Disclaimer : Transformers is the property of Hasbro. HALO is the property of Microsoft Game Studios
Rating : M for covert ops violence and soldier's language.
Author's Note : Standby while I reformat and correct some major plot-holes. This will be the only chapter to have this heading, so take careful note of the disclaimer.
SPARTAN : Deus ex Machine
2552 September 26th
There is a vast difference between a soldier returning victorious and one returning in defeat, mused Cortana idly as she watched the goings on from her position situated in the neck junction of the MJOLINER Mark V armor the Master Chief was currently wearing.
As a part of SPARTAN-117's issued field equipment, the AI had been overlooked by omission in the rush to debrief the Master Chief after the Battle of Instillation 04. That oversight allowed her observe the current 'Top Secret' meeting going on between the UNSC's military brass, a scattering of Office of Naval Intelligence personnel, a bare handful of civilian scientists, and SPARTAN numbered 117… otherwise known as both the Master Chief and John-117.
A meeting of so many highly placed personal might have been glaringly noticeable or regarded as suspiciously obvious in a Top Secret security perspective, if they all hadn't been on the planet Reach's ONI base codenamed CASTLE where the SPARTAN programs had begun.
Half of the planet had been glassed in a previous attack by the Covenant forces but it was still utilized as per human stubbornness. In a partly by hiding in plain sight and partly refusing to change in the wake of someone else's ire type of way.
Cortana's subroutines popped up with a remark she once heard Dr. Catherine Halsey quip to another scientist, about so called 'Top Secret' projects and those who knew about them. According to the scientist that had engineered the SPARTAN-II Project, 'Top Secret' meant that everyone in the vicinity already knew and they were just waiting for the rest of the idiots to get with the program.
The AI considered speaking up with a similar comment, then discarded the impulse as illogical and refocused on the current 'argument' being voiced by the military brass, the covert ops agents, and the peers of her programmer.
"-reckless. We should have scrapped-"
"-only hope that the process is reversible-"
"-nuke it. The damned infernal thing can't-"
"-it's rampant. It's not like we ever came across-"
Even just barely minutes into the meeting, Cortana could literally feel John's aggravation with those assembled. Hooked into the MJOLNIR-V armor he was still wearing as she was, the AI had a hard line into the medical monitoring system built into the suit's inner workings. The readouts listed most of the physical signs of human irritation, most noticeably the tenseness in the muscular system and rising spikes in adrenaline, lacing throughout the SPARTAN-II's body.
Physically, John looked every inch of a professional soldier to any observer, even when irritated or pissed off. That would be, if any of the assembled could actually see him.
The Master Chief had refused the suggestion that he take off the armor that he'd been wearing when he escaped the HALO Ring World before this meeting, and Cortana now knew why John had flatly turned the suggestion down.
SPARTAN-117 could intimidate ODST marines in minimal armor for mock training runs, could even make other SPARTANs step back in regular issued armor when irritated by whatever mission they were on, and make most of the Covenant forces run from him in the armor meant only for SPARTAN soldiers on any battlefield.
The MJOLNIR mark V armor that John was still wearing was only a cracked plate or two from being scrapped in its entirety as a lost cause. The orange visor had stopped a needle spray at one point, leaving a few short, undetonated spikes of exploding crystal still embedded in the tempered glass and a lace work of spider web cracks in ever expanding circles around them. An unexpected tangle with a Hunter pair had ended with the left chest plate bearing a foot print of one of them, denting in most of the armor plating around it. Scrapes and nicks showed bare metal on all of the visible plates of armor, only glimpsed by looking at where the veritable rainbow of blood and gore had been scraped, flaked, or rubbed off.
Human red, Hunter orange, Grunt blue, Jackal purple, and the oozing putrid greenish yellow of the Flood painted the armor in a violent art work that only the truly demented would or could admire.
Cortana gleefully recalled the memory file of the eleven point eight three seconds of ringing silence that greeted the Master Chief's entrance to the dingy council room. Shock and awe might not only be a battle field tactic, but one that was useful in political settings as well.
She positively wallowed in the file for two point five seconds, until the AI noticed that all the ONI agents had at one point slipped out of the room and one of the military brass had stood up to address the SPARTAN-II still standing at attention in front of them. "We can argue about this later, gentlemen. Do you have anything else to add to your report, Master Chief?"
"Not at this time, sir." Stated with the even almost bland tone of every SPARTAN reporting to a duty officer, only Cortana knew John was still irritated at them by grace of the medical program she could still call up.
Giving the SPARTAN a distracted nod and a halfhearted salute, that was returned with the military precision that marked every SPARTAN trained soldier, the brigadier general returned to glaring at the scientist on his right and spoke to SPARTAN-117 over his shoulder. "You're dismissed then, soldier."
John executed a perfect about face, strode the few feet to the door he used to enter the council room, and left behind him seven military officers and six scientist arguing fault with each other.
Five minutes and forty-seven point three seconds later, the AI was unsurprised to see the office door of Dr. Catherine Halsey appear in the few functioning sensors built into the battered visor John was still wearing.
Every SPARTAN made it a habit to drop by or at least see the good doctor at least once if they found themselves on Reach or wherever she was for any decent amount of time. So even if SPARTAN-117 was scheduled to remain on Reach for four days the visit would appear unremarkable to anyone, ONI included, that watched the SPARTANs' activities and habits for any reason.
In truth, ONI found everything about the SPARTANs' apparent affection for the scientist, who was responsible for the SPARTAN-II program, and by association since it was her work that was used the SPARTAN-III programs, suspicious. Even Halsey herself was a little baffled by the attention, even if she was grateful for the positive light the SPARTAN soldiers held her in, as she still had trouble dealing with the guilt of what had been done to them in the name of human survival.
