Death Shall Have No Dominion
"Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion."
― Dylan Thomas And Death Shall Have No Dominion
She's the flagship of the UNSC Fleet and a ship of the line. From bow to stern, she boasts a length 5,694.2 meters and a width 833.3 meters. Give or take a Spartan or two she holds a crew compliment of 17,151 souls. The technology she possesses is so advanced, most of the highly trained crew must have a Top Secret clearance just to steer her or fire the guns. They are proud of her and their accomplishments. Her Skipper is a fine, brave man and a first-class officer. Majestic, proud, and fierce the UNSC Infinity glides purposefully through space under his careful watch.
Alone in the swirl and eddy of this activity a singular man watches the busy ship and crew go about their duties. One or two Marines, who know him from past missions, nod as they pass. Yet, other than to throw up a hand or say hello, the rest of the crew don't speak to him. The young Spartan IVs stare at him as if he's some relic they just discovered. Most of them are in awe of him and do not know what to say. He wants to reassure them that he is just like them. But he has no words for that and realistically, both in size, training and experience he is nothing like them.
A skilled and successful soldier, he's won many awards for his courage and valor. Earned on the battlefield, the colorful little ribbons represent nothing more to him than the dead he failed to save. The pieces of himself left among the bloody corpses, surrounded by the screams of the Marines as they died. The anguished cries of the wounded, as they learn, they are in fact, mortal. He thinks of his brother and sister Spartans, who are so far away from him now, he can no longer reach them. The only companion of these last lonely years was Cortana.
To combat the loss, isolation, and disorientation he takes refuge in duty. Duty is what he knows. Move, Fight, Live. This is the only thing he knows for sure. He also knows Cortana will not come back to him. But the growing nightmare of silence in his head keeps him from accepting that truth. He knows she is gone, his logical mind cannot deny it. Yet he still listens for the sound of her voice. Still turns his thoughts toward discussing something with her. She was as real and meaningful to him as an arm or leg. Her death left the ghost-pain of that amputation behind. An emotional agony of grief, gnaws at him, goads him into despair, and threatens to drown him in a morass he's not sure he knows how to relieve. More than once, he's found himself standing on the loading ramp wondering what the freedom of space might have to offer. The edge appears closer each time he approaches.
Move. He knows the dimensions of the ship, not because someone told him. He knows it because he's so good at judging distances he is easily able to compute the measurement. He walked the distance 425 times. He tried running it once to escape the desolate silence inside his head. But the Officer of the Deck asked him to stop because it distracted the sailors from their work. The apology died on his lips. If he is able to run fast, it is just a fact. He cannot help what he is.
Fight. They removed his armor after he destroyed the Didact's ship and brought him aboard. Every day, he asks about it, and every day they tell him the same thing. They grant him their friendly, reassuring smiles and reassure him it's under repair. Until finally, he understands they don't know how to tell him there is no one left to fight. Without his armor, his very identity is in question.
Live. He seeks healing in normal. What is normal? The soldiers and sailors around him seem to know all about normal. They move with purpose and work in teams. He watches the crew complete tasks, moving efficiently to the next, after they complete the first. When the duty day ends, they meet in groups and pass the time with playful recreation. He doesn't know the words, playful, normal or recreation.
Then late one night, at an hour when things often appear most hopeless, the Spartan found himself at a viewsecreen staring out at the stars. It's been thirty days since they found him floating in the debris of the Didact's ship. In fact, it's the same place where Captain Lasky found him the first time. And just like that time, Captain Lasky managed to come upon him while he's so deep in thought, he doesn't hear the Skipper's footsteps.
"There you are, Chief." Captain Lasky says with a smile and waits for the Spartan to acknowledge his presence. "Come with me please." The CO uses friendly tones, but it's an order all the same.
Captain Lasky led him to the Infirmary. He's been here before, of course. This time they walk through several rooms. Until, deep inside the Infirmary wing, they finally stop at a corridor with a locked door. Master Chief notices the holographic lock and muses that he and Cortana would have made quick work of it.
