Halo: Smoke and Shadow
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Halo: Smoke and Shadow is a novella by Kelly Gay set in the Halo universe. It was released in digital formats on November 28, 2016, with a print version released on January 16, 2018. The first part of Smoke and Shadow was featured in Halo: Fractures as the short story Into the Fire. A sequel, Halo: Renegades, was released on February 19, 2019.
Part One: Into the Fire
The story opens in the city of New Tyne on the colony Venezia in January 2557, where Rion Forge oversees a sale of salvaged weapons to a Sangheili customer. Drinking at a bar with the money earned a month earlier selling Forerunner technology, she considers the financial rewards for recovering and using a luminary to hunt down other relics while sitting with a fellow businesswoman, a T'vaoan salvage dealer named Nor Fel who she provided a stasis field generator to earlier that day. Having formed a close business relationship over the past few years since her mate's death, Nor Fel trusts Rion enough to go on a salvage mission to recover an object that would keep them wealthy for the rest of their lives.
Rion returns to her ship and prepares her crew for a new mission; this displeases her crew members Lessa and Kip, who were promised time off after a six week journey. Rion and Lessa head to Tiny Birds, a bar in New Tyne run by Rouse and popular among alien customers. There, Rouse provides Rion with a single photograph of a ship, demanding 40,000cR for the location and 25% of the revenue. After some negotiation, they agree on 10,000 cR and 15% on the grounds the aged appearance of the ship could mean it was already cleaned by salvagers. The two leave the bar and head onboard their ship, the Ace of Spades.
Onboard the crew conduct a meeting over their new job. Kip is the first to express concern, as he believes they will be recovering a UNSC ship, which salvaging is restricted due to the UNSC Salvage Directive. Niko assures him however that the directive is unenforceable due to the Post-War condition of both the UNSC and the UEG's control over the colonies in general, and the few Outer Colonies in particular. Rion, otherwise, sees no problem to be had with the UNSC, who are known to re-buy recovered materiel from New Tyne anyway, though she is unwilling to take weapons of mass destruction to the depot and instead offers to report it to the Salvage Directive. With the crew in agreement over the mission, Rio confirms the ship is in the Ectanus 45 system, which the UEG lost in 2535 with the glassing of Chi Rho. A small post-war settlement exists on its moon, Eiro, with the ship crashed nearby.
The Ace of Spades arrives in the system and lands on Eiro, a frozen wasteland. The crew depart in heavy winter gear to begin their search on the moon's dark side. Finding the ship, Kip immediately identifies it as the wreckage of a Halcyon-class cruiser, a class he once had a model of as a child. Examining it closer, they find only a quarter of the ship (the foreward section) at the location, it having been cut in half in what Cade theorizes to have been some kind of Covenant energy beam during the Battle of Chi Rho. Rion orders the crew to split up to search for anything salvage-worthy: she and Kip are to check the communications; navigation and weapons systems; Cade to one of the armories near the bridge, and Lessa and Niko to the medical bay and the cryo chambers. The crew begin their search by walking through the sliced 'rear', which Rion ominously compares with a gateway to hell due to the collapsed decks near the cut.
Rion and Kip get close to the bridge after 45 minutes of walking; despite having a map of the ship the damage to the ship is extensive and many corridors unusable. Rion and Kip notice that in all that time they found no corpses of the crew, though are hopeful the ship was successfully evacuated. As her father disappeared with the missing UNSC Spirit of Fire twenty years earlier, Rion sees it as her duty to report everything they can to the families of the crew and its marine complement so they finally have closure. They get within meters of the bridge only to find that blast doors were lowered over that section. Kip notices the ship's name on one wall, identifying it as the UNSC Roman Blue. Rion alerts Niko over her radio to their discovery, who begins looking up records on the ship. Cade meanwhile reports in that the ship crashed with a profitable payload of body armor; thermite paste; jet packs, various rifles and small arms along with "heavy ordnance" which the crew by Rion's rules are to keep onboard and report to the UNSC. Lessa reports her search of the medical facilities as somewhat productive, though it is significantly damaged and she has yet to check the pharmacy for drugs to salvage. Niko meanwhile notes the ship had ejected some of its cryo pods before crashing, with the rest of the bay in a bad condition. He continues that there is no recent talk on the ChatterNet on the Roman Blue, and dubs it a ghost ship; Rion suspects this means the UNSC to be actively restricting communication on the ship and decides to leak information on its location and the cause of its destruction to the families when the UNSC compensates her for the discovery.
