Author's Note: This series contains enormous spoilers for CII's story Halo: Infestation. However, owing to various commitments she may be unable to finish it anytime soon, so she has granted me permission to start putting this sequel series up here before it's done. Just thought you ought to know in case you're holding out for the ending and don't want it spoiled for you.
Now, with that out of the way, on with the show!
FIREFLY Mk2: PRELUDE
Honour Amongst Thieves
Lofwyr had much to be thankful for from his existence. Ever since the late 21st century he had been in charge of Saeder-Krupp, one of the premier companies in the field of industrial construction. Over the almost-five centuries that had followed, he had bought out or bankrupted almost all of his competitors. He enjoyed the feeling of being a captain of industry; it certainly felt much more satisfying to him to be involved in the workings of the business world and earn such power than sitting on a literal pile of gold. It had been a long, often exhausting process, but he was now where he wanted to be, even if the ban on Technomancy these days meant that he spent most of his days stuck in his human form. There were plenty of times he had hated it, not least because he had almost been killed a couple of times because of it, but spending so much time as a human had given him a greater empathy for the human race which he did not possess before.
Perhaps if he had not gained such compassion, he likely would not have been so eager to pick up the many contracts that the war between Earth and the Covenant had brought over twenty years ago. Though the technological standards had once again taken an enormous step backwards from the Technomancy-filled days of yore, he had adjusted quickly and had constructed no end of military vehicles, bases, drop ships, star ships and even entire space stations. Of course, it had meant an uneasy alliance with his long-time rival, Malcho, who owned Omak-Argon Industries, which supplied fuel for the ships. Though it had exhausted both beyond human endurance (he was certainly thankful he was not human, in that regard) and had sometimes been more trouble than it was worth, the arrangement had largely survived the war without too many headaches. It was amazing what someone could achieve when the very future of their species was on the line.
He had certainly always been thankful that some others like him had decided to remain awake and do what they could to help the silly mortal races, in spite (or perhaps because) of the mental scarring that the war had left him with. His finest facility on Reach, an industrial marvel the likes of which the galaxy would probably never see again, had been destroyed when the planet had been glassed by the Covenant, along with many other worlds that humans had once called home. The destruction of the Space Elevator in New Mombasa had also come as a huge blow, and efforts to clear the Serengeti of the debris were still continuing even now. If it had not been for the efforts of various parties during those turbulent times, he would be quite sure that the mental stress would have reduced him to a gibbering wreck long before the Covenant had blasted everything to smithereens.
Now, at last, the war was over, and the human race was now in the process of trying to restore some order to its shattered existence. In a way, he could not help but envy the humans for their tenacity and their stubborn refusal to back down and let any other creatures destroy their home. They lived by the simple phrase 'Don't tread on me', an attitude that he could not help but admire. With the war over, he could now move on to the matters of what his company was going to do in these times. Part of him was tempted to leave it and just enjoy the peace while it lasted, though if he knew the humans right the next conflict was just around the corner.
It was two days after the memorial service held in honour of those who had lost their lives during the war, and now he was back in Essen, Germany, right at the heart of his corporate empire. He had many days of meetings and appointments to keep. Now that the war was over he knew that he could not avoid meeting the shareholders any longer. He enjoyed personally overseeing the construction of his latest creations, and he hated how these meetings kept him away from what he loved doing the most. He had grown a real taste for getting hands-on with the work.
Relaxing in his cavernous office in the main Saeder-Krupp building, he had some last-minute details to check over new suggestions for improvements to the Warthog line before he headed for home. The sun was already setting outside, the sky becoming full of shades of purple and red which bathed the office in a warm glow. It had been a long time since he had been able to savour the little things that made eternal life worthwhile. His thoughts became derailed by a loud buzzing coming from the intercom on his desk. He pushed the button and waited for the message.
"Mr. Clyro at Site Alpha on line one, sir," the voice of his secretary said quickly.
"Danke, Isabelle," Lofwyr replied. As he picked up the receiver on his phone and opened the line, he hoped that this was not something important. He had rather being looking forward to getting home and indulging in some Toto albums.
"Yes?" he said, hoping the tone of his voice made it clear that this was not a good time to be disturbed.
"Master Lofwyr," the nervous-sounding security man called Clyro answered. "We've captured an intruder in warehouse number eight."
To say that Lofwyr was not surprised would be untrue. Warehouse Eight at Site Alpha was one of the most heavily-protected, for some of his most prized possessions which he could not keep at home or in the main office building were kept there. Still, however the intruder had gotten inside, he had to wonder why the security team were bothering contacting him personally, not when they knew what usually had to be done.
"Send them to the police then," he said dismissively. "Why waste my time telling me this?"
