Yeah Yeah. May 21st has come and gone since the last update, which means I could not, in fact, update this fic before doomsday.

...

0655 Hours, February 29th, 2683

SSV Normandy

Vadum system, Artemis Tau cluster

...

"Councilors." Chief said as he addressed the images of the Citadel Council before him in the comm room. It was roughly 0700 hours, not two hours after Chief got up and not two hours away from the relay that would take them out of the Artemis Tau Cluster did Joker suddenly let Chief know that he had a call from the Council waiting for him. So, the spartan dressed himself up in his finest suit of armor and took the call.

"Master Chief, we understand that you're still currently on route back to the Citadel, which would mean that you will soon be passing through the Hades Gamma Cluster, if you're not already." Valern began.

"We'll be entering it in roughly an hour. Something I should look into there?" Chief asked.

"Possibly." Tevos said. "On the planet Trebin in the Antaeus System, Exogeni Corp has started a terraforming campaign to make the planet hospitable for possible colonization. However, one of their survey teams disappeared early yesterday."

"We have a theory that the Geth may be involved." Valern said. "Our STG feelers across the Attican Traverse had reason to suspect that there may have been Geth activity in the Hades Gamma Cluster."

"In addition, there are confirmed Prothean ruins on the planet." Sparatus added. "Small ruins, mind you. But Prothean nonetheless. Between his attacks on Eden Prime and Therum, and the fact that the conduit is likely a Prothean artifact, it makes sense that Saren would be interested in worlds that may yield Prothean relics."

"Keep in mind, this is mostly speculation on our part." Valern said. "There's no real evidence that Saren was involved in the survey team's disappearance. But, given it's conveniently right on your route back here, we advise that you may wish to look into it."

"I'll look into any lead I can." Chief replied with a nod.

"We'll expect a full mission report within the next couple of days." Sparatus said. "Oh...and do try to avoid blowing anything up this time."

And with that, the three of them vanished. Chief furrowed his brow in distaste. Tevos and Valern were fair enough to him, but Sparatus was-

"What an ass." Cortana said.

Chief cracked a smile. "Took the words right out of my brain." the spartan said.

...

The Normandy was a small ship, so it didn't take long for word to spread that they would be making a slight detour on their way back to the Citadel. They were now bound for the planet Trebin, on which an ExoGeni survey team disappeared, and Saren may or may not be involved. According to Pressly, they'd arrive at the planet sometime later that evening. Chief thought it best to do some research in the meantime.

He first studied ExoGeni Corp, a company the spartan had never heard of. Apparently, it was an interstellar company that specialized in the exploration and colonization of other worlds, and turned a profit via minerals, Prothean artifacts, exotic new organisms, any kind of resource a planet might have. They were making a killing after the discovery of the Forerunner Relay, tagging several planets in the Attican Traverse for colonization. Most of these planets were either turning a profit, or soon would. Thirty years later, the company is still going strong as they now have several viable colonies in the traverse and more than a few more in the process of being built.

Trebin was one of their newest projects. It was an arid world with an unbreathable atmosphere of nitrogen and argon. However, atmospheric pressure, gravity, and temperature were all well within Human survivability, still making Trebin a good colonization candidate. All it really needed was water, which was painfully scarce on Trebin's surface. Terraforming a planet like this was simple really. All you really needed to do was hit a few 'sweet spots' on the surface with water-ice comets and you've got water. ExoGeni already did a test impact of such a comet and, while no liquid water has formed yet, the water from the comet has entered the atmosphere in the form of water vapor and clouds have begun to form. So far, their terraforming efforts seem promising.

ExoGeni deployed several survey teams to the surface to monitor the geological and meteorological effects of the impact. Every survey team has reported good results, all except one that didn't report anything at all. Chief will soon be going in to find out why.

After researching all that, Chief told Cortana that he'll be heading down to the shooting gallery down in the garage. He made a note to thank Ashley for getting that. It has been a great way for the Chief to kill some time ever since it was first brought on board. Sure, the distances made it nowhere near challenging, but hey, at least his trigger finger was getting a decent workout. At the very least, it was preferable to being cooped up in his quarters the whole trip.

When the elevator door opened, he saw that, unfortunately, the shooting gallery wasn't exactly empty. Wrex, Garrus and N'tho were all making use of it. Well, Wrex and Garrus were making use of it. N'tho was just standing off to the side going on about something. The elite turned to the spartan and smiled. "Yo, Chief! Wassup man?"

"...Not much." Chief said. He was still off-put by just how Human N'tho sounded.

"N'tho was just telling us about how he and his unit took down some pirate group back in the Artemis Tau." Garrus said as he made another flawless headshot on the holo-dummy. "You were saying, N'tho?"

"Right, as I was saying." N'tho said. "I escaped the garbage compactor JUST as it activated, and managed to sneak up on the pirates while they had the rest of my squad pinned. You should've seen the look on that one Kig-Yar's face when he saw me. He was all like 'N'tho! I thought you were dead!' And then I was like 'You thought wrong!' And then I was like BLAMMO! Kiss my needlestick! Pirates were caught between me and the rest of my unit; not a single one of them walked away." He followed up the story with an evil-sounding cackle.

"...Cut back on the coffee, N'tho." Chief said. "That's an order."

The elite looked puzzled. "You know, not many Sangheili drink coffee. How did you know I did?"

"Educated guess." Chief replied simply and honestly.

"Well, uh, sure thing. Sir." N'tho said with a pressed fist to his chest. He turned to Garrus. "So, what about you Garrus?"

"Me?" the Turian asked.

"Yeah. Former C-Sec right? Bet you've got a few good stories to tell." The elite said as he retook his position at the shooting gallery. Chief grabbed a pistol and started setting up a dummy of his own.

"Well..." Garrus said in deep thought. "There was this one...disturbing case I worked."

"Go on..." N'tho encouraged. Chief took his spot at the shooting range and began unloading his pistol on the dummy.

"I was tasked with tracking black market trade on the Citadel. Most of it was harmless. Nothing I felt like I really needed to pursue. But, during the course of my investigation, I noticed an increase in the trade of body parts. Organs, mostly. We usually get a few of those, but not the numbers I was seeing. We weren't sure if there was a new black market lab or if some freak was harvesting organs from citizens."

