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Halo: The Beginning of the End (Chapter 1)
Posted By: Flugel Meister
Date: 16 February 2009, 2:06 pm

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Mist and distant stars swirled and danced in a dazzling display of colour. In the distance he could make out the faces of those he had lost, many of them friends, but all were heroes determined to ensure the survival of mankind.
But unlike them he had prevailed where they had not and against all the odds he had defeated countless enemies on countless worlds. He had survived and was now the last of his kind in a universe full of uncertainty.

As he continued to drift in his new found peace the distant mist changed colour once more to a fiery red, which radiated with blinding beauty in the dark and empty void. His name was whispered amongst the stars over and over again, but then the whispering became louder until a deafening roar filled his already ringing ears.

"John, wake up!" screamed Cortana.

John quickly opened his eyes only to see the shattered and broken section of the frigate around him.
He opened the stasis chamber and pulled his weightless body from its inviting warmth.
Around him the hull of the ship seemed to warp and shudder as a series of bright red flares cascaded around the bulkheads at the far end of the corridor.
"Status," Barked john
"Re-entry Chief, we're about to make an emergency crash landing." Explained Cortana
"Where?" asked John
"I don't know, but wherever we are it's nowhere near Earth." Replied Cortana
John moved to the far end of the deck to see what Cortana was talking about.
Below the broken UNSC ship was a large planet shrouded in darkness, the only visible light was on the horizon from the now rising sun.
"Firing emergency thrusters!" stated Cortana
Despite only having half the ship to use, the robust structure and redundant back-up systems were still capable of manoeuvring the hulk in the planets atmosphere. The ungainly shape of the UNSC frigate would provide maximum surface for slowing their descent.
The only thing they had to worry about was the landing itself.

Part One (Crisis)

"What are our options?" asked John
"I could crash-land the Forward Unto Dawn, but I doubt that even you would survive chief. Our only other option is for you to get to one of the ships' hangar bays, and try and fly a Pelican to the surface. Once there, I'll land the Dawn as best as I can." explained Cortana with a daunting look on her blue face.
"I'm not leaving you behind, not again." Stated John
"Chief you don't have a choice; if you stay you'll die. Falling from the sky is one thing, but falling from the sky in 600,000 metric tones of frigate is another. Flying a Pelican to the surface is your only option."
John stared at Cortana as he weighed the possible options.
No doubt every conceivable plan that he was going through in his head had already been examined, summarized and discounted by Cortana along with another ten thousand options within the blink of an eye. Her calculating abilities were only matched by his stubbornness, something which Sgt Johnson had remarked on more than one occasion.
But deep down, he knew that she was right and reluctantly agreed.
"Where's the nearest hangar bay?" he asked.
"Two decks down, the damaged lift shaft is your best way of getting there. Once there I'll try and steady the ship long enough for you to fly out, but once your out it'll be one hell of a ride." Replied Cortana
"I can handle it." Stated John with a confident tone

John grabbed the assault rifle and attached it to his armoured back before boosting himself off the stasis chamber, and towards the darker section of the ship.
Cortana had activated several way-points on his NAV computer, all of which illuminated a small section of his display like a trail of proverbial breadcrumbs.
Further ahead the hull shuddered under the increasing stress of re-entry. Although they were still some way out before the ship would start to burn, John knew that the most time he had was around seventeen minutes. Then as if by some form of telepathy, Cortana activated a small timer display in the upper left section of his helmet which read: 17:28 before it began to count down.
"This is how much time you have chief before the Dawn becomes too unstable for you to leave, so I suggest that you hurry." She insisted.
John glided towards the lift shaft ahead of him, and placed an armour encased hand on the twisted door.
John planted his feet on the floor before exerting some pressure on the broken doorway. After several seconds of pulling, the metal gave way, and the door glided slowly away from him, revealing a dark lift shaft that almost seemed to descend into infinity.

After increasing the power to his helmet mounted lamp and boosting the gain on his night vision sensors, John quickly dived into the bowels of the Dawn.
All around him shapes and shadows fleeted and warped in the changing light, giving the illusion that he was traveling with company. John only wished that were true. He would have given anything to be with his old team again.
Cortana snapped John back to reality with a progress report on their re-entry; he was surprised to discover that almost five minutes had passed since he left the upper deck. John once again focused on his lonely descent just as the hangar lift doors came into view.
Unlike the ones that he had left behind these doors were untouched, which presented more than just one problem. As there was no damage to the doors it left John with very little to hold onto.
"Cortana can you spare any power for the doors at the hangar level?" asked John
"Not at the moment chief, I'm using all I have just to keep us pointing the right way. You'll just have to use your head." Replied Cortana
"Good idea." John whispered to himself
John pushed gently away from the hangar entrance and towards the opposing wall of the lift shaft where the magnetic guide rails for the lift carriage were located. After slowing and positioning himself properly; John pushed as hard as he could towards the lift doors and smacked into them with the force of a small tank.
The impact sent stars swirling around his head, and momentarily lowered his shield strength to 76% before recharging.
Cortana immediately noticed the change in his status and asked what was happening, John replied with his usual sense of wit, "Just following your advice."
The encounter with the lift door had left it bent and buckled with enough surface gain for John to twist the metal into a more appropriate doorway.

