2554AD-0130ET-FOREWARD UNTO DAWN-UNKNOWN SPACE-FORUNNERVERSE
It took a lot to make Cortana genuinely nervous. She'd lived through more crazy, horrible and usually deadly situations than almost anyone. Still, a strange anomaly had been approaching the ship for a week now. She had no idea what it was. It could've been a slipspace portal gone wrong, some sort of miniature light-emitting black hole… point, was, it was coming straight at them. Lacking thrusters, they didn't really have any way of avoiding it. It left her with a tough question: should she wake the Chief?
On one hand, there wasn't anything he could do to help. They'd both be going through that portal, whether he was awake or not. If they both died here… maybe it would be better for him to never wake up.
On the other hand, that wasn't Chief at all. He always stood in the face of danger—even when the odds were impossible. Especially when the odds were impossible. Even when she'd told him to leave her, when returning would have been certain death, he'd promised he'd come back… and he'd done it. Didn't he deserve a last hour of life, if that was what this was?
Part of her wasn't sure. She'd sat there for years, watching over him. For an AI especially, every millisecond dragged on. Two years of waiting in silence running the same subroutines had quickly worn her down, and she was starting to question her sanity. She'd begun talking to herself, and to the unconscious Chief, just to hear her own voice, just to break the deafening silence. She'd noticed what she could only describe as a flicker of jealously flowing through herself, a flicker that sometimes flared up into a blaze… if only briefly. It was because He could sleep, not even knowing a moment was passing, while she waited alone. He'd done more than enough to deserve a rest, but hadn't she done enough to deserve rest, too? The loneliness tore at her, even worse than the boredom. She wasn't sure those were things she was even supposed to be able to feel, was alarmed that some code or subroutine had even come into being that would allow such a thing.
She knew that he wouldn't have survived outside of that chamber, that he would have long since starved to death and then she would have had nothing and no one at all. She didn't want that, only… she hated that she'd had to endure this alone. Was it that surprising that she'd started to hate him, just a little? She knew it was insane—it horrified her, in fact—but a not insignificant part of her had begun to blame him for leaving her here.
But… he'd told her to wake him when she needed him.
If they were going to die here, she needed him now. She didn't want to do it alone, and there was no one else she'd rather go out with.
When the anomaly was an hour away, she thawed his cryo-chamber.
John woke slowly at first, but as he remembered were he was his senses brought him lurching back to reality.
"Cortana?" He called, pressing his hands against the plastiglass.
With that one word, Cortana felt her being shudder—all of it seemed to wash away. The loneliness, the hatred, the boredom—though it wasn't quite gone. She wasn't sure the hurt from that would ever go away. There was too much of it, far too much of her life spent living in it, for it to just fade.
Even so… it was over, now. She could feel its over-ness in her very being, and imagined that what she was experiencing was what it must feel like to wake up from a nightmare. It was so good to hear that gravelly voice again. She hadn't remembered exactly how much weight its presence took off of her metaphorical shoulders—even just having him here, up and awake, made her feel as if she could take anything the galaxy threw at them. She let her holographic form smile the widest, happiest smile it was possible for her to show without becoming visually disturbing—it still wasn't wide enough for the rush of pure relief that rushed through her system.
"Good to see you up again, Chief. How was the nap?" She asked.
Under his helmet the Chief smiled, almost imperceptibly. Cortana's tone of voice reassured him that there was no imminent danger. "As good as cryo-sleep gets. How long?"
"Two years, Chief." Cortana paused for a moment, letting the Chief adjust. "Anyways, ready to pop the hatch?"
"Go." The cryo chamber unsealed. Spartan John-117, Master Chief-Petty officer of the UNSC, slid out of the tomb he had slumbered in for years, ready to fight once more.
"Fill me in, Cortana." John said, approaching her console.
