on the shuttle door. There was a hiss, and the door pushed out from the body of the shuttle and rose over the top. The two commandos stepped out first, shotguns pointed to the side. Daenia disembarked and was then followed by Mordin and Liara. Mordin, as he stepped from the shuttle, was looking in every direction possible.

Bay very utilitarian. Unadorned. Likely military vessel. Unless culture puts little value on aesthetics. Cannot answer. His eyes lit on the figures in front of them. All wore some type of hard-suit. The two in the back were immense. Hmm, wearing suits on own ship? Compromised immunity like quarians? No, no, not simple enough. Simply for safety? Yes, yes. Likely extra biohazard containment. Then why such large armor on some? Synthetics? Possibly. Facial covering suggests otherwise.

As the small party exited the shuttle, Mordin raised his omni and initiated his biohazard scans. Almost immediately the air thickened with tension as devices that looked like firearms were raised and pointed in his direction. He looked down and could see the red dot of a laser sight flickering around his chest. Exceptionally skittish. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the commandos crouched with their shotguns aimed at the two largest of the armored figures. Two of the three smaller figures in front of the group had kneeled and drawn their own firearms. The third was off to one side and in front of the first two and was gesturing wildly at one of them. Physical communication rather than vocal? Using communication systems? Both possibly. The gesturing continued for a minute more before the four figures lowered their weapons.

Mordin resumed his scans; alert for any possibility they didn't wish for him to continue. With a sidelong glance he could see Daenia wordlessly ordering the commandos to relax. As his scans finished Mordin went back to his visual observations. Remarkably similar to asari. Plantigrade limbs. Similar proportions. Five digit, prehensile hand. Elbow joint appears similar to galactic standard. No apparent mammary glands. It was at that moment that one of the figures approached Daenia, who stood at the forefront of their small party, with a box.

As stated previously, basic chemistry is the only set of universal symbols that can be (relatively) easily used for communication. How do we use chemistry to communicate exactly? Well it is quite simple, really. Count the protons.

-An excerpt from the essay titled:

First Contact: God's Punch Line by then Lt. Johnathan Goètè, PhD, published in the January 2557 issue of 'Nature.'

Mordin was ecstatic as he examined the package the creature carried. It was filled with small magnetic spheres, each about one and a half centimeters in diameter. Daenia had been entirely lost when the creature began assembling the small spheres in ever increasing groupings and then showing her each one before he placed it on the ground. It had even taken Mordin a moment to realize what it was doing. It was a process his own people had gone through when contacting the Krogan. Simple, yet useful method of establishing communications.

To the rather bemused huffs from his companions, Mordin pushed past Daenia rather brusquely, and proceeded to sit himself on the floor of the bay, where he examined each of the assembled clusters. The creature, who had stepped back slightly at Mordin's approach, turned to its own companions who apparently nodded, and it then proceeded to lower itself to the floor in front of Mordin. It then began assembling more clusters of spheres.

Interesting, eight of seven. Two of eight. Symbolic for something. But what? Mordin stared for a few moments at the clusters of spheres. Numbers of spheres and clusters obviously important. An idea occurred to the salarian as he fiddled with his helmeted horn in thought. Atoms? Possibly. What would-? Nitrogen and oxygen. Ah, yes! Ingenious! Mordin proceeded to point at the creature's collection of clumped spheres, then gesture wildly around the room. He then gestured to himself and his companions, and then back to the clumps. All of his attention was focused on the creature, looking for its reactions

"Mordin, what in the name of the goddess are you doing!?" Liara sounded almost fearful. The tone of her voice forced him to acknowledge her. He then followed her line of sight, which happened to be on the two hulking figures which were staring (as far as he could tell) in his direction.

"Be calm. Simply sharing information. Explained necessary atmosphere composition."

"Ah." Mordin could hear her relax.

He looked back at the creature in front of him whom, in a far more sedate manner, repeated Mordin's gesture for itself and its companions. The creature then gestured to its own head and mimed removing a helmet. "Ah, we can remove helmets."

"No. We should leave our helmets on as a safety precaution." One of the commandos spoke up.

"We are going to have to do it sooner or later. The faster we do it, the faster everything should move along; though in all fairness this is moving along rather rapidly." Liara's voice was firm and confident.

"They haven't removed theirs." The commando retorted.

"We are guests. Our choice. Do not force issue by acting themselves." Mordin explained slowly.

