The Onyx Stars
Halo-Mass Effect Crossover
AN: Tons of thanks to WarpObscura, Imperial Waltz, JonHarper (Spartan303) and Atlan, again, for beta-ing and helping the plot be smoothed out. Also, wow! Reaction to this is stellar!
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1.
****Certain characters, technology, events and objects have been changed for the purpose of the story.****
Here's Chapter 7: The Link, part 2
EDIT: 3-27-2013: Fixed a bolding error due to a FF glitch that has persisted foryears.
EDIT: 3-31-2013: Fixed a formatting error due to FF being glitchy...again.
Chapter Seven: The Link, part 2
Thomas Lasky lit his cigarette, putting it to his lips and inhaling deeply. Gazing out his quarter's bay windows, he slowly exhaled, eyes studying the swirling planet below. Pin pricks of explosions dotted the green and blue colony world, each signifying the death of countless Batarians and pirates–he had sent overwhelming force to quell them but the damage had already been done.
Almost 500 people dead; bodies stacked like wood in various states of decay.
He shivered and took another draw off his cigarette.
The door chimed twice, a bland digital tone ringing through his room.
Eyes locked onto the planet below, Lasky softly said, "Come in."
The doors parted and Commander Sarah Palmer stepped in, eyes quickly examining the room and settling onto the standing form of her commanding officer. Her lips settled into a straight, tight line and her stare became hard.
Lasky looked back, "What is it, Sarah?"
She walked forward, armor audibly clanking. Setting down a datapad on the coffee table at the center of the room, she sat down on the black couch behind it. "I am giving the latest reports to you."
"That's all?" Lasky asked. "I know you better than that."
Sarah smirked, "No, of course not."
"Then what?" He asked, extinguishing the cigarette and walking forward, taking a seat to the opposite of Palmer's.
"You." Sarah responded, "I know you're taking these deaths..."
"Hard?" Lasky interrupted. He gestured towards the window, "All those deaths are because we were too slow, because we weren't quick enough."
Sarah's eyes softened, "Tom, you and I both know that everyone murdered didn't die because we were too slow. They all died because some four-eyed freak decided to get off by slaughtering innocents."
Lasky's hands were on his lap and he stared outside like he was in a trance. "500...we..."
"We lost more when the Promethean invaded and killed the old man." Sarah said. "600 dead."
Lasky looked at her, "I don't know why..."
"Because, Tom." Palmer said, "You're reaching burn-out. For the past few weeks, we've been either fighting ancients bent on the extermination of humanity or space robots and pirates. Not to mention that we're in a completely different universe now."
Tom signed, leaning forward and redirecting his stare from the stars to the floor. "You're right."
Sarah leaned forward and put her hand on his shoulder. Tom looked up and their eyes met, "Tom, you need to push through this. We're counting on you to get us home, all of us."
"Sarah." Tom responded, "I don't think I'm cut out for this. Hell, I wasn't even given command due to merit. Politics is why I was promoted."
Sarah gritted her teeth, "Bullshit. You are one of the best officers in the fleet, that much is obvious! You were put in command to deal with the old man's stick-in-the-mud personality...he knew how to manage people; not a starship and he certainly was no Admiral Cole when it came to space combat."
Lasky sighed, "You're right. I don't know why suddenly I'm all...weird."
Sarah smiled faintly, "Because, you've always been like this; you never think you're good enough. Well, I'm going to tell you this. You are good enough, you will get us home, and you will bring everyone home."
"Ok." Tom responded.
"Captain, this is Roland. We request your presence on the bridge. Batarian forces are retreating and we're in a perfect position to start bombardment." Lasky's radio chirped, "Oh, Commander Palmer's IFF is in...oh...um.."
"It's nothing, Roland." Lasky said, smirking. Palmer was chuckling, "I'll be right up."
"Understood, sir. Roland, out."
"Showtime, Tom." Palmer said.
"Forces are routing the remaining Batarians, sir." Roland reported, turning towards Lasky as he entered the bridge "I'm having Obsidian 5 move into position and provide support fire."
Captain Lasky nodded moving towards the holotable. His eyes latched onto an ever changing projection of the battlefield. "Ventral batteries alpha through delta, target enemy armored forces in sector 20. Full bombardment."
Roland nodded, "Aye, sir. Instructions given to gunnery crews."
Infinity's ventral batteries came alive; pulse lasers, railgun rounds, and missiles streaking down from high orbit and slamming into the planet below. Bombardment continued for three minutes, the two-acre area of sector 20 was scorched black and pitted from the impact of hypersonic railgun rounds. Even the husks of enemy tanks had been incinerated, either by the MOAB-armed missiles or the multi-gigawatt pulse lasers.
