Prologue: The Artifact in the Ice
"Conquered we rise, conquers they fall"- unknown UNSC ship captain upon witnessing the destruction of High Charity
May 21 2650, 4th R&D Fleet en route to Shanxi system space.
Captain Marcus McHenery of the 4th research and development fleet was not having a good day. Hell he wasn't having a good week. 6 days ago he and his entire fleet were called to investigate some sort of anomaly in one of the ice moons on the far reaches of the Shanxi system. Hell if he knew what was going on the brass was very tight lipped about it all saying only, "It's a matter of UNSC security". Sure… matter of paramount security, why did they send such a relatively small fleet then? He could only assume it was one of those Forerunner installations that the geniuses in the science boats salivated over. Granted he wasn't about to complain if they were going to find an untouched installation, lord knew the breakthroughs brought about by those enigmatic Forerunners catapulted the UNSC forward centuries. And if what some of the uppities said was true then they had only scratched the tip of the iceberg.
Hell his own fleet consisting of 2 Halcyon light Cruisers, 6 Charon class Frigates and his own flagship the newly designated Dreadnaught Capital Ship greatly benefited from the discoveries. Each ship along with the standard armament of Archer Missile pods, MAC mains guns, and such other standard UNSC equipment were slowly being replaced by the Forerunner tech. For example the new point defense system. Originally utilizing Spartan laser technology the old point defense system was replaced by the hard light laser system. The hard light system had twice the power and a fraction of the cost in energy of the Spartan lasers. Of course the MK3 plasma launcher system wasn't that new of a breakthrough, being utilized since a few years after the end of the Human-Covenant war, they were still damn impressive. Able to pass through and annihilate everything but the thickest and strongest armor the MK3 plasma launcher systems were frightening to behold. The only armor known to withstand multiple direct hits from the system were again, of Forerunner design the new alloys were in a word, amazing. Half the weight of the thick titanium armor of the old UNSC ships and nearly three times as strong it was being mass produced as quickly as possible and fleets new and old were all being refitted with the armor. But the thing that put the real icing on the cake was the DEMs. These babies were almost as strong as the super MACs on capital ships like the UNSC Infinity class, and unlike the MACs they didn't take up a massive portion of the ship. The only downside to the DEMs was the massive energy cost and recharging time. It took up to 2 full minutes to recharge to full power, 4x that of the new standard MACs and 2x that of super MACs. Still research was under way to minimize this cost and the ability to punch through or overload energy shields was a massive boon for any ship and an effort to have at least one installed on every ship produced was underway. All said and done he and pretty much every other naval officer were pretty close to taking a page out of the old Covenant and worshiping the Forerunners as intellectual gods.
Still even all this couldn't prevent his irritated mood at the brass and ONI from ripping him and his crews from shore leave. Mostly he was annoyed about having to leave Reach before the newest version of energy shielding, E shields MK5, were emplaced on his vessels. Those pretty much guaranteed, along with the new FTL slipspace drive that if his fleet was ambushed by covi loyalists he would have enough time to plot an FTL jump and escape. Still it wasn't like the old shields were incapable but like any good military man Marcus liked to hold as many cards as possible. His crews were special to him and if any of them were to die due to lack of technology he was pretty sure heads would roll over at Highcom… okay that may be a slight overreaction. Still the sight of looking over his crew in the bridge was enough to fill him with pride and dispel his foul mood.
The UNSC didn't only advance technologically since the end of the Great War; they also made great strides culturally. About 5 years after the Great War officially ended the separatist faction made it clear that the thrice damned Prophets and their brute and Kig Yar slaves would never again hold power talks began to be held about what the two factions would do politically. To the separatists the humans were the heirs to the mantle of godhood they had worshiped for millennium and beyond that the humans had garnered much respect in their ability to hold out for so long against their mighty hegemony. But on the human side there were two main camps; xenophobic radicals that called for complete isolation from the former covenant and those who held a more rational and forward thinking view of co-existence. Those camps held firm when the separatists came to the UEG senate and requested the assimilation of their two governments and peoples, including all the navies and other military structures that came along with it. The xenophobic side was horrified by the prospect not to mention quite a few government officials in the UEG who worried over the possibility of loss of power and influence. Those officials pushed the vote to the favor of the xenophobic side and for 3 years it was the same situation; the separatists would ask for assimilation and the prospect was voted against. Finally in the 3rd year of this a compromise was made. The separatists would be assimilated into the governments under the conditions that for 2 decades they could hold no major government post that did not pertain to their own species, also in all of their fleets human made AIs were installed that made it if the separatists ever rebelled against the human they would do so without a fleet. This said they were allowed to keep their fleets and their armies while retaining the same government as well. In essence they were made a client state of the UEG for two decades.