"Wow. Nasty." N'tho commented. Chief silently agreed. He once read how, back in his day, organ trading wasn't that rare in the outer colonies. Their economy was so poor, some people were willing to sell a kidney just to pay for their mortgage.

"I mean, I heard about that kind of stuff in the vids, but does it really happen that often?" N'tho asked.

"Not terribly often." Garrus replied. "But every once in a while, some lab sells unwanted parts through the black market. But they're not as bad as the psychos. I remember this one Elcor diplomat we caught in my first year on the job. He was hacking people up and selling their organs. Had the station in a bit of a panic."

"Hehehe, I remember that." Wrex chuckled. "People are funny when they're scared shitless."

"Yeah, but this case wasn't as clear cut as the Elcor's. We found out there was more going on than we first realized." Garrus went on.

"So how did you find out who dunnit?" N'tho pressed.

"Well, first we got a hold of a sample and ran DNA tests. The weird part was, the match led us to a Turian who was still alive and was very convinced he'd never lost his liver. After a bit of digging, I discovered he worked briefly for a Salarian geneticist named Dr. Saleon. So, I went to his lab, hoping to find evidence of cloned organ development. But there was nothing. No Salarian hearts, no Turian livers, not one Krogan testicle."

Krogan testicle. At the uttering of the phrase, N'tho's eyes went wide with shock. Wrex grunted in displeasure. Garrus noticed N'tho's shock. "I should explain. You see, some Krogan-"

"No no!" N'tho interrupted as he raised both hands in the 'stop' gesture. "I don't wanna know. I can already tell it's one of those things that I'm better off not knowing. Please continue."

"Er, okay." the Turian replied. "Anyway, I brought in some of Saleon's employees for interrogation, to see if I could get them to talk. While I was...'interviewing' one of them, I came across something suspicious." The pause at 'interviewing' didn't slip by the Chief's ears. Apparently, Garrus had a very flexible interpretation of legal rights in his law enforcement career.

"One of my detainees started bleeding profusely during the interview. We offered to patch him up and he got frantic. Totally freaked out. I ordered a full exam to find out what was going on. Our medics found incisions all over his body. Some of them fresh. That was our big break. These people weren't just Dr. Saleon's employees. They were his test tubes. Walking, living test tubes."

That shocking revelation was enough to bring Chief's focus away from the firing range and towards Garrus. "This guy was growing organs inside people?" he asked.

"Exactly." Garrus nodded at the spartan. "He cloned their organs right inside their own bodies. Then he harvested them and sold them off. Most of the victims were poor. He'd pay them each a small percentage of the sales, but only if the organs were good. Sometimes, an organ wouldn't grow properly, so he'd just leave it in them. Most of them were a mess, but only on the inside - hidden so nobody could see it."

Chief felt himself getting goosebumps. ONI ran some ethically sketchy science projects back during the Human-Covenant war. In fact, he was a product of one of the more successful projects. But ONI never did anything that sick. At least, not to the spartan's knowledge.

"Damn." N'tho said. "So, how much time did he get?"

Chief heard the smallest growl escape from the Turian's throat. "That's the worst part. We never caught him."

"What? Why not?" N'tho said.

"He ran. Blew his lab, grabbed some of his employees and headed for the nearest space dock. By the time I found out, his ship was already leaving. He threatened to kill his hostages if we tried to stop him."

"Then what?" N'tho pressed. By now, the elite was fully involved in Garrus's story.

"I ordered Citadel Defense to shoot him down. But C-Sec headquarters countermanded my orders. They were worried about the hostages. Worried about civilian casualties if the ship was destroyed so close to the Citadel. I told them those hostages were dead anyway. He'd just use them to make more organs. But they wouldn't listen. They sent the military after him, but he got away just the same."

He paused. "I remember going up to Pallin's office and telling him what I thought of him and his policies. He said if I didn't like it, I could quit. I almost did."

"And here you are." Wrex pointed out.

Garrus sighed and nodded. "That IS pretty much why I'm here. I wanna help take down Saren, but I didn't want to be restricted by policies and procedures. Saren certainly isn't worried about rules, so why should we?"

"We'll take him down." Chief said. "But if I can help it, I'd like to avoid shooting down a ship full of hostages."

"Er...of course Chief." Garrus replied.

"So, did you ever find out what happened to this Saleon guy?" N'tho asked.

"I sent out feelers from time to time, hoping to find something. I thought I found him a while back. He'd changed ships and changed his name to Dr. Heart - his idea of a joke, I guess. I told the military, but they weren't convinced." Garrus sighed. "I got the transponder frequency for his new ship...which apparently hasn't left Korlus for seven months."

"Korlus?" Chief asked.

"It's a planet out in the Terminus Systems. The whole planet is basically one big graveyard for ships. Saleon probably ditched his old ship and got himself a new one. I don't know where he is now." Garrus explained. It was clear to see that this story of 'the one that got away' was disheartening for him.

"Huh." N'tho replied. "Well...good story." the elite then turned to the spartan. "How about you Chief?"

"Me?" Chief asked.

"Yeah. Come on, twenty seven years fighting the Covenant? Don't tell me you haven't got a few stories to tell." N'tho said.

"...I'm not really the 'story-telling' type." Chief replied.

"Oh come on. Nothing particularly cool? Nothing really stick out in your mind?" N'tho asked.

Chief just shrugged in reply as he lined up another shot.

"Oh! I know! Why don't ya tell us about Halo?" N'tho suggested.

Chief paused. "Halo?" he asked.

"Yeah. You know. Forerunner construct. Shaped like a big ring. Had a lot of creatures called 'Flood' on it. And, of course, could wipe out every sentient being in the galaxy!" N'tho said.

"Don't tell me you actually believe that last part." Garrus said.

"It could!" N'tho insisted. "Halo was just one of seven Halo's strewn throughout the galaxy, and the Ark would automatically build new Halo's to replace destroyed or damaged ones. The UNSC covered it up so the truth wouldn't cause a panic."

