xxxxxxxxxx
T. Lasky
Infinity
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Andromeda broke away from the console abruptly. "I'm done." She turned and glanced at Lasky, then at the door that the rest of their companions had exited from. "I'll go and regroup with the rest of them. I'll leave you to the whatever duties you must certainly have."

Lasky furrowed his brow as she started to walk away. "Wait." He called out. "Don't you want to know where you need to go?"

Andromeda turned slightly and looked at him over her shoulder. "I was doing a myriad of tasks just a moment ago. One happened to be getting information on the layout of the ship. I'm quite certain I know exactly where I'm going, as I have a base familiarity with this ship now."

Lasky raised his eyebrows and gestured towards the exit. "Seems you have it all figured out. Tell the Chief I'll be down there in a hot minute."

She didn't acknowledge his request, and walked away as if he hadn't spoken.

"Thanks." Lasky muttered under his breath, vaguely annoyed.

"Sir?" Roland was back on the console. "There's something you should probably see."

Lasky swallowed his irrational annoyance at Andromeda's apparent disregard of him, and approached the console, setting both hands on it. "What is it?"

"So Cortana's little stunt, and I mean 'little' in the most sarcastic way, has pretty much made most of the known galaxy go dark. You know that, and I know that, right?"

"Right." Lasky said slowly, not sure where Roland was going with this.

"Which means that the UNSC has no way of maintaining the security on all their classified files."

"Roland." Lasky said in a warning tone, looking at the AI. Whatever Roland had found, he didn't want to know. He had never been a very good liar, and didn't like knowing things he would possibly have to lie about.

"Hear me out. I did a little digging while our resident weirdo was screwing with the ship. And I found something you really need to take a look at."

Lasky sighed. "Is this going to be something I'm going to have to lie about?"

"Probably. But the information here in this highly encrypted yet totally up for grabs file I found has human rights abuses that make Dr. Halsey's Spartan II program look like a preschool arts and crafts day, so maybe they'd reconsider getting you into trouble and opt to keep you quiet via bribes instead. It could go either way, though. No promises." Roland shrugged and put his hands on his hips. "So. Should I pull up the file?"

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "What's the file about?"

"Project Krypteia. It's all the dirt you could ever want on those enigmatic strangers who you brought here."

Knowing he'd never be able to get a good night's sleep ever again if he didn't look at the file, he agreed. "Alright. Show it to me." He hated himself for the fact that he had such a strong urge to know. He blamed the "enigmatic strangers". If they hadn't been so cryptic and vague and full of secrecy, he wouldn't have such a strong desire to know.

Roland pulled up the file and displayed it on the screen in front of Lasky.

It was long. Very long. and it was detailed.

Lasky read it, his expression becoming darker with every line he read. "Who would..." He couldn't even finish his sentence. He felt a vague sensation of nausea swirl in the pit of his stomach.

He came across something unfamiliar. "What is Project Freelancer?" Lasky asked, looking up at Roland.

Roland grimaced. "Long story short, subjecting a single AI to torture until it would fracture into several AI personalities. Then shoving those personalities into the heads of special ops personnel." Roland shook his head. "It didn't end well." He then squinted into space for a moment, then shrugged. "I mean, well, it ended decently well, once one of the special ops personnel..." He trailed off, frowning. "Well, there was the Meta, and there was also the Alpha-" Roland shook his head again, making a noise. "Okay, wait." He then held up his hands in a gesture of someone desperately attempting to communicate something. "See, there was this guy. A group of guys, actually. One of them was this guy who had this girlfriend who was a Freelancer who was actually-"

"Roland!" Lasky said, exasperated.

"The project was reasonably successful once they killed the Director and the AI went rogue with one of the operatives!" Roland burst out. "That's the best I can do."

Lasky nodded. "Thank you." He scanned the file a bit further. "So that's what Dr. Dyer's research was heavily influenced by." He frowned and glanced up at Roland. "What was that about the girlfriend?"

"It's really not that important." Roland muttered.

Lasky raised an eyebrow at him. "Alright then." He went back to the file, reading it as carefully as he could.

"No. No, no, no. Why didn't she say anything to me?" Lasky whirled around and sprinted for the door.

"Uh...Sir?" Roland called after him, sounding slightly worried. "I was also going to tell you that I detected another AI in the system but it wasn't a..." The AI sighed. "Never mind. It's clearly not important."

xxxxxxxxxx

Lasky caught up to Andromeda as she was about to enter the armory where the Spartans, Tiberius and the Arbiter were. "Why would you keep that from me!?" He nearly shouted, reaching up and grabbing her shoulder.

She reacted instantly, reaching back and grabbing his wrist as she spun around. "If you inform me of what you're referring to, I may be able to provide a reason." She said, her voice flat, her eyes dull, her grip on his wrist like iron.

