Epilogue: There will be Another Time

August 30th, 2552

The sand and dust brushed past him, obscuring his vision partially. All he could see was the outlines of buildings, the fading setting sun and several Covenant aircraft circling the area. His joints ached as the dust climbed into the little pieces of his armour. The howling wind filled his head, drowning out almost all sounds. The barren landscape stretched before him, the area lousy with Covenant. What had once been a small outpost station was now an abandoned mix of concrete and metal.

Six had been avoiding and dodging Covenant patrols for a good while now. He had been trying to find a good place to make a stand. There wasn't much left in this outpost to be frank, both in the way of supplies and weapons, but it was as good a place as any. He supposed he could try hiding out in the caves, tucking his tail between his legs and hoping they moved on. But that wasn't who he was.

He had come to Reach, joining a team not his own. It would end up being his tomb and he'd die alone. Fitting that it end like this. Alone, once again, his friends all dead, gone or far away from here, as they should be, just like before. At least one of them was safe now, that much he could take heart in. He supposed he should feel sad about it all. He had mused before how futile his existence felt. How he didn't know what he was gonna do if he lived through this. That burden was off his shoulders now.

He had spent much of his life as a lone wolf, lacking any real friends, predictable that he end it the same.

On his back were his DMR and Geth Plasma Assault Rifle. Currently he now stood atop a tower, several gun emplacements surrounding him. Good amount of firepower, it would be useful. He could see, just barely, through the dust and sand, that the Covenant were already swarming around, searching for him. He didn't want to disappoint them.

"Hope you're ready to meet your Gods Covies." Six said as he took up the chain gun "I know I am."

He fired down upon a squad of brutes moving through the area. The bullets slashed through their thick hides with ease. Their faces were filled with holes, their bodies turned to mush as the rounds jit them repeatedly. They were all dead before they had even figured out what was happening. But a phantom knew. It closed in with its right side guns and onboard passengers opening up on the Spartan. Needles and plasma smacked against his shields. Six let loose a torrent of fire into the ship, he ripped the covies apart with ease, blood and guts filling their transport as a stream of bullets cut them down. They either fell out of the ship or caked the floor of it with their bodies and blood.

The phantom turned to face the Spartan head on and began firing on the tower. Six ripped the gun off its stand and jumped from the dizzying heights, the plasma shots tearing his previous perch to pieces. He landed in the dirt below, the heavy gun still in his hands. He trekked forward, keeping the barrels spinning so he didn't have to wait for the weapon to warm up. A brute a couple of jackals appeared from around a rock. They opened up with needles and spikes. Six returned fire with a devastating wave of bullets. The Brute took six shots to the head before falling down. The jackals tucked tail and tried to hide under their shields. Eventually they couldn't withstand the pressure and they broke formation. They fell backwards as their bodies were filled with led.

Six didn't have time to savour his victory. Several concussive shots rang out behind him. Elites were coming, closing fast on his position. He turned the gun and opened up on them as they streamed down the dunes towards him. He backed up towards the buildings far to his back. If he could get there, he could make the place a killing ground. Close quarters, good places to hide, good places to shoot from, good places to lay in wait for ambushes. Yeah, he could hold out a lot longer there. Take a few more Covenant down before the end. One less stupid religious alien nut to threaten marines and troopers, one less bad guy Legion would have to deal with when they were done here. That's what every dead Covie was to him now. One less.

He turned and ran towards the buildings, a pack of grunts standing in his path as he ran through what used to be a small parking lot. Their plasma struck his shields incessantly, but he pressed forward. He cut through the Covenant with bullet after bullet, in moments the pack of grunts lay dead in the sand, their bodies torn to shreds.

They'd have more company soon enough.

The Normandy had linked up with the Autumn in orbit, as did several other Pelicans. All of them carrying members of the strike force. Both army troopers and marines stalked the hall of the Autumn now, all of them trying to settle in for the long trip out of this system. Preparations for the jump were already being made. For now, everyone was just trying to find someone else, see if they had made it off the planet, if they were okay. Holland had become the defacto leader of the troopers aboard the Autumn now, so they all looked for him for answers. The marines looked for answers in anyone they could find, even the alien crew members of the Normandy. The gambit questions consisted of "how many made it out?" and "where are we going?" But no one could really answer those questions.

Tali felt bad having to say to so many people as she walked by. They recognized her as part of the Normandy. Many of the marines aboard the Autumn had long since been told the temporary captain of the Normandy that had helped them out was an Alien. Tali could tell many were still suspicious, but they kept it in check. They had other concerns right now, and they had been fighting aliens all day anyway. No sense in getting embroiled in another one, especially when she had risked her life to save many of them.

The Normandy itself had become sort of crowded with Marines, Troopers and their ODST counterparts. Many were here out of curiosity, seeing a small but still considerably big ship docked inside the massive hanger wing of the Autumn. Others were here hoping to find a less crowded place to get a drink or food, many of them needed it. Others still were here for more personal reasons.

Tali remembered passing by Buck and his squad. They were sitting at the table on the crew deck, chatting it up with a friend of theirs. Garrus seemed to be enjoying the attention a little.

"You know you could've told me you were an alien." Buck informed the Turian

"Well, would you be willing to let me cover your back as much if I did?" Garrus asked

"You gotta admit boss it would've been a bit weird." Dutch informed the sergeant

"Still, a little info would've been nice is all." Buck reiterated with a shrug "I mean, would've cut down on the shock of seeing half of your friends down there."

Garrus just laughed slightly.

"I suppose, sorry about that Buck." Garrus apologized "It's just considering you guys don't have the best relationship with aliens I was worried you wouldn't trust me."

"Hey anyone that can put a bullet in the eye of one of those space gorillas at over 300 yards is golden in my book." Romeo informed him "So what if you're an alien and sent us dropping into a mess of crazy covies trying to mess with space/time. You've saved our hides and made sure we actually did something instead of sitting on our hands and watching Reach burn. I wouldn't mind cracking open a cold one with yas is all I'm saying."

"That's good to hear Rome," Garrus said graciously "but uh... that may be a bit difficult. Different amino-acids and all."

Tali giggled a little at it all. It was good to see Garrus was trying to keep upbeat about all this. She was worried after what he said went down planet side he wouldn't be in the mood for conversation. It was better than seeing him brooding that was for sure.

After that Tali had gone down to the engineering deck to get something she needed currently. A data file. When she came up she saw a marine walking along the hallway towards Samara's room. The doors opened and Samara was sitting there in her usual spot meditating. The Marine made a little coughing sound and the Asari.

"Private Kowalski?" she said, seemingly amazed

"I know," the marine said, his arms up somewhat defensively "this probably seems creepy, me always showing up at random it's just... I kinda need someone to talk to."

The poor soldier sounded rather distressed, a private matter no doubt.

"I could talk to guys but..." he never really finished that line of thought."But you know if you're busy..."

The marine looked like he was about to leave. But Samara patted the floor beside her and the private quickly took a seat.

"You need only have asked Private Kowalski." She assured him "Despite how often we seemingly cross paths, I do enjoy your company."

Tali thought she saw a smile on the marine's face, if only a small one. She didn't get a good look though as the doors automatically closed behind the marine soon after.

She continued on her way to the medical bay, she needed to check up on someone before she left. She passed by Thane and Jun on the way, discussing sniper tactics.

"Gunners didn't kill all the banshees down there," the Spartan claimed "I caught at least one through the canopy with a clean kill during the retreat."

"Well after we blew up the spire we had to make a run to a nearby clear area and hold for pick up." Thane informed him "I killed at least two elites with one clean shot."

"Oh please." Jun shook his head in disbelief.

"Ms. Lawson's overload program is sufficiently useful against Elite shields." Thane added

"Then that's an assist Thane, don't take full credit." Jun argued

Tali let the two have their conversation and stepped into the medical bay. On the nearest table, Mordin and Chakwas were standing over a Spartan, the Chief's friend, Linda from the looks of her. Tali passed them by.

"How is she?" the quarian asked

"Stable, for now." Chakwas assured "We're gonna need more time with her. She took a bad hit, plasma burns are just like burn damage to be honest, but that doesn't make them any less worse. Plus they're more precise, which can be both a blessing and a curse to be honest."

"Need to return to stasis after treatment just to be sure." Mordin added "Should be back in the fight soon enough though."

Chief would be happy to hear that, especially after what he told her about his other friend. They couldn't find him, even with the Normandy's sensors. There was just too much debris. However he wasn't the only Spartan lost today.

