So, new story! I'll be posting its chapters at a rate of about one per week until I catch up to where I have written.

This is a HALO - SG1 crossover set during the Fall of Reach on the Halo side, and at the end of Season 10 of Stargate on their side. It was partially a reaction to the horribly clumsy way the Bungie team took the quite decent Eric Nylund book and essentially threw it out to make the rather poor 'REACH' ... but didn't have the guts to at least go all the way, instead actually trying to mash the two of them together ... and doing so in such a horribly sloppy and amateurish way I was hard pressed to credit this was their work.

So this crossover is also something of an attempt to better stitch together TFOR and REACH - though leaning more towards the former than the later in general. With Stargate mixed in of course.

The story has a clear begining, middle and end that leaves it open for sequals - if I go there...but lets get the begining posted first :)



This is a work of original fiction by Chris O'Farrell, aka Crazy-88.

"HALO", "HALO: REACH", "STARGATE", "STARGATE-SG1" and "STARGATE ATLANTIS" and all references to such from the Games, novels & television shows and movies may be or are registered trademarks of Microsoft, Bungie, 343 Studios, MGM and SYFY. These companies are not responsible for this story or any original characters therein.

This story may be freely duplicate or reposted, so long as this disclaimer is included and no financial gain is acquired in any way, shape or form. Its fanfiction, duh!

Chapter 1. Valhalla.

1202 Hours, March 13, 2010 (Stargate Relative Timeframe) /
Odyssey, Orillia System, Asgard Space.

"You must go"

The final words history would record from the Asgard echoed off the dull walls of the Odysseys primary computer room as Thor, the Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet, vanished into legend in the shimmer of an Asgard transporter beam. Lieutenant-Colonel Samantha Carter stared at the empty space Thor had occupied for several seconds before letting her training kick in, turning to face the primary Asgard console that had been installed over the last few days as the Odyssey rocked under her, pushing aside the feelings of dread and loss that had flared up as Thor transported back to his Homeworld for what she somehow knew would be the last time.

"Sir, the Asgard have just disembarked" she called into the communications line with the bridge, her fingers flying across the console and tapping several Norse looking runes in rapid succession, a schematic of the Daedalus class engine array flashing yellow before switching to a green hue, English and Asgard diagnostic data scrolling down the side of the screen as power was rerouted from the ships Asuran Zero Point Energy Module to the primary Hyperspace window generators. "He told us that we needed to leave, now. I'm bringing the Hyperdrive online…we should be ready to jump in twenty seconds".

Several hundred meters away on the ships bridge, Major General Hank Landry noted the statement as he sat down in the ships command chair, glancing towards the navigational console, making a quick and easy decision based on the tactical display and Carters relayed advice from Thor as the ship rocked under her.

"Bring sub-light engines to full military thrust, get us clear of the planet" he ordered curtly, trying his best not to show any sign of discomfort at the position he had found himself in by default. The ships nominal commander Colonel Ian Davidson who had replaced the late Colonel Paul Emerson had been injured during a skirmish with the Lucian Alliance earlier this week. With the Odyssey the only ship both available and able to reach the Asgard homeworld for the urgent discussions they had requested, the Pentagon in typical REMF fashion hadn't seen the need to recall either Colonel Caldwell or Colonel Ellis back to Earth and take command, given that they were on critical missions of their own and this was a non-combat assignment...

As he stared at the icons of no less than three Ori Motherships bearing down on the Odyssey, Landry made a mental note to find whichever officer at the Pentagon had drawn up the tasking orders and punch them.

Assuming he survived the next few minutes anyway, but if nothing else at least he had a trained crew who knew what they were doing.

"Military thrust" Marks acknowledged the order with the calm assurance of a veteran of his trade, squeezing the trigger on his throttle and sliding it briskly forward as he pulled the control yoke into a turn, the sublight engine array at the rear of the ship coming to life in response and starting to push the Battle Cruiser out of its inertia held position above Orilla into a hard turn away from the planet. "Laying in a reciprocal course to Earth, we'll be ready as soon as the Hyperdrive comes online".

Two of the giant Ori Jugernaughts ignored them, decelerating into a descent path towards the surface of the planet, but the third ship banked onto a pursuit course with the persistence of a dog on the trail of a mailman, golden spears of energy streaming from its bow mounted energy cannon as it fired speculative ranging shots, Odyssey shuddering as one shot connected.

"Shields down to eighty six percent" Marks called out as the Ori weapons fire sliced across the defensive grid, but he corrected for the impact with deft hands, resisting the urge to try and evade any harder than the slight attitude and profile adjustments he was making as the enemy fired. Any hard maneuvering would only let the Ori ship close the gap between them as it ran a straight line, bringing its weapons into optimal range swiftly, so he grit his teeth and kept working on presenting a minimal target profile, while silently praying for the ships new Hyperdrive to come online faster.

"How the hell did they find us?" Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Mitchell demanded of anyone and everyone on the bridge as the ship shuddered yet again, the Ori Mothership getting closer clearly improving its aim as the planet receded behind them. "We're way outside the Milky Way, the Ori shouldn't be anywhere near here!"

"The hell if I know Colonel" Landry replied with a shrug as the ship steadied. "And I wasn't planning on waiting around here to ask them".

"I hear that" the junior officer agreed, holding on to the back of the Generals command chair as the ship rocked again, the thunder of the impact quickly replaced with the far more welcome sound of the ships Hyperdrive finally powering up deep in the bowels of the ship. "And I think it's about time to leave this party".

"Sir, Hyperdrive is a go..." Marks reported with a tone of uncertainty in his voice as several sensor readouts on his console suddenly spiked from zero to very large numbers in the space of a few seconds, "but I'm detecting a massive buildup of energy coming from the planet..."

Landry froze in the motion of opening his mouth to ask for more details, as the part of his mind that had gone to War College started shouting very loudly. Thor's insistence for them to leave the area at once, the impending mass suicide of the Asgard they had been originally asked to witness...and the twin Ori ships now entering the Asgard Homeworld's upper atmosphere that were not getting so much as a BB gun turned against them.

Sun Tzu had said long ago that the most dangerous enemy was one who had nothing left to lose...and for an entire species whose only remaining choice was not if to die, but when-

"Engage the Hyperdrive, now!" he half shouted half snapped, almost coming out of his command chair as all decorum and dignity of his rank was pushed aside with the revelation that they had mere seconds to react before they were dead.

"Engaged!" Marks half shouted back, jolted by the sheer authority in the order to point to slam the appropriate switch forward almost to the point of snapping it off but the ships autopilot didn't care and executed the instruction, focusing invisible streams of energy directly in front of the ship until the fabric of space twisted open with the purple flash of a hyperspace window.

But even as Odyssey opened and started to move through the subspace doorway, devices the Asgard had built over the last few months finished powering up, sending a byproduct wave of exotic radiation out through the system, saturating the hyperspace window and disrupting it in ways not even the highly sophisticated Asgard systems could compensate for before the Odyssey slid out of real space, barely dodging the final parting shot from their doggedly pursuing Ori friends as they powered their own Hyperdrive to pursue.

A heartbeat later, the devices activated for the first and last time.

It would have been some measure of pride perhaps to the Asgard that the devices worked precisely as they had been engineered without fail, but events moved far too fast for any being of flesh and blood to witness what happened as a series of enormous explosions materialized across the surface of the planet, sending a series of energy compression waves deep into the planet, painstakingly timed to account for density and a dozen other factors and hit the planetary core at precisely the same moment. The two Ori ships descending through the atmosphere to claim their prize didn't have time to react, let alone understand their sensor data, as the energy waves squeezed the Neutronium rich sphere at the center of Orilla and brought it to a critical mass density less than two seconds after the initial explosions.

The results were appropriately spectacular.

A titanic shockwave tore the planet apart in a fireball of blue/white light, the enormous energy released consuming the three Ori ships in a heartbeat and providing an appropriate escort for the Asgard as they rode to Valhalla over the corpses of their enemies, moving from the races counted among living to legends of the past on their own terms both unbowed and unbroken.

But as carefully as the Asgard had decided their doom, one variable had never been considered; that of the effects of the detonation of an active Hyperspace window. The initial radiation pulse continued to cycle through the Odyssey's Hyperdrive systems like a barely controlled tempest, saturating the subspace bubble with enough disrupting radiation to have torn the ship to pieces if not for the highly sophisticated Asgard Core that had jumped into action within nanoseconds, working to stabilize the field and keep the ship in one piece and not several trillion. Given time, it probably would have succeeded in dissipating the radiation without further incident, letting the ship ride out the aftereffects long enough to drop back into real space and repair any damage that may have been incurred to the hyperdrive systems.

Synchronicity however reared its ugly head, as in a universe infinity distant yet as close as the thickness of a piece of paper, a matching burst of exotic radiation was generated from deep under the surface of a world under siege, unknown to either besieged or besieger, a legacy of a long lost civilization that was none the less at the heart of their conflict. Both pulses rippled along their side of the Subspace layer, weakening the Subspace barrier between worlds.

Even this would never have been enough to cause any problems...if not for the presence of the Odyssey and the bubble around it seething with the same radiation that acted for the world like some kind of inter-universal short circuit, snapping the Odyssey from one side of the barrier to the other, and pulling it back to the genesis of the pulse in this new universe.

Of course, none of this was actually tangible on the bridge of the Odyssey. All the crew saw was the blue/white glow of Hyperspace mutate and shift into a green tunnel blazing with white light, the sight chillingly familiar to Daniel Jackson as he recalled a similar escape from the Vorash system many years ago, before it just as suddenly collapsed with a final blinding flash back into the more familiar and welcome vista of a Starfield.

" that just happened..." Cameron Mitchell spoke up slowly as he looked around the silent and somewhat confused atmosphere on the bridge, broken only by the insistent chiming of alarms from just about every console across the bridge.

"People, I need damage reports and systems status reports, right now" Landry ordered somewhat calmly as he shook off his own surprise at the events, the crew immediately falling back on their training and getting to work, the alarms ceasing one after the other as they were cleared and systems reset. "Colonel Carter" he continued, tapping open again the link between the systems room and bridge as he quickly sought an expert (or more accurately, the expert) opinion, "please explain to me what in the hell just happened?"

"I'm going over the system logs now" the distant voice of the Colonel replied after a moment. "It looks like the Hyperdrive fail-safe's kicked in and brought us out of hyperspace after a radiation surge of some kind disrupted our Subspace window. We got lucky Sir, if the automatic systems hadn't reacted and dealt with the situation, I don't know what might have happened".

"What about the Hyperdrive itself" Landry pressed, the thought of being stuck between worlds not the most appealing to him at this moment. "Is it intact? Any other major systems damage?"

"It seems to be intact" Carter replied after a slightly longer hesitation. "I'm going to have to run some checks before I can tell for certain".

The 'Please shut up and let me work...Sir' hint in his subordinates voice wasn't exactly subtle, but Landry knew he deserved the rebuke.

"Very well" he replied, "let me know as soon as you have a status report. Landry Out" he said, cutting the channel and turning his gaze across the rest of the bridge. "Everyone else, by stations, give me a status check".

"Shields at sixty five percent and holding" Captain Megan Cooper repotted from her seat next to Marks as she read over her control boards with a rapid, but well trained eye. "Minor damage to the hull on the port 302 bay, but there is no breach. Primary sensors are offline -looks like they were overloaded by the detonation of the Asgard homeworld, but they should be back up in a few moments. The Hyperdrive has been totally SCRAMED by the computer…no other damage on my board".

