Disclaimer: Halo, and the related characters, were created by Bungie and are property of Microsoft.
Across the black void of space, the Pillar of Autumn drifted. Aboard it were the finest men and women of the United Nations Space Command; mainly because pretty much everybody else who worked for the UNSC had been eradicated when the Covenant turned Reach into a parking lot.
Aboard the Autumn's bridge, Captain Jacob Keyes addressed the naked purple computer lady who ran the ship "So… did we lose them? Please, tell me we lost them."
"We blindly jumped in a straight line in a random direction, being tailed by ships that are much faster than us. What do you think?" Cortana replied.
"We lost them?" said the Captain excitedly. Seeing Cortana shake her head disapprovingly, he shrugged. "Alright then, what are the odds?"
"We're outnumbered and outgunned, can't run any more, and facing angry aliens who want to wipe out our entire species... so I guess the only option for us is to…"
"… surrender and hope for mercy? Challenge them to a trivia contest? Allow me to abandon ship whilst my loyal crew and faithful translucent secretary distract the Covenant in a heroic sacrifice?"
"… I was going to say wake up the unstoppable killing machine, have me hitch a ride inside his skull, and then let you do the heroic sacrifice thing…"
"Yeah, well, I'm tangible! I don't need to be toted around by a seven-foot tall cyborg badass."
"I can fit in a USB stick. I doubt I'll burden the dude who can flip tanks with his hands."
"I have a daughter!"
"Whom you owe several thousand dollars of outstanding child support payments too."
"Aw, come on, I'm the Captain!"
"I'm the super intelligent AI who knows damn near everything the UNSC does, and you're too senile to tell them where Earth is."
"Yeah well, uh… did I mention I was the Captain already?"
"Yes, you did. Anyways, just think about it logically…"
I'm the Captain, goddamnit! I decide who thinks logically, and when! Now then, put all units on high alert. I want to throw down with the vastly superior alien forces."
"… are you fucking insane?"
"I am the Captain, goddamnit! I choose who is sane and who isn't!"
"Sir, sanity doesn't work that way…"
Whilst Cortana and Keyes were arguing about who got to use the SPARTAN as a metal-wrapped meat shield, the rest of the Autumn's crew and marine detachment were preparing for war. Tanks and Warthogs rolled across the deck, as Marines lined up. A group of young, inexperienced recruits fell in formation as their squad leader, Staff Sergeant Avery J. Johnson gave a rallying speech.
"Men, the jackasses on the bridge blindly flew us right into the Covenant. I know about half of you have spouses that you desperately want to get home to, and the other half is just a week away from retirement, and I have no doubt that you all will manage to survive this encounter and return to your loved ones, just so long as you're wearing your lucky red undershirts." Johnson began pacing back and forth, continuing to talk. "Sure, we may be facing aliens with technology far beyond our own, numerical superiority, and who are known to utilize, on occasion, giant robot spiders with laser death rays, but I'm sure that all that training you received will come in handy…"
"Uh, Sarge, I hate to say this but…"
"But what, corporal?"
"Budget cutbacks mean that technically, our training consisted of holding up toy guns while repeatedly saying 'bang'."
"…Motherfucker… Alright then… okay, heres a few pointers: If the little guys with the plasma pistols run at you with their arms raised while holding a pair of grenades, do not hug them. I know they seem kinda cute with their stumpy little legs and high pitched voices, but do not hug them. Uh, the big guys with needlers and plasma rifles and a hilarious overbite, yeah, they're badass, but once you get their shields down, aim for the head to quickly take them out…"
"…Can we hug them? That 'wort, wort, wort' thing is kinda endearing…"
"No... in fact, here's a rule of thumb don't hug anything the covenant throws at you. Except maybe Hunters… Yeah, wait until they turn around, then hug the bright orange spots… should kill them pretty fast… Hell, staring hard at the bright orange spots seems to kill them pretty fast. Okay to sum up; don't hug the grunts, don't hug the elites, and hug the hunters only when you're certain it will hit their weak point. Now let's go out there and kick some ass!"
Meanwhile, in the depths of the ship, two technicians were busy monitoring the UNSC's Ace-in-the-hole as he slept in cryogenic suspension. Or at least that's what they were supposed to be doing, really Tech Officer Marcus was busy playing Free Cell while Tech Chief Shepard was busy doing a crossword puzzle. Suddenly, Marcus's pastime was interrupted by an instant message.
X – CORTANA 1 0 CRYOSTOR. 23.4.7
UNSEAL THE HUSHED CASKET
"What's a six letter word for 'cause of fan outrage'?"
"Uh… try 'nerfed'…"
"Hm… oh yeah, that fits… okay… what's a ten letter word for…"
"Sir, we got a message from the purple lady…"
Rolling his eyes and tossing the puzzle away, Shepard asked "What's it say?"