"And how is she?" Tali asked, her voice hushed and low.

Everyone turned to a slumped over Kat, staring at her feet morosely as she sat on the medical table, her one good arm against her legs being the only thing propping her up.

"About as well as you can expect I imagine." Said Chakwas "Be careful when you talk to her, she's very vulnerable right now. I suggested maybe Chambers should see her when she's ready."

Tali nodded and walked lightly over to Kat. The Spartan didn't look up as she passed by.

"Kat," Tali began, trying to keep her composure, maintain an aura of understanding "I'm... I'm so sorry."

The Spartan didn't respond, her face sullen and downcast.

"If I could change it, I would. I swear. I'm not sure if it helps but..." Tali paused at that, trying her best to consider her words before she spoke "...I know what it's like to lose a friend. To lose many friends."

Kat remained silent for awhile, not commenting or looking at Tali. The Quarian wondered if she had offended her somehow. Thankfully she did break the silence.

"I knew he'd do something stupid." She finally said, her voice slightly vitriolic "He always like that. The second he picked me up in the caverns I knew he was gonna do something like this. He always had to be the damn hero. Always had to blame himself for everything so it would make it easier to rationalise. They say Emile had a death wish? Carter had the biggest one of them all. And he finally got it."

Tali joined Kat in her saddened look. She had been where she was a little over two years ago. Back when Shepard had died, when she lost him like Kat had just lost Carter. In that way she felt a kinship. She didn't voice it though. She got Shepard back. Kat wouldn't get the same chance. She reached out her hand to Kat's shoulder and grasped it.

"He... he did what he felt he had to." Tali told her sorrowfully, remembering that first day so long ago "It's what made him who he was. He wouldn't be the person you knew and respected otherwise."

"Yeah, I know." Kat admitted, still grief-stricken. She suddenly turned to Tali. "Do... your people have an afterlife?"

The question came somewhat at random, but she supposed Kat had the right to ask the question. She was trying to rationalise everything. So Tali did her best to answer.

"My people believe in something called the walled garden." She explained "It's where our ancestors reside, where we pass into when our time comes. You'd think we'd have abandoned a lot of that after reaching the stars but, well, I think through the hardship and death it's always nice to know there's something better waiting for us all."

Kat turned her head back to the floor.

"And what's waiting for us, Tali?"

That was a question she honestly couldn't answer, not just yet. Tali wanted to help her more, but she wasn't sure what to say. She tried her best to summon up the words she had heard from others before.

"Carter wouldn't want you feeling sorry for yourself, blaming yourself." She told the Spartan "He'd want you to move on, to fight harder, for what's left."

"Yeah he'd probably say something like that, and then blame himself for getting killed." Kat spoke that last line with a saddened little chuckle at the memory of her fallen commander. She then looked to her stub of an arm. "I'll need a new one though."

"That's why I came down more or less." Said Tali, her voice a bit more chipper. "I wanted you to see something."

The quarian mechanic brought up her omni-tool and a holographic display when she clicked a command. And image of a three fingered arm appeared, similar in design to that of a certain synthetic platform.

"Legion's platform is sturdy but there's always the risk it'll need replacement parts." Tali explained "That and I have extensive knowledge of geth hardware systems. It's possible I could retrofit a new arm from some supplies and with the use of our micro-replicators. Won't be the same as your old one, but it's worth a shot."

Kat's eyes gave the geth arm schematic a good once over. Finally she just nodded.

"Heh, alright Tali. Let me know when it's done okay?"

Kat wasn't smiling, but her voice was less downtrodden than before. Tali hoped that meant she helped in some small way. She said her goodbyes, there was a lot to do before they made the jump and Tali had little time. As she left though, Kat called out.

"And Tali," she said "thanks for coming down here. I guess I needed someone to talk to."

"Anytime Kat." Tali assured "Us techie girls, we gotta stick together right?"

Kat nodded in agreement and Tali left through the opening doors. She had another meeting to get to, one that was almost as important. As she walked to the elevator to get off the Normandy she brought out Halsey's little journal and started flipping through it. She needed to be ready for this.

The elites moved through the desolate buildings cautiously, their plasma rifles pointed at every possible angle. The human was trying to lead them into a trap, that much was clear to them. They didn't think much of it. It was only one pathetic human regardless of how powerful he was. He'd be easy to kill, especially if he was still lugging that giant gun around.

They eventually found said giant gun lying in the dirt at their feet as they turned a corner. He couldn't be far though. One elite went over to the discarded machine gun, trying to get a better look at it. As he did, something smacked into the sand nearby. He looked and saw what it was, a grenade.

The elite was torn apart by the sudden explosion and sand dust was kicked up around his compatriots. They coughed and choked on the dirt, trying to look through the sand to find the foolish human that defied them.

But Six was not too far away, in fact he was in a nearby building, his DMR focused on the disoriented elites. He had them now. He fired into them while they were still trying to grasp the situation. He took down at least two before they figured out what was going on, their shields dropping under the sustained fire. The elites quickly looked for cover and ducked into the nearby buildings for safety. Six kept them in the scope, firing on them, not letting them get any breathing room. When an elite popped up through a window, blasting out with his plasma rifle, Six met him with a furious barrage of gunfire. The elite staggered back as the rounds shot his shields apart and his body contorted till he fell dead.

Another elite rose up blasting at the window with reckless abandon. He strafed out from cover, his repeater beginning to smoke. Six watched his shields go offline, but he had the last say against the alien. He ducked down, changed out for his geth assault rifle and fired into the elite as he charged across the sand. He caught the Covie officer in the leg with ease and he tumbled to the dirt. Six fired another round into the alien's body as he lay there, ending him.

Then he was struck full on in the face by a blast of red energy. The concussive round sent him flying across the room straight into a wall, cracking the already weakened concrete as he struck it. The elite who fired the shot poked his head out from cover and began to walked towards the building. Surely the human was dead now. He just had to verify the kill.

He stepped through the doorway and suddenly felt a pain in his gut. He looked down to see a knife stabbed straight into his belly. Six appeared from behind the door frame, a shotgun in hand, one that he had found inside the building when he picked it as his spot. He pulled the knife out and then raised the gun to blast the elite's head clean off. His final team mate rushed out of his own cover, plasma sword in hand. Six fired every round in the gun's chamber, taking down the elite's shields and pummeling him with lead. The elite soon fell to the ground, just inches from his target.

Six took a moment to breath. It was then he saw that part of his visor had been cracked, just a little. That concussion shot hit him hard it seemed. No sense in pondering it he needed to keep moving. He brought the geth assault rifle back out and began to make his way out. It was then a giant green explosion erupted behind him, tossing him to the ground. He turned to hear the screeching sound of a banshee and watch as the vehicle closed in from the skies for the kill. Six fired up at the banshee as it closed with his assault rifle. Struggling to get to his feet as the smaller plasma burst licked up at him. The banshee veered off and Six turned his gun to continue firing on him as he fled. He knew the pilot would come back around. He wouldn't pass on the chance to kill a single lone human, who was so easy a target.

Six began to run from the banshee, he may have scored some hits but it wasn't gonna be easy to take him out without a bigger gun. The craft, now trailing some smoke behind it followed the fleeing Spartan, shooting its plasma coils in tandem with his steps. The craft got close to the ground, almost touching the tops of the buildings. Six kept running turning back now and then to shoot wildly at the pursuing aircraft.

Then he took a shot to the back of his leg. The plasma burned at his thigh. He fell forward. He quickly turned on his back, pulling his pistol off the side of belt and opened up on the alien attack craft. The banshee barreled down directly on him, taking every shot the Spartan fired head-on. The pilot didn't think it was that bad, but the damage from the little gun soon accumulated. One of the bullets suddenly hit the plasma coils and the banshee exploded along its side. The vehicle tumbled through the air in a spiral sideways. Passing clear over Six's head and crashing into one of the forgotten buildings behind him. An explosion followed soon after.

Six got to his feet and looked to the pistol. He pulled out the cartridge. Empty, just like his shotgun. He tossed the weapon aside and made his way forwards. He wasn't done yet.

Tali fumbled her fingers, like she always did when she was nervous. She had met Keyes in person just a few moments ago and he had handed her the eponymous package. He assured Tali that she was waiting for her and that the terminal was ready. She'd have to make it quick though. The Autumn was moving away from Reach, preparing for the jump. Tali insisted that before they instructed her to make it that she needed to get the fragment reinstalled. They didn't have much time. The Covenant were focused solely on Reach for the moment, but they would be coming for them eventually. They were also waiting for signs of more survivors in pelicans making their way to the Autumn in orbit, but not for long. They needed to be out of this system in less than twenty minutes, that's all they had.

