15 August 2012 @ 07:14 am
Fac Fortia et Patere (8/16)  
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0730 hours, July 22, 2557
Control Center, Requiem Shield World
Forerunner Installation SW-0043


John hadn’t been able to save Cortana.

She had disappeared before he could accept the fact and reply that he would miss her as well. He had come to expect her advice and guidance, along with a glib retort or two.

Now, there was silence.

He didn’t have long to reflect on Cortana’s demise. Soon, a rumbling in the distance grew louder until the vibrations were felt by the Spartan. A light flooded the room. John raised his arm to try to shield his eyes, but his retinas burned at the brightness.

Then, there was darkness.

Suddenly, he felt as if the ground was pulled out from under him. He tried to reach out to brace himself, but he could no longer feel his hands, feet, or any other part of his body. Gusts of wind whipped around him. A myriad of voices talked over each other. He was able to pick out snippets out of the cacophony of sounds.

”Stop the rings. Save the rest.”

“After that stunt on Cairo, I know you’re not afraid of heights.”

“Coming here was reckless. You two know better than this...thanks.”


The winds moved faster, the voices spoke louder. His mind throbbed as he was pulled through the very fabric of time. Finally, there was a red light in the horizon. It grew closer and closer until it was the only thing he could see. Then, the wind ceased and the voices were silent, save one.

“I have long dreamt of this day, Reclaimer,” said an unfamiliar voice.

Then, there was darkness once more.

The next thing John was aware of was a high-pitched chirp that sounded it was coming from a heart monitor. His mind struggled to understand where the sound was coming from when it abruptly stopped.

Then, he heard the concerned voice of a familiar woman. “Would someone tell me how my Spartan went into cardiac arrest during a routine tendon fusion?”

Doctor Halsey.

“I don’t know, Doctor. He was doing fine, then his heart stopped beating for several seconds,” a young man answered. His voice wavered.

Slowly, John opened his eyes and knew exactly to when he had travelled. He recognized that medical bay that he was in; it was the same one he had been taken to after the test on Reach when he had first been introduced to Cortana.

In his hand, he felt the box pressed against his palm. It seemed as if Cortana had been right, the container had somehow travelled with him through time. Unfortunately, John couldn’t yet check to see if the shard and data crystal had as well, not under Doctor Halsey’s watchful eye.

“I’d appreciate it if your assistants didn’t kill the Master Chief before we had a chance to complete our mission,” said an annoyed voice. “Or even start it for that matter.”

Cortana.

The emotional dam threatened to crack when John caught sight of her bright purple avatar. It was too soon to see her, to put up the charade of professional detachment. With a mental shove, he pushed his emotions aside. There would be time to mourn Cortana -- after his mission was complete.

“Not now, Cortana,” Doctor Halsey said warningly. She turned to John, somehow knowing he had awakened despite the fact that his face was hidden behind his visor and he hadn’t moved. “Are you alright, John?”

He nodded slowly, still trying to process the fact that he had really travelled back in time to Reach. “What happened, ma’am?”

Doctor Halsey pressed her lips together. “We are still trying to figure that out. You were being administered a dose of morphine when you went into some sort of anaphylactic shock.”

“Funny that there is nothing about any type of allergies in his medical file,” Cortana casually noted as she crossed her arms.

“Perhaps now would be a good time to deliver your analysis of the Master Chief’s interface to ONI,” Halsey suggested curtly. “I’ll tend to John’s injuries myself.” She grabbed the mending tool from her assistant and looked at the AI pointedly.

Cortana opened her mouth to argue, but she let out a frustrated sigh instead. “Very well, Doctor.” She turned to John. “Don’t die on me now, Master Chief. I have a vested interest in your well-being, after all.” Then, her avatar blinked off.

Doctor Halsey began to mend his tendon. “You’ll have to forgive Cortana. Since Colonel Ackerson’s attempt to make sure the test was a failure, she has become quite protective of you.”

“I understand, ma’am.”

During the quiet minutes that passed as Doctor Halsey tended to his injuries, John began to lay out a plan as to how he was going to retrieve the crystal without catching anyone’s attention. He focused on remembering what had happened this night. He recalled going to the Pillar of Autumn to meet with Captain Keyes after he had met with his Spartans. Then, he went to Doctor Halsey’s office to retrieve and deliver Cortana’s data crystal before they set off for their mission.

There had been about a ninety-minute window between the two events. He would have to complete the retrieval of the crystal during that time.

Fifteen minutes later, Doctor Halsey finished knitting his tendon back together. His rotated his ankle gingerly several times as the doctor watched closely. When she was satisfied with his range of motion, she nodded to her techs who helped him replace the pieces of armor over his foot.

“How are you feeling, John?”