The Xenophobes cringed and rejected this with every fiber of their being but the compromise put the moderates on the side of those for assimilation and the motion carried. The assimilation began immediately and the vast majority of the public were content with the situation. After being told of the massive sacrifices the separatists went through to maintain independence from the old covenant made them well enough liked by the people accept for hard core radicals. Those sacrifices and the assistance of several UNSC fleets against the old covenant pretty much dispelled any major dissent over the assimilation. In fact many looked forward to the exchanging of culture, lifestyles and technology that would take place. This kept in mind the first three joint colonies were flooded with civilians from both sides, and soon 10 more colonies were planned to ease the growing demand. Now nearly 70 years later there were over 50 joint colonies new and old. Almost immediately after the twenty year client stage ended the 4 races of the separatists the Sanngheli, the Unggoy, the Mgalekgolo, and even a few sentient machine Huragoks found themselves in positions of power throughout the UEG. This and the wildly different cultures of the new species prompted a name and government change. Thus the New Species Alliance was born or NSA. Several rather historically minded humans made the rather loose name connection to a rather shady intelligence agency of old America. The NSA follow the same guidelines of the old UEG two branches of legislature and executive office who could hold only two terms of five years and a judicial branch. The only major change is the representation of the new races, also the UNSC pretty much still operated outside of most government they only answered to the top three houses of government.
His thoughts straying back to military matters Marcus turned his attention back to the crew steadfastly working in the bridge. The crew itself was a testament to the great strides the NSA has made, humans and Sanngheli officers working side by side supplemented by Unggoy weapon experts and navigators. That last part had come to a great shock to the UNSC, while there was no doubt zero racism towards the Unggoy within most crews of the UNSC many did wonder what true value they could be for the UNSC. The brass and marines always viewed the diminutive methane breathers as being used only as cannon fodder by the Covenant, and for the most part they were right. However many Unggoy it seems were well versed in the use and maintain of heavy weapons not only on the ground but weapon systems aboard almost all ships. Also they were apparently the chief navigators for the covenant as they showed an uncanny ability to plot near perfect slipspace runs. All this taken account the old covenant still aggressively dominated the Unggoy because of their diminutive stature and reliance on their re-breathers. It seemed after years of oppression the Unggoy had finally had enough. The news of their precious religion being a lie was the last straw on the camel's back and they violently revolted against the brutes and prophets. Supported by the Sanngheli and Mgalekgolo they freed their home world and several other methane based colonies firmly planting abandonment from the covenant.
Captain McHenery was finally ripped from his musings by the same Unggoy navigator he was considering. "10 minutes until we arrive in the Shanxi system captain", the navigator announced. Thank God. Marcus was never one for slipspace; the never ending odd grey white plane filled him with unease.
"Good, send a message fleet wide telling them to head directly towards the ice moon". The comms officer nodded curtly and went about sending his message. 10 minutes later in Shanxi space several slip space ruptures opened and spat out the large blocky vessels that designated the UNSC. After a few more minutes the ships were stopped in front of the ice moon where the anomaly originated.
Surveying the moon for several minutes Captain McHenery got more and more uneasy. There wasn't anything there nothing at all to denote the sending of the 4th R&D fleet. Finished with his survey and wanting answers he moved his hand to the communications system installed within his chair. "Head scientist Shimazu report to the bridge right away", intoned the captain to the small speaker. "Are you detecting anything Lee?" McHenery asked as a small figure dressed in a grey 19 century military dress appeared on the holopad near the captain.
"Yes sir", replied the ships onboard AI in a refined southern USA accent, "But I would rather have Ms. Shimazu here when I explain it". Marcus always wondered why the AI chose to appear and sound like the rather famous general who fought against the Union in the American civil war. Lee always replied he had a great respect for the man who fought for his people and his beliefs. He vehemently agreed those beliefs were wrong but still he liked the general's character and thought he was a very talented military mind. Soon enough the sound of high heels against the metal of the ship could be heard coming closer to the bridge. The main door shot open to admit a rather frazzled looking middle aged Asian human with shoulder length black hair dark brown almost black eyes and almost unnoticeable wrinkles beginning to form on her forehead.
"You wanted me aboard the bridge sir?" said Narina.
"Yes as you can see we have arrived at the moon where the anomaly supposedly came from, said McHenery slowly, "The only problem is there's nothing there. Not a single thing that would send Highcom and ONI into such a tizzy." Taking in his words Narina looked out the bridge's windows towards the small moon, after a much faster scan than the captain's she realized the truth to his words. A small frown grew on her face as the wrinkles on her forehead grew slightly more prominent.
"As I said I believe I can answer this problem", Lee said as he interrupted Narina and the Captain from their private musings. They said nothing simply looking at Lee as to say "Go on, tell us". "The problem can be easily explained, the anomaly is not coming from the moon's surface but within it", Lee revealed. The look of both shock and embarrassment was evident on both of their faces as they regarded the simple hypothesis they forgot to check.
"Well, have you determined the source of the anomaly?" asked Captain McHenery finally.
