1018: Halo: The True Meaning of Christmas – One Shot, Part OnePosted: April 12, 2015
Hello, noble patrons! First off I’d like to thank Lyle and the rest of the regular Librarians for allowing me to present you with this guest riff- I am, in fact, AdmiralSakai, the green (or occasionally pink) fractal from down in the comments section.
I’d also like to thank suzumeshoujo and the livejournal badfic_quotes community for bringing this fic to my attention through their own excellent sporking. While the site looks to have been dead for a while now there may still be lurking authors there who would appreciate some views after all this time.
With that out of the way, today we’ll be examining a sappy, crappy, and mercifully short Christmas-themed ‘fic from the dark underbelly of the Halo series.
Gosh, the Halo series.
Halo gets a bit of a bad rap from a lot of people because, being a large and long-running franchise of first-person shooter games, your average player is a multiplayer-obsessed twelve-year-old boy. However, there’s a lot of actual thought and writing put into the game’s design, world, and plot, so anyone who bothers to play through the campaign mode shouldn’t be surprised to find a large and lively fan community that genuinely cares about the source material (albeit sometimes drawing unnecessarily harsh distinctions between themselves, the “real” Halo fans, and the aforementioned 12-year-old boys).
The franchise’s main trilogy consists of Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, and Halo 3, chronicling the adventures of an augmented supersoldier named Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 in his attempts to save… well, basically the entire galaxy. There are also three major tie-in games in the form of Halo Wars, Halo 3 ODST, and Halo: Reach, which ranged from wonderful in their own right to not great but enjoyable; Halo 4, which was produced under a new developer and wasn’t very good at all; and a whole raft of additional novels, comics, miniseries, and miscellaneous other things. All of this content is filled with additional lore and just about everything references everything else in some obscure capacity or another, making the Halo universe absolutely massive and more than a little bit daunting. As I explain things in the riff I will necessarily have to simplify and cut out large sections of lore, but I’ll try to condense the most relevant details and also some of the most interesting while leaving wiki links for the curious.
Fortunately, to understand this ‘fic you actually need to learn precious little of the Halo corpus, because the massive, driving, overarching concept of the trilogy, the titular Halo Array, a titanic ancient superweapon of last resort built to defend the galaxy from a fate even worse than the complete annihilation it offered, has absolutely no presence whatsoever in this ‘fic.
Instead this ‘fic focuses, somewhat broadly, on the Human-Covenant War. The Covenant is a theocratic federation of alien civilizations, all of whom worship the Forerunners (Halo‘s resident precursor civilization and the architects of the Halo Array) as gods and are generally kind of assholes. At the start of Halo: Combat Evolved, they’ve spent a good twenty or thirty years trying to wipe all humans out of existence because our treatment of (and possible connection to) Forerunner artifacts offends their religious beliefs. The humans, organized under the generally virtuous and only occasionally fascist United Nations Space Command, have done a reasonably good job of trying not to die, but given the Covenant’s somewhat superior technology and vastly superior numbers (they can easily field enough ships to glass the surface of an entire planet) it hasn’t been going well. Halo: CE opens with military ships fleeing the destruction of Reach, a major human colony; Halo 2 opens with a Covenant assault on Earth.
Since this ‘fic features them pretty heavily, some explanation is also in order on the Sangheili. Known to humans as Elites, the Sangheili are a Covenant species that, due to their insanely militaristic quasi-feudal culture, runs most of the organization’s military, both as field officers and high-level commanders. They like energy swords, great big warships, and overwrought war poetry.
They’re also the second-most-important species in the entire Covenant, and actually founded it alongside these floating assholes, the “Prophets” or San’shyuum, giving them a seat on the High Council and the ability to lord over basically all of the other races involved in the whole affair.
This all made one of the “lesser” Covenant races, the Jiralhanae (“Brutes” in human military slang), a bit jealous, and one of the main plot threads of Halo 2 is a power struggle between the two races that culminates in the Brutes taking the Elites’ council seat and military position with the Prophets’ blessing, launching a massive retributive genocide, and ultimately forcing the Elites into a shotgun alliance with the humans. It’s not exactly a friendly relationship seeing as the Elites were not too long ago gleefully leading the charge to wipe out human colonies, but in the end the toll of the civil war, along with shenanigans, provides the humans enough additional leverage to prevail over what’s left of the Covenant by the end of Halo 3.