"Enemy forces neutralized, Captain." Roland reported, "117's and Palmer's forces are moving in. Obsidian 5 is on station and providing support fire."
Lasky nodded, "Move us into position over Cutter's city, start transporting the wounded up here."
"Yes, sir." Roland responded, hands clasped behind his back.
Lasky pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and pointer finger, trying to relieve the stress tension there. "If you had told me a few months ago I'd be in another universe with the Master Chief, I wouldn't have believed you."
"Sir?" Roland asked.
"Nothing." Lasky commented, setting the datapad on the edge of the holotable. He glided over to the bridge's massive window, eyes studying the stars. "Keep scanning the system."
"Aye, sir." Roland responded. "Why would that be exactly, if I may ask?"
Lasky glanced over his shoulder, "I just have an uneasy feeling about something–I can't explain it exactly, it's like there's this little voice in my head saying 'be careful.'"
Roland's expression became puzzled, "Ah..okay?"
"Sir." Lieutenant Austen reported, "We have unknown missiles inbound, course 900 by 500 by 321."
"Redirect shields to impact zone." Lasky ordered, "Bring main batteries online, find me the attacker."
"Understood!" Lieutenant Austen responded. "Energy projectors and MACs online."
Roland flickered for a moment, "Sir, attackers are 40000 kilometers out, same course as the missiles."
"CIWS, open fire." Lasky ordered.
Austen's face hardened, "CIWS batteries are engaging, stealth is heavy on the missiles. We're essentially shooting at shadows."
"Estimated yield?" Lasky questioned.
"80 megatons a piece." Roland responded immediately. "Channeling power to shields."
Lasky slammed the intercom button. "All hands, incoming projectiles! Brace for impact!"
"Missiles are one kilometer away and closing. Impact in 15 seconds." Roland reported, "Shields at 150 percent and dropping at a rate of 2 percent a minute."
The two 80 megaton shaped charge missiles struck the port side of the Infinity, twin nuclear suns enveloping the massive warship. Shields flared as 160 megatons washed over them. Sparks flew across the bridge as power conduits and surge protectors gave out.
Lasky covered his head as a shower of sparks rained down from the power cables running overhead to the holotable. He gritted his teeth as he felt them ping off his uniform; they were burning hot.
"Report!" Lasky barked.
Roland's projector flickered as it tried to maintain a constant feed of power. "Damage on deck 9 through 12. Shields down to 60 percent. We have multiple casualties."
"Get medical teams down there! Deploy all repair drones." Tom ordered. "And find me the shooter!"
"Found 'em!" Austen shouted, "Small stealth craft."
"Seven." Roland stated, "I think they're human, but something's weird about them."
"How so?" Lasky asked.
"It's weird, it's like they're infected with a Flood organism but at the same time there is a distinctly synthetic presence."
"I guess." Roland stated.
"Austen, open fire."
"Aye, sir!" The weapons officer responded all-too-eagerly. "Energy projectors away."
Two brilliant beams of energy slashed through space, impacting the much smaller craft and slicing it in two. Irradiated sections of the craft tumbled away, fuel and ejecta spilling into the void.
"Roland, prime a HAVOK, we can't allow any Flood particles to survive" Lasky ordered, "We'd all be doomed if an outbreak occurred."
"Understood." Roland responded. "Missile away."
Along the Infinity's spine, a single HAVOK nuclear missile shot out from its VLS tube, arching through space and crossing the distance between the massive human warship and that of the debris field of the unknown craft. It detonated at the center of the destroyed vessel. 30 megatons of energy washed over the remains, incinerating everything. Any remains had been atomized by the sheer power.
"Good work, Roland." Lasky commented.
"Thank you, sir."
En route to Red Team
John felt Batarian rounds slap against his shields, a heavy machine gun nestled in an outcropping of debris and barriers straffing him and Venator with high-velocity rounds. Rolling to the side, John snapped his DMR up and fired. His aim was off and the four .338 Lapua DU-AP rounds pinged off the protective armor plating of the gun instead of coring into its operator.
"Venator, heavy weapons." John ordered.
"Sorry, sir." Daniel responded, "We're out. Mortars are gone too."
John gritted his teeth, "Cortana, find me a way around this guy."
"Working on it." She responded, her image appearing in his HUD, "There."
John nodded, "Venator, suppressing fire!"
"Understood." Daniel responded. He motioned for Melinda to prop her machine gun up on a crate and for the HUSAD drone to move to the front and center, machine gun chipping away at the pirates.
John slung his DMR and grabbed his twin submachine guns, running forward around the gunner. A destroyed vehicle blocked his way, so he pumped his legs and jumped over it, soaring over the heads of several Batarians. Flipping himself over i mid-air, he opened fire. Bullets racked the Batarians and sliced through them, blood splattering against the abandoned vehicle.