There was a lengthy pause as the rest of the group stared at Daenia, and waited for an answer. Mordin simply studied the creatures across from him.

"Very well." Daenia sighed. She sounded almost tired. "Who goes first?"

Mordin perked up slightly at Daenia's resigned question.

"I will." Liara's voice was quick. "I am supposed to be the one interacting with them long term, I should start."

"Yes. Good idea." He made a shooing motion at the asari archaeologist. "Go on." Mordin tapped his fingers together in nervous excitement as Liara unlatched her helmet with a slight hiss and then pulled it over her head.

Ric was speechless. Of all the strange things to happen to the human race, to happen to him, and this was it. The aliens had already looked recognizable, but this, this was just over the top. He wanted to laugh; just stand there and laugh until he cried. "In that essay of yours that was published about fifteen years ago; you know the one you're famous for?" Ric saw his brother's helmeted head nod. "Isn't there a quote that has been spread all over the nets as a joke?"

"Yep." John's voice was a high squeak over the comms.

"You should start doing horoscopes." The mild joke elicited a snicker from Jack as the small party relaxed.

Inanna's voice appeared in his ear. "Recorded and saved for posterity."

"Leave it to you, sir, to make a joke in this situation." Jack added.

"Better to kick back and take life as it comes, Captain. It's nicer than a heart attack." Ric paused for a moment as he studied the alien in front of him. "Well, John, I think it's time one of us removed their helmet. Shall we draw straws?"

"Why don't all three of us...?" John left the question hanging.

"That'll work, I suppose." Ric replied, and placed his hands on the latches to his helmet. "On my mark, alright? ... three... two... one... mark!"

With a click and a hiss the three men removed their helmets. They were greeted by one of their guests limply dropping to the floor.

To say Daenia was unprepared for the situation would be a gross understatement. A first contact in what was essentially the middle of nowhere was strange enough. Seeing people that were essentially their cosmic twins was a shocking enough event to give even her ancient mind a long moment's pause. That was, of course, until T'Dane fainted. According to Daenia's omni, the commando was blessedly fine and healthy, aside from her unconsciousness. The computer's readout of her heartbeat and respiration told the simple tale. She looked over at the three people. By the goddess, is this just some joke or a dream? If I didn't know any better I would say they were asari with fur. For that matter, they look almost masculine. Are they even male? They look it. I suppose it'll do for now.

She removed her own helmet, then leaned over and pulled off T'Dane's. She lightly patted the girl's cheeks until her eyes fluttered open, at which point the commando began babbling and apologizing profusely.

"Sorry, sir. I'm so sorry, th-there's no excuse. It's just..." The girl's eyes flicked over to the three standing across the room.

"It's alright, kinda understandable. Just relax, stand up, grab your gun. Don't want to make fools of ourselves." Daenia's voice was gruff as she straightened and hauled the commando to her feet. She then looked back over at their hosts, who were staring quite unashamedly back at her own group with an expression that Daenia could only assume was shock. "Doctor T'Soni? You're the expert here." Daenia gestured sharply at the people standing across from her. "What the fuck? And for that matter, what the hell do we do now?" Daenia's voice was firm, commanding.

The minutes ticked by as she waited for Liara's answer and the two parties simply stared at each other. She even tried to nudge the archaeologist into action both verbally and with a physical push. It was nearly five minutes before the woman finally spoke. "Uuh. I apologize, Admiral. Please, just-just give me a, uuh, moment." The slight tremor to her voice was not unexpected, and was better than Daenia could have hoped.

Liara, after another moment, began walking between different members of the party, tapping them on the chest or shoulder, then looking at their hosts and saying "Asari" slowly and clearly. When she tapped Mordin, she, of course, clearly said "Salarian." Once she had finished the rounds, she started again, but first by gesturing to herself and then stating her name minus a title. She went around to the rest of their group and did the same. When she returned to her spot in the group after finishing the second round, she held both hands out and gestured to their hosts.

Liara focused herself on the events unfolding in front of her. The creature - human was introducing its companions. The two smaller were apparently called Ric and Jack, and the one performing the introduction was apparently called John. The two larger had gone unnamed and unmentioned aside from their inclusion as part of the species.

