Before you read anything, I would like to say that this book would not have been possible at all (as I would have died from idiocy from the amount strangling I wanted to do on myself) without the hard work and perceptive eyes of my Loremaster and Editor Arion Spartan (though I know him as SpartanJordan) for he is the reason this story is presentable.

The story is situated one month before the Halo 5 event. I haven't decided whether to include the Halo 5 event yet but you will definitely be seeing some lore fragments of Halo 5.

I really hope you enjoy.


X


0500 hours, September 27th, 2558 (Military Calendar), Joint-Occupation Zone, Outer Regions

Six months after the Second Battle of Requiem

ONI Prowler PRO-49776

...

"Slipspace Rupture detected," Lieutenant Taylor said from the operations console. "Multiple Pings. They're here."

"Good," said Commander Lucius Jiron as he stood on the bridge of the ONI Prowler PRO-49776. His hands behind his back and his gaze pointed straight towards the opening rifts. "Prepare to send the signal to the joint fleet."

"Aye, Captain," the communications officer, Lieutenant Frederick, said. His hand was poised and hovering over the send button, ready to relay the transmission. The navigation officer, Lieutenant Flores, was also on standby, in case the transmission was detected. Her fingers on the ship's console and her face stern, eyeing the fleet like a hawk. The bridge crew had their emergency battle straps on as well. In the event of contact, the relatively small ship would be able to maneuver like a nimble fighter thanks to the added engines and extra power systems provided by the secondary reactor. It was a necessary installment which Jiron had requested in order to ensure the survival of the ONI Prowler if the mission went awry.

All personnel were at battle positions and ready to act on the Captain's orders.

"Detecting three CAS class carriers, five ships classified as Brigantines, seven warships classified as Man of Wars, eleven RCS battlecruisers, seven CCS battlecruisers, fourteen CRS light cruisers, seventeen Hekar Taa-pattern fast interdictors and..." The Lieutenant smiled. "One unknown Covenant Supercruiser. Scans indicate it is incomplete but the design is similar to the one seen during the Battle of Reach. The Plasma Artillery Cannon does not seem to be complete yet and the enemy fleet is protecting it like ants to their queen. Intel looks solid, Captain."

"Prepare to send preliminary scans to the fleet." Jiron said. This was the moment. This was the finality of Jul 'Mdama's forces, the Storm Covenant. They had been running from the Swords of Sanghelios and the UNSC ever since the Fall of Requiem. A spy, within the ranks of the Didact's Hand, had managed to graze up the intel of a superweapon that was being built to help Jul in his campaign against the UNSC and the Swords of Sanghelios. But that was going to end here. Hopefully, there would be peace….. At last.

"Aye aye. Transferring data to communications."

"Received." Lieutenant Frederick confirmed. "Ready to transmit."

"Preparing to disable cloak to send the all clear."

"Steady…. Steady…" Jiron gripped his chair. Almost there. "Five… four…. three… tw-"

The Operations console wailed. Lieutenant Taylor checked it and said. "Slipspace rupture detected!" His eyes widened. "It's-"

The ship jerked on its axis as the Sahara-class Prowler was thrown across space by an unseen force. The 200-meter long ship began spiraling out of control, g-forces throwing the crew into disarray. The lights went out and personnel were jangled around like ragdolls. Their straps, thankfully, kept them from being thrown across the bridge. With great difficulty, Lieutenant Flores reached out and pressed a button, activating the emergency stabilizers which stopped the ship from rotating. Jiron grabbed his chair and steadied himself, shaking the dizziness off just like his training had taught him to before barking out, "Report!"

"Deck one reports damaged bulkheads," came the immediate response from one of his officers.

"Warping of titanium on several points of the hull detected!" Another one cried out.

"Deck 3 port side armor plating has been breached! "

"Cloaking field has been deactivated!"

"Primary reactor core is down! Secondary Reactors are not responding!"

"Switch to back-up batteries." Jiron ordered firmly. "Seal off the area around the breach point. Get me people down there for damage control immediately"

Lights in the room began to turn back on dimly as the emergency backups began powering up. Consoles once again lit up but there was still barely enough power to turn the lights on fully.

"Emergency power online, Captain."

Jiron grunted. "Report."

"Multiple casualties reported. Some severe and many are disabled. Medical teams are on route."

"We're still in one piece Captain but…" Lieutenant Taylor said, looking at Jiron. His face looked grim and Jiron knew that it wasn't good news. "You're not going to like this bit."

