Hello, this is theotherpianist and I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. This is an idea I have had in the makings for a long time now, and only until recently have I attempted sharing it. Before you start reading there are a couple of things.

First, while researching for this I came across a load of things and similarities between my ideas and other things already published on fanfiction. Therefore, in the interest of avoiding plagiarism, I have consulted with the various authors for permission to have their ideas used. I will obviously try and change the actual material but there are things that are the same. If you find something that has not been disclaimed, please let me know so I can rectify and fix my errors. Disclaimers at the end of each chapter. Special thanks to UH-60 NIGHTSTALKER, creamofwheat2311, and BraviaryScout for permissions and advice.

Second, I am broke, do not sue me. This work is purely one of fiction and written for entertainment purposes.

Third, I am a new writer. This is my first fanfiction. I welcome reviews but if you have something you don't like personally or a suggestion and you feel like you need to share it, please be nice about it. No flames, please.

Fourth: I fully anticipate that the quality of my writing will get better with time. Practice makes perfect after all. Be patient and bear with me! All good things come to those who wait.

Fifth: (12/6/2015) Some people have drawn comparisons to this work and another work entitled 'Fighting for a Purpose' by Erttheking. Please understand that I was not aware of this work at the time of publication. I'm working right now on tweaking my story to rid it of major parallels to 'Fighting for a Purpose'.

Without further ado:


Halo: Rise of the Empire


Prologue


22:14:04 hours: November 20th, 2558

Location: Partially known, UNSC RESEARCH and EXPLORATION Department sublevel 18B,

HighCom Facility Bravo-6, UNSC/ONI HQ, Melbourne Australia

The conference room was filled with men and women in white dress uniform. Crowded together with barely enough room to breath, many wished that they could have attended holographically or at least figured out a different room to fit themselves into that wouldn't have them sitting on the laps of their peers. However, they knew this could not be the case. This room was only ever used when matters of the utmost secrecy and importance were discussed. As small as it was, the circumstances demanded it. Whispers were traded about why they were here. Others sipped cheap coffee from Styrofoam cups nervously trying to negotiate the cups to their lips through a labyrinth of other arms to their lips.

The nervous buzz paused for a moment when an aged woman walked through the doors of the conference room with a trio of armed Spartans escorting her. They stopped outside the door and sealed it locking her in the room.

"Welcome Madam President." One of the older Admirals seated greeted her.

"Thank you, Admiral Hood. I hope you'll excuse me for being late. I had other things that needed to be taken care of before coming here." President Ruth Charet said as she sat down in the seat indicated for her.

She gestured to her right to a woman of Turkish descent.

"Admiral Osman. I don't have much time. Can we begin?" she asked gesturing to the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

"Certainly." Admiral Osman replied.

The lights dimmed and a projector whirred to life.

"BB, pull up Epsilon Eridani and center our focus on Reach" she ordered.

An unseen presence in the room complied and a projection of the Epsilon Eridani system appeared on-screen. A planet, blackened and scabbed with a thick glassy crust came into focus with its neighboring satellites.

Osman began.

"I think we're all aware of yesterday's events, so I'll cut to the case. Yesterday at noon early warning probes detected Slipspace activity in the Epsilon Eridani system. The 7th Fleet moved to investigate. Ten minutes later a trio of Carriers operated by a Brute Faction "The Sons of Dosiac" attempted to siege the planet of Reach. They sent a message to Admiral Tchkova, who was currently in system, that he had forty-eight hours to pay a ransom fee or they would land troops and destroy our efforts to re-terraform the planet.

Mutters and whispers broke out but they were silenced.

"Admiral Tchkova, who was commanding the 7th Fleet refused and called for help before moving to engage the Brutes-" she continued as Red blips appeared and encircled the planet. "-and with the help of a nearby fleet began engaging the Brutes." Blue blips appeared and began to approach the Brute pirates.

"At 16:04 hours, reinforcements arrived for the Brutes. Tchkova lost several cruisers and a Carrier was disabled before the remainder of the 7th Fleet arrived. They maneuvered poorly and the Brutes engaged in boarding actions and destroyed several more ships."

A third of the blue ships winked out steadily with no loss among the Brutes.

Admiral Tchkova who was aboard the Punic class Carrier Minamoto was almost killed by a platoon of Stalkers that had disguised themselves aboard the ship. He was saved at the cost of being severely wounded. In the end, the Brutes lost when they committed a tactical error in moving their fleet too close to their carriers to avoid getting a good shot at the UNSC. One of the Chieftains who boarded Tchkova's ship was killed and, without firm leadership, the fleet attempted a hasty slipspace jump away. In that attempt, something happened and the Brute fleet was teleported into oblivion."

"Did you say teleported?" someone from the back spoke up.

"I did," Osman said fixing her eyes on the Admiral who had asked the question.

