Far Rim, Dholen System

"What do you make of this Frauz?" Lanter asked. "I've never seen anything like it before."

If Frauz heard his crewmate's question, he was ignoring it. He very carefully transferred a little more power to the ship's long range scanners, not daring to use any more than necessary, lest he reveal their position to the enemy.

"Over 200 ships, why? What's so important about Haestrom? It's just an over-radiated hunk of dirt."

Frauz had been scouting through Geth space for the past few weeks after reports of massive ship movements within the Perseus Veil. Not to mention the rumors of Geth ships being spotted traveling through the Traverse some weeks ago. At first Frauz had a hard time believing such rumors. The Geth outside the Perseus Veil? Impossible. Regardless, the Admiralty Board decided to err on the side of caution and increase the Quarians' already extensive intelligence gathering missions, hence his current objective. Normally, it was a task that would prove to be suicidal, if it weren't for the fact that the Quarians had long ago created and integrated capable stealth technology into many of their intelligence ships. It was one of the best advantages the Fleet had over the other races, and the admiralty had no qualm about using it to spy on Geth, and non-Geth, activity. Indeed, the Council races were not as secure as they might have thought.

The downside to being on a Quarian stealth ship was its size. It was tiny—had to be—in order to keep the ship off enemy sensors. Even for a species that was used to living in confined, closed quarters, it was unbearably cramped. And to make matters worse, Frauz was trapped in it with what was quite possibly the most annoying Quarian in history.

"I wonder what they're doing on the planet surface," Lanter droned on. "What do machines do to pass idle time anyway?"

Frauz zoomed in on a couple of ships leaving the planet's atmosphere. Based on their approach, they were returning to the larger Geth ships. Those are cargo vessels. It looks like they're gathering raw resources. He zoomed to another section, where a variety of space stations were being constructed.

Large numbers of ships, resource gathering, and orbital posts. It wasn't hard to put the two and two together. The Geth were preparing for an invasion. A red light started flashing to Frauz's right. Ignoring his queasiness, he touched the appropriate hollow interface that brought up the solar system's tactical display.

"Hmm, what if they're building a colony?" Lanter mercilessly babbled on. "Terrible place for one though, with the heat and all. Not that the machines would care. I mean they're machines right? Though I suppose rust would be a serious problem. Flaking too—I'd bet the paint would peel right off their metal hides every time they—"

"Will you be quiet!" Frauz lashed out. "I'm trying to concentrate." He focused on the section of Dholen's System that caught the attention of his sensors.

"Oh right, of course. Good thinking Sir. We can't distract ourselves with idle conversation; we're on an important mission. This is why I'm glad you're my partner. You're always so focused, like a…like…what's that Asari saying? Like an Azgul on an Ancrea Tree? Yeah, like that."

I swear by our ancestors' grave I am going to strangle this stupid ki—

A new blip on the ship's sensors caught his attention. More red dots—enemy ships—appeared on his screen. Big ones, some a kilometer in length. How many ships do these bosh'tet's have? "Lanter, we've gathered enough Intel. I think it's time for us to leave. Every second longer we spend here is increasing our chances of getting caught."

"Of course Sir." Lanter turned towards his station and began activating the ship's FTL drive, actually being useful for once. The two Quarians navigated the ship behind the large chunk of asteroid debris they were drifting near; it would block the Geth from detecting them when they jumped to FTL speeds, which produced too much heat to be hidden. After a few minutes of procedural checks, the ship jumped quietly out of the system, ready to journey home.


Liara watched as Alenna, without warning, began to initiate the meld. Right now, of all times? At first it seemed foolish, but the more she thought about it the more it made sense. The situation they found themselves in provided an ideal opportunity to learn their language quickly, without spending weeks trying to explain the melding process to the aliens and then setting up an appropriate meeting for it to be done. In fact, weeks would probably by an optimistic goal. In some cases, such as with the Turians, it took well over a year before the purpose of the meld was understood by the Hierarchy and allowed to occur. But as it was right now, they weren't actually meeting with any diplomats of the aliens yet. This alien crew was only transporting them to the meeting. They were isolated individuals, a preferred scenario.

