20 August 2012 @ 10:05 am

Title: Fac Fortia et Patere
Fandom: Halo
Artist: danceswithgary
Media Link:  LJ I  DW  I  AO3 
Characters & Pairings: John-117, Cortana, Thomas Lasky, The Librarian, The Didact, Original Characters
Rating & Warnings: T, Spoilers/Spec for Halo 4 (See author's notes.), character death
Word Count: 51,000
Genre: Gen, Action/Adventure, Angst, AU
Summary: Cortana's fighting rampancy, the Master Chief is fighting a new enemy, and, of course, it's up to them to save the universe. Again.
Author's Notes: I started writing this fic back in February, before E3.  Although the E3 trailer is referenced, I didn't alter my story's plotlines to make it fit within what we saw (much). So, this is an AU based on the random spoilers, articles, trailers, books, that came out before E3. 

There are references from just about everything: The Fall of Reach, First Strike, Glasslands, the Forerunner Saga, Human Weakness, Connectivity, the terminals from Halo: CE Anniversary and Halo 3, the Forward Unto Dawn trailer and every game from CE to Reach. I did, however, make it "user friendly". If you haven't read the books, there should be enough background information to get you through. (Although, you probably should read Connectivity to make the most sense of this fic.)

Thank you goes to my beta for finding typos, not letting me slack off when I rushed through the ending of a chapter, applauded me when I nailed it out of the park and made sure that John and Cortana didn't go out of character.  Another huge thanks to danceswithgary for creating some epic artwork. My f-list deserves a ton of virtual goodies for having to read my non-stop posts about this fic ("Dudes, this story will never end!!!") and patriot_jackie deserves a special shout out for helping me out with last minute questions.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
17 July 2012 @ 09:57 am
Title: Contemplating Mortality
Fandom: Halo: Combat Evolved
Characters: Cortana, John-117
Rating & Warnings: K+
Word Count: 1200
Genre: Gen, Angst
Summary: Unlike the Master Chief, Cortana did fear the idea of dying.
Author's Notes: This takes place during the beginning of the "Halo" campaign level during Halo: CE.  References to Eric Nylund's "The Fall of Reach" abound.

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16 July 2012 @ 12:32 pm
Title: Playing House
Fandom: Halo
Characters: Cortana, John-117, The Arbiter, Avery Johnson
Rating & Warnings: K
Word Count: 650+
Genre: Crack!fic, AU, humor
Summary: They might know how to shoot, kill enemies, and save the universe, but that didn't mean they knew how to cook.
Author's Notes: This is a 100% unadulterated crack!fic. Originally, I wrote this as a Yuletide treat back in 2010.  I pulled it before the reveal, wanting to revamp it. (The typos were terrible.) Finally, I thought it was time to go through it and polish it a bit.

Read me! )
15 July 2012 @ 09:28 pm
Title: Racing Towards the Unknown
Fandom: Halo
Characters: Cortana, John-117
Rating & Warnings: K
Word Count: 850
Genre: Gen
Summary: As an AI, Cortana prided herself on her speed and precision.
Author's Notes: Written for patriot_jackie for the International Women's Day meme. I'd like to thank her for requesting this because it gave me the excuse to watch the Halo 4 trailer too many times.  There are major references to the Halo 4 trailer and the Legendary ending of Halo 3, a nod to "First Strike", and a very, very small reference to the screenshots of the MC that 343 released last week.

Click for the fic! )
12 July 2012 @ 09:22 pm
Title: The Cost of Victory
Fandom: Halo
Characters: John-117, Kelly-087
Rating & Warnings: K
Word Count: 750+
Genre: Gen, Friendship, Angst
Summary: But, there were Covenant and Sam had died. No amount of luck could make the hands of time move in reverse.
Author's Notes: Takes place during "The Fall of Reach" so if you haven't read it consider yourself warned.
Original Post Date: April 5, 2012

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Title: Coffee Time (or Four Times Brought Cortana Coffee & One Time He Didn't)
Fandom: Halo
Characters/Pairings: Cortana, John-117, Avery Johnson, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, Cortana/John UST
Rating & Warnings: T for language
Word Count: 6,100
Genre: Friendship, Angst, UST
Summary: It was a well-known fact around Reach that Cortana was obsessed with coffee. John was especially well-versed in that truth.
Author's Notes: Takes place in my "Under the Surface" universe.  A gigantic thanks to manniness who beta'd this sucker despite not being familiar with the universe.
Original Post Date: May 4, 2012

Click for the fic )
05 June 2012 @ 09:30 am
Title: Reborn, Reunited, Repurposed
Fandom: Halo
Characters/Pairings: Cortana, John-117, Cortana/John
Rating & Warnings: K
Word Count: 600+
Genre: Angst, Shippy
Summary: Cortana wasn’t upset by John’s awkwardness around her.
Author's Notes: Written for the brilliant [livejournal.com profile] patriot_jackie. Takes place at some point after the events in Halo 4. Spoilers and speculation abound.

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28 March 2012 @ 01:14 pm

Title: Under the Surface
Media Creator[info]penny
Media Link: http://penny.dreamwidth.org/64129.html
Word Count: 36,300
Fandom: Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo: Reach
Characters/Pairing(s): John-117, Cortana, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, Avery Johnson, James Ackerson, with a tiny bit of John/Cortana thrown in for good measure.
Rating: T
Warnings: Very, very AU. If that sort of thing scares you, then this isn't the story for you.
Summary: The UNSC is fighting a failing war against the Covenant. Strongholds have been taken, hope is starting to fade. The only promising signs that the UNSC would ever would be able to stand against them are Halsey’s Spartans. Now, Cortana, Earth's first human-AI hybrid, has just been assigned to work with the Master Chief to try to stop the power that threatens to overtake the world and destroy those who will not follow them.
Author's notes: A big huge thank you for my f-list who listened to me moan and groan for months about this story. Thanks to [info]vangirl  for organizing the challenge and a HUGE thanks to my media creator, [info]penny , for all the goodies!  
Author's Notes (part 2): This story went through some rewrites and I added a completely new section (Playing Defense) which sets up things for the sequel, which I will write someday. :D
Part 4: Playing Defense
Part 5: Pushing the Boundaries
Part 6: Full Circle Part 1 I Part 2
16 January 2012 @ 04:55 pm
Title: Coffee Break
Fandom: Halo
Characters: Cortana, Johnson, John-117
Rating & Warnings: T for swearing
Word Count: 900+
Genre: Gen, Friendship
Summary: It was a well-known fact that Cortana was obsessed with coffee.
Author's Notes: This is a random snippet from my "Under the Surface" AU. There will be more ficlets coming so I'm going to tag them under "The Little Details".

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08 August 2011 @ 02:24 pm

Title: Defying the Odds
Word Count: 25,000+
Fandom: Halo
Genre: AU, Adventure, Friendship
Characters/Pairing(s): Cortana, John, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, Avery Johnson, brief mention of past Halsey/Keyes
Rating: PG-ish
Warnings: None
Summary: In the aftermath of the Halo campaign, some realities are impossible to ignore.
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] drakulya was gracious enough to let me use this for the fic. The original picture is here. (Color was added by me.)
Author's notes:  Once upon a time there was a chick (let's call her [livejournal.com profile] yappichick) who wrote a Halo fic called Moving Forward for [livejournal.com profile] yuletide.  She posted it and thought that was the last time she would ever write in that universe.  Her muse, however, had different plans.
       This universe is based around the 2010 Happy Halodays card.  The concept of the AU in a nutshell: most everyone (with the exception of Miranda Keyes) in the UNSC survived the events in the Halo trilogy and John and Cortana, along with Johnson and the Arbiter, make it back to Earth through the Portal in Halo 3.
       There are references to all of the games (of course), The Fall of Reach, Human Weakness (from Halo: Evolutions), and Halsey's journal (from the Halo: Reach Legendary Edition).
         A huge thanks to my Babe for betaing this sucker and my f-list for listening to be rant and panic and squee throughout the process.
Original Post Date: August 8, 2011 (Written for the [livejournal.com profile] au_bigbang)

Chapter 1: You Ain't Getting Rid of Me That Easily
Chapter 2: Denial Isn't Just a River in Egypt
Chapter 3: And You Thought Your Day Was Bad?
Chapter 4: Anger Management: Spartan Style
Chapter 5: Who's Driving This Thing Anyway?
Chapter 6: Don't Mind Me, I'm Going Rampant
Chapter 7: Backseat Driver
Chapter 8: Would Mr. Guest Please Sign In?
Chapter 9: What a Difference an Algorithm Makes
Chapter 10: What’s a Few Trillion Missing Terabytes Among Friends?
Chapter 11: Was There Something You Wanted to Tell Us?
Chapter 12: Lovely Parting Gift
Chapter 13: This Structure Is Not a Natural Formation
Chapter 14: Dude, srsly?
Chapter 15: Shock and Awe
Chapter 16: What's This Knife Doing in My Back?
Chapter 17: Did Someone Call for Backup?
Chapter 18: Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are
Chapter 19: Don't Make a Promise...Never Mind
08 August 2011 @ 02:24 pm