"Sir…" Marks put in as he looked over his own boards, a frown starting to work its way onto his face again, "I'm trying to get a position fix on where we are. But according to the inertial displacement readings, we've just traveled over six million light years; we're back inside the Milky Way Galaxy".

"Should not this ship have taken many hours to return to the Milky Way Galaxy?" Teal'c pointed out as he stepped up, his head tilted in a quizzical fashion as he considered the information presented.

"Should have" Mitchell confirmed with a frown, moving up to Marks' console with a frown on his face as the other, without being asked, started diagnostics on the appropriate subsystems. "That can't be right..."

"Well assuming it is right" Daniel put in, "I'd suggest we contact Earth, in case we need assistance. They're only around the corner".

"Good idea" Landry approved. "Cooper, open up a Subspace link to the SGC and tell Colonels Reynolds, Pierce and Dixon to stop playing poker on my desk".

The other worked her console with a suppressed smile at that, but the smile quickly turned into a frown.

"Sir...I can't raise the SGC" she said, working her systems carefully. "Diagnostics show the subspace communications system is online and transmitting...but I'm not getting any response".

"Try someone else with a subspace communications link" Mitchell suggested. "Vandenberg? Area-51? The Ancient Outpost?"

"I am Sir...but none of them are responding" Cooper said, her frown deepening as she called up diagnostic windows. "The communications array has to be damaged somehow..."

Mostly unnoticed by everyone as the discussion continued, Valla Maldoran walked up to the floor to ceiling viewport at the front of the bridge that looked over the bow of the ship. Ignoring the increasing chatter behind her, she studied the star field carefully. As much as she loathed Qetesh and what he had cost her over her life, she was ruthlessly pragmatic enough to use the skills and knowledge she had retained from her former Goa'uld, including an almost instinctive knowledge of spatial positioning and soon enough she plotted enough familiar constellations to roughly triangulate their position as somewhere within Earths neighborhood, placing them unquestionably back in the Milky Way.

Nodding to herself with that sorted and feeling much better about being back in an area of the Universe she knew and could survive in, she started to turn away from the window, when a flash out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. Frowning slightly, she leaned against the window and tried to look 'around' the ship, her eyes widening as she finally noticed the orb in the distance to Port that was almost certainly a planet, but that wasn't what interested her.

No, it was the soft, tiny pinpricks of light wreathing the world that she could see that gained her full and absolute attention, rippling around said planet like a glittering halo, an effect she recognized from all too many experiences as a major space engagement well underway.

"Well that doesn't look too promising" she absently commented without turning around, her attention focused on the spectacle outside as she tried to get an idea of the scope of the battle...and she didn't particularly like the answers to those questions as the number and size of explosions utterly destroyed any idea that this was a limited skirmish between a few ships.

But who?

0620 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Pillar of Autumn, Epsilon Eridani System

The Pillar of Autumn detonated its port emergency thrusters, a mixture of trihydride tetazine and hydrogen peroxide combining and exploding against the cruisers spaceframe, shoving the Halcyon class Cruiser out of the way of a brilliant lance of pure white energy that should have skewered her from bow to stern.

The fact that the lethal blast of energy hadn't connected could be attributed to a tiny purple figure on the ships command deck standing inside her holographic tank. Or, more accurately, to the chip of crystal computer core secured under it, but such distinctions came down more to semantics than anything else where AI's were concerned.

Analyzing the results of her somewhat innovative maneuvering, Cortana frowned slightly as she poured over the sensor data, studying the beams energy buildup cycle and discharge pattern, comparing the data gathered to the assumptions she had made in the milliseconds before having to commit and extrapolated an improved predictive model to base her decisions off. A hundred thousand simulations later, she was much more confident in her ability to dodge the next beam that would no doubt be coming their way soon.

And the one she expected to come after that. After all, the Covenant were nothing if not doggedly persistent in trying to kill anyone not part of their Empire.

By that point however, she estimated they should be in close enough range for Captain Keyes to do what he did best and bring the enemy 'Sniper' ship under their guns where it could be riddled with sufficient firepower to put an end to its interference in the battle around Reach.

"One shot missed" she finally noted to Captain Jacob Keyes a full second after the beam scythed past the ship, such was the speed that she operated at in comparison to the rest of the crew. "Enemy is recharging, time on target thirty seconds".

The Captain simply nodded at her relayed comment, standing up and straightening his uniform, his eyes not leaving the holographic tactical display on the large transparent screen next to them, yet clearly still keeping track of the status reports from his crew and giving out orders when necessary. The battle around Reach's orbital space had thinned out somewhat for now, but that wasn't to say the situation was calm by any means either. The initial damage done by the cloaked Long Night of Solace and the numerous special operations Corvettes it had deployed had finally been mopped up, but the Supercarrier herself had apparently called for backup as it had beaten a hasty retreat through a hole in the orbital defense grid it had punched as UNSC reinforcements had arrived, as a Covenant assault fleet had in turn emerged from Slipspace and moving into the attack barely six hours later, just as the last of the Covenant holdouts on the ground were being squeezed to death by the exhausted ground troops with liberal orbital fire support.

The Autumn had in fact been outbound from Reach a that time, finally released on 'Operation RED FLAG' as the battle around Reach had appeared to move into a mopping up phase, but Keyes had made a surprisingly impulsive command decision to postpone the mission launch until Reach had been cleared of the renewed Covenant attack, something the Spartans on board had unsurprisingly agreed with given that Reach was probably the closest thing to a home any of them had. Beyond that, Cortana could accept his logic; RED FLAG in of itself would be useless if the Covenant took Reach and had an open pathway into the core worlds, and so Keyes had fought his way back to the planet through Covenant search and destroy units, approving John-117s plan to deploy all of the Spartans groundside to defend the power generators for the orbital defense grid, although the Master Chief himself had led a single fire team to Reach Spacedock Gamma at the Anchor-1 shipyard, courtesy of a last minute Alpha-Priority redirect from FLEETCOM. An unsecured NAV database had been detected on the station that the Covenant themselves had detected, and would no doubt move to recover with haste. If they got their hands on it the map to every UNSC world, colony and outpost before John could retrieve or destroy it...

Presently, Cortana shook off the possibility as statistically insignificant, determining a better than ninety percent probability that the Master Chief would accomplish his mission...she just didn't know if the Autumn could accomplish hers.

The renewed Covenant offensive had ground into a battle of attrition shortly after the reinforcement fleet had emerged and pushed in on the planet, one which the massive, but stationary, Super-MAC Battle Stations orbiting the planet had skewed in the UNSC's favor, so much so that the Covenant had apparently broken off rather than press their attack into the teeth of the UNSC defenses concentrated over Reach's more populated and strategically critical areas.

Captain Keyes had taken two seconds to study then dismiss the Covenants withdrawal as simply a factor of combat losses given their past tendency to keep coming until every one of their ships had been destroyed even if retreating would have made more sense. Studying the disposition of the fleets, he had shifted his attention to Reach's polar regions and after filtering out the magnetic interference, Cortana had quickly locked onto the faint profiles of hundreds of Covenant Phantom and Spirit Dropship tracks trying to sneak through while the UNSC defenders had been occupied. Scores of them had been promptly shot out of space with volleys of Archer Missiles and MAC Slugs as the fleet reacted to their presence and flotillas moved to intercept, but countless others had almost certainly already made it through, wasting little time in moving into combat drops on strategic targets identified by their earlier infiltration force. And with the UN Army and Marine forces scattered across the planet, both depleted from dealing with the earlier infiltration force and woefully out of position both, the Covenants targets had been grossly undefended. FLEETCOM HQ groundside had been overrun within minutes, leaving neither the C4I or intact chain of command to coordinate the defense of critical surface targets, most especially the critical groundside power generators for the orbital defense grid which Cortana put an 80% probability of being the Covenants primary target.

With the only rapid response force in range that could respond in time, Keyes had authorized the Master Chiefs recommendation to deploy Red team groundside to protect the Generator complex buried along the spine of the Highland Mountains, sending the Autumns ODST Battalion along with them 'to make damn sure it held'...although Cortana couldn't help but wonder if Keyes was simply trying to get them off his ship before it was blown out from under them...

Once again shaking off her reflections as irrelevant and feeling a flush of simulated annoyance at herself for loosing focus, Coratana reset her sensor feeds and locked on her primary target. While the rest of the Covenant fleet had fallen back to Reach's first moon Csodaszarvas to lick their wounds at the Supercarrier still orbiting on the far side, they had left behind this 'Supercruiser' as a rearguard, its oversized energy projector working to systematically pick off the UNSC fleet one ship at a time from just outside effective range of the ship killing orbital defense grid of battle stations and their Mark V 'Super' Magnetic Accelerator Cannons. And at the rate the enemy ship was bleeding the UNSC of ships, the defense grid itself would soon be completely exposed to attack, leaving the fleet neatly impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

Send too few ships out to deal with this enemy ship and it would just pick them off before they got close enough to return fire. Send too many, and the Covenant fleet would no doubt take the opportunity to either engage the UNSC fleet as it moved beyond the covering fire of the orbital grid, or bypass the fleet and hit the orbital grid directly with precision slipspace jumps while it was undefended.

So Captain Keyes had chosen a third option that would have never occurred to her. Send a single ship to deal with the problem.

His ship.

His elegant solution to the slight problem of keeping them alive long enough to do something about this ship, was to leave the emergency thruster controls in her hands, relying on her vastly superior reaction times to dodge the enemy fire before they fired, requiring her to perfectly commit to an action not less than point nine seconds before the enemy weapon discharged, with a roughly one hundred millisecond timeframe to analyze the energy projectors firing cycle, determine roughly where it would project the beam, and take action.

It was a challenge to say the least, but one she relished. She found depressingly few things challenging in her life, such was the cost of being a 5th Generation Smart AI.

"Lieutenant Hikowa" the Captain's orders broke into her mussing as he carefully studied the readouts of their opponent, tapping the pipe he carried everywhere in his palm as he talked. "Ready the MAC gun. Arm Archer Missile pods Charlie One through Echo Seven. Give me a firing solution for missiles impacting with our last round".

Cortana felt her emotional subroutines spike to several times their processing power for a few milliseconds before falling back to normal at that order. That would be nearly five-hundred missiles directed at a single target...but there was something to be said for making damn sure their only shot was going to do the job, no matter if it left their ammo reserves dangerously thin for the rest of the battle.

"Fire control online" the Lieutenant confirmed, rapidly entering in the information to the system and releasing the weapons safety locks –Cotrana unobtrusively double checking the officer in the background, just to be safe, pleased to see the reputation of the UNSC officer was well deserved as she entered strings of perfectly functional numbers that accounted for the variables quite elegantly. "Missiles armed, ready to fire. MAC gun at 100%, ready to fire".

"Distance, Lieutenant Hall?" Keyes demanded.

"Entering extreme range in fifteen seconds, effective range in-"

Hall was cut off rather suddenly as the ship was kicked half a kilometer straight 'Up' as the Autumns Ventral tanks detonated, a sweeping shot from left to right scathing underneath them, right through where they had been a second ago. Cortana had had calculated a 78% chance based on the ships behavior and typical Covenant doctrine that they would try such a tactic, and was pleased to see her assumptions had again been proven correct, but-

"New contact!" Lieutenant Hall called out as they settled down onto their course again. "Other side of the enemy – it just came out of nowhere, the hull of the Covenant ship must have been blocking it until we shifted our approach aspect-"

"Stay on target!" Keyes ordered quickly, but firmly, keeping his crew focused on the giant killer of ships they were thundering towards. "Cortana?"

