«...good, very good! Now, install the secondary interface for the dimensional stabilizer into the harmonic transmitter array... if you would please.»
Grif made sure his radio wasn't transmitting, then sighed to himself quietly. (On reflection, it occurred to him that he didn't need to keep his sighs quiet when no one could hear him, and yet.) He would have facepalmed as well, but his hands were full, and also he'd been warned not to move around too much when floating in zero gravity in front of a very important, irreplaceable satellite. Keying his transmitter back on, he said, «Dr. Kleiner, I'm sure that all made sense to you, but again I have to ask: small words, please.»
Serina, the coordinating artificial intelligence on board the Spirit of Fire which orbited nearby, broke into the communication. «If I may, Doctor, I'll serve as translator. Grif, I'm uploading a graphical schematic to your HUD. I'll talk you through the work, although I must say this would go more smoothly if you'd taken me with you.»
«Thank you, Serina, but no.» Grif went back to work on attaching the equipment he'd brought with him to the satellite, now that he had more comprehensible instructions on what to do next. «We've already been over this. You know my policy.»
«Yes, I know. Sorry. I will try to avoid bringing it up again.» She paused, then added, «It won't be easy, though, when situations like this keep coming up.»
Grif shook his head and said, wryly, «Well, I thank you for your efforts in forbearance.»
«Yes, yes, you're welcome. Now do please hurry; time is growing short before those Combine Cidadels try to cross over, and none of us wants that.»
A few hours later...
«Aaaaaand there. How's that look?»
«Hm. Yes, everything appears to be in order. You're clear to start up the equipment anytime; the Doctors Vance and Anders are online and monitoring.»
«Okay. Here we go...» Grif reached into the masses of gear that he'd installed into the satellite and tapped a few buttons. Lights winked on as the equipment came to life. He was starting to think that the soundless vacuum of space was rendering the whole process anticlimactic, when the whole satellite shivered briefly in a way he found slightly ominous. A green light pulsed out in all directions from the satellite, fading out into the distance. Grif had panicked slightly when the light passed through him, expecting something horrible to happen, but there was nothing of the sort. «Well. That was unexpected.»
The broad, slightly raspy voice of Dr. Eli Vance joined the conversation. «Actually, I suspected that might happen, but Dr. Anders said I shouldn't tell you, in case you might get cold feet.» Eli waited out the inevitable sighing and grumbling, then added, «In any case, it seems to have worked! All stations are reporting an increase in local dimensional stability, and the noise between our universe and the Nexus is clearing. We did it!»
«Good work, everyone,» said Captain Cutter from the Spirit of Fire. «But the job's not entirely done yet. Grif, get the cover panels back on that satellite and come on back to the Spirit. Once you've gotten some sleep, we'll need you back out there to finish the mop-up while we wait for confirmation from Xen-side that the Combine can't make it through anymore.»
UNSC Headquarters, New Reach
"So," Colonel Holbrook said, "how's it feel to be back?"
Grif took his helmet off and grinned wryly. "Glad things are finally settled down, although I'm totally looking forward to the opportunity to sleep for a week. I'm slightly beat to shit, and it's Christmas crunch time." He looked down at one of his arms, frowning at the dents and dings in his armor. "My armor also feels beat to shit, and I'm still a bit bummed out about that tux."
Colonel McBride smiled his tight-lipped little smile and said, "Well, before you visit your tailor, hold that thought and follow us. We've got a little something to show you."
Grif shrugged and followed his handlers into the R&D section. In one of the labs, engineers and technicians were busy at their work stations. The focus of their efforts was a suit of mostly complete armor standing in a testing harness in the center of the room. Even on just a quick glance, Grif could see that while there were obvious similarities to his own armor, it was also markedly different.
"Here it is." Holbrook gestured expansively at the armor, like a game show host. "The all-new MJOLNIR Mark VII. It's not quite finished, obviously. All the technology's been tested and proven -- you'll see some performance boosts, and there are some new toys included I think you'll like -- but we're still fiddling with some of the looks and other specifics. As our guinea pig..." He grinned at the stink-eye he got from Grif. "...you'll be set up with what we're currently calling the baseline, to start, and we'll swap bits in and out every so often until we're satisfied we've got something ready for widespread deployment. Sound good?"
Grif shrugged and walked a circuit around the armor. "Yeah, sure. Just at first glance, if those upper arms aren't still being worked on, I suspect I'm going to want more up on the shoulders, and, uh, what's with the lack of plating over the butt? As it is, it looks a bit... exposed."
The Colonels and Grif looked around at the engineering staff, wondering if any of them wanted to offer an explanation. The few who returned their glances seemed to be making an effort to appear scrupulously innocent.
McBride cleared his throat. "We'll... we'll look into it."
"Thanks." Grif lifted up his helmet and was about to put it on when Holbrook cleared his throat.
"Uh, just one last thing, I swear. We wanted to warn you, before you go back to the Gulch. There's been some talk of expanding the current colonization borders. You may eventually have neighbors. Not right in the canyon, but elsewhere on the planet. In preparation, uh, there's been a tiny bit of terraforming done."
"Huh. Okay. How much is 'a little?'"
Red Base, Blood Gulch, Gamma Sanguinus V ("Coagulation")