Author's Note: So, here we go, the final chapter to Prelude to Eternity. Very important what happens here, this chapter will explain exactly how this story will tie into New Horizons
Disclaimer: I own nothing, but all original content is mine.
Chapter Six: Eternity
Bridge of the UNSC Prowler Dusk, Earth
"Captain Lash, incoming transmission from Admiral Hood."
"Put him through." said Lash, quickly sorting out his uniform. The Dusk had dropped out of slipspace not thirty seconds ago, after a series of randomized jumps away from the former shield world of Threnody. Besides him stood Commander Carter, still clad in his MJOLNIR Gen VII armor, minus the helmet, and Doctor Catherine Halsey.
The Doctor was holding a metal lock box, inside of which lay the very future of the human race, the Janus Key. When Lash had heard what the Key did, it was understandable that he was at a loss for words. He knew that it was imperative that Admiral Hood and the top Brass learned of this discovery as soon as possible.
The forward viewscreen flared to life, displaying the full image of Admiral Hood, clad in a simple battle dress uniform.
Lash and Carter snapped to attention and whipped off a salute, while Halsey remained still.
Hood returned the salute, "At ease. You're back sooner than we expected. Did you find anything of value on your expedition?"
Lash took a sideways glance at the box in Halsey's hands. "Sir, as per ONI Directive: NEW BEGGININGS, I am requesting that any further communications of this topis be carried out in Top Secret conditions."
Hood's expression became more serious, and he nodded. He pressed a few keys offscreen and after a couple of seconds, said "We're secure Captain."
"Sir, the coordinates given to us took us to another Forerunner shield world."
"Another one?" asked Hood, "Like Requiem?"
"Yes and no. It was a different layout than Requiem, but that's not important. What is, however, is what Noble Team discovered after making landfall. Commander?" said Lash, looking at Carter.
"Yes sir. The entire outside of the planet was basically an outer shell, we had to get past it via a small opening to reach the planet proper. Once there, we discovered a singular structure from the air, and seeing as it was the only point of interest, we decided to investigate. The structure turned out to be an entrance to chamber that contained some sort of energy containment field. It was at that point when we were engaged by hostile Prometheans, and we lost contact with Doctor. Ma'am, maybe you would like to explain it from here?" said Carter.
Halsey cleared her throat. "Well, while my actions may have been viewed as reckless by the rest of Noble team, as soon as I saw the containment field I instinctively knew that something of great importance was contained within."
"So you chose to rush inside of it, oblivious to whether the field could have killed you or not, leaving the rest of us with no warning?" said Carter, a hint of annoyance evident in his voice.
"That would be correct. Once I entered the field it was... strange. It was almost as if I was in a dream. Then, much to my surprise and amazement appeared... the Librarian."
Hood's expression changed to one of shock. "The Librarian? The wife of the Didact? She is still alive?"
"Honestly, I do not know if the Librarian I encountered was the real thing or not. It could have been a virtual representation or otherwise. Why, the entire scenario could have taken place in my head, I don't know. But what I do know is that she gave me an object. A very important object called, the Janus Key." she held up the metal box. "The Librarian was adamant that the Key be kept safe. Once it was placed into my hands, I was deposited back into the real world, rather roughly I might add."
"After we recovered the Doctor, we eliminated the rest of the Prometheans and started our exfil. It was at this time when the planet itself began to suffer some sort of critical failure, and began to destroy itself. Our Pelican docked with the Dusk and we jumped out-system before we felt any of the destructive effects. We have the full expedition recorded, ready for analysis if you'd like." finished Carter.
"We'll get that to the relevant departments as soon as possible. But what I want to know is if this Key is so important, what exactly does it do?" asked Hood curiously.
Lash checked the console one more time to make absolutely sure that the connection was secured. "Admiral, the Janus Key displays the real-time location of every piece of Forerunner technology in the galaxy."
Hood remained stoic in the face of such monumental news. "Every piece?" he muttered, "Captain, you were right to encrypt this channel, this could represent the most important discover humanity has ever made. How exactly does it do this?"
