Dominion, Barracks

October 14th, 1821 local time, 2552

The Dominion's Barracks might have been cramped, but it had an odd sort of homely feel, at least, in Fairfire's opinion. Maybe it was the great big armchairs that had replaced the usual titanium seats or the sound of jolly Marines playing different card games around the tables, but it was a nice place to work on her Aura.

Working with an Aura was nothing like she had expected. It was like a base, animalistic instinct, not unlike hunger, pain, thirst, lust, or even just good old fashioned competition. Unlike those other instincts, an Aura was commendable, and it typically obeyed.

Specialist Schnee had explained that every person's Aura worked slightly differently, which Fairfire was only just now starting to understand. Nathan had described using his Aura like "talking to his lawyer," whereas Fairfire's Aura felt nothing like that. It was like goading a half-tamed tiger into doing what you wanted it to, but it got easier with practice.

I do like the idea that Nathan had a tiny lawyer in his mind, just organizing all of his scatterbrained thoughts. Fairfire thought, somewhat amused at the thought.

Unfortunately, there was one thing that she couldn't do, and that was to use her Semblance. No matter how hard she focused, she couldn't replicate the effect of what she had felt down in Atlas. Her Semblance was there, she could feel it, but actually trying to get it to do something was like trying to wrestle a catfish, and it never failed to evade her.

Maybe I am just psychotic… She thought, her frustration-fueled focus giving way to sadness. Although she was slowly coming to grips with her actions, she still flinched whenever she got a dirty look from a crewman or a Marine. I'm not going to let this shit be the end of me. I didn't join the Helljumpers just to mope and bitch.

"Goddamnit…" She muttered as she scrunched her eyes shut, doing her best to focus, but her frustration was starting to get in her way.

"You're overdoing it." Nathan said from across the room. "Take a break! You've got time."

Easy for you to say, you've already got your Semblance. Fairfire bit back her bitter retort, it would've been unhelpful and unwarranted. Nathan hadn't been obligated to keep her company in while she was in Sickbay, but he had anyway, and even after he had been discharged, he had stuck around. Even now that her leg was healed, he'd opted to spend his off-time with her in the Barracks, working on his own Semblance as she tried to find hers.

"I'm thinking, Nathan. I think I can handle it." She jokingly said.

Nathan nodded, although she could tell he was still a bit nervous. "Alright, but seriously, don't burn yourself out. If we're really poking around with our souls here… well, let's try not to break them."

"Alright, you make a fair point." Fairfire reluctantly relented as she got back on her feet. She had been sitting cross-legged on the floor for a change of pace, but she didn't see any point in avoiding her armchair anymore. "What time is it?"

"Dinner is in a few minutes, so we've still got time to kill." Nathan answered her unspoken question. "So, not making progress?"

"What gave it away?" Fairfire quietly grumbled. "Was it the magical rainbows I can blow out of my face now?"

Nathan raised an eyebrow mockingly. "Shit, that's magic? I kinda just thought you could do that…"

She shot him a very unamused look, causing him to straighten up in his chair on instinct, even if she wasn't his superior anymore.

"Uh… well, you can't expect miracles, Liz. This stuff is new to all of us, not just you." Nathan awkwardly added. "It's gonna take some time."

"I dunno, you seem to have figured your Semblance out pretty quick." Fairfire replied, being careful not to sound bitter in the process. Even if she was jealous, she wasn't going to let him know that. "Maybe mine's just… broken, or some shit."

"I mean, I wouldn't say figured out…" Nathan said. "I can highlight things, and make everything around me look really dark… that's about it, to be honest."

Fairfire was still trying to wrap her head around how exactly his Semblance worked, which, to be fair, not even he knew. "You said it's kinda like VISR, right?"

"Yeah." Nathan answered, with a hint of disappointment. "Lamest fucking superpower ever."

Fairfire shrugged. "I don't know, it sounds pretty useful. Have you tried looking through walls, or somewhere far away?"

"Actually yeah, I did try those, both of them didn't work." Nathan answered, now with a definite hint of disappointment. "There's gotta be more to it, I doubt my Semblance is just a way to highlight things."

Huh, maybe he isn't so far ahead of me after all… Fairfire realized, noticing how he sounded just as frustrated as she felt. "Look on the bright side Nathan, you'll never lose anything ever again."