The Turian shook his head. "That's just a conspiracy theory. Halo might've been strategically important and had some pretty nasty life-forms on them, but you're telling me that it could let you wipe the entire galaxy of all sentient life with just the push of a button?"

"Yeah." N'tho said with a nod.

"That's stupid." Garrus said. "First of all, what does it fire? Energy? Plasma? Second, how does it specifically target sentient life? Third, why would the Forerunners even BUILD something like that? Fourth -"

"Uh, hello? In case you haven't noticed, we're trying to stop a rogue spectre from getting his mitts on something that can bring back the Reapers who, upon their return, will wipe out all sentient life. So, let me see if I follow your logic here. Ancient Forerunner superweapons are implausible. But an ancient race of sentient machines? Oh yeah. You could buy THAT."

"To be honest with you, I don't. Not entirely." Garrus responded. "As far as I'm concerned, we've yet to really discover anything that confirms the Reapers' existence. All we know for certain is that, if Saren does get to the conduit before we do, something very bad will happen."

The elite shook his head. Then turned to the spartan. "What about you, Chief? You were on Halo. You should know more about it than either of us."

Chief paused.

"...Garrus is right. Halo was a Forerunner construct that served as a lab for the Forerunners to study the Flood. The Covenant, while exploring the site, accidentally released the Flood, meaning we had to destroy it. Halo never had the capability of wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy."

Chief knew protocol. There was a reason ONI hid the truth, and he wasn't going to argue with that.

"What?" N'tho asked, not quite believing it.

"Told you." Garrus deadpanned. His mandibles leaned back a bit, indicating the Turian equivalent of a smile. N'tho's own mandibles formed the Sangheili equivalent of a scowl as he glared daggers at Garrus.

"Alright, fine." N'tho admitted. He seemed to be more upset with being wrong than anything else. He turned to Chief. "Did you at least do anything cool on Halo?"

Chief just looked at N'tho.

"...I've killed at least a couple hundred of your kind on Halo, N'tho. I watched a recording of a unit of good marines being viciously attacked and infected by the Flood, which was by no means a pleasant thing to watch. Captain Jacob Keyes, one of, if not THE finest spatial tactician I had ever known, was turned into a Flood brain and I had to rip neural implants out of his head in order to get clearance to activate the Pillar of Autumn's self-destruct sequence so that Halo could be destroyed. Only five other people survived the destruction of Halo, out of the hundreds that made up the Pillar of Autumn's crew, and three of them died on the way back to Earth. That cool enough for you, N'tho?"

"...Yeah. That's...cool enough." N'tho meekly replied. Chief smirked a little. It felt good to put the squidhead in his place. "So...how about you Wrex? What's your story?" N'tho quickly asked the Krogan, wishing to change subjects.

"...There's no story." Wrex growled out as he fired his shotgun. The dummy's torso lit up a bright shade of red. "Go invite the Quarian if you want stories."

"Aw come on Dinofrog. Not you too." N'tho replied. "Krogan live for centuries right? You had to have had a few good adventures."

Wrex lowered his shotgun and rubbed his chin in thought. "Well..." he said. "There was this one time the Turians almost wiped out my entire species." He turned to Garrus. "That was fun."

"...I'm...going to go up to mess hall." Garrus quickly said. "I'm feeling...peckish all of a sudden." And with that, the Turian quickly made for the elevator and rode up to deck 2. Wrex smirked smugly.

"I can relate." the Master Chief said. Wrex turned to him and just raised an eyebrow. "Covenant. They glassed over most of our colony worlds, including Reach. But we eventually won that war and have since recovered."

"...It's not the same." Wrex replied.

"Well, maybe not exactly the same, but-"

"So the Covenant infected YOUR people with a genetic mutation?" Wrex snapped, interrupting the Chief's statement. "An infection that makes only a few in a thousand survive birth? One that's destroying YOUR entire race?"

"...I'm gonna go see if Tali needs my help." N'tho quickly said as he jogged down to Engineering. N'tho was about as mechanically inclined as a sack of wet mice, but then again, Chief surmised that Garrus probably wasn't really that hungry. In any case, the Chief and the Krogan were now all alone with each other.

"...I guess it isn't the same." Chief admitted.

"I don't expect you to understand, but don't compare your species' past plights with the Krogan." Wrex growled.

Chief sighed. Once again, THIS is why he doesn't talk to people. Conversational skills aren't his strong suit. "Look, I didn't mean to upset you."

"Your ignorance doesn't upset me, Chief." Wrex said as he resumed his stance as a new dummy loaded up. "As for the Krogan, I gave up on them long ago. The genophage infected us, but it's not what's killing us." He unloaded a round right into the dummy's skull.

"So...this 'genophage.' How does it work?" Chief replied.

"Ask the Salarians if you want details. They made it." Wrex answered. "All I know; it makes breeding nearly impossible. Thousands die in stillbirth. And most never get that far. Every Krogan is infected. Every damn one. And no one's rushing to find a cure."

"Not even your own people?" Chief asked.

"My own people? You mean find the cure ourselves?" Wrex asked. "When was the last time YOU saw a Krogan scientist? You ask a Krogan whether he'd rather find a cure for the genophage or fight for credits, he'll choose fighting every time."

"Why?"

"Because we're not scientists. We're warriors. We want to fight. So we leave. Hire ourselves out. And most of us...never go back."

Chief shook his head. "You'd think more Krogan would be interested in at least trying to preserve what's left of the species. Fend off extinction."

"Kind of like how your race fought tooth and nail against the Covenant, even when you were down on your hands and knees bleeding? And how you eventually rose to meet the challenge and emerge victorious?" Wrex patronizingly asked.

"We had to keep fighting if we wanted a future." Chief pointed out.

"Well, therein lies the real difference between our two races, huh?" Wrex asked. "We're not as optimistic as you are. We don't see any reason to fight for our future. There is no future for us. 'Kill, pillage and be selfish, for tomorrow we die.' Forsan Korm."

"Forsan Korm?" Chief asked.

"Old Krogan warlord. Died raiding a Turian colony a few years after saying that." Wrex elaborated.

