Castaways: The Sequel to Halo3 (log07 - 09)
Posted By: jameson9101322
Date: 12 May 2010, 3:21 am
Recovered log batch 03
"A shotgun and fifty brutes in a straight line."
Cortana laughed in the Chief's head. "Heh okay, I'll do a harder one." It was the morning of the second month on HK-154. The two of them were on their morning patrol, traversing the same foot-worn path for the hundred-something-th time since the crash. "Art."
"Pointless!?" Cortana cried.
The Chief was secretly amused at her outrage. "I thought it was supposed to be the first thing that pops into my head."
"It is, but pointless?" She asked. "Art is supposed to be deeply symbolic and personally significant."
"We weren't taught art appreciation in killing school." The Chief replied.
"Okay." She said. "Artistic Representation."
"Blue, purple and green spattered in arches across a rock wall."
Cortana was impressed. "Wow!"
The Chief was less amused by the iconic tone in her voice. "Around the crater of a spent fragmentation grenade. Obviously."
She groaned. "I must be more broken than I thought to not see that coming."
He agreed. "Dead people saw that coming."
"Fine. Alright," The southern ocean was visible over the next rise. "Instinctive response."
"Sniping a grunt through the trees while in freefall."
"I'm beginning to see a pattern."
Now she was determined to catch him off guard. "Hyperspace Trajectory Equations."
"Following my shoulder through a pane of glass."
"Regret." He replied. "Truth, Mercy and Reconciliation."
She rolled her eyes. "Almost had you."
He shook his head. "You mention any kind of dogmatic terminology my mind will shoot straight to the Covenant."
She couldn't help but accept this and tried a new train of thought. "Historical Significance."
"Sparta." He replied. "The first one not the remake."
"A merciless death."
"Okay then, Mercy."
"A bullet in your head not your chest."
"Transcendental Migration." Cortana said.
"Whales." The Master Chief replied.
Cortana paused a moment. "Whales?"
"Holy Whales." He said. "To cover the Transcendental part."
She was flabbergasted, even though this was what she was aiming for. "But Whales? After all that?"
"Whales migrate." He replied. "It's the first thing that popped into my head."
"These aren't alien whales?" She asked. "Or the undead corpses of whales floating from continent to continent?"
He was getting tired of this game. "Why would I think of either of those things?"
Instantly she was tired of the game too. "Never mind."
His heavy MJOLNIR boots came to a stop in the brown coastal sand. The waves of the foreign sea stopped short of his footprints before retreating back to shores unknown. On the first thirty or so visits to the southern end of his private continent, he thought of the possibility that alien life existed somewhere on the other side of the sea. He never mentioned this idea to Cortana, but secretly hoped for someone to make contact with. On the thirty-something-th visit he realized how quickly he'd forgotten that all life in this quadrant of space was gone and the breadth of the ocean could not have spared any Unngai from the cleansing power of the Halo. With a pinch of shame, he promptly abandoned the whole train of thought and now looked at the ocean with little more than acknowledgment of its existence.
Unexpectedly, Cortana, inspired by the chatty mood they'd shared the way there, was the one to bring up the possibility as she used his sensors to survey the distant horizon. "Imagine if there was someone out there."
He paused but she could tell by his brain-scans that he was not actually imagining.
"I mean there's not, of course." She said. "But if there were... I've learned a lot about these people while we've been here. They might have made good allies, if we could convince them that you weren't a monster of course." She played the scenario out in her head. "You're probably five feet taller than they were. And you can't take off your mask in this atmosphere. It might be a tough negotiation."
"Not to mention I've got a woman who lives in my head and tells me what to do." He said, turning away from the shore. "Let's not dwell on it."
She thought he sounded sad. "You've been really down lately, can I help?"
He marched up the sand dunes and back to terra firma to continue his lap around the world. "You've done all you can."
"But you're down." She said. "You can talk to me if you want."
"I don't have much of a choice." He said.
She felt a pang of hurt inside. It was a peculiar response, but for some reason felt wholly justified and natural. "What do you mean by that?"
"It's nothing, Cortana."
"Are you lonely?" She asked. "I can understand if you are."
"I said it's nothing."
The pain at her core was still there, but dissipating. She ran a diagnostic on herself, but left its monitoring to a background subroutine. She was more concerned with her partner than herself. "Why is it so hard to admit that you're lonely?"
He really didn't want to give her an answer. He wanted to ignore the topic and let it die on the table like every other time she took interest in his mental health, but the concerned tone in her voice sounded like more than just artificially simulated sincerity. It sounded like true sincerity.