He chuckled. "Yeah, I mean, I don't hate it…"

He paused, scratching his head as he tried to think of the right words.

"Any day now, Nathan." Fairfire teasingly said.

"Right, right, I know." Nathan said. "I guess like, I was kinda expecting something more like what Mags can do."

Fairfire immediately understood exactly what he meant. Mags had demonstrated her Semblance to some of the crew as part of their Aura training, and had promptly become the most prominent topic amongst the ship's scuttlebutt. Apparently, she could control saltwater with mental thought alone, which, when compared to the rest of the Huntress's equipment, made an odd sort of sense.

It figures that the navy-girl is a freaking waterbender. Fairfire thought. I can't wait for all the flyboys to learn how to spit fireballs...

"I think she's more of the exception, rather than the rule." Fairfire offered her own explanation.

"I certainly hope so, bullets are good and all, but goddamn, she's scary." Nathan somewhat sheepishly said. "It makes me wonder, does someone out there have a Semblance that can reach us, even up in the Dominion?"

"Well, I know one thing for sure." Fairfire said, after only a moment of thinking about it. "That sounds a lot like the "unhealthy thinking" that you said I was doing earlier."

Nathan remained unusually silent as she continued to speak. "Come on, let's go get some food, then we can get back to work on our Semblances."

Nathan took a deep breath and nodded as he stood up. "Yeah, yeah you're right, let's go."

It seems like even the most stalwart Marine needs a hand every now and then. Fairfire thought.

Dominion, Starboard Armory

October 14th, 2019 local time, 2552

Cataloguing and safely storing Covenant weaponry might have seemed like an odd assignment for a Spartan, as such a menial task might not have demanded the expertise that Jorge and Ben offered. But even twenty-six years into the war, the UNSC still barely understood the inner mechanisms of the weapons. That, coupled with the faint radiation that they would occasionally give off if handled improperly, meant that a pair of experts clad in Mjolnir were probably the best people on the Dominion to handle the job.

Although she would have certainly been very helpful, Curie was needed for the effort to piece Atlas's banking system back together, after she had so thoroughly ravaged it during the war.

Not a war. Ben bitterly reminded himself. The UNSC conflict.

Although he and the rest of the Dominion's crew were hardly thrilled with the name that Remnant's media had selected, Commander Richard had approved it. He'd reasoned that Remnant's citizens were going to remember the first contact with extraterrestrial life more than they would remember the SDC and their heinous actions. He'd also pointed out that being known for liberating hundreds of slaves wasn't a bad thing.

Richard had also promised to make sure that the crimes of the SDC would be remembered, and justice administered accordingly, and that brighter days were ahead for the Dominion and her crew. But his words couldn't change the uncertain state of morale amongst the crew, and especially the Marines. Most of them still barely understood what they were fighting against, or even who they were fighting for. Although with the SDC out of the fight and Atlas now an ally, the future looked bright, especially if the only enemy they were up against was the Grimm.

Fighting something mindless is going to be a refreshing change of pace. Ben thought. He had already attended one funeral service on Remnant, and he was not eager to attend another. Maybe a little downtime is exactly what we need to learn about this place.

"Ben, pass me the drill." Jorge instructed.

Ben passed the tool over the table, before forcing himself to focus on his work. It was still somewhat odd to Ben that Jorge seemed to prefer having his helmet off while he worked, but it wasn't exactly a major factor in how he viewed the older Spartan. As he worked on the plasma rifle in his hands, ensuring that it was charged, undamaged, and rigged with an improvised safety, a realization planted itself in his mind.

"I just don't understand it." Ben said as he extended the cooling fins of a plasma rifle, looking for any notable faults or damage. "Why would someone go through the effort of capturing so much Covenant equipment, only to store it so poorly?"

"Smugglers don't think these things through, in my experience." Jorge offered an explanation, although Ben knew that he didn't have the definitive answer. "I'm reminded of a mission that I took part in back on New Harmony. We were after some Insurrectionists who had managed to get their hands on a few old nukes."

Ben raised his head to indicate he was listening. Jorge paused momentarily, seemingly doing his best to remember the occasion.

"We… had just finished up with clearing out any resistance." Jorge continued, with a hint of hesitation. "My squad leader ordered me to go inspect the warheads, and ensure they were ready for transit off-world."

