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The Bright Green Dot by 4642 Elitist Bastard



The Bright Green Dot: Coughdrop
Date: 28 May 2009, 2:49 pm

"Jump to Slipspace, Ensign Lovell. Get us the hell out of here."

"Aye, sir. Cortana, dump the destination co-ordinates and bearings in to the nav controller."

"Already done. Approaching saturation velocity. Powering Shaw-Fujikawa translight generators... new course available. Attitude is nominal. Ready for transition."

"Copy. Bridge to FTL: ENGAGE!"

The
Pillar of Autumn dove in to the fierce glow about the forward hull, and began the long and winding journey home. Her pursuers were left confused, outwitted – but not for long.


THE BRIGHT GREEN DOT
Based upon Halo created by Bungie LLC

1. Coughdrop

Wednesday, 30 August, 2552
UNSC Pillar of Autumn – leaving Epsilon Eridani system via Slipstream Space


"Ensign Floyd?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"Could I have a word with you in my office? As soon as possible?"

"Of course."

The Captain smiled, nodded his thanks, and withdrew behind the door frame.

"Hang on..." I said, and the Captain returned.

"Yes?"

"I'm not doing anything at the moment... would you like to discuss it now?"

"Yes, please."

I saved my work and turned off the holopad, and followed the Captain to his quarters.

Barebones, not much space. The Captain's quarters were small, rather like that of most of the administrative staff on the Pillar of Autumn, but at least we had the privacy of our own sleeping quarters, washing facilities and bathrooms, which is more than could be said for those who got their hands dirty with the actual business of killing.

A cruel injustice, maybe. But a necessary one, and one that proved profitable: for me, at least. I felt slightly guilty for thinking that.

"Please," Captain Keyes said, gesturing to the chair in front of his desk as he sat down behind it. I dropped into the seat: inadequate cushioning, sore ass.

"Right, then, Captain... what did you want to see me about?"

"Well, put simply, it's a request."

"A request? For what?"

"Let me explain first. We need to turn off all non-essential subsystems if we're even going to have a chance of losing the Covenant on this jump."

"Yes..." I said, slowly, "I mean, the probability is slim that we'll shake them off, but..."

"I think it's worth the sacrifice," Keyes finished. He reached into his pocket, and withdrew his pipe. "Anyway, we've got to shut down all of the soldiers' living quarters, which isn't too much of an issue, because most of the crew are going straight into cryo."

"Yes..." I said, beginning to piece together the jigsaw in my head.

"Ah. I see." I leaned forward in the chair. "I heard about the PSU issue... how many tubes were affected?"

"In the end, it was twenty-three. Nothing too major... a few engineers have stuck around to try and fix the reactor, and we've housed a few ODSTs with the technicians for the time being. However, I do have a special favor to ask of you."

"Go on."

"Would you mind having the Master Chief room with you for a couple of nights?"

My eyebrows must have screwed up like Keyes's face at the smell of bronchial surfactant.

"I'm sorry... say again?"

"Would you be willing to have the Master Chief as a room-mate for a couple of nights?"

So I had heard correctly.

"The Master Chief? I didn't even know he was on the ship."

"You're one of the few people who do. Practically everyone who doesn't is either in the freezer, or blindly going about fixing the damaged reactor." Keyes lit his pipe, and chewed on its tip.

"OK... I thought he would have..."

"Well, he refused to go in to cryosleep until everyone else was in." The Captain took a long drag, and chuckled, warm and artificially-benign smoke leaking from his lips. "Altruistic, magnanimous bastard. Always seems to forget himself."

"Right..." I said. I thought for a second.

Cautiously, I nodded.

"Of course."

The Captain smiled, and nodded his head in return.

"Thank you. I was beginning to get a little worried I'd have to house him with the ODSTs... and we all know about Silva's little grudge."

"Little grudge?"

Keyes flushed slightly pink, and inhaled slightly.

"It's nothing. Anyway... it's just while the cryochambers are being repaired, but... I'd rather he had someone he could call company, that's why I'm not putting him in here. God knows he's had enough special treatment... I didn't want him to feel more isolated."

"More isolated?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry," I said, my eyebrows sliding up my forehead, "I don't follow."

"Oh, crap," Keyes said, thumping his forehead with his palm, "I forgot about that, too. Sorry..."

He paused for a second, stopping himself revealing any more, before dismissing his prudence and resuming.

"Oh, well... it's hardly going to remain secret for much longer, and I trust you enough not to go spouting it out to everybody." The Captain leaned forward, casting a furtive look around with his eyes before lowering his voice.

"Before we left Reach, the Chief asked if he could take a Pelican down to retrieve the other members of his team... and I had to turn that down, because we were getting the shit beaten out of us by the Covenant fleet. That means the rest of the Spartans were still on the surface when the Covenant started the glassing."

"YOU ARE JOKING."

"Sadly... I'm not."

"Jesus Christ... so... let me get this straight: this makes the Chief the last Spartan in the damn UNSC?"

The single beat in which the Captain simply stared into me made his answer painfully obvious.

"Right. OK." I swallowed, and shuffled uncomfortably on the seat.

The Captain's stance relaxed, and he leaned back in his chair, drawing more smoke in from his pipe.

"Well... thank you for agreeing to it. I didn't really want to put him in with the ODSTs, and it is only for a couple days while they rebuild those damn PSUs. Confidentially, I also think he needs some time to think... I don't want him going into battle on the other side feeling depressed."

"When it turns out the Covies have followed us, which we know they will have..."

"yup." The Captain's acknowledgement was stark, and typically realist.

For a moment, we simply stared at each other. We had set a random course, as per the Cole Protocol, which had been entirely successful so far in hiding Earth's location from the Covenant. No-one wanted us to be the ones to lead them to Earth.

"Understood."

