Disclaimer: This fiction is based on Bombsquad's ongoing Far Flung Hope saga. I obviously do not own, and most likely will never own, the rights to the Halo and Battletech universes. I do, however, own all of the original characters I create for this work.

Author's Notes: Hi, everybody. As you can tell, this is going to be my first foray into the Battletech and Halo universes. I'm excited to be starting a new project, and especially excited to be continuing the universe created by Bombsquad. I'll be frank; there are very few stories on that can keep my interest for more than a few chapters (and even less that are worth reading for that long), and Bombsquad's saga has not only got me hooked, but actually made me interested enough to contribute to it.

Before I get going with this story, I'm going to leave you all with a warning. There will be a heavy use of creative license in this story. I feel this is necessary, because a great deal of information that I need for this story (including Covenant warship statistics) is either nonexistent, or so scarce as to not be useful. I will also be taking other liberties, which I'll deal with on a case by case basis.

Now that that's out of the way, it is with great pride that I present to you Far Flung Hope: Gambit.

Forerunner Test Galaxy 403

Deep Space

Covenant Holy City Noble Inquisition

'There is no doubt about it,' Fleet Master Tel'merinz thought with a smile as he gazed out at the space surrounding the Holy City Noble Inquisition, 'The Prophets are smiling on me.' Although it pained him to do so, he eventually was forced to turn away from the sight that so captivated him, what would soon make him the envy of every other Fleet Master in the Covenant Hegemony. Almost two hundred Covenant warships had been gathered around the city, his to do with as he pleased. Five of their massive three-kilometer long flagships, a dozen carriers, and more cruisers, destroyers, frigates and other lesser ships than he cared to count sat arrayed in orbit around the city. That they had been spared for him even though the Covenant was in the middle of its blitzkrieg offensive against the so-called Sentient Coalition and was in desperate need of every ship it could get its hands on was a miracle.

Tel'merinz had fought hard to make sure that his fleet, or at least its capital ships, were composed solely of Covenant vessels, rather than be supplemented by ships drawn from the reserves of their subjugated races. He absolutely refused to have less-capable vessels accompany him; if the Covenants' ships were powerful enough to dominate all of the races brought under the flag of the Hegemony, then they were obviously the superior ships, hence he would actually be hurting himself by taking subjugated ships. Obviously, the Prophets had agreed, angering many of the Fleet Masters on the front lines, who had to make due with less powerful Goa'uld and Vong vessels as replacements for combat losses, along with the handful of Tau ships that had been captured before that race defected to form the "Greater Good."

Of course, the fact that he had fought in and commanded Covenant vessels for his entire military career had also strengthened Tel'merinz's convictions that the fleet be all-Covenant warships. These were the ships he had been trained in from a young age, and the ships that he best knew how to lead into battle. Those were his conditions for leading the Covenant's first Expeditionary Fleet, and they had eagerly been met by the hierarchy.

The Elite, tall even for his people, strode through the corridors of the Holy City, his golden armor reflecting light all over the halls, as he headed towards his last meeting with the Prophets before departing the fleet. He would finally be receiving his complete mission briefing and orders, putting to rest the anxiety that had been building inside him for the last two months. All he knew about his mission was that it would be outside of the portion of the Universe laid claim to by the Hegemony, which both excited and terrified him. The thought of winning a great victory for his people burned bright in his head, while at the same time the fear of being cut off from the rest of the Covenant frightened him beyond everything else he had seen in his long service to the Covenant. Even his fleeting encounter with the human warrior known as the "Demon" couldn't compare.

"Fleet Master Tel'merinz, welcome," a voice called from behind him, causing the Covenant warrior to spin around. Before him stood the Prophet of Truth, highest of all the Prophets, and spiritual leader of the Hegemony. The Elite quickly knelt in front of the Prophet, and began whispering the prayer that had been passed down among his people for millennia.

"May the wise Prophets guide us towards the salvation of all beings, the Great Journey, and may their knowledge shine as a beacon of hope for all peoples," he spoke, before risking to look up at the Covenant's de facto ruler.

"Rise, Fleet Master. We have much to discuss," Truth replied, gesturing to a holographic display set into the wall next to him. A high-resolution image of his fleet quickly appeared, complete with troop carriers and supply ships bringing the last soldiers and consumables onto his vessels. Preparations to depart had been completed a full two days early, much to Tel'merinz's satisfaction. He would be leaving known space with expert crews at his command, at least.

"How may I serve the Hegemony?" he asked, as the Prophet gave what passed for a smile.

"Patience, young warrior. All will be revealed. Walk with me," Truth added, motioning for the Elite to follow him as he strode deeper into the City. "By now I am sure you are wondering why such a large fleet had been gathered for what amounts to a reconaissance mission. The fact that our offensive against the Sentient Coalition remains on schedule certainly has played a part, but there is a secret about your destination that has not yet left the Conclave," he continued. The mentioning of the Conclave, the term given to the assembly of every Prophet in the Covenant, made Tel'merinz pause for a moment. Any information that had remained in the absolute top echelon of the Covenant's leadership had to be of the utmost importance.