A large purple disc popped up and most of the enemy disappeared. The surviving ships quickly were surrounded and disabled.

"Question. Who's in command of the Dauntless right now?" President Charet replied.

Osman's lip curled slightly. "Spartan William Gunther."

"What? Admiral Tchkova's pet project?" someone else spoke up from the back.

"Spartans are soldiers. Not Admirals." Someone else shouted.

Osman silenced those in attendance with a single cough followed by an icy gaze.

"As unorthodox as Tchkova's choice was, Gunther's been given strict orders to keep the ship in one piece until reinforcements arrive. If we move on to what I was saying earlier about the battle— "

"Admiral Osman, with all due respect, isn't this old news to most of us?" A Vice Admiral questioned.

"It was until UNSC distress signals came from the rift.

The audience perked up at this piece of information.

"You're sure they were UNSC?"

"The bandwidth and encryption patterns checked out," Osman answered

"Were you able to identify the ships?" asked President Charet.

"Only one, but we have sufficient cause to believe that one of the missing vessels is colony ship CFV-88, the Spirit of Fire."

There was a moment of silence before the room erupted and questions were shouted up to Admiral Osman.

"Order!" someone yelled and the room gradually quieted.

"How do we know for sure?" asked Fleet Admiral Hood.

"We've upgraded communication suites and protocols across all ships several times throughout the War. The archaic nature of the data packets retrieved plausibly confirm the identity of the ship. She was the only ship reported using the communications suite native to her in the entire navy. We were unable to determine the newer distress call that came through. All contact from both ceased five minutes after."

"Do we know why?" asked someone in the back.

"No. We at this time do not know why. The signals suddenly cut off. We have reason to suspect that signals may have been jammed or distorted to the point of being unrecognized.

"So what are you suggesting we do?" Dr. Charet asked confused.

"There's no precedent to this situation Madame President," Hood said quietly.

"Alright, give me options then. Admiral Borodin?"

"Madame President, might I suggest that we consider the problem of the portal—or rift—whatever this is. To my knowledge, just because it's stable doesn't mean that it will be in the future which leaves three options. We can ignore it, we can quarantine it, or we go through it." A Ukrainian Admiral spoke hesitantly."

"Which means hypothetically we could mount a rescue operation and go through. Right?" Charet asked. "Do we even know if there is anything on the other side?" asked the President as she reviewed the information laid out on the screen. "I think the better question to ask is can we go through," she said after another pause. Would we wish to involve the Sangheili?" Dr. Charet asked.

Some barely withheld protests met her suggestion.

"Their scanners are reverse-engineered from Forerunners. It's possible that a large enough ship would be able to analyze the rift." an artificial voice replied from somewhere above the projection of Reach.

Someone in the back corner made a joke about sacrificing Elites by sending them through but was hushed by the others.

"Has any probe been dispatched through this distortion?" asked a woman sitting in the front right.

"Yes, a dozen or so probes were sent through to determine whether any vessel could survive the crossing. They all did," replied Admiral Osman.

"Any further transmissions?" asked President Charet.

"No," said the head of the Office of Naval Intelligence. "There's one other thing I must mention, however. We suddenly lost contact with all the probes two minutes into sending it through. Before we lost signal we got an image of what might be a habitable planet right before something with immense energy destroyed the probes, most likely the portal giving off a fluctuation. Admiral Osman admitted.

The room got quiet again.

"But the probes weren't shielded...right?"

"No. Any shielded vessel would most likely survive though."

"So what are the chances it was the portal's work?" asked a third Admiral.

"Given what we know right now, very probable," Osman replied.

"Is it worth the risk?" asked another.

"It's the Spirit of Fire. Do we need more reason than that?" said an elderly female in the back.

"Wait a second, what's to stop something from coming through the other side? Shouldn't we be securing the system?"

A chorus of agreements echoed throughout the cramped room.

"Securing the system is all well and good, but do we tell the units still out there?" asked President Charet?

"I think innocence is best right now. Better to not tell and let someone inadvertently slip. It's too important to let slip outside these walls. Understood?" asked the head of ONI.

When she was met with silence Lord Hood spoke up.

"Madame President, it's your call."

The President considered the screen for a second. One extended into ten, ten stretched into thirty, until a full minute passed."

"Lord Hood, I want to speak with the Arbiter ASAP, I want a fleet put together to reinforce the Eridani system, and I want to transfer the Infinity and her science complement to the rift. We're going through."

-END OF TRANSCRIPT-


Chapter One:

UNSC Central Time: November 21, 2558

UNSC DAUNTLESS BRIDGE AND OBSERVATION DECK: Epsilon Eridani System, Reach, 10:00 hours

The observation deck of the UNSC Dauntless that wasn't frantic with activity as it orbited the planet of Reach. The planet was still undergoing the long and lengthy process of being re-terraformed. A lone figure stood in front of the glass viewport waiting and watching the stars and galaxy pass while the figure twirled a combat knife in his fingers completing a series of complex rotations and then balancing it on the tip of his finger.

