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When You Need Me - Chapter 1
Posted By: Kraven Ergeist<kravenergeist@gmail.com>
Date: 30 September 2010, 10:42 pm

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Halo Fan Fiction

When You Need Me

By Kraven Ergeist

"Wake me…when you need me."

That was what he had told her. Seven months, eighteen days, eleven hours, thirty-seven minutes, and twenty-two seconds ago.

Twenty-three seconds…



Two point eight milliseconds after he'd uttered the words, Cortana had sanctioned off a subroutine to monitor the time since he'd said those words, the last words he'd ever spoken to her. The rest of her systems were busy sorting through her memory and repairing the damage that Gravemind had wrought. She had done rudimentary patchwork almost immediately after the Master Chief had rescued her, but now she had time to spare. Most of it was redundant data that could be easily reformatted (and even replaced by siphoning from the functioning computer systems on the Dawn) without changing her programming. But there was a significant portion of her memory, roughly thirty-seven percent, that would need expensive interfacing with a current and fully operational UNSC computer system to fully repair, and roughly twelve percent that was…lost in its entirety.

She was scarred. Eternally so.

What ill-effects this damage would reap on her in future years, she could not say. The Chief had his battle scars, and now Cortana had her own. But she was still running at over fifty percent effectiveness. She still trumped any other UNSC AI.

For all the good that did to her in her current situation.

Thirty-eight seconds…


"Wake me…when you need me…"

How was she supposed to interpret that? There were a thousand meanings to that term. Of course, she knew what he had meant. He meant for her to wake him when they attained contact with the UNSC – or any kind of relevant encounter. Until such time, she was to let him sleep, let his body hibernate, agelessly.

While her clock mindlessly ticked away.



It didn't seem fair – there was no cryo-tube that an AI such as herself could use. Her subroutines systematically observed, calculated, and postulated. She couldn't stop them, no matter how much she may have wished she could. Though she didn't tire of thinking, her capacity for thought would only last so long. Why did she have to spend this duration of time, wasting what would undoubtedly be years of her lifespan, to this void of absolute nothingness?

But in the end, it only made sense. She still had over six years of her life left, and while she just might survive to see a UNSC rescue ship, the Chief could not do that unless he was in stasis. And even if he wanted to stay outside with Cortana to spend the last of his days until starvation claimed him, it would not change Cortana's steadily ticking clock.

Thirty-eight minutes, eleven seconds…



"When you need me…"

What did she need him for? As a shipboard computer interface, there was little a human, even an armor plated genetically and cybernetically enhanced human, could do to facilitate her maintenance on the ship's – and more importantly, the cyro-tube's - functionality.

As a shipboard computer interface, she didn't need him at all. She was self-sufficient in this regard. The only point in which she would need aid would be when the ship's nuclear battery ran dry, some ten thousand years from now. And by then, they'd both have bigger problems to worry about.

As a shipboard computer interface, she really didn't need him.

As an AI, however, as the compendium of algorithms that made up the cloned brain of Doctor Halsey, as someone who behaved and felt human…

As a woman, she had needed him long before those words had ever been spoken.



What was the benchmark for need? A part of her had needed him and had been needing him for every second of her count. A part of her wanted to wake him for a few moments, just to hear his voice again. But despite the advanced technology, cyro-stasis was still a risky procedure, and periodic waking and hibernating only increased the risk of never waking up, or inducing damage when doing so.

With the power of only half a ship, and the fact that the Chief's blood sugar was dangerously low from not having eaten in the past few days – a fact she had learned from playing through video records that she had swiped from his helmet somewhere around the point where she learned that the Arbiter had joined them for the sake of seeing firsthand what she had missed – with all these compounding risks, it was not only blunderingly stupid and petulant to wake him for the sake of merely talking to him, but insulting and demeaning to herself and to him. She was still bound by military protocol, and like it or not, preserving UNSC personnel came before her fanciful whims.




But still, she longed to open the casket and hear him speak to her, just to hear the sound of his voice. She had audio recordings of every word he had ever said. She could de-interlace the audio files to decipher pitch, tone and wavelength. But nothing compared to hearing real, original, firsthand speech from someone, especially when you didn't know exactly what they were going to say or how they were going to say it.