"Actually, sir," Clyro responded, "this guy's been demanding to speak to you personally since we bagged him. He says you both have a long history, and keeps mentioning Malcho as well. I only thought it right to humour him."
"Tell me," Lofwyr said, his curiosity beginning to peak, "who is he?"
"I couldn't rightly say, sir," Clyro responded. "He's a weird-looking fella though. He looks like a lizard-man, scales and tail and everything. Come to think of it, he looks a lot like the old Commander-in-Chief-"
"Thank you, Mr. Clyro," Lofwyr rumbled, now able to take a very good guess as to the identity of the unexpected visitor. "I shall see to the matter personally. Keep him there until I arrive."
"Yes, sir," Clyro said, before hanging up.
Quietly chuckling to himself, Lofwyr departed his office and rode down to his waiting limousine. The driver tipped his hat to the well-suited, grey-haired businessman as he got inside and rode to the base. He could hardly dare to believe his good fortune that at least one little nuisance from his past was about to be dealt with once and for all. He never thought he would get another chance, not after nearly five centuries.
The limousine quickly arrived at Site Alpha, the first, but not the largest, of the factories that belonged to Saeder-Krupp. Warehouse Eight was located in a rather out-of-the-way part of the site, as only Lofwyr and a select few others were privileged enough to be able to use it. As the large doors opened and the limousine rode inside, Lofwyr saw that the lights had been switched on, putting in plain sight the many different small craft that were kept in the cavernous space. Most of these space-ships were very old and came in all kinds of shapes and sizes. They were all personal craft and small private vessels, designed largely for transporting cargo. Lofwyr was an avid collector of these old space-ships; he enjoyed taking them apart and restoring them in his spare time, bringing them back to full working order, and even improving on the designs in some cases. The warehouse was his version of a garden shed; his own private place where he could indulge in his hobbies.
The limousine stopped in front of a small group of men. Three of them were members of the security force, among them the unshaven, nervous-looking Clyro. Kneeling between them, bound by handcuffs, was what looked like a humanoid figure, only covered in grey pebbly scales and with sharp claws where the hands should have been. A long, thick tail snaked behind him, his eyes were a golden colour with cat-like slit pupils, his teeth were very sharp, and his face looked like a distorted cross between reptile and human. His hair was long and an ashy-brown colour, while he was wearing a black sleeveless shirt and blue combats. He had empty holsters and belt-pouches, while on the floor in front of him lay the haft of a monofilament whip and a large Ruger Super Warhawk revolver, weapons which had been discontinued since the middle of the 22nd century. The creature was looking at the security forces with a defiant smirk on his face.
"Here he is, sir," Clyro said, as Lofwyr stepped out of the limousine. "What do you want doing with him, sir?"
"Leave me with him," Lofwyr said, his face looking grave. "I shall deal with this matter personally. Leave the keys to his restraints as well."
"Of course, sir," Clyro said, handing his boss the small handcuff key and motioning for the others to follow. As the soldiers left Clyro could be heard saying, "Guess Lofwyr will be getting a snack before bed-time."
Lofwyr also dismissed the limousine, telling the driver to wait for him outside. When he was sure that the building was empty save for the intruder and himself, his serious expression became one of great amusement as he kneeled before the intruder.
"Good evening, Alan Tyler," he said, sounding highly amused. "Now what brings you to my little museum of curiosities?"
Two days earlier...
Just a few short hours after the memorial, Detective Tim 'Manda' Marx had arrived back in Florida. It seemed that everywhere he went these days was hot; the memorial, Florida, and half of the United States, just to name a few. He was used to living in the heat and didn't mind it, but he found that such conditions got repetitive after a while. He only wished his flight to and from the memorial had been paid for, but that apparently wasn't in the UNSC's budget. He had considered flying there in his true form, but his kind was not supposed to do that these days. Manda was not so willing to break the rules as someone like Malcho had once been. Still, his life as Tim Marx was never a dull one, though he was glad that the war was over now and he could get back to his beat.
He returned to his home in Miami and changed into more comfortable clothing. He had never understood why people seemed to have such a problem with Hawaiian shirts. After he had changed, he pulled a large metal case out from underneath his bed. Kiryuu Knight, who was now declared Missing In Action due to actions which ultimately led to humanity's victory, had left him some items in his care, which now had to be returned to their rightful owner.
Manda had been able to contact the owner of these items before departing for the memorial service, though it had not been easy by any meaning of the word. This person evidently did not wish to be found. In the end, he was able to arrange a meeting point, out in Florida's extensive swampland regions. Manda could not fathom why the meeting could not take place in a more agreeable spot, but it seemed he had little choice in the matter.