The human stepped forward again and held out what she now saw was an ungloved hand. She stared at it for a moment, noting the similarity of the appendage, even down to the number of joints and the clear, hard, protection on one side of the tip of each digit. After a few moments of study she pulled off her own gauntlet and held her hand out in a similar manner before looking the human in its eyes. It wasn't a moment before she jumped as the human lightly grabbed her hand with its own. There's one difference. The skin was exceptionally soft and supple, with a very slight hint of heat and humidity. It feels like the skin of a babe.

It raised their joined hands up and down once, then released, stepped back and moved to Mordin, where it repeated the gesture. A greeting then, probably traditional. I wonder ... maybe it was originally derived as a form of trust? Her thoughts wandered slightly as the human moved over to Daenia to repeat the gesture a third time. When the human returned to her, she remembered something her father had once said to her: 'When in doubt, return the fucking favor.' Admittedly the context then had been in regards to the Reapers' murder of her mother, but the principle still applied. She extended the first two fingers of her right hand, curling the rest into her palm. Liara then touched first a spot between her eyebrow ridges, then the area over her heart before lowering her hand to just below her sternum. She then twisted her wrist outward while bowing lightly to the human in front of her. It gave her an asari-like smile, and then returned the gesture.

After straightening from its bow, the human turned fluidly and moved to one of its larger fellows who handed it a small black box. The human then returned and held the object out for her inspection. She looked at it for a long minute before her native archaeologist curiosity took hold and she reached out a hand to the object. I wonder. Is trade part ... or is it an offering? A gesture of trust of some sort, possibly, and if I remember Ereya Vdanis' studies of pre-agricultural asari tribes correctly...

Daenia's firm command halted the movement and Liara's thoughts. "Don't touch it, Doctor. Let the alien mess with the thing first, then, I promise you can play with it," her eyes flicked to the box, "whatever it is."

Liara looked back at the nine hundred year old admiral and nodded slightly. The human stood placidly for several more minutes before it seemed to take the hint and activate the device itself. It pressed a single place on top of the object, slightly to the left side, and a hologram appeared. It was an exquisitely rendered, slowly revolving image of a world; a resplendent blue-green orb with pearly white clouds skittering through the thin veneer of atmosphere over green and golden continents and the sapphire shine of ocean.


She reached out to touch the image, her palm cradling the insubstantial blue-green orb, as the image shined in her eyes.

A smooth, slightly higher pitch voice emanated from the box. "Earth."


Liara stood for a long moment, captivated by the slowly rotating hologram. She then opened her mouth slightly, unsure how to shape the sounds necessary for the word. "Earrrthh." It wasn't quite right, she had rolled one of the sounds out of long habit, the beginning of the word sounded overly breathy, and the end of the word hadn't quite made the right sound against her teeth. It didn't matter, she could have honestly butchered the word and it wouldn't have really mattered; she had tried, and from the looks on the humans' faces, that had made all the difference.

She looked up when the human in front of her gestured to the image then back at itself. Their homeworld, obviously. It then gestured towards her. Liara paused for a moment, her mind reeling. Homeworld? Ha. We don't even have one, Thessia's burn-

They don't know.

Her eyes flicked back to the blue-green image.

They won't know until I tell them. I have to tell them.

Liara stepped past the human towards the two behind it. There the one on the right - Ric, its name was? Maybe it was animal instinct, intuition, something from the days of tribes and packs, but Liara thought ... no, she knew this one was leading the group; she had a message to deliver. It is not as if it matters if I get it right or wrong, Daenia is going to murder me either way. She stopped in front of the human and looked up. The skin of its face had a pale brownish tinge; wrinkled just slightly with lines just above and to either side of the mouth, and others at the corners of the human's eyes. The green and gold flecked brown eyes sat just below strips of fur that covered the eyebrow ridges, one of which was arched nearly to the crown of black and grey spattered fur. So very similar.

Liara reached up slowly, as non-threateningly as she could. Behind the human she saw one of the pair of armored figures twitch ever so slightly in her direction before the human before her waved it back slightly. She touched the side of the human's head. Daenia really, really, won't like this. Then, with the same hand, touched her own head. She repeated the gesture several times staring up into the human's eyes trying to will it to understand, to just agree to the request.

It was a joke, it had to be. This entire thing was a great cosmic joke on humanity, and especially on Johnathan Michael Goètè. She-the asari was communicating something again. He couldn't help but think of them as female. They all looked like women, hot women. Hell, the one now staring at Ric like a dog at its food looked a bit like one of his girlfriends from his undergraduate days. They had broken up because of his military service and lack of communication. Hah ... Communication. The thought brought him back around to what the asari was trying to tell his illustrious brother.