Rion sends Kip off to help Niko, and decides to continue her exploration of the ship alone, going to the Captain William Webb's quarters to find more information that could help the families of the ship's crew. There, Rion recovers a data chip, which she places in her COM pad to provide her with personal logs. Rion reads an entry from March 2531, which she recognizes as the date of her father's disappearance. In the log, Webb describes being fresh on board following Captain Hood's transfer to the UNSC Burlington while the Roman Blue undergoes a month of repairs following its unauthorized engagement with the Radiant Perception near Arcadia. Webb laments the loss of the Spirit of Fire, which he blamed on Hood's engagement allowing the Radiant Perception to recover a log buoy the Spirit of Fire left detailing its course. As the log ends, the ship begins to shake. Cade reports that someone is firing at the ship. Rion orders the others to evacuate the ship and ignore her, despite being so far from the way out. Rather than go with them, she insists on searching the ship further for any data relating to the buoy.
Part Two: Luck Be a Lady
The crashed Roman Blue is being bombarded from a ship orbiting Eiro. Rion's equipment picks up the increasing heat on the hull, indicating plasma is being used. Deep within the wreckage, Rion knows her chances of survival are slim as the hull begins to melt. The floors and walls begin to twist and turn as the ship collapses in on its starboard side. Rion, her suit suffering damage, jumps out of an opening and onto the moon's surface. Her suit is so hot from plasma exposure it sublimes the snowy surface she lands on and covers her in steam. Rion takes cover behind a rock as the heat front from the plasma weapons spreads to the surrounding area. She passes out from the heat.
Rion wakes up later to find the Roman Blue totally destroyed, but with Eiro and the Ace of Spades intact with no sign the attacking ship even sent a landing party to clear out the people on the planet. Rion briefly considers the perpetrators to have been salvagers, as the profession was notorious for its deadly rivalries during the Human-Covenant War. However, with the war over there has been no need for violent competition over the spoils of war, and Rion points out to herself the absurdity in destroying potential prizes to steal. Rion concludes therefore that the Office of Naval Intelligence was responsible for the attack.
When the Ace of Spades arrives at Rion's position, she orders Niko to find a nearby communications satellite and find information on the ship that attacked the Roman Blue. Rion then leaves to take a shower. There, she starts thinking of her first job as a crewman on the cargo ship Hakon. There the aging condition of the senior staff led to growing disorder among the crew, with Rion killing a newer crew member, Sorely, six years into her service. Gaining full respect from the crew and the staff, she received training in how to run the ship, finally doing so when the two senior officers died. When Rion returns to duty, Niko gives her an update: the nearest comm satellite is orbiting Chi Rho, and the attacking ship is virtually undetectable when not in combat. Rion and Cade discuss the likeliness of ONI just happening on the ship at the same time as them. It doesn't fit, and they suspect they have been tracked ever since leaving Venezia. Moving to the issue of their exploration of the ship itself, Rion reveals to the crew having found information on the missing UNSC Spirit of Fire - that the Covenant ship Radiant Perception picked up a navigation buoy dropped by it to alert the UNSC of its intended course. Their salvage mission is thus changed to finding the Radiant Perception's wreckage and the buoy.
As the Ace of Spades takes a slow course to the satellite over Chi Rho, Rion asks Kip for standard schematics for the CPV-class heavy destroyer. To make sure the mission is profitable and not just a personal quest, she plans on recovering its luminary. Kip has never heard of one, which he learns is due to a lasting taboo among ex-Covenant in discussing luminaries with the spiritually unclean. The entire crew is ecstatic at the prospect of being the only salvagers with the ability to detect Forerunner technology, and Rion serves out a rare bottle of Alt Burgundy to celebrate. While the others are away, Rion confides in Cade that they probably won't find the buoy, though the UNSC certainly would not have had time to recover it back from the Covenant. One of the Ace crew members, unknown at the time, sends a coded Hahn in regards to the recent discovery of the Roman Blue, revealing himself to be an ONI agent known only as "67159-021127". He suspects Hahn of being behind the glassing and informs him that Rion is aware of Radiant Perception's recovery of the buoy at the Battle for Arcadia.