A few minutes later, after he had gathered what he needed and dragged a comb through his hair, he started the drive out to the Everglades. The land which the Everglades were part of had expanded over the years since the Awakening, creating a much larger area of swampland as time had gone by. As Manda drove his jeep further towards his destination, the air became more humid and the sides of the road became waterlogged. It was now late afternoon, and the sun was getting low in the sky, casting an orange light around the marshes. In such a quiet and calm place, it was hard to believe that only a few days ago the Earth had been at war with alien invaders.
A few miles into the marshlands, Manda stopped the car and climbed out. He had taken a small side-road which led deeper into the trees, eventually leading to a small wooden cabin by the water. The building was little more than a utility shed, clearly not used as a permanent residence. Manda walked round to the front of the cabin, carrying the metal case. He peered all around him, gazing into the trees and across the water to the opposite bank, looking for a sign of his contact. He eventually spotted him, leaning against a tree on the riverbank quite close to him, gazing into the water with a morose expression. Manda could only see the left side of him at first, so the sight of the clawed arm covered in grey scales was nothing new to him. There was silence for a moment, until Manda decided to break it.
"So this is your new act, is it?" he asked, in a slightly snarky tone. "The Wild Man of the Marsh?"
His contact turned to face him, peering at him with golden cat-like eyes. His long tail swept behind him as he walked towards Manda, running a claw through his brown hair. Now that he could see his contact clearly, Manda was alarmed at just how much he had changed since the last time they had spoke nearly 500 years ago. It certainly would not be possible to refer to him as human anymore; that much seemed certain.
"I..." Manda stammered, unsure of which words would sound appropriate at this time. "Well, that is, I didn't know-"
"We can talk about my full-body make-over later," the contact replied in a slight Yorkshire accent, waving his claw dismissively. "You said you had some stuff for me?"
"Not so fast, Alan," Manda said firmly, holding a hand up. "We need to talk, first and foremost. Firstly, have you had any 'attacks' since you woke up?"
"No," Alan said flatly. "Kiryuu assured me that shouldn't happen anymore. Hopefully I won't need any spells or anything like that from now on."
"I see," Manda said. He placed the case on the dusty ground and folded his arms. "Speaking of Kiryuu-"
Alan's eyes narrowed, and he turned away from Manda. It was clear that this was a topic he had not wished to discuss.
"No point trying to ignore me, Alan," Manda continued, frowning and raising his voice slightly. "The memorial to all those who died in the war, including Kiryuu, was held today. Of all the beings on this planet, you should have been there!" His irritation was now becoming very apparent.
"Kiryuu made sure the UNSC doesn't know I exist," Alan muttered. "I'd rather keep it that way."
"Is that the only reason?" Manda demanded, his eyes narrowed. "I know you had reason not to like Kiryuu, but you can never say that he treated you unfairly, not when you think about all that he did for you!"
"Don't start..." Alan muttered.
"Have you already forgotten?" Manda half-shouted. "Kiryuu didn't have to pull you into any of his affairs! You did that on your own, by poking your nose – or rather your snout – where it doesn't belong! You went along with his plans, he helped you in more ways than you can imagine, he prepared you in the only way he knew you would accept, and if it wasn't for him you would very likely be dead long before now! Through all that, you did not show him one sign of gratitude! Now you couldn't even be bothered to go and honour his deeds. Frankly, you've insulted his memory, you ungrateful little whelp!"
"Are you quite finished?" Alan suddenly shouted, spinning round to face Manda again. His voice was mingled with a loud bestial roar, but Manda showed no signs of fear or of backing down. He knew how to deal with upstarts like Alan if it came to blows. It seemed Alan wasn't interested in starting a fight, however, and if Manda's eyes were not deceiving him he was actually trembling. He stood tense for a moment, then let out a deep sigh, his disfigured face now a mask of regret.
"Do you think I don't know that?" he said quietly. "I've had a lot of time to think lately, and I know now that I've been a fucking idiot. I've been risking people's necks for years; not just Kiryuu, but all of 'em. The Shinodas, Miki... Everyone I've ever actually cared about... Some of them, I now realise, I sent out to die. It took me until Chicago, and the things I saw there, to make me realise this."
"Well, glad to see that some sense has been knocked into you," Manda replied in a haughty tone. "But what are you going to do about it? Do you plan to just sit around in the marshes and mope about it?"
"No," Alan replied, with a determined expression forming on his face. "You should know me better than that, Manda. I have a plan. I know what I've got to do."
Quite by accident, Manda peered into Alan's mind, and saw what this plan was. His cynicism soon gave away to a look of shock, hardly daring to believe what the mutant had in mind.
"You can't be serious..." he muttered. "You're actually thinking of going out there?" he asked incredulously, pointing up at the sunset-coloured sky. Alan followed his gaze, and nodded.