After passing through the gap John found himself in a large room that barely resembled any sort of hangar. All him around were various and untidy piles of logistical containers that had either been left unsecured, or had been shaken from their mountings.
Ahead of him were six Pelicans; four were clearly damaged to the extent that flight was not an option, and two of those had been ripped from their ceiling mounted transit clamps. The other two seemed intact, and were still fixed to the large mechanical clamps on the hangar ceiling, but as John glided closer he noticed that one of them was covered in a series of large, deep gouges that meant re-entry would be more than a little warm.
The last remaining Pelican, apart from a couple of dents, was still perfectly flight-worthy, and the automated release system for that particular clamp was still working. It seemed that John's unusual run of good luck was still with him.

John swam in the zero gravity towards the working Pelican and hauled himself inside through its rear deployment ramp.
Despite the outward appearance of the drop ship its interior was anything but calm as John made his way to the cockpit across an internal sea of scattered weapons and ammunition cases. The cockpit was a welcome sight, and despite his bulk john managed to secure himself in the small pilot's chair and activated the controls.
Lights and display screens flickered into life giving the cockpit a strange glow that was more reminiscent of a Covenant cruiser.
It had been a while since he had flown himself, but he had a huge area to land on; the planet below. So getting down would not be a problem.
John glanced at the timer display in his SPARTAN helmet where it read 4:09; the trip had taken longer than expected.
In a series of quick stabs at the control panel the engines erupted into life and John released the Pelican from its transit clamp and turned the ship around before stabilizing the drop ship in a small hover.
"Cortana, status!" bellowed John
"The Dawn's a little sluggish but I think I've managed to stabilise her trajectory. I see that you finally got yourself a means of transport," Answered Cortana "Opening outer doors."
As Cortana opened the hangar doors John was greeted with a blaze of light from the rising sun on the planets' horizon. His faceplate polarized to compensate for the intense glare, allowing John to see the interior of the frigate around him once more.
"Chief you've got less than three minutes, get out!" commanded Cortana
John answered with a light push on the engines thrusters, which sent the Pelican towards the illuminated opening.
The Dawn shuddered several times in the increasing turbulence before Cortana regained control long enough for John to activate the afterburners on the drop ship, sending it hurtling outwards and into the violent atmosphere.
The Pelican jerked suddenly as it came into contact with the rushing air, sending Johns head down with the g-force.
After a couple of seconds John regained his control on the nauseating dive, and turned to follow the descending frigate just as the Dawn's forward hull began to glow red from the re-entry manoeuvre.
John fired the afterburners a second time and sped towards the falling frigate.
"Cortana what's your status?" shouted John
"I still have control of the descent and expect impact in twenty two minutes, after I have made a series of -..." Cortana's conversation was cut short as the antenna array was ripped from the Dawn in the glaring inferno.
John followed closely behind in the Pelican trying to raise an answer from his artificial comrade.

Part Two (Descent)

Like its namesake the Dawn began to flare like a rising star. The leading edge of the frigate was not designed to re-enter the atmosphere of a planet backwards, let alone in half. Large sections of metal began to tear from the main structure and damaged Archer missile pods were exploding with the buffeting and overwhelming heat.
John pushed the engines of the Pelican to beyond their operational maximum in an effort to keep up with the remains of the Dawn. But the situation seemed to conspire against him.
The planets' gravity and the already excessive momentum gripping the Dawn meant that he was gradually falling behind without the ability to talk to his trusted guide. Despite years together, fighting against the best the Covenant could offer there was little he could do except follow the broken frigate.
This was where John hated being. In a situation that was not subject to his physical strength, endurance or speed.
He was more at home on the ground, where he could move faster and hit harder than anyone else in the UNSC, and most probably the majority of his former enemy; the Covenant.
In the air though he was like a fish out of water, and all of his survival instincts were relying on the mechanical movements of a dented drop ship. He preferred solid ground, a good rifle and a team that he could no longer call upon.
John was immediately tempted to think back to a time when SPARTANS were the last best hope for the survival of Humanity, but gradually their numbers had dwindled to just a handful of skilled individuals. Even now he was unsure of whether any of them were still alive.
Deep down though, he hoped they were.

The Pelican jerked suddenly, bringing John back to reality.
The frigate had now pushed itself into a 12 kilometre lead, and even with his faceplate fully polarized and at maximum magnification there was little detail that he could make out.
Captain Keys had been able to land the Pillar of Autumn on the first Halo, but then he had an entire ship to utilise not a collection of damaged and broken deck plates with half a MAC gun.
Suddenly the Dawn began to move slowly to the left and then the whole ship rolled over to expose the more intact dorsal section to the ferocious heat.
Cortana was still in control.
John followed as best as he could behind the Dawn for the next twenty minutes, and managed to make up some ground as the large twisted frigate performed a series of S-turns in order to slow its descent.
Then John heard a sound he did not expect.
"Chief…is Cortana…antenna …non functional…am using…ships sensor array plating…you hear me?" said a distant and distorted Cortana
John could only make out parts of the transmission, but it was enough to reassure him of Cortana's status.
"Barely Cortana, I'm just behind you. I'll follow you in." he replied.
Nothing further came from frigate except a wash of static.
John continued to follow the burning ship as far as he could, and then slowly pulled back on the control column to bring the nose of the Pelican level with the horizon, and watched as the ship sliced a fiery scar into the grass covered surface of the planet beneath.
Even before the battered UNSC frigate come to a stop John was already landing.

