Sahara-Class Heavy Prowler UNSC Port Stanley

March 5th, 2559

SEND: UNSC Point of No Return - CINCONI Margaret Parangosky

RECEIVE: UNSC Port Stanley - Captain Serin Osman


Excellent job taking care of Venezia. One less thorn in the our side. Still no sign of our dear friend Jul. He was useful for a fashion, but we should have disposed of him while we had the chance. Getting solid intel from sources that the Arbiter has worked out deals with rivaling factions on Sanghelios. He's unified the Keeps and is turning his attention to the remnants of the extremest Loyalists - like Jul. We might have to rethink our approach there. More talk on that later.

The real reason I contacted you is because I have another mission for Kilo-5. One of ONI's long-range slipspace probes have detected a large burst of Cerenkov radiation near the edge of the galaxy. So large in fact, that a UNSC patrol cruiser several hundred light years behind you picked it up too. Could be Forerunner tech. Worth checking out.

Coordinates have been enclosed, travel time is just over two days. Be cautious, and report back when able. I want details.

Closing note, I hoped you found the "surprise" I left you in your latest resupply.

Best regards to BB and the rest,

- Mary P.

Captain Serin Osman put down the data pad, and sat back in her command chair. The bridge of the Port Stanely was empty except for her and the depths of space out of her forward viewports. She looked down to the bag of gift-wrapped ginger cubes in her lap, and popped one in her mouth. Familiar comfort - and heavy on the ginger. "BB, did you get the coordinates?"

A black holographic cube materialized out of thin air in front of Osman's field of view. It was Kilo-5's assigned AI, Black-Box. "I plotted the route before you even started reading Captain. Millions of processes per second, you know. Comes in handy sometimes."

Osman humored BB with a smirk. "Where's the rest of the crew? Lets get them a quick brief before we set off on our new adventure."

BB listed the rest of Kilo-5 and their current locations one by one. "Mal, Vaz, and Devereaux are in the wardroom, drinking and gambling. No surprises there. Naomi is in the armory. Still, no surprises. I just just awakened Phillips from his beauty sleep... Dear me, Sangheili curses are, how would you say, vibrant. Did you want me to invite the Huragok?"

Osman looked at BB's avatar with a very sideways glance.

"Didn't think so. Figured they're having fun playing with the Mantis."

Within the next few minutes the rest of Kilo-5 trickled into the bridge, starting with Mal, Vaz, and Devereaux. Three tough-as-nails ODSTs, battle-hardened and dependable, they took their places around the briefing table. Next to come in was Phillips, their language and interpretation expert, eyes shadowed, dark red hair and beard in disarray, a cup of coffee in his hand. The thud of heavy boots on metal signified the arrival of Naomi, one of the last Spartan-II's still alive.

Her ghostly pale face contrasted deeply with her dark purple Mjolnir armor, and her helmet was tucked under her arm. Now that everyone was here, Osman looked over her crew. They've been through a lot together: Venezia, the extraction on Sanghelios, the Shield World, and plenty of other missions. She knew she could depend on them, they were her crew.

Mal opened up the conversation. "Do we have another assignment ma'am? Cause lord knows I was getting tired of drinking all that beer."

"Going to have to police those empties," Osman replied. "ONI has decided to send us to the edge of the galactic rim to investigate a large anomaly that one of our long-range slipspace probes detected."

"Can't somebody else do that ma'am?" asked Vaz, "Seems like a misallocation of resources to me."

"The orders came down from CINCONI herself. Besides, were currently the closest team," replied Osman.

"Think Big Maggie knows something we don't?" Phillips asked, quickly working through the contents of his coffee cup.

"She always knows things that we don't. Perks of being the boss," said Osman. Admiral Margaret Parangosky was Commander-in-Chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence - and Kilo-5's direct superior. "She wants us to scout. We have a Prowler. We're made to scout."

"Seems like a piece of cake," said Devereaux.

"We'll see," replied Osman. "We're departing immediately. BB?"

"Drives are spooled. Ready when you are Captain." BB stated

Osman went back to her bridge chair, closed her eyes, and tightly gripped the arms of her command chair. Slipspace jumps never agreed with her. Hopefully the ginger cubes Parangosky sent would mitigate the nausea. She dug in her pocket into the small bag and withdrew another cube, swiftly placing it on her tongue. Phillips found a seat at the of the unoccupied sensor station on the Port Stanley's's bridge. Dr. Phillips, the thee ODST's and the Spartan all kept standing.

