Chapter 1: The Beginning

Reality is infinite, but divided.

Endless possibilities exist. Possible actions, possible places, possible people. They range from the most minute of decisions to the existence of entire galaxies. These possibilities are divided into and contained within universes, each distinct, yet many similar. Some universes are nearly identical save for 1 or 2 minor aspects. Others are so different they defy comprehension. All exist within the ever growing expanse of the multiverse.

Rarely do the universes meet. Still more rarely do they overlap. Although travel between them is possible, such things are normally reserved for a small number of unique individuals, the impact of whom, on a cosmic scale, is hardly significant.

Soon, though, something different will happen. Something nearly unprecedented in all of the glorious infinity of reality. Soon 2 universes, similar and yet so very, very different, will be joined in a union no living creature had ever dreamed possible.

Soon, 2 universes...will be become 1.


Dakara, Free Jaffa Nation, 2009

On an ancient world, a nearly as ancient device came alive. It was a ring of metal that resembled dark gray carved stone. It was relatively small with symbols like hieroglyphs arrayed in sequence along its circumference. The sequence spun, lights coming on at various points as the appropriate symbols passed over ornate sensors. One light, then another, and another...

At last, all 7 appropriate symbols had been recognized. A connection with another such ring, thousands of light-years away, was established. A fountain of what appeared to be water sprang out, sideways, from the upright ring, before 'falling' back and settling into what looked for all the world like a pool of water turned on its side.

A group of figures, humans, emerged from the 'water'. They brought with them numerous devices, items to be used on a world far from where they were made. It was a fairly common sight in the Milky Way galaxy.

For the ring was a Stargate. It was one of a network of devices that, once activated, connected to another on a planet far away. It created a stable wormhole between them that was able to transfer matter instantaneously from one side of the galaxy to another.

Though the race that created it was long since dead, their legacy lived on as the races that came after them utilized the Stargates for their own purposes. The ease of use and instantaneous travel, far more efficient than the relatively slow starships, made them extraordinarily useful. The gate network became the most important technology the galaxy had ever seen, with every aspect of civilization being connected to it, from economics, to the sciences, to politics, to the military.

An example of that last was standing a distance away from the active Stargate, watching the arrival of their comrades.

"The new gear's here," Captain Carl Grogan, United States Airforce, called out.

"Right on schedule," Major Brian Williamson, his superior and commander of the SG-9 squad, replied.

The doctors and medical technicians they were currently guarding paid them no attention as the 4 soldiers shifted slightly at their posts. They were guarding the civilians as they oversaw the creation of the House of Healing, the first hospital/medical university to be built by the Free Jaffa nation.
The doctors were currently touring the facility. The building was still under construction, meaning the academics had to occasionally shout to be heard over workers laboring away in the background. The new arrivals would be coming over momentarily to deliver the advanced medical equipment. The staff of the House of Healing would be studying them extensively over the coming months.

A sharp crack drew Grogan's attention. A crane had been lifting the sign identifying the facility as part of a greater university, the 'Jackson Hall of Learning', to place it over the main entrance. The sign, made out of what looked like a fusion of stone and metal, was making the bundled cable start to break apart. A worker was standing under it, gathering some tools off the ground and apparently unaware of the danger he was in.

Instantly, Grogan sprang into action. He sprinted, closing the distance quickly, and tackled the man out of the way.

The sign crashed to the ground behind them a fraction of a second later.

The sound of breaking stone and rending metal overwhelmed the ears as dirt and dust were thrown into the air. The pair lay on the ground, disoriented by the experience, for several seconds. Grogan came to his senses first, his military training bringing him to his feet with his weapon up in the ready position almost immediately. He lowered his P90 as his head fully cleared.

"Grogan! Status!" Major Williamson shouted. The dark night made seeing anything past the bright work lamps difficult.

"I'm okay, sir," Grogan replied as his superior came close enough to see. "Just a workplace accident. No major injuries I can tell."

