A/N: Hannah may seem a bit emotional here than previously shown, but she, well, sort of her anyways, knows why. ("I don't like getting to relaxed, I end up crying over little things…")
Chapter 2: …On The Winds of Time
A Resort House, Psi-5-Aurigae II, March 9, 3872
"This is right next door to where I was that night… I guess I was right in my initial assumption that that dream was too realistic." Hannah remarked to Dostya as they landed a la teleportation in the living room of the vacation house that past-Hannah had lived in for the past week.
"I will not do this to her again!" Xavier hissed furiously at the Legendary Commander, now having some idea as to why she'd spared his life when they met in battle in their past. "Leaving her to raise even one child on her own once is bad enough, and you're telling me she's doomed to have twins, again, just because she's some mad deity i.e. destiny's chew-toy, and be completely alone? Without even the Cybran Network to offer her comfort? I said it already, NO."
"Templar, you're being honourable and all, but sometimes being stupidly noble is not going to do any of us any good. We exist in this time as we know it partly because you had inseminated her before she went back in time. She'll understand, and once we explain the reasons to her after she finishes running through the intervening years" Commander T'Soni elected not to tell him it was more than a millennium, at the very least, that Hannah would be hurled back in time. Hannah had never told her the specifics as to how long she'd been thrown back in time, and perhaps it was better this way. "in a time-distortion facility she'll be able to construct herself with her ACU, she'll thank you for doing it!"
Well, thanking him for ensuring my existence, yes, for the… joy is not the correct term… whatever of having small children to look after again… not so much. Hannah thought amusedly before her bitter smirk softened to a happy smile Although I must admit that dealing with cute little granddaughters was a wonderful experience, especially if they're of species that can take care of themselves basically from birth/hatching onward.
"I told you already, I'm not going to do it… I always wasted twenty-three years of her life that she'll never get back, I can't make her waste more time dealing with the offspring of a stupid bastard who's not going to be there for her and their children." He crossed his arms stubbornly.
The Commander sighed, then grabbed his armoured wrist and dragged him into the bedroom. Hannah and Dostya followed at a sedate pace, both grinning at the surrealism of watching Hannah sleep on the bed while she was standing in the room. Only Hannah was a bit worried since she knew she tended to be rather more emotional i.e. teary when being overly relaxed for too long, hence why it had been quite a few years since the last time she'd let herself take a week-long shore leave. From what she remembered, when he left that night she was going to act like a blubbery idiot, which would be embarrassing to watch… "I've set a sound barrier around her bed, she won't hear you right now, I want you to look at her for a few minutes, sit right here and just look at her."
"Okay… I guess arguing about this is going to be pointless so I'll do it. Still, I think this is a bit creepy…" Xavier said slowly before a hard glare made him roll his eyes in annoyance. However, he still did as he was ordered, seating himself quietly in the chair the Commander had pulled up close to the bed.
"You know, I agree, this is a bit creepy." Hannah said to Dostya, motioning to how her ex-boyfriend had his elbows rested on his thighs, leaned forward a bit and watching her past-self's sleeping face.
"I think it's still cute how you two do think alike just like you used to, and you either sleep on one side of the bed or hug your pillow which is on the other side…" Dostya grinned wider as Hannah rolled her eyes. "There she goes now." The Hannah on the bed had rolled over, shifting around without moving the blanket much, then wrapped her arm around the pillows that had been provided by the resort, well, she'd put her arm over a stack of two of them, the two she'd left on the other side of the bed, then hugged them to her chest before settling back down.
"I don't like people watching me sleep, especially when I have too many pillows and start acting like an idiot with them." Hannah scowled and Dostya rolled her eyes upward as if to say she was hopeless "I don't like the big, puffy pillows so many people like anyways, if they were half the size they'd be nice, but as is… I fell like I could suffocate myself by rolling over with my head on one of them." She wondered when the Templar would wake past-Hannah up, making her think it was a dream and all with his face lit only by the night lights in the room and the glittering of light from the planet's two moons reflecting off the water outside her balcony.
"I think you just wanted something big and warm to cuddle at night." Dostya said knowingly.
