A Fireside Story
Posted By: Dagorath<email@example.com>
Date: 4 January 2006, 3:36 am
I know, most other families do it too, but I always thought it's good to begin with a sort of "setting the scene". Well, we always used to go to my Grandpa's house for Christmas. It's a sort of family tradition, you see.
Me and my Grandpa, we were very close when I was smaller, maybe seven or eight. I used to go to his house all the time. It's on Earth, of all places, and beside this enormous lake with a gigantic waterfall. Kind of like a bungalow, but the inside was really comfortable. I used to go there and go fishing in the lake, or hiking in the mountains. I remember my father and Grandpa who was seriously big, I mean large, even more muscular than my father used to spar a lot in the living room. Grandpa always won, though the margin got slimmer as he got older.
This time round, it was really beautiful weather. The sky was clear and it was a cool twenty degrees. Having finished the turkey, we were all sprawled on sofas and easy chairs in Grandpa's living room.
Grandpa still has one of those old-fashioned fireplaces. Hell, those were from a millennium ago. Everyone uses plasma tubes now, but I guess some people like Grandpa still like that kind of thing.
Maria's children were sitting in Grandpa's lap, and I was in a sofa with Maria herself some way opposite him.
Grandpa's a funny man. We were all just chatting about normal things like the weather, how Grandpa's arthritis was getting, where Maria's new house was and what it was going to be like. Then, all of a sudden, Grandpa just broke in and began a story.
"Now, children," he began, "do you remember the Human-Covenant war?"
I didn't. It was over before I was born. And of course Maria's children didn't know anything about it.
"Well, when the UNSC was younger by several decades, a battlegroup of ships went to inspect a colony called Harvest, and they disappeared. Another group went to investigate and it turned out that a huge alien conglomeration called the Covenant had invaded the planet."
I had heard this all in the textbooks, of course. Grandpa went on a little about the start of the war, before we got to the Spartans, which I always liked reading. It was still very secret after the war, though, and they only got a passing mention. I'm not sure why: didn't they save the Earth and everything?
Grandpa knew a lot about them. "I'm getting old now," he said, "and I might have forgotten, but there were around a hundred and fifty of them." His left hand was around the shoulders of one of Maria's children, but his right was fingering an old data chip.
"They did a lot of good deeds when they were around. Their armour made them nearly invincible. But it wasn't until the War that the Spartans really came into play. Scored hundreds of victories against the Covenant, but there were always too few of them."
He sighed. "There was one, though, who went a lot further than any of them. Most of them perished on the invasion of Reach, but this one flew a lot higher than the rest."
Reach was still a charred rock. And I knew who Grandpa was talking about, of course.
"His name was the Master Chief." Not sure why, but Grandpa always looked so gloomy when talking about him. "The Master Chief didn't go onto Reach, and he left in a ship, the Pillar of Autumn, in a random jump to somewhere no one knew. There was some sort of circular alien construct there, called Halo."
By now, Grandpa seemed to be speaking to himself. Maria's children didn't understand a word he was saying, but I did. I leaned forward a little as Grandpa's voice got softer.
"The captain of the Pillar of Autumn, Captain Keyes, ordered evacuation of the ship when it was attacked by the Covenant near the ring. The Master Chief went down to Halo and tried to rescue survivors of the crash, before rescuing Captain Keyes himself. Keyes had landed the Autumn on Halo but was captured by the Covenant.
"As the Chief explored Halo, he discovered that it was created by an ancient race called the Forerunners, whom the Covenant worshipped. Halo contained a deadly parasite named the Flood that infected any sentient life-form it encountered, but it was also the ultimate weapon against it, for it destroyed the Flood's food: humans, Covenant, everything. The Chief, knowing nothing about this last function, tried to assist the Monitor of Halo to activate it. It was only Cortana, the AI of the Autumn, who stopped him just in time.
"Due to the accidental meddling of Keyes, however, the Flood was loosed. Keyes himself had been infected, as had all the other brave men aboard the Autumn. Only the Chief himself, and a handful of survivors, escaped the final ruin of Halo, which the Chief destroyed with the engine cores of the Autumn, so that neither the Flood would escape, nor Halo fire and destroy all life."