The ship passed the wreckage of a Corvette that had participated in the battle from yesterday strewing metal and oxygen in a long ghostly trail that stretched more than double the ship's original length. Several Marathon class Cruisers then drifted past the window after the Corvette. All had been gutted by the energy projector attached to the CAS Class Assault Carrier that came into view after the Cruisers.

It had been a dozen or so hours since the battle ended and they still had yet to receive reinforcements to secure the area. Every second without additional reinforcements would cost them dearly if the Sons of Dosiac were to attack again. The sect was already known and shunned by the Jiralhanae for their extreme zealotry and bloodlust that was extreme, even for their notoriously brute standards. The battle had been shorter than some of the others he had participated in before but it was one he would gladly never repeat.

A member of the bridge crew nervously approached him from behind. He paled when he saw the combat knife twirling. If the rumors were true, the twirling knife was usually circled by a ring of enemy soldiers, dead enemy soldiers. That was the one thing about their "temporary" captain, he was encompassed by rumors. Coupled with the fact that he at least stood at least six and a half feet tall made him an intimidating figure.

"Uh…um, Captain?" he nervously asked.

"I prefer Lieutenant if you will." said the figure. The technician was somewhat startled. His voice, while possessing a hint of coldness and bitterness was surprisingly kind.

"Lieutenant?" he asked again.

He turned around his face shrouded in the darkness of the outside space.

"Oh, come on now can any of you take a joke?" he asked somewhat humorously. He laughed good-naturedly twice. "Captain's fine for now. Until they kick me out and say that I can't run a ship anymore."

The crew member nodded. "Captain, we're picking up more spikes from the rift," he said regaining his composure. Silently Avery sighed. The Captain might not be as scary as he—or any of the other Spartans—were held to be.

"Very well then, show me."

The technician turned and began walking to the bridge.

"Oh and Avery?" said the figure.

Avery paused and turned around. It was a little unsettling that he knew his name.

"The name's William."

Avery turned again and walked toward the bridge. He turned and walked down a flight of stairs which opened up to the Bridge. As the figure stepped out into the illuminated stairwell he revealed himself to be clad in navy blue armor with ice blue accents. He clutched an MJOLNIR Mk. V Air Assault helmet to his side, also navy blue with a frost black colored visor. His torso was fashioned in the Assault/Commando variant. With FJ/Para knee guard and Hazop shoulder plates, and a tactical soft case on his left thigh. A tacpad on his left arm completed the armor set.

William sighed.

How little they all knew.

He knew the rumors that circulated around him and the rest of his Spartan compatriots. While the Spartans - genetically enhanced super-soldiers. He had to admit he would be intimidating in armor or not. The common soldier or sailor naturally would be somewhat scared of him. He had never had a chance to really interact with his predecessors, the Spartan II's, or his generations successors, the Spartan IV's.

He was a Spartan III, an oddball, the middle child. The Spartan IV's were common knowledge to the public and touted as the next generation of Humanity's heroes, the inheritors of the legacy left by their predecessors: the Spartan II's. These were the giants who helped change the course of the war; holding back entire armies, buying the human race invaluable time, saving billions. Where the II's and IV's were thrust into the limelight, the III's were more or less kept behind the scenes or else lumped into the II's. He wasn't bitter, they deserved every bit of credit they got and if it further solidified public morale and opinion, so be it. He would continue to work to bring down the enemies that Humanity faced, both internally and externally.

He entered the bridge with these thoughts still in his head. The bridge doors slid open with some resistance and

"Report?" he asked as he came to the holoprojector. A map of the Epsilon Eridani system was displayed tracking their location and a rift in slipspace.

"Spikes in radiation every minute right now before they settle down. They're all clustered in the immediate area around the distortion in Reach's pole about 100,000 kilometers away."

He paused for a second. His arms crossed over as he thought.

"Sarah, you there?" He finally said.

A flash next to the holo-tank revealed Sarah, the ship's smart AI. AI Elsa with her duties. Sarah was a woman with a fair complexion and dark hair matched by equally as dark eyes.

"Yes?" She said pleasantly.

"Contact HighCom, tell them it's spiking again."

"Yes, Lieutenant." She said ignoring his temporary rank. "The fleet will be here soon."

She disappeared in another flash.

"Helm, bring us into high orbit around Reach!" he ordered.

The ship hummed and shifted as the Dauntless adjusted its course.