"Looks like complete gibberish."
X – CRYOSTOR 1 0 CORTANA. 23.4.7
WTF DOES "UNSEAL THE HUSHED CASKET" MEAN AGAIN?
With bated breath, the two awaited a reply.
X – CORTANA 1 0 CRYOSTOR. 23.4.7
WAKE THE CHIEF UP. RTFM.
"…huh. I lost the manual…"
"But… seriously? 'Unseal the hushed casket'? Is she trying to be poetic or something? She should've just said 'wake that jackass up'…"
X – CRYOSTOR 1 0 CORTANA. 23.4.7
WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY WAKE HIM UP?
X – CORTANA 1 0 CRYOSTOR. 23.4.7
WAKE HIM UP YOU MORONS, OR I'LL DELETE YOUR PORN!
With the ship's computer threatening them with a fate that, while not as bad as death by crazy fanatic space people, sucked, Marcus and Shepard got off their asses and worked for once.
"Alright… cracking the seal in five… four… three… two… ONE!"
"Aw fuck, the damn door is jammed again… crap. Let me get a crowbar…"
Five minutes of prying later, the door to the cryotube finally gave way, revealing the gleaming form of a man in MJOLNIR Mk V Battle Armor.
Turning towards the cyro storage bay's control room, Shepard scratched the back of his head gritted his teeth and said "Uh… Marcus, tell the purple lady we have a problem here…". At that moment, a booming voice emanated from behind Shepard.
"IRON MAN LIVES AGAAAAAAAAIIIIIIN!"
"Please don't curbstomp me with your heavy boots of lead!"
"Nah… just fuckin' with ya…" Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 replied, chuckling as he stepped out of his cryotube. "Anyways… what's the situation?"
"Well, jackass, aliens are overrunning our ship, so I'm going to need to have you go through a long and involved series of tests. Look at the flashing lights!"
"Eh fuck it. Just give me a gun and let me bust heads…"
"Sorry, no can do… first we have to check to make sure your eyes still work, then your shields, then you have to demonstrate that you still can tie a clove hitch, then you have to take a survey about your thoughts on the level of service you received from cryo storage, then…"
"For fuck's sake, shut up and send the Chief to the bridge!" Captain Keyes's voice rang out over the intercom. As the Chief turned towards the exit, Shepard blocked his way…
"Nerd, you heard the Captain. I need to get to the bridge."
"And I need for you to fill out this survey…"
And so, back and forth the technician and the cyborg killing machine argued, totally ignoring Marcus's screams for help as an Elite burst into the control room and brutally murdered him.
"Look, the space munchkins are overrunning the ship. I have to get to the bridge and…"
"No, you look. My pay'll get docked if you don't fill out this survey."
"The number of teeth in your mouth is about to be docked if you don't step aside right now…" Chief said, cracking his knuckles.
"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
"Yeah, and it's also the first choice of the badass. So step aside or else…"
"Ain't gonna happen…"
Just then, the bulkhead Shepard was leaning against exploded, sending pieces of him flying. Ignoring the viscera that bounced of his energy shield, the Master Chief proceeded to walk the corridors of the Autumn, whilst crewmen frantically fought a losing battle to prevent the ship's destruction.
He eventually made it to the bridge. Keyes and Cortana had resumed their argument about which one would go down with the ship and who'd be the Chief's sidekick for his super fun adventure on the mysterious Alien ring shaped thing.
"All I'm saying is that it would be in our best interests too…"
"I'm the Captain, goddamnit! I say what's in our best interests…"
"Uh, guys?" Our hero said, waving his arms to try and get the two to notice them. "What's the situation?"
"Keyes has gone insane! Quick, knock him out and I'll explain…"
"No, knock her out!"
"Sir, she's not even corporeal…"
"…Captain, goddamnit! I say who is corporeal and who isn't, yadda, yadda…" Cortana said, wondering if the current data she was processing could constitute as a noncorporeal migraine. Turning back to the Chief, she asked, playfully "So Chief... sleep well?"
Is she flirting with me? Master Chief thought. Corporeal or not, the AI did have a rather sexy voice. And face. And body. While the thought of hooking up with a transparent computer chick did pose some, er, mechanical difficulties, the Chief was willing to seek a way to overcome them (mainly because he had no clue of the physics involved). Doing his best attempt to sound suave, he replied, "Not really… it's lonely in those cryotubes…"
"…Captain… he's creeping me out…" Cortana said. Mainly because as a cyborg raised from childhood as the ultimate living weapon, the Master Chief's attempts to affect a beautiful man-voice ended up sounding like he had gargled with broken glass.
"Me too, Cortana, me to…" Keyes replied.