"Maybe after the Reapers. Any idea how long he's going to take with this or should I do some browsing and use my democratic powers on the Network?" Cybrans used the Cybran Network not only for socializing, sharing data [including watching porn], but also as a massive online democracy where information on an issue is publicly available (as well as, of course, rhetoric on the same issue) and people voted for the different sides of an issue. Vote weights differed by age and profession. For example, a doctor would have more weight on a medical issue in his field, rather less in other medical fields' issues, and would equal that of an "average citizen" on, say, the few military affairs that were voted on. Older people generally held somewhat more weight per vote, mostly as they were wiser (but there were fewer of them by far, thanks to the war, so they didn't dominate at all), unless the issue was mostly about the very young, in which case the weighting trend might differ.
"Stop pretending to be uninterested, I highly doubt you'd met anyone when you were in the past who were quite as interesting as him, or rather, who you had space left in your heart for." Dostya poked a hole in Hannah's train of thought.
Hannah snorted derisively "Sorry, but all available space is currently occupied by my children and prospective grandchildren who I'll be meeting again, particularly a pair of little blue babies that I'm expecting to be born within the next couple decades, please come back in another century or two of my subjective time."
Dostya just rolled her eyes as the still-younger—in subjective age only, not objective age— woman tapped into the Network and sighed dreamily "Feels so damned good to be back and surrounded by all this data again! I almost went insane the first few months after I went back there…" After a few minutes she added "My pregnancy helped keep me grounded, I think…"
It took nearly half an hour before Commander T'Soni said anything and Hannah paid attention to the scene before her again. "Templar…" Xavier Fran jumped in his seat a little from watching his ex-girlfriend sleep peacefully on her side of the rather large bed, he refocused on the Commander, standing next to him in her usual colours—ironically, green and white were typical Aeon colours—and looking grimly down at him "Do you want to let her exist or not?"
Xavier frowned, narrowing his eyes in suspicion and balling his fists "What?"
"If she never got pregnant within the next day or so, then the past that I know, that past could not have happened. If that past hadn't happened, I wouldn't exist, and if I didn't exist, the Cybran Nation would have been destroyed hundreds of years ago. Her ancestors would have been wiped out, and she would never have been born. Would you consign her, your sons, and all Cybrans alive today, to non-being simply to satisfy your own selfish desire to not be guilty?" she was leaning very close to his face now, her red-irised eyes glaring accusingly into his browns
"No wonder he seemed so guilty that day." Hannah said "I'm impressed… "
"Why can't I go back in time with her?" The Templar asked. If I'm going to basically fool her into bearing more of my children, the least I can do is help her, or perhaps be a punching bag when she finds out about my deception.
"You are needed elsewhere… although you COULD go with her and be back here with good time, that is not history as I know it, and I know you would do anything to protect your sons." She closed her eyes, pulled back, and gulped harshly before stating in a whisper "But if my family hadn't died… I would never have been driven onto this path for the sole purpose of making sure my reincarnation never had to suffer what I had. I've seen them, my reincarnation and his, together. Technically, my reincarnation is with the older brother of my lover, but still, what they have… I can't break it in favour of trying to give myself a happier past. Besides, what's past is past, and what's the known past is even more unchangeable to us. If a tragedy fuelled my determination back in the war, then that tragedy will just have to happen. With you there where you were not, where from what I remember you were never, and from what Hannah told me nine hundred years ago you were never, things would not have come to pass the way they did."
"So you're saying I can't change history, no matter how much I might try?" He demanded angrily.
She shook her head sadly, clearing her throat before continuing in a normal voice "Outside a time loop, it is possible to change 'history', to have it branch into multiple timelines. Inside one, where or rather when we are now… no, unless a fashion can be contrived in which the time loop is still maintained, and that is typically not possible. Just… just be there for her tomorrow, and do the right thing, Templar, just do the right thing and make her as happy as she can be before she has to go off on another mission. Oh, and if she thinks this is all a dream, let her think it, she must not realize the truth tomorrow! The Hannah that taught me didn't know the truth, and that means… she didn't know if this was some sort of astral projection or not."
"You're asking me to basically rape her, by having sex with her without letting her knowing it's actually me, alive and well and all that…" The experienced Templar whispered, running his hands through his hair, obviously very conflicted. If he didn't do it, well that wasn't even an option since she wouldn't have ever existed and he wouldn't be able to choose that anyways as a consequence, but if he did, could he handle…
"…The weight of that on your conscience?" Commander T'Soni finished the thought for him.
He looked taken aback, his general-purpose shields were up and he wasn't broadcasting his thoughts actively, so how'd she know that and how come he hadn't detected her intrusion? "How'd you know that?"
