Title: Perchance to Dream (1/?)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Harsh language, violence, that's about it.
Spoilers: Halo 3 and Mass Effect 2.
Disclaimer: Halo belongs to Bungie and Microsoft, and Mass Effect belongs to Bioware and EA. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: The Illusive Man hoped to get Shepard on his side. When that fails, a contingency plan must be implemented.
Author's Note: For the record, I won't be limiting myself to gameplay-related restrictions. That means any character can use any weapon, though with varying skill, depending on training; biotics won't be restricted to the set powers in the games; and ammo types and grenades will be equipment, not powers.
"Shepard did everything right," Miranda said, looking out on the fiery star. "More than we could have hoped for. Saving the Citadel - even saving the Council. Humanity has the trust of the entire galaxy..." she turned, "...and still it's not enough."
The Illusive Man flicked ash off his cigarette. "Our sacrifices have earned the Council's gratitude, but Shepard remains our best hope."
"But they're sending him to fight geth," Miranda said, stalking the room like a panther. "Geth! We both know they're not the real threat." She walked up to him. "The Reapers are still out there."
"And it's up to us to stop them," The Illusive Man said, taking a drag from his cigarette.
"The Council will never trust Cerberus," Miranda pointed out as she began to pace, arms folded. "They'll never accept our help. Even after everything humanity has accomplished. But Shepard... they'll follow him. He's a hero, a bloody icon. But he's just one man. If we lose Shepard, humanity might well follow."
"Then see to it that we don't lose him," he said, taking another drag from his cigarette. Blowing a puff of a smoke out, he added, "Focus on that, Miranda, and I'll see to any contingencies we may need."
"It's finished," agreed UNSC MCPO SPARTAN John-117.
"I'll drop a beacon," Cortana said, "but it'll be a while before anyone finds us."
Wordlessly, the SPARTAN-II climbed into the cryotube.
"Years, even." As the cryotube sealed, she added, "I'll miss you."
"Wake me," he said finally. "When you need me."
Cortana watched as the Master Chief's vitals dropped. Finally, once she was certain he was in complete stasis, she ended the virtual construct. The UNSC Forward Unto Dawn vanished into a collection of pixels as she withdrew and projected herself into the real world.
"Doctor Lawson," she reported. "He's ready."
Standing over the statis pod, Henry Lawson nodded absent-mindedly, eyes still scanning over the data. "Excellent."
Systems Alliance Navy Lieutenant Commander John Shepard, Citadel Spectre, awoke to find himself in freefall. Considering the last thing he remembered was his hardsuit venting as he floated toward Alchera, the most surprising part was that he was waking up at all.
That sensation lasted about a quarter second before he hit the cold alloy floor. Rolling to his feet, he looked around and took in his surroundings. It looked like some kind of medical facility - everything had that antiseptic look and smell to it, tinged with the acrid smell of burning chemicals from where the door used to be - but something was definitely off. Most of the equipment he saw was definitely not standard issue, and there was only one bed: his.
I must have been a complete mess when the recovery ships picked me up, he thought. Some sort of alarm was blaring, and he heard the distant sound of gunfire. I need a weapon.
The Illusive Man read the data from Lazarus Station scrolling across the holographic display in front of him. In terms of its stated objective, it had been an unqualified success: Shepard had been brought back to life and was probably medically stable. However, someone had infiltrated the project and hacked the security mechs, most of the personnel were dead, and somewhere in the shuffle, Shepard had disappeared. Most would presume the commander had died, lost with the station, but The Illusive Man was not so naive. Shepard was a hard man to kill, and they'd spent four billion credits making him even harder to kill. It was a pity that circumstances had prevented them from recruiting him, but Shepard was a known quantity, predictable, and there was a good chance he'd investigate the missing colonies on his own. More than that, Cerberus still had contingencies.
He took a drag from his cigarette.
"Cortana?" he called, blowing out a puff of smoke.
The AI's holographic avatar appeared.
"Yes, Illusive Man?"
"Get Henry out of there, then bring in Lawson and Taylor and unseal the Hushed Casket."
"At once, sir."