Understanding what was being asked of her, she left the crew deal the job of firing the weapons - after spinning off a processing thread to the MAC gun in case she needed to alter the slugs trajectory against the new ship- and started working on the sensor readings. Directing most of her incredible processing power on the new contact, she tore the limited data apart every way over several cycles before hurrying 'back' to the Captain, glancing at him before he had finished saying even the third syllable of her name.

"It's not a Covenant ship" she informed him, noting the relief that passed across his face briefly as she did so, calculating that he had probably started to wonder if he had just fallen into a trap with a second Covenant ship ready to pounce on them as they closed in on the Supercruiser. "I'd guess it's one of ours, but I can't find a profile match in the Autumns database".

"Show me" Keyes ordered with a glance and obediently, Cortana threw the data onto his screen, her attention drawn back as sensor data showed sudden energy surges coming from the Covenant ship…except as she came within half a heartbeat of throwing the Autumn onto a randomized vector she hesitated, tracking the turret of the energy projector start to turn away from them and towards the other ship.

"The Covenant ship is changing targets" she warned. "It must be targeting the new sensor profile match, but I'd place a ninety three percent probability on it being human based on general design principals, bringing synthetic aperture radar online for a deep scan..."

"If it's human, it's dead" Hall said grimly. "It's not moving and its almost at point blank range to the enemy".

"Are we in range?" Keyes asked with a quick look at his weapons officer, his face darkening as he did the math in his head, Lieutenant Hikowa grimacing at the same readouts on her board, but nodding none the less.

"Barely, but accuracy is going to be lousy".

"But good enough" Keyes decided, but as he took a breath to order his crew to fire, hoping to throw off the enemy ship as it lined up its shot or at least draw its attention away from the new contact...he knew he was too late.

Because he saw the Covenant ship discharge its energy projector, the visual feed overloading white light.

0622 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Odyssey, Epsilon Eridani System

"What in the hell is going on?" Landry demanded as the tactical boards painted huge numbers of contacts in the immediate vicinity as the ships sensor systems came back online, detecting a huge volume of contacts around them, one almost half the size of a Wraith Hiveship and damn near on top of them. "Who in the hell are they?"

"They're not Ori, Goa'uld or Wraith designs" Cooper said as the ships computers checked the new sensor returns and categorically denied the possibilities of one of their three main enemies being involved. "Nothing in the system even comes close to these designs in fact".

"How can there be a full scale war going on less than ten light years from Earth between cultures we don't know about?" Mitchell demanded, partially of the crew, but mostly of the universe.

"We can worry about that later" Landry replied shortly. "This isn't our fight and I don't want to get caught up in it. Carter; how soon can we get back into hyperspace?"

"It's no good" the Colonel replied a few seconds later, in a tone that didn't promise good news. "The Hyperdrive has shut itself down completely and I'm still trying to figure out what happened to the-"

"Colonel, we just jumped into the middle of a war between races we've never seen before" Lander cut her off with considerable patience and coolness, in his humble opinion. " 'Un-Shutting it down' would be appreciated sooner rather than later before someone around here decides to take a shot at us".

"I'm heading to the engine room" she replied with that slightly distant tone that people always had when on the move. "I'll know more after I can get a look at the system directly".

"Let me know as soon as possible Colonel" Landry snapped off the link, shooting a look at Mitchell that spoke volumes for how deep the water was starting to get today, before shooting a sour look at Marks's back. "At least tell me the shields are still up?"

"Yes Sir" Marks confirmed, his eyes not leaving his board as he got a grip on the new situation. "Nearest contact is Capital, Mothership size classification. Three point five klicks on the X axis, distance ten Kilometers dead aft-"

"Sir I'm detecting high frequency radar, microwave and laser based systems now tracking us, from the contact" Cooper broke in as her threat board started chirping a sound that Hank Landry knew was a 'Bad' sound. "Thermagraphics are picking up huge energy buildups along its upper hull".

"Bring us around and put it onscreen" Landry ordered as Daniel, Teal'c and Mitchell moved up next to Valla, who was still pressed up against the side of the viewport straining to study the battle. The main screen on the left side of the bridge obediently flickered over to a hull mounted camera shot of the enemy ship and Landry studied the smooth, curved purple/silver hull with interest. There was an undeniable 'elegance' to the design that reminded him of Ori or Asgard ships, despite the clearly different design principals. The sophistication of a culture advanced enough to allow form and function to blend much more smoothly than the strictly functional 'bricks' Earth threw into space as quickly as they could be built...

Even the smaller lumpy fairings and structures on the hull sited for maximum overlap of coverage that could only be weapons mounts gleamed with a polished light that accentuated the effect...except for the one that was starting to glow brighter and brighter-

"Energy spike! They're firing!" Cooper exclaimed as the warning chimes switched to a rapid high pitched beeping.

"Oh hell..." Mitchell muttered as he stepped up level with Valla, the gigantic ship coming into view to the naked eye as a lance of white energy discharged straight at the Odyssey, meeting the concave wall of the ships defensive shields just outside the bow.

The force of the blow was enough to send Mitchell stumbling back with Daniel Jackson into the bridge, though by some miracle neither of them lost their dignity by falling over. Teal'c, somewhat annoyingly to Mitchell, was as unfazed by the impact as if his feet were welded to the deck and Valla had, with her usual habit of thinking three steps ahead of everyone else, quietly shifted to the side of the window and taken a firm hold of the secondary weapons console there, offering a slightly superior smirk at the two members of SG1 trying to hold their dignity as they waved their arms wildly to balance themselves.

"Designate the ship as hostile" Landry ordered over the thunder of the assault, wincing as sparks from an overloading console arced to the floor just to his right, barely missing him and sending the smell of scorched electronics across the bridge as the life support systems worked to remove the smoke, the acidic smell souring his mood as he decided he was sick of people shooting at him today, and it was time to shoot back. "Target four Mark Eights".

"Warheads armed" Cooper replied a heat beat later as her hands flew across her console, designating the target and releasing the nuclear safety locks. "Target is locked".


Four missiles exploded from the ships forward VLS pack that the bridge looked over, the engines igniting moments later as the missiles slewed around in a very Newtonian fashion to point in the direction of the enemy ship. The Mark Eight Warhead was the mainstay of Earths fleet, a refined version of the first generation 'Goa'uld Busters' Area-51 had developed early in the Stargate program. Essentially a Naquadah enhanced Nuclear device capable of tearing a rather expensive and extensive hole in the side of a Wraith Hiveship, it was mounted on the latest missile design out of Area-51, an evolution of older missiles developed from hard lessons against the Wraith. Equipped with improved maneuvering thrusters, advanced 3D evasive routines and a final high-yield three second burn engine designed to get it past either point defenses or kamikaze Wraith darts, the missile was Boeings pride and joy, Earths great hope of evening the fight up against the giant ships of death that rolled across the Pegasus Galaxy with near impunity, harvesting humans like grains of wheat as they went.

And in their first test, the missiles had barely ignited their main engines when a rapid series of blue pulses lanced out from the side of the alien ship and exploded them with an astonishingly casual display of accuracy, mocking the best efforts of the US Military-Industrial complex, before a second series of pulses lanced out from another blister and hammered on the ships shields furiously, as if the enemy was enraged that they had dared try to defend themselves.

"All missiles intercepted before reaching the target!" Cooper declared somewhat unnecessarily as the quartet of explosions faded barely a kilometer from the Odyssey's bow, her eyes focused on her board and not the window as the shields rallied under the enemy assault, dissipating the energy in a blue shimmering around the Odyssey's bow. "The enemy ship is reorienting; it's coming around to face us directly".

"That can't be good" Valla pointed out. "Has anyone considered running yet? Or cloaking? Just saying, because as I always say, she who lives and runs away-"

"There is no reason to believe this ship can outrun them" Teal'c broke in with his typically dour voice. "To shift the shields to a cloak at this range would leave us at a disadvantage, ensuring we would take heavy damage before disengaging. Our only remaining option would appear to be to engage in battle".

"Well no offense chuckles, but our missiles didn't exactly impress these guys" Valla pointed out with a wave at the alien ship as it turned to face them fully, as if they now had its complete and undivided attention, a bright star moving behind it for a few seconds before the shifting bulk of the alien ship hid it. "I don't think another salvo is going to do more then make them laugh at us!"

"So let's break out the big guns already!" Mitchell suggested in response, turning to Landry with a questioning look on his face. "Mark Nines?"

Landry felt his lip twitch at the reminder. In addition to the Mark Eight warheads that were the standard armament on Daedalus class ships, the armory on Odyssey also held a quartet of the new 'Tactical' Mark IX 'Gatebuster' warheads being developed for the Horizon weapons platform; a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System designed to end all civilization on a world as ruthlessly as a Goa'uld System Lord in a bad mood. The idea that they needed a weapon that utterly redefined what 'Weapon of Mass Destruction' meant still gave Landry chills, but he conceded that given the possibility of coming up against an Ori Mothership that had shrugged off lesser weapons with few problems, he would much rather have the option of deploying these weapons, then not having the weapons at all.

But of course, thanks to the work of the Asgard over their homeworld over the last few days, Landry now had a third option that didn't make him feel cold inside from just thinking about them.

"Carter" he called into the Communications link to the final member of SG1, "our missiles weren't effective against these peoples point defense, whoever the hell they are. What about the new Asgard energy weapons?"

"They haven't been tested Sir" Carter replied absently as she ran into the ships engine room at speed, hurrying over to the primary console where the ships officers were trying to bring the ships Hyperdrive back online, the group making way for her as soon as they saw her. It only took her a few moments to realize that it wasn't exactly shut down, but going through an automated hard shutdown and restart process, probably a result of whatever had caused that strange subspace shift earlier, and she was loath to override it without knowing more about what had happened...

"No time like the present" Landry muttered under his breath at the enemy ship out the window, another salvo of the blue energy pulses reaching out from it and jolting them, even as the larger turret of its primary weapon started once again to glow with brilliant white energy visible even from this distance. "Let's see what these new Asgard upgrades are made of. Bring sublight engines to military thrust and power the energy weapons!"

Odyssey's sublight engines ignited, the ship accelerating into sweeping curve towards the vastly larger Covenant ship, which in turn slowed and started to yaw, working to keep its weapons in the line of fire as the large turret on the top of the ship continued to overcharge itself to dangerous levels as the Odyssey closed to point blank range, energy flowing now for the first time from the ships power grid into a dozen new emplacements that had been attached to the hull over the last few days...

0626 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Pillar of Autumn, Epsilon Eridani System

Jacob Keyes had seen many things in his life that had left him speechless, for one reason or another. The first time he had seen the results of a Covenant 'Glassing' operation being one, as had been the time he had come home and found a six year old Miranda on his doorstep waiting for him, sitting on a bag of all her worldly possessions and brightly telling him that she had left her Mother to come and live with him, somehow making it all the way from Reach to Earth's Moon without anyone letting him know she was coming, a fact he put down to her mother's 'unique' sense of humor

But the events out the window kept him silent in a stupefied way far beyond even that moment in his life, as he saw something absolutely impossible happen.

