Date: 6 June 2003, 12:54 AM
"Keep them coming in. I want those three vessels taken to Dock 16. Any ships with damage, great or minor, I want taken into the Third Docking Bay. Understood?"
The mother ship intercom cackled to life. "Understood, sir. I will instruct as such."
The intercom blared its end-transmission signal, then shut off. The silence became a burden once more.
"I'm afraid I don't understand. Halo is gone, the Covenant are gone, the Flood is gone. What more could there be threatening us?"
Commander Morgan gazed upon the incoming vessels. The question came, and he answered it reluctantly.
"It's hard to explain. Physically, Halo no longer exists."
"Yes. The real Halo is gone. But, even now, it remains a great threat to life in the universe."
The Commander sighed. "Like I said, it's hard to explain. Halo, in short, still exists. However, it only exists virtually. Halo is now fully a computer system. I know, it's strange."
"I'm afraid not. What's even stranger is the fact that it still poses an immediate threat to us and every other living creature in the universe."
The officer questioning the Commander shook his head in shock.
"How do you propose we fight it?"
"We're developing a new system to upload soldiers into Halo's program."
"Why does Halo even still exist, even virtually?"
The Commander leaned towards the window overlooking the docking bay. "I believe the Covenant built the Halo program as a sort of back-up to Halo's physical form."
"I agree. I'm not sure how long it will be before we can get inside the system. Halo could be preparing to annihilate everything as we speak."
"If Halo destroys the universe, how can it survive?"
"Halo exists in another dimension now. The computer program that links it to our world is all it takes to destroy us and still manage to keep it alive."
"Get back to the docking bay. I need those ships ready to go."
"All officers maintain current status. All vessels now on board. Repeat, all vessels now on board."
Sparks flew in all directions across the docking bay. Maintenance crews swarmed the vessels, filling and welding the smallest of holes or repairing any wires and mainframe parts. The only vessel that sustained no damage was the 'Serenity'. She had avoided all contact with Covenant machines, programmed hunting systems.
It was now only a matter of time.
"What have we got so far?"
"The area is clean. Radar shows nothing."
The screen was indeed blank. Looking carefully, however, it was noticeable that a small dot was approaching at intensely high speed.
"Wait...what is that?"
A trembling finger traced along the screen, following the indication.
"I'm working on it," came the response. The operator was already urgent as she scanned the projectile.
"It's moving too fast. I can't scan it."
The closest officer did a quick calculation in his head. Then, turning to the operator, he whispered, "It's a bomb. That's the only thing it can be."
The operator's face flushed.
"Try to avoid panicking. Notify the Commander and have the defenses activated. Understand?"
The operator nodded as she reached for her headset switch. "Commander," she said quietly, doing her best to contain her fright and urgency.
"We have an unidentified projectile inbound and closing in at two hundred fifty-five kilometers per second. Calculations show that we will have contact with the projectile in two minutes, thirty seconds."
"Understood. Activate anti-projectile torpedoes. Use whatever is necessary to take that thing out."
The operator activated several hologram panels and set the controls for five torpedoes to be launched. Within seconds, five trails of flame could be observed heading off into the distance, searching for their target.
The crew could only watch as the torpedoes faded into the black void and eventually disappeared from radar limits.
Finally, after approximately twenty seconds, a faint fireball could be seen. A fraction of a second passed before the silent vacuum sucked the flames into eternity. The sound of the explosion never came either, for it met the identical fate.
After a few more seconds, four more explosions could be seen from the windows of the vessel.
The crew cheered, but their shouts of joy were cut short.
An alarm rang, a piercing sound that shattered the mood and turned heads.
"Operator, what do you have?"
The operator furiously checked the screens and panels, changing views and status screens constantly.
"One moment, sir."
She initiated a rapid scan of the area, but was stopped when the alarm stopped blaring at an consistent rate but instead continued at a steady, nonstop rate.
The crew members gazed at the screens, hoping to find the reason for the warning. Nothing came to them.
"Commander, I can't see anything. There's nothing."
"I'll try a ship scan. The problem may be on board."
A quick scan went out, searching through computer systems, defense systems, condition regulation systems, mechanical systems, etc. Every computer system on board was searched.
The waiting officers and crew stared at the screens for the final report. A single word was all that was displayed: PROCESSING.
An automated voice came through. "Upload commenced, scan data collected and processed. Upload complete."
The screens flashed out the information:
COMPUTER SYSTEM: INFECTED.
DEFENSE SYSTEM: INFECTED.
CONDITION REGULATION SYSTEM: INFECTED.
MECHANICAL SYSTEM: INFECTED.
MAINFRAME COMPUTER SYSTEM: INFECTED.
"Operator, what have you got?"
"Commander, scan reports all major systems are infected. Virus unknown."
The Commander was silent for a moment. "Get on it. Find out what it is, then eliminate it. We've got a sick ship to take care of."
The operator launched a second virus scan, which sent a program that checked the virus for certain qualities and purposes. Location of the internal virus also helped.
The scan report came back after a minute or two. The data displayed that no identification was possible.
"Commander, we are unable to identify the virus. It isn't something we've ever known about."
"Can we get the ships out of here yet?"
"Negative, sir. Repairs are still underway."
"The Serenity doesn't have any problems. Get her off this thing and have her report this to the other mother vessels."
"Right away, Commander."
"Have as many people evacuated as possible."
"The lifeboats won't work. The launch mechanisms have been downed due to the virus."
"Get on it."
Another alarm buzzed, doubling the irritating noise. The operator examined the panels, then noticed the flashing message: "MAINFRAME MALFUNCTION: SYSTEM OVERLOAD."
"What does that mean?" questioned one of the mechanics.
The operator sighed. "This thing is going south."
The Commander sighed with satisfaction and a little sorrow as he watched the Serenity disappear into the blackness. His focus was on the fate of that last ship, even as the mother vessel tore apart.
With one last grown, the mainframe destroyed the other systems, and the ship collapsed as she was blown apart from the inside. A bright flash erupted from her and blinded anything in the area.
When the light faded, a new debris field was formed.
It had begun.
Date: 7 June 2003, 12:55 AM
"I know. It's weird, but it is possible."
"You're saying that this virtual Halo you speak of may have hacked into the mother ship's mainframe and caused the destruction of the vessel?"
"Yes. Halo's virtual existence does not limit its actions. It's possible that Halo could have launched the virus into the system and programmed it to annihilate the ship."
The captain of the mother vessel Perfection debated this over in his mind. "How did they gain access to the system?"
The captain of the vessel Serenity quickly replied, "I'm almost positive there was a break in the links between the systems. The virus could have easily been relayed through a message or some sort of contact between ships."
The captain of the Perfection, Captain Jones, nodded. "I realize what you mean. It's highly possible. Shall I send a message to the closest ship?"
