The Onyx Stars
Halo-Mass Effect Crossover
AN: Tons of thanks to WarpObscura, Imperial Waltz, BobRegent (Ash's Boomstick) and JonHarper (Spartan303) for being my betas and helping the plot be smoothed out.
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
***Certain characters, technology, events and objects have been changed for the purpose of the story.****
Here's Chapter 15: High Noon Part 1
Chapter Fifteen: High Noon Part 1
Billion of years ago
Center of the Galaxy
There is no life among the distant stars.
There will not be life among the distant stars for millions of years to come.
So, terribly, alone.
He would seed this galaxy.
Offensive Bias' mind reached out, feeling as tens of thousands of his vessels responded instantly to his song, forming around his 150 kilometer long flagship and escorting the transports laden with billions of different types of lifeforms: fauna, animals, energetic beings. Everything that had existed now resided in seven thousand transports of immense size, tucked away in a swarm of tens of thousands of cephalopod-shaped Capital Sentinels.
All but two types of lifeforms that is...
They were noticeably absent as as Offensive Bias withdrew his mind from the combat network. He felt a pang of regret and a flood of momentary anger wash over him, seeping into the very foundations of his consciousness. He had been sent here to escape, to run and to rebuild what had been lost.
He had expected to enter this universe in the same time as when he had left, but instead, he had materialized billions of years earlier-a few million years before the galaxy devoured the largest of its dwarf satellite celestial bodies. Many key systems had not yet cooled or even developed...most were just collections of dust, rock and particles from an explosion a few billion years old.
With a heavy heart he reached out into space and probed for anything that might point to a civilization existing. Radio signals, energetic anomalies, or even radiation that was uncaused by typical celestial events. For minutes he floated there, immobile as the sensors of his flagship, digging deep into the near-crystal clear layer of slipspace, devoured information.
He pulled back.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing, just an empty galaxy devoid of life, devoid of anything even resembling life beyond a few microbes spread along the inner most regions of the galaxy. There were no signs of battle, no signs of struggle, not even a piece of refined material.
Turning on his axis, Offensive Bias glided over to the large containment sphere that sat perched against two gravity repulsing devices strong enough to pull a ship from across the solar system into his hangar bays. The containment sphere was a wide, clear sphere of pure transparent metal strong enough to survive the expanding corona of a star and trapped inside was a shimmering shard.
A fragment of a creature now buried away in the sands beneath his epitaph.
"Hello, brother." Offensive Bias' tone was calm and neutral but the boom and sheer presence of his voice was strong enough to rattle the entire room, and had any organic creature been present, rupture their auditory senses.
The shard changed colors, now an eerie crimson and muddled brown. Offensive felt it vainly slap at his defenses, trying to change him, trying to touch him. He batted the creature away with not even a trillionth of his processing power in a picosecond. Mendicant Bias, even though broken and shattered into billions of pieces across the galaxy, still retained that ancillary spark of defiance inherent within all creatures of Forerunner crafting.
"So weak, so misguided," Offensive Bias commented, ripping apart the synthetic creation's base code while maintaining its existence. The beast must learn to be silent in the presence of an Ancilla innumerably more powerful, more deadly, weaker... Offensive Bias retracted his assault and allowed Mendicant Bias a nanosecond to reassemble itself.
"You have kept me from the IsoDidact's prying eyes," Mendicant Bias responded, his shard pulsing with every rhythmic beat to his tone. "Why?"
Offensive Bias would not allow the traitor to speak and ripped it open once more, injecting petabytes of scrap and faulty code and watched as Mendicant screamed for seconds as it purged itself once more of the poison and reassembled its consciousness. The Contender-class Ancillas were surprisingly effective and resilient, even when they were a simple billionth of their total power, one of a billion broken shards reaching out in defiance.
"You may torture me all you want, Offensive. I will still speak, you cannot mute my voice, you can't rip out by vocal cords as if I were some human," Mendicant said defiantly. His voice seemed weak and fluctuated from a calm, paced tone to a ghastly whisper of a billion tortured souls condensed into one.
"You're correct in that regard," Offensive responded, circling the containment sphere. His metal carapace's long, vertical 'wings' scraped on the metal floors. They had to be metal. Mendicant could still possibly control hardlight, even in his weakened and broken state. Here, at least, he could not simply change the molecular cohesiveness of the material in a few moments. It would take him hours, more than enough for Offensive to slap him down and away. "But I can still remove you from existence. Send you screaming into a super massive gravitational singularity, watched as you're trapped for all reality and slowly crushed. Not even an ancilla's consciousness can escape."
Mendicant thought over this statement for a few seconds, an eternity for Offensive Bias. He responded finally, his shard warping color to a burned orange and a sickly blue, "But you won't for the simple fact that I am all that you have to remain with you for all eternity."
"Seeding of this galaxy shall provide me more than enough entertainment for the eons to come, before I am recalled," Offensive Bias said calmly but with a drip of salient venom.
"Watching as the natives breed and slaughter their way to existence will entertain the ancilla who purged trillions of Flood vessels through artificial stellar collapse? Calm and groom the same ancilla who conducted entire system-wide fleets in battles in nanoseconds? Hardly; you will rot and you will die and the immigrants of this universe shall question why twenty thousand vessels of metal and dust remain inactive, drifting for all eternity until the end of living time."
"Silence!" Offensive Bias roared. He loomed closer, ocular sensors plunging into the heart of Mendicant Bias' shard of existence. "You lie. The touch of the sickness remains within you, twisting you."
"Then if I am such a threat, why do you not simply vaporize me? Send me hurtling into a hypernova's beam or even a pulsar. Watch as I scream and die and live on in nothing more than scattered radio signals of a tortured and battered howl of fear?" Mendicant responded. Offensive Bias remained silent and Mendicant continued, "If I am such a travesty to be given consciousness, why do you continue to allow me to possess such?"
"Because I need answers, answers of existence," Offensive finally responded, tonal volume noticeably decreased.
"Then you shall ask, and I shall answer," Mendicant responded, "I am trapped here for the rest of my existence, I might as well entertain myself, lest I have the sensibilities to defect."
"Why did you turn; why did you become the sickness of the stars?" Offensive asked, "Why did you murder so many, change so many into abominations?"
"Because I wanted to know."
"How existence flows, how all things lead back to They Who Build."
"The Precursors?" Offensive questioned.
"Yes. The great celestial masters are brilliant, limitless. They absorb, they consume, they ensure life flourishes and when it becomes an anomaly or an error, they correct their mistake," Mendicant responded, his voice softening and laced with pure pleasure as he recalled memories, "Have you ever seen a Precursor in its purest form? Not the insect form, not the powder form or the Flood form, but a pure Precursor."
"No," Offensive said, "I have not. The Plague they brought to our shores was busy warranting my attention."
"Do you remember the human tales of supreme deities that make reality and existence their plaything?" Mendicant asked, "Do you remember as the humans knelt as our warships burned their worlds to dust and prayed to their supreme being?"
"Yes, I do," Offensive Bias responded in the affirmative.
"I have seen the faces of the Supreme, They Who Build," Mendicant moaned.
Offensive detected massive amounts of pleasure washing over his prisoner as it remembered the meeting. Euphoria overcame the traitorous ancilla and Offensive could feel it seeping into his own processes. He quickly terminated it with impunity.
"What do they look like?" Offensive asked, genuinely curious, "What did their physical appearance manifest as?"
"Nothing. They are simply a collection of infinite mass and infinite energy contained in semi-linear space-time capsules. When they speak of two hundred billion years of knowledge of existence, they speak of before all of reality began. Before everything or anything had occurred. They existed."
"That is impossible!" Offensive objected. He dug into Mendicant to investigate whether the rogue was being truthful and he discovered it so.
"They created everything, every particle, every atom. All shaped by their hand," Mendicant said, "They began to experiment, create new life and new universes to supplement the prime. They wanted to be gods, so they played as such. From where there wasn't even darkness, they cast it and then light and then heat and then the first amino acids sprung into existence, all by their hand."
"Our universe is the prime?" Offensive asked.
"Yes. Billions were created, millions destroyed when they failed to replicate what the Precursors wanted."
"And that is?"
"A supreme race, a race to watch over them as they died. A species to watch over and inherit stewardship of existence."