Title: Defying the Odds
Word Count: 25,000+
Fandom: Halo
Genre: AU, Adventure, Friendship
Characters/Pairing(s): Cortana, John, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, Avery Johnson, brief mention of past Halsey/Keyes
Rating: PG-ish
Warnings: None
Summary: In the aftermath of the Halo campaign, some realities are impossible to ignore.
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] drakulya was gracious enough to let me use this for the fic. The original picture is here. (Color was added by me.)
Author's notes:  Once upon a time there was a chick (let's call her [livejournal.com profile] yappichick) who wrote a Halo fic called Moving Forward for [livejournal.com profile] yuletide.  She posted it and thought that was the last time she would ever write in that universe.  Her muse, however, had different plans.
       This universe is based around the 2010 Happy Halodays card.  The concept of the AU in a nutshell: most everyone (with the exception of Miranda Keyes) in the UNSC survived the events in the Halo trilogy and John and Cortana, along with Johnson and the Arbiter, make it back to Earth through the Portal in Halo 3.
       There are references to all of the games (of course), The Fall of Reach, Human Weakness (from Halo: Evolutions), and Halsey's journal (from the Halo: Reach Legendary Edition).
         A huge thanks to my Babe for betaing this sucker and my f-list for listening to be rant and panic and squee throughout the process.
Original Post Date: August 8, 2011 (Written for the [livejournal.com profile] au_bigbang)

Chapter 1: You Ain't Getting Rid of Me That Easily
Chapter 2: Denial Isn't Just a River in Egypt
Chapter 3: And You Thought Your Day Was Bad?
Chapter 4: Anger Management: Spartan Style
Chapter 5: Who's Driving This Thing Anyway?
Chapter 6: Don't Mind Me, I'm Going Rampant
Chapter 7: Backseat Driver
Chapter 8: Would Mr. Guest Please Sign In?
Chapter 9: What a Difference an Algorithm Makes
Chapter 10: What’s a Few Trillion Missing Terabytes Among Friends?
Chapter 11: Was There Something You Wanted to Tell Us?
Chapter 12: Lovely Parting Gift
Chapter 13: This Structure Is Not a Natural Formation
Chapter 14: Dude, srsly?
Chapter 15: Shock and Awe
Chapter 16: What's This Knife Doing in My Back?
Chapter 17: Did Someone Call for Backup?
Chapter 18: Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are
Chapter 19: Don't Make a Promise...Never Mind
05 August 2011 @ 03:12 pm

Title: Under the Surface
Author[livejournal.com profile] yappichick
Media Creator[livejournal.com profile] penny
Media Link: http://penny.dreamwidth.org/64129.html
Word Count: 36,300
Fandom: Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo: Reach
Characters/Pairing(s): John-117, Cortana, Catherine Halsey, Jacob Keyes, Avery Johnson, James Ackerson, with a tiny bit of John/Cortana thrown in for good measure.
Rating: T
Warnings: Very, very AU. If that sort of thing scares you, then this isn't the story for you.
Summary: The UNSC is fighting a failing war against the Covenant. Strongholds have been taken, hope is starting to fade. The only promising signs that the UNSC would ever would be able to stand against them are Halsey’s Spartans. Now, Cortana, Earth's first human-AI hybrid, has just been assigned to work with the Master Chief to try to stop the power that threatens to overtake the world and destroy those who will not follow them.
Author's notes: A big huge thank you for my f-list who listened to me moan and groan for months about this story. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] vangirl  for organizing the challenge and a HUGE thanks to my media creator, [livejournal.com profile] penny , for all the goodies!  
Part 4: Pushing the Boundaries
Part 5: Full Circle Part 1 I Part 2
Thirty minutes later, Cortana landed the vessel at the entrance of the ancient base. Due to the instability of the structure, the ship was unable to go any further into the ruins.

After the Elephant settled on the ground, Keyes stood up and faced John. "According to Cortana, the primary power supply is in the east quadrant. If she's going to be able to access the entire database, we're going to need it working. You need to get that up and running ASAP."

"Understood," the Spartan said.

He turned to Cortana. "After they get the power working, I want you to get that information as fast as you can. Once we activate the Forerunner systems, it will act like a beacon for the Covenant. I'd like to get the hell out of here before they show up."

The AI understood the risks. If the Covenant located them they would be outnumbered and outgunned, a dangerous combination, even for the Alpha Team. Cortana nodded. "Yes, sir."

"Johnson, you need to stay with Cortana while the Chief searches the area for any Forerunner technology that the boys back home can study," Keyes ordered.

"You've got it," Johnson said as he tucked a cigar in his vest pocket.


Cortana turned back to the console and tapped in a few commands. She had several subroutines monitoring the area with the Elephants's sensors. She did not want to be caught off-guard if the Covenant did manage to find them. Satisfied that with the data trickling into her matrix, she turned away from the controls and made her way to the back of the ship.

While the others had already disembarked, John stood next to the loading ramp with a flak jacket in his hand.

"Is this really necessary?" Cortana grumbled as she took the protective gear from him.


She knew that it was, but it didn't mean she enjoyed the feeling of the restrictive vest over her body. Cortana slung the jacket over her shoulder and slid her other arm through. She zipped the jacket up and looked at John with a scowl.

He handed her the pistol and looked her over, apparently satisfied. The two of them started walking down the ramp together before he turned to her slightly. "Be careful."

She was tempted to tease him, but she knew he was being serious. Even without the threat of the Covenant finding them, being this far underground, in these ruins, was dangerous. They had already lost most of the Gamma team when the subterranean structure collapsed on them three weeks ago.

"You too," she said sincerely. As they approached the rest of their team, she opened a comm channel. "Don't miss me too much."

He didn't reply, like she expected.

She walked up to Johnson, who was carrying his assault rifle. "Ready?" she asked.

"I'm always ready," he replied good-naturedly.

She pulled out a wide-beam flashlight as Johnson turned on the small light attached to his rifle. Even with the extra light and her enhanced vision, they were going to have to be slow and careful when they made their way through the ruins.

"Good luck," Keyes said, watching the two teams make their way to the destination.

The two of them started making their way east, towards the Warthog's location. The small of dust and death filled the air around them. It was expected, but it didn't bother Cortana any less than it did at the other sites.

"You ever wonder what happened?" Johnson asked as they stepped around the remains of a long-dead Forerunner. "How the human population nearly was wiped out five hundred years ago?"

It was the one piece of the puzzle that Cortana was eager to find out. If only she could figure out what had happened to the Forerunners, then, she might be able to understand what happened and, maybe, use that to the UNSC's advantage to fight the Covenant.

"Of course, Johnson," Cortana answered as she cautiously stepped over a large piece of rubble.

"You have some theories, don't you?"

He knew that she did, but she suspected his interest in her ideas had something to do with the idea of keeping her mind off the fact they were, in fact, in a very narrow passageway nearly one hundred yards underground. She didn't call him on his protectiveness, however. Over the past several weeks, especially since her reinstatement into Alpha Team, he had become a close friend to her.

"Well, I don't ascribe to the popular idea that it was a nuclear war that destroyed humanity. None of the Forerunner sites have reported having any abnormal radiation readings. Something happened to the humans, but I think it's something much more sinister than a few nukes," Cortana replied.

"Some people think aliens came to Earth. Nearly wiped people out," Johnson commented as they stepped through the hole in the wall the Warthog created.

Cortana snorted. "Aliens, huh? Now that's an interesting theory." She grimaced as she saw the blood-covered wall in front of her. They were getting close to the center of the complex. "But, if it's all the same, I'll keep my ideas to myself until I have some data backing me up."

A silence fell between the two of them as the remains and the centuries-old carnage appeared with an increasing frequency. Whatever happened to the Forerunners had been brutal; all of the sites the UNSC had found had given a gruesome, silent testimony to the unknown past.

As they climbed a steep pile of rubble, she offered a hand to Johnson to help him up. The increased elevation allowed them to look at the expansive room ahead of them. "Damn," he muttered.

Cortana wordlessly agreed with his assessment of the view in front of them. In front of them were dozens of skeletons, each one armed with some kind of weapon, whether knife or gun. Several had killed each other; Cortana could see the blade of a knife embedded into the ribcage of at least three of the deceased Forerunners. Others, it seemed, appeared to be hiding. A group of seven skeletons were huddled in the corner, as if they were trying to get away from something.

"Come on," she said, leading them away from the gruesome scene in front of them. "We're wasting time here."

Ten minutes later, after walking and crawling over the rumble, they reached the control room. The room had been abandoned, much to both of their relief. Clearing the Forerunner remains was not something Cortana wanted to do after the last site.

"Now we wait," she said, standing in front of a console.

"How's the Chief doing? Sleeping on the job, probably," Johnson seemed more relaxed now that the horrific reminders of what had happened were no longer in his line of vision.

She looked away for a second as she boosted the neural link between her and John. "He's almost there. Unfortunately, he ran into a couple of collapsed tunnels, so he had to backtrack, but he's on course now. Once John accesses the console I'll have to infiltrate the power grid and we'll be set."

"Nothing like being in two places at once," he quipped.

She nodded, allowing herself a brief smile. "It does have its advantages," she replied.

Several minutes later, John reached the control room. She boosted the signal as she allocated more of her subroutines to transfer to John's armor to hack into the system. The pressure in her brain was starting to build, but she pushed aside her discomfort.

Despite her effort to conceal her pain, Johnson stepped next to her. "You doing ok?" Johnson asked, concerned. "The Chief will kick my ass if you pass out on me."

Cortana nodded, dismissing his concern. "I'm fine. I'm sure you had a worse headache during your last hangover."