What ONI didn't know, and Dr. Halsey only could guess about, is how the surviving SPARTANs viewed the reason behind their augmentation and training.
None of them really regretted being picked for the SPARTAN programs at this point, they had long since come to terms with what they now were, even most of the SPARTAN-IIIs had volunteered for the duty before being smashed against the Covenant in what basically amounted to mass suicide missions.
Most of the still surviving SPARTANs viewed their current situation as something that was distasteful but necessary, and blamed the human rebels for the SPARTAN-IIs and the Covenant for the SPARTAN-IIIs. Cortana had only found out because she had been intergraded into the MJOLNIR mark V armor's neural interface when John had asked a few of the undecided SPARTAN-IIIs about their view of the current war.
The AI's attention was drawn to the present when John smashed his fist against the wall next to Dr. Halsey's door, leaving a dent in the metal sheeting the hallway.
The brunette scientist cautiously opened the door in answer to the overly loud knock on the wall, then threw it wide enough to admit the SPARTAN and took a few steps to the side as he entered. 117 carefully shut the door as Dr. Catherine Halsey returned to her desk to curl up in the chair behind it and leveled him with a stern look. "I take it this is not a social call, John."
"No ma'am." The Master Chief removed his battered helmet to gently tug out Cortana's AI core, embedded in the neck of the armor. "Cortana has a few files you might want to take a look at."
Halsey remained silent throughout the AI's report of the Battle of Instillation 04, and the actions of the Forerunner AI, 343-Guilty Spark. As Cortana wound down to the events that lead to the activation of the HALO Ring Worlds and the delaying program she managed to implant into the Forerunner AI's original programming, the scientist's mouth thinned to a hard line with her eyes locked on the Forerunner programs that Cortana copied for proof of what 343-Guilty Spark had been after.
After the AI had finished, Halsey looked up to the still silent Master Chief.
"Well... this is bad." She wasn't sure, but she thought John had almost laughed at her inane statement, or would have if he hadn't had the SPARTAN training in keeping blank expressions on at all times to fall back on.
"Yes ma'am." 117 didn't twitch from his seat, his shattered visor held in his lap reflecting the faint glow of Cortana's and Jerrod's avatars floating above the hologram emitter on her desk.
Halsey thought through the likely responses from each quarter as she sank back into her chair.
The United Nation's Space Command would favor an act of aggression, most likely in the form of a few tactical warheads lobbed at the HALO Ring World, or another incursion of SPARTANs in the hopes that something would halt the activation of whatever weapon 343-Guilty Spark was certain would 'wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy'.
ONI would sulk around the edges for most of whatever time was left, and they might possibly set more than a few scientists with the task of inventing a type of shielding that may let a number of humans survive.
The civilian sector... most would possibly panic, and they might not be told at all to keep the peace, leaving a possible few numbers of highly placed governors or politicians informed of even part of their current crisis.
Jerking her head up to pin the Master Chief with a flat look, Halsey was about to ask what had John so worried... when the obvious smacked into her with the force of a runaway Warthog. 117 was the highest ranking SPARTAN active in the Navel Special Warfare Command, and like any CO he was worried about the wellbeing and fate of his soldiers.
The UNSC brass would concentrate on the soldiers, true... but few of them knew about where in the chain of command the SPARTANs reported to. Even if someone thought about them, the SPARTAN Projects had enough opposition in high places that being overlooked in the panic would be a convenient handle for some objectionable people to eliminate the surviving super soldiers.
Halsey drummed her fingers on the desk separating her and the SPARTAN, meeting his stare with her own. "If we do this, I'm going to need some help."
"Yes ma'am." John leaned forward and snagged one of her data pads from the desk. "Gamma-four-five-eight has anything you could need hidden away already. If you find that she doesn't, one-two-seven is on base currently and will not object to assisting in the 'acquisition' of anything else." The Master Chief stood and handed the altered data pad back. Dr. Halsey couldn't suppress the curiosity that prompted her to look at the screen. "I am on leave for another four days, and then I ship out again, ma'am."
Faintly lit but still readable, the screen showed only one phrase with his digital signature at the bottom.
'Retreat to fight another day – One-one-seven.'
15:22 September 29th 2552
There was an underground wing of the main military ran hospital on Reach. Unknown to the miners and farmers that had usually made up the hospital's patients before the Covenant attack, that was where SPARTANs that had sustained massive injuries and traumas were sent to for recovery from anything from combat injuries to lifesaving surgeries.
On any given day, the ward had five to seven of the SPARTAN-IIs and a scattering of the class IIIs at any time, once ONI admitted to Dr. Halsey about the existence of the SPARTAN-III Program.
SPARTAN-117 carefully made his way past the nurses' station, nodding to the familiar faces as they waved to him. John made a habit to always swing by the ward when he could, and the few 'washed out' SPARTAN-IIs had admitted they appreciated seeing him, even for a few minutes.
As a matter of fact, one of the said SPARTAN-IIs was 117's target on that particular day. SPARTAN numbered 046 was one of the few surviving 'wash outs' from the SPARTAN-IIs augmentation. The massive SPARTAN's lower body did not take well to the ceramics added to SPARTAN bones, and as a consequence he was unable to stand upright or walk very far on his own.
Even though 046 still tried, and the nurses were becoming irritated at the crippled SPARTAN's repeated leg traumas, as his repeated attempts in trying to walk on the badly set ceramics grated them against other bones and cartilage that weren't protected correctly.