The elder Spartan let out a long exhale, as if mentally preparing himself.

"The morons had armed the warheads, removed every safety, and linked them up to a goddamn tripwire. I still don't know how they did it but… well, that would've been really nasty." He said.

"They must have been on some kind of narcotic to justify a plan like that." Ben noted.

"They were." Jorge confirmed. "I could have killed my whole team and a city of twenty-five thousand people with the wrong step. I might be crazy, but that night, what I almost did… it bothers me more than what I did with the Long Night of Solace."

Ben cocked his helmet at the older Spartan, he was acting a bit more… emotional, then he had expected. "You survived, both times."

"Yeah, but sometimes I wonder if I changed somewhere along the way." Jorge said, his voice almost somber in nature.

Ben remained silent, only shifting his helmet slightly in surprise. He placed the plasma rifle back down, it was apparent that Jorge needed to get something off of his chest. "What's on your mind, Sir?"

"A lot of things." Jorge responded, his expression giving off the impression that he was troubled. "I've been thinking about Reach, about Noble Team, and my team from before them, Gold Team."

"With the Spartan IIs?" Ben asked, to which Jorge gave a slow nod in response.

"Yeah… I never really figured out if they're still alive, or if they've been dead for a long time." Jorge elaborated. After a long pause of absent-minded work, Jorge spoke up again. "Ben… do you think that humanity is going to lose, back on Earth?"

He's doubting himself, all of us. Ben recognized. He didn't even ponder the strategic significance of Jorge's question, the answer was ultimately unimportant. "No, I think they'll be fine. It's not really our job to worry about that sort of thing."

Jorge seemed somewhat disappointed by his answer. "Ben, just because it's not your job, doesn't mean that thinking about it is wrong."

Ben paused his own thinking, and wondered just what had inspired this line of thinking in Jorge. It was obvious that the Fall of Reach had been the catalyst, but there must've been some sort of pre-existing doubt in Jorge's mind that grew from it.

Either way, maybe he just needs to be reminded about what we're fighting for. Ben thought.

"That might be correct… but it's out of our power. You and I, alone, we can't beat the Covenant, we can't even fight them right now." Ben admitted.

Jorge raised an eyebrow. "You don't think we'll find a way home, do you?"

"That doesn't matter right now." Ben dismissed his question outright. Although it may have been somewhat disrespectful, Jorge clearly needed to be brought back on track. "We're needed here, on Remnant. Just think about the people that we got out of those mines, without us, they'd be in a different hole in the ground."

Jorge was silent for a moment, but eventually, he gave a nod. "Yeah, you're right. I guess we are doing some good out here."

There was a mutual silence as the two Spartans sat and thought to themselves. Ben was deeply worried about what Jorge was saying. Just because he was an older Spartan did not mean he was immune to the stresses of war.

"You know, a great man once told me that it can help to think about the bigger picture, but at the end of the day, it's best to focus on what's immediately important to you and your team." Ben thought, remembering a quote from Instructor Mendez.

He was a smart bastard, but he was still a bastard. Ben thought. All of the Spartans, the IIs and IIIs alike, had an odd sort of respect for Mendez. He had been brutal, but he had respected them, and had contributed greatly to their training. Contributions that had saved them time and time again.

Unexpectedly, Jorge stiffened up somewhat as Ben finished his statement. "Where did you hear that?"

Ben was a little confused by his alert response, but saw no reason not to answer truthfully. "One of my instructors told us that during training, Chief Petty Officer Mendez."

Jorge was silent for a moment, before unexpectedly beginning to chuckle. "You don't say? Mendez trained your company?"

"He did." Ben confirmed. "He trained the Alpha and Beta Companies too."

Jorge's earlier sadness was totally gone, replaced by a wide grin at the news of an old friend still being alive. "I had no idea! How is he, he must be ancient by now!"

"Oh yeah, he was pushing sixty when we shipped out, but he was still signed on for Delta Company." Ben said, happy to deliver some good news for a change, before he realized that there was another piece of good news he might be able to deliver. "By the way, you know Kurt-051, right?"

Jorge suddenly seemed a little less enthusiastic. "I uh… yeah. I think he died a little while ago…"

"He's not, he was our commanding officer." Ben happily reported. "I'm not sure if his record was altered, but I can tell you for certain that he's not dead."