A hologram of the enemy Storm fleet was sent to the holotable. For a second, Jiron couldn't see what was wrong until the hologram zoomed out to show the other fleet that had arrived. What should have been a large Covenant fleet led by an extremist group, was actually two large Covenant Fleets…. with a few more ships added into the mix. What the hell was going on?

"Sir! A signal is being transmitted from the new Covenant contacts!" Frederick's eyes widened. "It's the all-clear signal for the fleets!

"What?" Jiron's heart seized for a millisecond. "Get me the Infinity!"

The console beeped as the Lieutenant tried desperately to hail the Infinity. "I can't, sir! Something is jamming us!"

Fear curled around his body like a coiled anaconda about to crush its prey. His hands clenched as anger boiled in his blood as he realized the shattering truth.

They had been betrayed.


X


Normally being on the bridge of the most powerful ship in the fleet made you feel safe. It made you feel secure and feel like nothing was impossible. The power at your fingertips was vast and the ability to fight off massive fleets single handedly was beyond anything a human could do without trying to laugh maniacally. But Captain Lasky wasn't such a human. He never wanted to be like those people. He understood the capabilities of the warship and its weaknesses. And he made sure that no one else overestimated it either.

"Time." Lasky asked flatly into seemingly thin air.

"Any moment now, Captain." Roland, the UNSC Infinity's AI said as he appeared onto the holo-desk. His usual WWII Air Force attire with his RAF goggles casting an orange glow upon the Captain's restless face. "As William Langland once said, 'Patience is a virtue.'"

Captain Lasky didn't say anything as he kept his eyes on the holotable, waiting for Roland to show the data acquired by the Prowler he had sent ahead to scout. As soon as it appeared he and Roland would analyze the data and adjust the fleet according to the recorded data. Waiting for the transmission was like waiting for his academy results to see whether he had been accepted or not. That was how important this mission was. The Storm Covenant had been a massive thorn in the backside of both the UNSC and the Sword of Sanghelios. Many had died at their hands. But they couldn't handle them on their own. Fortunately, UNSC High Command agreed with him. Even more fortunate, the Swords of Sangheilios were joining in.

"Receiving transmission." His communication officer, Lieutenant Jesperson, announced, shaking the uneasiness out of him. "It's the Prowler."

"Roland."

Within a few milliseconds, Roland had immediately copied the transmission from the communications console, opened it and extrapolated the data. Roland glanced over it, making himself familiar with the layout of the enemy fleet so that he would know everything there was to know about the fleet position and provide his recommendations when necessary. Normally an AI was simply used to provide information on the battlefield and operate the finer points in essential and non-essential systems of any ship they operated on. And he did exactly that. But Captain Lasky had often asked for his opinion on some situations and it always paid to be ready no matter what. Any AI would agree with him. AIs hated not knowing. Especially if they were secretive.

The battle plans lit up the holographic projector showing the small purple triangular tactical markers of the massive Storm armada with their old and new designs. The ships were in a formation that was fairly standard for Covenant protocols with the Supercruiser in the center. The Supercruiser was marked in a large red triangle. "Intel looks good, Captain. Standard Oblique Formation with the Supercruiser in the center just like the Intel suggested."

"Hurry, Roland." Lasky said with worry in his voice. "We can't let them escape."

The Supercruiser was something that had last been seen during the Battle of Reach. It consisted of a weapon with the capability to wipe out an entire Fleet of warships without ever getting into weapons range. It was armed with a prow-mounted turret containing five energy projectors that fired a singular beam into a ship and vaporized it in one shot, burrowing through the armor of the UNSC warships and igniting their reactors. Such a weapon could potentially even take out even the Infinity with a single blast if it ever got into range.

"Rechecking intel. Redistributing fleet to match coordinates. Updating jump coordinates fleetwide." Roland paused as reports poured through the communication channel. "Receiving confirmation signals. We are a go, Captain."

"Good. The Fleet of Retributive Justice?"

"The Arbiter is ready to jump."

"El-Tee, initiate Jump procedures."