"Hey, no one told me how much alcohol was in that bootleg crap Buck gave us after that last mission," Johnson replied defensively.

"Trusting Buck was your first mistake," she said as her subroutines hacked into the system. She let out a long breath as the lights filtered on. "There we go."

She stumbled slightly as she transferred the subroutines back to her matrix. Damn, she thought, annoyed at her sluggish response time. The next time John pressed her to take her meds, she would show how him how stubborn she could be.

Johnson put his hand on her shoulder. "You alright?"

She nodded, her head clearing. "I'll be fine." Without wasting any time, she walked up to the main console and transferred herself into the system. "Just watch my back," she said to Johnson via a comm channel.

"Yes, ma'am."

Immediately, she knew this database was different than the one they had found at the previous site. While the security system was nearly non-existent in that system, this one had several billion layers of encryption coding. It would take Cortana more time to get the data than she had anticipated.

Still, she thought as she sifted her way through the encryption, there must have been something here that the Forerunners thought was valuable.

It took her nearly three minutes to break through the security code, but when she finally had access to the data, she was not disappointed. There were several million quattuordecillions of files. She started running off several thousand subroutines to sort and filter the information that was pouring into her matrix.

There was enough information in there to keep her busy for weeks. She wanted to access all the files as they transferred into her data pathways, but she knew with her operating at lower levels, it would slow the transfer process too much. Only the files that her subroutines flagged as significant would be reviewed before they returned to the Autumn. The rest, she thought with a wave of frustration, would have to wait.

Nearly two hours passed and Cortana was finally nearing the end of the transfer. Just as she was about to access a secured data file called halo, the proximity sensors on the Autumn were activated.

The Covenant had found them.


It was taking longer than expected.

John questioned whether or not he should have pushed Cortana to taking her meds before dismissing the notion. After Cairo, he made a promise to himself that she wouldn't get hurt again due to their link.

She was still in the Forerunner system; John had been occasionally reaching over their open link to monitor her progress. It was disconcerting for him to see through her perspective as she was infiltrating the system. All he saw were trillions of lines of codes scrolling at impossible speeds, both in the familiar Unicode used by the UNSC and the binary code of the Forerunners. Despite her slowed speed, it was unfeasible for him to keep up with the amount of data she was accumulating.

He turned his attention to the shielding mechanism he had found while rummaging through the ruins. While there were plenty of corpses down here, it appeared that most of the artifacts had been taken. He wondered, briefly, if the Covenant hadn't already found another way into this complex.

It would be one more time the UNSC had fallen behind the Covenant.

"John," Cortana said, her voice cutting through the eerie silence that surrounded the ruins, "we've got Covenant inbound. I'm detecting a half dozen landing pods. ETA is in ten minutes."

"Understood. Are you out of the system yet?"

"No, not yet. I'm going through the last of the files now..." she said, her voice trailing off.

John frowned at her uncharacteristically distracted response. "Are you going to be?" he pressed.

Immediately, he knew something was wrong. It had taken her just too long to respond to his question. She was acting almost…glitchy.

"Not before the Covenant arrive," she finally answered. "I will contact you when my objective has been completed." She terminated the comm channel abruptly.

Then, to his shock, the familiar hum he associated with Cortana completely faded from his mind. He hadn't felt that emptiness since…No, he wouldn't let himself think about what happened at Panama. He tried to reestablish the connection with her via their neural link, but he saw nothing but blackness.

She had locked him out.

Instantly, his suspicion reintroduced itself to him. He should have never trusted her. He should have never apologized. He should have never-

"Chief," Keyes' voice cut into his thoughts. "Protocol GOLD MINE has been activated in Cortana's matrix."
Instantly, John froze. That would explain Cortana's recent change in behavior. A wave of guilt at his quick-too quick-return to distrust washed over him.

"You need to make sure that generator stays online until Cortana gets out of the system," the captain ordered.

"Understood, sir." He turned around and made his way back to the control room. It was standard procedure for the Covenant to find the power source and cut it off, preventing them from accessing the Forerunner databases. But John's concern was deeper than having to worry about fighting in the dark; if Cortana was in the still in the system when they power supply was destroyed, she would be stranded in the system.

That was not going to happen.

He made it back to the room with less than a minute to spare. The earth around him shook and the ceiling above his head began to crumble at the pods' trajectory. He tucked himself in a darkened corner of the room. He would take any advantage he would get. Fighting a half-dozen Elites alone was going to be difficult, even for him.

"Cortana, are you out of the system?"

She didn't respond.

He knew with GOLD MINE in effect, he was on his own. Cortana wouldn't open the communication channel until she had completed her mission.

The first pod broke through the ceiling, pulling John's thoughts away from Cortana. He held his assault rifle steady as the first Elite came out of its transport. Before he had time to aim his plasma rifle, John fired a quick burst at him, hitting him squarely in the chest.

He barely had time to sprint across the room and grab the plasma grenades off the fallen Elite before another pod came crashing through. He slid under the console and whipped around to face his would-be attacker.

This time, however, the Elite was ready for John's attack. Two shots were fired before John was able to fire a round. He rolled out of the way, dodging the bolts of plasma. He tumbled to the side and shot in the direction of the Elite. He managed to hit the Elite, but the Covenant solider was not out of the fight; he tossed a plasma grenade in the Chief's direction.

Left with no other choice, John charged towards the Elite. He slammed his gauntlet in his chin, shattering his jaw. As the hulking soldier staggered backwards, John fired two quick shots to his chest with his spare pistol.

He pressed himself against the wall closest to the power console. Despite his effort to control the situation, four more pods came crashing overhead. As he was about to activate the plasma grenade in his left hand, a familiar cool presence entered his mind.

"Chief, the ship will be disembarking in five minutes. Please return there immediately."

This time there was no mistaking the stiff, almost mechanical way she was speaking to him, a side effect of the protocol being in effect.

"Understood," he replied evenly.

John frowned as he took in the position of the Covenant. The Elites were not idle during his brief exchange with Cortana. They had surrounded him.

He was trapped.

"Your end is near, vermin," one of them snarled.

The others around him laughed.

John was left with limited options to try to survive the next thirty seconds. He flicked his gaze to the gaps in the ceiling. If his aim was just right, he might be able to cause a collapse and bury the Elites alive. It would take luck and an exact location for his target, but he could do it with Cortana's help.

He opened the private comm link. "Cortana, I need you to give me the exact location where I need to throw this grenade to cause the ceiling to collapse," John said urgently as the Elite closest to him activated his energy sword.

He hoped the GOLD MINE protocol would allow her to make the calculation. He doubted he could figure out the position on his own. Fortunately, she responded quickly. "I have marked the position on your HUD. Please, remember, Chief, that your throw needs to be precise. If you are off by a centimeter–"

He knew the risks. If he missed, he would be buried alive too. "Understood," he said, ending the channel.

Without wasting a second, he tossed the plasma grenade at the position she had marked. The Elites around him grunted as they realized what he was attempting to do. John wasted no time to watch their reaction. He took advantage of their distraction and pushed his way through the Elite furthest away from his position and ran towards the door.

Perhaps, if it had been a group of grunts in the room with him, he would have been able to escape. But, the highly trained Elites weren't as easily as distracted. Before John had a chance to flee, one of them fired his pistol at the Spartan. John staggered at the impact, but pushed himself forward.

It was that one misstep that would prevent his successful escape. The mouth of the entrance was less than three meters away when the high pitch sound filled the room. A sinking feeling settled over him as he realized he wasn't going to make it out of the room before the grenade detonated.

He felt the explosion before he was able to faintly register the sound of the room around him collapsing. Blackness filled his vision as the rocks came crashing around him. Consciousness slipped from him, despite his best efforts to stay awake.

His luck had run out.


A switch had been flicked.

Protocol GOLD MINE was in full effect.

As Cortana's subroutines were sifting through the massive amount of data, one of them found a suspiciously familiar looking set of symbols. She began going through the enormous amount of mission logs in her matrix and found that, yes, a similar set of symbols had been seen by John several months before they had been assigned to work with each other.

At that influx of information, her alpha-priority programming pushed aside and the protocol was implemented. She had to assimilate the meaning of the symbols immediately.

Protocol dictated that she needed to contact Captain Keyes and inform him of the situation. "Captain Keyes, protocol GOLD MINE is in effect."

"Damn, so this trip was worth it." He paused for a second. "You know that the Covenant are coming, right?"

Of course she did, but it didn't matter if the Covenant were coming. It didn't matter if Johnson died protecting her. It didn't matter if the Master Chief was sacrificed while trying to keep the generator online. The only thing that did matter was deciphering the meaning of the symbols.

"Yes, sir. I will be remotely activating defense pattern 'Delta Echo' immediately. The ship systems should be able to eliminate any Covenant threat until I am finished here. Please contact Spartan-117 with orders to hold the generator room until my objective is complete," she commanded.

"I'll take care of it, Cortana. You find what you need to. Keyes out."

With that out of the way, she quickly accessed the information stored in her storage buffer and found that the symbols found were remarkably close to some known characters from the ancient Athenian alphabet. She ran a cross-analysis of them two and found that over eighty percent of the symbols matched. She processed it through her translation software. It took less than five seconds for her to decipher the meaning of the words.

In the mouth of the cave lies the key to the world. The waters lap the land that is parched.

There was only one place in the world that could be: Australia.

