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18 August 2012 @ 07:21 am
Fac Fortia et Patere (4/16)  
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1255 hours, July 21, 2557
Unknown Forerunner Planet


John was concerned.

Cortana’s behavior since he had been awakened had been slowly deteriorating. Despite his assurance to her that everything would be fine, he wondered if he had overpromised her. Dealing with an AI that was going through data degradation was something that John had never had to deal with. Her random outbursts underscored how unprepared --and how potentially dangerous -- the situation could be.

He wasn’t giving up on finding some sort of solution. He would do everything he could to save her from her fate.

And not keep that ill-made promise.

He had made that promise before. Before working together for a month on the Cairo platform. Before leaving her behind on High Charity. Before he had saved her from the clutches of the Gravemind.

Unless Cortana presented a clear and present danger, John didn’t think he could keep his promise to activate her killswitch.

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. She was looking forward, as if taking in the sights around them. It was only after he watched her for several seconds, he noticed that she seemed in pain.

Was that a normal effect of the rampancy?

Focusing on Cortana’s affliction helped to distract John from his own. His left side throbbed. His broken wrist would prevent him from wielding a weapon in his non-dominant hand, but he could manage with that disadvantage. It was his chest that was the distracting issue; it burned with every breath he took.

Adrenaline and determination had kept John from registering how badly Guilty Spark’s blast had injured him on the incomplete Installation 04, but now that he was active after his four year sloom, the pain was reintroducing itself to him.

The biofoam was doing its best to hold John together, but it was only a temporary solution and he knew it. But there was nothing on this planet that would mend his wounds; he would have to ignore the pain and endure.

After several minutes of flying, John saw a structure that stood thirty meters high. He raised an eyebrow behind his visor. “Small structure?”

A ghost of a smile passed over her lips. “Clearly, the Forerunners lived by the ‘bigger is better’ motto.”

Suddenly, it felt like no time had passed between the two of them. They were the Master Chief and Cortana on another mission to save the universe. There was no rampancy to consider. There was no critical injuries that threatened his well-being.

The Pelican turned slightly to the east and began its landing sequence. John ejected Cortana’s crystal when it settled on the rocky ground. To his satisfaction, he felt none of the sharp pain he had felt when he first put the chip into his armor.

“If my analysis is correct, there should be some sort of central computer on the north side of the structure,” Cortana said. A NAV marker appeared on his HUD.

Before exiting the transport, John swapped his plasma pistol for a DMR. If they did run into any unexpected surprises, he wanted to make sure he could deal with them from a distance. He slung the DMR over his shoulder and readied his rifle.

He scanned the area around them. It seemed strangely devoid of any living creatures that weren’t rooted to the earth.

“It’s almost too quiet,” Cortana replied, picking up on his thoughts.

He nodded his agreement and turned towards the building. The large doors slid apart and John entered the slate-colored building. Like the previous Forerunner installations he had seen, the architecture was grand and vast. He walked down the corridors and through several sets of doors, following the marker.

John stepped on a gravlift. As he was nearing the top, Cortana’s voice cut through the silence. “The Covenant have found the Dawn. Based on the transmissions I’ve intercepted, they’re not too happy with us right now.”

He frowned as he walked down the corridor. The Covenant’s attack --and their interest in Cortana -- perplexed and frustrated the Spartan. Why were they after her, especially after so long?

His thoughts were pulled away from the mysteries of the Covenant’s objectives when he entered a large room with a wide chasm separating him from the other side of the room.

It was similar to the room he had seen on the first Halo ring. He started looking around the room for the control panel to activate the light bridge that would allow him to cross to the other side. When he spotted it on the far side of the room, he made his way to it and pressed the holographic button.

“How did you know to do that?” Cortana asked. She seemed genuinely surprised.

A sinking feeling settled in John’s stomach. He couldn’t remember a single instance when Cortana had forgotten anything.

Acceptance reluctantly dawned on him. As much as he wanted the situation to be different, he couldn’t deny that Cortana was, in fact, different than she had been when he had entered that cryotube. He would assume the majority of her data had been lost or corrupted during their solitary flight in space.

“We saw this technology on the first Halo ring,” he answered evenly.

“Oh. Right.”

John turned around and walked across the glowing bridge to where a hub was. It was larger and seemed more complex than the one he had seen on Installation 04.

“Yank me, Chief.”

John hesitated. He knew any massive amounts of data she collected would exacerbate Cortana’s descent into madness. “Why don’t we access the data remotely?”

Her window popped on his visor. She gave him a disapproving look. “I am ok, Chief. My data pathways are a little bogged down, but I’m still the best AI the UNSC has ever had.”

She sounded so confident; it was a stark contrast to her confusion a few minutes ago.

“Chief, if I’m going to figure anything out, I need to get in there.” Her voice was laced with annoyance. “It would take too long staying in your armor.”

“All right,” he conceded.

“Thanks, Chief.” Then her image blinked off.

John reached back and ejected her crystal before he started to have second thoughts. He slid the chip into the control panel and waited.

When Cortana didn’t immediately appear, John started to get nervous. When ten seconds passed without any contact from her, he started to get worried.

“Cortana?”

“I’m busy, Chief,” she replied curtly.

John waited another minute before asking, “What’s your status?”

“Still busy.”

John felt helpless. There was nothing he could do to coerce Cortana to reveal herself. Removing her matrix chip would be pointless. She was in the control panel’s systems now; it was up to her to transfer herself back to the data crystal. All he could do was wait.

And he hated that.