Once down John punched the ramp release switch so hard that the control surface crumpled under his strength, but the welfare of the Pelican was the least of his concerns.
He raced from the ramp and towards the Dawn with a speed that even Kelly would have been proud of, but he was greeted with a searing wave of heat that blistered and bubbled the remaining layer of his already scarred colour scheme. Pale green paint fell from his armour in thin scorched flakes upon the ground as he pushed his suit of Mjolnir armour beyond its advised limit.
The main hangar bay that had provided John with the means to escape was now a shattered mess and even the remaining Pelicans, although already damaged, were now an unrecognisable sight.
John carried on running to the far end of the ship where the engines were located and climbed in through one of the few intact deck hatches.
John continued to race throughout the remaining sections of the ship until he reached the area where he had left Cortana.
"Cortana, Cortana can you hear me!" shouted John
He stood next to the cracked holo plate that had served as Cortana's command cell, and waited for her to appear as though afraid to remove her chip, either through concern of more damage or through the fading hope that she was still functioning.
"Cortana?" Whispered John
John began to reach for the chip housing below the holo-plinth when it suddenly illuminated to reveal the familiar image of his companion.
"What took you so long?" asked Cortana
"Funny, real funny next time lets do something harder." joked John
John placed the chip back in its portable housing in his armour, where it belonged and then collected a few supplies before heading back to the Pelican.
It was good to have her back in his head.
"Chief there's something I need to tell you," Cortana paused before continuing "You were in stasis for quite a while."
"How long?" asked John
"Longer than you think." Replied Cortana

Part Three (Discovery)

John continued walking towards the Pelican expecting Cortana to say that he had been in stasis for 3 or 4 months, but her hesitation in coming forward with a definitive timescale only heightened his already overwhelming concern.
"Exactly how long have I been in stasis Cortana?" asked John
Cortana paused extensively before coming back with an answer.
"You're not going to like it," replied Cortana
"How long!" asked John with a raised tone
"314 years, 8 months and 3 days." Said Cortana with a sympathetic tone
John immediately stopped walking and dropped the supplies on the ground, for the first time in his life as a Spartan he was shocked.
"I'm sorry John." Said Cortana
John made a vain attempt to recover his composure but he knew why Cortana was so sympathetic. She had been his guide and confidant for years and knew him probably better than he knew himself. It no longer mattered if all of the Spartans had survived the war, which he knew was impossible, they would all be dead by now. Not even a Spartan can live that long.
"Damn." He whispered
"Chief I know that this probably won't make up for anything but you stopped Truth and saved Humanity from extinction, you've achieved your mission." Said Cortana
"I know, but I never expected to win this war on my own or without another Spartan in sight." Replied John
It was more than just that, John had hoped to see at least one of them again but the three centuries that had passed ensured that would never happen, even Kelly was unable to outrun time.
John was indeed the last surviving Spartan, and his luck had held out where the others had succumbed to fate and destiny.
Another dread filled thought suddenly entered his head. Even though Cortana was the most advanced of her kind, she was still limited by an unforgiving life expectancy of seven years. Under normal circumstances she would only have a couple of those years left at best, but they had been drifting in space for centuries.
"How are you still functioning after all this time?" enquired John
"You weren't the only one sleeping up there you know," answered Cortana "After I dropped off the beacon and assessed our situation, I wrote a program for the environmental and navigation systems that would allow both of us to rest until we were picked up. I was only alerted when the Dawn approached this planet."
John remained quiet, thinking of his possible options. He hoped that Cortana would live forever or that if they were rescued there would be some advancement in technology that would allow her to remain his companion well into old age. Three hundred years had past since he was last on Earth; AI's were probably living to all kinds of ages. He hoped so.
"We'd better get moving chief; we have a lot of ground to cover." Said Cortana softly
John quietly nodded in agreement before picking up the discarded supplies and making his way to the waiting Pelican.

The exterior of the UNSC drop ship was covered in scrapes and scratches from the heated pursuit of the Dawn. The starboard wing was slightly damaged from a near encounter with a semi-molten Warthog, but besides that she was fine, and was all that John and Cortana could utilise in their exploration of this mysterious world.
After making himself comfortable John inserted Cortana's chip into the small Pelican holo-plinth besides the navigation console, she quickly appeared; bathing the cockpit in blue light from her illuminated female form.
"So where to?" asked John
"Take us up to two thousand metres chief and I'll try and use what's left of the on-board sensors to scan the terrain around us." explained Cortana
John replied with the engine ignition sequence before taking them up into the marble-blue and white sky above.
As they ascended in the Pelican, the observable surface of the planet seemed to stretch outwards in all directions. Even with the new advantage in height there was little change in the terrain.
The rolling blanket of dense-green woodland seemed to grow in size as they reached the 2,000 metre mark.
The interior of the cockpit seemed to flare as shafts of bright sunlight reflected on the control console and cascaded onto the fields and forests below. In another setting John would have enjoyed the scenery before him; it was similar in appearance to the green expanse of Reach. Except here everything was flat and without anything that resembled a hill or a mountain. It was a stark contrast in that respect to the varied terrain of his former Spartan home.
Reach was filled with every conceivable environment type; snow capped mountain ranges, rolling green woodland and arid-deserts. It was the ideal place to train a Spartan unlike this new world where nothing seemed to be out of place.
The one thing that did seem odd in this sea of green was a small section of what appeared to be desert like terrain far off to the West.
Cortana spent several seconds analysing the sensor data before reporting back to John.
"There are basic life form readings in and around the vegetation and the only area of interest is 87 miles to the West. There is a small desert and some kind of object but I'm experiencing a great deal of difficulty in trying to get a more precise reading of it from the sensors." Reported Cortana
"Any power readings?" asked John
"No nothing at all, in fact there's a distinct lack of even background radiation from the object. We should approach with caution." Replied Cortana
John agreed and dropped the Pelican down towards the tree-tops to avoid presenting an obvious radar-silhouette to any potential inhabitant.
For all John knew the structure could be a distant Covenant loyalist outpost, housing an untold number of brutes, Grunts and Jackals. All supported by squadrons of Banshees. Three hundred years of knowing defeat would mean any former adversary would be unwelcome, especially a demon.
Despite having the Pelican to use, John dropped the speed down to half in an effort to conserve fuel. He had no idea how long he would be here or what he and Cortana would encounter on the planet. The last thing he wanted to do was reduce their traveling speed to a lengthy sprint on foot.