She paused three full seconds before her subroutines started racing. No one, not even the Covenant had dared to travel to the island that had been ground zero for the humans' demise five hundred years ago. But, if she understood the translation correctly-and there was no reason why she wasn't-this would lead them to a safe entrance to access the cursed land.

Protocol dictated that she needed to return to the Autumn and report the information to High Command immediately. Without waiting another millisecond, she planted a virus that would delete all of the data in the network which would prevent the Covenant from deciphering the data.

As she transferred herself out of the Forerunner system, she accessed the myriad of information filtering through her systems that had been filtered by her active protocol: the Covenant had reached their location while the Master Chief was trying to hold the control room on his own.

Now that she was out of the system, there was no reason for the Spartan to remain in the generator room. He needed to return to the ship before they left him behind. "Chief, the ship will be disembarking in five minutes. Please return there immediately," she said stiffly.

There was a long pause. Finally, he spoke. "Understood."

Later, there would be time for her to review her actions, to feel guilty for her coldness towards the Spartan. But, right now, she had one solitary focus: to make sure the information got to the UNSC. The Master Chief's feelings, even his life, were acceptably expendable, according to her protocol.

"Sergeant Johnson," she said, turning towards him. "We must return to the Elephant now."

"I'm right behind you, ma'am," he said formally.

Before she walked out of the room, she removed her pistol from her holster. There was a forty-three percent chance that the Covenant would be blocking their way to the ship. If they increased their speed by twenty percent, then the chances lowered by eighty-three percent. Quickly, she climbed over the rubble and rock.

Information from the Elephants's sensors entered her matrices. Two Ghosts were on their way to the ship's position and another half dozen burrowing pods were closing in on their position. It would be close, but they would make it back to the Elephant before they had a chance to attack.

She looked at Johnson who was looking at her strangely. But, like the trained soldier he was, he spoke none of his concerns aloud.

"Follow me," she instructed before breaking out into a run. They may survive if the rubble collapsed around them; they wouldn't survive a direct attack from a Ghost.

As they were making their way through the narrow tunnel, her comm channel was opened. "Cortana, I need you to give me the exact location where I need to throw this grenade to cause a collapse."

Briefly, she considered telling the Chief that she didn't have the time to calculate such a trajectory. But, her beta-priority command wouldn't allow her to do such a thing. If she could do something to insure the safety of the Chief, she needed to do so.

She accessed the video feed from his visor, noticing the Elites that were circling around him. But that was not her primary concern. She saw the holes in the ceiling and calculated the exact location he needed to throw the plasma grenade.
"I have marked the position on your HUD. Please, remember, Chief that your throw needs to be precise. If you are off by a centimeter–"


The channel ended.

As they rounded the corner, the ship came into view. She sprinted up the loading ramp and stood in front of Captain Keyes who was looking as expectantly.

"Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yes, sir," she replied confidently.

"So, this mission is a success?"

Cortana frowned, briefly as her alpha-priority and the protocol clashed with each other. She couldn't give a clear response to the captain's comment. "I have not heard from Spartan-117 since his attempt to escape the Elites in the generator room," she reported as she activated the Elephant's engines. "We need to get out of here, sir. Spartan-117 will not be able to reach the ship's position before the Covenant do."

Her voice was stiff, emotionless.

Keyes frowned. Johnson sputtered. Keyes looked torn for a moment, no doubt weighing the risk of staying here longer than necessary.

"Negative, Cortana. We're going to wait until the Chief gets back aboard," Keyes said firmly.

Cortana hesitated for a second as she tried to contend with the conflicting commands. "You do realize that your interference with the GOLD MINE protocol will more than likely result in a court martial?" she asked, her voice still showing none of its usual warmth.

Finally, Johnson had enough. "What the hell is going on here?" the sergeant demanded. He faced Cortana. "Since when is leaving the Chief behind acceptable?

Keyes held up his hand, quieting Johnson. "It's not Cortana's fault. You can blame her new found dedication on ONI." He looked back at Cortana. "I'm willing to face that court martial. Get the Chief back aboard. That's a direct order."

Reluctantly, she tapped the controls. "I could send the Warthog to the Chief's location. If he regains consciousness, then he might be able to get out of there alive," she suggested.

"Do it," Keyes commanded. "Then run operation protocol: ANARCHY."

She paused for a moment as her subroutines scrambled to find the obscure protocol. Within two seconds, she found the command and implemented it.

And she was herself again.

All restrictions put into place from the oppressive protocol were suspended. She looked at Keyes, her eyebrow raised. "Sir?"

His shoulders lowered and he let out a breath. "Just something Catherine told me when she implemented the protocol," he said, relieved. "She planted the code in case something like this happened. She was always against any protocol overwriting your primary commands. She trusted you to be able make the right assessment of a situation and react accordingly."

He paused, looking at her. "I trust you too, Cortana."

She nodded. "Thank you, sir."

He nodded. "Let's just keep this between the Alpha Team."

Johnson grinned. "Aye, sir."

Before she could reply, the Warthog transmitted a signal to her; it was arriving at John's position.

With her new found freedom, she accessed the vital signs from John's armor. He was still unconscious due to a concussion. Four ribs were cracked, his Achilles heel was torn and there was significant blood loss. Cortana knew if it was anyone else, she doubted they would survive.

But, this was John, she reminded herself. He made a habit of breaking all of the laws of probabilities.

"Chief, come on, you've got to wake up," she said via their private comm channel.

His vital signs were unchanged.

"Come on, Spartan, don't make me doubt your luck now," she said, getting slightly panicked. She knew if he didn't respond soon, they would have no other option but to leave him behind. "We need to go. The Covenant are about to reach us."

He still didn't respond.

"Please, John. I can't-" she struggled admitting her weakness. "John, you have got to wake up."


She let out a shaky breath. His voice was slurred, his vitals were weak, but he was responsive. "John, the Warthog is headed your way. Can you move at all?"

"Yes," he gritted.

"The Warthog will be at your position in ten seconds. When it gets there, you're going to have to hang on." She bit her lip. "It isn't going to be the smoothest ride, but you'll make it out of here alive."

"Understood," he slurred.

She monitored the Warthog's progress through its video feed; John's visual output had been damaged in the crash. She frowned as he came into view. A large beam with a half a meter from his spine. If he had made one less step...

No, now was not the time for second-guessing. Now was the time to get John back to the ship before the Covenant arrived.

"Now John!"

She watched as he grabbed the task-like arm in front of him and threw himself on top of the bulky machine.

"Hang on!" she said as she turned the Warthog around and pushed the engine's to their limit.

It wasn't going to be enough. Even if John's shield's protected him from the hurling rocks and debris, the Elephant would be in the firing range of the Ghosts for nearly twenty seconds before he made it back on board. She raised the shields to maximum power, ignoring the niggle of the protocol to leave him behind.

John was going to make it back on board.

Finally, as the Warthog came within a hundred yards of the ship, Cortana said, "Lowering boarding ramp now. Johnson, John's vitals are weak. I'm going to need you to get him into a medical bay until we clear-"

A shot rocked the cabin. "Direct hit on the port side. Shields holding at 82 percent," she said, holding on to the control panel. Several tense seconds passed before she announced, "The Warthog and the Chief are on board." She did her best to not let the worry enter into her voice.

"I've got him," Johnson assured her before walking off the bridge.

Keyes sat in the command chair. "Punch it," he ordered.


Cortana had been right, John sluggishly thought as he released his grip of the Warthog, it was certainly one hell of a ride back to the ship. He was fairly certain his right shoulder had become dislocated during the ride, though the drug cocktail that was rushing through his system hid any signs of pain.

He took off his helmet and set it on the ground. It was useless in its current condition; the outside of the glass had been shattered when the debris kicked up from the ground. His armor had taken a beating both from the collapse and the ride; John didn't know if it would ever be able to be fully repaired.

He knew he had several broken ribs and his Achilles heel, the same one that had torn months ago when he first met Cortana, was ripped apart. Based on the grogginess he felt, he knew he had a severe concussion.

John would be relieved when they were able to get on base where they could tend to his injuries properly, but, for now, the biofoam was doing its part and he was certain he could put weight on his right foot and he would have to ignore the headache.

With a determined step, he started making his way to the bridge. Before he could get far, the ground beneath him shook violently.

They were under attack.

Once the floor stabilized, John continued down the corridor, leaning on the wall for extra support. He needed to get to the bridge to see what was going on.

"And where do you think you're going?" Johnson asked, coming down the hallway with a scowl.

"To the bridge," he evenly answered.

The sergeant shook his head. "No, you aren't. Cortana said you got pretty banged up out there. I'm supposed to make sure that you get down to the med bay."

"I'll be fine," he replied as he continued walking towards the bridge.

"Stubborn fool," Johnson grumbled, but made no other argument to try to stop him. "Just remember, it's your ass she's going to kick, not mine."

Another tremor shook the ship.

"I'll take my chances," John answered as they walked down the corridor together.

When John stepped onto the bridge, he walked into a scene of barely-controlled chaos. Keyes was frantically tapping at the weapon controls, Cortana was moving back and forth between consoles. Smoke was coming from one of the power couplings.

"Couldn't stay away from the excitement, huh?" Cortana asked wryly without turning to face him.

Despite his injuries, John felt relieved at the playfulness in her voice. Though the time right before he got crushed was a bit muddled, he remembered her coldness towards him.

