14 August 2012 @ 10:40 am
Fac Fortia et Patere (10/16)  
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The drive through the Autumn is rougher than John expected. The Warthog bounces as he is going as fast as he can through the damaged ship. Around him, Grunts and Elites are shooting at him and the Flood that has taken over the Autumn. He dodges the bullets and bursts of plasma as best as he is able, but his shields are still taking a beating.

As the Warthog sails over another small gap, he glances at the time on the countdown. Less than four minutes are remaining.

He pushes the pedal harder.

“Cortana to Echo 419, request extraction now, on the double!” Cortana’s voice is tense.

They are running out of time.

“Affirmative, Cortana. Foe Hammer inbound.”

John continues to weave through the firefight. The Warthog bounces as the uneven ground of the ship rolls underneath them. He steers the transport to an open ledge.

“Wait, stop! This is where Foe Hammer is coming to pick us up. Hold position--Wait. Cortana to Echo 419, I’m detecting a couple of Covenant Banshees on your six. Evade. Say again, evade!”

John scans the horizon for the aircrafts, but can’t see anything yet. He waits in the Warthog, ready to plow through any Flood that are foolish enough to come to the open landing.

Rawley’s voice is calm when she responds. “We’ve got it , Cortana. Lieutenant, get on those ASMs and show those Covenant who they’re messing with.”

Less than a minute later, smoke plumes from the sky.

“Do you think...” Cortana’s voice trails off.

John is silent for a moment, listening for any sounds of aircraft flying towards them. “I don’t--”

“Echo 419 to Cortana, are you and the Chief ready to get off this ring or what?” John sees the Pelican coming towards them. It’s the first good thing he has seen all day.

He hops out of the Warthog as the Pelican makes its final approach. John barely waits for the ramp to touch the ground before climbing up it. As he steps into the rear corridor, Foe Hammer starts to fly from the surface. He walks to where her and her co-pilot are in the cabin. “Thanks,” he says sincerely.

Rawley flashes him a wide grin. “I have you to thank, Chief. If you hadn’t made that comment about not having too much firepower right before we left Reach, I might not have been convinced to make the last minute adjustments to add the missile pods.” She shakes her head. “I’d hate to think what would happen if I hadn’t done that.”

John frowns. He doesn’t remember saying that to her, but so much of that night is still a blur to him.

“I would suggest powering down as soon as possible,” Cortana says. “We’re going to need the engines later to figure out some sort of escape plan.”

Rawley nods. “You’ve got it, Cortana.”

John walks to the back of the cabin. There are a half-dozen Marines and three ODSTs there, looking as exhausted as he feels. He takes a seat away from all of them.

It doesn’t take long for the ship to shudder as debris from the explosion hits the Pelican.

“Halo. It’s finished.” Cortana sounds relieved.

John shakes his head. “No. I think it’s just getting started.”

/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-

Nothing is right.

Cortana is still trapped on High Charity with the Gravemind. Johnson has been ambushed by Truth’s armada and taken captive by the Prophet. Miranda isn’t responding on her comm channel.

John is starting to lose faith in Cortana’s solution.

He casts a worried glance at the Arbiter knowing that the former Elite can’t see the expression behind his visor.

They are making their way to the Ark’s control center, not knowing what dangers are awaiting them. He checks his rifle as they step on the gravlift. His gun is ready to take out whatever is waiting for them.

A single gunshot catches his attention as they are riding up the lift.

“Stop her!” John recognizes the voice as Truth.

The Arbiter’s grip on his energy sword tightens.

John wills for the lift to move faster. The seconds seem to stretch until finally he can see the top. When the lift stops, John looks down the long corridor. He can see Truth and hear a struggle. A pool of blood is forming on the ground, but John can’t see where it is coming from.

“Let me go!” It is Miranda.

Seconds later, the lights down the corridor are lit. The Halo Array is active.

He and the Arbiter move to go where Miranda is, but are stopped by two Tank Forms of the Flood. “Do not shoot, but listen! Let me lead you safely to our foe. Only you can stop what he has set in motion.”