So, in a strange way, perhaps it did make sense. Of course, rather or not it would be a successful meld depended entirely on the reactions of the aliens. The one standing with Alenna, Kyle was his name, looked more confused than upset or afraid at the invasion of his personal space. Alenna moved in closer, placing her hands around the human's neck, standard procedure for a meld, and then sent out a ripple of low biotic energy that Liara could feel through the air. The subtle tap into the alien's nervous system revealed the intended effects. The wide-eyed human measurably relaxed as his muscles went limp and his breathing slowed considerably, matching to the tempo of Alenna's. His shocked expression transformed into calm neutrality.

"Embrace Eternity!"

The alien's body nearly went fully limp, and then became rigid straight a moment before it could go crashing to the floor. The meld was now fully in process, and, depending on how skilled Alenna was, they would very soon be able to communicate with the aliens to some degree.

It should have been simple. Unfortunately, seemingly simple things tended to get complicated very quickly. Without warning, the leading human stormed towards the pair with the obvious intention of pulling out his human counterpart. Interrupting a meld was incredibly dangerous for a non-Asari, and in extreme cases could even be fatal. The presumed captain of the vessel was inadvertently putting his crewmember at risk. Without thinking, Liara, to her surprise as much as to the others, gently lifted the human captain off the floor, preventing him from disrupting the meld.

Chaos.

It all happened so fast. The human crewmembers yelled for their leader. Shutter doors flew open. Seemingly out of nowhere, three very well-armored soldiers bearing large, bulky weapons came rushing forward. Completely covered from head to toe in black and gray armor plating, not a single centimeter of their bodies were exposed as they moved with a crisp and practiced efficiency one would expect to see in a trained Turian military unit. The large, floating creature hastily maneuvered behind some crates near the back of the room. To add to the confusion, the SPECTRE un-holstered his side-arm and aimed it towards the biotically engulfed human captain.

"Liara!" General Fealix yelled, grabbing her shoulder.

Her voice was shaky, her eyes wide, heart pounding. "I didn't mean to…I was just trying to prevent…"

She instantly released the biotic field that kept the lead human from possibly hurting his crewmember. He stumbled to the floor, before he was quickly helped up from one of his counterparts. One of the armored soldiers attempted to push him back but he refused, instead stepping to the front of the pack.

Silence.

The armored human soldiers still had their weapons drawn, as did Saren. The human captain, though perhaps a bit shaken, remained calm under the circumstance, not attempting to retreat to cover but instead staring intently at the SPECTRE wielding a weapon towards him. He uttered something to one of his crew, and then there was silence again. All was quiet, no one daring to make a sound, or even move.

The biotic aura surrounding Alenna and the human crewmember dissipated, signaling an end to the meld. Both opened their eyes, looking exhausted and breathing heavily but otherwise seemed fine. That is, until they got a good look at the situation around them. Their deep exhaustion turned into shock.


Miles watched the bizarre scene unfold in front of him. What at first seemed to be another simple handshake very quickly escalated into something quite different. The alien, Alenna, as was her apparent name, moved toward and grasped Doran in a close, almost intimate fashion. The young Ensign seemed dumbstruck, standing with his mouth agape in confusion. The alien spoke in her native language, then stepped even closer to the abashed man. Their faces were now mere inches apart while their bodies were practically rubbing against each other. The alien placed her hands around Doran's neck.

Is she…going to kiss him?

Before Miles could speculate further, the alien did something that quite frankly freaked him the hell out. Her eyes went…solid black, very much like that of a serpent, and seemed almost demonic in nature; a startling contrast from her otherwise attractive form. The other crew members unconsciously drew closer, ready to protect their Captain at the first sign of trouble.

"Captain," Athena said through Miles' ear piece. "I think we might be witnessing some form of that telekinesis we discussed before."

Miles took a step towards Doran.

"Perhaps this is some form of communi…"

Doran took a sharp, painful intake of air. Both his and the alien's body were suddenly engulfed by strange energy, almost like a bluish vapor cloud. Without warning, Doran's head snapped back and his body went rigid straight.