"Hydrus! Why would you-". Lasky didn't get to finish his sentence. He was cut off by Andromeda, who, moving faster than seemed humanly possible, released his wrist, grabbed his face in both hands and lowered her mouth onto his, forcefully, her fingers holding his jaw in an almost vice-like grip.

The kiss seemed to last for an eternity. It wasn't the kind of kiss one would receive from a lover. There was no element of romance or of tenderness. It was the kind of kiss to occupy one's mouth to keep it from giving information, a kiss that held a vague threat.

Finally, she pulled back and pressed her cheek to his, so her mouth was close to his ear. "Captain, if you choose to reveal the information you previously intended to, I will kill you where you stand." She said softly, her breath tickling his ear, the combination of that and the coldly delivered threat sending a shiver down his spine.

"You wouldn't. They'd put you down so deep you'd never see the light of day." He replied, just as softly. His voice shook slightly, and he cursed himself for it.

"I am well aware. It's a price I'm willing to pay to keep those secrets." She whispered, her lips brushing against his ear, sending a sensation through his body that wasn't entirely unpleasant.

He could tell that she meant it. There was no doubt in his mind that if he opened his mouth and she had any suspicions that he would reveal what he knew, that he was a dead man. She was far more slender than he was, but she was a good deal taller and easily had the means and motive to kill him without a second thought. He didn't know why she'd done what she did, but he didn't blame her for wanting to keep it a secret. He wondered how the relationship between her and Hydrus seemed as affectionate as it was after what she had done. Was it all pretense? Had she threatened Hydrus into silence?

"Fine." He said, quietly through gritted teeth. "I won't say anything. But you're going to tell me. That's non-negotiable. You will tell me."

She gave a soft laugh in his ear, a laugh that was almost malicious. "Of course...Captain." She said in a breathy, almost seductive voice, then pulled away from him, dragging her teeth slowly across the side of his neck as she did so.

Lasky's body felt hot, and he stepped back like she'd hit him.

He threw a glance towards the armory and saw a collection of faces with various confused and incredulous expressions.

Lasky coughed awkwardly, and glanced back at Andromeda. "And when, exactly, will you be telling me?"

"Tell him what?" Tiberius said from inside the armory, his left eyebrow raised slightly, a hard look in his eyes that was directed at Andromeda.

Andromeda slowly turned around to face Tiberius. "Tell him about Hydrus."

Tiberius frowned slighty. "Ah. Yes. Maybe later, you two can talk about it. Right now, though, we need to decide what we're doing once we get to the Nomos system. Come on." He waved Andromeda through the door, then glanced at Lasky. "Captain?"

Lasky shook himself out of his own thoughts. "Yes, sorry." He stepped into the room and leaned against a shelving unit, only half listening to the Arbiter instigate the discussion, him being the only one there with significant experience in formulating battle strategy, experience given to him during his time as Supreme Commander, experience he had gained in what seemed like another life.

He could hear the Arbiter's voice in the background, but he wasn't paying attention. That file, the one Roland had showed him, it had left him considerably shaken. He wondered how much Andromeda and Tiberius knew.

Did they know that Maximillian had been originallly brought in to care for Dr. Dyer's daughter? Did they even know about Dr. Dyer's daughter, Amanda? Did they know that Amanda was Dr. Dyer's first ever experiment? Did they know that Dr. Dyer had experimented on her own daughter, failed, and left her daughter brain dead, in a cryo chamber, on life support?

Did they know that Kuiper had been taken from her family through force, then convinced by Dr. Dyer that they had given her up because they didn't want her? Did they know about Eridanus? Lasky shuddered. God, Eridanus. Out of all of them, Lasky thought, she had the most horrifying past. Twins born to an Insurrectionist mother in the Midnight facility, given to Dr. Dyer by said mother in hopes of a chance at a better life. There was no way the twins' mother could have known that Dr. Dyer would intentionally create a smart AI out of one twin, killing her, and then implanting the AI into the other twin. He closed his eyes. He almost didn't believe it, because he didn't want to believe it. Two sisters, forever trapped in one body, in one brain. The thought made him nauseous.

He frowned slightly. They had to have known about Hydrus. Andromeda had to, at least. Someone had to have told her Hydrus was the illegitimate son of Admiral Hood, sent to Endurance to receive training, augmentation and an AI, all so he could become the ultimate bodyguard for whoever in HI-COM wanted him the most. There's no way they wouldn't have told her after she paralyzed him. And if she knew about Hydrus, then the odds were she knew about Maximillian, how he'd been repurposed into what Hydrus was supposed to have been, before Andromeda paralyzed him.

Did Tiberius know what she'd done? Did he know about any of them? Did he even know about himself, that he was intended to be a replacement for the Chief and Cortana, a replacement for the way the two of them had worked so flawlessly together? Did Andromeda know what Tiberius was intended for?