"I'm ready to go home." He said. "I'm done with this planet and tired of exile. I'm ready for it to all be over."
She sighed in the back of his head. "We've done all we can do, the beacon's up and..." She stopped. Somehow she knew it wasn't what he wanted to hear. "I'm sorry."
"Hmn." He came to a stop and stared a the ground for a moment. Cortana found this discouraging. Their hope was in the sky. The Chief turned away from his well-worn path. He could see the radio antenna in the distance, but had stopped gazing fondly at it weeks before. It was just another monument to a rescue that he was beginning to suspect would never come. "I'm tired of this. We're going back to town."
"Alright." She said carefully. "You don't want to check the western coast?"
"I've seen it."
"But..." She was confused and troubled. "You... Never... Leave anything half done." She appealed to him. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm frustrated, Cortana. I'm angry." He replied. She knew he was telling the truth even if his voice only betrayed the slightest hint of his self-proclaimed mood. "Don't bother me."
"But." She could feel his anger stronger now. She didn't like it, and she didn't like being in there with it. "Chief."
She slid into silence. Her background scan concluded all-clear, but in her present mind she knew she felt worse than ever.
Cortana was wrong on the shore when she said he was lonely.
Now he was lonely.
He and the AI hadn't spoken in three days. Immediately upon their return to town, the Master Chief had marched into the power plant, whipped out her chip, stuck it in the holopad and headed for his quarters to fume. She, through the magic of power lines, beat him there.
"Chief, talk to me. What's wrong."
"I said drop it." He replied, tersely.
"No, I won't drop it!" She persisted. "We've been stranded on this planet a long time, I know, but I hope you understand that I've done enough research to know what solitude does to a person."
"Stop." He plodded through the room, ducked and hit his head on the low door frame. Backing out, he wound up a fist a punched straight through the upper part of the wall, irrevocably damaging a fresco of two alien figures throwing rose petals. He marched through again grumbling to himself about how a person should be able to fit through doors in his own house.
Cortana beamed herself into his bedroom. "You're losing your cool Chief. Just sit down and take a deep breath and get yourself under control."
"No." He stormed past her to his bed; a mattress-sized pad of cloth-stuffed pillows and recovered linen from the surrounding buildings, and pulled out an Unngai-sized backpack, which to him was more like a duffle bag with the arm straps for a handle. Into this satchel he began loading food and supplies.
Cortana watched with alarm. "What are you doing?"
"I'm leaving." He said.
"Why? Where?" She didn't know whether to be angry or frightened. "You can't run, there's no where to go! What are you running from!?"
"I said drop it!" He snapped at her.
She recoiled and the asp-like bite of his voice. "There's something wrong with you! The Master Chief I know doesn't yell, doesn't run… You've got to calm down and get a new grasp of things or you're going to hurt yourself."
He growled and tied the end of the bag. "That's it." He slung it over his shoulder. "We're in a fight, Cortana."
She was aghast. "What!?"
"You. Me. We're fighting." He clicked off his comlink and headed for the door. "I don't want to talk and I'm not listening anymore."
She dashed to the antichamber pedestal. "Chief stop! Please!"
He stomped past.
"Chief!" She cranked the volume up on her external speakers. "CHIEF! I don't want to fight! Please! Come back!" He rounded the corner and left her sight. Her radar scans watched him head down the street away from the house and out of her reach. "CHIEF!? CHIEF!!"
The sun had circled the planet three more times since then, and the Chief could still hear her desperate call echoing in his head. He looked out over the city of Cant from a distance, the forest stretching below him was the same as the one they'd explored upon arrival. In the distance to the east he could see the moldering wreckage of the Forward Unto Dawn.
He hoisted himself to his feet and headed back up the shallow mountain. The smooth gray shelf under his feet was worn down in vein-like patterns by an ancient system of streams running silently past him. The vines of water twisted and wove among themselves, until finally braiding together to form a river which he followed to his camp. The river originated at a pool butted up against a vertical bluff, and in the center of the pool was the waterfall he'd searched vainly for some two months ago.
This camp wasn't home. It felt less like home than any other place he'd rested on HK-154. He'd explored the mountain in great detail, pondering his probable fate and dueling with doubts of the past. He fought mental battles with ghosts and guilts from the forty or so years of his life he could remember. He grappled with the possibilities of what could have happened if the slightest things had been different. If he'd kept the SPARTANs off Reach. If he'd fired the first Halo. If he hadn't left Cortana behind on High Charity. If he'd lost at least once at king of the hill.