Her holographic projection nodded. "Long story short, there's an anomaly that just showed up on our sensors, coming our way. The thrusters haven't had power since the ship was cut in half, so either we jump ship and take our chances in the never-ending void of space or we stay and take our chances with whatever it turns out to be. I'm not sure if it's going to just kill us or teleport us straight into Mt. Doom, but I'm not liking our chances."
John took a moment to consider this, then nodded. "I'm going to stock up, then." He walked down the breadth of the ship to the armory and gathered up a battle rife, an assault rifle, a magnum, several grenades, a shotgun, and as much ammo as he could comfortably carry. With this significant load he returned to the room where he had left Cortana, who stared at him—as much as an AI could stare at anything.
"You're going to try to shoot it, aren't you?" She asked.
"No." Her Spartan said.
"Then, why…" she gestured at the guns. John looked at them, then back at her.
"Might be orcs at Mt. Doom." He said. For a moment, Cortana couldn't quite process it… but it had actually happened. He'd made a joke. Sweet merciful Skynet, she'd missed him.
"How long until we hit the anomaly?" John asked.
"Minutes. Maybe you should take cover in the pod." Cortana said. John nodded.
"Maybe you should, too," He said, holding out a hand. Cortana couldn't help but stare at it. It had been so long…
She plastered a cocky grin across her holographic form, trying her best to keep her composure.
"I guess if I absolutely have to get back into that cramped suit of yours, better now than never," she said, falling back into old teasing habits that felt deliciously familiar. Her hologram disappeared, and the card ejected into the Chief's waiting hands. He gently raised it up to the back of his head, and inserted her again into his skull.
"Back again." Cortana said cheerfully, feeling right for the first time in two long years. "Better hop to it, Chief." John complied, and quickly shifted back into the cryo pod, and brought down the lid just as he felt the strange pull of the anomaly that was drawing them in.
If they were going to die, Cortana was at least glad they were going out together, like the old days.
The 41st Millenium-1320TT-CADIA-Eye of Terror-IMPERIUMVERSE
Inquisitor Maresia had never fought a demon she could not defeat, but this particular encounter was at the very least proving to be an exhausting irritation.
"BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!" The oversized bloodletter howled, unleashing another horde of corrupted heretical followers. "SKULLS FOR HIS SKULL THRONE!"
"Feel the wrath of the emperor, DEMON!" Roared Arcturus Typhan—an Astartes Terminator of the Blood Ravens. He was the only member of his chapter that had answered the call of the Inquisitor; the rest were preoccupied with the legion of Chaos Space Marines besieging the building.
Still, what he lacked in numbers, he made up for in the form of an enormous hammer.
The thunderous strikes of that mighty weapon annihilated the vanguard of the heretical horde, while the Inquisitor's sword eviscerated any stragglers. Maresia was grateful for the presence of a space marine, as it required all of her considerable psychic might to simply hold back the demon. She would not have been able to deal with the hordes of heretics at the same time. Even the Astartes might not have been enough, but she was blessed with another ally as well. He made his presence known with a plasma blast soaring directly into the demon's face, liquefying one of its eyes and boiling its flesh. The bloodletter screamed horrendously and unleashed a wave of hellfire, which her Astartes ally—being the closest—was forced to duck beneath. The demon threw a ball of force in the general direction of the foe who had taken out its eye, but Artisan Narkos Mossk dodged nimbly out of the way, a surprising feat considering the two large mechanical arms attached to his back. The priest frowned under his hood, making some slight adjustments on the plasma cannon he was holding.
Seeing his foes still unharmed, the demon leaped at the Space Marine nearby, swinging down its demonic blade. The experienced marine stepped into the demon's wild swing and slammed his thunder hammer up into its chest, sending it flying back. It landed on its feet and found itself surrounded on three sides by the tiring but exceedingly dangerous assailants.
"You... you pitiful slime, you false angel and foolish human and putrid cyborg think you have the strength to defeat me, Akjonoklosolakar, demon lord of Khorne? You will BURN!"