"As you know, the Forerunners programmed the Sacred Rings to act as libraries, among other things, storing their accumulated knowledge of every race in the Universe. We believed that this system of record-keeping was infallible, until we discovered an anomaly. One galaxy, number 358 according to the Forerunner numeric system, has not transmitted an updated log to the Forerunner network in approximately six hundred years," the Prophet said, shocking Tel'merinz.

"How could this have happened, wise one?" he asked. In the Covenant's thousands of years of existence, he had yet to hear of any Forerunner technology simply failing.

"It will be your mission to find out. Until the log ceased to be transmitted, number 358 indicated that the sole galactic inhabitants were a few scattered human settlements," Truth answered.

"Should I discover these humans," Tel'merinz began, "It is your wish that they be destroyed?" The Prophet paused for a brief moment, causing the Elite to think that he had angered his leader. He had heard what happened to those who angered the hierarchy, and had no wish to be labeled a heretic. Truth seemed to pick up his concern however, and smiled again.

"Of course; why spare the heretics any longer than they already have been. One last thing Fleet Master. I wish for you to hear this proclamation before it is made known to the rest of the Hegemony. The Prophets have declared an end to the Ninth Age of Reclamation. The long-predicted Age of Salvation is now at hand. Tell your fleet that now is the time for the faithful to unite and prepare for the Great Journey, and for the heretics and nonbelievers to be cleansed from the Universe now and forever!" he thundered, sending a chill down Tel'merinz's spine. It was no wonder the Prophet standing before him was considered the leader of the Covenant; the ability he possessed to reach out to his followers was unparalleled throughout the entire Hegemony.

"It will be my honor, noble Prophet!" he replied, kneeling again before Truth, picking up on the Prophet's implied dismissal of him.

"May you find success in your endeavor, great warrior," Truth stated, before leaving Tel'merinz alone. The Elite stood as soon as he felt the presence of the Prophet depart, and was shocked to see that he had been led right back to the shuttle bay where he had arrived on the massive city. He had been so captivated by his private audience with the leader of the Covenant that he had failed to notice that he been led right back to where he had started his day, one of the enormous hangers on the Holy City.

'By the Sacred Rings, I swear that I will not fail,' Tel'merinz thought to himself, looking out through the bay's magnetic atmospheric containment bubble to gaze at his bright, shimmering fleet assembled in front of him. He would spread the light of the Hegemony to Forerunner Galaxy 358, or die trying. There was no other alternative.

Forerunner Test Galaxy 358

December 6, 3064 (Local Time)

Planet Blackjack, Clan Jade Falcon Occupation Zone

Major General Archer Christifori bit back a stream of curses as nearly forty missiles slammed into his Penetrator BattleMech, sending armor cascading to the ground. The seventy-five ton 'Mech stumbled backwards out of the hailstorm as Christifori drew a bead on his assailant, a sixty ton Vulture BattleMech belonging to the First Falcon Guards cluster. He stabbed out at it with his two large lasers, catching the Clan Omnimech in its right shoulder and left hip, melting armor and doing at least some internal damage as the Vulture ceased its bird-like striding across the battlefield, and began a jerking, injured limp back towards its lines, favoring its left leg.

With no other threats within weapons range, Archer took a moment to remember what it was that caused him to be here on Blackjack, fighting the most dangerous enemy the Inner Sphere had ever encountered. It all came back to him quickly; the Jade Falcons crossing the border into his beloved Lyran Alliance, the meeting on Thorin where he had volunteered to lead the force that would attempt to halt the Clan offensive and laying out the plans for his two-pronged offensive. Operation Bludgeon, the code-name given to the part of the counterattack taking place in the Lyran Alliance itself, was being headed up by Khan Phelan Kell of Clan Wolf-in-Exile, and involved striking the Jade Falcons on worlds they had already taken. Operation Audacity, being led by Archer himself in tandem with General Adam Steiner, the estranged cousin of Archon-Prince Victor Steiner-Davion, deposed leader of the massive interstellar state known as the Federated Commonwealth, involved taking the fight to worlds that had been taken by the Falcons years prior, disrupting their supply chain.

Archer remembered back to the first Clan invasion, over a decade prior, and how he had pledged his service as a green cadet to Prince Victor in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It was ironic that he would once again be fighting a Clan as it drove towards Terra, the homeworld of humanity, answering the call of his liege-lord. It was especially ironic since he had been forced to give up his personal crusade against Katherine Steiner-Davion, sister to Prince Victor, in order to engage the Clan warriors.

Just thinking about Katherine made his blood absolutely boil. Over the course of three years, while Victor was away leading a massive Inner Sphere task force against the Clans in a last-ditch effort to stop their first invasion in its tracks, Katherine had manipulated her way into taking control of the Federated Commonwealth. She had begun by taking advantage of a wave of dissent against Victor, following attacks by the Free Worlds League, to secede the Lyran Commonwealth from the FedCom, renaming her new realm the Lyran Alliance. She had then carefully manipulated the media in an effort to make her younger sister Yvonne, whom Victor had named as regent of what remained of the FedCom while he was away, believe that the people felt she was unfit to rule. Katherine achieved success beyond her wildest dreams, and ended up with both halves of the Federated Commonwealth under her control after Yvonne gave over her regency to Katherine. When Victor had finally returned from the Clan homeworld of Strana Mechty, he found that not only had Katherine stolen the Lyran Alliance from him, but that the Federated Suns were now hers as well. Victor was officially a Prince without a nation.