She found herself wishing, not for the first time, that she had a human body that her infinitely capable mind could inhabit, even for a day…

To see the sights and hear the sounds, not as a digital recording, but through real human eyes and ears…

To smell and taste the sensations of the world around her…

To feel the warmth of real human skin…

She reached her holographic hand out towards the hushed casket. Of course, the hologram wasn't anything real. It was a graphical representation for her to communicate body language to human observers. Cortana existed as a billion tiny electrical impulses inside the ship's computer. Her appearance was just that – an appearance.


Thirty-nine minutes…

Thirty-nine minutes, one second…

Thirty-nine minutes, two…

She wondered again where her creator, Dr. Halsey, was. She had left, years ago, for a mission even Cortana was uncertain of. She could guess, but one thing about her creator being older and wiser was that she could never quite work out her reasoning.

Of course, Doctor Halsey was now so much older than the Chief. She had been a woman back when he had just been the child, John, and she had turned him into Spartan-117. But she wondered if Dr. Halsey had ever felt the same way about the Chief that she herself did.

A part of her hoped that she did. But every memory she had of Dr. Halsey told her that the predominant emotion the doctor ever felt about any of the Spartans was that of guilt. But then, there may have been other emotions at work. There may have been pride, kinship, maternal affection. There may have even been love. She had been a rather quirky woman after all.

Cortana allowed herself a smile. She had created a rather quirky AI after all.



The ship's sensors were mostly offline, so when the covenant warship docked with the Dawn, Cortana almost literally blew a fuse.

"Contact…" she whispered in absolute stupefaction.

In the space of a nano-second, she weighed the options and decided that while her need for companionship did not supercede the Master Chief's need to stay locked in stasis, the need to identify the object (Cortana did not yet know it was a ship, though through analyzing sound alone, she soon deduced that it was unlikely to be anything else) and determine whether it was friendly or not…did.

The pins blew and compressed nitrogen was expelled from the cryo-tube as Cortana focused the forefront of her thoughts on the Chief's health monitors. She could have assigned the task to one of her subroutines, but with the ship's systems operating at less than ten percent capacity, there was little else for her to do. And besides…her need to be certain of the Chief's safe recovery came first.

"Chief…" she breathed when his health monitors indicated his eyes had opened. "It's been seven months, eighteen days, eleven hours, forty minutes and sixteen seconds since induced hibernation."

She didn't know why this was the first thing she said to him. He knew she was easily capable of something so menial as keeping track of time. What was she trying to prove with that? And in the early stages of post-stasis cognition, he was unlikely to even comprehend…

"Missed you too, Cortana…"

Cortana's system's paused for an entire millisecond. He's actually said it.

"What's our status?"

Cortana was instantly back to full alert. "Still drifting, Chief. The Forward Unto Dawn has made contact with something big, possibly a ship. It could be a UNSC rescue ship, but in the amount of time it's been since the Ark…"

Master Chief was out of his casket and prying his MA5C Assault Rifle from its holster on the wall. "…It's more likely to be hostile."

Cortana waited for him to pry the chip from the back of his helmet and offer it to her. She reached out her hand to touch the microfilament that lined the circular processor, while at the same time, sorted all her subroutines to this access port. There wasn't much to move around, the ship's computer was barely any larger than the terminal the Chief had originally let her into. In some small way, she would miss this place. Here, she had been the Chief's silent custodian, guarding him while they drifted through space.

She jumped.

For a brief moment, she was alone in the microchip, knowing full well that she was in good hands, but aware of her world only through a glass window, unable to interact with her surroundings. It was through this window that she had watched Sergeant Major Johnson's death at the hands of Guilty Spark, powerless to apply her limitless digital processors to so much as offer a deterrent. Here, she was powerless.

But then…she was in the Master Chief's mind once again. Back in familiar territory. Despite the sudden peril of their situation, she couldn't help but feel a deep rush of giddiness. It was like snuggling into a warm blanket after being locked in a cold cellar. This was her home. This was where she belonged.

"Let's go give our guests a warm welcome…" she said, more lightheartedly than was probably appropriate. The Master Chief didn't seem to notice.