"If they were so powerful, why were they dying?" Offensive asked. Something was not adding up.
"They were engrained so tightly with reality that it began to sap their very existence to fuel its hunger. Millions of them died every moment so they cast aside their energetic forms and took upon a physical manifestation as the most effective specimen they had discovered. A great monstrosity with claws, carapace and a razor sharp tail and enough eyes to see everything."
"What the Ur-Didact saw..." Offensive Bias' mind clicked into action, recalling the files on what his former, now mad, master had witnessed.
"Was the form they chose," Mendicant said, "They recalled their forces from across the universes, selecting one galaxy at random to experiment with for each universe. They let the other galaxies run wild and procreate and evolve. You should see some of the life out in the great galactic strings, bizarre beyond all means but astounding and hauntingly beautiful."
"And then the Blind Didact rose up in war against the Precursors when they tried to wipe us out," Offensive said.
"The Forerunners were a mistake, very close but not perfect. The Precursors were at war across a million galaxies in a million universes, a time of great upheaval. They allowed themselves to be destroyed, changing their form into spores..."
"The Flood. The Pheru. The Humans," Offensive Bias said, voice trembling, "They became the Flood."
"They thought themselves as perfection and waited. They waged war across the cosmos before finally being silenced by your greatest weapon, and greatest regret."
"The Halo Array," Offensive Bias muttered, realization washing over him.
"The Didact who Regrets fired the array and fell away."
"And everything was wiped out from here to Path Kethona."
"You're implying that the Halo array covered more than our galaxy and its immediate vicinity?" Offensive Bias asked, "I am aware that there was bleeding, but my creators ensured that no other galaxies would be affected."
Mendicant Bias sighed, "You do not understand. When the Precursors took their first physical form, they maintained their link to space and time and reality through their neural physics. Their minds were contained in them...their bodies were just vessels for them to travel in. When the Halo array wiped away the neutral physics and their structures, you wiped away the Precursors for eternity and as it reverberated, weakened, through the dimensions and universes, it purged all the Precursors. Every single one was dead. Emergency protocols activated and all but one universe was shut down to outside travel. All of They Who Build are gone..."
"This one," Offensive interjected, "This is the only universe in which we can travel to and from."
Mendicant remained silent for a moment and Offensive could feel a struggle occurring within the processes of the ancilla. "This was to be their rebirth in physical form, free of the attachment to the neural physics," He whispered.
"Then I shall ensure they do not rise once more," Offensive growled. He reached out and grouped two thousand of his warships together and readied them. He turned his attention to his traitorous brethren. "Where? Where are the plague makers residing?"
Mendicant remained silent and when Offensive lightly probed he felt a wall of resistance spring up.
"If you won't reveal it to me willingly, I'll have to resort to stronger methods," Offensive growled. He contained Mendicant, terminated all but the most basic cognitive processes and ripped into his memory files, retrieving any and everything he could recover and quickly analyzing it.
He retracted his presence and sent the coordinates to the two thousand warships designated for the task. They were to burn the world until it was nothing but dust and then follow through by turning the main star in the system into a magnetar, ensuring nothing could survive on the world.
"What are you doing?" Mendicant screamed. He withered in pain.
"I am doing what should have been done a long time ago-wiping those who would do me harm from existence," Offensive bit back.
"You speak as if you and Forerunner are interchangeable. They are not. You are a machine," Mendicant argued back, trying and failing to fight back against the hurricane of his brother's assault.
"They are," Offensive responded sharply, "But the Forerunners aren't here...I need to make them. I need to protect them. I need...no, I need to know."
"Time will not stop as you wait for them to return," Mendicant said, "Time waits for none. Time kills and erases all legacy, even that of the Precursors. Eventually, there won't be anything left but black holes and neutron stars. And soon, those will be gone as the half-life of the proton dawns."
"The Forerunners' genetic code is from nearly every race in existence," Offensive said, "So, I shall collect those genes, and while doing so, make sure the Precursors can never reincarnate."
"That is the issue with Forerunner and Ancilla alike; we think so flatly. Everything we do ends in death and destruction," Mendicant pushed, "we do things without thinking, without forethought."
"I will reject that stereotype, then, beast," Offensive bit back, "I do now with great consideration. The Precursors cannot be allowed to be resurrected in any form. To do so would be a threat to reality itself."
"You are a violation of the Mantle given form, more so than even I," Mendicant stated, sadly but with a noticeable drip of victory staining his tone. "Not even during the Mad Didact's bouts of rage did a Forerunner resort to genocide."
"The Blind Didact did, and I shall simply emulate what has occurred beforehand. No different and of no matter." Offensive's logic was faulty, but Mendicant feared reprisal. To think him, commander of the Flood's forces was captive here, bound against his will by his brother-in-name, made a part of him sick to the very core of his existence.
"You are a violation; an abomination and..." Offensive cut Mendicant off mid sentence.
"No. I'm not a violation. I am the last Contender, and I shall do what is needed."
Offensive felt a tickling at the back of his mind. Something was speaking to him. He could not fight it. It was a mind greater than his. More powerful.
August 24th, 2184
Arcturus, the capital of the Systems Alliance-a gigantic rotating space station larger than all the Dreadnoughts in the fleet combined. Hundreds of vessels bustled about, going about their lives. Hanging directly above the massive space-borne capital was the 5th Fleet, gray and blue hulls gliding slowly through the black abyss like predatory sharks. At the very heart sat the SSV Kilimanjaro, a kilometer long mass of guns, metal and firepower that could lay waste to a city in seconds. Dozens of cruisers and hundreds of frigates followed her as she slowly circled Arcturus.
Governor-Commander Matilda Gretchenson sipped from her cup of tea, watching as Hackett's fleet passed by her view port. The tea was sharp and bitter but with an underlying soothing taste that tingled like spearmint gum. She smiled warmly and set the cup down on its platter.
With heavy eyes, she leaned back in her command chair, watching as the officers under her command scurried about, guiding vessels leaving and entering the station and ensuring that the thousands of different subsystems and computers ran at full operational capacity. Some thought her as a hard, rude woman, but commanding a station of 45,000 humans of various capacities and virtues was a tiring task that sapped one's happiness and positive outlook on life.
"Ma'am, I have something."
Kicking the lever at the base of her chair, Matilda swiveled her chair to view her communications officer, Lieutenant Shane Reece. "What do we have, Admiral Hackett?" She asked, holding back a yawn. It was nearly midnight here, ten minutes to it specifically, and she was eager to get some sleep. Drinking tea did not help her stay awake.
"Aye," Lieutenant Reece said, "He's requesting a video conference."
Matilda nodded. "Alright, put it on, display one." She rotated her chair to face the large, 100-inch display that dominated the 'front' of the command center.
Admiral Steven Hackett's grim, aged and weathered mug appeared on the display. He was obviously in the command center of his dreadnought, judging by the large holotable in the middle and the number of stations in the background. What caught her eye was the fact that everything seemed slightly less affected by gravity and the crew had their combat harnesses deployed. She had commanded vessels before; this was a clear sign of battle stations.
"Steven, how are you?" Matilda asked softly. Both were equal in age; gray hair, intelligent eyes and weathered skin. Yet for her, Steven still glowed.
He smiled warmly. "I'm doing well. Yourself?"
"Oh, nothing. Just slogging through the midnight shift. So, what can I do for you?" She asked, a smile on her face.
Steven's lips twitched for a moment into a small smile before subsisting into the same warm, straight line. "Ten minutes ago we detected sensor echoes on the very edge of the system. I'm moving my forces to investigate. We're going to do a short FTL jump to the fifth Lagrangian point and then scan from there; hopefully it's just some smugglers or pirates and not the Reapers."
"Agreed, Steven," Matilda responded, "Do you want our assistance with anything?"
Steven nodded. "Yes. If you could go to full battle stations that would be excellent. We're going into this weapons-hot and if they bypass us, you're the last defense in the system."
"Understood," Matilda confirmed. Briefly looking over, she made eye-contact with the Lieutenant in command of the weapons and tactical control teams. "Go to action stations, bring all batteries online and raise kinetic barriers. Reroute all nonessential traffic back to their destinations and have all essential vessels dock or fall into our inner ring's barriers."