It was all Tali needed.

She took a deep breath and entered the room with the closed off terminal. There was a small window peeking out into the void. The terminal was directly in front of it. There she could see her, already standing there, watching the planet they had left behind slink off into the distance. She was waiting for her.

"Um... hello." Tali spoke up at last.

The AI turned her head to look at the Quarian, still not saying anything.

"I'm Tali'Zorah-"

"- vas Normandy, acting captain of the SR2 Normandy." The AI completed for her "I heard the discussions you had with Keyes over the communication lines during the battle. He told me to expect you when he requested I upload myself into this terminal before returning to the bridge."

Tali gulped a little, the fragment container shaking in her hands.

"It's... just Chief Engineer now actually, Commander Shepard is back in command." Tali corrected her

"Oh, I see." She observed "Well with the way you commanded the ship out there I think he better watch his back. You might just steal his job."

That relieved the tension a bit, she laughed at the snarky comment. Just as Halsey had told her, a lot more lively than most AI she had met.

"We haven't been properly introduced I assume," the AI continued "AI Designation CTN 0452-9, or the less of a mouthful, Cortana at your service Ms. Zorah."

Cortana stood upright with her chest out as she spoke. Tali approached her, fragment in hand.

"I'm here to reintegrate this into your systems." She explained, holding the fragment up.

Cortana looked puzzled.

"What is it exactly?" she asked

Halsey had told her Cortana had no memory of the fragmentation process. It was better for her. The memory would only serve to traumatize her otherwise. She gave Tali a story to tell Cortana in case the subject came up.

"It's more or less an upgrade for better interfacing capability with the Autumn's systems." Tali explained "The Halcyon-Class is a bit old you see and we felt you could use a better connection to the ship."

Cortana still looked puzzled for a moment before nodding at the explanation.

"Oh, I noticed that I was having difficulty with some of the higher functions." She surmised "Added capacity and runtime capability would be appreciated. No sense dawdling, we're on a schedule. Plug it in."

Cortana slowly opened the hatch on the terminal and stuck the container into the system. In moments the machine was humming loudly as the light from the package began to surge upwards. Cortana seemed to tingle slightly as the fragment reintegrated with her. Her head shivered and shook for a moment before settling.

"Whoa, that was..." she said blinking slightly as she looked around "that felt a bit weird."

"How do you feel?" Tali asked, a mix of caution and concern. "Do you need me to see if it uploaded properly? Cause I can-"

"No Tali, No. I'm fine, don't worry." Cortana assured, calming her down "I just, need to adjust. One moment."

Cortana placed her fingertips up to her head for a moment, her eyes closed. She opened them a second later.

"Hmm, memory and storage capacity seemed to have increased." She observed "Oh and I apparently have some new data logs. Runtimes improved, processing speed increased as well. Connection to Autumn... yes fully integrated. Thank you Tali, this is... well this is great."

Tali smiled under her mask, it worked. The fragment, the data, it was in Cotana's head now. Everything the artifact contained Cortana possessed and was capable of understanding. She would just need time, as Halsey suggested. The fragment's knowledge would work on a subconscious level.

"It was my pleasure Cortana." Tali replied graciously "We're all in this together now, so we all need to be at our best I think."

Cortana returned a coy smile.

"Well I was pretty great before," she spoke "can't complain with being more awesome I guess."

Tali giggled, she reminded her a bit of Garrus with his usual snark and bluster. Good signs, good signs indeed. Cortana's expression soon turned from pride to curiosity once more.

"Strange," she said "you know this is the first time I've met you but... I feel a sudden familiarity. It's... I guess it's kinda like if you passed someone in the street and met them later, but you can't recall when you saw them. I think, not sure."

Tali was glad her helmet masked her feelings more or less. She wasn't ready for Cortana to know how happy she was to hear that remark. Subconscious level indeed, just as Halsey said.

"Well I don't think you've met too many friendly aliens before." Tali explained, waving her three fingered hand in front of Cortana "It's probably just a sudden feedback from overhearing the conversations I had with Captain Keyes before, during the battle."

Cortana just shrugged.

"I suppose." She accepted "Now that's that done I better get working on establishing a jump pattern for our escape. Well... just as soon as I check on one last thing."

Cortana turned seemed to open a file in front of her. Puzzled Tali walked beside the AI, trying to get a look at the file she was reviewing.

"What is that?" she asked

"Oh... well uh..." Cortana replied, seemingly nervous "... it's just some progress I'm checking on. Using some of the last vestiges of the system's communication satellites, you know before goes offline entirely. Covenant has been blasting them out of the sky one by one. Probably gonna be the last comm.-buoy we can contact for awhile."

"Progress on what though?" Tali asked again

Cortana brushed her arm slightly, humming under her breath.

"Well... I don't know." She began, hesitantly "I felt it was better to keep this a secret, safer for me and a friend of mine. But... well I feel like I can trust you for some reason. So..."

Cortana steeled herself a bit before coming out with what she was doing exactly. It was, to say the least, very intriguing. According to Cortana she had been with the Master Chief just a day ago, when she met Colonel Ackerson for the first time. Cortana grimaced at the name, if she ever had to hear about that man again her life it would be too soon.

Cortana seemed to share the sentiment as she recounted the events of her and Chief's first training exercise together.

"It was supposed to be routine and simple, but the bastard was using live ammunition. Practically almost got me and Chief killed. And for what? To get Halsey's funding of course. So, I went into his closet and found a few skeletons. Just some little things to make him regret that decision, that's all. Jail's too good for him. Still wish I got something a bit bigger though, something to bury him in red tape and tribunals for a good long while."

Tali had to admit, she liked the plan. Couldn't happen to a nicer person as far as she was concerned, but the temptation to throw her own hat into the ring was overwhelming.

"What's the charge for a UNSC/ONI liaison for attempting to kidnap a civilian engineer to build a private drone army?" she asked

"Well that's not technically treason. ONI can get away with a lot of things from what I hear." Cortana sadly admitted, although her curiosity was clearly peaked. "You could always beat the charge, but I doubt you'd ever be able to show your face in the sunlight again after the tribunal is over with. In fact, you'd probably get discharged for it in the end. Sent away to some deep dark corner so no one can use him as a punching bag in the media to point and ridicule. Bad for ONI's image, UNSC's too. Why you ask?"

The quarian smiled.

"I think I may have some more dirt to bury him under." Tali replied

She clicked her omni-tool and a recording began to play.

-That's what your spy was after You weren't after our weapons and shields data, you just wanted him to find out more about Legion and the Geth!-

*Those tidbits were a nice bonus though. I appreciate you sharing. Especially since a number of the notes pertaining to the Geth were based on your personal history and knowledge of them.*

Tali fast forwarded the recording a bit to another section.

*You won't be able to contact your friends on the Normandy for some time. At least until you can create a sufficient number of Geth programs for our use. Nothing major, around ten should suffice. Or whatever number is required for them to start replicating en masse. We'll take it the rest of the way from there.*

Tali stopped the recording there.

"There's a bit more, but you get the gist of it." Tali explained

Cortana was at first wide eye at the information, then she grinned, giddy at the possibilities.

"That is just beautiful." The AI said, almost laughing "I probably can't send it now, but I'll be happy to hold onto a copy of it for the time being. Once we eventually get back to civilization this is gonnna make that asshole's face redder than lobster."

"Thought you'd like it." Tali added

Cortana soon closed her progress file, uploaded the recording from Tali's omni-tool and began making preparation for the jump. She'd need to go to the bridge to make the final adjustments. But with any luck she'd do what Halsey and Tali hoped she would. The signs that that would be the case were all there. Before she left however, Cortana said one last thing to the quarian mechanic.

"You know Tali," she spoke up "when they told me you were an alien I was a bit wary. But now having met you I think having a few xenos around could be advantageous."

"We'll do our best to prove you right Cortana." Tali assured

"I would hope so. I hate being wrong." Cortana said, quickly adding "Which I'm never, not to toot my own horn of course. In any case, I think we're all gonna work well together."

"Looking forward to it Cortana," Tali told the AI as she walked towards the exit, a mix of anticipation and hopefulness in her voice "looking forward to it."