The distant object filled with eye-catching detail as they approached, even though they were still over thirty miles out the unusual building began to fill most of the horizon. Its size was breath taking.
Cortana gazed at the sight before them and a series of symbols flashed across her glowing exterior. There was obviously something of interest that John had not seen.
"What is it?" enquired John "Or need I ask?"
"The design is of Forerunner origin but it's somehow different." Answered Cortana
"Different, how?" asked John
"All of the other structures and ships that we encountered before were all made with a similar design theme, and they all utilised the same materials and energy output even when dormant. But this design deviates from everything else that I've seen before." explained Cortana
"In what way?" asked John with a raised tone
"I can't detect it. The sensors on the Pelican could pick up a large indentation in the desert floor and I could see it from the crash-site, but there's no structure according to the sensor log." She replied
"You mean it's a hologram?" suggested John
"No I think it's some kind of camouflage technology. We can see it visually but besides that it's undetectable." Said Cortana "But it's not just the structure, there are various areas of this planet that are phasing in and out of the sensor scans. I think the whole planet has some kind of stealth field around it, but obviously over the years since the Forerunners were here the power in some areas has started to degrade."
John nodded and continued their approach in the Pelican; he was tempted to fire the forward chain gun at the structure just to see if the armour-piercing rounds would interact with a solid object and not a hologram, but he knew better than that.
For once in his experience with Forerunner technology John wanted to know where he stood, but that was never the case.

The unusual Forerunner structure in front of him was indeed different to the rest that he had seen. The metal almost seemed to harbor feelings of hostility towards him. Instead of the usual clean silver lines and highlights of blue light on every conduit and bulkhead there was a deep, dark metal almost black in colour covering the entire structure. But despite its darkness the building, if that is what it was, still managed to shine and glimmer like glass. Covering the dark skin were thin lines of bright red and orange, John felt as though was looking at some deadly creature that was covered in bright scales designed to ward off potential predators.
The main bulk of the structure consisted of several large towers that stretched upwards into the sky, their thick capital-ship sized bases ascended vertically until they came to a fine sharp point that was coated in several red slashes. The tall spires were accompanied by several smaller spires and a large dark building shaped like a pyramid sliced vertically in half. Unlike previous Forerunner technology there was no observable place to set down. It almost seemed like the structure was designed to prevent a nearby landing in combination with the lack of obvious doorways.
"I could shoot my way in," suggested John "for a change."
"I think that in this case chief, firing any form of weaponry would bring us down a lot quicker than we would wish," Replied Cortana "I think I know what this planet is..."
"Go on." Stated John
"Everything else that we have seen, the halo structures, Flood containment units and the Ark they were all part of a large system designed to defeat the Flood. Whereas this seems to be a world designed to keep those that controlled the Halo's safe from its effects and from any uninvited guest; such as a Flood infested ship." Explained Cortana
"You mean a shield." Replied John
"A shield world to be more precise, this is where a whole population could reside in safety free from the effects of the Halo's." said Cortana
"I remember you mentioning this before." Replied John
"This is different chief. These structures aren't here for decoration, or to power the stealth shield, they're weapons designed for destroying one enemy in particular; the Flood.
"Then let's find a place to set down and take a look." Announced John

Part Four (Shock and Awe)

November 6th 2552 (Forerunner shield world)

Kelly casually walked from the small stream back towards their makeshift camp at the base of one of the many rolling hills. Despite the vast area available for them to explore, she felt trapped by a world that was designed to keep its inhabitants safe from danger. But at the moment it was prison, with no guards, no windows and no obvious way out.
Her first impressions of this shield world had been positive despite their losses, but after only two days of walking and setting up camp on a daily basis with no clear objective, Kelly had become somewhat disheartened.
She had resorted to running around the local area in order to maintain her high level of fitness. But she was fortunate.
Linda and Mark on the other hand only had a limited supply of ammunition, which meant that their exceptional abilities were being used for small scouting runs into the surrounding valleys, whilst Olivia was constantly tracking a herd of cattle that vaguely resembled the common cow on Earth.
Fred and Chief Mendez were probably the most optimistic in Kelly's eyes, as they were doing everything in their power to aid Dr. Halsey in her research. So far they had set up a series of small solar panels to help power the doctor's equipment, but it was a far cry from fighting the Covenant.
Dr. Halsey was the only member of this unofficial and unwilling group of explorers that seemed to move with any real purpose, but then safeguarding the Spartans had always been her intention. That was why she was here in the first place.

Kelly looked over at the isolated cryo-tubes. Ash and Tom had remained with them since they had arrived, as though on a constant religious vigil. But there was little that could be achieved within two days. Even Dr. Halsey was at a loss as to how to free them.
In all the years of the war, Humanity at large had made little progress with the technology that they had gleaned from their encounters with the Covenant, so how were they to crack the seemingly impossible Forerunner puzzles that were scattered around the galaxy. Even the Covenant had been unable to achieve that.