"Doran!" Without thinking, Miles rushed towards the Lieutenant. He placed a hand on his shoulder, ready to pull him away from whatever the alien was doing to him. But just before he yanked back, he found himself now covered by the strange mystic vapor. His stomach seemed to fall a thousand feet from under him. He soon realized that he was actually floating above the floor. The bluish vapor didn't hurt, but the feeling was rather sensational; he found it suddenly difficult to move. He heard hangar doors shoot open behind him, followed instantly by the heavy footsteps of armored soldiers and the unmistakable clatter of weaponry being readied to fire. He knew it was his own people rushing into the bay, he just silently prayed they had the sense to not start shooting immediately. Dammit, how did I let this go so wrong so quickly? Though it was difficult to see past the mystic fog that surrounded him, he could dimly make out the form of an alien, one of the face-platted ones, pull an object from his side and point it towards his direction. All I had to do was ferry them to Sol. He could hear panicked shouts, some from his people, some from the aliens. I failed.

And then, just as suddenly as the blue vapor engulfed him, it dissipated instantly, leaving him to fall clumsily on the floor. One of his Marines helped him up and tried to push him behind the group, but Miles refused. No one had fired a shot yet, which meant the situation could still be still be salvaged. And he, as the Captain of the ship, had a responsibility to defuse this hell-of-a-mess before shots did start firing. He doubted he could do that while cowering behind his crewmembers. He stepped forward.

With the blue haze now gone, Miles could better assess the situation. The shouting had mercifully stopped, leaving in its place a tense standoff. Doran and the alien were still locked together, surrounded by the blue mist. And, to his dismay, one of the aliens had a weapon pointed towards him. Although to the alien's defense, it had three weapons pointed in its direction in return. Apart from the alien wielding the weapon, who appeared decisively calm, the others looked either tense or, as the case with the blue alien, outright terrified.

"Captain," Rosa said, breaking the silence that followed after the shouting had stopped. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Miles replied, not daring to break eye contact with the face-platted alien brandishing a weapon towards him. Five seconds of silent standoff passed, then ten; it seemed like an eternity. No one spoke, no one made a sound, save for the heavy breathing of the smaller blue alien with wide eyes. The platted alien didn't so much as move a centimeter.

The bluish haze that had surrounded both Doran and the alien disappeared. They were both breathing heavily, and Doran was perspiring profusely. They opened their eyes and looked around, a stunned expression upon both their faces.

"Uh, Captain," Doran said. He didn't seem to be in any pain or distress. "What just happened?"

"I could ask you the same." Miles still didn't take his eyes off the platted alien. "What the hell happened? Are you alright?" Unbeknownst to Doran, Athena had lifted statistical data from his neural implant and listed them to Miles' ear piece. His body appeared to be functioning normally, although his heart rate was high, and when he was surrounded by the mystic haze his brain activity was off the charts.

"Yes Sir. Everything's okay. Alenna never intended to hurt me." In an instant, he realized he was still clutching her shoulders tightly and holding her close. He and Alenna looked at each other, and then parted quickly. His exhaustion wearing off, he fully took in the situation. "Captain, please fill me in here, because I'm at a loss."

"Doran, when that alien did…that thing—"

"A meld."

"What?"

"That's what they call it, Sir. Melding. Its primary function is for reproduction."

Huh? Miles was baffled. Behind him, Rosa whispered, "I told you so."

Doran's eyes shot open as he realized how that sounded. "But that's not what happened here!" he quickly added. "Melding has other functions as well."

Miles didn't bother to ask how he knew this. Those questions would come later. For now, his primary objective was diffusing the standoff before it escalated further out of control. "Right, when the alien did that…meld. I attempted to pull you away. Then I was also engulfed in a bluish vapor—

"A biotic field," Doran interrupted again.

Miles again was eager to ask how Doran knew this. Again he stifled his curiosity. "Okay, when this…biotic field lifted me from the floor, our marines rushed in. You can guess how things went from there."

Doran frowned. He was about to respond when the alien leader unexpectedly stepped forward. One of the marines quickly targeted her. She stopped mid-stride, and then slowly bowed.

Then she spoke.


"Greetings Captain," Alenna said as she bowed. "I Alenna T'Velos. This my crew," she gestured behind her. Forming the alien sounds and syllables in her mouth was strange, forcing her to move her tongue and lips in ways she was not used to. She was struggling to find not only the appropriate words but also how to structure them. "This mis…misunderstood. We want peace only."