Accepting help from the enemy is not something John is accustomed to doing, but until he is able to figure out what is going on, he is willing to work with the Flood. He nods reluctantly.

As John crosses the light bridge with the Arbiter, he can’t help but to notice how quiet everything has become. When he steps onto the platform, he sees an infected Brute. Then, he turns away and sees Miranda holding Johnson, who is dead from a single gunshot wound in his chest.

She looks at him guiltily. “He told me--” Her voice catches in her voice. She gently closes Johnson’s still-open eyelids. She whispers, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

She looks at John. When she speaks, her voice is louder, “Stop the rings. Save everyone else.”

/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-

All John wants to do is to go home.

The plan to eliminate the Flood was simple: Miranda was going to escort Cortana to the control panel so the AI could activate the Index while he stood watch at the door, protecting them from any Flood that tried to get inside the control room.

But Guilty Spark had other plans.

When Guilty Spark had attacked Miranda after realizing that they intended to fire the rings before the Installation was complete, John used the Spartan Laser to destroy the rampant AI.

John glances at the now-nonfunctioning Monitor with a scowl before looking at his fallen friend.

Miranda groans slightly as he moves to her side. Burns cover her torso, blood stains her once-pristine uniform.

She is dying.

“I’m getting you out of here,” he vows, wishing he had something to tend her wounds.

She shakes her head. Her eyes are getting glassy. “No, Chief, I’m not going to be able to finish this fight.” She reaches out and takes his hand. Cortana’s chip is between their palms. “Take care of her, Chief. Don’t ever leave her behind.” She coughed. “Tell my mother that I love...”

Her eyes roll in the back of her head. Her grip around John’s hands slackens. Cortana’s chip slips from her hold. John grips the crystal securely.

Miranda is dead.

John stands up slowly, grief washing over him. This wasn’t part of the plan. Woodenly, he walks to the control panel and holds out Cortana’s chip for her to activate the Index.

She looks up at him, sadness in her eyes. “Chief...I am so sorry.”

So is he.

/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-

Random memories from times that he remembered differently assailed him as John was pulled back through the tendrils of time.

Images, sounds, smells, and memories compounded on top of each other. John felt his head roaring, demanding for an end to the overwhelming sensations. A scream was ripped from him as he was dragged through the space-time continuum.

Then, thankfully, there was silence.

/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-/*-

0449 Hours, August 12, 2557
UNSC vessel Infinity, Requiem Shield World
Forerunner Installation SW-0043


Regaining consciousness was elusive for the Chief.

After a time, he could hear whispers, feel the tendrils of awareness tugging at him, but his body was unwilling to cooperate and open his eyes.

There was voices around him, a male and a female, but he couldn’t make out the words they were saying. He thought, maybe, he had heard Cortana speaking.

He croaked, “Cortana?”

“You are safe now.” The woman speaking wasn’t Cortana, but she had a voice that put John at peace. He felt a slight pressure on his right shoulder. “Just rest.”

And, with that simple phrase, he promptly fell asleep again.

John wasn’t sure how much time had past since he heard the woman speak to him. He heard another unfamiliar voice talking.

“According to the latest scans, the Master Chief is making a better than expected recovery. The commander will be pleased,” said an unfamiliar voice.

Where was he?

“He will awaken soon,” agreed another voice. It was the same woman who had spoken to him earlier.

John’s mind crawled its way through the darkness of semi-consciousness. He pushed past the fog of grogginess and forced himself to open his eyes. His vision was blurry, but he was able to recognize a doctor standing next to his bed. There was an UNSC insignia on the white overcoat. The woman standing next to him was wearing some kind of armor, her face hidden behind a mask.

He moved slightly, catching both of their attention.

The doctor walked to stand next to him. A smile covered his face. “It’s nice to see you awake, Master Chief. Welcome aboard the Infinity. I’m Doctor Armstrong.”

John turned to Armstrong, willing his sluggish body to move. “What’s my status?” he slurred.

“Much better than when we found you. Your body certainly took one hell of a beating, but you’re on your way to getting back to your normal self,” the doctor explained.

John felt his eyes start to slip close. He was still so tired. “Where’s Cortana?” he asked tiredly.