"We're not taking any chances," the Major replied, sternly. "let one of the docs look you over real quick."

"Copy, sir," he said, knowing better than to argue. Williamson could be positively neurotic where it came to the well-being of his subordinates. While the young Captain supposed that was better than the opposite, it could get rather tiresome from time to time.

"Chel'vak," the worker whispered as he shakily rose to his feet beside Grogan. His eyes were still wide with shock.

"Tal'ma'che," Grogan replied, accepting the expression of gratitude. He nodded amicably before heading back toward the rest of his squad.

Grogan sat obediently on a stack of building materials as one of the nearby doctors checked him out. Having little to do, he observed the proceedings. Workers from around the site had rushed to see what had happened. Upon discovering that no one was hurt, most returned to their duties, with a few remaining to remove the debris.

"Nice work, sir," said Captain Elisabeth Satterfield, fellow squadmember of SG-9 and Grogan's immediate subordinate.

"It was nothing," he replied honestly. The doctor rose to his feet and declared Grogan to be perfectly fine before heading back to his own responsibilities. Grogan continued, "Really, I'm just glad I finally had something to do. Not much excitement around here, you know?"

Satterfield laughed. "I hear you. Pulling guard duty on one of the most secure worlds in the Milky Way isn't exactly what I signed up for, either."

"Both of you cut that crap out, right now," Major Williamson said with a frown. "I've been with the program since the beginning, when all we were doing was running and gunning. We should all be grateful that things are this quiet. Or would you rather still be mixing it up with Goa'uld, the Replicators, or the Ori in some backwater hellhole as your buddies get chewed up around you? Listening to their screams and cries for their family, who you then have to lie to about what happened?" Silence. "I thought so. Neither of you are exactly rookies either—you've both had your share of 'action' out here, you know exactly what that entails." He sighed, his pace slowing down. "The galaxy is at peace for the first time in over a decade. In millennia, if you count the infighting of the Goa'uld Empire. Appreciate it."

Grogan winced but nodded, accepting the rebuke. The Major was right. Every member of SG-9 could remember the dark days that accompanied each of the fearsome enemies Williamson had mentioned. This world around them was testament to the horrors that each of the recent wars had wrought. The horizon was dotted with buildings that had been gutted by the assaults of 1 or all of the 3, waiting to be demolished and replaced with new constructions. So much of its history and heritage lost.

In a way, Dakara was a microcosm of the entire galaxy. Battered, bruised, but getting shakily to its feet. Trying to build something out of the ashes of the old. Grogan glanced upward, at the tens of bright lights moving in the sky. There should be hundreds, he reflected. Hundreds of lights, each one a ship or space station representing the prosperity and security of Earth and her allies. Even the mighty fleet of the Free Jaffa, still the largest and most powerful in the galaxy, was a shadow of what it should have been, stretched thin to protect its nascent territory. Such had been the cost of three successive galactic wars.

The sound of approaching footsteps brought Grogan back to the present. He shook his head to clear out the last of the ruminations; he needed to stay focused while on duty.

Fortunately, that wouldn't be a problem for now. SG-6 had arrived with the medical equipment and quickly relieved SG-9, allowing the Major and his squad to get some much needed rest.


Three hours later found them all lounging around their assigned 'quarters', which were essentially two US Air Force Temper Tents connected end to end and divided for Male/Female sections with just enough room towards the front entrance to act as a sort of co-ed recreation room. Cammo netting covered the tents to both give it concealment from prying eyes and also act as a screen against the intense sunlight of Dakara's primary star. Something it did only moderately well. It was cramped, uncomfortable, and utilitarian as all such field tents went.

Ten tents like the ones they were using were stacked side by side, 5 meters apart, with two male and female portable latrine/shower trailers running perpendicular to the living sections. It was all cordoned off by a perimeter of double stacked hesko barriers with two points of entry and exit. Their little slice of Earth.

