Galaxy 08 - Part Nine - Preservation
Posted By: Jillybean<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 5 February 2004, 8:20 PM
AN: Trust me, I'm building to something.
Cortana did not have long.
Her every process brought her to this conclusion. Every application she used, every system she checked, it all came down to the one thing. Her time was running out.
They had lived on the Halo for two months now. The mining operations were running efficiently and safely, the children were learning a proper syllabus and the people were producing crops with their highest yield in their memory. It appeared as though everything was perfect.
Cortana double-checked the medical files taken by the team on the Mordred. They had not changed in the two milliseconds since she had last looked at the information. There was only one match for Cortana's program. Only one person on this entire ring was suitable to download Cortana permanently within acceptable limits.
The problem was, of course, getting them.
"I'm worried about him," Daxia was whispering, even though John was outside in the garden. She stood at the window, sipping her poor excuse for coffee, while Aislinn ran over the paper reports of the Halo.
"He's his own person, Dax," Aislinn said distractedly. She set the sheets down on the coffee table and glanced over at her baby, lying on a blanket in a sun spot on the floor. "You can't order him to tell you his every thought."
"Aislinn, you don't understand." Daxia set her coffee down and turned to her sister. "He's a Spartan, if there's something wrong with him I need to know."
"He's also a human being. Which is partly your fault, I'll remind you." Aislinn took the long pleat that hung from the nape of her neck and unbraided it. She brushed it through and braided it once more.
Daxia hid a regretful sigh. She and her sister were very different. She had her hair cropped short and she was never seen out of the UNSC uniform. She knew how to kill a Covie in at least ten different ways, she could pilot any ship she came across and her skills as a mechanic were incomparable. What she couldn't do was sit through miles of paperwork and discern the government's best plan of action. She couldn't make a seven year old daughter go to school every day, see that the neighbour watched her toddling son and her new born baby then go out to work each day.
Daxia couldn't braid her hair either.
"When it comes down to it -" Aislinn crossed to the window and looked to the garden. John was explaining something to little Cortana, the little girl seemed fascinated. "- You can't tell him how to live his life."
"What if it might be the only way to save him?"
The sisters regarded each other, without coming to a compromise.
"So you can run faster than a Warthog?" Cortana asked.
John nodded. "Fully prepped, anyway."
"That is so cool!" Cortana leapt into the air and then managed to scramble onto John's shoulders. "Can we go tell mama and aunty Dax?"
"Hey guys! Guess what?" Cortana went into freefall from her spot on the Spartan's shoulder and was caught before she hit the ground by John. Unfazed, she danced around her mother until she got an answer.
"I don't know, what?" Aislinn smiled benevolently, while Daxia tried to creep as far away as possible.
"I worked out how fast a Warthog goes and then it turns out that Uncle John can go faster and I worked that out with only a little bit of help but I needed that so that was okay . . ."
"I can't understand a word," Daxia whispered to her partner.
John grinned at her, surprising her. "Don't look so scared. She reminds me of you, actually."
"I'm overjoyed," Daxia drawled. She glanced at her watch and sighed. "I should go. We're going to scope out Luna Eight to see how feasible it is to mine it."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"Hmm . . . are you feeling okay?"
"Yes. Daxia, for the last time."
"If you want. We'll see you later, Aislinn, Cortana."
"Bye Dax. John."
"Bye Aislinn. Bye 'Tana."
"Are you coming back tomorrow Uncle John?"
"It depends how long this mission takes."
Cortana watched as John and Daxia retreated from sight round the valley. She looked back to her mother and saw she was working.
"Can I go out and play?" she asked, realizing her mother was doing boring work.
"Sure. Be safe." Aislinn didn't look up from her sheets of paper.
Cortana skipped down the long stream to the artificial caves. She used to be scared of the area, since it was effectively Halo's slums. Yet, since her uncle and aunt had arrived on the scene it had cleaned up considerably. She ventured inside, peering around a stall market.
"Hey." Someone clapped a hand on her shoulder and she jumped.
"Hi -" she began, looking up at a tall marine.
"Your mom wants Cortana to look after you. Maybe practice some more of those sums," the marine grinned at her.
"Okay . . ." 'Tana followed.
Cortana shut down the communication from Daxia's ship and her control room. She felt no guilt. Her own survival was the most important factor. She had run this simulation before. Human kind could not survive without her.
So, as she was programmed to do, Cortana utilized every tool she could - even if that included John and 'Tana's own parents.
"Something wrong?" John asked.
His pilot was gazing down at the Halo, not really concentrating on the controls. "Ever get the feeling something's just . . ."
"Wrong," John agreed. He and Dax looked at each other and mustered a laugh.
"Silly. I know." Dax set a course for Luna Eight and the Pelican lumbered off.
"Hey." The purple hued AI seemed to lean down from her pedestal to speak with 'Tana.
The little girl waited, quiet.
"Do you want to help me?" Cortana asked curiously. She extended a holographic hand to the girl, watching as what could have been a human version of her self regarded her in suspicion.
"I guess so," 'Tana replied. "What is it you want?"
"Do you understand how John has me in his head?"
"There's an implant."
"Yes. Would you like to be like to?"
"Be like Uncle John?"
The AI straightened as the two doctors approached. "Yes. Like him."
The little girl silently bowed her head.
Cortana waited in the Control Room. She was curled into one of the chairs the Elders of Halo had used. It was strangely fitting, she reflected in the half light of flickering panels. That an innocent child's body should occupy the space dedicated to the betraying leaders of the remnants of human civilization.
The overwhelming guilt was enough to destroy her if not for the powerful realization that she had done what had needed to be done.
Still. Daxia would not be pleased.
Cortana lifted her head, brown curls tumbling in front of her face as the huge hanger doors slid open. Daxia walked in alone. Cortana had to admit, she was surprised John had let Daxia confront Cortana all by herself. Perhaps John was still comforting mama. Cortana's eyes flickered downwards at the unfortunate reference to Aislinn.
"Who the Hell do you think you are," Daxia whispered. She stood a good few feet from Cortana, completing the girls feeling of complete isolation.
"She did . . . I did . . . what we had to do, Dax."
"She's a little girl! Cortana . . ." Daxia stopped herself, shaking her head. "I can't accept this Cortana. You went behind my back with this."
"I would say it was over your head." The little girl uncurled from her nest and stood before Daxia in all her splendour.
"Excuse me?" Daxia asked into the empty hush.
"I'm relieving you of duty," Cortana met Daxia's eyes. "I am sorry, Daxia, but it's just not . . ."
"You can't do that." Daxia folded her arms. "If you think I'm above skelping my own niece, you are sorely mistaken."
Cortana shook her head. "Commander. You are hereby stripped of rank."
"On what grounds!"
"Failing to follow orders on several occasions. You are a liability."
Daxia turned on her heel and marched out.