Despite his exhaustion, he didn’t miss the look the two exchanged.

“What is the last thing you remember, Chief?” the doctor asked, concerned. He grabbed a tablet and started tapping on it.

John was having trouble getting any memories into focus. Once he thought he had a clear picture in his mind, another one that seemed slightly different replaced it. A mosaic of memories, some conflicting, filtered through his mind. His head reeled; his thoughts were battling with each other.

“I don’t know,” he slowly admitted.

Where was Cortana? She would be able to explain what what going on.

“It could be a side-effect of the conscious transference,” offered the woman.

What was she talking about? And where was Cortana?

“I want to talk to Cortana. Now,” John said firmly.

“Chief,” Armstrong said gently, “according to your suit’s records, Cortana’s program was terminated before the Schism was activated. Do you remember that?”

Cortana wasn’t there? Her program had been terminated?

He forced himself to focus on what he could remember. He and Cortana had been floating in deep space when she had awakened him from cyrosleep. They had landed on a Forerunner planet. John scrambled to remember its name.

Requiem.

Suddenly, memories of what had happened rushed in his mind.

The Schism. The Prometheans. The crystal.

The crystal! John looked down at his empty hand, panicked.

“It’s alright, Chief. You managed to successfully retrieve the crystal from Reach,” Armstrong assured him. “We have it secured.”

He wondered how he knew about the crystal, but he wondered about the presence of a UNSC vessel more. “How did this ship get here?” he asked.

A somber look passed over Armstrong’s face. He ran his hand through his hair. “There’s a lot that has happened, Chief.”

“I think it would be best if the Reclaimer and I went for a brief walk so I might inform him about how the events have unfolded since his departure,” the Librarian suggested.

There was only one species that endowed him with that title. John studied her as he moved upright. “You’re Forerunner.”

She nodded. “You may call me the Librarian.”

The Librarian. She had been the Forerunner who was communicating with the Didact, John recalled. He had read their exchange on the terminals before he had been stranded in space. “You stayed behind on Earth when the Flood was taking over the galaxy.”

She nodded. “You remember your history well.”

Armstrong nodded. “You can speak with him as soon as the scans come back. If he seems stable, then I’ll clear him.”

John didn’t want to lay around, not while there was still a mission at hand. He forced himself to sit up, ignoring the disorientation. “I’m fine, doctor.”

Armstrong studied him for a second, then he looked at John’s medical readout. “All right, Chief. You know your limits better than me.” Then, the doctor turned to the Librarian. “Don’t push him too hard. There are a lot of people back on Earth who are eager to see him get back home.”

“As you have said, the Warrior knows his own limits,” she said patiently. She held out a hand for him to take. John noticed how she had seven fingers on her hand. “Come, there is much to discuss.”

John had never been one who sought out physical contact. Salutes were preferable to handshakes. A nod of acknowledgment over a clasp on the shoulder. However, there was something about this woman that beckoned to him. He took her offered hand and allowed her to help him off the operating table.

Without casting another look at Armstrong, the Librarian led John out of the medical bay. “Before I begin my lengthy recount, I must ask how you are doing.”

Other than his lingering confusion, John felt much better and he told her as much. The pain in his chest was gone, the aches that he had learned to adapt to had disappeared.

She nodded. “That is good to hear. When you were brought on board, I know the people were concerned about your health.” They walked by a pair of Covenant Engineers who were working on some damaged conduits on the ship. “I am sure you have many questions and I will tell you as much as time will permit,” she continued.

“How did the Infinity arrive here?” John asked, coming back to the question that Armstrong had avoided.

“Your construct from this timeline was able to ascertain the planet’s location when she entered into Installation 04’s control systems. Apparently, she had received information about this shield world from a file she had accessed when you travelled back in time. She then uploaded a time-delayed communique to your people detailing when and where you would be. Her plan would have worked, if not for the interference of one.”

They turned a corner. John noticed the ground sloping downwards.