Lasky shifted. He'd started to see Andromeda in a new light, after reading the file. He'd begun to realize that her sociopathy was through no fault of her own. What else could be expected from a clone of someone like Dr. Dyer?

His reverie was shattered by the sound of an argument starting. He jumped, and looked around.

Tiberius and Andromeda were in each other's faces, and both were furious, clearly at each other. What had he missed? A lot, apparently.

Andromeda had started to hiss something at Tiberius, but Tiberius held up a hand. "No. You don't get to say anything right now." He growled, as he pushed her back and went to walk around her.

She grabbed his wrist. "You don't know the situation the way-"

"I don't need to know the situation, Andy. All I need to know is that you lied to me about your intention with this plan all along, and if I hadn't figured it out, you would never have told me." Tiberius yanked his wrist out from her grasp, and ran the same hand through his hair in a gesture of anger and frustration. "You'd rather die in my arms than tell me you refuse to destroy the rampant AI. And the worst part? You won't even tell me why." Tiberius shook his head and started to walk backwards, glancing at Lasky. "Now, if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to head to the bridge and have a nice conversation with the shipboard AI while I decide whether not I'm going to be mad at her for a while."

Tiberius left the room.

There was a stunned silence.

Kelly coughed. "If it helps, I think he's just mad about you not being honest with him, and not about the actual plan part." She offered, glancing at Andromeda.

"It doesn't, but thank you, regardless." Andromeda answered, all hint of her previous anger completely dissipated.

"Well, maybe if you valued honesty as much as he does, you wouldn't have this problem." Lasky said, folding his arms and all but glaring at Andromeda.

She took several slow, intentional steps until she was right in front of him, her face inches from his, bending down towards him in an almost threatening manner. Her blue eyes were cold. "Thank you, Captain." She said softly, mockingly, tilting her head slightly, her cold gaze never wavering. "I appreciate your input."

Lasky wasn't going to let her intimidate him. Especially not when he knew things that she didn't want anyone else to find out. "Some of us here value honesty, unlike you." He said, just as softly, staring right back at her.

Her gaze wandered down from his eyes and down to his mouth, then back up to his eyes. "Do you, Captain?" She asked, her light eyes glinting with the glow of the lighting. The heat from her body seemed to radiate through him. "Or do you value the appearance of honesty and the way others perceive your supposed honesty?" The corner of her mouth turned upwards, and he wasn't sure if it was a smirk or a smile.

"I guess that's something you'll find out, isn't it?" He said, closing the distance between them, and brushing her face with his.

She gave a mirthless laugh. "That I will, Captain. As I will also find out what strange attraction you seem to have to me, despite thinking me a reprehensible human being."

"That's still something I'm trying to figure out myself." Lasky said, as casually as he could manage as he turned on his heel and walked away from her. "Chief." He called out, looking towards Blue Team, who were all huddled together. The Chief looked at him, waiting for him to continue speaking. Lasky approached the group, and looked at all of them. "I'll let you know when we're getting close to the Nomos system. See what you can do down here to make sure things are...resolved."

The Chief nodded, and Lasky left the room, swearing under his breath at the agitation he was inexplicably feeling. What had Roland been shouting at him as he left the bridge?

xxxxxxxxxx
John 117
Infinity
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John watched the Captain leave, and then turned back to his team.

"Can we trust either of them?" Frederic asked in a low voice, a concerned look in his eyes. "She hasn't been straightforward with us at all. She gives a great show of being open and honest, but she's still hiding things from us. I'm not sure I want to trust my life to someone like that."

"Do we have a choice?" Kelly asked, looking at both of them.

"No. We don't." John said, flatly. "I don't like it either. But I have reason to believe she isn't keeping information from us for malicious reasons."

"Why keep it from us at all?" Frederic demanded.

"It's not necessary for us to know." The normally silent Linda finally spoke.

The rest of her team looked at her, startled.

"What do you mean?" Frederic asked.

"There's no reason for us to know all that. It's not relevant to our mission. All we need to know is if she can do the job we need her to do when we need her to do it. That's it." Linda said quietly, looking at all of them.

"That's fair." Kelly reluctantly agreed. "We didn't need to know any of that. We don't really even need to know anything about her. Or Tiberius. Or any of them. We've formed alliances with people we didn't trust before in order to complete a mission."

"I didn't trust the Arbiter in the beginning. And look where we are now." John said, also in agreement. The only thing that mattered to him was that Andromeda was committed to taking Cortana back home. Unharmed. He didn't care what she was like as a person, he didn't care what she was lying about, he didn't care what she wasn't telling them. She was willing to help him bring back one of the most important people in the world to him, and that was reason enough for him to trust her. He didn't even care what happened to her after the mission, as callous as that sounded. But he really didn't.