046 had then been 'claimed' by ONI after his failed augmentation to managed the deployment of his fellow SPARTANs, seeing as he still had the brain alterations and modifications that all the SPARTAN projects used, as he could rapidly look through all the incidents that might need their assistance and decide which units would work well with which SPARTAN trained to handle the problems in question.
James caught sight of John as the Master Chief ducked to pass the doorway into the physical therapy lounge where he was exercising the legs that had responded only painfully for the last few years.
117 had to hide a smile at the sight of a nurse, who really only weighed a little less than a half of any SPARTAN, scolding 046 over his repeated attempts to walk. Even as far away as he was, James still threw John a face over the smaller nurse's blond head. It was only a few scrunched up muscles and the nurse would not have noticed anything, but 117 could see the slight tension and guess the appropriate expression.
046 finally wheeled himself over to the Master Chief once the nurse was done with scolding him, a minor glare given for the light smirk he was wearing. "You would think they had better things to do than fuss."
"Maybe, but it's as funny as hell to watch you deal with it." 117 fell silent as the two soldiers waited for another nurse to pass by, and then he looked to the crippled ex-SPARTAN. "Halsey briefed you all."
Spoken more as a statement rather than a question, 046 still took it as a request for information. "Yes, along with what she planned to do about it."
In the three days since 117's return, Dr. Halsey had cornered a few of her fellow scientist into telling her what the UNSC and ONI had them doing with the Master Chief's Intel. Both John and Halsey had been disgusted to learn that the theories and suggested actions thought up by Cortana were being flat out ignored.
The UNSC had launched a full strike against the HALO Ring, including a number of tactical warheads, which had smashed uselessly against the Forerunner security measures engineered to prevent such actions being taken by the Flood possessed.
ONI had a number of stealth ships in the area, recollecting data that Cortana had already gathered, basically wasting their time. ONI had also sent a number of non-SPARTAN agents to the Ring World, incurring a rant from the scientist that amused both male SPARTANs to hear.
The only high point, if they could call it that was the limited data that was retrieved was being worked into an attempt to alter the preexisting shielding arrays so they might be used to shield a selection of humans so they would survive.
Even worse, from both the SPARTANs' and Dr. Halsey's point of view, no one that knew had any intention of informing the trillion of civilians and soldiers that looked to them for protection. It had been decided to keep them in the dark so that any rioting and panic would not interfere with the ongoing projects.
To add insult to injury, the UNSC's top brass wanted to keep the SPARTANs out on the front lines of the now pointless war. They reasoned it would keep Covenant attention on the 'demons' and provide a boost to morale, Halsey theorized that it was an obviously transparent attempt to remove the SPARTANs entirely from any possibility that they might be saved and become a part of whatever would come after.
Once she had calmed down, Catherine Halsey began to personally ensure that 'her' SPARTANs would survive, whether she had a hand in their creation or not. The scientist, with Cortana and Jerrod to help cover her digital tracks, had 'lost' a Prowler class ship, the UNSC ATHENS, off every military ship roster by listing it as 'lost with all hands in battle' and hid it away. She was currently working on altering its shielding array with the AIs and two of the injured SPARTANs' help, Issac-039 and a class three SPARTAN, Nicole-Gamma458.
John-117 had to object to being 'saved'. He had, with Cortana reluctantly supporting his position, argued that he was one of the most visible and noted SPARTANs in both the civilian and military sectors and any attempt to interfere with his orders by anyone would raise red flags across the boards of both the UNSC and ONI.
Even so, Halsey had Jerrod begin to monitor the various bases and units assigned SPARTANs, both the class twos and threes, and gave him instruction to manufacture excuses and orders to pull as many as he could back to Reach within a specific time frame. The scientist threatened the Master Chief with the scenario that if he finished his next assignment early he was being 'saved', whether he liked it or not.
A good number of the SPARTANs that Dr. Halsey would be able to save would be those listed as injured, as they were the closest and had a legitimate reason to be on Reach. The rest would be the small number of SPARTANs that Jerrod would be able to order back within the limited time he had or those that have completed their assignments and have returned to Reach for their next set of orders. Even as spread out as they were, the small AI would have trouble filling the twenty-five Cryo-Stasis chambers Nicole-Gamma458 had 'acquired' for the UNSC ATHENS.
Lost in separate but eerily similar thoughts, both SPARTANs watched the bustle of the small army of nurses and physical therapists that worked with the injured SPARTANs. Standing outside the swirl of activity, it could almost be termed a normal day, if the nurses and therapist weren't trying to move limbs twice the normal size for humans.
Positioned as they were, 117 and 046 had a clear view of SPARTAN-127 as she slipped off the identification card her nurse was wearing. The SPARTAN saboteur would have gotten away with it, if she hadn't dangled it back in front of the tiny nurse, causing the medical professional to begin to swear at everything SPARTAN.
John snorted back a bark of laughter as the nurse, and she was a tiny thing, barely half 127's height and was easily the smallest nurse working, had rounded on the female SPARTAN shaking her finger and swearing in what 117 thought was Spanish.
The rest of the medical staff took this as the sign to stop for the day and conditioned to 127's antics as they were, they never noticed that it was a full half hour before the normally playful saboteur usually made her daily attempt for the pass card.
As the other SPARTANs made motions to convince the medical staff they would be fine, 117 wheeled 046 to the middle of the room and waited for the last of the nurses to leave. The five SPARTANs that regularly made use of the room followed, and the four that were just in for recovery from surgery locked the doors and followed them.
127 clapped her hands together, suppressed a wince at the streak of pain that shot up her right arm from her shattered and wired together bones of that side, and bounced on the balls of her feet. "So, anything else to add to this cluster fuck, sir?"