Miles and the rest of his crew looked at her with a dumbfounded expression.

"Peace only, with you," she said again.

Miles briefly hesitated, and then asked, "How can you speak our language?"

"I…I learn. Kyle teach me. I teach Kyle. This way we learn." Alenna watched as the captain looked at Kyle in confusion.

"Sir," Doran said. "Remember when I said that the meld has different functions? Well apparently knowledge sharing is one of them. I don't know how it works exactly, but her people have the ability to transfer knowledge from one mind to another. We transferred our languages to each other. Alenna now knows English and…"

Doran must have realized something profound, Miles thought, because he stopped mid-sentence and diverted his attention to the alien named Alenna. If he was shocked to find the alien speaking English, he was outright flabbergasted at what occurred next. Doran began speaking to the alien, in her native tongue.

"Welsheale duo'Sra…vym tarfci Alenna T'Velos tros." The alien warmly smiled at Doran, and responded in kind. He didn't seem to understand her reply. She repeated again, this time slower. Miles saw something in Doran's face clique; he smiled and nodded while answering, "F'Sal das…un sra felcidra…vristro li delci." Doran was obviously struggling to form words, but the alien seemed to understand him well enough.

"Doran," Miles said, grabbing his attention. "You can speak her language?" That revelation almost caused to forget that they had weapons pointed at each other. Almost.

"To an extent, I'm not very proficient. As I said, we transferred our languages to each other."

"Just languages? Doran, what else was shared between you two?" Miles asked with a hint of dread in his voice.

"Strictly language Sir, and certainly nothing that would breach the security of the UNSC, I assure you. The meld is…how do I explain it. She cannot take information from me at will. I have to volunteer it."

Miles wasn't the least bit convinced, but again, this simply wasn't the time for the discussion of security breaches. Weapons were still drawn; he himself had one pointed directly at his head. Questions would have to come later. Right now, he was still concerned with ensuring that he lived long enough to ask those questions. Miles nodded, though he gave Doran a stern gaze that said 'we'll discuss this later'. Doran nodded back in understanding.

For the first time, one of the other aliens spoke.


Fealix wanted to curse himself when Alenna began to initiate the meld. Had he known she was going to attempt it when she stepped forward, he would have stopped her in her tracks. Perhaps if they were in a meeting between diplomats, or civilians, or anyone else other than this particular group, it would have been a good idea. These humans were isolated after all, which was the ideal condition to conduct a first contact learning meld. But something that Alenna clearly didn't understand was that these humans were soldiers. And if they were anything like Turian soldiers, Fealix knew exactly how they would respond. Unfortunately, by the time he realized what she was doing it was already too late. Admittedly, he didn't know much about Asari biology, but he did know that disrupting a meld could be potentially dangerous.

And to confirm his worst fears, the human leader rushed forward to grab his crew member. Then things went from bad to worse as Liara biotically lifted him from the ground, no doubt to stop him from interrupting the meld. Soldiers rushed in drawing weapons; Saren drew his. Alenna and the human came back into consciences. A standoff occurred. Alenna exchanged words with the humans. He couldn't understand them. The human spoke briefly in an Asari dialect to Alenna. What was said almost made him chuckle. A sense of humor? They're not like Turians at all.

And now back to the tense standoff.

Fealix knew there was only one way to end this. Somebody had to lower their weapons, and hope the other side wouldn't start shooting. He knew Saren was a loose cannon, and a pitiful excuse of what a Turian stood for, which also made him a terrific SPECTRE. He currently had his weapon trained on the most important human in the group. If the aliens decided to shoot, their captain would most certainly die. Of course, so would we.

Fealix wasn't sure if he regretted allowing the SPECTRE to carry a side arm. On one hand, Saren drawing his weapon only added to the confusion. But on the other…if he didn't put the human captain in his sights, perhaps the soldiers would have fired on them. Perhaps it was the only thing that kept them alive.

He just didn't know.