"The Key itself is made of two separate parts. When brought together they emit a holographic map showing the locations of the tech." said Hasley.
"This, this is something I need to see for myself. Captain, Commander, Doctor, board a Pelican and travel to my ship." ordered Hood. He then said, "Also, bring Master Chief and Cortana along. I feel like we could use her expertise. Hood out."
Hangar Bay of the UNSC Valiant-class Super-Heavy Cruiser Light of Dawn, Earth
As Carter, Halsey, Lash, and now the Master Chief descended from the ramp of the Pelican, Hood met them and said, "If you will all proceed to the conference room that has been prepared for us, I will be there momentarily."
The Admiral then motioned towards Carter. "Commander, a word please."
The Spartan approached the Admiral. "Sir?"
"Commander, as you may or may not be aware, we are commissioning a new Infinity-class vessel."
"I've heard. the Eternity, am I correct?"
"Yes. And along with it, two new companies of Spartan-IV's."
Carter just nodded his head. "I'm sorry sir, but why are you telling me this?"
"Carter, in your time as commanding officer of Noble team, you've proved yourself more than capable of leading both small and large teams of soldiers in accomplishing a variety of objectives. You're capable, highly skilled, and very qualified in almost all aspects of warfare."
Hood could see the subtle shifts in Carter's body language as he stood up straighter at the praise being offered him.
The Admiral continued, "I've talked with the rest of the Brass, and we've made our decision. We want you to be the commanding officer for the Spartan-IV's aboard the Eternity."
Carter blinked a couple of times and was silent for a few seconds, obviously thinking on what had just been offered to him. While it was true that he had led large numbers of troops on occasion, the thought of being permanently placed in command of four hundred men and women, Spartans no less "What about the rest of Noble?"
"They are being transferred into the two companies on board as well. You will still be their commander. Since they are all officers by now, you can either intersperse them to command positions, or you can keep them together as a squad and lead them like you always have. It's your decision. But I do need to know who your XO would be."
"Noble Two." replied Carter instantly. "She's just as good a tactician as I am."
"Done." said Hood. "Now, let's hurry to the Conference Room, we wouldn't want to keep the good Doctor waiting now would we?"
He and Carter walked quickly to the conference room and entered through the door. Lash and the Master Chief were sitting, while Doctor Halsey was pacing back and forth, obviously annoyed that whatever Hood and Carter had to talk about was more important than the very future of humanity.
"Now, let's see what this Key actually does." said Hood.
"Yes, lets." replied Hasley curtly, reaching for the metal lock box. "Just a moment while the encryptions decode."
After a few seconds, some mechanism inside whirred, and the box popped open. Hasley opened the lid and reached inside, then slowly withdrew the contents.
For the first time, Hood saw the sleek, minimalistic appearance of the two Key segments, one colored electric blue, the other vivid orange. Hasley grasped each segment in each hand with a tender grace, the relative simplicity of the two objects bellying the importance they held.
Halsey looked to Hood, one eyebrow raised. The Admiral nodded, and Hasley brought the two pieces together. In a flood of light, blue holograms of planets and strange symbols filled the room.
Hood was in awe. Each sphere represented a piece of technology that could advance the human race by dozens, even hundreds of years. And there were so many of them.
On the conference table itself materialized the familiar figure of the AI Cortana. She looked up at the holograms, her mouth open and her eyes flitting back and forth, no doubt processing the enormous amount of information right in front of her. She 'walked' down the length of the table slowly, reaching out to touch holograms, the blue spheres softly glowing in response. Cortana got to the end of the table, then turned around so that she was facing Doctor Halsey.
"This is so... amazing," Cortana said, "but... there is a problem."
"Problem?" said Hood, "What kind of problem."
Cortana reached out and 'grabbed' one of the symbols that most likely represented the coordinates of a piece of Forerunner technology.