The UNSC Dauntless was the brainchild of Admiral Pyotr Tchkova in the aftermath of the Great War as humanity began to rebuild its infrastructure and much-depleted fleet. The Dauntless was to be the lead ship of the new Dauntless class of Carriers. Theoretically, the "Battlecarrier" as it was nicknamed would have filled in a gap between the Infinity class of warships and the new Vindication class of Light Battleships but cost overruns and a lack of major administrative support prevented other ships like it to be constructed. The Brass were focused more on the "quantity" of ships built more than "quality." Construction was begun in March of 2557 a month after the Infinity was unveiled and hadn't been finished until later that year.

At over four kilometers long and equipped with four MAC cannons and numerous Archer, Rapier, and Howler Missile Pods, the ship was designed for orbital supremacy and strategic command and control. Recently an EMP cannon had also been added to its arsenal which contributed to most of the cost of the ship. To protect it further, it packed a hefty amount of AAA muscle that included 600 M965 Fortress 70mm guns, an M97 GMWS network, and an M85 AA gun network. Additionally, another recent refit had added a dozen "Onager" class Mass Drivers that were mounted dorsally and along the sides to protect the ship from threats that got too close to it.

Its engines and slipspace drive were near identical in design to those mounted on the UNSC Infinity which significantly improved its effective range. It carried a full Brigade of Marines of about 8000 strong and a full wing of Air Force pilots. Twelve platoons of ODST's were stationed on board with another contingent of soldiers apart from the Army (about 5000). It also carried additional complements of former Covenant Separatist troops and a myriad of vehicles that could be readied for usage in any environment.

Finally, Admiral Tchkova's final personal touch had been to overhaul the ship (again) so that she could carry additional ships internally like the Infinity. The main hangar had been overhauled and expanded to carry two Paris class Heavy Frigates, the infamous Frigates Saratoga and Yorktown.

To top it all off, the Dauntless had the potential to fully house 50 Spartans, their armor, and all the other material needed to support them on its own S-Deck. Current UNSC policy suggested that Infinity was the de-facto home of the Spartan branch so unfortunately there wasn't any Spartans that called it home with the exception of William. While not as impressive as the Infinity, its larger more advanced cousin, it still was very capable of sending its own message in its own unique way.

For all its strength, at the moment, most of its armed complement were scattered among the rest of the rag-tag fleet moored at a small naval refit and supply station that had recently been reconstructed in orbit of Reach to support restoration on the ground.

A beep from the com station got his attention. Striding over he saw it was from Fleet Admiral Hood. He keyed open the channel and the face of Lord Terrence filled the screen.

"Greetings Spartan." He said in his clipped British accent. "The Admiral still in surgery?"

"Greetings to you as well Admiral. The Admiral is out of surgery and recovering." William replied.

Admiral Pyotr Tchkova, who was currently recuperating in an orbital surgical ward at the nearby facility had given command of the Dauntless to the William raising some eyebrows in the process. It had made headlines minutes ago when the UNSC released a general statement about yesterday's attack to press. So far they had both drawn the criticism of many prominent individuals. Such a thing wasn't even heard of. Spartans were made for following orders with lethality, not to be giving them to a tactically important vessel. ONI, for whatever shadowy reason had sanctioned the move.

So, however out of place he was for the moment, he stayed. He would have rather had some Naval Officer that outranked him stationed onboard but so long as no more Brutes showed up, he was fine.

"Sarah just informed us that you're picking up more spike in activity?"

"That is correct sir." He said.

"Thank you for keeping us posted. Just as a heads up, I've asked the Swords of Sangheilios for assistance on studying the anomalies. They're also deploying a fleet to help secure the surrounding systems and hunt down a splinter faction of the Covenant. We're thinking of mounting a mission to see if we can recover the source of the distress signal. As of right now, this is not just a UNSC mission. The Arbiter will relinquish control when he arrives. Admiral Del Rio is slated to take over in a few hours." His fleet should leave after tomorrow.

"Sir, can I ask why I'm here?" he asked somewhat confused. "Why am I leading this ship? I'm a soldier, not a Captain."

"Son, let's face it. The Brute's made it their priority to eliminate all leadership and they **** near did a flawless job. Those who survived are currently hospitalized so you'll have to do for now. Like I've said before, you're here only to fill in until Del Rio arrives. You've at least had training from Admiral Tchkova in operating a ship. I think you can manage that for now Spartan. I wouldn't complain if someone in ONI is sanctioning it. You have a well-trained crew at your disposal and a Smart AI onboard. I think you will be fine."

"Anything else sir?" he said still unhappy with his current lot in life.

"The Infinity and Fourth Fleet are en-route to you now."

"Sir permission to speak freely?"

"Granted."

"We're currently strategically in a bad position yes, but isn't this overkill sir?"

"She's the only ship with an attachment of Spartan IV's onboard who I'm told need a little more action right now. She's being deployed to give the scientists and their diplomas a run for their money. If you haven't heard, Infinity's mission of studying Requiem was cut short months ago because the Storm put the planet on a trajectory with the sun. Captain Lasky has been briefed on the situation and he's happy to assist in donating any men and materials you need."

