Dr. Halsey stood with the Arbiter and Commander Palmer and breathed in relief as she saw John exit the Pelican with Spartan Locke. "Took you long enough." She said softly, then stepping forward and holding out her arm. John reached out and took her hand, squeezed it briefly, then let go. She felt a pang in her chest at his reaction, the bare minimum of warmth he'd showed her. She wanted to hug him, to take off his helmet and see his face. Look into his eyes and touch his hair, assess whether he was hurt, emotionally or physically. But she wouldn't. There were far more pressing matters to attend to.
Like Cortana. A problem she had created. A problem she was responsible for. And, once again, it was her actions that lead to John being put in danger.
She searched Spartan Locke's face as he removed his helmet, his usual hardened scowl looking particularly brooding. "I take it you don't have good news."
"No. Not even close." Locke said, looking at Palmer. "Cortana's gone from Genesis, the Forerunner shield world. We don't know where she went."
Palmer rubbed her forehead. "And we can't contact anyone outside of this area, thanks to her earlier shenanigans."
"John." Dr. Halsey was almost pleading with him. "Tell me you were able to stop her."
John simply shook his head slightly. "No. In her own words, her plan is too important to stop."
"Do you know why she's doing all this?" Dr. Halsey asked him.
"We're not sure. She didn't make it very clear. But it has something to do with using the Guardians to keep troublesome worlds in line." John told her, his voice rougher than usual. Dr. Halsey's heart ached for him, and for what he must be feeling at this moment.
Dr. Halsey sighed. She had a suspicion as to why Cortana was doing what she was doing. But it had never been like Cortana to want power, to want control, to want to rule the masses with an iron fist, imposing her will. Dr. Halsey knew this, because she herself had never wanted power, beyond the kind of power that allowed her to work unhindered. She had no delusions of grandeur such as the one Cortana was displaying, not even in her worst moments.
Cortana had always been bright, curious. Thriving off of a steady flow of information. Much like the human she had been created from.
Dr. Halsey pulled herself out of her thoughts and looked back at John. "This isn't like her. I have my theories about why she's doing this, but I don't have the kind of information and knowledge I need to be able to properly solve this problem." She shook her head. "I abandoned my work on AI's."
"Abandoned?" John asked.
"Not abandoned, I suppose. I gifted it. To someone far more qualified to do that work. Someone with an intricate knowledge of neuroscience and biotechnology. Someone who's brilliance rivaled my own, and experience in that kind of work exceeded my own, I felt handing over my work was the most natural thing to do." Dr. Halsey stopped herself. She was beginning to rave like a person mad.
"Would that person be able to help us?" Palmer was examining her, having been eavesdropping on a conversation that clearly was none of her business, otherwise it would have been directed at her.
"No." Dr. Halsey looked away from the Spartan. "She became irresponsible. Foolish. Forsaking science for cheap thrills."
"Who are you talking about?" John asked, taking a step towards here. He was probably wondering if they were thinking of the same person.
Dr. Halsey allowed herself a small smile. "I'm talking about the one person in this world who had the potential to surpass me." She looked up at John. "Maybe you remember her. A doctor and a scientist, like myself. I know you were both involved in the Battle of the Citadel."
"Are you going to tell us, or wax poetic all day?" Palmer demanded.
Dr. Halsey felt a flash of irritation. Her former protege deserved all the accolade anyone could give, deserved far more accolade than this Spartan did. "Her name was Voelker. Leigh Voelker."
She remembered the day she'd first heard that name. A colleague who's name she hadn't bothered to remember had approached her in her lab and asked if he could introduce a Leigh Voelker to her. She'd acquiesced, for reasons she didn't know. But she was glad she did.
"Dr. Halsey, I'd like you to meet Leigh Voelker."
Catherine had turned slightly in her chair to glance at the person she was being introduced to. The person was a woman, in her early twenties, and she stood rigidly with her hands behind her back. Not the kind of rigid posture of someone who was uncomfortable or intimidated, but rather that of someone who took great care in controlling their body language and behavior. The girl, because that's how she seemed to Catherine, had high sharp cheekbones, and a narrow angled jaw, which was set. Her eyes were blue, calculating and were slightly narrowed at Catherine. She couldn't discern the expression in them. She had light blonde hair, long and straight, pulled back tightly into a high ponytail. The girl was tall, about 5'10, and her body was lean and strong, yet seemed to have a certain finesse about it. Whoever this girl was, she practiced some kind of craft, she did not sit in a laboratory all day. The girl was not pretty, but neither was she plain. She had the sort of face that was pleasant to look at if you had to, but not pleasant enough to draw a second glance if one caught a glimpse of said face.
"Voelker." Catherine tried the name out, testing it in her mouth. It was an interesting name, harsh and aggressive sounding, yet it flowed off the tongue smoothly.
"Halsey." The girl responded, studying her with a cold gaze.
"Why are you here?" Catherine asked, frowning slightly. Why did this girl interrupt her research? What was so damn important about this girl that had caused important work to be interrupted?
"I've studied your work on Cognitive Impression Modeling. It's incredible. I'm a huge fan of your work." Voelker said, her voice having little inflection, but not quite deadpan.
That was why she was here? To say she was a fan? To meet the great Dr. Catherine Halsey? Catherine tried to quell the irritation rising in her. "Yes?" She said, impatiently.
Voelker's mouth jerked up on one corner into what one could imagine was a smile. "I think it could be improved a bit."
Catherine couldn't stop her mouth from dropping open. The nerve of this child. To say that her technique for creating AI's was something that could be improved upon, as if she'd never tried to do so, was utterly insulting and completely out of line. How dare she.
Catherine stood up. "Get out. Get out of my lab, and don't come back."
Voelker didn't move. Her gaze remained on Catherine, unwavering. "You're not even curious?"
"No, I am not. I have tried to improve upon it before, and there is no better way for it to be done. If I cannot do it, no one can. Especially not a child. Get out."
"Not even if I told you that there was a far better method of neuron mapping in order to improve the Riemann matrix by streamlining the nano-assemblage?"
Catherine stopped. "What do you mean?"
Voelker shoved her hands into the pockets of her black BDU pants. "Exactly what I said. If you want the details, come find me at my post. I don't have the time to stay here and explain it to you."
Catherine was taken aback. She wasn't used to being so casually brushed off. "Your post?"
Voelker tossed her a half smile, half smirk. "I'll know you're interested if you show up." She turned and started to walk away. "I'm on a ship. UNSC Oncoming Storm. Ask for the Chief of Surgery."
"Wait!" Catherine started to walk after her.
"I'm busy, doc. Things to do, just like you." Voelker called back.
And just like that, she had gone.
"I don't recall ever hearing of a Voelker. Is she UNSC?" Locke asked, jerking Dr. Halsey out of her memories and into the present.
"Yes." Halsey responded.
"You said scientist." Thel 'Vadam stepped forward. "I know that name, but I remember the person with that name very differently than a scientist."
Dr. Halsey smiled grimly. "You met her under very different circumstances, then."
"The Battle of the Citadel." It was John who interjected this. "She was no scientist in that fight."
"Don't I know it." Dr. Halsey said, bitterly. "She never could be satisified with just studies."
"I briefly recall her being aboard the Shadow of Intent." The Arbiter said thoughtfully. "And I saw her again, some years ago. I have not seen her since."
"She doesn't fight anymore." Dr. Halsey told the Arbiter. "Not for a while."
"Wish we had a way to contact her. Her knowledge could be useful." Locke said.
"You don't even know the half of it." Dr. Halsey said, staring out into the windy Sanghelios night.