The elites kept covered in the rocks as they made their way through the area. They felt themselves safe, the dust and sand flowing through the wind covering their approach. They were wrong. Several powerful shots from the geth assault rifle cut through their shields with ease. Those that managed to survive the initial barrage of slugs got into cover and fired back. Six kept charging forward, even as the plasma cut through his shields, striking at his armour. He fought through the pain that seeped through the metal. He rushed up to one elite taking cover behind a rock and slammed down hard on him with his boot. As he stood atop him he fired a round into his head. He turned and tossed a plasma grenade at another elite moving out to strafe. It stuck right on his chest plate and the Elite roared in anger. The blue explosion blew the alien apart. He turned rapidly to the last elite among the rocks, using up what was left in the geth assault rifle to tear the alien's jaw clean off.

Six quickly reached into one of his ammo pouches, pulling out another thermal clip. He plugged it into the weapon while he took a breath. He had a few more of those, not much though. He wondered how much longer Legion's gift would last before he had to use it as a club. Bit of a disappointment, he wanted to keep it as long as possible. If only to say Legion had helped him live a few seconds more.

As he thought about the matter a bullet grazed through his shield, slicing at his shoulder. He stumbled back, clutching at the wound. He looked ahead and through the blinding dust saw five lumbering forms moving up through the rocks. They weren't elites or brutes, they were krogan, the blood pack. And they were armed with disruptor rounds from the look of his shoulder. Six opened up on the slowly advancing krogan as he backed away, more bullets whizzing towards him. He quickly ducked into the rocks nearby, taking cover among them as the rounds speed past.

He remembered what Legion said, that krogan were devastating in close quarters, that shooting them long-range was most cost-effective, that their eyes were the most vulnerable parts of their body. He was lucky he found that sniper rifle in one of the abandoned buildings along with some sparse ammo. He raised the gun up, propped it against the rocks and peered through the scope at the advancing krogan. It was hard to keep an eye on them through the dust and whirling sand, but he could see their outlines more or less. Even partially obscured they weren't exactly invisible.

Six lined up the crosshairs on where he suspected the eye to be on the krogan in the middle. He fired a shot and watched as the alien staggered around, clutching his head. He fired another shot, cutting deeper into the giant lizard's head. That one dropped him. His friends quickly sprinted forward firing on his position. He switched targets, firing on the approaching krogan with two quick shots in succession. They hit dead center in the same spot, breaking apart the skull with ease. The hard plated forehead crest didn't stop the high velocity round. The lumbering lizard fell back dead and Six quickly reloaded. There were still three left.

The krogan were quickly closing in, Six would have to make these shots count for something if he wanted to make it out of this. He fired off one round, but it went wide, it didn't eye, just sliced along the side of the krogan's head. By now he was charging full throttle towards the Spartan, intent on crushing him underfoot. Six looked and aimed lower along the helmet of the giant alien. He fired another round, this one cut through the mouth section. The krogan choked on his own orange blood as he skidded to the ground.

Six turned to the two last krogan, they were so close now he could see their eyes clearly. They had stopped their charge and were now pelting his cover with round after round. He fired one shot clean into the eye ball of the first krogan. He crumbled down to the ground with ease. Six moved the bullet to the next krogan and fired again. But the lizard tossed something his way before the bullet struck him dead, a small cylindrical canister. Six rolled away as it fell down on his position. It exploded open, spreading fire as it seemingly cracked against the side of the rock. Six was partially caught in the blast and furious forced himself down to the ground to put his arm out.

The sand killed the fire quickly, but the armour was blacked by the attack. Six stood up, breathing heavily from that shock. Five krogan, dead, on his own, it felt a bit empowering to be sure. His inner celebration was interrupted however when a bolt shot across his side, barely missing him. He turned his rifle towards where the shot had come, but when he pulled the trigger it just clicked.

"Out of bullets eh?"

Six looked up to see a lumbering mass coming out of the sand cloud breezing past. Another krogan, in heavy blood pack armour, an orange crest, a plasma sword in one hand and plasma repeater in the other. He didn't recognize the krogan, but he had a feeling he knew he was.

"What are you gonna do?" he asked the Spartan as he walked out of the dust "Hit me with it?"

Six looked at the rifle again and tossed it to the ground, pulling out his DMR quickly and pointing it towards the krogan.

"This one still has some punch left." He stated

"And the geth gun you have?" the krogan asked

Six paused momentarily, should he bluff or tell the truth? He wasn't sure. Hell he wasn't even sure why this guy was bothering talk with him, but his suspicion as to who he was had become greater. So he spoke his mind.

"You this Kreave I kept hearing Shepard mention?" he asked

The krogan smiled at the question.

"So he did speak of me, good." He said "Shows he recognized my prowess."

"He recognized your big mouth and pompous ego." Six responded

Kreave didn't respond, instead he began to circle Six, staring intently at him as he did. Like a shark swimming around a diver's cage, sans the cage of course.

"Those men you killed were the last of the blood pack I had with me." He told the Spartan "I convinced them to follow me here when we heard the Covenant were hunting a most dangerous quarry. I congratulate you on for once proving those idiots weren't just exaggerating your capabilities."

Six gripped tightly on the DMR, keeping his finger on the trigger and crosshairs firmly on the krogan's head.

"I've heard of your kind you know." Kreave continued, speaking low and calm as he circled "Spartans, the best soldiers the humans have to offer. The Covenant call you demons, I always thought it was just another religious charged title meant to vilify you. Now, I see it's a name well earned."

"Most find that out the hard way." Six replied "Kinda like your boys there."

"You've only made this situation more fitting of song human." Kreave stated "The last krogan on Reach, versus possibly the last human still alive on this wretched mud ball. It's poetic, a good story at least. That much I can thank you for."

Six dug his feet deeper into the sand, studying the krogan with every move. He looked to his leg, the merc was trying to hide it but he could see a slight limp in his step. A recent wound, not yet properly healed.

"It's funny you know," Kreave continued to speak "the people who hired me I have no respect for as warriors. No desire to praise or admire. But my prey, those they ask me to kill, I can only extend the greatest of krogan honours. That you are worthy of being killed, something the Sangheili would never admit to. To them you're just insects to stomp, to me you're opponents and ones that should never be underestimated. You held this planet by the skin of teeth till the end. The Covenant call you stubborn, I call you hardened."

"We're kinda both I think." Six answered

Kreave chuckled deeply stopping his circling suddenly as he stomped on the rocky cracked earth uncovered by the winds.

"Do you know why I'm here Spartan?" he asked

"From what I understand it's because you're crazy fanboy with a murder hard-on." Six answered harshly

The krogan just shrugged, raising the repeater up to rest on his shoulder.

"True, the chance to hunt Shepard was irresistible." Kreave confessed "It disheartens me greatly that I was never able to truly test my mettle against his. I was so close to ending my fight, but it was stolen by... your kind. Humans from your dimension, not mine. To be beaten by Shepard would be one thing, but by lesser men... that was just shameful. I'll get my chance to redeem myself though."

"You wanna place bets on that?" Six taunted

Kreave didn't respond, his expression didn't change, he simply returned to the subject at hand.

"The truth is I didn't come here for credits, I came here for the same reason you're here now." Kreave explained "Think about it, why are you still fighting? There's nothing left here. No one left. You're alone. Abandoned. Forgotten. Why continue to fight? Why not hide and hope to live? Why continue a struggle when you know it is pointless? There's no victory here."

Six didn't respond, he used the time plan a strategy. Maybe if he could get behind him, stab him once in the back of the neck or side he could wound him enough. He could probably mess up his aim a bit too if he aim at one of the arm joints.

"You don't need to answer, I know why, and I approve." Kreave spoke again after the moment of silence "War is in our blood Spartan. We live it, breathe it, need it. I love the sting of combat. The sound of gunfire and plasma cannons. The roar of mighty bomber craft. The rumbling of tank treads. The smell of the caked blood and oaken ash as the city burns. The sounds of screaming men on fire. The shattering earthquake as a space station falls out of orbit onto an entire platoon. The rush I feel when I thrust my hand into the heart of the enemy and pull it still beating from his chest."

Kreave thrust his sword forward as he spoke of the last example, and continued on.