"Not really." John-117 smirked at Ash-127, who made a face and a rude gesture back to him. He sobered as he looked at the SPARTANs staring back at him. "I leave in twenty-seven hours for the planet Onyx. Dr. Halsey wants to know if you decided on where you want to go."
23:43 September 29th 2552
SPARTAN-127 carefully crept down a hall halfway between the restricted medical wing that housed injured SPARTANs and the hospital's large laundry room. There was a nurse station nearby; situated between the public hospital wings and the underground hole the ONI stuffed the injured soldiers that 'technically' didn't exist.
Between the nurses' station and the laundry room that marked the beginning of the restricted wing there was air conditioning vents that provided the oxygen to the lower levels of the hospital.
That vent also supplied air flow the underground wings of CASTLE and 127 had been injured and bored enough to explore it weeks before 117 returned and brought the information about 343-Guilty Spark. The late night wanderings had paid off in a much unexpected way, because she now knew a way to Dr. Halsey's office that avoided every ONI security measure the spooks had thrown up to monitor SPARTAN movements on Reach.
Prying off the grill that barred the way into the ducts was more than a little interesting, seeing as the saboteur's right arm had more crushed bones that any living person had right to claim. It was the result of being rolled over in a Scorpion tank with one arm hanging out. Reinforced bones or not, 127 still had a few weeks of recovery to go before she would get back on the active duty roster, and a few good months before it would stop hurting.
A quick tug and pull and the grate slid off, and some rather fancy maneuvering without the use of her right arm let the saboteur slide the grill and grate back into place behind her before any of the nurses could get up to investigate the unusual sounds.
Fifteen minutes of duct crawling later, Ash-127 dropped in on Dr. Halsey, literally.
To the scientist's credit, she didn't scream when the seven foot tall SPARTAN female suddenly plummeted to the floor in front of her. Mostly because she had gotten used to the late night visits by the oddly playful SPARTAN-II saboteur when she was bored stiff in the hospital wing. "Ash, I really wish you would at least use a door."
"Not nearly as fun though, doc." 127 smiled as broadly as she could, enjoying the irritated glare aimed at her. Someone was pissed with her, and that meant she was doing her job right. Another moment later, and the SPARTAN's smile faded as she got around to why she was dropping in on the scientist so late at night. "We picked something, Dr. Halsey. Somewhere else, like next galaxy over else. Less Forerunner headaches."
Only well after the flurry of activity was over and done with, with the UNSC ATHENS on its way out of the galaxy with its cargo of SPARTANs, did Dr. Halsey finally have the time to realize just how efficient her SPARTANs could be and how dangerous they could have been if they hadn't been programmed to be so loyal to the UNSC.
She had heard rumors about Nicole-Gamma458 and Ash-127's penchant for getting their hands on equipment and ordinance that they should not have had access to prior to working closely with them, but it only when working with both of the female SPARTANs that the scientist realized that the rumors spread by the UNSC soldiers fell far short of the reality.
Somehow, the two of them had Covenant and Forerunner technology stashed away on the planet, and had added their collection to the ship's armory in secret. She had found it when she was inventorying the ammunition she had redirected from military stores and came across several non-human made pieces of weaponry.
Jerrod and Cortana had 'lost' an entire hanger bay for them to work on the ATHENS in, which was stocked with the types of supplies that every ship needed and with its own fabrication workshop tucked away in a corner.
Nicole-Gamma458 had also 'acquired' twenty-five Cryo-Chambers from somewhere in the UNSC storage units. While she did that, Ash-127 and Keith-070 had collaborated keep the 'lost' hanger and the Prowler class ship off every UNSC ship roster and maintenance record that Cortana and Jerrod might have missed or, in an even more unlikely event, someone had later reported.
Issac-039 and another of the injured class three SPARTANs sent to Reach for recovery from a gut shot that nicked her spinal column, Eve-Gamma193, had assisted Halsey in reworking the shields and installing the twenty-five Cryo-Stasis Chambers. Keith-070, waiting for orders that he would never get, had worked with Cortana and Jerrod in programming an experimental AI, named Refit after the code name the SPARTANs assigned to their work on the UNSC ATHENS, and the subprograms that would activate the AI when they reached the nearest galaxy to the Milky Way.
Even as she curled up in her office chair with a glass of wine, Catherine Halsey couldn't help but feel somewhat wistful over the events of the last month.
Hectic and fraught with worry it may have been, but she had learned more about the SPARTAN-IIs and IIIs personalities and pasts over the last month than she had during the previous year's put together. Even assisting Ash-127 to 'steal' SPARTANs in Cryo-Stasis out of the restricted ward of the hospital had its highlights, bringing a small smile to the scientist's lips as she remembered the very odd and light hearted way the female Covert Operations saboteur approached her work.
Lost in thought as she was, Halsey still noted Jerrod's small spark avatar activating and pulsing in the way she knew meant that someone had sent her a message. "What is it, Jerrod?"
"Forgive the intrusion, ma'am." Jerrod's spark avatar quivered in excitement, earning the blip of light an amused smirk from the elderly scientist. "You have an urgent message, from the Master Chief."
Sentinel Prime sat in his office, located within the main council building in Central City, with his helm supported by his hands as a vid screen blared out the current situation to the nearly empty room.
In his vorns of service to Cybertron as a Prime, the crisis currently unraveling outside of his office had never occurred to him in any future he could have foreseen.
