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She isn't sure what her relationship with him is, even after all these decades. She is not his mother. She never picked him up and held him close, because even as a child he was far too big for her to lift and professional distance kept her from paying too much attention to his bright eyes and trusting smile. She wonders if he can still remember his real mother, and if he would ever disclose such information. Probably not. It would be irrelevant to the mission and therefore meaningless.

(She could never be his mother. He deserves better.)

She stands behind the protective aura of a force field and takes note of the changes that have occurred since they last parted ways. He's taller, something she marvels at, and the vertical scar over his right eye is new. And her armor is covered in all manner of parts and pieces that make her stomach turn, partly (mostly) because it signifies that he no longer belongs to her, but to some secret shadowy arm of ONI that's been going behind her back. But he hasn't really changed, not on the inside. She cuts him off when he starts rambling about the Sorvad girl, but in her heart she's gratified that he still has the humanity to do so. So many of them don't.

(She is preoccupied with the recovered data when he leaves but after he's gone she dwells on the tone in his voice when he said ma'am and wonders when they'll be able to catch up.)

There is so much to do. Identifying data, decrypting said data, typing insanely-long strings of numbers and conversing with the glowing blue-white half-person who is just another one of her not-quite-children. Her days are without beginning and end, and sleep is a rare luxury that cannot be afforded. The Covenant do not waste time when hunting for what they seek. She must win the race or she is sure humanity will lose everything.

When news of UPPERCUT's success comes in she is relieved, if only for a short time. Then an entire Covenant fleet enters Reach's space and the victory is simply another bitter loss. She is used to such things, having observed the downward spiral of this war over the years, but this time she is shaken, and doubles her efforts. There is literally no margin for error anymore.

Days later, another bleak notification: UPPERCUT was not only a complete and total waste of resources, but a waste of Jorge-052. The letters "MIA" could not be more accurate; there is nothing left to recover, nothing to bury. It is as if he never existed. She takes a break from mathematical calculations to simply sit at her desk and pulls up an old file on her datapad. It is the only record of his life that isn't covered with ONI censors, and that is because she made it herself, just as she made seventy-four others.(She wonders what was so funny to elicit such an expression in his first-grade school photo.) Her fingers feel heavy as she enters in the date of his death and when she closes the file she emits a little sigh that prompts Cortana to ask what's wrong.

Halsey is silent and the AI goes back to work.

Briefing the remaining S-IIs on Operation: RED FLAG is a bittersweet experience. She is glad to see so many of them gathered together but cannot help wondering how many will not return. This is a suicide mission at best (but she is determined it will not be meaningless as UPPERCUT was). She wonders if any of them even know that Jorge is gone. (Many of them have fallen over the years-- Daisy, Solomon, Arthur, Sheila, Cal, Kurt, Randall-- and it pains her that many more will likely be added to the list.)

The test run with John and Cortana lifted her spirits, as did the meeting with Captain Keyes. The man is no longer "her lieutenant" but he is still a gentleman, and she is grateful for that. He is a good man, a good father, the parent she could and will never be. He is the only man alive who truly understands that she could not raise a biological daughter alongside her legion of quasi-children.

She returns to SWORD Base and resumes slaving over equations and translations in her lair beneath the facility, even as the Covenant swarm overhead like hungry sharks. She has called in the only people left on this planet she can trust with a directive this important; she knows they will see her mission through. They have proved their worth, even though they are not hers. She cannot afford to be biased now, especially when it comes to Spartans.

(She receives word of the female Lieutenant Commander's death in New Alexandria. It irks her that it was yet another meaningless death-- that a mind so brilliant could be snuffed out so cruelly. Their names were not the only thing they had in common.)

So she waits and works while she waits. Cortana is tracking Noble's movements-- they are almost here. There are only four of them now, and their tactics have changed considerably with the loss of Jorge and Kat. But they will do. They will have to do.

They will have to do, because all of her children are gone beyond her reach now.

(She wishes Jorge hadn't said ma'am the way he did, because it reminded her of something Miranda used to say.)