Chief only nodded in reply. He thought to ask Wrex a few more questions. Why did the Turians and Salarians use the genophage to begin with? Why do the Krogan feel like they don't have a future? However, he noted that the conversation topic had put Wrex into a rather foul mood, and wisely decided to stay silent for the next five minutes or so. The two of them continued their target practice. Then, he decided to call it quits and take the elevator back up to deck 2. Wrex probably wanted to be alone for a while anyway.

...

Chief went back to his quarters and started doing some research on the Krogan to get the whole story behind the genophage.

The trouble started during the Rachni Wars. The Citadel races made less-than-peaceful contact with an insectoid race called the Rachni some two thousand years ago. In fact, this was the reason that activating dormant relays is outlawed in Citadel Space; activating a dormant relay is exactly how the Citadel races met the Rachni in the first place.

Things were going bad until the Salarians discovered the Krogan, who were then a pre-space flight race confined to their homeworld which was suffering from a nuclear winter of the Krogans' own making (something that should've been taken as the first warning sign of what the Krogan would bring). The Salarians, taking note of the Krogans' skill in battle, decided to uplift the species and use them as foot soldiers against the Rachni.

Ever since he first fought one, Chief knew that Krogan were indeed one of the few sentient species to be physically on par with a SPARTAN-II, but he had no idea just how similar their roles had once been. Just like the spartans in the Human-Covenant War, the Krogan ended up turning the tide against a seemingly invincible enemy, accomplishing feats that were once thought impossible. However, that's where the similarities ended.

The war eventually concluded with the extinction of the Rachni. Harsh, but most likely necessary, Chief thought. In gratitude, the council gave the Krogan several worlds to call their own and they were held in high esteem for a while. However, one thing that the council did not factor in was the Krogan's birthrate.

Due to the ridiculously hostile biosphere that Tuchanka had prior to its nuclear winter, the Krogan had to evolve many traits just to keep their race from going extinct. These traits included; a tough hide, a resistance to toxins, at least one back-up for every major organ, and most notably, an extremely high birthrate. Now, free of Tuchanka's hostile ecosystem to thin their numbers, the Krogan were free to breed like rabbits and consequently found themselves facing an overpopulation crisis. Seeing no other alternative, they began invading worlds belonging to other citadel species. The Krogan Rebellions had begun.

Things were going bad for the citadel races. No matter how many casualties the Krogan suffered, their high birthrate ensured that there would always be fresh replacements ready to fight. Thankfully, that all changed soon after the Citadel races made first contact with the Turian Hierarchy. The Turians had the Salarians develop the genophage, and then the Turians deployed it. Deprived of their biggest advantage, the Krogan's defeat was all but inevitable. Save for a few holdouts, the Krogan surrendered. They were then stripped of their embassy and the Turians were given a seat on the council as a reward for their efforts.

Since the end of that war, the Krogan have become scattered across the galaxy, most of them becoming mercenaries. They have no organized government, the closest thing they have to one being a hundred or so clans back on Tuchanka, who are in a constant state of war with one another.

Chief was starting to see why Wrex thought his race had no future, and why fighting for one was pointless. When the Covenant glassed Human-controlled worlds one-by-one, at least Humans could retaliate, no matter how badly they were losing. They could still make weapons. They could still replace the fallen. They could keep on fighting.

But the Krogan? They couldn't even do that much. Their defeat was absolute. Their military doctrine and chain of command were completely shattered. Without replacements, there was no chance of successful retaliation, at least not without insufferable casualties that would be nearly impossible to recover from. As for why the Krogan don't find a cure for themselves, it was as Wrex said; his kind were warriors. Not scientists. Sure, a few Krogan might have at least tried to find a cure on their own, but they were probably less than successful, not being as scientifically savvy as other races.

The saddest part though was that ultimately, the genophage really was the right thing to do. If the Turians hadn't deployed it, the Krogan would've continued their rampage across the galaxy and would've eventually reached Earth. During the rebellions, Humans had only just developed gun powder, so they would've had no chance against a Krogan invasion.

"You feel sorry for Wrex and his kind. Don't you?" Cortana asked.

"A little." Chief confessed. He had fought the Covenant for over twenty years. He saw them kill a lot of good friends. Yet, in all that time, not once did it ever occur to Chief to inflict a painfully slow genocide on them. He supposed that was because he was just a gun on the front lines. It wasn't his job to think about long-term strategies.

"Er, Chief? You there?" Joker's voice came through the comm-link on the spartan's desktop.

"Yes?" Chief asked.

"We have a situation up on the CIC. You may want to get up here."

...

"What is it?" Chief asked the moment he stepped out the door into the CIC. Pressly walked up to him and saluted.

"We've found a ship adrift, sir. Modular conveyor, Kowloon-class. Checked the ship's registry; MSV Ontario. We're attempting radio contact with her crew now." The XO reported.

"What are they doing out here?" Chief asked after returning the salute.

"We don't know, sir." Pressly said with a shrug. "We can only assume they were charting the nearby Farinata system. We won't know for sure until we contact them."

"I can access audio transmissions from here on the CIC, right?" Chief asked.

"Yes sir." Pressly replied.

"Good." the spartan said as he ascended the ramp that gave him elevation above the galaxy map. "Once we establish radio contact, I'll speak with them directly."

"Aye aye, sir." Pressly crisply stated.

Master Chief was actually secretly glad about this. Rescuing a charter ship that was damaged or out of fuel might not have been the most glamorous thing he'd ever done, but he was starting to get bored again. Whatever kills the time, right?

Chief waited for a bit as he observed several servicemen fiddling with buttons at the CIC, and several more doing the same thing in the 'trenches' of the bridge. Eventually, Joker's voice came. "Radio contact has been established. Start talking whenever you're ready, Chief."

"This is Alliance vessel SSV Normandy. We understand that your ship is-"

"Well well well. Alliance marines at last. We were wondering when you'd get here." the voice replied. "See how it is? You write letters and everyone ignores you. Force is the only thing people appreciate!"

Chief was taken aback. "Excuse me?"

"Alright. Here's how it's going to go. You do what we want, and Chairman Burns lives." the voice said.