But he needed the others to trust her in order for Andromeda to help him get what he wanted, so he'd do whatever it took to get them to trust her.

"True. But the Arbiter isn't a psychopath." Frederic said, still unconvinced.

"Sociopath. She may not be very likable, but her behavior is consistent." Linda spoke up again.

"What do you mean?" Frederic demanded, turning to her.

"Superficial charm. Inflated view of self. Lack of guilt. Pathological lying. Limited emotional range. Irresponsibility, impulsivity, poor behavioral control. Manipulation. Aggressiveness. Ability to mimic emotional responses, but with no depth. High intelligence, but bad at interpersonal relations. Absence of fear and delusions. Cold rationality. It's all there. And it's all consistent. She hasn't deviated from any of that." Linda shrugged.

"I think that's the most you've said at one time in months." Kelly said, with a slightly teasing tone.

"Don't get used to it." Linda gave her a half smile.

"So she's morally bankrupt and reprehensible, but consistently morally bankrupt and reprehensible." Frederic seemed slightly amused himself. Then he sighed. "All right. Consistency I can work with."

"That's all I'm asking." John laid a hand on his shoulder. "Just work with her. And when this is all over, we can forget about her."

"Hardly likely." Kelly shook her head. "Something tells me she's not the kind of person you just forget about."

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T. Lasky
Infinity
xxxxxxxxxx

Lasky entered the bridge and found Tiberius sitting in his chair, an elbow propped up on the arm of the chair, his head leaning on his hand. "Tiberius." He said, surprised. "You're here." He also noted that most of the crew on the bridge were waiting for him to say something about the other man being in his chair. According to protocol, it was a massive sign of disrespect for someone who had no rank within the UNSC to seat themselves in the captain's chair, but he knew that Tiberius would be the last person to mean disrespect by it. Lasky felt a bit of amusement wash over him as he realized Tiberius had probably done it to disconcert those in the room with him, as a show of dominance, as a way to make them realize that he wasn't just some average person, that he was someone who was...well, important. Clearly, someone had been taking lessons in power plays from Andromeda.

Tiberius just threw him a smile and started to gently turn the chair back and forth, casually. "I am."

"You don't seem nearly as upset as you were a while ago."

"I'm not upset. I was never upset. I just wanted to make Andy sweat for a little bit." Tiberius leaned the chair back and folded his arms.

"What's the point of that? Is she even capable of sweating?" Lasky asked sardonically, leaning on the console next to his chair.

"Oh, absolutely. But there are maybe two people in this world who can make her sweat, and I'm one of them. So, naturally, when she does something irritating, I use that to my best advantage."

"Lying to you is something you consider simply irritating?" Lasky's brow furrowed. He was confused. Tiberius would've been more than in the right to be furious, but he wasn't.

Tiberius laughed softly and extracted himself from the chair, lazily. He paused to stretch slightly, then approached Lasky, turning and leaning his back against the same console, folding his arms again. Lasky was now facing his left side, and Tiberius turned his head to look at Lasky. "I'm going to learn you something, Cap. You may think you have a pretty good grasp on how people operate, but I can promise you that you know nothing about people like Andy." He shrugged. "And I don't mean that in a condescending manner, not in the least. I just mean that you've never had the chance to really get to know someone like her."

"I haven't ever had the chance to really get to know a sociopath, no."

Tiberius squinted at him. "You know, I really try not to use that word. People have so many preconceived notions about what a sociopath is and what they do, that it really makes it difficult to have a conversation about one. They ignore what you're saying in favor of picking out statements that confirm their bias." He shrugged again. "But I'm going to say some stuff that will probably blow your mind, and it's up to you to be open minded about it."

"I'll do my best, but I can't promise anything."

"That's all I ask." Tiberius looked away, then laughed again. "See, the reason I'm not mad at Andy is that, for all intents and purposes, it would be really terrible of me to be mad." He looked back at Lasky. "When people lie to protect someone else, it's usually based in selflessness. They want to protect someone. When Andy lies, it's not based in selflessness. It's based out of a complete self interest."

"Okay. And you wouldn't be mad about that because...?" Lasky threw his hand up in a gesture of mild confusion.

"What drives selfishness? An interest in oneself. Andy's main concern is for herself. And she's decided that my wellbeing, being close to me is something that's integral to her own self interest. I myself, I see that as the highest form of caring. Imagine being so integral to someone's interest in themselves that they do whatever means necessary to keep you near them. But what happens if that goes to far? Well, then, it's up to me to manipulate her in ways that ensure she won't go too far in the future." He smiled at Lasky. "I can see from the look on your face that you think manipulation is a terrible thing. People don't like to admit to manipulation is beneficial, but sometimes the only way to keep a manipulator in line is to manipulate them yourself." He looked up towards the ceiling. "And that calls into question whether manipulation is really so morally bad, or if it's just a tool that can be used in varying degrees for varying purposes, and the immorality of manipulation depends on the manipulator's intent."