Choosing not to plunge his people into a bitter civil war, Victor decided to let Katherine, who had changed her name to Katrina by that time in order to mimic the very popular Lyran ruler who was also her grandmother, have the two realms. Victor finally had peace in his life, for a short twelve months. While he refused to take up arms against his sister, there was already fighting on several dozen worlds between factions loyal to Victor and to his sister. But the FedCom Civil War, as it was quickly called, didn't officially begin until Victor's brother, Arthur, was assassinated.

Victor laid his brother's death at the feet of Katrina, and issued a call to arms for everyone loyal to him. Thousands of men and women answered, plunging the two largest nations of the Inner Sphere into war. Three years later, Victor had made substantial headway, taking back dozens of planets, including several key industrial worlds, the bases necessary for sustaining his ongoing offensive. For the first time, his troops were finally on the verge of entering the Federated Suns, where Victor entertained his strongest popular and military support.

Archer's reasons for joining with Victor were of a similar, personal nature. His sister had been an influential writer on their homeworld of Thorin before the Civil War broke out, urging Lyran Alliance citizens to protest the way Katrina was treating those who spoke out against her rule. She had advocated reasoning and compromise with Katrina, the so-called Archon-Princess, hoping that she would listen to peaceful pleas. Instead, she had been brutally murdered by agents of the Archon-Princess, driving Archer from a cautious stance of neutrality firmly into the camp of Prince Victor. And with him had come the worlds of Thorin and Murphid, after a masterfully-conducted guerilla campaign led by Archer against the Lyran garrisoning forces.

After his victories had come Prince Victor's media machine, instantly labeling him as the reincarnation of the great Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. While Archer privately despised so much publicity, the fact that he was one of only a handful of men to win the Star League Medal of Honor during the Clan Wars ensured that he would remain a public figure, at least until the war ended. In fact, privately he wished that the Star League would've acted against Katrina before war became the only option left to remove her from power.

The Star League had been Humanity's greatest achievement; a unification of the five Great Houses of the Inner Sphere under one banner, a place where diplomacy and negotiations took precedent over hostility and war. It had been in place for two centuries, before a usurper murdered the Star League's First Lord and took power for himself. The commanding general of the Star League's Defense Force, Aleksandr Kerensky, eventually defeated the usurper, but the Star League was already beyond salvage. The five House leaders withdrew from the organization, calling on their citizens in the League military to return home and prepare for what would later be dubbed the First Succession War.

Kerensky, foreseeing the conflict about to settle over the Inner Sphere, instead declared his intentions to take the Star League Defense Force, and leave the Inner Sphere for uncharted space. At least 80 of the SLDF followed, in what would later be called the Exodus by decedents of that great journey. Kerensky's followers weren't heard from again for hundreds of years, until they returned to the Inner Sphere as the Clans.

While the Houses of the Inner Sphere were waging war against each other, the Clans instead chose to prepare for their return to the Inner Sphere, to re-establish the Star League. Somewhere along the way however, this noble vision had been corrupted, and replaced with the Clans' desire to conquer Terra, homeworld of humanity. Whichever Clan first achieved this would then become the ilClan, or supreme Clan, absorbing all of the others into it.

In a way, it was ironic that the return of the Clans prompted the Inner Sphere nations to put aside their differences, at least for the time being, and reform the Star League. By presenting a unified force to combat the Clans, they had eventually managed to battle them to a stalemate, before Prince Victor led the counter-offensive that ended in the complete destruction of Clan Smoke Jaguar, and peace between the Inner Sphere and Clans. Until now.

Seeing that his threat screen was clear for the time being, Archer throttled his 'Mech into a slow backwards walk, making sure that he was facing the retreating Clan lines in case they decided to attack again. Up until this point, Operation Audacity had been a complete success, forcing the Jade Falcons to halt their drive into the Lyran Alliance, and instead drawing their forces back into their Occupation Zone. This was good for the Lyrans, but for Archer it was the equivalent of painting a bulls-eye on his back, and waiting for the Clan to come for him.

In order to halt the offensive, he had been forced to do something so dramatic that it would gain the attention of the entire Jade Falcon Clan. That had occurred on the planet Twycross, where Archer's forces had defeated the small garrison left on the planet by the Jade Falcons. Defeating them in and of itself hadn't been what sent the Falcons over the edge. How he had done it was what brought the wrath of an entire Clan down on his head.

He remembered back just a few months earlier, how his forces had dropped on Twycross. He had challenged the leader of the Jade Falcon forces on-planet for possession of the world, as the Clan code of honor dictated. To the Clans, honor was considered to be more important even than life itself. A dishonorable act would be considered a taint on the entire Clan, which would force them to correct that act. On Twycross, Archer had intended to meet the Clan forces in combat as their honor code dictated; through a series of duels where the last side standing would claim the planet. However, things hadn't worked out that way.