She lifted up the visor, revealing deep purple eyes and light pink skin. She looked directly at John. “My husband, the Didact as you may remember, is behind all of the events that have occurred.” She frowned briefly. “He is a good man, Reclaimer. Truly, he is. But, after nearly one hundred thousand years being locked in a cryptum, his desperation to ‘fix’ everything that has happened had blinded him to all else. He is determined to stop the Flood before they came into existence and save our people, because he was unable to do so before.”

They walked past a cluster of UNSC officers, pointing and gesturing to the two of them. The Librarian paid them no notice.

“When the Portal opened on Erde-Tyrene, I mean, Earth, the cryptum I had placed myself in was reactivated. The apparatus I had created to make sure my body would recover from the long stay worked and I soon discovered everything that had happened since the Great Sleep,” she continued. “Many things surprised me, some angered me, but one thing impressed me: humanity’s resolve to endure. When I accessed the data from your UNSC, I was drawn to the information about you and your Construct.”

“Why?”

She seemed amused by his question. “That will be answered in time.” She turned the conversation back to her narrative. “The Portal collapsed before I had time to recover from my time in the Cryptum. For years, I lived away from your civilization, monitoring the progress of your people at a distance. However, when I intercepted the message from your construct, I pieced together what was happening and I knew I couldn’t hide any longer. I made my presence known to Admiral Hood.”

“When I explained who I was and my knowledge of Requiem, he permitted me to come on board the Infinity under the restriction that I was to keep my presence unknown unless it was necessary for the mission’s success. The captain had been informed about who I was, but no one else for fear of upsetting the crew. Some of them were already uneasy with some of the creatures on board already. The journey began as well as could be expected. The upgraded engines would make it possible to reach Requiem by the date provided by your construct. But then, the plans to come here were discovered by my husband and everything was thrown off course,” she said.

She stopped briefly to look out a window. In the distance, John saw the Schism’s control center. “When he realized what the Infinity’s mission was --to come to Requiem and try to rescue you-- he activated a Portal and started to pull the ship through, sending it on a collision course to the planet’s surface. We entered the system just after the Schism was activated and you were sent back in time. It wasn't long after that we crashed on Requiem. My husband and his Promethean army have been locked in that building with that wretched machine since then.”

“How did I get out of the Schism and end up here?” John asked.

“I learned a few things being with my husband as long as I have. I infiltrated the transport systems and got you out of there before his Knight could reach you,” she answered, pulling the visor back down. “He has since changed the security override and refused to make contact with us. We are, at this point, at an impasse.”

“But we have the crystal,” John pointed out.

“Without access to the Schism’s systems, we could never hope to destroy it. We will have to wait until the Didact makes contact or one of your researchers discover a way into the datastream to reset the systems,” she replied.

There was so much information for John to process and assimilate. But, for now, he nearly had enough information to join the fight again. “What about the timeline?” he asked, not knowing if there was a way she would be aware of what happened during the original timeline.

“It remained much the same.” She stopped and moved in front of him. John saw himself in the reflection of her visor.

“What about the Cortana from this timeline?” For some reason, trying to recall any differences in his memory. But, to his confusion, both versions of what happened when Cortana woke him were identical.

She turned away briefly. “I am sorry, Reclaimer, but your construct did not make it to Requiem.”

John’s head shot up. He remembered Cortana waking him up. If she hadn’t been in this timeline, then he would have never woken when the Covenant started to attack the Dawn. “I remember her with me. In both timelines.”

She paused momentarily before continuing. “Yes, she was. Based on the information we were able to recover before the Didact locked me out of the systems, you, your construct and your ship have been monitored by Requiem’s long range sensors for nearly eighteen months. According to the data it collected from the Forward Unto Dawn’s systems, the construct from this timeline succombed to rampancy nearly two years ago. She was determined to find a way to reach metastability, but in her search for the answer, she accelerated the rampancy process.”

“Then, why do I remember her waking me up in both timelines?”

“Because Requiem is a shield world. It and everything on it was protected from the changes, however small, that occurred in this timeline. We were able to use the data from your armor to compare what had happened in the Prime universe to this one,” explained the Librarian. “Your construct from this timeline assumed, rightly so, that at the point when your vessel got close enough to Requiem, there would be a convergence of the timelines.”

