Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, Earth
0700 hrs. July 14, 2013
The sun started to rise over the ocean, its rays shining off the waves and generating a beautiful display of multicolored light. It was the beginning of a new day over planet Earth, and it certainly seemed to be full of hope and new opportunities.
As the yellow star began to rise higher above the sky, the reflection of its light started to shine off something else, something standing mightily tall over the waves. Any seaman sailing through those waters would have believed it to be a wonderful mirage.
But John Sheppard knew better. He was standing on the “mirage”, after all. He had spent 5 years living in an alien city in a foreign galaxy, but now Atlantis was back to the planet where it had first been built, and he loved the sight of the familiar star rising over the city.
The Ancient city-ship was uncloaked; it needed not be hidden, not this far into the Pacific Ocean. This was no-man’s land, which meant virtually no passing ships near the floating city. It had been moved to this location, further away from the mainland, roughly three months after its arrival on Earth, in order to keep it safe from any prying eyes attentive enough to distinguish the slight shimmer of the cloaked city in the horizon of San Francisco.
It had already been 4 years since that…
And many things had changed in that time.
Currently, there was no more real combat in the Milky Way galaxy; the Goa’uld and the Ori had both been defeated, and the Lucian Alliance, though formidable, had become into nothing more than a mere nuisance after their defeat onboard Destiny. Only a few skirmishes had taken place ever since, and they all had been in space, where—thanks in no small part to the Asgard technology received years before—Earth’s humans now held considerable superiority.
As for the Wraith, well… it sufficed to say they were no longer a real threat for the galaxy. Most of them had met their end in a way so frightening it made even John feel a tingling on his back. Those few that remained were not enough anymore to reclaim Pegasus, posing only a small menace to the galaxy now.
And so, even though the Ancient city had just enough power to go back to Pegasus and finish the job, the IOA had decided it would be wiser to let it remain on Earth where (according to them) it would be more valuable, establishing a whole new base back on the neighboring galaxy instead.
The planet chosen for the new Pegasus Forward Base would be in the very edge of the galaxy, have no Stargate of its own—one would be brought in from the old Intergalactic Bridge—and it would be completely abandoned and ignored by the remaining Wraith. With both the Daedalus and the Apollo also providing continuous support, the place was simply the perfect beachhead.
Sheppard and his team had been among the military personnel who would travel back to establish the new base, along with a special team of scientists, but when it was confirmed the Wraith were virtually gone, the IOA decided it was no longer necessary to keep such a large force in Pegasus, and most of the original contingent had remained on Earth, including John.
Now, without any mission to carry out, he had more than enough time to spare to just watch the Earth sunrise from one of the balconies of the Ancient city until the reds and oranges shining off the ocean faded entirely. Even though he was allowed to go back to the States on a regular basis, he had been told—no, he had been ordered to remain on Atlantis for reasons only the IOA knew.
Sheppard really missed the combat, fighting in the front lines, or at the very least, the off-world travels. He envied Teyla and Ronon. Unlike him, they both had been granted permission to go back to their home galaxy. Sheppard started to wonder, what were they doing right now?
At least, he thought, humans had finally achieved some sort of peace on a galactic scale—in two galaxies, actually—and he should be thankful for that. But would it last for long, or would it be a short-lived peace? Would he be in the right place if a new enemy surfaced… or an old one?
The sun was now riding higher above the city, shining bright and glorious. Sheppard left the balcony and headed back into the city.
Somewhere in Slipspace, en route to ONI Research Facility Trevelyan
1400 hrs. September 17, 2558 (Military Calendar)
Blackness. Nothing but blackness outside.
No one noticed from inside of the gigantic ship though, as it travelled smoothly through Slipspace. Lots of activity everywhere, especially at the bridge. They would soon drop from this extra-dimensional region of space and reach their intended destination.
The UNSC Infinity had been called from Earth to ONI Research Facility Trevelyan as a top-priority situation, but as usual, no details were given. As far as everyone aboard the ship knew, they could be dealing with an incursion from the Covenant on the facility or with some stupid request from any of the science teams stationed there. It wouldn’t be the first time, but it was always boring for everyone.
Still, Captain Thomas Lasky preferred this to any kind of bloodshed, unless it was on the Covenant’s part. And even then, there were always human casualties. No matter how hard someone could try, there would always be a price to pay in war. Especially since the Covenant had a human ally amongst them, and quite a dangerous one given all the secrets she knew.
Just a few months ago, a Covenant assault force had raided a colony world dedicated to studying some ancient archaeological remains not Covenant or Forerunner in origin. It had been a massacre. All research equipment, both top-notch and basic stuff, had been taken; nothing less.