Jorge's earlier grin returned as he shook his head. "Damn, you Mark IIIs are just full of surprises, aren't you?"

Ben smiled behind his helmet. "We've got our strengths."

Dominion, Bridge

October 15th, 0823 Local Time, 2552

Around the Holotable on the bridge, Richard, Bradford, and Thomas all listened to Curie as she completed her report of Operation Hindenburg. Although they were all already familiar with the events of the battle, a retrospective analysis of the operation was useful not just for the strategic observations, but also for historical documentation. Plus, it helped bring everyone up to speed on things that they might have otherwise missed.

"-So, in conclusion, Lieutenant Clark's Semblance proved to be absolutely instrumental. Pursuing the Semblances of more of our soldiers should be one of our top priorities." Curie said, finishing her lengthy, if well-assembled report.

"Thank you, Curie." Richard said, somewhat relieved that it was over. "Copy that report over to General Ironwood, and also Lieutenant Clark, if he hasn't seen it already."

"I shall." Curie said, bowing her holographic head before disappearing.

Thomas gave a deep exhale once she was completely gone. "I don't know how we managed with her on the ground. I know Curie's not an administrative model, but having an A.I around makes things so much easier."

"There's something else that we have to reinvent." Bradford pointed out. "Right now, Remnant is currently running off of humans for most of its administrative work, and we're uh, not too great at that."

"Oh yes, we wouldn't want humans doing paperwork, now would we?" Thomas bitterly and rhetorically asked.

Alright, I'll let him complain about that one, he's certainly earned the right to. Richard thought. Thomas's outbursts were unprofessional and uncalled for, but with the workload on his shoulders, Richard was willing to tolerate a little bemoaning.

"Hold on, can we not map a brain with the equipment we have in Sickbay?" Richard asked. He quickly realized however, that neither an ONI agent or a Naval Officer would know the answer to that question. "Curie, what's your assessment?"

"I believe that theoretically speaking, we could, although we do not have an A.I matrix compiler." Curie answered, although she didn't display her hologram, her voice still emerged from the speakers.

Ah, yes, one of those. Richard cynically thought, realizing just how ignorant he really was when it came to and what they needed to function.

"So… how would we do it?" Bradford asked, seemingly encountering the same knowledge limitations that Richard had.

"We would be forced to use our neuro-surgery unit to perform the process. Although it has nowhere near the processing capability that we would need to perform something as complex as the creation of an A.I." Curie answered. "Even still, it would require a large amount of modification, not to mention a donor brain with which to create-"

"I uh, don't mean to be rude…" Thomas awkwardly interrupted. "But can we put all the long-term planning on the backburner for a moment? I still have my report to make, and I have a call with Councilwoman Troy in about half an hour."

"Go right ahead, Lieutenant." Richard said. If Thomas's time was limited, he could stomach the interruption.

Thomas gave a short nod of thanks as he quickly checked his datapad. "Ok, first of all, our budget for Operation Red Cross is now completely lined out. With the freighters back in Atlesian hands, and most of the mines still in working order, we can avoid most of the economic consequences of, well, all the infrastructure that we blew up."

One less thing in the pile of paperwork on my desk. Richard thought, allowing himself a hint of satisfaction.

"Atlas didn't want any of the SDC's money back?" Bradford asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Well the Council sent me an official inquiry as to when they were getting that back, and I told them to go fuck themselves." Thomas answered, creating a bit of tension in the air. "Well, I worded it a bit more politely than that, of course."

Richard let out a sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm going to get a few awkward questions from General Ironwood about that, aren't I?"

"I don't see why you would, all that money's already going right back into Remnant's economy." Thomas argued. "If he wants the money back, tell him he's already getting it!"

"I'll be sure to tell him that..." Richard said, knowing fully well that he was going to have to explain to General Ironwood that he wasn't the kind of officer that greased the hands of politicians, especially those that might have had ties to the SDC. "Were there any other important developments that I should know about?"

Thomas checked something on his datapad before answering. "That international conference you were hoping to host is still quite a ways off. I still need to get everyone to agree to send a representative, not to mention pick a location."

"I might have something in mind for that, actually." Bradford interjected. He reached over to the controls of the holotable, and brought up a holographic representation of Remnant, before pointing to a small island north of Sanus. "This island, Vytal. Its location is central to every major nation except Menagerie, but we should still provide transport and escort for everyone. It also has a small settlement on it, meaning that we actually have a place to meet."

