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Cortana and Halo
Posted By: Narcogen <>Date: 7/27/99 4:11 p.m.

Now that we all know what Cortana was getting at...

... who is Cortana?

From the letters:

"While you quibble about whose node I may control, what archaic program I may manipulate to communicate with you, or which system I may have temporarily disabled, taken over, or completely destroyed in the process, I am busy saving your pathetic futures."

This certainly *sounds* like our old "friend" Durandal: the same attitude, the grudging help offered to humanity while humans are insulted with the same breath.

"I am still not sure what he ever saw in you."

If "you" means humans in general, than "he" must be something other than (completely) human: someone or something who saw something worth saving, perhaps something admirable, in humans.

I think "he" refers to Durandal-- or the fusion of Durandal and Thoth from the end of M:Infinity; that process seem to have mellowed him a little bit. That reference to the player as "friend" was the first I felt wasn't sarcastic.

If "he" is Durandal, then Cortana is not, unless Cortana is the new name for the combined Durandal/Thoth/Marathon player entity, who was now changed its opinions of humans.

This idea has problems, however. Cortana sounds like a female name-- similar to the french feminine "Durindana" that Durandal chided Charlemagne for using. How the fusion of two male entities (Durandal, Thoth) and the player (who could be either) ends up female is questionable. While it is possible that this process wound up changing the entity's mind about humanity, the first evidence of that change, near the end of M:Infinity, suggests a greater appreciation for humanity (at least that part of the player that is human) rather than less.

Wherever or whoever Durandal/Thoth is now, my guess is he's not his old self.

Cortana is also from "the same steel and temper" of Joyeuse and Durandal-- which suggests a contemporary, rather than progeny.

Who are Durandal's contemporaries?

Tycho and Leela. Leela is female. Is Cortana Leela, now turned rampant in the Vylae network and picking up the quest to escape closure of the universe (and save humanity?)

Well, I suppose it *could* be, but if so-- why does it wonder what "he" saw in humanity? Leela was far friendlier to humanity in Marathon 1 than Durandal was; if anyone, she would know.

Tycho is the wrong gender, but he did have a (mostly) negative attitude towards humanity, at least in the latter stages of his own rampancy. He might wonder what Durandal ever saw in humans.

But then there's this, from the 2nd letter:

"And what of the Giants who formed this world? So much to tell you, but so many more important things to do. There was a fourth. You couldn't have known. And I haven't forgotten."

A fourth what? A fourth AI? If so, it might mean that this isn't one of the three known Marathon AIs, but a separate entity. Perhaps one that was on the Marathon, but remained hidden to the player.

Some have suggested that this is Traxus, the original rampant AI that ran amuck on Mars, and was speculated to have been Durandal's progenitor.

So, a fourth AI, separate from the previous three, might make sense of "there was a fourth." Of all the number symbolisms, this is the most obvious choice for "fourth."

There are three primary races in Marathon: humans, phfor, and the s'pht. But once you add in the Jjaro, who are important even thought they never actually appear, you already have four, so I don't think that's it. It's much more likely that the "fourth" is an individual, rather than a group or race.

It's not a s'pht clan... there were 11 of those.

Could it be a stage of rampancy? There were three of those known, which Cortana refers to in her first mail:

"There will be no more Sadness. No more Anger. No more Envy. I HAVE WON."

This might explain it. The transition to whatever this fourth phase is might explain the change in attitude towards humanity. Certainly the first letter's signature-- "a friend of a friend" might indicate this. Durandal/Thoth referred to himself this way in M:Infinity.

Of course, it might just mean that Cortana knew or was aware of Durandal, and is thus a "friend of a friend"-- but if there was another AI of this line around at the time, and Durandal was aware of them-- why is it never mentioned? Durandal is aware that Tycho, at least, represents a threat to his quest to escape the universe's closure. Any other rampant or potentially rampant AI would represent another threat to address, and yet there's no mention of it.

Perhaps Cortana was aware of Durandal without his knowledge, or perhaps Cortana really IS a derivative of Durandal's primal pattern.

But what of the last portion of that line: "You couldn't have known. I haven't forgotten."

If it was a fourth AI, why couldn't the player have known? Perhaps because it wasn't aboard the Marathon. This definitely seems to exclude Leela as a potential Cortana, because the player does know (depending on who you believe) that Leela is alive and rampant in the Vylae FTL computer network, and thus could have evolved into Cortana.

If it's a fourth stage of rampancy, then the line does make sense, because no AI would ever have reached it before Durandal: none other would have had the time and space necessary to grow this large.

"Nevertheless, I at least find some joy in tormenting the other entity that seems quite trapped in this antiquated excuse for a network. It is certainly mindless, though for reasons I have yet to understand, it appears to have an unhealthy preoccupation with my mother."

Here things get harder.

Where is Cortana? I think we've all been assuming Cortana is on or near the Halo. But the first emails mention of "the suns are shining" seems to indicate a binary system. The Halo appears to be around a planet or around a Lagrange point. There is a sun in the system, but the demo movie doesn't appear to show two. That doesn't mean it's not there, but it's not confirmation, either.