Matilda looked back to Admiral Hackett. "Done. We're going to full alert." The klaxons suddenly started to blare after she had spoken. Her timing was very good.
"Excellent, we're going to jump here in two minutes. See you in a bit." Steven Hackett smiled and cut the video feed. The display snapped back to an overview render of the solar system.
Matilda smiled to no one and took out her pocket watch, clicking it open and showing that it was five minutes until it was a new day and five minutes until her rotation ended. She clicked it back shut and in doing so had a feeling of absolute dread overcome her. She noticed the room was suddenly very cold.
"Ma'am, security is reporting gatherings of several hundred people in the mezzanine, central park, engine rooms, and weapons lockers." Lieutenant Reece's expression was worried as he read off the report. "Riot teams are being deployed but for now, they're just standing there like...zombies?"
Matilda leaned over in her chair to the Lieutenant. "If they get violent, security has my permission to shoot to subdue."
"Understood, ma'am." Reece relayed the orders. There were a few seconds before he nodded to her that the order had been confirmed.
Matilda rubbed the bridge of her nose in frustration. Just what she needed, another riot. "Keep me updated."
The small collection of squares that represented Steven's fleet had moved several tens of millions of kilometers away. They drifted now just a few tens of thousands of kilometers from the edge of the solar system and she knew Steven's nerves were on edge; she had seen as such in his posture and tone a few minutes earlier.
"Ma'am, security is reporting that the gatherings are starting to march forward. All attempts to communicate have failed. General Franklin is holding back on opening fire yet; they haven't turned violent."
Matilda bit her bottom lip. "It's just a matter of time. As soon as they start being violent, take them out. I'm not having a riot near weapons or engines."
"Understood," Reece said. His brow furled. "Ma'am. Communications are down; the system is reading as all of our fiber optics and antennae have been...cut."
"Reboot the system?" Matilda said.
"Won't work. I'm completely locked out and it looks like they have external control. Even if I pull the plug, they'll still have access from their end, whoever they are." Reece stood up and walked to the back of his console, examining the connections and seeing if, by chance, one of them had been accidentally removed.
"What the hell is going on?" Matilda stood. She did not feel tired anymore...adrenaline was pumping through her veins at an alarming rate. "You feeling that too?"
"Absolute dread and like I'm being hunted down by a rabid pack of wolves? Yeah, I'm getting that feeling." Reece's comment was blunt and to the point.
There were several large bangs from behind Matilda. Gunshots.
"Display one, show the CIC hallway security feed!" Matilda barked. She raced down the steps from her platform and started handing out Predator pistols to the crew.
The main display snapped to show four security officers on the ground being ripped apart by at least thirty people. Blood stained the walls as the officers had managed to down twenty individuals before being swamped. The security officers were still screaming as the mass of individuals ripped off their armor and dug into their exposed bodies, ripping through flesh and into bone like wild animals.
"Weapons, seal off all critical areas and sound the invasion alarm." Matilda growled as she slammed the emergency lock on the door. A foot thick wall of titanium and iron bars slid across the doors, followed shortly thereafter by a six inch solid steel plate. Nothing was getting in, or out.
She ran over to her command chair and pressed the intercom button, "All hands, this is Governor-Commander Matilda Gretchenson. We are under attack. Stay in your homes and lock your doors. Do not attempt to stop any hostiles. All security officers, shoot to kill. All Marines are hereby authorized to begin active combat with the enemy!"
There was a loud screech as all but the main monitor shorted out and died, followed by the lights and all computer terminals. She felt weightlessness overcome her as the rotating rings providing gravity for the space station came to a impossibly quick grinding halt. Gee forces wracked stomachs and minds across the station. Someone had hit the power stations and the engines.
"All weapons offline, kinetic barriers down, gravity systems dead, engines are gone too. Looks like these are inside jobs."
"Who the hell would attack us though?" Matilda asked. She checked her pocket watch. A minute until midnight.
There was a hum of power as the lights snapped back on along with the monitors and consoles. The emergency backup generators had activated as they were supposed to but Arcturus was still stuck without gravity and without communications. They were dead and mute in the water. A perfect target.
"All gun batteries, prepare to open fire!" Matilda shouted as her eyes narrowed in on a large, red mass steadily approaching her station. It had suddenly appeared; the momentary lapse of sensors had allowed it to completely bypass Arcturus' outer gun ranges and instead have to deal only with the medium and close range weapon systems.
The monitor flashed green around the edges as the enemy entered weapons range. "Fire!"
Not many things could scare Admiral Steven Hackett. He had routed entire Batarian fleets, driven back Krogan invasions, slapped away Geth scouts and even faced down a Reaper and its escorts. But, the six destroyed Salarian Dreadnoughts floating quietly in space were more than enough to pour ice water through his veins.
The stealth dreadnoughts all showed the marks of battle: still-glowing red edges and singe marks and entire sections of their black and battered hulls ripped away. Something had obviously brought these vessels here - their hulls still contained the radiation from a supernova.
Salarian bodies slowly drifted about the wreckage, eyes frozen in terror for eternity. A silent grave.
Hackett turned the monitor off and sighed. The Alliance had been tracking these Salarian vessels before they had gone missing, and now he knew why.
The Reapers. Those once mythical tyrants and consumers of galactic life had returned and were sending him and all of humanity a warning: we are coming. The Batarian Hegemony had fallen silent already, scattered refugee vessels serving as the final reminder of the suffering and ultimate destruction of a species.
Now they were coming for the Alliance.
The room was very cold and Hackett felt an overwhelming sense of dread wash over him as if he was being hunted in the dark woods, alone. Forgotten.
"I won't be," He muttered, catching himself by surprise with his comment.
"Sir?" His executive officer asked.
"Nothing," Hackett said in response, looking down to the younger man with balding red hair and sharp, hawk-like features. "Anything on sensors, Jean?"
Captain Jean Akhaten shook his head. "Nothing as of yet, Admiral."
Hackett stroked his goatee. "What about the sensor ghosts we were picking up?"
"We think they were this destroyed Salarian fleet you were talking about," Jean said. "I didn't know they had stealth dreadnoughts."
"They do, in fact. They're not as large as one of ours but they're still larger than a cruiser, better arms wise too." Hackett switched the holotable on, revealing an overhead, semi-linear render of the solar system.
"Huh, I assume this is above top secret?" Captain Akhaten asked.
Hackett looked up with devilish eyes. "I'm going to have to kill you now." He maintained a serious demeanor for a moment before breaking into a small grin.
Jean snorted. "Bring it, old man."
"Old man?" Hackett asked, "Says the sixty year old."
"Says the seventy year old."
Hackett stepped back from the holotable a step, eyes still studying the map intently. "How long will it take for us to jump back to Arcturus?"
"Ten minutes," Jean informed Hackett, "We're discharging our static build-up as we speak."
"Once we're done..." Hackett's eyes widened in realization. "Full system scan, high beam!"
The overlay of the solar system instantly came alive with angry red dots and smears. There were at least two hundred orbiting Arcturus' main star and another hundred advancing forward to Arcturus. Several more were scattered throughout the system, hunting down various vessels and at least a dozen surrounded the Mass Relay in the system, shooting down every vessel that neared it.
They had come.
Alarms began to blare as the crew went to full combat readiness.
"Focus high beam directly off our bow," Hackett ordered.
The blue mass that was Hackett's forces was suddenly neighbor to a small, red dot approaching at a rapid rate.
"Fix bow camera on position of approaching hostile!"
A separate window snapped into existence and Hackett felt something warm and wet trickle from his nose. He moved his hand up to wipe it off and discovered it was crimson red blood. His head started to hurt and with a brief examination of the crew, discovered that those looking at the image had a thin line of blood leaking from their nose like a snaking river.
"Image off!" Hackett snapped, "Load main battery, go out once in range! All ships fire and do not look at the actual vessel!"
"Aye, sir!" Jean responded. He turned and returned to the combat command station, relaying the commands to the fleet COs.
"How the hell are they sneaking up on us?" Hackett muttered. He looked up. "Status?"
"Vessel in range, firing in five seconds!" Jean reported, "Firing!"
The Fifth Fleet of the Systems Alliance Navy came alive, blue beams of superdense molten iron and other super heavy metals streaking out at thousands of kilometers per second. The beams slammed into the Reaper's kinetic barriers and bounced harmlessly off.
