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13 August 2012 @ 08:12 am
Fac Fortia et Patere (12/16)  
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0525 Hours, August 27, 2557
Control Center, War Room
Requiem Shield World, Forerunner Installation SW-0043


She was human.

Or at least, that’s how he would see her, she quickly amended.

The truth was she was an amalgamation of what the universe had to offer. Humans were her primary DNA source but her new corporeal body had been weaved with genes from other species, including the Forerunners. She was the product of an amazing genetic experiment which had never been attempted in the course of Forerunner history.

She watched as John processed her glib reply. For having no idea that she was alive, let alone human, he seemed to be handling her new appearance rather well. But, she hardly expected less from him.

Cortana could hardly contain her elation at seeing him after they had been separated. Though she had been unaware for much of the time since her program had been deactivated, she knew it had been nearly five weeks since she had said goodbye to the Spartan.

It was the longest separation they had from each other in five years.

And she had missed him.

He took a step forward, seemingly forgetting about the others in the room. “I told you that you would be fine,” he said warmly.

She arched an eyebrow. “You didn’t mention anything about me being reincarnated as a human. Though I’m not complaining.”

John looked at the pair of Forerunners who were watching their exchange openly. Then, he turned back to Cortana, his voice formal. “What’s your status?”

Back to business.

His question wasn’t easy to answer. There was so much she was still trying to get accustomed to, yet there was an inherent knowledge of how to use her abilities. She could talk, walk and even wirelessly access the Forerunner systems without any issue. But, there was still an awkward reality to contend with: the mutation had only taken place twelve hours prior.

Like when her program had been first activated on Reach, there was not a period of time given to her to adapt and accept who she was. Having lived before in the confines of a digital world, she struggled to deal with the limitations of being corporeal had. Hunger, exhaustion, and pain were all new to Cortana.

The disadvantages didn’t outweigh the benefits, however. For the first time in her life, Cortana wasn’t reliant on a data network or the Chief to transport her from place to place. She had the freedom to move as she willed. She could touch, smell, and taste things.

She was alive.

“Green,” she answered simply. There would be time to discuss the emotions behind her transformation later.

The Librarian turned to the Didact. “How did you do this? Her program terminated. The Warrior saw it himself.”

“Her program did terminate. When she entered into the control center’s systems, I began a file transfer of all of her data and stored it until the Bloc was completed. When it was finished, I merged the human I had created with the thoughts and memories of the construct. A form of a bevet mutation,” the Didact explained.

What the Forerunner had left out was how excruciating the pain had been. The first thing she recalled after being consumed by the aqua light was screaming with a voice she had never used before. Her head cried out in affliction as everything she had done, known and experienced as an AI came flooding into her brain at one time. Her heart pounded as the horrors of everything she knew --the destruction caused by the Flood, the glassing of dozens of UNSC planets, the suffocating pain of dying a slow death-- cascaded into her mind.

“A bevet mutation?” marvelled the Librarian. “How?”

He moved to stand in front of her and took her hands. Despite their colorful history, it was clear to Cortana that he cared for the woman in front of him. “I’ll show you.”

Then, they disappeared.

John raised the lightrifle to where they had been standing.

“It’s ok, Chief. He’s just showing her the Bloc,” she assured him. “It’s the machine that made me possible.”

He cocked his head to the side. “How do you know where they went?”

“Part of my new upgrades.” She tapped her temple. “I have access to all of Requiem’s systems.”

“How?”

“I’m not a human as I appear,” she confessed. “I have some Forerunner DNA in my genetic code which explains the eyes and the hands.” She held them up and revealed her six digits. “The Didact used Doctor Halsey’s DNA as a rough template for my genetic makeup, but he relied on the information in the Forerunner’s database of all known species to make up for any ‘impurities’, as he called them, which would allow for the Forerunner DNA to be incorporated into my new body.”

“I have a neural link that allows for me to maintain a connection into the Forerunner mainframe.” She tilted her neck and pulled back her hair. Behind her left ear, there was a small transmitter embedded under her skin. He took a step closer to look at the three centimeter disc-shaped emitter.

She straightened and flashed him a guilty look. “I wanted to contact you before the Didact met with you, but we weren’t sure that the comm channels weren’t being monitored by the other Prometheans.”

He shook his head, waving off her apology.

She drew in a deep breath. “The Didact hasn’t been completely upfront with you two. The Prometheans are getting restless. The Delegate in particular.”

“Do they know what he’s been doing?”