“When you approached Requiem, you were pulled into the shield world’s protected timeline. Your construct reappeared with no knowledge of the altered timeline.” She studied him for a second. “Your subconscious contains versions of both universes which is why things seem so confusing to you.”

John shook his head slightly, trying to wrap his mind around everything that he had been told. “I’m not sure I understand.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Paradoxes are nearly impossible to understand, even to Forerunners.”

John ignored the lingering confusion. Regardless of which timeline he was in, the fact was they were still on Requiem with a hostile Forerunner. “What do we do now?”

“Now,” she said as she started to walk again, “we must wait. Though, I have heard rumors that you are not the type of person to not be content to do as such.”

John said nothing as they turned another corner. The corridor stretched in front of them. How big was this ship?

Before he could ask his question out loud, a voice cut through the air. “Ma’am, if you are finished speaking with the Master Chief, Commander Buck would like to debrief him.”

John turned around and was surprised by what he saw.

It was a Spartan.

The armor had been upgraded from his Mark VI version. The prestine condition of the suit made him wonder if this Spartan had ever seen actual combat.

The Librarian let out a frustrated sigh. “What does your commanding officer think that I have been discussing with the Reclaimer?” She didn’t wait for an answer before facing John. “Your acting captain does not appreciate me being on board. Though without me being here, my husband would have undoubtedly continued to unleash the Prometheans on this ship.” She lowered her voice. “I believe he is still upset that my presence wasn’t revealed to him earlier.”

The Spartan in front of them shifted uncomfortably as her words carried across the room.

She looked at the soldier. “I would assume he would not be opposed to me accompanying the Reclaimer.”

“No, ma’am.” He shook his head. “He asked to speak with you as well.”

She nodded and started to walk down the hall. “Very well. Let’s not keep him waiting.”

The Spartan looked at John and gave him a crisp salute. “Spartan-C014. It’s good to see you, sir.”

John returned the salute out of habit, with no emotion behind the gesture. He felt like a man who had been left behind and the entire world had gone on without him.

It didn’t take long to reach the bridge. As they walked, John had noticed the damage the vessel had taken and wondered if the ship would ever fly again. The Spartan led them to a frosted glass door and pressed a button on the side.

“Enter,” barked the man inside.

The door slid away. Commander Buck sat behind a desk. “So, the legend lives.”

“Sir,” John saluted.

“At ease, Master Chief.” He leaned forward on the desk. John noticed the glimmer of gold on his left finger finger. “You know, I have ten bucks on you still being alive. Can’t wait to collect my payout from Dutch.” His eyes shifted to the Librarian. “Nice you could make it.”

“You could have arranged to speak with me at any time,” she replied coolly.

He shrugged. “I guess I’m a little shy when it comes to speaking to women who are over a hundred thousand years old.” He looked back at John. “Here.” Buck set down a data crystal on top of his desk. “The techs found this in that case with the crystal. They say it was what held Cortana. Thought you’d might like it.”

John took the barren chip and slid it into his helmet. There was no liquid ice pouring into his skull or searing fire; there was nothing.

“So, want to tell me just how the hell you ended up on this planet?”

John outlined what had happened since Cortana had woken him from his slumber, including his time back on Reach.

“And Cortana’s status? I’m assuming you activated her killswitch when she entered into the jealousy state of rampancy,” Buck said.

John shook his head. He had never been given a direct order by the UNSC to do such a thing to Cortana. “No, sir.”

“Damn it!” Buck slammed his hands on the desk. “Now we have to deal with the fact that one of our AIs has been taken captive by a hostile system.” He blew out a frustrated breath. “Tell me, Master Chief, did it occur to you that leaving an AI in a Forerunner system while you went galavanting in the past was a really bad idea?”

John refused to shirk at the commander’s outburst. “Sir,” he said calmly, “I was there when Cortana’s program terminated. Her data saturation levels had reached their maximum levels. She is not a threat to this mission.”

“I hope you’re right for all of our sakes. She knows too much,” Buck said.

The Delegate had said something similiar, John remembered. But it didn’t matter any more. Cortana was gone now. “I’m sure, sir.”