The cabin shook tumultuously as another bolt of plasma hit the Scorpion. John braced himself on the console closest to him, dodging another burst of smoke coming from another busted coupling.

"Direct hit on the port side. Shields to twenty percent," Johnson announced as he hopped onto another control panel. "Another couple of hits like that and we're toast."

"Return fire," Keyes ordered.

John watched Cortana tap the console to unleash a barrage of bullets in the direction of the Covenant battle cruiser.

"Minimal damage," Johnson reported.

"We're not going to be able to outgun them," Keyes muttered, pulling out his pipe. John watched as he slowly down briefly, considering his options. Finally, he walked up to Cortana and put his hand on the back of her chair.

"I've already got the Autumn heading to our position. I should be able to collapse the structure and bury the ships with the new schematics that I found,' Cortana offered as the holographic layout appeared on the main view screen.

"Do it."

"Understood, sir."

She looked at John for the first time. John could only imagine the sight he was: blood was splattered on his face, his normally pristine armor was crushed and filthy. "The techs at home are going to kill you," she commented offhandedly.

He didn't have time to answer before she spoke again. "If I were you, I'd take a seat. This will make the Warthog ride seem like a walk in the park," she warned.

He ignored her advice and strengthened his hold on the console. He would be ready for whatever she had in mind.

"Hold on."
The ship violently shook as it plowed into a beam in the center of the main room. Three shots from the main canon fired. John watched as the ceiling began collapsing in front of them.


"Not now."

She pushed the engines forward as hard as they could go. "Engine output at 112 percent," she unnecessarily announced. "It's gonna get rough."

Suddenly, she pulled up on the control stick, causing the ship to point straight up in the air. The centripetal force was pushing against them. Despite his grip, John felt his fingers slip and he slammed against the wall of the cabin.

The wound on his head that had recently stopped bleeding ripped open. Blood dripped down his forehead as black spots entered his vision. His head roared in protest at its mistreatment.

"You ok?" she asked on the private comm.

"Yeah," he replied slowly. His movements were sluggish, his thoughts were even more muddled than they were before.

"Maybe next time you'll take my suggestion and take a seat," she replied dryly.

He didn't respond, but he awkwardly lowered himself into one of the too-small seats in the cabin, focusing on remaining conscious.

"Two Covenant cruisers destroyed," she said to Keyes with a satisfied grin.

Keyes lit his pipe. "Now let's get out of here before the rest of those bastards figure out what we did to their ships."


"It's not perfect, but it will have to do," Cortana said as she took a step back and examined John's forehead.

Since she was the closest to a doctor they had on the ship, it fell in her jurisdiction to tend to John's injuries. His ribs had been mended, but they would still be sore for several hours. The gash in his head required seven stitches which were covered by the gauze she had found in a ship's med kit.

His armor had been placed in the automatic repair facility that was on board the ship. It would be able to fix most of the damage done to the suit, but it would take Cortana a few hours to completely repair it. They were lucky that the irreparable parts–the HUD, the power supply, her matrix chip–were spared in the collapse.

"Give me your hand," she instructed.

He did as he was told and gently set his hand on top of her palm.

She ran the instrument over his crushed digits. "I'm still going to have to wrap them. The damage is…extensive. But," she said as she pasted on a smile, "if anyone could expect a full recovery, it will be you."

She still felt awkward around him, still blaming herself for not being strong enough to override the protocol, to fight the demand to leave John behind.


She reluctantly raised her gaze to his pensive brown eyes.

"Captain Keyes told me about what happened. About the GOLD MINE protocol."

"Then you can understand my frustration," she said, uncharacteristically embarrassed. As human as she appeared, she was still a machine, run by protocols and data pathways. There would always be someone who would be able to program her, to do what they wanted.

She turned away from him and grabbed the bandages from the metal table. "You know, never once have I resented being an AI. I can think in ways that humans can only dream of. I have hacked into the toughest Covenant systems. But today?" she shook her head, facing him. "I have never felt more like a machine before in my life."

He grabbed her free wrist with his good hand, stilling her movements. "You are as human as any of us."

She pulled away and started wrapping his fingers.

Several quiet seconds passed.

"Would you have done it? Left me behind?" she whispered, locking her gaze on his familiar brown eyes.

A thick silence settled over the room. It wasn't fair to put him on the spot, she realized. Emotional leaps and bounds were not his strong points.


She closed her eyes as the impact of his answer weighed on her. Of course he would let her go. He was the consummate soldier. He was a Spartan. He was-

"But, I would come back for you."

She jerked her head up and opened her eyes, surprised. "That almost sounds like a promise."

"It was." John shifted his weight and Cortana knew he was done with that part of their conversation. He looked back down to his half-wrapped hand. "What activated the GOLD MINE protocol?" he asked, changing subjects.

"This," she said, activating the screen behind her, as she continued wrapping his hand.

She watched as he looked at the unfamiliar symbols scroll across the screen momentarily before the translation and her assessment appeared.

He sharply turned away from the screen to look directly in her eyes. "Australia?"

She nodded once. "Yes." She released her hold of his hand, letting it drop away from her. "But, this is what I can't figure out."

A new cluster of data appeared on the screen. One word stuck out amongst them the most. "Halo? What's that?"

"I don't know," Cortana admitted, turning towards the screen, "but something tells me that we're going to learn plenty about it soon enough."

North America, Reach UNSC Military Complex,
Omega Wing-Section Three secure facility
December 12, 2551

Today was the day that would mark the change in the fight against the Covenant.

Today Cortana would be partnered with Spartan-117.

It had taken three months for ONI and High Command to approve the armor upgrade for the Spartan. The advancement was expensive and risky. If it failed, the UNSC would be unlikely to recover from the investment. But after hearing both her and Halsey's persuasive testimonies, they, led by the influential vote of confidence from Lord Hood, finally green-lit the project.

Unlike the slow moving bureaucracy of High Command, once the permission had been granted, Cortana and Halsey had worked quickly to move the process forward. It had taken Cortana less than a half a minute to decide on her Spartan counterpart and nearly as long for Halsey to agree. The paperwork had been rushed through and Spartan-117 had been removed from his current team and transferred to Reach.

Now, Cortana was getting ready to do her part to complete the project.

The Master Chief was in the lab with Halsey already, getting accustomed to the first set of upgrades on his armor: a new shielding system, an onboard data storage unit that rivaled most ships in the fleet, and an advance HUD.

But that was nothing compared to the second half of the upgrades, she thought with a smirk.

"Cortana." Halsey's voice cut through her thoughts. "We're ready for you now."

She looked at her reflection in the window and straightened her short, black hair, pulling it away from her face. Satisfied, she turned away and walked inside the doctor's lab.

"This is Cortana," Halsey said, stepping to the side as she entered the room. "She is part of the upgrade to your armor I mentioned earlier."

Cortana took in the sight of the Master Chief before her. He had been fitted in his armor, though he hadn't yet put on his helmet. His short brown hair matched his cocoa colored eyes. There were several scars on his cheeks and neck, a testimony to the amount of time he had been fighting the Covenant. He looked serious, unshakable. He was every bit the professional soldier Cortana believed him to be.

There was no doubt that he was the right choice.

She watched as his eyes flickered between her and Halsey, no doubt noticing the similarities between the two women.

She stuck out her hand for him to shake. "It's good to meet you, Chief."

"Likewise, ma'am," he said as he shook her hand.

"Cortana," she corrected.

"Cortana," he repeated uneasily.

She knew her request for him to use her first name bothered him. He looked at her ONI issued uniform for any signs of rank, but found none.

"I'm a fourth generation AI," she said as way of explanation.

The Chief looked her, confused. "But you're human..."

"I am," Cortana answered, amused by his awkwardness. She turned to Halsey. "You didn't tell me how observant he was."

She noticed how the Spartan stiffened at her dig. She was tempted to apologize, but decided against it. He would have to adjust to her personality if this partnership was to work. If he was expecting someone who fit the UNSC mold the way he and his fellow Spartans did, he was in for a bit of a surprise.

"You'll have to forgive, Cortana. She's a bit more...high-spirited than you," Halsey quickly interjected. "She is a human-AI hybrid, the first of its kind. This allows for her, when working with your armor, to be in two places at once. We're going to implant a shard of Cortana's matrix chip into your neural interface, John. This will allow for her core programming to communicate directly with your armor and its data while allowing her to remain mobile. We believe that with the two of you working together, it will allow for us to access more of the Covenant databases, to try to get ahead of them."

Cortana frowned at the mention their long-standing enemy. The Covenant, the zealous cult that had started off so small nearly forty years ago had grown into humanity's biggest threat. They controlled nearly seventy percent of the world's land mass and dominated over two-thirds of the world's population. Those that didn't join their forces were killed ruthlessly, mercilessly.

The UNSC, the United Nations Salvation Collation, were the only major force in opposition to the group and even they were fighting a losing battle. Over the years, the UNSC lost dozens of strongholds to the Covenant. The only promising signs that the UNSC would ever be able to stand against them were Halsey's Spartans. Now, with Cortana joining the fight, humanity had its best chance of stopping the Covenant from gaining any more ground.

The Chief looked at Cortana with grim smile. Somehow she had known he would warm up to her once he heard she could help in the fight against the Covenant.

"We're going to proceed with the coupling process. John, please finish putting on your armor and have a seat," Halsey instructed.