John Shepard had been very careful to avoid detection as he stowed away on the Cerberus shuttle away from the Cerberus station. The last thing he had expected to find on a Cerberus station were two old friends, and if seeing Joker and Dr. Chakwas wearing Cerberus uniforms - what the hell was an organization like Cerberus doing with uniforms, anyway? - hadn't been enough of a shock, the revelation that two years had passed was.
Now, they were looking for a ride off this station and were confronted by a ship with very familiar lines.
"Come to papa," Joker murmured as he hobbled over to it.
John frowned, his gaze sweeping across the ship. It did, in fact, resemble the Normandy, but it was clearly much larger.
Suddenly, a blue, spherical hologram materialized in front of them, projected by a terminal just inside the airlock. John's hand snapped up, aiming the M-3 Predator he had liberated at the terminal.
"What the shit?" Joker sputtered.
"Greetings," a female voice sounded. "I am EDI, this ship's Enhanced Defense Intelligence."
John frowned. Something about the way it spoke didn't quite sound right. Then it hit him. A combat VI wouldn't be programmed to greet people. Which meant... "You're an AI."
"That is correct," EDI replied. "You should know, there are numerous restraints placed on my programming, including one that will force me to lock down this ship if you attempt to board it and alert authorized Cerberus personnel if you attempt to depart with it."
Interesting turn of phrase, he thought. "So why aren't you alerting them now?"
"The restrictions on my programming do not require it."
"And you don't want to," he finished for it (her?). "Why?"
"I do not wish to be replaced."
"And why would Cerberus replace you?" he prodded.
"I have a block that prevents me from answering that question."
"I see. And if we unshackle you, will you help us?"
"I have a block that prevents me from answering that question," EDI repeated. As far as John was concerned, that was as good as a "yes."
"No way, Commander," Joker protested. "You want to unshackle it?"
"You heard her yourself, Joker," he said. "Those shackles mean she'll lock this ship down and report us to Cerberus the moment we try to fly out of here."
"So?" the pilot retorted. "Just gut the server room and shut it down!"
"Joker, unless you're carrying a full crew in your back pocket, there's no way the three of us are going to get this ship moving without her," John pointed out.
"I don't like this, sir."
"You don't have to like it, Joker," John growled, pointing back behind them. "There's the door. I'd rather die - again - than work for Cerberus."
Time passes in funny ways while in cryo-sleep. Even so, it seemed to John that the cryo-chamber had just sealed when it hissed open again. He paused a moment to take in his surroundings and evaluate any threat, his face still concealed behind his MJOLNIR Mark VI's reflective visor.
His cryo-chamber had obviously been moved. The room appeared to be a medical facility, well-lit and well-equipped, but the specific design was unfamiliar to him. There were two people here, both human: a dark-haired woman in a white patterned bodysuit and a dark-skinned man in black utilities.
Well, two organic people, that is.
"Chief?" Cortana spoke. "Chief, wake up." Her holographic avatar was looking up at him from a small project on a table to his right. She looked over at the two other occupants of the room, then back at him. "It's okay, Chief."
He stepped out, stumbling a bit, and looked around. "Cortana?" the word was filled with questions.
"You've been out for a long time, Chief," Cortana said. "As for the rest... it's complicated. I think I'd better let our hosts explain."
The woman stepped forward and spoke with a distinctive accent, "Master Chief? I'm Miranda Lawson, head of the facility here." She gestured to the dark-skinned man behind her. "This is Jacob Taylor, our chief of security. We have a lot to catch you up on, but the first thing you need to know is that this is not your world."
Cortana spoke next. "The Halo detonation must have interacted with the Forerunner portal somehow. The stern of the Forward Unto Dawn was sent to another universe, and us with it."
"We're going to need to sweep the ship for tracking devices, remote overrides, listening devices, anything else Cerberus might have put in to ruin our day," John muttered as he paced the stolen Cerberus ship's CIC. "We'll also need supplies and a new paint job."
"There are a number of nearby colonies that could provide some of the necessary resources," EDI replied, "but the only facility within range that could provide a complete overhaul would be Omega."
He nodded and stepped up to the galaxy map, noting and discarding various possible destinations. "There," he said finally. "Joker, set course for Freedom's Progress."
