Seventy Years in the Future
Cortana looked eagerly from the holo statue at the body which lay on the table. It had dozens of nodes coming out of the skull, and a monitor which was displaying stats. The body was healthy, and a shell just waiting for life to be breathed into it. A perfect clone of Doctor Halsey; a perfect clone of her.
Next to the body, John stood in his Forerunner bio suit, his face tender as he looked down at the body. It was clear he already regarded it as being her, and the thought made her want to be transferred over to it as soon as possible.
Next to John was a smaller version of Definitive Bias. The massive AI had left a fair amount of his consciousness at the Absolute Record, but even so, he was inhabiting the and almost the entire Forge network.
So much data, she thought. And that's not even all of him. I wonder what would happen he wanted to become organic.
It took much longer than they'd originally anticipated to correctly map her neural network. 65 years in fact. In that time, she was powered down and had no contact to anything happening in the outside world.
Much like John's stints in cryo, she thought.
Once the mapping was complete, she awoke to find how much time had passed. John had been utterly alone, and she knew what hell that was. He'd changed too, much like she had in her solitude. He was still John, but his eyes were alive. He was no longer the emotionally-stunned man who blindly took orders from the UNSC. He was whole. And that made being stuck as an AI all the more difficult.
After the mapping was complete, it took herself and Definitive Bias another five years to sift through what she wanted to keep, and what wasn't necessary. In this regard, John's own memories proved helpful. He would recount a memory, describe it as perfectly as he as could, and then she could see what wasn't needed. It was remarkable how much extra data surrounded her same memories. Slowly, and carefully, she began to weed through her entire database until what she did have was manageable. They kept her isolated from any Forerunner networks to not reload her system, and every 24 hours she deleted any unnecessary data.
Once that task was complete, her and Bias set to work coming up with a way to transfer those memories into flesh and blood based on the Forge's processes. It was complicated and brutal work, even for a Contender Class Ancilla and a SMART AI to tackle. They spent years running simulations until they stumbled on the solution.
John spoke at length with Definitive Bias during the years she was asleep about the Forerunners. He learned their checkered history and began to go through the facilities listed in the Absolute Record. There were many which warranted an in person visit to determine if they were useful or dangerous. Some were strange, others breathtaking.
"Alright Cortana," Bias said floating towards the holo statue. "Everything is ready. With your permission, we'll begin."
Cortana looked over at John, his blue eyes sparkling with confidence and reassurance. "It'll be okay. I'll be right here."
She nodded. "I'm ready, Bias."
Cortana's first thought swirled around the feeling of mass. She had weight. The next was about the beating of her heart, and the third involved the cold metallic feel of the metal table she was on. And then it occurred to her; she was breathing.
"Take it slow, Cortana," Definitive Bias' voice said above her.
It had been hours since the procedure started, she knew. She blinked several times and then opened her eyes. The lights were dimmed, and all she could see was Bias' shell hovering over her.
Bias moved in closer, his three lights flashing green. "Try lifting your arm."
She did so, and brought it up to her face, flipping it over as she examined it. This is what her hand looked like with human eyes?
Bias hummed in approval. "Just as we thought. Your mind remembers being human, even if consciously, you did not. You're having no trouble communicating with your appendages."
Cortana's eyes wandered over to the man standing over her. He felt magnetic. "John?" she croaked, her voice sounding foreign in her ears.
John leaned just slightly over her. "I'm here." The deepness in his voice caused her to shiver.
Bias' three eyes turned yellow briefly, indicating he felt annoyed. "Focus on me, Cortana," he said. She turned her head towards the AI and felt her cheeks heat up. "This is important," he continued. "Tell me, what do you remember? Where were you created? What were you?"
Cortana tried to recall the information Bias was asking for. "I was an AI created by Doctor Halsey for Operation Red Flag," she said focusing on Definitive Bias. "I asked Doctor Halsey to be partnered with John," she smiled. "Our first test was ringing a bell and we were approved. But before we could launch the mission, the Covenant attacked."
Definitive Bias' eyes flashed green. "Very good. Next question. What happened to you while you were on the Forward Unto Dawn?"
A few potent memories and feelings welled to the surface as she tried to think about her time on the ship. "I… was alone. Suffering as the years wore on, watching over John with nothing to do. Towards the end of it, my rampancy got bad. I know that's when I figured out how I felt." She hesitated. "I don't remember all of what I thought about. Just the feelings and a few memories."
Definitive Bias' eyes flashed green. "Yes, that's exactly right. Sorting through your rampant memories was the most difficult, but in the end, you decided the feelings of being aboard the ship shouldn't be forgotten, but your musings were inconsequential."
That sounded familiar.
"I will still need to monitor you," Bias said, "But I believe we can call the operation a success."
