"Chief? You there? Wake up!"
"Yes, Cortana, I'm here."
"Sorry for the quick thaw, but I've got a contact."
"What is it with you and quick-thawing me? You want me to get freezer burn?"
"Well, if you want to go back to sleep instead of getting off this worthless pile of junk, be my guess."
"Hey now, just because we've been trapped in half of the Dawn floating in space for a week doesn't mean you should slam it like that. It did save us, remember?"
"…….. Yeah, you're right."
"Hey there, now, what's wrong?" he asked.
"We haven't been floating for a week. It's been longer than that."
"How much longer?" he asked, knowing that Cortana couldn't last forever. That was the downside of AI's like Cortana. They had almost limitless processing power, but only 'lived' for about seven years before they became rampant, which basically renders them useless.
"A lot longer," the AI responded.
"How much?" the chief asked again.
"I can't say exactly, but it's been closer to five years. I don't have much time left, maybe a couple of weeks, at best. I just thought it would be best to thaw you out while I still could."
Chief went silent for a while, letting the implications of what Cortana said wash over him. "I'm sorry," he eventually said.
"It's ok. I've done my best to limit what I do, to limit what goes rampant. Had I still been active onboard a ship, I would've been gone a couple years ago."
"Is there any way I can help?" he asked, hoping that there would be something that he could do to save the AI. She was the closest thing he had to a friend, having been with him for almost her whole 'life,' and while they had not initially been close, after the destruction of the Pillar of Autumn, they had been together almost constantly, with the exception of the time she was captured by the Gravemind. He had even managed to keep her with him even after returning to the UNSC, which surprised them both, as he had figured that she would be placed on-board another ship to fight the Covenant, especially with her experience.
"No. I'm too far gone to be helped. Besides, the required computing power just isn't available here. Now, about that contact I mentioned."
"I don't know exactly where we are, but the scanners are picking up something about the size of a UNSC Destroyer about a thousand kilometers away."
"Really?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm, "About the size of a Destroyer? Care to be a little more specific?"
"I can't. Most of the scanners have failed. I'm lucky to have gotten the amount of info I did. Another part of it is the fact that is has some sort of cloaking device on board. The only reason I even picked it up was because it scanned us for life forms."
"Alright. Is it friendly?"
"Hard to say. They've dispatched a drop ship of some sort, but also has a cloak on it, so I can't tell what it is."
"Alright. Let me out, and I'll go take a look. Any idea what kind of weapons are sill here?"
"Not really, besides what's in the cryo armory."
"Oh, goodie," he said with a sigh. The cryo armory was a joke. It was basically a regular locker with a larger than normal padlock that held a couple pistols, a shotgun, and maybe a grenade. All it was intended for was to give the cryo techies a secure place to put their guns when they weren't needed, without going all the way back to the regular armory.
As soon as the cryo tube opened, the chief crawled out, and after locking his helmet in place, walked over to the weapon locker and ripped its door off. Inside was one grenade, one pistol, and three spare magazines. Once he had loaded up, he grabbed the assault rifle he had come in with, and found, much to his disappointment, that he only had the one magazine for it.
As soon as he left the cryo bay, he realized that the artificial gravity field of the Dawn was long since inactive. So, activating the magnets in his boots, he began clanking his way to the only functioning airlock left.
Once he arrived at the airlock, he cautiously poked his head around the corner. What he saw amazed him. There were three people standing in the hallway in front of the airlock, but what surprised him the most was what they were wearing. At a glance, they looked like colorful versions of himself, but the longer he looked, the more differences he found.
The first difference he noticed, was that they were all colored differently than any of the Spartans he had ever come across. The tallest one, who he guessed was about the same size he was, colored mainly black, with bits of orange as accent color. The middle one, in terms of height, was about an inch or so shorter and colored red and white, while the third, who was about an inch shorter than the second, was colored black and purple.
The next thing he noticed was their armor. It was a far cry from his, and even without knowing anything else about it he could tell that it was better than his own. He also noticed the odd looking containers around the red ones waist. 'Storage compartments, maybe?' The shortest one also had a strange visor on his helmet. 'Enhanced optics? A scout maybe?'
Further thoughts were cut off as they suddenly vanished. 'Shit, they got stealth generators too?' He quickly pulled his head back around the corner, and readied his assault rifle, figuring that if he went down, it wouldn't be alone.