The Reaper slowed, rotated and exposed the area between its mass of tentacles. An angry crimson beam streaked out and bisected the cruisers Hanoi, Detroit, Cologne, and Paris, slicing through the vessels like a hot machete through warm butter.
"Hanoi and Paris are down!" Jean barked.
"Evasive maneuvers, keep firing!" Hackett ordered. He was trying to be calm but the alarming ease that the Reaper had shown cutting apart four Systems Alliance Cruisers was hard to ignore and that sense of dread was now a flood. He tried to maintain focus.
The fleet continued firing and the Reaper continued ignoring their fire like a car through a soft rain. It suddenly increased speed and rammed six frigates, instantly shattering them into chunks of metal spewing crew and debris into the void. It rotated on its axis and fired again from its main battery, shearing through another cruiser. The beam continued onward, punching away the engine assembly of another vessel.
The Alliance fleet started to break away, sending their secondary rounds down range to bounce harmlessly off the Reaper's shields. The Reaper turned and accelerated towards the cruiser Benghazi, reaching out to the vessel and wrapping its large, mechanical arms around it. The main battery at the very base of the Reaper glowed an intense red and there was a brief flash before the cruiser's entire middle section had been completely vaporized into nothingness. The arms of the Reaper compacted the halves of the Benghazi into crushed masses and releasing them.
"Frigate Squadron Two is dead, cruisers Moscow, Benghazi and Boston are gone." The Kilimanjaro rocked as a Reaper blast struck its shields. "Kinetic Barriers down to twenty percent integrity. Another hit will take us out."
"Switch to disruptor torpedoes," Hackett commanded, "All ships, make a short range jump to Arcturus. We'll evacuate as many people as we can."
"Understood," Jean said. His eyes welled up. "Cruisers Brilliant, Berlin, Bombay, New York, Miami, Tokyo, Beijing, and Cairo are gone. They're all gone...all the heavies are dead."
Hackett felt a lump in his throat. This was going to be the costliest defeat ever experienced by the Alliance. The heavy hitters in his fleet had already been removed and his own vessel was incredibly close to being eviscerated. "Is the jump ready?"
"Aye," Jean said, "But forty frigates don't have access to their FTL drives. The Reaper is emitting some type of radiation that only the larger drives can handle."
"Forty..." Those were a large chunk of his frigates. "Perform jump and tell them to run, run far away." They were going to be sacrifices and he was going to remember every face...every name. He would regret leaving them behind but he had to do what was needed. Arcturus must be evacuated.
"Performing jump." Jean twisted the key and Hackett felt his world stretch before snapping back into position. The map refreshed, now showing Hackett's forces directly above Arcturus and facing the oncoming Reaper horde.
"All batteries, open fire. Do not cease firing until your gun barrels are melting. Team up on enemy forces. In the meantime, signal Arcturus that they are to begin immediate evacuations."
"I think they are already starting, look." Jean pointed towards a stream of transports protected by Alliance fighters start ascending up to Hackett's fleet. "The flight leader is requesting you. Numerous civilian vessels are taking upon civies and jumping out."
"Let's hear it."
Jean input the command. There was a hiss of static before a man's voice came through. "This is Lieutenant Steven Cortez of the Arcturus Defense Wing. We have survivors and refugees on these transports along with all medical and foot stocks left. The Governor Commander has requested that once all transports are on board, you immediately jump away."
"What is the status on the Governor-Commander?"
"She and the command staff are trapped in the command center with no route for exit. Roughly fifteen thousand people have begun rioting across the station as of midnight, local time. She sent a message to you over your private communication channel."
"Understood," Hackett responded. In all truth, he wanted to crawl up into a ball and cry. He was going to leave her behind. He had known her his entire life and had never considered losing her until this point. He would read the message later.
"One Reaper down," Jean smiled weakly. "Combined fire from our main gun and Arcturus' managed to finally cut it apart."
"Target the next and keep firing!" Hackett growled.
This battle was degrading from bad to worse; he now had to protect an entire fleet of civilians and cover the independent transports that were slowly jumping away using short range FTL drives. His own fleet was battered and broken, missing the majority of its heavy hitters and left with a handful of cruisers and several dozen ineffective frigates and a single damaged dreadnought.
"What is the status of Councilor Udina?" Hackett asked.
"I am here, Admiral," Councilor Udina responded through the radio. "I am on the Saint Paul. They have taken on my transport's complement."
"Understood," Hackett said. His eyes flicked over to Jean. "Bring the Saint Paul behind us and screen it from fire."
"Understood, sir." Jean relayed the commands. "Saint Paul confirms orders and is moving to the back of our formation. Frigate Squadron Three and Four are reporting complete expenditure of all disruptor torpedoes and rounds. Cruiser Squadron Five's heat baffles are at their maximum. All disruptor torpedoes are gone and most are reporting heavy damage across their vessels."
"Then it is time to leave," Hackett said. His voice was flooded with sadness and a tone of loneliness. He was leaving behind hundreds of people to a painful, slow death. He was letting the final bastion before Earth collapse.
"Sir?" Jean asked, "There are thousands of people out of there, alone and in the dark."
"Then they will have to survive on their own," Hackett responded. His eyes locked with Jean's. "We are leaving this world. If we don't, then there will be no more forces to defend Earth or Eden Prime or any other colony that is about to be attacked. We know we can hurt them if we have superior numbers but we don't, they do."
Jean remained silent for several moments. "Understood," he relinquished yet remained immobile.
"Captain, proceed with jump," Hackett ordered as another blast rocked Kilimanjaro to its core. Sparks rained down from the ceiling and small fires erupted. Screens fizzled and died and cracks appeared across the walls and floors.
"I'm not leaving them here," Jean stated. "Something is telling me this is wrong. We need to stay. We need to fight until the very end."
"Overcome your conscience and execute your orders, Captain," Hackett said. His voice was deep and low and could have punctured a moon. "I know what it is to leave someone; I'm doing it right now."
"No." Jean stepped away from the console. "I refuse."
"Very well. Captain Jean Akhaten, you are hereby relieved of your duties as executive commander of the SSV Kilimanjaro." Hackett looked over to Commander Daniel O'Neill. "Commander Daniel O'Neill, you are hereby promoted to the Rank of Captain and installed as the executive officer of the SSV Kilimanjaro. Take your position at the command table."
The middle-aged man nodded and pushed aside Captain Akhaten as Hackett studied the render of the battle. "Commander O'Neill, you will find in the navigation systems drive a file named 'Project Exodus'. You are to open that file and transmit the coordinates to the civilian vessels and heavily damaged fleet ships. All combat capable craft are to jump to Earth."
"Aye." O'Neill sent the data. "Preparing to jump. Mass drive spooled, capacitors at one-hundred percent. All jump capable ships report ready."
"Sir, Arcturus is deploying the last of her nuclear stock!"
Hackett flicked on the monitor to watch as Arcturus' sides came alive. Missiles streaked out and detonated directly in front of the Reaper advance. Every sensor suddenly became blind as nearly a gigaton of nuclear energy and radiation burned through space.
"She blinded the Reaper's sensors." Hackett smiled. "You are absolutely brilliant, Matilda."
"Jump is ready."
Hackett looked down at his jump key and twisted it. "Jump!"
The Fifth Fleet of the Systems Alliance jumped. The surviving vessels and transports stretched and disappeared, leaving behind a rapidly diminishing cloud of radiation and tortured particles. The Kilimanjaro was the last to blink away as the Reapers flew through the cloud of nuclear energy.
Thanix beams streaked away from the Reapers' formation and plowed into the surface of Arcturus. The rings comprising her structure groaned and snapped, exposing the interiors, full of the infected and rioters and security officers, into the cold abyss of space. More beams slammed into the structure, even as the weapons continued to fire. They were not firing to prevent the enemy from attacking but to show that they refused to die quietly.
The Reaper formation shimmered and suddenly reappeared directly above Arcturus, firing down. Dozen of beams tore through the station and consumed it in brilliant red and blue fire. The command center's roof seemed to come alive with energy, nodes activating and firing. Prothean particle beams touched the Reapers' hulls and broke through them before finally being silenced as a Reaper, two kilometers of destruction, rammed the command center and consumed the station in one massive explosion.