"It's just manpower we need Admiral."

"I'll forward the message on then to logistics and see if they can shift a few men your way. You're to split the fleet in half upon arrival if Del Rio does not show up. Allied Command won't be with you until you can establish contact on the other side if you chose to venture through."

"Acknowledged sir," William said.

"Then I'll see you on the other side, give the Admiral my greetings if he arrives. Hood out."

The screen closed and William went back to the holoprojector table.

"They must be hiding something. ALLCOMM doesn't get involved unless it's that important."

He mused about how interesting it was to see the changes that came out of the end of the Great War. In a historic move in 2555, the Governments of every species in the galaxy came together to create a mutual alliance they dubbed the Allied Species, a sort of galaxy-wide United Nations in the process. An increase in technological advancement and trading between the two grew rapidly and peace for the moment was established.

Humanity and the various species of the Covenant Separatist still had much to go as far as friendship (if he was honest it was tenser than anything) but in comparison with two decades earlier, the situation had improved vastly. For the moment, it was only in important matters that affected the welfare of every living thing did Allied Command (ALLCOMM) get involved.

"Orbit around planet achieved." the voice of Sarah said from behind him.

"Go ahead and establish contact with the fleet when they arrive." He said still thinking.

"Infinity task group arriving in t-minus thirty minutes." She said.

William looked out the viewports in front of him and waited for the fleet to arrive. While he waited he absentmindedly fiddled around with the tacpad. He accidentally triggered the roster function and suddenly a projection of 20 names, faces, and numbers surfaced in his memory. Friends, Teammates, Family. They were all gone with the exception of one of them and he didn't know where she was assigned to.

All that he could do was pray that six of those names that were marked MIA were actually MIA and not the alternative. That was why he originally agreed to be a part of APS a month after its realization. It had been two months and the farthest he had ever gone was back to Harvest to deploy another recolonizing team.

He stared at Reach and felt many memories bubble up. So many of Special Warfare Team Castle had fallen trying to save lives on this planet. Now the majority lay in a grave site at Earth. The battle there had been years ago but it was still painful to think about it. Now the only inhabitants were a couple of corporations chipping away the glass, trying to breathe life into the dead planet.

As the ship was orbited, a large purple disc of energy floated off in the distance and pulsated slowly. He stared at the disc and then went back to staring at the planet where so much had changed. Once upon a time, he had a team, a goal, a task, and a place within the universe. Now the team was gone and his goals, unreachable, his tasks mundane, his place in the universe uncertain.

"Task group arrives in ten seconds!" one of the techs said.

A bright flash of brilliant white, blue, and purple produced an enormous ship surrounded by several smaller ones. He quickly identified them as 14 Autumn class cruisers. He also spotted three Epoch class carriers among the group, and numerous Stalwart Frigates and Destroyers. The rest of the bridge looked up from what they were doing and almost silently moved over to the viewport to catch a glimpse. They all stared in amazement at the size of the Infinity compared to the rest of the flotilla.

"No wonder they call it the jewel of the Home Fleet," remarked Sarah with interest.

The Infinity was being escorted by additional three of the new Autumn class cruisers.

Another flash of white and purple brought the Covenant fleet into view.

William whistled as he saw a CSO class Supercarrier flanked by three of the much smaller Assault Carriers. Followed by six heavy cruisers, four RPV class destroyers, and six SDV class Corvettes. The two fleets completely filled the space above the atmosphere of Reach.

"Total ship count stands at 46 sirs," said Sarah. The Arbiter and Infinity are both hailing us."

"Establish communication with both," William said distractedly as he pondered his next move.

The two colored holographic images of a middle-aged captain with a young but somber looking face and a Sangheili adorned in gold armor filled the command table. He looked up and seeing communication had been established bowed slightly.

"Greetings Demon, Captain Lasky, I am Fleetmaster Uhze 'Nodstrom of the Supercarrier Rising Flame at your service." He said in the deep guttural voice of the Sangheili."

"And to you as well Shipmaster. Greetings Captain Lasky." He said addressing the younger Captain.

"I'm glad to have had this chance to meet." Captain Lasky replied. "Where is the Arbiter?"

"He was to join us but recent events on Sangheilios have changed his plans. He is needed on the battlefield so he sent me in his place."

"Your journey was safe then?" William asked.

"Yes, thank you, we are grateful that the UEG has graciously allowed us use of their refueling ports and shipyards. Half of what has been chasing Jul' Mdama's ships. They started terrorizing the shipping lanes and raiding any valuables and depriving us of much-needed ships. We've had to resort to convoys but as you can tell, it hasn't had much success. We're following up on a lead from our spies that there is a fleet in one of the surrounding systems. My Supercarrier was on it' way to inspect it when we heard your call for help."

