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Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...
Posted By: Eindrachen <>Date: 6/5/05 3:38 a.m.

Naturally, as of late, with the Xbox 360 on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to the storyline of Halo, and how it might go in the third game. I have lately been reading up on Marathon (and cursing that I never got a chance to play it), and the "Cortana letters" section, and after a day of contemplation, I struck on a curious thought.

In the official books and throughout both games, Cortana indicates a great deal of knowledge about the Forerunners. The books seem to indicate she might have had access to some interesting data on some Forerunner technology before the attack on Reach. Even if she didn't, when she was loaded into the Alpha Halo's system, she would have instantly had all the knowledge she needed, and in fact displayed such knowledge repeatedly thereafter (i.e. after a moment's thought, she fearfully commands Master Chief to try and stop the Covenant's release of the Flood).

Which brings me to the "Cortana letters".

Aside from the fact that it was a publicity stunt, let's take them into serious consideration in the overall Halo setting. In the letters, she speaks very cryptically, and one might even think she was either transmitting from a point not only future to our modern time, but in fact from after the events of the main Halo stroyline. Also, I considered the possibility that maybe the letters were somehow reversed in order (maybe because of the nature of how Cortana sent messages backwards through time).

Breaking it down by letter...

Letter #5: Seems to be an account of the first contact with the Covenant, maybe during the strife among the various human factions. Could be a warning of things to come. The line "I'm still not sure what it is he saw in you." might refer to Captain Keyes; the books and some lines in the first game seem to indicate admiration and/or respect for Keyes devotion to Earth itself. (The flaw here is that, by my reckoning, she'd be speaking of Keyes after his... "demise" to the Flood.)

Letter #4: If you read the Marathon story page, you note that Lyca is a 7-year-old girl who is sheltered by a lion in a "palace" where nothing violent harms them. Since Cortana will only live 7 years, perhaps she is approaching her termination date, and while she isn't obviously "rampant", like any living, thinking being, she probably wants to find her own "palace" to protect her. Naturally, she might not think about her own mortality until after the fall of Reach, with the Covenant capable of finding and destroying her if they find the Pillar of Autumn.

(I strongly, strongly urge a full reading of the William Blake poems related to this topic. They are HEAVY with metaphor for Cortana's predicament at the end of Halo 2, and might hold the clues to what is in store in Halo 3.)

Letter #3: Maybe she is again waxing philosophical about Keyes with that line "I am still not sure what he ever saw in you.", or not. The paragraph after that would refer to Halo, and from what she says, I believe the "ghosts" she refers to are the one haunting legacy of the Forerunner that lingers: the Flood. Second paragraph is, fairly obviously, the Covenant.

But the third paragraph is interesting. While I'm sure that the creatures she refers to are the Flood, what of the "sun - black, but shining" whose "fiery
tracks" they crawl on?

My speculation? It's High Charity (which might be seen from an angle as a dark "sun" with glittering "fiery" lights on it), during the demise of the Forerunners, when it contained the Ark. The Flood, being not-dumb, probably figured out the whole scheme with the Halos and the Ark, and promptly decided to assault the Ark before the Halos were activated. There certainly may be flaws with this theory, but it seems possible to me.

Letter #2: The suns (plural) stumps me, so I can't speak with anything resembling authority. My own intuitions are telling me that this one was written at the time she gets to the next Halo, but perhaps it was somewhere else. As for the "fourth", I strongly believe that it is the Flood (aside from humanity, the Covenant [whom she has consistantly considered more of a whole than as individual species], and the Forerunners).

That line about godhood and insanity makes me think that perhaps she knows some way to escape her 7-year lifespan, but that it might require some... questionably-sane action on her part.

Letter #1: Unlike all the other letters, this one is the most cryptic, and poetic. It darn near sounds like our old friend, the Gravemind (whom Cortana meets and, apparently, spends a lot of time with after the end of Halo). I'd like to take each line one at a time on this one.
"I have walked the edge of the Abyss."
Her frequent brushes with death? One could point to several times her very existence was threatened with annihilation, especially the times she was merged with the Master Chief.