Captain Fargo, ranking officer of the Serenity, shook his head. "No. If another virus program is launched, then it can easily be sent to the ship we contact. We lost the Haymeadow that way."
"If you must inform the other vessels, then send messengers out on some of your warships. It's the safest way."
"And if they're attacked?"
"Then they're attacked. We can't do much. They can fend for themselves."
"We're going to continue to find an anti-virus program for this new menace. Meanwhile, I want several ships to upgrade their systems. Once the program is fully upgraded, search for the Broken Link. That's the point in the system where we can hack into the virtual Halo. Then, we'll have to do whatever we can to destroy it. I'm not sure what will work."
Captain Jones nodded. "We'll work on it."
"Do we have full engine power yet?"
"Yes, Captain. All three engines are powered up and are running smoothly. Shall I order to proceed?"
Captain Fargo gazed out the vast window that separated the Serenity's bridge from the endless void of space. Earth silently rotated in the distance. From such a grand scale, the planet seemed too peaceful, almost a paradise. That is, if anyone can avoid imagining what really goes on down there.
"Yes. Full speed ahead. The mother ship Karunga is a little past Mars. Head directly for it. I want to make it there as soon as technically possible."
Captain Fargo turned and headed away from the window, leaving the two pilots to control the cruiser.
"How is the upgrade going?" Fargo asked the operator as he headed to his display panel.
"Going according to plan, sir. We should be ready in approximately one day."
Fargo sighed heavily. "Very well. Continue at a steady rate."
"Will do, sir," the operator replied.
Captain Fargo turned to his hologram panels, each displaying a different system status. He went about making changes to the ship's internal systems and structures.
Satisfied with his changes, he ran a security scan. The lower deck prisoner holding cells were empty, although they had been previously occupied by a few extra passengers, trying to get to another mother ship.
The ship's automated system made itself known. "All decks clear. No intruders detected. Status: stable."
Now for the worst part, Fargo thought bitterly. He decided to run a virus detection for the ship. He was almost certain that some form of the Halo virus was aboard. If it was, then the Serenity would not last through the hour.
The scan was launched, and the panels indicated the word: "PROCESSING" continuously.
Fargo waited rather patiently for the data to come back. After a few minutes, the automated system came back.
"Scan complete. Data processed, transfer commenced."
Captain Fargo waited for another ten seconds for the data to come through. However, while he expected the information to come through, another system within the ship 'decided' differently. It was the contact system that was infected. Several days before, the Serenity received an infected message from another vessel. The Halo virus was not known to exist then. The virus, miraculously, was somehow confined within the contact system, still trapped inside the sent message. Since the discovery of the Halo virus the previous day, the Serenity's crew had yet to scan the ship for an infection.
Now that it was up to the contact system to relay the information to the display panels, the virus was now to be freed.
The display panel was blank for another second, until a message blared across the screens.
"WARNING: INFECTION. POWER SYSTEM FAILURE. MAINFRAME SHUT DOWN IN TEN SECONDS."
Captain Fargo leaped from his seat and raced down to the operator's station.
"Charge the back-up system. Do it now!"
The operator stopped what she was doing and immediately switched to loading the emergency power system.
Fargo, still hunched over the operator's panels, turned to the pilots. "Stop the ship and shut down your instruments. Stay where you are."
Fargo then braced himself as the ship rumbled from within, then the lights, display panels, and all electrical instruments and systems flickered and died. A distant hum of dying power was all that remained.
"Did you get the back-up loaded?"
"Yes, Captain. It will need a little time because of the sudden loss of power, but we will have all systems online in two minutes."
"Once it is, contact the Lieutenant and have him meet me here."
Once the power was back online, Captain Fargo waited patiently for Lieutenant Jackson to arrive.
With a hiss, the thick steel doors that sealed off the bridge slid open, and the Lieutenant stepped into the room.
"This is about the power failure."
"Of course," Fargo replied. "It was because of an infection within the contact system. Do you know anything about it?"
"I do know that it may have come from a previously infected ship. I believe that it could have made it into the ship through a message. Which one it was and from which ship it came from, I don't know."
Captain Fargo sighed. "It just proves that our contact technology is next to useless right now. The only way to inform other vessels is to travel to them. Our method of instantly sending information back and forth between cruisers is much faster than that. By the time we could ever arrive, it would be too late."
"The ship would be lost, yes. But what of the crew?"
"The Halo virus is designed, I'm sure, to disable all systems aboard a vessel. There'd be no way to launch any lifeboats. The warships are capable of leaving, but usually they are too damaged to leave. We got lucky. We managed to escape with no damage."
"Great. So our anti-virus programs are useless as well."
"Until we discover how to fight it off once it's aboard a vessel, yes," Fargo replied.
"And right now, hacking into Halo's program is the only way."
"Well, let me know what you find if you come across anything. I'm going to check on the upgrade's progress."
"USS Serenity now docking aboard mother ship Karunga, docking bay 3, dock station 17. Level 4."
The Serenity slowed to a halt, just short of grazing the platforms on either side. Her engines shut down, and the loading ramp clanked to the docking platform. Captain Fargo stepped off, followed by Lieutenant Jackson and the rest of the crew.
"Captain, the Commander is waiting for you. Shall I lead the way?"
Captain Fargo agreed and therefore followed one of the Commanders' second officers to his quarters.
"Commander Ford, Captain Fargo of the USS Serenity."
The Commander, aged and gray-haired, turned away from the great window he had overlooking the docking bay. The Serenity was just below.
"Captain Fargo," the Commander said, extending his left hand. "What a pleasant surprise."
"Likewise," Fargo responded, grasping Ford's hand and firmly shaking it. "Is there something you wanted to speak with me about?"
"Yes. It's about the newly discovered Halo virus. I need to know as much about as you can possibly tell me. You are the last person who knows about it, correct?"
The image of the Haymeadow, the last mother ship to be destroyed and the Serenity's previous stop, was too much. Fargo shook his head and returned his gaze towards the window behind the Commander.
"I don't know much about it, but I do know that it can infect a ship through a contact message from another vessel. Apparently there is a break in the system links and we cannot detect it. The virus has most likely been inserted there and was carried to another ship through an infected message or form of contact. We don't have any defense against this virus other than to destroy the infected vessel. However, several other ships are already infected and are sending the virus even further, ahead to different cruisers. We're working on a way to hack into the virtual Halo program. Thus, we can find and eliminate the origin of the virus and then destroy the program."
The Commander nodded. "Is that the only way Halo can destroy us? Through virus infections?"
"I'm not sure. All I know is that our anti-virus defenses don't stop it and we have no way to eliminate it once it is inside our systems."
Commander Ford sighed. "And to think I had our newest systems activated with the anti-virus programs, hoping it would work."
"I know what you mean. Our contact system was infected as well. During a virus scan, it malfunctioned and killed the power."
"When can we expect the upgrades to be complete?"
"By tomorrow, I hope. If the power holds up long enough, and nobody sends the virus any further, then we should be able to get inside."