Osman closed her eyes as BB counted down, "In five, four, three, two, one, and were off."

Her stomach felt like it had flipped over and her head felt light, but that was as bad as it got. She opened her eyes and stared out the viewport into the swirling miasma of multi-colored , the unknown dimension of slipspace. She took a moment to compose herself before speaking to the crew. "It'll be about two days until we get to our destination. Clean your gear and get some rest. Dismissed."

As they began to leave Osman caught Naomi's eye. She flicked her head back towards the inside of the bridge - the Spartan got the message.

Naomi turned and walked back in until she stood in front of the Captain. "Ma'am?"

Osman took a long look at her, but her face might as well have been Titanium-A hull plating with how hard it was. Spartans were masters at hiding their emotions, a product of spending so much time behind their faceless visors.

"You didn't say a word the whole briefing," Osman said.

"You covered the operation parameters clearly," she replied. "Simple recon job."

"Nuh-uh," Osman said, wagging a finger up at the Spartan. "Your eyes are giving it away. Something's bothering you. Spill it."

The Spartan furrowed her brows, pausing briefly before answering. "The mission. Something feels off."

"Off? Any more detail than that?"

Naomi shrugged her shoulders slightly. "Don't have any. Just... this gut feeling. I suggest we be cautious."

"Caution is part of ONI's doctrine," Osman said, "If this mission feels strange, its our job to figure out why."

"Understood Captain. I'll make sure the squad is ready when we arrive." Naomi dismissed herself, spinning on her heels and striding back out of the bridge. The Spartan was never one for many words.

Osman meandered around the bridge until she was standing right up against the front viewports of the Sahara-Class Heavy Prowler. Slipspace tendrils eddied in muted swathes of light and color outside - she found it pleasantly distracting. "You've been through the supplemental data CINCONI attached to her message BB. Anything interesting?"

"Well, sure. A gargantuan amount of Cerenkov radiation in a sector that has been remarkably quiet for the past sixty-five years of observation."

A 'gargantuan' amount? That didn't make it into Parangosky's message. She pressed for details. "How large are we talking about? Do you have any theories?"

"Captain, I could list off theories until your ears bleed."

"Save me the trip to the medbay," Osman said. "Give me your top three."

The AI paused for half a second to sort his thoughts. "A giant nuke."

Osman gave BB's avatar a skeptical frown. "A giant nuke? Who's detonating giant nukes on the edge of the galactic rim?"

"I suppose that would be our job to find out, wouldn't it?" BB said. "Nuclear ordinance releases Cerenkov rads when detonated in vacuum. But, the energy that would be needed for a burst this size would require warheads exponentially more powerful than the Shiva Mk. II's we have onboard."

"If anyone had bombs like that, it would be news to me," Osman said. And not good news. "Next theory."

"A giant ship entering or exiting slipspace. Remember the Mantle's Approach?"

"Hard not to..." the UNSC Captain said. The Mantle's Approach was the Didact's enormous ship that he used to attack Earth. He had used the embedded Composer to digitize six million souls in the metro-sprawl of New Phoenix before the UNSC Infinity and the Master Chief miraculously destroyed it. "If we do find something like that... the Infinity is a long ways away."

"It's a good thing we're designed for stealth then," said BB.

"Mmm. Next?"

"A giant amount of Forerunner fuckery. That one's more broad."

Osman snorted, despite herself. "Forerunner fuckery? Elegant word choice."

BB defended himself. "I said what I meant and I meant what I said. Think about it, what do Forerunners love doing more than screwing with us from beyond the grave?"

"CINCONI did namedrop Forerunners in her message..." recounted Osman. "If that's what she's thinking, no wonder she wants us there first. Fuckery or not."

The two were silent for a minute, thinking on the possibilities. "I'll admit BB. I've got a weird feeling about this op too."

"Naomi rubbing off on you?" the AI asked.

"Maybe. I just wish that we had some support nearby if we needed it. I know Prowlers are meant to work alone, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it all the time.

"That patrol cruiser might be dropping by after we arrive," BB added.

"What kind of ship is she?"

