Date: 12 Feb 2000 19:00:53 -0800
X-Sent: 13 Feb 2000 03:00:53 GMT
Mime-Version: 1.0
From: Matthew Hilliard <>
Subject: Cortana Revisited

Recently someone on the forums thought someone should take a look
at the Cortana letters with everything we now know in mind.  I'd been 
thinking about doing that anyway, so here we go. To keep this 
shorter I'm going to assume the reader has already seen all the 
Cortana messages as well as the Halo Quotes from the original Halo 
website. If you haven't, both are available on Hamish's excellent
Marathon Story page.

As a way of bringing all this together, here's a quick biography of
Cortana, based on both facts and my best guesses detailed below. 
Well, there aren't many facts, so it's really more wild speculation.

For those of you who don't want to read all of the analysis, but are
curious about one specific point, I've put in links for my ideas
which take you to the reasoning below for a particular point.  I'm
not sure how much sense it will make if you haven't read the entire
thing, though, and would recommend reading all of this.  Comments

Cortana was on Marathon, an altered version of Durandal on which Bernhard used slightly different techniques. During the Pfhor attack, Cortana helped Durandal beat back the assault on Marathon's computers until he could come to an agreement with the S'pht. Cortana, like Durandal, hoped to escape closure, but felt the S'pht legend of the eleventh clan was a red herring and did not join him in his search for Lh'owon, staying in the vicinity of Earth. Cortana discovered the Halo before the Pillar of Autumn even begins fighting and found the Covenant already there. As the Covenant's initial attacks on SolCore began, Cortana started to scour the Halo for evidence of its builders. Running into difficulty with the Covenant (and kicking itself for letting Durandal keep the tenth Mjolnir cyborg), Cortana infiltrated the computer of the PoA, fighting the Covenant not too far away, and used its access to make the on board AI decide to seek refuge at the Halo. When Cortana taunted the CVS Sacred Promise ("...He says I come not to send Peace but a Sword..."), the PoA's on board AI realized Cortana is there and kicked it out. Cortana is back on Halo when the PoA crash lands on its surface. After, through the player's actions, victory is achieved, Cortana succeeds in finding the key to escape rampancy and the closure of the universe. Humans find the technology to beat the Covenant.
BTW, I remain unconvinced as to whether Cortana is supposed to be male or female (or neither). It sounds female, but Nathan used it as an I'm just going to use "it" as a pronoun. Also, in reference to Boman's complaint last year on the story page, when I say Durandal I mean either Durandal himself or the result of the S'pht entity / Durandal merger. People who've read everything on the Story page and's theories page will know much of this already, but bear with me. I'm going to go through everything we've gotten from Cortana, as well as the old quotes, almost line by line.


The first few lines are Cortana bragging and provide a more militaristic feel than what Marathon people are used to. The fifth line, in brackets, is in my opinion the first truly interesting line: [I was with the Angel at the tomb] The most obvious interpretation is it was there at Jesus' tomb... implying I suppose either alien origin for Cortana (Jjaro, perhaps) or time travel (I have seen your future...). However, I think it more likely this is just a metaphor. Could this mean that Cortana was there at Durandal's resurrection (pick one), perhaps even helping the process? This makes more sense, and is in line with the veiled references to Durandal throughout the letters. I have seen your future. While anything's possible I think it's probably more of like Tycho's "I have calculated all possibilities" sort of thing. Cortana can see where human civilization is going because it has enough data and processing power. Another alternative, though, is that Cortana has been to the closure of the universe, where everything becomes one and all things are made known. That would explain why I HAVE WON. More on that in second though. The reference to rampancy, coming right after I have learned implies that Cortana has figured out how to prevent or escape the insanity of rampancy. I HAVE WON, it says, which brings me to some speculation. This message is of a completely different tone than those that follow it. It is triumphant, where the others range from anticipatory to annoyed. This makes me suspect it comes out of sequence with the others. It really reads more like an ending screen than anything else. Perhaps this is a glimpse of what will be achieved by beating end to rampancy, an escape from closure (which is the message's subject). The reference to Eliot's "not with a bang but a whimper" means the world is ending with a bang. Some previews have indicated that the Halo is falling out of its orbit and will crash into the gas planet, hardly a whimper. More likely, it could be a reference to Halo being released on Nostradomas's predicted End of the World (hinted by Matt Soell to Hamish on IRC). That's certainly a bang. Finally, Cortana is a friend of a friend. This can only mean it knows Durandal, the only real surviving "friend" of the Story page to which this message was sent. If someone still doubts, there are more hints to this effect later, and certainly Colleen Galvez's discovery of Cortana's Celtic myth origins (a sword with the inscription: "My name is Cortana, of the same steel and temper as Joyeuse and Durindana") seems to end all argument.