He stood up and stretched. He felt better than he had in a long time; the injuries of the Halo campaign had yet to affect his body. “Fine, ma’am.”

She studied him for a moment longer than normal before grabbing her tablet. “I know that the other Spartans are waiting for you at the Aszod ship-breaking yard, but I have a favor to ask of you. Captain Keyes would like a status report on the test. Please pass this along to him.” She pressed a few buttons on the tablet and a crystal ejected from it.

John held out his right hand, before she noticed his left hand was clenched around the container from Requiem. She dropped a data chip in his hand without a second glance.

He slipped the crystal in one of his compartments. “Yes, ma’am.”

Doctor Halsey set down her tablet and stuck her hand out for him to shake. For a brief moment, John felt the urge to embrace her, to thank her for everything she had done to help him to become the man he was. But, he Hadn’t become John, the man who had lost his family, his friends and his way home. He was Spartan-117, the man who still steadfastly believed that he and his Spartans could do the near impossible.

He raised his hand and clasped hers, giving it a quick, firm shake.

“Good luck, John.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Having no reason to stay, John turned around and left the medical bay. Before he made his way to the waiting transport, he walked down the hall and found a secluded area. He opened his hand and saw the box. Inside, he could see the glowing light of the crystal, beside it was Cortana’s chip.

An ache he was unwilling to acknowledge settled over him. He opened the case as discreetly as he could and pulled out the data crystal. Then, he slipped the container and its valuable contents into an empty compartment in his armor, not wanting to be caught with the Forerunner technology. He snapped the pouch shut.

Before he made his way outside, he slipped the chip into the back of his helmet.

A video feed of Cortana suddenly appeared on his HUD.

Logically, John knew it wasn’t really Cortana, but his eyes still widened when he saw her there, smirk on her face. “Well,” she started, arching an eyebrow, “if you are watching this, then I will assume that means you actually did go back in time and the protocol I implemented worked. Guess your luck hasn’t run out after all.” The feed froze for a fraction of a second.

“Based on the time since you entered this timeline, you have this--” A timer popped up on his HUD. “--much time before you get pulled back to Requiem. It’s not much, I know. I would advise trying to get your hands on a Longsword to get to the caverns.

A wistful look passed over her face. “Captain Keyes is probably your best bet for that. He always did appreciate bending the rules a bit. Having a Spartan request to go offbase for a couple of hours would probably make his day.”

She looked at him, as if studying his expression. Briefly, John forgot she was only a recording. “I can only imagine how hard this will be for you--seeing all of the Spartans...Captain Keyes...Johnson.” She drew in a long breath. “Me. The way I was before...this.”

She looked downward. “Good luck, John.” Then, the video feed blinked off.

John looked at where the image of his friend had been for an extra second before he pushed himself to move forward. He had less than three hours to retrieve the crystal.

In front of the medical facility there was a Warthog waiting for him. The private standing next to him gave him a salute before stepping out of John’s way. He returned the gesture before getting into the vehicle and speeding towards the yard.

It was surreal for John to travel through the base and seeing it so alive. Marines and ODSTs walked together, Pelicans and Bumblebees dotted the skies.

They had no idea.

That wasn’t completely true, he amended. He had found out after they had returned to the Sol System that Colonel Holland and the Noble Team had been aware of the Covenant presence before any of the other Spartans and had made an attempt to thwart the invasion of Reach.

As he got closer to the ship-breaking yard, an unease settled over John as the reality of seeing his Spartan counterparts weighed on him. How could he act normal when he knew most of them would be dead in the next twenty-four hours?

He reminded himself about Cortana’s warning against polluting the timeline. The deaths of nearly two dozen Spartans in exchange for humanity’s safety was the clear, logical choice. Any Spartan --including himself-- would lay down their life for a mission’s success.

It didn’t mean that he could do the impossible and behave as if they hadn’t made the ultimate sacrifice. Avoiding the Spartans was something he didn’t do in the original timeline, but John knew if he saw the others --Fred, Kelly, Linda-- he would be unable to keep the mysteries of the future to himself.

He opened a comm channel to Fred who was overseeing all of the Spartans and the supplies they were taking to the Autumn. “Fred, you there?”

A couple of seconds passed. “Go ahead, Chief.”

John thought he had prepared himself for hearing his old friend’s --his brother’s-- voice, but there was a moment when he was caught off-guard at the emotions running through him. If he doubted whether or not the attack on Reach and the subsequent Halo campaign had changed him, there was no question about it now. He didn’t remember a time when he felt emotionally vulnerable since the day Sam died.

Until now.

He forced himself to sound normal. “I need to deliver some material to Captain Keyes. Would you and the others make sure all of the equipment is accounted for?”