Buck shook his head as if dismissing the topic of Cortana. “So, now the question is how long do you expect for us to sit here on our ass?” The question was directed at the Librarian.

If she was offended by his open hostility, she showed no outward signs of it. Her voice was even when she replied, “I was unaware your craft is ready for space travel.”

His eyes narrowed at her sarcasm. “There is an enemy locked away in that building, trying to figure out some way to take us out so he can get his hands on that damn crystal. Now I know you Forerunners have a habit of not caring about any other species other than yourselves, but I would expect for you to want to do something.”

She went rigid. “You are arrogant as the Builders and have the ignorance of the Unggoy.”

“Sweet talking me isn’t going make me suddenly like you.” He looked at the Chief. “I want you to coordinate with Chief Warrant Officer Lasky and his Spartans. We are going to figure out a way to get through that force field and destroy that crystal.”

Lasky. The name seemed familiar.

“Sir--”

“That’s an order, Master Chief. That extended time in space didn’t make you forget about the chain of command, did it?”

John flinched. “No, sir.”

“Good. I want a course of action in two hours.” He turned to the Spartan standing next to him. “Miller, escort the Master Chief to the training room.”

The Spartan straightened as he saluted. “Yes, sir.” He pivoted towards John. “This way, Chief.”

They went back to the bridge and took a left down another corridor. The Librarian, John noticed, had stayed behind to speak with Commander Buck. He would have to glean more information from the Spartan walking with him so he could start to formulate some kind of idea to infiltrate the control center as per Buck’s order.

“How many Spartans are in your company?” he asked.

“There are fifty-four of us stationed aboard the Infinity, sir.”

During their walk to the cargo bay, Miller outlined the differences and similarities between his generation of Spartans and the Spartan-IIs.

“Though they are declaring this generation of Spartans more of a success than the third group, we haven’t achieved the legendary status of you and the other Spartan-IIs.”

John closed his eyes briefly. Their “legendary status” was what had led him to believe that his Spartans could survive the attack on Reach. John had learned that day that they weren’t legends, they were mortals just like every other person on that planet.

They stopped in front of a large door. Miller pressed in a code on the keypad and the locks hissed as they unlocked. As they walked inside, the scene that greeted them reminded John of when he and his Spartans had been getting ready to leave Reach on their final mission together.

Pairs of Spartans sparred, other were inspecting their weapons. In the corner, a younger man with cropped brown hair was talking to a group of half-dozen Spartans.

It was Thomas Lasky.

He looked older and a little more warworn than from when John had first met him as a cadet years prior. Throughout the war, he had the occasion of seeing the young man rise through the ranks of the UNSC. The last time he had seen Lasky was in New Momasa, trying to hold down the city as the Covenant attacked.

When Lasky caught sight of John, he left his position and crossed the room. “Chief!” he greeted with a smile.

“Chief Warrant Officer Lasky,” he greeted.

“Commander Buck is wanting us to coordinate with the Master Chief to attempt to enter into the control center,” Miller said.

Lasky raised an eyebrow. “And how does he expect for us to do that? Did he forget about the big ass force field that is surrounding the entire building?” Lasky asked.

“I’m just passing along the orders, sir.”

“I know you are, Miller. Look, why don’t you give the Master Chief and me a few minutes to catch up on everything that has happened?”

Miller nodded. “Yes, sir.”

When the Spartan had joined the rest of his team, Lasky led John to a large bench and sat down. John joined him. “So, welcome aboard the Infinity, the first UNSC starship that was commissioned to ‘peacefully advance the cause of mankind through the exploration of new worlds’.” He shook his head. “You can see how well that mission has gone.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” he continued. “Admiral Hood and the Arbiter did their best to fortify the truce between our peoples. We even have a delegation of Separatists onboard. About fifty Sangheili, one hundred and thirty Unggoy, a few dozen Huragok...you get the point.”

“But Cortana and I were attacked by a group of Elites,” John countered.

He nodded knowingly. “A rebel sect. The Arbiter has had his hands full since he crashed on Earth. He’s been trying to do his best to keep the former Covenant interested in keeping the peace with us, but a lot of them aren’t buying his spiel,” replied Lasky.

