About a week later

Major Reegar looked over documents, datapads and information that was seized from the government buildings in the city. Office of Naval Intelligence crews were already packing physical files, data drives and the likes for transfer back to their black op ships to scour them for data. A Batarian official walked into the room, locking eyes with the Major. She grinned at him, then tossed the tablet aside and walked over toward one of the windows.

Debris lined the city's roads. Piles of corpses were being burned or handed to the local civvies for burial. The UNSC Marines, ODSTs and the likes had been extremely thorough in cleaning the entire metropolis of hostile forces, right down to the sewers, which had been dealt with by Geth combat platforms and small quadrupedal scouting droids armed with MGs. Yawning, she leaned against the windowsill.

An ODST approached and handed her another file. She gave him a nod of thanks, then watched him walk away before turning to the tablet to read it. Unsurprisingly, it was reports from Ethan's sweep of the mountains with the Ninth. Resistance had been surprisingly mediocre, honestly, so that meant to her that many of the enemy's forces must've been moved to the Core Systems of the Hegemony.

She watched refugee camps being set up, camps separate from one-another for Batarians and for the Slaves in the area. Not all of the ones taken by the Batarians in their raids had been sold off. Many had been surprisingly kept at home, to fuel the minuscule amount of industry they had here. She heard the footsteps of the enemy official, more-so a clerk, then turned around to face him.

He spoke, his voice gravelly, rough, alien, "It's all done. Your people have access to the processing facility's records... Hope you find more of those kids that Dhecor's raiding party took before they hit your planet," and he actually seemed empathetic with their plague. He walked up to the window and stared at it, "That's gonna take us a few years to clean..."

"You're surprisingly calm about occupying forces having hit your city," She said, crossing her arms.

He shrugged, "I got tired of the bureaucratic work here. Always some kid or another they snagged that I'd have to pick who to give to," then he scratched the top of his head, "Our government loves using privateers, corsairs and terrorists nowadays. We used to be an honorable race once, one that actually fought its wars head-on against its enemies, not out of being forced to like we were with you lot."

"Whatever leftover husks of your ships are in orbit tell as much," She quipped, partially sarcastic, while the man more-so grunted than laughed, bitter and obviously annoyed. Turning her head again to face out of the window, she said, "We also know you guys are hermits. Worse than us, even, seeing as we barely just decided to open up to the Galaxy when you shot first."

"Citadel isn't exactly kind to 'businesses' like ours," He replied, garnering a snort out of the woman. He then told her, "Do me a favor and put our Overlord's head on a pike in Victory Square when you get to Kar'shan," as he leaned against the wall. She finally noticed the marks and scars of slavery, the same ones she and her men had found on the Asari and Batarian women they'd rescued.

"Lower caste wanting the head, huh? Alright," She nodded, "Guess you guys had to start your slave-taking spree somewhere in your history."

"I'd give you a book on it if it wasn't overly-censored propaganda," The Batarian shot back, which caused her to laugh. He sighed, however, stating, "I'll leave. For all I know, one of your officers is gonna need me to parse through the rest of the documentation to find whatever we missed," to which the Major nodded and let him leave. No point in keeping a man shackled like he was before, she thought.

One of her best shots, a human, walked up to her next, holstering her sniper. The two women saluted each-other and Zeva asked jokingly, "The hunt any good?"

"Just a couple of retreating enemy troops. Nothing to write home about," The shooter replied, then jabbed a thumb back, "Though if you really wanna see carnage, the Air Force cluster-bombed an entire convoy of Four-Eyes troops pulling back into the Mountains where Ethan and his battalion of bots were. Got them before they even reached the base of the first hill."

"Keelah," The officer nodded, "Must've been a fucking sight."

"Tom's platoon's sweeping it for survivors," She shrugged, "Enemy technicals and fuel tankers. Some of the vics are burning like bonfires, still," then she sat herself down on one of the nearby chairs and took her helmet off, revealing buzzcut black hair, dark skin and dark-brown eyes. She pulled out a cigarette and slid it between her lips, then lit it, smirking, almost proud.

"One less planet's reinforcements," Zeva sighed deeply, "Did you hear that First Fleet's already hitting the enemy's central defense rings?"

"By the time we're off this rock, we're gonna be at their capital for the Drop," The Sniper replied, "I hear Fleet Admiral Kaine and General Kara'Loma have something fairly beautiful planned for that operation."

"First War and we win it in a damned month," The Major nodded, "Beautiful's what it is, alright."

The Sniper was about to make a comment, but she watched the woman answer the long-range radio a Marine had brought in. Standing up, the Sniper waited to see what the Major was about to say. The Major herself grinned, then switched frequencies and transmitted, "To the 501st and the 212th Marines, prepare to mount up! We're leaving this planet to the Army to occupy! Big Red One has already arrived in system and they're deploying for prolonged planetary pacification ops!"