As always when presented with difficult problems, he looked at the situation tactically. The humans had three well-armed, heavily armored soldiers going against one lightly armored Turian. There were only two options that could occur, either the humans lowered their weapons first, or Saren did. The former simply wasn't going to happen. If Fealix learned anything about these aliens, it's that they are incredibly paranoid. The latter was the only option that Fealix envisioned getting everyone out alive, though he didn't relish the idea of putting himself at their mercy. Still, what choice did he have? With three against one, anything else would be suicide. And after hearing the one called Kyle speak, he was put more at ease.

"Arterius," Fealix ordered. "Lower your weapon."

Saren didn't take his eyes off the human captain. "Sir, if I do that they could easily gun us down."

"I know that," Fealix replied hotly. "But do you have any other option? One that won't get us all killed?"

"Actually yes. I could hold their captain at gunpoint while everyone else retreats to the shuttle." The human captain was staring straight back at him with an intense stare. He had to give the alien credit, it didn't back down in the face of death.

"Option poses risk," Mordin said. "Even if we evacuate, still outnumbered by ship firepower. They could easily destroy shuttle. Still, just as likely to die here if conflict not resolved. More so, even."

"What, Leave? Are you all insane?" Alenna said incredulously. "We're just starting to make real headway. I can communicate with them. Saren, lower your weapon, they won't shoot."

"This isn't what I'd call headway, Alenna," Saren replied.

"I think they were just startled," Liara said, injecting herself into the conversation for the first time. "Alenna, when you entered the meld the human captain attempted to pull his crew member away. I…biotically lifted him to prevent any harm." Her eyes cast downward. "This is entirely my fault."

"No, this is Alenna's fault for initiating the damn meld," Saren was growing more frustrated by the second. It was times like these when he was reminded of how much he loved working alone, where no idiot partner could put his life at risk. "Don't you realize this is a military vessel? What the hell were you thinking?"

"I did what I thought was best at the time!" Alenna fired back. "And the meld was successful, mind you. All of this could end if you just lower your weapon."

"If you're so convinced they won't shoot us then ask them to lower their weapons first."

"They won't do that with you targeting one of them." Alenna paused to briefly look at Kyle, before continuing. "I think something happened that made their kind very paranoid. I don't know what, Kyle wouldn't divulge, but…I think something very bad happened to their people."

"If they're as paranoid as you say, then that's all the more reason not to put our guard down," Saren said. "General, I advise you and the team retreat to the shuttle while I hold them off. Once onboard you can contact the fleet and have them send assistance."

Fealix looked at Saren, then back to Alenna, clearly contemplating the option.

"You can't do that!" Alenna half-yelled, half-pleaded. "General I am absolutely convinced that if Saren lowers his weapon the humans won't fire."

"For the last time, I'm not lowering mine until they lower theirs."

Saren refused to budge. Fealix in a rare moment looked indecisive. Alenna was outright pleading. Mordin was silent, hand on his chin thinking critically.

Liara could only look on with mounting dread.


Miles looked at Doran for an explanation, but a quick shake of the head confirmed he couldn't translate what was being said. Not that he really needed a translation. He didn't have to speak their language or go through a virtual mind-fuck to understand what was happening. The aliens were feuding, and it was obvious what the source of that feud was about. The alien called Alenna wanted the face-plate to lower its weapon, but the creature remained adamant in keeping Miles firmly in its sights. Miles probably couldn't blame it, hell, he might have acted the same way had he been in the alien's position. The feud continued; it was obvious that face-plate wasn't going to back down. Miles knew there was only one way this confrontation was going to end peacefully.

"Mitchell," Miles ordered the lead ODST marine. "Lower your weapons."

That got the attention of the Alenna, who was the only alien that could understand his language. She turned around to face him. The other aliens stopped feuding.

"Sir," Mitchell replied. "Are you sure, skull-face could—"

"I know Sergeant. My order still stands. Lower your weapons." The ODST's looked at each other in a moment of hesitation, before their ingrained instincts took over and they obeyed the order of their superior.

For the first time since the snafu started, the face-platted alien hesitated. It looked towards the other face-plate, and then to Alenna, and then back to Miles; its weapon was still drawn. Miles very slowly walked forward, stopping just a few feet in front of the alien, who looked decidedly more intimidating up-close. In an effort to hide his fear, he smiled, and then spoke slowly, knowing Alenna would understand. "What is your name, friend?"