"I have governed the unwilling."
I think this is a strong reference to her frequently taking command of the Marines, and specifically giving orders, directions, etc. to Master Chief.

"I have witnessed countless empires break before me."
This seems a bit fuzzy. I might be one or more of any number of things. The infighting among humanity before the Covenant. The rebellion within the Covenant when the Elites (and, not long after, the Hunters) finally rise up against the Brutes. Her knowledge (and/or maybe even recordings) of the fall of the Forerunners to the Flood. And, if we assume this is the most "future" transmission (after the events of Halo 3), perhaps a reference to the destruction of the Flood... or of every other species other than the Flood.

"I have seen the most courageous soldiers fall away in fear."
Needless to say, Cortana has seen (or downloaded) plenty of experiences of the terrible, horrific tragedy of war.

"[I was there with the Angel at the tomb]"
If the Master Chief is a "demon" to the Covenant, could it not be said he is an "angel" sent to save humanity? And if so, then what if the "tomb" refers to the Gravemind (arguably one of the most malicious, intelligent entities Cortana would remember, and definitely worthy of noting that she and MC faced it together)?

"I have seen your future."
Obviously. But... how far has she seen it? If she can send messages back into the past (with Forerunner tech?), maybe she also tapped into some ability to see possible futures.

"And I have learned."
That is in the past tense, so whether she has seen the future, or is reflecting on the past, she obviously knows how things are going to turn out.

"There will be no more Sadness. No more Anger. No more Envy."
While it was argued that this reflected the old Marathon stages of "rampancy" (and still might), it could also reflect the ending of the Covenant (who seem to express all three emotions collectively in relation to the Great Journey, and humanity).

Obviously. But over what, precisely? The Covenant? Your mortality after 7 years?

"Oh, and your poet Eliot had it all wrong:
THIS is the way the world ends."
I believe this means that Cortana has seen the activation of the Halos, and the destruction of all sentient life in the galaxy. Or could humanity have somehow survived? The Prophet of Regret went to Earth for some reason nobody knew of; he may have been searching for instructions on how to avoid destruction when the Halos were activated. Regardless, Cortana has seen the end of things, and one can only wonder why in this letter, unlike all the others, she is so poetic. (This uncharacteristic message, incidentally, is what most strongly leads me to think the messages were received in reverse. It is not her style at all, and seems almost... nostalgic in quality.)

All these ideas certainly are flawed in various ways, and I'm sure that one piece of logic or other could fall apart under even the briefest scrutiny. But then again, perhaps it will introduce new lines of thought to the Halo community, and maybe someone with more knowledge or sense than my poor self can find some new theory that holds even more weight.

Have fun discussing (or ignoring) this to your heart's content...

Message Index


Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...Eindrachen 6/5/05 3:38 a.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...Jillybean 6/5/05 6:24 a.m.
           Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...Eindrachen 6/5/05 6:52 a.m.
     All good, except...58 6/5/05 6:36 a.m.
           Re: All good, except...Eindrachen 6/5/05 6:51 a.m.
                 Re: All good, except...58 6/5/05 12:49 p.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...Crudeoyle 6/5/05 10:32 a.m.
           Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...7he grunt w/a plasma pistol 6/5/05 7:58 p.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...deadmonkey 6/5/05 10:59 a.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...Psychophan7 6/5/05 12:36 p.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...rhinohumper 6/5/05 4:04 p.m.
     Little Help PleaseTyce 6/14/05 10:19 p.m.
           Re: Little Help PleaseSimpsons Rule 6/14/05 10:52 p.m.
                 Re: Little Help Pleasegspawn 6/15/05 1:53 a.m.
     Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...SniperExtraordinaire 6/15/05 2:07 a.m.
           Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...SniperExtraordinaire 6/15/05 2:08 a.m.
           Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...UrsusArctos 6/15/05 5:24 a.m.
                 Re: Best laid schemes of mice and AIs...jman571 6/28/05 4:04 p.m.
     Letter #5 and a bit of Letter #1's endingSpecialNewb 7/4/05 3:27 p.m.
     Letter 1's fuzzy logic...Cipher 7/20/05 6:38 p.m.
           Re: Letter 1's fuzzy logic...Steve 7/20/05 6:57 p.m.

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