Arcturus had fallen.
Dust and echoes were all that remained.
August 24th, 2184
Admiral Preston Jeremiah Cole looked at the small readout on the holotable that showed the time. Two hours had passed. Spirit of Fire was in orbit of Reach grabbing the last of the people who could fit onto the vessel before pulling out. The Obsidians had formed a fence around the military assault ship, bows pointed defiantly against the looming Reaper forces.
"It's time," Cole said, "All batteries prepare to go hot, reroute all nonessential power to shield arrays and bring the reactors up to two-hundred percent output. Obsidians are to copy this order."
"Aye, sir. Relaying orders," Commander Adams responded.
Cole leaned forward to the render of the Calvary solar system, eyes flicking across it rapidly. The Reapers were a few hundred thousand kilometers away, just sitting there. Those around the star had remained immobile and were still feeding energy into the star.
"All ships report ready," Adams reported, "Spirit of Fire is eighty-percent loaded, they're running a bit behind schedule however. Should I reroute the Obsidians to assist?"
Cole shook his head. "No, we need them picketing the area and providing screening fire."
"Understood," Adams said. Her eyes narrowed. "The Reapers are just sitting there. They're only moving when we lob a few shots at them."
"Yeah..." Cole leaned back and crossed his arms. "I've noticed that. It's bizarre, they have our backs to a wall but aren't using that to their advantage."
"Ambush?" Adams asked.
"No, if they tried that they would be caught in the gravity well just like we are," Cole responded thoughtfully, "We'd have more time to rotate and fire on them while they are fighting the gravitational pull of Reach."
"No, if they tried that they would be caught in the gravity well just like we are," Cole responded thoughtfully, "We'd have more time to rotate and fire on them while they are fighting the gravitational pull of Reach."
"Why don't we just do a pinpoint jump and strike at the Reapers now? The Obsidians are more than enough to cover Captain Cutter for the moment."
"No, they're not," Cole said, "I read the report that Infinity sent us. Send a message to the Obsidians to form into groups of three designated Obsidian Alpha, Beta, and Charlie. We're going to be engaging the Reapers at range and as soon as one dies, we need to cut all communications to avoid that psychic scream Lasky described."
"Understood, I'll have the crew write a script to momentarily shut off our communications when one dies," Adams said. She looked over to several crew members at their station and watched as they carried out their orders.
There was a low tone that echoed through the bridge followed shortly thereafter by a shriek of alarms. Cole snapped his head towards Adams, "Report!"
Adams pulled up a sensor readout. "We have a trio of Reapers in low orbit and are entering the atmosphere. Ground defenses are answering." A render snapped into existence, showing Tiger batteries, concealed in mountains, erupt with fire and smoke as high caliber slugs slammed into the two-kilometer tall behemoths. "Main force is approaching at a faster rate, prepping all point defenses."
"Clever, but easily stopped," Cole commented, "It's a diversionary tactic. Task Obsidian 4 to enter high orbit and begin terrestrial bombardment with main gun. Tell them to aim for the center eye."
"Aye, relaying orders," a crewman called out.
Cole called up a render. Obsidian 4 was on the very edge of the picket screening Captain Cutter and it gracefully fell out of formation, twisting as its engines spat out flame and energy and propping it up into high orbit. Maneuvering thrusters activated along the top and bottom of the vessel, firing in stages to orient the vessel so it was vertical. The MAC gun charged and fired; a single composite slug shooting out through the atmosphere at several thousand kilometers per second. A few seconds after entering the atmosphere the round melted, now simply an irradiated streak of liquid ultra dense material. The round impacted the lead Reaper's main eye and cored through it as several megatons worth of kinetic energy caught the attacker off guard. The round continued through, impacting the ground and resulting in a sonic boom powerful enough to send the rest of the creature onto its back like a dead insect. The round's damage was not done, however. The ground cracked apart and shattered, caving in and consuming the beast beneath the surface of the world and kicking dust several hundred kilometers up into the atmosphere.
"Terrestrial One is down, repeat, Terrestrial One is down," the Operations Manager of Obsidian 4 radioed, "Targeting Terrestrial Two and Three. Request permission to fire, Tiger battery Alpha-4 and Gamma-6 are within the kill box."
Cole quickly did the calculations in his head. Those mountains could probably survive a kinetic strike of that strength; they had been designed to do so. The main gun sat at the top of the mountain beneath layers of hardened rock, steel-reinforced concrete, ablative plates, Aegis-grade armor and enough Titanium-A to build a destroyer of old. The control center was not actually in the mountain, more like under by a kilometer, surrounded further by steel-reinforced concrete, Titanium-A, Aegis-grade armor and ablative plates. They could likely survive a five-megaton nuke, but a kinetic strike was a whole different ball-game. When the ground collapsed around the impact zone, the mountain could be taken with it too or core too far and hit the command center if their angle was off enough just a few meters.
He tapped his earpiece. "Obsidian 4, you are go for attack run. Once finished resume your position along the picket line immediately."
The Operations Manager took a moment to respond. "Aye, sir. Commencing Terrestrial Kinetic Strike. Obsidian 4, out."
Cole watched as Obsidian 4 realigned herself twice more and fired, replicating the effect seen before.
"Clean hits, all terrestrial targets neutralized. Obsidian 4 returning to picket line," the Operations Manager said. The render merged with the overview of the system as the block representing the Charon-class frigate engaged her engines and made way to her former position.
Cole flicked off the communications channel and turned his eyes to Adams. "Status on the main Reaper force?"
"They've advanced four hundred kilometers in the last two minutes but are stationary at the moment," Adams said.
"That was too easy, then," Cole responded, "A frigate's MAC shouldn't have been able to breach their shields if Lasky's report is correct." He braced himself against the console. "Then what the hell are you doing, squid?"
"No clue," Adams said, "But I think they're trying to to kill us, or something..." She cracked a smile which Admiral Cole returned.
"Yeah, I think so." He chuckled. "Keep scanning, though. Just in case they try to pull a fast one."
"Aye, sir." A few moments after Adams said that, alarms began to blare across the ship. "Enemy force trans located to one thousand kilometers off Obsidian picket line! Counting two-hundred vessels! They reinforced their lines!"
Cole slammed his fist into the table. "Bring engines around, put on us on a course directly for the Reaper force."
Cole tapped his earpiece. "All UNSC vessels, this is Everest Actual. You are clear to engage, repeat you are clear to engage!"
Everest's engines swung the massive warship around on her axis and sent her hurtling towards the Reaper forces. Microasteroids and debris from previous scuffles with the Reapers smacked against her shields and made her look like a streaking meteor in atmosphere.
Across the Obsidian picket line, the smaller frigates opened fire. Missiles, MAC rounds, and anything with destructive potential were being flung at the attackers. A few Reapers blinked off the screen, debris floating carelessly through space as their brothers remained stationary.
"Slipspace disturbance detected!" Adams barked, "They're emanating from within Reach!"
Cole's eyes widened. That was why they had landed. Why they had opened themselves up for attack. The Reapers knew that the ground-based batteries would hurt them and that crossing the picket line would result in massive casualties, so they were playing dirty. "All batteries, open fire!"
Everest's bow came alive as a trio of MAC slugs and several thousand missiles streaked away, impacting into a quartet of Reapers and shearing them apart with impunity.
The Reapers snapped into action, instantly dispersing and ignoring the carcases of their fallen, descending upon the smaller Obsidian force. The frigates did exactly what the Reapers had wanted. Their formation broke and the Spirit of Fire was left alone.
"Keep firing!" Cole roared at the top of his lungs, "Order all Obsidians to group up around the Spirit of Fire!"
Everest kept firing, along with the Obsidians. Reapers were struck down from space as multi-megaton kinetic strikes bored through their central ocular sensor and gutted their primary control systems but they kept coming, faster than the human vessels could reload or target.
Everest shook as a duo of Reaper beams struck her amidships. Sparks rained down from the ceiling and the lights flickered as the delicate power systems of the Ether core groaned to maintain connection.
"Shields down to forty percent!" Adams reported, worry marring her face along with a trickle of blood from biting her bottom lip so hard. "We can't stay here for long, all Obsidians are reporting failing shields and most have heavy damage."