Ahead, in the heavens, hundreds more Drop-Ships flew in from Phoenix-class refit transport vessels. One of the few ancient designs that still flew with the Navy aside from the Moscow and a bit larger than their Dreadnoughts, the invasion support vessels deployed their ships, modular FOBs and troops. The Sniper and Major both saw the green shield with a big, red number one emblazoned on the sides of the Dropships, tanks, trucks and items landing.

"Army's in business," Zeva laughed, then said, "Hurry your asses up and grab your gear!"


Defense Zone Fifteen

The capital of the Hegemony was in furor. That so many of their planets could fall so easily was perhaps final proof that the Hegemony had made a grave and terrible mistake. Many people of the Lower Castes were angry with the Government, though the Soldiers knew what was at stake. None of them dared offer a comment toward their leadership when demand came to build defensive weapons on the surface. The speed with which the slaves had moved to build even one anti-ship cannon, a monumental undertaking for any empire, was stunning.

The cannon, however, relied on the planet's rotation and subsequent defensive artillery emplacements that were more for intra-atmospheric fighting, meaning weapons that could defend against attacks from dropship troops and aircraft. Anti-Air Artillery. GARDIAN lasers they'd managed to scrounge up from the Black Market. Not to mention other facilities such as power generators and such.

It was what Soldier Saros Balak, father to one Ka'hairal Balak, was guarding. Armed with a standard repeating rifle of Batarian State Arms make, the Batarian Male kept all four of his eyes peeled, scanning the horizon around the heavily-reinforced bunker that contained the cannon's power generator system. He saw the barrel of the massive weapon looming over said horizon, pointed up at the heavens like the mighty cities' skyscrapers.

Here, on the plains, in the open night's air, however, Kar'shan looked as empty as every. He was never going to be one to disregard an order. Fear of reprisal kept him in line, like with many others. Fear for his son's well-being. Saros wasn't a monster, despite what others may think. He had participated in some slave raids and a punitive action against escaped lower castes, obviously, but by order.

His squad, Kindjal, was one of the few who had enough of those missions under their belts to basically be allowed an 'indefinite leave' as garrison on the Homeworld. He'd taken the job the moment he could, because it gave him an opportunity to see Ka'hairal more. That boy was strong. He was proud of him. He'd be an even greater soldier than him some day, though Saros prayed it never got to that.

He looked up at the sky, watching the winking lights of orbital stations and the few defense ships they had left. A singular heavy cruiser had survived the fighting and managed to retreat when these damned 'Yuenescee' people came about. Them, the Quarians and Geth brought the swiftest and closest view of the Hegemony's end since the Wars centuries ago.

He breathed a deep, deep sigh, wondering if it wasn't for the better. He didn't want his son to grow up to have to fight against people, to steal people. Yes, slavery was a core part of their Caste System, their whole way of life. That didn't mean he wanted it to continue. Hell, he was sure if he asked any of his comrades, they'd say the same. At least 'till the Political Supervisor came in and arrested them.

He looked over to his right, at another guard tower positioned nearby the entrance to the underground facility, then past it at the tall smoke stacks out of which black clouds weaved into the cool night air. Another of his team climbed up to the balcony he was in and said, "Lieutenant told me to stop you from stargazing too much, Saros. You know, keeping eyes on the objective is important."

"Yeah, yeah," Sighed the man. He started sweeping the area ahead with some ancient-looking Night Vision binoculars, all while he asked, "Say, Kala... Do you think we did it this time?"

"Maybe," Kala replied, his outwardly calm demeanor concealing the fear hidden behind his words, "Doubt it'll matter any time soon, though. Hostiles are still weeks away by our estimates and we've got this thing built and set up in record time, thanks to the slaves," then he checked his sniper rifle and mumbled, "So, it really should be a cakewalk to make them taking Kar'shan just all that more painful."

"I hope you're right," Saros replied in a murmur, "You got anymore of that ryncol?"

"Feeling like killing yourself early?" Joked Kala.

Saros shook his head, "No. If we need to take out a tank later down the line, that thing'll go up like a bonfire," then he turned again, scanning the nearby hills with his binoculars. Kala snorted at that. He sighed, lowering the binoculars, then spoke, "If I get out of this service, Kala, I'm telling you, I'm making another three kids. Ka deserves some siblings to play with..."

... It was when he went quiet that he heard a thump and the sickening screech of a blade cutting through bone. He was about to turn around and engage, but his entire body froze and his skin felt like a thousand Karida Fire Ants were crawling and biting him. A Biotic stasis field. He swore to himself, his words mumbled by his inability to move. All he could do next was stare in fear as a massive alien, almost batarian shaped, but not quite, decloaked in front of him, revealing heavy armor with visible biotic energy and barriers flowing around it.

An Infiltrator?

The bastard was almost seven feet tall. He could barely make her shape out as a female underneath the black armor, her orange visor glowing in the light of the stars above. Despite what looked like half-a-ton of armor on her body, she walked toward him with grace, poise and silence, almost like an assassin. Her armored hands wrapped around his neck and he only heard the snap before it all went dark.