"Psychic abilities, I can understand your thoughts, well, anything's thoughts, or at least the gist of what they're thinking." She grabbed a laser pistol from the holster she had attached to her thigh, checked that the safety was on, then tossed it to him "If you decide not to do it, you might as well turn that safety knob there to either semi-auto, burst or full auto, put the barrel against her head, and pull the trigger, because if you don't do it she'll never have existed, so she might as well have been killed by your hand."
It was clear from her relaxed posture that Commander T'Soni knew full well he'd never do anything of the sort. Older Hannah wasn't worried either, more from knowing he would rather blow his own brains out than really harm her than the fact that she was standing there and therefore nothing happened to her. "I get it already… so she'll either be consigned to oblivion or be used like a damned… incubator." He was yanking on his own soft, short black hair by now, putting the weapon on the bedside table. He sat back for a few more minutes, staring at the younger Hannah as she turned onto her back, her mouth open just a little as her chest rose and fell in slow, deep, peaceful breaths. He gulped, passing the sidearm back to the Commander "I'll… I'll do it."
"He sure took his time…" Older Hannah remarked.
"Yep, well, has he proven at least somewhat worth waiting for?" Dostya prodded.
Her and Doctor Brackman's interest wasn't just because the Cybran leadership had a major hobby of matchmaking (this fact was considered Classified, although the top echelons of the Coalition knew full well), but because this was an important pair. Templar Xavier Fran, a veteran of the Infinite War and Division Commander Hannah Shepard were considered among the top commanders of their factions, and their union had been an example to the Coalition. Xavier had 150-plus years of Infinite War experience under his belt, and if not for his political leanings and certain events should have at least been a Grand Crusader, so he'd been taught extensively that Cybrans were abominations. Hannah had been basically raised to hate the Aeon fanatics and UEF oppressors, her high rank initially coming from a combination of political issues and simulator skill-rankings, though she later proved fully worthy. They should have despised each other, but looking past factional alignments, treating each other as just people, had resulted in a first friendly and then romantic relationship blossoming between them. It set an example to people of both factions that even if you've been conditioned to hate members of the other factions for essentially your whole life, something beautiful could come from treating them as just people…
Yes, Dostya, Brackman, Rhiza, Rhianne, Xavier and Hannah had once had a good laugh together over just how cheesy that sounded when the topic of the couple cropped up during a discussion. No, neither Xavier nor Hannah enjoyed the inconvenient and annoying press attention that they attracted by accident. Even in the 39th century, paparazzi was still about as irritating as it always had been in the past.
"Well, he's definitely pushing the right buttons. As for the future, since I have a feeling you'll ask, I don't know, we'll see where we go from being friends… if neither of us have found anyone by the end of the Reaper War… probably."
Dostya smiled "Perfect."
A Resort, Psi-5-Aurigae II, March 10, 3872
Dostya went back to the Cybran Nation Military Headquarters while Hannah decided to stay the next day to watch her old self think she was having a very happy dream. "I should have brought popcorn, Xavier is being really quite a nice man, even with all the guilt that you piled on him with regards to dealing with me… Why did you choose to bring him out of stasis now anyways?"
"Because you should be ovulating sometime in the night today, and it's not like you turned on your contraceptive implant anytime since he died." Hannah choked on her own spit as she watched her old self talk excitedly with what she had believed to be a dream about how the boys had been good kids and were turning out well, like their father. He was quite eager to learn more about his sons and how well they were doing in life. Together, the two went to the beach near the rented house, they went hiking together and enjoyed the scenery, they ate together at the resort's restaurant, they had one of their minor flirting/foreplay-esque "disagreements" (hardly worthy of the term), and in general they just enjoyed themselves together. However, older-Hannah was dreading the night, knowing that the younger version of herself was basically doomed to ask for sex as "a finish to this wonderful dream". She knew she was doomed to say something that sounded so unbelievably cheesy—cheesy to the ears of any outsider, later self included—because it was a line burned into her memory from the reviewing of the memory of that day, which she'd thought through several times while stuck in the past, trying to figure out what exactly happened. Now that she knew, she was NOT impressed with herself, but Xavier on the other hand…
Her contraceptive implant had only been fired up once, when she'd first gotten it , and she'd forgotten to reset it after it turned off automatically five years later, so after some unprotected sex (ACU pilots are regularly tested for all diseases, so they both knew the other had clean bills of health)… he went and got his ACU blown up and she was landed with her boys, as she'd thought the war was winding down and it would be nice to have a baby with him afterward anyways. After he "died", she decided to spend her energy on work and taking good care of her children, so she hadn't bothered resetting the damned thing. It seemed it would come back to bite then-her in the ass again now… It was also why later-Hannah, after going back in time, checked the damned thing not every 5 years but every 2 years and sent the order through her implants to reset the 5-year countdown every 2 years. She'd gotten a bit paranoid about it.