She looked up at his visor. An unfamiliar person was looking back at her. It was going to take time for her to adjust to her humanity.

“You mean his Doctor Frankenstein test?” she asked, gesturing to herself. “No, he hid me here as soon as he felt like I could make the move. He worked on the Bloc in secret, though I suspect the Delegate knows he’s been up to something.”

“They’re nervous that the Librarian is going to talk him out of his plan to reset the timeline.” A questioning look passed over her face. “Was I right about the Schism? That they were going back to 2552?”

He nodded, reaching for one of the compartments. He pulled out the container holding the crystal.

“You brought it in here?” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re braver than I thought.”

“We need to get to the Inner Chamber so we can destroy it,” John said, putting it away.

She shook her head. “It’s not that easy. The Didact can easily monitor every lifesign. The Prometheans can also track us. We’re not getting anywhere close to there unless he allows it.” She looked at where he had stood. “I know he seems calm, but, I saw him interact with the Delegate earlier. His temper is not anything to shrug off. Let’s just hope that the Librarian is as convincing as the Delegate fears that she is,” she said.

“She’ll do it and then we’re going to destroy the crystal,” he said assuredly.

“We?” she asked, surprised. “Officially, I’m not even part of the UNSC anymore.” A frown darkened her face. “I can only imagine what High Command’s orders for me are going to be. Becoming ONI’s newest pet project based in genetic research isn’t really high on my list of priorities.”

He didn’t rush into assure her that everything was fine which unsettled Cortana. When he did speak, however, she didn’t miss the certainty in his voice. “You’re not going to be anyone’s test subject.”

She gave him a disbelievingly look. “Even you only have so much pull with Lord Hood, Chief.”

“Nothing is going to happen to you,” he promised. He sounded so sure of himself that she almost believed his words.

She tilted her head and gave him a friendly smile. “I missed your stubborn determination,” she said softly.

Was it her imagination or was he moving closer to her?

She would never know the answer because suddenly an alert was issued throughout Requiem’s systems. There was something wrong with the Didact. He had activated a level three security countermeasure.

The Delegate had finally made a move against him, Cortana assumed.

“What’s wrong?” John asked, picking up on her concern.

She shrugged, ignoring the nervousness she felt. If the Didact has issued a security alert, it meant that he was no longer in control of the Prometheans. “Nothing out of the ordinary: some angry bad guys want to kill us.”

Cortana accessed the control center’s security systems through her telepathic connection to the network. She had been right. The Delegate and several other Prometheans had entered the area that held the Bloc and were holding the pair of Forerunners hostage. The Didact, to try slow the rebel Prometheans, had locked down all of Requiem’s long-range transportation systems.

Which meant her and the Chief were in for a long walk.

Briefly, she wondered how her body would handle the extended journey. Hours ago, she had been too shaky to stand for more than a few moments at a time. Then, Cortana dismissed her concerns. She had pushed herself beyond what she had thought possible in her immaterial state. She would do no less as a human.

She slipped her helmet over her head. As the various displays appeared, it seemed odd to Cortana that she would be using such an interface. Six weeks ago, she had been that technology, retrieving and giving information to the Chief.

With a quick burst of mental commands, she uploaded a map of the control center to the Chief’s armor. He jerked his head up to her, silently asking her how she had done that.

“I piggybacked off your neural lace using Requiem’s systems. Simple hacking stuff,” she explained with a shrug. “I wanted to make sure I haven’t lost my touch.”

She then walked across the room to where there was a weapons locker and pushed the button that opened the door. An array of firearms were at her and John’s disposal.

There was the concerning truth that she hadn’t ever picked up a gun, let alone fired one, but Cortana wouldn’t let that bother her. She had destroyed a dozen Covenant battleships, what was a few Prometheans who had a problem with authority?

John grabbed as much ammo as he could hold for his lightrifle. Cortana grabbed a scattershot and three dozen shells before making her way to the main door. “This way.”

John led the way which was perfectly fine with Cortana. She was content to let him deal with the hostiles they encountered which would allow her to focus on monitoring the situation with the Didact and circumventing any security measures the Prometheans tried to throw their way.

She hacked into the communication grid as they walked slowly down the corridor. The sunshine spilled through the tall windows, making it impossible for any Knights to hide in the shadows. She didn’t lessen the hold on her gun, however, she was aware at how skilled the warriors were.

They approached the gravlift. John scanned up the shaft for any hidden hostiles, but the area was clear. As they were riding the lift upwards, she intercepted a troubling communique. “We’re got an Elite task force headed to our position,” she warned. “Guess they aren’t too happy about the reconciliation between the Didact and the Librarian either.”