"I love war Spartan, and so do you." He informed Six "In the end victory or defeat isn't the main factor. It's just the war itself. The fighting, the killing. In regular society the things we do are considered monstrous, horrendous, criminal, evil. But under the aura of battle, we're branded heroes, rewarded for our deeds. Men like us are born for this, no other life can compare. We need it, we can't live without it. The next fight is the only tomorrow we have. Even if it's our last, we need to fight it, because we can't escape it. The lucky ones are those who die a glorious death in truth. What is left for those that survive? What is truly there for them Spartan? Nothing. We were made for war, we were made to be legends, our deeds sung of by comrades in arms for others to worship and emulate. We're of the same creed in that sense Spartan. The same mould. The same blood."

Six grimaced in anger under his visor, his hold on his gun tightening.

"I'm nothing like you." He denied with a venomous tone in his reply "You think being a warrior is about the self-gratification. That it's about satiating your blood lust. That's why you're here, not me. Maybe I don't have a tomorrow, maybe I can't function in the real world and this was always the only real outcome for me in the end. But at the end of the day, I'm not fighting cause I love it, I'm fighting so other people can see the tomorrow I won't. The people I care about, my brothers in arms, my friends, my family. And that's something you'll never understand."

The condemnation caused Kreave's brow to furrow in anger, his fist tightened on his sword.

"Know that when I'm done here, I'll continue my search for Shepard and I will fulfill my destiny. You can't stop that." Kreave guaranteed him, a determined steadfast emotionless tone in his voice "You'll have the honour of being the second loudest verse in my song of legend, next to Shepard. You'll be remembered, take comfort in that before you die."

Six chuckled at the threat.

"Don't you know anything?" he asked mockingly "Spartans never die, we're just missing in action."

That was when the staring contest ended.

Kreave dropped his repeater arm to his side, raised his sword and charged forward roaring loudly. Six fired a shot from the DMR, cutting into the lizard's side. He ducked under the slash of the sword and fired two more shots into the back of the merc leader. Kreave turned, firing repeater at close range. The krogan was so strong he only needed one hand to hold and fire it. Six took the full brunt of the plasma bolts, one after the other before he felt a head slam into his gut. He smacked into a rock, groaning loudly as his back buckled in pain. Kreave then thrusted his sword forward, barreling straight towards him. Six to pushed himself off the rock and down to the ground, barely missing the blade by inches. Kreave slashed through the rock and stabbed downward at the dirt. Six rolled to the side, pulled his knife and slashed against the krogan's bad leg.

Kreave buckled forward and Six jumped to his feet. He fired on the krogan as he pulled back, but the lizard quickly recovered. He charged straight at the Spartan, hitting him with the full force of his giant head. Six was thrown several feet away, dropping his DMR in the process. He landed with a terrible thud. Gasping for breath he looked around, seeing his rifle just inches away from him. He reached for it only for plasma to strike at his finger tips. Six rolled onto his knees, clutching his hand as it burned. He quickly got to his feet and began to run, his hand smoking as he did. Kreave followed still firing on him as he did

He needed a plan, bigger guns, more guns, anything, some kind of new strategy to get the momentum back.

A stream of bolts struck his back throwing him to the ground as it smoked. He crawled forward, trying to ignore the pain, feeling the stomping footsteps of Kreave getting closer. He landed next to a dead trooper, his pistol still in his holster. Six reached for it, grabbing with his still burning fingers and flipped onto his back. He fired six bullets into Kreave as he tried to stand back up. The lizard covered his head as the powerful magnum rounds struck him. Six went for the other magazines on the dead trooper's belt and made a run for cover. He needed to put some distance between him and Kreave, figure out a plan of attack, some way to wear the regenerating space dino down.

Not an easy task, but it wouldn't be a noble mission if it was easy.

The slip-space jump was in progress, the Autumn was speeding away from Reach like a bat out of hell, as humans would say. For Tali her people lack sufficient after world punishment, the world quarians lived in was punishment enough. There were close approximates to the stated animal though, although it was sort of a reptile and not a mammal from what she recalled of zoology.

In any case Tali was just happy they were underway. Well, maybe not happy, it was hard to be happy about retreating blindly into the unknown universe. Still it was better than the alternative. That being staying and watching the Covenant burn that beautiful planet to ash. That is if the Covenant would've even let them watch instead of blowing them out of the sky. So many lives lost and for the survivors their home probably wouldn't be liveable for decades when the Covenant were done with it. Chances were no of them would see Reach again, at least not as it was.

It was a sobering fact. Tali couldn't completely relate, she hadn't ever lived on a planet. She knew what it was like to be without one, it was only her collective people that knew what it was like to lose one retroactively. Even then the situation wasn't entirely the same. The quarians lost their world due to hubris and arrogance. These humans had lost it to fanaticism and religious extremism. More importantly the Geth had never blasted plasma on the surface of Rannoch until it burned to glass. At least as far as any of the history files stated.

Ironically enough it was one of the beings that had taken her people's world that brought her thoughts away from the destruction of another. She looked up from her walk down the halls of the Autumn to see a familiar face, or flashlight head whatever you called it. Legion was standing in the hall looking out a port window along the side of the Autumn. Tali had thought Legion had retreated back to the AI core on the Normandy, to contemplate and process events. Instead she found the Geth here, staring blankly into the abyss.

It was hard to read geth, but Tali had a feeling as to what it was doing here.

"Legion?" she said as she approaching, catching the synthetic's attention.

The Geth turned momentarily to the quarian mechanic and then back to the void.

"We were compiling information." It explained

"You don't usually do that in public." Tali reminded it, freely showing concern "What's wrong?"

Legion's head looked down for a bit, the plates along its head scrunching up and spacing out from another before it turned.

"Six Noble's actions were troubling." It explained "There were a number of possible ways to avoid the need for him to remain. He rejected all of them and forced us to leave. We do not understand why."

Tali's hunch proved right, but sadly she didn't know if she could help. When Legion returned with the others, sans three Spartans, the Geth didn't speak. Save for saying that Noble Six had 'stayed behind.' Then it seemingly slumped away, if geth could slump of course.

This was the first time she had seen a geth mourning, if you could even call it that. This was the closest to the emotion of grief Legion could probably muster, no doubt exacerbated by the glitch still in its systems. How exactly did you comfort something that couldn't feel or, more accurately in this case, wasn't supposed to feel a sense of loss comparable to organics? This wasn't like losing a program within the network, it was losing a friend. You couldn't rationalise it the same way. And while Tali knew that the separation of the Geth and the Geth Heretics had been distressing for Legion's faction, she wasn't sure if Legion's confusion and distress about that easily translated to this.

Noble Six didn't leave because of a math error or difference of opinion. He stayed behind when Legion felt he didn't need to. Was this survivor's guilt?

"He did it to save you Legion." Tali attempted to claim "He stayed so you could live."

"This platform is not required for us to survive." Legion reminded her "We could have easily transferred ourselves back to the Normandy or Autumn's systems, abandoning our hardware. We would not suffer any significant loss."

Legion had a point, the networked programs inside the body she saw before her weren't bound it. They could easily upload themselves, abandon the platform to Reach. But Tali had a feeling it wouldn't be as easy as Legion thought.

"Legion you must have already done the calculations, would you have been able to get all your programs uninstalled from the platform and back either the Normandy or the Autumn in time?" she asked

"Given significant range of both vessels from planet as well as the mass quantity of data required to transfer, we would have potentially only lost two point five percent of current programs contained in this platform as well their residual memory. In total a loss of five percent of available data."

That didn't sound like much out of context, but Tali knew geth, she had studied geth, and she knew that while it may seem paltry to them, five percent of their code, their data, was quite a bit.

"How much exactly would you have lost in bytes Legion?" Tali asked

"Nine point seven terabytes of information. Compared to Six Noble's life this is minor."

Legion's monotone masked a deeper connection which Tali picked up on quickly.

"Legion, you would've lived, but there's a chance you would've lost a part of yourself, of what made you who you were." She told the machine "I think Six understood that. He wanted you, all of you, to get out. He wanted to save you."

Legion turned his head away, processing her statement from what Tali could surmise.

"Six Noble claimed as much." It explained, turning its eye back to Tali's gaze "His last request was for us to survive, remember, to make it count. We can only assume he believed our survival was of greater importance. That it meant something more deeply rooted in organic thought processes. It is possible he even believed that when we tried to stop him it was an emotional response and not one steeped in logic."

"What do you mean?" Tali asked, confused as to what Legion was talking about.

"During our attempts to make him leave, Six Noble noticed that our glitch activated." Legion elaborated "He claimed we said 'I' instead of 'we' and asked us what we thought that meant. It was this observation that changed our consensus to a significant degree, that it was perhaps us that were using false assumptions and poor judgement. This combined with Six Noble's apparent plead for self-determination on his part convinced us to allow him to do as he wished, even if we objected to it."