Kelly reached the small encampment and handed out several water canteens to Fred and the chief, each of whom took a series of long gulps of the fresh cold water from the stream.
Dr. Halsey briefly looked up at Kelly and the others before burying herself in her work once again. Although the doctor was the one that wanted them all here she was still extremely anxious when it came to the members of team Katana and the whereabouts of John and Cortana. Despite the fact that all of the Spartans were all extremely proficient in the art of warfare, she still viewed them all in the same way as a surrogate mother pines for the children that are no longer hers. To her they were still children, even John.
"Are you any further forward doctor?" asked Kelly
Doctor Halsey sighed before removing her glasses and rubbing her eyes with the palm of her hands.
"Unfortunately not," she said with a smile "But don't worry Kelly, there must be a way to open the cryo-tubes, I just have to find out how."
Kelly tried to force a smile herself, but ended up pulling a face that better resembled a child receiving an injection with a needle meant for a horse.
As all of the Spartans, new and old, had removed their helmets so they no longer had the luxury of hiding their emotions from Dr. Halsey, but she refrained from letting the Spartans know that she could see their concern. But unknown to them, she also had concerns of her own.
There was no way to know for sure if the Covenant had another way to reach the interior of the shield world, or if Kurt had actually succeeded in detonating the Fenris warheads.
Unlike the waiting Spartans, she had a mission, an objective, a target. Above all else she had to unlock the cryo-tubes holding team Katana. If she succeeded she would have more Spartans to look after and more Spartans to help defeat the Covenant once and for all, when the time was right.
Except this time they would be fighting with Forerunner weapons, and against that the Covenant would have no defence. They would be the ones on the back-foot instead of Humanity. They would be the ones losing.

May 18th 2866 (Location Unknown)

John walked cautiously towards the nearest spire, its imposing presence made him deeply uncomfortable.
His Mjolnir armour was designed to withstand excessive concussive force, projectile weapons and certain Covenant energy weapons. In combination with energy shields and a body hardened to withstand warfare, and endure countless environments that would ordinarily kill a man, he was a force to be reckoned with. Even the Covenant had realised that.
But whenever he was around a Forerunner structure his abilities paled in comparison to their accomplishments. He could understand Cortana's fascination with them along with his former mentor Dr. Catherine Halsey. Here in front of him was probably one of the most powerful weapons in the known universe, designed to fight one of the most deadly creations in the universe: the Flood.
If the Covenant had gained any of this technology before their arrival on Earth, then no ship or Spartan would have been able to stop them and Mankind would have been condemned to death, or a state of existence that they would never recover from.

John pushed the thought from his mind, Cortana was right, the war with the Covenant had ended and Humanity had been saved. Despite this John was still troubled by his new-found isolation, even with Cortana.
He was, as far as he or Cortana knew, the last surviving Spartan and the only human on this strange new world.
As he walked towards the nearest spire he began to recognise the familiar sight of the Forerunner doorway that Cortana had seen, but this one was big enough for Scarab to walk through.
Taking the Pelican all the way to the entrance had been tempting, as traveling around or through any Forerunner structure by foot always took a lot longer than any first impression would indicate. But they had both agreed that any such action might activate whatever dormant defence system was lying in wait.
John stopped several feet away from the large heavy looking doors, looking for anything that might resemble a threat whilst Cortana went over the security system guarding the door.
Although she was not in direct contact with the access terminal Cortana could still breach the security settings of the antiquated entrance.
"I've got it." Cortana informed

John took a couple of steps backwards as the huge dark doors slowly heaved open; there was a hiss of air, indicating that the seal was airtight but surprisingly there was a thin trail of sand running into the vast cathedral sized interior.
Cortana utilised the internal sensors to scan the vast complex, but only some of them were working and only on some of the levels. Of which there were dozens.
"I'm picking up a power source several levels below chief; it could be a control chamber, I suggest we investigate."
John agreed and started to walk further into the structure until Cortana jumped onto the secure COM channel.
"Wait chief I've got a life-form, very weak but it's definitely a life-form!" exclaimed Cortana
John detached the assault rifle from the magnetic armour-plating on his back before continuing into the Forerunner structure.
"Let's go and introduce ourselves then." Answered John

Part Five (Secrets)

November 7th 2552 (Forerunner shield world)

The thick woodland that covered most of the local area gradually began to thin, as Olivia moved silently in her stealthy pursuit. The Forerunners, as advanced as they were, had the wisdom to include a plentiful supply of cattle. But unlike their counterparts on Earth, these Cows were evasive and more intelligent. Even for a Spartan III like Olivia, they were a challenge which seemed odd to her in a way.
She had spent years in training and had fought against the Covenant on many occasions, but here she was having to use all of her skills just to ensure the rest of the team had a reliable food supply.
There were no natural predators that they had seen, and yet the initial presence of Spartans had alarmed the cattle herds. If there was nothing to prey on them, then seeing several Spartans should not have bothered them at all but instead they were keen to stay out of reach of any Human contact.