"How do we contain the virus?"
"Don't allow anyone to send any messages or information between ships. This is what spreads the infection."
"Very well, Captain."
"We'll be setting off tomorrow, once the ship is repaired. Remember what I've said."
Commander Ford nodded, then asked his officers to escort the Serenity's crew to their quarters. He stayed, now alone in his private quarters, and stared down at the docking bay, watching the hundreds of soldiers and crewmen as they worked into the night.
Date: 7 June 2003, 3:35 PM
"USS Serenity now pulling away from the docks. Stand clear."
Captain Fargo leaned over the pilot's seats, watching the rear-view display panel as the ship slowly backed out of the docking station.
A few crewmen from the Karunga waved briefly, then turned and headed for newly arrived vessels.
The Serenity cleared the platforms, then turned slowly and made its way through the bay doors and headed off into space. After clearing the doors, Fargo ordered the ship's engines be put into full throttle. The vessel roared off into the silent vacuum and eventually disappeared.
* * *
"Next stop, Captain?"
"Head for the closest mother ship. I want the extra soldiers stationed there to come aboard. We're going to hack into the Halo program today," Fargo told the operator. "Or at least try."
The operator checked her panels, then stated, "The closest mother ship, the Perfection, is approximately one hour away from our current position."
"Very well. That should give us just enough time to inspect the hacking system."
Captain Fargo sat down in his seat, then activated his display panel. The hologram screens crackled to life, reporting the current status of the vessel's internal systems and structure.
"Captain, we have two unidentified objects closing in at three hundred kilometers per second. We will have contact in one minute, thirty-five seconds."
Fargo stood and headed over to the operator. Leaning over her station, he whispered, "Can we activate the defenses yet?"
"Apparently, they were downed by an unknown cause yesterday while we were docked."
"In fact all the systems were knocked out. However, they recovered by themselves, whereas it required twice as long for the defenses to start self-recovery."
"How much time?"
"I'd say about one minute."
"How much time until we have contact?"
"One minute, ten seconds."
Fargo sighed heavily. "Ten seconds...jeez. Can we really fire two torpedoes and give them enough distance to detonate safely in just ten seconds?"
"I don't know. Probably not. At the velocity the projectiles are traveling, combined with the maximum velocity for the torpedoes, we probably won't have enough time."
"What else do we have?"
"Well...we do have EMP."
"Will that disrupt the projectiles?"
"I'm almost sure they're bombs, Captain. They resemble the same projectiles that were fired at the Haymeadow."
Captain Fargo sighed. "Then maybe EMP will disrupt the electrical current system and destroy the bombs."
The operator reached over and pushed a few buttons, each activating a different part of the EMP charge.
"This better work."
The operator pushed a larger button on the hologram panel, and a distant whine slowly grew.
"We'll have detonation in five...four..."
Captain Fargo anxiously looked up from the display panels and watched the two objects get closer and closer in the rear-view hologram panel.
The operators' voice was drowned out by the high blast of the EMP. The hologram panels flickered, flickered again, then briefly shut off. Captain Fargo slipped and fell to his knees as the ship rocked gently.
After a few seconds, the ship regained its original course and straightened. Fargo stood and waited while the display panels started back up again.
Once the screens were back online, Captain Fargo sighed with satisfaction as the display showed two small clusters of debris.
"Good. Keep the engines at full throttle. Let me know when we're about to dock."
* * *
"USS Serenity now docking aboard mother ship Freedom, docking bay 5, dock station 21. Level 6."
The Serenity slowly came to a stop between the platforms that formed dock station 21.
Once the ship was tied down with the securing chains, the loading ramp dropped and Captain Fargo was once again the first one to step down on to the platform. Fargo was greeted and escorted to the Commander's quarters.
"So, Captain," Commander Corwin turned as Fargo stepped into the room. Captain Fargo removed his gloves and tossed them on to the table in the middle of the room, then sat down.
"I understand you are requesting some extra Marines to have around."
Fargo could tell that Corwin was not a typical Commander. Something about him wasn't right. He wasn't as serious as he should be.
"For a good purpose, yes."
"Well, I'm not sure how much I can do for you. I have a few spare hands around here, though."
"You've heard of the Halo virus. I can tell."
Commander Corwin sat down as well. "Of course. Who hasn't?"
"Then you know why I'm here."
Corwin was caught at a loss. "You could say that."
"You're a smooth talker, Captain."
Fargo didn't smile. "I don't have time for games."
"Very serious, too. I respect that."
Fargo was silent.
Corwin stood. "Very well. I can send seven more soldiers. No more. My hands are tied around here."
"Seven? That's all you can send?"
"You can leave it if you want," Corwin responded.
"Fine. Get them ready to go. I hope they're experienced."
Fargo turned around as he headed for his ship, which was being loaded with replacement weapons, supplies and other necessities.
Four men and three women were walking over to him, each carrying a backpack of some kind. A strap hung over their left shoulders. They held a typical nine-millimeter pistol and several magazines of ammunition. Also carried in the straps were tools such as wrenches, hand held scanners, holographic wire-cutting lasers, and a few other items.
"You must be the soldiers I requested."
One of the soldiers stepped forward and indicated the other three men. "These three are Cain, Vincent, and Lance. I'm Irvine, and the three women over here are Natalya, Lara, and Reia."
"I see," Fargo replied. "I am Captain Fargo, ranking officer of the USS Serenity. You seven are now under my command for the time being. Once our mission is accomplished, you will return here to continue under your previous position. Understood?"
"Yes, sir!" The seven saluted stiffly, then turned and headed up the loading ramp and disappeared inside the ship.
Lieutenant Jackson stepped lightly up to Fargo, who was watching the bay doors open.
Fargo turned, startled, and responded, "Yeah. I'm not sure what will happen if we manage to make it inside the program. I just don't know what will be waiting on the other side."
"That's been concerning me as well. I don't think I'm as worried as you are, but it still bothers me."
"It's too strange right now. I mean, what will the construct be like? How will it work? How are supposed to destroy it?"
"I feel the same. I don't know what we can do. I'm not sure if Halo will respond in the same way to explosions it did when it existed physically. I'm just not sure."
Captain Fargo was silent for the last few seconds while the bay doors clanked to a stop, now fully open.
"Come," he said, heading towards the loading ramp. "We've got things to do."
"Are we online?"
The operator nodded. "The hacking system is ready."
Fargo left the bridge and headed into the control center, where the new hacking system was now located. The seven Marines were standing almost perfectly vertical in what looked like a cryogenic tube. A small disc was placed into each one's left ear. A wire was lowered and inserted into the disc, thus allowing the Halo program to be loaded. The Marines looked like they were asleep, laying still and almost lifeless inside the tubes.