Inside there are banks of medical equipment and a monitor. Other than the sounds of equipment, there is just the steady rhythmic beat of the monitor. Then outside the edge of normal human hearing, he notices something. It's the sound of breathing and a whimper and a sigh interrupt the electronic sounds. He accurately concludes there must be a patient on the other side of the screens. Other than the lock, how is this more than routine? What is his role here?
"Why are you showing me this, sir?"
Lasky placed a hand on the Chief's shoulder… Unusual to be touched, but the touch is meant to comfort and it works. The only one who ever touched him had been Cortana and that had been just before she died.
"Everybody out," Captain Lasky says to the medical staff. When they are alone with the sleeping form hidden under a starched white sheet, Captain Lasky continues in a hushed voice, "Chief, the doctors say she's ready to wake up. I told them it was your right to do it."
The Master Chief cocks his head, and waits for more information. There are more questions than answers here and so he waits.
"I'll explain everything later, Chief. It's time to wake up your sleeping princess." Lasky smiles again. The Spartan doesn't understand, but if Captain Lasky asks him to do something, he will always follow orders. And the Captain has always proved trustworthy.
Just visible above the sheet is a cap of straight black hair. So black, the Spartan notes the lights reflect blue on some of the glossy strands.
"Miss?" He calls out softly; attempting to modulate his voice to what he hopes is a non-threatening tone.
There is no answering movement from the bed. No sign the female heard him. While the Master Chief ponders the reference 'sleeping princess', he takes a step closer. When he moves, the patient turns over restlessly. Now that she's on her back, he can see a delicately boned face and full lips parted as she sleeps.
He doesn't understand why they expect him to do anything for this female. What is her condition? He's field medic certified, but the medical staff is more qualified to care for her. Captain Lasky asked him to do this so he decides to try again.
Delicate lids flash open over dark indigo eyes, and begin to dart about the room. The Spartan may not always understand emotional cues from other humans, but the fear in her eyes is an easy read. He understands it, too. It's been his constant companion these last thirty days. Like an enemy, just out of his line of sight, ready to attack.
For a long second they stare into each other's faces as their gaze caught and held. Master Chief shifted his feet for balance when he the floor under his feet begins to move. He cannot control the flood of adrenaline that courses through him.
A cap of dark hair, small nose, and large wide set eyes, which could always find their way into his soul. Odd to see her this way, dressed in, of all things, a simple hospital gown. Odd to see who dressed…? This was… how?
Like the wings of a frightened bird, her hands fly to her face and a muffled scream tore through her. The Spartan reaches for her, but she throws up her hands to ward him off, only to catch sight of fingers attached to equally alien hands. She screams again.
"Look at me," he orders.
The terrified patient only struggles harder, her movements frantic. Her efforts only create additional fear when she discovers she's secured to the bed with a belt around her waist. Slender arms flail and attempt to free herself. The harder she tries to get away from the apparition in front of her and the straps holding her down, the more intense her panic.
As if were trying to form words, guttural sounds began to emerge from her throat.
With a quick movement of his hands, he unties her. Should he try to touch her again? He wonders if there is some way to reach her, so he tries for a recent memory. If this is admission that he's looking at Cortana he denies it. Still, it's a memory so laced with pain it takes everything he has to get the words out.
"I was supposed to take care of you." His voice breaks over the last word. Perhaps he's going mad. Will there be freedom in madness? She might not recognize him. Is there even an image of him without armor in her database?
"Cortana, listen to my voice. I won't try to touch you again, just listen to me."
She lay rigid with her eyes squeezed shut. For a long time, while he waits for her to relax, he watches the pulse throb in her slender throat.
