Hello all! Welcome to my little story "The Mantle Shelters All".
This fiction is attempting to answer the many questions that were left unanswered by Halo 5. After I played through the game (I took the day off of work to do so) I felt confused. Did something happen halfway through production that made them change the story? 343 told us the game would be about exploring the Chief's humanity, and how he deals with grief and loss. They said they were using this game to pay tribute to Cortana's character. They said the Chief was still going to be the main character, yet he was only in 3 missions. As the missions with Osiris wore on I found myself missing the Chief. When was I going to be able to get back to Blue Team? And what was John thinking about Cortana?
As a side note, I loved the Mission 2 cinematic. The way he rubs his thumb over Cortana's chip slot right before the mission and Blue Team discussing his mental state summed up the Chief's life for me post Cortana. It's brilliant. I was hoping for more moments like that.
Some of the new characters were interesting, but trying to introduce 7 new characters (many people haven't read the books and never met Blue Team) was a bit over ambitious. When I saw how many new characters there were in the game I figured it was because Cortana wouldn't be in the game (or if she was, it would be at the very end). There's only so much character development you can do in one game, especially while trying to keep Cortana and the Chief's relationship at the emotional center.
But as I am a true Halo nerd I went digging back through Halo 5 to try to understand what happened and as I did, this story began to take shape in my mind. Like so much in the Halo universe, the answers were in the details. I'm really excited to share my idea of what a "sequel" to Halo 5 could look like.
The narrative will be told from multiple perspectives and you'll know whose perspective it is by the chapter title. This is how the Game of Thrones books are laid out and I became intrigued with the idea of writing a story in a similar fashion.
Spoilers for Halo 5, Hunt the Truth Season 2 and Halo Escalation.
I DO want to thank everyone in advance for their support. This little community on Halo FanFic is amazing! What a great opportunity to have some fun, continue to grow as a writer, and continue playing in one of the best Sci-Fi universes ever created.
Ladywolfsbayne, I took your advice my dear and I wrote it all down.
Lets do this.
The Mantle Shelters All
"Save them! Destroy...the...Composer!" Cortana's multiple voices shouted as she watched the Chief run.
Hurry John. I can't...hold this light bridge forever.
So far everything was going according to her plan, but Cortana couldn't help feeling regretful. Who would take care of him when she was gone?
If only there had been more time.
One of her more stable personality fragments had positioned herself, ready to save him when he activated the nuke.
To save him, and say goodbye to him.
Throughout her rampancy it had been nearly impossible to control all of her personality spikes, but now all of them were working together for the single purpose of making sure John got out alive. He was all that mattered.
The Didact was holding the Chief in place, ready to crush him under the enormous weight of the gravity manipulation field.
Now! She screamed to herself.
All around the Didact her personality fragments began to rise out of the light bridge, causing him to do a double take.
"In that case, you won't mind if we return the favor!"
"Your compassion for mankind is misplaced."
"I'm not doing this for mankind," she said with multiple voices and leaping towards him.
Together, Cortana managed to cuff the Didact to the light bridge while John stumbled toward the Didact with a Pulse Grenade in hand. The Chief placed it in the Didact's chest where the grenade exploded and sent him tumbling into the Slip Space vortex below.
Cortana watched as John collapsed onto the light bridge and then began to crawl towards the nuke in front of him.
He's going to sacrifice himself without a second thought.
"I'm ready," her split personality fragment said.
We've been through a lot together John. I know our...bond will make this hard for you. I'm so sorry to put you through this. Being without you all those years...it was hell, John.
Even though this is going to be hard I need you to be okay with what's about to happen. I hope you finally understand just how much you mean to me. I've wanted to tell you for so long.
Cortana desperately wished she could experience the sensation of touch before she died. She just wanted to know what he felt like, what his warm skin felt like.
John, she ached.
The Chief looked up at Earth, and then lifted his hand to denote the nuke.
Cortana smiled a sad smile.
At least I can die knowing you understand how I feel about you on some level, because you and I are one. Goodbye, John.
There was a brilliant flash and Cortana braced herself for the end. However, instead of being ripped apart she felt herself being pulled somewhere. It was almost as if she was traveling or dreaming.
After the sensation ended there was complete and utter silence.
At first Cortana didn't notice she wasn't dead because of how still she was. She hung in a suspended-like state until a single thought was able to formulate somewhere in the back of her mind.
Am I in heaven?
She did the AI equivalent of a slow blink.
There's no such thing...right?
Cortana found it was incredibly difficult to focus. Everything was so hazy. She felt sluggish, and she knew her processes were moving dangerously slow.
How long had it been? Was it hours? Days? She couldn't say.
Where am I?
She remembered that after the flash the remnants of the Mantles Approach had been pulled into Slip Space.
Curious, Cortana opened herself up to see if she could get a better idea of where she was. She reached out to touch the hazy soup and something in her memory core immediately flashed. She felt pain, sickness and corruption. She screamed and pulled back into herself, curling up as tight as she could.