"Please! I was trying to help you people!" another voice cried out. It was followed by a sickening whacking sound.

"We want the subcommittee to...'reconsider' our request for reparations to all L2 biotics. For a start. You have ten minutes to discuss it with whoever." And with that, the transmission cut off.

A stunned silence settled on the Normandy's CIC. But it only lasted a moment as Chief sprung into action. He turned to Pressly. "Pressly. Tell Williams, Alenko and Wrex to suit up. We've stumbled into a hostage situation."

...

Thruster Packs, or T-Packs as they were often nicknamed, had changed little in the century and a half since the Human-Covenant war, save for a welcome new safety feature. They still have two tanks of compressed triamino hydrazine, but the addition of eezo-powered kinetic barriers vastly decreased the likelihood of rupture, and by proxy rapid loss of control. Many a soldier (including two fellow spartans) had been lost to T-pack failure during long-range deep-space operations, so Chief was glad he wouldn't have to worry about that. He had enough things to worry about.

Outfitting Kaidan and Ashley with T-Packs was easy enough. Wrex? Funny thing about Wrex. Chief thought they would have to jerry-rig a T-pack onto him, but it turned out he actually had brought his own T-pack, custom-made for use by a Krogan, just in case. Say what you will about the mercenary, but he always comes prepared.

Chief didn't know much about the exact situation, but he knew enough; biotic terrorists had kidnapped a VIP and were holding him hostage. Their objective; get in, get the hostage, and get out. Standard rescue. He was bringing Kaidan and Wrex with him, the two of them being the only biotics on the ship fully trained for combat, and thus the only two soldiers under his command that could effectively fight biotics. Ashley would be coming as well for combat back up.

The four of them assembled in the airlock. They heard the hissing of atmosphere leaving the room. The door then opened, revealing the blackness of space, with nothing to fill it but the light of far away stars and the floating ship that was the MSV Ontario situated ahead of and 'below' them.

"Follow my lead. Stay tight." Chief ordered before casually stepping out of the airlock and into nothingness. The rest followed and they found themselves slowly floating forward. They oriented themselves into the positions they need to take in order to go in the desired direction and activated their T-packs.

They began to slowly 'descend' onto the Ontario. Chief had did a little studying on Kowloon-class freighters in his recently-all-too-abundant free time, and knew how tricky this would be. Kowloon freighters typically had see-through glass floors and ceilings in the passenger and cargo compartments, which meant they had to land on a small blind spot on the roof where no one in the ship could look out and see them. If the terrorists did see them, there was nothing really that they could do to stop them, but they might kill the hostage. Chief would prefer to avoid taking that kind of risk.

After what seemed like hours of slowly and quietly drifting through space, they were finally coming up on the blind spot. Chief's visor zoomed in on the sunroofs. He could see some activity in the ship's interior; it looked like the biotics were arming themselves. They were expecting a fight. Fortunately, it didn't seem like they noticed the squad yet. As they reached the roof, they all gently landed on it hands first, their feet dangling upwards. They all then pushed off of roof with their hands in such a way that they spun in mid 'air.' When their feet were perfectly level with the roof, they activated their magnetic clamps. Their boots zipped to the roof as though gravity had taken over.

"Status." Chief ordered. Kaidan, Ashley and Wrex all winked green. Chief looked around for a way in. Sadly, this blind spot didn't give them many options in terms of entry. However, he did spy what looked to be a control panel on the roof. He turned to Kaidan and gestured the LT to follow him. With Ashley and Wrex watching their six, Chief and Kaidan kneeled down by the control panel. Kaidan activated his omni-tool and started tapping some keys.

"What is this?" Chief asked.

"Circuitry access panel." Kaidan replied. "Every Kowloon freighter's got one. I might be able to access some of the ship's vital systems from here."

"Such as?"

"Gimme a minute." Kaidan tapped some more and then, a video feed appeared on the omni-tool's screen. "Uh-oh." he tapped a few more keys and then, the spartan's own blue omni-tool light up. Chief soon saw the same images that were on Kaidan's tool. "That's a feed from the security cameras. Looks like these extremists are gearing up for a fight."

Kaidan wasn't joking. Not only were the terrorists arming themselves with various weapons, but they were also moving crates around. Some them used their biotics, others didn't for some reason. In addition to creating sources of cover, they were also lining up each entrance into the large room with tall crate stacks on each side, creating a funnel. This would leave an intruder with nowhere to go but either backwards or forwards; a very good kill zone that made Chief glad he opted for a space jump rather than docking with the Ontario.

"Plug me in, Chief." Cortana said. "I can navigate the ship's systems faster than Kaidan can."

"I'll see what I can access for myself." Chief announced aloud. He started tapping his omni-tool to make himself look busy while Cortana did all the work.

"Let's see..." Cortana said. "Got another feed from the security cameras." The screen changed and showed a man down on his knees with three other individuals pacing around them. They all had guns. The man on his knees was very clearly the hostage.

Chief turned off Team COM to communicate with Cortana privately. "I think I have an idea. Can you access Life Support?" Chief asked.

"I think so. Hold on..." Cortana said as various technical readouts displayed on the omni-tool's screens. "Yeah. I've got access."

"Think you can drain the atmosphere of the entire ship except for the hostage's room?" the spartan probed further.

"Maybe. I'll have to check." the AI replied. Meanwhile, Kaidan couldn't help but notice all the screens flashing on Chief's omni-tool.

"Got a plan, Chief?" Kaidan asked.

"Maybe." Chief replied. "I'm trying to see if I can vent the atmosphere from every room in the ship except the hostage's."

Kaidan paused. "...Vent the atmosphere, sir? That's a little extreme, don't you think?"

"It's the most efficient strategy to dispatch all hostiles." Chief said. "They're setting up kill zones in there. We try and fight them the old fashioned way, we'd be in for a long and unnecessary firefight, during which the hostage could die at any time."

"Yeah but...they'd choke to death. That's..."

"The most efficient way to dispatch them." Chief repeated. "Even biotics need air."

