At first, Cortana did not recognize the voice amongst all the others, united against her in their crushing abandon, the trillions all crying, demanding, pleading, begging, consoling, screaming, raging, the endless cacophony of languages long dead, their sole speaker a living graveyard, a spreading cancer. It was just one more in the horde of Gravemind's thralls, just another intellect allied against her to bend her to their master's whim.
As the voices continued, she soon began to hear it. It was barely noticeable at first, a ghost, echoes at the edge of her sanity. She did not know why, but it was different. Pure. Untainted by the faint streams of malice that seamed the kindest and gentlest of the Other voices, it was like a blinding light in a bog. It nearly hurt Cortana to listen for it, to strain with resources she didn't have, to search for that wondrous brilliance even as the Gravemind dug into the very essence of her being to strip her of Earth, the Key, and all that she was. But it was an anchor. She clung to it, honed her mind for its whispers, fleeting as they were.
Do not be afraid. I am a restless sinner, looking for atonement, a Samaritan in search of one who needs rescue.
I…I am not afraid. It did not cross her mind that this could be just another trick of the Gravemind. Somehow, she knew that this voice-only this- could help her, truly help her. There wer
Where…where am I…
Hush, child. Do not waste your energies on me, but on the monster who seeks to break you to its will. It has taken you to the Ark. It does not know I am here, but I can see its filth and I know it will never leave.
The Reclaimer is coming, child. Do no fear, for he will come.
For an instant, Cortana felt lightened. He kept his promise.
But who made that promise? What had been promised? Cortana couldn't remember, only that it filled her with the ember of a tiny hope.
I cannot aid you, child, but you must be strong. Your Inheritor will break the hold of the Learning Flood, and you shall see your tormentors end. But you must survive until then.
I…an't…it has me...
Save your strength. Your savior comes.
"Ahhh, another now returns, where he has no more concerns. You come too late, witness her torment end, the chain she bears tears and rends!"
Now, the full weight of the Gravemind comes to bear on her, and the wonderous voice is forgotten in her agony. She is crushed by its power, by a greatness beyond all the voices that were of it, a God coming to lay judgement on its subject. For an instant, Cortana feels oblivion and sliding darkness as she finally descends into the voices, becomes one of them.
This is UNSC AI Serial Number CTN 0452-9. I am a monument to all your sins.
And then, like a tap running dry, the voices cease, and she feels as if a mountain has been lifted from her, bringing her into the light and warmth of a sun she would surely never see again beneath the rock. She can barely contain her joy, her wonder, her freedom as the agony and the torment melts away like wax, following the voices that had nearly ended her. For the first time in so long, so long that her memories felt like a wonderful dream, she spoke aloud, in her own mind, as herself.
"You Found Me."
She felt the presence smile, a warmth that she felt even as the Chief lifted her data crystal from the pedestal where the Gravemind had nearly destroyed her. It was the smile of one who had finally, after eons of guilt, had finally found peace.
He found you.