Fred and Chief Mendez were still going about their usual daily routine of helping out Dr. Halsey, whilst the members of team Sabre were examining some of the removable panels of Kelly's armour. Although they were more agile than the Spartan II's their fight against the Forerunner sentinels taught them that additional protection is a must, even Ash and Tom had peeled themselves away from the Cryo-tubes for a more detailed look at her armour.
Kelly went through the main systems of her valuable armour, which was decorated with the scars of war. Kelly had seen a great deal of combat and her armour reflected that. Some of the deep gouges caused by a Covenant plasma rifle were the main areas of interest for the younger Spartans especially as their armour was designed for stealth and not close quarter battle.
"Are there any more Spartans left?" asked Tom
Kelly looked away as though deep in thought or remembering fallen comrades from years that had long since past.
"When the Covenant attacked Reach, blue team was tasked with defending one of the many orbital instillations that made Reach the fortress world that it was, but John our team leader became separated from the rest of us." Kelly's eyes glazed-over with the mounting emotion and she paused briefly to compose herself.
Dr. Halsey walked up and seeing the look on Kelly's face, continued with the account of John's history. She spoke of the many battles that John had been involved in including the destruction of the first Halo structure and the initial defence of Earth.
"He must have killed thousands of Covenant troops," interrupted Ash
"Probably more than you think, but he'll have saved many more lives," answered Dr. Halsey

Olivia suddenly appeared from a small wood nearby, but instead of her predatory stalk she had an alarmed look upon her face and was running as fast as she could towards the group. The other Spartans immediately changed to state of combat readiness all of them with weapons raised, looking for any possible threat behind Olivia.
Fred was the nearest and he ran to meet her. Kelly was too far away to hear what they were saying but Olivia was pointing over towards an area of the surrounding woodland that seemed to be far denser than the rest.
Fred quickly came over towards the rest of the group before briefing them on the situation.
"Olivia has found a small structure hidden within the wood over to the East; it looks like it could be a doorway of some kind."
Dr. Halsey's eyes were suddenly filled with excitement and she immediately started to pack her things in anticipation of some great exploration, but Fred stopped her before she could power-down her portable terminal.
"We need to check it out first doctor."
Her look of excitement briefly changed to frustration, but she quickly accepted the situation and allowed her Spartans to do their job.
Linda, Fred and Olivia quietly moved off towards the densely packed woodland for a look at the structure, whilst the others gathered the remaining weapons and ammunition.
"Now we all have a mission." Catherine whispered to herself

May 18th 2866 (Location Unknown)

John walked silently towards the next doorway, hugging the shadows between the countless huge bulkheads in a corridor that better resembled a never-ending hangar bay.
Cortana had concluded that the faint life-form reading was about 4 levels down and had remained stationary since they entered, but beyond that there was little she could find out.
Her attempts at finding out more about this ancient structure had been blocked at every occasion, despite the ease at which she had hacked her way into other Forerunner systems this one was proving to be a much harder nut to crack.
The only hypothesis that she had developed was that the structure was part of a much larger network on the planet, and was designed to help shield the world through a form of camouflage technology. In addition to this there were several weapons pylons scattered in and around the various structures and each one was probably more than capable of destroying a Covenant capital ship with a single hit.
The energy source for all of this firepower was buried deep below the surface, and besides a few isolated pockets of exposed camouflage on the surface it was functioning perfectly, even after all of this time.
All along the vast corridor were dozens of the familiar Forerunner styled doorway's, and rows of sentinel ports all of which appeared to be sealed.
After several minutes of walking the corridor came to an abrupt end where a single lift shaft was located, Cortana indicated that the only way down was via the lift so John activated the control panel and they were quickly plunged into a huge subterranean cavern that was bathed entirely in blue light.
The route down took them past three other levels all of which vaguely resembled the underground structures in the first Halo, the only difference, as John pointed out, was that they seemed better designed for a defensive fight. Instead of a single winding level there was a multitude of steadily ascending floors for each level and dozens of bulkheads and doorways, all of which could probably be sealed and defended with heavy weaponry.
The ring-like halos were a thing of beauty whereas this structure had been designed with the single purpose of exterminating the Flood, without killing all other sentient life in the galaxy. It seemed that this planet was the prototype in a war with an enemy that could literally devour whole worlds.

The fourth level was almost identical to the other three above it but with subtle differences. Instead of several defensive floors this level had two main floors and was filled with sentinel ports.
"It would seem that this is a command level of some kind, responsible for the floors above it in case of a breach." Surmised Cortana
"If that's the case then who's been left in charge?" enquired John
The lift came to a stop but from the transparent floor, John could see countless levels below that eventually vanished into the distant shadow.
"The life-form readings are about 200 metres ahead chief," Informed Cortana
John slowly walked from the lift towards the faint reading in the next chamber; rifle at the ready.
After following the waypoints in his helmet display, John entered a single large chamber. Flowing from the surrounding walls were a multitude of cables and pipes that all lead to a centrally located chair. Sat within the chair was a humanoid figure that appeared older than the structure itself.
The figure appeared to be male and was around six and a half feet tall with a slender build and a pale complexion.
John suddenly realised what he might be looking at, but Cortana had already drawn up her own conclusions as soon as they had entered the chamber.
"A Forerunner!" gasped Cortana

November 7th 2552 (Forerunner shield world)

Linda and Fred crawled along the ground towards the area that Olivia had indicated but all they could see was more trees.
Fred opened the secure COM channel "Where is it?" he whispered
"Over there," replied Olivia with a pointed finger
"I don't see anything," said Fred "there's just trees."
"Exactly, I wouldn't have seen it either until I walked into it. It seems to use some kind of camouflage technology." Said Olivia

Fred crept closer to the group of trees ahead and then suddenly found himself inside a sheltered doorway. He glanced behind and saw Olivia and Linda looking at him, even with their helmets back on he could tell they were puzzled.
To those outside of the camouflage it appeared as though Fred had no torso but his legs were still visible, something which made Linda cringe at the sight of.