Rion sends a message to Nor Fel via the comm satellite asking about Covenant destroyers. Fal is hesitant to get involved as the Covenant remnants and pirates are more than willing to take out anyone who could recover a wreckage before them. Rion demands for money; having paid Nor for the location of the Roman Blue and lost equipment in the attack as well as the wreckage, she finds it a worthless sale. Aware of the Kig-Yar race's obsession with collecting things, she knows the threat of refund would make Nor more approachable. Rion quickly relaxes her demand and instead asks for the Covenant Navy's logistical records on the Radiant Perception, particularly relating to its current fate. Rion is more sure of success this time, as its active career so early into the war would show a decent record.
Kip, Lessa and Niko continue their search through comms logs and UNSC archives for references to the Radiant Perception. Cade meanwhile messages old service pals looking for anyone who remembers the name in passing. Kip is annoyed at his lack of findings. As the ship was part of the first wave at the war's beginning, its movements would have been especially noteworthy. However, he has found significant gaps in the logistical accounts. Rion reminds him that glassed colonies don't have good records. Rion gets a transmission from Nor, which she has directed to her quarters. Nor finally has information on the ship. Based on her findings, it crashed on the planet Laconia in February 2531 shortly after the engagement with the Roman Blue, which Rion concludes as them having had no time to transport the buoy to another ship. The Covenant refused to salvage the ship when they found the Mgalekgolo had murdered the survivors and multiplied exponentially. Now Nor's service to Rion is complete, she gives her the bad news: another salvage crew has disappeared. This time it is Ram Chavla's after transporting Forerunner technology over the glassed Mesa. Nor suspects various crews over the past year have been killed on the orders of Gek 'Lhar, a Sangheili commander and salvager loyal to Jul 'Mdama. As a crashed Covenant ship, the Radiant Perception is the kind of artifact he would be looking to salvage.
Part Three: Double Down
The Ace of Spades approaches the Procyon system. Arcadia, Rion notes, is more plasma scorched than other worlds due to the Covenant being needlessly excessive in the glassing process of this planet-sized vacation resort. The nearby planet Laconia meanwhile is observed as a cold, volcanic world that was completely ignored due to its lack of human habitation. The crew observe Laconia more closely to find the wreckage of the Radiant Perception. Finding the Radiant Perception, they observe that its power core is still operational and providing auxiliary power. They spot that a well-armed Covenant freighter is also on the planet. Life signs are detected on the planet, which Rion reads as proof Gek 'Lhar is on the planet.
The crew get ready to land on the planet and walk the projected three kilometers to the wreckage. Niko announces the completion of a buoy detector he calls "Diane", which will identify any object broadcasting on any radio frequency. Rion notes that one of the life readings has not been identified, and assumes it to be the Lekgolo colony Nor warned her about. Though they could wait for the creature and the Sangheili team to destroy one another, she and Cade agree that that the Sangheili could call for reinforcements and they must see themselves on a time limit. However, Cade ruins Rion's plan to recover the buoy from the bridge undetected by revealing the assumed four meter tall Mgalekgolo's life signs are coming from that very area, and that it is highly likely there is a second one evading detection. Needing a new plan, Rion suggests using a set of retired Sangeili active camouflage devices they received from a group of Zealots six months prior before a trip to Shaps III.
Cade and Rion walk along Laconia's volcanic surface. As they approach the Radiant Perception, it becomes clear it was downed by a MAC round to the midsection, towards the bow. They enter the ship through the hole, quickly finding the corridors filled with corpses. Past the landing bay, they find the two Mgalekgolo, with one judged to be dead and the other dying and unmoving. Leaving Cade to observe the living Mgalekgolo, Rion checks out the equipment in storage at the bridge. When she stumbles onto the buoy, the creature wakes up and stomps its legs, challenging her. Cade shoots it from behind, triggering it to prepare to charge at him instead. He is frozen with terror at the sight of the creaure coming at him and is knocked down. The creature quickly dies after Rion shoots it, too old and weak to continue. She suspects the death of its bond had had a serious psychological affect and it wanted to die.
As Cade and Rion get ready to leave the ship, they detect the approach of the Sangheili team, who they theorise also learned of the Mgalekgolo's death. Cade is bleeding after his fight with the Mgalekgolo and has an argument with Rion over his competency. Rion insists he is perfectly fine, but Cade is ashamed that he was so scared of a Mgalekgolo near its death and not those in their prime he encountered during the war. The two return to the Ace of Spades without incident, though Rion is left wondering just why the Sangheili didn't go after them.
