September 8, 2552 14:23 Hours, Office of Naval Intelligence Headquarters, Sydney, Australia, Planet Earth

"What do you have for me, Black Box?" Admiral Parangosky asked after returning from her meeting with the UNSC Security Committee to her office in HIGHCOMM Facility Bravo-Six. The always scheming woman was both frustrated by her peers and fascinated by what she'd been told. Yet, with the fall of Reach much had changed and even she, as powerful as she was, had to admit to a growing note of concern in her own mind. They needed to do everything they could to keep the Covenant from discovering Earth.

The elderly, yet still vigorous woman in her 90's needed a distraction and she hoped her equally scheming AI would provide it for her. Settling into a luxurious leather chair the admiral's ever present executive assistant Captain Osman handed her a cup of coffee. Taking a small sip she called out, "Okay Black Box. I know you're there so what do you have for me?"

The Smart AI who eschewed the form of a human avatar instead appeared as a featureless box. "Good afternoon admiral. A pleasant meeting, I hope?"

"Yes, yes. You already know everything that happened there so you'll know if it was good or not for me. I need information."

"Well, Colonel Ackerson is up to something pertaining to the Spartan program. He has taken the annoying step of no longer using datapads to capture his information but has instead started to," the AI paused as if horrified, "writing them down by hand."

"Interesting, but not that interesting," Parangosky baited the proud AI, knowing how to play it like she did everyone else.

"Golf 51979 seems to be moving production off of Mars," Black Box reported somewhat huffily, using Spanner Misriah's military id.

"That's interesting, go on."

"He's tried to hide it and his annoying AI Nicolo did a good job of masking what was going on. I have to admire that," Black Box added, his tone confirming the sentiment.

"But in the end you found out?"

"In the end I found out."

"And none of the appropriate groups have been notified?" the admiral confirmed. "How rude of Mr. Misriah."

"I can't see how that makes much of a difference with Reach fallen ma'am," Captain Osman interjected.

"Its information and information always makes a difference regardless of the situation," the admiral taught her young protégé. "It all depends on what you want to use it for." Returning her focus to the AI she stated, "Continue to monitor and let me know where it all ends up. I may have need of some new toys."

"Very well, admiral," Black Box confirmed. "Oh, and there's one other thing. It appears as if Spanner's little princess got herself rather involved with a certain member of Noble Team."

"Well, now that is interesting information," Parangosky purred to herself as Captain Osman stood behind the scheming woman quietly. "So do tell," the admiral perked up, suddenly very interested in the report.

"It seems that during the course of her time serving on Reach our young Natalia developed feelings for one of the Spartans on the team. Surprisingly they were reciprocated by the soldier and an intimate relationship developed."

"Did they….," Parangosky's voice trailed off as a series of delicious images filled her mind.

"Admiral!" Black Box protested.

"You will allow an old woman her fantasies," she sighed.

"You humans never cease to amuse me. Fixated on such base things," the AI responded somewhat imperiously. "And besides, I must confess, there are some things even I don't know."

"And dear Natalia failed to let me know this during my debriefing with her. An oversight I'm sure," the admiral stated, her eyes narrowing menacingly.

"Apparently," the AI answered. "Regardless, the relationship has impacted her still since she's returned. Word is she has severed her relationship with MacKenzie Wainwright."

The admiral snorted. "His loss. That boy was always a bit of a wimp. So who was the Spartan in question?"

"Correction, who is."

"Is? He's alive?" the admiral exclaimed, truly surprised for the first time in recent memory.

"Yes, remarkably Spartan B-312 Mike made it off Reach on the last ship," Black Box confirmed, bring up a holo image of the ship's personnel return. "They're still en route following the Cole Protocol and on their way back to Earth."

"312, as in, 'The Lone Wolf, B-312?"

"One and the same."