It was obvious Dr. Catherine Halsey had been behind the attack. Why would the Covenant take only science stuff otherwise? Dr. Henry Glassman had finally come to the conclusion that Halsey had kept the second half of the mysterious Forerunner artifact recovered from Requiem just before its destruction, and whether she knew the true purpose of the device or not, now she had to be looking for a way to activate it without its counterpart.
Lasky couldn’t help but wonder how much damage Halsey would cause if she managed to activate the artifact. She most certainly was no longer fond of the UNSC, not after being betrayed. In a way, he could understand her, no matter what she’d done in the past. Such understanding had been what had made him sent Spartan Fireteam Majestic to rescue her before Commander Sarah Palmer could execute her.
Now, that decision weighed heavily on him.
Palmer had given him a ‘told-you-so’ look when they had returned to Earth after Requiem’s destruction and had had to face Admiral Serin Osman about their failed mission to eliminate Halsey. But even then, Sarah had supported him in saying the Covenant had left with Halsey before they could even have a chance to complete the given order.
Without any hard evidence proving otherwise, Osman had left the Captain clear of all charges an allowed him to keep his position as CO of the Infinity… but not before telling him something that now haunted him: “Anything she causes from now on will be on your head.”
And it was. He didn’t regret his decision, and he knew if he had to choose, he’d do all over again. But the outcome still was too much for him now.
Lasky tried to push all these thoughts aside as the Infinity came out of Slipspace and starlight filled the bridge anew. They had emerged right next to the Forerunner shield world once known as Onyx by the humans, and after following the usual safety procedures to access the construct, the ship finally entered “orbit” inside, several kilometers above the inner surface of this world.
All of a sudden, Thomas knew for sure they would all learn the importance of their presence here. And somehow, he also knew they would be facing something more threatening than everything they were facing now. Soon.
He left the bridge and headed for the Pelican bay.
Atlantis, Pacific Ocean, Earth
1000 hrs. July 14, 2013
After a short visit to the Gate room, Sheppard headed for the main laboratory. Dr. Rodney McKay would be there as usual, hard working in his ZPM research. McKay had become somewhat obsessed with discovering the secret behind one of the most powerful sources of energy ever created, claiming that “the world sorely needed it”.
John suspected Rodney had ulterior motives, though. He had come to know McKay well enough to believe he was after a Nobel Prize and the worldwide recognition it would bring—always the egocentric man. Of course, Sheppard couldn’t help but make jokes about it all the time, which always annoyed McKay.
But today, even before John reached the lab, Rodney was already annoyed. Maybe something had gone sideways with his work, Sheppard thought at first when he saw him.
“Hey, Rodney. How’s that Nobel going?” Sheppard asked as he approached McKay.
“Not today, Sheppard”, McKay answered, not even turning to look at him. “I’m not in a mood for it. Something really weird has happened with the Ancient database.”
“Weird? How so?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“OK”, John said and started to walk towards the exit.
“Oh, come on! Don’t act as if you’re not interested”, came the reply from McKay. John smiled; that strategy always worked on Rodney. He just couldn’t help but to point out any kind of problem so he could later brag about solving it almost miraculously.
“It’s not that I’m not interested. It’s just… none of my business.”
“Alright, if you need to know, someone accessed the database’s encrypted section. Happy now?”
Sheppard turned back. “What do you mean with ‘encrypted’?”
“I mean ‘encrypted’!” McKay said, clearly mad about it. “As in ‘an isolated section of the database protected by the Ancients with an encoded algorithm in order to prevent anyone to access its contents, for unknown reasons’.”
“What are you talking about?” Sheppard said. “The Ancient database’s contents have always been fully accessible since we first stepped through the Gate.”
“That’s what we used to think, until I found out an entire section on the database closed off to the public a couple of years ago. I’ve been trying to discover what it contains, but since the most important stuff is accessible—ZPM research, Gate addresses, lots of Ancient tech, you name it—, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it. Besides, I didn’t think someone would be able to crack the encryption.”
McKay chose this moment to finally turn and see Sheppard, and John was unable to hide the guilt in his face.
“Oh no, you’re kidding me”, McKay said, shooting him a double take.
“You?! Of all the people in this city, it was you?”
“I was bored!” Sheppard said. “I’ve been sitting in my ass for over four years! The IOA wouldn’t even let me join an SG team because ‘they needed me here’. Do you know what it is like for a guy like me to just stand there and do nothing after five years of extensive action?”
“Fine, I’ll give you that”, McKay said, softening his expression a little, “but why would you do it in the first place?”
“It… was a favor”, Sheppard answered.
“A favor? Who would ever ask you to do such a thing?”
“That would be me”, said a voice coming from down the hallway. It was followed by the footsteps of Dr. Daniel Jackson as he walked into the lab. McKay seemed visibly taken aback by this, as he used to think there was some sort of rivalry between the two of them. Then again, McKay just seemed to have some sort of rivalry with everyone.