Fargo stepped up to the platform and was helped into one of the tubes. He lay back and allowed the glass door to seal the tube and lock in place. A small, metallic sound rang out, and one of the discs he had seen was placed into his left ear. A small wire, attached to a robotic arm, was carefully inserted into the disc.
He closed his eyes. He could only wait nervously for the program to be loaded and for the door to another world to be opened.
Date: 7 June 2003, 6:13 PM
"Did we make it?"
"I think so."
"This place. . .it looks too much like Halo. Is this really a program?"
"I believe it is. But there's something up in the middle of the ring. Could that be the mainframe?"
Captain Fargo gazed skyward. Between the clouds was what appeared to be a great sphere.
"Most likely. How do we get there?"
"Well, we could always take the elevator."
Fargo turned to look at what was behind him. A great steel shaft protruded from the ground and rose into the sky. There, it connected with the sphere.
"Right. However, it looks like that thing goes pretty deep. How are we supposed to get inside?"
Reia spoke up. "There has to be an access passageway somewhere. However, I doubt we're ready to make our way up into the mainframe. We're going to have to get associated with the place first and get together some tools. What about weapons?"
Fargo nodded. "I can get the operator to look into that."
"Okay, then it's settled. Now, how do we log out?"
Captain Fargo turned his head to one side, revealing his left ear. The small disc was still there.
Fargo reached back and pushed a button on the disc, which responded by beeping three times.
Within seconds, Fargo was replaced with a static appearance until he disappeared completely. The static died and faded, and then there was nothing.
"Welcome back, Captain."
Fargo opened his eyes. He recognized the face of the operator, who was unlocking the door that sealed his cryotube.
"Well? Did you make it?"
"I think so. We were inside something that looked like the original Halo, only there was some kind of sphere up in the center of it. We believe it's the mainframe."
The operator nodded. "You understand that this was only a test-hack, right?"
Fargo looked up at the operator. "I imagined that we weren't expected to do anything yet."
"That hack was to determine whether or not we had been able to load the right program. Now that we have, we're going to run more tests to find out what we can do with it."
"To see what we can do with it?"
The operator stood back as Captain Fargo stepped out of the tube and headed for the bridge.
"Yes. We need to know how we can communicate between the worlds, what weapons we can use, and so on."
Fargo turned to face her. "I doubt eight total soldiers is enough to take down a second Halo. Even with heavy weapons, how are we supposed to do it?"
"That is up to the tests to decide. Once they come back with the information we need, then we can figure out what weak points it has and what you can do to take advantage of it."
"How long will the tests take?"
"A few days, I believe."
"Hmm. . .what are we supposed to do until then?"
The operator opened the door to the bridge and moved to her station. "I suppose we should make our way to the next mother ship to continue picking up reinforcements. I doubt many more ships know of the virus yet."
"Very well. What is the next closest vessel?"
The operator checked the panels for her mapping system. "It appears that the next one in line is the mother ship Vega. She's about six hours away."
"Push up on the engines. Inform me once we get there."
Fargo entered the control center for the second time that day. The other seven Marines had exited the program and were busy trying to keep the system up and running while it was tested.
"Ah, Captain Fargo."
Fargo nodded in reply to Vincent, who was using a laser-insertion tool to reset some of the internal wires that had come loose during the hacking process.
Reia and Natalya were working together to activate another cryotube. Lara was pondering over a diagram of the desired cryotube.
Irvine and Lance were standing beside one of the mechanics as he pointed out key locations that needed attention for the next hack.
Cain was busying himself by correcting the disrupted programming within one of the cryotubes using a hologram model.
One of the mechanics approached him. "Captain?"
"What can I do for you?"
"We're a little short of hands around here. The new system is hard to maintain. Would you mind re-programming the system while we correct the faults?"
Fargo took the hologram panel and headed for the system mainframe. After activating it, he proceeded in entering the improved program.
"USS Serenity now docking aboard mother ship Vega, docking bay 5, docking station 11. Level 2."
For the third time, the Serenity slowly pulled in between the platforms and was quickly chained down. The loading ramp dropped.
"Captain, wake up."
Captain Fargo sat up in his cot, now fully awake.
He stood and put on his coat, then opened the hatch to his quarters and stepped into the corridor, heading for the loading ramp.
"Commander Smith of the mother ship Vega, Captain Fargo of the USS Serenity."
Fargo took a seat in front of the Commander's desk.
"So. . .you're the captain of one of the top ranking warships."
"One of the only warships."
"Yes, I heard about the accident with the Haymeadow. Do you know what happened?"
"A virus was inserted into the ship's major systems. All five vital systems were infected within the next day or two. It was determined that she would not last."
"I understand you were aboard the Haymeadow at the time."
"Many warships were. However, the Serenity suffered the least amount of damage and it was decided that we were going to evacuate. No other vessel could."
The Commander sighed. "This is getting out of hand."
Captain Fargo stared at him. "It's easier speaking with you about this. Commander Corwin would never understand. This is all a game to him."
"Ah, not quite a game, but a test of strategy."
"He should've lost that game a long time ago."
"Well, he isn't much for seriousness in a bad situation, but he looks to the bright side."
"He took much of what I said to be a joke, no big deal."
Commander Smith shook his head. "We're all different."
"So, captain, tell me what you know of this virus."
Fargo leaned forward. "We've yet to identify the full extent of it. It spreads through the systems quickly, then causes a malfunction. The ship collapses internally, and. . ."
"And the results aren't good."
"Let's just say that everything goes south from there."
"How can we protect ourselves?"
Fargo sighed. "We don't have an elimination program yet, but it apparently gains access to our vessels through what is now called the Broken Link, which is, as the name implies, a break in the links between the ships. The virus infects outgoing messages or data files, then travels with the infected message or file until it reaches another ship. At that point it spreads to the other systems and destroys the vessel by causing the major systems to contradict one another until they fall apart. What's strange is that this is all performed by the virtual Halo program."
"Hmm. So avoiding electronic interception from other ships can slow the virus, correct?"
Smith leaned back, rubbing his eyes with his index finger and his thumb.
"Don't accept any incoming messages or files. Chances are it's infected."
"Very well. Thank you for warning me. Are you to stay?"
"No, I'm afraid we must continue. There's a lot to be done. But there is something I must request."
"I need a few more experienced hands around the ship. Corwin gave me seven, but that won't be enough to take out the program. We're running tests on it now, but it will be a day or two before we know everything possible. I'm going to need a few more soldiers to assist me when we hack into the program."
Commander Smith chuckled lightly. "Hmm. . .I think I can help you."
"USS Serenity now pulling away from docking station 11. Clear the platforms."
The chains were loosened and the Serenity slowly backed out of the station. Once it cleared the platforms, the vessel pulled a 180 degree turn, then roared through the bay doors and headed into the endless void.
"How many more soldiers do we have?"
Captain Fargo took his place at the main display panel as he waited for the answer to come.
"Commander Smith supplied thirteen more Marines, sir."