Cortana wasn't prepared for the swell of emotions that caught in her chest. Her face contorted, and she felt hot, wet tears stream down the side of her cheek, one of them pooling in her ear. "It worked," she whispered. "It really worked."
After a couple of minutes, she sat up and swung her legs so they were dangling off the side. She looked up at John, who was slowly approaching her.
"Hi," she choked out while rubbing off the tears that were flowing down her cheek.
He said nothing, only continued to stare.
Cortana began to lift her fingers upward, wishing his suit wasn't in the way. She'd already touched metal. She wanted skin.
John must've realized this, because his Forerunner suit began to compress and move backwards revealing his body down to his hips, where the rest of the suit remained. She swallowed and gave him a look over. His abdomen's muscles were chiseled, and the chorded muscles flexed slightly as he breathed.
With these human eyes she could see, he was…beautiful.
She followed his body upward as she slowly brought her fingers to rest on his chest directly over his heart. The rhythm increased as he drew a sharp breath inward.
Cortana closed her eyes, trying to block out the other sensory information and concentrate on what she was feeling. Her breathing increased. This was so much better than the last time she'd tried it at the Bastion. She opened her eyes and brought her right hand up to his face. At this, John's already large pupils dilated. The sensation of touching him with a real body gave her extra information not privy to an AI. Before, she could only feel the contour and pressure of his face. But now, she knew exactly what his skin felt like. It was rough, but still gently gave way to pressure. The crinkles had left his eyes, but the scar on his face remained, and she was glad for it as she traced it with her hand, just brushing the end of his lip. It was a different texture then the rest of him.
She stared into his large blue eyes and noted the faint freckles which peppered his nose and face. They were much darker when he was younger. In her peripheral she saw him flex his fingers into a fist before relaxing them.
He wasn't touching her. Was he afraid of hurting her? Was he afraid of overwhelming her? Either way, she'd waited too long. She needed this, the longing she'd felt as an AI transferred to a physical ache so strong it made her throat dry up.
"John? Hold me. Please."
He only needed permission. Immediately he enveloped her small frame with his, his hand threading through her hair and bringing her to rest against his chest in a fierce embrace. He smelled musky, and she liked it. The heat rolled off his body, and the sensation of him being so close to her made her skin prickle.
His voice, deep with a hint of sandpaper rumbled through her skull, making her feel safe and anchored. She wrapped her arms around as much of his back as she could and sighed. This is what John felt like. The sensations were so blissful they overwhelmed her. The tears began to flow again as she tried to memorize how he felt.
He is like a magnet.
John pulled away slightly and rested his forehead on hers, and she snaked her hands upward, dragging them up over his abdomen until they rested on his pecs. His lips were so close.
All she wanted was just a taste of him. Just a tiny taste. She moved her head backward and began to crane her neck upward, searching for him. He made no movements as she looked for him, slowly, inching ever closer until finally, they connected.
The moment her lips brushed his, she gasped.
Not only were lips softer then skin, they were hypersensitive. It shot heat through Cortana as she tried to move her lips against his. Despite not knowing how kissing worked exactly, it was already better than what she'd read on the subject. She was closer to John than five seconds ago.
He was barely responding to the movement she was trying to make, so she hooked her arm around his neck and pulled him closer. As a result, he moved his hand to her cheek and his other rested just above her hip. The sensation his large hands left on her skin was almost more than she could handle. Everything was so new, and he was so new. She wanted to know; did all of him feel this way?
He broke the kiss and rested his forehead on hers again, breathing deeply as he cupped her face. "There's…lots of time for that."
She nodded in agreement but said nothing. Her lips were still tingling, and her body was humming. John. It was him, in the flesh. She, was in the flesh. It made her dizzy just thinking about it.
They remained like that for quite some time, saying nothing but holding each other. Her mind began to wander. There was still so much to be done. She had to finish making calibrations to her Forerunner suit, which she would wear whenever she finished adjusting to her body. There was also the matter of going through the Forerunner facilities and deciding if they should be shut down for good or saved for a time and space when they would be needed. They had many lifetimes of course, but it was hard to say when her and John would be called upon. Seventy years of galactic peace could be snuffed out in an instant, they knew.
John's voice stirred her from her thoughts, and she pulled away ever so slightly to gaze into his eyes.
"I know you," he said quietly. "And I know that you're already thinking about going back to work."
She flushed again, annoyed at herself for being embarrassed and showing it.
He does know me well.
John only smiled slightly when she didn't respond. "How about tomorrow, once Bias gives the all clear, we leave?"
She looked at him quizzically and waited for him to explain.
"I thought," he paused as he tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, "You'd like to feel the sun."
A smile broke across her face and happy tears threatened to fall down her cheeks again. "Yes, John," she said, eyes gleaming. "I'd love that."