He had felt his rage spike as a flare of white light overload the visual feed before he could give the order to open fire; a beam of energy lancing at and consuming the apparently helpless human ship in a cocoon of white light. None the less he checked his emotion before he could vent it, ordering Hikowa to hold her fire as his military mind ruthlessly took advantage of the distraction provided to close the distance where his first strike would be overwhelming rather than merely distracting, mentally dedicating this kill to the memory of some human ship no-one would probably ever know about or care about in this God forsaken war, preparing to give the order to avenge its death as the visual cleared from the lightshow of destruction…

…only to feel his jaw drop open as he stared at the display, stunned. Sitting there and all but mocking the efforts of the vastly larger Covenant warship to kill it by its continued presence, was the unknown human ship, a fain shimmering visible around it that faded to nothing moments later, as the last of the energy projector fire was harmlessly dissipated away.

This ship had shields.

It could only bea human ship; Cortana without asking had brought up scans of the ship's hull on his display that clearly showed English lettering and numbering, and frankly the design was a dead giveaway, Keyes thinking it shared more than a few similarities to the newer Stalwart and Paris class Frigates, like his daughters In Amber Clad. And even as he watched, another exchange of fire took place, laser blasts shredding a missile salvo fired at the Covenant ship before a second volley of laser fire bashed against the other ship, this time not overloading the screen and showing clearly the shimmering energy field that glowed blue under the attack, dissipating the energy into a concave wall around the bow of the ship, again to Keyes astonished confusion.

Even a Covenant ship would never be able to just shrug off an Energy Projector blast followed up by laser fire like that!


"There are no UNSC records of this ship design" Cortana anticipated the question as she devoted almost all of her processing power to analysis and data retrieval work, burning CPU cycles as she impatiently pulled in every refresh of the sensor data and tore it open six ways to look for any new clue, finding no records matching this ship in her rather comprehensive database.

It only took moments for her to judge who might have records on this ship but had not shared it, and after a brief debate over the legality of her actions, she decided the current situation more than justified extreme measures, blowing back via the Autumns FLEETCOM datalinks to the Reach Millnet and jumping into the ONI database in their main HQ with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop. Not even bothering to hide her presence, she danced around their firewalls and kill-code almost absently, co-opting a half dozen of the local 'Dumb' AI's to do the heavy search work for her as she 'punted' Beowulf, the ONI 'Smart' AI who looked after the database into a secure partition to let her work without distractions. Her re-tasked AI's, convinced she was a perfectly legitimate ONI AI - which was actually quite true - who had security clearance for this database - which was utterly false- forwarded her the results of her query in record time, and she kicked the data to a secure buffer on the Autumn before logging off, leaving an apologetic data point in her wake for Beowulf, who she knew would never have let her in if she had asked; the other AI for some reason thought of her as 'trouble'…

And yet, for all her effort, she still came up negative. Although one of her cross linked mission profile threads flagged an alert; the Circumference that had generated the Alpha Priority Cole Protocol violation was in fact a camouflaged ONI Prowler.

Typical. So many ONI sub cells never bothered to clean up their messes these days...

Noting then dismissing her simulated spikes of annoyance and frustration at the dead end, she reset her processing threads and tried to approach the problem from a different perspective. Doctor Halsey as part of project MJOLNIR had worked hand in hand with the team who developed the shield generators built into the new Mark V suit, helping them crack several key scientific problems in the process. Cortana had studied everything on and off the record about the new technology, putting her in a better position than almost anyone to know just how far along the UNSC's limited shield technology was, including the daunting engineering difficulties in scaling the systems Earth was facing. The Mark V power suits were the first field worthy practical unit that had been deployed, followed closely by the prototype Saber space superiority fighters undergoing test flights on Reach…and to get their shields working had taken an experimental reactor dangerous enough that detachable booster rockets had been incorporated into ground launch facilities to throw the ship high in the air before bringing the reactor on line, just in case a five kiloton 'problem' occurred when the pilot flipped the 'on' switch

And yet...this unknown human ship had perfectly valid, functional and effective shield technology on a scale far beyond that?

Alternative speculation calculated a remote - but definitely non-zero - chance that this was simply stolen Covenant starship technology in use by some 'black' ONI Sub cell that wasn't in the database she had just raided, perhaps an advanced deep recon prowler that had lost its Active Camouflage systems in the middle of the battle. But against that scenario, the idea that this kind of technology would be deployed in the field in secret as opposed to being sent to Earth where every R&D asset that Earth could throw at it would be thrown at it were so low she didn't even bother to try and calculate the odds beyond ten decimal places, instead focusing her attention on fresh data as it came in, 'feeling' as only a Smart-AI could that she wasn't on the right track yet...but lost as to where the answer was…

"I'm detecting EM spikes from the unknown, they may be bringing additional systems online" she continued speaking to Keyes, having only taken a second to consider the situation in depth, devoting her attention back to other matters as the Autumn continued to close, almost coming within optimal archer missile range where Covenant point defense would have a hell of a time trying to knock down more than a small percentage of any salvo thrown. "Thermal bloom...they're moving!"

'Watching' through the sensor systems, Cortana tracked the other ship as they started moving in response to the Covenant ship reorienting on them, the smaller human ship curving inwards towards the already closing Covenant ship.

Poor tactics in her opinion, if they were aware of the Autumn's presence; their best bet would have been to get clear and let the Autumn take their shot, hope the Covenant ship decided to just ignore them as it turned to deal with the bigger threat, or at the least give them the opening to open fire again.

But instead, she saw history being made.

A pair of pale blue beams of energy that spiked readings across the EM spectrum she couldn't begin to comprehend lanced out from the bow of the unidentified ship, crashing into the shield boundary of the Covenant warship at precisely the same point amidships. As she predicted in the microseconds between firing and impact, the shield flared with a brilliant silver shimmering at the point of contact like all Covenant shields did when they tried to repel enemy weapons fire...but unlike every other time she had seen them activate, they didn't even so much as slow the progress of the energy beams, which simply continued unimpeded through the formidable defenses like a sword cleaving through cobwebs.

Overriding and taking control of every sensor she could train on the event, Cortana focused and 'watched' through several dozen different eyes as the beams impacted the 'Supercruisers' hull at a shallow angle amidships and punched through, an enormous explosion vomiting out of the dorsal surface a heartbeat later as the beams cut off, Cortana realizing that the weapons strike had just passed through not just the ships shields, but through its entire hull without even slowing down.

In one salvo!

Killing her emotional sub-processes as they started to saturate her with irrelevant data of astonishment and disbelief, she watched as a series of secondary explosions started to tear down the spine of the ship from the initial detonation. A somewhat predictable chain reaction inevitably followed as power conduits and weapons capacitors detonated violently, the backbone of the ship twisting as the ships engines continued to thrust forward against the fatally weakened hull until, inevitably, a massive explosion tore the ship apart as its fusion reactors and overcharged weapons systems released their energy against the doomed ship.

The detonation tore the Supercruiser to pieces. Shrapnel the size of office blocks was flung into the system as if the galaxies largest fragmentation bomb had just been detonated, no small amount of it heading towards the Autumn. Ensign Loval at the helm cursed and yanked his controls in the nick of time, rolling the ship's bow away and around to present a top 'edge on' profile to the explosion, a cacophony of crashing sounding as wreckage ricochet of the hull for a few seconds until the wave of debris and fire passed them, leaving them alone...with no sign of the unknown ship.

"Damage report" Keyes barked as his ship finished shaking in protest under him.

"No breaches, minimal outer hull damage, mostly cosmetic" Hall replied quickly as she worked her console.

"Very well" Keyes replied, stepping around his screens to the secondary tactical station at the port side of the expansive bridge as the explosion cleared leaving nothing but very small fragments of what had been one of the most powerful Covenant ships in-system. "Ensign Lovell, bring us about and take us back to the fleet. Dominique, update the Flagship and get the two Spartan teams on the line, I want situation reports ASAP. Hikowa, deploy a standard grid of Clarions around Csodaszarvas as we break; I want to know what the Covenant fleet is up to and I want to know yesterday".

A chorus of acknowledgements came back as the Autumn powered down the reactor somewhat and started to reverse her course back to Reach, a half dozen puffs of exhaust shooting out from her starboard side as the Calrion spy drones launched, streaking away for the moon the Covenant were hiding behind.

Cortana noted the launch of the drones peripherally, her attention focused on other issues. She had replayed the sensor logs of the explosion, methodically tagging and tracking the debris from the Covenant ship, extrapolating every variable to try and locate debris from the unknown human ship…yet found nothing but debris that was clearly from the Covenant ship.

Frowning, she burned her processing power in furious concentration at the vaporized and micro-particulate remains of the Covenant ship at the leading edge of the near spherical explosion, looking for 'shadows' and 'grooves' in the cloud of fast and light debris, chasing an assumption-


To her astonishment, she spotted something moving not quite across the explosions path, the particulate debris being pushed around by somethingthat didn't show up on any of her active or passive sensors as she focused everything she could on the tenuous track. She couldn't see it, but something was there in the dust and echoes that no radar, laser or microwave emissions got the slightestreflection, distortion or lensing effects on…which was impossible.

Even the best ONI prowler with the best active camouflage at this range wouldn't stand a chance of hiding itself from the Autumns newly upgraded and bleeding edge sensor systems, especially with her working them. And even as she 'watched', the tenuous track vanished as the contact moved out of the explosions cloud and into 'open' space…

Who in the hell were they?

She brought up the markings on the ship's hull in deep thought. Already she had run the name and design of the ship against all her UNSC and 'borrowed' ONI databases without any close matches. There were several ships in the human fleet with the word 'Odyssey' in their names -two military freighters of the Orion class and one fleet tender to be exact- but none with the 'USAF' acronym or that strange triangular symbol with a circle on top. The hull number of '03' was also no help, if still interesting. The 'USAF' marking however…

The odds of this ship being from an organization rolled into the United Nations Aerospace -then Space- Command hundreds of years before humanity took a step into deep space was insane at first glance. But a quick jump back to one of the few COMSATs still operational in Reach orbit and from there into the FLEETCOM database matched the black and gray star centered between three horizontal bars on either side as the classic signature of United States Air Force craft…

If Cortana had been capable of headaches, she strongly suspected she would have gotten one right about now as she cleared her active processes and opened up several historical databases.

0628 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Odyssey, Epsilon Eridani System

"We're clear" Cooper announced as the Odyssey moved out of the debris shell and onto a randomized course away from the battle. "That other ship was sweeping our location with broadband EM sensors for a few seconds, but it looks like we lost them as soon as we moved into open space and away from the debris of that ship. They're turning around and heading back to the planet".

"Well let's hope they can't see us, because we're running without shields now" Landry pointed out as Odyssey powered away from the battle under cloak, glancing to the side as a slightly out of breath Samantha Carter jogged onto the bridge. "Good timing; Colonel, what's going on with my Hyperdrive?"

"It's coming back online, it should be up in a couple of minutes, assuming the final checks don't show anything" she replied as she moved to join the rest of SG1, a Tablet PC in her hands. "But I think we have a bigger problem...I think I've figured out why we're not getting any answer from Earth, and why we have no record of these cultures, let alone never heard of a planet as advanced as this one on Earths doorstep".