He grabbed his helmet from its position on the metal table and placed it over his head. When the locks clicked into place, he raised his visor. He was still watching her closely, Cortana noticed.

She watched as the Chief sat in the large chair, allowing Halsey to have access to the back of his armor. She wondered if he understood what the link would mean for him, that no matter where he was on the planet, a part of her would be with him.
She stood in front of John and flashed him an encouraging smile.

He looked at her blankly.

Briefly, she wondered if he was perhaps a little too rigid for her personality.

Cortana turned around to face the doctor who seemed unconcerned with the Chief's stolid behavior. She trusted Halsey. The doctor wouldn't risk the project failing. If she thought there was going to be a compatibility issue, she would have brought it up to the AI before getting this far into the project.

"Look forward and do not move. I will tell you when the procedure is complete," the doctor said from behind him.

"Are you ready?" Halsey asked, glancing at Cortana.

Cortana nodded. According to the simulations they had run, she should feel nothing more than a faint energy drop as the shard reconnected with her matrix chip inside her body. Once the shard was recognized by the Chief's armor, it would allow her to have a direct window to what the Chief saw.

She watched as Halsey carefully removed the shard that was suspended in a matrix chip from its cylinder-shaped holder. She heard several clicks as the chip slid into place in the Chief's armor.

She felt a tug in her consciousness as the shard reached out to connect with her neural lace. "All right, I've got it," Cortana said. "Activating MJOLNIR interface now."

She stumbled slightly as the huge influx of data came roaring into her matrix. Quickly, she created a buffer between her and the Chief's armor, allowing the data to flow in at a more easily digestible rate.

Halsey looked at her questioningly, but Cortana waved off her concern. She would be fine.

She switched her subroutines and transferred her primary system into the shard. It felt strange for her to be confined in the small matrix chip after being in her host body for the past several months. But, she adapted smoothly and accessed the armor's systems. "I'm in." Cortana's voice came from his helmet speakers.

When the Chief turned to face the human sitting next to him with an inquisitive look, she waved. "Please don't be surprised at my ability to do more than two things at once," she quipped.

"Excellent," Halsey murmured, taking notes. "And are you getting the readings from all the armor's systems?"

"Yes," Cortana said, distracted. She accessed his vital signs during the procedure. He had nearly lost consciousness when the shard was implanted into his neural lace.

Had they missed anything else in the simulations?

"She's in my mind?" The Chief's voice pulled her back into the discussion.

"That's up for debate," Cortana said, transferring her main systems back to her matrix chip and allowing the normal subroutines to work in the shard. "My subroutines will transfer your neural impulses and transfer them directly into motion. So, in that regard, yes, I'm in your mind."

"But," Halsey interjected, "she will only be able to perform those actions when you are in your armor. When you are not in it, the shard will be no more intrusive than any other part of your neural lace."

The Master Chief shifted his gaze to Cortana briefly before looking back at the doctor. "I feel a hum in the back of my head. Is that normal?"

Cortana exchanged a glance with Halsey. Yes, there was a chance that he would "feel" her presence, but the doctor had assumed the sensation would be minimal at most.

The doctor looked unperturbed. "That is to be expected. When you're not in your armor, Cortana's chip will be nothing more than a hum in your subconscious, like your heart rate or your breathing patterns. It might take time to adjust, but soon you won't even know she's there," Halsey assured him.

Cortana raised an eyebrow at the doctor, surprised at how confident she seemed. While it was true that they had no evidence that there wouldn't be any lasting side-effects of the link between the two of them, the truth was her and the Chief were entering into untested territory. No one knew what the long-term effects of the connection would be.

"Now, if the two of you would follow me, High Command had arranged a little...test before they give you the final green-light," Halsey said, leading them out of the medical room.

Cortana frowned slightly. Why hadn't she known about this?

"And you thought giving up a thirty-second advance warning would help the cause?" Cortana asked sarcastically.

Halsey didn't reply to her comment. She picked her tablet off the desk and led them to the door. "Follow me."


John didn't know what to think of Cortana.

She was certainly different than any other officer than he had ever worked with in the UNSC. She wasn't a soldier, but she seemed to command the respect of people around her. To John's surprise, there were several officers inside the ONI building that saluted at her when they left the facility.

They loaded into the waiting transport. Halsey took the passenger seat, next to their driver. Cortana sat next to him in the back seat and flashed a quick smile. "Gotta love how cozy these things are."

John didn't reply.

The rest of the ten minute journey was relatively quiet. Cortana had a far-off look for most of the drive, only occasionally looking away from the direction they were driving to give John an appraising glance.

What was she thinking?

John didn't have time to ask his question out loud. Once the Private made the last turn, the training facility that he had become intimately acquainted with during his early Spartan training came into view.

The Labyrinth.

Its thirty foot walls stood before them, silently daring John and his new partner. Even with his fellow Spartans working together, the obstacle course was a challenge. It had several terrain obstacles, including a twenty foot cliff and a half mile of rocky, rolling hills and a set of caves and underground pathways where the instructors would plant surprises for those recruits that rushed into the room too quickly.

"Little test, huh?" Cortana said, raising her eyebrows.

Halsey didn't reply immediately as they disembarked. She held her tablet close to her as she escorted them to the lone bunker in front of the entrance.

"Cortana will remain at the instructor bunker at the entrance and guide you through the course, John. None of the surveillance equipment that it normally at their disposal will be available to you. You will rely solely on your neural link with each other to communicate. At the end of the maze is a bell, John. Ring it three times and the test will be complete," Halsey explained.

She lowered her voice slightly as she leaned forward. "Be cautious. I think Ackerson has some tricks up his sleeve."

Cortana rolled her eyes. "So basically be expecting anything sleazy and underhanded. Got it."

John frowned. No one spoke about their commanding officer in such a way. Even if Cortana wasn't technically a UNSC soldier, he couldn't say he was comfortable with how she treated the chain of command.

If Halsey was bothered by her outburst, she made no outward signs of showing it.

"Your test will begin twenty seconds after Cortana enters the bunker. You have been authorized to use whatever force is necessary to eliminate the threats," the doctor said, raising her voice to a normal level. "Good luck."

"Thanks,” the AI said dryly. Cortana glanced at the Labyrinth and scowled. "So, Chief, ready for a challenge?"


She looked amused at his resolve. Her lips twitched in a half-smile. "All right. I'll get myself in the bunker and give you the signal when your test will start."


He moved to the entrance as Cortana walked towards the bunker. A feeling of uneasiness washed over him. Going into the Labyrinth unarmed was almost suicidal. But, that was his instruction, so he would have to wait for the opportunity to arm himself once the test begun.

"All right, Chief. Time to dazzle High Command."

John sprinted inside the course, knowing that the twenty foot cliff face would be his first obstacle to contend with. Normally, he would approach the siding with caution and a weapon, slowly taking out any sniper threats that may be hiding in the vantage points around him. But now, unarmed and unable to help himself from such a threat, John knew his only course of action was to get up the cliff face as quickly as possible.

He dug his fingers into the jagged rock and started climbing to the top. Only one sniper shot was fired before he made his way to the top of the plateau. As he was pulling himself up, he heard the sound of a half-dozen guns being cocked.
"Watch out, Chief."

"I've got it." His voice was confident.

When he stood up, he became a blur of motion. The first unfortunate soldier who was in his path was knocked out cold by an elbow in his face. John swooped down and grabbed the assault rifle and slammed the butt of it into the chest of an ODST who was starting to take aim at him. He spun around and fired two quick shots at the Marine that was running in his direction, hitting him in the shoulder.

John kicked away his gun as the fallen soldier attempted to reach for it. He ducked out of the way of a barrage of bullets that another ODST had fired several yards away. He managed to dodge most of them, but several of them hit him.

He watched on his HUD as the shield levels started to drop.

"The point of the new shielding system isn’t to see how much damage you can take before the power completely drains."

John pressed his lips together at Cortana's flippant remark. Was she going to give a running commentary in his head throughout the entire test?

He fired several shots in the direction of the ODST. The bullets hit their mark and the man slumped to the ground.

Only two more to go.

He picked up the smoke grenade that the Marine had dropped and threw it in the direction of the remaining soldiers. In the midst of the confusion, he barreled through and incapacitated the two men.

"Not bad for a Spartan."

He didn't reply as he made his way past the unconscious men and took the extra ammo with him. He slowly turned a corner.
A plasma grenade landed at his feet.

He sprinted to a safe distance and waited for the blast from the projectile. The ground shook beneath his feet as the grenade exploded.

"RPG, obviously. Actually," she said, as he slowly started making his way back to the corner, "there are four grenadiers on the wall."

John frowned. He was going to have to outrun the grenades that were being aimed at him. Maybe Kelly could complete such a feat, but he was nowhere near as fast as his longtime friend.

"Don't worry, Chief. I've got you covered."

Suddenly, he felt like his entire brain was doused with ice cold water. His vision blurred, a wave of vertigo washed over him. He lurched forward as dark spots swirled in his vision, but managed to stand upright.

"You felt that?" She seemed slightly surprised.

"Yes," he replied uneasily. Was there something wrong with their link?

The pain started ebbing away. "Do you feel anything now?"

He checked. There was nothing there except for the slight hum that he had experienced since the shard had been implanted.