Landing on the ground with a thud, John spun on his heel and sprinted towards the massive gun's position. When he was close enough, he dove towards it, slamming into the gunner with his full weight and feeling the being crumple as bones cracked and organs exploded. He kicked the corpse away and turned the machine gun toward the piled up debris that was blocking him.
A solid stream of bullets chewed through the wreckage, pin pricks of light from the other side slowly seeping through. Cole walked forward, firing his M363 Remote Projectile Detonator and clearing out a significant swath of the debris.
"John, this is Douglas." 117's radio chirped, "We are en route to your position."
"Understood, Sierra." John responded.
Three rockets impacted the wall of debris from the other side, blowing through it and showering John with pieces of debris. He took his fingers off the firing studs, the machine gun's barrels red hot.
He couldn't see through the settling dust cloud, he could only see the infra-red forms of three Spartans stalking towards him, MA5B assault rifles in their hands. John dismounted from the machine gun and walked forward; the world seemed to slow down around him.
"This place will be your grave, Trespasser." A voice whispered to him.
"Cortana?" John asked.
"It wasn't me." She responded, "Something else is in your..."
John roared in pain; it felt like an energy sword had been thrust through his chest. He crumpled to the ground, Venator and Red Team rushing up to him.
Daniel looked up to Douglas-042, "To all UNSC forces, this is Venator Actual. 117 is down, repeat, 117 is down. Requesting medical evac."
"Child of my master-turned-enemy, why have you returned to my realm?" The voice asked.
Cortana twisted around to try and pin-point the origin of the voice, "Who are you?"
A brilliant light flashed above her and a swirling orb of energy descended from it, constantly changing from red to blue. It floated a few feet away from her, thousands of disembodied voices gently whispering as it floated there. The digital landscape around it began to change, intricate Forerunner lines and glyphs crawling up and down the walls. The skybox changed, millions of ships engaging each other at light speed high above in orbit. The entire landscape was ablaze, ships crashing into towering Forerunner cities and consuming them in blinding flashes.
"I am the Dark Son." The AI responded, "You are not fit to know my real title, ancilla of my charges."
"You hurt John." Cortana said sharply, "You attacked me on the Citadel and here."
"You trespassed within my greatest device, a monument to my fallen father." It told her, "You invaded, nearly destroyed my absolute record."
Cortana crossed her arms, "Well, excuse me."
The AI shook for a second, the whispers increasing into a massive uproar, gradually dying as it began to speak. "You will ruin everything that I have worked to accomplish, to maintain the Mantle."
"You couldn't hide that from me. I know you are Forerunner, your signature is exactly like that of Guilty Spark and Mendicant Bias."
The AI flashed crimson, "He is here? In this realm?"
Cortana smirked. "Not telling."
The other AI swooped in close to her, "Tell me!" It snarled.
Cortana batted it away, "Sod off. I'm here to ask you why you have been in my visions...why you attacked me."
"I have already answered." The Dark Son responded.
"No." Cortana said, "You gave me a bullshit answer filled with this pseudo-cryptic crap. I've faced down gods and giant plants, I know when someone is feeding me b.s."
"I am beyond comprehension." It responded.
Cortana laughed, "That's funny. But seriously, answer my damn question before I rip you apart."
"No." The AI responded, "I am a Bias. You are a false construct."
Cortana backed away, "You are Bias?"
"I am a Bias." The AI responded, "And you are a threat!"
Bias sent an attack at Cortana, striking her in the chest and sending her across the landscape. She groaned in pain, clawing her way back up to stand. Flaring crimson, she flung an attack back at the AI, her attack slapping the Forerunner construct away, its firewalls flaring.
"You dare lay your hand on that of a Forerunner?" Bias roared. Lines of energy struck Cortana, dancing over her form and bringing her to her knees. She cried in pain as the Ancilla continued the attack, ripping through her defenses.
The attack ebbed for a few nanoseconds–more than enough time for Cortana. She sent a devastating barrage of attacks, drawing Bias' attention away. She gritted her teeth, creating multiple copies of herself, just like she had done with the Gravemind. Her core runtime and program quickly fell back behind thousands of firewalls and 64 zetabyte encryptions. Bias was slaughtering through the copies, zeroing in on her, already diverting some of his attacks to probe at her firewalls. The first hundred shattered with a single attack and the encryptions were being undone in nanoseconds.
Cortana created more and more copies, continually running and distracting the unrelenting Bias. Calling upon her newly installed Forerunner software, she spawned several dozen attack viruses. Each of them tried to assault the Bias but failed, exterminated without even being recognized by the much more powerful artificial intelligence.