One of the Jade Falcon military leaders, the man who turned out to be the ranking officer on Twycross, fired on Archer's dropship before it touched down, violating their code of honor. Archer's forces were eventually successful in the following battle royale, since the Clan dueling rules had been thrown out the window. The results of the battle, including the clear violation of Clan traditions on the part of that Jade Falcon warrior, had been openly transmitted under Archer's orders, in the hopes of making the Jade Falcon military turn its attention to him, rather than the Lyran Alliance. And was he ever successful.

Within days, several Clan clusters had arrived on-planet, waging a de facto Trial of Annihilation against him. A Trial of Annihilation was the most severe ritual in the Clans' traditions, and meant basically what it stated. Whoever the Trial was declared against would be completely, utterly destroyed. It had only been used once in the entire history of the Clans, against Clan Wolverine. They were completely wiped out, down to the last man, woman and child. This wrath was what Archer had brought down upon his people. The only way he could ensure the invasion would be called off, at least temporarily.

So here he was, fighting for his life on Blackjack, hoping that General Adam Steiner would stick to his part of the operation and be here to relieve his forces. If he failed to show, Archer and his people would be butchered, plain and simple. Archer didn't exactly have faith in Steiner; in fact, Adam had fought against Prince Victor in the opening days of the Civil War, actually defeating his cousin in single combat, but eventually losing the planet he was defending to Victor's forces. Steiner clearly still held a grudge against Victor which, if he didn't overcome, would condemn Archer and his people.

Not that they would be out of the woods even if Adam Steiner showed up. A Jade Falcon warship was currently operating in the Blackjack system, which was more than capable of destroying his entire force by itself while he was either on planet fighting the Falcons, or if he attempted to retreat to the Jumpships he had waiting in-system. Archer also had a warship somewhere in the system, on loan from the Wolves-in-Exile, but the Jade Falcon warship was sure to do a number on his people before his warship could take it out. His dropships, and the jumpships waiting for him, were practically defenseless against the Jade Falcon vessel, but that had been the way they were built.

Dropships, and their larger cousins, jumpships, had been designed for one thing and one thing alone; to transport troops across the stars. Jumpships, so named for their Kearny-Fuchida jump drives which allowed faster-than-light travel to be possible, were capable of traveling up to thirty light years almost instantaneously. They were used to move between star systems, ferrying the dropships containing troops that would be used on whatever planet was necessary. A handful of jumpships had been fitted with a revolutionary battery system that actually allowed them to "store" an extra jump, allowing them to travel double the distance of a regular jumpship, but that did little good when there was a Clan warship ready to destroy them if Archer pulled off Blackjack. His dropships would at least stand a fighting chance; since they were expected to bring troops down to hostile planets, they were substantially armed and armored, especially the Overlord-series, of which Archer had a few available, but their armaments were nothing compared to a warship. And Archer was hesitant to commit his warship against the Jade Falcon vessel in-system; if he lost it, he would have absolutely no chance left. Not that he didn't have faith in the exiled Wolves running the vessel; Archer was used to facing worst-case scenarios throughout his military career.

"Command Company, form on me and pull back. Looks like the Falcons are done for today," Archer ordered, before shutting off his comm system for a moment. "Let's see how many friends I have to bury today."

December 10, 3064 (Local Time)

Planet Murphid, Lyran Alliance

Victor Steiner-Davion, exiled Archon-Prince of the Federated Commonwealth, sighed as he continued swivelling in his office chair. It had been months since he had actively participated in the ongoing Civil War tearing the Federated Commonwealth apart. The revelation that the love of his life, Omi Kurita, daughter of Theodore Kurita, the leader of the Draconis Combine, had been assassinated by his sister Katherine had shattered Victor emotionally. He still read battle reports, kept appraised of how the forces loyal to him were slowly being pushed back on the planet Tikonov, his beachhead in the Federated Suns, and noted that his people were generally in just as poor a mood as he was. It seemed as though without their leader, the entire war effort to unseat his sister was falling apart.

He didn't want things to end this way. God only knew how badly Katherine needed to be punished. Only after declaring war against her did Victor learn that she had been behind the assassination of their mother almost ten years earlier, before using the same assassin to kill Omi. Coupled with what Victor believed was her involvement in the murder of their brother Arthur, and it was clear to see that she needed to be removed from power, just to ensure that she didn't annihilate the rest of her family, not to mentions putting the lives of billions of people at risk due to the ongoing fighting. Katherine's hands were literally soaked in blood, and the death toll because of her actions continued to rise every day the Civil War went on.

But Victor couldn't bring himself to rejoin the fighting. The death of Omi had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back; with the stresses of running the Civil War on top of her loss, Victor had finally broken down. He considered himself to be a fairly strong person, physically and emotionally, but he had finally reached his limits. Yet, he knew he couldn't just give up. Katherine would leap at any chance to have him assassinated, if only to make sure he didn't rise up against her again, and if he gave up now, he would be as good as dead. Omi's death proved that Katherine didn't care about whether or not someone was a noncombatant; she would do whatever it took to destroy her brother.