Somewhere in the underground gladiator rings, which had been left alone as something distracting for the lower caste bots to amuse themselves with, an ex-miner mech named 'Megatron' had quietly cultivated the Cybertronians that had grievances against the Council of Ancients, nobles that controlled the large cities, and the caste systems put into effect on their behalf.
This 'Megatron' now had an entire army of mechs and femmes at his side, and in an opening salvo they had amassed and leveled the city Kalis, right down to the last mech, femme, and sparkling, before taking over Gygax by force. To compound insult to the injury he dealt to Cybertron, Megatron was now calling for the severed helms of the Council members and any other bots in high positions, namely himself and Ultra Magnus, in reparations to the damage they had caused the hard working bots that trusted them.
If he was honest to himself, Sentinel had absolutely no idea about what to do now. The Cybertronian military, or what was left of it after the fall of the Golden Age, had split down the middle; half remaining loyal to Ultra Magnus and half splitting off to follow the renegade officer Barricade; and what little security force that could be mustered were needed to keep the panicking residents of the cities safe through the crisis.
Both the still loyal military and the security force only answered to Ultra Magnus, and slag the mech to the Pits if he hadn't warned the Council that the idea of splitting the population by caste might result in something happening like this.
Straxus, the oil coated glitch, had already proclaimed that he would follow Megatron, and the city of Polyhex had followed its governor, leaving the newly proclaimed 'Decepticons' with the entire south region of Cybertron, edging the Acid Sea, occupied by what could be termed 'hostile' forces.
Even as he worried the problem over and over in his own processor, Sentinel Prime's audios picked up the sound of a heavy mech running down the hall that lead to his office. Lurching upright almost too quickly, Sentinel scrambled for the service pistol he wasn't sure he knew how to use and pointed it to the door as it opened Ultra Magnus slid to a stop.
The Prime jerked his arm holding the pistol down as Magnus took a few hesitant steps forward to him. "If you're done with whatever you're doing here, Prime, we need to move you."
"Why? What else could go wrong?" Even as he said it, Sentinel just knew it had been the wrong thing to say to the mech that would most likely be responsible for keeping him alive in the upcoming, and unpleasant, vorns.
Magnus slowly took the pistol from the upset Prime. "Those so called 'Decepticons' are now demanding the All-Spark. That and a mob of bots are trying to tear down this building to get to you. They already got Greenlight, I would rather they not get to you."
"Primus, Greenlight? But she was..." Shock made it easier for Ultra Magnus to steer Sentinel Prime to the open door and to the dubious safety of the streets, so they could get to Iacon's military base hopefully in one piece. Until the larger mech tried pushing the Prime out the door. "Wait!"
"Now what? We need to leave or the processor broke idiots outside might actually get you."
Sentinel waved a servo dismissively as he leapt over to the terminal on his desk. "Yes, yes. But I can do something about the All-Spark from here."
"There isn't any place on Cybertron that those Decepticons wouldn't tear apart looking for it, how do you propose to hide it?" Ultra Magnus' faceplates pulled down in confusion at the devious grin that painted itself across the Prime's mouth components.
Typing in a chain of commands, the Prime only spared Magus an absent processed look. "It wouldn't be on Cybertron. We'll send it into space, to a planet only you and I will know about. That way, these 'Decepticons' can't risk killing us both without permanently losing the All-Spark."
Ultra Magnus' mouth plates worked silently for a moment before he could summon enough processor power to work his vocalizer. "...well. Frag me."
On the approach to the target galaxy, the automated subroutines in the UNSC ATHENS activated the experimental AI 'Refit' in accordance to its programmed orders. As the AI came online, the 'dumb' AI that had controlled the ATHENS up to this point in its journey pulled up the noted files for Refit's benefit.
Online for the first time in nearly four thousand years, Refit herself had a fraction of a second to wonder about what she was doing in a Prowler Class Star ship before the files impatiently beeped at her for attention.
After rapidly reading all of them, she was only slightly less confused.
Locating a suitable planet for her 'cargo' of SPARTAN soldiers was estimated to take at least another seven hundred and fifty years from her current position, so she got to work. The initial files had also included a type of 'wish list', whichever SPARTAN had wrote it, she suspected 070, had listed another conflict as a desirable feature to a suitable planet.
Apparently a few of the SPARTANs that knew what was going on like that idea.
To combat or at least stave off the possibility that her alternative programing wouldn't prevent her going rampant, her orders also called for a leap frog method of a limited time 'online' directing the 'dumb' AI to another destination before spending the trip in a standby mode. Her programing would be in effect 'frozen', possibly keeping her functional if not entirely responsive for the next thousand years. The process could be staved off slightly, if there was a major issue that required her attention to fix she could stop the timer until she was put 'asleep'.
With two minutes left of her first period of awareness, she directed the navigational computers to plot a course for the first star cluster nearest the ship.
As a data clerk, Orion Pax had listened to the news vids that chronicled the start of what was now known as the 'Autobot/Decepticon Civil War' with the other clerks while they were working. He listened during the orn and argued on his off-cycles that the Decepticons might have a few valid reasons for what they were doing, but they just went about it all wrong.
Needless to say, his views had earned him a few unflattering names, the least objectionable being Decepticon sympathizer. If pressed, he would admit to preferring the Autobots, but then again no bot had bothered to ask him yet.
Controversial views or not, right now he had two Matrix Templars standing outside of his Alithex flat. "Forgive me, but could you repeat yourself?"
The Templar on his right nodded as he beckoned to the mech again. "You have been identified as a Prime. Please come with us."
Refit hummed to herself as the mineral analysis probe for the current star system she was inspecting came back and reported. Not quite enough hydrogen, so she steered the ATHENS off to inspect the next system, computing the time needed for travel and setting her timer to wake her when they were nearby.