Currently the members of SG-9 were enjoying the shade of the cammo netting and relaxing as much as they could in their limited time off.

A buzzing sound filled most of the air. Major Williamson stood off to one side, gazing into a mirror held in his hand as he ran his electric trimmer over his scalp. He always kept his hair in a simple buzz cut, feeling that anything more than that was a waste of valuable time. The Major was a simple, utilitarian man, always concerned with how best to use what was given to him.

Grogan, meanwhile, sat a short distance away examining a tablet computer. On it were operational reports on the security status of Dakara as well as several other documents relevant to their current assignment. He had already read them, of course, but it paid to be thorough. There was no telling what he might have missed.

Satterfield was standing some distance away chatting with some of the Free Jaffa in the Goa'uld language. She was generally the most sociable of them. While Grogan focused mainly on briefings and reports, his friend focused on making direct connections and understanding the people they would be interacting with. The fact that they were both studious, but in different areas, made them a good team and had earned them more than a few commendations.

Captain Jennifer Hailey, the fourth and final member of SG-9, was sitting down and staring into space, her lips moving slightly in time with whatever thoughts were racing through her head. Occasionally she would turn to the tablet on her lap and start typing away rapidly before examining her work and going right back to staring straight ahead. Grogan had long ago learned that it was a waste of time asking her what she was thinking about. Doubtless she was solving some sort of world-changing mathematical equation that maybe 5 people in the galaxy were qualified to even understand. The trooper was insanely brilliant, a fact that would be endearing if she wasn't so insufferable about it.

"I'm surprised there are so few guards at the hospital," Grogan remarked to Satterfield, who had finished her conversation and rejoined her companions. Maybe she could give him some straight answers. "Even the few that are there seem pretty unhappy about it."

"It's a cultural thing," Satterfield replied. She grabbed her canteen and took a swig. The desert sun was harsh, even this early in the morning, and they had already sweat through their uniforms from the oppressive heat. "Before the liberation most of the important people were implanted with symbiotes that boosted their immune system. Anyone who got sick probably didn't have one, meaning they weren't important. This resulted in a bit of a stigma against needing medical help. Even now it's hard for a lot of the older Jaffa to understand that getting a fever isn't a sign of weakness."

"Sounds like the docs have a bit of an uphill fight on their hands," Grogan replied, grimacing. Satterfield nodded and took another drink.

"On your feet!" Major Williamson shouted. The members of SG-9 obediently rose to their feet and stood at attention for Colonel Holland, the 2nd highest ranking officer of the Stargate Command (SGC) forces on Dakara, who had just approached them. None saluted as was standing orders for all US Military personnel when dealing with officers in the field.

"At ease," the Colonel replied, nodding to them. He then moved toward Hailey.

Here we go, Grogan thought with dread. He could already tell where this was going. The Colonel arrived in front of Hailey, who had already sat down and gotten back to work.

"Excuse me, Captain" the Colonel said. He received no reply; Hailey simply continued to stare into space. Somewhat annoyed, the officer repeated his greeting. Hailey blinked several times and turned an annoyed face toward her superior. She hated being interrupted.

"Yes... sir?" she asked. Her tone made it clear that the honorific was meant to be anything but respectful.

The Colonel gave her a hard stare. Suppressing a sigh, Hailey set her tablet aside, rose to her feet, and stood at attention again, as if she were back at the academy.

"I require your assistance, Captain," the Colonel said, sharply. "There's a technical issue with one of the new pieces of equipment and I told the Free Jaffa that I'd get my best engineer on it."

Hailey's eye twitched and Grogan suppressed a wince. Hailey hated being compared to a 'lowly engineer'. "Well, sir, I was just working on an equation that would improve hyperdrive efficiency by 7%, but I suppose I could put that on hold to play mechanic for a few hours. Have to know what's important, right?"