As John considered the number of Separatists, he wondered, “How many people are stationed here?”

“Her crew was seventeen thousand, including over six thousand civilians. For the first time in eighty years, soldiers could bring their families on board. We thought that the deaths of the Prophets would usher in a new era of peace. Too bad some pissed off Forerunner had another idea for us.” He looked downward.

A frown tugged on his lips. “Nearly eight hundred people died in the crash. Another five hundred died in the attack that followed, including Captain Del Rio. That was when Commander Buck took command. The attacks by those Prometheans continued until the Librarian revealed herself. Since then, we have been left alone.”

“The Spartans certainly got one hell of a crash course in close quarters combat. Chief Mendez could only teach them so much with simulation war programs,” Lasky continued, looking at the men and women scattered throughout the room.

John’s mind reeled. He hadn’t seen Mendez since that day after the funeral services they had for the Spartans who hadn’t survived the augmentation process. “Petty Officer Franklin Mendez?” He started to scan the room for his old mentor.

“He, uh, got pretty banged up during the crash. Doc Armstrong is convinced that he’ll be able to make a full recovery, but without a clear idea of when we’re getting off this planet, we can’t use the power needed to clone the body parts that he needs in order to patch the Chief up. He was put in cryosleep soon after we landed,” explained Lasky.

“Buck assigned me to work with the Spartans.” He looked at the soldiers. “They are good kids, Chief. But they are exactly that --kids. Some of them were barely teenagers when the Halo campaign started.”

John was barely a teenager when they had been sent on their first mission. He knew that maturity and proper training, not age, were what mattered to make a successful soldier.

Lasky nodded at the Spartans. “I’ve been having them take shifts to run surveillance on the control center, but really it would have been just as well for them to sit on their asses in the mess hall. The Didact has got that place locked up tight. There is no way we’re getting in unless he wants us to.”

“No one has been able to infiltrate the security systems yet?”

Lasky shook his head.

“What about your shipboard AI?”

“We don’t have a smart AI on board, Chief.” He ran a hand through his hair, causing it to spike in all directions. “After everything that happened with Cortana when you left her behind on High Charity -- the Gravemind discovering the location of Earth, the Flood outbreak that was barely contained in Africa -- High Command pressured Lord Hood to issue an order limiting the capabilities of AIs matrices. As of 2555, the UNSC doesn’t make any more smart AIs.”

John felt a wave of defensiveness rise in him. “The Gravemind could have discovered Earth’s location when the Prophet of Mercy was consumed by the Flood. It was Cortana’s solution that led to the destruction of the Flood and the Gravemind.”

Lasky raised his hands in innocence. “You don’t have to convince me, Chief. She won me over on the Cairo platform. But, after Halsey was found and tossed in prison, just about all of the work she had been involved with --including the advancement of artificial intelligence -- became tainted. Just about every major advocate of advanced AI research was silenced.”

John felt his heart speed up. “Doctor Halsey is alive?”

Lasky nodded. “Along with Spartans-058, 087 and 104.”

Linda. Kelly. Fred.

They had survived.

John wasn’t too concerned with the particulars of how they were found, it was enough for him that they were alive. There was one question that plagued him. “Why was Doctor Halsey sent to prison?”

“Because of the piss poor decisions she made,” Lasky said bluntly. “Hijacking a ship, kidnapping a Spartan, lying to Admiral Hood.” He ticked off each point with a finger. “I know you are close to her, but even the doctor could only push against High Command for so long.”

John frowned. There was nothing he could do for the doctor here, so he steered the conversation from Halsey. “So, how do we get inside the control center?”

“I’ll get you in.”

John turned around. The Librarian was standing at the door, looking at the two of them.

“I need for you to arrange an armed escort to take us to the southern border,” she said to Lasky. She then looked at John. “I would ask that you would join us, Reclaimer. The commander said this mission is voluntary.”

He nodded as he stood. “I’m coming with you.”

Lasky stood up. “Theta and Delta team, get ready. It’s your turn to show these Promethean Knights what it means to mess with the UNSC.” He turned to John with a wry grin. “Just like old times, right, Chief?”



Chapter 11
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