The intense silence that lounged languidly in the absence of any real noise, besides that of the Warthog's surprisingly still operational engine, wasn't something the Master Chief was unused to. The unoccupied turret mounted on the bed of the 'Hog rattled as he took a sharp turn down another street, in the shadow of a skyscraper that pierced the murky sky of New Mombasa. There were no enemies in sight; nor any friendlies. His COMM was silent, and his motion tracker placid. In the distance mortar boomed and plasma weaponry crackled. There was no wind, no difference in temperature that hinted that the planet was currently under attack by an alien race, unless one was blind and didn't see the destroyed vehicles, discarded weapons, and broken bodies.
A growled statement, said reluctantly. "Fine."
Cortana's voice was skeptical and he imagined her, eyebrow raised in disapproval and arms crossed. She eyed him and the corner of her lip raised in a smirk. The Master Chief realized he was just imagining her; he shook the image from his head and scowled behind the amber glass. "Yes," he said between gritted teeth. "I'm sorry."
Now he imagined the smirk blossoming into a full grin. She knew how much it annoyed him to have to speak more than he wanted to. In his imagination, she dropped her arms and tucked a stray hair behind her ear.
"Here's the city layouts," Cortana said, drawing up a grid on his HUD. The maze-like streets seemed haphazardly strewn across the razed city, and he had trouble identifying his current position. "This is where we need to go," Cortana added, and a green line beginning from a street (which he noted was a dead end) and going in a virtual straight line. "And for comedic purposes," the AI said, voice laughing, "Your path over the course of the last three hours."
A squiggly red line ran rampant within the city's interior. It looked like it had been drawn by three-year-old on a sugar high.
"That's unnecessary," he said sourly. His statement was met by laughter.
"You've been in a real bad mood lately," Cortana said casually. "I didn't think Spartans got frustrated."
"Of course they do," the Chief said, then a moment later, corrected: "I mean, of course we do. I do."
"Care to enlighten me?"
A huff of irritation erupted from the AI's lips. His imagination produced an image of her rolling her eyes and blowing a stray hair away from her eyes.
The trip resumed silence for several moments before Cortana broke it.
"Hey, you were cute as a kid!"
The Master Chief braked so violently that they skidded for a few feet before they actually stopped. The engine cut out.
"Wait, are you looking through my files?"
"Yes," came the prompt, unabashed response.
The Master Chief was mentally flustered for a few moments, then reminded himself he was a Spartan; Spartans controlled their intentions and feelings. His mind, however, wouldn't let it go; he tried to think of something, anything, to use against the AI. Something came and he started the car, trying to appear casual.
They drove on for at least a mile (in the right direction, this time) when the Master Chief noted:
"You've been in a crazy mood too."
This was met by temporary silence. "What do you mean by that?"
"Oh, you know, it's probably nothing."
His imagination: she was narrowing her eyes and biting her lip. "'Nothing'?"
He didn't answer. He knew Cortana would run a few self-diagnostic scans, find nothing prominent, then come back with a scalding remark.
"That's not funny, Chief."
"Why?" he said innocently.
"Because," she began, clearly getting worked up, "If I were to be Rampant, that would mean I'd have to be destroyed. If I weren't destroyed, my code would destroy itself, and in my madness I'd probably destroy you as well."
Her voice cracked. The Master Chief felt a trace of guilt, regretting his poor choice of retaliation material.
"Sorry," he muttered.
Cortana grunted something incoherent and probably something that shouldn't be repeated in front of small children. "Yeah, well, that little gap between your teeth is a little dorky."
"Yes… but that's okay, your current file picture looks alright."
The Master Chief was rapidly regretting his crazy comment.
"You should smile more," she added, and the tone in her voice was enough to make him nervous.
A week or so later, while cleaning out his armor and weapons in a temporary bunker, the AI appeared in the Master Chief's quarters.
She stood on the temporary holotank and examined his handiwork. Deft fingers flew over the dismantled MA5B with the precision of a machine. He put the gun back into operational mode, flicked the safety on, and started to reload it. When he'd finished that, he put aside, and began to repeat the process with a Battle Rifle.
After the rifle had been satisfactorily, the Spartan moved on to his armor. Reaching for his helmet, his fingers were just about to close around the cool metal when Cortana said:
"I'm going to close a few backdoors, and uh, run some subroutines."
The Master Chief nodded and the light of the holotank dimmed as the AI left.
Hefting his helmet, he looked at the visor and frowned.
There, in thick black ink, was a rather carefully drawn smiley face.