"And you Lasky?"

"Infinity and fleet are a-ok, though we've had the same problem with Jul. Before I forget, I have orders to transfer a few men temporarily to assist in the ship's functions."

"Much appreciated."

"Demon, forgive me, but I must say, I expected an Officer in uniform to greet us, does your military now put you in positions of power?" the Fleetmaster asked.

"We were recently attacked by Brute Pirates. They boarded most of the ships in our fleet and killed most of our leadership before we had time to react and formulate a plan. Most of the survivors are in recovery at the refit station. I was put in charge by an Admiral for the moment. I don't really have tactical command, but I'm what they have right now. Is there a problem?"

"No Demon. I was only asking."

"Glad to hear it. Now, first things first," said William bringing up a map of the system.

"The distortions, if you haven't seen already, are coming about one hundred thousand clicks near the northern pole of Reach. Probes have been dispatched and have revealed that this disruption is similar in nature to the one activated above Voi in 2552; that is to say incredibly fine rifts in slipspace that possess a gravity of their own and lead to somewhere.

Explorations of probes have turned up somewhere else entirely, the where about's we are still trying to figure out. Radio messages from all probes ceased at 01:30 hours last night. We've been here guarding the portal and Reach. The latest development occurred yesterday when two UNSC distress signals came through. Command has yet to tell if they've identified them or not. The plan of action is currently not set in stone with most of the leadership gone but I'm sure now that we are here we can set up a research station and study this anomaly in more detail."

"I'll dispatch some of my ships to study it. Do you need anything to help act as security should anything hostile come through?" the Fleetmaster inquired.

"Yes, just for the time being until we can secure this system."

"Then form up on the carrier and accompany to the disruptions. We will dispatch science craft immediately and I'll send a few Huragok to aid in making any repairs to your ship" said the Fleetmaster.

"All ships," the Fleetmaster now said over the comlink with the other vessels, "Set heading to 020 by 255 and form up on the Rising Flame. Adjust Reactor output to 65%. And accompany us to the portal." He ordered.

The ship leaped forward with the rest of the fleet. The Dauntless and Infinity formed up on either side of the Supercarrier. The rest of the fleet formed up in a diamond formation. Firepower and size of the various ships were taken into account, ships maneuvered, and the fleet moved forward.

The fleet passed the refit station on the right. A squad of Broadsword fighters flew past the window and started docking at the station. William strode over to another viewport and stared at the rift that they were approaching.

"We've got something!" said one of the Tech's said looking at his identical console. "Rift's gravity field is fluctuating."

"How badly?"

The ship suddenly jerked as they crossed over an invisible line.

"That badly?!" the man asked fearfully.

"Take reactor speed to 75% at full reverse and increase shields to 50% forward!" William barked.

From the comm station, there was a sudden burst of messages as everyone gave orders to get out of the sudden gravitational field.

"All ships bring up reactors to 150% output and apply 200% reverse! All shields deploy bow wards!" 'Nodstrom ordered panicking slightly.

William was knocked off his feet as the ship gave another jolt and roared even louder as it tried to stop. Lights surged and a couple cables overhead broke loose.

"Disruption is stabilizing!" Navigation called out.

The ship stopped bucking and Will gave the order to get the ship far away from the rift.

"Attention all ships! Power down reactor levels to 29% to cool off and maintain formation." said the Fleetmaster after another moment. "That was too close."

The hum of the Dauntless dropped to almost a whisper.

The Command Table suddenly lit up with the holograms of the Shipmaster and Captain.

"Thanks for the heads up," Lasky said. "Now that we know where the distortion's potential field of gravity is we need to split the Fleet and establish a perimeter for the science teams-"

"Spartan." a cold voice from behind Will said.

William turned to see a shorter man with graying hair and a stern face. Admiral Del Rio eyed him back with contempt. Two Spartan IV bodyguards in Gray stood emotionless behind him.

"Lieutenant, what are you doing up here at the bridge of MY fleet?" he said smugly with the trace of a smile. "I thought you were supposed to be in your quarters." The smile and sinister joy emerged slightly from behind a cold mask of disgust.

"Admiral, with all due respect you said you would be here for another hour or so. You sent me a memo to my Tacpad earli-"

"That's funny Lieutenant, but I can't seem to recall any memo." He said too innocently.

William stared at him for a second.

"Sarah," William said turning to the AI's pedestal.

"Look up all memos received between yesterday and today."

"Doing so," Sarah said. Her hologram flickered as she scoured the tacpad.

Admiral Del Rio stared at her with a satisfied smile.

Sarah looked up from her thought.

"That… that's not possible." She slowly and worriedly said. Confusion became etched on her holographic features. "I saw the message myself… it's not there!"