"I can see why Ackerson has gone quiet all of a sudden," the admiral commented, her mind already working. Margaret Parangosky stopped speaking and steepled her fingers, leaning her elbows on the desk, brilliant mind deep in contemplation. "Yes, this is very useful. Captain Osman, bring this Lone Wolf to me when he reaches Earth."

As that conversation was coming to its peak Natalia walked briskly to her office at the Hive after taking a long lunch. She didn't care and no one around her seemed to notice. The woman who had once been the center of attention now seemed almost shunned. That was totally fine with her. She'd finally seen war and the truth of human suffering in the face of intense adversity. So now back on Earth the political ambitions and social climbing of those at ONI headquarters sickened her. No, she had a few new ideas of what she should do going forward but she still needed to think some things through.

One thing she hadn't had to think through was her new tattoo. She'd gotten a large wolf's head tattooed on and around the Stinger tattoo she'd had on her shoulder blade. It still stung but it felt good and was a good reminder. It was her way of remembering.

On the way back, passing an apartment building the words Remember Reach were spray painted on a ramp to a parking area. Word had already gotten out despite the efforts of the UNSC High Command to keep it quiet. Natalia was happy for that. There was far too much that had gone on behind closed doors.

No, she did remember Reach. It had changed her life and she was glad about that, despite the sadness that still ate away at her over the loss of Mike.

Two hours later Natalia sat at her desk, going through the motions for yet another day preparing to leave the office and go to the gym to work out. Invigorated by her time in the field and determine to be in the best shape she could for the days to come the woman had thrown herself into an intense fitness regime.

Still, though freed from the implied shackles of her father and his expectations and free of MacKenzie, she really had no sense of purpose. They both finally seemed to get it, to understand, in their own ways, what had happened and that she'd changed. Natalia was happy for that and wondered if perhaps she and her father might be able to have an actual father-daughter relationship. But then there was MacKenzie. The handsome executive had continued to nip around the periphery, trying to win her back.

Natalia sighed involuntarily as she realized she'd never truly be free.

Still an officer in ONI she had work to do. It was nominal and mundane, make-work really, but she needed to do it and she needed something to do. Her day had been spent sifting through reports from the field. Scanning them for information useful to the intelligence community her heart ached to be back out in the field and away from the confines of a desk. The adrenaline surge of combat had been intoxicating to her but then she realized much of it had to do with being with Mike. Without him there just wasn't the appeal.

The next file was thick and the title caused her to start:

Planet Reach Invasion-After Action Reports: Classified

She wasn't sure she could bear to read but then something also drew her to them. She'd scanned the other reports before but this one she read. Despite much of what was being reported on was unfamiliar and in parts of the planet she didn't know there were lots of areas she knew intimately. It struck her just how unprepared the UNSC had been for the invasion. I'd never have been allowed to go if we had, she thought to herself glumly as she continued to turn over document after document.

When Natalia came to the Battle of New Alexandria which only reminded her of how she'd been pulled out before the end she could take it no longer. There was nothing useful in this file either to ONI or to her. It only brought back bad memories.

She slammed the file closed upside down in frustration and the force caused several of the last documents to squirt out. Jamming them together though one document caught her eye and her quick mind began to examine it. One line on the page caused the shocked woman to feel as if the world and her heart had stopped at the same time.

Mike was alive. The Lone Wolf lived.

The end

Thanks to all of you who've been with me on this journey. I enjoyed writing the story and hope you like how it came out. As you can see, it was left completed but with the option to carry on to new adventures. After a bit of a break I'll look for my next writing project in the New Year.

I appreciate a lot all of you who've read this novel (if you like it send it to 343 Industries!). The reviews and support were very encouraging. Thank you; Halo is a special community and I'm glad to be part of it. Special thanks to some special people who've been with me longest on this journey: 1-1 Marines, Rylek196, Sierra107, GuntherRiechwald, Goldheartedhobo, Darth Meta, halobeast-117 and Radar112495 for the inspiration for the Master Sergeant Buckah character.

November 14, 2014