There’s a bunch more to cover in terms of characters and setting, but we’ll get to that as it comes. For now, let’s continue to explore an epic world of life-or-death action, dazzling science, and political intrigue, and watch as this “Half-Jaw”… person reduces it to the literary equivalent of off-white wallboard spackle.
A/N: I do not own Halo. It is owned by Bungie. This fic was co-wrote with Doctor Anthony. We hope you all like it and have a very Merry Christmas.
We open with the usual disclaimer. While I don’t include them myself I don’t get all bent out of shape about them when other people use them (no harm in reaffirming that this is intended as a fanwork, after all), but this one doesn’t even seem like it was trying. Also, it’s “co-written”, and I can’t think of any particular reason why the ‘M’ in “merry” would be capitalized, but the rest of the ‘fic is actually pretty clear of spelling errors (if not grammatical or logical ones).
The Arbiter was walking down the main hall of the Cairo station when he noticed some strange decorations.
Oh…. kay…? I don’t like where this is going…
Also, the Arbiter, Thel ‘Vadam:
Not a lot of the Arbiter’s character is necessarily that relevant here, save that he is one of the most important and powerful Elites in the Halo series. His politics are his people’s, and so while he started out as a fleet commander who glassed several human planets by the end of Halo 2 he wound up on the same side as the UNSC and fought with distinction alongside Master Chief John-117 through the course of Halo 3. He is also the subject of a… disturbing number of “Arbymance” ‘fics that pair him with John-117, Miranda Keyes, Sargent Johnson, or really any other human.
Cairo Station (no “the” required, thank you very much) is one of many human military defense platforms orbiting Earth, special mostly because the Chief was tasked with defending it in a mission in Halo 2. Even though most of its fellow defense platforms were destroyed, I’m pretty sure it survived into at least the beginning of 3 because the human brass that were on it appear alive and well in that game. However, while it does have a Half-Life-1-style rail transit system running around inside it, it is far too large to have a “main hall”.
Actually, I’m hoping the transit system might be the “main hall”. The Arbiter wandered into it thinking it was for travel on foot, got knocked on the head by an oncoming tram, and is just hallucinating all of this silliness while the UNSC medics try to figure out how to treat his alien physiology. It’s safer than the alternative, at least…
He was looking for his second in command R’tas Vadum, the Shipmaster of the Shadow of Intent.
*Slips on a lead-lined glove, reaches into the ‘fic, and repositions the apostrophe.*
It’s Rtas ‘Vadum. And yes, it will be punctuated the wrong way every time the name is mentioned in this ‘fic. I do almost feel like I should reward the author for at least being consistent and not going full Tata Gilesbie on us… here, have a Redemption Crumb I found between the sofa cushions.
Oh, right, Rtas ‘Vadum (no relation to ‘Vadam, and I’m sure there’s a whole list of ‘Vadims and ‘Vadoms somewhere in the Sangheili Army who are very confused by all of this).
Another very important Sangheili and all-around badass, ‘Vadum is in fact the Shipmaster of the supercarrier Shadow of Intent (although he holds a bunch of other titles too). However, he is not the second in command of Thel ‘Vadam but his commander. And yes, as the picture implies his nickname is “Half-Jaw,” the same as our author’s, and said author happens to have a low-res portrait of ‘Vadum as his/her profile pic… although I’d assume that the real one can at least spell his own name correctly.
“What are these decorations for and where is all the laughter coming from?” he thought to himself. He continued walking down the strangely decorated halls when the laughter got louder. He was standing outside the main room.
It’s just some Marines having a laugh at the concussed squidhead wandering around in a daze on the train tracks.
Also, Cairo Station does not have a “main room”. It has multiple habitat sections, fire control for a giant fuck-off coilgun in the middle, and a command bridge overseeing it all, any of which could plausibly be considered a central area… but all of which are currently indistinguishable from the Void.
And what are all of these Sangheili doing ambling around a human military station without an escort, anyway? Who’s going to keep them from wandering into restricted areas, interfering with equipment they don’t understand, getting jumped by humans unwilling to forgive their conduct over the last 30 years, or jumping random humans for their conduct over the last 30 years? Cairo Station has fucking auto-cycling airlocks on it, for Pete’s sake!