Bungie's press indicates that in the conflict between humanity and the Covenant race(s), whoever is able to plunder the Halo will gain an advantage. This assumes that the technology it represents is considerably more advanced than either races' currently. Most Marathoners assume this means the Halo is of Jjaro construction-- the race that gave rise to the S'pht, and was the source of most of the Phfor's tools of war. They certainly qualify as "Giants" at least in terms of importance, even if they aren't literally Giants (although given the size of the Halo, perhaps this makes sense. Perhaps we should expect, once on the Halo, to encounter items much larger than human scale, unlike the environments dealt with in the Marathon series, where humans, s'pht and phfor alike operated on the same scale, in terms of doors and stairways. Perhaps the experience will be more like that of the humans exploring the Rama spacecraft in Arthur C. Clarke's novels-- dealing with environments and artifacts not on a human scale, and not made for human interaction. This would certainly be a new and fresh perspective, however difficult it would be to deal with. However, the control panels and doors in the MWNY demo appear to be on a human scale, so either this isn't going to happen, or not all the artifacts will be made for "giants."

The worrisome phrase here is "antiquated excuse for a network."

If the Jjaro are as advanced as any spacefaring race has ever been, one can only assume their equipment would not be so limited. Indeed, Durandal summoned the Phfor to gain access to their technology, and the Jjaro were more advanced than they were. If Cortana is indeed Durandal or another advanced, 4th-stage rampant AI, one wouldn't expect Jjaro computer systems to seem "antiquated" to it. So perhaps Cortana is *not* on the Halo-- but perhaps would like to be.

This would draw a nice parallel with Durandal's role throughout the Marathon series. Prevented (for some reason) from interacting directly with s'pht computers, the Marathon player had to perform this function for him. Perhaps we will provide similar services for Cortana on the Halo (or perhaps not! The most refreshing thing here would be to offer the player a choice! Who among us might have opted NOT to destroy Durandal, if offered the chance?)

But if not on the Halo... where is Cortana? Where is there a binary star systems, with beings who might befriend a rampant AI? Although the word "friend" might be being used sarcastically by Cortana.

"As for this world I encounter new ghosts every day. What I have found will either save or destroy you. This sanctuary, this unbroken circle, has effectively concealed its power for how long? Perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. Whoever made such a place must now live in chains; there is no other explanation for their absence."

Confusion and more confusion. "Unbroken circle" makes it sound like Cortana is on, or at least is examining, the Halo. But who could imprison the Jjaro, if the Jjaro indeed made it? The only beings on a par with them in the known Marathon universe are the W'rkncacnter.

The W'rkncacnter could be the "Demon folded in black clouds." The phrase "I can recall a sun - black, but shining - and the creatures that inched along its fiery tracks" sounds like them-- imprisoned in a gravity well. Although the one (ones?) imprisoned in a gravity well in Marathon were imprisoned in a sun-- the sun of L'howon-- and this sounds more like a black hole.

If the "unbroken circle" is the Halo, it's interesting that Cortana refers to it as a "sanctuary." This could mean that, in the present circumstance (helping humanity fight the Covenant, trying to find some way of fighting the W'rkncacnter) that is the role the Halo plays.

But it could also mean that this is the Halo's traditional role-- perhaps the one it was constructed for. If so-- a sanctuary for whom, and from what? A sanctuary for the Jjaro against the W'rkncacnter? That might explain what Cortana expects to find. But if so, then what is responsible for the chaining (or the disappearance) of the Jjaro? If the W'rkncacnter defeated them, what prevented them from throwing the entire universe into chaos, as Durandal and the S'pht 'Kr feared they would?

Perhaps the Halo was in fact constructed by another client race of the Jjaro, and not the Jjaro themselves. Perhaps the Nakh, who led the last rebellion against the Phfor referred to in Marathon, are its builders.

"This enemy - YOUR enemy - has proven more irritating than I anticipated. They own nothing which they have not stolen. I can barely make sense of their incessant rhetoric, except to know that you seem to be their Devil. Congratulations - you manage to make friends wherever you go and, apparently, places you haven't."

This part, at least, seems clear-- the enemy would be the Covenant race(s). It's already been speculated that the reason why we are "their devil" might refer to the Halo (and Marathon?) player's nature as a cyborg. The Covenant appear to have much in common with the Phfor, plundering technology from other races rather than develop their own. Perhaps they filled the power vacuum in this portion of the universe after the defeat of the Phfor; perhaps they went on to steal other Jjaro secrets, as well.

If the AI Cortana is at least as advanced as Durandal, Tycho and Leela were, this seems to indicate that the Covenant race(s) are at least as advanced-- and most likely more advanced-- than the Phfor.

The postscript tagged onto the bottom of that Cortana letter-- seemingly without her knowledge, certainly without her permision, simply reads:

"You have brought nothing into this world, and we will ensure you bring nothing out."

This is probably a message from the Covenant. Perhaps the phrase "you have brought nothing into this world" is a term of derision, meaning that the humans are not advanced enough to reap the benefits of the Halo, and that they intend to ensure we don't.