Thomas gave a short nod. "Actually, that's a wonderful idea. The Treaty of Vytal was arguably the most critical part of Remnant's recent history, and that should give us a bit of historical precedent for some of the more… controversial things that you plan on proposing."

"Not proposing, demanding." Richard reminded him, knowing full well that Thomas still had doubts about his plan. "If Remnant wants to get itself modernized, it's going to stop hurting itself first."

"I understand that Sir, and you have my full cooperation." Thomas said. "But I'm… worried about this. Historically speaking, major reforms like this take place over decades, not a day."

Bradford folded his arms. "Remnant's had decades to straighten up their act. If they can't learn to start treating each other equally, then we should reconsider our global strategy."

Which isn't an option, it's not like there's another planet out there we can just rebuild the UNSC on. Richard thought. Either the stubborn elements of Remnant start playing ball, or we leave them behind.

"Sir, there was something else, something a bit less… well, urgent, I suppose." Thomas said.

He's the Public Relations expert. Richard reminded himself. "Go on."

"Seeing as we're still above Atlas, I propose that when Specialist Schnee returns to the Dominion, we invite General Ironwood to come along with her. We could give him a tour of the ship, and maybe familiarize him with how we run things around here." Thomas said. "Hopefully, it'll help solidify our little alliance that we have going here and… maybe give him a warning of what you're planning to do. I'm sure he'll agree, but having him informed beforehand could lend us some much-needed support for our treaty."

There was an awkward silence as Richard and Bradford took in his words. The other officers on the bridge also noticeably quieted down, as if sensing the significance of his words. Richard thought it over, his mind immediately jumping to all of the things that could go wrong.

"It would certainly give him a better idea of how we operate." Bradford said as he scratched his chin. "And it would help him build up a bit of trust in us."

Richard nodded, moreso to himself than to anyone else. "Alright, let's do it. XO, tell the Deck Crews to put their hangars into a presentable state. Lieutenant Thomas, send our invitation out to the General through Specialist Schnee. She'd likely be the best to approach the topic for us."

"He's probably going to insist on bringing other people, and I don't just mean Specialist Schnee." Bradford pointed out.

"Maybe even a camera crew." Thomas added, with a hint of annoyance.

"He's welcome to bring some of his trusted men along." Richard answered Bradford's unspoken question. "But only his personnel, I will not have any civilians aboard this ship."

We only took in the slaves because they needed medical care and transport, I will not compromise the security of humanity's only warship. Richard thought. Atlas is still simmering down, we do not need an international incident in the halls of the Dominion.

"Good call, the media would pose too great a security risk." Bradford said.

"I could not have said it better myself…" Thomas muttered. "Well, if that was all you needed from me Commander, I will get right on that."

"That was all." Richard confirmed.

As Thomas left the bridge, Bradford turned to him with an expression of doubt. "This is… going to be a little different, isn't it?"

"Relax, the General's a professional. It'll be just like a visit from a colonial governor… only in this case, the visitor actually knows what he's talking about." Richard replied. Both of them chuckled at his little joke before Bradford returned to his other duties.

A peaceful visit from an honest to god military ally… this ought to be new. Richard thought.

Dominion, Starboard Hangar

October 15th, 1204 Local Time, 2552

Winter had not exaggerated when she had said just how utilitarian the UNSC's dropships were. Now that General Ironwood was sitting in the back of a Pelican Dropship, he could see just how the Pelican dropships were somewhat crude on the inside, and seemingly ungainly. But despite their rather large frame and unconventional shape, they flew smoother than even Atlas's top-of-the-line dropships, and at truly ludicrous speeds.

"It is somewhat impressive, isn't it?" Winter asked, apparently noticing how Ironwood was examining the passenger cabin. "In a brutish, industrial sort of way."

Wow, I think she actually just… complimented something. Ironwood thought, somewhat surprised by her comment. "It is."

He had elected to only bring Winter along with him. The Ace-Ops were still busy cleaning up the leftovers of the SDC, and although he had hoped to show off Atlas's robotics with the new AK-200 model of knights, the extensive warnings that he'd received from the UNSC about their vulnerabilities convinced him not to. Even if there was a way to protect the robotic soldiers against hacking attacks, the UNSC had made it very clear that they disapproved of their existence.