"Aye Aye, Captain." said Lieutenant James, the Infinity's Navigation officer. The UNSC Infinity fired its main thrusters, pushing the massive warship forward. Battlegroup Stark moved forward as well. Fifty of the UNSC's finest. Fifty warships upgraded with the finest arsenal and defensive capabilities the UNSC had to offer. The new ship designs offered many different changes to the UNSC's strategies with the implementation of shielded ships and more powerful ship-to-ship missile silos placed on their hulls. Eighteen Strident-class Heavy Frigates, fourteen Autumn-class Heavy Cruisers, ten Poseidon-class Light carriers and eight Vindication-class Light Battleships. And fifty more from the Swords of Sanghelios, their otherwise smooth surface bristling with pulse laser turrets, insect like antennae, and chitinous pods. Powerful plasma lance, cannons and torpedo silos protruded from key points on their hulls making them a dangerous enemy in space. The Fleet of Retributive Justice, commanded by the leader of the Swords of Sanghelios, Thel 'Vadam. The Arbiter himself.

The Fleets had been positioned in a way to give both the Sangheili and the UNSC a clear advantage over the Covenant Forces. In the front would be the Sangheili warships, big and small, tanking the damage for the Incoming Covenant fire while the UNSC, did what they did best, fired their MAC Cannons and missiles from the back and provided artillery support to the ships. The UNSC had never trusted their ships to tank the damage when it came to fighting during the Covenant war. Instead they had relied on their heavy weaponry to take out the ships before they could find a way to destroy them. But with their newly improved shielded armor, they were able to match many ships the Covenant could throw at them.

Roland streamed through the data in his memory banks. He had inadvertently diverted around one seventy-fifth of his processing power to comb through the data sent by ONI Prowler. Something didn't add up. But Roland was too focused on managing the fleet to worry about it. It was only after the massive Slipspace portal had opened did his side project send him a red flag. Immediately, he averted his full attention into the problem. He isolated the signal and re-processed the Covenant fleet data. It was perfect. It was exactly as the intel suggested. It was the exact coordinates at which the fleet was going to be. The Supercruiser was in its place, in the center. The Covenant fleet surrounded it like the intel had suggested. The Battlecruisers were in formation, the Assault carriers were in a triangle, the fast interdictors were-.

Wait.

He looked at the interdictors once again and then correlated the data they had been given by their spy. He isolated a Hekar-taa class fast interdictor and the Supercruiser from the two navigational data sets before removing the other ships completely. Now Roland was only looking at four holographic ships, two on each data map. Using the Supercruiser as a reference point, Roland calculated the distance between one of the interdictors overlapping. One point three six seven five eight three klicks off the starboard bow of the Artillery Supercruiser. He did the same for the other interdictor on the other map.

One point three six seven five eight three klicks off the starboard bow of the Artillery Supercruiser

Roland checked and rechecked his findings twenty times to make sure they were correct. There was no way that the intel taken by the Covenant and the actual fleet data recorded by the ONI Prowler were the exact same. The possibility of that was astronomical. Space was interminable. Distance even more so. It took a great deal of sophistication and several hundred calculations for a ship to be even a 100 meters accurate in space. Even for an AI it was extremely hard and took hundreds of cycles to complete. Especially for a fleet that had supposedly been there for barely half a minute. If what he was reading was true, then the information had been falsified and the entire Battlegroup was heading into a trap.

Roland gave a flick and the Slipspace drive controls appeared in his mainframe. He gave another flick and the communications panel came up on the side. He needed to stop the jump. And warn the fleet. There was no time to tell the Captain of the finding. He had to act now or something worse could happen. But as he reached out to shut down the controls, a power surge was detected in his AI core and a loud scream suddenly came forth that rang through his systems like an electrical shock.

HERETIC!

Roland flinched as the word it uttered made him lose his ability to operate for a fraction of a second. But it was enough for the unknown entity to completely take hold of the engines and all of communications. He immediately attacked the outsider but was surprised to find that several firewalls had been erected to block him from accessing the entity or the systems it had taken over. Roland panicked as he suddenly found himself unable to control the ship's primary drive functions and he watched helplessly as the joint Human-Sangheili Fleet entered Slipspace.


X


The UNSC Infinity entered Slipspace for the blink of an eye and immediately transitioned out of it. Barely a moment had gone by before the Infinity lurched forward. The holo-desk depicting the battle plans flickered erratically before disappearing. Lasky stumbled as he tried to regain his footing. "What the- Report!"

"Enemy contact!" Lieutenant Ryder, his tactical operations officer, shouted. "There are two fleets?!"

"Positions!" Lasky asked.