Alenna translated what was said.

Miles couldn't be sure, but if he had to guess, he'd say that face-plate gave Alenna his species' equivalent of a curious look. Eventually the alien replied in its native language. Alenna translated as best she could.

"He says, 'My name Saren Arterius.'"

A male then. "Okay Saren Arterius." He was sure he butchered the name. "I would kindly ask that you stow away your weapon…or else," he added after a short pause.

Alenna translated, clearly growing more nervous.

It was a short reply. "Saren says, 'Or else what?'"

"Or else I'll take it by force," Miles responded with every ounce of sincerity he could muster. False sincerity, he bleakly reminded himself. I only know the basics of hand to hand combat; I'm certainly not proficient in it. And some of these aliens have mind powers. Yet another bleak reminder. He wished he was as confident in his ability as he sounded.

When Alenna translated, face-plate did something strangely human; he scoffed. And an arrogant bastard too.

Alenna translated his reply, though she appeared to be growing weary with each passing exchange. "Saren says, 'I fought many beings in galaxy. Survive greater odds than you.'"

Miles' smile broadened. Strangely, this seemed to put face-plate—Saren—in visible discomfort. "You have not fought anyone like us."

Alenna translated. Saren stared at Miles for a considerable moment. He said something, and then, thankfully, upholstered his weapon to his hip. Miles heard audible sighs of relief coming from both sides; the tension in the room deflated instantly. As if realizing everything seemed safe again, Heavier-Than-Others drifted out of his hiding spot and back into the group.

Miles addressed Alenna. "What did he say?"

"He says, 'maybe one day we fight, but not today.'"

Saren had retreated to the back of the alien group again. Miles leered at him uneasily. It's like that creature wants to fight. Is this a common trait among its kind, or is this just one hotheaded individual? Something for ONI to speculate about I suppose.

Alenna must have picked up on his perturbed state, because she said, "I no wish fighting." She smiled. "Citadel Council want peace and…co…cooperation."

"Madam, it is a relief to hear you say that," Miles responded earnestly. "This Citadel Council, it is your governing body?"

"Yes, it"—she paused, trying to form words—"it seat of power of galaxy."

But not the whole galaxy, Miles inwardly thought. Outwardly, he said, "Well, I hope further meetings will be less confrontational."

Miles was about to ask another question when he was interrupted by Hev's soft gurgling noise it emitted whenever it was curios. The biological super computer drifted across the deck, oblivious to everything except his newfound object of interest. Apparently, that object of interest happened to be Doran's head. Hev, without warning, uncoiled one of its tentacles and wrapped it around the back of Doran's neck.

"Whoa Hev, what are you—ow!"

The fine cilia of Hev's tentacle brushed against the small port of Doran's standard neural interface, producing a tiny spark as new data was rapidly downloaded. Satisfied that it had acquired everything it wanted, Hev made its way back to Miles. Like a child asking for candy, the A.I. presented a tentacle out front. Miles quirked a brow.

"Hmm, Hev just transmitted me an interesting message," Athena said over Miles' earpiece. "Captain, during this 'meld' process, Doran experienced extremely high neural activity, particularly in the Ensign's left frontal lobe. If what Doran said is correct then this shouldn't be surprising, as that portion of the brain is responsible for learning language. I believe Hev might have found a way to lift Doran's newly learned data from his neural link. The implications are self-evident."

"Wait, it's possible to download knowledge from a neural interface?" Miles asked in surprise. The alien Alenna looked at him quizzically. Right, she doesn't know about Athena. I might as well be talking to myself.

"I certainly can't do that," Athena answered. "But let's be honest Captain, I've yet to see what these Engineers couldn't do."

Hev still had his tentacle extended towards Miles.

The implications are self-evident. Miles detached his earpiece which served, among other things, as a language translator, and handed it to Hev. The super-computer took it from his hand, made a whirling noise, and went to work disassembling and re-assembling the piece in a span of seconds. When it was done doing whatever it did, Miles took the piece back and re-attached it to his ear.

Curiosity driving him, he turned his attention back to Alenna. "If I could ask, might you say something in your native language?"