That seems more than a little hypocritical, as they apparently have plenty of other drones. Ironwood critically thought.

"Heads up, General. We're about one minute out from the Dominion. There'll be a slight lurch when the crane latches onto us, so be ready for that." The pilot of the Pelican, a woman known as Fireball, said over the intercom.

Ironwood turned to face Winter, not sure if he had heard Fireball's words correctly. "What was that she said about a crane?"

"The entrance to the hangar is on the bottom of the ship, there's a claw that grabs the dropship, and then it lifts us into the hangar." Winter explained.

Ironwood thought about it for a moment, before he quickly realized that his expectations for how the UNSC ship actually functioned were probably all wrong. He was used to operating naval vessels and airships, but the Dominion was a starship and would be designed with spaceflight in mind.

"I see." Ironwood said, as the dropship momentarily lurched around them. Confusingly, the momentum of what had to be a serious deceleration didn't feel as considerable as it should have.

Maybe we weren't going as fast as it seemed? He thought, although somehow, that didn't seem right either.

When the rear hatch of the dropship finally opened, he was surprised at the sight he saw. The Starboard Hangar of the Dominion looked more like an especially large aircraft workshop than the hangar of an airship, with the pungent smell of lubricant permeating the air. Deck crews and naval personnel milled about the hangar, but they didn't seem to pay Winter or himself any mind. He got a few confused looks, but that was about it.

The actual Hangar itself was packed to the brim with aircraft of many different types. He spotted another Pelican that was hanging from a mount on the ceiling, and several small, but lethal, Hornet gunships arranged in a line, ready to take off at a moment's notice.

It was almost messy at a glance, but at even a moment's consideration, he could identify a bit of logic behind where everything was. Ladders and platforms permitted access to the taller aircraft, as well as those kept hanging from the ceiling, while fire prevention equipment was regularly stored in easy-to-reach places everywhere around the hangar.

"I had no idea they had so many aircraft packed into here." Ironwood said. It was one thing to read Winter's report on the UNSC's strength, it was another thing entirely to see it all in person.

"We're a little under capacity, actually." A vaguely familiar voice said from beside him. Ironwood turned and saw Commander Richard approaching, accompanied by one of the UNSC's tall armored supersoldiers, a Spartan.

The suit of light-grey armor was familiar to him already, but he wondered if there were actually multiple operators for each suit. Either way, the operator was dead silent, and their body language didn't fill in that gap. Ironwood did his best not to stare, recognizing how unprofessional it would be.

"Welcome aboard, General Ironwood." Richard said as he extended his hand, which Ironwood shook. His grip was firm and robust, appropriate for an officer. "I'll admit, I'm a bit curious, what's your first impressions of the Dominion?"

"I'm still figuring that out myself." Ironwood admitted. "But it's a bit… bigger, on the inside, than I was expecting."

Richard let out a soft chuckle as he gave Winter a friendly nod, which, to Ironwood's surprise, she actually returned. "Most of the decks are much more compact than the hangars, as you can expect. We have the two main hangars, one mounted on each flank, and the underslung cargo bay, which typically holds all of the ground vehicles."

That's smart, if one hangar gets taken out of action, the others can fill in for it. Ironwood considered.

"If you're ready General, we can begin the tour." The Commander paused, waiting for him to nod before turning. "If you have any questions, or if I'm being too technical, let me know. It's easy to forget that not everyone knows the same military jargon."

Richard led the small party down the hangar, pointing out the various different kinds of aircraft as they went. "Those are our Sabre interceptors. Our models are the stock fighter, they can operate both in and out of the atmosphere."

Ironwood immediately widened his eyes in surprise, these were the Sabres? These menacing spaceplanes were the aircraft the Voodoo squadron had flown during the Battle of Atlas? I had genuine spaceships at my command, and I never even knew it…

Richard however, didn't seem to have picked up on his surprised reaction, instead making note of General Ironwood's weapons of choice. "Revolvers?"

Ironwood shifted his holsters subconsciously as he spoke with unashamed pride. "They're a bit higher capacity than they look."

Richard gave a nod of approval. "Good choice of weapon. It's nice to see that more conventional designs still have a place on Remnant."

"They certainly do…" Ironwood responded, although to him, standing on the flight deck of a starship was far from conventional.