"I think if you just leave him to himself, but... if he wants to talk to you, talk to him. Make sure he knows he's not alone. And whatever you do, don't mention Reach," the Captain pleaded, scratching his head, "because... if we're honest, although he's something of an enigma, it'd take one heck of an inhumane, cold-hearted bastard who didn't feel a bit shaken up after the death of their entire platoon."

"Aye, Captain. When should I expect him?"

"Just sometime this afternoon. He's writing his debriefing report now."

"OK." I stood up at the same time as the Captain, and he shook my hand.

"I know I can trust you, Christopher," he said, a grizzled smile creeping on to his face, "but just keep him quiet, make him feel welcome... and if you need any help, ask Cortana. She probably knows him better than any of us."



22:19 Ship Internal Time

"Mr. Floyd?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy SPARTAN-117, reporting for accommodation."

I raised one eyebrow. The Spartan stood at least a quarter of a meter above me, and was staring down through the polarized faceplate, his total lack of motion somehow not as unnerving as the bizarre use of the military code of conduct. It was as if he was attempting to board a ship...

'Yes, Master Chief. Welcome." I stepped aside, and flung my left arm out like a semaphore flag. The Chief slowly entered, stopped, and swiveled his head, looking around the small room. I'd moved the desk to the wall the door opened on to to make room for another bed. It was slightly larger than usual, but I still suspected it would be far too small for the Chief to sleep on.

He remained totally silent. Perhaps I would have to make the first move...

"Have you eaten?" I ventured. The helmet swiveled again, the reflection on the visor casting an iridescent spectrum over the area where is his left cheek should have been.

"Yes. I have. Thank you."

The Master Chief slowly sat down on the bed, tentatively resting more weight upon it as it creaked in protest. Eventually, it stabilized, although I was certain I could see the metal frame warping slightly under the huge mass resting upon it.

"Make yourself at home," I muttered, my mouth opening and closing like a goldfish.

The Chief remained silent as he reached to his head, depressurized the suit, and pulled away the helmet. I'd never seen him without his helmet before – not even television news showed his face, and if I'm honest, I was a touch surprised by what I saw under there.

The guy didn't look healthy. At all. His skin was whiter than a sheet, and his brown hair was uneven, matted with blood and sweat, suck to his head like a dried-out cephalopod. There were fresh bruises on his forehead.

"The bathroom's through there if you want a shower," I said without thinking. He briefly looked up at me, with eyes the color of a burnt umber pigment, piercing, and yet, somehow, intensely enigmatic.

"I'll wait until tomorrow. Thank you."

The Spartan looked down again, and began disarticulating his armor. I briefly looked around, and then sat back down at the desk, switching the holopad back on.

Steven strapped himself into the seat, and punched the co-ordinates in to the computer. Exit vector (TK)...

That was where I'd left it off. No time to do the calculations, so I'd thrown in a placeholder and left it there. I pulled a piece of recycled paper from the drawer, a pen, and scribbled out the numbers. If the planet's radius was ten thousand kilometers, and the density was two kilos per square meter...

crap. How did you work out the volume of a sphere?

"Chief?"

"Yes?" the gravelly voice came in response.

"I don't suppose you know the formula to find the volume of a sphere from its radius?"

"Four thirds times pi times r cubed."

"Thanks."

I scribbled down the formula, but stopped mid-way through the second stroke of the pi figure. I swiveled about in the chair to face the Chief.

"Are you OK?"

The Chief looked up from the neat pile of armor components that had accrued next to the bed. His face remained totally unreadable, silent.

"Pardon?"

"Are you all right? You sound a bit hoarse."

The Master Chief looked back down at the pile of armor, and grunted a reply under his breath.

"I'm fine."

"OK."

I swiveled back about on the chair to face the desk. I scribbled in the remainder of the equation, and leaned back in the chair. A holographic calculator appeared before me, and I quickly entered the definitions and the formula, receiving an instant answer.

Eight point three times ten to the twelve. Should I even be bothering with this accuracy? No. I swatted the sentence stub in to the bit bucket, and saved again.

Without thinking, I found myself looking in the drawer again, scavenging for that packet... there. Meyersen's strawberry-flavored throat lozenges. I checked the use-by date. Sixteen months from today. They'd be fine.

"Chief?"

The Spartan looked up again, and I punched one of the lozenges out of the packet and tossed it towards him.

"There you go."

"What is it?" he asked, catching it in one hand and examining it.

"It's a coughdrop."

"What?"

"A coughdrop. It's a sort of candy... it's got stuff in it that's meant to soothe irritated throat tissues."

"What sort of stuff?"

"Um..." I mumbled, scrabbling for the box again, and squinting at the label. "Menthol, two point nine milligrams. Instructions... dissolve slowly in mouth."

The Chief briefly examined the candy again.

"Thanks," he said, quietly, and popped it into his mouth, before setting back to work removing his armor.



Thursday, 31 August, 2552
01:17 Ship Internal Time


My eyes flickered open as a soft scrunching sound shocked me into consciousness. I closed them again, and gingerly squinted them to the point where I could see in a sort of monochromatic silhouetted form of vision. It was a reasonable enough compromise.

Someone, tall, well-built but not to the point where it would become a hindrance, and dressed in some skin-tight black body suit, was at the desk, fervently squashing a bit of paper into a ball. The Master Chief?

Yes. I watched silently as the Spartan flung the paper underneath the desk, stood, and wandered back over to the bed, flopping backwards on to the mattress.

An intense curiosity gripped me as to what was on that paper.... and why the Chief had felt the compulsion to squeeze it to a practical pulp. I waited for a couple of minutes, and only when I heard the soft breathing from the opposite wall drop to a quiet, steady, lento pace that I dared to fully open my eyes.

Why was I being so apprehensive? I wondered to myself. The Chief wasn't the sort of man who'd injure you for discovering him in the act of screwing up a piece of paper. At least, I hoped he wasn't.