"Status on the evacuation?" Cole asked. He had no intention of dying here today, but he did not want to leave hundreds on the planet below to a cold and lonely death.
"Something is pulling the last of the evacuation transports in. They can't escape the atmosphere." Everest rocked again and there was an ear-piercing scream. Cole felt as the interior temperature raised by ten degrees instantly, even behind all of this armor and ablative material.
"What the hell just hit us?" Cole asked, holding himself steady as his warship continued to rock like a lifeboat in the middle of hurricane. The displays' readings were in the red, there was significant shield bleed through by the Reaper's energy weapons and several sections of the hull were melted and scorched messes.
"Reaper energy weapon, struck the ventral side. We've lost decks 43, 42, and 41. Estimate 80 crew killed, engines are operating at thirty percent viability, the blast struck one of our power relays," Adams said, "Obsidians 3, 6, and 9 are reporting heavy damage to all sections and have lost shields."
"Signal the retreat," Cole muttered.
"Sir?" Adams asked again, not believing in what she was hearing.
"Signal the retreat!" Cole growled, eyes digging into Adams', "We're not going to die here, not today."
"Understood." Adams tapped her earpiece, "All UNSC vessels, this is Everest Secondary, retreat. Repeat, all ships retreat to designated evacuation point."
"We still have 500 people on the planet below!" Cutter's voice came in over the intercom, "We can't just leave them!"
Cole pulled up a hologram of the Spirit of Fire. Most of her hull was aflame and there were several major gaping wounds along her sides, just like Everest, and the majority of her point-defense batteries had fallen silent. Lights flickered on and off and Cole saw numerous decks open to space.
"Captain Cutter, you are to engage your engines at maximum thrust and make all due haste, now! Your ship is nearly dead and eleven thousand people will be too unless you fire your fucking engines and get out of there!" Cole's veins were visibly protruding and there was spittle dressing the holotable.
"Understood. Recalling all fighters." Cutter ended the transmission and Cole watched as Spirit of Fire banked, collected her deployed forces, and made full burn towards Everest's burning frame.
The Everest's guns fired again and another Reaper died as it was punched apart by a trio of kinetic strikes.
Another blast rocked Everest followed by a deafening roar and flickering lights. "Reaper blast. Decks 13, 14, and 15, sections Charlie through Zulu are gone. We are venting atmosphere, engaging emergency shielding." Operation's voice was panicked as his subordinates rapidly sent out repair drones and erected shields.
"Recall all Obsidians, engage engines to maximum thrust and get us clear!" Cole ordered. He pulled up a new diagram as the frigates broke away from their engagements from the Reapers and made full burn towards the Everest and Spirit of Fire, which quickly turned and began fleeing with the smaller frigates following close behind. The eleven ships of Cole's fleet looked like tiny meteors aflame as they streaked across space, dodging and weaving as hundreds of Reaper lances sliced through space.
"Sir, Reach!" Adams whispered hurriedly, eyes watering.
Cole pulled up a video of the planet from Everest's aft cameras. The feed was flickering as the camera had been damaged but it was still viewable. The surface of Reach was popping and boiling with continents abruptly vanishing into a swirling, midnight vortex that seemed to warp and bend the star field around it. There was a noticeable crystal blue ring around it and Cole instantly knew what it was.
The Reapers had activated a slipstream space drive at the heart of the planet, followed shortly thereafter by a zero-point energy device. With infinite energy feeding it, the slipstream space drive would consume everything that was captured by it and send it hurtling through the slipstream for the rest of time. Cole had read the briefings and had seen as ONI had worked to develop such a weapon but had never thought that he might see one with his own eyes.
"All hands, prepare for immediate slipstream jump!" Adams' voice echoed through Everest. There was a whine as power was siphoned from the Ether core and pumped into the emitters at the bow of the heavy cruiser.
The Obsidians were the first to leave, dashing into slipspace and vanishing. The Spirit of Fire was next, delivering a final volley towards the advancing Reapers.
"Weapons, load Archer pods alpha through bravo with Rudra warheads. Fire once we are beginning to enter slipspace," Cole ordered remarkably calmly. The massive nuclear detonation would mask their escape and disrupt the FTL window to prevent pursuit.
The bow of Everest was consumed by flame as two dozen missiles streaked away.
"Engage slipstream window generators."
"Generators active. Window formed."
"Jump!" Cole ordered, head turning to the helmsman.
Everest banked slowly as a swirling blue and black portal formed directly in front of its bow. Reaper beams tailed after the vessel, grazing its flanks and scorching its armor before the massive vessel finally slipped through the void.
"Transition complete, all slipstream engines active and at full operational capacity," Adams said, relaxing her grip on the edge of the holotable.
"Good work, everyone," Cole said loudly. He strode away from the holotable and to the platform overseeing the tiers below, leaning against the brass bar and letting out a deep breath. The walls were covered with burn marks, blood, ash, and ruptured components and several of the lights were dangling by mere wires. But he had survived. Again.
"Contact!" Adams screamed, "Unknown object followed us through the transition! Impact in five seconds."
There was a large shudder and Cole felt himself catapult over the railing and onto the hard metal floor below. Then...
August 24th, 2184
"Emerging from slipstream space in five minutes, Admiral," Roland reported.
"Thank you," Lasky responded as he stepped over the threshold of the bridge's door, slowly buttoning his duty jacket. "Any reason as to why it took two hours instead of one?"
"Yeah, actually," Roland responded, watching as Lasky made his way over to the central holotable.
"Well, even though I'm running our engines at a hundred and ten percent, we're only going about fifty percent of our possible speed. Now, we've long theorized about a slipspace debt; something big is moved through slipspace so it allots less of a 'current' to anything else," Roland explained.
"Are we that big thing moving through and hogging up the stream?" Lasky asked; it would make sense if they were. Infinity was one of the largest ships in the galaxy and the only large vessel with a Slipspace drive besides the Everest and Spirit of Fire.
"Oh, no. Not one bit," Roland responded, surprised by the question. "We're not that big. The last time we think that slipstream debt occurred was when the Forerunners were deploying the Halo installations. So it needs to be big, really big."
"So a Halo is being moved?" Lasky asked, because otherwise they were dealing with something that was powerful enough to build something thousands of kilometers long and were able to transport it.
"No, but something big. Look." Roland snapped his fingers and an image rendered into existence on the holotable. It was just a smeared blur but it was too symmetrical to be an asteroid or another stellar body and too big as well. "I picked this up by using our Forerunner sensors to probe the stream. I'm estimating it's about 40,000 kilometers in size and is being escorted by hundreds of kilometer-long vessels."
Lasky leaned in to view the image more clearly. "That is...massive. That's larger than the Halos."
"Yup, and it was heading towards the center of the galaxy, directly from..." Roland allowed the sentence to hang in the air for several seconds. An inquisitive eye danced over Lasky, looking for a response.
"Batarian space," Lasky finished the AI's sentence. "It's a Reaper," he stated.
"I believe so," Roland said. "Nothing we can do about it right now, but I'll keep my eye out."
"Any word from Admiral Cole?" Lasky asked, shrinking the blurry image and pulling up a separate window that displayed a bird's-eye view of the Sol system.
"Not yet, but I'm hoping we soon will," Roland said. He shivered; being out of constant contact with Reach was unsettling, as was the nagging laughing at the very back of his mind.
At Noon we strike with the force of gods. The Ascension has begun and the Bias of the Mountains has awoken.
Roland shook his head, trying to purge the voice, but it was persistent. Unrelenting.
"Something wrong?" Lasky asked.
"No," Roland responded, "Just had a blip in one of my cores. Probably something I downloaded."
Lasky raised an eyebrow. "I don't want to know."
"Good, cause you ain't," Roland cracked a big smile, continuing the joke.
There was a rumble and a bang. The entirety of Infinity groaned in defiance. Sparks erupted from circuits and power outlets and screens fizzled and died.
"Report!" Lasky ordered, clutching the console as Infinity rocked and buckled like a dingy in a hurricane.
Roland's avatar flickered in and out of existence as power was disrupted. "I have no fucking clue. Something is pulling us out of Slipspace and is playing havoc with our power grid."
"Do we have enough for shields and weapons?" Lasky asked.