So Victor was basically left with one option for the time being; to continue spinning in his chair, hoping for someone to snap him out of his slump. In a way, it was almost pathetic. He had been called one of the greatest generals of his time for several years now, was the man responsible for destroying an entire Clan, and yet he was allowing the loss of one person to jeopardize the fate of two interstellar nations. His friends and confidants had been trying for months to snap him out of his daze, without success. No matter how many times they told him how badly he was needed on the front, or how much they tried to persuade him to rejoin the fight, he just couldn't find the drive that he had earlier in the war. As evil as he was convinced Katherine was, Victor felt as though he just was not able to make the personal sacrifices he was sure he would have to in order to defeat her. Enough of his friends and family, not to mention citizens of his realm, had died over the years. Deep down, all Victor wanted was for it to stop. As selfish a reason as that was, he couldn't help but feel that he deserved at least a little peace and tranquility in his life. After everything that he had done for others, all the sacrifices that he had made, the loss of both his parents and his brother, the years of seemingly endless wars, all he could think of was making the pain stop.

"Isn't it someone else's turn?" he asked aloud as he halted the spinning chair. He sat there almost as though expecting an answer. "Haven't I given up enough for other peoples' sakes?" Right after those words were out of his mouth however, he regretted them. Because even though he had given so much to the Inner Sphere over his lifetime, he knew that there were dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands or millions of people who had given more. Not to mention the thousands of people under his direct command who had given their lives so that others would be liberated from Katherine's rule. As he sat there thinking, he could almost swear that he heard a familiar, faint voice sweep through the office.

"Justice," Victor swore he heard, sounding almost as if his father were speaking to him. Hanse Davion, the man who had created the Federated Commonwealth when he married Melissa Steiner, Victor's mother, was quite possibly the greatest politician the Inner Sphere had ever known. A master of diplomacy as well as using his military when necessary, Victor sorely missed his father, who had died of a heart attack ten years earlier, during the height of the Clan invasion. In fact, his death seemed to be what had put the entire Civil War in motion. An unready Victor was forced to take the throne, much to the dislike of his jealous sister Katherine, who from an early age believed that she, not Victor should've been the one to take power. After seeing Victor's early political failures, since his father had died before teaching him those delicate arts, Katherine's hope to rule one day had only grown, until it became an obsession. From there, she turned to murder and deceit, before getting what she wanted: power. Until Victor finally rose up against her.

"Justice," Victor slowly said aloud. "For everything Katherine has done. For all the pain she had inflicted, for all the families she has destroyed, for the billions who've suffered. Justice."

Forerunner Test Galaxy 403

Forerunner Installation 02 (code-named "Beta Halo")

December 10, 3064 (Local Time)

Covenant Flagship Triumphant Liberator

Tel'merinz took in the awesome sight before him, just as everyone else on the bridge did. This was his first opportunity to see what one of the Sacred Rings looked like up close, though like every other person in the Hegemony, he had seen the replays of the destruction of the first Ring. He knew just how beautiful, and how deadly the ten thousand kilometer wide object lazily spinning in front of him was. Of the dream it represented; the end of the Covenant's Great Journey, as well as the nightmare it contained; the Flood. Though this installation had been taken and secured months ago, the taint of the Flood still remained all over the Ring. Tel'merinz wondered if they foul parasites would ever be wiped out.

"Fleet Master, all ships are in formation and prepared to jump. We are awaiting your orders," one of the lesser Elites on the bridge said. Tel'merinz turned to look at him, before nodding once. The Elite hurried to carry out his unspoken order, as Tel'merinz brought his gaze back to the Ring that hung in front of him. He wasn't exactly sure of the science behind it, but the fact that the Ring was capable of generating what the Engineers called a "trans-galactic warp field" large enough to accommodate his entire fleet at once, with room to spare, was simply mind-boggling.

He felt his ship slowly accelerate towards the center of the Ring, as small pulses of energy flashed along its inner radius. He knew from the experiences of other Covenant Ship and Fleet Masters what to expect next, as the pulses continued to grow and reach further in towards the center of the Ring. In less than a minute, the pulses had grown so much that they were overlapping in the center, creating a "Harmonic desabilization wave," according to the Engineers, which made the possibility of fast intergalactic travel possible.

Just as it appeared that the Triumphant Liberator was going to be caught up and ripped apart by one of the waves inside the Ring, they suddenly subsided and pulled back towards their points of origin. What was left was a completely stable wormhole hundreds of kilometers wide, just sitting in the center of the Sacred Ring. Something that the Covenant, for all of their high technology, still had no real idea how to duplicate, on any scale.

As his ship slowly entered the wormhole, Tel'merinz felt as though his skin itself had been electrified as a wave of energy cascaded through the vessel. A sudden burst of acceleration slammed through the ship, seeming to actually shove the Covenant warship to its destination, rather than carry it there gently. As he watched, electronic devices all over the bridge began to short out, and two consoles actually exploded due to energy overloads. In the time it had taken him to think that his ship might be destroyed however, his ship pushed through the worst of the turbulence, and was suddenly spit out of the wormhole at what he hoped was his destination.