The Arbiter walked into the main room of the station and saw several Humans and Sangheili drunk including Johnson and the Master Chief as well as R’tas celebrating around the Christmas tree in the center of the room.
Hoo boy. First off, it’s not yet important who “Johnson” and the Master Chief even are, so I’ll defer their infodump until later.
Second off, heloooooooooo awkward phrasing. Why do I get the feeling that the “co-wroter” originally just had the Chief and Johnson here, and then Half-Jaw the author inserted Half-Jaw the character later on in the “process”?
Third off, Sangehili are never, to my knowledge, mentioned drinking alcohol anywhere in the Halo universe, so I have no idea if it would make sense for them to drink socially or for that matter even be affected by alcohol, but even if they did seeing as human-Sangheili relations never really got far beyond grudging respect I doubt they’d be doing it with UNSC personnel.
Aww, screw it, I’m making a counter for this. So far one for the Arbiter wandering around Cairo Station as he pleased, and one for the drinking games:
The Friendly Neighborhood Hinge-Head Counter: 2
Finally, why is there a Christmas tree on a military defense installation (or in the center of the Void, for our purposes it’s the same thing)? We can assume that since the Elites are human allies and walking around on (or over) Earth this is post-Halo 2, and since the Human-Covenant War ended on December 11th, this isn’t an active wartime situation so I could see discipline being relaxed enough to permit some celebration by the station’s crew, but… not decorations and trees everywhere, even in what might be one of the habitat sections.
He looked around some more and saw 343 Guilty Spark and Cortana talking when Miranda Keyes appeared in front of him holding a bottle of wine.
I don’t care if we’re in the Void and active camo is a thing. Don’t. Do. That!
Again, 343 Guilty Spark and Cortana don’t matter quite yet, but Miranda Keyes certainly does.
Commander Miranda Keyes-Halsey is a personal favorite of mine, a bright young officer given a ship command probably earlier than she should have been given the personnel shortages of the War. She’s a competent tactician and more than capable of inspiring her troops to do some really incredible things, but she has a tendency to charge into things without thinking (usually while wielding the largest weapon easily available) and getting herself into trouble.
She’s also unlikely to pop out of the Void with a bottle of wine, but I’ll just assume she was going to club some Brute Chieftains to death with it or something and leave it at that…
Except that like Johnson and 343 Guilty Spark, Commander Keyes dies at the end of Halo 3. If she is alive here, that means this would take place between 2 and 3… but not only would that mean it’s closer to Halloween than Christmas going by the in-game calendar, but there’s currently a giant-ass Covenant fleet heading right for Earth that this defense platform is sort of going to need to, you know, defend against.
And then very quickly and suddenly she kissed him and when she broke the kiss she smiled and said “Arbiter, you‘re standing under the mistletoe”. The Arbiter looked up and saw that he was indeed standing under a bush and he smiled.
Ok, let’s take another look at a Sangheili soldier, specifically his mouth:
How exactly does something with this jaw structure kiss a human? How exactly does something with this jaw structure smile???
I also have to wonder why Thel doesn’t either back away from this clearly intoxicated babbling human or gut her on the spot for disrespecting him like this, and why a loyal UNSC Navy Commander would think doing any of this crap was a good idea.
Actually, for all she knows, mistletoe might be a deadly poison to Elites and she just caused a major diplomatic incident.
I’d sure be more fun to read than this…
The Friendly Neighborhood Hinge-Head Counter: 3
He looked back at Miranda and said in a hushed voice, “What is going on here?
Your guess is as good as mine, pal.
What are all these weird decorations for?”
“Oh, these are just photos and mementos the station personnel put up in the habitats. You know, things to remind them of all the friends and loved ones that you personally murdered when you glassed Reach.”
Also, the Sangheili vocabulary ranges from relatively formal to a particularly purple Ren Faire. I do not think it includes “weird”.
Miranda looked at the Arbiter and smiled as she replied, “These are Christmas decorations. We are celebrating Christmas with a party. Would you like to join the party? This would be your first Christmas and I would like to make it a good one. I have brought us a bottle of wine.”
Miranda, the Arbiter is not a three-year-old child. He can understand compound sentences.
The Arbiter said as he looked at Miranda, “I would be honored.”