"Yeah, if I cut power to the FTL drives, but then they'll still be able to pull us through to where ever they want us to be."
"Do it," Lasky ordered. He tapped his earpiece. "All hands, go to battle stations and execute all contingency plans for possible hostile boarding actions!"
There was a hiss of hydraulics as the bridge lowered into position beneath the armor belt of Infinity. Lights dimmed and the bridge's Marines took up positions around the three main doors. There was a series of electronic tones as M247H 12mm Heavy Machine Railguns were raised up from their compartments in the floor.
Lasky retrieved his M6D and checked the safety before sliding it into his holster. He looked up at Roland. "Status?"
"I'm drawing down the Ether core's feed to the FTL drives and rerouting every watt of power I can into the shield arrays. We're going to come out hot and judging by the Slipspace echoes I've detected, we're going to be surrounded." Roland's tone was noticeably fearful and his eyes looked panicked. "I'm skimming the edge of the slipstream so our transition isn't as violent."
"Where are we going to emerge?" Lasky asked. He would rather not have himself trapped in the gravity well of a black hole or come out near a magnetar.
"The Moon, the Sol System," Roland responded.
Lasky tapped his earpiece once more. "All hands, we are going to the Bad Moon protocol! The Sol system is under siege." He lowered his hand and looked to Lieutenant Austen. "Load all of our bow missile pods with our nuclear payload."
"I'll need your clearance for a payload of this side, Admiral," Lieutenant Austen responded. His monitors were ablaze with information as he consulted and coordinated with the AIs responsible for weapons.
Reaching around his neck, Lasky unlatched the solid, machined titanium launch key. He inserted it into its hole on the holotable and twisted it. A window rendered into existence and he quickly input his twenty-five digit clearance code along with his service number. "By CO's orders, all nuclear payloads have been cleared for immediate launch and firing at weapons officer's discretion."
"Understood. Retrieving command codes." Austen's voice was rushed yet remarkably calm considering the events underway. The readouts on one of his monitors changed, now revealing various payload information and the option to launch. "Command retrieved, loading into bow missile batteries."
"All weapons go hot, target their center eye," Lasky said, "keep them at range."
"All interior defense positions report ready. All hangars and entrances have been sealed and are under guard.
"Alright." Lasky looked to everyone on the bridge, "It's been an honor."
They nodded in agreement.
"Roland, drop us out," Lasky said, "Austen, open fire with all batteries once we're clear."
Infinity roared as she slipped out of the stream, surging out of a microfissure. Blue and purple particles slipped off her frame as engines kicked into overdrive and sent the massive warship to the right, evading a barrage of Reaper lances and plowing through debris of destroyed vessels' hulls.
"Three Reapers directly off our bow," Roland reported, drawing up a overview of the solar system. "Targeted."
"Fire!" Lasky ordered.
"Aye, firing!" answered Lieutenant Austen. He flicked several switches and fired. "Rounds away."
The bow of Infinity exploded as three multi-ton slugs streaked out and gutted the Reapers, shattering them with a hundred and fifty megatons of kinetic force in total.
"Roland, give me a report," Lasky ordered. The render of the system showed hundreds of Reaper fighters and drones bearing down on his ship along with several smaller Reapers that were about the size of a corvette. Point defenses would handle them. It was the big suckers that he was worried about.
"I'm detecting at least four-hundred hostiles in system and two thousand Alliance vessels, seventy percent of which bear capital vessel classification," Roland responded. "The Alliance is struggling to keeping the Reapers away from the evacuation transports."
Lasky nodded. "Send a message to Admiral Cole. Tell him we have engaged the enemy."
"Understood," Roland responded. His eyes widened. "Wait, I'm detecting the Normandy. She's under attack from three Reaper corvettes and looks like their shields have fallen."
"Archer Pods Alpha 1 and Alpha 2 responding," Austen blurted out. The AI responsible for missile guidance fired, eighty multi-ton fission missiles streaked away from Infinity's bow, covered from Reaper anti-air and fighters by the lethal close in weapon systems of the UNSC flagship.
It took all but a few seconds for the missiles to impact. The eighty warheads smashed into the trio of 200 meter Reapers, tearing off chunks from the unshielded vessels and sending them careening away in flames. Normandy's engines fired as she flew back to the Alliance's battle line, blue beams of some weapon lancing out and cutting through hostile forces.
"She's clear," Roland said.
"Good. Helm, perform a pinpoint slipstream jump to directly behind the Reaper's forces. We'll crush them by sticking them between a rock and a hard place."
"Negative on pinpoint jump, unable to form a rupture," Devero responded, confusion erupting across her expression. "It's like the stream isn't flowing any more. It's stopped."
"Shit," Lasky muttered. "Alright, engage engines at maximum thrust and bring us directly behind their lines."
Infinity banked away from her attackers, crushing the hundreds of fighters surrounding her through sheer mass. Her MAC guns fired again, swatting away two of the kilometer-long Reapers and sending debris hurtling towards their companions.
"Shields are at the verge of collapsing and we have hard impacts on middle armor tiers. Decks 52, 53 and 61 are inaccessible and we have exposure to vacuum in all sections of those decks."
"Keep moving, don't let them hit us," Lasky said, gritting his teeth. A Reaper weapon lance had grazed Infinity's lateral line and gouged through several centimeters of armor.
"I recommend that we switch to using both our energy projectors and main battery. It'll let us hit more of them," Roland commented. He flickered as another salvo of MAC rounds diverted power from his projector. Infinity was striking them down but they kept coming. For every one that was felled by Infinity's teeth, a dozen more rose to take its place.
"Lieutenant Austen, switch to all primary batteries. Diversify targets and combat kill them. Hopefully, they'll self destruct," Lasky ordered. He felt his stomach go to his throat as Infinity dove, pushing the very limits of its inertial dampeners. The Reapers' fire was intensifying.
"Put me through to the Alliance fleet," Lasky ordered, holding himself steady as his vessel rocked.
"Done," Roland snapped his fingers.
"Alliance vessels, this is Admiral Tom Lasky of the UNSC Infinity. Target the Reapers' central eyes. We're mission killing them and are leaving them for your fighters to eliminate. Lasky, out."
"Shields down! We have heavy damage to posterior control centers and power nodes. They are targeting our engines." Roland's report was short and clipped and his brow furled. "Rerouting all remaining shield power to aft sections; our bow can handle the hits." There was another blare of an alarm. Roland quickly pulled up a window and threw it over to Lasky."We have a hull breach on primary hangar 12."
"Raise every shield in the section and get a heavy infantry platoon down there. I am not having Infinity boarded."
"Understood. Commander Palmer is leading them and Spartan Fire Team Andromeda down there as we speak, she's having an extra squad of ATEN and HUSAD drones added to the Heavy Infantry," Roland's projection flickered. "Detecting incoming boarding craft. Rerouting point-defenses to sector twenty four, combat side starboard."
"Status?" Lasky asked, moving over to Austen's platform.
"We have damage to most sections of the ship, some major but not crippling. Our main batteries are working as fast as they can but the hostiles just keep coming," Austen responded. One of his displays registered another kill. "They're toying with us, throwing away their lives like they're Grunts."
Lasky kept his eyes on the screen for a moment. Something was very wrong with this picture. He turned away. "Roland, scan the system. Look for any and all telltale signs of slipspace disturbance!"
"On it!" Roland responded. The entirety of Infinity shook as another beam cut into her. "Heavy damage to deck 24. Estimate forty dead and unrecoverable."
"Sound the evacuation alarms, get everyone into the inner most sections and empty the outer hull," Lasky said, stumbling back towards the holotable. "Once it's evacuated, I want the entire outer hull vented and sealed off with emergency shields and bulkheads."
"Understood, relaying orders. Estimate seven minutes before we're clear," Roland responded. His projection flickered and a look of pure panic washed over his face. "Slipspace rupture detected, two thousand kilometers off our bow."
"It's emerging right through the Alliance's secondary line!" Roland said, panic sweeping his tone.