"It's the least I can do for him," Alan said determinedly. "After everything that's happened between us, I know I'd never consider myself debt-free if I didn't bring him home."
"We don't even know if he's alive!" Manda protested. "I heard things at the memorial service. Everyone believes him to be dead! You can't honestly tell me you have some gut feeling that he's alive! That's a stretch, even for you!"
"I don't know if he's alive," Alan snapped. "If he really is dead, then his body still doesn't deserve to be out on some alien planet, or worse floating in space somewhere. He should be brought home and buried decently. If it turns out he's alive, that's just a bonus."
Manda sighed. Alan's proposal sounded completely insane to his ears, and yet he did not dare to say so. He knew from experience that Alan was too stubborn to abandon an idea once it entered his head. The chances of finding Kiryuu, alive or dead, were at least a million to one. It seemed that everyone on Earth except Alan had accepted this.
"Besides," Alan continued, looking up at the sky with an expression of longing, "there's nothing left for me on this old Earth. Now that I've had a glimpse of what's out there, I want to see the rest."
"What about Godzilla?" Manda asked. "If you've been paying attention, you'll know that he's been released recently from Antarctica."
"He's not a child or a trained monkey," Alan stated flatly. "He doesn't need me around to protect him. I'm not even sure he knows I exist."
"Well," Manda said, sighing and stooping to pick up the metal case. "I would say what my opinion is of this plan of yours, but I know you'd just ignore me."
"You know me too well," Alan replied, with a gleam in his eye.
"You'd better take these with you," Manda said, handing the case to Alan. The mutant took it, looking curious, and opened the case to have a look. Inside was a large silver revolver, a monofilament whip, holsters and belt-pouches. There was also what looked like a commlink, of a model he did not recognise.
"Against my better judgement," Manda said, "I put a few new upgrades into your weapons. They should be future-proof now. They also don't need ammunition, which is a good thing as it's a little hard to come by where you're going." He hung his head slightly, shaking it. "I still wish I hadn't set you up with that equipment. Technomancy was banned for a damn good reason, even if we did need it more than ever in the war."
Alan looked apologetically at the dragon-in-human-form. He often regretted making Manda upgrade his weapons to carry Technomantic properties, knowing his stance on the matter of that particular technology. Now that it had been properly outlawed, he knew that Manda was risking a lot by doing this for him, and he knew he could not express his gratitude in a satisfying manner. He only hoped that Manda wouldn't go the same way as so many others who had tried to help him in the past. Manda sensed Alan's thoughts and shook himself.
"Don't you start thinking like that," he scolded Alan. "If you can't get your head together, what chance would you have on this little mission of yours?" Alan shook himself.
"Why don't you come with me?" he asked. If there was one person Alan knew he wanted to face the unknown regions of space with, it was this Eastern Dragon.
"Me? Go up there?" Manda asked doubtfully, before shaking his head. "No, Alan. For one thing, I've already been. I came home on the Shadow of Intent when I suspected Shipmaster Rtas 'Vadum to be another possible Liche candidate of King Ghidorah's. I've just now gotten back, and I'm not eager to go up there again. I've had enough to last me for centuries."
Alan sighed, and nodded. He was half-afraid that would be Manda's answer. He resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to face this alone. He tried to push the negative connotations of that thought out of his head, trying to see it as just another trial that he had to face. Part of him wanted to believe that Kiryuu had done this on purpose, as some other part of his 'training' that he had mentioned back in the late 21st century. He was sure that Kiryuu had never intended to die, however, and decided just to remain focused on the task at hand rather than speculate on crackpot conspiracy theories. He had had enough of doing that to last him a lifetime.
"Well," he said, trying to brighten up, "I'd better be going. The sooner I can get a ship, the sooner I can get started."
"Do you need a ride?" Manda asked.
"Wouldn't say no," Alan replied. "Just drop me off outside the nearest airport and I'll take it from there."
Manda nodded, and once Alan had walked to the cabin's wooden porch and picked up a backpack, the two were soon riding out of the marshlands and back to relative civilisation. The trip passed in silence, and soon Manda had stopped a good distance away from the airport. He was sure that Alan wasn't going to go on a plane like any other passenger, not if he wanted to avoid attracting attention, but it seemed the mutant had everything planned out. As Alan stepped out and began to move towards the airport, Manda called after him.
"Alan," he called. The two looked at each other for a moment, as if evaluating each other's worth. Finally, Manda broke the silence.
"Come back alive," he said, with a smile. Alan just nodded and continued on his way as Manda started the car and drove past him. Around him, night had fallen, and the sound of crickets could now be heard all around him. Looking up, he saw that it was a clear night, the stars twinkling in the blackness. He felt glad that, if luck was on his side, he would soon be getting a closer look at those stars and whatever planets they had in their own systems.