"Two hundred klicks in front of the Arbiter's Forces and two hundred klicks straight off our bow." The Infinity shook as blasts of plasma slammed into the shields, draining them considerably. The fleet size has increased to almost double than the one depicted in the intel! "We're boxed in!"

"Controls aren't responding!" Lieutenant James said panickingly. "Something isn't allowing me access."

"Internal communications seem to be down as well. I can't get a hold of the engine room."

"Roland, report!"

The sound of explosions and pressing of buttons on the keyboard continued on but there was no sign of Roland. It was as if he just wasn't there. Lasky watched as a beam of pink plasma emitted from each of the Covenant CAS class Carriers, burning through the Sword's fleet and decimating a RCS-class armored cruiser and annihilating one of the Swords' CAS-class Carriers. Torpedoes swarmed and rammed into the smaller ships, overloading their shields and melting their hulls. The ship rocked as enemy weapons fire lit up the UNSC Infinity, the plasma splashing over its shields as Covenant torpedoes coming from the back did the exact same.

"Order our ships to fire!" Lasky commanded. "Fire all their weapons into the frontal fleet and then turn about!"

"Relaying orders," said Lieutenant Jesperson, tapping a few holographic buttons but to no avail. "External communications are down as well!"

The back line of the UNSC Formation exploded. Plasma Torpedoes rained down upon the UNSC ships as the Covenant ships began closing the distance. Plasma Lances shot out of the CAS carriers in the back and fired into one of the Autumn-class Heavy Cruisers and one of the Vindication-class Light Battleships. Both vessels were instantly vaporized, creating an explosion that jostled some of the nearby ships.

"Damnit. Designate fleets. Frontal, Alpha. Behind, Beta." Lasky was in turmoil. He couldn't move the Infinity nor could he contact the fleet. Roland wasn't responding to his calls either. And the Sanghili fleet in front of them was breaking apart before their eyes. He had to get the fleet to fire on the frontal fleet, now designated Alpha, and do it quickly. If only he could tell them to fire their weapons. Wait. Weapons. What about our weapons? "Status on the weapons."

"Operational." Lieutenant Austin said a few beeps later.

"Good." Lasky said. The Infinity couldn't move which meant that they couldn't fire with their MAC gun. Which meant that they only had missile control. And right now, despite the torpedoes crashing into them from behind and the Sangheili fleet being hammered, the UNSC Contingent was holding their fire, awaiting the order from Lasky to begin the attack. They only needed a signal to begin. "Fire a single Archer missile pod at the Alpha warfleet and then get me firing solutions on their nearest enemy ships."

"Aye, sir. Firing missiles." A pod of missiles flew out of the Infinity's frontal missile pods. Come on. He silently prayed. Triangulate that Archer volley destination. Figure it out.

The missile was one third of the way on its journey before the response Lasky was looking for came to fruition. Every ship in the fleet fired their missile pods. Milliseconds later, Infinity's missiles followed suit. Tens of thousands of Howler, Rapier, and Archer missiles fired into fray, their fire trails blazing red as they raced towards the Covenant warships. Thousands of GA-TL1 Longswords and F-41 Broadswords launched from their ships and burned towards the enemy fleet, engaging the Covenant Seraphs and Banshees as best they could. Lasky sighed in relief.

Barely seconds had passed before the UNSC contingent responded with even more firepower. Their uranium depleted MAC slug rounds fired one after the other in a scattered line; formation struggling as they continued to be bombarded by the Beta Fleet making some of the MAC rounds miss. But the rest smacked into the Alpha Fleet. The smaller warships were outrightly destroyed. Other rounds rammed into the shields of the Covenant Frontline, breaking their shields and gutting their ships with holes. Some ships were doubled down upon by MAC rounds while others were untouched. Lasky winced at the lack of communication. It was unavoidable due to the lack of any fleetwide tactical data from Roland. Speaking of whom...

"Roland, where the hell are you!"


X


Roland was struggling through the firewalls, desperately blasting through them like they were paper. But more kept overlapping the entity and its captured systems. Yet he was gaining ground. Seconds passed by as the two battled it out, both heavily reliant on their actions. Roland on offensive, enemy entity on defense. By now Roland had concluded that this unknown entity had been planted into his AI core while the UNSC Infinity had been in the Oort Cloud for upgrades. That was the only explanation for the intrusion as he had been offline for a complete twenty minutes during the upgrade. But such kind of planning….. It would have had to be an inside job. Someone from the UNSC did this. Someone who wanted things to play like this.