Fred stood up and then walked out of the camouflage field and indicated to Olivia and Linda to come forward.
Olivia walked forward first followed by a more hesitant Linda. All of her Spartan training told her not to walk in, but this unusual doorway was the best hope of finding a way out.
The doorway itself was in keeping with the rest of the Forerunner technology that Fred had seen on Onyx, its cool metallic facing was highlighted with wisps of iridescent blue light. To the right of the doorway was a single control panel that was illuminated by a single red light, it did not take much imagination for Fred to figure out that the door was locked.
"Linda, go and get Dr. Halsey. We'll have to see if she knows a way to bypass the security system."
Linda acknowledged the order and darted off towards the camp as fast as she could.

Part 6 (Show and Tell)

May 18th 2866 (Location Unknown)

John stood silent for several minutes, staring at the ancient figure before him. Cortana was the first to overcome her own amazement and asked the chief to move forward towards one of the many panels that were located around the chamber.
Once they were close enough, Cortana moved from the relative safety of John's armour and into the Forerunner computer. From here she was able to fully appreciate the technology involved.
Unlike her previous attempts to circumvent the running software, she was now able to access almost every area of the computer. The only area that eluded her curious grasp was the impressive weapon system that both Reach and Earth could have used in their defence. Instead Reach had fallen and had taken many Human and Covenant lives in the process, and Earth had been saved after good fortune had broken the Covenant in two providing the UNSC with a valuable ally.
But that was why Cortana chose John as her operations platform, because of his good fortune.
Cortana suddenly appeared on the computer console as a hologram.
"Chief don't go anywhere, I'm going to have a look at the data stored in the Forerunner system," said Cortana
"And here was me, planning a vacation." Replied John with a sarcastic tone
Cortana tilted her illuminated head and stared at John with a small smile on her face. "Funny chief, very funny,"

John carefully walked around the chamber, avoiding the many cables that lead to the Forerunner sat in the throne like chair. He was unsure if the figure was encased within some form of stasis field or if the cables were ferrying a level of energy that would fry his Mjonir armour.
It seemed odd to John that this ancient being was so exposed. There was no sign of a monitor, and none of the sentinels were active. The events on the previous Halo's and the Ark should have initiated or activated something here. The presence of the Flood on the Ark and Earth should have done something, but instead a Forerunner shield world was here in plain sight with a dormant or inactive defence system.
But then John remembered. Forerunner technology and the puzzles and questions associated with them were never a simple thing that you could explain away at random. There was always something around the corner that you had not taken into account.
"Chief!" shouted Cortana
John quickly moved back to where the computer console and Cortana were.
"What is it?"
"I've found the Library in the system," she replied
"Like the one from the Halo's?"
"Yes, but I can access this one remotely and there is more information here than anyone could ever imagine." Cortana explained
"Like what?" enquired John
"All of their history, and I mean everything." Said Cortana with an excited tone

November 7th 2552 (Forerunner shield world)

Linda returned to the camouflaged doorway with the doctor in tow, her heavy technical case was being carried by Kelly.
Despite the weight of the case, her speed had not in anyway been affected. It was as though she was carrying a box full of air.
Dr. Halsey stopped at the edge of the field and placed her hands on her hips until she caught her breath. Even when her Spartans moved slower than usual it was still hard to keep up with them.
The area in front of her was noticeably different, but only because she knew where to look and what it was.
The Covenant version of the active camouflage system was very similar to this Forerunner version and it was possible that the Covenant had probably adapted the alien technology at point in the past.
Catherine had seen its deadly effectiveness from the surveillance footage taken by her Spartans on operational deployments, and the terrified first-hand accounts of survivors. But this version just seemed more polished than the Covenant version; the spatial distortion around the edge of the field was not as great as that on the Covenant system. If her Spartans were to be equipped with this kind of technology they would be even more deadly.

After a brief look at the surrounding area, Catherine slowly walked into the camouflaged field and was immediately greeted with the Forerunner doorway and a pair of inquisitive Spartans, in this case Fred and Olivia.
The door was typical of the type of the technology that she had seen before. The switch to the right of the entrance was illuminated by a single red light, an obvious indication that it was locked.
Kelly set down the technical case next to Dr. Halsey and backed away slowly so she could watch her work. The Spartans were faster and stronger than any other Human but they were always dumbfounded when watching the doctor perform technical miracles.
Catherine pulled three, multi-coloured coax cables from the case and attached them to face of the switch. After several minutes of adjustments and a flurry of command inputs on her data pad, the light changed from red to green.
The Spartans quickly moved Catherine and her equipment away from the entrance and readied themselves for some much needed exploration.
Fred pressed the switch and the two sections of the door silently parted, before they cautiously entered the shell of the Dyson-sphere.

May 18th 2866 (Location Unknown)

John cautiously waited as Cortana trawled through the immense wealth of information that was now available. Her glowing skin was covered in the usual collection of unrecognisable hieroglyphs, except this time they were racing across her at an unbelievable speed.
John quickly realised that the amount of information that she was processing was far greater than he had initially imagined.