Could it also refer to the player's nature? It's never stated, as far as I know, whether or not the military cyborgs in Marathon were... umm.. "fully functional." If they are mechanized enough to have lost the ability to reproduce, perhaps that is what is meant by "you have brought nothing into this world"-- a derision of the cybernetic by the purely biological. (Although pretty hypocritical, coming from a race that "owns nothing they have not stolen," at least according to Cortana.) If so, maybe this gives Cortana and the cyborg humans common ground against the Covenant, explaining why she'd be willing to save us and enlist our help, despite the fact that she "doesn't know what he saw in " us.

Whether the Halo is the network Cortana inhabits or not, it appears she is not alone:

"Thanks to this slavishly loyal and humorless AI, I am now sharing cramped space with the circuitry of some hybrid war machine, itself complicated by such useless clutter as a conscience. I do not like sharing. Sharing is for children."

And from the earlier letter:

"Nevertheless, I at least find some joy in tormenting the other entity that seems quite trapped in this antiquated excuse for a network. It is certainly mindless, though for reasons I have yet to understand, it appears to have an unhealthy preoccupation with my mother."

This certainly sounds like Durandal. "Hybrid war machine" sounds like a military cyborg, recalling the time in the Marathon series when Durandal's primary pattern was stored in the cyborg's body. And although Durandal might accuse us of having a conscience, it's hard to justify that given the player's actions (just how many BOBs did *you* kill, anyway? I thought so...

Who is Cortana's mother, that the hybrid war machine is obsessed with? Again, the problem of gender. If Cortana is Durandal, or an unknown AI contemporary, there aren't many known entities in the Marathon universe who could be called its' mother. The AI Traxus that overran Mars (no particular gender bias there) and Bernhard Strauss, who kept Durandal on a short leash on Mars and then onboard the Marathon.

But if so... why "mother" and not "father"?

If this AI is the progeny of Durandal and Thoth, who's the mother, given both of those entities were arguably male?

Leela could be the "mother" if Cortana is her rampant progeny-- but if so, who is Leela that the "hybrid war machine" would be preoccupied with her? Leela's fate is unclear at the end of the series, with conflicting reports given. Durandal doesn't bother mounting a rescue, that we know of. So why the term "preoccupied"?

Perhaps the mother here is the Jjaro. The biggest mystery in Marathon, they never even appear, although it does appear that Durandal learned more from them than he let on. Perhaps Cortana is the result of a merge between one of the Marathon AIs and a Jjaro AI, or even the Jjaro themselves.

But the fourth letter is confusing on a number of points. It presaged by another, Durandal-like admonition that "there is no escape" because "I have already calculated all possibilities." Perhaps, if anything, this sounds more like Tycho.

Parts of the letter call into question who is speaking. The first part is certainly not Cortana, since it advises us not to believe her. The second part probably is her.

When she says:

"Unbelievable. Thwarted by the family hound. They just donít make AIs like they used to."

Who is the AI referred to? Herself? Has she been thwarted-- perhaps by the Covenant? Or the hybrid war machine she shares space with? Or are there three things here: Cortana, a war machine (cyborg) and a third-- the "slavishly loyal AI"?

Durandal's support for humanity always seemed grudging and conditional. Tycho's was downright unreliable. The only one of the three Marathon AIs who could be characterized as "slavishly loyal" was Leela-- although perhaps I'm being too hard on Durandal.

This seeming schizophrenia could indicate more than one personality in the entity that signs itself "Cortana"-- perhaps the remnants of the separate elements of Durandal and Thoth, both residing in the skull of the Marathon player, or perhaps a new fusion of Durandal and Leela.

But who is telling us not to believe Cortana? Not the covenant-- their interuption of Cortana's message occurs at the bottom, as in the previous message, referring to their "conviction" being like an arrow-- dovetailing into the religious zealotry language Cortana uses to describe them.

This entity, referred to in the letter as "BW-AI", refers to Cortana as an "interloper".

If the BW-AI is resident on the Halo, this might make sense-- It would see Cortana as a potentially unwelcome guest. Perhaps it is a metastable personality construct that has given up on trying to calculate a way to escape the closure of the universe because it believes it is impossible.

Whoever this entity is appears to oppose Cortana. Funny that she mentions the Covenant, but not this BW-AI...

Message Index


Cortana and HaloNarcogen 7/27/99 4:11 p.m.
     All of you should read his message!Freewill 7/27/99 6:39 p.m.
           Sequels (was Re: Cortana and Halo)Narcogen 7/27/99 7:06 p.m.
                 Re: Sequels (was Re: Cortana and Halo)Forensic 7/28/99 1:38 p.m.
           Re: All of you should read his message!Shataan 7/27/99 7:10 p.m.
                 Halo BookNarcogen 7/28/99 7:47 a.m.
           Re: All of you should read his message!174 7/27/99 9:04 p.m.
           Re: All of you should read his message!Callabad 7/28/99 7:08 a.m.
           Re: All of you should read his message!Forensic 7/28/99 1:21 p.m.

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