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The Trials of a Displaced Master, Chief Chapter II: Time Travel Can Be Such A Pain
Posted By: stan<stantrl@yahoo.com>
Date: 16 December 2003, 2:41 AM

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      The Master Chief flicked his turn signal, and turned the Cadillac to the right, out of the parking garage. It was a 30-mile drive from the apartment of Ritchie Smeltz to the headquarters of Maluchi Macaroni Importers, and traffic would be heavy. There would be ample to time for Cortana to lay out her plan for their return to home. John checked his mirrors for any tails and then, detecting none, settled in for the drive. No car was designed to seat one and a half tons of armored soldier comfortably, but the roomy Cadillac at least allowed the Chief to fit in the driver seat.
      "Ok Cortana, let's hear it."
      "Well Chief, I've been reviewing our encounter with the Forerunner object we found directly before we arrived here. I've determined that the immense gravity well produced by the object at the time of contraction must have torn a hole either through the very fabric of space-time or through some previously hidden dimension and thus allowed our ship to travel backwards on the path of time. I imagine the process is somewhat similar to our slipspace engines. However, instead of widening a spatial dimension that leads to another part of the universe the ship is currently in, this object opens a hole through the dimension of time."
      As Cortana discussed her findings on the nature of the mysterious object they had found on the outskirts of the Halo system, the Chief couldn't help but recall the four strange days after the destruction of halo and their arrival here.


      Halo was destroyed. Likewise, the flood and any Human or Covenant forces unlucky enough to be left on the construct had been vaporized. The Master Chief and Cortana were seemingly the only human forces that survived not only the encounter with the Flood, but also the clash with the Covenant over the planet Reach. So many lost in such a short time thought the Master Chief as he sat inactive in the Longsword space fighter that he and Cortana had used to escape the Pillar of Autumn and ultimately Halo itself. At least the past two weeks were not a total lose the Chief realized.
      Cortana's databanks were packed full with information on both the Flood and the construct itself. The information could prove to be the most important weapon the Human forces had in their struggle for survival. Not only would the data be vital in quashing any future outbreak of the Flood that may occur, but the information on the Forerunner installation might lead to some ultra-advanced technology that could turn the tide of war in the favor of the Humans. There was enough data in Cortana's memory cells to keep the folks at ONI busy for years; that is if the Chief and Cortana could safely deliver that information to the proper authorities.
      As of that moment the prospects of that occurring did not look good. The Longsword fighter that they were currently piloting through the debris field of the ruined ring construct was not equipped with any sort of slipspace drive. And under conventional power, Cortana had calculated, it would take millennia to return to the Earth.
      The thought had crossed John's mind to capture one of the many Covenant cruisers or destroyers that had flocked to the system after the destruction of the Forerunner installation. After all, he had been ordered to do just that, and those orders still stood. Those orders, however, had been written up with John's entire squad of Spartans in mind. To attempt the task alone would not only certainly get him killed, but could ultimately prove fatal to all of Mankind if the data that Cortana held were to fall into the hands of the Covenant. And so John sat, inactive, as Cortana worked to keep them hidden from the Covenant scanners that probed every inch of the debris field that had already begun to pull itself into a ring around the gas giant Threshold. It was, John thought, ironic that even after destruction the ring world would maintain its intended shape.
      Thoughts like these helped to keep him calm as they drifted closer and closer to the edge of the system. The events of his five day stay on Halo had rolled through his mind so many times as to have become almost one continuous stream of death and destruction. And in the end, his thoughts always returned to the same image: that of the infected form of former Captain Jacob Keyes. Keyes had been a friend and, along with all those who had fallen to the vile Flood, did not deserve such a horrible death.
      "This is interesting." Cortana muttered to herself, snapping the Chief out of his sad recollections. "Chief, I'm picking up a strange anomaly at the edge of the system. It seems quiet large, and not of natural origin."
      "Another Halo?" Asked the Chief.
      "Not likely. It's hard to tell, but the structure can't be more than a small fraction of the size of Halo."
      "Why do you say 'hard to tell', the scanners seem to be functioning normally."