Hannah, after pulling the Legendary Commander away to give herself some privacy while they both tried very hard to not pay attention to the noises they were picking up distantly—seemed Hannah wasn't concerned with activating the sound dampening fields when thinking it was all a dream—returned after knowing they were finished. She let the Legendary Commander be responsible for waking him up. "Come on, it's time to leave her, at least for now." She said quietly, urgently, trying to screen the noises from Hannah's perception as much as possible with her psychic powers, before ghosting out of the room and almost shutting the door behind her, leaving the same sort of tiny gap that had originally been there. Teleportation would have left a noisy pop of displaced air, and they couldn't have that…
Xavier nodded silently before starting to extricate himself from where he was more or less spooning Hannah. She stirred and opened one sleepy eye to see him pulling his clothes on "I…" She sighed "I suppose this is it? You have to leave now?" She rolled onto her back before sitting up, holding the blanket up over her chest with one hand.
He sighed, looking her briefly before turning his eyes away from her depressed orbs "…I'm sorry, Hannah, if there was a way I could stay with you…" He balled his fist before relaxing it and sighing through his nose "I would, but it's not possible, it's just not possible."
Her eyes started brimming with tears as he turned away to pick up his armour, beginning to don and reactivate it. It was the old design she'd last seen him alive in, a design almost twenty-five years old… "Why isn't it? If you can come… barging into my life like this after so many years, and do all this stuff with me, me included" trying to crack a pun didn't help… "why can't you stay for a while instead of leaving like you did every other time? I wish this dream didn't include you having to leave again, waking up alone to realize that it was a dream, the way it used to be, is easier than this…"
Those times that I thought were just mad musings of a mind trapped in itself were real to her, at least in her mind? Templar Fran stiffened before he could set two parts of his chest plate in place to activate and seal together "you know I hate seeing you cry…" He brought up the hand that didn't have an armoured glove on yet and brushed away the couple tears that had begun making their way down her face, ignoring how his eyes felt a bit wetter than normal. Her tears stung somewhere inside him like rubbing salt on a wound, and the knowledge of what would happen to her weighed on his chest even after he'd been convinced that this was all so that she would exist in the first place. "We'll be together someday, if you still want me when that someday comes. I'll be back with you someday soon, I promise, although if you ever show up where I am, I will be very upset with you."
"It's okay, Xav, I don't do dying anyways… I'll see you soon I guess, when you come back?" She knew it was a lie to herself as soon as she said it, she was just being stupid and deluding herself again. Why couldn't she just forget it all and get over him already? Was it because she'd willingly borne his children and couldn't find anything wrong with him as a person other than the fact that he was dead and gone forever? She really sounded stupid, this was one of the reasons she hated relaxing herself too much, she tended to sound like an overdramatic moron…
"Yes, yes you will…" He leaned down and kissed her on the lips, soft and lingering, before pulling away and leaving the room.
"Thanks." Hannah said as she watched the holographic footage of the room from the camera she'd planted during the night. Commander T'Soni had just passed her a bag of popcorn, and they were now munching away. "You know, I guess he delivered on his promise…" she scowled "if a freaking three and a half decades of subjective time is 'soon'. He might as well put a Trademark symbol in superscript after the word…" She watched herself on the screen, earlier-Hannah was staring at the door for a few minutes before grabbing the pillow from Xav's side of the bed, moving over there, and hugging it to herself while she began to practically cry herself to sleep.
"Lighten up a bit, Hannah, that scowl's not good for you. Anyhow, didn't you say it was a century?"
"I was exaggerating because I was angry at him for getting me pregnant again… damn I should go get him before he does something stupid that I don't remember him doing." Hannah put down the bag of popcorn, swiped her card and entered the front door of the bungalow, still under full cloak and stealth, spotting Templar Xavier Fran standing in front of her past self's bedroom door. He had his ear pressed against it with a deep frown on his face as he listened to her soft sobs, and his hand moving toward the doorknob again, which she didn't remember and therefore needed to prevent. "Time to go, Xavier." Commander T'Soni had come to a similar conclusion and followed Hannah, whispering before she could speak.