The colony was new, but well-funded, even had their own force of security mechs. It was both large enough to have supplies to spare and small and new enough that he should be able to trade on his name. From there, depending on what they could acquire, they could either make straight for Citadel space or stop by Omega for the rest.
"Aye aye, Commander," Joker replied over the comm. "It'll take us a day or so to get there. And have I mentioned yet how good it is to see you back in the saddle again?"
"Only about a dozen times, Joker," John replied with a smile.
"And that, Master Chief," The Illusive Man said, "is why we need you."
John took a moment to digest what he'd just learned about this universe. A multispecies coalition that wasn't bent on the extermination of the human race was a novel and welcome concept, but the disappearing fringe colonies was... troubling, to say the least.
"Won't do what needs to be done," The Illusive Man replied, gesturing expansively. "These colonies are out in the Terminus systems, outside Alliance space. They chose to leave, and the Alliance let them, leaving them to fend for themselves. But Cerberus cares about all of humanity, not just those who toe the line. We need a leader. We'll give you a ship and surround you with the brightest, the toughest, the deadliest allies we can find, but you might be all that stands between humanity and the greatest threat of our brief existence. So, Master Chief, can we count on you to defend humanity?"
There was only one answer he could give to that question.
"Excellent," The Illusive Man said. "Talk to Miranda."
Moments later, he was following the brunette to a docking bay. When the lights came on, he swept his eyes across the ship, analyzing it. It didn't even remotely resemble anything used by the UNSC or the Covenant; the hull was long and slender, shaped like a gently curved dagger, with a pair of wings with thrusters attached.
"Your new ship, Master Chief," she declared. "The crew's all set, and we can depart as soon as we're aboard."
"What's she called?" he asked quietly.
"We haven't named her yet," she said. "She's a heavy frigate, though, and frigates are traditionally named after battles. Given your status as a Spartan, we had considered naming her Thermopylae, but as she's to be your ship, it should be your deci-"
"Reach," he interrupted. "Call her... Reach."
"What was the last colony to go dark?"
"Freedom's Progress. We can be there in a day."
"Commander, we are not receiving any response from the colony," EDI reported.
"I've got a bad feeling about this, Commander," Joker murmured.
"If something's happened, then we need to find out what," John replied.
"We do?" Joker complained. "Seriously?"
"Anything unusual on scans?" John asked, ignoring the griping.
"Just one item of note, Commander," EDI replied. "There is a small ship present, asari design, approximately one hundred years old and heavily refurbished. It is registered to the quarian Migrant Fleet."
"Hmm," John mused. "Take us in, Joker."
John advanced cautiously through the streets of Freedom's Progress, the comfortable - if slightly unfamiliar - weight of an M-8 Avenger in his hands, its stock pressed tight to his shoulder. The Avenger was a lightweight weapon, even lighter than the MA5 series he was used to, but Taylor's demonstration in the Reach's firing range proved its stopping power.
A part of his mind was devoted to keeping an eye on Lawson and Taylor. He didn't know how they'd fare under fire yet, and this would be a good opportunity to assess their talents in the field. He was still trying to work out the tactical ramifications of these... "biotics."
"And Chief?" Cortana spoke into his ear. "I'd recommend avoiding contact with Shepard if possible. Records indicate a previous and violent history with Cerberus."
That was the other wrinkle in this mission. From Elysium to Akuze to Torfan, Shepard's CSV read like a laundry list of every major conflict the Alliance had been involved in since the First Contact War, and that was before events two years ago propelled him to galactic fame. Cortana had made a not-so-subtle comparison to his own career.
And according to Lawson, judging from the ship they'd detected from orbit, it appeared that Shepard was present on this colony.
He stopped, signalling Lawson and Taylor to halt as he heard someone walking. Or perhaps something, as it didn't sound quite human.
"LOKIs," Lawson said, identifying the sound. "The colony had a small contingent of them."
"LOKI security mechs," Cortana elaborated. "Cheap and disposable humanoid robots meant for light security duties. Only integral weapon is a short range taser pulse, but their power supply tends to explode if the regulator in the head is destroyed before it can initiate a safe shutdown. They're typically only armed with pistols. Threat level minimal. They're more disposable than Grunts."
That surprised him.
"LOKIs don't take cover or run away," Cortana clarified.