Eventually his thoughts and his climbs all came to the same conclusion. All his life he'd been a tool of his superiors. He was a weapon of war. He always had a direction or a mission or a goal to achieve, and without these things he felt more lost than the first time his squad was dumped in the woods under the command of Sargent Mendez. At least then he had people to lead. Someone to be strong for.
He realized his identity hinged on his rank. He was the Master Chief SPARTAN 117. Not John. He hadn't been John for a very long time.
Still there was a bit of irony in the fact that while he played the part of a suit of sentient armor, he really needed a team or a squad to defend and depend on. When he lost his brothers and sisters, he gained a team of Helljumpers. When he lost them he found himself with Sergent Avery Johnson. And when he was gone he had the Arbiter of the Covenant. And even he had left him at the last moment. Who's to say he even survived the portal as it closed and forced them light years apart. Squadless, friendless, the Master Chief realized that John had grown very very tired.
Cortana was sitting in a ball on his bedroom holopad. The Chief had walked straight out of Cant and out of radar range. She'd tried arresting control of the local broadcast towers, weather stations, even her own distress beacon but nothing she tried could increase the strength of the radar sweep further than a mile out of the city. It had only been three days. He hadn't been gone longer than his supplies could last. She maintained her holographic form purely on the hope that he would resist whatever it was he was doing and come back to her. The Chief she knew wouldn't give up and do something irrational like jump from a cliff face or into the ocean or anything like that. The Chief she knew wouldn't strike off from the southern coast and leave her there alone while he explored distant continents by himself.
But the Chief that had left her side was not the Chief she knew. It was an impulsive, angry, frustrated man that had left her without a word. Her tightly wired positronic neural network could conjure hundreds of ways for a man like that to cope with the hopelessness of their surroundings.
Suddenly a shadow broke the sunlight reflected through the door. She snapped out of her self-induced standby mode and sprung up. The Chief dropped his bag and looked straight at her.
She couldn't find a word to say, and watched as he walked over and sat on the bed across from her, his elbows on his knees, his head bent close. "I admit it. You were right."
She stammered out of her daze, her voice shaky and broken like the last time they'd been separated. "But what, what was that?"
"It's hard for me to admit weakness." He told her. "Leaders aren't supposed to show anything but solid determination. I'm supposed to have everything under control, but I don't." He gave her a slight nod. "I felt like I should tell you that."
"I," she felt the twinge in her core again, "I'm in shock. How, how could you leave me like that?"
"I'm sorry." He said. "I guess that's how I have a breakdown. I had to get my head back on. I'm sorry it took so long."
"I need you." She said softly. "I'd never seen you act that way before. I thought the worst."
"You don't have to worry about me." He said. "I'll be alright."
"I worry about you all the time, Chief." She replied. "You're the rock I stand on. You're all I've got to hold myself together. If something were to happen to you, I…" She trailed off.
"Now you need to stop worrying so much." A touch of humor had come back to his voice. "Wouldn't want you hurting yourself."
She tried to smile up at him but still felt small. It was a strange feeling. "You have to make me a promise." She said. "You hold yourself to your promises."
"Okay." He agreed. "What do you want me to promise?"
"I don't care." She said. "It's the promise that's important."
"Okay." He thought for a minute. "Then, I promise not to abandon you. As long as we're in this thing, we're in it together." She felt the ache inside her go away. He could see the violet color of her apparition grow stronger. "Will that do?"
"Absolutely." She found smiling much easier. "Even if the beacon is up for years without a sign, you promise never to give up?"
"Even if we're never rescued at all." He replied. "I will never give up."
She leaned toward him on the pedestal, her face reflected in the gold of his mask. "We'll be rescued, Chief. Just wait. You'll see."
Slipspace was far less interesting than normal space. In normal space there were stars to look at, planets to pass (albeit at great distance), or celestial bodies to pull up extra information on for kicks. In slip space there was nothing fancy like that. The Captain watched the panels anyway. His ship had been traveling for months.
"Interesting development, Captain." A deep voice said from behind.
The Captain turned in his chair. "Report, Commander."
"Nothing solid, Sir." The Commander said, plodding forward. He presented his superior with a data pad. "The Communications Officers have picked up an echo in slipspace. It is a bit difficult to make out because of the interference, but it seems to be broadcasting from the Ark quadrant."
The Captain's interest suddenly piqued. "The Ark Quadrant?"
"Yes." The Commander looked down to the pad.
"But that area was cleansed." The Captain said with a touch of urgency. "The Halo... The Explosion."
"I know." The commander said. He offered the pad to him. "Nevertheless... We are picking something up."