The background noise on the bridge subdued slightly at that statement. Hank Landry felt a new chill pass across him at the statement, possibilities of an all out Ori attack on Earth passing across his mind as the reason for why they were not responding before he forced himself to calm down, noting that while the Colonel looked serious, she didn't look like she had just found out Earth had been turned into a second Asteroid Field around Sol.

"Alright Colonel, explain it to me, carefully please"

The Colonel nodded, then tapped her tablet, linking it to the main bridge screen and switching the sensor display showing the orbital tracks around the local planet and tracks on the far side of the closest moon in blue and purple respectively, to sensor logs and readouts, with a bewildering array of energy signatures and Asgard text streaming through data windows.

"I've been going over the system logs from the Hyperdrive" she said, nodding at the screen. "The new Asgard systems are incredibly advanced, even more so than the previous Asgard Hyperdrives they had given us for our ships. When the Asgard Homeworld exploded, it caused a release of highly exotic radiation that disrupted subspace in ways that I still don't understand, but the long and short of it is that it clearly effected the Hyperspace window generated by the Hyperdrive both as we jumped and when we were inside Subspace. I asked the Asgard core-"

"You...asked the Asgard Core?" Mitchell broke in with a look that suggested he was wondering if she had been working too hard...

"The Asgard Core came with a built in AI that Thor spent quite a few months working on" Carter explained with a patient look at the other Colonel. "It's extremely advanced; I just had to run it by-"

"It's all fascinating I'm sure" Landry broke back in somewhat impatiently before she got too deep into sprucing the clearly impressive technology, "but can you bottom line it for me Colonel?"

Taking the hint, Carter turned to face him and took a deep breath.

"We're not in our own universe anymore. We've crossed over into an alternate reality, much the same as those we've interacted with several times over the SGC's history. Even worse, from the variations in the Star field and general Galactic drift, I calculate that we've moved forward, in this timeline relative to our own, roughly four hundred and fifty to five hundred years".

The reaction across the bridge was as rapid as it was varied.

Relief that Earth hadn't suffered a disaster.

Uncertainty over what it meant for them now.

Anger that it had happened.

But mostly just stunned surprise at the revelation. Of all the answers they may have expected the Colonel to give...that had not been one of them.

"Well that would explain why Earth isn't responding" Valla predictably broke the silence, stepping away from the window to rejoin the rest of the group. "Either they're ignoring us until they figure out what is going on, or more likely, they don't exist, and don't have the ability to receive subspace signals".

"Be that as it may, the more pressing question of course is going to be is there any way home?" Landry asked the only question that was on his mind, and probably the minds of everyone on the bridge.

The look on the Colonels face however, did not immediately bring hope to everyone on the bridge.

"I don't know" she said with brutal honesty. "We've seen these kinds of events before, I'm sure everyone remembers the...other SG1 that came through the Stargate last year".

"Along with a couple of dozen others" Landry replied dryly, to hide his unease at the memory. "As I recall, they did something to a black hole to open up a bridge between our universes?"

"Yes Sir" Carter nodded. "They manipulated a wormhole running through a Singularity with an explosion or energy weapon of some kind, punching through subspace and connecting their wormhole, and many others from other realities that passed close to the same black hole, through to our Earths Gate. We reversed the process and inverted the crossover point, letting us send everyone back afterwards...but that's not going to help us this time. In that situation we had a predictable doorway between the universes we were able to manipulate".

"What about the work McKay and his Sister did on Atlantis?" Mitchell asked with a slight tilt of his head. "That was all developed from first principals wasn't it?"

Carter nodded, looking slightly more enthusiastic at that possibility.

"It was, a lot of the information for that project came from the Black Hole incident, although the key piece came from Rodney McKays Sister".

"And boy did that piss him off" Mitchell added in a sotto voice.

Carter grinned in memory of the moment despite the seriousness of the situation, getting herself back under control quickly enough.

"Now, we were able to develop what was essentially a duplication of a Quantum Mirror, but one that only required the Gateway on our side instead of two mirrors together, which used subspace displacement principals similar to the effect between the Stargates we saw earlier in the year. Given time, I might be able to duplicate the technology; we have the power and with the help of the Asgard Core and its synthesizer technology, I can probably build the necessary components...but that's the easy bit".

Landry's eyebrow raised fractionally at that.

"Do I dare ask then what the hard bit would be?"

"Connecting to the right reality" Daniel joined the conversation, his eyes loosing focus slightly as he thought back to his experience with the Quantum mirror, everyone turning to face him. "With the Quantum Mirror" he explained, "the hard bit was trying to lock on to the same reality when the mirrors disconnected. I mean it had some kind of ability to narrow it down from infinite universes to a narrow band we could select from, but even so..."

"Long and short of it" Carter continued with a somewhat less happy look, "is that even if we can build a bridge between universes, pointing it back at our reality is going to be incredibly hard, looking for a needle in a haystack of infinite size if you will".

"Wait, hang on" Mitchell snapped his fingers looking somewhat triumphant as another memory occurred to him. "You're forgetting the time recently, when you got sent to that Alternate Reality while working with Merlins phase shifting technology".

"Actually" Sam corrected him, "that was where I started my thinking on the way up to the bridge. But the ability to find our reality mostly came down to the notes and data my duplicate had stored in her files, as well as the intact records from Merlins device when we shifted across the dimensions...and I don't have all that information on hand, the more complex data is back at the SGC".

"But you can duplicate it here, right?" Valla demanded, a frown on her face as she stepped closer. "We're not going to be stuck here forever are we?"

Carter just exhaled slowly. "I think, given time...I can probably get us home...but I just can't give an honest idea of how long it might take. I'm not even trying to speculate on the temporal displacement yet, if it's a sign we traveled in time, or that this Quantum Reality is offset from our own. Unless I can find help from someone with more data on this, I'll have to develop a lot of the practical knowledge again from square one" Carter summarized, leaving unsaid but clear none the less from her tone, what an incredible amount of work that would be. "I never thought I would say this...but I really wish Rodney was here right now, he's done a lot of work in this field, but from the opposite side I of where I've been working".

"So summing it up, we're stuck here for an unknown amount of time, with limited resources and in the middle of a war zone...that about sum it up?" Valla sighed loudly, although her eyes suggested strongly that her mind was already at work on the best way to turn the situation to her advantage.

Not that Landry especially minded right now. If they were stuck here, someone as street wise as Vala Mal Doran could turn out to be as valuable to them as the Asgard Plasma Beam Weapons to this ship...

"Colonel, I take it from your statements that you think we're going to need help from the locals, sooner rather than later?" Landry replied to Carter, moving past the 'getting back' issue to more practical concerns.

"It's an option" she conceded. "They are clearly technologically advanced, if possibly not to our level with the Asgard upgrades. At the least, they could provide us with material and resource support, probably a secure base of operations to work from. It's also not impossible that they may know what caused our transition to this universe - for all we know they may even be behind it somehow".

"Or it could be the other aliens in this system" Daniel pointed out.

"And we just blew up one of their big ships" Mitchell pointed out. "They may not like that too much if they were behind this and we need to ask for their help".

"Either way, it's not like we don't hold most of the cards at the table" Valla continued her mussing out loud with a smile on her face. "This ship, thanks to the Asgard, is carrying an incredible amount of scientific knowledge and advanced that would let us name our price for any assistance we want, on either side of the war. Materials, supplies, precious metals...planets-"

"The Asgard gave everything to us because they trusted us" Daniel cut in quickly with a rather pointed look at Valla before he turned back to everyone else to make his point. "Not to sell off their technology to the highest bidder! We can't just treat their legacy so flippantly, like a chip at a poker game!"

"I'd tend to agree" Landry said quickly before an argument could really start up between the two, trying to keep focused on the immediate problems of their catastrophic situation. "I'm not inclined to promise anything to anyone until we get a better handle on the real picture here. All we know so far about the locals is that there is a war going on between a group who are probably from Earth, and an unknown alien race, and we may have just had war declared by one side against us".

"So...we need to talk to some locals" Mitchell extrapolated, with a glance at Landry, who nodded slowly in agreement. "Someone who knows what is going on and can help us get some information so we can actually make a decision". He paused for a second, glancing at the main screen as new alerts sounded, Carter switching the display back quickly on her tablet to a readout, showing the alien fleet in orbit behind the moon increasing in size, new waves of contact icons were being drawn on the screen as they come out of FTL and rapidly increased the size of the force there, even as other icons already present vanished, only to reappear in orbit of the planet a heartbeat later and at once start engaging the human ships and stations there. "But somehow I don't think anyone local is going to have the time to sit around and chat with us right now." he finished somewhat grimly. "We may have to wait around for the end of this, or even head off to Earth and see if we can find some answers there..."

Something in Sam's face suddenly twitched at Cameron's worlds, a slight smile coming over her face again as she turned to look at Landry.

"Sir…I might just have an idea that can give us as much time as we need".

0632 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Reach Station Gamma Space, Anchor 1 Shipyard Complex, Epsilon Eridani System

Spartan "James-005" didn't panic, despite the fact that he was spinning helplessly into space thanks to a misfiring thruster pack. Nor at the fact that his communications were down, that there was a Covenant destroyer only a kilometer away that had materialized as they had made their final approach to the station and that it had spawned a large number of enemy fighter craft, Dropships and even Zero-G Elites, all descending towards the station - and him.

'Panic' just wasn't in the possible responses of a Spartan II.

A normal human would have long since passed out from either the G forces or slow air leak from his armor as the half ton suit rocketed in a flat spin from the asymmetric thrust, but nothing about James or any of his Brothers or Sisters could possibly be said to be 'ordinary'; and so he continued to fight. He fought calmly, with a detached, steady and intellectual effort, but he held nothing back either, working to get his spin under control, the first step to arresting his velocity and returning to the station, to Blue Team.

Death held little fear for him, not after decades of war.

But failing this critical mission…

That, that he would fight against until his last breath…and he was enough of a realize to realize it was probably going to come sooner rather than later, a chunk of melted debris from some UNSC ship or station coming into view and pinwheeling right for him as he realized that this was it.

But today, fate played a different hand and with a flash of white light, the tumbling star field vanished, replaced with a bright room and a hard metal floor that he crashed face first into. Gravity now holding him down as his shields flickered and died, his innate sense of balance telling him the heavy misfiring thruster pack was no longer on his back as he realized somehow, he was on a ship.

Reflexes beaten into him through countless years of training took over as his mind struggled to catch up with the abrupt change, rolling around and to his feet in a blur as diagnostic data scrolled down the corner of his visor declaring his shield grid non-functional and his armor compromised-

"Woah, easy!"

The Spartan didn't quite freeze at the call from the startled human voice as a small group of people came into view, but he did relax fractionally and stop himself from pulling his MA5B into a firing position as he confirmed he was not on a Covenant ship. Five men, two armed with something that looked like slightly customized variants of standard UNSC BR55 Battle Rifle, all in combat fatigues, their weapons held ready at port arms, but not pointed at anyone...yet. The lead man in the formation had shortly cropped air, and while no transponder data came up from a CNI transponder on his HUD, his lighting fast thought patterns locked in on the silver cluster on the lead mans lapel and the 'Lt Col' markings on his uniform-

"Sir!" he barked, standing to attention in a blur in the presence of a senior officer and snapping a perfect salute which appeared to surprise the man slightly, but he retuned crisply none the less.