"Why can't we tell her everything? Maybe Hannah was just lying to you when she said I didn't come wither her and wasn't there for her… and by your explanation I can't change our son dying because you're here right now, so it's not like I can damage the past." Xavier demanded quietly once she'd led him outside. "At least that way I can be there to help her through being separated from the Network she's known all her life."
"I don't think I lied to her, Xav." He jumped and looked around before tapping some buttons on his armour trying to scan for the woman he realized was the cause of the odd feeling somewhere in the back of his mind that had been there all day. She dropped the cloaking and active stealth, then dropped both active and passive camouflage. "Although I don't appreciate you bridging between our minds without telling us, while his body was in stasis, even if I happened to enjoy those—I suppose they'd still be dreams technically—greatly." She looked pointedly at Commander T'Soni, who had the good nature to scratch the back of her head sheepishly.
"Hannah?" He looked as if he couldn't believe his eyes.
She nodded, smiling "Yep, it's me, finished with dealing with the past and now returned to handle the future."
He smiled and had opened his arms to pull her into a hug when he frowned, lowering his arms and turning the corners of his mouth downward in an unhappy expression "…How many years of isolation did I sentence you to?" He asked quietly.
"About seventy subjective years thanks to time-distortion technology." He closed his eyes and his shoulders slumped "Hey, at least I'm about half your subjective age now, and I'm about the same subjective age as one of our prospective daughters-in-law… Don't worry about it, I don't blame you for any of it. In fact, I'm happy that Time made it so that we Cybrans still exist, aren't you happy for that too, for me being born in the first place?" I almost feel bad guilt-tripping him like this. "Oh, and I know the knowing consent is a bit late, but I'd like to say that I fully consent to you ensuring my existence back there." She gestured back at the house with a chin-flick and eyebrow-wag.
He stood a bit straighter at that "You don't hate me for what I did to you twice now? Abandoning you to raise our children alone like that?"
She spread her hands in a shrug, combining a furrowed brow with a smile, yielding body language perfectly reflected by her next words "Why the hell would I? You didn't exactly abandon me either time, actually, since that terms suggests you did it voluntarily. The rest of us never would have made it off that damned rock if you hadn't volunteered to hold the line while we went ahead with the operational objectives and then retreated one by one through the Gate. Now, we need to get you briefed on the current galactic state of affairs, Commander, will you do the honours?"
"Certainly." She teleported them to the planet's CGC (Central Gate Complex), where they boarded a typical interplanetary gating bus, this one to Procyon, and took up a compartment of their own.
This turned out to be a very good thing for temporal continuity, because after Templar Fran read the briefing documents to all he'd missed in his twenty-three years (minus five days) of being out of action, his first response was quite loud and would have alerted past-Hannah their presence if they'd still been next to the resort house. "Why didn't you brief me on this the night before last, Commander? This is really damned important!"
Commander T'Soni had snorted at him and replied, quite simply, that "We needed to get more pressing matters over with first."
"We didn't tell you right away mostly because past-me is supposed to be returning to Procyon on the morning of the 11th, now that I got a one-day leave extension, and she's due to head out through that Gateway in the afternoon." Hannah said grimly. "Now that we know the first attempt to use the gate we set up on the other end isn't going to quite work out when transiting through Slipspace and Mass Effect tunnels, we still need to put someone on the other end to set things up while we deploy the series of connecting Gates between the two Galaxies. It's the first Intergalactic Gate Network effort, but since we have a stable, fully known target it shouldn't be too hard, now that we've managed to dig the public mindset out of entrenchment, we can bring to bear the military/industrial might that really matters. It should be a matter of mere years or even months before the gate ladder is complete, but we should send someone ahead to make sure we don't build our way into the territory of any locals. No need to upset them, according to the leaders of the Coalition."