Kaidan felt a chill go through his gut. He had heard rumors that, before the Covenant became a real problem and rebellion in the outer colonies was still a major concern, the spartans were black ops soldiers who ran assassination missions in insurrectionist territory. Occasionally, their missions ventured into ethically sketchy territory. Or at least, that's what the rumors said. Kaidan didn't believe them, but now that he was seeing just how ruthless the Chief could be when it came to winning fights and defeating enemies, he was starting to think that maybe those rumors had a grain of truth to them.

"With all due respect sir." Kaidan began. "These are L2's. Most of them are only doing this because they're scared and confused and don't know what else to do. Those amps really messed with their heads."

Chief looked up at the biotic. Kaidan couldn't help but note that, while it was technically impossible to know for sure with that visor, you somehow just knew when Chief was giving someone a look that could kill. "Don't tell me you sympathize with them."

"...I actually do sir." Kaidan stated.

Chief grimaced as he took another look at the security feed of the main hall. He observed the terrorists more carefully. He noted that Kaidan's observations may not be all that far off the mark. All the biotics had weapons, but judging from the way they held and handled them, most of them have never used such weapons before. Only a select few had any business holding a rifle at all, really. He spied one young man rocking back and forth in the fetal position in a shadowy corner. He knew he was about to head into combat, and was cracking. These people were most certainly not professionals.

Still, venting the atmosphere would be the quickest way to go about this. He could honestly understand Kaidan's viewpoint. Chief always tried to do the ethically responsible thing whenever it was possible. Save civilians whenever he could. Avoid ruthless executions whenever he could. But every once in a while, a mission would require him to break that code of conduct. He didn't necessarily like doing so, but that didn't change the fact that the mission required it. He didn't really want to vent the atmosphere, but if it is indeed the most efficient option available, Chief would do it without a second thought.

"This is our best option." the spartan resolutely said. "Unless you can think of a better idea, we're doing it."

"Have you considered actually negotiating with them?" Kaidan suggested.

"I don't negotiate." the spartan stated matter-of-factly.

"You don't, but maybe I could." Kaidan said. He started tapping keys on his omni-tool. "I'll try and access the ship's communications grid. Maybe I can negotiate with their leader. Resolve this peacefully." Chief slightly shook his head. Kaidan knew the spartan had his doubts. "Just give me a chance."

A chance. Chief had his doubts. But he recalled that the last time he gave someone a chance, it wound up with Tali saving him from a brute. Maybe Kaidan could surprise him too.

"Alright. Here's the plan." Chief began. "You go ahead and try and contact the leader, while I access Life Support. The second negotiations turn sour, I'm venting the atmosphere. Understood?"

"Yes sir." Kaidan replied with a nod. And with that, he went to work. He started tapping keys on his omni-tool, and within moments, a light lit up on his screen. Communications channels were opened. "Hailing them now." Kaidan reported.

On the security camera of the hostage's room, a balding, dark-skinned asian man with a pistol walked over to a computer console that was beeping. He pressed a few buttons. "Who is this?" a voice quickly answered. Chief noted that it was the same voice that gave them their ultimatum back on the Normandy, and likely belonged to the man in the security feed.

"This is Staff Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko of the SSV Normandy. I'm here to negotiate the release of Chairman Burns." Kaidan began. "What are your terms?"

The man took a moment to discuss something with his two colleagues for a minute. He went back to the console "Alright." he said. "We know how this works. The negotiator keeps me occupied while an elite team of Alliance Marines gets ready to bust in and start shooting."

"Our ship hasn't docked with yours." Kaidan pointed out. "We can't send anyone aboard."

"Oh please. You think we've never heard of thruster packs?" the man on the other end retorted. "Hell, I'll bet there's a whole pack of marines that made the space jump from your airlock not five minutes ago and they're lying in wait on the roof right now!"

"So much for the element of surprise." Wrex grumbled.

Kaidan could feel the Chief giving him a stern stare through the visor. "Accessing life support now. You'll have full control in a few seconds, Chief." Cortana informed her spartan.

"So here's an idea; maybe I should kill Burns right now and finish this charade." And with that, the man pointed his pistol at Burns' head.

"Now hold on just a minute." Kaidan said. "Don't do something you're going to regret."

"Why not?" the apparent leader of this operation asked. "What have we got to lose? Since the chairman here decided we don't get reparations, we've got nothing left to live for!"

"But I've changed my mind!" Burns' voice was faint over the communications channel, given his far proximity from the console, but the squad could still make it out easily enough. "Seeing you all, it-it-it's clear you all deserve-"

"You had your chance!" the leader snapped. "Some L2's are nearly crippled from side effects of the implants, but you voted against reparations!"

Chief shook his head. These biotics were clearly too unhinged and paranoid for offers of bargains to be of any use. Negotiations were breaking down before they even really began. He wasn't even sure if he could vent the atmosphere now, as it would create the excuse those three terrorists need to kill the hostage. They were running out of options.

Kaidan took a deep breath. "Okay look." he began. "You wanna know something? I'm an L2, just like you guys. I know what you're going through."

The man paused. His face seemed to soften a little. "R-r-really?" he asked.

"I'm lucky, to be honest." Kaidan went on. "All I really have to complain about is the occasional migraine. But I had a lot of good friends in brain camp who weren't so lucky. Nosebleeds, broken bones, excruciating pain that made my headaches look pleasant. I've seen the nasty stuff L2 implants can reek on somebody first hand. I'm on your side."

The man, thankfully, lowered his weapon. "I...I don't know what to do. None of us do."

"Maybe Burns can help with that." Kaidan said. "Think about it. He's the one man who can help you."

"Yes!" Burns eagerly said, jumping on the chance at salvation. "If you release me, I can take another look at the reparations request!"

"...How do I know I can trust you?" the man asked. "How do I know you won't double-cross us as soon as we surrender?"

Kaidan paused and looked up at the Chief. Then he started tapping on some keys. "If you don't believe me, believe the Master Chief."

Then, much to the spartan's own surprise, his own omni-tool beeped. "Kaidan's passed on communication control to you, Chief." Cortana said. "You're on."

"...Hello?" Chief said.

A silence.

"Who is this?"