Christ, this is getting ridiculous, I thought. Gently, I stood up, allowing the cybernetic parts of my body time to work out which way up they were.

I crouched beneath the desk, and pulled out the tiny ball of paper. Quickly finding the seam, I opened it out, and began reading the crumpled text.

The words were unmistakably a rant. The hand was panicky and speedily-written, and the text shedded its apostrophes, capital letters, and eventually full stops by the end of the third paragraph.

August 30th 2552 – I think

We've now jumped to Slipspace, away from Reach, heading for some place in the middle of nowhere because of the Cole protocol. Of course, they'll have followed us so we'll end up having to do another jump and another and another and another

I HATE IT. I JUST HATE IT.

They were all still on Reach so theyre dead: Kelly Vinh Anton Fred Joshua Halsey I cant remember the others. Dead gone murdered by covenant.

I killed them i might as well have shot them i am an idiot i shouldnt have sent them down there i should be the dead one.

I AM EVIL


Those previous two paragraphs had been scribbled through thoroughly, but I could still make out their text through the pen's grooves on the page. I shuddered slightly. Anyone who'd paid a little attention during English literature lessons at school would imagine this was something straight out of Nineteen Eighty Four. I read further down the page as the punctuation and form quickly returned.

now some cryotubes are broken so while everyone else is in the freezer I'm boarding with the POA's systems controller (Ensign Christopher Floyd). He has an artificial heart and a semi-cybernetic leg after a battle (?) ten years ago so although he's capable enough to do small things, he can't go into battle in case his heart gives out. He gave me a throat lozenge – it's the sweetest thing I've tasted in months and it helped to sort out my throat which stung like hell. He hasn't bothered me too much.

In a way I wish he would. I can't really talk to anyone now. The others are dead. I am left to mope.

I don't know why I wrote what I did just now. I needed to let it out. I am not sure I am evil. I don't know what came over me.

IT IS NOT FAIR.

I never had any choice in the matter. Even now I am not in control. I'm in someone else's quarters on a starship being hurled through space at nine hundred times the speed of light (I think – no it's 876 times.)

Just before we left Reach, we picked up a fresh burst of propaganda videos. One has me (or someone pretending to be me – I don't remember filming anything, and they were in some armor that was pristine and obviously fake) urging people to enlist in the military. They don't even sound like me. The video sounds confident, deep, masculine, protective. My voice is cracking up. I sound horrible, rasping.

I don't think the rest of me is much better. My ribs are giving me such horrible pains they're unreal. I can shut it out during battle, but afterwards it's always so painful I can't concentrate on anything else. I need to see a doctor... but they're all in cryo.

I'm not even sure I can talk to Cortana. She's a computer... I can't get over that fact. I can only remain here, ensconced in my armor.

No. I can't do that either. It needs cleaning... and the bed wouldn't support it. I'm sure Floyd (the man I'm rooming with) would hate it. I hate wearing it now – people assume I'm some kind of android – but I can't avoid it. At least it's somewhere I can curl up and cry.

Not that I do. Now I've got Cortana infiltrating... although she's great in battle, I just can't ignore her any more. I can't ignore the rest of the world.

I can't even curl up and cry. It would demonstrate a weakness, a pathos. I can't even admit it to myself... but I just have. At the same time it makes me feel inhuman. Some people even assume I'm a robot. They don't realize what I feel inside... but I'm not in a position to manifest it.

I hate times like this. I have no control, I'm on a starship, and I have absolutely nothing to do but plow through UNSC propaganda. I cannot do that... but I cannot do nothing. I don't want to think about Reach. But I cannot help it.

Nobody will read this anyway. That's probably for the best. Nobody cares... until I fail. Then they show great interest.

No-one except Cortana even knows my true name now. I can't even remember my real last name. I can only remember John. But no-one calls me John. I'm always the Master Chief, the hero come to rescue them from the evil aliens. Some people even assume I'm a robot. I'm repeating myself.

I'm supposed to be winning this war... but I can't. And even if I could, what then? If I fail, I'm vilified and probably killed by the Covenant. If I win... I get even more scrutiny, more unwanted attention. The chest of my dress uniform – wherever it is – is overflowing with medals and stripes and honors. They don't mean anything any more. They're bits of metal and fabric, nothing more. I hope it got glassed and is now floating about Reach's atmosphere as a gaseous cloud.

I'd rather they rewarded me with a nice long stay on some remote planet, with no-one but me and preferably a toxic atmosphere I could suffocate myself on. There I could forget the military and just be myself.

Not that I know who I am any more.

NOTHING IS FAIR.


The absence of any more space on the page was somehow depressing. The text had been crammed in right up against the edge of the page, the fine gray margins being ignored completely. I stared at it for a moment, and then stared back at the sleeping form of the Master Chief on the bed.

He looked a forlorn sight, his eyes deathly still, grayish shadows under his eyes, fresh, congealed blood still accenting the fresh scars on his face. I found myself with a lump in my throat, but no compulsion to cry. I simply stared in shock.

Poor bastard, I thought, folding the crumpled leaf and putting it back in the drawer, underneath the ream of paper. It may not have been his intention for anyone to read it... but someone just had.

I crawled back between the sheets, and thought. What was I to do? Confront him directly? I played out the scenario in my head.

Chief, I found the rant you wrote last night under the desk. I know you feel like shit– no.

No way would that work.

I wondered if this was the first time he'd committed his thoughts to paper. Perhaps he'd written hundreds, leaving a paper trail across the UNSC fleet... or maybe it was something he felt compelled to do after witnessing the deaths of his comrades...

I stared at a spot on the ceiling, thinking for a second. There was nothing to think about, though. I briefly glanced at the Chief. He was laid on his back, on top of the covers, eyes closed, deathly still.