The Colonel's face turned a bright red. He was no doubt about to launch into a rather heated dressing down of the young Captain when, thankfully, Major Williamson stepped in.

"That's enough, Captain!" he snapped hotly. He stormed over and stood a step away from the young officer. "You will give whatever assistance is required of you and you will show proper respect for the chain of command or I'll have you scrubbing toilets like a cadet! Do you understand me?!"

"Sir, yes sir," Hailey replied, chastised, but with genuine respect. The Major looked to the Colonel, who nodded in acceptance. He'd let it go this time, but if Hailey didn't stop popping off at the mouth like that there would be consequences. Grogan marveled once again at his CO. Not only did he command enough respect from Hailey to get the almost perpetually insubordinate Captain to fall in line (even getting a genuinely respectful 'sir' out of it) he was also able to appease the bruised egos of the higher-ups.

The Colonel and Hailey departed immediately. The Major sighed and ran his hand over his freshly trimmed head. "She'll be the death of me, I just know it," he muttered. Grogan and Satterfield glanced at each other, sharing a silent grin.

To their surprise, Hailey returned within 5 minutes.

"Oh no! You didn't get kicked off planet again, did you?" Satterfield asked in a bemused yet expectant tone.

Hailey rolled her eyes and smirked, "Oh ye of little faith." She quickly spun to face Grogan and pointed, "And don't you say anything either! It was easily handled with minimal fuss. I even got a nice, almost sincere 'thank you' out of it!" She smiled.

"Simple fix then, Captain?" Williamson asked.

"User error, sir," she replied, again with respect. If she could just pretend to have such an attitude towards other people, she wouldn't have been passed over for Major at least twice now. General Landry's denial had been rather...emphatic last time, Grogan reflected.

"Solved it in under a dozen keystrokes," Hailey finished. She went back to her work for several minutes before sighing and shutting down her tablet in frustration.

"Stubborn problem?" Grogan chanced.

Hailey smirked playfully at him, a far cry from the disdain she would have given to someone that she didn't know and respect. "Hardly," she said. The smile fell from her face as she continued. "There's just so much to do. The technology we've recovered in the past 12 years is mind-shattering, yet most of humanity still lives like its 1996. There's just too much to learn. There are only so many scientists and universities that have the necessary clearance. Not to mention the fact that the very existence of alien life and the Stargate are classified top secret. Progress is practically at a standstill." She threw her hands in the air from frustration. "For goodness' sake, we're having to invent entire new schools of math just to begin to understand what we do have. We're years, possibly decades away from large scale practical applications. Earth should be in the midst of a technological renaissance right now. Instead, we're still stuck in the stone age!"

"A bit of an exaggeration," Grogan replied, dryly. He pointed to the body armor he was wearing

At first glance it was similar to the tactical vests utilized by many Earth militaries, but a closer look would reveal what resembled a hybrid design between the tactical vests of old and the newer dragonskin body armors. In reality, it was a device reverse engineered from alien technology. Essentially using second generation ESAPI ceramic-polymer plates and coated with a first generation energy absorbent fabric based off the armor of the Kull Warriors, it was capable of repelling practically any known hand-held weapons fire. Any Earth-based weapon, anyway. They had yet to be put to the test against their alien counterparts.

Hailey snorted. "This is hide armor compared to what we should have to play with." She glanced upward, glaring at the stars accusingly. "If only our supposedly advanced allies weren't so isolationist these days. We could really use their resources."

Grogan shrugged but acknowledged the point with a nod. "They've all got their reasons. I can get why Hebrida went isolationist. Ori essentially steamrolled their fleets and they were forced to fight tooth and nail on the ground. Mass ethnic cleansing of the Sarrakins, hybrids and any who tried to help them. Oh and the usual extermination of non-believers, too. Death toll in the tens of millions...and counting. They got a lot of healing to do and just want time to mourn their dead and rebuild their world without interference. At least they're not blaming us for the Ori."