Again, the alien looked upon him with a quizzical expression. But then she nodded—nodded, like a human—and began to speak in her own tongue.

"I am the Captain of the C.E.V. Seloria. I am an explorer and have travelled the stars in search of discovery."

"She said—," Doran began to translate.

"I know what she said," Miles cutoff, smiling broadly. Hev, how did the UNSC ever survive without your kind? He addressed the alien. "Alenna; Captain, explorer, and traveler of the stars."

"You understood me?" she asked, still speaking her own tongue. Judging by her expression she was either surprised or intrigued, or both.

"Uh, Captain," a voice said behind him. It was Rosa. "I could understand that too."

"Me too," another crew member said.

"So could I," yet another.

The whole crew nodded in agreement, confirming that everyone understood the alien speech. Athena spoke, this time to the entire human crew, not just to Miles. "Hev took the translated data from Doran's neural interface and wrote a software patch for standard UNSC comm links. It downloaded the patch to your comms." The humans murmured in astonishment. Even after spending years around Hev, the biological super-computer continued to amaze.

Hev, for that matter, wasn't finished. It now turned its attention to the alien group. Drifting toward Alenna, it placed its tentacle on the equipment piece it had examined earlier. Like before, she seemed hesitant, but didn't back away. An orange holographic interface surrounded Alenna's arm. A moment later, the same happened to the other aliens as well, much to their surprise. The datapad that Miles still absently clutched chimed. It was a message from Hev.

-Have acquired full translation of all new organic languages. All UNSC comm links updated for crew. Have given Artificial Intelligence ATN 9286-4 Athena updated language software.

-Have updated new organic software with all known human languages. Can communicate freely now.

Having accomplished what could have taken the UNSC months to achieve in mere seconds, Hev drifted back to its preferred spot next to Rosa. Incredible, was the only thing that came to Miles' mind. The aliens were fiddling with their holographic interfaces when he asked, "Can you understand me?"

The aliens stopped their fiddling and looked up at Miles in surprise, as if not believing what they just heard. It was Alenna who finally answered. "Yes, we can."

Awesome! Hev you rock. "Well then," Miles replied professionally, "now that we can communicate, perhaps it is best for a proper introduction. My name is John Miles. I am an officer on the United Nations Space Command and Captain of this ship, the UNSC Hades Gate. It is an honor to meet you."

After a moment of fascination, Alenna bowed as she had done before by placing her right hand over her chest. She replied, "Greetings Captain John Miles of the United Nations Space Command. I am Alenna T'Velos, Captain of the Seloria. This is my team, Liara T'Soni, Mordin Solus, General Fealix, and Saren Arterius," she gestured to each of them. "It is a privilege to me you. Despite the…less than ideal circumstances that brought our people together, it is the hope of the Citadel Council for continued peace and cooperation with our peoples."

"Thank you," Miles replied. "That wish is also shared by my government."

"Who is the floating creature?" the lizard-looking alien called Mordin asked abruptly. "It is the only one among your crew that is a different species. Is it sentient?"

Though taken off guard by the sudden change of topic, Miles answered. "That's Hev, uh; its full name is Heavier-Than-Others. Its kind are called Huragok, but most people simply call them engineers. It is sentient—in fact it's undoubtedly the smartest creature on the ship—but…they're not like us."

"Not like humans?"

"Not like organics," Miles corrected.

"How so?"

"They just…fix things. That's all they care about; nothing else matters to them." Miles didn't feel comfortable freely giving away information about the Huragok, even if it was basic knowledge that every kid in elementary school knew. He was already facing a potentially huge security breach with Ensign Duran; he certainly wasn't looking forward to that little ONI reprisal. Not wanting to take further risk, he tried to change the subject.

"I have to say, this has been the most bizarre meeting I've ever experienced."

"That, I think we can all agree with," replied the face-plate named Fealix, who was apparently a General. "Captain Miles, I'm General Baumgard Fealix of the Turian Hierarchy and Commander of the Dreadnaught Majestic Spirits. I wish to personally thank you for your assistance against the Geth. Had it not been for your actions, the situation would have ended much differently."

"I wish my superiors would share your gratitude," Miles responded. "Who are the Geth?"

