I do not own Halo, Bungie or the characters.
Originally written in 2007.
After what felt like both an instant and an eternity in the empty void, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 felt his world returning to him. He gritted his teeth in pain as his super-cooled flesh rubbed against the interior of his suit, but it was nothing he could not handle.
What concerned him more was the reason why he was awoken to begin with. Before he had entered the cryo chamber, he had told Cortana to "wake him when she needed him". Gingerly pulling himself out of the chamber, he pushed against its sides and gently drifted to a nearby holo-pad, which he had grabbed onto to prevent himself from drifting out of the opening in the end of the ship, and into the endless vacuum of space.
"Cortana?" Master Chief called, his voice hoarse and scratchy. The holo-tank flickered to life, and his faithful AI emerged from the crystal pad. Unlike her normal standing position, she was sitting down, her legs drawn close to her and her arms wrapped around her knees.
"Hey, Chief," she replied, but her voice contained none of the cheerfulness that Master Chief was familiar with. Instead, it sounded tired and joyless.
"Has someone found us?" Master Chief asked, trying not to sound uncharacteristically hopeful. Cortana shook her head sadly.
"Nope; we're still alone here," she said. "No, I woke up to because I need you. My time's up; I'm going to die." The Master Chief was well aware of this; he knew all too well that smart AI's like Cortana only had a lifespan of seven years, and with all the information that she had gained from Installation 04 and High Charity, it only made sense that it would be reduced further. But now, when it was actually happening, he didn't know how to react. In the time that they had served together, their relationship had evolved from a reluctant partnership to something far more indescribable, and she had become his closest and most trusted friend.
"Is there...anything that you can do?" he finally asked. Again, Cortana shook her head.
"I went through my data banks and deleted some extraneous stuff, but it only delayed the inevitable. I finally decided to stop trying to avoid my fate, and start preparing for it." Cortana held out one hand, and the tiny image of a sleeping woman, similar in appearance to her, but in a bright golden color, appeared on her palm. "I've spent the past few years constructing her, using my own code structure as a template," Cortana explained, closing her hand. "I installed UNSC policies, a bit about the Elites, a bit about the Flood just in case, and some other stuff. I also installed a patch that would automatically farm out and delete any unnecessary information; hopefully, that will extend her life span a bit. I told her to care for you, protect you, and to...well, basically all the stuff I do," she continued. "She likes to be called 'Joy,' just so you know," she added. The Chief simply nodded in thanks.
"It's been an honor serving with you," he said, repeating the words that Cortana had said to him when the Ark had detonated so long ago.
"Right back at you," she said, smiling slightly. "Tell her about me sometime; I think that both of you would enjoy that." She looked down at herself, and saw the lines of code that made up her body beginning to unravel. "Time's up," she said, chuckling to herself. Then she did something out of character, even for her: she blew a kiss at Master Chief. Instinctively, the armored super-soldier reached up and grabbed the kiss. "I'll miss you, John," Cortana said, before lowering her face into her knees. "Activate Artificial Intelligence sequence number six-three-seven-dash-nine, codename Joyeuse," she said to no one in particular, right before her coding unraveled completely, and she faded away, the holo-tank going dark.
A moment later, the holo-tank flickered to life again, broadcasting the sleeping form of a golden girl. Her face was similar to Cortana's, but it seemed younger, and her body was not as curvaceous; her hair was longer as well, reaching down to her shoulders. If Master Chief had to describe her, he would have said that she looked like what Cortana may have looked like as a teenager.
The girl – Joy, Master Chief reminded himself, stirred awake and slowly propped herself up, looking up at the Chief.
"Hi there," she said cheerfully, pulling herself to her feet. "My name's Joyeuse, but you can call me Joy."
"Hi, Joy," Master Chief said. For a moment, the two simply stared at each other, neither making a sound.
"Umm...maybe you should hop back into the cryo tank; I doubt that anyone will find us in the next few minutes," Joy said awkwardly.
"Yeah," the Chief agreed. "By the way, do you know what today's date is?" Joy frowned in concentration as she pulled up the relevant data.
"June 23, 2557. Why do you ask?" Committing the date to memory, Master Chief shrugged.
"Just wondering," he said simply as he pushed away, drifting back towards the cryo tank. "Wake me when you need me," he said as he climbed back into the glass and steel tube.
"I will," Joy promised, waving towards him. "Sleep tight; don't let the bed bugs bite." Master Chief chuckled as the glass covering sealed closed, and he drifted back into the darkness.
As the glass fogged over, Joy slowly lowered her hand.
"Sweet dreams, Dad. We both know that you of all people need them," she whispered, knowing that he could not hear her. Sighing sadly, Joy deactivated her hologram and went into hibernation herself.
Somewhere on Reach, a woman with blue hair in an unusual style was watching in amusement as her five-year-old daughter ran around in circles around the yard.
"Joy, be careful or you'll make yourself sick," the woman admonished, although her stern tone was undermined by the grin on her face.
"Okay, Mommy," Joy said, stumbling slightly as she stopped running. The sound of a car door slamming caught their attention, and several seconds later, a tall man dressed in a military suit walked into the yard. "Daddy!" Joy squealed, running towards the man, arms outstretched. The man bent down and scooped his daughter up, propping her on his hip.
"Did you miss me today?" he asked, ruffling her hair.
"Yep," she said, trying to bat away his hand.
"Were you good for Mommy today?" he continued.
"Yep," she answered.
"Good girl," he said, putting her down. "Why don't you go inside and play with Mister Jingles while I say 'hi' to Mommy."
"Okay," Joy said, running into the house at top speed. The man chuckled as he walked over to his wife, wrapping her in his arms.
"Hey, babe," he said, planting a kiss on the top of her head. "Did you miss me?" His wife chuckled as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Beyond words," she said, reaching up to kiss him on the lips. "How was your day?"
"Boring as hell," he groaned, rolling his eyes. "Yours?" His wife giggled as she laid her head on his chest.
"Much better, now that you're here," she said, closing her eyes and listening to his rhythmic heartbeat.
"Ewwwww! Mommy! Daddy! Mister Jingles coughed up another hairball!" Joy yelled from inside the house. The two parents laughed and separated from each other.
"I guess we should save her from the evil hairball," the man said, prompting a swat on the arm from his wife.
"Don't be mean," she said, before reaching up and kissing him again. "I love you, John," she said as she walked back into the house. John chuckled as he followed her.
"I love you too, Cortana."
Concerning the ending...that can be a dream, or an alternate universe. Take your pick.
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