Just as before, Legion's collective mind appeared to be in flux. Only this wasn't like with the heretics, a split evenly down the middle concern about which action should be taken. This was a conflict concerning an after effect, an attempt to rationalise the decision to leave Six behind. Try as they could, the collectively networked geth within the platform could not find a conclusive answer. And with that glitch inside the hardware, infecting Legion with an unstable and unquantifiable sense of individuality it was hard to know how the geth would ultimately react, only that it couldn't the why of it yet.

"But you still don't understand why he made the choice he did." Tali added a mournful drone in her voice.

Legion looked out once more to subspace as it sped past the window, its plates still stretched out aong the length of its head.

Tali could reason why Six had stayed, she didn't know him as well but she had been where he was, much like Kat. He steadily and assuredly lost friends on Reach, two in a single day at the end. Perhaps the only friends he truly had. Could he really leave Reach knowing they died there? Would Jun have come with them if he hadn't found out about Carter? If Kat had the choice would she have stayed?

Tali had thought about it once herself, on Haestrom. Locked in that observatory, hearing her friends die just outside the doors and not being able to help them. If Shepard hadn't shown up when he did she probably would've just opened the doors and let the heretic geth, probably taking as many down with her as she could. She would've felt even more guilty about surviving the ordeal had Kal not lived too.

Now it was apparently Legion's turn to feel the same way and the machine couldn't comprehend the concept. To Legion the fact it happened was even more illogical, because there were so many ways to avoid it.

"Six Noble claimed we would understand eventually. As well as made note of a story he told us. One of another Spartan who stayed behind to cover a withdraw." It said, its plates smoothing out but only slightly, spreading apart more as the synthetic spoke "We comprehend the meaning which you have confirmed. He wished for us to live as we are presently, to not have to sacrifice even a part of ourselves for his survival. But we offered, and he refused it. An organic sacrificed himself so we, synthetic life, could continue. We did not account for this possibility to occur when we left Geth space."

"You were his friend Legion." Tali tried to explain. Her voice earnest and clear as she spoke, her hands outstretched towards the geth "He had lost so many so fast, he wanted to make sure you at least made it. That may not be logical to you in the scope of things or within the context what happened, but it was to him. He couldn't sit back and watch you discard your body and probably lose a piece of yourself. To him, that was illogical, that was unacceptable."

Legion looked back to Tali slowly, the plates on its head still spread out and drooping slightly.

"He died so others could live," Tali continued "so you could live as you are, so you wouldn't have to make the same sacrifice. That's what separates the selfish from the humane."

Legion finally nodded and turned fully towards Tali.

"Then we shall do as Six Noble requested. As geth always have, with the creators and now him, we shall remember."

"I think that's all any of us can do in the end, Legion," Tali agreed "remember and hope we can live up to the same example."

Legion plates clicked together, his iris opened and closed slightly. Tali had seen this before, when Legion remembered or recalled some additional information, but she couldn't imagine what. Perhaps something else Six said to it. The geth suddenly refocused back on her.

"We are grateful for your discussion Creator Tali'Zorah." It stated "In response we have meant to speak to you about a subject that relates to this. One that Six Noble helped us in concluding."

Tali, taken aback but clearly interested in the change of subject, relaxed her arms to her side, supporting herself with one arm on her hip.

"I'm all ears Legion, go ahead." She told it

"We have long reconciled and understood your people's hatred for the Geth." Legion told her "We hold your homeworld, we killed many of your people. Self-defence or otherwise, these events are regrettable. We did not however understand your desire to return, believing it to be irrationally motivated by revenge. While that may be the case for many creators, it is clearly not the sole factor. Our actions have caused your people pain and hardship, the Geth likewise have done nothing to achieve reconciliation nor have we attempted any resemblance of action to do so. We believe now that this was born out of a feeling that until the heretics was impossible for Geth, but recent events have shown that be a false assumption."

Tali stood upright once more and looked at the geth in anticipation.

"And that is?" she asked

"Mistrust," Legion admitted "we did not trust the creators to seek any other action but our destruction. We observed your people with the same form of suspicion you showed us when we gained sentience. This was a grave error on our part. We were fearful of the repercussions of any such attempt at negotiation. In this light we are as much at fault as the creators are."

In another time Tali may have tried to shift the blame fully onto the Geth, to shout out that they had no reason to feel guilty. Legion's admission of partial guilt would've at the very least filled her with a burgeoning sense of pride. But Tali was a lot older, a lot wiser and a lot humbler now. Thanks in part to Legion and EDI themselves, as well as a certain aging human doctor. One believed there was more to her than what most others saw.

"I guess both our sides have to grow up a little if we want things to change, huh?" she asked

"It will not be easy, stagnation is hard to overcome." Legion replied, its head plates perking up a little "The past is not something easily forgotten. But if the UNSC can accept alien allies, perhaps there is a chance for reconciliation."

"Trust me Legion," Tali said staunchly "I'd like that outcome, I really would. Regardless of everything that's happened, I don't want to be your enemy anymore than you do with me. I want the fighting to end, for both our people."

Legion nodded simply.

"We believe you Creator Tali'Zorah." It assured her.

The two stood for a little over half an hour, just watching space slip by. Autumn crew members passed them now and then, catching an eye full of the quarian and the geth. None of them would've guessed these two belonged to races that were long time enemies, like they and the Covenant. To them they were just a synthetic and an alien, staring out at the stars peacefully. And for some they didn't even recognize the difference between them at first or at all as they passed.

If only Legion knew fully of what she and Halsey did down there in all those weeks. Tali wanted to tell the geth about everything she learned, about synthetic mental processes, programming, intelligence adaptation, what it all meant to her. But she couldn't, not yet. She was still trying to figure it out herself more or less.

Halsey had said Cortana needed her to help the AI along her "natural" evolution. Right now, as she looked out at the stars with Legion, Tali wondered if she wasn't also there to help her as well. Being able to stand here with a geth, to just have a moment of quiet contemplation with one another without any fighting, it wasn't hard to imagine that was the case.

Kreave stomped across the dead cracked earth before him, looking for his quarry in the sandy mists. He was disappointed, he expect much more of this Spartan. For all his taunting, even after all the praise he had heaped onto the human, he was just a coward in the end, running away. Still, better he find and kill him first and not the elites. The last krogan on Reach killing the last human was too good a chance to pass up. They'd just look at him as another dead animal. He'd at least see something more. In fact the human should be glad to die at his hands. What shame was there in dying such a noble death?

"Come out Spartan!" he cried aloud "I know you're better than this! I saw you and your brothers fighting at Sword! Don't tell me that was just a fluke! Don't tell me I'm wrong! Is the title of demon is just bluster among the elites after all?"

As he called out among the stones his foot hit something. He stared down at the path below to see a single dead grunt. Already half buried by the sand. It was a fresh kill, but Kreave saw that something was missing... the gas sucker's weapon.

Suddenly a fully charged green bolt struck his repeater's arm. In the shock he dropped the gun. In the next moment he felt a sting in his hump as something sharp dug into it. The Spartan's head popped up on his shoulder.

"You weren't wrong." He said

Another terrible pain stuck into Kreave's back. He swung himself around as another terrible plasma burst was fired at point blank range into his face. He grabbed the plasma pistol, even as the super heated gel ate his skin. Six let go of it, letting the Krogan crush it in his hand. The Spartan then scrambled around the krogan's left side and slashed against Kreave's eye. While the merc leader recovered, blood pouring down his face, Six jabbed the knife between the edge of the krogan's orange crest and began to dig the blade in. Kreave screamed in agony as his crest bleed profusely, the bone coming apart from the scalp. His cries stung at Six's ears, but he pressed on forcing the knife deeper inside. It hurt the bastard, good enough for him.

Kreave could withstand a lot of things, krogan were like that, but this pain was more than he could bare. He needed it to stop. He reached his now gun-free hand up and pulled at the back of the Spartan's neck. The blade came with the Spartan as he was yanked off the back of the giant lizard. Part of the crest was ripped out along with the serrated edge of the Spartan's dagger. Kreave, still in immense pain, held the Spartan by his neck.

"You stupid mammal!" he screamed aloud, his right side burned black with skin falling off, blood pouring from his wounds, his cut eye shut tight. "You stupid fucking mammal! I'll kill you! I'll tear you apart! Tear you apart! Eat your fucking heart right out of your torn asunder rib cage!"