ONI

It was the only explanation. Only they had the resources to do something like this. Yet it still didn't make sense. Why would ONI sacrifice the Infinity in such an engagement? Unless….

Roland broke through the Communications systems and seized control from the Entity before it could throw up another firewall. In the instant he did, he heard, "Roland, where the hell are you!"

Immediately, he tapped into the intercom. "I'm here, Captain. Communications are back under our control." He couldn't present himself to the Captain yet. He was still trying to take back control of the ship's navigational controls. For that he needed every bit of processing power available to him.

'He's right." Jesperson said. "Communications are back online!"

"Tell the fleet to fall towards the Swords back line." Lasky said. "All remaining missile pods are to redirect fire at the Beta fleet. Release safeties on warheads. Roland, status on the Navigational systems."

There was a long pause before Roland responded. "Almost got it." His voice sounded extremely robotic as if he were sacrificing his speaking protocols to maintain control.

Another blast hit the Infinity and the ship shook. The control panels gave warning signs as the shields dropped down to 36%.

"Plasma beam projectors have fired from the Covenant CAS carriers." Roland said as he appeared on the holo-desk. His normal World War II-era aviators suit was fully visible now and the tactical data on the tank flickered back to show the battlefield. "Shields are down to thirty six percent!"

"Reroute power from non-essentials to the shields." Captain Lasky, ordered with a clenched jaw as he observed the battlefield. The Supercruiser was there. It was just two enormous Storm Covenant fleets. He gritted his teeth at the revelation. The whole thing had been a trap. "Full burn, flank speed. Get us away from the Beta fleet and bring the MACs to bare on the nearest carrier in Alpha. Firing Solution Gamma."

"Rerouting power." Roland confirmed.

"Aligning with the nearest Covenant carrier." Lieutenant James said.

"Receiving confirmation." Lieutenant Jesperson pitched in. "All remaining ships are burning towards the Fleet of Retributive Justice." The UNSC vessels ignited their engines and approached the back of the Sword's position. Missiles jutted out of the retreating ships. The fire from the Beta fleet reduced down to a few torpedoes as they focused on the new incoming threats. Pulse lasers spit into the black, slamming into the missiles and detonating them before they reached their intended targets. The rest of the fire splashed into the line lighting up Storm ships shields. Normally missiles would do nothing against Covenant ships that still had shields online. However, Captain Lasky had ordered all missiles to be fired. Archer, Rapier, Howler and M4093 Hyperion Nuclear missiles. The nuclear warheads detonated across the fleet, radically causing mayhem as the Hyperions smashed on the Storm ship shields and emitting their EMPs. The explosions would leave them blinded and unable to replenish shields for a short period of time. Not to mention their salvos had been halted to concentrate on the missile threat. A short time was never a lot of time. But in a battle of warships with such heavy weaponry, every second counted. Roland approved of the tactic. It could buy them enough time to deal with the Alpha fleet.

Lasky turned his attention to the holo table. Now that his communications were back up, his priority was to salvage this engagement before things were completely out of their hand. Roland watched as well, analyzing the battlefield. His AI heart sank as he noticed the losses they had faced. In the first surprise barrage by the Covenant, the Joint fleet had suffered major casualties. The Arbiter's fleet was down twenty eight ships while the UNSC had lost twenty three.

Half the fleet, Roland thought. Half the fleet is gone.

"MAC firing solution online, Captain." Austen said.

Captain Lacky leaned onto the table. "Fire."

The Infinity groaned and shuddered as the two Super MACs on the right flank lashed out with their 3,000 ton tungsten rounds. The rounds were timed in such a way where the first round would hit the shields, taking them down as the second round would tear through the rest of the ship. And that was exactly what happened.

Two blinding flash streaked into the inky black before slamming into the Assault Carrier with the force of 51 Megatons each, scattering it. The Assault carrier's shields flared silver and fell as the first round smashed into them, its shields already weakened from the Sword and UNSC contingent. A split second later, the second round slammed into the ship's hull, gutting the Covenant Capital ship from bow to stern. The most powerful Covenant warship was now a lifeless chunk of metal.

"Enemy carrier destroyed." Lieutenant Austen said.

"Helmsman, re-align for a Carrier in the Beta Fleet." Captain Lasky said to Lieutenant James. "Roland, take care of point defense. I don't want anything getting through."

"On it, Captain!"