The Friendly Neighborhood Hinge-Head Counter: 4
The couple went to a private table in the corner by the large decorated tree.
I love how it’s been two minutes and three lines of dialogue, and they’re already a “couple”. Also, not only does wherever this is in Cairo Station have private tables (not a feature I thought was common in military mess halls), but the table is in the corner of the room, near a tree that was previously described as in the center. That only makes sense if the Void is a Minecraft crafting grid.
Or is just really small, I guess…
Meanwhile Guilty Spark said to Cortana “Now miss Cortana I was wondering if you honor me with a dance on this special day of celebration?”
Hoo boy. Cortana and 343 Guilty Spark.
Cortana is John-117’s in-suit AI, essentially a computer copy of the brain of one of Earth’s most brilliant scientists (who also happens to be Miranda Keyes’s mom). She/it is usually confined to a plus-sized SD card in his helmet, but can inhabit other computer systems as well. She functions as a mission control during the game (despite the fact that much of Halo 3 is spent without her), and I always was very impressed by the games’ writers’ ability to show the close working relationship the two had without it becoming angsty (not with 100% reliability, of course, but most of the time they got it right). Cortana also died, but that was in Halo 4, and since this ‘fic came out in 2008 I can hardly begrudge the authors that. For that matter, the character-warping she got in 4 isn’t that much better than what’s going on in this ‘fic. Not that this means the ‘fic gets it right of course…
343 Guilty Spark is a beachball-sized Forerunner robot tasked with maintaining part of their Halo Array. He/it is slavishly adherent to his own hardcoded instructions, whether those instructions dictate that he save human beings from danger or sterilize half the galaxy, and as a result he has oscillated back and forth between ally and antagonist throughout the series. Like Miranda Keyes, Spark was killed at the end of Halo 3 after making a general ass of himself, but at this point I have no idea what to make of the fact that he’s not only alive but on good terms with the people he tried to execute.
The author almost gets his trademark creepily cheerful, mildly florid speech pattern right, so I’ll give credit for that, although I have no idea why he’d be talking to Cortana (or “miss” Cortana as she is inexplicably referred to here) about anything non-technical. It doesn’t seem like an AI designed to spend thousands of years on a megastructure without any contact with other intelligent life would be designed with a lot of social interaction capability, but that’s probably just me bringing all of that difficult actual computer science into this…
The AI looked at the monitor and replied “Alright if it will kill the time, these parties are always so boring anyway.”
Guilty Spark replied by saying “Splendid, now meet me at terminal A-C4 when your ready miss Cortana”.
Meanwhile Johnson drank another shot of Whiskey and said “That’s my twentieth glass Chief, beat that!”
Ok, who had the callsign Whiskey and why is he or she being ingested instead of being interred according to whatever UNSC protocol dictates for pilots liquified on impact?
In all seriousness, though… despite being, you guessed it, dead by the end of Halo 3 (killed by 343 Guilty Spark, no less!) I could totally see Master Sergeant Avery Junior Johnson challenging the Master Chief to a drinking contest. I mean, just look at the guy:
The problem is his partner.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that John-117 is a bland character for a reason. The SPARTAN-II Program was one of the UNSC’s more… ethically dubious ideas, a supersoldier project that started candidates early- at about five years old. The Chief’s personality was basically ripped out and replaced with years of intensive combat training, and as a result he is effectively precluded from ever having any sort of meaningful social interaction with normal humans. That’s part of what makes his bond with Cortana so compelling- it’s literally the only sort of interpersonal connection the man can comprehend.
I highly doubt he drinks, or plays video games, or really does anything other than kill Covenant- that (more or less) was what he was engineered for.
But enough ranting. Let’s get back to the Christmas carnage.
The Spartan replied by drinking down two shot glasses filled with whiskey and R’tas cracked open another bottle of whiskey “It’s going to be a long night,” he thought to himself.
Yes, Half-Jaw. I get it. They are drinking whiskey.
Goddammit, where did I leave my Gravity Hammer…
*A few [DATA EXPUNGED] noises later…*
A long night, indeed.
Now, originally this ‘fic was supposed to go fit nicely into one spork, as it is rather short, but there are so many things wrong with it and so many things to exposit about that I’ve taken up a decent chunk of riffing space as is. Therefore, Halo: The True Meaning Of Christmas will have to be continued next week.