"Okay, yeah, so maybe they have good reasons. What about our other allies, hmm?" Hailey asked archly.

"Pangar got wrecked by the Ori too, you know that one. They're still recovering. Same with Langara Both will need years to be passing fair and decades before they're back to where they were. And you both know about the general situation with the Free Jaffa. They're essentially broken, scattered, leaderless and divided between half a dozen factions. With Bra'tac and Teal'c leading the strongest, and thus why we are here supporting them."

He licked his dry lips as he gathered his thoughts.

"Galar was within days of getting invaded and it caused a massive political shift in their governments. The new administration there is much more hesitant with us now since Earth seems to have a giant target on its back saying 'shoot me'." Grogan stated flatly.

Hailey frowned, "Okay...point. And our other allies?"

"Tollan are gone, Asgard too—"

"—Okay smartass, I'm not that much out of the loop on current events." Hailey interrupted, but without any real bite to it.

Grogan chuckled. "Just seeing if you were paying attention."

"I have been." She replied with all seriousness and motioned for him to continue.

"Bedrosia and the Optricans got wiped out by the Ori. Took a shit load with them though, and the Ori had to deploy the bulk of their fleet and armies to do it. Halted their advance in the galaxy for weeks."

Hailey shuddered in mild disgust, "Never thought I'd ever be grateful to Goa'uld worshippers for anything."

"Not all of them were." Satterfield corrected, "The Optricans certainly weren't, but it kinda doesn't matter now."

Both cast expectant looks at Grogan.

"And that pretty much only leaves Orban...who everyone seems to either have missed or forgotten about. Aside from them everyone else is either too small or too primitive to matter." Grogan concluded.

"Hailey smacked her hand down triumphantly on her tablet. "Orban, now you're talking!"

"I've actually been to Orban," Satterfield interjected which got her a look of surprise from Hailey. "I went with Doctor Jackson and the State department team that went to expand on the tech exchange agreement for access to all their Naquada research and technology."

Hailey glared in silent indignation at her fellow teammate "I was supposed to go on that mission too. Colonel Carter wanted me with her to see how far their naquada technology had progressed since our last exchange."

Grogan clucked his tounge in barely restrained amusement, "Would that be before or after you slugged Doctor Kavanagh?"

Hailey scoffed with a dismissive shrug. "Whatever. Asshat totally had it coming. No one talks about Colonel Carter like that around me and walks away unscathed!" She turned to Satterfield with an expectant look. "So, Orban? What'd I miss?"

"Its...beautiful. Modern—actually they're a few decades ahead of us, contemporary Earth that is. But it has an Aztec twist to their architecture that's just wild!"

"As in?" Hailey prompted but it was Grogan who responded.

"Ziggurats." Grogan supplied helpfully. "Lots and lots of Ziggurats. And the main colors you see anywhere are beige and brown. Lots of variations of those colors too."

Hailey shot him a betrayed look, "You went too!?"

"Yeah...we were all supposed to go, until someone got herself in trouble."

Hailey deflated at that statement.

"The talks went well and we got the exchange program back up and hopefully more long term. But thats about all we got." Satterfield said and shooting Grogan an amused smirk causing him to groan.

"How was I supposed to know they'd freak out that badly?" Grogan said defensively. "I was talking with that Urrone kid, Maviem. Telling him about the downfall of the Goa'uld and then battling the Ori. Exactly as General O'Neill said we should. Be upfront and be honest, don't suguarcoat anything. And so I was; about the capabilities of the Ori Army and their fleet. Poor kid was so freaked out about what he heard he ran off to go do his Averium right then and there. The next day their Council of Elders decided to dump massive resources into building the ultimate defense grid imaginable. Colonel's Mitchell, Reynolds and Castleman were there just last week and they say what they've achieve so far has been...impressive."

"Like how impressive?" Hailey asked with genuine interest.