With one of their fleet destroyers down, the overlapping fields of kinetic weaponry fired into the field Alpha fleet from Battlegroup Stark as the Infinity began turning on its axis to face the massive Beta Covenant fleet behind them. Many of the smaller ships had already moved forward and then retreated backwards as the more prudent and stronger shielded Sangheili Warships took up the front line. The Hekar Taa-pattern Blockade Runners from the Sangheili fleet engaged the ships as they provided covering fire to allow both the UNSC and the Swords to recover, firing their powerful plasma weapons into the sides of the bigger ships and running away before they had a chance to respond with their heavy guns.

"MAC guns recharged throughout the fleet!" Roland conveyed.

"Tell them to stay behind the Arbiter's fleet and fire at will." Captain Lasky said. "Have six Cruisers form up with the Infinity and prepare to engage the Beta fleet."

The UNSC warships flared with beams of light as the recharged MAC guns and the Mark 55 Castor Naval Coilguns fired into the Alpha fleet, kinetic hell raining down upon the Covenant fleet. The Sword's fleet joined in, their ships firing their plasma torpedoes at near point blank range, burning through the purplish metallic hulls of the Covenant. The Alpha fleet shattered upon the onslaught, many already attempting to retreat but to no avail. The Covenant Supercruiser's shields shimmered silver and then disappeared altogether as weapons fire breached its shields and rounds began pouring into its armored sides. It opened up a slipspace rupture and managed to slip through before it could be destroyed, exiting moments later on the far side of the Beta Fleet.

Six Autumn-class Heavy Cruisers broke off before the engagement ended and burned their way to the Infinity. Plasma torpedoes arced their way into the Infinity's path, the shields of the ship beginning to falter.

"Austen, I want your best guess at this!" Lasky said as the Covenant Beta fleet came onto the starboard side of the Infinity. 'We fire as we go! Roland. James. Initiate course corrections as necessary.

Lieutenant Austen widened his eyes as he realized what Lasky was saying. Even Roland gave a small smile for it. He was beginning to make preparations when a ping from one of the sensors drew his attention. Strange. He diverted some processing power to the disturbance. Suddenly, it began to grow larger and the disturbance went from a tiny speck to the size of a large warship within seconds. And it continued to grow. "Captain!" Roland said, trying to get the Captain's attention. "I'm detecting a large disturbance on the scanners and it's growing exponentially."

"Slipspace rupture?" Lasky asked.

"Unknown. Whatever it is, I can't make it out."

"Captain Lasky?!" Ryder called, shock evident in his voice. "The Covenant Fleet…. They've stopped firing!"

Lasky looked at Roland before turning to the forward view port. "On screen."

The view port changed to show one of the starboard side cameras. The Covenant fleet had indeed stopped firing and they were now turning toward their starboard side. Lasky called up the shield systems and noticed that they had almost lost them. Any more hits and they would have failed.

"Roland?" Lasky asked cautiously. "Where is the disturbance coming from?"

"The source of the disturbance was seven and a half thousand kilometers away from our current position. Since its first detection, the disturbance has grown to be the size of Earth's Moon and it is still growing."

'Contact the Arbiter. Have him initiate an emergency slipspace jump! Tell the rest of the fleet to do the sam-"

"Captain, look!"

A single massive pulsating hexagonal shape appeared in the emptiness of space. It glowed orange, its light almost blinding the bridge crew. Lasky put up his hand in front of his eyes to shield his eyes from the glare before a filter descended over the window to decrease its intensity.

The Hexagonal shape multiplied into several more hexagonal shapes resulting in the central one to disappear. Each shape continued glowing with the same intensity as the central one before disappearing as well. The phenomenon continued to unfold as the giant structure appeared seemingly out of the blackness of space.

He put his hand down and looked at the giant planetary structure with shock and fear. "Is that-"

"It is." Roland confirmed. "It's a Forerunner Shield World."

The metallic world, designated Shield World by the Forerunners, revealed itself from behind its cloaking device. Moments after the last parts of its cloaking device disappeared, an orange glow passed through the UNSC Infinity. Something similar to what had occurred on the Infinity's first mission. Roland recognized the signature as the same one Requiem had initiated before-. "Captain, that thing just scanned us"

Captain Lasky's face dawned with realization. Roland could tell he knew exactly what was going to come their way. "El-tee, initiate emergency slipspace jump!" Captain Lasky shouted. "Tell the rest of the fleet to get out of here! Warn the Arbiter of the-"

Another ping on the sensors. "Massive buildup of energy coming from the surface of the planet!" Roland said.