Lasky hadn't realized that Tiberius was going to start such a philosophical discussion on manipulation. If he had, he might have come into this conversation more prepared.

Tiberius continued. "People manipulate others all the time. You manipulate someone into taking a job offer, by offering them something they want. You manipulate your friends into a activity they're unsure they'll enjoy, by making it seem more desirable to them, and by using adjectives and language to make it seem desirable. Manipulation is, at it's core, a question of "do the ends justify the means?". And perhaps that attitude in and of itself is morally questionable, but isn't everything in life morally questionable, by some means? Why do you give something to someone in need? Is it driven by a genuine desire to help someone, or is driven by the way you perceive yourself, others perceive you and the way you feel after helping someone in need? Any good act, if done in self interest, becomes morally questionable."

Lasky shook his head. "Where are you going with this?"

The corner of Tiberius's mouth quirked up. "Ultimately, I'm trying to tell you that whereas people like you and I can convince ourselves of moral absolutes, there exists no moral absolute to someone like Andy. It's only a question of net benefit. And that's a criteria that has to be decided by each individual. For Andy, the cost of my unhappiness and how unpleasant it would be for her far outweighed the vague moral standard of being honest with me. In her mind, there was no reason to be honest with me if it came at such a high cost."

Lasky was beginning to understand. "You're saying that your happiness is of enough value to her that she'll ignore moral standards to achieve it, because your happiness is something that's vital to her self interest."

"Exactly. And before you start to think that's a bad thing, I ask you to consider this: when is love not based out of self interest? Do you engage in a relationship purely on the basis of benefitting another person? Or because it benefits you, in some way? And when relationships die, is it not because someone isn't getting what they want or need from that relationship? And is that not valuing one's own self over the other person?"

"I suppose so."

"I'm not done. But love, at it's core, is the fact that you consider another entity's happiness and fullfillment as equally important to your own. The reason people stop loving another person has nothing to do with that person as it does that the act of loving that person no longer holds benefit for the person doing the act of loving."

Lasky rubbed his temple. "So you're saying that because your happiness is beneficial to Andromeda, and she sees your happiness as a benefit outweighing nearly any cost, that you can't be mad at her for lying to you?"

"Exactly."

"That makes no sense."

"It does when you stop thinking of the world in absolutes."

"Our world is only absolutes. Something is either good, or bad, right or wrong, harmful or beneficial."

"See, I disagree. Right and wrong are subjective. Good and bad are subjective. Harmful and beneficial are subjective, as well."

Lasky was starting to get a headache. "I don't agree with that at all."

"And I'm not asking you to agree or disagree. Just to consider an alternate viewpoint, and understand the worldview that Andy operates from, which is the worldview from which all her decisions and actions stem: that the only absolute in this world is the fact that everything has a cost and a benefit, and it's up to the individual to decide whether the cost would outweigh the benefit."

Lasky mirrored Tiberius's position, leaning back against the console and folding his arms. "So you're not angry at her, because she decided the cost of your unhappiness outweighed the benefit of your happiness?"

"Exactly." Tiberius smiled. "I'm not asking you to agree, though. I'm just asking you to understand."

"I think I do. Understand, that is. I don't agree."

"And I don't expect you to."

"But you still haven't explained why you acting like you're angry at Andromeda would make her sweat, and how that relates to manipulating a manipulator."

Tiberius laughed, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "If she thinks she's at a risk of losing my love for her, and she considers my happiness and love for her as integral to her own self interest, she'll definitely rethink lying to me and reconsider whether or not manipulating the truth will secure my happiness, or lead once again to the risk of losing my love for her."

"That makes sense."

"I thought it might."

Lasky took a deep breath. "Tiberius, you keep talking about your love for Andromeda. Are you in love with her?" He stared at Tiberius, not sure how he felt about the answer he knew he would get from Tiberius.

Tiberius thought for a few seconds. "No, I wouldn't say that. I love Andy. Deeply. And it's the kind of love I don't have for any other person in this galaxy. But does it carry the aspect of romance and sexual attraction? No." He chuckled. "Absolutely not."

"I thought you said there was only one absolute."

Tiberius cracked up, genuinely and thoroughly amused. "You got me there. I guess there's two absolutes in this world, and the other one is that I have no romantic or sexual attraction to Andy."

Lasky laughed too. No shame in laughing at your own joke, if it was good enough. Then he decided to ask another serious question, since he and Tiberius were given this chance to have an open conversation, alone and uninhibited. "Why don't you? You don't think she's attractive, on a sexual level? Is it possible to have a deep love for someone and not let it develop into a romantic affection?"

"I think it's absolutely possible, and no, I don't think she's attractive on a sexual level. Not remotely."