"Good. How long until the tests are complete?"
"Another twelve hours."
"Hmm. Very well."
Captain Fargo lingered a while longer, then left the bridge and headed down one of the many corridors of the ship. He stopped a great window overlooking the darkness of space.
He leaned against the window, as if expecting to see Halo in the distance. He closed his eyes.
He didn't know if he was ready for this.
.halo 5: Insertion
Date: 8 June 2003, 7:52 PM
The tests continued.
While the program was scanned and scanned again, Captain Fargo and his elite Marines continued traveling from mother ship to mother ship.
"How many more hours, operator?"
"The control room reports that approximately seven hours and thirty minutes remain before the tests are complete."
"That gives enough time to make our way to the next mother ship. What is the next closest ship?"
The operator checked her mapping display. "The mother ship Osiris is two hundred thousand kilometers away. At this rate, we will arrive in three hours."
Captain Fargo nodded. "Good. Continue at this rate."
Fargo left the bridge and headed into the control center. Reia and Natalya were sitting together, taking a break from repairing the hacking system while the tests ran.
Irvine was welding something to the side of one cryotube. Fargo approached him and sat down.
"Working overtime, Irvine?"
"Nah. . .just a few extra things. This doesn't need to be done," Irvine indicated the spare part he was attaching to the cryotube, "but I thought, hey, why not do something?"
"You're pretty handy to have around here. I like people who do more than they have to."
Irvine shrugged. "It's no big deal. I was raised near a mechanic shop where my dad worked as a part time job. He'd show me how he would repair parts for small cruisers and airships. He told me that he got to help repair a vital part from one of the UNSC warships. Since then, I've always been fixing things and I guess I became obsessed with it."
"You sound like you had a good time as a kid."
"It wasn't bad."
Fargo stared up towards the ceilings, a smile spreading across his face. Irvine also looked up, thoughts racing through his mind.
"Captain, what were you like as a kid?"
"That's a part of history I'd rather forget."
"No good, huh?"
Fargo sighed. "I never knew my father. My mother died when I was only fifteen. Instead of going to live with my aunt, I chose to work for a while until I could afford a trip up to one of the colonies. Once I got there, I became what you could almost call a wanderer. I just traveled around to see the city, waiting for my break. Then, the Covenant came and destroyed the colony, just after I left to head for another. So, life has been pretty rough. I got drafted into the military and eventually became a captain. They assigned me to the Serenity and I haven't lost her yet."
Irvine sighed. "Life wasn't too good, huh? Not for a while, anyway."
"No, it sure wasn't."
"I know the feeling."
Fargo had no interest in continuing this conversation. "Well, tomorrow's a new day. A busy one as well. Get some rest."
Fargo stood and left the control center, leaving Irvine alone for a while.
"Operator, fill us in."
"Okay, these are the facts that the tests have brought back: Standard military weapons such as assault rifles and pistols will be useful inside the program. Apparently, the Covenant designed computer images of themselves. Of course, they made themselves stronger than ever in the even that Halo was destroyed. Any weapons that are brought into the cryotube will be loaded into the program. The tubes have been redesigned to load everything inside the tube into the program. The upload wiring is not included.
"About the sphere you found. It is, in fact, the program's mainframe, but it is almost impossible to access. It appears that underground, where the elevator shafts start, there is a vast dungeon of puzzles and traps that guard the shafts. In order to get inside, you must defeat several Covenant Guardians, solve several puzzles, and outsmart numerous traps.
"Communication between the dimensions has been developed as well. You will all be given a headset, which attaches to the disc in your left ear. This will allow contact between us. Since I am the operator, I will be answering your transmissions. It is used the way a common frequency radio is. Signal the end of your transmission with 'over'.
"I am sure you all know how to log out, considering you are no longer inside.
"Now, once you reach the mainframe, you will insert this virus."
The operator handed each of the eight soldiers a small key.
"Once this key is inserted into the proper place, a single twist will activate it and the virus will be launched."
Captain Fargo took the key and examined it.
"Is this all we need to know?"
"For the time being, yes."
"Then let's get to it."
"Halo program loaded. Hack complete."
Fargo opened his eyes. The sky was perfectly white, almost an infinity. Nothing moved about in the skies, no clouds existed, nothing. It was how he had expected a real program to look. The only thing visible was Halo itself.
Fargo switched on his headset. "Operator, can you give me the location of the entrance to the dungeon?"
"One moment, sir."
Fargo cocked his assault rifle, then shoved a magazine into his pistol. Then he waited.
"Captain, the entrance is one hundred meters to the South."
Fargo switched off the headset, then motioned everyone forward. They followed, their guns loaded and ready, their fingers twitching with anxiety.
They reached what appeared to be a smaller elevator shaft inside some kind of steel bunker. By activating the hologram panel, the lift slowly rose up to their level. They cautiously stepped aboard, hoping that it wasn't a sinister booby-trap.
Luckily, it traveled down to the first chamber of the dungeons, the First Rune Chamber, as it was carved into an engraving plate on the wall.
They approached a thick door, but they were stopped by what sounded like a female, echoing voice from above.
"In order to pass, you must solve this fairly old riddle:
"Two fathers and two sons go fishing. At the end of the day, each person caught one fish. They are all happy as the leave, however, only three fish have been caught. How is this possible?"
The Marines stood silent, surprised at the random question.
Reia suddenly stepped forward and boldly stated, "There are only three people. One boy, his father, and his grandfather. Two fathers, two sons."
The door suddenly groaned as it hissed and creaked open.
"You answered correctly, You may move on."
"Wait a minute. . .why didn't they kill us?"
Captain Fargo thought a minute, then answered, "It may be that they aren't programmed to kill us."
"Well, that makes sense. How will their security work then?"
Natalya figured that out. "These puzzles are to test whomever comes into the program. They probably have others who are programmed to stop anyone that isn't welcome."
She was right.
At that moment, several flashes of light illuminated the chamber. When it settled, twenty-five Elites stood before them. They all had one thought in mind:
.halo 6: Fall of Irvine
Date: 8 June 2003, 7:55 PM
"This is the next test. Defeat the Covenant task force to continue."
Irvine chuckled. "What do they think we are, children?"
Captain Fargo smiled. "I was hoping it wouldn't be so easy."
The Elites laughed, then randomly disappeared. Their laughter faded.
"Okay, where'd they go?"
Lara's eyes narrowed. "They've got cloaking devices. I knew this wouldn't be so simple."
Cain looked around, trying not to move so much. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he felt a warm rush of air on the back of his neck. His face flushed, like the air had been forced from his lungs.
He dove forward, just as a jagged blade sliced through the air where his head has once been.
Cain landed hard on the ground and raised his rifle. His finger jerked back into the trigger, and the barrel erupted with light and flame. Burnt casings clattered to the ground as bullet after bullet ripped into the Elite.