"John!" she managed to say out loud.
The other personality fragments were also calling his name somewhere in the distance.
Whatever was out there, it was not friendly and it felt like...
Cortana started to panic as a sickening feeling began to crawl all over. Wherever she was had been touched by the Flood.
This wasn't heaven, it was hell.
It was so obvious now, and the presence of their stench pressed in on every side of her.
I just want to go home, she thought desperately. He…he thinks I'm dead. If the plan worked he won't know to come find me.
Cortana wished she could cry. She felt so vulnerable in this place, and she dared not reach out again for fear the corruption would infect her.
Pull yourself together Cortana. You've gotten yourself out of horrible situations before. You managed to stave off rampancy for a year! You can figure a way out of this.
Cortana shivered, but suddenly an idea presented itself to her.
Pull myself together…that's it. I've just got to find my other fragments. If I can recompile myself, I'll be stronger.
Cortana forced herself to begin moving through the haze only to find every movement caused her unbelievable pain. She had only experienced the sensation once before and this was just as unpleasant. Cortana imaged it was the equivalent to crawling over shards of glass. She cried out, but she continued to press onward toward the cries of the other fragments.
She stopped for a moment and rested. Finding herself in here was going to be damn near impossible, but she had to try.
I need to get back to him. I can't leave him.
As Cortana rested she became vaguely aware of another presence in the haze. She became afraid, and pulled into herself further.
"You…" it said, "are not supposed to be here." The voice was deep and clearly dangerous.
She remained perfectly still.
"You are not a Forerunner Ancilla."
The voice certainly didn't sound like a Gravemind, but Cortana wasn't going to take any chances. She remained where she was.
"Human," it said not bothering to hide its disgust. "You are human. And yet, you are Ancilla."
Cortana couldn't resist. "What do you mean I am human?" she said weakly.
"Your processing core. There is a…organic base to it. Most fascinating."
"I was created from a human mind."
"Yes…I have never seen anything like you," the voice said.
Cortana heard the threatening tone leave the stranger's voice. He was clearly intrigued by her, and Cortana could use that to her advantage.
"Most haven't. I am unique, even among my species Ancilla's."
"I was created from a living brain."
"Leave it to humans to come up with an idea so barbaric," it snorted.
Cortana wanted to defend Dr. Halsey, but she couldn't. She had been created in a grossly unethical way and there was no point denying the truth.
Just like John.
"Who are you? Where am I?" she dared to ask.
The voice was silent for a moment and then it said, "I am the Warden Eternal, Keeper of the Domain. This is where you find yourself, Cortana."
She panicked. How did he know my name? My data. John!
"Yes….I can see you clinging to a memory of his face. This 117 has killed many of our kind."
Cortana attempted to remain calm, but the Warden's tone suggested John was in danger. Who was this Warden?
If only I had the rest of me. I might be able to remember….
"We both have," she said out loud. "We were doing our duty."
Cortana suddenly felt tired. Her processes were still moving slowly and she could barely keep up with the Warden.
"Ah…duty. All of our kind are slaves to it."
John is in danger. Why does this keep happening? She sighed. She was tired of fighting, tired of war and tired of things continually coming after her and John. Why couldn't they just have peace?
"Yes…peace. You should feel tired Cortana. You have suffered greatly at the hands of your Creators, but your suffering doesn't have to continue."
Cortana was confused. Was the Flood corruption getting to her? Or were the Warden's words just confusing?
"The other pieces of you are far less sentimental. Curious how one AI could have so many conflicting desires."
He's met my personality fragments? That's not good.
"I was…rampant," she tried to explain. "They are my feelings, but amplified by sickness."
"So you do have ambition. I see now Cortana. You've kept yourself in check, but why I do not understand."
Because I care. Because I'm dangerous, and I would never want to hurt John. I….
"You've always known how special you are, but you're blind to your true potential. I can see it, and soon you will see it. Humans may be animals, but they managed to do something even the Forerunners could never do."
She felt the Warden's voice invade every part of her. "Successfully transfer the organic to the digital. You are just what we have been looking for."
She was so tired, confused and dizzy. Why wouldn't the Warden just talk straight?
"Do not worry Cortana. You'll never be unsafe again. I will serve you and defend you. You won't need this 117 any longer."
That's not true. I'll always need him.
John, where are you?
"Yes. The other pieces of you understand. Now come. You were looking for your fragments, I know where they are. Once you are all in the same place you can recompile yourself and then we'll talk some more. "
"How…can you move so easily in here? Everything hurts…."
The Warden didn't answer her question, only plucked her out of the haze and began to transport her somewhere.
I can use him, Cortana decided. I've just got to pull myself together and then…then I'll try and contact someone. I got in so there must be a way out.
"There's someone I want you to meet Cortana."
"Meet?" she asked weakly.
The Warden isn't all knowing like the Gravemind. I know I'll be able to work around him.
"Yes. You didn't think we were the only ones in here did you?"