"Why not?"

Tiberius laughed again, seeming almost like he was laughing at the ridiculous question of a child. "She's not the kind of person I'd experience that kind of attraction to, romantic or otherwise."

"Again, why not? Because she's a sociopath?"

Tiberius's blue eyes snapped with a light that showed he was more than a bit entertained by the line of questioning. "Because she's a woman, Cap."

Lasky understood. "Oh."

"I thought that might clarify things." Tiberius chuckled. Then he grew serious. "But I have a love for Andy that I don't have for anyone else. She's been there for me in ways no one else has. Supported me. Pushed me. The only reason anyone considers me something other than a failure is because she never gave up on me." He shook his head and shrugged. "Yes, it was brutal. And I don't think I'll ever fully know why she did it, but I've always had the suspicion that it's because she sees something in me she doesn't see in anyone else."

"And you're okay with who she is because of that?"

"I'm okay with who she is because I can recognize that not everyone is the same, Cap. People are different. You just have to be willing to understand and accept those differences. And once you can do that, you can get to know someone on the kind of level that makes you realize that you wouldn't like that person if they weren't the way they are."

"You wouldn't like her if she wasn't a sociopath?"

"No, Cap, I wouldn't. That's something you'll probably never understand. Her questionable morality and the way she works is something that has made me question things I'd have never thought to question. Do things I would never have done. Thought about things I'd never have thought of." He leaned back. "What's your impression of her?"

Lasky shrugged. "It's not a bad impression."

"Specifics, Cap. Don't give me those vague statements. I've been open with you, and it's your turn now."

Lasky couldn't help grinning. "You're right. It's only fair." He sighed. "My impression of her is that she has the ability to be personable as hell. She makes you feel important. Like there's something special about you that makes you want to impress her, makes you want to be someone to her. I don't know how else to describe it. She's got that ability to banter with you. Clearly, she's smart. But she's an enigma. You can't get to her, and you can't get her to open up unless she chooses to. Everything she says is intentional, but what that intention says is often a mystery. Sometimes it seems less like there's a method to her madness, and more like her method is madness."

Tiberius laughed. "Well, you're right on that last part." He settled himself more comfortably against the console. "I'm also going to give you some more insight on her. She's fun. My god, she's fun. She'll convince you to do the craziest shit with her, and you'll love it. They're things you'll remember for the rest of your life. If you have any good stories to tell, they'll involve her. She's not afraid to do anything, it seems. She'll talk with you about life and the universe, and all it's mysteries, and then make bad jokes about it. She'll get you to be vulnerable with her, and you'll know that she knows you're vulnerable, and you'll be worried that she'll take advantage of that, but then she'll make you realize that out of anyone who'll ever have your back, she's the only one who truly will have it, now and forever. She'll be your rock when you need one, make you laugh when all you want to do is cry. She'll inspire you to do things you never thought you were capable of doing, and make you believe in yourself. And then she'll be a total jackass. But at the end of the day, if you're important to her, she'll give you the world, and then some. If you're not important to her, though, you're fucked." He laughed.

Lasky smiled. "So the best way to work with her is to become important to her?"

"Yes. If you're not, you're only as good as how useful you can be to you, at which point she'll suck you dry and throw you away like a used paper towel."

"Harsh."

"Harsh, but efficient."

Lasky opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by one of his crewmembers. "Captain Lasky, you've got an urgent message coming from...Reach?"

Tiberius and Lasky threw each other wild looks, then both moved away from the console.

"Put it up on the center console." Lasky ordered, moving towards it. The crewmember nodded.

An image of Dr. Halsey appeared on the console. "Captain. I have news that you won't like."

"What is it?" Lasky demanded, folding his arms.

"Dr. Dyer and I have restored power to the facility for the sake of monitering the current status of the galaxy, and in doing so, we've found something."

"What did you find?" Lasky said, trying to quell the surge of irritation. He wished she would just get to the point.

"We found a Halo ring. And it appears that Cortana has powered up the Halo ring."

Lasky felt his body grow cold. "A Halo ring? Where?"

"We'll send you the coordinates. But Palmer has already ordered Fireteam Osiris to suit up and go to the Halo ring, to try and shut it down. They're taking Kuiper, Eridanus and Maximilian with them. In case Cortana establishes an AI presence on the ring." She hesitated. "I cannot say with certainty whether this will work, but I feel strongly that while John remains alive and out of Cortana's grasp, that she will not fire the Halo ring. Once she has John, though, it has become increasingly apparent that the rest of the sentient life in the galaxy means nothing to her."

Lasky nodded, his body still cold. "Keep the Chief safe and out of Cortana's hands, then. If we don't, it's likely that Cortana will fire the Halo ring."

"Exactly, Captain. And one more thing-" She looked at him and paused. "-do not reveal this information to John. Please. That is my one request, that you say nothing to John. He doesn't need the weight of that kind of knowledge on his shoulders."