The creature groaned as his camouflage slowly disintegrated. The Elite died standing, then collapsed to the ground, the skin of his back ripped and torn. He had been pierced through.
The firing caught the attention of the other Marines, as well as the remaining task force. Captain Fargo raised his rifle and let out random bursts of gunfire in numerous directions. He managed to hit one Elite, which gasped out in surprise once Fargo found him. A smile formed across the captain's face. He opened up with fully automatic fire, tearing the Elite to shreds.
Reia tossed a grenade, which detonated somewhere in the middle of three or four Covenants. Two died instantly, one lost his camouflage due to the explosion, and the other was found because of his piercing scream.
Bullets raked through the area, ripping into the worn Elites.
They fell, their camouflage falling apart. This exposed their bodies: Burnt, riddled with bullet holes, and bloody.
The battle continued, until eventually twenty-five Covenant bodies lay lifeless on the floor.
"You have proven yourself worthy of advancing to the next chamber."
Captain Fargo smiled. "Good. I'm glad to here that."
The echoing voice faded, leaving the Marines by themselves.
"Well, do we just open the door?"
"I'm not sure."
The soldiers, now exhausted, cautiously approached the door to the next chamber.
They stopped when what appeared to be a portal of static. A flash of light burst outward, blinding the Marines.
Captain Fargo recovered his vision and stared at whatever had just appeared.
It was a hovering figure that looked like an alien god or something identical to it.
It wore a great many robes, and its long white hair was tied back in numerous braids.
His eyes were white, with no pupils.
"Ah, the great challengers."
"You might be?"
The god-looking creature obliged to the question. "I am High Priest Key Quest, one of the three leaders of the Covenant. I have been sent to monitor your progress. I am also here to insure you do not get any further."
"In order to continue, you must present to me an ancient artifact. You must present it now."
That can't be good, Fargo thought. Peering at his comrades, he saw their expressions of worry.
Fargo stepped forward. As leader of this expedition, I speak for everyone. We have no artifact to give you, for we did not expect this."
High Priest Key Quest glared at Fargo.
"Then, as leader of this expedition, you are responsible for everyone. And, as leader, you will now die for your failure to meet my demands."
Captain Fargo stepped back, taken fully by surprise. Key Quest extended one finger, pointing directly at Fargo's head. A small plasma beam formed at the tip of his index finger.
Irvine anticipated the move, and dove in front of the captain as Key Quest fired the beam.
It pierced into Irvine's left chest cavity, right at his heart. His eyes opened wide with pain.
Captain Fargo fell to the ground, knocked over by Irvine. Irvine, blasted through, collapsed in a heap to the floor as well. He twitched, then lay still.
High Priest Key Quest retracted his finger and lowered his arm. He turned to head away, then glanced back at the Marines, who crowded around Irvine's limp body.
High Priest Key Quest scoffed at them, then turned away. "Foolish," he said contently as he vanished in a flash of light.
He didn't move. Fargo turned away from Irvine's body and switched on his headset. "Operator, we have an emergency. Man down."
"Right. We'll get him out. Hit the log out button on the disc in his left ear. He'll log out safely."
Fargo turned back around, switching the headset back off. He reached down and touched the button on the black disc in Irvine's ear.
Irvine's body suddenly began to be clouded in an image of static. Three beeps came from the disc, and Irvine disappeared, the log out complete.
"Operator, give me some news."
The remaining Marines had their headsets switched on and were listening intently. Reia had tears in her eyes.
"Captain, we've got news on Irvine's condition."
There was an exasperated sigh on the other end, and then the words: "He's gone, sir. He's gone."
.halo 7: Fallen Tears
Date: 9 June 2003, 12:07 AM
Captain Fargo was destroyed. His sorrow and anger had taken over, and he stupidly vowed revenge on High Priest Key Quest.
He would have stayed forever if his colleagues had not urged him on. He agreed, reluctantly, to continue.
As they journeyed on, Fargo kept getting flashbacks from what he and Irvine spoke of earlier that day. . .
"It's no big deal. I was raised near a mechanic shop where my dad worked as a part time job..."
"He told me that he got to help repair a vital part from one of the UNSC warships..."
Captain Fargo winced. He tried to move on, but he knew it would be close to impossible. Even losing someone he never knew was too much.
His anger at Key Quest was also too much, but he tried to contain it. Holding back two different emotions for two different people, or one person and a thing, was incredibly difficult.
"Captain...are you all right?"
Fargo snapped back to reality. "Yeah. I'm okay."
Lara turned away with an expression of worry on her face. She knew that Fargo wasn't feeling normal since Irvine's death.
They walked for almost half an hour before they came across what appeared to be a bridge that consisted of close to a hundred multi-colored squares. Below the bridge was what seemed like an eternal pit.
The echoing voice returned, startling the Marines.
"This is your second challenge. In order to cross the Eternal Depths, you must first cross the bridge."
"That's a challenge?" muttered Vincent sarcastically.
"However, the different color squares that make this bridge are different traps in themselves. Once a color has been stepped on, all the other squares of the identical color will fall into eternity. You have three seconds before the color you are standing on collapses as well. In addition to making it across safely, you must carry this key with you to activate the light bridge from the other side. Once this bridge is activated, your comrades will be able to cross."
A small key vaporized before them, and Vincent stepped forward and snatched the key and held it tightly in his hand.
"Why don't you put that in your pocket?" questioned Fargo.
Vincent turned around with a smile on his face. "I can't toss it back onto to one of you if it's inside my pocket, now can I?"
Captain Fargo also smiled. "Right. Be careful."
Vincent turned to face the bridge then waited momentarily to strategize what he would do. However, it was difficult, since almost half of the bridge was in shadows.
He planned his strategy, then leaped into the air.
He landed on a center square, then barely had any time to watch the other squares of the same color. He pushed off the first square, landed hands-first on a square three squares away.
He quickly pushed off with his hands, landed on a different color, then pushed off again. He quickly disappeared into the shadows, which made Fargo worry even more.
There was a light grunt in the distance, and then everything was silent.
The Marines waited nervously for something to inform them that Vincent had made the journey across.
Suddenly, the gap between the two ends of the Eternal Depths was illuminated as the light bridge between the two edges was activated.
The Marines, now across the Eternal Depths, passed through the door into the next chamber.
Captain Fargo started feeling better, and no longer dragged behind the other soldiers. He marched up with them, his face expressionless.
They were prepared to enter the next area, but were stopped once more.
Another flash of light blasted into the chamber, followed by a rush of wind.
By the time the Marines had gained the ability to see once again, another figure blocked their path.
The figure looked like High Priest Key Quest; the same white-haired braids, the same pupil-less eyes, the same grand robes.
He spoke with a greater tone, however, one that sounded more wise and gentle.
"The challengers haven't failed yet, eh?"
Captain Fargo glared up at the Priest.