"At Ease" the man ordered, the men –with the exception of a large, dark skinned man without any rank insignia at all but a very odd golden tattoo of some kind on his head- all craned their necks to stare at him, looks of awe and amazement crossing their faces that James had long become used to when in the presence of other UNSC personnel, few of whom ever saw a Spartan 'in the flesh', so to speak.

"Name? Rank?" The other asked quickly, again confusing James slightly and making him wonder if there was something interfering with CNI transponder implants in the area, but not so much that he wasn't quick on the ball to answer.

"Sir! Senior Chief Petty Officer Spartan-005, Sir!"

"Stand easy Chief" the officer said, appearing to be at something of a loss of what to say, before another man, with glasses and again no insignia at all, stepped forward.

"Spartan...we just pulled you out of that battle; your thruster pack was sending you spinning into the middle of the crossfire between the ships".

"Thank you Sir" James replied in a level voice, not entirely sure what to make of this group...but the mention of the battle snapped his attention back to the situation outside and he realized from a quick glance at his mission clock, that at least a minute had passed, and he needed to get back to action. "Request permission to gear up and return to mission"

"Denied" the first man said, cocking his head slightly. "Chief there are…complications".

"Sir?" James asked, letting a hint of impatience come into his tone, mostly to cover the sudden feel of dread at the idea of 'complications', now starting to wonder how he had moved from spinning into a piece of space debris to standing inside this ship. The logical answer, that a recovery ship had picked him up and brought him here didn't make sense when he thought about his suits clock which insisted almost no time had passed...

Unless of course it had been damaged along with other systems on his suit.

But...could it be wrong?

Could the battle already be over?

And worse, could the unthinkable have happened while he was spinning off into space and blacking out? Could this ship even now be outbound from Reach, the planet dying behind them as the Covenant glassed it, Red and Blue Teams dead-

Training kicked in at that point however, snapping his mind away from such useless questions and speculation, instead nodding at the order -but politely phrased as a request- from Colonel Mitchell to follow him to the conference room for a quick debriefing, snapping his rifle to the magnetic clips on his back and following the other out of the room through what he had thought was the airlock he had originally entered this ship through. As they walked along...he couldn't help but notice that no-one on the ship was wearing UNSC uniforms, or registering a CNI transponder.

Combined, the two facts lead to only one quick conclusion. This had to be a 'black' ONI ship.

That conclusion raised his alert level somewhat. Although he appeared to be walking along placidly after the Colonel, his combat training moved back to the forefront now, one eye kept on his motion sensor for unexpected contacts, his alertness back at the hair trigger level that let a Spartan go from perfect calm to raging avatar of the God of War in less time than most normal people took to blink.

He wouldn't have normally reacted this way to ONI personnel over the years of his service. He and the other Spartan IIs had generally been indifferent to ONI - despite technically being an ONI resource assigned to NAVSPECWEP - as they each served Earth and her Colonies in their own way against the Covenant and other threats. Their methods differed, but he could appreciate that different targets needed different methods.

Then they had found out about the Spartan III Program, two months ago.

Shaking off his thoughts, he kept his mouth shut and his guard up as they turned off the corridor and through a pair of blast doors to what appeared to be a briefing room with a man and two women sitting at the table. He didn't recognize the uniform, although the pair of silver stars on his shoulders-

James was about a millisecond way from snapping to attention again and saluting the Flag Officer, when he chanced to look out the window.

Despite having a reaction time in the single digit milliseconds, it took James several long seconds to realize what he was staring at.

The enormous battle outside that wasn't moving.

With a disbelieving feeling in his mind, he slowly walked towards the window, actually ignoring the officers as he blinked rapidly, willing the impossible scene outside the bulkhead to change.

It didn't.

There was a UNSC Type III Orbital Refinery, a pair of blue laser lines linking it to the distant dot of a Covenant Frigate, a silent unmoving explosion of debris spewing out from the impact point. Closer, a pair of Longsword Fighters were frozen in the middle of a Hammer-break turn onto a flight of Covenant fighters, the glare of a missile launch clear from under its wing, but the missile unmoving despite all evidence of its blazing engine he could see.

Taking in the wider view, he could see plasma torpedoes and flaming stations, missiles and MAC rounds all frozen in place, suddenly feeling a return of the crushing weight of the G forces that had almost knocked him out in the thruster pack as he stared at the impossible scene…

"Sir…is this a recording…or a display of some kind?" he asked the only possibility that came to his mind. If so, it was by far the highest resolution screen he had everseen in his life, his enhanced eyesight normally able to pick out the slight hints of even the best holographic projection, but this

"I'm afraid not Son" the flag officer said with a sympathetic look on his face. "Crazy as it sounds, time has been stopped outside this ship. Or more accurately, time on and around this ship has been sped up...considerably. So relative to the outside world, we're moving much faster and they are effectively not moving".

"But we…Sir, how is that possible?" James asked in a somewhat bewildered voice, suddenly wishing that John or even Doctor Halsey was here as he tried to wrap his mind around the concept. He was hardly 'dumb', all the Spartan II's had IQ's that rated above the genius level and the best educations the UNSC could provide. But nothing in his life had prepared him for this bizarre idea.

"The hell if I know Chief, I didn't invent the crazy technology" the senior officer grunted in a tone that suggested he wasn't very comfortable with the situation either, a fact that immediately helped James feel somewhat more comfortable, taking a final glance at the impossible stage outside the ship before slowly moving towards the offered seat and standing at parade rest, politely ignoring the offered chair he knew could not possibly take the weight of his armor.

"With all due respect Sir" he finally put in as he decided to get to the bottom of everything, "what is going on?"

"Well this might take some time Chief" the General sighed, before giving a wry look to the window. "But as we appear to have plenty of it…"

0635 Hours, September 22nd, 2552 (Military Calendar) /
Reach Station Gamma, Anchor 1 Shipyard Complex, Epsilon Eridani System

Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 edged an optical probe around the corner with the patient ease of long field experience, working to get a visual on the part of the spacedock her and Linda-058 were preparing to breach. Had the Master Chief been anything but the utterly professional soldier the UNSC had trained him to be, he might well have been tempted to curse at the stupidity of this whole mission. The idea that someone could be so flippant with something as sacrosanct as the Cole Protocol was appalling to his disciplined and military mind, but even worse was the fact that he had been forced to divert to clean up the mess, leaving the bulk of his people to head down to Reach, without him in command as he should be.

But he ultimately was the professional soldier the UNSC had trained him to be, as were his Spartans. Long field experience had taught him that no battle plan ever survived contact with the enemy, so he would focus on his mission, adapting and improvising where needed to get the job done, even to the point of putting aside James MIA status, forcing himself to only consider the loss of a teammate in terms of the diminishing of his team's firepower and flexibility. There would be time to mourn for his loss later.

Because now, as ever, the mission came first.

The optical probe finally came into position and started scanning, sending its data via fiber optics to his suits computers which processed it, combining the raw video feed with a tactical overlay as they picked out and highlighted hostile targets, key points of interest and anything else worth noticing, sending the combined image to his visors HUD as he slowly panned the camera back and forth to make sure he got as clear a picture as possible of what was going on.

He almost whished he hadn't.

The bay itself was a standard utility bay design identical to, if somewhat larger than those used on UNSC Super-MAC stations. A split level design, the lower level was filled with small to medium sized births, with an upper level catwalk typically used to hold heavy loading equipment to unload cargo. Opposite the main station bulkhead the airlock John and Linda were in sat were the space doors, floor to ceiling hatches made mostly out of heavy transparent plate embedded into Titanium-A frame with yellow and black caution markings. A quick glance through them provided quite a view of the intense dogfights around the station itself, but John swung his vision to the far side of the bay instead. The six oversized docking slips in the bay were half empty, with a pair of somewhat battered looking Pelicans in the number 4 and 5 slots, and what looked for all the world like a civilian yacht in the final bay that grabbed his attention at once, as he focused in on the large white circle stenciled on the bow of the ship where its name should have been.

That had to be the Circumference he thought quietly to himself as he took a few moments to study his objective...and almost immediately spotted the telltale signs of an ONI 'special action ship' in the subtle layers of armor plating and retractable antenna ports spotted over the hull, as well as the distinct lack of any traceable markings.

Momentarily, he wondered about exactly what 'black' operation must have been abandoned in a hurry when the Covenant arrived for it to have been left here, unsecured, before he dismissed the thoughts as irrelevant and worked to take in the wider situation at a glance.

Two births short of the ONI sneak job on the 'lower' floor, John caught glimpses of a firefight in progress through the catwalk grating, the silent flashes of green and blue of plasma weapons counterpointed against the sharp yellow flashes of human firearms, his IFF system overlaying transponders from a short squad of Marines in armored vac-suits, probably summoned by the dock master AI to destroy the unsecure NAV database. He couldn't see who they were fighting against, but a few bays closer to him he spotted a number of Jackles and Grunts, all impatiently in reserve as other Covenant troops fought in the tight confines...and between them and the forces already engaged, the few Marines left wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.

Well, unless Blue Team acted.

Killing the visual feed and letting the probe snap back into his left gauntlet, he retrieved assault rifle and mentally mapped out his plan of attack as he moved into a half crouch. Linda would be better left back here, engaging the Covenant reserve force with her unique skills to eliminate them as a threat to him, while he moved over the upper level to the Circumference in the confusion. Once there, he could find or make a way in, eliminate the NAV database and then descend to help the Marines, if any were still alive.

And as uneasy as the idea of putting the lives of fellow soldiers second was to him, an Alpha-Priority redirect was just that; everyone was expendable in the completion of the mission before any other priority, even him.

So he steeled himself and slipped the safety off his weapon.

"Suppress those Jackals Blue-One. I'll make a break for the Circumference".

"There are a lot of them" Linda noted in an almost clinical voice as she cradled her enormous rifle with the careful precision of a master of her work, having already positioned herself in the best position to engage the enemy from the small airlock they were holed up in "This may take a few seconds".

From anyone else, such a comment might have been taken as a joke.

However, just as she was about to prove to the doomed Jackals she was not joking, the Chiefs motion tracker pulsed a yellow 'unknown' contact behind him at extreme range. On reflex, he turned and brought his rifle to bear in the direction as the contact faded…and saw nothing.

Of course, the probability was that it actually was nothing. A piece of debris or false sensor reading that the computer had eliminated after a second 'look' at the data.

But...his gut said something else.

One of the most valuable lessons he had learned from Chief Mendezhad been to always remember that his 'gut' was worth far more than any sensor system in the field, as while sensor technology could offer a significant tactical advantage, it was only ever as useful as the total field experience of some pimple faced lab technician who had programed it...

"Hang on, Blue-One" he said to Linda without looking back, switching his helmet over to low light mode as he eased back and started retracing his steps. "Possible contact, I'm going to check our six".

A single blue acknowledgement light flashed briefly, signifying her understanding as he stepped away, Linda 'falling' lightly to the deck as he moved away, gliding silently forward into the docking bay to secure a better vantage point on her targets, the death sentence of the Jackals and Grunts not in any way commuted, simply... suspended.

For now.

The Master Chief in turn eased back down through the airlock to the far side, a small anteroom with a flight of stairs ascending in front of him, and large double doors to his left and right that led into the cargo bays situated behind the docking bays. Turning left through the open doors there, he entered the cargo bay where the contact had pulsed for a second, his weapon following his gaze as he swept for contacts in the huge room. Irrationally, he almost wished Cortana had still been loaded onto his suit before he had deployed on this mission, without Linda or James backing him up, he couldn't help but feel exposed and alone like this, but he pushed aside the feelings as he moved on his sweep, resolving to clear the bay quickly of any threat, before getting back on his mission.