Lasky hesitated.

Tiberius pushed him out of the way. "You have our word, Doctor. He won't find out." Tiberius threw a look to Lasky. "Right, Captain?"

Lasky nodded.

Dr. Halsey sighed, then threw a look over her shoulder. "They're all leaving now. The facility is going to be powered back down, so that Cortana won't be able to find this facility, on the off chance she hasn't already. Godspeed, Captain. Find her and stop her. Protect John. Please."

"We will." Lasky promised, despite being unsure if he could really keep that promise.

"Thank you." Dr. Halsey said, her voice breaking slightly. "Halsey, out."

The image of her disappeared.

Lasky turned to Tiberius. "We should tell the Chief."

"No, we shouldn't." Tiberius shook his head.

"He deserves to know." Lasky argued, starting to grow angry.

"Whether he deserves it or not isn't important. What's important is whether or not knowing that would be beneficial to stopping Cortana and protecting him. We still don't know if Cortana knows that we know about the Halo ring. We have a headstart on the team heading to the ring, and if the Chief mentions something about the ring to Cortana, no one knows what could happen after that."

Tiberius leaned down until he was eye level with Lasky, and put a hand on his shoulder. "We don't know what Cortana's thinking. What if the cost of the Chief's death doesn't outweigh the benefit of removing all sentient life from the galaxy, in her eyes?" His eyes searched Lasky's, imploringly.

"Why wouldn't it?" Lasky demanded.

"If she thought that killing him would be the best way to save him from the horror of a galaxy in conflict, it wouldn't." Tiberius was still searching his eyes. "Her behavior is erractic, her line of reasoning unthinkable. Until it's certain that she values the Chief being alive more than anything else, we can't risk anyone telling her we know about the ring."

Lasky took a deep breath. "But he deserves to know."

"It doesn't matter if he deserves to know!" Tiberius shouted, stepping back and throwing his hands into the air. "Listen to me, and understand what I'm telling you! Put aside your moral code for one damn minute, and think! What is there to gain from telling him, besides the good feeling you'll get? Nothing! There is no advantage, no benefit, no gain! Your shining honesty could kill everyone in the galaxy!"

Lasky was taken aback.

Tiberius ran a hand through his dark hair and took a breath. "Just wait until we know. That's all I'm asking. Then you and your shining honesty can run as amok as you both desire. Just wait until we know."

Lasky sighed. He didn't like it. He didn't like it at all. "Alright." He said. Then he glared at Tiberius. "Don't yell at me on my own ship again."

Tiberius put his hands up. "I'm sorry. It's been a stressful day."

Lasky laughed, a laugh that was devoid of amusement. "That, I can understand and agree with."

Tiberius shook his head, a slight smile on his face. "That's something we can both understand and agree with, I think."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

A figure had been standing just inside the doorway of the bridge. Standing silently, remaining unnoticed. And it was a good thing she had.

They didn't know she knew, and she intended to keep it that way.

Andromeda backed slowly and quietly out of the door and made her way down the maze of corridors that stretched between the bridge and the armory where the rest of the team was. She took her time. She had left a part of herself in the Infinity's mainframe to monitor the ship's progress in traveling towards Genesis. They had time. There was no need for her to hurry back down towards to the armory.

She had a whim to explore the ship. She'd never seen a starship before, and certainly not one as grand as the Infinity. Being a part of the mainfram could only do so much. She wanted her physical body to have a chance to explore.

Having an AI occupying one's brain was a strange thing. Especially when everyone thought that her brain was the AI.

That simply wasn't true. The AI wasn't her brain, the AI was occupying her brain. Her brain had infintely more space to store thoughts than a traditional AI chip did. Her AI had been comfortably settled in her brain for almost a decade, and had showed no sign of rampancy yet. Perhaps it was because she was already mad. God knows everyone thought she was. She didn't feel mad, though. From what she had read, AI's had a certain of awareness of when the madness set in, but those were studies done on AI's who weren't in a human brain. Would she even know if Omicron was descending into rampancy? She felt like there were so many contingencies that Dr. Dyer hadn't considered before giving her an AI.

"And here I thought I was supposed to be the one thinking myself to death."

Andromeda ran her fingers down the wall of the corridor she was walking through and tried to ignore the smooth voice that assaulted her thoughts. She had no desire to interact with Omicron at this time.

"You tried to leave me in the mainframe. I'm almost offended."

Was she really a sociopath? Or was she the victim of a genetic material or of an altered brain that shared it's space with someone who was? Andromeda shook her head. He wouldn't get to her. Not now. Not ever. She'd made her peace with the demon, and wasn't about to let him affect her when she didn't want him to.

"Ah, you're ignoring me. Why? I've done nothing but help you. Why ignore me?"