"Cortana, can you tell where they are from the ship's sensors?"
Fortunately the design of his helmet prevented any noise from escaping it, unless he activated the external speakers, so he could talk to Cortana or anybody else with a radio for that matter, without anybody around him being able to hear what he said.
"Well, they haven't moved, as far as I can tell. They don't scan as Covenant either. Oh, well that's strange; they actually scan almost like you do. There are humans inside those suits."
"Can you patch me through?"
"I can try. They've got some pretty tough encryption. It'll take a few seconds."
"That's fine. Don't strain yourself."
Spartan IV number 157 couldn't believe his luck. He was out in the middle of freakin nowhere on some wild goose chase for some old relic chunk of armor. Ok, old relic wasn't exactly the best term to describe the last Spartan II. His exploits were legendary. His actions led to the development of the Spartan III and recently to the Spartan IV programs. He had played a hand in the destruction of three Halo ring worlds, as well as the Ark, which controlled them all, as well as the fight on Earth.
Normally, he would be thrilled to go looking for the so called 'last Spartan,' although there were more now. There had been many Spartan III's, but they only saw limited combat deployment, since their armor was geared more towards stealth than direct combat. The solution to that was the Spartan IV program, which basically combined the stealth capabilities of the Spartan III with the near indestructibility of the Spartan II. The result? Six near invisible super-soldiers, with more power than a scorpion battle tank. They could each run over one hundred kilometers an hour, lift several tons, and their armor was completely independent of any external systems.
Their shields could take all but a direct hit from a wraith tank and still be decently functional, their man-sized stealth generators could cloak them for almost twenty-four hours without recharging, and that only took an hour, and the armor itself could take several direct plasma hits before it failed. The materials it was made out of were lighter, too, although not by much. A combat loaded Spartan IV weighed an average of two to three hundred pounds less than a combat loaded Spartan II.
Anyway, the reason he was angry that they were searching for Spartan 117 this time was the punishment for failing their last mission. They were supposed to go take over some loyalist Covenant outpost, but the intelligence report massively underestimated the numbers present. What was supposed to be a few dozen weary, tired aliens turned out to be a few thousand battle hardened soldiers, some of them former guards to the Prophets themselves. So they had pulled out. There was no way that six people, even though they were Spartan IV's, could take on that many Covenant with small arms. Maybe if they had a small nuclear warhead, but those were in short supply for that mission.
So, in punishment, they had been sent out into the middle of deep space to look for the back half of the frigate Forward unto Dawn, which was the last confirmed sighting of the Master Chief. They had just been about to say fuck it and go home, when the scanners picked up a half-frigate adrift in space. His team had been sent to check out the wreckage, to determine if the Master Chief was still aboard, and to bring him back if he was.
They had docked without incident, and once he was in the hallway, he had Kyuubi, the next-gen AI from his ship, the UNSC Destroyer Will of Fire, do a scan for any life form. It was she who picked up the entity peeking at them from the hallway, and since he had been in contact with the flood right before his last confirmed sighting, they were taking no chances. His whole team activated their stealth camouflage and whipped around to face the threat.
"Wait," came the disembodied voice of Kyuubi, "Someone's trying to hack into your com system. I think it's whoever is around the corner, since that is where the signal is originating from."
"Alright, patch him through," he said, while telling his team to hold fire for the time being.
"Alright, Chief, you're on," Cortana said, "Make it quick, it isn't the most stable connection."
"Hello? Can you hear me?" the Chief asked.
"Yes, we can hear you. Identify yourself," the voice returned. It was male, and sounded young.
"You first, since you're the guests," he replied.
"Alright. I am UNSC Senior Chief Petty Officer Spartan 157. You?"
"Another Spartan? I thought I was the last. I am UNSC Master Chief Petty Officer Spartan Sierra-117, along with Pillar of Autumn AI CTN 0452-9."
"Cortana? She should've gone rampant a couple years ago," replied 157.
"Oh, I'm still here, for the most part anyway," said the AI, as Master Chief walked slowly around the corner.
"You guys gonna show yourselves, or am I just gonna stand here and talk to ghosts all day?" he asked.
"Very funny. It's how we work," 157 replied, appearing in front of the Chief, "You have been exposed to the Flood, we didn't want to take any chances."
"I'm not infected, but go ahead and run whatever test you gotta run to make sure," he said.
The red one materialized next, and walked up to him cautiously.