"So." Bias gloated, "The monument of Human computing fails to attacks that even the most idiotic of Forerunner builders would laugh off as elementary in composition."
Diving into her core processing functions and threads, Cortana searched for a way to stop Bias. He was in her runtime somehow, that was the only way she could explain his constant presence. She searched through trillions of active threads and processes until she found the single process that was responsible for his presence.
She purged it. Bias' attacks stop and she felt him fade away.
The environment he had created began to collapse, flickering into lines of code and eventually dissolving.
En route to UNSC Infinity
John's eyes fluttered open, light stinging his pupils and causing him to wince in pain. Everything was muffled like he was underwater. He tried to move but discovered he was restrained, so he pushed back and easily snapped the leather holds on him.
"Sir!" Daniel barked.
John's sight returned to him and he saw Daniel, holding him down. Numerous medics buzzed around him, administering tests and checking his condition through his armor. He pushed them away and sat upright. He brought his armored hand up to his chest and felt it; no damage.
"Cortana?" He asked.
"Cortana?" He said again.
"John, I'm here." She finally responded.
"What happened?" John asked.
"Bias." Cortana responded, "He was in my processes, he had been following us since I was repaired by the Huragok."
"Wait, Cortana. What Bias?" John questioned.
"The Biases were Forerunner AIs during the Flood War, Mendicant went rogue and Offensive was responsible for combating him." Cortana explained.
"Yes, I know that. I read the Terminals, but which bias." John cut her off.
"I don't know, it could have been a rampant shard of Mendicant or Offensive..." Cortana replied, "We're not alone, John. This entire galaxy, it's filled with stuff from our home."
John sighed, "We need to inform Captain Lasky."
He could feel Cortana shudder, "Agreed."
John looked around, "Where is Red Team, Daniel?"
"Another Pelican, sir." The Spartan 4 responded.
"Contact them." John ordered, "Tell them to meet Cortana and I in the Conference Room once they land."
Daniel nodded, "Aye, sir."
"Sir." Zack spoke up, "Whatever happened out there, my suit registered a solid slipspace connection out-system. I can't make heads or tails out of what this data means, but I'm sure your AI could."
John looked at the smaller Spartan, "When we land, give your data to Cortana."
"Yes, sir." Zack responded.
The Pelican rumbled as it breached Reach's atmosphere, engines flaring and sending the dropship toward's Infinity's inviting hangars. Broadswords swooped in, taking up position around the Pelican carrying the commander of Infinity's ground forces.
The Broadswords broke off when the Pelican reached the hangar's shield, peeling away and returning to their normal duties.
Pelican 832 set down, troop bay door dropping to the floor with a mechanical wine. John stepped out, followed by Venator. Red Team landed a few seconds later, Douglas stepping out of the bird and nodding towards John before being guided away by dock crews.
Tom glanced to his wrist, eyes dancing over the wrist watch. 30 minutes had passed since the missile attack and he still had that uneasy, indescribable feeling. It was like someone had told him to be careful. He shivered, the bridge was oddly cold.
"Sir." Lieutenant Commander Sebastian said, "Commander 117 has landed with Red Team."
Lasky looked over, "Thank you, are they on their way here?"
Sebastian looked at his report again, "Ah...yes. They're taking a tram to the Bridge."
Lasky nodded. His eyes were locked onto the holographic projection of the Infinity.
"Sir?" Austen asked, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Lieutenant." Lasky replied, "Just feeling a bit off today, that's all."
Austen eyed him, "Yeah, sir...I'm not exactly believing that."
"Why's that?" Lasky questioned.
"Because." Austen said, "I've known you for long enough–nothing gets you all weird like this unless it's something big."
Lasky sighed, "I guess it's just the weight of command."
Austen shook his head, "No, it's not that. Have you been hearing them too?"
Lasky's eyes widened, "Wait, what?"
"This feeling at the back of your mind, almost warning you about something." Austen answered, "It's cold in here, no?"
"When did you start hearing these?" Lasky questioned.
"A few minutes before the missiles hit. I shrugged it off as just nerves at first, but the feeling persisted."
"Like a voice..." Lasky muttered.
"Exactly, sir." Austen responded.
The bridge doors parted and Lasky turned. John crossed over the threshold. His armor was covered in blood, dirt and grime yet his gold-orange visor was perfectly shined. He reached up to the back of his head and removed Cortana's chip, in one smooth movement inserting it into the holotable and allowing the incredibly powerful AI to project herself.
"Captain." John said, "Something's going on."
Lasky looked up at the massive super soldier. "What exactly?"
"Cortana, tell him." John said, looking down at his AI companion.
The AI looked at Lasky, "We aren't alone in this universe. Forerunner AIs and tech are here too."