Del Rio flashed a triumphant smile.

"Now then Lieutenant, I'll be nice to you. You get off this bridge in the next three seconds or you will be put in the brig for an entire week. I'm in command here now.

"Lord Hood sends his greetings Admiral. Please try not to be a jerk. This ship is operating on a skeleton crew because you delayed sending assistance."

"What did you say to me Spartan?!" his bodyguards tensed. The bridge turned towards the shouting. Officers and Techs nearest the pair backed slowly unsure what to do.

"Let me make one thing clear!" he spat. "I'M in command on this ship now. And you will refer to me as sir! Understood? You are a Spartan who is to follow orders TO THE LETTER. Now do so and get off this bridge." He said coldly.

Nobody moved.

William finally saluted and started walking.

"Sarah, I want an estimate on how to split the fleet! Navigation! Keep us out from being sucked in until we're ready to proceed. We're proceeding earlier than planned." said Del Rio, still livid as William continued down the hallway.

The various crew and personal on the ship parted as he walked. He strode by a trio of grunts staring in a mixture of awe and terror at the figure.

That was one thing William had enjoyed when being on this ship. The Dauntless had been specifically requested by Admiral Tchkova to be able to include living quarters and accommodations of the various races of the Allied Species. He had long since respected the species of the late Covenant Empire for their unique talents as well as their devotion to a cause, a fact that hadn't pleased everyone he had met; Admiral Del Rio being one of the top five on that list.

Will in his frustration found himself subconsciously heading to the armory to access the firing range for practice instead of the gym.

The door opened and he was greeted by nobody inside. Perfect. Nobody needed to see this Spartan vent a little anger.

Will decided his helmet was a little too stuffy and took it off. He quickly found a DMR hanging on the wall. He picked it up grabbed a few magazines from a nearby dispenser and checked the action before moving over to a corner and scanning the room.

He stepped up to the line and waited.

"Welcome back Spartan William. Would you like to run last time's simulation?" Elsa chirped at him from above.

"No thank you. Small targets please." He answered.

Several fist-sized targets popped up and began moving in random directions.

He picked the nearest one and fired drilling the target in the center of the bullseye. A second one met a similar fate, then a third, then a fourth.

"You and I both know just shooting targets is not a good way to relieve stress." A voice from behind said.

"Elsa, suspend practice." Will said putting the gun down and turning around to see his friend and blood brother Ripa 'Talam striding towards him. He stood a foot and half taller than William, considered slightly larger than average by Sangheili standards and wore SpecOps armor. His claret red armor with crimson accents had just been cleaned with a slight smell of chemicals.

William remembered with grim satisfaction the incidents on Mamore, a colony filled with chaos and disorder at its best that had brought these two warriors together. They had first met when a local terrorist group had blown up the exit to a tunnel that ran underneath the Capital and blocked off the road. They had captured around 15 dozen civilians, a couple Sangheili ambassadors that had been taken hostage days before, and a few police officers who had tried to help, and strapped them with bombs. Then they had stuffed them in the tunnel and told if anybody were to rescue them they would blow up the tunnel killing all.

They had again met by chance when they were picked to help rescue the hostages. They served as distractions and drew attention away from the hostages while others freed them. The two fought their way out, Ripa getting wounded in the process. They eventually had to leap off a bridge to avoid being killed. Ripa had broken several bones doing this but William had carried for ten excruciating miles for help and then gone back to help.

The mission had been a success after William used Sarah to disrupt the link between explosives and detonator but it created a friendship between the two. Ripa and William were so close afterward that he had received an honor that only a few individuals experienced. He had been deemed an honorary member of the 'Talam clan and had had their crest, a sword and a forge, branded on his armor at a special dinner that he had been the guest of honor for. Ripa also had one of these symbols branded on his right shoulder plate at the same dinner.

"You fought well yesterday Demon."

"As did you."

"Those traitorous vermin will pay for all the blood they spilled, but no more on that subject. It is better to dwell on the finer points of existence such as literature."

Ripa moved past him and sat in a chair in the corner and opened a holopad.

"Shall I tell you about the latest literature of your kind that I have read?" he asked.

"Go for it." Will said unloading the DMR and cleaning up the brass he had thrown on the floor.

Will privately wondered whether this was the best place to be reading literature but dropped the thought. Ripa looked up and watched as William strode over to him.

"I recently finished 'Huckleberry Finn' by your author, Mark Twain.

"I thought you were reading Sun Tzu."

"I devote other time to studying military tactics. He has honorable ideas but some ideas I think are slightly beyond reason."

"Such as?" Will raised an eyebrow.

Ripa waved it away. "Another time. Now's not the moment to be debating the merits of Sun Tzu."

"So what did you think of Huck Finn?"

He chuckled. "Twain's tongue could certainly do battle with some of the elders at 'Talam Keep. His…what is the term?"