Dr. Jackson continually visited Atlantis as part of his own research on the Ancients’ history, especially in the last two years. Sheppard knew he had been trying to do so ever since the city had been discovered, but only had been able to since it had come back to Earth. Surely he’d found out something very big lately; otherwise, he wouldn’t have approached him so desperately to ask for his help in decoding the hidden section of the database.
Before McKay could ask or say anything else, Daniel spoke. “I didn’t ask you to do it, Rodney, because I knew you’d just be too ‘busy’ to help, and this is important.”
“Oh really? How important?” McKay seemed somewhat offended.
“Well, ever since we learned about the Alliance of Four Great Races, I’ve found several references about ‘a legacy of responsibility for humans in every galaxy’. I used to believe it meant humans here and in Pegasus, or maybe even humans taken by the Ancients to other places far beyond the Milky Way. But what if it means something else? I mean, the Ancients were the first evolved humans that we know of, and even they had evolved in another galaxy altogether. So, what if humans have not only evolved here in this galaxy, but in others as well?
“Now, two years ago I discovered an interesting record in the Odyssey’s Asgard core. It is the oldest record mentioning the Furlings—the only race in the Alliance still shrouded in mystery—and according to its contents, they were also from another galaxy where humans had evolved, but that’s it.”
McKay and Sheppard looked at each other with confusion. “There are no more details?” McKay asked. “Nothing at all?”
“Just one thing”, Daniel replied. “The record implies the Ancients had once been at the Furlings’ home galaxy after they left the Milky Way, just before they arrived at Pegasus.”
“And something that important should be in the Ancients database!” McKay exclaimed, apparently understanding where Daniel was going.
“Except it’s not there,” Daniel said. “I’ve already been all over it, and there’s nothing whatsoever. Unless…”
“Unless it is there”, Sheppard continued, catching the drift, “and it is hidden.”
“Exactly. That’s why I asked you to help me decrypt it.”
“Well, you could have asked me”, McKay said. He no longer seemed pissed, but rather quite interested. “Have you found anything related yet?”
“So far, only one word”, Daniel said. “‘Precursors’”.
Trevelyan Airbase, 500 miles from ONI SHIELD Base
ONI RF Trevelyan
1430 hrs. September 17, 2558 (Military Calendar)
The Pelican’s passenger-bay doors opened, and Captain Lasky descended from it. A pair of Huragok approached the vehicle to service it. This only happened here in Trevelyan, but still Lasky felt uneasy about it. He feared one day humans would become so dependent in these Forerunner-made aliens, it would become their weakness. It had happened before with the Covenant.
He walked towards the Warthog parked a few dozen meters from the landing pad; a corporal was already waiting at the driver’s seat. As he climbed aboard, he couldn’t help but smile. Every single time he was on a ‘Hog, it reminded him of the occasion when he was the Master Chief’s driver—when they were escaping from Corbulo. That made him lose his smile as he remembered all the people he’d lost that day: Dimah, JJ, Walter… Chyler…
But that had been a long time ago. Now he had to focus on the mission at hand.
The ride to ONI SHIELD Base—if it could be called like that—didn’t take long. The base had been established in one of the Forerunner cities built within this shield world. It had taken ONI a long time to take that step but after just a couple of years, they’d finally occupied the place. A small section of it, anyway. And Lasky had to admit it looked amazing.
The driver had to take a few more turns after he’d entered through the main gates before they arrived at one of the ONI-occupied buildings. As Lasky climbed out of the vehicle and started walking towards the entrance, he was greeted by someone he had not expected to see ever again.
“Hello, Captain Lasky. Welcome to SHIELD Base.”
Lasky felt compelled to embrace the Major, but he wasn’t absolutely sure if that would seem appropriate, as other people were close by. His body language might have given him away though, because it was the other man who actually took the initiative to beckon him closer.
“It’s alright, Tom”, he said, thrusting his arms around him and squeezing him tightly. “It’s been a long time after all.”
For a moment, Lasky felt lost for words, but the glee he felt made him regain his speech. “Yes it has, Sully. It surely has.”
The last time he’d seen Michael “Sully” Sullivan was shortly after their rescue from Circinius-IV. They had been forced to go separate ways, since there were not enough military academies with enough space for cadets who’d just lost their school to the Covenant. He’d heard rumors about Sully being accepted into ONI and trained by them, but after a while he’d gone off the grid.
Sully had already messed with ONI’s comms back at Corbulo, shortly before the Covenant attack, which could’ve gotten him into a lot of trouble. He’d hoped his disappearance only meant he was just so damn good he’d become some sort of operative or something like that.