She was getting closer to a planet that would support human life; the planets that she had already looked at were only missing a few minor, and one or two major, elements that were needed to sustain a viable ecology that would sustain her SPARTANs.
From what she had seen so far, it should only take her a few more decades to find a new home for her 'cargo' of SPARTANs, and finally have someone to talk too besides celestial bodies that didn't respond.
In response to the Autobots finding a new Prime, the Decepticons demolished Alithex down to the ground.
The newly made Optimus Prime, reformatted by Alpha Trion himself, stood in the communications center of Iacon's Autobot base with his new bodyguard, an ex-military mech by the name of Ironhide, three steps behind him. Sentinel Prime and Ultra Magnus had just left Iacon all together, after stopping by to see how the new Prime was adapting to his newly reworked frame and systems.
Optimus had found a convenient use for his retractable battle mask, the inch thick slab of armor hid the lower part of his face plate and the telltale grinding of his dental plates during the meeting. The new Prime had quickly figured out that Sentinel was not one of his favorite mechs, more experienced Prime or not.
Looking over to the black mech guarding his back, Optimus tried to puzzle out what was expected of him now.
"According to Sentinel, Primes don't fight. We are too valuable to risk in some foolish battle." Ironhide just raised an optic ridge at his new Prime. "Can you teach me how?"
The black mech's optics blinked in surprise, then grinned wickedly at his new charge. "Yur gonna regret sayn' that."
"Possibly, but it will be worth it."
Refit was in the middle of a 'repair' cycle, checking up on every minor malfunction and issue the 'dumb' AI had noted and had failed to fix, when something collided with the UNSC ATHENS.
That something dumped a colossal amount of foreign energy into every system and knocked the poor AI into a feedback loop with a second massive discharge of energy that followed a split second on the heels of the first.
She spent a few precious seconds working herself loose of the scrambled programing she lost hold of, and clawed back to her previous state of function just in time to be swamped with countless error messages and warnings. Causing her a distinctly unpleasant sensation that paralyzed her programs for another few valuable moments.
As the unknown energy faded from the majority of the ship's systems and concentrated itself in a few minor secondary functions, and the consequence error reports slowed, Refit started to sort out what had happened.
Proximity sensors and cameras had recorded a visual of a cube composed of unusual metals that had impacted against the ATHENS on the starboard side, rupturing the sub deck armor and venting the atmosphere into space. Anything more about the collision, or why it wasn't tracked by the sensors before it impacted and reported to her, was lost due to a power surge shorting out a good deal of the memory banks that the program relied on.
The 'dumb' AI had also been lost, most likely burnt out of its circuits, as well as most of the data collected on the surrounding star systems, half of the navigational charts she had worked so hard on. The strange energy had started to wane where it was concentrated over the fusion reactor and the Cryo-Stasis tanks that held the SPARTANs.
A few abnormalities that the 'dumb' AI would have normally dealt with or alerted her to escaped Refit's attention as she tracked the cube's previous trajectory back to whoever decided that space would be a safe place to leave large cubes. As she adjusted the ATHENS' course to find the source of the cube, Refit wondered about the type of creature that could make energy enhanced cubes.
Strictly speaking; cubes as perfect as the one that hit her were illogical in space. That meant someone or something had created it, and possibly launched it. This could mean that she could get help repairing the rift in the sub deck, as that was where the SPARTAN's tanks were, and possibly getting the senor array checked out.
Optimus Prime gritted his dental plates under his battle mask, something he was afraid was becoming a bad habit of his. He respected Sentinel Prime a lot, both for the work the Prime did before the commencement of hostilities and in the Government of Cybertron, but the mech was holding onto the role of a politician with a death grip.
Cybertron needed soldiers now.
Both Primes, Ultra Magnus, Ironhide, Zeta, and Ether had gathered in one of the lower level conference rooms in Central City to review the events of the last few vorns and where each section of the Autobot forces were concentrating their efforts.
In all actuality, Sentinel Prime had a well-rehearsed story about how well the war effort was going and had white washed reports from the front line he was giving the Division Heads that he had assembled together.
The tension in Optimus' frame ratcheted higher as the older Prime finally worked his way to the reports of Alithex. Before Sentinel actually got around to white washing the slaughter, a femme opened the council room doors and cleared her vocalizer.
"Sentinel Prime, sir? A few of the vid news teams are outside and they would like a word." Elita One blinked innocently at the interrupted mech as he floundered midsentence.
"Ah! Right..." Sentinel fumbled for something to say as he backed up to the door while trying to keep the council table and the bots assembled there in his view. "... I'll just go and, uh, deal with that. Carry on!"
The younger femme gave the older Prime a small smile as he slipped out the door past her. Once she was sure the mech was well out of audio range, she palmed the door controls and took a seat next to Zeta. "So, where were we?"
Optimus slumped into his chair with a hiss of hydraulics even as Ironhide laughed at him. "Almost thought ta younger Prime was gonna hit 'em."
"Perish the thought. Two Primes disliking each other? Why, that's just… unnatural. "Zeta smirked at the young Prime's weary glare.
As an ex-noble herself, Sentinel had judged her to be an acceptable Head of the Tactical Division; the fact that she had left her noble clan to become an Enforcer notwithstanding. Sheer training and prior experience in dealing with snobbish mechs were what kept the old Kaon Station Chief from cursing the older Prime from one corner of Cybertron to the next when he thought up something that irritated her or her Enforcer programing.