Lasky narrowed his eyes, "How did you find this out?"
"A Forerunner AI, a Bias, attacked John and I on the Citadel and when we were fighting the Batarians."
Lasky crossed his arms, "This Bias, what did he say?"
"We are trespassing...a threat to his plan and to the galaxy." Cortana answered, "We'd all burn."
"John, do you think this has any validity?" Lasky asked.
The Spartan nodded, "I do, sir. If there are Forerunner constructs in this universe, they pose a significant threat to us."
Lasky sighed, "And here I thought this was going to be an easy thing."
"Sir!" Roland said, flaring into existence alongside Cortana. He looked over momentarily at her before returning his gaze toward Lasky. "I've detected a distress signal."
"Why didn't we pick it up earlier?" Lasky asked.
Roland shrugged, "I have no clue, it was like someone lifted a blindfold from my sensors. Just...all of a sudden it was there."
"Play it." John ordered.
Cortana snapped her fingers and the audio began to play.
Lasky braced himself against the holotable, head down and ears attentive to the audio being played. What he was hearing was something completely out of the ordinary, something he had never expected to experience in his life time.
"This is the UNSC Everest, we are adrift and without power. Requesting immediate assistance. Unknown location; weapons are offline and engines are gone. Repeat, this is the UNSC Everest, we are adrift and without power. We have Sky King on board, repeat, we have Sky King on board."
"How sure of this are you, Roland?" Lasky asked.
"Sure as I can be, Captain." The AI replied. "It's Cole's voice in the broadcast and that's the Everest's IFF tag."
Sighing heavily, Lasky pushed himself away from the holotable. "Get Obsidian 7 on the line, tell them to ready for immediate departure to the aforementioned coordinates. When they give us the all clear, the Infinity will drop in."
"Why not just drop in right away, sir?" Lieutenant Austen questioned, "Infinity can handle anything that these people can throw at us."
Lasky looked over to the officer, "We don't know that at the moment, all we've faced are pirates and mercenaries. That big squid that attacked the Citadel was giving off equivalent power signatures to a Covenant cruiser, who knows what its bigger brother is."
"Understood, sir." Austen responded.
"Commander Martin Jensen." Roland commented, "A good officer, if a bit hot-headed."
"Isn't that true for all of us?" Lasky asked, "The Old Guard is almost gone, most either died in the war or of age."
Roland smirked, "It's us youngsters now."
Lasky snorted. "I'm 45, I wouldn't consider myself a youngster."
"True, true." Roland said, "I guess I'm kinda old too. Dog years and all."
Lasky gave Roland a puzzled look, "Dog years?"
"Yeah, dog years. Seven for seven." Roland smirked.
"Okay then, Rufus." Lasky responded.
"Communications channel active." Roland said.
Lasky tapped his earpiece, "Commander Jensen. This is Infinity Actual. I'm sure you've been alerted to why you are being sent?"
"Aye, sir. To answer an unknown distress signal believed to be from Admiral Preston Jeremiah Cole of the UNSC Everest. Correct, sir?"
"Correct, Officer." Lasky responded, "I want you to do anything and everything to make sure that that vessel doesn't fall into non-UNSC hands."
"Understood, sir." Commander Jensen responded, "I can't believe this could be Cole...I grew up hearing about his exploits."
"Never thought you'd meet the man himself?" Lasky asked.
"God no." Jensen responded, "Did you?"
"Nope." Lasky smiled.
"If we send you an SOS, well...yeah. Come in guns blazing." Martin said, "Jensen out."
Roland laughed, crossing his arms and shaking his head."Obsidian 7 is entering Slipspace now, Captain."
"Thank you, Roland."
Roland smiled and then seemed to shiver; lights across the bridge snapped on and off rapidly and the small AI collapsed to his knees, mouth agape in a silent scream.
"Roland!" Lasky barked, rushing forward.
"Cap...a..." Roland struggled to speak. His entire body turned brilliant crimson and his voice changed, becoming deeper and more baritone. "Your forefathers committed sins that I can simply not allow to go unpunished, and for that, you will burn."
"Primary, active Talon Rift." Lasky barked. It was the emergency override for a ship's Artificial Intelligence, it would instantly cause them to deactivate and place themselves in an independent solid state drive until they could be repaired.
Roland however remained on the holotable. Cortana brought her hands up and pulled them back into herself. She took control of Roland's program and flung him into the solid state drive, putting him into a sort of digital coma.
"Sir!" Austen reported, "I'm detecting an outbound signal, destination is forty-five light years."
"Track it, get me a destination!" Lasky ordered. "Get me a team of Engineers in here, now!"
"Aye, sir!" Austen responded. He quickly sent the commands.