"Retrofitted Marathon-class. The UNSC Blazing Sun."

Osman nodded to herself with satisfaction. After the war with the Covenant came to an end, UNSC FLEETCOM retired the venerable Marathon's as the Fleet's main command ships, to be replaced by the new Autumn-class of heavy cruisers. Far too valuable to send to the scrapyards, the Fleet's Marathons were re-purposed into long-range patrol cruisers. With enough self-sustainability for lengthy deployments, and enough firepower to match most potential threats, it was a good fit.

She chewed her bottom lip absentmindedly while she thought. "We'll just have to see what there is to see. Send me a detailed summary of the supplemental data to my PDA."

"Done. If I can be the squad mom for a moment however, you need to get some rest Captain. You've been up for 18 hours. We're going to need you fully functional in case we run into a galactic toll booth."

Osman raised an eyebrow. "I thought Devereaux was the squad mom?"

"Just because she makes peanut butter cookies once a month? I'll short-circuit the kitchen's oven, don't test me."

"You do any such thing and I'll have your datachip strapped to a missile and shot into the closest sun," Osman hotly countered. They were damned good cookies. "Wake me if its for a good reason."

"Aye aye, Captain Cookie."

Osman rolled her eyes and started back to her cabin to catch some shut-eye.

UNSC Port Stanley

Anomaly at Galactic Rim

March 7th, 2559

"Simple recon job, huh? Bullshit."

Staff Sergeant Malcolm Geffen summarized the thoughts of Kilo-5 rather succinctly. The entire team - minus the Huragok - were all on the bridge staring outside of the Port Stanley's bridge viewports.

"This mission is FUBAR..." muttered Corporal Belio in agreement irritated agreement.

"Quit gawking, start talking," said Osman. She needed more information. As an ONI officer and a Prowler Captain, she lived on information. "BB, you first."

"Well, I'll start with the obvious," the AI said, voice echoing throughout the Prowler's small bridge. "It looks like another Halo ring."

Standing directly to the right of Osman was Naomi, helmet gripped in a lowered hand, her outwards gaze hard and analytical. Osman tilted her head upwards towards her, and the Spartan caught her eye. The quick look they shared was one of apprehension.

"This thing is enormous compared to any other Halo installation we've discovered or know about so far..." BB continued. "Half the size of Neptune in the Sol system, 25,000 kilometers in diameter at least."

"These support strut looking things," noted Phillips, "That's new."

The 'object' that they were all looking at several hundred thousand kilometers outside of the Port Stanley's bridge windows was a gargantuan ring structure, that at first observations looked like any other of the Halo installations that the Forerunner's had left behind millennia ago. Two immediately stark differences included the sheer size of the construct, and the addition of four thin, intersecting struts that ran the entire diameter of the inside of the ring in an 'X' type shape.

At this point BB had gotten readouts from the Stanley's sensor suite onto the bridge's main holo-display. He zoomed in on the center of the support struts at their intersection, and all all of Kilo-5 turned their heads to look.

"It's a planet," stated Naomi.

There was a small orb of green, blue, and white dead in the center of the ring, all four support struts seeming to connect at equidistant points along the planet's equator and prime meridian.

"How large BB?" asked Osman.

"4,900 kilometers in diameter," the UNSC AI answered. He was looking at the ring through the Port Stanley's cutting edge hyperscanner sensor array. "Heavily forested, temperate, breathable atmosphere. Larger than Luna."

"Anyone have any guesses as to what the hell this thing is meant to be?" posed Phillips.

Osman looked back at him. "You've got the Ph.D Professor, you tell us."

"Yeah, in xenoanthropology and languages..." he muttered. "If it was another Halo, another weapon meant to cleanse all life from its operational range, why does it look so different than all the other rings we've found?"

"The rings have all varied in size," Osman said as a counterpoint. "This one does too."

"Yes," Phillips continued, "But think about all the unique characteristics. The Halo's we have found have varied in size, you're right, but this it the largest ring structure we've ever seen. These support struts are new, we've already noticed that. And look, there's no planet-type environment on the actual ring itself, just bare material. Instead, we have this planetary body in the exact center."

"Don't forget the flash of Cerenkov radiation that brought this thing to our attention in the first place," BB reminded. "Everyone remember from high school science class what major thing Cerenkov rads are associated with? Slipspace."

