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18 August 2012 @ 09:30 pm
Fac Fortia et Patere (2/16)  
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1120 hours, July 21, 2557
Forward Unto Dawn, UNSC Frigate
Location: UNKNOWN


There was no heroic welcome for the Master Chief after he opened his eyes from his extended slumber.

John had little time to consider what would be waiting for him when he entered the cryotube after the failed escape back to Earth. A rescue, perhaps, but Cortana hadn’t seemed too optimistic about that possibility as the lid closed on him.

So, when his heart started pounding in his chest and he had heard the muffled sounds of Cortana’s voice calling to him, he had thought he had prepared himself from whatever awaited him when he was awakened.

He had been wrong.

Explosions shook the Dawn as he emerged from the cyrotube. Cortana stood in the middle of the room, emitting from the holotank with a worried look. Relief flooded her face as he floated towards her. “Chief!”

Her voice sounded a little different and her appearance had changed throughout the time of his slumber. Her once vibrant blue color seemed more muted. The mathematical calculations that had effortlessly slid over her body now moved sluggishly over her frame.

“I’m here.”

Her hologram flickered as another explosion caused the ship to shudder. “Yeah, well, so are some unexpected guests. A standard Covenant boarding party as far as I can tell.”

John frowned at Cortana’s words. “A boarding party? Are you sure?”

Had the Arbiter and Lord Hood been unable to keep peace between their peoples?

Another tremor shook the ship. “I’m pretty sure they’re not here to say hello, Chief.” She looked away briefly. “I’ve tried opening a comm channel to their vessel when the attack first started. They aren’t in a chatty mood, it seems.”

John tried to grapple with all that Cortana was telling him. It was never an easy transition to enter a cryotube one moment and exit it, not knowing what had happened in the interim time. “How long has it been?”

“Too long.” John was taken aback by the bitterness in Cortana’s voice. She let out a frustrated sigh. “Four years, seven months, and ten days. Welcome to the year 2557.”

Unexpectedly, John suddenly dropped to the ground as gravity pulled him downward. His legs were sprawled in front of him, looking nothing like the coordinated Spartan he was.

“The Covenant have extended their ship’s artificial gravity around the Dawn,” Cortana explained. She looked almost amused as John pulled himself to stand, but made no comment. “You need to get down to the armory and get some weapons before the Covenant find you unarmed.”

He glanced back at his assault rifle hanging on the wall. There was only one bullet remaining in the clip.

He reached for Cortana’s chip. “I’ll stay here,” she said. “I’m going to need the Dawn’s sensors - as limited as they are - to keep an eye on what’s going on.”

John wasn’t comfortable with the idea of leaving Cortana alone, but she had a valid point. He was outnumbered and had nothing to fight with; Cortana’s guidance would prove helpful. “Understood,” he reluctantly agreed.

John took advantage of the gravity to sprint through the ship. He raced down the corridor and down a flight of stairs towards the armory.

“At least they have stopped shooting at us,” Cortana said via their comm channel. She paused. “I’m sorry I didn’t wake you sooner. I was a bit...distracted.”

The idea that Cortana was too preoccupied in a ship floating in deep space with nothing to do seemed absurd to John.  There had been only a couple of times when she had seemed overwhelmed by the demands pressed upon her. In those situations, she had been pushed to her breaking point.

This, John knew, was something different.

“What’s your status?” he asked as he turned a corner.

“I’m going rampant,” she quietly admitted.

John guessed that was the most likely scenario, but it didn’t stop her words from feeling like he had the wind knocked out of him. He had known about her short life span - Cortana herself had brought it up when they were stationed on Cairo station - but he hadn’t expected to wake up and have that uncomfortable reality stare him in the face.

“I don’t have much time left. A couple of weeks, probably less with all this data that is pouring into my systems,” Cortana replied. “But, I survived an encounter with a Gravemind and the destruction of a couple of Halo rings...a few Elites shouldn’t be a problem.”

Her words sound like something she would say, but they were lacking their usual confidence.

John didn’t have time to second guess her stability. She was functioning well enough to communicate with John and that was enough for the Spartan. For now.

“Do you know where we are?”

“No. We were currently drifting by an unknown planet when we were attacked. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that the Covenant were waiting for us to show up.”

John’s brow furrowed. What would the Covenant want with them now? Why would they have waited to attack their defenseless vessel after four years?

His questions were squelched when he heard the sounds of footsteps coming from the T-junction ahead of him. “I need an alternative route.”

“Processing.” A marker appeared on his HUD a half-second later. “You’re going to have to go through the access tunnels to get to the other side.”