The aliens looked at each other uncomfortably. It was the smaller blue alien—Liara—who answered. "The Geth are a machine race created by another space-faring species, the Quarians. Unfortunately, as the machines became more advanced, they entered a state of self-awareness. The machines then declared war on their creators, driving them off their homeworld and nearly destroying them. That was centuries ago. Today, the Geth have isolated themselves from the galaxy, and any attempts to communicate with them are met with deadly force. This marks the first time they have left their own area of space in centuries," she finished.

Huh? Quarians? A hostile machine race? Its creators nearly destroyed? That's like something out of a bad science-fiction movie. Rosa interrupted his thoughts, informing him that they were only minutes away from docking with Sol. He internally sighed. Damn, I have so many questions ask them. What are these transportation devices? How do they work? What are, what did Doran call it, biotics? What is the Hierarchy? What is the Citadel Council?

"Understood Rosa." He addressed the aliens. "I am sorry, I have many questions to ask you, but I'm afraid our time is cut short. We are beginning to dock with the UNSC Light of Sol.

"Light of Sol?" Mordin queried. "This is the name of that colossal ship? Intriguing. Must ask, how do you move that ship without mass ripping apart? For that matter, how do you travel without element zero? Do you manipulate gravitational vertices of black whole? Have theorized myself that perhaps it's inter-dimensional in nature."

Damn, that alien talks fast. "I'm sorry, as I said, I have many questions myself. But now is not the time. We are currently in the process of boarding Sol. I'm sure our diplomats will be better suited to answer your questions."

The alien looked displeased with his answer. Well that's too bad. I'm not going to divulge information like that an unknown force. Miles felt a slight, almost nauseating shutter that signified that his ship's internal gravity had deactivated, meaning they were now being pulled down by the gravity of Sol.

"Esteemed guests," Miles began. Well that sure sounded corny. "We have entered one of Sol's docking bays. I will take you to our diplomats, but first," he gestured towards Saren. "I am going to have to ask your friend to leave his weapon, and any other weapons that you might be carrying, behind." This time Saren didn't make a fuss. He quickly stowed his weapon in the shuttle they had arrived in, then returned to the group. "Thank you. Please, if you would follow me." Miles, along with Duran and Rosa, lead the alien entourage to one of the ship's decompression chambers, where upon the other side awaited the UNSC—and Sangheili—diplomats. Huh, Miles thought, I haven't even told them about the Sangheili, or any of the other races for that matter. Decompression and decontamination sensors were audibly hard at work.

Still, if they're feeling anything like I am, they're probably used to surprises by now.

A soft chime followed by green lights indicated it was safe to exit. The door opened, and before them stood two humans, one elegantly dressed Sangheili, and a rather dignified-looking Unggoy.

And behind them, a group of terrifyingly powerful-looking aliens of all kinds.


AN: Because many have asked, I'm going to address an often posed question/complaint. It's been what? Over 80,000 words? Why are they just now meeting? Well, what I had originally planned (and still plan on doing) when I started this fic was to make a trilogy. This first fic is going to deal with first contact and its immediate after-effect. I won't divulge too much about the next two fics to prevent spoilers, but I will say they'll follow the adventures of Michael Shepard and his alien crew (both Council and Covenant) as they fight a new threat. I'm calling it the 'Clash of Civilization' series. This fic will eventually be renamed 'Clash of Civilizations: First Contact'. (I don't want to change it now to avoid confusion.)

I also admit I was a bit too ambitious when I started this story. I didn't realize how much time it would take to write. Don't worry though, I'm Not abandoning it. Not by a long-shot.

Also, do you guys realize that as of May,7,2013, you've made this the most reviewed cross-over of either series, the most reviewed Halo story, and essentially tied for second as the most reviewed mass effect story? Wow! I still find that hard to believe. You guys are just pure awesome. Thank you, everyone. Your reviews keep me going. Because I can't give you cookies over the internet, I'll give you a link instead. Check out my profile for the lolz.

One last thing, points for those who get what General Fealix's name references to.

Okay, one last last thing. Please check out 'Unbent, Unbroken, Unconquered' by Second Captain. It is an in-universe story based from College Fool's 'Renegade Reinterpretations' (one of my all time favorite fics).