It wasn't fair that he should have to fight while I didn't. That thought briefly crossed my mind, but was immediately nullified by the slight discomfort as the artificial heart in my chest fluttered and restarted, quickly restoring its rhythm. It had been doing that a lot lately. If I was going to serve in the UNSC, it'd have to be in a place where I wouldn't be a hindrance to anyone else.

I couldn't get back to sleep. Gently, I stood myself up, again giving my leg's accelerometers time to adjust.

Wandering back to the desk, I waved the holopad on. The incomplete fourth chapter sat there, manifested in front of me on a holographic 'page' in twelve-point Helvetica.

I brushed it into the 'novel' folder and started a fresh document.

31 August 2552

Dear Carrie,

I know you probably won't read this until they find my dead body on the carcass of a ship in the middle of nowhere, but I hope you do get to read it eventually.

We've just escaped the glassing of Reach via Slipspace, jumping to somewhere in uncharted space. The Covies have probably followed us, but what do you expect from them? I only hope we'll eventually be able to get back to the home system... eventually.

Things aren't too exciting apart from that. The Spartans have been all but wiped out on Reach, and the last one (Master Chief) is on the ship right now. Some of the cryotubes have failed, and as we're running dark, he's rooming with me for a couple of nights while the engineers fix them.

He's a bit of an enigma. He doesn't say much, but I think he's still a bit shaken up by the events on Reach. I don't blame him. At all. Are Spartans always like this?

One thing's for sure: he's not the fearless, confident soldier everyone thinks he is. He's a weary, tired soldier who needs a break. Not that he will... I doubt this message will even clear the censor.

Maybe you'll read it once the war's over. If it ever is. Maybe we'll be married and living in a nice house by the sea. I sure hope that happens someday.

Love,
CHRIS FLOYD


I saved the file and copied it to the message queue. On second thoughts, I removed it from the message queue, encrypted it for good measure, and re-submitted it. Normally, if it had been scrambled, the censor didn't bother to read it. Cortana probably knew about the full contents of my home folder already (and that of every other person on the ship), but she was usually relatively lax.

I turned off the holopad again and slithered back in to bed. So should I try confronting him directly? Maybe. I put off the decision until the morning, closing my eyes and falling asleep within a couple of minutes.

to be continued...



The Bright Green Dot: Clothes
Date: 12 June 2009, 1:13 pm

2. Clothes
Thursday, 31 August, 255206:10 Ship Internal Time UNSC Pillar of Autumn – interstellar space via Slipstream


I dumped the tray on to the desk, and looked at the Chief. He was still out, lying statically on top of the covers like a corpse. His pale skin didn't help to make him look any more human: in fact, if his chest hadn't been slowly rising and falling, I would have probably felt compelled to go up and shake him awake, just to be safe.

I just hoped he woke up before the breakfast got cold. The croissants and eggs the food machines churned out were excellent, unless you left them for more than half an hour, in which case they tasted like latex substitutes. I'd also got him some coffee, because there was a mysterious absence of anything but dirty water or UNSC rationed lemonade, which had become known around the ship as 'carbonated piss'.

The name was relatively accurate.

I turned my head to face a sudden mewing noise, followed by a deep, repeated purring sound.

"Hello, Jonesy. What are you doing here?"

The cat slinked through the doorway, and threaded herself between my legs. Her beady eyes stared up at me, and her tail whooshed from side to side like a window wiper.

Gently, I bended down, and sat her in my left arm, stroking her under her chin with my fingers. She lifted her head in approval, before taking a brief sniff at the breakfast tray and turning her head in disgust. She was obviously one of those rare specimens who was averse to the effects of caffeine.

All of a sudden, Jonesy's eyes fixated on the Master Chief's sleeping form. Her ears became bat-like and pointy, and she ceased purring.

"What are you doing?" I said, like a suspicious parent to a child feigning innocence. The cat promptly ignored me, and pounced across the room, landing square in the middle of the Master Chief's chest.

The Spartan sprang out of the bed, making the mousetrap motion, flipping the cat on to the floor. Jonesy let out a terrified caterwaul, and darted out of the room, navigating her obstacles with the speed of a whippet but the elegance of a trashcan.

"Oh, god... Chief..." I muttered, as he leapt to his feet and followed the noise out of the room. I set off after him, but he'd already shot ahead.

"Chief! That was the cat!"

"Say again?"

"That was the ship's cat, and she's been scared off now."

The Chief stopped, mid-run, setting both his feet back on the ground. The thud reverberated unusually loudly through the corridor.

Slowly, almost with a sense of disappointment, he turned around to face me. A pair of eyes, like two chestnut brown marbles, framed by an emotionless face and thick, bushy Vulcan eyebrows, pointed in my direction, and studied me intensely for a couple of seconds.

Finally, the lips parted slightly, and a deep, hoarse voice croaked an apology that was somehow typically terse but bizarrely verbose at the same time.

"I apologize for my error."

Well done, Chris, I chided myself, make him feel like even more of a pathetic failure.

In an attempt to repair the damage with a sticking plaster, I smiled, and exhaled through my nose in a muted chuckle gesture.

"Don't worry, Chief, it's not your fault. The cat was the one misbehaving."

The Chief said nothing, simply staring at me, blinking occasionally, a touch confused. I swore I could hear his breathing, slightly more strained or even tired than usual... but I was too far away.

"Come back in, I brought you some breakfast.... you'll also be wanting a shower." My mouth was making the trout motion again, so I quickly shut it.

The Spartan nodded once, and slowly re-entered my cabin. He picked up the tray, and examined its contents. Two croissants, a boiled egg, two slices of bacon, two sausages, a plastic knife and fork and a cup of coffee.

"I hope you don't mind coffee," I said, stupidly, "it was either that, water, or the carbonated piss they call lemonade."