He looked at the holographic displays projected from the console. There was a map of what he assumed was the planet they had landed on. The red blinking triangle must have been the Dawn based on its location. Several dozen yellow dots surrounded it. Covenant, he assumed. Curiously, there were a few purple dots scattered all over the map, none close to their location.

What was out there?

Without warning, Cortana appeared from the panel. John instantly noticed the slight green hue to her avatar. She pressed her lips together. “Apparently this was used as some kind of central crossroads where the Forerunners were able to stock up on just about everything they needed. They called it the Station. You need to go here.” A marker appeared on his display.

“What’s there?”

“A way to possibly save your life. I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of medical unit and if I’m understanding the data correctly, it should be able to take care of those injuries,” Cortana explained.

They didn’t have time to get sidetracked, he thought. “Cortana, I will be fine.”

She crossed her arms. It could have been John’s imagination, but he swore her pupils turned white for the briefest of seconds. “Tell that to yourself, Chief. The internal bleeding is getting worse. Whatever information I find here will be pointless if you end up dead.”

John pulled up the medical readout from his armor. Cortana was right in her prediction; his condition was deteriorating rapidly. “All right, but you’re coming with me.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “There’s still more data that I need to access.”

He didn’t move. He would wait until she was ready. “I will be fine in here, Chief. If the Covenant do breach the building, they will assume that I am with you anyway. Go, before you run out of time!”

With great reluctance, John turned on his heels and left Cortana alone.

He backtracked to the gravlift. A NAV point appeared on his HUD as Cortana started speaking, “I’m redirecting the lift to the second floor. From what I can tell, the medical bay is in some sort of standby mode. I’ll do my best to get it up and running by the time you get there.”

The lift started its descent. “Have you found out anything about the planet?”

“Not much. The Forerunners called it Requiem. As to its purpose...I’m not too sure about that yet. The encryption is extremely difficult to decipher. Even if I was operating at my normal perimeters, I’d have trouble hacking into the system. They didn’t want anyone else to find out what they were doing, that’s for sure.”

“Find out what you can.”

The gravlift slowed to a stop. John stepped off the platform and proceeded down the passage, following the marker. The corridor turned slightly to the left and led him to a large door with a red glowing light.

As expected, when he stepped forward, the door remained closed.

“Hold on, Chief. I’m overriding the controls now.”

The door hissed as the locks were released. It slowly moved out of the way, allowing John to look inside.

The room was completely dark when he first stepped inside. Then, the lights and various machines began to illuminate the room. “Thought this place could use a girl’s touch,” Cortana replied. Her avatar appeared from a holotank in the front of the room.

Several beds were lined up against the back wall each with their own monitor. Shelves were lined with unfamiliar tools and devices. But what caught the Chief’s attention was the enormous pillar that stood in the center of the room. It was reminiscent of a cryotube, but it was completely opaque save a small triangular window near the top.

“To answer your unspoken question, yes, that is what should be able to heal your injuries.”

John didn’t like the uncertain tone in her voice.

“Don’t worry, Chief. I’m not ready to tell you to jump in there yet. You are my ride out of here.” She glanced towards the middle of the room. “We’re going to conduct a little test first.”

John slung his rifle over his back. Then, he walked across the room and faced the enormous piece of equipment. “I had to do a little modification to the programming. The Forerunner physiology is similar --but not exactly the same -- to humans. I uploaded a protocol to make it compatible with you.”

She paused a half-second. “Or at least I hope I did.”

John eyed the device warily.

If his injuries weren’t so life-threatening, he would have dismissed Cortana’s plan for being too speculative. There were already too many unknown variables for his liking.

Before Cortana started to explain what her test entailed, her eyes widened as she looked behind him. “Watch out, Chief!”

John spun and turned as three tall creatures seemingly came out of nowhere. They were several feet taller than he, each one was adorned with some sort of armor. The large guns they held in their hands caused John the most concern, however.

“We have been waiting a long time to repay you for your actions, Reclaimer.” They raised their weapons.

John ducked as their weapons discharged. He tumbled to the side and grabbed his rifle off his back. He fired a burst of bullets at them. Before the projectiles could hit the hostiles, some sort of blue shield appeared, protecting them.

One of the creatures moved to stand in the front of the group. He shook his head as if he was a disappointed parent and John, the rebellious child. “Do not waste your efforts, Reclaimer. Your ‘weapon’ is not effective against us.”

John considered his options. His gun offered no comfort and the hostiles were blocking the only way out of the room.

“There is a medical waste chute behind that grated paneling on the eastern wall. You will have enough room to get through so jump in. It will take you back to the ground level,” Cortana suggested.

The Spartan didn’t especially want to know what would be waiting for him at the end of the chute, but he was left with no other option. He sprinted across the room, ducked behind the pillar, and shot out the paneling. Then, without hesitation, he dove in, feet first.

Behind him, he heard shouts of protest. Then, he heard the sounds of gunfire coming from the top of the chute. Balls of orange plasma bounced off the metal sides as they raced towards him. His shield level dropped precariously low as several bursts made contact with his armor.

He slid and twisted in the narrow chamber. Lifting up his head, he peered down to see if the end was in sight. Another blast hit him in the left shoulder, his shield started chirping its discontent.

Finally, he saw the ground below. He readied himself for a rough landing.

He rolled into the fall, then, quickly stood up. To his surprise, the chamber where he landed in was pristine and empty, as if it had never been used before. He looked up and eyed the top of the receptacle, twelve feet above his head.

A deep boom came from the chute.

He activated his jetpack and guided himself to the ground on the other side, not willing to wait and see if the unknown hostiles were following him..

“You’d better hurry, Chief. They’re not far behind you.”

“I’m on my way.”



Chapter 5
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