      "It's not the ships scanners, it is the object itself. The scanners are picking up a hard contact, but the size is not static; it's shrinks and expands. However, there doesn't seem to be any pattern to these cycles. From what I can tell, the average size seems to be that of a small planetoid, maybe 400 kilometers. "
      John pondered Cortana's remarks. A "hard contact" meant that the ship's scanners were picking up solid material, not merely a cloud of gas or a region of dense interstellar dust. The technology to construct such a large, deformable object was far beyond that which even the Covenant possessed. John could only assume that the structure was in some way connected to the ring construct further in-system. If that was the case, the object had been built by the mysterious Forerunner, and John knew from experience that all such things were worth a closer look.
      "Cortana, plot a course to the object. If this thing has anything to do with Halo or the flood, I think it would be a good idea to check it out. Anyways, it's not like we have much else to do."
      "Acknowledged. Changing course now. ETA to our new destination is 14 hours." Replied Cortana.
      With the prospect of some action to break the monotony of their travel, the time passed quickly for the Chief. Reflections of the events of the last few days turned to speculation on the strange structure that Cortana had discovered.
      As they traveled closer to their destination, Cortana was able to assemble a clearer picture of the object they were heading towards. Her initial calculations had been correct, the object was about 400 kilometers in diameter. This, however, was not a constant size as the object would occasionally expand to almost twice it's average size, and then rapidly contract down to a mere handful of kilometers, before slowly expand once again to it's equilibrium size. The cycles of contraction and expansion occurred seemingly at random, and each contraction was accompanied by a burst of high-energy particles that Cortana had difficulty classifying.
      They were now within 10,000 kilometers of the object, and its structure was visible on the ships view screens. At this distance it was hard to determine much of the object's nature, however it seemed to be constructed from the same blue-gray material preferred by the Forerunners.
      More details became apparent as the longsword powered closer to the enigmatic object. Roughly spherical in shape, it was covered with triangular protrusions that were spread along its body. Though the space immediately surrounding the sphere was completely clear of any material a flattened disk of rocks, ice crystals, and other material left over from the creation of this system slowly orbited the object. John was reminded of the accretion disk that formed around many black holes.
      "It's expanding again." Commented Cortana.
On the screen, the object slowly began to increase in size. The triangular protrusions that covered its body began to flatten and spread to accommodate the growth. As John watched, an opening formed at the sphere's equator, and soft blue-white light washed over the accretion disk.
      While the object and the opening at it's center continued to grow, the material in the disk surrounding it began to orbit at a much higher speed. The debris closest to the object began to spiral inwards until it was engulfed by the massive opening that now spread almost 100 kilometers in diameter. Tidal forces near the sphere broke down any larger rocks, so that soon the object was consuming a uniform stream of material.
      "Cortana, put us in an orbit around the sphere, but keep us at a safe distance. I don't want to be drawn into that opening."
      "Acknowledged. But be aware, the gravitational pull from the sphere has increased by a factor of almost 1000. I've never seen anything like this. We will have to keep quite a distance to stay out of its gravity well."
Suddenly, as abruptly as it had opened, the mouth on the object's face spiraled shut. By this point, the sphere had swelled to a diameter of close to 800 kilometers. The face of the object was now completely smooth and complex patterns of light and shadow swarmed across it, glowing from some internal source.
      Just then, a brilliant white light flooded the cabin of the longsword. John's visor could not accommodate for this sudden change in light level, and he was forced to turn his head. His over-shields sparked and crackled as a stream of high-energy radiation washed over the ship. The contraction had begun.
      In it's orbit far from the object, the ship was buffeted by powerful gravity waves that rolled through spaced like a stormy sea. The ship shook violently, and John was suddenly afraid that the little space fighter would not hold together through this onslaught of turbulence.
      Just as the shaking and vibrations grew do their highest point, the light flared, and then faded. The cabin of the longsword was left in darkness, illuminated only by the flash of warning lights from the control console. Those too were quickly extinguished as Cortana struggled to return power to the ships reactors that had been knocked offline during the contraction.