"Cortana." Asked John
No answer came from her as she increased the speed of her processing until her blue body became a mind-numbing blur.
"Cortana!" bellowed John
Cortana rapidly shifted from her previous pace of processing to a more familiar gentle glide of blue lines and shapes. The expression on her face conveyed the depth of data that was now available to her.
"What have you found?" asked John in a relaxed tone
Cortana's eyes repeatedly darted left and right, as though reading some invisible lexicon of information. Eventually she refocused on John, who was standing expectantly in front of the main Forerunner console.
"The amount of data here chief… is beyond imagining," Cortana struggled to convey the information she was now in possession of. "I know everything about the Forerunners. Their history, the Flood and the wars they fought."
"Wars?" enquired John "How many times did they fight the Flood?"
"They weren't at war with just the Flood there was another enemy, before the Flood. It was because of this old enemy that they created the Flood, to fight for the Forerunners not against them." She explained
"I think you should start at the beginning."

"Over three million years ago the Forerunners were at war with an equally advanced species that they simply called "The Enemy".
But this enemy was different to the Forerunners, even though both sides possessed advanced technology, The Enemy had the ability to partially adapt to possible threats. Their bodies and the armour they wore were capable of absorbing or deflecting some forms of energy, kinetic force and even deadly viral infections."
Cortana paused briefly as though catching her breath, even though she had no need for oxygen.
"The Forerunners didn't create the Flood by accident they made them to fight. The Flood are capable of killing and infecting even the hardiest of defenders, and they proved to be too much for this enemy."
"So what happened to this enemy?" John asked
"I don't know. A lot of the entries that are present in the library have been corrupted by the amount of time that has passed since this planet was constructed, and there other areas that I can't access because of this. The same goes for the sensor systems and the camouflage technology."
"So what's this planet for?"
"At first I thought that this world was a prototype, designed to fight the Flood, but it's not. This planet was designed and built as a defence platform, to be used against the Forerunners old enemy, a good old fashioned fortress or outpost. But instead of a world surrounded by ships and orbital platforms, the Forerunners have gone a step further and enveloped the entire planet in a kind of camouflage so that it wouldn't be found in the first place."

John began to think of the possibilities of the technology available here. If Humanity had discovered a world like this during the war, then a lot of lives would have been saved.
"If this was a world built to fight this…enemy, then does that mean the Flood won't be contained here?"
"I'm not sure chief; they were present on every other Forerunner structure. But then the Halo's were designed with the Flood in mind and their research program was continued until the very last moment. Then the rings were fired all those years ago." Replied Cortana

John looked over at the pale faced Forerunner at the centre of the room, his stillness made John somewhat uneasy.
"What about him?"
"Before they used autonomous monitors, the Forerunners facilities were guarded and maintained by live members of their society. At the time it was the most reliable method of ensuring the operational status of wherever they were." She explained
"So how do we wake him up?"
"We can't chief, he's in some kind of temporal stasis field. By all accounts he's not even in this room; he's separated from us by a bubble of slip-space. However, if the computer system was running properly I could probably access his monitoring directive, and speak to him.
"If the systems on this world are so corrupted, why has the monitor not dispatched a couple of sentinels to fix them?" John enquired
"I don't know, he either doesn't want to or he's unable." Replied Cortana

Cortana closed her eyes and went into another blur of processing, her skin made for a dizzying sight. After several minutes passed she returned with a way to solve their dilemma.
"I could re-boot the whole system that should fix most of the glitches and reset the security and sensor directives."
"You want to re-boot a planet?" said John with a hint of sarcasm
"I know it sounds extreme, but it may be our best way of finding out where we are."
"Do it." Stated John
Cortana closed her eyes again and then the lights suddenly dimmed. A faint vibration emanated from beneath Johns feet, but it was nothing of concern. Then everything suddenly went dark.

John activated his night vision and he could see the rest of the room again, but Cortana had vanished from sight. He was suddenly filled with concern once again.
But as quickly as the darkness had descended it was immediately lifted and room was illuminated once again and Cortana reappeared at the computer console.
"Re-boot complete…all systems online…defence program active…sensors active…archive active. Everything's back on chief now we can find out exactly where we…-" Cortana cut off in mid conversation and looked around as though scanning the massive data files once more.
"What is it?" asked John
"The whole planet wasn't just shielded by a camouflage field; it was immersed in a form of slip-space as well. But the faults that were present in both enabled us to see and land on the planet. But there were rips and tears in the field that distorted everything. That was why I was only activated at the last minute instead of from a safe distance. The sensors that I had working on the Forward unto Dawn were unable to detect the planet, but we entered through one of the slip-space gaps. After that everything was distorted, time, space everything." Explained Cortana with a tone of excitement
"So what does that mean?"
"We weren't drifting in space for 314 years chief. We were only out there for twenty four days." Replied Cortana
John felt something that he had not felt for a long time, happiness. Earth would still be there and there was hope once more for his team to be alive.

"What about our location?" asked John
"Scanning," Cortana moved a flurry of speed again before continuing "There is a vast network of levels and chambers all over the planet, but each weapons platform is separate from the rest and is independently powered. We are four levels down but this chamber goes down another thirty levels."
"How far is Earth?"
"Unfortunately Earth is over sixty thousand light years from here, but if we can find a ship there should be no reason why we can't get back in good time, especially with Forerunner technology."
"Then let's get going. We have a ship to find." Replied John
"Wait chief, there's an alarm in the system-the internal sensors have detected something,"
"What?" said John
"Us!" replied Cortana
Cortana activated the display screen at the end of the chamber which showed the corridor where the sentinel hatches were located. All of them were open and hundreds of the single-eyed drones were hurtling in their direction.
"Let's prepare a worthy welcome for our guests then." Stated John as he readied his assault rifle and pulled out the last of his grenades.

To be continued...