The Chief ignored the recycled humor, and took the tray in both hands, sitting back down on his bed. He gave me a brief and silent nod of thanks, and started picking through the food with the little plastic knife and fork.

He looked a tiny bit better than he had last night: his face was less pale and skeletal, and the dark rings around his eyes had faded. However, he was still hardly an image of health: one of the bruises had turned an angry purple on his forehead, and his hair still looked uneven and messy.

The food was typically mixed in quality, the perfectly-boiled egg and plump croissant making up for the bacon, which, on contact with cutlery, appeared to disintegrate into the little wax chips that you melted down to make into mannequins or figures. The coffee was a little grainy, but far better than the stuff on my previous assignment.

"Ensign?"

I looked up. The Chief stood in front of me, towering upwards, an empty tray in his hands.

"Mmm?"

"Where does this need to go?"

The thought briefly crossed my mind that the Chief ''should'' know where used food trays went, but then I was reminded of the fact that MREs usually went straight into the recycler chamber.

"Don't worry, Chief," I said, abandoning my own tray and standing, "I'll take it down. You get on and have a shower, you look like you need it. I'll get you some clothes and a towel."

I took the tray from him, and he nodded once. His mouth remained completely neutral, his jaw clenched firmly, not betraying any kind of emotion.

I took the empty tray down to the lower deck, and dumped it into the chute. Eventually, if that reactor got repaired, the chamber could melt down the waste plastic and reconstitute it as spare clips and magazines. Not that they'd be any use: the plastic's quality was too poor for the reconstituted equipment to be any good.

Desperate times, however, called for desperate measures.

I fetched a clean towel and some fresh clothes for the Master Chief, and brought them back upstairs. There was a quiet hiss of running water coming from the next room, and the remains of a black body suit lay on the Chief's bed, scrunched into an untidy pile. I knocked on the door, slid it open, and stuck my head around.

"Chief, cloth– my god!"

That was the first time I'd had a chance to fully evaluate the Master Chief's injuries. The skin on his torso and legs was even more pallid than that on his face and hands – if that were even possible. Hundreds of faded scars gave an inconsistent, matted texture to it, and a dozen or so fresh bruises and welts were visible, carpeted across his body. One below the left nipple had turned an angry, raging red color, and a green pool of color around it indicated that it was almost certainly infected.

"Is there a problem?" the Chief said, quietly.

"Are you sure you're OK? Those look nasty."

"I'll be fine."

"I can wake a doctor from cryosleep if you want. They won't mind," I lied.

"No, thank you. I can deal with it."

"Right... OK." I hurriedly dropped the clothes on the cabinet and left, muttering something like "let me know if you need anything" so quietly it was probably inaudible.

I swore the Chief looked embarrassed. His face never gave anything away... but there were a few very subtle indicators. A slight increase in the saturation of the red in the cheeks, the widening of the eyes by a tiny amount... I could probably have even said he looked like he was feeling self-conscious.

The extent of the injuries were also something I hadn't been prepared for. I'd never noticed anything... although thinking back, it made sense. He had been walking with a barely-noticeable limp, which I'd dismissed as a figment of my imagination. I'd also noticed the bruises on his face, although those paled into insignificance when I took into account the contusions on the rest of him.

I re-opened the letter I'd sent to Carrie last night.

One thing's for sure: he's not the fearless, confident soldier everyone thinks he is. He's a weary, tired soldier who needs a break. Not that he will… I doubt this message will even clear the censor.

I'd certainly been right there. Feeling slightly helpless, I closed the file and went back to work.



The Bright Green Dot: Lead Foil and the Chekhov's Gun Symphony
Date: 19 June 2009, 10:25 am

3. Lead Foil and the Chekhov's Gun Symphony

Thursday, 31 August, 2552
10:53 Ship Internal Time
UNSC Pillar of Autumn – interstellar space via Slipstream


"Chief?"

The Spartan looked up from the datapad he'd been staring at. His eyes looked listless, distant, and his jaw remained slightly clenched, as always.

"Do you mind making a run down to the bulletin boards? I have a message that needs posting," I said, holding out a data card.

"Of course," the Chief rumbled, standing up and taking the data card.

"Thanks," I said, smirking internally. He was none the wiser. Absolutely perfect. Of course, in reality, I could simply have issued a command from my terminal to display Jonesy's 'missing' poster on all the bulletin boards in the ship... but I needed the Chief out of the way for a moment. Besides, he had looked rather bored.

He'd already disassembled his armor, repaired it, cleaned out just about every cavity and surface there was, reassembled it and tested it multiple times, and had simply been staring at the datapad for the last couple of hours. Presumably one of the propaganda vids that had been picked up in the last burst from Reach.

I waited until his footfalls had receded down the corridor, slid the door to be partly shut, and picked up the phone on the desk.

"Cortana."

"Did you say 'Cryostorage'?"

I sighed deeply into the receiver, exasperated at the incompetence of the archaic voice recognition system in the VCX, and opened my mouth to enunciate more clearly.

"Cor–"

"You wanted to see me?"

I practically jumped out of the swivel chair as Cortana materialized in front of the bathroom doorway.

"God, Cortana... why can you not be more subtle? I'm a cripple, you know, I'm not supposed to get shocked intentionally."

Holographic eyebrows slid up her forehead, and her tall, slender figure tinged purple.

"I'll bear that in mind in future, Mr. Floyd. Anyway, what is it you want to see me about?"

"Well... I thought you would know."

"Let's take a wild guess... your letter to your fiancée yesterday?"

"How did you know who Carrie was?" I said, turning slightly red.

"Oh, I know all about her. Carrie Laura Temeris, born 2521 on Arcadia, blood group AB. You met her at high school twelve years ago when she was on an exchange visit to Earth. The last time you visited her was seven years ago, just after the incident with the Perpetual Righteousness and you'd lost your left leg, for R&R, where you two got engaged before you were prematurely recalled into a desk job.