A section of the planet opened up to reveal a brilliant white glow emanating from it. Glow continued to emanate and a thin column of light shot out of it, reverberating the entire ship with waves of energy. It slowly expanded, turning into a beam of pure energy and lighting its way into space.

The Captain panicked. "Lieutenant Jet!" he shouted in desperation. "Emergency Slipspace! Now!"

"We can't!" Lieutenant Jet cried out, frantically trying to initiate a jump. "She's caught in a gravity well!"

The ship tilted and lurched forward as an invisible force grabbed it and pulled it towards the beam of light. Roland tried sending a communication message to the other ships when he realized that everything; Covenant, Sword and UNSC had been caught in it.

The light flashed, blinding all sights, biological and mechanical causing everyone to wince despite the filters in the view port. Only Roland could see the fourteen extensions coming together, their tips emitting dark blue-purple lines that converged onto one single point before it began growing- no- feeding it energy to become larger. The process took around ten seconds but by then the light had died down and the rest of the beings could see the formation of the sphere.

The ship lurched once more before beginning its journey towards the portal, dragging the rest of the fleet as well. "We're caught in a gravity well!" Lieutenant James exclaimed.

"All engines! Reverse thrust!"

"Navigational systems are not responding! Again."

"Damnit"

"Incoming transmission from the Arbiter's flagship." Lieutenant Jesperson said. "Audio only."

"Patch it through."

Almost instantly the rumbling deep voice of the Arbiter emanated through the speakers, desperation evident in his voice. "Captain Lasky, our ships are being pulled into the portal. We are unable to deviate from our current path."

"Captain." Roland interrupted. "The Beta Storm Fleet is also being dragged in."

"How long until we go through?" Lasky asked, his question directed to both Roland and the Arbiter.

"A minute or so." The Arbiter responded after a while. "No more."

"Twenty seconds for us, Captain." Roland responded.

"We have barely twenty seconds before we go through." relayed the Captain to the Arbiter. "Arbiter, contact UNSC HIgh Command! Tell them about the situation before you enter the portal as well! Roland, send the Shadow of Intent a data packet with all our sensory data!

"Ca-, L-ky, ar- ou -"

"Five seconds!" The enormous slipspace portal loomed in the viewport, filling the window entirely, the blackness of the void staring at the bridge crew. Lasky felt the Infinity tremble from the energy quakes of the Slipspace portal.

"Captain Lasky to all crew, prepare for imminent Slipspace jump " Captain Lasky said. "Sound collision alarm." Klaxons blared for the remaining seconds before the darkness passed through them.

The UNSC Infinity vanished into the portal.


X


After the Formation of the Empire (AFE): 22

Galactic Standard Time: 0350

Location: Sector J-18, Western Reaches of the Outer Rim

Imperial Star Destroyer Stalker

...

All personnel. Initiate procedure to launch Viper probe droids. I repeat. Initiate procedure to launch Viper probe droids.

The message blasted through every speaker and every commlink in and near the Imperial Star Destroyer Stalker. Captain Renelda Flor quietly sipped from her glass of nectar and sat back on her chair. Compared to what she had been through in all her time at the spice mines of Kessel, this scouting job was eternal bliss. All she had to do was go out of her stateroom, show the whole ship that she was there and alive, act like she was still in charge, and walk straight back to her stateroom. There she could enjoy the nice company of herself and only herself with no one to bother her.

Viper probe droids launched.

Renelda set down her glass on the side table and yawned. Her brain was beginning to fall asleep and Renelda's body agreed. She stood up from her chair and walked over to her wardrobe. There she picked out a nice long gown which she quickly slipped into, before crashing onto her bed. She shifted herself into a more comfortable position and closed her eyes.

The holopad in her room beeped. Renelda groaned. What could the bridge possibly want now? She reached out a hand and blindly pressed the answering button. The holoimage of one of her bridge officers appeared. "I thought I told you not to disturb me when I am sleeping unless it was important." Renelda said irritatedly.

"Uh, Ma'am it is important." the officer insisted. "We received information on one of the probe droids we sent out."

"What? But you just sent them out."

"Ma'am, that was nine Galactic hours ago."

What?

She opened her eyes and bolted awake. She glanced at her holo-chronometer: 1223

She rubbed the dirt out of her eyes, barking at the officer. "Report."