Richard led them further through the ship, passing through the Barracks for the Marines, which was surprisingly large. It seemed that much of the Dominion's internal space wasn't dedicated to outright combat, but instead to supporting other elements that it could carry, such as aircraft and ground forces.

To think, their humanity considers this a small support ship where they come from… Ironwood thought as he followed the Dominion's Commander throughout the halls.

He got a few odd looks from the crewmen as he passed, but as they noticed Richard, they snapped to salute until he had passed. Although he only got passing glances at the UNSC navy men, Ironwood could practically sense a sort of weariness about them, either born of paranoia, or perhaps simply exhaustion. Eventually, Richard led them to an elevator, which began to take them up the Dominion's many decks.

"This will take us up to the Bridge." Richard explained.

When they arrived on the Dominion's bridge, it looked quite unlike anything that he had expected. Whereas most of the Dominion was somewhat crude and packed with complex machinery, the bridge was very different. It was sleek, simple, and packed with various monitors and computers, it had vague echoes of the bridges of Atlesian airships, but the UNSC's preferences of simplicity and reliability were still readily apparent. Whereas certain luxuries were afforded to the command staff of an Atlesian cruiser, the Dominion's bridge was just as utilitarian as the rest of the vessel.

As soon as they arrived, the various officers manning the bridge snapped to salute but were quickly relieved by Richard. There was one officer who was standing beside a large holographic table that did not stand to attention, which would have given away his position of authority, had Ironwood not recognized him outright.

"Lieutenant Bradford." Ironwood said, firmly shaking his hand. "It's good to finally speak with you in person."

"Likewise, General." Bradford replied.

During his many discussions with the man on the CCTS, Ironwood had probably learned more from Bradford than he had from Richard. Although the Dominion's XO was clearly starting to show his age, it was equally apparent that his mind was still sharp, and that he was a very capable naval officer.

"I must admit, I was expecting something a bit… smaller." Ironwood said. "In Atlas, our airships have much smaller bridge crews."

"There's more things to look after on a larger ship, especially a spaceborne warship." Richard explained. "As such, you typically need more people to look after them, at least, whenever the shipboard A.I can't do it."

"The shipboard A.I?" Ironwood asked. Although he was already familiar with the fact that the UNSC had some sort of Artificial Intelligence with them, going by the name of Curie, he had not assumed that her duties extended to managing the entire warship. "Just how much can Curie do?"

The holotable in the center of the bridge shimmered slightly as a familiar blue figure emerged into existence. "There are certainly limits on my capabilities, General Ironwood, but an A.I of any kind is far more suited to an administrative task than a human, if only because of our greater processing speed."

Ironwood immediately had a lot of questions, but elected to hold his tongue for some of those that he assumed would be a bit uncomfortable. "I believe I understand. It's a pleasure to meet you as well Curie."

"The same to you." Curie said with a friendly nod.

I see what Winter meant, she's a lot more… human, then I was expecting. He quickly exchanged a silent exchange of looks with the Specialist, knowing that they were both thinking about the same thing. She's like Penny, but in a purely digital form.

"So, this is where you manage all of your operations?" Ironwood asked. Although he could guess the answer, he wanted to double-check, as some nations on Remnant preferred to have separate bridges and command centers.

"That would be correct." Richard said.

"Our satellites and recon drones have eyes over a good chunk of the planet, all that information goes right here." Bradford added. "We don't have global coverage, especially with communications, but if your people would be willing to put together a few satellites of your own, we could change that."

Ironwood raised an eyebrow, that was quite a significant offer.

"I would have to talk to the Council." Ironwood admitted. "Although I imagine they'll be happy to put some Atlesian technology into orbit, especially given how our own satellite program went."

Curie seemed exceptionally interested in his words. "I have assembled a collection of both ancient and modern satellite designs for your engineers to work with. I have prioritized military observation satellites, particularly those which I believe would be useful in tracking Grimm."

Ironwood's train of thought was interrupted at the mention of the Grimm. Ever since the battle of Atlas, they had been oddly quiet, their numbers low, and the Grimm themselves lacked their usual aggressiveness. Although he was happy to see the Grimm gone and Atlas safe, he would be lying if he said he wasn't somewhat paranoid about what had happened.