"Since then, you have only heard from her once, when she wrote in March 2549 to tell you she was going to move to Earth. Six months later, Arcadia was glassed out of the blue, and you're still uncertain whether or not she managed to escape on time."

I sat, dumbfounded for a moment, staring at the transparent, bizarrely-clad woman who stood before me.

"When I grant myself administrative rights on the system," she said, dryly, "it reminds me that there are three basic principles of working with the sudo command: think before you execute, with great power comes great responsibility, and respect other peoples' privacy."

An odd turquoise color seeped up her legs and spread into her head.

"I hope you don't mind me ignoring that particular clause."

I took a deep breath, and sat up properly in the chair.

"Cortana... can we please get on with this. It is slightly related to the letter I sent to Carrie last night, yes."

"So is it about the Chief?"

"Yes, it is."

I opened up the drawer, and withdrew the scrappy note from within. The letters were prominent, with their careless, voluptuous curves leaking across the page.

"What's that?" Cortana inquired, suddenly looking less cocky and more concerned.

"Did you have the cameras on in here last night, Cortana?"

"No, I didn't."

"Well... put simply, I woke up at twenty past one in the morning to find the Chief had written this on a bit of scrap paper."

"He wrote it down?"

"Yes."

"Let me see."

I held up the letter to the camera above the desk; Cortana paused for about seven seconds.

A long time for a super-intelligent AI.

"That is... bizarre," she conceded, finally. "I mean, I knew he was affected by what happened on Reach, but I never realized..."

"I thought you were his attaché?" I interjected.

"I am," she rebutted, snappily, "but I can't read his mind. Besides, I wasn't actually in his armor, I was up here in the Autumn's computer."

"OK..." I said, folding the note and putting it away in the drawer. I leaned back in the chair, and locked my fingers, resting my chin on the resulting fist.

"So... what do you suggest?"

Cortana remained silent for a second.

"I just think it's a case of him being rather badly shaken up, presumably after what happened on Reach," she surmised, tersely.

I peered over a pair of imaginary glasses, giving Cortana my suspicious look.

"That wasn't answering my question, Cortana. What do you suggest I do?"

An even longer pause followed, made slightly eerie by the fact that Cortana didn't breathe, leaving the room in total silence.

"I recommend you avoid discussing it unless he brings it up in a conversation–"

"Conversation? He never seems to make conversation."

"Well... is there a particularly mundane task that needs doing around the ship?"

I thought for a moment.

"Well... there's a few Pelicans in for servicing that need the lead foil replacing," I suggested.

"Why not ask him to help with that?"

I couldn't see a problem with her logic.

"That's... a good plan."

"What did you expect?" Cortana teased.

I sighed deeply. Genius, but cocky. No wonder the Chief was going nuts.

"Anyway, there's just a few other things: he doesn't like physical contact and he hates flip music."

"Who doesn't?"

"Well, Johnson..."

"apart from Johnson."

"Practically no-one... I get your drift."

I paused for a second. Was it a silly question? Probably.

"Does the Chief actually have a taste in music?"

Cortana raised her eyebrows.

"Not that I'm aware of... no surprise, I suppose."

"Why?"

The data flowing across Cortana's skin ceased temporarily, and she replied in an emotionless mockery of an ONI agent's voice.

"Your security clearance does not allow me to divulge that information to you, as it is classified."



13:25 Ship Internal Time

I gently aligned the pin against the cross printed on the lead foil, and gingerly pressed down upon it. It perforated at exactly the correct point... absolutely fantastic.

"Mr. Floyd?"

I looked to my right. The other side of the dropship's shell was neatly covered in a coat of lead foil, consistent and aligned perfectly against the marker pins. The Chief peeled off the latex gloves and tossed them towards the hazardous waste chute. There was a slight tinkle as the weighted flap swung to accept the contaminated gloves.

"Um..." I muttered, "yes, Chief, what is it?"

"I'm done on this side."

"Well... I'm practically done on this side, too..." I said, punching the last alignment peg through the foil and securing it with some adhesive.

"Done."

I discarded the gloves, wandered over and dropped them down the chute. Any attempt at this being a bonding exercise had failed miserably: the Chief had remained totally silent for the last three hours, robotically carpeting the chassis of the three Pelicans with radiation shielding, not uttering a word.

"Excuse me, Ensign."

I looked back. The Chief remained where he had been, fiddling with his fingers, staring at his feet. That was odd. He never made any unnecessary movements.

"Yes, Chief?"

There was a slight pause between the Chief opening his mouth, and the sound actually coming out.

"May I ask you... a question?"

"You already have," I blurted, subconsciously, "but go ahead, ask another one."

There was another pause as the Chief's eyebrows edged slightly up his forehead... perhaps he was processing the double negative.

"Why did we have to do that?"

"Well... the technicians are either busy trying to get the number two reactor back online, trying to fix the remaining cryotubes, or in cryosleep themselves. And someone had to do it."

The Chief paused for a second, and spoke again.

"I meant... why do Pelicans need lead foil? They have adequate radiation shielding already."

"Well, they used to, but an edict came in from HIGHCOM months ago. Something to do with theoretical Slipspace physics... put simply, they discovered that if you put it in a deep enough gravity well, then it'll get dragged along with a ship when it transitions to Slipspace. Therefore, it needs extra lead foil, just in case someone tries that."

In a rare expression of surprise, the Spartan raised his eyebrows.

"I don't know anything about it, either," I mumbled, "I got a D in physics at school."

There was another pregnant pause.

"Actually..." I said, digging my datapad out of my pocket, "let's have a look..."

I opened up the rarely-ventured to scientific article folder, and searched by author. Dr. Fhajad Chandra, Journal of Shaw-Fujikawa Mechanics and Translight Physics. On Transitioning Small Vessels to Shaw-Fujikawa Spaces With Assistance From Larger Craft...