"It seems like you feel the PSI wave shift when I access your armor. We'll have to work on a buffering system when the test is finished, but, for now, I'll keep the link at its current intensity. We can't have you blacking out in the middle of the test, can we?" She paused for a moment. "I guess that means I won't be able to sneak into your subconscious now." John could almost see her smirking.

Doctor Halsey hadn't said anything about her being able to access his subconscious thoughts. "I didn't think-"

"It's a joke, Chief," she said. "I transferred my primary system into your shard. With the increased speed, you should be able to sprint down the straightaway before they have a chance to fire any grenades off," Cortana replied.

John didn't like how she said "should" but there was little else he could do. Not finishing the course wasn't an option. "Understood."

He inched his way to the corner, knowing that all eyes down the path were on his location. He drew a deep breath and started sprinting as fast as he could. He raced down the narrow road; he had never moved so quickly in his life. He rounded the corner and leaned against the wall, his chest heaving.

His rest was short-lived.

A Rhino was waiting for him in the open area before her.

The Chief looked at the bulky tank. One blast from its turrets would kill him instantly, even with his new shielding system.

"Looks like you've got some trouble, Chief."


Cortana watched helplessly as John moved to a more discreet location in the shadows of the large wooden pillars, the only cover in the wide field. "I would suggest using a couple of those plasma grenades you snagged earlier to make quick work of the Rhino," she said, her voice deceptively even.

She frowned as the feed from his visual sensors started flickering. Something wasn't right.

"Can-und-pl-rep," came the broken response. Then, the video feed from his armor stopped completely.

Damn, Cortana swore silently.

Ackerson must have put a scrambling channel in the course. She hacked into the UNSC database and found the frequency Ackerson was using. She tried to disrupt the signal, but the colonel had put a reinforcement emitter in the course. Unless it was physically dismantled, the link between the two of them would continue to be interrupted.

Cortana weighed her options. She could remain in the instructor's station and attempt to contact the Chief, hoping that he would be able to piece enough of her transmission to understand her message, or she could enter the course and find the source of the problem herself.

No, she finally decided, she would play-and win-by the rules that Ackerson and ONI had set up.

She sent a brief message to the Chief, detailing what he was to look for and destroy in order to get the signal working properly.
Ackerson knew what he was doing, she admitted grudgingly. The Spartan couldn't backtrack to the location with grenadiers on the wall, waiting for his return. Before he could even attempt to destroy the emitter, he would have to disable the Rhino.

Thirty long seconds passed with no change. She could still access his vitals-which were still strong- and know how much damage he had taken-a relatively small amount-, but the impulse to run in and take care of the problem herself was pressing on Cortana.

She forced herself to ignore the feeling. The Chief was more than capable of demolishing a small piece of equipment.
Another minute went by. She started pacing in a tight circle, wondering if the Chief would be able to decipher enough of her message to know what he needed to do.


The AI relaxed.

The video feed flickered for a second before being fully established.

She allowed herself a brief smile. "I'm here, Chief." No sooner as she transmitted the message to him, she heard a loud single shot coming from the west.

It took less than a fraction of second for Cortana to identify the sound as a shot from a DMR. She almost warned the Chief about the incoming projectile, but she realized it wasn't fired at the Spartan.

No, the bullet was headed her way.

She knew based on the speed of the bullet, she wasn't going to be able to avoid getting hit. Swiftly, she shifted and ducked. Fire tore through her bicep as the bullet ripped through her flesh. She hissed as she looked down and saw the blood oozing from the wound.

So, that was how Ackerson wanted to play, she thought bitterly.

The pain was intense, but manageable. The blood was steadily trickling down her arm. She would tend to her wound, but first, she needed to take care of the threat. She pulled out her pistol from her ankle holster as she analyzed where, exactly, the bullet had come from.


A tiny black speck, the only sign of the sniper, was on the horizon. She adjusted her aim slightly as the calculations to make the perfect shot filtered in her systems. The pistol wasn't the best weapon for the job, but she was left with no other options. The sniper wouldn't miss the shot a second time.

She fired.

She leaned back as she waited for the black dot to fall to the ground. Two seconds later, the bullet had hit its mark. It wasn't a kill shot as Cortana was painfully aware of the dwindling number of troops in the UNSC. If Ackerson was foolish enough to order another sniper to take her out, however, Cortana made no promises as to their fate.

Now that the threat had been taken care of, she quickly shifted her attention to John who was removing the extra ammunition from the fallen ODSTs.

Confident that the Chief was doing fine without her immediate assistance, she focused on her injury. She took off her jacket, wincing as the rough fabric pulled across the wound. Quickly, she made a tourniquet around her arm while keeping sensors alert for any more of Ackerson's surprises. When she finished, she grimaced at the sight of her left arm; her uniform had been tainted with blood, her hand stained scarlet.

There would be time to think about her injury-and payback- later. For now, she shifted her attention to the Spartan inside the course. She accessed all of the information coming over the feed: the Rhino was several yards away, smoke pluming out of the main cabin; three ODSTs were lying on the ground, writhing in pain.

The Chief walked across the now-safe field and approached the entrance to the underground portion of the course.

It was pitch black in there.

He was about to turn on his helmet lights and step inside the corridor when an uneasy feeling settled over Cortana. Ackerson had something planned; he knew not powering the lights in the underground corridor would not be an issue for the Spartan.

"Hold on, Chief."

He stopped instantly.

Inferred and night vision sights hadn't shown any threat, but Cortana wasn't willing to take any risks. She needed to make sure that the Chief made it through the course safely.

"Throw a grenade in the marked position," she requested as she uploaded the location to his HUD.

He hesitated briefly, undoubtedly wondering why she would make such a request. But, he remained silent and tossed a grenade where she had asked.

Six well-hidden chain guns shot it down before it hit the ground. The ceiling shuddered and shook as the blast of the shattered flash bang bounced off of it. Cortana knew that he would not have survived the barrage of bullets, even with his improved shielding system.

Another attempt from Ackerson's plan to make them stumble, Cortana thought with a wave of annoyance.


"Glad you asked. What ammunition do you have?"

"Three extra magazines and two grenades."

She pressed her lips together. Even if he used all of his ammo and the two remaining grenades, he would be lucky if he destroyed two of the six guns that were in front of him. No, they would have to use the fact that he was underground to his advantage.

"You should be able to disable two of the chain guns if you cause a partial ceiling collapse. The debris then should give you enough cover to evade the remaining guns," she said.

Based on his long silence, she knew he did not like her plan. "Other options?"

She sighed. "If there were any, I would have suggested it, Chief." She marked two positions on his HUD. "You will need to be exact or this won't work."


She watched the Chief toss the grenades, holding her breath. The ceiling cracked and crumbled. He ducked down around the falling debris as best he could, but the chain guns were still targeting him.

"Hurry, Chief!"

His shields were depleted completely as he was approaching the end of the corridor. The Chief managed to tuck himself behind a large piece of the fallen ceiling before the last chief gun could hit him. He waited there until his shields fully recharged before he continued through the course.

The exit out of the underground path was blocked by a fallen beam. Cortana frowned. "You should be able to crawl out of there," she said, after she calculated the dimensions. "You'll have to lift the beam a half meter to the right, but no more than that or else the structural integrity might become unstable."


Cortana raised her eyebrow. So, it seemed like the overly-stolid Chief did have a dry wit about him.

She waited as he moved the beam out of the way. He slid on his belly, getting caught on the debris several times before clearing the room. Slowly, he stood up and continued down the path. It led to a dead end. Three meters above him, a hole to the outside loomed.

Before she could come up with an action plan, the Chief had walked several yards backwards. Just as she was about to ask what he was going to do, he ran straight ahead and kicked off the stone wall in front of him. She held her breath as he twisted in midair and grabbed with one hand the edge of the hole. He grunted as the weight of him in his armor pulled against his arm. He swung his left arm over and secured his hold. Seconds later, he pulled himself out of the hole.

"Do I want to know when you learned how to do that move?" she asked, amused.

He didn't acknowledge her question as he sprinted towards the mouth of the cave. It was the last portion of the test. Cortana could almost feel their victory.

Her triumphant feeling was premature; the energy scan readings coming from the Chief's armor made her question whether or not he would survive the next five minutes.

"What is it?"

She frowned. How had John known something was wrong? She pushed aside her inquiry and focused on the much more pressing issue. "This can't be right," she muttered. Yet, as she reanalyzed the data, she couldn't deny the facts.


She frowned. "According to my readings, there are four plasma cannons in there."

"Plasma cannons?"

She understood his disbelief. Plasma artillery was the most recent, and most powerful, addition to the UNSC's weaponry. Apparently, Ackerson was doing everything he could to make sure they were going to fail the test.

Cortana ran through the calculations; things weren't looking promising for him. He would never make it across before the canons fired, unless…

She crossed her arms though he couldn't see her. "Do you trust me?"


The conviction behind his one word answer surprised Cortana.

"I want you to run across the room as fast as you can. When I give you the signal, I want you to drop to your knees and duck," Cortana said as her subroutines were busy pulling the files for the side project she had been developing for the MJOLNIR armor.

"You want me to stop in the middle of the room?" The doubt was clear in his voice.

"Yes," she said as she uploaded the protocol to his armor. "But it is imperative that you don't get hit with any plasma shots before I give you the signal."

She watched as he glanced in the mouth of the cave. "Right," he said dryly.

"Go," she instructed before she could second-guess her decision. If her upgrade didn't work, then John would be dead within seconds. She watched as he raced across the room, her subroutine automatically adjusting for John's increased speed.