Grogan cocked his head to the side as he gave it some thought. "Let me put it this way: if we were playing Command and Conquer, they'd be the ultimate turtle."

Hailey and Satterfield gave him bizarre looks but all he did was smile knowingly and then turn back to his tablet.

"Fine then, keep your secrets." Hailey said in mock exasperation. "I happen to know the State Department is hoping to use the Asgard Core and its knowledge to entice the Orbanians out of their...'shell'..." Hailey added. Grogan rolled his eyes. "...And even the IOA is backing this deal hoping for broader cooperation with them."

Grogan snorted without looking up from his tablet, "Pentagon shot that down a week ago."

Both women looked on in surprise.

"I see someone's been reading their situation reports." Satterfield grinned.

Now he did look up from his tablet, "And I see two people who aren't. Come on, you two! We're supposed to be keeping up with the 'ever developing situation' in the galaxy. Not just the latest archaeological findings to come out of Doc Jacksons office," He directed a mild glare to Satterfield here. "Or the new R&D reports out of Area 51 that have have the brass at the Pentagon swooning like teenage girls on their first date." He directed this one toward Hailey.

"What, why! Why not approach Orban about this?" Hailey asked.

"Stuff's classified, Hailey," Satterfield pointed out. "Besides, can't really blame them for being cautious, what with the wars and all."

Hailey just snorted again. "I still don't understand the point at keeping everything secret if it holds us back like this. The least we could do is clue in MIT or CalTech."

"We did clue them in." Satterfield said. "We also clued in half a dozen different defense contractors and technology firms. Just not all the people we'd like as most didn't pass their security clearance screenings. Remember Coulson industries and how that turned out? Pentagon does not want a repeat of that."

"Patience," Major Williamson urged, having had enough of listening in and finally jumping back into the conversation. "I know the restrictions are frustrating, but the existence of alien life is kept classified for a reason. We'll get there eventually."

"Given the past 12 years, sir," Hailey retorted, "that might happen too la—"

Suddenly, the ground shook, a blinding light blotted out the sky, and the world changed forever


Earth, Unified Earth Government, 2558

Broken, dirty glass crunched under metal boots. The scenery was a wasteland, dark and grungy gray as far as the eye could see, everything from the ground to the horizon covered in blackened, ruined soil. Occasionally the broken, half-melted remains of destroyed buildings could be seen rising out of the scorched earth like the broken ribs of a rotting whale.

"Area secure. Bring in the excavation team," the Master Chief commed. Multiple Pelican dropships descended from orbit, bringing digging equipment and engineers to the Glasslands.

The dropships kicked up waves of silicate particles as they landed. The Chief resisted the urge to step back. A single unprotected breath of the stuff would shred the lungs of even a Spartan II supersoldier. Not for the first time, he silently thanked the brilliant Dr. Halsey for his armor and its sophisticated air filtration systems.

The silicate particles reflected the landing lights, shining bright in the pitch black night air. The fragments of the melted earth obscured vision and partially confused sensors, occasionally providing a ghost return.

They were also sharp, meaning a strong wind could shred the skin right off an unprotected human.

They were also toxic, being composed of the annihilated remains of a once proud metropolitan center, and could therefore cause a number of terminal illnesses in anyone who ingested it.

They also choked all plant life and rendered the Glasslands barren in a way that even the most inhospitable Earth deserts had never achieved, could never achieve. Everything about this place seemed to want to kill anyone who dared set foot there. It was all so...alien and unforgiving.

The plasma bombardment inflicted upon the entirety of Northern Africa had certainly done a number on the landscape.

The engineers activated bright floodlights as they went about their work. The Master Chief and the rest of the Spartan supersoldiers paid them only minute attention as they focused on their mission. Between their biological augmentations and the advanced sensors in their MJOLNIR armor, the beams of light served only as decoration.