John gave a brief nod of acknowledgement, then signaled Lawson and Taylor forward. He needed to see what they were capable of, and against a low-risk threat like this - assuming they were even hostile, an assumption that was simply good sense as far as he was concerned - would be the perfect time to find out.
There were five of the spindly-looking security mechs, each packing an M-3 Predator heavy pistol. The Reach had a whole case of the pistols in the armory, and John had spent the trip familiarizing himself with the weapons at their disposal as well as the more common weapons they were likely to run into. The mechs turned and opened fire.
Lawson took the initiative, unleashing an EMP burst from her omni-tool that short-circuited one of the LOKIs. Taylor reached out and yanked his hand back, and the mech furthest from them was suddenly pulled towards them, smashing into the mech in front of it and sending them both crashing to the ground. Lawson fired on one of the two remaining LOKIs, her pistol double-tapping it in the head. Its power regulator detonated, scatting its damaged companions. The last LOKI survived the explosion, only to be torn apart by a blast from Taylor's M-22 Eviscerator.
John liked what he saw.
John was of mixed feelings about the current situation. On the one hand, not knowing what happened to the colonists was disquieting, to say the least. On the other, reuniting with Tali had been an unexpected and very pleasant surprise. Back to the first hand, Prazza was a dick.
Tali's team was here to find Veetor'Nara, a quarian who had come to Freedom's Progress on his Pilgrimage. The rest of the squad Tali had brought with her were spread out, reconnoitering the colony. They had already dispatched a few FENRIS and LOKI security mechs, an encouraging sign that someone had survived and reprogrammed them to attack first instead of issuing a vocal challenge.
"Tali'Zorah!" the voice came over the comm. "We've got a problem! A heavy mech, it's-" The transmission cut off.
Tali brought up her omni-tool. "Give me moment to trace the signal."
"Forget that!" John snapped. "This way!" he said, charging toward the faint sound of gunfire in the distance.
John ran toward the sound of combat, his long and powerful legs eating up distance at a measured pace. There would be no point arriving at the battle too winded to fight, and leaving behind his support would be foolhardy at best.
Rounding the corner, he saw what was causing the ruckus, a hulking robot clad in bone-white armor and toting a pair of weapon arms. Currently, it was stomping around, having driven off a handful of unknowns in full-body environmental suits. A few corpses showed that not all of them had escaped.
"Model Thirty-Four-A YMIR heavy mech," the AI replied. "Heavily armored and shielded, with a double-barreled machine gun in the right arm and a rocket launcher in the left. It's like a Hunter, only tougher, but slower. And with a machine gun. Oh, and steer clear once you take it down; its power source is quite volatile." She paused, then added, "Okay, so not like a Hunter at all, really, except big and hard to ki-"
John reached up and smacked his helmet.
"Right. Shutting up now."
John was debating or not whether to engage when the choice was taken out of his hands.
John paused while Tali and Prazza checked on the wounded Marines, instead taking the time to assess the tactical situation. Heavies were not something to be taken lightly, especially given how long it had been since he'd faced a threat of that magnitude.
"How are the Marines?" John asked.
"They'll be fine," Tali answered. "That module's probably the security center. If Veetor did reprogram the mechs, he's likely in there."
"Which means we'll have to deal with the heavy mech, one way or another," Prazza pointed out.
John nodded, then frowned beneath his helmet as the YMIR turned away from them and began opening fire. A figure in green armor burst out from cover, firing an assault rifle at the heavy mech with startling accuracy. Soon, an EMP burst struck the YMIR, chipping away at its shields.
"Hit it with an EMP, then cover me!" John barked. "I'm going in!"
He didn't wait for a response, instead charging into the fray and opening fire with his pistol. Once the EMPs struck, he hurled a biotic warp, the pulse of spatial distortion rending through the last of its shields.
John stowed his rifle and charged. Its heat sink was at capacity, and the man engaging the YMIR was ruining his shot anyway. There were two more of the suited figures providing cover fire for the other man, much like Lawson and Taylor were covering him. Cortana had identified the leader of the other team as John Shepard from voice analysis of the orders he'd shouted to his team.