"These symbols, they are unlike anything I have ever seen. I've cross-referenced them with every known Human, Covenant, and Forerunner language, code, symbol, or otherwise, and there is not even a hint of a match. I've written and run thousands of different decryption programs, but nothing has yielded any results. It's almost as if there is an entire portion of information we need that is just... missing."
"So," Commander Carter began, "What you're telling me is that we need a key, to unlock the Key?"
Cortana just shrugged.
"Now I know how Jun feels..." muttered Carter.
"Hold on a second," said Doctor Hasley, with the kind of tone of someone who had just remembered something significant. "When the Librarian spoke to me, she told me to take the Janus Key to a place called the Absolute Record. Maybe this Absolute Record contains the information we need to decode the Janus Key."
"Do we know were the Absolute Record is located?" asked Hood.
Before the Admiral had even finished his sentence, Halsey had withdrawn a datapad and had began to type furiously away. The room was silent for full minute as Hasley worked away. Then, with a final, definitive tap, all of the holograms in the room winked out of existence.
All except for one. A line of symbols that pulsed a faint red. The holograms flashed brightly, then transformed into a line of letters and number.
"Coordinates." said Hood. "Is this the location of the Absolute Record?"
"There is only one way to find out." said Hasley.
"Analyzing... These coordinates are in deep space. No planetary bodies or natural phenomena."
Hood put a hand to his chin. "Is there any chance the Storm Covenant could have learned of this?"
"Highly unlikely. We detected no trace of them at the shield world of Threnody. At the miniscule chance that they had some sort of stealth ship in the area, they would not have known our purpose there, or our discover." said Lash.
"Still, it is better to be safe than sorry. I will assemble a task force from the Home Fleet and we will depart as soon we can. Dismissed."
Bridge of the UNSC Valiant-class Super-Heavy Cruiser Light of Dawn, Deep Space
The inky blackness of deep space, punctuated with the pinpricks of stars far distant, was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of eleven purple-black slipspace portals, crackling with interdeminsional energy.
Out of the portals emerged eleven ships, two Marathon cruisers, two Refit-Halcyons, six Paris frigates, two Gorgon destroyers, Captian Lash's Prowler, and of course, Hood's flagship the Light of Dawn.
The Light of Dawn represented one of two Valiant-class Super-Heavy Cruisers left in the UNSC Fleet. Armed with three Heavy MAC's, twelve sets of dual heavy deck guns, hundreds of missile pods, meters of armor, along with countless point defense and countermeasure emplacements, the Valiant could more than hold its own against most any Covenant vessel during the Great War. Now, with the upgrades to the engines, reactors, sensor suite, and the addition of shields granted by Forerunner technology, it was second only to the Infinity class vessels when it came to destructive power and survivability.
That being the case, the Valiant-class Cruisers were an extremely rare sight to see during the Great War due to their low number and strategic value, thus they were only utilized by the highest of officers and in the largest of battles. But now, with the UNSC manufacturing capability advancing by leaps and bounds, FLEETCOM had put forwards an initiative to began phasing out the older Marathon and Halcyon classes with Valiants. It was a slow start, but progress was happening.
Hands clasped behind his back, Admiral Hood stared out of the forward viewscreen at the object they had come to find.
"What am I looking at Cortana?" said Hood.
"It's definitely Forerunner. Spectral analysis of the hull reveals metal workings consistent with vessels found in the past. It's about as long as one of our frigates, three hundred meters exactly in fact, but... this is unlike any other vessel I've ever seen..." said the AI, tapping at a holoscreen full of sensor readings.
Hood knew what the AI was talking about. The Forerunner vessel had the length of a UNSC Frigate, but that was were the similarities ended. The ship had a striking resemblance to a pin, with a slight bulge in the rear, while the bow tapered off to a thin point. The whole ship was a gleaming silver, and it floated gracefully throughout the silent vacuum.
"Is this it?" asked Hood, "The Absolute Record?"
He looked to Doctor Hasley, who had been standing besides him. The Doctor was gazing at the strange ship just as he was.