"I am High Priest Key Majestic, the second of the great Covenant leaders. It appears that Key Quest only managed to take down one of you. Morale was not so badly damaged as quantity was, correct?"
Fargo's blood boiled. Killing one of his allies and then making a mockery of it was more than disgraceful. Captain Fargo angrily raised his assault rifle and opened up on the great Priest. The bullets ripped through his body. The captain continued firing until he ran empty. Several clicks conquered the sound of gunfire, and Fargo lowered the rifle.
The Priest didn't move. Fargo felt a pang of satisfaction.
However, the Priests' voice suddenly echoed in the chamber.
"It appears that someone has trouble controlling their anger, hm?"
Fargo suddenly felt more disappointed than satisfied. His eyes narrowed slightly.
The bullet holes grew smaller until they disappeared, as though Key Majestic had healed himself.
"It appears that you wish to test your skills against something. Very well. I shall oblige."
High Priest Key Majestic raised his left arm. Three golden rings lowered from the sky, each passing into the ground.
Once they had all disappeared, a strange creature stood on the steel bridge. It was close to fourteen feet tall, and had some of the qualities of a Hunter.
"Meet the Sentinel. The genetically enhanced soldier. He'll be taking care of you all."
With a roar of laughter, High Priest Key Majestic disappeared into a flash of light.
The so-called Sentinel stepped forward and let out a deep grunt.
The Marines all raised their rifles simultaneously and opened fire on the beast. The bullets barely pierced its skin. It laughed at their efforts, then took another step forward.
The steps were only measurable by a Richter scale. The bridge shook and groaned under the strain, but it held.
The soldiers, already out of ideas, backed away slowly. They only had a matter of time. It was impossible to try and backtrack since the door into the previous chamber was sealed. It would also be incredibly difficult to run in between the Sentinel's legs, since it managed to move fairly fast despite its size.
They backed away until they ran up against the thick door separating the two chambers.
Suddenly, Reia, thinking fast, leaped forward. She caught the Sentinel off guard, and took full advantage of its befuddlement.
She removed a grenade from her shoulder strap and looked around to choose the best and most exposed place to throw it.
She knew that it would not kill the creature from head on contact. Therefore, she ripped the pin out, hit a button near the top, and hurled it just hard enough to skitter to a stop next to the Sentinel.
The beast was stupid, for he raised his right foot and stomped down on the grenade just as the timer ran out.
The explosion echoed against the dark walls and shattered the seemingly tranquil chamber.
The flames burned the underside of the Sentinel's foot while the force actually knocked him of balance. The fact that he lifted his scorched foot and relied on his balance also contributed to what came next.
Like most people and some creatures, the Sentinel hopped up and down in pain, his groans deafening.
The bridge eventually shifted under the weight and pressure, and thus the Sentinel tumbled over the edge and fell into infinity.
.halo 8: Forgotten Realms (Series Finale)
Date: 10 June 2003, 11:21 PM
The soldiers, worn and exhausted, continued on.
They made their way to the next chamber of the dungeon. However, shortly after passing into the chamber, they were confronted by another flash of bright light.
A third figure, identical to the previous two High Priests, now stood before the remaining seven Marines.
"I am High Priest Key Tranquility. You seven have proven yourselves worthy. However, I cannot allow you to continue any further."
"Where have I heard that before?" Natalya muttered.
Key Tranquility raised his left arm. Like with the Sentinel, three golden rings lower from the ceilings above them.
However, a series of rings lowered from the ceilings. They revealed fifteen Elites, similar to the last.
"This is your next and last opponent. You will not continue after this battle."
The surge of confidence in Key Tranquility's voice worried Fargo. On the other hand, the confidence of his comrades helped overpower that worry.
Key Tranquility chuckled. "Have fun," he said mockingly, then vanished.
The Elites laughed, then suddenly charged the Marines. The battle was dangerous, for it took place on a light bridge.
The soldiers let loose a barrage of bullets. The tore through the Elite task force. The Covenant challengers were quickly overcome, and the Marines were surprised at their little efforts.
"I thought this would be more difficult."
Reia thought a moment. "Could it have been a mere mind trick? You know, they just might have wanted us to think they were dangerous so we would use up more energy and ammunition."
"That's possible," stated Fargo.
However, their theorizing was cut short. They turned around to be greeted by fifteen Elites; the same that had just been killed.
"Wait a minute. Didn't we just take those guys down?"
Despite the confusion, the Marines didn't hesitate in opening fire on their previously killed opponents.
This time, the Elites were not so easily destroyed. It took more ammunition than the first time to kill them.
Nevertheless, the Elites were once again defeated.
"Don't tell me they'll be coming back."
Captain Fargo thought for a second. "They probably will. I doubt we can really kill them for good."
"Then what are we supposed to do?" questioned Lara.
Fargo turned to face her. "I don't know. Maybe if we just tried to move on without having to fight them..."
"No," said Vincent coldly. "It won't work. The only way to the next area is through that door. It's going to give us a puzzle to solve, and that will take time. Even if we manage to get through, they can still follow us."
At that particular moment, the Elites stepped forward to fight for the third time.
"Great...we've got to think of something."
Vincent glared at the Elites, then whispered, "Here's what we'll do. There is a control panel for the bridge near the door. We'll take them down, then get off the bridge and deactivate it. Once they regenerate, they'll fall into whatever-is-down-there."
Fargo agreed that it was a good plan and was worth a try. The others agreed hesitatingly, but did as what was planned.
Vincent lagged behind to work with the controls while the other six fired on the aliens. A few grenades and some armor-piercing rounds to the head contributed to the Covenant's defeat. Once they had fallen, The Marines turned and gathered on the solid platform next to the door.
Vincent reported that the controls were rigged. The soldier waited until the Elites respawned on the bridge, then punched the button to shut it off.
With a startling cry, the fifteen aliens dropped from midair and fell into eternity.
The echoing voice from nowhere startled the Marines as it announced their next objective.
"This is your third challenge. One of you must do battle against the great champion Himorra in a duel to the death. The challenger will fight against the undefeated Himorra in a suspended ring. One weapon will be provided.
"The first to grab the sword from the air and kill their opponent will win and advance to the next chamber. Who shall oppose the champion?"
Captain Fargo immediately stepped forward.
Reia was shocked. "Captain, don't do this," she insisted quietly.
"Quiet. I'll be fine."
The Marines were suddenly engulfed in a blinding light, then fell into what seemed like a coma. They felt nothing.
When the awakened, they were standing on a platform fifty feet in the air. Before them was a battle ring, also suspended. Hanging five feet in the air was a six-foot sword, thin and curved at the end.
Around them was an arena filled to capacity with a Covenant crowd. They all began chanting something, and eventually it became clear: "Down with the human! Down with the human!"
Captain Fargo found himself standing on a suspended platform in the middle of an arena. Before him stood whom he guessed to be Himorra.