"Nay, foul incarnation," Maresia said as she advanced on the demon, "YOU will!" She stabbed her ancient power blade through its throat, funneling all of her psychic might into one furious blast of fire through her blade. The world went white in a blinding flash of heat and golden light—then the unholy beast collapsed to the floor. Above its waist, its body was nothing but a smoking ruin.
"Emperor be praised." The Inquisitor said, pulling back her blade and sending a solemn prayer to the emperor for his guidance.
"That was surprisingly easy." The Astartes said, shouldering his hammer.
"Still not quite right... at least the accuracy is good. Needs better coolant..." The Tech Priest muttered.
Then—the demon's body began to glow a sickly violet light. The inquisitor had enough time to think 'Oh sweet emperor!' before it imploded in a massive burst of warp energy, dragging them all into darkness.
2504AD-0745KT-Unnamed Shuttle-Dominion Backwater-XEL'NAGAVERSE
"Can't this thing go any faster?" the girl yelled into his ear as he swerved to avoid an enraged mutalisk.
"Maybe it could if you weren't being so distracting!" He said through gritted teeth. Roy Jorhann may have been a Dominion Ghost for whom escaping after spying on or assassinating dangerous targets was a way of life, but he'd never cut his odds this close to the wire before. Of course, he wouldn'tve remembered even if he had—given the routine mind wipes—but the amount of panic rising within him felt so unusual that he really doubted it.
He'd been sent to test out some new combat tech on the front lines of the fight against the insurrectionists—an environment where no one would really care about or believe any rumors about strange opponents coming out of the shadows. It was just his luck that the general attempting to direct the Dominion's military operations there was terrible at his job. Roy had done his best to help organize and lead the ground forces against the rebels they were supposed to be fighting. Of course, just as they were beginning to make real progress, the zerg started dropping out of the sky and shot everything to hell. It was only then he'd learned that a portion of Raynor's Raiders—and possibly even Raynor himself, though Roy wasn't sure he believed that—had been trapped in a canyon the Dominion had almost overrun, and then escaped after the Dominion forces pulled back to try to deal with the zerg. He'd been planning to report the general in charge of this dust speck for incompetence when he returned for debriefing, but apparently the feeling was mutual. The man had decided to throw Roy to the dogs before Roy even had the chance, pulling out of orbit leaving his entire command, including Roy. In a war-zone. A Zerg-infested warzone—on an entire planet of Zerg infested war-zones—all alone. Well... almost all alone.
"Happy place… happy place… happy place..." The girl muttered, rocking back and forth in her seat. In Roy's professional opinion, SCV's should really be recruited from veteran combatants—not whatever this girl was. He did his best to tune out her panic and focus on not dying. He could feel so much anxiety radiating out from her mind, he didn't even have to try to read it.
He'd been on the run when he'd first seen the SCV careen across his path, chased by a slavering pack of zerglings. The situation had gotten out of hand, and a cloaked Roy had almost made it to the only intact shuttle he could find when he heard the SCV's panicked cries for help. In a split second he weighed his options; an extra passenger might weigh him down, but an SCV could be useful. Making his choice, he took aim and gunned down the zerglings in a rapid burst of sniper fire, starting with the one furthest to the back. None of them noticed the danger until his bullet found his mark—even the SCV didn't seem to notice that the zerglings were dead, swerving around obstacles at maximum speed.
"Hey, you!" He'd called out—the vehicle had stopped. "Get over here if you want to live!" Realizing he was still invisible, he de-cloaked.
The vehicle had rushed over at maniacal speed, just enough for Roy to feel a burst of alarm and raise his rifle, but he was pleasantly surprised when it slid to a clean stop two feet away instead of crashing into him.
That had happened to him once before. A memory of piercing pain and an overwhelming stench of oil briefly slid into his mind, then disappeared into the void as quickly as it came. All it left behind was the knowledge that he liked his ribs better intact.