Outreach Station, Galactic West Border of UEF Territory, March 11, 3872
This construct was practically set on the closest point in the Milky Way to Andromeda… or such was Hannah's personal thoughts as General Hall (finally stepped down from President back to UEF Supreme Commander, Hackett was grateful for the break) spoke to her "So after you go through to the receiving gate we had drones set up on the other end, lay low and conduct reconnaissance and base-building operations near the landing zone. Support will probably take many months before it can arrive in significant quantities, before we can set up a decent long-ranged gate network, even with orbital gates configured for long range, it's a hell of a lot of gates to set up." The Milky Way was 100,000 light-years across. A Quantum Gate configured for long range with a receiving gate could span about 5,000 light-years reliably. Without a receiver down-to-the-millimetre gating to a target area was only doable up to about 500 light-years range regardless of transmitter gate configuration.
The Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way, was about 2,550,000 light-years away. This meant 510 gates would be needed in between to establish a bare minimum link. In reality, the number of gates they were planning to put up was more on the order of 3000 full-sized Interstellar Gates to be put in the middle of nowhere. The reasons they had not tried a similar endeavour in the past included the following:
1) Quantum Gate technology had previously still needed improving before it would be possible to set up reliable gates without a gravity anchor like a star or planet.
2) It was considered too risky to put gates around rogue planets or stars as the Gates were considered sensitive technology.
3) There was no lack of habitable worlds in Coalition space, and the older generations wanted to focus more on hardcore technological development before exploration. After all, humanity HAD run into a huge amount of trouble with the Seraphim on that botched First Contact, so the older ones wanted a higher chance of tech superiority or parity to whatever they might encounter. They also factored in the fact that the other groups encountered were not likely to be intergalactic, possibly excluding the Reapers, since otherwise they would have come to the Milky Way before the Coalition could reach out to them. What that meant was that tech superiority was more reliably achievable if it was the Coalition reaching outward and not being reached by others.
Overall, what stopped gate networks being built all over the local group of galaxies within a few decades or centuries at most came down to Lack of Necessity, Fear and Paranoia, and Unwillingness to give the Militaries even larger areas of control.
Hannah nodded to what General Hall was telling her before she lumbered forward in her ACU. As the shallow layer of Slipspace the Gateway operated on compressed space enough relative to "normal" space that direct gate-to-gate deployment had been possible even without using the Mass Relay embedded in that Slipspace, that was what they were doing for the vanguard. Indeed, they'd only used the embedded Relays to study the effects of Mass Effect technology in Slipspace as it was previously thought that mass-less objects in Slipspace tended to disintegrate. However, they'd noted that using a pair of Slipspace Gates to link two Quantum Gates meant spanning vast distances with the QGN connection was perfectly viable even without building a ladder of gates. Still, they planned on building that ladder as they didn't trust the Reaper-built Slipspace Gates.
In the meantime, another Hannah Shepard was watching the live broadcast as her past self moved the Pillar of Autumn toward the key to the Cybran Nation's existence, approached it, and stood in the gate structure as it activated and hurtled her ship into the wormhole… Alarms began blaring suddenly as reading began skyrocketing off the charts or otherwise going berserk. The wormhole's destination coordinates were shifting rapidly and almost randomly, as well as some other variables in its construction…
High Orbit over Procyon, March 11, 3872
Hannah Shepard smirked, almost bitterly, Time had spoken, indeed, but now it was time to introduce her sons to their father before that father had to go do the job their mother would originally have done. Templar Fran had spent the last night and this morning reading up on the shape of the galaxy now, and the new/updated warship types and classes that Hannah had brought to being practically overnight with her return and design submissions, largely by deployment of "ablative armour technology".
"Mom, what are you doing here? Didn't you just go through the Outreach Gateway?" Most of the crew of the Pillar of Autumn—kicked off as a safety measure—plus some of their friends were assembled there, and they gawked at her appearing before them moments after being reported missing through a gateway.
"Time travel is a funny thing, going into the past, you have a tendency to come back… if you can make it."
"That explains it." Weapons Officer Thel Lodam clacked his mandibles appreciatively. Of course, when dealing with other Covenant races, and even with Coalition and nowadays Council races, it was generally easier to just do the head-incline thing that was called nodding as a gesture of agreement, even if it was a submissive gesture, simply because there were many different mandible-clacks that had different meanings in Sangheili body language, including agitation, irritation, anger, joy, excitement, etc. It was often hard for non-Sangheili to learn the meaning of the different clacks.