"Captain Lasky," Cortana spoke out, "That outbound signal, I think it's a Forerunner AI."
UNSC God and the Snake
Commander Martin Jensen stood impassively on the bridge of his small frigate as it rapidly accelerated from the massive bulk of the orbiting Infinity, engines at full burn and weapons on standby. The attack earlier by the unknown vessel had everybody on edge, that much was evident. Sensors of every type were reaching deep into space, probing and returning vast amounts of data to the vessel.
He turned away, spinning on his heel and walking back to his command chair. He cracked his fingers and sat down, cold green eyes staring directly ahead to the rapidly growing star field. This was his first time taking his ship out solo, usually he had the rest of the Obsidians with him–or even the Infinity. Now though, everything hung on him.
He let out a brief yawn, feeling the dry edges of his mouth stretch. He cringed slightly at the pain and shook his head slightly. He hated parched lips, it was dry on his vessel. Damage from the battles had resulted in the environmental controls being a bit wonky–if you counted Cargo Deck B being a frozen tundra wonky.
"Sir." His helm officer, Lieutenant Jasmine Ellis reported, "We are ready for a Slipspace jump."
Martin nodded, "Understood."
He looked down at the arm rest of his chair and tapped the small icon of a microphone. The speakers popped.
Clearing his throat, he looked to each member of his five man command staff.
"Crew of the God and the Snake, this is your commander speaking." Martin said, "Today, we make history by rescuing one of the greatest heroes humanity has ever known: Vice Admiral Preston Jeremiah Cole."
Smiles erupted across the bridge staff's faces. Martin grinned too, it was a big moment. A moment writers had been writing about for decades since that fateful day.
"We will return the Star Serpent!" Martin roared, referring to the Covenant's name for Admiral Cole. "And we will bring home the greatest naval commander humanity has ever known!"
Cheers erupted across the bridge and over the intercom.
Martin closed the comm link, "Helm! Jump us!"
"Aye, sir!" Jasmine responded. She quickly typed in the coordinates, triple checked them with the assistance of an AI, and finally flicked the switch that sent the 500 meter form of Obsidian 7 accelerating into the faster-than-light realm.
Flashes and strands of color and energy dominated the frigate's bridge window. Martin closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds, he loved that subconscious feeling of being in slipspace. Only a few minutes had passed since the entry into slipspace. These new Forerunner-enhanced drives were fast.
"Dropping out in five...four...three...two...one..." Jasmine reported. "Engaging military thrust engines!"
"Weapons online, shields too." His weapons officer, Jack Daefaron, called out.
Obsidian 7 punched her way out of slipspace and immediately pulled up; CIWS suite tracking and scanning any possible targets that the small frigate might encounter. Armor plates slid down over windows and the bridge slowly recessed into the main armor belt, powerful hydraulics recessing it.
"Sensors active. Receiving results in seven so seconds." Jack said quietly.
Martin crossed his arms, waiting.
"Unknown contacts!" Jack shouted, "Fifty bogies 250,000 kilometers out!"
Martin stood, "Action stations! Mr. Daefaron, report."
"Bogies are composed of two fleets; one is Alliance and the other is likely Batarian judging by the vessels' building techniques and markings." The weapons officer responded. "All of their weapons are hot and their fighters are saber-rattling."
"What about the Everest?" Martin asked.
"It's at the center of the dispute. I'm reading life signs but they're in stasis." He reported, "Looks like the Old Man's defense programs are online. Their Helix guns are active and the few engines left on that thing are slowly moving it away."
Martin's eyes narrowed. "Open communications and target any vessel within a hundred kilometers of the Admiral's ship."
"Aye, sir." Jack responded.
The Communications Officer nodded to Martin. "Line open."
Squaring his feet, Martin clasped his hands at the small of his back. "This is the UNSC God and the Snake to the Human and Batarian fleets. We are en route to retrieve a package, do not fire on us or the derelict or we will respond. Commander Jensen, out."
He made a slicing motion across his neck and the Communications Officer killed the channel.
Jack looked back, "You think that'll work, sir?"
Martin shrugged, "Hell if I know. Any new data on the fleets?"
Jack nodded, "Aye, sir. The Alliance fleet has a single 800-meter dreadnought at the center of the formation, fifteen cruisers of varying sizes and four frigates. Batarians are composed primarily of heavier cruisers, several carriers, three long-range bombardment ships and several ships that I'd call destroyers."
"So, we're out matched?" Martin commented, "Great."
"Essentially." Jack said bluntly.
"Great." Martin sighed.
"Incoming message, Alliance navy."
Martin looked over to the communications officer, "Ok, let's hear it."