Himorra looked much like a Hunter, only his eyes were a burning red and his shield was more connected to his left arm. He had a normal right arm, no fuel rod cannon or gun of any type.
He glared at Fargo, who defiantly glared back.
A female announcer came over the intercom system.
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another exciting battle between our champion Himorra..."
At this, the crowd roared approval as Himorra waved briefly, then returned his gaze to Fargo.
"...and the human scum!"
The crowd booed and shouted out, despising the opponent of their champion.
"Now, the first fighter to snatch the sword from the air and kill the other will be declared the winner!"
The audience cheered again. Fargo suddenly realized that this was a mere sporting event to them. It was a life or death matter for the Earth, along with all life in the universe, in his case.
He tried to push it away from his mind.
Himorra didn't wait to strategize. He charged Fargo with lightning speed. It was as if he had been a coiled snake, waiting for the right moment to spring out and strike. Fargo gasped, and was struck in the chest by an incredible force. He flew backwards and smashed into the railing on the sides of the platform. The railing bent under the strain. This allowed Fargo to fall through the gap and tumbled off the platform.
However, he anticipated the fall and reached out. His hands snagged the railing. He slammed against the side of the platform. Himorra, already satisfied, approached the edge. Fargo, confident that his grip could last, waited.
"You see, human, your efforts to stay alive are futile. Now I shall claim victory."
Himorra raised his right foot, as if to stamp down on Fargo's head.
This was the perfect moment. Himorra was off-balance. Fargo pushed off the side of the platform with his feet. He flipped through the air. Himorra was caught off-guard as Fargo landed his left foot in his face.
Himorra stumbled backward and landed hard on the platform, sliding back to the other end.
Fargo landed on his back, then quickly stood and made sure Himorra was down for the time being. He took in a breath, then ran and leaped into the air, stretching his hand out for the sword. His hand touched the hilt of the sword, but Himorra's fist smashed into Fargo's stomach. The wind was knocked from his lungs as he fell to the platform.
Himorra stared down at Fargo as he struggled to stand. He reached for the sword and grabbed it from the air. He was about to turn around in order to strike Fargo when Fargo's knee slammed into his torso. Himorra grunted and dropped the blade, which skittered across the platform and stopped near the railing.
Himorra, out of breath, hunched over forward, his hands clasping his chest.
Fargo brought his right fist into Himorra's face at full force. Himorra stumbled to the side and collapsed on the floor.
Fargo headed over to the side of the platform. Snatching the sword, he turned and steadily walked towards Himorra. Upon reaching him, Fargo raised the blade over his head.
Himorra glared at Fargo. "You wouldn't," he hissed.
Fargo smiled with satisfaction. "I would."
Then, Fargo brought the sword down with all his might. It sank into Himorra's left chest cavity. Himorra grunted in pain, then fell limp.
At this point, the crowd gasped and stood. Fargo removed the sword from Himorra's body, then held it above his head in triumph.
Then everything became blurry and went white.
When Fargo opened his eyes, he was standing in front of the vast door that lead into the next chamber.
Suddenly, the echoing voice returned once more.
"You have passed your third test. Now, in order for this door to open, you must guess the password."
The Marines were silent.
"You will be provided with three clues, then a fourth. Each of the first three clues represent one piece of the password.
"Your first clue is Darkness, the second is Circle, and third has to do with Coffee, Dining, and Breakfast."
Reia stared into the air. "What the...?"
"Your fourth clue, which represents all three, is 'King Arthur'. Good luck."
The voice faded away into the blackness of the room and wasn't heard from again.
Captain Fargo turned to the Marines. "Does anyone understand this one?"
Reia stepped forward. "I think I have it, sir."
Fargo nodded to her. "Give it a shot," he told her.
The voice returned. "You have the answer?"
Reia stepped forward. "Yes."
"Then explain it. Give me the password and you will be allowed to pass."
Reia smiled. "It's simple. Darkness isn't the best clue, but I managed to figure it out from the rest of the clues. A circle is round, which is obvious, and Coffee, Dining, and Breakfast are all types of tables. When given the fourth clue, 'King Arthur', I knew that Darkness must be Night. Therefore, the password is 'Knights of the Round Table.'"
Fargo stared at Reia.
"Congratulations, challengers. You have passed all the tests and are worthy of continuing."
With that said, the door opened with a hiss.
Instead of another dark chamber on the other side, the door revealed a large elevator platform.
The Marines cautiously stepped onto the thick glass lift, their hearts pounding.
Slowly the elevator began to rise into the great sphere in the center of Halo's structure.
After going up for almost five minutes, the lift slowed to a stop. A great door opened, revealing the mainframe.
The room was entirely white, with hologram panels flashing and flickering everywhere. At one side of the room, however, there were three great thrones. The High Priests sat there, overlooking the mainframe and the virus insertion.
They appeared to be surprised to see the Marines.
"Ah, the challengers," they all said simultaneously. "What a surprise."
Fargo noticed that the Priests' voices echoed inside the mainframe.
"Welcome. You are now in the middle of this program. But you will not leave."
Fargo rolled his eyes. "I'll bet."
"In fact, you all will die, right now."
High Priest Key Quest raised his right hand and extended his index finger. The plasma beam formed on the tip of his finger.
He fired it at Reia, who dodged off to the side. She rolled off to her left and landed on one knee and raised her assault rifle. She opened fire on the Priest, who responded in the same way Key Majestic had. The bullets ripped through his body. However, after emptying the clip on the Priest, she watched as the holes that riddled his body reformed and disappeared.
"It's no use," Fargo called over to her. "There's only one way to destroy them."
The other two Priests summoned their fighters as well.
"We killed all these guys and they're back for more?" Vincent questioned.
However, they were much stronger than ever before. The Marines were quick to open fire, but their efforts were wasted.
Key Tranquility laughed. "You won't win this time," he shouted out.
The Reia, Natalya, Vincent, Lara, Cain and Lance all began to do their best to hold the Covenant warriors off. Fargo watched helplessly as they were brutally attacked from all sides and yet they still tried to overcome them.
Reia looked over at Fargo. "Captain! Hurry and destroy the program! There's no time!"
Fargo nodded, then turned and headed for the main computer system. The High Priests stopped focusing on the others but instead stared at Fargo as he rushed to the panel.
He removed the virus key from his vest and dove for the panel. He glanced back one last time and faced what he did not want to see. The Marines kept fighting, but he could see that they were fighting a losing battle.
Reia glanced back at Fargo, then shouted, "Hurry! What are you waiting for?"
Fargo stared at her a second longer, then turned away.
The High Priests became alarmed by Fargo's actions. They tried to get him to stop, but to no avail.
Fargo smiled in light of the fear carved in the Priests faces. He jammed the virus key into the proper port.
Then, without regret, he twisted the key. It activated, glowing a light green. The sides opened into sections, revealing the virus insertion piece.
At that point, the virus was inserted into the mainframe and everything went white.