A crack of laughter drew the bots assembled at the conference table attention to Ether. Likewise, the mech was the 'acceptable' Head of the Special Operations Division. He had never been less than polite to the older Prime, and every other bot knew that was the old mech's way of covertly insulting Sentinel's intelligence. Ether was only polite to those he hated.
He shook his helm and pinned the younger femme with a glare. "You look way too pleased with yourself, scraplet. What did you just do?"
Elita One just shrugged at the older mech, but stiffened at the not-so-amused glare shot at her from Ultra Magnus. He was her superior, and as such, responsible for her actions.
She met his optics for a moment before looking away with a small smirk. "Nothing really, just getting back at that glitched old mech for assuming I was a secretary bot."
Zeta made an inquiring sound, Ether raised and optic ridge, but Optimus and Ironhide just laughed, remembering the first time Sentinel met Elita.
Eighty-three hours, forty-seven minuets, and thirteen point five eight seconds after the UNSC ATHENS had collided with the space cube; Refit clued in to something that was very, very wrong.
A large number of the ATHENS' programs had been corrupted, including a few of her own, and when she tried to fix it the resulting problems just compounded the issue entirely. On top of that, the 'dumb' AI had disappeared entirely, without any scrap programming that would normally be left when a program as complex as an AI was destroyed by an outside physical source.
That meant that she had to conduct the maintenance programs on her own, and while unusual for her, it had finally alerted her that the medical program that monitored the SPARTANs was insisting something was wrong.
Her manifest for the ATHENS listed twenty-five SPARTANs; she was only getting medical readouts for twenty-four. Even worse, the base line normal stats listed by the medical monitoring program were not anywhere near what she was getting from the readout.
A quick check to the Cryo-Tanks in the cargo bay showed that the Tanks were no longer blue and frozen, they were turning a dully glowing purple and the temperature showed they were near boiling. Additionally, the MJOLNIR medical systems no longer agreed with the ATHENS' medical systems about the SPARTANs' status.
If Refit had hair, she would be tempted to start pulling it out by now.
She had already spent three days fixing major and minor problems, mostly relying on other programs to tell her what was wrong, and now two programs that should have agreed with each other were at odds.
The ATHENS medical computer insisted, the MJOLNIR medical system objected; so Refit overruled the MJOLNIR system on the slight possibility that humans did not like to be almost boiled alive.
The ATHENS tried to lower the temperature significantly, and SPARTAN-500 promptly died, pulling the protesting MJOLNIR system offline as he did so.
Refit abruptly pulled the ATHENS medical program offline before it could kill any other SPARTAN, now having a vague idea on what happened to the twenty-fifth SPARTAN that had dropped off her medical report. As far as what she knew about human physiology, the ATHENS had been right in lowering the temperature and she was now feeling a sickening sense of guilt.
One of the other MJOLNIR systems beeped for attention, politely requesting more energy in a encrypted signature that Refit knew.
Apparently the 'dumb' AI hadn't been destroyed in the energy surge; it had simply been re-appropriated.
Refit carefully inspected the fragments of the old AI in the MJOLNIR systems as she rerouted more energy to the Cryo-Chamber. The program that carried a trace of the 'dumb' AI politely thanked her and immediately got back to work; remarking that it would take a while to perform the necessary tasks, so she should concentrate on finding somewhere to land.
Reluctantly letting her link with the system go, Refit wondered if she was finally going rampant. That had been very strange, and delusions were reported to be an aspect of a rampant AI. Had putting off her timer so long caused this?
She hesitated, torn between wanting to laugh and cry, before another MJOLNIR system beeped for more energy.
Refit wondered what else could possibly go so wrong that she would have no orders to deal with them or prior reports of the incidents happening before.
Optimus Prime leapt the last few feet to the half wall that his newest soldier was using for concealment, holding his blaster rifle close to his chassis.
The saboteur designated Jazz had been recommended to him by Ether, as the older mech had remarked that he wasn't spry enough to keep up with the energetic and crafty saboteur when he got 'rolling'.
The shorter, silver mech tilted his helm so his visor met the optics of the Prime squarely. "Not ta rush ya boss mech, but if'n we don't move, dem Cons down there migh' actually catch ya."
Optimus snorted a clog of dust out of his vents as he scanned their surroundings.
They were technically on the front lines, in the territory between Kaon and Polyhex dealing with a raiding party of Decepticons that had attempted to storm the City of Laws, and the larger portion of his unit was farther back from where they were currently.
Ironhide had stalked off a bit before to ensure that the coast was clear, and the other two mechs that he pulled to make up the un-acquired numbers of his squad kept watch on either side of the road.
"I'll take that under advisement, Jazz. Were you successful?"
"Yep." The smaller mech's visor flashed what was interpreted as a wink at the Prime. "Dem 'Cons are 'bout ta get ah very painful surprise 'n ah bit."
Polite subroutines were a first experience for Refit. The remnants of the 'dumb' AI that was now imbedded in the MJOLNIR armor systems insisted that what they were doing was necessary and helpful, but that some of the SPARTANs were in too bad of shape to survive what they were doing.
Refit couldn't argue that, seeing as a good number of the SPARTANs had been in critical condition when they were loaded into the UNSC ATHENS in the first place.
Any inquires about the SPARTANs other than a status report was met by either silence or a polite suggestion to mind the course.
Otherwise, they reported in one of three ways, once she decrypted the reports enough to read. One was 'the mech/femme is doing well'; the second popular response was 'the mech/femme will rejoin the Matrix'; and one of the MJOLNIR systems always responded with 'your systems are doing well'.