John walked back several yards to where a narrow access door was. He pushed the button.

Nothing happened.

“Cortana?”

“Give me a second, Chief. I’m diverting power from the Dawn’s core now.”

Moments later, the door opened. John slipped inside as several Covenant started walking in his direction. He made his way through the maze of passageways. A single Grunt stood at the end of the passage, blocking his exit.

He crept in the shadows as he approached the aloof soldier. Then, before the Grunt could let out a cry of alert, he slammed his gauntlet into his skull. The Unggoy slumped to the ground, no longer a threat. John pilfered the plasma pistol and the pair of plasma grenades the Grunt had.

Cautiously, he walked to the door leading to the main hall. His radar showed no signs of any Covenant movement; the halls were silent. Satisfied that there was no one waiting to ambush him, John stepped out into the open.

"You should know that I've been busy while you were taking your nap. I'm sure you've noticed your upgraded HUD," she said as he progressed through the halls of the Dawn.  "I also created a portable holoprojector on your gauntlet and added a video feed to interact directly with my data crystal. A girl starts to feel lonely after drifting in space for years."  There was a wistfulness to her voice.

"Any other upgrades?"

"One more, but I'll save the surprise for later."

"Understood." 

"And Chief? It's good to hear your voice again."

He sprinted down the hall and up a flight a stairs to where the armory was. A plethora of weapons were at his disposal. John kept the plasma pistol and selected his weapons of choice: an assault rifle and several frag grenades. He grabbed spare ammo as Cortana’s avatar appeared from the holotank in the corner of the room.

“I’ve detected about a dozen Covenant onboard. It seems as though they are headed to one location.”

John loaded a new clip into the rifle. “Where?”

There was a long pause followed by a reluctant answer. “To the cryobay.”

Without a word, John turned around and began backtracking to where he had awakened from his long slumber.

“Are they looking for me?” he asked.

He couldn’t help but to think back to when the Elites had tried to catch him helpless in the cryotube when they boarded the Autumn.

She didn’t respond.

“Cortana?” he prompted.

“No,” she admitted. “Based on the transmissions I’ve intercepted, it seems as though capturing me is their primary objective. Though, killing ‘the demon’ is still a priority.”

John frowned. He knew he shouldn’t have left Cortana behind.

Don’t let her go.

He flinched as Johnson’s words replayed in his mind.

Much had changed from the attack on Reach. Then, Cortana’s abilities and knowledge had been unknown to the Covenant. Throughout the Halo campaign, however, her skills had become nearly as infamous as John’s.

“I’ll be right there.”

There was no point to hide in the shadows any longer.

He plowed down the hall. Two Jackals stood guard at the end of the hall with their shields activated. The Spartan paused his run long enough to aim and shoot out their defense screens. Then, he sprinted and knocked them out with a strike to each of their skulls from back of his rifle.

John stepped over their bodies and turned the corner. He jogged up the flights of stairs, his rifle ready to take out any other threat that was waiting for him.

“Hurry, Chief! They are almost here.”

The fear in her voice propelled John to move faster. As he crossed through an intersection, a bolt of plasma sailed over his head. He ducked and rolled, turning his body towards his attacker. With one fluid movement, he switched his rifle for the plasma pistol.

He scanned the area. It took almost two seconds, but he finally caught sight of the ship’s light bending in an unnatural angle. With his left hand, he reached down and took hold of a plasma grenade. He activated it and lobbed the grenade at the target.

It stuck.

The Elite howled as he realized he had no escape. John waited for the explosion. A burst of blue plasma exploded and smoke filled the corridor.

As he proceeded down the corridor, a tremor violently shook the ship.

“Cortana?”

“Looks like we have another problem. Thanks to the warm welcome we got, the Dawn has fallen into a decaying orbit. I calculate we have less than ten minutes until we crash land on the planet’s surface,” Cortana replied as a countdown timer appeared on his HUD.

“Understood.”

He couldn’t begin to consider an escape plan until Cortana was safely secured. He glanced at the timer Cortana had uploaded; he had just over nine minutes to get them off the ship.

John turned another corner where an Elite was waiting for him, energy sword drawn.

“Demon!” he roared.

John greeted him with a smattering of bullets and a fist in his face. The Sangheili slumped forward, but his body never hit the ground. John began to float towards the ceiling.

The artificial gravity had been lost.

“The Covenant vessel has moved away,” Cortana explained. “Guess they’re not into crash landings as much as you are.”

John pushed himself off the wall towards the cryobay.

“Enemy contact in fifteen seconds.”