The Spartans were spread out, providing a secure perimeter. The engineers would break into the buried compound within the hour. The Master Chief was glad for that. Spartans were built to go on the most dangerous of missions, not babysit a recovery op on the most secure planet in the Unified Earth Government.

The Master Chief's gaze turned upward. Towards the thousands of lights moving in the night sky above Earth. Each one was a warship or a shipyard or a merchant vessel or an Orbital Defense Platform. The Unified Earth Government (UEG) controlled a territory with over 120 planets and the infrastructure to match, which had allowed the immediate re-fortification of Earth following The Sack. The planet was as secure as it had ever been.

Space under the protection of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) outside of Sol was another matter.

The Storm Covenant were still a threat that continued to plague the UNSC. Despite the recent setbacks the organization had been dealt, they continued to launch raids on the surviving outer colonies. However, they never ventured too deep into UNSC held Territory and they often disappeared before Rapid Response Forces could adequately deal with them. Much to HIGHCOM's continued frustration. Reports painted a grim picture of Jul M'dama rebuilding his fleet with Covenant-era technology and ships...which were far more potent than the outdated cast offs he'd been using until fairly recently.

Where exactly he was getting the resources to do that was still a mystery. Regardless of the specifics, it had to be some kind of shipyard. If ONI could find it, then they could send in Blue Team to do what they did best and deny the Storm Covenant a critical strategic resource with which to threaten the UNSC.

Of a more recent concern was the discovery of yet another Covenant splinter faction that the wider UNSC was still mostly unaware of.

The Banished.

Details on this new group were scant, and they had yet to move against the UNSC. But what few details Blue Team had learned about the enigmatic band of Covenant nomads painted a concerning picture, and to the Chief it was only a matter of time before the UNSC and the Banished inevitably came to blows.

Internally things were flux. The recent deaths of Ilsa Zane, Admiral Mattius, Captain Daniel Clayton, and other Insurrectionist leaders in such rapid succession assured the that the New Colonial Alliance, the largest faction of the guerrilla rebellion that had plagued the UNSC for decades, would collapse under its own weight.

And collapse it did.

The UNSC special forces, Blue Team among them, had rushed in and mopped up what was left of the organization with admirable efficiency. The Insurrection was, effectively, dead. On the surface things were peaceful as the UNSC continued the process of transitioning back toward civilian rule.

Of course, the Chief reminded himself, that would count for little if the Unified Earth Government itself collapsed. Humanity had just gone through nearly 30 years of war, being constantly pushed back by an alien enemy dedicated to exterminating every human being in existence. Infrastructure was recovering but still a shadow of its pre-War self, 10s of billions of people were dead, refugees were packed tight in the Inner and Outer Colonies, and food was short everywhere. Worst of all, national morale was still low, meaning people might just give up on the idea of a united human state all together. It could all come apart at the seams.

Hence, this mission.

The propaganda masters at the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) had concocted a story about a UNSC morgue that had been buried during the bombardment. Supposedly, it had been located by routine scans and the Senate had approved a recovery mission to lay its fallen soldiers to rest. Nearly every Spartan in existence had been called in and the Master Chief, long hailed as humanity's greatest hero (a fact which mattered little to the career soldier), had been given command. Much to his chagrin.

A series of flashes winked on the Heads Up Display (HUD) projected onto the inside of his visor. It was Blue-Three. Kelly. He glanced over at the other Spartan, 30 meters away, and saw her turn her helmet slightly in his direction.

She nodded her head fractionally and ran 2 fingers across the outside of her visor. Their signal for a smile. She understood his frustration; more than that, she agreed.

Not for the first time the Master Chief marveled at his sibling's ability to read his body language. He knew for a fact that most outsiders were unable to tell that a Spartan II even had emotions, let alone discern them and their cause through mere body language. Kelly had always been the best at that, even more so than his other siblings, Linda and Fred, who stood to either side of him, equally far away.