He fought back a wave of nausea as he glanced up at the front view screen, which was showing nothing but static for the time being. "Report," he thundered, wanting to immediately know what shape his fleet was in case they were about to be attacked. He knew that right now they were vulnerable due to damage inflicted by the wormhole, which had not been experienced by ships making trans-galactic jumps in the past.

"Fleet telemetry is still coming in, Fleet Master," a red armored Elite replied, scanning the information that scrolled across his display. "The Sword of Faith and Guiding Truth report light to moderate damage, including scrambled sensors, multiple shield failures, and weapon misalignments. The lesser ships, for the most part, have sustained only minimal damage. Three ships from the invasion fleet have not reported in yet." Tel'merinz was thankful at least that his three Flagship-class vessels had survived the journey with just light damage.

"Unbelievable," Tel'merinz spoke slowly, looking at the officer. "What happened? Where are those three ships?" he asked. He couldn't believe that he had already lost three vessels, before even finding out where he was.

"Gone, Fleet Master. According to data collected by the ship's computer, it appears the wormhole destabilized as the fleet entered it. We had no warning," the Elite trailed off, noticing the look of anger on Tel'merinz's face. Gathering up the strength to continue, he added, "That almost all of the fleet made it here is a miracle. Surely the Prophets guided us safely through the jump."

"How did we take so much damage, while the smaller vessels remain nearly intact?" was the Fleet Master's next question, as he forced himself to calm down. Executing one of his bridge officers wouldn't do anything to bring back the lost ships, especially since it wasn't anyone's fault that they were gone.

"The disruption waves must've broken over the flagships, Fleet Master. The lesser vessels are light and small enough that they were able to be carried by the turbulence, rather than be battered by it like we were. The three lost ships were probably pushed out of the warp field altogether. The sudden deceleration at least would have made their deaths quick," the lower-caste Elite responded. Tel'merinz had no wish to picture a Covenant vessel pinwheeling through space as it was pushed out of the wormhole's field, before finally ripping itself apart due to the massive forces exerted upon it.

"Very well. Navigation, are we on target?" he asked, changing the subject. Now was not the time to think about loss; the crews of those three ships would already be on the way towards the Great Journey.

"Yes, Fleet Master. The navigation computer has matched our co-ordinates with those supplied to us by the Prophets. We are on target," the navigations officer replied.

"Very well. At least that part of our mission was successful. Prepare a message for the Prophets indicating that we have arrived, and report the status of the lost ships. Send a team down to the Sacred Ring's control center, and transmit it. I shall be in my quarters," Tel'merinz stated, before walking towards the bridge exit ramp.

"Fleet Master?" a timid voice called, interrupting him. "We are not receiving a signal from the Sacred Ring."

"Heresy," he replied. "Without a Sacred Ring here, we would not have been able to form a wormhole. You are treading on very dangerous waters, warrior," he continued, striding towards the offending Jackal.

"Of course, Fleet Master. Allow me to clarify. The Sacred Ring is present, and appears to be intact. However, our sensors are detecting low level radiation emanating from several points on it, including the area containing the control room. Additionally, we are not receiving the telemetric, or other data that our ships usually pick up, that are usually transmitted from the Sacred Rings. For all intents and purposes, Fleet Master, the Ring appears to be dead," the Jackal answered. It appeared to be quaking in fear, terrified of what Tel'merinz would do to it after reporting such bad news. Instead, the Elite smiled.

"Prepare an escort of ground troops and Banshees. I wish to see the damage done to this Ring for myself. Order the Fleet into the standard defensive formations, and have our Engineers begin repairing the most-damaged ships first. I want every vessel to be in top fighting condition by the time I return," he ordered, watching the bridge officers scramble to carry out their tasks. He would unravel the mystery surrounding this broken Ring, and then unleash the wrath of the gods on the unfortunate humans of this galaxy.

Forerunner Test Galaxy 358

Planet New Avalon

December 11, 3064 (Local Time)

General Jackson Davion briskly walked through the corridors of the Davion Palace, on his way to a meeting with the top loyalist generals on the planet. The topic he was going to discuss with them was not a pleasant one; the ongoing Civil War between the forces loyal to his cousins Victor and Katrina Steiner-Davion. Jackson had pledged his loyalty to Katrina, not because he agreed with her taking power, or supported her. Far from it in fact, his cousin's recent actions against civilians protesting her rule sickened him. But his sense of duty and honor, drilled into him from a young age, prevented him from betraying the trust Katrina had placed in him by making him General of the Armies, for all intents and purposes the military leader of the entire Federated Suns. As personally repulsive as his cousin was, she was his liege-lord, and it was not his place to disobey her.

He swung open the doors to the conference room where today's briefing was taking place, and frowned as soon as he did so. Over the past few months, he had noticed a disturbing trend among the generals attending these weekly meetings; fewer and fewer faces he recognized, replaced with political lackeys for Katrina. While it was true that it was her prerogative to promote and dismiss whomever she wished, the fact that an ever-increasing portion of the Armed Forces of the Federated Suns' high-ranking officers were political appointees disturbed Jackson. While having the ability to trust your officers was a necessity, turning generalships into rewards for political support had a nasty habit of snapping back on whichever state implemented the practice. In fact, the Lyran officer corps had been the butt of incompetent general jokes for generations, with their so-called "social" generals who couldn't fight their ways out of wet paper bags. Jackson would die before he allowed his beloved AFFS to suffer the same fate.