"I do not know. This is the set of coordinates that I was able to decipher. Cortana? Are there any signals coming from the ship?" she said.
"One moment... We are receiving a transmission, but it's encrypted... there!" the AI paused for a second, seemingly puzzled. "It just says, 'Input Activation Code'."
"Activation code? Activation code for what?" asked Hood.
"For the ship I would presume." snarked Halsey.
Hood looked at her, annoyed. "I could figure that much Doctor, but once entered, what will this code accomplish?"
"Maybe if we in fact knew the code in the first place, we could find out." said Halsey. "Cortana?"
"I'm running a subroutine now... it seems that all known Human or Forerunner codes do not register with the system. Let me try something... this might take a minute."
And a minute it was. Hood and Halsey stood silently while Cortana worked, the rest of the bridge crew pretending to pay attention to their stations while waiting for something to happen.
"I got it!" exclaimed the AI. "The answer is a human genetic code! Slightly modified, but human nonetheless."
"A single, specific genetic code? Of who?" said Hasley.
"Yes. Cross-referencing the UNSC database now... Huh. I should have figured."
Halsey already knew. "John?"
Cortana just nodded. "The discrepancies in the code are consistent with the genetic modifications given to him by the Librarian on Requiem. It saved him from being composed on Ivanoff Research Station, maybe it allows him a better access of Forerunner technology as well..."
"Certainly something to think about." said Hasley. "Have you entered the code?"
"No I was waiting for Admiral Hood's order." replied Cortana.
Hood looked to his crew. "Are we at a safe distance?"
"Yes Admiral. We are at maximum sensor range and the slipspace capacitors are ready in case we need to bug out, same across the task force." replied a crew member.
Hood pressed some buttons on a console in front of him, opening a fleet-wide channel. "All ships, standby, we will be attempting to activate the Forerunner ship. Be ready to enter slipspace to the emergency rendezvous point in case things go south. Hood out."
The Admiral nodded at Cortana, and the AI put her hand to a holographic display, sending the code to the ship.
The anticipation in the bridge could have been cut with a knife, but thirty seconds soon passed, and nothing happened.
Hood turned to the sensor station. "Has anything changed?"
"No sir, we are still getting the same readings as we did when we arrived."
"Wait!" cried Hasley, "Look!"
At the tip of the pin-shaped ship, a crease suddenly appeared, running all the way back to the head. Slowly, and with the serene grace that was characteristic of the Forerunners, the bow of the ship peeled into eight pieces and started to open up like a flower. Once each of the tips reached a forty-five degree angle, they stopped, forming a cone-like shape.
"Sir, we're picking up some energy readings. The same kind associated with slipspace portals, but this is different than any readings I've ever seen..." said a bridge officer.
Indeed, at each of the points of the Forerunner ship, balls of purple-black energy began to form. The energy became more and more intense until with a mighty flash, they combined in the center. As the light dissipated, a portal had formed at the base of the cone, but this one was a pure, almost blinding white.
"This is not the Absolute Record then." Hood stated.
"No," said Hasley, "but perhaps it is the way to arrive there."
"Send a probe through, but keep the task force in position." ordered Hood.
There was a flash of exhaust on the stern of the Light of Dawn, and a slipspace probe shot out towards the portal. It took some time, but the probe eventually entered the portal and disappeared from light.
"Are we getting back readings?" asked Hood.
"Aye sir, we still have a connection. Getting back information now. The portal exits above some sort of ice planet, it doesn't match up with any of our databases though."
Cortana put a hand to her temple. "Hold on, what is that?"
"What is it Cortana?" asked Hood.
"The probe is picking up singles from... a UNSC beacon?"
"There must be some sort of error, it is obvious that we have never been to this location before." said Hasley, confused.
"The beacon recognizes our probe's transponder, its broadcasting an encrypted audio message." said Cortana.
"Play it." ordered Hood.
There was a rush of static, then something that shocked everyone on the bridge.
"This is Admiral Thomas Lasky of the UNSC Infinity..."
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