"Satire?" Will provided.

"Yes. Saatire." Ripa said mispronouncing it despite his best efforts. "It's ingenious with how he applies it to so many topics. If this book were to be translated for all the Covenant to read, it would be decried as heresy. No prophet would suffer such words on organized religion and slavery to be made."

"Then I'm sure Twain would have been pleased."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Hmmph." Ripa huffed. "What's wrong with you

"I am totally fine." Will lied.

"And my mother was an Unngoy." Ripa snorted. "What troubles you brother?" he asked this time in Sangheili.

Will finished checking the weapon and hung it back on the wall.

"Some people just need to be thrown to a pack of hungry Jackals." Will replied in near perfect Sangheili.

"Admiral Del Rio?" Ripa said switching to William's tongue.

Will nodded before turning to face him.

"My apologies. He seems like the type of creature nobody wants to interact with."

William said nothing but leaned against the wall.

"Between you and I, I've heard rumors that he had falling out with your supreme Demon or something to that effect. He didn't want to be shown up and the supreme Demon proved himself right and your Admiral wrong. Any humiliation might be explained as an expressed hatred towards you. You are after all kin of sorts."

"That's what I thought." Will said returning to his native tongue.

The holopad suddenly flickered along with the other lights.

"Again?" Ripa asked. "What happened the last time?"

"The gravitational field spiked and we were being temporarily pulled in. I would have thought that we would have moved away."

"Perhaps the ship is still feeling the effects of yesterday?"

The ship gave a low and ominous wail.

"Oh please don't tell me the portal's acting up." Will grumbled.

The lights in the room suddenly went out entirely plunging the firing range into complete darkness. William found his shields suddenly depleted and slowly recharging. Several screams and roars issued from the mouths of various frightened soldiers outside as the sudden darkness took them off guard.

"Gravity field from the rift!" Will said as his eyes rapidly adjusted to the sudden dark. "If Del Rio is smart then we should be out of this in a moment."

The ship bucked wildly without warning eliciting more shouts from the people outside. A needle of fear began to prick his consciousness. He always knew that going through the portal might be an option but so soon? Had the field expanded that much?"

"You were saying?"

"Please don't become like Mark Twain. Will grumbled.

Pale red emergency lighting illuminated from a single light above barely lit up the room. Another jolt caused William to stagger slightly. He quickly put his helmet on his head and tried to get his bearings again.

"Sarah what's going on?" he asked as he rubbed his neck where Ripa had just accidentally smacked him.

Instead of an answer, he got instant chatter that filled the helmet as radio started picking up dialogue from other soldiers and sailors in the fleet. He picked out one message from the rest.

"All hands, be advised the rift is destabilizing, recommend that we abort mission for the time— "

A massive bang accompanied by a horrendous jolt lifted the two of them off their feet as the artificial gravity was momentarily neutralized and brought them down again as the ship lurched and jolted. William saw Ripa growl as he tried unsuccessfully to get up. The emergency lighting failed all of a sudden and the ship rocked back and forth with gravity becoming slightly less than normal.

"Attention all hands!" William heard Admiral Del Rio call over the emergency PA system.

"We have suffered complete and utter failure of navigation and propulsion, the fleet is reporting massive power failures and chaos! All hands brace for emergency protocol! We're being sucked in!"

The emergency lights flickered back to life and Will moved to the exit. The door opened and through one of the reinforced windows, William saw that they had transferred into the realm of Slipspace.

"We're going to die!"

William realized he had wandered right into the middle of a platoon of Marines that was struggling to hang on to something.

"This isn't the best of places to be standing!" roared Ripa at the terrified group.

"Not the easiest of tasks!" one of them angrily retorted.

They felt the hum of the ship increase as the Dauntless struggled to maintain power to its critical systems. A small viewport ran alongside the firing range. The inky black of slipspace seemed to suck away what little light they had. The gravity failed suddenly and William activated the magnetic soles on his boots and tried to keep the surrounding Marines on the floor as much possible. He could now hear screams and shouts from other parts of the ship reverberating around the hallways. The ship hurdled left and right faster and faster with the loud roar becoming ever more present until with an enormous bang the ship emerged out of slipspace.

The ship was dead silent. Sparks flew from cables overhead that been torn open and William felt the ship spinning slightly. He only needed to look out the window to confirm that they were indeed spinning slightly. As the ship rotated slowly a blue sphere came into view, clearly a planet, with what looked like a surface completely covered in ice and snow with massive storms brewing on the surface, one that he did not recognize at all.

"What's the phrase your author Frank L. Baum said?" Ripa asked. "We're not in Ohiio anymore?"

"I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." William corrected.


I think we're just getting started! Thank you for making it this far. I appreciate your time and readership.

Enjoy the rest of the story!

Yours in writing,
theotherpianist