"Good morning," he said, addressing the assembled military leaders of the Federated Suns. They had all stood and saluted as soon as he had entered the room, which he quickly returned, allowing them to be seated. Since he was almost positive that most of the people here had more political pull with his cousin than he did, Jackson did not want to risk their displeasure. 'Hmph,' he grumbled to himself, 'Who'd have expected a group of subordinate officers to be able to pull rank on their commander?'

"What's our status?" was the first question he asked.

"Still no sign of Victor, although his personal escort forces have been spotted on Thorin. Our forces are engaging them there, but Victor's troops are winning the battle. One interesting tidbit though, we believe that Precentor Raymond Irelon, leader of the renegade 244th Com Guard Division, died in the fighting," one of the generals at the table said, with a smile.

Jackson took a moment to recall that the 244th Division had defected from ComStar, the quasi-religious organization responsible for running nearly all interstellar communications devices, commonly known as Hyper Pulse Generators, or HPGs, at the very beginning of the Civil War. ComStar was the last remaining vestige of the original Star League; they were formerly the Star League's Ministry of Communications. While the rest of the Inner Sphere had fallen apart after the Star League collapse, ComStar had remained the self-described "guardians of knowledge," making sure that technology such as the HPGs weren't destroyed through the centuries of warfare. Through those centuries, ComStar itself had built up a military so powerful that when the Clans invaded, ComStar almost single-handedly stopped their drive towards Terra in the epic Trial at Tukayyid. It was here that a proxy battle for Terra had been fought, with ComStar triumphing over the combined Clan militaries, forcing them to halt their invasion for fifteen years. That had been in 3052, meaning that in a little over two years, all bets would be off once again. But at least this time the Inner Sphere wouldn't be blind sided by the Clans.

"Irelon was a good officer," Jackson muttered to himself, "Who's his replacement?"

"It's not like there are many of the "Prince's Men" left," the same general replied. The Prince's Men were the nickname the 244th had taken for themselves when they left ComStar, most likely forever. "But our intelligence indicates that Rudolf Shakov has taken over the remains of the division. Not that it matters, there can't be much more than a battalion of them left."

"How about the fighting on Tikonov?" Jackson asked, changing the subject.

"It's clear that Victor isn't there, so we pulled most of our forces off-world. What we left is slowly pushing back the two regiments Victor left behind to hold their beachhead. Barring any unforseen changes, we should have Tikonov back in six months," a second general said, with a smug smile. Jackson remembered that the man hadn't looked nearly as confident a few months earlier, when Victor's entire assault force had landed on the planet. Of course, staring down more than five regiments of Victor's troops, backed up by an Avalon-class cruiser was nothing to be excited about.

"It looks like this war's winding down," the first general commented. "Now all we have to do is find Victor, and take care of him." Jackson didn't like what the man was implying, and liked it even less when he added, "like that filthy Drac." Jackson had kept his mouth shut about his suspicions when he heard that Omi Kurita had been killed, and to hear these political appointees resorting to racial slurs to refer to her only added to his suspicions. Lately he had been having a crisis of faith, wondering what Victor was saying about Katherine was true. If it was, and the apparent fact that she had ordered Omi Kurita to be murdered seemed to support that it was, then it appeared to Jackson that he might be supporting the wrong side. He just wasn't sure what he was going to do; his sense of duty still demanded that he support Katherine.

'Of course,' he thought to himself, 'The fact that I'm not calling her Katrina anymore pretty much sums up where I stand now.' Only those who opposed Katherine called her by her birth name; to everyone else she was still Katrina. 'My only problem now is to figure out what it is I'm supposed to do.'

Forerunner Installation 07 (Gamma Halo)

December 12, 3064 (Local Time)

Fleet Master Tel'merinz strode through the blackened remains of one of the doors that the Forerunners had placed here countless millennia ago, entering what had once been the control room for this installation. The walls, like the door he had just walked through, were charred black, and the room itself was empty. He found himself gazing at an enormous, spherical hole, where there should've been a bridge leading to the center of the room, and the facility's controls themselves. As he turned his gaze skyward in fact, rather than see the walls of the cavernous room sloping up to the ceiling, they were cut off about a third of the way up, with sunlight streaming in through the now-uncovered ceiling.

"Sir, radiation is minimal. Whatever happened here occurred a very long time ago," one of the black-clad Special Ops Elites that had accompanied his task force to galaxy 358 stated, as he finished closing up a radiation detector. Of course, that was the same conclusion Tel'merinz himself had reached before they had even disembarked from their Phantom. On the flight in, they had seen numerous destroyed human armored vehicles and aircraft, rusting away on the surface of the Ring world. There were also dozens, if not hundreds of skeletons scattered along the landscape, clutching now-useless weapons. Although from where he was currently standing there was nothing left for a ten square kilometer radius, obviously the result of a nuclear weapon being detonated close to this very spot. That meant that whoever the bodies and vehicles scattered across the Sacred Ring had belonged to had destroyed the control room on purpose, for some unknown reason. Although Tel'merinz was sure that he could hazard a guess as to why so much destruction had been wrought.