... When the stasis field collapsed, the corpse, with its head twisted so far back, the alien soldier was basically facing backward, dropped like a sack of potatoes. Jackie put her fingers up to her ear and said, "All Spartans, this is Volt Actual. Guards down. Prepare C12 explosives and move up to me. We're torching this place ASAP..." only to hear the lightest taps from her comrades' feet. They decloaked next to her, to which she said, "Get the card off of this one and open the bulkhead. Durandal, hope you're ready to do the job."

"Ready as I'll ever be," The AI spoke, grinning.

Turian Dreadnought Executor

General Fedorian stood aboard the Dreadnought, staring out into the wide troop bay, where his men had lined up next to their armored vehicles and gunships, clad in full battle dress. The Seventeenth Legion 'Rex Virtus'. Reconstituted twice after being wiped in its history, once during the early days, when the Turians still fought with blade and shield and once, during the Krogan Rebellion, Rex Virtus was known to be the Legion to utilize in First Contact scenarios. They were elite troops, taken from amidst the finest in the ranks of the Ground Forces.

Black and red armors, lined with pouches and gear, reinforced helmets that shielded them from fire, heavy kinetic barriers and armor support. They were the finest men he had had the pleasure of serving with, even now. He leaned against the rails of the balcony, staring at them, then cleared his throat. The officers of the various Centurii swiveled about and barked in unison, "GENERAL ON-DECK!"

Four thousand heels clicked simultaneously, feet slamming against the steel of the deck. He breathed a sigh, then put on what could only be counted as the Turian's version of a smile. Linking himself to the ship's PA and directing his speech to his men, he spoke, "Soldiers of the Empire! It is a pleasure to see you all here today! Duty summons us again in defense of our Galaxy and people and we shall answer it with the strength and pride that only we can muster!"

The soldiers let out cheers, lifting their fists. The General continued, "Make no mistake, the fight ahead will test our might! Our enemy seems to be numerous, their forces perhaps legion! But, as willed by the people of Palaven and our allies, so are we! Our expeditionary force will win this fight! We shall once more bring peace to the Galaxy, as our people have done so often!"

"Steel yourselves! Light that fire in your hearts that we are known for and wield your weapons with pride and might!" He spoke proudly, looking at the faces of his men and women, both young and old, then slammed his balled fist into his chest. He then proclaimed, "FOR PALAVEN! FOR THE TURIAN EMPIRE! WE DIE FOR THE CAUSE!" only for thousands of fists to slam against armor, too.

"WE DIE FOR THE CAUSE!" Chorused the Legion. Pride welled in his chest as he gave a nod of approval, then dismissed them. The officers spoke to their respective groups of soldiers while the General walked away. Marching over to the bridge and entering it, the man was greeted by dozens of consoles hidden behind layers of armor. A central galaxy map glowed in the middle, marking open and ready relays as per the latest communication update.

Admiral Sextus Vakarian sat, watching his crew work on preparing the ship. From weapons systems officers to navigation and helmsmen, not to mention shipboard VIs, the man let the well-oiled machine of the Turian Hierarchy's naval staff work. He turned to face Fedorian, showing the blue stripe of the Vakarian family he wore on his face. The two shook hands and the Admiral greeted, "Fedorian. Hell of a day when we have to do what our fathers and grandfathers did during the Rebellions."

"Who better than us, Vakarian," The General nodded, his voice proud. He asked, "Word of mouth?"

"The League is already at the innermost defensive layers of the Hegemony. A galactic stone's throw away from Kar'shan," He replied, then said, "And light-years away from what Intelligence believes is their own Colonies. If the reports we've been given are right and their heaviest warships are engaged in the Hegemony, we should have an open road to their colonies..."

"Any particular world we're hitting first?" Fedorian then tilted his head. Approaching the Galaxy map, the Admiral showed him to watch. The Map zoomed forward and into a specific system. Arceus, a system of six planets, dozens of moons and one central golden sun. Scout drones deployed to the system showed activity at Arceus III, the planet in the Habitable Zone of the star's various orbits. Fedorian hummed, then asked, "Why this world in particular?"

"It's a fresh colony, per reports, and the edge of their borders. It'll make for a good point to utilize as a FOB when we occupy it," Vakarian replied, "Command wants to use it for a bigger thrust so we can occupy at least another world, force this 'Black League' to the Negotiation table. The Primarch doesn't want a long, drawn-out war at all. It's why he's only sending three Legions and two dozen ships, our two Dreadnoughts included."

"Right," The man nodded. Made sense, occupy a couple of worlds and force the people to pull out. He asked, "What's the word on the Colony's defenses?"

"A squadron of six Frigates and an orbital station with two fighter squadrons protect the colony," Vakarian pointed at images taken by the Spy Probes. The Frigates were decently-sized, but still. He told the man, "It's gonna be one hell of a fight down there, though. We're seeing garrisons down on the planet, so seizing it may be a bit tough. Environment is mountainous."

"Great... We'll prepare..." He replied.