Grandpa paused here a little. In the textbook, it had never gone into this depth. They only said that the Autumn found an extinct alien installation in the deeps of space, but the Autumn was destroyed and the co-ordinates lost forever. There was no mention of the Flood. Could it be possible that the government was holding information back?
"The Master Chief and the other survivors returned to Earth after the greatest of perils, escaping Covenant ships and discovering a Forerunner crystal on Reach that did more harm than good. When he returned, he and the other survivors were greatly rewarded by Lord Hood on a space station in orbit around Earth."
Lord Hood had passed away several years ago, having served Humanity for many decades. This part of the story was more widely publicized, however. While the Flood may have lowered the morale of Earth, a hero fighting past unknown perils in deep space before returning to protect Earth was a great story.
"However, the Covenant, which had finally found the location of Earth, attacked by placing bombs on the space stations, which were equipped with massive guns that protected Earth. The Chief fought them back and replaced the bomb on a Covenant cruiser, which was destroyed by it. Then, the Chief went to Earth and tried to capture a Covenant religious leader, a Prophet. However, the Prophet opened a Slipspace rupture and destroyed the city the Chief was trying to defend. The Chief, along with Commander Keyes "
"Admiral," Maria cut in. Grandpa jumped, and the children giggled.
"Well, now Admiral Keyes, but she was Commander back then," he corrected himself. He seemed to take a little more notice of us now. "Anyway, they followed the Prophet to another Halo, in fact one of seven. The Chief killed the Prophet. Just after he did so, a gigantic Covenant fleet appeared fro Slipspace right next to the Halo. He jumped into the water and was captured by an odd Flood intelligence, which in fact saved him from the aerial bombing of the Forerunner temple where the Prophet's body lay.
"The Flood intelligence was named Gravemind, and he had captured the Arbiter as well, a Covenant holy warrior. They were each sent to separate places, the Chief to the Covenant's holy city of High Charity, where the Covenant was undergoing civil war because of a confusion of ethics, and the other Prophets' manipulations and betrayals, and the Arbiter to Halo's Control Room. In High Charity, the Chief saw the Prophet of Truth, the true mastermind of the civil war, escaping in a Forerunner ship. The Chief raced after and just managed to get in before it took off."
Here we were completely out of the range of the textbooks. They had only reported that a gigantic bomb destroyed New Mombassa, and the Chief had disappeared off the textbooks already. They said the Chief perished in the explosion.
"Meanwhile, the Arbiter managed to stop the firing of this Halo, which the opposite faction of the Covenant civil war had forced Commander Keyes to start, and they began a perilous journey to the Ark, where the seven Halos, now six, could be controlled from. It was located on Earth, and the Arbiter, Keyes and the Master Chief met there in the end."
Grandpa's voice had fallen low again. Maria had gone into the kitchen; the others had gone up to bed already.
"Within the Ark, they were engaged in a perilous game of cat-and-mouse with the Forerunner AI residing therein, named NOAH. However, through the bravery of these three, the Ark was destroyed and the Halos rendered useless forever.
"However, at the last pass, the Arbiter betrayed the two humans, because he couldn't shake off his deep religious prejudice. He managed to remotely activate the Halo where High Charity was in orbit around and most of the Covenant was destroyed. He committed suicide just after."
How the Chief had achieved the destruction of the Covenant and the Ark only now did I know. There had been a gigantic explosion in the Amazon many years ago, so said the old newspapers. The scientists were about to investigate it when the ONI people said it was a meteor, but the UNSC never let anyone go near it.
"Afterwards," Grandpa continued, "the remainder of the Covenant stopped their civil war and declared a truce with Humanity. And we've been at peace ever since."
Having finished, Grandpa sighed a little and set the children down. They ran to Maria who had returned from the kitchen. "Time for bed, you two, it's late," she admonished. But she smiled at Grandpa.
It was just me and him in the room now. There were a lot of things I didn't understand, but one pressed on my mind the most.
"Grandpa, what was your part in all this?" I asked.
"Oh, I was no one important." And he tossed the data chip in the air. For the first time, I could see the sketch of a beautiful, purple nude woman on the underside.