Cortana tried to monitor the Elite’s progress, but her information was limited with the lockdown that the Didact had established. She only had access to the most basic tracking systems which did not detect the Covenant when their active camouflage was activated.

She switched her visor to infrared mode and advised John to do the same. When they stepped off the lift, a gnawing feeling settled in her stomach. With a start, she realized that she was nervous. Being protected by the Chief’s armor, tucked safely in his neural lace had offered her a depth of protection that she had taken for granted.

John detected her agitation. “You alright?”

“I’m fine,” she lied. “Probably getting a little hungry. I haven’t been introduced to my first meal yet. The Didact isn’t known for his hospitality, you know.”

He took her at her word and moved forward. They continued making their way through the control center, moving slowly as to not catch the attention of any Covenant and Prometheans.

After five minutes of no enemy contact, Cortana was starting to wish the Elite would arrive. Every time she and John entered a room, her pulse spiked until John gave her the all-clear signal.

They had cleared a large room and were making their way to the other side when Cortana noticed the red light glowing on the door. “I’ll override this.”

She closed her eyes as she remotely accessed the door’s controls. As her neural interface wirelessly interacted with Requiem’s system, she saw a burst of ones and zeroes whiz by. For the first time since she had reawakened, she felt like herself. This was the world she was accustomed to: lines of code that could be reprogrammed and easily anticipated, unlike the Elites’ movements which were as unpredictable as humans’.

Her thoughts weaved through the firewalls the Prometheans had implemented. She was about to reach out and delete the obtrusive code when a blast from outside the confines of the datastream distracted her.

Cortana stumbled backwards as she opened her eyes. She hit against the side of the Chief who was aiming his gun at something behind her. His shields glowed in response.

“Sorry, Chief.”

“The door?” he asked as a blast of plasma came hurling towards them.

“Still locked,” she said frustratedly. Multitasking within the Chief’s armor had been second nature to her. Doing the same wasn’t as simple when so many of her thoughts were concentrating on staying alive. “I’m trying, Chief.”

“I’ll handle the Elites. You get the door.”

It was a simple act of faith, to trust that John would protect her, and it was one that she could do readily. Her life had been tied to his ability to protect her since Reach. Besides, she had little choice. She didn’t want to be stuck in the room when either John’s bullets or luck ran out.

She nodded and closed her eyes again. Again, she raced through the systems until she found the subroutine to the door’s controls and located the firewall. She vaguely registered the sound of gunfire. She sailed through the infrastructure and found the rogue code. With a burst of commands, she started to erase it.

Time seemed to slow as she watched the lines of code disappear. When it had finally been completely eradicated, she rebooted the door’s controls, uploaded a new protocol then exited the systems.

She opened her eyes. John was standing close to her, providing her cover from the incoming fire. “Fifteen seconds,” she told him.

He gave her a curt nod and fired the lightrifle.

There were still five Elites in the room with them. Their active camo had been deactivated allowing Cortana to pinpoint their location. They were scattered throughout the room, each taking aim at her and John. She lifted up her scattershot and took aim at the Elite closest to them.

She fired the gun, but had been unprepared for the recoil. She stumbled backwards at the force, her shot missing its mark. She inwardly cursed; she and the Chief didn’t have time for her to have a learning curve. Then, with her characteristic determination, she raised the gun and took another shot. This time, she managed to hit the Elite, causing him to howl in pain. Before he could recover, she unleashed another round, killing him.

The doors behind her started to hum as their opening mechanism started to move. She took a step backwards as they slid apart, keeping her gun trained on any Elites that tried to rush them. John activated a plasma grenade and tossed it at the Elites.

He crept backwards, moving to step through the opening. When he was behind the giant metal doors, they started to close quickly, locking out any Elites that survived the blast.

“They won’t be able to get in. I uploaded a protocol for the doors to only open in the presence of Reclaimers.”

Her brow furrowed at her use of the Forerunner term for humans. Was there more to her connection to the Forerunners than she had thought? She needed to talk to the Didact when everything settled down.

“Humans,” she corrected awkwardly. “I meant to say humans.”

“Cortana...” he started.

“I’m surprised I haven’t made the slip earlier. I have spent a considerable time in the Forerunner systems, when you think about it,” she replied, attempting to convince herself as much as John. “It’s nothing to be worried about.”

He nodded slowly. “If you are sure.”

“I am. Come on, it’s not much further.”



Chapter 13
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