0012 Hours, December 12th, 2552
An Unknown Area of Space
"Chief? Can you hear me?"
In response, Chief turned on his helmet's headlights, illuminating the darkness around him. "I thought I'd lost you too." Cortana sighed in relief. Master Chief took a look around the interior of the Forward Unto Dawn...or rather what was left of her. He noted that, from the way he and various other debris were floating, that artificial gravity was offline, and a look to his left showed why. He looked in that direction and saw stars, space, and no glass to separate him from it.
"What happened?" he asked as he unconsciously grabbed his MA5C assault rifle and placed it on his back. He 'swam' towards the gap and looked out into the space outside.
"I'm not sure." Cortana answered. "When Halo fired, it shook itself to pieces. Did a number on the Ark. The portal couldn't sustain itself. We made it through just as it collapsed."
The AI paused. "Well...some of us made it." she added with a hint of sorrow in her tone. Master Chief looked around. The rear half of the Forward Unto Dawn was adrift in space. They seemed to be near a nebulae of some kind, but it wasn't a nebulae the Chief recognized. He quietly sighed as he floated back into the interior of the ship. In a situation like this, there was really only one thing he could do.
"But you did it." Cortana added as her Spartan floated towards where the cryo-chamber, hoping to improve his apparently sullen mood. "Truth and the Covenant. The Flood. It's finished."
Chief thought back to the Battle of Installation 00. How the Arbiter killed truth, and how Halo fired, effectively ending the threat of the Flood once and for all. He also recalled that a lot of good men died on the Ark, including Sergeant-Major Avery Johnson, someone whom Chief considered a close friend. A lot of good men died in a lot of places for the last twenty-seven years in this war. But there was some solace to be had. The war has ended, and Humanity was ultimately the victor. "It's finished." the Chief agreed.
He arrived in the cryo chamber and floated up to an AI terminal. He took out Cortana's chip and plugged her into the terminal, allowing her holographic image to appear. The two looked at one another and exchanged smiles. Somehow, Cortana just knew when Chief was smiling, even though it was impossible to really tell. He floated over to the weapons rack and shelved his rifle properly.
"I'll drop a beacon." Cortana said. "But it'll be a while before anyone finds us. Years even." Chief paused, then a nod to show acknowledgement. He climbed into the cryo-pod and settled in.
"I'll miss you." Cortana added as the door to the pod began to close.
"Wake me. When you need me." Chief replied.
As the door closed and sealed itself, Chief began to feel the effects of Cryo-sleep take hold. This wouldn't be the first 'cryo-nap' he took, so he knew how it worked. He just laid back, closed his eyes, and let his mind wander as the machine preserved him. Before unconsciousness took him, a thought popped into the Spartan's head; what would happen once he was found? He could only assume the war was over now. Obviously, the UNSC will have some rebuilding to do, which would prove to be a monumental task. But Chief questioned if there would still be a place for soldiers. If there would still be a place for Spartans. The thought disappeared from his mind as quickly as it appeared. Of course there would still be a place for soldiers. There will always be a place for soldiers. And with that, he let the realm of sleep take him. It was a rest well-earned.
Cortana 'stood' there, so to speak, as she took a moment to analyze her current situation. She and Chief were stranded in God-only-knows where, and it would likely be several years before they were found. This worried Cortana. Her operating cycle had an expiration date and she knew it. So there was only one answer; data storage.
Smart AI's have the ability to store themselves on a hard drive, ceasing all operation until re-activated. It's the closest thing they have to cryo-sleep and was a good way to delay the effects of rampancy. She then began preparing procedures to download herself into the terminal's hard drive. Regardless of the amount of time between now and whenever they get rescued, it would be but an instant to Cortana. She silently vowed that when the Chief eventually does wake up, she'll be there to greet him. With a few bloops and bleeps, the hard drive accepted her, and her holographic figure disappeared.
Two people, one a super-soldier, the other an artificial intelligence, slept. Adrift in space on a derelict ship.
In the end, Cortana was right. It would be years before anyone found them. Many, many years in fact. However, she was only half-right about the fight being finished. For everything she and the Chief did; stopping Halo and the Ark, defeating the Flood and the Covenant, it was all just practice for when they went up against the TRUE threat to all sentient life in the galaxy.
This fight was finished. But a whole new fight would soon begin