The Captain took the readout greedily, searching it for meaning. All it held was a system of waveforms, each with a simultaneous spike at the same frequency. The Commander continued. "The signal is very weak. It is impossible to decipher the meaning in slipspace, but from what our specialists can tell it is a standard noncomplex cardiod transmission emitting a repeated pattern toward occupied space." He waited for the Captain to make eye contact. "It is a UNSC standard wavelength."
The Captain gave the pad another glance before handing it back to his second. "If we drop out of slipspace could we get a better signal?"
"Possibly." The Commander replied.
The Captain nodded and called to the helmsman on the far side of the bridge. "Alert the crew for the down shift. Put us back in normal space."
"Sir." The Commander interrupted. "Permit me, but is it wise to disturb the crew on this matter? We have been traveling at great length with only a matter of days to go. If you decide to investigate this beacon, it would take us months off course even traveling at slip space speeds."
"I only wish to investigate the signal." The Captain said. "A moment out of Slipspace. The message may be residual or nothing of interest, then we can continue on our way."
An alarm sounded warning everyone that deceleration was in progress. The transition was as smooth as a normal docking procedure. Through the view screens the Captain could again see stars.
The Commander turned to leave, ready to relate the captain's wishes to the communications specialists. He paused and looked over his shoulder to see the stars reflecting off the Captain's silver armor. "Be wary of your thinking. You must remember; the Halo, its Ark... the Forerunners would not tolerate survivors. Even if this signal came from that area, the Ring killed everything. Everyone who was there is now dead."
The Captain mused to himself and let the Commander leave without a word.
"Were it so easy."
"This one's making it to the ocean." The Chief said. He crouched and stuffed powder into a piece of tubing.
"That's what you said about the last one." Cortana said, observing. "It barely made it to the dunes, let alone the ocean."
"I've doubled the charge." He replied. "When this rig lands, there'll be a splash." He wedged the tube up under the bed of an Unggai land rover. The little buggy bore the scars of previous attack; what sufficed for a rear bumper was blackened, and dented to the point of complete dislocation. He pounded the loose piece into place with his fist before setting the fuse. "Here goes nothing."
He backed up a few paces and the powder exploded, propelling the vehicle high into the air where it tumbled end over end in a less than graceful arch. The two of them watched the scanner as the machine headed toward earth far on the other side of the dunes. The enhanced audio receptors in the helmet heard a wet thud in the distance. The Chief didn't even notice that he smiled behind his screen. "I think that did it."
"I don't think so." Cortana said. "That was not a splash."
"It was a splash."
"No, it was a thud." Cortana corrected. "A thud is not a splash."
"It was a splash and a thud." He replied. "There was lot of force behind it. Have you ever heard a car hit the ocean at terminal velocity?"
"I can pull up an audio recording." She quipped.
He took off running toward the beach. "You'll see. I'm right." He sprinted over the dry grass toward the rise, then skidded down the slope through the sand. The buggy was sticking cockeyed out of the beach amid nearly a foot of water at the edge of the rising tide. The water moved forward and back around it, washing the dark sand displaced by the crash slowly back out to sea. The Chief stopped and pointed. "It is IN the ocean!"
"But it's in." He insisted.
"Halfway." She reasoned. "It's on the line."
"On the line is in."
"Depends on if we're playing tennis or football."
He waded out into the water to take a look at the ruin. The explosion had bent the rear axle at a forty-five degree angle. "Art Appreciation."
Cortana laughed to herself. "What?"
"Modern art." He replied. "This is officially my contribution to this world. No squat alien life form painting frescoes and obsessing over the color white could possibly erect a monument such as this. I have planted my flag on this rock."
Cortana was more than pleased to hear his sarcasm so thickly. "You are a mighty Conquerer, Chief."
He thunked the stuck vehicle with the nose of his assault rifle. "I am King of the World." The sense of victory, however, was short lived. "And now I'm out of things to do again."
"There are more cars in town." Cortana said. "You don't have to stop now."
"Wanton destruction is only amusing to a point." The Chief answered. "I could try blowing up a bigger one. We still have that crane."
"But you named a city after stealing that crane."
"All the more reason to make it into a monument." The Chief answered. "I'd have to scare up a lot more gunpowder." He puzzled over the task. "We could use a small car and ride it when it explodes."
If Cortana were a projection she would have taken a double-take. "That's suicide!"
"It would make for an incredible jump though." He said. "Give you a good view."
"How about a camera instead." She offered. "We can see if the Dawn has any of her security feeds in tact and send that up on the car."
"Maybe we can see the other continent."
"I don't know if we can get it that far." Cortana said. "My topographical maps say this sea is very wide. We might get a glimpse of it though."
"It'd be nice to see something new." He agreed. "Okay, we'll do it."