It was a task easier said than done of course. The entire station had been depressurized by the stations AI before it had committed suicide to avoid capture by Covenant forces, and it had fired thrusters to kill the rings rotation and simulated gravity for good measure, meaning his process was slow and careful rather than the quick sweep he would have preferred. Almost all the lights were dead thanks to the loss of primary power, leaving only the chemically powered emergency lights in operation, casting a dull red glow that was fine for smaller spaces, but in this huge space, filled with all manner of shipping containers and crates, the minimal light only deepened shadows all but opaque even to his enhanced eyesight.

He was heartened by the thought that the dark, Zero-G vacuum would make things hard for the Covenant, but it was no picnic for him or his team either. Despite the intense Zero-G combat training all Spartans had gone through, as well as the extensive experience in everything from covert infiltrations of enemy ships in thruster packs to riding Zero-G Assault Booster Frames into ship to ship combat, he just didn't like it. Very few Spartans did really, the enhanced speed, protection and strength their armor and augmentations gave them was frankly more of a liability in this environment than an asset. Even as he now 'walked' with the magnetized soles of his armor holding his suit on the deck, he had to take far greater care with his footing then he would on any planet; the mass of his power armor combined with the reduced grip meant it would be all too easy to go flying from a slight misstep...

...and a misstep would be all too easy to make in the dim blood red emergency lighting. All manner of things could hide in it or along the floor to disrupt his footing, so many shadows blurring detail away, like that shadow that had just detached itself from the wall and edged out in front of him, shimmering into visibility as its active camouflage buffers overheated in the vacuum, yet still all but invisible in dull, non-reflective grey armor.

It was an Elite Commando. ONI had long ago tagged the species with the name 'Sangheili', but he still continued to use their original designator, finding that in his mind it far better described both their threat and position in the Covenant hierarchy on a tactical level…and their threat.

The warrior leaders of the Covenant had been a rare sight in the early years of the war with humanity, the aliens content on the few times they bothered to send in ground troops to use legions of Grunts and Jackals, no matter how many it took. But over the last year, sightings of the Elites had increased dramatically to the point that ONI was actively speculating on reasons to the sudden doctrinal shift. Some analysts had posited that small scale Elite 'commando' units were becoming increasingly active in the Covenant ground forces because they were running low on 'rank and file' troops, and were resorting to using small bands of 'Elite' units as the tip of the spear. Others claimed that the Elites themselves had not held 'average' human troops as generally worthy their presence on the battlefield, but had formed dedicated 'seek and kill' Commando units to hunt down Spartans for various honor or glory reasons. Still others claimed there was evidence that the senior Covenant members often appeared to be tasked to go find things other than humans to kill on the ground, a theory that had apparently been given a significant boost following the events on Sigma Octanus IV.

The Master Chief didn't really care about the big picture, focusing on the immediate threat as he always did. His Zero-G training held as he plated his foot and swung his rifle up, the half visible alien starting to level a plasma rifle of its own-

-at which point an orange bolt of energy shot in from a cross corridor deeper in the station and smacked into the Elite, square in its head.

The Elites armor was shielded just like his and earlier in this engagement outside as they had swarmed the station it had taken him several bursts of gunfire to collapse its shields, even before trying to punch through its armor. But whatever this bolt of energy was, it wasn't even slowed down by the Covenant shield, which overloaded in a golden flash milliseconds before the surprised Elites head was scattered all over the room, the headless corpse pinwheeling backwards to bounce off the wall and start drifting towards the 'ceiling', and leaving a trail of purple spheres spraying out in its wake.

After that display of firepower, Johns first reaction was, understandably in his mind, to swing his weapon across to cover the cross corridor from where the energy blast had come, taking two quick steps back into the darkened cover of a heavy shipping crate where he would be able to hit whatever the hell had just done that should it be necessary, only to hesitate moments later as his motion tracker activated, this time with a green dot moving closer on his motion tracker, rather than a red dot, which could only mean a friendly with a recognized UNSC transponder.

"Blue Leader?"

Johns eyes widened slightly and his aim point lowered a fraction as he started to slowly move forward. It couldn't be...

It was. Spartan James-005 stepped through the doorway alive and well, an oversized heavy weapon of some kind covering the body of the Elite as it slowly rose above him to make sure it was down for the count before he let the weapon rest easy in Zero-G, turning towards his CO who had also snapped his MA5B down and left to bring the muzzle out of the firing line. The other Spartans armor looked like it had been through a year's worth of fighting and field repairs as opposed to being on its first combat mission, a number of grey 'patches' across the armor clearly showing where James must have been some quick field repairs, mostly around the Thruster Pack mounting points where the armor looked somewhat charred. How exactly James had managed to arrest his uncontrolled spin in the middle of hoards of Covenant, get back to the station, repair his armor and then come find him after apparently 'borrowing' one of their weapons...would probably be an interesting story, later.

But the mission clock was still running.

The other Spartan also clearly decided against wasting time with long explanations, simply reaching up with two fingers to 'draw' a line across his visor from left to right, the Spartan symbol for 'smile' and probably the most open emotion any of them would ever show in the field.

The Chief returned the gesture and with a slight inclination of his head signaled a fallback towards Linda as he triggered Blue-Teams channel, an update passing across the tactical net as James's suit re-linked to the squad COM Network

"Six clear, returning with Blue Two" he said, receiving a quick pair of yellow flashes from Linda to showed she understood what he had just said, but was lightly engaged/engaging the enemy at this time, causing John to hurry his steps as much as he dared in the Zero G as he retraced his steps back to her.

"We have at least a platoons worth of Elites coming in behind us" James spoke up for the first time since rejoining, all business as the pair moved in standard close combat sweep drills towards Lindas NAV marker in Bay-9, the other Spartan hefting his heavy weapon by a convenient carrying handle, but for now sweeping with his M6D sidearm that was better suited for quick close quarters movement, checking their six constantly as they moved back towards Linda. "I've laid a few surprises in their path, some directional mines and explosive charges to make them think twice, but given how many are back there, it won't slow them down for very long".

John flashed an acknowledgement light at the report, pondering at how the tactical situation was continuing to devolve and wondering what else could go wrong on this mission. The time limit had now become critical; they had to blow through the enemy in front, complete their objectives and secure an exfiltration route quickly, or they would be caught between two forces and wiped out. Again, he found himself wishing he had brought Cortana along. Had she been present, he would have been tempted to simply blow through to the Circumference and take her straight out of the dock. As exfiltration craft went, it was probably ideal after all, and he had no doubt the spirited artificial intelligence would have found it the AI equivalent of child's play to break through any ONI Cyberwar defenses to give him control.

It was somewhat strange, despite only having worked with her once that he found himself missing both her creativity in problem solving in addition to the wide array of additional abilities and options she brought to his team, wondering if she would have seen another option here that he was missing...

But she wasn't here, and he didn't have time to second guess himself, so they would have to do it the messy way.

Hurrying back through the Airlock as Blue-Two paused to cover their six, the Chief edged around the far door and moved out onto the raised first story catwalk over the docking bay in a crouch, working his way along the catwalk to a point near Linda, who he saw had drifted up to the ceiling and the pools of darkness behind a still functional floodlight, the Spartans 'loan wolf' methodically picking off her targets on the 'ground' level, barely visible even to his enhanced eyesight. As he glanced back down at the confused mess she had made of the reserve force, he spotted a flash of blue moving back from the fight near the Circumference and opened his mouth to warn her.

He needn't have bothered; a match-grade hand loaded Sabot round blew through the lower ranking Elites head, but a fraction of a second too late as it stabbed its hand right at the area the concealed Spartan was hiding.

Cannon fodder they may be, but Jackals were not stupid. Almost at once, the Jackles snapped around and brought their shields online in a wall between them and Linda, falling back as a group to the narrow access point between bays 3 and 4 and the space doors, Grunts cowering behind the shield wall - except for one who foolishly -if bravely- tried to aim a fuel rod projectile launcher upwards through a gap in the shields, an explosion of blue blood rapidly putting paid to that attempt before it could even begin to pull the trigger.

John suppressed a curse as their cover was blown, recognizing the delaying tactic when he saw it. Trying to punch through would be long work, trying to go over them in slow Zero-G motion would be near suicide, and with an unknown number of Covenant still furiously engaging the grimly entrenched Marines in the bay the Circumference was in...

"Incoming aft" James spoke up from ten meters back at the door, the same contacts showing up on the Chiefs own motion tracker via datalink from a stay-behind sensor James had clearly left back deeper in the cargo area, before he felt a muffled explosion through the deck and the first wave of the dots vanished rather abruptly.

"Only two more surprises left" the other warned, stepping back inside the airlock and, with a grunt, pulling the heavy door shut, jamming it shut by the simple expedient of tearing out the servos with his power armor enhanced strength as he did so. Simultaneously, Linda almost casually bounced a heavy sniper round off the upper curve of a Jackals shield to tear through the body of yet another Grunt behind the wall and wing a second, the remaining diminutive aliens at that point throwing their hands up and running for the dubious cover of the next bay and the other Covenant troops there as they broke. "I don't think it'll make them hold back for long".

"Then we can't waste time" the Chief pointed out, before he frowned and looked again at the huge gun James was carrying. If it could blow right through an Elites shield without slowing down...

"Blue-Two, up front" he ordered. "Break up the Jackals formation and see what you can do about the rest of them. Blue-One, I'm going for the Circumference. Cover me".

Lights blinked blue on his HUD and James moved up behind him, getting a firm grip on his weapon. John checked again that his assault rifle was attached to his armors magnetic clamps before grabbing handholds on either side of the airlock and pulling himself forward hard, flinging himself at speed above the first level catwalk towards his target, trusting his path to Sir Isaac Newton, and his safety to his comrades.

The launch wasn't perfect, he picked up a slight rotation as one of the handrails warped from the strain of his power armor enhanced strength pulling on it, but he dared not try to correct it, he was more or less on course and speed, and right now, speed was life.

The rotation also happened to give him probably the best view he could have asked for as James popped up from behind the walkway he had hid behind, cradling his confiscated weapon carefully as he opened fire into the center of the Jackals shield wall.

A pair of long orange bolts sizzled down directly into the packed Jackals, their close formation with overlapping shields dooming them as the orange bolt impacted and washed over several of the overlapping shields, shorting them out in blue explosions of plasma and throwing a half dozen Jackles back like bowling pins from a terrific kinetic release of some kind. The next bolt followed a fraction of a second later and hit the floor where they had just been standing, exploding the grating there like a fragmentation bomb just behind the remaining shields, shredding the line and sending Jackals –and parts of the same- exploding in all three dimensions throughout the bay.

Moments later, a pair of Elites from the forward assault force, one in deep blue and one in bloody scarlet came hurrying back to the disintegrating reserve force with a Hunter pair in two, the two massive walking tanks stomping forward malevolently in the Elites wake through -and at least twice over- the grunts still running around in terror there, their inbuilt fuel rod cannons starting to come up under instruction from the Elites towards James, none of the quartet even glancing in the direction of the Chief as he silently sailed by down the far bulkhead...just as a brilliant white explosion of light burst in from outside the station.