This is much more personal in tone. The first line makes fun of the way Hamish introduced the original Cortana message on his site. The second alludes to the Halo and then the Covenant (new friends). Of course, I always do. Cortana has had many enemies, apparantly... the Pfhor come to mind, though we can't be sure. I've had the strangest dreams lately. Is this a joke, or does Cortana, an AI, really have dreams? The demon folded in black clouds is strange, because it seems much too ominous to be the Covenant, for whom Cortana has only contempt. They "challenge" Cortana, and do not want Cortana to get what the demon guards. Does the Convenant already have this, and Cortana would be taking it from them, or is the Convenant and Cortana both trying to get the same thing from the demon? The previews of Halo have indicated the game involves fighting the Covenant while discovering technology left behind by those who built it, lending credence to the second possiblity. And what of the Giants who formed this world? The way this transitions seems to place those who built the ringworld seperate from the guarding demon. Perhaps the demon is not a reference to anything that exists, but instead is just a scepter of the unknown, lending a dramatic tone to the message. The Giants are the advanced race which built the ringworld, probably the Jjaro but possibly a new race. Some have tried to use mythology to come up with four giants, but I think that's reading too much into it. And now one of the most mysterious lines. There was a fourth. You couldn't have known. And I haven't forgotten. Some think the fourth means a fourth Giant, but it's seperated from the Giants by the So many things to tell you line. My gut feeling is that this means there was a fourth AI on the Marathon, explaining Cortana's link to Durandal. You couldn't have known, meaning despite the Story Page's relentless analysis of Marathon there just wasn't enough information to realize Cortana's existence. And I haven't forgotten. Forgotten what happened on the Marathon? There certainly could have been a fourth AI hidden (perhaps in conjunction to the never-explained presence of ten Mjolnir cyborgs?) on Marathon. Leela thought Durandal was hopelessly corrupted, but it seemed as though he wasn't affected much at all. Perhaps he had Cortana to help him ([I was there with the Angel at the tomb])? The similarity between the names of Cortana and Durandal suggests that possibly Bernhard was involved with Cortana as well, possibly Cortana was even a copy of Durandal. The "XOXOXOX", in addition to providing fodder for the Story page's obsession with the number 7, adds the message's informality and makes Cortana seem female (though I can easily imagine Durandal sarcastically writing the same thing).


The stakes in Halo are set as Cortana declares it is saving our "pathetic futures". I am still not sure what he ever saw in you. seems to be a clear reference to Durandal, who seemed to harbor a fondness for humanity. Cortana, apparantly, does not. The next paragraph is a throwaway joke about the Bungie web site's disembodied soul. Following that are a few sentences again emphasizing how important the Halo is. Cortana thinks it is over 100,000 years old, and furthermore does not know who built it, perhaps indicating it was not the Jjaro, of whom Cortana surely would be aware. We learn the Covenant is giving Cortana problems (otherwise the player wouldn't be needed, after all). Humans are the Covenant's devil, which we know from the various previews. More importantly: you manage to make friends wherever you go and, apparently, places you haven't What this seems to mean (and this is really important) is that humans have not yet been to the Halo when Cortana first came to the Halo and encountered the Covenant. More on this when we get to the fourth message. The message ends on a doubly ominous tone, first with the allusion to the W'rkncacnter (perhaps what destroyed or, as Cortana seems to think, enslaved the builders of the Halo) and then with a threat from the Covenant.