"There," I said, tossing the data pad over to the Chief. "It's eight hundred and twenty-three thousand words long, you can read the abstract over lunch."

He followed me upstairs to the mess hall, where the food dispenser was offering us a continental breakfast or a selection of bagels.

"Oh, shit," I muttered under my breath, "give me a second, I need to reset the clock."

I edged the machine away from the wall and shimmied behind it to the control panel, which the designer had conveniently placed just behind the water connection pipe. I guessed where the clock/reset button was and keyed in 1331.

"Is it working?" I called.

"Yes... it's showing the lunch menu now," the Chief said.

I untangled myself from the mess behind the machine, and brushed off the dust that had accrued on my lab coat before dragging it back against the wall.

The Master Chief stared at the panel, head unmoving, as if spoiled for choice. Finally, he brought his finger in front of the button labeled carbonara, and jabbed it once.

This would be interesting. Pasta dishes were generally of variable quality.

I played it safe and ordered the cheeseburger. True, the cheese was synthetic, but at least it was consistently mediocre. There was a clunk as it dropped into the exit tray.

"Right," I said, sweeping it up in one hand, "shall we eat upstairs? It's a bit drafty down here."

The Chief nodded, so we headed back to my quarters. He sat down on the bed, and gently put the tray down next to him as I began picking apart the cheeseburger.

Even worse than usual. The bread had stuck to the cellophane wrapping, leaving very little actually edible. Oh, well... it'd be best not to waste it.

"I'm going to put some music on, if that's OK," I announced, nonchalantly. I took a quiet "uh-huh" to be an affirmative, and called for the music program.

Anything other than flip music. Myras Tyla? Probably not. I couldn't imagine Sex Is My Life being particularly appropriate. Besides, her face looked like the mouth of a plecostomus, and Lord Hood probably had a better singing voice.

Neo-classical should do. I thought for a second.

"Goldsmith's theme from Star Trek."

"There are seven known variations on Goldsmith's theme from Star Trek. Please identify one, or–"

"Any," I interrupted.

"Playing End Titles from the suite from Star Trek: Insurrection. Enjoy your music."

I swore and made a rude gesture in the general direction of the server room. True, the Autumn was an old ship, but did the computer software have to be so outdated and... stupid?

I finished the cheeseburger, and looked at the Chief, licking the mess off my fingers. He hadn't touched the spaghetti, and was instead reading the datapad, scrolling through it with his thumb.

"Interesting?" I asked, quietly.

The Chief gave a gentle nod, finished reading the sentence, and looked up.

"Yes... I can envisage several potential usages in escape scenarios. The mathematics is sound."

"Have you checked it?"

"No... but I used to know the man who wrote the paper."

"Oh? How?"

The Chief stopped, pausing for a moment before he spoke.

"We used to work together," he said, tersely, handing the datapad back to me and picking up the tray.

I sat back down. Fhajad Chandra was rather famous back on Earth for his research into Slipspace mechanics, and I knew he had been instrumental in designing the long-range variant of the HEV. I vaguely remembered using one, years ago... the experience had been somewhat akin to standing inside a fruit as it was being blended.

I screwed up the plastic wrapping in my hands, and dumped it down the waste chute before re-opening the to-do list. Run checks on main servers. Ensure the armory is stocked correctly.

Cursing God inside my head for deliberately making life tedious, I opened up the drawer and started hunting for the data card with the UNSC/BSD manual on it. This was liable to take some time.



The Bright Green Dot: Beware of Cat
Date: 10 July 2009, 10:37 am

4. Beware of Cat

Friday, 13 October, 2552
16:33 UTC
Andrew Crespo Base, Crisium, Luna


The Chief went straight into cryo the next morning, and I thought that was the last I would see of him: doubly so after the Pillar of Autumn dropped out of Slipspace within range of something that could have come straight out of a fantastical science-fiction novel.

But, by some equally unusual twist of fate, we escaped. I managed to escape from the Autumn just after it landed, and managed to grab a Pelican to get off the ring just as the general emergency broadcast came on.

And now, I was sat in Crespo Base, doing admin. There was something strangely therapeutic about shuffling numbers and words around to please Lord Hood back on Cairo Station... but at the same time, it was mind-numbingly boring.

I checked the clock. 16:33. I'd done my ten hours' worth of work. Time to clock out.

Sleepily, I saved the work I'd been doing back to the server, stood up, and waited for my left leg to catch up with the right. I'd been up since six in the morning.

Nonchalantly, I checked my chatter. One message from Carrie. Will be a bit late home... sorry, love you x

I stowed it back in my pocket and headed for the exit. The atrium of the lobby area reverberated with low-level muttering, and I just managed to distill the words, "hey, sexy" in a voice that was probably too randy for its own good, directed to somebody else.

There was a name we gave to women like that at the base. Mommy.

I looked around. The woman was young, small, and smothered in fake tan and was quickly rushing away, as fast as was allowed by the Moon's reduced gravity, and giggling. The man she'd uttered the unsolicited chat-up line to stopped for a moment, a confused look on his face.

The Master Chief.

"Hey, Chief!" I called, and his head snapped around to face me, stoic and unreadable as ever. His hair was now a little more even, and I noticed a new scar on his neck. He was, again, dressed in undersized standard-issue combat pants and T-shirt, with boots that looked too small for the legs that sank into them.

"Mr. Floyd?"

"Nice to see you again," I said, checking my watch. Carrie had said she would be home late... so I wasn't exactly in a rush.

"How did you get off Halo?" he asked.

"SSH!" I hissed. The Chief's eyes widened, and he clapped his hand to his mouth.

"Follow me," I said, quietly, heading for one of the private rooms. I stuck my card into the authenticator.

"First language, nationality, name–"

"International English, American, Floyd, Christopher R, twenty-five twenty-five oh nine oh seven, Lieutenant, Junior Grade."