As the crew celebrate their recovery of the buoy, Kip alerts them to the approach of a human lifeform. Rion identifies the figure on sight as Ram Chalva. Moving her sights to the Covenant freighter, she spots a large Sangheili directing the others in firing at Ram. Rion quickly deduces that he is their prisoner and they are using him as target practice, sending him running to the only other humans on the planet to get their attention.
The Ace of Spades takes off from the surface and flies towards Ram in the hopes of giving him a fighting chance. It touches down again briefly to allow him to get aboard. Rather than escape, however, Rion orders the ship's weapons be activated and aimed at the Covenant freighter. Unwilling to fire a missile in case the Radiant Perception is hit by debris, Rion opts for the autocannon. At this moment, the Covenant freighter captain works out their plan and orders three dropships to launch. Beaten, Rion orders their departure.
ONI agent 67159-021127, now revealed to be Kip, makes another transmission from the Ace of Spades to Hahn. He thinks about the recent bioterrorist attack on Sedra that killed his family, including his partner Talia who was six months pregnant at the time. Hahn approached him, then known as Silas Kipley, then a drunken wreck, and offered him a chance to use his engineering genius to help humankind recover from the turbulent post-war environment. Agreeing to Hahn's offer, he was to be given a job on a salvage ship, where he would keep ONI up to date on their recovery of dangerous equipment to make sure it stays out of the hands of terrorists. It was then his name was changed to Kip Silas. Kip understands none of the crew has terrorist sympathies, but also knows that Rion is too good at her job and that a very profitable haul inevitably means more weapons flooding the market.
Rion checks up on Chalva, who is being heavily medicated to treat the deep cuts all over his body and the tissue damage from plasma exposure. He is placed in a cryotube to keep the pain down as they head back to Venezia.
Niko meanwhile tinkers with the buoy. Over the course of the night he writes various decryption codes in an attempt to hack into the buoy, but is constantly denied access to a message recorded by the UNSC Spirit of Fire's AI, Serina. He is almost asleep when the final process works. He fetches Rion to examine the message:
The coordinates surprise Rion greatly. The Spirit of Fire's role in the Battle for Arcadia was little understood, let alone what happened after. The coordinates indicated it successfully left the system into uncharted space, explaining why no wreckage was recovered. Rion's happiness is cut short however when Lessa notifies her that the Covenant freighter is on approach.
Part Four: Snake Eyes
The Ace of Spades jumps to Serina’s coordinates and arrives in uncharted space. After some time searching, the crew discovers an asteroid field orbiting a dwarf star. They are shocked to find remnants of infrastructure wreckage on a massive scale—conduits, cables, bridges, and rock formations and mountains, as well as a wing fragment of an unknown ship. Cade notes that this is planetary damage, and the crew wonders if the debris is tied to the fate of the Spirit of Fire. Niko detects an energy shield signal within the wreckage, and they follow it to a ruin set upon a large fragment of earth. Lessa reports that the atmosphere and gravity within the shield is near perfect for humans. The crew is eager to explore, excited by the prospect of potentially finding survivors from the Spirit of Fire, and Rion orders them to proceed with caution.
Niko uses a drone dubbed “Michelle” to slip through the shield and test the atmosphere. The levels read green across the board, and the drone also detects a faint life sign within the ruins. Rion takes Ace through the shield, examining the deteriorated ruins, unable to match it to a civilization. They land on a rocky outcropping, and Rion and Cade arm up and disembark. After confirming the atmosphere is safe, they remove their helmets and approach the main structure. Rion notices glyphs etched in the ruins and realizes with astonishment that they have found a Forerunner site. She and Cade enter the structure into a circular room, with two branching corridors and a large central console. A domed pad with the outline of a hand draws Rion to the console and she reaches out to touch it, but Cade stops her.
Suddenly Niko warns that a Covenant ship has been hiding in stealth behind the ruins and is now powering up. Kip confirms that it is the same war-freighter from Laconia, and Rion realizes with fury that Gek ‘Lhar followed them to the site. The freighter locks on to the Ace of Spades and Rion orders Lessa to take flight and use the debris field to evade the Covenant ship. Cade moves outside the building to provide cover fire, but before Rion can follow, something grabs her and throws her back into the room, where she crashes against the central console. Whiplashed and injured, she presses her hands against the console as she struggles to get up, inadvertently activating it. A Sangheili emerges from active camouflage and Rion realizes this must be Gek ‘Lhar. She unholsters her sidearm and searches for an escape.