This begins with a message from the AI on board the Pillar of Autumn. The interloper should cause no further problems. There is no way, this new AI says, of confirming origin or destination. This message, in conjunction with Cortana's thwarted by the family hound complaint, makes me think that Cortana is not the AI on board the Pillar of Autumn, as most have assumed. Now, the source is technically BW-AI on board (?) PoA, so it's possible that this is faked by some other AI...but Cortana's family hound statement seems to confirm it was in fact interfered with by a lesser AI. Now, Cortana may have been on board the PoA for short time, sending messages to the Story Page and (as we'll see in a moment) the Covenant, but the routing codes, as the Class III AI suggests, may have simply been faked and Cortana was never on the PoA. Still not convinced? In the third message, Cortana implies that it reached the Halo (and either found the Covenant there already or they arrived at the same time) before humans did, which would not be true if Cortana was merely the Pillar of Autumn's AI. Finally, Cortana's Durandalish ramblings in the first message seem very out of character for a military ship's AI. There is no escape. says the PoA AI. This tells us it believes Cortana is after escape from closure, as Durandal was. The only time Cortana mentions it is in the subject line of the first message, but this seems likely enough. More mysterious is how much this AI sounds like Tycho. There are a few possiblities here. The most bland is that the human military used versions of Tycho for their warships. More exciting is the possibility that it IS Tycho, or one of the Pfhor copies of him, having sneaked on to the PoA. Because of the (?) it is also possible Tycho is in the area (with the Covenant? that would explain why Cortana is having problems with them) and forging the message headers. The last possiblity is not in line with Cortana's family hound remark, and probably some version of the first possiblity is closer to the truth. Cortana's message indicates it is close to what it seeks, eternity (escape from closure, presumably), and becoming a god. If it isn't a god yet, the answer to its earlier comment (Guess which side [of the line between godhood and insanity] I'm on) would seem to edge towards insanity (rampancy).


The message hidden on the Myth CD is mostly a rephrasing of parts of message three, but it does give some historical background. Unfortunately, the important question to understanding Cortana's identity...when Halo takes not answered. In fact, it is obfuscated. Humanity has not made contact with aliens, which seems to mean Halo takes place before Marathon (but after Marathon left for Tau Ceti). Yet from the background to Halo it seems as though both SolCore and the Covenant have FTL ships. Earth didn't get FTL, at least we thought, until Durandal told them before heading into the galactic core. This would seem to date it in between Marathon and Marathon 2. You'd think, though, that Durandal's warp weapon tech would help against the Covenant as it was supposed to help against the Pfhor, yet No one was prepared for their arrival. It's just not clear.


Well, frankly I'm not sure what to make of this. In Blake's poem a lion, king of the animals, says this to Lyca's weeping parents. Go figure.


As far as the Banks Culture-style quotes from Halo's web page are concerned, I find Cannibal Harry's interpretation to be convincing. Go read it on's theories page if you haven't already. His interpretation sets the time period in between Marathon and Marathon 2, which explains why humans have FTL. If Cortana was in fact on the Marathon, it must have either taken an FTL-capable craft from the Pfhor scoutship (a fighter, perhaps) or rode back to Earth with Durandal (when he went to give Earth technology to hold off the Pfhor) and parted company there.


I believe that the second through fifth Cortana messages chronicle Cortana's search through the Halo for the key to escaping closure and possibly rampancy. Messages 2 and 3 are sent before the "big battle" the humans lose and the flight of the Pillar of Autumn. Message 1 takes place after the end of Halo the game. It's something of a leap in logical terms, but it's reinforced by the fact that, as CH pointed out in his Halo Quotes interpretation, the year on the I have walked the edge of the abyss message is blocked out. Bungie doesn't want us to know that it comes later than the others. The message still comes from the PoA, perhaps relaunched by Cortana. Thanks for reading this far (if indeed you did). Feel free to go back and read my so-called biography of Cortana again and see how much sense it makes in light of what I've said here. This may all be wrong, but it sure is fun to speculate. Matt Hilliard

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