Had the UNSC really made such a difference in such a short time? It was unlikely but standing where he was, on the bridge to a ship capable of wiping out every kingdom on Remnant, made him consider it. Still, it was his duty to prepare for the worst… and hope for the best.

"There haven't been any updates on what the Grimm are doing everywhere else, right?" Ironwood asked.

"None currently, aside from some minor behavioral oddities in Vacuo." Curie answered, seemingly unconcerned.

Richard however, seemed to share his caution. "I'm afraid we've had difficulties with tracking the Grimm ever since we discovered them. It's almost like they're purpose-built to avoid the sensors of our satellites, our drones have had better luck, but that doesn't mean we know what they're all doing."

"Is it really so hard to believe that they were beaten back?" Bradford asked. "We have a moment of peace, we should enjoy it while it lasts."

I wish I could empathize with that mindset. Ironwood thought, noting the older officer's lack of caution. "The Grimm are not pushovers, Lieutenant. We've certainly culled their numbers, but they're normally more persistent."

"I'm not saying that they won't come back." Bradford pointed out, seemingly a bit defensive. "But while they're gone, we have a chance to prepare, get acquainted with one another."

Ironwood thought it over, unsure of what exactly it was that Lieutenant Bradford was proposing, but it wasn't hard to guess. "That would probably be a good idea. Remnant hasn't seen coalition warfare since the Faunus Revolution… and we learned a lot of hard lessons in that war."

"Well, maybe there's a few mistakes we can avoid." Richard said. "Come with me General, we can discuss this further in the War Room."

"Of course." Ironwood said.

"Excuse me, Specialist Schnee?" Curie sheepishly asked, interrupting them as they were about to leave. "I've received a request for your assistance in Sickbay."

Winter gave the A.I a glare of disapproval. "I am busy right now-"

"Nonsense, Richard and I can handle this." Ironwood interrupted her, taking everyone around them off guard. Even the silent and unflinching Spartan tilted his helmet, as if surprised. "If the rest of the crew needs you for something, you'd probably do more good there."

Winter turned to face him with a clear look of concern. "Are you sure, General?"

He thought about it momentarily, even as he was suddenly the center of attention. He understood her caution, perhaps more than he wanted to. Even now, standing on the bridge of the Dominion, a small part of him wondered whether or not he could really trust the UNSC and their intentions. He wondered if there was some sort of elaborate scheme to isolate him and Winter, before killing them both and attacking Atlas. Of course, he and Winter could probably fight their way off the Dominion together, should the worst come to worst...

But at the same time, he recognized the absurdity of that thought and realized that perhaps some of his earlier skepticism towards the UNSC had been unjustified. He'd already known that the UNSC possessed the capability to annihilate life on Remnant if they wished to, but standing aboard their mighty warship, he realized just how outmatched Atlas truly would be. The UNSC might have only comprised around a thousand people, but it was easily the most powerful organization on Remnant.

But despite that drastic difference in strength, the UNSC had pursued peace with Atlas, however flaky their relationship had started. And even though the SDC had pushed those efforts to their very limits, and both he and the UNSC had engaged in some daring diplomatic maneuvers, they had somehow avoided hostility, even in the face of the crisis caused by the SDC.

That kind of tenacity, that persistence, and dedication to peace… is why we're still alive. Ironwood realized. And just like that, he knew that he could trust the UNSC, maybe not with everything under his jurisdiction, but he could trust them with his personal safety. He could trust their intentions, that would do for now.

Ironwood gave Winter a nod of reassurance. "I'm certain."

He might have imagined it, but he could've sworn that he saw Winter smile for an instant in response, before turning to face Curie again. "Well, in that case, I suppose I'll head for Sickbay."

"Good, I'll call you when I need you." Ironwood said.

While Winter left the Bridge, Richard looked at him with a completely indecipherable expression. "I… appreciate the good faith, General."

"We're allies now, it's about time we started treating each other like it." Ironwood said, paraphrasing one of Richard's earlier statements.

Richard gave a faint smile, and for a brief moment, Ironwood saw the faintest hint of relief behind his eyes. "Indeed it is."

Authors Note: I hope everyone's enjoying Halo 3 on PC, and all of the other updates to The Master Chief Collection! Halo 3 is personally my favorite of the games, and it inspired a lot of the storytelling and tonal aspects of this story, particularly some of the things that you'll be seeing in the far future.