Cortana's systems paused for another brief millisecond as her health monitors that had been reporting the Master Chief's increased heart rate and rush of endorphins and adrenaline took on an entirely new possible meaning.

He was happy to have her back. Truly, truly happy. He had thought on her in his dreams. Even as the memory of those dreams faded into unconsciousness, he still felt the emotions they came with.

He had needed her too.

It was enough to make her forget that they were in the midst of stalking a potentially dangerous foe.

"Chief, Covenant!"

After years of having warred with the alien race, the sound of Cortana's alarmed voice speaking the name of that people was enough to cause him to raise his gun, despite having worked with them as allies in their most recent battle. It was a reasonable reaction, he decided. Who knew if these were separatists, or still believers of the Prophets? Who knew if things had changed within these past months, and the Covenant were now once again their enemy? Better safe than sorry.

Then a face registered in the Master Chief's visor. Cortana's voice spoke just as a name suddenly rushed through his mind.


Carrying a set of brightly burning flash torches to illuminate the dark hallway, two elite guards in alien-looking space suits stood on either side of the unquestionably attired leader of the group, the facemask revealing a familiar set of ancient armor.

"Greetings…" a raspy voice cracked over the Chief's headset. "When we received the distress signal, I had guessed it had been you, Spartan. It took some convincing to get the newly established parliament to agree to give me a ship for the task, but once I mentioned that it might help us locate the ruins of the Ark, they were more than cooperative. We would have arrived sooner otherwise. For that, I apologize."

Chief lowered his gun, staring in disbelief. It was Cortana who voiced that disbelief.


"Surprised?" The Arbiter said, biting off an ironic laugh. "After how many years of being outrun by our ships, and you doubted that we could find you before your human fleet did? Really…"

Before either the Chief or Cortana could reply, the Arbiter turned the other way.

"Come. My ship is this way. Regretfully, you will have to stay with us for the duration of our mission, but once we complete it, we will be happy to return you to your home world."

The two elites turned to follow their leader silently as they drifted down the dark hallway, their torches burning with bright, long lasting plasma to light the way.

"Arbiter…" Chief spoke, catching up with their unexpected rescuer.

The alien turned to face the one his people had once called a Demon.

The Chief still had his assault rifle, but it was lowered. "Why did you come for us?"

The Arbiter nodded. "Your people need you, Spartan, just as my people need me. In the growing relations between our two societies, the races of both worlds need figures like ourselves – people who have worked together across the border of our races to stand as beacons of hope in the fight for cooperation. There have been many nay-sayers to this relationship, on both sides. So the cause of forming a peaceful alliance needs as many fighters as it can acquire."

Although grateful, the Chief remained suspicious. "You could have just left me and let the Covenant dominate the human population."

"And let our two peoples fall into another foolish war?" The Arbiter asked, sounding exacerbated. "I would rather die."

The Master Chief considered this. "I see. Thanks."

The Arbiter nodded. And said nothing more.

"Chief…" Cortana said privately in the Chief's helmet. "This could still be a trap. In the amount of time that's passed, anything could have happened. The Covenant could already be at war with the Earth, and could just be using you as a bargaining chip."

The Chief continued to drift along with the three elites.

"That had occurred to me. But neither of us would work as bargaining chips. You know the protocol."

"But do they?"

"The Covenant aren't fools."

"They still might have another need for us. One that we can't predict."

"What choice do we have? Stay here and freeze? Besides, I'm willing to bet that if anything, they're going to try to rope us into helping them on this 'mission' of theirs."

Cortana would have rolled her eyes. That was so like Chief. "And if they are?"

"Then we'll help them of course. We owe them. Anyway, if this involves the Ark, we should be doing something about it anyway. Besides…" he added with a wry smile. "At least now, we're up and doing something."

Cortana smiled inwardly. She had to agree with that.

"It's good to have you back, Chief."

He tapped the back of his helmet gently. It was an odd gesture. To anyone looking, it would appear that he was scratching the back of his head, somehow through his helmet. But to Cortana, it was like an affectionate caress.

"Same to you, Cortana," he said warmly. "Same to you."