A small part of him couldn't help but wonder if she was making a sexual offer and he laughed internally at the idea. Hell, if it yanks the stick outta Ric's ass I'm all for it. John set the contact package down on the floor and backed away from the other asari and the salarian slowly, keeping eye contact the entire time, hoping he wasn't giving offense. He then turned about-face and walked to his brother's side. John kept his face as blank as possible while he began howling with laughter internally. "I think she's propositioning you sir."

"Lieutenant ... What in the hell is she asking for?" Ric snapped as if he hadn't heard. John could see Captain Boure off on Ric's other side stifling a chuckle.

"Sorry, sir, I honestly have no idea." John couldn't keep the amusement from his voice. I do have to wonder though...

John caught a slight shift in Ric's eyes. Maybe not the best moment for a joke. "Look, sir, we're in over our heads just as much as anyone would be, and probably less than most. Anyway, I need a little help, just some other ideas. I-I can't figure out what she-it...fuck it, she is trying to tell you. I can tell you that we probably should back off for a moment." The entire party took two slow steps back. The asari made to follow them, but one of the others stepped up and put a hand to her shoulder.

"Could be she wants to mind-meld like a vulcan." Boure stated sarcastically, and John snorted slightly with laughter. "Or hell, maybe she really is just trying to jump yeh, sir." John snickered again.

John looked back over at his brother who had been silent for a few moments. He had a slightly distant, contemplative look on his face. "Sir?" He waited for his brother to reply. "Sir?" A little louder and he waited again. Did she do something to him? "Ric! What's going on in there?" John pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation.

"Why couldn't it be?" Ric replied after a few moments. John noticed the asari's eyes had snapped up to his brother when he spoke. Her eyes began bouncing between each of the three men as they debated.

"Why couldn't it be what ... sir?" Jack asked bemusedly.

"A 'mind meld.' Telepathy. Something like that." Ric's voice was calm with none of the inflections of sarcasm. He was serious.

"Well, because that would be-" Boure started.

"Ridiculous, Captain?" Ric finished. "We're already looking at an alien race of hot blue women who look downright human. If I remember my exobiology and statistics classes correctly, I'm not even sure if fucking magic is out of the range of possibility at this point."

John closed his mouth halfway to dismissing his brother's idea. It's reasonable. He thought. Far too reasonable. "I-Well, if it were. How do we know it's safe? Who does it? Honestly, how do we know she doesn't just pull everything? It would be the biggest violation of the Cole Protocol in history, sir." John was ticking off his fingers at each question.

"Regardless, whatever it is, I think we should wait until Lasky arrives, sir." Boure stated firmly.

"We can't." Ric scoffed. "The Infinity is a little over seven and a half hours away. We can't keep these people here. Unless you expect me to force them to stay on the damn ship? And anyway, they'll probably shit themselves when she arrives."

In spite of his own misgivings, John agreed with his brother, and seeing how much they ever actually agreed with each other these days, it was something to note. There didn't seem to be any other way to know what the asari was asking than to just do it, and for all they knew it could have simply been a gesture of some kind. Although she did seem rather insistent.

"So...who?" John asked hesitantly, quietly hoping his brother wouldn't assign him the duty.

"The Lieutenant's the easy choice here, sir." John nearly flinched at Boure's hesitant voice.

Ric's face hardened slightly. "No, we need him if things go south." He raised a hand and rubbed at his ear in apparent thought. "For that matter, any officer is out of the question." John watched Boure nod his head along with Ric's muttered contemplations.

Glad to know you care, Ric. John thought bitterly.

"So only NCOs and enlisted then?" John already thought he knew the answer but clarification never hurt.

"No, no enlisted." The Captain responded slowly. "Too green. Same goes for civvies, though that's more a lack of discipline."

Ric snorted slightly. "We're all green here Jack, but that's the idea." Ric continued to thumb his ear though it seemed more absent minded now than earlier. "What do you think about a Spartan, Jack? A first or second class petty officer?"

"It's an idea. They'd be able to take an AI in their lace as a safeguard." Boure shot a questioning look at Ric. "Were you thinking of doing it yourself, sir?"