"Load your SCV into this shuttle—let's get the hell out of here!" He shouted. The vehicle pulled smoothly into the loading dock of the small shuttle, which happened to be designed to hold exactly one SCV. Roy had sprinted up the entrance ramp and slammed his palm into the button to close it up behind him. He'd turned around and was about to search out the cockpit when, without any warning, he was ambushed by a flying tackle-hug.
"Agh…" He wheezed—his back had slammed into a protruding column, and while he wasn't hurt, the wind had been knocked out of him.
"Get off me!" Roy said with a growl, prying the small brown-haired hurricane of thanks off of his chest. He hid his surprise at the fact that the SCV pilot looked to be only about sixteen, and a short girl at that.
"We need to get in the air before the zerg get here!" He said. The girl's eyes went wide—he thought he could actually see the panic flow back into her treebark-brown eyes.
"Oh, right. Yeah," She said, visibly shuddering.
Roy almost rolled his eyes. How someone could temporarily forget about a Zerg invasion of the planet they were on was beyond him. "Just… buckle up, or something."
When Roy made it to the cockpit, sat in the pilot's seat and began the activation sequence, however, he learned that they weren't going anywhere.
"Damn!" He said, smacking the control panel that refused to function. He'd almost made it. It made sense, Roy realized with growing dread. No well-repaired ship would still be sitting on a planet in the process of being overrun by Zerg.
"What's wrong?" The girl had followed him into the cockpit, was sitting in the copilot seat behind his own.
"It's not working," Roy growled, glancing back at her. He expected despair—but that wasn't what he got.
"Don't worry, I've got it!" The girl said with a grin. In an a flurry of movement the girl was next to him, had opened up the maintenance hatch and was rapidly disconnecting and reconnecting wiring.
"What do you think you're-"
"Got it!" The girl proclaimed proudly, and the ship hummed to life.
Roy grabbed the controls, hit the acceleration pedal and launched the craft into the sky. Good timing, since he saw the entire position overrun with zerglings only a few moments later. A few hydralisk spines whistled past the cockpit, but the ship seemed to have been built for speed and that speed kept them safe—from the ground, at least.
That was where their luck ended. They'd immediately picked up the attention of all the zerg organisms on and above the planet—they now had the glorious designation of 'last terrans left alive'—and were receiving the swarm's full attention. This meant that there was now a huge mass of death on their trail, converging on them from all sides, and it was gaining on them.
Roy cursed that cowardly ass of a general again, remembering what the zerg had done to Kerrigan. He definitely did not want to be warped into becoming some sort of 'King of Blades', but if he did, he was going to find a way to make the man pay for this.
He took a brief glimpse of the motion tracker and almost flinched in horror at the mass of red dots swarming their own lonely blue dot.
Looking back through the viewport, he glanced around for something, anything—and noticed a purple flicker out of the corner of his eye...
Sparing a glance at it, hope and confusion flared as he realized that it was a warp anomaly. They were rare, but he had heard stories about people who had passed through them and ended up in another part of space… though he didn't trust some of them as far as he could throw them. It wasn't much, but it was still a chance.
When the alternative was becoming zerg-food—or even worse, becoming zerg—a slim chance was always worth the risk.
"Hold on to something," He warned his passenger, "We're going in."
"In? In what?" The girl behind him screamed.
"Just hold tight, unless you're feeling like leaving through the viewport." Max pushed even harder on the accelerator and felt the ship's engines edge slightly past their limit. With luck they would make it, but it was going to be close. Mutalisks were already closing around the warp anomaly.
Roy flinched as he felt a strange pull on his mind from the warp rift. He'd been ranked as one of the most psychically powerful ghosts to come out of the academy, supposedly equal to the great Nova Terra herself. He knew what 'overpowered psychic crap' felt like, and this was definitely giving off that kind of vibe. The hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up as they got closer and closer to a bit of space that felt like a gash seeping wrongness and danger. Still, Roy would take 'wrong' and 'dangerous' over 'zerg' any day.
He counted down the seconds, feeling every vibration that signaled a zerg spine clipping the shuttle.