There was a minute of contemplative silence on the bridge as they all stared out the viewports at this enormous structure, absolutely dominating the nothing of the space around them.

Naomi turned to look at Osman. "Permission to lead a ground team to the surface of the center planet."

Osman raised her eyes in surprise. "Absolutely not."

Naomi pressed. "I'm a Spartan, Captain. Idle observations from a distance aren't my forte."

Sergeant Geffen joined in with the Spartan. "Same with us Helljumpers. We may start in space, but we're groundpounders at heart."

Osman stuck to her guns. "Permission denied. We just don't know enough. We will report back to CINCONI and CINCFLEET, make passive observations, and await further orders. We're Recon, not Force Recon." She chewed her bottom lip, thinking more about it for a couple of seconds. "But I want everyone ready for deployment, just in case."

SEND: UNSC Port Stanley - Captain Serin Osman




Encryption code 8392-4933-28944.

Location: Galactic Rim, coordinates enclosed.



Further investigation into the slip-space anomaly reveals it as potentially an enormous Forerunner installation. See attached imagery and sensor readings. Its purpose remains unknown. We are holding position several thousand kilometers away, collecting data through passive sensor scans. Requesting additional UNSC reinforcements to our location. Will await further orders.

Kilo-5 out.



RECEIVE: UNSC Port Stanley - Captain Serin Osman



Encryption code 8392-4933-28944.

Location: FLEETCOM



Hold position, do not engage with the installation. Patrol Cruiser UNSC Blazing Sun will arrive on-station within the day. In process of assembling a Sierra-Class Battlegroup to establish a larger UNSC presence at the installation. Send additional updates as necessary. Stay alert, stay smart, and await support.



Bridge of Marathon-Class Cruiser UNSC Blazing Sun

Slipspace Anomaly at Galactic Rim

March 8th, 2559

"Well screw me to Harvest and back. Another motherfuckin' ring."

Captain Vasily Ivanov looked sideways towards the source of the cursing. "Permission granted to speak freely, Sergeant Major."

Standing to the left of Ivanov looking out of the Blazing Sun's bridge forward viewports as well, the Sergeant Major let out a short chuckle. "Apologies sir. You have to understand my... distaste for these goddamned space loops."

"I do, I do," Ivanov acknowledged, shaking his head slowly, returning his gaze off of the massive structure that dominated the viewport. "You of all people, I understand. Captain Winters? Any thoughts?"

There was no answer for a few seconds. Ivanov tilted his head towards his right with inquisitive eyebrows. "Captain Winters?"

The auburn-haired officer came to suddenly, blinking rapidly and breaking his entrancement with what had captured him out in the vacuum. "I've never seen anything like it sir. Not in person."

"First time seeing giant alien artifacts?" the Sergeant Major jested, "Don't worry son, you get used to it."

For Captain Richard Winters and for the rest of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Orbital Drop Shock Regiment - this assignment to the Blazing Sun for long range patrols was the unit's first deployment. Aside from a core group of long-serving, veteran NCO's like the Sergeant Major, the company's officers and lower enlisted had just graduated from the Mars Drop School two months ago.

"You want us to jump down there Cap'n?" the Sergeant Major posed. "On this... this X-ring?"

"Not yet. I want you to plan to jump down there," Ivanov said. He turned away from his observations back towards the interior of the Blazing Sun's bridge. The two ODSTs went back to their quiet observations. The rest of his bridge crew were working diligently at their stations. His Executive Officer, Commander Miri Lawson, was looking over the shoulder of Second Lieutenant Lia Hikowa at Sensors, in quiet conversation as they discussed the data coming in through the Sun's scanner arrays.

At Weapons, First Lieutenant Tom Hanson cycled dutifully throughout diagnostics for the Blazing Sun's various armarments. Two spinal-mounted Mark IX Heavy Magnetic Accelerator Cannons, 1,820 Archer missiles housed in twenty-six pods, twelve secondary double-barreled coilgun batteries, and a comprehensive network of CIWS point-defense systems made the Marathon Cruiser a formidable warship to face in battle.

Second Lieutenant David Jefferies manned Comms, and Ivanov called to him to get his attention.

"Jefferies, anything more from the Port Stanley?"