The once so eloquent and broad speaking Krogan, self-acclaimed master strategist, now reduced to a hollering crazed barbarian. Six's visor was coming apart at the seams, but through the cracks he could see the vulnerable neck of the alien lizard. He stabbed downward with the knife in one last quick motion, burying it deep between the neck and shoulder. The krogan roared in pain and then delivered a powerful headbutt to Six's face.

The visor shattered and Six fell to the ground, smacking himself against a rock. He looked up in time to see Kreave looming over him through the broken glass of the helmet, his sword aimed for his head. He quickly grabbed the hand of the sword as it thrust down, stopping it inches in front of his nose. He held the massive titan of an alien's arm with all his strength, trying to hold him back. Six didn't let his eyes off the angered visage of the blood pack leader, but he still knew where his feet were.

He delivered a kick straight to Kreave's groin. It didn't get the alien saurian off him, but he managed to loosen the grip on the plasma sword enough to pry it away. Six grabbed at the sword's handle with his right hand slashed out across the krogan's armour with it as he motioned it back. Kreave quickly stomped onto his arm, trapping the sword under it. With his left he went for his pistol, but Kreave stomped onto the back of his elbow, crushing it with his other foot. Six growled in pain and Kreave began to barrel his fists into Six's head, pummelling him to death.

Six could barely move his pistol arm at all now, but he could move it enough and hand enough feeling in it, that he felt he could make at least one shot with it. He pointed the gun up towards the krogan's head and fired. The bullet grazed clean past the merc's head, cutting deep enough to force him off the Spartan. As he clutched at his face in pain Six sat up and jammed the plasma sword forward.

Kreave spat up blood in his giant mouth, looking down to see the plasma blade embedded in his stomach. He plodded backward, gripping at the handle of the blade. He fumbled around it until he found the sword's shutdown button. The blade flashed out of existence, the handle fell away and Kreave fell back into a rock of his own. The gaping hole in his gut allowed for a pool of blood to form around him. His eyes darted back and forth as his breathing became heavier and rushed.

"This... this wasn't supposed to happen." He squeaked out "This isn't how it's supposed to end. I had... I had a destiny. I was to be legend."

Six managed to walk over to the dying merc, his battered face seen clearly through the broken pieces of the visor. He still held his pistol in hand as he looked down at Kreave, the knife he stabbed him with earlier still sticking out of his neck.

"I was supposed to become legend." Kreave spoke, more blood pouring from his mouth, his frightened distressed and disbelieving voice becoming ever more haggard and sad."I was to be remembered as the greatest of all krogan."

Six just stared down at the krogan with pity.

"That's the thing about life Kreave," Six informed him "we don't get to chose how we're remembered. That's for others to decide. Nothing we do can change that."

Kreave hand shook as his breathing increased, his eyes darting around like mad, finally resting on Six himself.

"But... but now... no one... no one will remember me." He said, sounding like a scared child "I... I'll be forgotten. In death, I'll be forgotten."

Six wasn't sure why, but he felt he should do something. The krogan wasn't a friend, he probably didn't deserve it. He had been trying to kill just seconds before. But as despicable a creature he was, as selfish and self-centered as he was, Six didn't feel like gloating over him. Even though he knew that if the situation was reversed Kreave would do so, he wanted to be the better one in all of this.

"Before he died my friend asked something of me." He told the mercenary "When I knew I wouldn't be able to do it, I passed the duty on to another friend. It wasn't much of a request. All he asked, was that somebody remember us. Remember this place, this planet. As long as someone knows of Reach, of what happened here, they'll remember us. It doesn't require song or monuments, just someone else to remember the place we fell."

Kreave looked up, his pained, frightened expression giving way to a small weak smile.

"Then... it's a good death." He said weakly.

The krogan suddenly coughed up a large puddle of blood onto his torn open body. He slumped back onto his rock.

"Do me a favour Spartan," he said, fading fast "when the Sangheili come... kill many. Die... well."

Kreave's head rolled to the side, letting out one last pained breath as he slipped away. Six looked upon his dead enemy for a moment longer. Knowing he'd soon be like that himself. And yet, he wasn't afraid. He was content, just as Emile had been. Just as Jorge. Just as Carter.

A plasma bolt ripped into his shoulder and Six stumbled forward. He pulled off his shattered helmet and threw it to the ground. The sand and wind cut deep into his wounds, but he pressed on despite the minor inconvenience, the pain would pass soon enough. He pulled Legion's geth assault rifle off his back and fired into the approaching elite. He practically poured every round he had left in the chamber into the covie bastard. He watched the shields fail and then finally the alien fall to the ground in a heap. He then heard the snapping flash of a plasma sword behind him and turned to shoulder check the elite sneaking up from behind in the face. The alien went down and Six pulled out his pistol to fire a round clean into his skull. He fired the rifle again along with his pistol, cutting into the elites now swarming him. Plasma slashed against the side of his torso, but it didn't matter. He stared straight into the eyes of his enemy as they closed firing bullet after bullet from his pistol and rifle as the aliens approached. He took down a third elite with his pistol, his body collapsing just in front of Six's discarded helmet.

That was when the fourth elite got the drop on him, tackling Six the ground. The Spartan kicked him off briskly before turning to punch one of his onrushing friends clean in the face. He punched him hard enough for his sword to go flying. The elite he kicked off rushed in again with his sword and once more Six punched him clean in the jaw sending him tumbling away.

He saw more elites crowding around and the one he socked hard enough to make him drop his sword coming back as well. He activated a second blade and closed for the kill. Six didn't blink, didn't shut his eyes, he stared the covie bastard down, roaring loudly with bit of strength he had left.

Tali walked through the open door way as it slid open for. She was back in Shepard's cabin, the first time since their argument. Unlike before this time the Commander was waiting for her, sitting on the bed, his helmet in his hands. He looked up as he saw the doors open wide.

"Keyes says as long as we're in slipspace we'll be fine, but we'll have to leave eventually." She began "Most of the UNSC personnel have been shooed off the ship for now. They're still drawing up who will be sleeping where. A lot more people ended up on this ship than they thought, so we made have to start rationing all our food. Luckily, Gardner says he bought a lot of stuff in bulk so we should be okay. And I've already arranged for some of the engine crew to do some shifts helping out on the Autumn. Should give us some experience for the continued work on our own slipspace drive."

"Well, guess nothing to do but wait till we leave slipspace huh?" Shepard asked "Wherever this blind jump takes us."

"I guess." Tali agreed

There was a brief silence, Shepard looking down at the floor through most of it. Tali finally worked up the nerve to get close enough to ask the obvious question.

"Are you okay?" she asked "It was... pretty bad down there."

"We got as many out as we could, took down the generator, but we still lost the planet." He said forlornly "I guess as soon as the armada showed up that was inevitable."

"We made a difference where it counted," Tali assured him "if it wasn't for the Normandy more ships would've been lost to that supercruiser. We stopped the Covenant invasion of our home dimension. And we took their relic away from them."

Shepard huffed a chuckle.

"I guess you have to count your victories where you can." He admitted, finally standing up. He looked directly into Tali's eyes, catching her silver gaze as he approached her. "Look, about before."

Tali tried to shake her head.

"Wade, you don't need to apologise." She sincerely replied.

"No, I do." He insisted "You were trying to make me see what I was doing to myself. How I was closing off everyone that wanted to help, that I was only thinking about how this all affects me, not you. I was being selfish and in the course of it I was forgetting who I was, what I stood for. You tried to bring me back and I yelled in your face for it."

He grasped Tali's hands in his.

"I could've lost the one chance I had to remind you how much you mean to me." He told her, delicately stroking her fingers. "That's inexcusable, and I am sorrier than I can possibly express for that."

Tali brought Shepard's hands up to her face mask and nuzzled them lightly.

"Someone told me it's easy to get angry, it's harder to forgive." She said "You don't need to worry about that with me."

Shepard nodded in response, pulling her closer to him.

"I just wanted you to know. You helped me see what I was becoming and stopped me from going down that path." He said to her softly "Just like you did before at the collector base. Down there, I had the chance to end the wormhole generator quick and easy. But it would've meant sacrificing the lives of Buck and his people. I couldn't do that, but I almost did. You pleading for me to help them... I think it brought me back from that train of thought. And if you hadn't stopped me I would've killed Xytas in the hold and then we wouldn't have had the bomb we needed to complete the mission."

She looked flattered, but regardless she responded somewhat sceptically.