DAMNIT! Why must my cryotube be as empty as my soul? "What I meant to say was... uh… your driving sucks… and the cryo techs, may they rest in peace, were complete and total assholes..."
"That doesn't matter anymore. Cortana did her best, but we never really had a chance. So that's why you should pick me!"
"Pick you for what?"
Butting in on the conversation to prevent the Captain from going in on another tirade, Cortana quickly summarized the situation. "Chief, the Cole Protocol dictates that when the ship's in danger, the onboard AI must not be captured by the Covenant. I need to be removed from the ship, and since you're the seven-foot tall nigh invincible badass, you're the one to take me."
"Chief, look, I know its 'Protocol this, protocol that' but look, everyone eventually has to make choices, some where you have to accept the bad with the good. Look in your heart Chief, Cortana is… well… what are you again Cortana?"
"An advanced Artificial Intelligence based on the mind of Doctor Catherine Halsey…"
"An advanced Artificial what? Screw it, Chief, Cortana's a ghost."
"I'm not a ghost! Chief, get me out of here!"
"No, let me finish. As I was saying, Chief, everyone has to make choices. I know you and trust that you'll make the right call. You can either run around with that ghost in your head, or you can take me, a high-ranking UNSC Officer and the man who personally selected you to be abducted from your home and subjected to dangerous and unethical experimentation to turn you into the perfect warrior. Which one of us can you really trust enough to take with you?"
Faced with the conundrum, the Master Chief turned to the AI "Okay Cortana, Keyes has made his point… or at least attempted to. State your case."
Running countless simulations based on firsthand observation of the Chief's methods and psychological profile, Cortana said two words she was certain would end the debate and get things back on track. "Jiggle physics"
The Chief promptly removed Cortana from the Pillar of Autumn faster than the human eye could track. "Okaycaptaingoodbyenow!" Turning to leave, he paused, and looked back over his shoulder "By the way, considering that I myself represent several billion dollars of research and development, and I have the vitally important ship's AI inside my head, think I could have a gun?"
"Fine" Keyes said, pouting as he handed over his sidearm. "Oh, and by the way, I don't keep any spare ammo, so you'll just have to make do with that one clip." As he saw Chief exit the bridge, leaving Keyes behind, the Captain coughed and muttered "Motherfucker…" under his breath.
For his part, as he stared at the handgun with one clip and nothing else, Chief thought of Keyes, and muttered "Jackass…" under his breath.
For her part, realizing that instead of being trapped in the bridge of a doomed spacecraft with a senile commanding officer, she was now trapped in the head of a seven-foot tall cyborg wearing gleaming green armor and lacking sufficient self-preservation instincts, Cortana reflected on both Keyes and Master Chief. She muttered "Morons…" under her breath…
As the Chief strode the hallways of the Pillar of Autumn, a Marine walked up to him. "So, the Marines get to do all the fighting and dying out here, and the Navy dude gets to take go out with his girlfriend?"
"First, Cortana's not my girlfriend. She's just a friend, who happens to be a girl…"
"Actually, I'm more of a coworker than a friend, and I'm a computer program that only looks like a girl."
"Quiet you." Chief said, turning back to the Marine. "Second, I'm evacuating this vitally important piece of technology so it doesn't get captured or destroyed, I'm not exactly going out for a picnic."
"Aw, embarrassed to talk about your love life? Hey guys, Chiefy's got a girlfriend, Chiefy's got a girlfriend!"
Clenching his fist Chief bit his tongue as he tried (and failed) to come up with a witty retort. However, his eye caught sight of the object in the Marine's hands. Realizing that said object would address the gripe he had with the Captain, he looked the Marine in the eye and cordially said "Nice gun… MA5B, right?"
"Yeah, why do you wanna…"
The sound of a titanium gauntlet meeting human jawbone reverberated across the hallway. Stooping over to retrieve the rifle, and scrounging up some extra clips, the Master Chief noticed more Marines had arrived on scene.
"Chief? Why's Private Rooney lying out cold with a broken jaw?" A corporal asked, looking at the downed Marine.
"Uh… I uh…" Gesturing towards the downed Marine, "…he… hugged a Elite. Yeah, that's right, he hugged an Elite!"
"Woah, I thought Sarge was joking about that."
"Well, let this be a lesson to you all, Sergeant Johnson knows how things get done!" Chief said, turning to continue his journey.
"By the way, sir, have fun out there with your girlfriend!"
Both the Chief and Cortana thought the same thing. DAMNIT!
All in all, it was shaping up to be a great day to be UNSC…
Author's note: I'm starting yet another perpetually delayed and poorly-edited tale of intrigue and woe. I actually had most of this chapter written by July, and forgot about it until this month. So I decided to finish this and post in in commemoration of ODST's release. The irony being that ODST will probobly destroy my ability to even think about writing a second chapter until December, by the earliest.