And now here he was: a Major, and apparently in charge of the complex, or at least of something very important in it. It didn’t matter; he was just so glad to see his good old friend again.
Sully finally let go of Lasky. “I’m sorry we’ll have to skip the pleasantries and getting up-to-date on each other, but we’re kind of on a time table here. Please, come this way.” Sully stated to walk back inside the building, and Lasky followed.
“Can you at least tell me how did you wind up in this place?”
“Guess being one of the chief intelligence analyst helps”, Sully replied, “but that’s all I’m allowed to say for the moment.”
Lasky was taken aback by this answer. Sully had always complained about ONI keeping secrets. Now he seemed to cope with it; he was now part of ONI, after all.
They walked for a while until they finally reached what seemed to be a conference room. There was no one else there but them, however. The doors closed behind them, and Sully motioned Lasky to one of the chairs.
“So, can you tell me what I’m doing here?” Lasky asked as he sat down.
“Well, first of all, you’re here to receive a history lesson”, Sully said. “Just like the old times back in Corbulo.”
Lasky frowned. “And you’re going to be my teacher today?”
Sully smiled. “It’s very short, and I promise I’ll make it easy for you. After all, you were never good in History.
“As you may already know, in the last few years we’ve learned lots of things about Forerunner tech here, but there’s not really much about them as a race—their history, their society, their culture. Only in recent years we have been able to put together some bits and pieces we’ve found on several known Forerunner locations; thus, now we have learned–though vaguely, I’ll admit– about both their history and that of another race which preceded them, some folks called ‘Precursors’.
“From what we’ve been able to piece together, these Precursors were a highly advanced race, way more advanced than the Forerunners themselves. The Precursors achieved a level of science which allowed them to build their technology based on something called “neural physics”. While this normally made most Precursor artifacts effectively indestructible, the nature of their construction made them extremely susceptible to the effects of the Halo Array which, to the best of our knowledge, specifically targets neural systems.”
After a short pause, Lasky asked, “Is that it? That was the history lesson?”
“We’re just getting started”, Sully answered. “I’m just giving you enough time to let it sink in, because what I’m about to tell you is way bigger than anything you’ve ever known.
“Apparently, years before the major Halo event, the Forerunners test-fired a Halo on a planet known to them as Charum Hakkor where there was a lot of Precursor structures. The weapon’s effect shattered every structure, and they were all wiped out… all but one. Not much is mentioned about this single device, except for the fact that such a device seemed to be present in several worlds.
“After a long research, the Forerunner concluded the device was of an unknown origin—and by ‘unknown’ they meant ‘not built by any species in this galaxy, extinct or otherwise’—, suggesting there was another race out there which came to our galaxy just to spread this mysterious artifacts all over it. The Forerunners ended up collecting a large number of such devices and storing them in the Ark for further study.
“From their own reports, we gather the Forerunners used to believe it was through these artifacts that the Precursors seeded life in the galaxy. The Halos had been built in a shape identical to those devices to reflect the irony of their function in contrast. But when they found out the artifacts were not Precursor-made at all…”
This time the pause lasted longer, which made Lasky think the main revelation was still coming. When it didn’t come, he decided to break the silence. “Something tells me this goes beyond classified, or a lot of UNSC personnel outside of ONI would already know this, including me. Which leads to an obvious question: Why are you telling me all this?”
“Because”, Sully replied, “your mission is to recover these artifacts in order for us to study them and understand their true purpose, and maybe even find out where did they come from.”
Lasky felt at a loss. Had he missed something during the “History lesson”?
“Sully, you’re right about me not being really good in History, but I do remember reading something about the Ark being destroyed when the replacement Halo was activated to wipe out the Flood threat.”
“’Thought to be destroyed’”, Sully said matter-of-factly. “When we debriefed MCPO Spartan-117, we learned that the Ark had been damaged but not destroyed, according to Cortana’s account.”
“And I assume you’ve already found its location.”
“Took us a while, but we have found it indeed.”
“But you don’t know what to expect, do you?”
“You catch up quickly, Tom. That’s where Infinity and the Spartan-IV’s come in”, Sully said. “You are our very best bet there.”
Lasky couldn’t deny that. And he did understand the implications of the mission. If these devices were actually something way beyond the Forerunners themselves, they could even be the key holding secrets more powerful than anything this galaxy had ever seen.
They could give mankind the ultimate upper hand.
“What would we be looking for?” Lasky finally said, letting out a sigh.
Sully raised a remote, and a holographic display flashed above the desk. “They are similar in appearance to the Halos, but we believe them to be way smaller. Approximately seven meters in diameter.”
The hologram displayed a ring-shaped device covered in weird-looking symbols. Definitely, it was not a Halo.