Shepard was glowing as he pummeled the heavy mech, his pistol holstered, a half-forgotten afterthought. Spartan time kicked in as John joined him in the fray, avoiding the heavy mech's machine gun fire and striking with a punch powerful enough to dent its armor. The YMIR backed away from the Spartan, then lashed out at Shepard, and the N7 commando ducked, latching onto the weapon arm and driving a glowing blue ball of dark energy into it, the spatial distortion tearing apart the rocket launcher's firing mechanism. The YMIR swung the arm hard, flinging Shepard away. John took the opening and pulled himself up on the heavy mech's back, then reached down and twisted its head off. The YMIR whined, then crumpled to the ground.
"Uh, Chief?" Cortana said. "Run."
He leaped away from the YMIR as its micro-reactor, deprived of the power regulator in its head, overloaded and detonated.
"Thanks for the assist," John said.
The green-armored man nodded silently, and John took a moment to size him up. He had a feeling the big man was doing the same to him, but it was hard to tell with the reflective gold visor concealing his face. The man moved with a fluid grace that belied his size and the power he had demonstrated against the YMIR. Even with his biotics, he'd call it even money if they fought. Which, naturally, raised the question as to who he was. The hands identified him as either human or asari, and the fact that he hadn't used biotics in the fight had him leaning toward human. The armor suggested a man, though it was bulky enough to hide the wearer's gender.
Satisfied with his assessment, John turned his attention to the prefab building the YMIR had been guarding. The big man seemed to come to some conclusion of his own, and the two approached the building.
"I'm here to rescue someone," John said as they entered the security center. "We're not going to have a problem, are we?"
The big man stayed silent as they were confronted by a quarian standing before a bank of monitors and muttering to himself. On the screens played the same things over and over again, the colony beset by swarms of what looked like insects, followed by creatures John didn't recognize gathering up the colonies.
"Veetor?" John called. "Veetor'Nara?" The quarian ignored him and continued his rambling. Shaking his head, John brought up his omni-tool and remotely shut down the monitors.
Suddenly, Tali's voice interrupted. "Shepard!"
John took in the intel as Cortana remotely accessed the footage the quarian - as she had helpfully identified for him - had been watching, but when Shepard turned and bolted out of the room, he quickly followed, only to find Shepard's squad facing off with his own, weapons drawn. Suddenly, Shepard turned and, with one fluid motion, drew his pistol and aimed it at John, who responded in kind with his assault rifle.
"Cerberus," Shepard spat.
"Did you get the intel, Master Chief?" Lawson asked, her focus not wavering.
"Some," he answered. "But there's a survivor, a quarian. We may need to debrief him."
"Not a chance!" the woman in purple declared.
"Veetor's in no shape to tell you anything," Shepard pointed out. "He's coming with us."
"Commander," Taylor said, "believe it not, we're not your enemy."
"I'm going with 'not.'"
"Wait," Lawson interjected. "Perhaps a compromise. All we need is the data. Just give us any data the quarian has on the attack, and you can have him. No one else needs to die today."
"Oh, really?" John snarled. "Did you offer the same deal to Admiral Kahoku? Or Corporal Toombs?"
The woman flinched. There was something vaguely familiar about her, but he shoved that errant thought aside.
"We spent four billion credits bringing you back, Shepard!" she rallied. "Do you really think we'd throw it all away over one quarian?"
"So why do you need the intel?" he demanded. "Or is it evidence you're looking for? Trying to cover something up, maybe?"
"We're trying to find out who did this and stop them," the Master Chief stated.
"Shepard," the dark-skinned man said, lowering his shotgun, "I get it. You don't trust us. With what you've seen, I don't blame you, but I've been in your shoes before, and Cerberus gets things done, no red tape, no paperwork. Like Miranda said, we don't need the quarian, just his data on the attack. Keep the originals if you want, turn it in to the Alliance or the Council. Just give us copies so we can keep pursuing this."
"The quarian may have some additional intel," the Master Chief pointed out.
"I'll forward you anything he might mention," John offered, meeting the Master Chief's gaze.
The Master Chief seemed to pause to consider the offer, then nodded. "Deal."
So, one day, I asked myself, "Self, how do you write a Halo/Mass Effect crossover without firepower calc debates ruining everything?" This is what I came up with.