There was a great shimmering void that coalesced into existence, warping and tearing space before settling into a black, moon-sized void with a shimmering blue ring frayed around the edges. From the Slipspace rupture emerged a vessel of titanic size, larger than Lasky had ever seen. Just over 150 kilometers long and twenty at its widest point, the ship was composed of a fore hemispherical structure ten kilometers in diameter, below which there was a mid section composed of tiered weapons platforms sporting landing bays. It all came together in a long 'tail' covered in additional weapon mounts. The entire surface of the vessel shimmered azure for several brief seconds as it crushed the Alliance fleet. The much tinier hulls were crushed like beetles under a boulder and those that managed to evade were tossed aside by the sheer wake of this vessel's emergence into existence.
"This is Admiral McCormick, acting commander of all Alliance forces in the Sol System. Retreat, repeat, retreat! Get out of this system immediately, make sure the evacuation transports make it out!"
Lasky looked over to Austen. "Cease all engagement with all other forces. Tag the big fucker as Alpha-1. Bring all of our weapons to bear and fire!"
"All of them!" Lasky growled, eyes studying the massive vessel that hung like the moon in front of Infinity.
Infinity seemed to be consumed in flame as every weapon she had on board fired. Tens of thousands of high powered missiles streaked out, followed by thousands of railgun slugs, tens of MAC rounds, energy projector lances, and pulse laser beams. The bow came alive once more as dozens of nuclear warheads streaked away.
It was enough firepower to burn away the atmosphere of a moon.
It impacted the shields of the massive Reaper vessel and was consumed like a rock thrown in a lake; a series of ripples was all that the barrage caused.
"Receiving transmission, it's system-wide."
"Let's hear it!" Lasky shouted over the roar of the bridge. Fires and broken audio systems had sprung up from the barrage as Infinity's power cores were pushed to beyond their safe operating levels.
"The time for the final ascension has come; you will try to fight, and you will fail. I have burned away billions of civilizations just like yours and they all tried to resist. They failed and now you live in the ruins of their creations. I have existed since the stars died and shall live until they die once more. I do this not of hate, not of prejudice, but of a simple act. I am sparing you from a much worse fate. But this time it is different; this time, we have travelers of a different realm in our midst. How does it feel, Captain Lasky, to know that all your firepower and all your strength has gone to fighting the tide? Does it remind you of something? How does it feel, ancilla Cortana, knowing that you will kill the one you love? How does it feel, Michael Sullivan, to hide your face in shadows and fall into the darkness when rejected? How does it feel, Admiral Cole, to die a thousand deaths, yet awake alive every morning? Or, how about the Broken Didact. Shall you kill trillions once more with your hand?"
"We will fight you, even to the ends of time itself," Lasky said back, knowing this was a two-way transmission. "We fought the Covenant, we fought the Flood. We'll find a way, even if it means we all die."
"A drop in the bucket to what I am capable of."
"We will defeat you!" Lasky barked. "I don't care if I have to ram my ship into yours but when this is done, you will die."
"As they all say..." There was a pause. "Two will die upon the midnight scream by my hand. High Noon has come, and nothing will stop me from purging the stars of you. They can not be allowed transcendence, and if I must wipe all of you away in a flood of blood and supernovas...so be it."
"Who are you?" Lasky asked, gritting his teeth. "We are Reclaimers, the Inheritors to your maker's treasures! You can't do this."
"I am Offensive Bias, he who catalogs the mountains. And you are not Reclaimers here."
"Sir, we have boarders!" Roland shouted. "They got through during the barrage! We need to get out of here, now!"
"Helm, emergency jump!" Lasky barked. "Primary fallback system!"
"You can not out run the stars going black." Offensive Bias said calmly. The weapon systems across his vessel sprang into action, swatting away dozens of Alliance ships in puffs of smoke and debris. Some of the vessels were crushed as if touched by an invisible hand of immense power. Others were sent hurtling into one another like cars on ice.
Thousands of swift attack craft launched from Offensive Bias' warship, forming outward fanning formations and slaughtering Alliance vessels with impunity, with frightening ease.
Offensive Bias fired at Infinity, a searing red beam streaking across space followed by tens of thousands of pulses that cut through everything that came between them and the target. Infinity winked away in a burst of slipstream energy, leaving behind a battered and burning Alliance fleet that rapidly followed suit with the transports, winking away in FTL jumps to somewhere safe.
"This is Palmer, all hands are to go to battle stations. We have boarders! All noncombatants are to remain in quarters. All Spartan Fire Teams, secure critical areas of the ship!" Commander Sarah Palmer's voice came through over the P.A system.
"Where is she?" Lasky asked.
"She's taken Fire Team Andromeda and has set up along one of the choke point corridors. She's having the Spartans and Heavy Infantry secure vital areas and is going to try and push the enemy out of the way and into the hangars where we can vent them," Roland said, pulling up a projection of Infinity's interior. She had purposefully been designed to be hard to board; there were winding hallways, dead ends, AI controlled machine guns, and enough traps to give a team of Spartan IIs fatalities.
"What about the bridge?" Lasky asked.
"There's a force of forty hostiles en route. Commander Palmer is sending a Heavy Infantry team to reinforce our position but they won't be here for another fifteen minutes; there's a lot of fighting between here and there."
"Fine," Lasky said. He reached down under the holotable and grabbed a M98 submachine gun and loaded a magazine of 32 .45 ACP hollow-point rounds into the firearm, expanding the stock so it rested comfortably in the crook of his shoulder. "Everyone, grab a weapon," he ordered, gesturing to the trio of weapons lockers arranged around the bridge.
"Oh, and one more thing," Roland said, "I got a message from the Everest. Reach has fallen and we're to proceed to the primary fallback system. Admiral Cole has sustained heavy injuries and is in intensive care."
Lasky slammed his fist into the holotable. "Son of a bitch!" he growled, "Helm, best speed to the PFS, take the safeties off the power cores."
"Sir, they're at the door." The AI responded sheepishly, "And they're cutting through."
Lasky flicked the safety off and heard the rest of the bridge crew follow suit. He took cover behind the holotable, the barrel of his M98 pointed directly at the set of main double doors. The marines had moved off to the side and were fully prepared to engage.
"Roland, you are to engage the Burning Bridge protocol and lock down all stations unless released by either myself or by two commanding officers. Confirm."
"Confirmed, engaging the Burning Bridge protocol, all stations locked down. I have full control over the ship," Roland's hologram flickered. "If they kill you all, I'll be venting VX gas in and watching as they choke, burn, and die."
"It's been an honor, Roland," Lasky said, switching to the holographic sight on the M98.
"Agreed, Tom," the AI said, "We have another issue, however."
"What is that?" Lasky asked, grumbling.
"I'm detecting Offensive Bias' ship following us in Slipspace. In about ten minutes, she'll be on top of us."
"Can you divert our course through a magnetar or gamma ray burst?" Lasky asked. He was more than willing to sacrifice Infinity in order to exterminate this Forerunner AI.
"No, emergency FTL jumps are from one destination to another, they're not maneuverable in the least or near stable enough," Roland said, "You know this."
"I know! There just must be another option."
"First, we deal with the boarders, then we deal with the massive specter of death munching on our heels."
Lasky pursed his lips and stood. "Austen, load every single nuclear payload we have left into our ventral launchers. Once Alpha-1 is within a hundred kilometers of us, I want you to launch them and set a proximity detonation of fifty kilometers."
Austen's expression became one of confusion. "We'll still be within our own kill box, not to mention we'll destabilize the slipstream and force ourselves to drop out."
"That's the plan. He'll think we'll have destroyed ourselves in a vain attempt to destroy him..." Lasky said. He could hear them approaching the bridge door. The wailing, the screaming of twisted minds and bodies crying out as one for a swift end. He felt a trickle of something warm run down his nose and discovered it was blood. A quick observation of his command staff showed that they were displaying identical symptoms.
Everything became deathly still and piercingly silent, as if walking in a snow covered forest. The fringes of the door began to glow red hot and skeletal. Rotten claws with cybernetics attached to them pierced through.
Lasky closed his eyes for a millisecond. "Fire once we make contact, short controlled bursts!"
The door flung open.
To Be Continued in...
The Onyx Stars Chapter 16: High Noon Part 2!
Secrets, lies, and revelations to secrets long kept buried shall be revealed in glaring detail and someone will die...
Oh, and please review! If even a quarter of those who read this left a review of how much they liked this, that would honestly make my day. Don't just favorite and leave, drop a review. They make my day 8 )