“We’ve got it, Chief,” he assured him. “Just make sure they have room for all of our equipment. We don’t want to be unprepared when we find the Covenant.”

His concern was ironic. They would fight the Covenant on their own land and still be completely unready.

“I’ll talk to the captain.” He forced himself not to think about what would happen the next day.

He thought Fred had terminated the comm channel, but then the Spartan spoke. “Rumors are flying around the base that you deflected a missile during some training exercise this morning.”

“I’ll tell you about it when I get the hangars,” John replied.

“Can’t wait.” Then, the comm channel ended.

John drove through the port, returning the salutes as he passed junior grade officers. How many of them wouldn’t survive the next 36 hours?

The Autumn stood proudly, waiting to go on her impossible mission. The area surrounding the ship was bustling with crewmen and officers who were busy preparing the vessel for her departure. John stopped the Warthog and hopped out of the vehicle. Some soldiers stopped to look at the Spartan, but more were too consumed with their tasks to pay the Chief much mind.

As he got closer to the Autumn’s position, he heard a distinguishable voice shouting at a group of men that were at the end of a loading ramp.

“I know some of you are getting tired and want nothing more than to go find a nice quiet place to rest your head. Well, that’s just too bad, Marines! What do you think they made coffee for? Now, get those supplies on the ship on the double. When we find them, those Covenant are gonna wish they were back home with their mommas!” Johnson shouted.

John was close enough to hear the chuckles of the soldiers. He looked and saw Johnson standing at the top of the ramp, cigar hanging between his lips. The Chief didn’t want the Sergeant to see him; in the original timeline, he wouldn’t speak to him directly until after the first Halo ring was destroyed. Then, John would greet him with a pistol pointed at his face.

It was something Johnson never let the Spartan forget.

John waited until Johnson walked down the ramp towards the boxes of supplies. Then, he stepped onto the Autumn and made his way to the bridge.

It seemed surreal to John as he walked through the halls of the Autumn. It was untarnished, undamaged from the firefight it would endure. There was no damage caused by the crash on the Halo ring. There was no blood --human or Covenant-- staining the floors and walls.

The inside of the Autumn, like shipyard it was in, was a hive of activity. Soldiers were bustling through the corridors. A group of ODSTs followed John with their gaze as he passed through the mess hall. John ignored them.

Finally, he made it to the bridge which was full of officers tending to their stations, getting ready for the upcoming flight. In the center of it all, Captain Keyes stood, pipe in hand.

John stood at the edge of the entrance. “Permission to come on the bridge, Captain.”

Keyes turned towards John, twisting the pipe in his hand subconsciously. “Permission granted. And Master Chief, let’s dispense with the regulations. As long as you and your Spartans are stationed on the Autumn, you are always welcome on the bridge.”

“Yes, sir.”

John took out the data crystal that Doctor Halsey had given him and held it out for the captain to take. “Doctor Halsey wanted me to deliver this to you, sir.”

“Still avoiding me, Catherine?” he muttered. He plucked the chip out of his hand. “Thank you, Chief.” He looked him up and down, giving him a onceover. “I heard you gave everyone quite a scare in the medical bay.”

There was only one person who had the time --and the desire-- to divulge the information to the captain. Cortana. John straightened. “I’m fine, sir.”

“I’m sure you are, Master Chief. Doctor Halsey wouldn’t have cleared you until she thought you were fit for duty.” Keyes looked down at the crystal. “Was there anything else?”

John hesitated briefly. Despite Cortana’s confidence that Keyes would be unlikely to balk at his request, John didn’t know how the captain was going to respond to his uncharacteristic request. “Sir, I’d like permission to use a Longsword to go off-base.”

Keyes tilted his head, perplexed. “What for, Master Chief?”

Before John could formulate an answer, Keyes held up a hand. “Hell, I don’t care. You have earned one last night of freedom. Just be sure to have it back before anyone notices it --or you-- missing or it will be both of our asses.”

“Thank you, sir.”

John exited the bridge and walked down the familiar halls as unobtrusively as possible. He climbed up two flights of stairs and made his way to the bay. The doors slid open. Pilots were around their aircrafts, making the final adjustments before they left Reach. John wasn’t sure which vessel he could take without creating a situation. Fortunately, he was spared that decision when a woman with cocoa-colored skin and a warm smile walked up to him.

“You must be the Master Chief. I’m Captain Rowley, but you can call me ‘Foe Hammer’. I heard you were looking for a ride,” she said cordially.

John nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

She tilted her head to the left. “This way.” They weaved through the rows of Pelicans, Bumblebees, Falcons and Longswords. Across the way, John was sure he recognized the blonde hair of Warrant Officer Polaski.