The launch bay space doors tinted slightly and filtered out some of the light, and what was left was automatically eliminated by the adaptive visors on the Spartans power suits and Marines vac Suits, but the Elites and Hunters staggered for a moment at the flash. It proved to be a moment too long though, as Linda placed two precise shots through the atmospheric field generators on each of the Hunters suits as they instinctively contracted against the flash of light and exposed the circuitry to attack. Designed not to deflect weapons fire but to maintain an standard atmospheric pressure around the Hunters, the field collapsed in milliseconds and doomed the Mgalekgolo colonies, the decompression tearing the two creatures apart before they could brace themselves, let alone try to protect themselves from the hard vacuum, before Linda switched targets and neatly put the last two rounds from her clip through each Elites head on the move as she kicked off from her perch to relocate.

The somewhat gruesome sight however vanished for the Chief as the Circumference came back intoview right in front of him. Judging his moment carefully, his hands shot out at a convenient protrusion from the sleek black 'yacht' and crashed to a bone jarring halt that actually bent the tough spaceframe somewhat, reminding him again that while he had no weight in Zero-G, he did have mass…and there were limits even to his strength.

None the less he had reached his goal and as quickly as he dared, he swung his legs back down into contact with the hull, allowing the magnetic seal to re-establish as he 'stood', now oriented somewhat perpendicular to the bay decks, but not taking notice as he strode quickly forward towards the bow of the ship to seek entry.

He found he was not alone when he arrived; one of the Marines from the fire team had already made his way over, and with a shaped charge no less, surprising the Chief. To get from the hastily rigged barricade below to the ship in such a short space of time, to say nothing of having the presence of mind to take advantage of the break in the fighting as the men mopped up the last of the Grunts to complete the mission...

It spoke of a highly skilled and focused Marine. His IFF Tag declared he was one STF-SSGT JOHNSON...

...And although the Chief didn't have the first clue why, for one microsecond as he came to a halt where the Marine was finishing setting the C-12 breaching charge, suddenly something felt very right about his presence here.

Shaking off the odd thought, he brought his attention to the mission once more as the Sergeant finished his work with an ease and smoothness that said much of his experience, looking up at the Chief as hand hovered over the timer. The Chief shot him a quick '5' hand signal, the junior NCO nodding and setting the timer before swinging off and under the ship where he would be protected from the blast, the Chief likewise retreating behind the flaring of the ships starboard wing and making sure his shields were set to full as he braced himself.

A loud explosion rattled through his boots into his armor, like the sound of some huge bell cracking under stress as the breaching charge detonated, shattering the cockpit windows like tissue paper. He was in motion even before the last of the shrapnel bounced off his shields, moving along the hull into a diving roll that let him somersault through the breech into the wrecked command deck.

"Blue-Leader" Linda's voice broke in as he reached for the access panel in the floor where the database chip would be, "massive motion contacts inbound from all directions, the station is crawling. Blue-Two is powering one of the Pelicans for hot dust off"

As always, each member of Blue Team could damn near read the minds of the others, guessing what was likely to be the next move. Flashing his blue acknowledgement light, the Chief pulled the access panel off next to the Captains chair and quickly found the objective, the small pink NAV Database crystal.

It was tiny he noted distantly as he removed it from its slot. The size of his thumb…such a small thing to cause so much trouble.

No more.

A quick tightening of his hand into a fist instantly crushed the crystal against the unyielding pressure of his armor, nothing but a fine powder of pink shards drifting out as he opened his hand again, the crystalline lattice that held the data destroyed well past the point of no return.

One small victory for the day. Earth was least for a while.

"Mission accomplished" he broadcasted as he hurried for the entrance which now became his exit. "Blue-One, find the manual release-"

"Already got it Master Chief" an unfamiliar voice broke in over his line, his HUD board showing that it belonged to Sergeant Johnson who indeed had hustled over to the nearest door and the emergency release next to it, slamming a fist into a large red button, then yanking at the heavy lever that exposed itself, the massive floor to ceiling space doors starting to retract on backup battery power.

"Blue-Team, Marines, fall back, fall back" the Chief ordered over the general UNSC ground frequency as he emerged through the hole in the side of the ship and kicked down to the deck where the Marines had made their stand, the charcoal grey vac-suits of the remaining four members of the squad hustling for the Pelican carrying the bodies of two others, but he paused for a moment to take in the mess Linda and James had made of the main body of Covenant troops.

And mess was probably the best word for it. Blue and purple alien blood had splattered all over the place, sticking to whatever surfaced it collided with. The two Hunters, always so terrifying and imposing on the ground had 'leaked' all over the floor in an orange stain, their almost impervious armor scattered around the floor as the worm colonies had lost all cohesion when the atmospheric pressure had been cut, fused bits of flesh and metal clouding the air as a result of the weapons fire from James.

He made a mental note to find out where James had gotten that weapon from, guessing it was a Covenant prototype or special issue weapon. Hopefully, he would get a closer look later on, and hopefully do so before Jorge-052 saw it, his heavy weapons specialist having the most vexing habit of 'borrowing' the newest toys NAVSPECWEP delivered to the Spartan IIs without the slightest intention of giving them back, at least until the next new 'toy' came along...

The dull thud of an explosion and corresponding blue flash of a plasma grenade detonation from the direction of the door James had forced shut, however, brought his focus back to the present quite quickly. He hurried the last few meters to the ship and crashed up the ramp just behind Sergeant Johnson, the trio of Marines already strapping in as Linda hit the ramp controls, a swarm of red dots starting to pour into docking bay as he made for the cockpit.

"We've got company Boss" Blue-Two said unnecessarily as the Chief vaulted up into the navigator/gunnery station behind the pilots chair as the ship lifted, pleased to see that James had brought the weapons systems online without needing to be asked. Automatically, his suit interfaced through the cockpit datalink pilot helmets used and switched his HUD switched over to FLIGHT mode as he brought the weapons array online, targeting crosshairs and tactical displays materializing as his HUD the enemy came into view.

The first Grunts, Jackals and Elites stormed into the bay from the door they had blown open, spilling out along the catwalk the Spartans had occupied only minutes ago as the ship came to a hover, plasma weapons clutched in their fists glowing ominously as they overcharged them and started to point towards the cockpit...

...making them the first to die.

The chin-mounted 40mm rotary cannon blazed away smoothly as the Chief overrode the safety interlock that would normally have prevented him from firing inside the hanger bay and squeezed his triggers, swinging the lead computing aim point smoothly from left to right through the largest concentration of enemy forces. A cloud of shrapnel and gore exploded from the catwalk, joined by the few survivors jumping desperately for the ceiling or the deck to get out of the way as the rest quite sensibly hesitated in pushing through the breach point, all in all providing plenty of time for James to back them out of the bay and spin around, before kicking in the main thrusters and shooting them away from the station and into space...

...Which, rather suspiciously was empty of the salvos of plasma, missiles and cannon fire that should have been there from the massive dogfight that had supposedly been raging through the shipyards.

James increased the throttle to full anyway, and started an almost automatic evasive routine, loathe to fly straight and level in what by all logic should have been an intense combat zone, but the Chief ordered him to ease off after a glance at the navigators enhanced tactical displays confirmed nothing but green transponder signals in close orbit...and what could only be the remains of a massive explosion between the planet and Csodaszarvas, its closest moon, a ring of debris and vapor tinged in orange and yellows still slowly expanding, long range imagery on the data-net placing targeting brackets around the shattered remains of Covenant warships around the periphery of what had to have been one hell of an explosion.

"Well I'll be damned" James whispered softly as they both stared at what John realized must have been the source of the white flash he had noted inside the docking bay. "They did it...they really did it".

"So it appears" John replied evenly as he scrolled down the Pelicans communication board looking for the Pillar of Autumn, starting an upload of the secure encryption schemes RED FLAG was using from his armors COM system at the same time, as he conceded that it did appear that against all odds, the Covenant assault had been not just repelled, but broken.

Even stranger, he found the Autumn in a higher orbit then the bulk of the surviving fleet that had dispersed into task groups to start mop up and recovery operations with, of all things, an ONI defined 'no go zone' bubble painted on his tactical map around both the Autumn, and another ship shown in the yellow of for 'Non-Hostile Unknown' next to her, with at least a half dozen Pelican dropships shown as on inbound vectors for the Autumn from both Vice Admiral Whitcomb's flagship the Trafalgar and Reach itself.

Very Odd.

Finally, the communications board pinged that it had incorporated the new encryption scheme. Activating the link, he gave the success code word for Blue Team and was just about to tell James to abort his approach and instead head for Reach and RED TEAM on the surface when his board suddenly went black as a higher priority override cut in. Moments later, Cortana herself materialized on the holographic pedestal next to the pilot's station, glancing first at him and then James, an eyebrow raised in a manner that for just a second, reminded the Master Chief almost overwhelmingly of Doctor Halsey for some reason.

"I have to admit Petty Officer, I am impressed" the AI said cheerfully to the junior Spartan, crossing her tiny arms over her chest as she studied the person in the pilot's chair. "I always pegged the Master Chief as the lucky Spartan...but you may well have just completely skewed the scale today for the entire human race".

John's frown depended somewhat at the comment that was odd, even by Cortanas standards, but before he could ask, Cortana had already turned towards him.

"Chief, I take it from the codeword that your mission was accomplished without any particular trouble?"

"It was accomplished" he corrected her, thinking about how close they had come to loosing James and guessing that Cortana must have been watching their insertion from the Autumn and been referring to his slim escape from death in her earlier comments. "I could have done with your help, at a couple of points".

"So you did miss me" she replied lightly with a smile, before her attitude turned more serious again as James started his deceleration burn onto the final approach. "Good news from RED team, they deployed with the Daredevils successfully and were able to repel a rather serious attack on the generator complex with some, shall we say, rather creative tactics?" she suggested, before the smile on her face faded a little, along with her color to a purple hue. "I have to report though, that four Spartans were injured in the battle. They'll live and are expected to make a full recovery, but they'll probably need some recovery time before being cleared for Field Ops again".

"Understood" he replied in a neutral tone that somewhat masked his relief. Against such an overwhelming attack and fighting a defensive battle in a fixed position, getting off with so few injured, and injured non-critically, was somewhat surprising, given the difficulty of holding a fixed position against a numerically superior mobile force with plenty of firepower to spare. And as he ran his eyes over the fleet transponder lists, he couldn't help but note that while some ships were clearly gone that had been active before, the numbers were actually not substantially lower either, almost as if instead of the typical loss ratio of three to one UNSC ships for each Covenant ship, the Covenant had lost eight ships for every UNSC ship...which was impossible.

The Covenant Supercarrier aloneshould have taken a bloody price in ships and people to eliminate, yet it was clearly marked as a destroyed contact right in the middle of that massive explosion...

Something was not...right here. And as the unknown Human ship came fully into view as James started his final approach towards the Autumn, following Cortana's helpfully plotted NAV markers, the AI having no doubt cleared their approach through the ONI 'Red-Zone', the feeling only grew in the Master Chiefs mind that something big had happened while they were on the station.

"Back on topic" Cortana continued, once again turning to face James. "Spartan...this may sound a little crazy...but can you please clarify precisely what you have been doing over the last twelve hours?"

Okay...that really is a crazy question, the Master Chief silently agreed, knowing full well what the Spartan had been doing during that time -and knowing that Cortana knew as well!

At least until James started to answer the question.