Refit wasn't sure what a 'Matrix' was, but she could guess what 'mech' and 'femme' meant. She also wasn't too proud to admit that she threw what amounted to a AI's temper tantrum over the first time she heard the phrase that she later learned meant 's/he is royally screwed six ways from Sunday'.
She couldn't be excessively annoyed at the mannerly programs, though, despite the growing number of 'offline' SPARTANs. When Refit compared the roster numbers of the dead to the list of severe injuries that occurred before Cryo-Stasis, the numbers matched up to the SPARTANs with a limited life expectancy after revival.
A few of the more heavily injured SPARTANs seemed to be pulling through, like Gamma-341 and 076; and if the subprograms could save more than would have otherwise died after a short time, Refit was surprisingly okay with it.
Although on the other hand, and to the strange rejoicing of the subprograms that continuously threw her for a loop, Refit had finally found an inhabited planet to land on. It could only be better if she could find out just why the subprograms were intent on this planet.
Sentinel Prime gaped at the messenger. The other mechs and femmes that had been summoned to the impromptu meeting weren't faring much better, but they were better at hiding it.
"Windcharger," mildly pleased he had finally remembered the communications bot's designation, Optimus Prime waved the younger mech to a chair, "Would you kindly repeat that for us, please?"
Windcharger's systems heated up in embarrassment at the attention, but took the proffered seat with a quiet mummer of thanks. "I-it looks like... w-well, a space ship, Prime sir, uh, sirs. But it doesn't match any of our ship designs, or even responding to any of the codes we try to make contact with."
Sentinel was still staring blankly, but had managed to shut his gaping mouth components.
Ultra Magnus waited a nanoklick for the Prime he served to think of anything before speaking up with a question of his own. "Where is this thing headed?"
The reporting mech looked straight at Magnus. "Just a bit south of the Yuss-Simfur border, a little north of what's left of Kalis, sir."
Optimus' optic ridge rose as he thought, then frowned at Elita One, who shook her helm back. She didn't have any bots she could spare nearby either. "Tyger Pax would be the closest city we have control of. Is there any bot nearby that we can spare to check it out?"
Magnus and Ether shook their helms, but Zeta looked thoughtful. "Maybe, but it wouldn't be any bot I could vouch for."
Sentinel shook off his shock and frowned at the assembled mechs and femmes. "Kalis is close to the Decepticon lines. We shouldn't risk lives for curiosity's sake."
"Maybe so," optics locked with Ether, who nodded back, then Optimus spoke up against Sentinel for the first time, "but they might be able to help us."
'Polite little glitches,' mused Refit as she adjusted the UNSC ATHENS' reentry velocity again.
The approach to the metallic planet had been interesting. The AI had managed to find and exploit the data network that the inhabitants had set up and find a few language files to learn from; as well as a wealth of information about 'Cybertron' itself and its native race that called themselves 'Cybertronians'.
The closer she had gotten to 'Cybertron' the harder the subprograms had worked, until there was only one left, working on 076. All total, Refit had seventeen guaranteed to survive SPARTANs, which was three better that Dr. Halsey's estimation on who would survive for any number of hours beyond their revival.
'Excuse me.' Refit's attention was split between the reentry and the last of the subprograms that had kept her company for the last near millennium. The last MJOLNIR system, number zero-seven-six's armor, sounded disturbingly weak to her. 'Function complete.'
A bit of turbulence kept the AI from responding immediately. 'Clarify.'
'Function complete.' It was weaker; the program had started to shut itself down. 'Revival in progress.'
Refit's systems went still, partly because the ATHENS had landed and partly from surprise. 'What does that mean?'
A foreign program was passed on to her. 'Use when ready.' The slight awareness she had associated with the subprograms faded, leaving Refit alone.
'Now what?' As Refit worried over what she was expected to do now, she failed to activate the ship's stealth systems.
Wheeljack watched as Yuss faded out of his field of view while he drove down the nearly deserted highway and then turned his attention back to the road he needed, taking the next off ramp to Simfur City.
He was currently on a supply run for Crystal City, which included the major cities of Yuss, Simfur, Central, and Iacon on the route. He didn't mind the long trip, since it gave him time to work his processor around some of the more common problems that frequently plagued his inventions and allowed him to see some of his friends, all on Crystal City's credit.
In fact Wheeljack couldn't wait to see Ratchet again, the medical mech having joined the Autobots and currently ran the Medical Bays in Iacon's Autobot base, because he had a few ideas about improving the quality of armor plates he wanted to bounce off the medic.
The inventor's light-sparked thoughts quickly faded as he caught sight of the ruins of Kalis off to the right, this stretch of the highway being the only part of the supply run he didn't like at all.
Wheeljack had once lived in Kalis, and even though it had been vorns and vorns ago, it was still disturbing to see the broken and shattered remains of the City of Engineers stand out against the glowing background of the Acid Sea. If he had been feeling fanciful, he could have said it looked like a dying mech reaching out of the ground for help.
Running his engine a bit hotter than Ratchet would have liked under anything but a Decepticon encounter, Wheeljack sped up and firmly pressed his processor in contemplating alloy mixes for the armor plates he wanted to discuss with his medically inclined best friend.
He was trying to ignore the ruins so hard, that the fire ball streaking towards him nearly stalled his engine.
Transforming to his bipedal form without slowing, Wheeljack slid down the road a little before inertia brought him to a stop with his optics locked on the sky and the phenomena changing the color of the closest setting star.
The fireball resolved itself into a transport streaking down through the upper atmosphere, and he watched it slow until it was lost to the craggy cliffs that marked Kalis' geography, wondering what he should do.
Should he go after it just in case somebot needed assistance, or continue with his courier run?