She's alive… It's not possible. He allows himself to recognize the features of his girl; the blue-black hair and wide-set eyes belong to Cortana. 'Come on, Chief. Take a girl for a ride…' His girl is alive and his hands move unconsciously to touch the soft flesh. Of course, he has no idea how her skin should feel, because he's never actually touched her. He is going mad; the carefully tended logic slips from his grasp as he spreads his hands over her shoulders.
"Listen, Cortana. You know the sound of my voice. When they remove my armor, I go through something like what you're feeling. I must learn to see out of my own eyes, touch with my own fingers. The lights are always too bright and sounds too loud. It takes several hours, sometimes days."
She's stopped fighting, but she shakes off his touch and crosses her arms across her chest, with her hands closed into fists.
"Take one sense at a time, Cor... Miss. Open your eyes and look at me. Just your eyes."
The trembling began anew. Deep in her throat, she moaned in pain.
Who are you, he wonders. Can he really trust that this… this female really Cortana? Although there is so much that is familiar about the woman. This is no version of Cortana he has ever known. The silk of her hair slides across the rough skin of his fingers. Finally, it is the fear in her eyes he recognizes. With his armor gone and no mission or direction, he's known this fear.
When she complies with his request, her eyes fly open and she places a fierce grip his upper arms. He gives in to the protectiveness that has been growing in him since he entered the room. It is, after all, what he was created for.
With a large hand on her head, he says, "Don't be afraid. I-I promise… no one can harm you here."
The scream he watched rise in her throat shivers to a sob and twin rivulets of glimmering tears slip down her cheeks. Should he attempt to embrace her? He's seen it done as a gesture of comfort. The last thing he held in his arms was an Elite. The only reason he'd gotten so close to it was to cut the thing's throat and it happened to fall backwards into his arms. He's thrown the thing off the edge of a cliff.
Decision made, Master Chief moves closer to the female and she responds by pushing herself back against the pillows. It's not far and now he can see the blue veins under nearly translucent fair skin, the short nails on long fingered hands clutching his arms. She hasn't let go of him.
"There is nothing to fear. You know I will protect you. Don't you."
The female looks up at him, the breath shudders in her chest and spine straightens. When she finally raises her eyes to his the great Spartan heart that beat only for survival, begins to fill with life.
"We were supposed to protect each other…" comes out over a strained throat in a strangled whisper. But it is enough for him. A great black gout of grief boils out of his gut. The only way he can hide it is to bury it. He chooses to hide the emotion, by pulling the frail looking woman toward him and plunging his face into her hair.
With her face buried against his chest, so he's the only one who hears the words she whispers in childlike wonder.
"John? Is it you?"
Her hands find his face and she manages to pull away far enough to look up at him. This time there is recognition in her eyes. He touches his forehead to hers in acknowledgement.
She explores his features with her fingers. Although the gesture is unknown to both of them, it seems right. So when she touches the wetness under his eyes, she impulsively tastes it and savors the salty flavor. There is a great hunger growing in her that she cannot identify. Does he feel it too? She shifts impatiently to move closer and he responds by simply lifting her from the mattress to his lap. Wrapped in his long, powerful arms, her fear dissipates quickly.
"I'm sorry I had to leave you…"
"Was I gone long?"
"Too long. Never leave me again, Cortana." He answers her question with a savage edge to his voice. But she knows this man and she does not fear him.
"Yes, John. Can you explain what happened?"
"I-I don't know… I only know you are here."
"I hope I'm still your girl," she said with a hint of her usual humor. "There's something I've waited a long time…"
"... just tell me," he responds by spreading his fingers possessively over her back. Does she wish him to pull down the stars or rearrange the universe to suit her? He can do it, he knows he can, because he is a Spartan. As the impish smile fades from her eyes and she turns serious, he knows he is her Spartan.
She touches his lips with her fingers. "Just this…" and following her fingers with her lips, she presses her mouth to his.
Yes, he muses, as he experiences the strange, erotic sensation of Cortana's mouth on his and the sensual movement of their lips began, he can do this too. He doesn't know the words erotic or sensual, but he can learn.