      On the screen, John had trouble making out the structure. The disk of material orbiting it still roiled from the effects of the violent contraction. John spotted the sphere at the center of a large portion of space that had been blown clear by the expanding gravity waves. The sphere had already begun to expand to its equilibrium size, and from John's vantage point looked like some exotic, dull-gray fruit. The triangular protrusions that had been completely flat before the contraction, now covered it's surface completely. All in all, the object showed no ill effects from the violent events that had just occurred.
      "I'm getting some very odd readings here chief." Announced Cortana. "Before the contraction, the ship's scanners had been measuring the expansion of the sphere with their laser range finders. The instruments were functioning properly all the way up the contraction. However, at that point, all reading ceased. It seems the beams aimed at the object were not returned. Actually, from what I can gather, all forms of electronic transmissions in the vicinity of object simply died as they entered." She continued, "I've deduced that the contraction event must have created a massive singularity somewhere within the object."
      "Singularity, you mean like a black hole?" Asked the Chief.
      "Correct. However, given the duration of the instrument malfunction and the fact that the object has not completely imploded in on itself, the structure must somehow limit the sphere of the singularity's gravitational influence. The engineering is mind-boggling. Even the Covenant are hundreds of years away from this amount of control over gravity."
      The Cheif had a decsion to make. He knew that any information on Forerunner technology, especially technology as impressive as this object, would be important to the Human effort against the covenant. However, the data that Cortana already carried was of equal if not greater importance, and had to be delievered to Earth intact. Sticking around to observe this strange obeject may lead to some important information, but John had a feeling that it might also lead to trouble. He made his decision.
      "Cortana, record as much data on the structure as possible, and then plot a course out of this system. I've got a bad feeling about this mini black hole, and I have no desire to be in its vicinity when it starts up the next cycle."
      "Affirmative, Chief. Plotting course change n-, wait, the object is expanding again."
      The Master Chief glanced at the screen and noted that the sphere had indeed begun to expand; and at a much more rapid pace then they had ever observed. In the fifteen hours that they had observed the structure, it had completed nine cycles of expansion and contraction. The average time between those cycles was about one and a half hours, with the shortest time being fifty minutes. It had been now been only fifteen minutes from the last cycle. John was not one to believe in coincidences, and the fact that the object had deviated from it's somewhat established routine directly after they arrived within it's vicinity did not sit well with him.
      "Cortana, get us out of here now!" he instructed.
      "I'm trying chief! The radiation from the last contraction overloaded the ship's reactors. We are operating at only 70% power."
      On the screen, the sphere continued to expand at a rapid rate. At its center, the gaping mouth had opened and was quickly swallowing an enormous amount of material. The ship was once again bathed in soft blue light.
      "50% Chief." Announced Cortana. "I don't think it'll be enough though. The object has passed the point of its largest observed expansion, and is still growing."
      To John it was as if the sphere was reaching out to swallow them. All around the ship, boulders of various sizes sped past them towards to massive object. John now felt the tug of gravity as the object began to pull in the longsword.
      "We're losing power Chief! At this rate we won't be able to break free from the structure's pull!"
      It seemed the ultimate irony to the Chief. He had fought Covenant soldiers, and the vile infectious flood to destroy Halo before it could destroy him, and had succeeded against all odds. And yet, it now seemed that in the end the long dead Forerunners would be victorious as he again faced death at the hands of one of their constructions.
      All his life the chief had been a man of action. To sit here cramped in this powerless ship being inexorably drawn to this mysterious structure, and most likely to certain death, was the most maddening thing he had ever endured. There was no enemy to defeat, no feat of strength or ingenuity that would save him from this situation.
      As he sat in the light of his pending doom, his thoughts went to those friends that he had lost in his lifelong career as a professional soldier. Also, he thought of the Earth, that small planet that he had pledged to defend, though had never yet seen.
      "One kilometer and closing. Brace yourself chief, I think we're in for a rough ride."
      The distance between the ship and the object closed quickly. At the moment they should have entered the massive mouth of the object, the ship was drawn quickly upward along the face of the object. John watched as a smaller opening, similar in shape to its more massive cousin, opened about 300 meters above them. The ship was drawn towards this new opening, and within a matter of moments they were within the structure. The world became a soft but persistent blue light, and John once again thought of humanity's home planet. He was sorry he would never live to see it.
      The door closed.