"What is your mother's maiden name?"

"Andrea Boudica Couper," I muttered, irritably.

"Please state the length of the booking."

"Fifteen minutes."

A loud beep emitted from the door, and the latch unlocked.

"Shit... that was a close one," I said, "officially, 'Halo' is a Covenant refitting station, like the Unyielding Heirophant."

The Chief sat down, and remained silent. He looked truly embarrassed by the monumental slip-up he'd just made.

"Don't worry, Chief," I said, warmly, "we've all cocked up like that in the past."

He sat up straight in the chair, and took a deep breath.

"Sorry... anyway, how did you get off Halo?"

"Did Cortana not tell you?"

"No..."

"Put simply, when you'd commandeered the Ascendant Justice, she noticed us in a Pelican, hailed us, and sent us a Covenant bird that was Slipspace capable. Then we went to deep space and rendezvoused with another ship, the Silberg, who took us home."

"Who else?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Who do you mean by 'us'?"

"Sergeant Stacker, Corporal Lovik, Private Dubbo and Lieutenant Anna Kurayado–"

I was interrupted by a loud clattering from above, and I looked up into the ventilation ducts. Two small, green eyes peered out at me.

"Damn cat..." I muttered under my breath, standing on the seat and releasing it, and gently pulling the cat down from the ventilation ducts. She always enjoyed slinking off into the service tunnels from the cattery, for reasons that I would probably never fathom. Maybe there was an abundance of mice up there.

"Oh, and madam here was on the Pelican, too. Hiding. In a spacesuit, weren't you?"

The Chief stood, and came slightly closer as I sat Jonesy on my arm and gave her a rub behind the ears. She looked at the Chief, and examined him a little closer.

"I think she's forgiven you for frightening her off," I said, a grin creeping on to my face. She gave a quiet chirp.

Gently, the Chief brought a large, clumsy hand forward, and hesitantly started stroking the cat on the back of her head. She closed her eyes and lifted her nose in approval, and purred loudly.

I gingerly unloaded her into the Chief's arms, returned the lid to the ventilation shaft, and stood down from the table.

"Chief... I'd better be going."

"What about–"

"She'll be fine. She'll make her way back to the cattery when she's bored of you."

He looked up from the cat, slightly confused.

"I don't... think I'm a cat person."

"You are now," I grinned, digging my chatter out again and replying to Carrie's message, "you don't generally get much choice in the matter."

He looked down at Jonesy again, and she chirped again. She'd taken quite a bit more of a liking to him this time around.

"How long are you here for, Chief?"

"Just for the next day," he said, as the cat rubbed her nose against his fingernail.

"Where are you going after that?"

"Straight back to Cairo Station, I think," he said, quietly.

"Well, then... I'll see you around."

"Bye."

"And Chief?"

He looked up from Jonesy again.

I put the phone back in my pocket, and lifted the cat on to the coffee table. She stretched and started licking her arm as I took the Chief's hand in my own and shook it genially.

"It's been nice knowing you, Chief," I smiled, "and good luck."

He tightened his grip slightly, and reciprocated. His lips curled upwards and curved into what was unmistakably a smile: a wide, content, natural smile that somehow seemed... unusual for him.

I patted him on the upper arm, and left the room as he picked Jonesy up again and gently started rubbing her behind the ear.

Mission accomplished.



Monday, 17 January, 2557
6:00 AM UTC (night-time on the Pacific Coast)
Municipal Library, New San Francisco


"Mr. Floyd?"

I looked up from the stuff I was packing away to see a middle-aged man, Asian in descent, walking towards me. The illusion of age was not helped by the fact that he seemed rather slow on his feet.

"Yes... sir? Can I help you?"

"I think you can," the man said. He seemed well-spoken and had an enunciated English accent.

I pulled up a chair and allowed him to sit down. He didn't look like the typical teenage fanboy who would come to book signings.

"So... how can I help you, Mr..."

"My name is Dr. Fhajad Chandra, I work at MIT."

The penny dropped.

"Ah..." I said, shaking his hand, "Dr. Chandra... it's nice to meet you. Finally."

"Have we met before?" he asked.

"No... however, you did design the orbital insertion pod that was Slipspace capable, didn't you?"

"I did assist in some of the design work..."

"Let me tell you now, it doesn't work."

Dr. Chandra chuckled, and sat up straighter in his chair.

"I've known that for some time. But anyway... I was slightly more interested in this."

Seemingly from nowhere, he pulled a hardback copy of The Eye of the Storm out and opened it to the credits page.

This book is dedicated to the memory of Master Chief SPARTAN-117.
I didn't know you for long, but I know you deserved better.
Jonesy sends her love. -CRF


"I'm intrigued by the dedication," Chandra said, "you knew the Master Chief."

"Well... yes, I did..." I said, searching my memory, "and, if I'm right, he said he used to work with you at one point."

"He did indeed," Chandra said, casting a furtive look around the library. The floor was empty, apart from a single Elite student who was examining the section on Earth cuisine, with what appeared to be a look of disgust.

"Anyway... the reason I knew the Chief was that I actually used to be a Spartan."

I raised my eyebrows.

"You used to be a Spartan?"

"Yes."

"Then why...?"

"It's a long story," Chandra said, standing up. "We must talk about this, one day... come for lunch. I live in London, that's around half an hour by sub-orbital ferry."

"OK, then. Next Friday? Not this Friday coming, but..."

"Sounds good to me... here's my address," he said, scribbling it down on a piece of paper and detaching it from his notepad, "let's say one in the afternoon."

"Great." I took the piece of paper, stuffed it in my pocket, and shook Dr. Chandra's hand again. "I'll see you next week."

"It's nice to see you, Mr. Floyd," he said, smiling, before turning around and heading for the elevator.

THE END





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