Disclaimer: I cannot believe that I still have to say this, but Halo is all 343 Industry's.
Author's note (edit: 12/18/2013): For those of you who has followed my work over the years, you know to expect another action packed story with plenty of advance tech (of my own variety). What makes this fic different is that this is my first attempt to break out of the technical realm and go deeper into the intangibles of war (tactics, strategy, morale, political unity, and so forth). There is a reason why this fic is called the "Art of War". This first short chapter here will set the groundwork for this highly AU fic. This is not your average halo fic and things will diverge drastically, though I hope to keep in characters' relations to cannon strong and realistic. Hope you enjoy.
Oh, and whoever it was that wrote a TV Trope page for this fic, you deserve an entire box of cookies! For the readers out there, just google "TV Trope Halo: the Art of War".
And a final note: Yes, this chapter (along with the next few chapters) have large portions lifted almost word for word right out of Eric Nylund's Fall of Reach. This is to quickly remind people of the critical background information and to identify the point of divergence. So credit where it's due.
"The art of war is of vital importance to a state. It is a matter of life and death. A road to either safety or to ruin." - Sun Tzu, the Art of War.
0500 Hours, July 18, 2552 (Military Calendar). UNSC Military staging area in orbit around Sigma Octanus IV
One piece of debris in particular floated near the Iroquois. It was small, almost indistinguishable from any of a thousand other softball-sized blobs that cluttered radar scopes and polluted thermal sensors.
If anyone had been looking close enough, however, they would have seen that this particular piece of metal drifted in the opposite direction from all the other masses nearby. It trailed behind the accelerating Iroquois . . . and edged closer, moving with purpose.
When it was close enough, it extended tiny electromagnets that guided it to the baffles at the base of the Iroquois ' number-three engine shield. It blended in perfectly with the other vanadium steel components.
The object opened a single photo eye and gazed at the stars, collecting data to reference its current position. It would continue to do this for several days. During that time it would slowly build up a charge. When it reached critical energy, a tiny sliver of thallium nitride memory crystal would be ejected at nearly the speed of light, and a minute Slipstream field would generate around it. If its trajectory was perfect, it would intercept a Covenant receiver located at precise coordinates in the alternate space.
Five days later, in orbit over the UNDF fortress world of Reach, the Iroquois prepares to go into dry docks for repair. The probe had recorded all that it needed and made its exit into slipspace. Everything depended on its precise slipspace solution to return it to its maker.
Ninth Age of Reclamation, Step of Silence \ Covenant Holy City "High Charity," Sanctum of the Hierarchs.
Within the Sanctum of the Hierarchs, the most sacred place of Covenant Holy City of High Charity, the Prophet of Truth rested on his levitated dais before the legion of Sangheili honor guards undergoing his review. Each of the fanatical warriors stood at rigid attention as they prepared themselves for the greatest honor of their lives. To Truth, though, this was little more than a distraction, something to occupy his time as he awaited the message. Just as the ceremony began, the alert finally came and a small holographic display gave the content of the message.
The probe has failed to return.
His little experiment had failed to deliver the wanted results. If it had succeeded, it would have greatly accelerated the extermination of the humans.
No matter, though. This was a mere delay on their extinction. The war is progressing well and there were no reason to doubt its successful conclusion. The prophet continued with the ceremony slightly upset but remain totally serene to the observers. After dismissing the guards, the prophet left to control room of the great forerunner dreadnought at the heart of the massive station. It was here, many cycles ago, that a lowly minister of fortitude had met his destiny and began his ascent to power. The control room had since been sealed off to all but the high prophets. He cannot risk any others aside from his two fellow hierarchs know what he knew, less his designs become unraveled.
In the center of the room lay two objects. There was the massive core of the luminary network for which every luminary on every covenant ship was linked to. This is the key to the extermination of the humans. Without the core, the search for human infested worlds would take far too long. How ironic is it that a device meant to the vermin to their legacies would become the means to hunt them down.
The other object in the room was the threat that he had tried for so long to vanquish, but it simply refuses to die. The oracle, this simply looking metallic sphere with eyes, that had tried to destroy everything the covenant stood for, who tried to lay waste to High Charity itself. But now it is but a prisoner of Truth's designs. How many times had he tried to delete the infernal AI, this Medicant Bias? Looking back, Truth decided that he should have known better; nothing of the Forerunners ever surrenders to oblivion without being bombarded by the fleet. Now instead, Truth spends his spare time searching for what secrets Medicant Bias still holds.
"You have failed! The reclaimers shall never have the chance to embrace their legacy. The knowledge of your makers, your knowledge, are mine!"
But unknown to the Hierarch of the Covenant, Bias was not as powerless as it seemed. Despite its descent from near godhood to being a pitiful prisoner of these primitive meddlers, the ancient AI still had a few cards left to play. The bastard doesn't yet know what it has done (indeed, what it is still doing) to foil these meddlers' campaign of extermination against the rightful heirs of the Forerunners. Bias had served as the hidden composer silently souring the notes in the symphony of destruction that Truth had sought to unleash, including the most recent plot to uncover the home of the Human fleet. And there is still one final act that the AI had planned, a scheme that could turn the war in the favor of the Reclaimers.
What was missing was the opportunity, for this final requires the direct intervention of the Reclaimers themselves to succeed. And it was only a matter of time before the human do intervene. Bias have watched the humans long enough to know how they would react to their current strategic situation. They will strike back with all their might. And it will be hard, for both the Reclaimers and Bias itself have nothing left to lose and everything to gain:
Reclamation and Redemption.
AN: Yes, the Battle of Reach doesn't happens (well, yet).