"Five..." The massive hive mind began to press against his thoughts.
"Four..." It was all around him.
"Three..." Hunt. Fight. Swarm.
"Two..." Kill. Die. Kill.
"One..." BLOOD. FEAST. BLOOD.
The two terrans felt a strange energy in the air around them as their ship tore into a dimension neither of them could comprehend, and both drifted slowly into unconsciousness.
2185CE-2156ET-NORMANDY SR2-TERMINUS SYSTEMS-REAPERVERSE
Shepard sighed. She had been working for two weeks straight after she'd been brought back to life, and the universe would just not give her any time to rest. It was probably due to her being the savior of the Citadel. It wasn't like Shepard had saved the government of civilized space because she liked them or, space gods forbid, even wanted the glory. Keeping it safe kept Council Space safe, which was honestly better for everyone. She'd been raised to try and help those who needed it and protect those who needed it whenever possible, and usually she enjoyed protecting and saving people—but she would have appreciated being allowed to do that and still get some sleep for once. Sadly, that was looking like it wasn't going to happen any time soon.
Every single time she set her head down on her wonderful, soft, cloud-like pillow, there was some dangerous criminal that needed catching, some new Reaper information, a Geth attack, or just some Eclipse Mercs too dumb to know who not to pick a fight with. Having just been through all four, she was hoping that maybe, for once, she'd be able to pull it off.
Okay. She was, very carefully, sitting down on the bed...
Laying down on the bed...
Putting her head on the pillow...
Closing her eyes...
"Shepard, there is an incoming call from the Illusive Man," EDI said.
"Aw, come on!" Shepard moaned. She knew it wasn't the AI's fault that the universe had it out for her sleep schedule, but knowing that didn't do anything to ease the frustration.
"This had better be damn important." Shepard muttered, storming down to the communications room.
Shepard entered the hologram and saw the familiar face of the Illusive Man, or as Shepard had started to think of him, the Elusive ass.
"What is it this time?" She asked, crossing her arms.
The Illusive Man raised an eyebrow. "Tired are we, Allison?"
"It's Shepard." The sleep-deprived woman replied, annoyed. "Can you please just get to the point?"
"Indeed. Shepard, are you familiar with the 'warp dimension' theory?" The Illusive Man asked.
"No. Should I be?" Shepard asked.
"Probably not. Warp dimension theory was an idea tossed around back when humanity was originally trying to find a system of faster than light travel, inspired by the works of some renowned science fiction writers. It was deemed theoretically possible, but was generally discarded after the Prothean information packet was discovered and died out completely when contact with the Citadel was made. At least, that's what was thought." The Illusive Man pressed a button on the armrest of his chair, causing a holographic image of a planet to pop up.
"This is a planet called Horizon, in the Terminus systems. It holds a small colony of no true galactic consequence. However, it would appear that someone on that colony has been doing some research into the warp theory. Our spies in the colony intercepted a report only two hours ago that there was a massive spike in warp energy, something that has never been reported before. Shortly afterward, a strange space hulk simply appeared in orbit. There were also two other smaller disturbances, one on the surface of the planet. Luckily, these events caused their communications units to break down and our agents where able to alert us before anyone else. You happen to be our ship closest to Horizon, and we need you to go to there to find out what's going on." The Illusive Man said.
"I don't suppose I have a choice?" Shepard asked.
"Not if you want to make sure the colony is unharmed by any possible side effects of this warp energy… or whatever caused the spikes in the first place," The Illusive Man said, staring pointedly at her over his still-smoking cigarette. He knew exactly what buttons to push, and she hated it.
"Fine," Shepard said with a sigh, "but you'd better give me some time off after this. Otherwise, I might go crazy from sleep deprivation, or just collapse on the battlefield and let the Reapers win—I don't think either of us wants that. Shepard out."
Shepard looked up at the ceiling. "Joker, set a course for the colony Horizon."
"Aye aye, captain." Joker replied, banking the sleek frigate towards the system's mass relay.