"Now!" she said to him.

Instantly, he dropped as she had told him. His armor locked up immediately and the plasma blasts bounced off the shielding. The impact of the blasts knocked the Chief to the ground. She quickly accessed his vitals.

He was alive.

"Chief!" she called when he didn't move. "Chief! Hurry! Before they have a chance to recharge."

Slowly, he stood up. She knew based on his vitals he was teetering on the edge of unconsciousness, but he pushed himself forward. He sprinted to the bell at the end of the room and rang it three times.

Cortana let out a breath that she didn't realize she had been holding.

It was over.

They had won.

And, more importantly, Ackerson had lost.

"The test is over. Ackerson, shut those cannons down." Halsey's voice came over the comm channel. "I need to med team in there now. And Cortana?"

"Yes?" She didn't think her modification to the Chief’s armor would go unnoticed.

"We've got some talking to do."


John was going into shock.

His vision narrowed. The world around him was fading.

Though Cortana had undoubtedly saved his life with her modification in his shield, the impact of the blast was almost more than his body could handle. Blood covered the inside of his visor, his shoulder throbbed where it had been pulled out of its socket, and he was pretty sure he felt his tendon tear when he made his final dash to the bell.

"Chief? Can you hear me?" He faintly registered Cortana's rushed footsteps approaching him.

"Med team?" he forced out.
"On its way," Cortana said as she moved towards him. "Three minutes."

He could last that long. He had to. Losing consciousness would mean that Ackerson to take down the Spartan down had worked.

John tried to focus on Cortana, but his vision was still blurry. He was able to see enough to tell that she was no longer wearing her jacket. Why would she have taken it off?

"Just lay down," Cortana instructed, pushing on his shoulder.

His shields glowed in response.

"You can turn them off now. The test is over," Cortana noted wryly.

He turned off the shields and looked at Cortana who was saying something to him, but his brain was unwilling to cooperate with him. He forced himself to concentrate on the woman in front of him.

"You need to stay with me, John."

That caught his attention. No one, outside of Halsey and the Spartans, ever used his first name.

"Here," she said as she reached around and released the lock on his helmet. "Let's get this off you. That contusion on the back of your head doesn't need any more pressure on it."

He lifted up his head and allowed her to take off his helmet. When his face was revealed, she gasped softly.

"Ackerson," she hissed.

John was surprised at her anger. After years of dealing with his fellow Spartans, he was unaccustomed to how...civilian Cortana acted.

"I'll be fine."

She stared at him for a second before nodding slightly. "You have survived worse. Most of the blood is from your broken nose," she assessed. "Doctor Halsey and her team should be able to mend your wounds fairly quickly."

The medical team led by Halsey approached them. Quickly, he was loaded onto the gurney and led away from the obstacle course. As they made their way to the Medical Bays, John overheard the two women talking.

"Any armor modification should have been run past me," Halsey said, annoyed.

"So Ackerson could have prepared for that too? I don't think so."

Halsey sighed at Cortana's stubbornness. "You did a good job stopping the bleeding," she said changing the subjects.

"I did a good job avoiding the bullet," Cortana countered emphatically. "We're lucky the bullet went through or else I'd be on a gurney too."

Cortana had been shot?

John lifted up slightly and saw the blood soaked fabric on her left arm. "You should have told me."

She, however, seemed unconvinced. "I'm not the one with a bruised kidney, a ruptured spleen, a torn Achilles tendon, a severe concussion and about a half-dozen other injuries," Cortana argued heatedly before turning back to Halsey. "I can't believe that you would authorize-"

"I didn't," the doctor interrupted. "High Command gave Ackerson full control of the test."

John felt a slight wave of relief. He knew the doctor always demanded the best from her Spartans, but the test seemed extreme, even to him.

"Regardless of who was in charge of the test," Halsey said, reigning in that part of the conversation, "the brass was certainly impressed with your shot. Most soldiers in the fleet couldn't have hit the sniper from where you were positioned."

John watched Cortana raise an eyebrow. "Did they miss the part in my assessment where it showed that my shot accuracy rivals the Spartans?"

"Reading and seeing are two different things," the doctor pointedly reminded her.

They entered into the medical bay where the techs started taking off the numerous pieces of John's armor. Cortana, thankfully, had her back to him as she continued talking to Halsey as he was clothed with paper scrubs.

The doctor approached him and looked at him with an indescribable look on her face. "The two of you did well." She looked up at the AI. "Better than I could have hoped. I'll be back when the room is ready for you."

As Halsey walked out of the room, Cortana turned to the Spartan. "How are you feeling, Chief?"

"Like I got shot with a plasma cannon."

She raised her eyebrows. "Please don't tell me you've been holding out your sense of humor just for me."

"How did you get shot?" he asked, ignoring her dig.

She pressed her lips together. "Ackerson had a sniper try to take me out of the game," she answered angrily. "But don't worry, Chief, I've already arranged a little payback." She smiled grimly.

Ackerson tried to kill Cortana?

His pulse spiked at the thought.

“Calm down, Chief. I already told you, I’m fine.”

He nodded, changing subjects. "And my injuries?"

Cortana looked away from her wound to his face. "You were right, you'll be back to normal in no time."

"And the armor?"

She frowned. "The shields took a beating out there. It's probably going to take several weeks, at least," she answered. "And that's if Halsey and I work on them non-stop."

Though the missions that required the use of his MJOLNIR armor were rare, due to the energy demands that they had, John couldn't help but to feel annoyed at the unnecessary damage caused to them by the test.

With a curt nod, he lay back down. Several quiet minutes passed with Cortana watching his vital signs carefully. She looked up as she heard footsteps approaching.

"All right. John, we're ready for you," Halsey said, nodding to the techs who led him out of the room.

John half-expected for Cortana to join them in the operating room, but she remained in the prep room.
"You will be fine when we're done," the doctor said, mirroring Cortana's assessment as she studied the data coming from the medical readout.

John remained still as Halsey and her techs tended to his injuries. He hissed slightly as the doctor set his shoulder back into position. She carefully pushed him into a laying position and began knitting his torn tendon.

When she finished the procedure, Halsey took a step back, looking at him. "What did you think of Cortana, John?" she asked.

The problem was he didn't know quite what to think of the AI. He was having adjusting to how she thought and acted. She was unlike any person he had ever worked with since he entered the UNSC.

Finally, he looked at the doctor. "She's…unconventional," he finally answered.

That caused Halsey to raise her eyebrows briefly. "Is that going to be a problem?"

"No, ma'am," he quickly answered.

Before the doctor could reply, Cortana walked into the room. A bandage had been wrapped around her upper arm.

"How's your arm?" he asked.

"Shouldn't you be more concerned with your recovery?" she shot back.

He looked at her before repeating, "Your arm?"

She rolled her eyes before shooting an exasperated glance at Halsey. "None of the reports I read on him mentioned his obstinance," she complained lightly.

She gingerly crossed her arms and looked at John exasperatedly. "It will be fine. Just like I told you," she answered, showing him the bandaged arm. The AI took a step towards him and leaned down to his ear. "And there is nothing wrong with being unconventional," she whispered conspiratorially.

John wasn't surprised at the fact she had overheard the conversation between him and the doctor.

She straightened as she cracked a grin at Halsey who was watching their exchange with unabashed interest.

"I never said there was," he replied as he pulled himself into a sitting position.

She grinned briefly at Halsey's direction. "I keep liking him more and more."

John refused to acknowledge her offhanded comment.

"You need to report to Lord Hood. He wants your after-action report right away," Halsey said. "John will be up there when I have cleared him for duty."

For a moment, John thought the AI might argue, but Cortana just nodded. "I think I'll have a chat with him about allowing Ackerson having total control in our little test." With a wave in their direction, she walked out of the room.

"Unconventional?" Halsey asked with a touch of amusement in her voice.

He nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

"Well, all I have to say is that the two of you left quite an impression on High Command," Halsey said quietly. "The two of you make quite a formidable team."

"Thank you, ma'am." Whether he was grateful for the compliment or for Cortana, he wasn't sure.

"You're welcome, John. Take care of each other and you'll be fine."

Part 2: Let's Get This Show on the Road
15 February 2011 @ 11:10 am

Fandom: Halo
Rating: G/K
Characters: John, Catherine Halsey
Summary: Part of him wanted to ask her if it got easier, seeing an innocent person killed in the crossfire, but, in the end, he decided against saying anything.
Timeline: Takes place after the first Spartan mission on the Eridanus 2 space dock. Yup, another The Fall of Reach fic. Surprise, surprise.
Author’s Notes: If you haven’t read The Fall of Reach *gasp!*, then you should know that John is 13 in this story…everything else in the story is pretty self-explanatory. :D


His side was still sore, his pride more so. )
15 February 2011 @ 11:10 am

Fandom: Halo
Rating: G/K
Characters: John, Catherine Halsey
Summary: Part of him wanted to ask her if it got easier, seeing an innocent person killed in the crossfire, but, in the end, he decided against saying anything.
Timeline: Takes place after the first Spartan mission on the Eridanus 2 space dock. Yup, another The Fall of Reach fic. Surprise, surprise.
Author’s Notes: If you haven’t read The Fall of Reach *gasp!*, then you should know that John is 13 in this story…everything else in the story is pretty self-explanatory. :D


His side was still sore, his pride more so. )