The Comms officer swiveled in his chair to face his Captain. "No sir. The spy sat they deployed to share their data with us when we arrived on-station is still pinging every five minutes, but the Stanley is staying dark."

Ivanov narrowed his eyes his lips in mild annoyance. ONI. He gravitated towards the middle of the bridge where the main holo-display was located. A graphic of the ring structure filled most of the space above the central table. "Joe, where's Major Williams?"

The Blazing Sun's resident Smart-AI materialized on the corner of the holo-display closest to the Captain. He resembled a twentieth-century American football player, down to the eyeblack and grass stains on his white pants. A navy blue jersey over bulky shoulder-pads emblazoned with 'UNSC' on the chest and 'BLAZING SUN' showed everyone what team he was playing for. "Major Williams is in the main armory Captain."

The UNSC Captain nodded to himself in a knowing way. Major Williams was commander of the Marathon's resident Marine unit, 5th Battalion, 8th Force Recon. She had been with Ivanov from the beginning, right when the Sun was first put into service. It felt like a lifetime ago when we first met on this same bridge, he mused. "Make sure she stays in the loop."

"You got it coach," Joe replied with a one-fingered salute.

Just before their scheduled retrofit, they Blazing Sun had participated in the battle against Jul 'Mdama's Storm Covenant on Installation 03. Brookes' 5th Battalion suffered 258 casualties - nearly half of the battalion's 600-strong force dead or wounded, It was the most costly battle the unit had suffered in its entire fifteen-year tenure aboard the Blazing Sun.

It made sense why she wasn't very keen on looking at this new ring, when so many of her best and longest serving Marines died on one similar to it. Having to deal with almost half a battalion of fresh recruits had to come with its own frustrations as well - Ivanov didn't envy her. He felt lucky enough that his current batch of 800 sailors were on year three of their second mandatory five-year deployments. Smart, tough, and combat-tested, they were the best crew that Ivanov had commanded in all of his twenty-seven years in the service.

"Captain Winters, Sergeant," he started. Both ODST's turned away from the front windows to face him. "I want Easy Company on standby. Dismissed."

The two ODST's came to quick attention and crisply saluted Ivanov before starting for the bridge doors to get back to their unit. Ivanov caught the Sergeant Major's eye as he walked by and tilted his head, signaling him to stop briefly. "Keep an eye on Winters. He's eager."

The Sergeant Major's weathered dark skin wrinkled at the corners of his mouth as he gave a knowing smirk. Grey hairs peppered his well-trimmed black mustache, and confident brown eyes spoke of decades of experience. "I'll stick to him like a Grunt does to his methane tank."

Ivanov nodded and let the ODST follow his superior out of the bridge. "Lawson?"

His XO looked his way at her name being called, and she gave Hikowa a brief pat on the shoulder before she walked over to him. "Aye sir?"

"What's the latest on Battlegroup Keyes?"

Lawson pursed her lips before answering, obviously displeased. "FLEETCOM is still assembling the battlegroup from UNSC ships in the sector. They are rendezvousing at the outer colony of Coral. ETA is still five to six days before they can make it here."

"Five to six days," Ivanov parroted. He ran a hand along the coarse surface of his modest grey beard. Their orders had been very clear - hurry up and wait. The Blazing Sun was to hold position along with the Port Stanley until UNSC reinforcements could arrive at thescene. "Plenty of time for quiet reflection."

"Plenty of time for someone else to show up," Lawson said. She was pragmatic above all. "If we could detect that Cerenkov rad dump as far out as we were, someone else could have too - Storm Covenant, Insurrectionists... We're on our own out here."

"That is why we will stay alert," Ivanov said. "Run the crews through some drills, keep them fresh. Try and find that Prowler maybe... see how alone we really are."

Lawson rolled her eyes. Like any good sailor, she had just as much an aversion for ONI as he did.

"Twelve hour shifts," he continued. Instead of having a third of the crew on duty at any given time, now there would be half. He expected a few grumbles, but the more crew on duty there was the more prepared the Sun would be if something were to surprise them. "You take the first watch. XO, you have the conn."

"Aye Captain, I have the conn. Enjoy your beauty sleep."

It's back - sort of.

Redux, rewrite, version 2.0, call it whatever you like.

Many things will be new, some things will be old, but most importantly, I'm committed to telling an even better story this time around.

Stay tuned.