"Ahh yes, and this is the rather hard part while most ice moons are formed around large asteroids that accumulated water over slow periods of time the center of this moon is massive forked shaped object made of metal", Lee explained to the two.
"So why the anomaly, is it a forerunner installation?" Narina asked barely containing the glee in her voice.
After taking some time to consider this (1.5 seconds) Lee stated, "I'm not quite sure, the metal is unlike anything I have ever encountered, akin the Forerunner alloys in some ways. But that's not the interesting part", he continued. "The anomaly that was detected was a small surge of dark matter", he stated finally. "Not dangerous amounts to be sure but enough to alert the colony of something amiss"
The look on Captain Marcus' face grew grim; he knew the dangers of dark energy rather well. 'Bastards' thought Marcus, 'they didn't even warn us, heads are gonna roll in ONI and Highcom whether anyone is hurt or not'. "Is it a weapon of some kind?" asked Marcus as his mind strayed to the Halo installations.
"Without complete scans I cannot be sure", replied Lee "However preliminary scans seems to indicate that the dark matter is meant to be contained within to massive rings between the two prongs of the fork. What purpose this serves I can only guess at, but unless some species discovered how to harness the power of dark matter directly it is not a weapon", Lee proclaimed with an air of confidence.
While Captain McHenery mulled this over Narina spoke up again. "Is there any way we could safely get to the device?"
"Without damage? No other than slowly melting the ice away with the hard light systems at low levels, which would take days to do there is no way to get through the ice", answered an Unggoy weapons specialist sitting close by.
"Do we have that kind of time?" Asked Narina.
Captain McHenery chose this moment to speak up again. "No we don't for whatever reason Highcom was very adamant about this being done very quickly. Don't ask me why I didn't ask to be sent from shore leave".
"Actually I have an idea", Lee interjected. "During my scans I noticed a sort of computer interface, I accessed it and while it is very foreign to me I discovered that it could very easily be remotely activated. Once activated it seems to generate enough heat to melt the center of the Ice moon causing the outlying ice to simply breakaway"
"Did the interface tell you what this thing does?" asked Marcus and Narina near simultaneously. They both looked at each other with thinly veiled amusement etched on their faces.
"Yes while most of the data was in a bizarre foreign language some was in a form of binary, it was a rather small amount of data but from what I can tell it seems to be some form of FTL not utilizing Slipspace!" Lee finished with an excited edge to his voice.
"If you're right we need to get to this device right now, before the loyalists even get a whiff of a rumor", Captain McHenery said quickly also looking and sounding excited over the prospect.
"So is that clearance to activate the device?" Fired Lee away very quickly
"Yes, wait for my mark I'm going to send a message to the rest of the fleet to get to a safe distance", answered Captain McHenery. About a minute later, "Mark".
Lee nodded to the captain as he turned inwards and sent a tendril of his "conscience" towards the interface. After several milliseconds of going through different data he discovered the triggering sequence. 'Odd', he thought, 'it's so easy to activate this thing it's almost like it wants to be activated' shrugging away that train of thought lee activated the triggering program and returned to his AI memory chip in the UNSC To the Future, the fleets flagship. He and the rest of the fleet watched with fascination as the mechanism made itself know. The moon slowly began to shake the quiver then slowly crack small depressions of ice sunk lower, and then almost spontaneously the moon lost all structure and gravity and simply fell apart large drifts of ice slow expanding away from the massive metal structure. The structure itself immediately dismissed any ideas of Forerunner creation. While the metal was slightly similar the design itself was not like Forerunner design at all, it was oddly reminiscent of the covenant with its smooth aquatic lines and blue accents. Within the prongs of the fork two massive rings spun around a ball of what appeared to be pure dark energy somehow containing it and giving it form. It gave off an eerie blue light that was like nothing any of the crews had ever seen, Or anything in any of the databases.
Turian 33rd Patrol Fleet patrolling around Croton system space.
Commander Torentus Ionelus was having a rather boring day in the void of space that made up nearly all the galaxy. It had been 3 months since the last shore leave and he and the rest of his crew were looking forward for the week to be over and being able to return to the colony. He wasn't a bad Turian by any means he knew his duty and so did his crew and they were as usual and expected performing with an air of professionalism and ease that would put any other race to shame. Yet despite this patrolling this far from Batarian and Terminus space was notoriously dull work and he'd been doing this endless drifting for three months thus his boredom.
All of this was dispelled as soon as he heard the voice of his XO. "Sir the primary relay in this system, it has gone active!" The XO nearly screeched.
Commander Ionelus paused for only a second before replying, "Send a message to the colony and tell them to warn the hierarchy it could be nothing, but it also could be everything". The XO nodded then headed to the comms officer to issue the order. The entire crew knew the dangers of opening a mass relay without the knowledge of where it lead, especially primary relays that could theoretically link to dozens of secondary relays. There could be a race as war loving as the Krogan or as peaceful as the Hanar you just didn't know despite this he smiled and nodded to himself. Perhaps today won't be so boring after all.