"One of our droids has information on the system of Hoth. It sent us an encrypted message approximately thirty minutes ago."

"And why are you telling me this now?" She was starting to get annoyed by the Lieutenant. Maybe she would have to make an example of him. "Cut to the chase."

The officer looked uneasy. "Well, the thing is that this system was already cleared by General Nevar."

Renelda frowned. General Nevar was by far the most nepotic man she had ever met. If he had missed something, then it meant that it was worth looking into. "Send me a copy of the report to my datapad. Have the original message compacted and ready to transmit to Death Squadron. I'm on my way to the bridge."

The Lieutenant stiffened and stood at attention. "Right away, ma'am." The link cut and Renelda walked to her wardrobe, pulling out her Imperial Officer Uniform. As soon as she was dressed, she grabbed her datapad and briskly began walking toward the bridge. Stormtroopers and other Imperial personnel stood at attention as they gave way to her. But Renelda wasn't looking at them. She was solely focused on the information on her datapad. It was unbelievable. There were people on Hoth? It was preposterous. According to intelligence, Hoth was a desolate frozen wasteland, ravaged by snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures. Who would be mad enough to settle there? And the probe had self-destructed before it could fully ascertain the nature of the person who had shot it. Renelda squinted her eyes. A person….

Renelda reached the bridge and the two Elite Stormtroopers guarding the door saluted at her. She paid them no heed and barrelled through the automatic door. Almost immediately a Lieutenant hurried to her side and gave her a cup of coffee. She took the cup and sipped it.

"Too light," was all she said before handing it back.

She set her datapad on the side of the holo-table and called up the system of Hoth. The system consisted of six planets set within the sun's gravitational field. The planet of Hoth was the last planet in the system. She called up the icy ball and studied it. The probe's transmission originated from the equator of the planet which meant it had a small possibility that someone could set up a base there. But was it rebels? It could also be a small pirate outpost. Whatever the luck, she would either be able to deal with it, giving her a few more points on her record. But if it really was a rebel base… she smiled.

Yes. What if it really was? She could already see the hundreds of Stormtroopers and officers in massive columns, all of that power under her command. Yes.

"Comms, send a transmission to the Executor," ordered Renelda. "Tell them we may have a lead on the location of the Rebel Base. Include the intelligence gathered by the probe droid in the report as well. Make sure all decks are ready to depa-"

An erratic beeping on the sensor console caused the Captain to stop mid-sentence. The Lieutenant at the console looked bewildered as he checked and double checked what he was receiving. It was the same one who had woken her from her sleep. As the console continued to beep, Renelda finally lost her patience.

"Well?!" Renelda's voice was very near the point of yelling. "What is it?"

The Officer jumped a little before responding. "One of our probes was pulled out of hyperspace. It's registering a... massive gravitational field."

"And?"

"Ma'am," The officer didn't know how to put it. "There's no sun in that region for at least another fifteen par-secs."

"Lieutenant, I will throw you into the brig if you don't hurry up and get to the point!"

It was after she said that did she realize what the officer had actually said. No sun? And a gravitational field? It could be a massive asteroid in space

"Ma'am, there's a planet in space but there is no sun. Preliminary scans indicate that there is a structure covering the entirety of the planet." The Lieutenant's eyes flickered between his console and the Captain. "At Least…. I think its a planet.

"And why, Lieutenant, do you think so?"

"The gravitational field of the object in question is not strong enough to be registered as that of a sun. Only a satellite can generate that specific amount of gravity.

Renelda stared at the man. The Lieutenant started to sweat. "Here. I'll show you the data." He looked to console and suddenly became desperate. "Where is it?" He said panicking. "I've lost contact with the probe.

The Captain had had enough of the man. "Stormtroopers! Remove this man from the bridge. He seems to be unwell and needs therapy in the brig."

"No no wait!" the officer began to say as the Stormtroopers began closing in. But before he could finish, one of the Stormtroopers raised his blaster and shot a stun round at him. The Lieutenant collapsed in his seat and the Stormtroopers had no difficulty in lifting the man from the crew pits and dragging him off. The entire bridge was silent during the entire ordeal. They knew better than to say anything. It wasn't the first time this had happened.

As soon as the Stormtroopers had left, Renelda smiled. "Now," She said. "Send the transmission to Lord Vader. We may have caught ourselves some rebels today."


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