"Bring in the Phantom," he ordered, turning away from the destroyed control room, "And have one of our ships scan grid 423. The Parasite is most likely loose on this structure." If that were the case, then Tel'merinz's worst fears were about to come true. The grid was where a facility that contained Forerunner "weapons" had been found on the first Ring. The same one which had imprisoned the Parasite.

After the debacle at the first Sacred Ring, the one destroyed by the "Demon," the Conclave had been convened to decide what to do if another Ring was discovered to be infested with the Parasite. After a heated debate, they had finally decided to do what had until that point been reserved only for the infidel humans; purification. Tel'merinz would now be forced to destroy the Ring, his only way home and only hope for reinforcements, literally burning his bridges behind him. To not do so would be to go against the expressed wishes of the Conclave, and to defy the entire Covenant hierarchy. The warriors who had accompanied him down to the Ring had guessed that the Parasite was to blame already, and knew exactly what Tel'merinz would be required to do. If the news affected them at all, they did not show it. That was the benefit of having an all-Elite unit escort him to the surface of the Ring; if any other race of the Covenant had been here, they would have been panicking beyond all semblance of control. Although the thought of a pack of Grunts screaming and running wildly through the installation did hold a certain appeal.

"Fleet Master, we have received a transmission from the Triumphant Liberator. The Parasite is indeed present on this Ring, and numerous contacts have been detected headed this way," one of his escort Elites said. "We must withdraw quickly, or risk being overrun."

"Let us go," Tel'merinz said simply. "We are finished here." With that, the fate of Forerunner Installation 07 was sealed. The small landing party boarded their Phantom dropship, took off with a dozen-strong Banshee escort, and headed back to the Triumphant Liberator. As soon as the Phantom was safely out of range, two dozen Covenant cruisers moved into weapons range, and opened fire on the sections of the Ring weakened by the human nuclear weapons. In less than five minutes of concentrated fire, they had burned through the weakened sections, causing the Ring to destabilize and break apart. In that time, Tel'merinz had arrived back on his command ship, and made it back to the bridge. The bridge doors swung open just in time for him to see the Ring finish ripping itself apart, as his cruisers split up into smaller hunter-killer teams, destroying each individual section of the Ring, to ensure that there was no chance of the Parasite surviving.

"I wish to address the fleet," he stated, walking on to the otherwise silent bridge. The officers there were still stunned by the destruction of another Sacred Ring, this time brought on by the Covenant itself. It didn't help that more than a few of them were afraid that the Parasite would somehow still manage to get aboard the ship. The last accounts transmitted by the cruiser Truth and Reconciliation had been widely distributed throughout the Hegemony, secretly, of course. No one wanted to be ignorant of a threat they might soon be facing, after the elimination of the humans.

The communications officer nodded, as Tel'merinz cleared his throat. "My brothers, today is a sad day for the Covenant. A second Sacred Ring has been destroyed, this time by our own hands, to prevent the scourge of the Parasite from threatening the Hegemony once again. With its destruction goes our only hope of ever returning home. As you know, we were ordered to investigate this galaxy, and are currently too far from the Hegemony for assistance to ever arrive in our lifetimes."

"It is clear that the Parasite was released on this Ring intentionally, most likely by the humans. For polluting a pure, holy icon the Prophets demand that they be punished. Therefore, as Fleet Master, my course of action is clear. The unpure beings of this galaxy will be cleansed!" he thundered. The bridge crew was cheering and bellowing their support at this time, as was the rest of the fleet, Tel'merinz was sure.

"Navigation, plot a course to the closest solar system from our current position. It is time for us to hunt humans."

As the Covenant fleet assembled and prepared to jump away from the destroyed Halo, they failed to notice a small, vaguely cylindrical machine dart out from behind a cloud of dust and debris. The remnants of the massive Forerunner space station successfully camouflaged the machine, which extended a pair of probes and pointed them at the Covenant fleet. It remained like this until the alien vessels entered Slipstream, and left the shattered Halo forever. Its mission complete, the probe opened up a small hyperspace bubble of its own, and departed to report its observations to its masters. They needed to be alerted quickly. The Covenant had arrived.

And, chapter. I hope you all enjoyed it, and please remember to review! I'm a sucker for reviews.

Before I finish up here, I want to apologize. From now on I'm going to be devoting a majority of my time to working on Operation: Falling S.T.A.R.S., so expect updates on this story to be infrequent. I'll try, but I'm going through a year-long stretch of being semi-burned out so my writing's been going very, very slowly. I will try to get chapters up ASAP, though.

Next Chapter: Fighting continues in the Jade Falcon Occupation Zone, as the Covenant make their first contact with native humans. The Inner Sphere learns of the appearance of the Covenant, but not before they are able to strike throughout human space with disastrous results. You won't want to miss a single minute of FFH: Gambit Chapter Two, Appearances