Speaking of whom, he noticed they also inclined their heads a few centimeters in his direction. The Chief suppressed a scowl. He had to do a better job hiding his emotions. He had been slipping as of late.

He knew that his team still respected him. They had fought together for nearly thirty years, and had trained alongside each other before that. They were the only series II Spartans left in existence. They were family, and there was little in all the universe that could undermine their unit cohesion.

Rather, it was the series IV Spartans that worried him. The manner of their recruitment, their training, and their overall demeanor were quite different and the series II Spartans had a hard time trusting the new bloods.

A loud crash echoed over the desolate plains. The Chief's helmet whipped around and saw that the center of the dig site had sunk out of sight, throwing a cloud of silicate particles into the air. The engineers could be seen scrambling to get into cover.

"Commander Palmer, report!" the Chief commed, moving swiftly but carefully towards the site. He kept a close eye on the readouts from his boots' sensors. Any sign of unstable ground and he couldn't risk continuing forward.

"All clear, Chief," came the response. "We must have hit an air pocket. Don't worry; the civvies were clear."

"What is your status?" the Chief reiterated. He was glad to hear the civilians were safe, but he needed to know if any of his Spartans had been hurt.

"Aww, I didn't know you cared," came the response. She continued before the Chief could object to the unprofessional outburst. "We're fine. A couple of us were too close and fell in after the gear. Some scratches on the paint, but nothing to worry about."

"Copy that," the Chief commed. Were this an ordinary situation, he would be chewing out his subordinate over her handling of this situation. Sarah Palmer was brash and overconfident, qualities that worried him greatly. Unfortunately, Commander Palmer, leader of the series IV Spartans, was not in the same chain of command as the Master Chief. In fact, she outranked him. The only reason he had been give command in this op was for the press. Or as the Spartan IVs of Mastic Team had so lovingly coined it, the dog and pony show.

So, he grit his teeth, and decided to just add an addendum to the report about it.

A quarter of an hour later, they had broken through. The Master Chief ordered the engineers to fall back to the dropships while he and his Spartans cleared the interior. It took little time to find what he was looking for.

A server farm. Still intact and functional by the looks of it.

"Command, package is located. Prepping for extraction," he commed. The Spartans brought in the body bags and started filling them with equipment.

The story about a discovered morgue had been a cover. The cameras in orbit would see the removed bags and the news outlets would regurgitate the official story like they were supposed to. In reality, the Spartans had been sent in to clean up a mess.

The Office of Naval Intelligence had improperly stored classified materials. Sensor sweeps had found an ONI facility and, under pressure from Fleet Admiral Hood, the ONI leadership had admitted that sensitive materials were located within. All entry into the North Africa Glasslands were strictly forbidden, so the higher-ups had decided to take refuge in audacity. No one would suspect something this brazen.

The Master Chief bit back a scowl at the farce. He understood the necessity of it, but passing off the bodies of otherwise dead marines (heavily mutilated by ONI specialists to avoid identification) in order to cover up ONI's mistake struck him as...a betrayal. It wasn't the first time ONI's mistakes had required him to perform cleanup. He suppressed a sigh as he realized it probably wouldn't be the last, either.

The ground started to shake, causing dust and debris to fall from the ceiling and walls. A light started shining, seeming to come from everywhere at once. The world itself seemed to be coming apart at the seams.

"Blue Team, repor—"

Well, I'm sure this is a surprise to just about everyone. Don't worry, I still plan to write my version of Halo 6. Its just that when Jon Harper contacted me about a story idea he had, I found myself totally pulled into it. I grew up with Stargate SG-1 and the opportunity to do something in that world—while working with another person for the first time—was just too much to resist.

I've been working with him on this story pretty closely for about a couple of months now and we've finally got enough done to feel confident about posting the first chapter. We hope you enjoy what we've put together and welcome you to join us on another journey through the land of fanfiction.

Thanks for reading. Love you guys.

Slipspace Anomaly with Jon Harper