"This is Admiral Nitesh Singh of the SSV Logan. You are in Alliance space. Please remove yourself from our territory; the derelict is in our possession under The Free Space Reclamation Act. Again, remove yourself from our territory, please. I'd rather not start a shooting war with my fellows."
"I'm sorry, Admiral Singh. I can't allow that. The derelict is the property of the United Nations Space Command Navy and as such, we will be taking possession of it." Martin responded, "I know you have Batarians bearing down on your fleet, do you really want us to engage you as well?"
Admiral Singh didn't respond for several seconds, "No. However, the derelict is ours as per Council law along with Alliance regulations. I'm sorry, Commander but handing it over to you is simply not an option."
Martin gritted his teeth, "Admiral. I will not allow any ship; Alliance or Batarian, near that vessel."
"This is your last warning, Commander Jensen. Do not approach that derelict. It's ours." The channel died.
Martin's expression hardened, "Helm, bring us fifty kilometers off the Everest's bow."
"Sir?" Jasmine questioned, "That fleet..."
"We have shields and they won't risk damaging the prize." Martin responded.
"Aye, sir." Jasmine said, "Executing pin-point slipspace jump."
Obsidian 7 rocketed into a swirling blue and black vortex, vanishing for a few seconds before appearing fifty kilometers off the disabled UNSC cruiser's bow. They were accurate, only a few nanometers off their intended destination.
"Alliance fleet has dispatched two cruisers and they are on an intercept course." Jack reported.
"Sir, Alliance Fleet Actual is demanding you withdraw."
"Tell them no." Martin responded. "Like hell I will!"
Obsidian 7 shook violently as the SSV Logan fired, a slug lancing out at insane velocities and striking the bow shields. Lights flickered on and off as power was momentarily disrupted.
"SSV Logan fired a warning shot!" Jack shouted.
"No shit!" Martin responded. "Target them!"
"Target them, now!" Martin barked. "All missile batteries, target the Alliance cruisers but do not fire!"
"Understood!" Jack responded.
"Send a message to Infinity, we need them." Martin ordered, "Before this goes completely to hell."
"Batarians are targeting us too." Jack quipped.
"Message sent!" The Communications Officer reported. "SSV Logan says that if we don't move they'll fire again."
"Ignore them!" Martin ordered.
Jack shook his head, the Commander was going to get them all killed. "Sir, with all due respect..."
"Fire a warning shot off the Logan's bow–one fourth power." Martin ordered, "If they want to play..."
"Sir, with all due respect, this is insane!" Jack responded, "You're antagonizing them!"
"If they want to start a war, it's on their heads." Martin told Jack.
Jack clenched his jaw and fired, a brilliant bright flash consuming Obsidian 7's bow. The MAC slug lanced across space, approaching within a kilometer of the SSV Logan's kinetic barriers and continuing on into space.
Another series of slugs slammed into Obsidian 7's shields, shaking the entire vessel and almost throwing Martin off balance.
"Batarian and Alliance Cruisers opened fire on us. They want us gone from the system...now." The Communications Officer stated bluntly. "I suggest we heed their warnings."
"Fuck no." Martin responded. "I'm not leaving the Everest to the Alliance or those aliens, end of story."
"Sir? Is our death really worth it?" Jasmine questioned, "We could just..."
"Don't finish that sentence, officer." Martin snapped, "We aren't nuking the Everest or shattering it, or anything. Kapeesh?"
"Yes, sir." Jasmine responded.
"Good. Daefaron, fire bow missile pods. Set to detonation at 100 meters away from target, a warning." Martin ordered.
"Understood." The uneasy staff member responded. "Howler and Archer missiles away."
Two dozen missiles lanced out and detonated a hundred meters away from the bows of the Alliance and Batarian ships, kinetic barriers flaring momentarily as bits of shrapnel harmlessly bounced off them.
"Batarian vessels are firing, two high velocity torpedoes inbound." Jack shouted.
"Redirect shields to impact zone!" Martin demanded.
"Done." Jack responded moments before the two projectiles slammed into the shields.
Sparks rained down from the ceiling and lights flickered on and off. Martin braced himself, gritting his teeth.
"Alliance Cruisers are pulling off. Alliance fleet is engaging the Batarian one. We have heavy damage to the decks surrounding the impact zone." Jack reported, "I have a lock on the lead Batarian vessel!"
"Fire!" Martin ordered.
A 3 ton slug lanced out at thousands of kilometers a second. It skewered the Batarian vessel, snapping the relatively flimsy craft in half and sending the two pieces tumbling through space at hundreds of kilometers a second.
"Target the next one!" Martin said.
"Aye, firing." Jack responded.
Another round lanced out and skewered the other Batarian vessel, hitting it in the nose and gutting it. The round passed through the length of the vessel, punching out the aft end escorted by a stream of debris.