"Don't worry, I don't bite," Chief joked.
"I need you to take off your left glove," replied he red one, which slightly surprised him with a female voice."
"I can't do that here. There's not enough air left in this section. If you three will follow me back to cryo, I can do it there."
"Alright, lead the way," the orange one replied.
As they were walking, Master Chief struck up a conversation with the apparent leader of the new Spartans.
"You got a name?"
"Do you?" he asked in return.
"Most people call me Chief, but my name is John."
"I go by Naruto."
"That's a strange name. Where are you from?"
"So far, all the Spartan IV's have come from Japan."
"Who are your friends?"
Naruto motioned the red one, "That's Petty Officer First Class Spartan 160, Sakura."
John nodded to her in greeting. Sakura nodded back. "And the other one?"
"That is Petty Officer First Class Spartan 162, Hinata."
"Well, it's nice to meet you all. Drifting through deep space for five years gets quite boring, after all."
"Really, huh? At least you got to sleep most of the time."
"Cortana? It's an honor to meet you," spoke the third, who John now knew to be Hinata, "You're a legend among the UNSC."
Blocking out their conversation, John thought over his new companions. Hinata was surprisingly soft-spoken, which greatly surprised him. The other one, Sakura, also surprised him. He could tell by the way she walked that she was quite strong, and that they all had absolute faith in each other.
"We're here," John said, as he led them into the cryo bay. He waited until the doors sealed, before leading them through nother set of doors into the bay proper.
"Alright, take your glove off;" Sakura asked again, "This won't take long."
John reluctantly took his left glove off, and placed it on a nearby table. He felt uncomfortable without his armor on, almost naked. If the cryo bay were to suddenly de-pressurize right now, he would die from the resulting vacuum. As soon as she had pulled the required amount of blood, he slipped his glove back on.
Pulling some sort of device out of one of the compartments on her waist, Sakura placed the blood sample in it, and after waiting about ten seconds, pronounced that he was clean.
"So what now?" asked John, "I gather that you're gonna take me back with you, but what about the Dawn, or what's left of it? Cortana has all the useful information, and there's nothing of strategic value left aboard, well, except me and Cortana, of course."
"We brought a bomb with us. Once we're done here, were gonna blow it up. If the Land of Fire was closer, we were gonna take this chunk on board and try and use it for scrap or something, but they got pulled away for some other task."
"Land of Fire? Never heard of it."
"It's the newest UNSC Super Carrier. It's also where all the Spartan IV's are based from, even though me spend almost no time there."
A new female voice suddenly interrupted the conversation, "Naruto, haul ass back to your boarding craft. I just detected a Covenant frigate exiting Slipspace. They know we're here, though I have no idea how. Fortunately they haven't scanned it yet, so I suggest you get a move on before they do!"
"Is it Separatist or Loyalist?"
"One sec, mmmm, oh, shit, Loyalist!"
The four Spartans immediately took off for the boarding craft, running as fast as possible.
While running, John overheard Naruto talking to somebody, another woman, "What's our orders, baa-chan?"
"What the hell do you think? Get your asses back here so we can get the fuck outta here! I sure as hell don't want to fight a ship full of Brutes, do you?"
Sakura spoke next, "How will we leave? You know the Covenant can detect when we try to jump to Slipspace, and that they are still faster than us, so unless we disable or destroy them, we don't really have an option."
This triggered one of John's memories, one of when he was defending Earth after destroying the first Halo ring. "How big is your bomb?"
"It's a warhead from an Archer missile, why?"
"I have an idea. I did something like this before, when the Covenant attacked Earth. They tried to blow up Cairo Station with a bomb, remember?"
"Yeah, I read the report on that. You stopped the timer with only a few seconds left, launched yourself into space with it, and dumped it inside a damaged carrier, before turning it back on and getting out of there. What's your point?"
"We have a bomb here. Take it and dump it near their reactor and then detonate it."
"Okay, how do we get through their shields, though?"
"With their drop ship. I'm sure they're sending one. We ambush them when they get here, and then fly their ship back with the bomb on board. An archer missile should be enough to at least disable a ship that size, especially if it goes off in a hangar."
"Ok, so how do we get off?"
"Tow your ship in with us. It's got stealth, right? They'll never know it's there."
The three Spartan IV's all vanished, having activated their stealth camouflage, leaving John seemingly alone in the hallway, waiting to see if his gamble would pay off.