However, there were some odd similarities to the body language of other races, which were attributed to common contact with (or descent from) the Forerunners. For example, two clacks spaced apart akin to a human smacking their lips was generally appreciative unless it involved some attractive females nearby in which case it could be construed as the equivalent of a wolf-whistle depending on the occasion. Two clacks close together with an eye-narrow was generally irritation or challenge (like tapping the base with the bat before batting in baseball), an eye-widening with three clacks spaced widely apart would be translated almost always into "What. The. Fuck." and so on… but this is not the time for a Sangheili body language lesson.
"So, well, Commander T'Soni showed me a little something that helped make sure we in this reality continued to exist, and I feel you should meet him… here he is." She stepped forward and aside and the Templar, now fitted with new equipment, dropped his stealth and cloaking systems. They had been standing so close together that it was obvious Hannah knew the guy was there, so none of the others had commented on the signature behind her that their armour had picked up when she entered the room.
"Dad?" James was first to ask the older man who looked somewhat similar to the two young men. They recognized him from holograms that their mother had shown them.
"Hello, James, John… I…uh… am your father." They shouldn't be calling me Dad, I was never there when they were younger, I never did things a Dad is supposed to do like change nappies, play with them and give relationship advice. His gut clenched again at the reminder that he'd missed out on his children's lives, all four children's, if Commander T'Soni was to be believed (and she probably was), lives…
There was a long silence in which the two sons stared at their father, who stared back. But in the end, guilt won out and the father shifted his eyes downward in shame of not knowing his children, he shuffled his feet awkwardly. "Well, um, it's nice to meet you dad, but what exactly did Mum mean, and where have you been the last couple days if you were awakened to help Commander T'Soni ensure smooth time flow?" John asked, also awkwardly "I'm guessing she woke you up the same day she habilitated herself into her old body, March 9th, 3872?"
He nodded quickly, happy they'd found a topic that didn't start with accusations and hatred over the issue of "You Left Mom". They deserved to know the truth… "Yes, yes she did. She, in Crystal form, apparently saved me from my ACU, knocked me out, then put me in a stasis pod until she woke up, then she went to Reach and retrieved me… Then I um, joined your mother at the resort for a day, according to Commander T'Soni and your later-Mum's instructions." Hey, that's not shifting blame right? Just telling it like it is… "We had to make your earlier-Mum think it was a dream, so that she would, after being thrust into the past, give birth to your pre-incarnations, thus eventually—the details weren't completely laid out to me—resulting in Commander T'Soni being motivated by your death" He looked pointedly at John at that and shuddered, imagining his son being killed and feeling a strong surge of protectiveness at even contemplating it "which would result in her eventually joining the Cybran Nation to ensure your lives this time around doesn't turn out as tragically. And after that, well, her existence basically carried the Cybrans through the Infinite War…"
"So basically this is a recursive loop in this general area of time… and the Cybran Nation's victory was assured from the beginning of the War?" James asked after a few moments of stunned collective silence.
"No, it could have gone a different way, but in the end the survival and strength of the Nation as a major faction would have been maintained under either possible outcome." Xavier smiled at the thought, but then his smile faded "After basically raping—"
She cut across him immediately "You HARDLY 'raped' me that night, Xav, don't kid yourself, I asked you for sex."
John and James shared a look before James gestured with his head and John spoke "Okay, Mum, Dad, you can hammer this out later on your own time… Briefing please? Ideally before we are all deeply disturbed?"
"I don't see anything disturbing. Dramatic, maybe, disturbing, no." Jack commented from where she was leaning against the wall, running a hand over the short, recently-grown bristles of hair on her head. She had, surprisingly, turned out to have naturally silver hair like Chakwas did. Then again, she was Aeon, and they were known for all sorts of hair colours.
"Thanks for the input, Jack." Hannah stated rather more firmly than necessary "Basically, I've been getting him caught up on galactic affairs that have occurred in the past twenty-three years in the last twenty-four hours, that's why we had to wait to introduce him to you. Plus it would look suspicious if two of me were in different places at the same time. There are reasons why we take identity theft or attempts a bit too seriously and launch huge, thorough investigations into them."
"Galactic affairs… did you spend some time updating him on your… internal affairs too?" Chakwas commented, looking pointedly at Hannah's codpiece. The doctor had a feeling that if he'd impressed her enough Hannah would probably take him back without reservations, and given how long she believed it had been since Hannah last was intimate with anyone…
There was another brief silence which featured Hannah rolling her eyes and Xavier shaking his head before the older man spoke again "So, uh, I heard you boys followed in your mother's footsteps and decided to settle down early? I'd like to meet my future daughters-in-law sometime if possible before I have to go through that Gateway… but your Mom said they're not here at the moment, you have pictures of them, right?" Hannah had said that they were out for work or visiting family. Xavier had a feeling it was part of why Commander T'Soni had chosen this time frame to reawaken.