He would be there in twenty.

Ahead of him, down the passageway, he could see a group of Covenant soldiers huddled together. Their steps were slow and clumsy; the device to counteract the loss of gravity made the normal agile Elites seem inept.

They were too close to Cortana’s holotank for John to risk throwing a grenade at it. He was going to have to improvise. Floating around made shooting too difficult; John activated the magnets in his boots. He settled on the floor with a deep thud.

“I need you to activate your avatar from my gauntlet,” John said, not taking his eyes off her approaching attackers.

“You don’t think they are really going to fall for that, do you?” she asked, deducing his spontaneous plan.

“Maybe.”

“All right, let’s just hope after everything we’ve been through, you’ve got some of that luck left.”

John held out his left hand. A half-second later, Cortana’s avatar appeared on the palm of his hand. She gave him a doubtful look. “I hope this works.”

So did he.

“Are you looking for something?” she called to the Covenant, hand on hip.

“Impossible!” the gold-armored Elite cried.

They started walking towards John, their footsteps echoing on the Dawn’s floor.

“Well,” Cortana said, glancing back at John with an incredulous look, “they certainly haven’t gotten more intelligent over the years. I’m transferring my systems out of the Dawn. I’ll be ready when you take care of these guys.” Her hologram blinked off.

The group of Covenant moved towards John. Once they were far enough away from Cortana’s holotank, he reached for his final plasma grenade and activated it. His throw would have to be perfect, his speed incredible to counteract the loss of gravity.

He hurled it in the air. As it spun end over end, John pulled out his rifle and began shooting the Covenant as they tried to dodge the incoming projectile. Three Grunts collapsed, dead, as the grenade stuck to the lead Elite.

The remaining Covenant tried to flee, but with their burdensome movements, they were unable to save their lives. The grenade exploded, allowing John to reach the holotank without any threat.

He deactivated the magnets and floated where Cortana was waiting. As he approached, she appeared on the holotank, frowning. “I shouldn’t let you be doing this.”

He grabbed hold of the holotank. “Do what?”

“You can’t take me with you.” She shook her head. “I can no longer guarantee that my program won’t malfunction.” She smiled sadly as the calculations nearly stopped scrolling over her body. “I have become a liability.”

John hesitated a second. “I’m not leaving you here,” he said firmly.

“Eight minutes minutes until impact,” she replied, almost as if she hadn’t heard him. Her gaze turned back to John. “I’ll stay in the system. If I manage to survive the crash, I will monitor your situation remotely until we figure out what the Covenant are wanting.”

Leaving Cortana onboard, alone and defenseless was not going to happen. “I’ll take my chances. See if you were right about all of my luck.”

John didn’t miss the look of relief that passed over her face. “Well, since you seem so determined,” she said with false bravado. “Yank me.”

He held onto the holotank with his left hand and removed the crystal with his right. He reached around and inserted it into the back of his helmet. John winced as Cortana’s chip interfaced with his armor. The sensation of liquid ice being poured into his skull was far more painful than it had ever been, even after he had found Cortana on High Charity.

“Sorry, Chief,” Cortana said. “The interface was never intended for you to hold my chip when it was so saturated with data.” Several seconds passed and the pain seemed to ebb away. “There, I created a buffer between my system and your armor. It should help.”

The cabin shook again.

“If we’re going to survive this, I’d suggest getting to the transport bay so we can try to escape.” A marker appeared on his HUD. “You’re going to need to use the one of the upgrades I created in a fit of boredom, if you have any chance of getting there before we crash.”

A jet pack was activated from the back of his armor. “Should be easy enough for you to figure out.” A holographic display appeared on the left corner of his HUD. “Keep an eye out for the energy meter. Don’t let it drop too low.”

“Understood.”

John wasted no time in using the upgraded systems. He flew through the air as the ship started to explode around them.

“Structural failure on decks 2-5. We’re getting crushed like a tin can,” Cortana reported as he dodged as piece of debris flying in the air.

He twisted and raced down the corridors, dodging all the debris hurling around the Dawn. Cortana was marking the projectiles before John saw them, giving the Spartan a chance to reach their destination successfully.

Ahead of him, a pair of doors were sealed shut.

“I’m unable to override the door’s systems.” Cortana’s voice was panicked. “The gears must be jammed.”

Without hesitation, John pulled out the plasma pistol he had kept. He held down the trigger for two seconds. The weapon trembled in his hand as the plasma built up.

“We’re not going to have enough time to clear--”

He fired.

The burst of plasma sped ahead of them and exploded as it hit the steel doors. John flew through the flying metal and fire, clearing the opening within a fraction of a second of the explosion.