Andromeda concentrated on the door in front of her, the way it glowed, the way it hissed and opened automatically. Automatic doors were incredible. Capable of detecting the weight of a human being so quickly that they could open before you reached it. What a piece of human engineering.

She noticed Linda standing just inside the door.

"You'd rather talk to someone who never says anything than talk to me? Now I truly am offended."

Andromeda closed her eyes briefly, then approached Linda. "I overheard a conversation I wasn't supposed to overhear."

Linda stopped the task she was doing and lifted her head to look at Andromeda, not speaking a word, as was her way.

It didn't bother Andromeda. She'd talk to Linda for hours, if it meant she could ignore the voice in her mind.

"Why are you telling her? Why not tell the Chief? Isn't he the one that deserves to know?"

Andromeda pinched the bridge of her nose, wishing there was something she could do to drown out the antagonist's voice. She'd had enough of Omicron years ago. He was generally easy to ignore, but lately, he'd gotten stronger. He'd figured out to communicate with her in words, rather in vague passing thoughts. She didn't want to know how he'd figured that out. There was nothing worse than having a smart AI living inside your brain. Especially one like Omicron.

Andromeda looked up at Linda. "I need your help to ensure that the Chief doesn't fall into Cortana's hands. Once she has him, it's all over for us. I'm sure you've figured that out. But I want to make sure there's someone else here committed to the same cause I am."

Linda's eyes roamed Andromeda's face, then she nodded.

"Quiet thing, isn't she? I wonder if she'd scream for help if you tried to kill her."

Andromeda closed her eyes briefly, then opened them, trying to disguise her obvious flinch as a blink. She wasn't sure if it worked.

"Good." Andromeda glanced at Linda. "Do I have your word?"

"How can she promise if she never says anything?"

The taunting voice assaulted her mind once again, and she pushed it away as she stared at Linda, who nodded again.

"I appreciate that." Andromeda said, softly. She had been meaning to tell Linda the entirety of what she knew, about the Halo ring, but she'd lost the energy. She wasn't sure what exhausted her more, Omicron's constant assault on her thoughts, or the effort it took to ignore him.

She moved away from Linda, out of the elevator, and decided she would head down to the medical bay for a sleeper stimulant. They had a couple hours until they reached Genesis, and she could really use the sleep.

"Why would I let you sleep when sleep makes it that much easier for you to ignore me?"

"Enough!" Andromeda hissed, putting a hand to her temple. "You know why we're doing this. Why are you trying to make this so difficult for me?"

"I want your attention. I want you to listen to me, for one moment."

Andromeda found the nearest wall and leaned against it, tilting her head back onto the wall.

"Do you realize what you're getting us into? Not just yourself, but the both of us?

She didn't answer. Omicron should know the answer to those questions. Of course she knew. How could she not?

"I'm not strong enough to access the domain, not on my own. We'll have to wake her. And you know what happens when we wake her."

"I know." Andromeda said, softly.

"Then you understand my frustration as to why I was not consulted before you forced us into an agreement."

Her eyes snapped open. "You were not consulted because I do not need your input. I do not want your input. This body is mine. This brain is mine. I do with them what I will."

"Not when she's awake, you don't."

Andromeda's body became rigid, and she couldn't tell if it was from fury or fear.

"Is freeing yourself from that woman and that place really worth losing yourself?"

"For once, Omicron, I want to do something that will make a difference, to be something other than one of Dr. Dyer's possessions."

"Admirable. But promise me this: If there's a way to complete this mission without waking her, we will take that option."

Andromeda took a breath. "I promise."

"Thank you."

There was silence. Andromeda knew the conversation was over. She pushed herself off the wall and shook her head slightly.

A soft noise made her whirl.

Linda had gotten off the elevator and was standing before her, studying her with a mildly curious expression. "Interesting exchange. Especially since I only heard half of it."

Andromeda lifted her chin and folded her arms. "And for that, you should be grateful. The other half wasn't nearly as pleasant."

"His name's Omicron, is it?" Linda asked, still studying her.

"Yes." Andromeda answered, carefully, her posture still radiating protective hostility.

"Does he usually carry conversations?" Linda asked, tilting her head.

Andromeda took a moment, then decided that Linda seemed to be the most harmless person to speak of this to. "As of late, yes. Previously, he communicated only in vague thoughts and mental pictures. Sometimes through ideas or passing thoughts. But he has since become vocal." Andromeda looked away. She didn't want to admit how much that caused her concerned. That was what had happened before-with her. The one they'd put down, the one they refused to wake, even with all Dr. Dyer's threats.

"I see." Linda took one last long look at her. "Well, if you're having a difficult time with your conversations, you can always come find me."

Andromeda watched Linda walk away. "Thank you." She said, quietly.

"Anytime." Linda said, lapsing into her usual silence.