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Christmas Eve in the Stars
Posted By: Harbringer352<nank4@digitalpath.net>
Date: 26 December 2009, 2:59 am

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It's Christmas Day and a certain A.I. is feeling lonely. She decides to wake up humanity's greatest hero to have a few hours of holiday cheer; before he goes back into cryo, and she spends her days staring off, literally, into space.

      "Merry Christmas," called Cortana, flaring up from her pedestal in a flush of cyan blue light and code. She projected her voice over whatever systems still worked in the crippled hull of the Forward Unto Dawn. She didn't expect anyone to hear her, let alone respond, but after months with nothing to do except count stars, she didn't really care anymore.
      The pedestal she picked to display her avatar upon stood before the cryotube that housed the last Spartan; the Master Chief. She stood, 8-inches high, with her arms crossed and a cocky swing of her hips, almost expecting the green-armored giant to impossibly rise from the tube and say something.
      Of course, nothing happened. The tube remained still, as was said for the soldier inside. The only noise was that of the creaking, skeletal hull and the occasional ping as small space debris collided with the weathered metal. The systems within the frigate were silent, except the pedestal where she constructed her entire being, where it hummed with life. In truth, she was worried to leave the pedestal – in case something happened. Cortana didn't actually know – or expect – what could happen.
      But right now, it couldn't hurt to be careful.
      Today was Christmas – according to the military calendar. Honestly she wouldn't have known otherwise.
      Here was the second year they had been drifting in the cold void of space, and the second Christmas she had spent alone. She, being an artificial intelligence, relied on constant feedback and data to process in order to keep herself busy. Now, with nothing to do, she was constantly aware of the omnipresent truth that she would go Rampant.
      At 12:05, Cortana decided to wake the sleeping soldier, to celebrate, quite possibly, her last Christmas.
      At 12:09, the icy fumes drifted and hung in space, with no wind or action to move it.
      At 12:20, a gauntlet gripped the edge of the tube and a Spartan came from the mist like a god of legend.
      Two years was a long time to spend in cryo, and it was several minutes before the Spartan was able to actually look up and make 'eye-contact' with the A.I. construct.
      Then the gold visor swiveled away, the Spartan looking out and seeing the stars, then turning back to look at Cortana.
      "How long has it been?" he said, his characteristic rough voice music to the A.I.'s 'ears'. To hear another's voice after so long, produced a warm sense of relief.
      "It's been two years, Chief. It's Christmas Day."
      The Spartan settled against the wall closest to the pedestal. "Is that why you woke me?" he said softly.
      "Chief, it's been two years," she repeated, "I don't think anyone's going to find us. And even if they do…"
      "You'll make it, Cortana. You always have."
      She didn't say anything to this. She smiled half-heartedly, then decided it was time to celebrate.
      "Well," she said, her voice chipper and coy, "it's Christmas Day, and I'm thinking we have a little Bing Crosby."
      Searching deep into her data banks, she pulled up a copy of a Christmas playlist she had found in the Pillar of Autumn/ system, so long ago. With cheerful, 1960's carols filtering through the PA speakers, the Master Chief, took the memory chip out of the helmet and offered it to Cortana, who touched it and disappeared into the chip. The Chief slotted it into the base of his neck, and left the cryotube, pushing himself from the walls and drifting through the halls.
      It was eerie, floating through a ghost of a ship, where in some corridors, the speakers didn't work. Ahead you could hear Walking in a Winter Wonderland echoing like a whisper to the fallen; meant to be heard, yet to no avail.
      Cortana broke the silence. "Your suit has only seven hours of air left; a good amount was used when you blacked out."
      She outlined a map of the ship, showing his current path, and the quickest, most round-about way to get back to the cryotubes. She placed a nav point on his HUD, pleased to be doing something so useful and familiar.
      They reached a spot where the entire wall had been gouged out by something large and rough. The sides where wicked sharp, but the view it showed was awesome.
      "See that?" whispered Cortana. For some reason she felt the need to be quieter. She indicated a star that had just exploded, leaving behind a beautiful debris cloud of gold and blue and violent green. It was a gorgeous, ethereal beauty of splashed neon watercolor across the darkened, void of space pinpointed with dots of blue, orange, and blinding white.
      The Master Chief nodded slightly, amazed by the sheer beauty of death. He remembered, just then, a flashback of sorts, that as a small child he used to look up at the stars, and count them. Now, he never had the time to, with the War going on around him.
      But right now, he observed the natural occurrence with child-like attentiveness.
      "That star was over fifty billion years old. See how wide the arms are? That meant it was huge, with a gravity well ten times greater than Jupiter. It must have exploded recently."
      The Chief looked onwards, phasing out and lost in thought. What had he lost as a child? His spirit? A chance to be normal?
      His humanity?
      He realized the music had stopped. The eerie silence filled him with numbing loss.

      They traveled back to the cryo, where the Master Chief climbed somberly into the pod. When he would awaken, one day, it could be years from now. By that point, everyone that was left – Lord Hood, Dr. Halsey, the other Spartans – would be dead.
      Even as a Spartan you could never evade old age.
      That brought him to Cortana. She would die slowly, suffering eternally from Rampancy and the omnipresent memory of Gravemind. He realized the construct would remember how she had been alone on High Charity, and how she would be alone now.
      The feeling of guilt would stay with him as he slept. It would affect his dreams, as any social mishap would.
      As the cryotube's lid began to close, and the icy air grip him once again, the Chief looked at Cortana.
      "Merry Christmas," muttered Cortana sullenly. These few hours of happiness were only a tease, as now she faced more years of loneliness. She eyed the Spartan, who was looking at her, head tilted slightly, and smiled softly.
      "Merry Christmas," agreed the Master Chief, and he heard slowly over the PA:
      Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
      And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
A very Merry Christmas to you.

-Merry Christmas, everyone.