“Show off.”

He continued making his way through the bowels of the ship using the marker Cortana had uploaded to guide him to the cargo bay. Fire licked the walls as John turned the final corner. The temperature gauge on his HUD flashed red as he passed too close to the flames.

“Igniting the fuel in the jet pack isn’t advisable, Chief,” Cortana muttered.

John didn’t reply.

The large doors separated as John approached. He deactivated his jet pack and floated to the center of the room. There were a half-dozen Pelicans and over a dozen Scorpions and Warthogs scattered throughout the bay.

John was haunted by the crew and the sacrifice they had made when they travelled through the Portal from Earth. The ship was too big, its equipment too much, for one single Spartan.

He activated the magnet in his boots. Awkwardly, he started approaching the Pelican closest to him.

“You need to get inside and strap in. I’ll get us out of here,” Cortana said.

The shaking was so extreme, it was practically impossible for the Spartan to make any headway in reaching the transport. He staggered across the floor.

“Hurry, Chief!”

He did his best to acquiesce to Cortana’s plea, but it seemed that every time he would get close to the Pelican, the violent shaking would move it just out of his grasp.

Finally, his fingers grabbed a hold of the Pelican’s siding. As he was about to reach the rear door, he was slammed into the side of the transport as the planet’s gravitational force pushed him forward.

“I should have probably warned you about that.”

John pressed his lips together and ignored the black spots that were dancing in his vision. Blindly, he slammed the outside control panel, willing the door to open. “Ninety seconds until impact. You need to get in there now, John!”

The G-forces were pressing against him. He lifted up his hand and pressed the center button. The door opened. John got inside and sat in the pilot’s chair. He slid Cortana’s chip inside the crystal reader.

Cortana’s avatar activated from the holotank. “Give me the controls, Chief.”

He did as she requested and slid her chip into the reader. The ship raised and sped forward towards the large cargo bay doors that led to the outside.

But they didn’t open.

Had John not been looking at her, he would have missed the look of panic that passed over Cortana’s face. “Are the door controls jammed again?”

She shook her head, her eyes open wide. “The files must be corrupted,” she whispered.

John tensed. They were running out of time to escape. He could see the planet’s terrain through the bay windows. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that I can’t open the door,” she hissed. “Or did you not bother to look outside the window and see that we are stuck in here?”

Concern crept into John’s mind. She was getting increasingly more panicked; he needed to remain calm so her alarm wouldn’t intensify. “Can you remotely open them through the Pelican’s systems?”

She flashed green for a half-second. “Don’t you think I would have thought about that already? It’s not going to work. Only I can override the ship’s controls.”

She paused. “Or I used to be able to anyway.”

“All right,” John replied, refusing to take her hostility personally. “What options do we have?”

She looked away briefly. “Only one that is viable. You need to go in the back cabin and strap in. Hopefully, the extra protection of the Pelican will keep us alive.”

John nodded before removing her chip from the Pelican. He made his way to the back of the vessel. When he strapped in, Cortana spoke up, her voice contrite. “I’m sorry, Chief...I am still getting used to my limitations in my debilitated state. It’s not easy.”

He did his best to ignore the niggle of worry that was continuing to grow in the back of his mind. What if Cortana was right and she had become a liability? His stubbornness refused to entertain the idea; she had been underutilized over the past four years. She would be back to her normal operating limits soon enough.

“You’re going to be fine.” The shaking was so intense, the Spartan would have been launched out of his seat had he not been strapped in.

“I don’t think--”

He didn’t get a chance to hear the rest of her sentence; the ship had jerked violently at its impact on the planet’s surface. His head bashed against the paneling behind him.

He was starting to lose consciousness.

It could have been his imagination, but he swore he heard Cortana mutter, “Nice to know things haven’t changed much.”

Then, he blacked out.


Chapter 3
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Jackie: Halo - Chief Profilefantasticjackie on August 25th, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
It's just not Halo if there's not a crash landing that John survives with his armor: biofoam! \o/

Cortana's grumpy, tho. :( Alone for 4 years and degrading... Sadness. ... I so know you're gonna give her a happy ending. ;)

Also, my iPhone = win. Anytime I misspell a 4 letter word beginning with h, it automatically corrects the word to be Halo. \o/
yappichick: Halo: Keep Calmyappichick on August 25th, 2012 01:24 am (UTC)
No, it's not! I had to keep up the tradition! LOL

Er, yeah...she's not doing too well right now. I feel bad for poor John.

Yay for iPhone awesomeness! \o/