"Yes, Dad… and don't protest over us calling you that, you showing that you care is enough to warrant us calling you Dad instead of Father." The twins were finishing each other's sentences by the end of that. Then they happily produced some holograms of the women they were with.
Templar Xavier Fran's mouth opened wordlessly, then shut, he closed his eyes, sighed, and finally spoke "I have a feeling… that I really shouldn't be surprised. Like your mother, you went for exotic mates, though this is a bit further than just the Aeon-Cybran divide, about eighty times further." They all knew he was referring to the hundred thousand years of relative isolation between the three sister species versus the approximately 1250 years of the Aeon Illuminate's existence. "Still, as long as you're happy together, I'm completely behind it."
"I hate to interrupt, Templar, but it's time we went to haggle with the Coalition leaders to allow you to lead the expedition through the gate. Even though I don't think it'll take very long, it's still going to take a bit of time to prepare whatever ship we should happen to take there for departure. Also, I think you might want some time to talk to Hannah in private before you have to part ways again. Say goodbye to your sons and we'll be on our way."
Commander T'Soni had just come back from Outreach Station and was standing by to teleport the two to the Procyon Primary CGC so that they could gate to Outreach. The gateway through the Slipspace tunnel put there by the Reapers was a one-to-one construction, because they didn't think it was safe to make it more than that. There were also hundreds of strategic missile silos of all classes (just in case the enemy figured out how to counter the most popular type of warhead, the type fitted to the Yolona Oss) constructed on the station and around the gate, which sat some distance away from the station itself. They would blow the crap out of the gate and the associated "Slipspace Gate" as they'd begun calling it if any threats tried to come through…
After an exchange of goodbyes and hugs among the members of the just-reunited family, Commander T'Soni teleported the parents away. "Well, let's get started in preparing the expedition. Don't worry about him, Hannah, he's in good hands. Specifically, I will be heading out with him. There are some things that must be put right…" The woman's expression darkened "…And some ancients that have lost their way who need a very rude awakening."
A/N: Which warship should they bring as the first ship into the Andromeda Galaxy? VOTE ON PROFLE POLL! (It'll be up there for a long time to receive your votes.)
Pillar of Autumn (Already a modified Heavy Destroyer, but revamped to new standards by Hannah, after all, when trapped in the past, you got to pass your time somehow…): a good compromise between firepower, mobility and protection. Relatively unimpressive, thus able to not draw as much attention form the locals… at least in the beginning.
Vessel of a New Warship Class (e.g. 3872 Battle Cruiser or Fleet Carrier) of Hannah's design: Locals take them slightly more seriously than they would the Autumn, but they also have more raw firepower to throw around and are of a size fully comparable to the Sharlins. However, either choice will still result in the construction of a fleet.
Also, please vote for one of two BACK-UP OPTIONS (Reinforcements, to be called if truly necessary):
Ascendant Justice (heavily modified Covenant Super Carrier): at 27 kilometres in length, it is 3.375 times as long as the Babylon 5 station. EXTREME Armament, Protection and (this is the vast majority of its non-plasma-projector firepower) Fighter Payload. This is if they want to basically cow the locals completely at any point, just call it out of where it's hiding in deep space and… yeah. I wouldn't use this as a primary, as it wouldn't make for a very good story, mostly because very few factions would be willing to start a war for technology with a ship more than 15 times larger than their largest (length-wise) warships. The only ships which could possibly engage this vessel without getting instantly raped would be the Vorlon and Shadow planet-killers or Yonji Sinhindrea battleships, and those would not be able to keep up in mobility. Note that back in the Covenant War Coalition ships relied on overwhelming numbers to overcome Super Carriers, and of course focusing fire on specific areas of the ship as the shields were originally arranged in discrete, overlapping bubbles instead of the configuration now fitted to the Ascendant Justice. Note that they'll still build a fleet over there from Ship Gantries.
No initial backup: Build fleets from scratch over there by assembling a ship gantry first and then cranking out warships, once it has become certain that no support will be coming from home for at least a year or so.
This story is, from this point forth, officially on hiatus while I work on other projects and of course wait for StarCraft 2 to get finished.