"Sounds a bit more luck working in our favour for once actually." Tali admitted

"Maybe, but it still proves I was wrong before." Shepard continued "I can't second guess and ask what could've been, what I should've done and all those what ifs that plagued me before. I need to stick to my convictions as best as I can, who I am as a person as long as possible, remember what I value and hold dear. Otherwise, what am I fighting for in the end? I need to trust in myself and those around me, or none of us will make it through this. But the worst consequence of all that is that I'd risk losing everything in the process."

He pulled Tali into him and the Quarian wrapped her arms around his neck. She stood on the tips of her toes, bringing her eyes to his. Shepard steadied her by placing a hand on her hips, using his free one to stroke her mask.

"You haven't lost me yet Wade," Tali assured "you can count on that."

Shepard smiled warmly at the quarian, moving his hand down the length of one of her arms.

"Still, I need to make up for all the time we've lost." Shepard told her, his voice becoming a bit more brazen "Sounds like we have quite a bit of time actually. Does that offer you made awhile back still stand?"

He could see Tali's eyes flutter a bit and narrow into a unabashed stare.

"Trouble with Tribbles?" she asked, a flirty little edge to her voice

"I'm sure Gardner has some dextro snacks you can enjoy while we watch." Shepard added slyly "I'll even throw in the NOMAD episode just for you."

"You know just what to say to a girl." Tali giggled

She placed her head against Shepard's chest for a brief moment, while her Commander held her close to him. He smoothed his hand across her back, eliciting a little tingly little moan from Tali. However, the Quarian suddenly backed her head away.

"I just remembered," she said, sounding more serious in tone "there's something you need to know. About this blind jump we're on."

"What about it?" Shepard asked intrigued.

"When we were imprinting and transferring data into Cortana's fragment one of the chief pieces of information was a set of coordinates embedded within the relic." She explained to him. Her voice was steady and grave. "It was based on a specific set of symbols. We don't know what they said, but we gathered they referred to a star chart and something else. Something important to the Forerunners."

"What exactly?" Shepard asked intrigued

"I don't know, but Halsey said that with the fragment's knowledge of the coordinates and its understanding of the symbols themselves, once it was reintegrated into Cortana she would be able to decipher some of their meaning. Maybe not enough to know what is there exactly, but she should know enough to figure out how to reach it."

Shepard looked up to the window above his bed into the ceiling of the Autumn's hanger bay.

"So our blind jump isn't so blind is it?" he asked "Does Keyes know?"

"I think he suspects, he wouldn't have went along with if Halsey didn't give him a reason for all this." She surmised "Whatever it is, Halsey had a hunch that Reach in general was just a means to an end. A way of finding that set of coordinates. If it's that important to the Covenant it may just be the thing that could turn the tide in this war and maybe even the reapers."

A hopeful thought to contemplate on at least. Shepard turned his eyes back to Tali and reached under her chin with a hand.

"Who knows," Shepard told her gingerly "we'll find out when we get there. For now, I've spent enough time worrying about tomorrow I think."

He placed his forehead against Tali's and began to lead her to the bed to lay down. There was still a war to fight, a home to get back to, galaxies to save. But for now, all that mattered to each of them was this moment, this point in time.

Shepard escaped, the device has been destroyed. The information was stolen. Shepard most likely possesses it.

It is of little consequence. You shall rebuild and reattempt to stabilize the singularity. We are nothing if not patient. Shepard's place in things is still in flux. He could still be useful.

He is a distraction Harbinger. He must be eliminated.

In time he shall. Is he aware of the invasion's true intentions?

He believes the Covenant shall be our heralds. He does not know the truth. The misinformation was deliberate and necessary. He needed to believe his assumptions were correct.

If he possesses the information then he will lead you to what we seek. It is therefore fortunate your trap failed.

There is nothing to support that conclusion. In any case the next time I encounter Shepard I will remove him from the equation. He will have served his purpose regardless.

Do as you wish. Complete your repairs and then follow this, Pillar of Autumn to our prize. Be wary, the UNSC is doubtlessly aware of your existence now. You are not equipped to fight them.

I will not need to if this mission bears fruit. The cycle will continue.

The harvest approaches rapidly "Inquisitor." Make haste with your declaration. This exchange has ended.

The Inquisitor returned to a outward view of its systems. Below the smoking burned husk of the planet Reach, the wreckage of hundreds of human warships strewn about it in orbit, countless bodies floating in the void. Around him the Covenant fleet worked tirelessly. They were using mesh and metal from their destroyed ships to repair the massive multi-legged machine with eager zeal. They were most willing to please.

Soon he would be revitalized, repaired, whole again. He would have a new weapon, one he would quickly see about upgrading to increase its already potent potential. And then, he would see that the wrath of the Covenant followed in pursuit of Shepard to end his interference once and for all.

Nothing would stop the cycle.

Countless light years away something was waiting. It stared out into a room full of metal dead things, things that kept it imprisoned. It had been like this for so long, so very long. It floated in its brine, diminished but not defeated. Powerless, but patient. It could sense its long desired freedom drawing near. It could sense that events were soon to unfold that would see it break free of this prison of glass, liquid, metal and rock. Till then it would focus on the one thing that kept it sustained and yet caused it so much agony. Soon, the universe would once again share in that single prevailing thought. That single minded goal that would unite all under its banner. They would answer the coming call, they would join it, welcome it.

Its cry of hunger would be answered at last.

AN: And with that, we close the book on the story of Reach and the trials of Normandy crew to survive it. Now Buck, Dutch, Romeo, Kat, Colonel Holland, a whole cadre of troopers and Marines, Jun and even Linda are along for the ride with the Autumn. The Savannah survives, and just so you know, and this will be expanded on next time, Keyes and Holland are aware of the Reapers at last. Kreave is dead, but that's not all she wrote from the Blood Pack in this story. They may not appear as much next time, but they will be present in a sense, maybe not where you think however. Shepard and Tali's relationship is mended, Kowalski has survived, Garrus has his confidence back, Legion has lost its (or more accurately their) best friend, Kat has survivor's guilt time ten, and of course Shepard and the Master Chief have finally met. All in all, a pretty good mix of a bunch of bad with some sprinkles of good. Much like life in general to be honest.

I gotta tell ya, it's been one hell of a ride writing this story. I didn't expect as big a response as I got from you all and I appreciate your continued support. I wouldn't have powered on through this without knowing that all of you guys out there enjoyed and eagerly awaited reading each chapter of this story. I hope I've opened your eyes a bit to the Halo Universe and showed it's just as legitimate an epic sci-fi story as Mass Effect if you were one of those sceptical folks of the series. Halo is a lot deeper than the run and gun generic FPS title it gets slapped with constantly and hearing from people that this story made them actually care about the characters from the Haloverse means to me that in some way I accomplished that goal. For people who are more Mass Effect fans, I hope this little story of mine reminded you of what makes the series great. For good or ill, it will always be the characters that bring you back to Mass Effect. That was why people got so angry and passionate about ME3, the characters. I don't think it was so much the decisions that pissed people off as it was the lingering questions and problems people saw in character action that angered so many. Above all, we kinda wanted to know what happened to the friends we got to know so well over the course of three games. I do hope I reminded folks at the very least why they loved this series so much, regardless of how they feel about the ending of it all.

And even though we've had our rough patches, debates about plasma and concerns about character nerfing, and not to mention my frequent annoying spelling mistakes that I'm still constantly always vigilant for and continuously searching to annihilate, I'm happy you tolerated it all and didn't abandon my silly little crossover because of them. For that I'm truly grateful, and I will always try to improve myself and better the story because of your input.

But of course, and just to make clear for the billionth time as everyone keeps asking me, this is not the end. As a great man once said, we're just getting started. The battle installation zero four is on the horizon people. I'll be taking a good long break, as I'm kinda Halo'd and Mass Effected out as of now. But I will be working on the story periodically over the coming months and hopefully I'll have the first chapter out before Halo 4 drops. Till then I'm gonna be kinda on a Transformers vacation. With Fall of Cybertron coming up I have my own epic story to eagerly dive into soon. And before you ask, yes, I totally got inspiration for the Kreave and Six fight scene from watching Megatron and Optimus Prime fight each other in the animated movie. In any case, I got games to catch up on, outlines to plan, other less demanding projects to work on and inevitably a new school year upon me. I'm gonna enjoy what little summer I have left. So until next time loyal and dear viewers, remember... Spartans never die, they're just missing in action.