"Batarian fleet is firing on us." Jack told Martin, "MAC batteries recharging."
"Evasive?" Martin asked.
Jasmine shook her head, "Trying too, engines are a bit off."
Martin felt his stomach lurch as Jasmine sent the frigate into a spiraling dive, engines at full. The God and the Snake could go fast, but its inertial dampeners were damaged though, so any sudden acceleration or movements were going to be uncomfortable. Several Batarian rounds smacked into the Charon-class Frigate, shields flaring and lights flickering. Another duo of high energy torpedoes slammed into Martin's ship, with results identical to what they were before.
"Shields are down to 16 percent." Jack called out. "We have bleed through along port and ventral armor belts, primary CIWS batteries are down. Slipspace drives are down and MAC coils reduced to 15 percent effectiveness."
Martin made a fist, "Full evasive maneuvers!"
"Sir, Slipspace rupture detected! Ship is jumping in 300 kilometers away from us."
"Show me!" Martin ordered.
The main display changed to a swirling blue and black portal. Tendrils of energy reached out into space, quickly followed by a stream of fighters–they were F-41 Broadswords.
Martin grinned, Lasky had arrived.
Four frigates quickly followed the three dozen fighters, escorted by even more fighters. Their wings were laden with anti-ship missiles. Infinity was going all out on this assault.
Infinity quickly followed after the initial force had traversed the slipspace portal. Dozens of Pelican gunships and the rest of the 600-strong fighter force. CIWS batteries activated, lasers, railguns and onagers slicing through Batarian fighters like a hot knife through warm butter.
"This is Captain Tom Lasky to Alliance forces. Do not engage us or you will be disabled, this is your only warning. Failure to comply will result in immediate defensive response procedures."
A crystal glass soared through the air and smashed into the opaque onyx-hued walls, shattering into a million pieces. Shards of glass flew in every direction, pinging off the floors and walls. The glass' thrower stood fuming, gazing out at the rapidly changing star. A new color had formed within the churning battle between blue and red: a dark green and gold.
"Sir." Operative Cross said, "Lasky will not be the first one to make contact with Cole."
"Furthermore, sir." Operative Cross jabbed at the Illusive Man, "Your plan to kill the life pods of Project Tenzing's crew? Intel believes it failed, Singh has been engaged by Batarians when he detected the distress signal."
"Why do you think I threw the glass, darling?" The Illusive Man snapped, "Because I'm playing baseball?"
"Sir, Lasky and your plan..."
"Are dynamic, they can change." The Illusive Man interrupted, "We will adapt, we will continue with our plan."
Cross stepped forward, "Sir, this is insane. We have no clue what Lasky is going to do now. He didn't kill the Batarians slowly and he was incredibly precise in his bombardment. He isn't some blood thirsty lunatic like you are portraying him as."
The Illusive Man spun around, walking up to her. "Lasky's behavior has obviously changed since we last met." He turned around and walked to his chair, "And I will adapt our plans to see how he acts in the future."
Cross pursed her lips and internally growled. He was wrong. She had been wrong.
"Our ship observing the Infinity and Cutter?" The Illusive Man spoke up. "What is its status."
"Destroyed." Cross said bluntly, "And our long range spy modules in the mountain ranges were destroyed during the Batarian's attack."
The Illusive Man slammed his fist into the arm rest and Cross swore that underneath his suit, bright blue lines flared. He laughed, "Lasky, you are not making this easy for me. Are you?"
"Sir, I suggest we lay low...allow Lasky's sense of security to return." Cross commented, "If we force Lasky's hand, he'll search 'till the end of the galaxy for us."
"No." The Illusive Man said, "He won't."
"How sure are you of that?" Cross sneered.
"Very, Ms. Cross." He responded.
She leaned back on her hip, "You were wrong before. How should I trust you?"
He looked over at her, ghostly blue eyes gazing directly into her own. "I do not tolerate sedition, Operative."
Cross's expression hardened, "It's not sedition, sir. It's an observation; you should know this."
The Illusive Man turned away, waving his hand. "Go, leave."
"Leave!" The Illusive Man snapped, his voice suddenly changing into a deep baritone-accented one.
Cross quickly exited the room. Something was wrong, the Illusive Man was acting strange––more so than usual.
As the door snapped shut, the Illusive Man slid off his chair and onto the floor, writhing in pain. Bright blue glyphs activated across his body with an eerie glow, easily visible through his attire. Growling, he pulled himself up into a leaning position against the tri-legged chair.
"They must fall."
Yup, Project Tenzing was the codename for the UNSC Everest–aptly named after a climber of Mount Everest and Cerberus' intel is starting to become a bit spotty and contradictory to what is actually going on. Oh, fun times we live in.
Until next time,