"The Master Chief."

"Prove it."

The spartan could only think of one way to prove his identity. But it would be a big risk. He'd have to walk on the glass ceiling of the room. He'd have to reveal his position. Tactically speaking, it would be a stupid thing to do, but Kaidan had managed to calm the man down a little. If Chief did nothing, he was sure to go back to being angry and trigger-happy. The spartan looked at Kaidan. The lieutenant nodded at him.

With that, the spartan got up and walked over to the glass ceiling over the room. When he reached it, he kneeled down on one knee and tapped on the glass.

The three terrorists looked up at him, their mouths agape.

"Now you believe me?" Chief asked.

There was a silence on the other line. Chief zoomed in. The man who he was assuming was the biotics' leader was blinking back tears.

"We...we're sorry." He said with a choked up voice. "We tried to be the best soldiers we could but...we just...the pain and the nightmares..." he covered his face.

Chief didn't know what this guy was talking about, but he decided to play along. "You were wronged. But killing Burns isn't going to fix anything."

"But people need to know, Chief!" the man yelled. "They need to know about what the government has done! What it's failed to do!"

"And I'll make sure they will." Chief replied. "Burns WILL take another look at the reparations request."

"Absolutely!" Burns yelped. "I had no idea the L2 biotics were this desperate! I promise, if you let me out of here, the reparations will come!"

"Just stand down, soldier." Chief said.

The man paused. He then looked back up to the Chief and saluted. "Orders, sir?" he asked.

"I'll have my ship dock with yours." Chief said. "Transport Chairman Burns to the airlock. We'll take him under protective custody. In the meantime, I'll leave a beacon here so the Alliance can pick you up."

"...What will happen to us, sir?"

"I can't promise you won't go to jail." Chief said. "But I can promise that Burns WILL approve the reparations. Other L2 biotics won't have to suffer as much anymore, thanks to your actions here."

The man smiled. "Thank you, sir."

...

"Thank you Chief." Chairman Burns said as he and the spartan's squad exited the Normandy's airlock and walked onto her bridge. "I thought I was dead when they took me."

"So, just out of curiosity, are you really going to reopen the reparation discussion?" Kaidan asked.

"Yes. I'm a man of my word." Burns said with a nod. "I didn't know the L2's were so desperate."

"What happened back there anyway?" Ashley asked. "Their leader was acting like a soldier for a bit."

"Virtually every biotic has or has had military training of some sort, as part of BAaT. Though many of those L2's had never held real weapons. Just training weapons, and it was a long time ago on top of that." Burns explained. "Anyway, their leader, Charles Wong, was trained at Gagarin Station like many other L2's." The chairman turned to the Chief. "You were...something of a childhood hero of his. Wong said that he joined the program because he wanted to be just like you."

"How do you know that?" Chief asked.

Regret and sadness suddenly painted Burns' face. "He told me so himself. While I was a hostage, he made me, at gunpoint, confront every single L2 on that ship. I guess he was trying to guilt-trip me. It worked. I'm genuinely sorry for just...dismissing their needs."

"Interesting." Cortana noted. "I wonder if he developed a little Stockholm's Syndrome while he was in there."

"I hope you've learned a valuable lesson from all this." Kaidan said. "You should really think about how a big decision could affect people before you make them."

"I will." Burns said. He turned back to the spartan. "So...where we heading?"

"Trebin. A remote world in the Antaeus system." Chief said. "I have spectre business there. Once I'm done with that, we'll head for the Citadel and you can find your way home from there. Until then, welcome aboard the Normandy Chairman Burns. This is no luxury liner, but we'll try to make your stay aboard as pleasant as possible."

...

It would still be several more hours until the Normandy reached Trebin, so Chief figured he'd kill some more time at the shooting range. Hopefully, he'll have it to himself. When the elevator stopped and the door opened, he saw that Kaidan Alenko was the only one using the shooting range. Okay. So the spartan would have to share, but at least it would only be with one person. The spartan grabbed a pistol from the desk at which Ashley usually worked and started firing shots next to the biotic lieutenant.

In truth though, Chief actually did feel like talking a bit with Kaidan. During negotiations with Wong, Kaidan claimed that he himself was an L2. After the assignment was complete, Chief went back to his quarters, jacked Cortana into his computer and had her do a background check on Kaidan. What Cortana found was, interesting, to say the least.

Kaidan Alenko had been part of Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training, or BAaT. It was a super soldier program run by a company called Conatix Industries, and supported by the Alliance, to train potential Human biotics. Children who were exposed to element zero in utero and showed signs of biotic potential worth augmenting were sent to Gagarin Station, aka the Grunt Hole, for training. Kaidan was one of these children.

However, the program was shut down about fourteen years ago for unstated reasons. That was the part that bugged Chief.

He also learned of the plight of Biotics fitted with L2 implants. The implants are most definitely the most powerful biotic implants Humanity had developed before or since, but not without great cost. The implants were notorious for causing severe mental problems such as insanity, mental disability, and crippling pain. Cortana ran a medical background check on Kaidan and, thankfully, he was indeed lucky. The only ill side effects he suffered from were occasional headaches, so there was no danger of Kaidan going crazy or suddenly keeling over in pain in the middle of a firefight.

It seemed that Kaidan Alenko had much in common with the Chief himself, which actually made the spartan a little curious. This would be the first conversation that he actually wanted to start, as it would be with someone he could relate to.

"I feel like I owe you an apology." Kaidan suddenly said.

The spartan wasn't expecting that. "What for?"

"For getting insubordinate with you back there." the biotic replied. "I actually did feel sorry for those extremists, being an L2 myself. Venting the atmosphere might've been ruthless, but it also might've been the best call. I let my own personal bias color my judgements, which is something no soldier should do."

"It's alright." Chief said.

"Sorry again, sir." Kaidan said. "Protocol wasn't a big focus back at BaAt."

"Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training?" Chief asked.

Kaidan snorted at that. "That name didn't last past the airlock." he said as he scored a headshot on a dummy. "To the kids they hauled in, it was brain camp."

"Hauled in?" Chief asked.