Why on earth would Ric even consider himself? John looked at his brother curiously. Ric had always been a bit cagey and it had only gotten worse during the war, but eleven years ago he'd gone MIA on a mission, and come back a year later to a dead wife. Since then, the man had stonewalled everyone but Inanna, and for five years John had not even gotten so much as a 'hello' from Ric.

Ric shook his head. "The thought crossed my mind initially, but otherwise, no. Inanna," Ric's voice came in through his aural implant in the slightly toneless sound of subvocalization, "can you get me a Spartan petty officer down here with an AI that has PsychWAR experience?"

"I'll have them to you in twenty, Admiral."

John straightened slightly as his brother turned his head to look at him. "Lieutenant, go tell them we need to wait a little while."

Codex Listings:

Organizations Subsection:

UNSC: The UNSC is the military government of the human residents of the Orion Arms. Formerly the military and scientific arm of the UEG and CAA (See: Article 76545 Historic Human Governments), the UNSC took governmental control in 2526 (Human Date) after the Second Battle of Harvest (See: History: Human-Covenant War). The UNSC was initially formed as the military branch of the then United Nations in the 2160's as a response to intra-system conflicts. Today, the organization is moving towards a mixed species makeup and manages all space borne traffic and endeavors in human space, and represents humanity on the galactic stage.

Sangheili Empire: Officially formed in 2552 with the secession of the sangheili race from the Covenant Theocracy, the Empire represents the majority of three of the Orion Arm races: The sangheili, mgalekgolo, and unoggy.(See: Species: Former Covenant Theocracy) The empire military arm holds itself separate and from their human allies, however, both organizations hold a similar ranking system and humans can be found serving aboard Empire vessels just as Empire races can be found aboard UNSC vessels.

Exodus Fleet: (See: History: Exodus; See: History: The Fall) A fleet of over two thousand vessels scattered into the galaxy after the final defeat during the Fall of Thessia. Fifteen hundred of these vessels were refitted and equipped to exist alone. Each has a micro manufacturing plant as well as facilities to grow food on board for their crew of between one thousand and thirty five hundred individuals provided adequate recycling measures. Three separate and massive live-ships were created, and each embarked with a support fleet of one hundred and sixty ships. Two were created for asari and salarian use, the third for turian and quarian. One of the asari and salarian ships embarked for the Andromeda Galaxy and the other two ships for the Magellanic Clouds.

History Subsection:

Exodus: A period of two years from 2500 to 2502 wherein the survivors from the Reaper Harvest were gathered and distributed into various live-ships.

The Fall: The name given to the Reaper Harvest of this cycle. Began in 2452 when a reaper known as Nazarra activated the mass relay at the citadel and precipitated the reaper harvest. The Fall officially lasted for fifty two years until the Exodus was complete.

Technology Subsection:

Tightbeam Communications: Tightbeam communication is a simple method of lightspeed communication wherein the signal beam is focused into a high precision laser. This reduces the chance of communications being compromised; however, tightbeam signals must be aimed with a certain degree of precision.

Slipspace Tightbeam: Slipspace tightbeam is a method of tightbeam communication at FTL times. A slipspace portal is created into which a tightbeam signal is fired. The sinal then exits slipspace near its destination and continues along its path. This method of communication has a range limit of roughly five light-years, and is useful in coordinating system wide FleetCom.

Massless Corridor Tightbeam: A method of tightbeam communication wherein a mass effect core is used to create a massless corridor of space. A tightbeam signal is then fired into this corridor and then reaches its target nearly instantaneously within a range of eight Lightyears.

Quantum Entanglement Communicator: QEC communication is well used in both the Orion arm and in the galaxy as a whole. The system uses quantum entangled pairs of particles to instantaneously and securely transmit data regardless of separation. The system is expensive to produce; however, has become indispensible for military applications.

Shaw-Fujikawa Translight Engine (SFTE): Developed by humanity in 2291 (sometime prior for the sangheili) the SFTE is the only known viable method of galactic transport that does not use Mass Relay technology. Human designed drives originally had a speed of roughly ~3 light-years per day. Newer drives designed with forerunner influence can cover between 500 and 2000 light-years per day, depending on the power available and the year the drive was designed.

Hard-Light Plating: Hard-Light plating is a more recent development from research into Forerunner technology. The technology subsystem projects a hard light shield of a desired shape. However, its effectiveness is limited. The immense power draw of the device when used on such a scale requires that any power previously devoted to weapons systems and energy shielding must be utilized for the shield.