Rowley ducked under the wing of a Bumblebee and stopped in front of the only ship without a pilot next to it. “The captain sent Lieutenant Goodman to go get some shut eye. As long as your joyride doesn’t last more than four hours, she will be none the wiser.”

John nodded his thanks. Then, he noticed the Pelican next to him. Echo 419. “That’s your ship,” he said knowingly.

She beamed as she nodded with pride. “It sure is. We’ve been through some tight spots, but she’s a tough one. We haven’t met a Banshee that we haven’t been able to take down.”

John thought to the botched rescue on the first Halo ring. “You can never have too much firepower.” The words left his mouth before he could stop them.

“I guess you’re right.” Rowley lifted her hand to touch the siding. “You never know, Chief, you might find yourself hitching a ride on her someday.”

“Maybe,” he thought thoughtfully.

Then, he entered in the Longsword and flew out of the bay. John looked at the piloting computer which was waiting for him to enter a destination. He took out the data chip and placed it inside the data reader in the cockpit. Moments later, a recording of Cortana appeared from the holotank.

“The subroutines on the chip have uploaded the coordinates to the ship’s systems. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.” Seconds later, the autopilot was activated.

“When you get to the caverns, you will need to take the chip with you and insert it into your armor. It will upload a map to help you find the crystal. I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help to you. Even if I had been with you when you found Doctor Halsey, my data from that time has been all but corrupted. The information I used was from your armor’s systems.” Her voice was tinged with embarrassment.

“After you return back to Requiem, you will need to take the crystal to the Inner Chamber which is in the facility where the Schism is. In the chamber, there is a device that will be able to destroy the crystal,” she explained slowly, as if she was saying the information as she was accessing it.

“After that...” she trailed off, unable to finish the sentence. Her voice fell to a whisper. “I know it’s hard to do it alone, but you can do it. Fac fortia et patere, John.” Then, the hologram blinked off.

Fac fortia et patere. Do brave things and endure.

John watched the skies as the sun started to rise. In several hours, the crew of the Autumn would flee Reach and set off the chain of events that would lead him back here. He wished he could do something more to protect his home and the people he was sworn to defend, but he wasn’t willing to risk placing everyone into a situation worse than Reach being destroyed.

If he did something that prevented Cortana from plotting in the course to the first Halo ring, then the Flood would have a good chance of taking over the universe.

And that wasn’t going to happen.

Soon the caverns came into view. He glanced at the countdown to his return to Requiem --103 minutes-- as the the Longsword landed. Before he exited the cabin, he opened one of the Pelican’s compartments that held extra firearms. He grabbed an assault rifle and stepped out of the ship. walked inside the mouth of the cave.

It felt odd for John to walk around on Reach with a gun in hand. The only time he had ever held a weapon on the planet was during training exercises. He was unwilling to take any unnecessary risks, however, he had no way of knowing if the Elite had already infiltrated the tunnel network to try to retrieve the crystal.

As he proceeded down the near-dark halls, he activated the flashlight on his helmet. It did make him more of an easy target, but the light allowed him to detect unnatural bends in light, revealing any Elites in their active camouflage.

The only thing that caught his attention was the way the walls on the cavern seemed to shimmer. He passed through another T-junction and turned left. John was grateful for Cortana’s foresight in providing him a schematic of the area; he could have easily spent several hours walking around the caverns.

John moved through the network of tunnels quickly. He knew he had enough time to retrieve the crystal and return the Longsword back to the Autumn before his time in the past was over. It was the unknown --the location of the Elite that had managed to travel through time--that propelled him to rush through the caverns.

It took him nearly twenty minutes, but he was finally coming close to the his destination. He descended down another steep decline and turned to the right. The rocks overhead shook slightly as he entered into a large opening.

There, in the center of the room, he saw the crystal.

It seemed to float in midair, its blue light illuminated the cavern. John reached out and touched the crystal. Then, he grabbed it from its place.

Then, he took a step back and slung his gun over his shoulder, securing it to the back of his armor. He pulled out the case that held the crystal shard and flicked it open. Immediately, both crystals morphed through a kaleidoscope of colors --purple, orange, pink-- before finally turning back to a light blue.

John eyed the case. It was far too small to hold the fist-sized crystal. When he moved the crystal near the case, the crystal started to do something unexpected.

It morphed in John’s hand, folding in on itself until it was small enough to fit in the case. He wedged the resized crystal between his arm and chest. Then, he removed the shard that he had taken from the Diligent Seeker and placed it where the original crystal was. He hoped that the shard would be significant enough to prevent the Elites from attacking Doctor Halsey, Fred, and Kelly like it had when the full-sized crystal had been discovered.

He tucked the case with the package in the compartment of his armor then cast a glance at the countdown. Seventy-eight minutes.

It was time to go back to the Autumn.



Chapter 9
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