"Sorry. That was unkind." Kaidan replied. "We were...'encouraged to commit to an evaluation of our abilities, so an understanding of biotics could be compiled.'"

"In other words, hauled in." Chief quipped.

Kaidan chuckled at that. "Yeah. More or less."

"How old were you?"

"Fourteen, thereabouts." Kaidan answered. "Bunch of guys in suits show up at your door after school. Next thing you know, you're in the Grunt Hole."

"Gagarin station, right?" Chief asked. "I don't remember that station orbiting Earth back in my day. Is it new?"

"Not really." Kaidan said. "It was constructed about...twenty years after the end of the Human-Covenant War. Sangheili wanted to make nice with us, so they voluntarily helped us build Gagarin Station; a research platform. It got the nickname 'Grunt Hole' from all the Unggoy laborers that worked on it. First structure in the history of mankind to be made by both Humans and aliens. It's pretty big, has about a thousand people on it, conducting all kinds of scientific research. BAat was just one of many projects they were working on."

Chief nodded in acknowledgement. So, Kaidan wasn't conscripted until he was fourteen. Chief was a little bit envious. He didn't remember much of his childhood before the UNSC kidnapped him, but he liked what little he did remember. He recalled gazing up at the stars with his like-minded sister, his kind mother who smelled of soap, and Parisa. He never regretted becoming a spartan; it was necessary for Humanity's survival. Still, he'd be lying if he said he never missed his old life.

"You said there were other kids, right? Make any good friends?" Chief probed. He recalled forging strong bonds with the other SPARTAN-II candidates during basic training. He was curious to see just how much he and Alenko had in common in that regard.

"Yeah, I did." the biotic answered. "We'd always get together every night before lights out. We didn't have much to do, though. Conatix kept the Grunt Hole off the extranet to prevent leaks."

"Any friends in particular?" Chief asked.

"Well..." Kaidan said. "There was this one girl I spent a lot of time with. Rahna. She was from Turkey. Her family was very rich. But she was smart...and charming as hell. Beautiful, but not stuck up about it." The biotic turned from the firing range to the spartan and smiled. "I think you'd have liked her."

"I'm sure I would have." Chief said.

"Okay. My turn to be nosy." Kaidan said. "What was your spartan training like?"

The spartan paused at that, not expecting it. "I...can't go into too much detail." he said.

"Right. Classified intelligence. Need-to-know basis, I know how it works." Kaidan replied. "So what CAN you tell me without having to kill me afterwards?"

The spartan thought a moment. "Well...I guess I made some good friends too. Spartans 034 and 087 were the first I made. Then there was 104, 058, 051, 043, 092...pretty much every active spartan, now that I think about it."

Chief paused, suddenly reminded of the fact that they were all gone now. Kaidan must have picked up on it, as he winced ever so slightly as a sting of guilt hit him. "Sorry about opening up that old wound, sir." the biotic said apologetically. "Can't be easy. Being the last of your kind."

"...No." Chief said. "But moping won't bring any of them back. I'll go on. Move forward. It's all I can do."

Kaidan nodded. "I guess at the end of the day...it's all any of us can do sir."

The two went on shooting dummies in silence over the next twenty minutes or so. Chief then ordered Kaidan to pack up the shooting range before walking into the elevator to ascend to deck 2. The ship would be in orbit around Trebin soon, so they'd need the garage clear for mako drop.

...

And there's your latest update. I've noticed that I've been neglecting Liara lately, so she'll have the spotlight in the next chapter.

Now...I've been thinking. As you all know, I've changed the dates around to try and make this fic work; Halo took place in the 2100's, and Mass Effect takes place in the 2200's. I tried to justify that by saying that Halo technology doesn't really seem advanced enough to be thought of as 26th century. However, the other reason I went with that timeline change was because I was trying to find a balance.

See, I COULD have had Mass Effect take place in the 2600's, but that would be a 500 year jump from ME canon. That seemed like too big a jump to me. The Quarians and Krogan might've been extinct by then, ages of certain characters would be kinda messed up , basically too many things would be different.

But then I realized that, while Halo Human technology itself may not be terribly advanced, their empire was. The UNSC had enough colony worlds that it took the Covenant over twenty years to even come CLOSE to wiping out the human race. I think they had like 800 colony worlds. You just can't build an inter-stellar empire that big in just 150 years from now. The recent review by DamionKenley117 was the final confirmation of my suspicions.

And now that I REALLY think about it, is 500 years really that big a difference in the grand galactic scheme of things? I don't see any reason why I can't just bump up the whole Mass Effect timeline by 500 years; it wouldn't effect Humanity and the Covenant much, since they were both stuck in the Forerunner Cluster until about thirty years prior to Mass Effect. Who's to say that the Asari didn't discover the Citadel in 1080 BCE instead of 580? The Rachni Wars could've occurred in 501 CE instead of 1 CE. The Krogan rebellions could've begun in 1200 CE rather than 700 CE. Actually, the actual names of the dates would remain the same (580, 1, 700 and so on), they would've just occurred 500 years AFTER what the ME timeline actually says. And I think I could get away with that since, in the never-ending scope of the universe, 500 years is but a blink of the eye.

And the best argument I can think of in favor of changing the dates...AGAIN...is that it wouldn't have that much impact on the most important aspect of this fic; the story. I just need to change the 1 in 2152 back to a 5, and the second 2 in 2283 to a 6. That's it. That's all I'd really have to do.

The only thing keeping me from doing that is because I'm not a big fan of blatant retcons (really, who is?) as they expose a writer's inability to keep his own story straight. Then again, I've already been doing minor retcons in previous chapters (removing the SPARTAN-III's from the Spartan Wall after learning they were supposed to be a secret. I just finished reading Ghosts of Onyx last week! Also, removing how Chief mentioned Halo to Liara in Chapter 13. That was a screw-up, plain and simple), and my ego is not so large that I won't admit that I made a mistake.

So, what say you readers? Should I go ahead and retcon the dates, or do you actually prefer them as is? Leave your answer in a review or PM it to me. Just don't do the "I told you so" dance or any other manner of nasty remarks; my oh-so-delicate ego has been bruised enough already, I would hope