Then Rion notices a luminary floating behind the Sangheili, and she stands her ground, determined to fight Gek and acquire it. Gek speaks angrily, and Rion uses her translation software to interpret his words as he vows to rid the Forerunner site of the “unclean” humans. At that moment, the activated console continues to grow brighter, and a disembodied voice fills the room, excited and grateful that a “Reclaimer” has arrived. Infuriated, Gek activates his energy sword. Rion fires two shots, but he ducks out of the way. Two Sangheili enter the room from one of the corridors, and Gek orders them to join the battle outside. Rion warns Cade of incoming trouble, but Cade is able to dispatch the two Sangheili with a thermite grenade.
Cade heads back to support Rion, who tries to warn him about Gek near the entrance, but he’s caught off guard by the Sangheili commander. Cade slides a bag of grenades across the floor toward Rion, right before Gek plunges his energy sword into his chest. Horrified and enraged, Rion charges Gek, jumping on his back and firing her pistol at his head at the same time that he strikes her with his forearm. The bullet cuts across his left eye and blinds him. Gek grabs Rion and flings her across the room into a wall, before going to Cade and ripping his dog tags from his neck. Despite the pain, Rion manages to crawl toward the bag of grenades and pulls out a frag, holding it high and flicking the safety. She faces off with Gek, prepared to die before leaving Cade. Gek hesitates, understanding that the blast would kill them both, before he retreats with the luminary. Rion crawls to Cade’s side. The wound has been cauterized by the sword’s plasma and his breath comes in shallow, and Rion knows there’s nothing she can do. She grabs his hand, and Cade fights to speak past the blood in his throat, managing to tell her that it’s okay before he dies.
Gek and his crew flee the system. Lessa lands Ace of Spades and the crew join Rion. They mourn for Cade and move him to a grav stretcher. Before they leave, the disembodied voice calls out again, asking to take it with them. Rion moves to the console and speaks with the voice; she discovers that it’s a Forerunner AI that has been fragmented, unable to remember its name or designation, just a “little bit” of the intelligence it used to be. As it speaks it remembers that humans were responsible for its fragmentation and tells Rion of the Phoenix-class ship Spirit of Fire that destroyed its planet. Rion, already near her breaking point from her injuries and grief, simply laughs in numb shock at the discovery. The AI asks to serve Rion, a Reclaimer, and Rion agrees to take it aboard.
On Ace of Spades, Rion meets Lessa in the med bay with Cade and, after comforting the grieving girl, goes to work on removing Cade’s gear, cleaning him, and putting on his dress blues. The process is slow, her way of saying goodbye. She regrets the distance they had kept between them and their fear of losing each other. Afterward, the crew takes Ace to the nearby dwarf star, and they send a pod with Cade’s body into the heart of the star.
Rion orders Kip to spin up the FTL drive, but he reports that the drive is going too fast. To their surprise, the AI fragment announces that it was able to jump from Rion’s forearm unit to Ace’s systems, where it has been making improvements in mapping, comm systems, and slipspace drives. Rion is shocked at the thought of a Forerunner AI invading her ship but recognizes it as an advantage, and she allows the AI to take control of the ship and tells it to go to Venezia.
They arrive at Venezia sixty minutes later. After docking, Ram Chalva is taken by medical personnel to a hospital. Rion tells the crew to disembark and go on ahead of her, giving them time to grieve for Cade. She goes to her quarters and speaks to the AI, referring to it as “Little Bit,” and asks what happened to the Spirit of Fire. Little Bit recounts how the ship used its slipspace drive to destroy the AI’s planet and shows Rion video feed from Relay 07756, a clip of her father speaking to the camera, as well as a team of Spartans engaging in battle. Little Bit says it had tracked Spirit of Fire’s trajectory away from the shield world, and at Rion’s request it scans the system and those nearby for planets that would support human life and creates a map of possible destinations for the Spirit of Fire after they lost their slipspace drive. Rion considers the safety of her crew, her desire for revenge against Gek ‘Lhar, the enticing Forerunner salvage possibilities around the dwarf star, and the map of possible whereabouts of the Spirit of Fire and her father. She wonders where to start.